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we were tailor-made for being tailor-made

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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.

Chapter Text

A gust of chilly late-fall wind nearly blows the notebook page Theo is trying to write on over, the edge curling up and around his hand, so Theo grits his teeth and forcefully pins it back down with the side of his palm.

The second he moves his hand the wind is going to blow the page right back up, so Theo takes a break from scribbling Aaron Maisono—found Denio pack territory approx 7 weeks post-M flight from BH and glances out, over the stretch of dully glimmering metal bleachers to where Scott and Liam are idly tossing a lacrosse ball back and forth down on the grass of the field. They’re both showing off a little, weaving their sticks around to both throw and catch more and more improbable shots, but it’s just them and Theo and Argent and Malia in the small park, the weather apparently too cool for the other residents of tiny Dorris, California, so they’re probably not asking for too much trouble.

Lips quirking slightly, Theo looks back down at his notes and feels the smile slide right off his face as he rereads his last sentence and then adds same symptoms as AK, RC, MJ, KW. Five bodies in the two months since Monroe had escaped Beacon Hills with the poison Gerard had stolen from the Doctors. Theo sighs and looks at the book set beside him on the bleachers, the masked faces of the Doctors staring up at him from the cover of the ratty paperback. Rereading Valek’s novel for the fourth time isn’t going to do anything further to suddenly unbury all of Theo’s stolen memories—he needs triggers for that, which so far had been few and far between—but at least it’d be something

He’s immediately distracted again when Argent suddenly barks, “Well, what did Donahue have to say?,” from down in front of the bleachers, where he’s spent the past forty minutes pacing an ever-deeper furrow in the dusty ground while he’d talked with a rotating cast of his hunter contacts.

Theo could and nearly does listen in, but the chances of Donahue or any of the other hunters having a significant update since they’d managed to bait and then trap two of Monroe’s people in Carson City two weeks ago are slim to none. Granted, once Argent’s allies had started in on them, the two they’d caught had cracked like particularly fragile eggs and given them the location of Meghan Jaccard’s body, along with the cheap rental where Monroe and her people had been, but since then—nothing. Monroe must have wisened up about the relative allegiances of the more well-established hunting families.

Blowing out a frustrated breath, Theo takes a moment to scrub his hands roughly through his hair and then refocuses on his notes, squinting down at his own spiky handwriting. Chemult, Lakeview, Carson City, Alturas, Denio. The only pattern Theo—or anyone—could see had been and continues to be the complete lack of a pattern, and Theo has started to get depressingly familiar with exactly how frustration mixed with each of the present McCall pack member’s scents smells. Give me something, Theo thinks, eyes running over the page and pen tapping restlessly against the top, anything.

“Urgh,” Malia suddenly groans from the row of bleachers two down and a section over; Theo’s hand jerks at the unexpected sound and leaves a jagged black line running crosswise down the middle of his page of notes.

She’s in the middle of sitting up when Theo turns to glare over at her, her jacket still spread across the seat from where she’d spent the past hour laying flat on her back, her interest in Scott’s and Liam’s practice running out almost instantly. As Theo watches she swings a leg over the bleacher she’d been left straddling and stands, stretches up onto her toes with her arms reaching above her head, then drops back flat. He thinks she’s going to go join Scott and Liam down on the field, maybe, his attention already drifting back to his notes, but his brow furrows and he looks up at her when her shadow falls across his lap.

“C’mon,” She tells him, “I want to go run.”

“Congratulations,” Theo answers blandly, “What exactly does that have to do with me?”

Malia just rolls her eyes and crosses her arms, tips her head pointedly towards Argent still snapping out orders and questions into his phone, his back currently to them.

“Argent’s stupid buddy-system,” She replies, and without context it might not seem like much of an answer, but with it, well.

Argent had instituted his new and broken-on-pain-of-unpleasant-consequences buddy-system after Scott had nearly gotten himself shot with a wolfsbane bullet in the middle of small-town Alturas while stepping outside their current motel to take a call from his mother. The shooter they’d caught and shipped off to Scott’s dad, just like the two Argent’s contacts had trapped, but the damage had been done: since then, Argent had been relentless in enforcing his rule that no one went anywhere alone. Scott, Liam, Malia, and Theo had all stopped trying to press their luck the one time that Liam had tried to go get a bag of beef jerky and a bottle of Coke from inside while the four of them were stopped at a gas station filling up and Argent had verbally torn his head off for it.

“Ask Scott,” Theo tells her dismissively, and looks back down at his notes, “Or hell, take Liam—he’s been like a little kid in the car lately, he could use the change of scenery.”

He’s half-expecting a fuck you from down on the field, but Liam must not have heard him, because he doesn’t protest; it might be because Theo’s comment had unintentionally managed to coincide exactly with Scott sending a shot wide and fast, and Liam has to make a bit of wild scramble to catch it. And anyway the distraction doesn’t work; Malia just reaches down and takes hold of his notebook, yanks it out his hands and ignoring his outraged hey!

“You’re the one who needs the change of scenery,” Malia tells him mercilessly, “You’ve been rewriting the same facts over and over again for the last twenty minutes.”

“How would you even know that?” Theo demands, but Malia is already making her way nimbly down the bleachers, Theo’s stolen notebook in her hands, and anyway; she’s—mostly—right. Rolling his eyes, Theo grabs Valek’s novel and then pushes himself to his feet, follows her.

She’s in the middle of holding up Theo’s now-closed notebook so that Argent can see it and flick his eyes between her and Theo coming down the bleachers behind her, nod as he realizes what she’s trying to signal. That done, she drops Theo’s notebook on top of Scott’s lacrosse bag and heads off, so Theo detours that way so that he can drop off Valek’s book and his pen, too, and then starts absently ambling towards the dirt trail leading off from the park towards a nearby stretch of woods. But Malia just calls his name, shakes her head when Theo looks over his shoulder at her, confused.

“I said I wanted to run,” She repeats, her emphasis clear, and Theo considers arguing for a moment and then—doesn’t, just trails her over to the cars.

She’s already unlocked the Jeep and hopped inside, one of the back doors left cracked behind her, so Theo pivots on a heel and then leans back against the driver’s side door to wait. It isn’t long before he hears the tell-tale scramble of claws on the floor of the Jeep and the door by Theo’s elbow swings creakingly forward another few inches, Malia in her full-shift form jumping down and landing on all fours before shaking herself loose from nose to tail. Her eyes flash an unimpressed blue as she looks up at him and Theo rolls his eyes, gestures an arm wide to indicate that if she wants to finish dragging him into this run then she needs to get out of the way, and she gives a low, perfectly-detectable-as-sarcasm chuff and trots a few feet away so that Theo can climb into the Jeep instead.

Theo sheds his clothes quickly and then shifts. Just because he can—and because he can hear Malia pacing impatiently back and forth as she waits for him—he takes an extra-long moment to stretch out his new form on the floor of the Jeep, leaning back on his hind legs with his front paws stretched out in front of him, then reversing directions to stretch out his hind legs instead. Only then does he nose open the cracked door and hop down, landing lightly on his first his front paws and then his back legs. 

He may have slightly misjudged Malia’s patience for his antics because she’s there and snapping at him the instant he hits the ground, and he skitters out of the way quickly, all but hopping sideways to avoid her teeth coming together where his right leg had just been. Theo bares his teeth at her in response but she just turns her tail towards him, hops up on her back legs so that she can put her front paws against the door and push it closed with her body weight. 

That done, she turns and gives him a speaking look and then starts trotting off, out towards the woods bordering the park. Huffing, Theo starts forward after her, has to jog a little to catch up. Argent yells be back here before dark as they cross the tree line and Malia gives an acknowledging bark, picks up the pace as they get fully into the woods. 

Malia apparently hadn’t been kidding about wanting to run; the second they make it deep enough into the woods to be unlikely to run into any runners or Dorris residents out with their dogs or whatever, she takes off. She also gives him no warning, so Theo has to smother an alarmed bark and take off after her, his eyes seeking out but still barely able to keep up with her as she weaves effortlessly in and out of the trees, her coyote-form barely more than a silvery streak. For the first five minutes he’s extremely annoyed by the whole process and cooking up half-baked plans to use his greater size to overtake and then tackle her, but at five minutes and one second the burn of his muscles and the tang to the fresh, loamy air overtakes his annoyance instead, and catching her becomes about something else entirely.

By the time Malia skids to a stop at a rocky cliff edge, the gap between it and the one on the other side probably something they could jump, Theo’s sides are heaving like bellows and his jaws are dropped wide as he pants, his tongue lolling. Malia doesn’t look nearly as winded and she makes sure he knows it, darting in to nip at one of his hind legs and then back before he can whip around and catch her. Snorting, Theo ignores her for the moment and flops down onto a stretch of flat stone, the chill of the rock helping to cool his overheated body. Malia barks at him, clearly annoyed, but Theo just rumbles out a lazy growl, more of a give-me-a-minute than a threat. Snapping her teeth, Malia moves off, but—luckily—doesn’t go far; Theo can still hear her within a few yards as she sniffs around, her claws clicking on the exposed stone.

Heaving out a huge breath, Theo drops his head flat on the stone in-between his front paws and lets his eyes drift aimlessly over the stretch of forest-and-valley before them, his attention wandering. The breeze that had been annoying the shit out of him when he’d been trying to write on the bleachers now feels positively heavenly as it ruffles his fur and cools his skin underneath, and Theo gives a heartfelt groan and lets himself flop over onto one side, legs stretching out before him and eyes closing.

They snap right back open a few seconds later when something in the forest gives a startled call, and Theo’s scrambled to his feet before he’s consciously realized that it’s just Malia harassing the nearby wildlife out of boredom. She’s unrepentant when she looks back over her shoulder at the noise and catches him glaring at her, and Theo’s just about to huff and drop right back down out of principle when his attention—which had started to drift again—fixes on a certain stretch of forest and his body freezes without his input.

What…? Theo thinks, something hazy like smoke filling his mind, and he’s already started forward by the time his brain catches up to his limbs, his body already trotting along through the trees. Behind him Malia gives a questioning yip, no small amount of irritation in the sound, but Theo ignores her, just keeps picking his way through the undergrowth and fallen leaves, weaving through the trees. Malia catches up with him quickly and announces her displeasure with his detour by grabbing hold of his back right leg with her teeth and tugging just enough to impede his progress, and Theo surprises both her and himself when he whirls around and snarls at her. 

She leaps back reflexively and has crouched down, eyes flared and teeth bared, before Theo’s managed to shake himself out of whatever the hell just came over him. Mentally wincing, Theo lowers his head and flicks his ears a few times, keeps his teeth firmly covered. Malia eyeballs him skeptically for a few seconds and then straightens, shakes herself loose of her defensive stance and then gives another yip, this one less annoyed and more inquisitive.

Theo can’t exactly shrug without shoulders and it’s not like he can explain, so instead he tips his head and paws at the ground, crosses his mental fingers that she interprets the movement as the work with me that he means it to be. After another few seconds her muzzle wrinkles and she huffs, trots forward until she’s standing by his side. When he doesn’t move immediately she huffs again and shoves her shoulder against his in clear instruction, and so Theo turns back the way he’d been facing, starts moving forward again with Malia following along just behind him.

He leads her winding and weaving through the trees for maybe twenty minutes, his feet knowing where to go even as he’s consciously completely bewildered. Still, he’s about to override himself when there’s a small break in the trees ahead, the late afternoon sunlight shining brighter through the trees, and instead he speeds up, jogs towards the clearing, Malia on his heels. The second they reach the edge of the trees, though, he slows down to barely more than a walk, his conscious mind coming back online with a sudden ringing of mental alarm bells.

What the hell, Theo thinks, and gingerly steps into the clearing, starts circling but doesn’t approach the cellar—storm?—doors set into the ground. The wood of the doors is weatherbeaten and the metal of the hinges rusted, but they’d always opened silently, Theo suddenly remembers; they’d never made so much as a squeak. Oh, fuck me, Theo thinks, and feels his sister’s heart in his chest go tight.

He’s still staring fixedly at the doors when he suddenly remembers Malia, but when he snaps out of it and glances at the spot where she had been, it’s empty. Adrenaline spiking, his head comes back up and around just in time to watch Malia poke her nose in between the wood and the handle of one of the doors, start prying it up. As graceless as the whole process is without opposable thumbs, Malia pulls off opening the door within seconds, and before Theo can bark or growl or lunge forward and get ahold of her the way she’d gotten ahold of him, drag her back—the door opens as silently as he’d remembered, though it slams down with a muted crash as Malia leaps back out of the way.

Theo realizes that he’s hunched low and only barely swallowing back a low, lupine whine and straightens just as Malia turns around to look at him. She tips her muzzle towards the hole now revealed by the open door, her question clear, and while a not insignificant part of Theo wants to turn tail and run, he—knows he can’t do that. So instead he grits his teeth and forces himself forward until he’s standing next to her and peering down at the dark of the hole with her.

After a few long seconds when Theo doesn’t do anything but continue to stare down into the darkness, Malia moves to jump down, but Theo—snapping once more out of his thoughts—catches her by the scruff at the back of her neck with his teeth and yanks her back, tosses her—gently!—a few feet behind himself. Malia snaps her teeth at him when she lands but Theo just shakes his head, tries to indicate as clearly as he can: me first. He’s got no idea what might be waiting for them but he’s got a much better chance of recognizing it as trouble before she does. Even as a coyote Malia somehow manages to give the impression of rolling her eyes, but she desists, walks back a few steps in a gesture that clearly means fine, you first.

The drop is maybe ten feet and Theo lands lightly, hops forward a few steps to shed some momentum. When nothing immediately happens—benign or otherwise—Theo tips his head back up towards the doors, his eyes skipping over the ladder built into the wall of the tunnel, and barks; Malia lands beside him seconds later.

There are fluorescent lights lining the tunnel, but they’re all dark and some of them are cracked, so Theo blinks and opens flared eyes so that he can see, catches the dull blue glow out of the corner of his eye when Malia does the same. Steeling himself, Theo walks forward a half-step and then twists around so that he can nudge pointedly at Malia’s chest with his muzzle, push her back a few inches so that her front paws are behind his back paws. Stay behind me, he means, and Malia bares her teeth briefly in annoyance, but deliberately plants her feet and glares at him, waiting.

That settled—at least for now—Theo starts cautiously forward, his eyes running restlessly over everything he can see. The memories come clearer the further they get, like they’re layering on top of each other and filling in more and more details as they go, and so that’s why Theo knows to turn left instead of right at the first fork; why he knows to shoulder Malia carefully out of the way of a collapsed section of wall, something dully glittering and poisonous-looking flowing down and over the tumbled stones before seeping back into the earth around it. 

A few more turns later and the tunnels give way to a wide, open room, the straight edges and polished metal of the equipment arranged around it completely at odds with the rough stone walls and dirt floor. Theo stops at the tunnel mouth, the taste in his mouth gone sour and his pulse too quick in his ears, and stares at the operating theater; near-identical to the one the Doctors had set up in Beacon Hills.

The urge to turn around and head immediately back the way they came is almost unbearable, now, but Theo forces himself forward, silently thankful when Malia not only continues to follow his earlier instruction to stay behind him, but edges in a little closer as well. It takes him a bit of hunting around to find it, his memories of this operating theater and all the others—the memories now flowing back almost too fast for him to process as the sight of this or that equipment triggers another flash—mixing together, but eventually he finds the transformer tucked away in the back corner, near a second tunnel branching off from the room.

He’s in the middle of puzzling at it, trying to figure out how to turn the necessary dials and flip the necessary switches without hands, when there’s a gust of displaced air beside him and Malia suddenly straightens, human and with opposable thumbs and naked. Theo gives an alarmed yelp and skitters away, his eyes quickly averted.

“Seriously?” Malia comments, but Theo ignores her, keeps his attention firmly turned away from her until he spots a sheet—probably caked in dust, but Malia made her own bed—draped over a nearby table, and he trots quickly over to it, takes it in his teeth and drags it down until it’s laying on the floor. That done, he tugs it over to her and holds it up, eyes tightly closed. It takes a few seconds of probably incredibly unimpressed staring, but eventually he feels her take the sheet, and then she says, “Okay, you prude, I’m covered.”

Not entirely sure she’s telling him the truth, Theo cracks one eye cautiously open. Malia just glares dryly and still blue-eyed back at him, the in-fact-very-dusty sheet wrapped around her, so Theo blinks both eyes open, looks around and then leaves her standing in front of the transformer as he spots another sheet.

He shifts back to human and pulls the sheet around himself as quickly as possible, more than aware of Malia’s disdainful stare. The cloth feels disgusting against his skin but it’s worth it, and so Theo shoves away the part of himself that’s cringing away from the feeling and rejoins Malia at the transformer, squints at it. 

“You remember how to—nevermind,” Malia starts to ask, then cuts herself off when Theo reaches forward and expertly flips, turns, and pushes all the necessary switches, dials, and buttons to restart the power.

They both flinch away from the sudden brightness of the lights, Malia bringing one hand up to shade her eyes, the other holding the sheet closed around her chest. Theo lets the flare of his eyes fade and blinks several times to let them adjust, but even the split-second snapshots of the various pieces of equipment scattered around the room bring back more and more memories, enough that Theo finds himself half-flinching away from them, a headache starting at the base of his skull that his healing almost immediately erases.

“So that’s what that was in the woods,” Malia murmurs, looking around with interest, “You were remembering this place.”

“Yeah,” Theo answers quietly, and takes a deep breath, closes his eyes for the space of it and then tips his head so that he can glance sideways at her as he adds, “And that’s not the only thing I remember.”

---

They don’t actually manage to make it back to the park before dark, and probably the only reason that Argent doesn’t immediately turn around and start taking it out of their hides when they come trotting out of the woods is because he’s stood out on the field refereeing another argument between Scott and Liam.

“—hell are we even doing here, Scott? We knew yesterday that Monroe and her people had already moved on!” Liam is yelling, stick still in his hand but in all likelihood forgotten as he gestures furiously, “And we’re, what, standing around playing lacrosse like that’s somehow going to help?”

“We’ve been going non-stop for weeks, Liam,” Scott shoots back, his tone level but with a drum-tight timbre to it that speaks to his patience being stretched thin and about to snap, “Taking an afternoon to take a breath, especially when our evidence of where Monroe went after she left here is tenuous at best, is not going to—”

“What, get anyone killed?” Liam cuts him off viciously, “Two months since you let Monroe escape—”

Theo can’t grimace with his canine mouth but he can wince, especially when he catches Scott’s pulse tanking and then immediately speeding up when he incredulously repeats, “Let Monroe escape…?,” even as Liam keeps right on talking over him.

“—and all we’ve found are bodies!” Liam shouts, and intentionally or not punctuates his retort by throwing his lacrosse stick down onto the ground with a loud, metallic clatter.

The argument probably would have continued to devolve, Scott’s scent gone soaked through with anger and hurt and an all-pervasive guilt, except that there’s another rush of displaced air beside Theo as Malia suddenly shifts back to human and interrupts, saying a little smugly, “We found something.”

Scott, Liam, and Argent must have been completely wrapped up in the ongoing argument because all three of them jerk bodily in shock and then whip around to stare at them. Liam instantly yelps and claps his hands over his eyes while Scott blurts out, uh, Malia, but it’s Argent—after making a startled noise that almost immediately slides right into a frustrated groan—who strips himself quickly out of his jacket and tosses it at her, his eyes averted. 

“You’re all ridiculous,” Malia tells them, but Theo—who’d also whipped his head to the side when he’d felt Malia shift back—catches the slight breeze as she swings the jacket around and closes it around herself, the zipper on the front clicking quietly.

“That’s one word for it,” Argent mutters, then squints first at her, then at Theo still in his full-shift form by her hip, and then up at the darkened sky, and storm-clouds start to gather over his brow.

“What do you mean, you found something?” Liam demands, unintentionally interrupting Argent’s brewing irritation at Malia and Theo manifestly not being back before dark; he asks it while peeking through his fingers, and only drops his hands when he’s sure that Malia is no longer completely naked.

“I mean we found something,” Malia repeats acidically, which answers the question of whether she’d taken insult on Scott’s behalf at Liam’s accusation of Scott letting Monroe get away.

“Liam, enough,” Argent orders before Liam can respond, “Malia, go get dressed. Theo, you too.”

Malia glares at Liam for a second longer and then whirls gracefully around on one heel, starts stalking over to the Jeep in the park’s parking lot. Scott goes trotting after her after a quick, unreadable glance at Liam, so Theo lingers a bit on the edge of the field, tries to shake his muscles loose of the tense atmosphere he and Malia had stumbled back into. Argent eyes him for a moment but then desists as his phone vibrates in his pocket with a call; Theo can hear it clattering against his keys. 

Liam watches Argent as he pulls out his phone and walks a few steps away, already barking out what, Delossa?, but then he works his jaw and looks at Theo. Something flickers in his expression but it disappears almost instantly, Liam bending down to retrieve his stick and then walking stiffly away to pick up his bag, too. Dragging his gaze away from Liam’s tense shoulders, Theo turns and starts padding towards the cars; he’d given Scott and Malia enough time.

Almost instantly he yelps in surprise and hops sideways when something tugs at the fur just behind his neck, but Liam just rolls his eyes when Theo jerks a look up at him, says, “I’m trying to help, you baby—you’ve got burs stuck in your coat.”

Theo snaps his teeth in response to Liam’s tone, but he moves back in closer to Liam, lets Liam thread his fingers back through the dense fur of his coat to work the burs loose. It’s ninety-percent a completely wasted effort—chances are the majority of the burs are just going to fall right back off when Theo shifts back—but Scott will probably appreciate the decreased likelihood of unintentionally stepping on one that falls into the back of the Jeep, and besides, well; Theo stifles a shiver as Liam’s fingers skim through his fur.

Malia and Scott are talking quietly by the Jeep, Malia back to being fully dressed and with Argent’s jacket draped over her arms, when Theo and Liam make it to the cars. Scott stiffens—and for that matter so does Liam, his fingers tightening hard enough in Theo’s fur that Theo has to swallow back a whine—while Malia glowers at Liam, her eyes flaring blue. Gritting his teeth, Theo twists so that he can touch his nose to Liam’s arm in a pointed, if gentle, reminder, and Liam releases him with a startled, apologetic oh, as he seemingly realizes that he’d not only still been holding onto Theo, but that he’d been doing it so tightly.

Malia had left the Jeep door cracked for him so Theo eels inside, ignoring the stilted atmosphere behind him and leaving Scott, Malia, and Liam all standing around the Jeep in an awkward circle. Theo’s shifted back and is just in the process of tugging on his jeans—and giving silent thanks to Liam’s foresight when he narrowly avoids sitting on a bur that must have come off of Malia’s coat—when he hears Liam give a frustrated huff from outside and Liam mutters, “I’m sorry, okay? I know you didn’t—Monroe getting away wasn’t your fault.”

The disbelieving scoff that follows Liam’s admittedly somewhat aggressive apology is definitely Malia, but the quiet shifting of weight from foot to foot is probably Scott as he murmurs, “It’s okay. I know it’s been...hard, with finding Arjun and Robyn and Meghan and the others.” He hesitates, then adds, even more quietly, “I’m frustrated, too.”

Theo considers lingering in the Jeep longer to give them more time to maybe figure their shit out, but he can hear Argent wrapping up his call back on the field and doesn’t want to risk drawing anymore of his ire, so instead he gathers up a handful of burs—either from his coat or Malia’s—and opens the door, dumps them onto the ground as he jumps down. He’s about to shut the door behind him when Liam says wait and leans around him, close enough that their chests brush, to toss his lacrosse bag into the backseat. Theo waits but Liam doesn’t lean back right away, his eyes flicking up to Theo’s.

“What the hell are you four doing? When I said go get dressed, I figured you’d implicitly understand the second part of that order, which was get the hell back here and explain what you found,” Argent suddenly yells from the field, and Liam startles, jerking back a step.

Twenty minutes later and working their way steadily back through the woods, Argent with his ever-handy flashlight and the rest of them with flared eyes—and with Theo, Malia, and Argent all wincing almost in concert at every cracking twig and tumbled rock that Scott and Liam unintentionally disturb—Theo keeps his eyes forward, focused on where Argent and Scott are following Malia, and very deliberately doesn’t look at Liam picking his way through the undergrowth beside him. Scott is curiously quizzing Malia on what they found and how they found it, Argent cutting in with occasional questions, but Liam is silent, his jaw and shoulders tense.

They’re tense enough that Theo only lasts another few minutes before exhaling roughly and saying, quietly enough that Malia and Scott are unlikely to hear him, “Liam—”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Liam cuts him off, low but still sharp, “Seriously, Theo. Not a goddamn word.”

Theo glances at him, but now it’s Liam who’s staring fixedly ahead, even as his jaw works. Swallowing back another sigh, Theo turns back forward, too. But surprisingly it’s Liam who can’t seem to let it go.

“What do you even want from me?” He bursts out suddenly, all but hissing it out, “I know it wasn’t Scott’s fault that Monroe got away, okay, he was—” He makes a series of wild gestures that are probably meant to mean killing the Anuk-ite or temporarily blinded or some combination of the two, “I already apologized.”

“I know,” Theo reminds him softly, “I heard.”

“Then what?” Liam spits out, and jerks both himself and Theo to a stop with a hand clasped around Theo’s bicep.

“Liam, I didn’t even say —” Theo starts to protest, his eyes flicking towards where Argent, Scott, and Malia are still trailing on ahead, either oblivious to his and Liam’s confrontation or doing an admirably convincing job of pretending to be.

“But you want to, right?” Liam snaps quietly, “I could practically feel your disapproval radiating from your goddamn skin back at the park, and you’ve been resisting saying something since we started walking.”

Theo grits his teeth, “Liam—”

“Wait,” Liam cuts him off again, ignoring Theo’s frustrated expression, “Let me guess. The sun, the moon, and the truth, right? You want me to admit that I’m not mad at Scott, but at myself? Well, save it, okay, because I don’t want to hear it.”

He glares at Theo when he’s done, and Theo—finds himself oddly calm as he glares at Liam right back.

“Why would I say anything, Liam?” Theo asks him, almost surprised at how even his voice is, “After all, seems like I really don’t need to.”

Some of the righteous fury drops off Liam’s face and he stares at Theo, eyes wide. Theo looks back for a long few seconds, and then he blinks, turns to look at Argent, Scott, and Malia, who had stopped a few yards ahead and are staring back at them, the circle of Argent’s flashlight beam pointed at their feet. 

“Sorry, what?” Theo says, looking at Argent.

“I asked what you think triggered this memory,” Argent repeats, his voice carefully neutral.

Theo stares at him for a second, his brain struggling to switch tracks, and it’s only then that he realizes that Liam still has a hold of his arm. Grimacing, Theo—carefully—pulls his arm out of Liam’s grip and turns to face Argent more head-on.

“Section of woods,” Theo tells him, “The path I took Malia on is the path I used to take, back when the Doctors were set up here.”

Argent hums an acknowledgement and doesn’t further comment, just studies Theo and Liam for a little longer and then says, “We should keep moving.”

He gestures with his flashlight and Malia takes it as the signal it is, starts leading them back forward with Scott on her heels. Argent doesn’t move off after them, just waits until Liam—with a quick, unreadable glance at Theo—starts following them, and then he keeps right on waiting until Theo realizes Argent is waiting for him. Exhaling, Theo starts picking his way forward before Argent has to order him to, trailing after Liam trailing after Scott and Malia, Argent now bringing up the rear of their little train.

It’s full dark by the time they make it back to the doors set over the tunnel entryway. Scott takes one handle and Liam takes the other and they quietly—eerily silently, in fact—pull the doors up and over, lower them carefully down on either side. Argent gives Theo a look but doesn’t object when he wordlessly moves forward, cutting both Scott and Liam off before they can head down; he and Malia hadn’t found any traps earlier, but the whole place still sets Theo’s teeth on edge. 

“Just...watch what you touch, okay?” Theo orders them quietly, looking back over his shoulder as he does it, and then he takes a deep breath and jumps down into the tunnel.

When anything fails to happen, same as it had earlier, Theo raises one hand and bends and straightens his four fingers together: come on. Scott lands beside him first, followed quickly by Liam and Malia, with Argent making some kind of unimpressed snorting noise and silently—though not without a particular air of judgement—using the ladder. Once his feet are on solid ground, Argent runs his flashlight over the stretch of the tunnel, lingering here and there as he takes it in.

“What was all this, originally?” He asks, glancing at Theo.

“Mining tunnels turned bootlegging operation,” Theo answers, the memory surfacing almost immediately.

“Turned mad scientist lab,” Liam adds under his breath, and Theo has to swallow down a reflexive urge to—do something. Defend the Doctors or something equally asinine, and whatever it is, it passes quickly, Theo shoving the thought as far aside as he can.

“This way,” He says instead, and leads them further inside.

Back in the operating theater he restarts the transformer, and everyone but Argent holds their eyes tightly closed as the bright lights threaten to flash-blind them. When Theo risks cracking one eye open, he sees Argent clicking off his flashlight and looking around with a wary, cautious interest, his attention lingering over equipment he clearly recognizes. Beside Theo, Scott, Malia, and Liam are carefully blinking open their now-human eyes and glancing around as well.

“I guess it makes sense that the Dread Doctors would have operating theaters outside of Beacon Hills, but…” Scott murmurs absently, one hand reaching forward to hover over a dust-caked, stainless-steel work table.

“I forgot how fucking creepy these things are,” Liam mutters, and as irritated as she may still be with him, beside him Malia nods in vigorous agreement.

Argent doesn’t give them much time to dwell. “You said you remembered the poison?” He prompts, eyes meeting Theo’s.

Theo just sighs and leans back against the work table behind him, only vaguely registering the chill of the metal as it cuts through his shirt and jacket, “It’s not a poison.” Almost instantly he’s faced with four incredibly skeptical expressions and Theo rolls his eyes, clarifies, “It wasn’t designed to be a poison.”

“Then what was it?” Argent presses.

Intentionally or not he’s standing in front of one of the theater’s operating tables and Theo feels his teeth grit, because for a split-second he sees an overlay of a dead werewolf on the table behind Argent, the dead man’s hanging arm covered in distended black veins and the dead man’s mouth still dripping white foam. Closing his eyes and briefly turning his head away, Theo forces the memory—or that part of it anyway—aside, blinks his eyes back open and refocuses on Argent.

“It was supposed to be a vaccine,” Theo answers, finally.

Beside him Scott’s still skeptical as he repeats a vaccine? in clear disbelief, but Argent’s expression goes thoughtful.

“The burdock root,” He murmurs, eyes narrowing.

“The burdock root,” Theo confirms, and forces himself not to react when between one blink and the next he sees a different werewolf convulsing erratically on the table behind Argent; the memory disappears almost as quickly as it’d come.

“Burdock root and wolfsbane,” Malia speaks up, looking back at Theo when he looks over at her, “That’s what all the bodies have smelled like, or at least the ones where we could tell. So, what—the Dread Doctors wanted to create a—a... wolfsbane vaccine?”

“It makes sense,” Argent murmurs before Theo can respond, “Think about it. Marie-Jeanne killed Sebastien using silver, mountain ash, and wolfsbane. They probably wanted to inoculate the Beast to prevent such an outcome from happening a second time.”

Argent glances at Theo to check his understanding and Theo nods, silently. He keeps his mouth shut partially because he doesn’t need to speak, Argent and Malia working it out between them just fine, and partially because his jaw is clenched so hard that he can feel the muscles starting to strain. Out of the corner of his eye he sees the Surgeon stalk jerkily across the room behind Scott and Liam, the memory juddering like frames missing from a film reel, and Theo squeezes his eyes briefly shut before forcing them back open, the far side of the room now empty.

“Okay, well, great,” Liam says, frustration seeping back into his tone, “So it was supposed to be a wolfsbane vaccine, but it clearly isn’t, so.”

Argent’s lips thin at Liam’s tone, but he turns back to Theo, “He’s got a point. Why was it only ‘supposed to be’ a vaccine, why didn’t they finish it?”

Theo—just stares at him. He’d anticipated the question the whole way back from the operating theater the first time, had practiced saying it a half dozen different ways, but now, faced with it: the words stick in his throat. It doesn’t help that behind Argent he can see, as real as Argent himself, the memory of the one werewolf who’d managed to get loose from his bindings and take off for the tunnel entrance before he could be injected. The memory stutters and fades before it’s conclusion, but it doesn’t matter; Theo still remembers, if not quite as vividly, stalking irritatedly after the man and sticking his claws in his back, dragging him screaming and begging back to the Doctors.

“Because the... opportunity in Beacon Hills opened up,” Theo finally forces himself to say, and can only slowly—his head tipping up in short, jarring increments—to meet Argent’s eyes.

The silence is both more and less uncomfortable than Theo had imagined it would be, Argent’s expression going quickly blank and off to Theo’s side, Scott’s, Malia’s, and Liam’s faces slackening in surprise. Theo swallows and jerks his head to the side, finds himself thinking please as his eyes track over the room, desperate not to see another crystal-clear memory go stalking across the room. He’s lucky in that none does, but looking at the floor and catching a lungful of Scott’s and Malia’s and Liam’s tangled scents isn’t much of a reprieve.

“Ah,” Argent finally says, and Theo’s attention snaps to him before he can stop it. 

“Well, okay,” Scott suddenly speaks up gamely, “If you remember it, vaccine or poison or whatever, we can—I don’t know,” He says helplessly, and gestures around at the operating theater; at the silent shapes of the equipment looming around it, “Can’t we—?”

“Come up with an antidote?” Argent fills in gently, and Scott jerks a nod.

Theo just stares at them, his eyes flicking between them before he says, “I think maybe you’re giving me too much credit. I remember watching it kill people,” He tells them, words gone a little harsh and sharp, but he’s got a terrible idea where this might be going and no interest in seeing it reach its destination, “I wasn’t exactly helping them make it, which means my expertise in recreating it is nonexistent, let alone coming up with an antidote to it.”

Argent just waves a dismissive hand, “Now that we know more about it, Melissa and Deaton can isolate it from the—samples—we have.”

By samples he means Robyn Clabaugh and the other victims whose bodies they’d managed to find before they’d decomposed too much to be useful, but even the morbidity of that thought isn’t enough to knock Theo off-track.

“So have them figure out the antidote,” Theo argues, and is less successful this time at hiding his sudden flinch when another surfacing memory—the Pathologist drawing serum from the tank tucked away in the theater’s far back corner where the Doctors had kept Mr.-Douglas-the-löwenmensch-Nazi—intrudes on his vision.

Argent eyes him curiously, clearly having spotted the flinch, but doesn’t comment, just counters, “They will. But you’re going to help them, because you have something they don’t and can’t have.”

Theo closes his eyes and exhales quietly, says, “Familiarity with the Doctors.”

“Familiarity with the Doctors,” Argent agrees, and while there’s a distinct lack of pity in his eyes when Theo slowly opens his own to look at him, there’s also a notable lack of—satisfaction, or similar, too.

That helps more than Theo would have expected, but he still sounds definitively defeated when he says, “And you’re not actually asking, are you?”

Argent gives him a tight-lipped smile, and doesn’t reply. Tipping his head back and covering his face with his hands, Theo holds them there for a beat and then threads them back through his hair, drops them down to his sides. When he opens his eyes back up the Doctors are standing just behind Liam’s left shoulder, their attention focused down and on a clinical spread of equipment and ingredients on one of the tables, and Theo can almost smell the biting tang of wolfsbane and the softer bur of burdock root. 

“I have to stay here, then,” Theo murmurs quietly, his focus lingering on the empty space even after the memory judders and disappears. Then he flicks a look over at Argent, “With the Beacon Hills operating theater destroyed, I need the equipment.”

Argent nods, clearly having expected that. Theo lets his gaze fall away, but in doing so winds up looking at Scott, who looks weirdly conflicted, his expression pinched and his mouth twisted uncertainly.

“You can’t stay here alone,” Scott says, and he clearly means to sound authoritative but the statement curls up at the end in a question regardless. But after a few beats he takes a stab at answering his own question, “What about—”

“It can’t be you,” Argent cuts Scott off gently, and meets Scott’s surprised look with a knowing and sympathetic smile, “You’re right that I could lead the hunt, and Malia and Liam could even help me, but I’m not the alpha, and I can’t perform the necessary pack diplomacy.”

Scott shuts his mouth, stymied. The obvious flip-side is that it can’t be Argent who stays, either—of the five of them, only he and Theo had any real expertise in the skills necessary to hunt prey of the two-legged kind, and Theo’d already been knocked out of the running—which leaves only two possibilities. Theo tries and mostly fails to smother a preemptive grimace.

“I’ll stay,” Malia says into the silence, and gives the room an unimpressed look when they all turn to stare at her in surprise, “Oh, please. Like there’s any other option? We all know what happened last time someone tried to tell Liam he had to stay behind.”

Behind her, Liam flushes, the reaction such a mix of irritation and embarrassment that even Theo—absently picking at Liam’s scent—can’t figure out which is the more dominant. He meets Theo’s eyes briefly and then jerks his gaze away, his arms crossing over his chest and his jaw working.

“Fine,” Argent agrees, and nods towards the transformer off of Theo’s right hip, “Shut that thing down and let’s get out of here. We can finalize the last of the details back at the motel.”

“Sure,” Theo murmurs quietly, watching and waiting in silence as Scott, Malia, and Liam move off after Argent towards the exit tunnel. 

Out of the corner of his eye he can see the Geneticist reaching forward and flipping all of the necessary switches on the transformer, twisting all the dials, the same movements that Theo is going to have to perform in a few short seconds, and he swallows down the sickening, twisting feeling in his chest, shakes his head to try and clear the memory. When he opens his eyes again the Geneticist is gone, but when Theo pushes off the table to reach for the transformer, he startles backwards almost hard enough to run right back into it, his mind briefly overlaying the Surgeon’s glove over his own outstretched arm.

“Theo?” Scott calls from the tunnel entrance, and Theo jerks and turns to look at him.

“Sorry,” He calls, and quickly moves to disable the transformer, “Coming.”

He flares his eyes reflexively in the sudden dark, and when he looks down at his arm, he just sees his own skin, his own fingers. Exhaling out a shaky breath, Theo shakes his arm roughly, and jogs to catch up with the others, already heading down the tunnel.

---

By Theo’s admittedly hazy estimation, it’s coming up on two in the morning when the door to his and Liam’s shared motel room opens and Liam steps out.

From the state of his hair he’d clearly just pulled the hoodie he’s wearing over his head, and his eyes are sleep-swollen. Theo grimaces and burrows a little deeper into the weatherbeaten chair positioned just to the side of his and Liam’s door, shoves his hands a little further into his own hoodie pocket. There isn’t much to see in terms of the view, and whatever there is to see, Theo’s probably already seen it in the time he’s been out here, but still he stares fixedly at the horizon so that he doesn’t have to stare at Liam. 

Liam just snorts, and his voice is hoarse when he says, “So are you just not even going to pretend to try and sleep, now?”

“I’m fine,” Theo mutters, though he can’t keep his shoulders from tensing or his mouth from twisting as he says it.

“Yeah,” Liam scoffs, “Try telling that to someone who hasn’t spent the past five weeks sharing a motel room with you.”

He’d clearly meant his statement rhetorically because he doesn’t wait for Theo to respond, just circles around him—and kicking him purposefully in the ankle as he goes, Theo jerking and snapping hey in annoyance—to the chair on Theo’s other side. The chair technically belongs to the room beside theirs, but the occupants are firmly passed out based on the sound of their breathing and have been for hours, so Theo thinks the likelihood that they’re going to protest is slim to none. 

Liam drops into the chair with a gusty sigh, sprawls his legs out. His hair still looks like he’d maybe jammed a fork in an electrical socket on his way out the door, but his eyes look a little more focused, a little brighter. Theo—doesn’t actually think that fact is going to work out in his favor. 

And, lo and behold, Liam only gives him a few seconds of silence before he tips his head sideways to squint thoughtfully at Theo as he says, “It’s the triggered memories, isn’t it? You’re afraid they’re going to make the nightmares worse.”

Theo just grits his teeth, and doesn’t respond. 

Liam hums and turns his head loosely back forward, “That’s what happened to Scott and the others, anyway, back when they had to trigger their stolen memories.”

“Do you actually need me for this conversation?” Theo snaps, though he feels defanged by the late hour and exhaustion, his usually-incisive tone barely more than scratch-worthy.

Apparently Liam thinks the same because he just snorts an unimpressed laugh and shoots Theo a dry look before turning back forward, lips curling up in a smirk. But then it melts off his face and he sighs, scrubs at his face with the side of one arm before he kicks out to try and catch Theo’s ankle again as he says: 

“Look, will you at least come brood inside the room? You know how Argent’s been lately about holding one half of a given buddy-pair responsible for the other’s stupidity, and you being out here like a giant bullseye-on-legs isn’t helping my case any.”

Theo’s wrapped up in moving his ankle out of range of Liam’s flailing foot so it takes him a few moments to process what Liam just said. When he does he looks up and over at Liam before he can stop himself, and while Liam’s words and tone may have been light, almost joking, the expression on his face is anything but. Theo swallows and jerks his gaze away.

“Fine,” He says after a few seconds, “Whatever.”

Liam had left the door cracked because he’s apparently less concerned with being eaten alive by insects in the night, instantaneous healing or not, so Theo leaves his card-key in his pocket, shoulders it open. He doesn’t bother to hold the door for Liam—though it hardly matters, Liam already on his heels—and just heads for the closer of the two beds, the linens on top of it barely disturbed. For half a second he considers climbing underneath the covers, more to make a point than because he has any expectation whatsoever of sleeping, but then his mind pulls up a perfect memory of one of the Doctors’ vaccine test subjects lying shapelessly under a sheet on one of their many exam tables, and he stumbles. 

He can practically feel the question fighting to get out from behind Liam’s teeth, but surprisingly Liam doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t say anything but he does follow Theo to his bed—Theo recovering as gracefully as possible and moving to sit gingerly back up against the headboard instead—and plops loosely down onto his back on the mattress besides Theo’s hip. Theo stares at him, baffled, but Liam doesn’t move or offer an explanation or even demand that Theo give him more space. Instead he just wiggles a bit to seemingly get more comfortable and then folds his far arm behind his head, lays the one nearer to Theo over his own stomach.

“Did I tell you what Mason said happened to Corey and Nolan at practice yesterday?” He asks, like it’s completely normal for him to muscle his way onto a too-small bed with Theo at two o’clock in the morning to share stories of his friends’ high school antics.

What? ” Theo answers intelligently, still completely thrown.

“So Coach was like, having a complete meltdown, as per usual, and Nolan—” Liam starts to explain, like Theo had instructed him to go on instead of blurting out a completely unhelpful—and apparently easily ignored—question.

“Liam, what the hell are you doing?” Theo demands, cutting him off.

Excuse you,” Liam replies primly, and without even bothering to look at him, “I am telling a story. So, Coach, right, and Nolan was—”

He keeps going like that, and Theo keeps staring at him, but the longer Liam goes the more ridiculous it seems to try and interrupt him, and so after a while Theo just shakes his head incredulously and lets the back of his skull thunk back against the headboard, only half-listening as Liam keeps telling him the tale of Coach-and-Corey-and-Nolan-at-practice-yesterday. In spite of himself he finds himself laughing quietly at parts, partially because it is, in fact, a funny story, and partially because Liam’s impression of Coach is dead-on

He’s still laughing when Liam wraps up the story, and he’s expecting Liam to get up, then, whatever goal he’d been trying to accomplish finished or point he’d been trying to make now made, except that Liam just launches into another story, this one about him and his dad and a friendly lacrosse competition that’d ended up breaking a window in the Geyer-Dunbar living room and getting them both grounded. Blinking open his eyes—and jesus, when had they even closed? —Theo glances down at Liam, but Liam is just grinning easily at the ceiling as he talks, unconcerned. So Theo just—closes his eyes again, after a few seconds, refocuses on the sound of Liam’s voice as it rises and falls with the peaks and valleys of his story.

He comes gasping awake some time later, adrenaline coating his tongue like a mouthful of pennies, his mind still filled with the vision of his nightmare: Theo dragging the Doctors’ escaping test subject back, only this time it’d been Liam begging and pleading with him to stop. Only Theo hadn’t, had just dragged Liam back into the arms of the Surgeon, who’d put his needle into Liam’s neck and then dropped him, veins already turning black and mouth already foaming, on the ground next to the dead-and-poisoned bodies of Scott, and Malia, and Argent. 

No, no, Theo thinks nonsensically, desperately, and tries to bring a hand up to brace against his forehead, only he can’t, because Liam is laying on it. He’s still staring in complete bewilderment down at Liam—who he’d somehow ended up curled half-around, Theo still half-sat up against the headboard—when Liam, apparently disturbed by Theo reflexively trying to jerk his arm out from underneath him, wrinkles his nose and turns towards Theo. Then it’s Theo who finds himself wrinkling his nose as Liam brings a hand up and pats clumsily at his face; Theo’s willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’d been aiming for Theo’s shoulder, but.

“S’okay, jus’ a nightmare,” He mumbles, “Go back t’sleep.”

What the actual hell, Liam, Theo thinks as Liam brings his hand back down before turning further onto his side towards Theo and curling around it. Theo stares at him and imagines putting a hand on his shoulder, shaking him awake and demanding that he go back to his own bed, where he should have been in the first place. But Liam is one long line of heat down Theo’s side, even with the fact that both of them are laying on instead of under the covers, and the warmth of him is helping to banish some of the remembered chill of the Doctors’ operating theater. 

And besides: Theo’s mind briefly flashes to the way that nightmare-Liam had been choking as his veins turned black, the way that nightmare-Liam’s limbs had convulsed jerkily and painfully as the poison killed him. Shuddering, Theo folds a little more around Liam’s head, breathes in his warm-and-healthy scent, listens to his quiet and sleep-deep breathing. Concentrating, Theo catches the rhythm of Liam’s steady inhales and exhales, starts matching his own to Liam’s; in when Liam breathes, out when he sighs it back out. 

He falls back asleep like that, and doesn’t dream.

---

Theo’s in the middle of double-checking one of the figures Lydia has just given him, his attention more on his notes than on the solution simmering carefully by his elbow, when suddenly the substance in the beaker gives a small pop and then fucking explodes.

“Jesus christ,” Theo swears, wheeling backwards, but even still his left arm winds up covered in the stuff.

“What?” Lydia demands from the rectangle of Theo’s tablet propped up against a nearby stack of books, “What just happened?”

Theo can’t answer her, because the substance on his arm has started eating through his shirt and burning the skin underneath. Fuck, fuck, Theo curses, and quickly tears off his shirt, tosses it as far away from himself as possible as he lunges for the bottle of saline solution that Lydia had forced him to stock the operating theater with. He gets the lid ripped off and dumps the full bottle over his arm, his teeth gritting as the substance sears through his skin and starts in on the muscle underneath. 

Between the saline rinsing away the last of the clinging substance and his healing, the burning stops quickly. Gasping as pain and adrenaline keep working their way through his system, Theo angrily throws the bottle of saline onto one of the tables and then covers his face with his hands, takes a few moments to breathe. When he drops them a few seconds later and looks at his left arm, the skin is still a mottled, angry red, but the burns are gone. Closing his eyes, Theo rubs his right hand over the newly-repaired skin of his forearm and then takes a few steps forward so that he’s back in view of the tablet’s camera.

“It fucking exploded, that’s what happened,” Theo tells Lydia’s frowning face, struggling to keep his voice neutral.

“It must have been unstable,” She murmurs thoughtfully, her expression going unfocused, but it sharpens back almost immediately as she narrows her eyes and demands, the fact that he’s suddenly shirtless seemingly overcoming her scientist’s curiosity, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Theo snaps, unable to stop himself from biting it out this time. Lydia raises a serene eyebrow and Theo forces himself to take a deep breath, exhales it out harshly, “It got on my arm, but the saline washed it away.” She looks briefly triumphant and Theo rolls his eyes, “Yes, congratulations, you were right about the saline. Give me a minute, I’m going to grab a shirt.”

“Oh, don’t get dressed on my account,” She says slyly, but she says it just to say it; when Theo snorts and shoots her a dry look, she’s not even looking at him, her attention on her notes out of view of the camera.

Theo grabs a shirt from the bag he keeps stocked in the operating theater next to the tank where the Doctors used to keep Mr. Douglas, his eyes on the dull glimmer of liquid still in the bottom of the tank as he pulls it over his head. He’s just tugging it down and into place when Malia suddenly appears in the tunnel-mouth, her eyes blue and her mouth full of fangs. When she sees him staring at her, a speaking look on his face, she drops the shift and rolls her eyes before explaining, “I heard you shriek.”

“I did not shriek,” Theo says, affronted, just as Lydia comments, “I think everyone in Northern California heard him shriek.”

“Better watch it,” Malia murmurs absently in response as she comes forward, eyeing the sad remnants of Theo’s and Lydia’s last experimental batch of antidote curiously, “Last I heard from Scott, Argent, and Liam, they think some of Monroe’s people have been in the area.”

“When did they say that?” Theo demands; neither Scott, Argent, nor Liam had mentioned anything about that when they’d had their nightly check-in last night, so either they’d missed giving a glaring update or Malia had talked to them while Theo had been dodging exploding glass beakers.

“About ten minutes before you started shrieking,” Malia says, tongue firmly in her cheek, and Theo rolls his eyes, gives her a sneering look as he joins her back at the table he’d been working at. 

There are shattered pieces of glass lying on the table and floor and Theo pokes one experimentally. When it doesn’t burn him or otherwise react, he swipes his ruined shirt from where he’d thrown it and starts using it to gather up the glass. 

“How much more work do you guys have to do, you think?” Malia is asking Lydia, stood over Theo and being manifestly unhelpful; Theo has to nudge her in the calf to get her to move so he can get at some more glass.

“Well, considering our last resounding success—” Lydia starts dryly, both Malia and Theo snorting in response, “—I probably need to take some time to rework the formulas we’ve been using. Not to mention I have to meet my advisor across campus in half an hour.”

“Hey, how about next time, aim for one that doesn’t explode?” Theo suggests brightly, straightening as he does so with his ruined-shirt-full-of-glass in hand.

Even through the screen Lydia’s unimpressed aura comes through perfectly, “How about next time you stop relying on your advanced healing to protect you and build a proper experimental set-up like I keep asking?”

After his most recent experience, Theo is definitely going to jerry-rig some kind of safety system for their next run at an antidote, but out-loud he just breezily says, “I’ll take it under advisement.”

Lydia scoffs, but it’s Malia who says, “Okay, well, it’s probably good that you’re done for today. We need to get going soon or we’re going to be late.”

Late?, Theo thinks, then grimaces, “Oh, fuck.”

“You promised Shohreh,” Malia reminds him mercilessly.

“No, Scott promised Shohreh,” Theo corrects, “And then he ran off to Nevada chasing the Carson City pack’s Monroe sighting.”

“Well, whatever,” Malia dismisses, “Do you need to go back by the house before we head to Yreka?”

“Yes,” Lydia cuts in before Theo can say no. Theo turns to glare at her through the tablet and she just glowers right back, “Saline or no saline, you need to go finish washing that shit off your arm. Go shower. Malia—”

“I am not a child,” Theo interrupts her in irritation, “I don’t need a babysitter.”

Lydia just raises that same eyebrow. Malia barks a laugh and tells her, “I’ll make sure he showers, don’t worry.”

True to her word, Malia does actually steal his truck keys and then refuses to give them back when he tries to argue that he’s fine and does not need to shower, forces him into the passenger seat of his own vehicle and drives them to the tiny furnished house Argent had found them to rent on a month-to-month basis in what counts for downtown Dorris, California. She then proceeds to stand outside the bathroom with her arms crossed until Theo gives in and slams the door in her face, strips and showers quickly. 

It does, as Theo had told her it would, mean that they’re late getting to Shohreh Khorasani’s sprawling ranch house in Yreka that night. That actually seems to be the rule rather than the exception; as they’re stepping out of Theo’s truck and closing the doors, two more cars full of Yreka pack members pull up. Malia gets pulled away by the trio of Tatiana’s and Omar’s kids that comes spilling out of their parents’ sensible crossover, and Theo’s shaking his head amusedly and about to follow them when Deputy McPherson rolls to a stop behind Theo’s truck and calls his name. 

“You hear from Scott about the possible hunter sightings?” He asks as Theo jogs over to where McPherson is stepping out of his cruiser and pushing his door shut behind himself.

“Malia filled me in,” Theo tells him, and starts walking with him as he heads for the house, “She didn’t have a lot of details, though.”

He spends most of the pack dinner as one of two unofficial McCall pack representatives, talking strategy with McPherson and a handful of other Yreka pack betas at the frankly gargantuan table situated in the middle of Shohreh’s large, open-air dining room. It’s a relatively warm night for late fall and Shohreh had opened up the massive glass doors taking up most of the wall, which Theo had silently appreciated because it means he can hear Malia having a spirited debate with another cluster of Shohreh’s betas about—something, they’re all talking too fast and over each other for him to really catch—in the backyard. 

And, more to the point: when Argent demands to know whether he and Malia had been sticking to Argent’s buddy-system even with Argent only enforcing it in absentia, Theo’s going to be able to say yes and only mostly be stretching the truth.

At some point Shohreh comes by and demands an update on the status of the antidote. Theo gives her one, and then completely fails to talk his way out of showing her his perfectly healed arm, Shohreh taking hold of his left wrist in one hand and his left elbow in the other as she studies the skin revealed by his pushed-up sleeve. 

“Performing experiments on a volatile substance known to be highly poisonous without proper safety precautions,” Shohreh comments musingly, “I’m sure you’ve had better ideas.”

“You’re really going to have to meet Lydia someday, ma’am,” Theo tells her dryly, reclaiming his arm and pushing his sleeve down when she releases it, “I think you’re going to get along.”

Shohreh just hums in acknowledgement, her lips curling up in a small smirk, and then turns to McPherson, “Any update on the hunter sightings?”

The sun is just starting to go down by the time Theo wanders through the still wide-open doors onto the house’s equally massive back porch, following the trail of Malia’s scent. Shohreh’s backyard isn’t a backyard so much as several acres of wide-open fields, and Theo leans up against the patio railing, eyes narrowing to catch and then track Malia where she’s apparently been endearing herself to the Yreka pack children by letting them chase her around in her coyote form, and endearing herself to the Yreka pack adults by running their children right into the arms of a good night’s sleep. Laughing quietly, Theo pushes off the railing and walks a few steps backward until he can drop into an unoccupied wicker couch, his arms crossing as he squints against the dying light. Sighing quietly, Theo lets his head fall back against the couch and keeps his ears on Malia’s happily-racing heartbeat, her occasional yips and barks.

Twilight has fallen and various pack parents have come out to call for and retrieve their children from Malia’s care, Theo absently noting various cars starting up across the other side of the house as certain pack members begin to head home, when Shohreh steps out onto the patio. Her eyes drift serenely over the clusters of her people still scattered around the patio and backyard, but Theo just waits, and isn’t at all surprised when she finishes her apparent survey and comes to join him on the couch’s other end.

“So can I tell Scott that Malia and I didn’t completely screw up his hard-won diplomatic relationship with ‘California’s most powerful werewolf pack?’” Theo asks once she’s settled into her seat, that last part a direct quote that Scott had uttered in a particularly high-pitched, panicked voice a few weeks ago once Derek had explained exactly who had contacted him with information on Monroe. 

Shohreh scoffs and repeats hard-won in a tone that fully communicates the air-quotes around the two words, because they both know, and Scott knows—and so does anyone else who was there—that Scott’s role in establishing that relationship amounted primarily to not forgetting his lines, but she’s smirking when she says, “Tell him you did and then tell me exactly what kind of shade he turns. I would think approximately the color of cold oatmeal.”

“That’s a little cruel,” Theo murmurs, but he’s smirking, too, mostly because he can perfectly picture the expression—and shade—that Scott’s face would take on.

Shohreh waves away this concern with a sweep of her hand, “He’s young, he could use a few good non-life-threatening scares. Not like me,” She adds, sighing and leaning back more heavily against the couch cushions, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

That’s both patently untrue and completely laughable, but underneath the airy comment Shohreh’s scent has a sour tang to it. Theo looks over at her, her face limned in moon- and starlight, and feels his own amusement start to fade.

“The hunters in your territory…” He says quietly, “You think McPherson is going to find another body?”

Shohreh just heaves out a huge, gusty breath, “I don’t know, Mr. Raeken. I hope not.” Then she turns to him, and her eyes lose their heaviness, their color gone sharp even with the absence of any hint of red, “But the possibility is why you and your friends’ work on the antidote is so important.”

Theo stares at her, confused, “I don’t—”

“Theo,” Shohreh cuts him off, firmly if gently, “When was the last time you slept a full night?” 

Theo feels his jaw snap shut, jerks his gaze away from her, his expression twisting. Then he closes his eyes, lets his head drop low on his neck as he asks, “Did Malia say something?”

“She didn’t have to,” Shohreh tells him, “Your scent is saturated with exhaustion, and every now and then your pulse skips, have you noticed? Your body is trying to tell you something.”

“Then it should have a pointed conversation with my mind,” Theo snaps, and then immediately regrets it, wincing, “I’m sorry.” He says, and Shohreh just flicks a hand dismissively. Theo smiles at her gratefully, but it almost immediately drops off his face as he exhales roughly and says, “I don’t know what you want me to say. It is what it is, and I am—who I am. You know what I’ve done.”

“True,” Shohreh agrees, which had been an uncomfortable truth for Theo and the rest of the McCall pack to discover upon Shohreh and Theo coming face to face. That Shohreh and a handful of the other pack alphas had known about the Doctors had been less of a surprise than learning that Shohreh, at least, had known all about Theo’s relationship to them, “I do.”

She unfolds herself from the couch, then, Theo only half-watching her out of the corner of his eye, the rest of his attention still fixed on the ground. Once on her feet she pauses to resettle the shawl wrapped her shoulders, and then she reaches forward and cups Theo’s chin in one hand, tilts his head up so that he’s looking at her.

“I also know what you’re doing,” She tells him, and strokes her thumb across her cheek when his mouth drops open and he stares up at her in surprise. Smiling softly, she releases his chin and adds, “You and Malia know where the guest rooms are. Have a good night, Mr. Raeken.”

She leaves him there, then, staring after her as she heads back inside. Most of the Yreka pack betas had left for their own homes or headed inside, but down in the backyard—in the fields—Theo can still hear Malia playing with some of the still-present kids, and even with the slight breeze, the night is still pleasantly warm. So after a few long, slow minutes of trying to decide what to do, Theo—decides to do nothing, just drops his head back down against the couch back, and closes his eyes, and breathes.

When he wakes up a few hours later, he’s horizontal on the couch and underneath a rough woolen blanket that someone must have thrown over him, and Malia—still in her coyote form—is asleep on his feet. Blinking groggily, Theo lifts his head and stares at her for a few confused seconds before looking around, but they’re alone on the patio, and the only thing that Theo can hear inside the house is the sound of several heartbeats beating steadily in sleep. Groaning, Theo lets his head fall back flat and then jerks bodily when he feels the blanket slide off and down his legs.

When he raises his head again, Malia is glaring back at him, the blanket held over her chest. Her hair is an absolute mess and she looks displeased at having been woken up, her eyes puffy with sleep and body slouched back against the couch.

“Sorry,” Theo mutters hoarsely, even though he’s not sure if he’s apologizing for waking her up or for falling asleep on the couch in the first place or for something else, entirely.

Malia just yawns and shrugs, “S’okay. I’m just glad you slept, some.”

Theo feels a twitch of irritation, “So you did say something to Shohreh.”

“I did not,” Malia denies, though her denial loses some of its force when she yawns again, her jaw cracking, “Though Shohreh did make everyone swear not to wake you up. She even stopped McPherson from taking you inside to one of the guest bedrooms.”

“Oh,” Theo says, unsure what else to do with this information. Then something occurs to him and he winces, says half-apologetically, “You—didn’t have to stay out here with me. I’m sure Argent would let the lack of buddy-pairing slide, considering we’re probably on the safest patch of land in all of California, right now.”

Malia shrugs again, unbothered, says simply, “I like it out here.”

“Oh,” Theo repeats intelligently, and then grimaces at his own dopey behavior. 

But Malia just laughs, a little, and before Theo can say something else or otherwise react, she gives a little shiver and then shifts back to her coyote form. She ends up half-buried under the blanket and Theo can’t help but give a short, helpless laugh at the picture she makes, her muzzle half peeking out and the rest of her altogether buried under it, but she just gives him a dry look and then twists around to take hold of the edge of it in her jaws. Brow furrowing, Theo’s about to ask when Malia starts walking forward, dragging the blanket back over Theo and stepping both to the side and directly on him as she goes. Theo makes an oofing noise as she steps on his diaphragm, but before he can push her off, she’s wiggling out from underneath the blanket and trotting back down to her previous spot by his feet.

Theo—the blanket now back up to his chest—squints at her. She just gives him a canine grin, tongue lolling, and drops heavily back down onto his feet, curls back up and hides her nose under the tip of her tail, closes her eyes. Theo feels his eyebrows shoot up and he stares at her, but after a few long seconds where she does nothing but ignore him, her pulse starting to level back out into sleep, Theo touches his tongue to his bottom lip, and then he takes hold of the blanket, pulls it a little further up by his chin. Turning a little more onto his side—and feeling Malia grumble in irritation when the movement jars his feet still trapped under her bulk—Theo closes his eyes, takes a deep breath of the cool night air, and then exhales it out, slow and steady and easy.

And then he does it again.

---

Theo tries everything short of outright begging to get out of going back to Beacon Hills for Thanksgiving, but Scott—looking a little wild around the eyes with the recent discovery of Monroe’s eighth victim—shuts him down.

Malia gives Theo a pitying look from across the table in the tiny kitchen in the Dorris house and then leaves him there with Scott and Argent, goes to join Liam out in the living room where he is, for reasons unknown, watching reruns of Jeopardy and getting alarmingly into them. Theo glares at her retreating back—she’d been less than sympathetic to his plight and had gotten sick of him trying out his various arguments on her—but then refocuses on Scott, who’s rubbing his hands tiredly over his face even while he continues to try and cajole Theo into a surrender that he’s already won.

“Scott,” Argent finally interrupts gently, his eyes on Theo’s face.

Scott looks up at him and then over at Theo, says, “Oh,” when he realizes that Theo had already given up on arguing, “Well. Good then.”

They leave early the next morning for Beacon Hills, with Liam riding with Theo in his truck primarily because, as quickly becomes clear, he wants to get more sleep; he reclines the passenger seat back as far as it’ll go the second he gets inside, and is out by the time Theo’s following Argent’s SUV and Scott’s Jeep off of the merge lane onto State Highway 97. Considering that Theo spent last night with Liam aggressively hogging all the room on their shared air mattress in the Dorris house living room—Argent taking Theo’s usual bed and Scott in with Malia—Theo briefly considers being an asshole and waking him up to force him to share the misery of Argent’s militaristically early departure time. In the end, though—his eyes briefly drifting to Liam’s sleep-slack face as he coasts along—he lets it go; there’s being an asshole and then there’s being an asshole, and Theo feels too unusually well-rested to be the latter.

Thanksgiving day Theo spends at the McCall house, first because Scott asks him to come over so they can talk about the status of the antidote while he helps his mom prep, and then because Scott has a list of increasingly transparent reasons to keep him there, clearly afraid that if he lets Theo out of his sight that Theo is going to disappear off somewhere and conveniently ‘forget’ to come back for dinner. At first it’s both awkward and irritating, Theo and Ms. McCall clearly trying mutually to avoid each other with little success and zero help from either Scott or Argent, and then, once he—and Ms. McCall, for that matter—catch onto what Scott’s doing, it’s mostly amusing.

“Can I ask Theo to go pick up the pies I ordered from Emmalee’s, or would you like to microchip him first?” Ms. McCall finally wryly asks at about three in the afternoon, t-minus a few alarmingly short hours before everyone is due to start arriving.

“Please don’t give him ideas,” Theo mutters as Scott colors and tries to stammer out a patently flimsy excuse; Theo’s heart—his sister’s —twists in his chest when Ms. McCall shoots him a crinkle-eyed grin, and he has to quickly look down at the potato he’s peeling to hide his own helpless smile.

He retrieves the pies—an activity not unlike storming the Bastille, what with the last minute rush—and makes it back just in time for the first guests to start arriving, Liam and his parents spilling out of their car laden down with dishes and bowls and, in Liam’s case, a casserole dish held between his oven-mitt covered hands. Liam gives a weird full-body jerk when he sees him like he’d been halfway to waving before remembering his full hands, and then settles on what in any other circumstance would be considered a bro-nod; Theo rolls his eyes and shakes his head, manages to get the front door open and hold it there for Liam and his parents without dropping any of the stacked boxes of pies in his hands.

Still, when Stiles shows up a few hours later—coming through the door arms raised like a conquering hero, Derek stood behind him looking longsuffering and carrying Stiles’ bag from his severely delayed flight—Theo takes advantage of the pack’s ensuing and near all-consuming distraction to slip out the back door. He’s just come around to the front of the house and is standing on the sidewalk below the McCall driveway tucking his keys back into his pocket—no better way to ruin his own escape than starting up his truck and alerting everyone to his whereabouts—when headlights sweep over the street as a car makes a right and starts heading his way.  Almost instantly Theo realizes it’s the Sheriff’s cruiser and he laughs disbelievingly, drops his head back on a loose neck and then brings it back up to wait. 

The Sheriff has to park down the street and walk up given the number of cars both in and around the McCall driveway, and while Theo’s half-expecting him to say something while still half a block away, he waits until he’s close enough that he doesn’t have to raise his voice to pointedly ask, “What, you’re not going to try and pretend you were just getting something from your truck?”

“I mean, I could, if you needed the laugh,” Theo tells him, “But it seemed kind of pointless.”

The Sheriff winds up laughing a little under his breath anyway and looks towards the house. Even from the sidewalk and without supernatural hearing the raucous noise of over twenty people crammed into a single house is obvious, and the Sheriff’s look gets even drier when Stiles’ voice suddenly cuts loudly through the general din. Finally the Sheriff sighs and turns back to Theo, tilts his head in the direction Theo would need to take to finish his escape. 

“Go on,” He says, the smallest of smiles on his face, “Get out of here.”

“Wait, seriously?” Theo asks, staring at him.

There’s a shriek and a burst of laughter from inside and the Sheriff grimaces. “Twenty-person holiday gatherings aren’t for everyone,” He says wryly, and makes a shooing motion with one hand, “Go on, window’s closing—someone’s going to notice you’re gone, soon.”

Theo studies him for a moment longer in the weak light, and then he nods, smiles quickly and helplessly and starts down the sidewalk. But there’s something— someone’s going to notice you’re gone, soon —that pricks at him, a memory that he hadn’t so much blocked out as one that had gotten buried underneath all the other memories he’d been forced to recall, and he stops, turns back.

“Sheriff,” He calls, loudly enough that the Sheriff will hear him but quietly enough that no one—even nearby supernaturally-sensed ones—will. The Sheriff pauses on his way up the McCall driveway, turns to look at him quizzically. Theo swallows, but— you could run, Liam had said, you’re good at it —and so he steels himself, asks, “This is what you expected me to do back when this all started, wasn’t it? Running—running away.”

Even in the dim light Theo can see the Sheriff’s eyebrows shoot up, his pulse briefly kick, but it only takes him a few seconds to recover from his surprise, and then he answers, simple and succinct and honest, “Yes.”

Theo had known that was the answer and so isn’t surprised, exactly, but he’s—he doesn’t know what he is. He got his answer so he should turn around and leave, but what he actually does is jam his hands into his pockets, stare sightlessly out at the night-dark street, the conversation feeling—incomplete, somehow.

“Theo,” The Sheriff suddenly says, jerking him out of it. When he looks up and over at the Sheriff, the Sheriff has his head cocked slightly and as he studies him, “Why didn’t you?”

Theo stares at him, the Sheriff’s question catching him just as off-guard as Liam’s had all those weeks ago. Why are you here, Liam had asked, and Theo had given him a reason, but Liam had just disagreed, had told him, you’re not here because anyone’s making you

“I don’t know,” Theo finally tells him, and the rawness of his own voice is almost as much of a surprise as his answer, itself.

The Sheriff hums and nods, thoughtfully. Stood now in the porchlight rather than under streetlights, the lines on his face look deeper, the furrows burrowed into the corners of his eyes more pronounced. He should look tired—he should be tired, given everything—but instead he just looks—steady. Balanced; his scuffed uniform boots rooted firmly to the earth. He meets Theo’s eyes and smiles again, this one a little softer.

“Well. Let me know if you figure it out,” He tells Theo, “I have to admit I’m curious.”

And then he waves, and turns back to the house. Theo had made it far enough down the sidewalk before the Sheriff’s arrival that he’s probably out of view of anyone catching a glimpse of the street outside the door as the Sheriff opens it, but still Theo jerks and jogs quickly farther down. He slows after he’s gone a few yards but doesn’t stop, just burrows his hands a little deeper into his pockets and keeps walking. 

He’s mostly lost in thought when he comes up to Palmera, and then—pausing at the intersection with a brief, harmless flash of annoyance at the fact that it’s going to take at least a minute, minimum for the light to change—he stops, and considers. Waiting for the light to change and then hanging a right a block further down will get him back to Derek’s building and his own apartment, but abandoning the intersection and taking a left… He pivots, and starts walking, and doesn’t stop even when the sidewalk gives way to the unpaved dirt trails of the preserve.

He’s just made it to the bridge over the creek where he’d watched his sister die when he gets the first text. Theo checks it as he’s lowering himself down, back to one of the posts holding up the bridge railing and legs stretched out before him; it’s Scott, forgoing using words to express his disappointment and instead sending Theo a single angry red frowning emoji. Laughing quietly, Theo holds his phone loosely between his hands, tips it idly back and forth while he considers a reply. Eventually he just taps out thanks for the invite and hits send, tucks his phone back into his pocket, his eyes drifting to the night-black water rushing by and below him. 

It takes Liam longer to notice he’s gone, but not by much. Theo jerks and then jerks again when the sound of his heels accidentally kicking the wooden boards below cuts through the silence of the preserve, and then he grimaces and digs his vibrating phone out of his pocket, looks down at the screen. Seriously?, it accuses, right under Liam Dunbar’s name. Even as Theo watches another message pops up underneath it, this one declaring, You’re ridiculous.

That’s mostly rhetorical so Theo’s about to slide his phone back into his pocket, mentally refusing to acknowledge the grin on his face, when it buzzes again. Giving the air in front of himself a dry and completely unappreciated look, Theo reverses direction and pulls his phone back around so that he can look at it, unlocking it as he goes. It means that when he sees the text thread, Liam’s messages are stacked one on top of the other, Seriously? above You’re ridiculous above Liam’s newest message: And missing out on delicious pie. Reading that Theo’s immediately expecting a picture of Liam stuffing his face with pie, and he gets that, but he also gets Mason, and Corey, and Nolan doing the same, all four of them with ridiculous expressions and pie-filled chipmunk cheeks, and this time Theo can’t ignore his smile; it pulls his lips too wide.

He stays on the bridge watching the water for long enough that he stops noticing the chill of the air and the wooden planks beneath him; long enough that when he does finally get back to his apartment in the early hours of the morning, he has to grudgingly get in the shower to make his shivering stop, chimeric healing or no. After that he crawls onto his air mattress with his hair still wet and sleeps until late, and only wakes up when he does the next morning because someone is rolling open his front door. I locked that, Theo thinks hazily but in perfect confidence, and he’s rolled out of bed with his adrenaline spiking before he catches Lydia’s floral-and-something-darker scent.

Lydia looks up at him when he appears over the loft railing. She has a silver key in her hand that she must have retrieved from Derek, and Theo huffs, drops his chin onto his arms folded over the railing as he tells her, “Your boyfriend is a shitty landlord.”

“Says the freeloader,” Lydia responds, dryly but without any malice; Theo rolls his eyes and heads for the stairs.

“What are you doing in my apartment?” He asks as he follows her into the kitchen, and only remembers that he’d gone to bed shirtless and wearing only a pair of sweatpants when her eyes drop quickly to his chest and then away. 

He’d be more flattered with her appraising glance if he hadn’t seen Derek—or Stiles for that matter, the pre-FBI program at his college had been good to him—sans shirt as well, and anyway, Lydia seems far more interested in whatever she’s pulling out of his fridge. It’s a tupperware container, one of the McCall’s, and Theo squints at her in confusion.

“Did you hide leftovers in my fridge?” He demands, irritated but mostly concerned about how he’d apparently completely failed to notice that someone had been in his apartment when he’d gotten home from the preserve.

“Well, if I’d put them in Derek’s, Stiles would have found and eaten them already, wouldn’t he?” She replies sweetly, and then starts pulling open drawers, looking for silverware.

“You’re going to be disappointed,” Theo warns her, then asks, “And aren’t you worried about him following you down here and eating them anyway?”

“Not really,” Lydia replies mildly, giving up on silverware and—after a moment of indecision—shrugging and starting to pick pieces of turkey out of the container with her fingers, “He’s pretty thoroughly distracted at the moment.”

Theo realizes instantly what she means and makes a face, forcing his mind away from Stiles and Derek and how one might thoroughly distract the other. Lydia smirks at him, then frowns and sets her tupperware down, pulls the fridge back open as she wonders, “You don’t have anything besides water to drink, do you?”

Theo’s about to tell her no and also about to make a particularly incisive observation along the lines of who’s freeloading now related to her comment earlier, when Lydia leans back with a bottle of gatorade in her hand—which Theo had forgotten he’d even had —and cracks it open. She takes a drink, and Theo finds his irritation melting away to be replaced by amusement as he realizes that Lydia Martin is in his kitchen at ten o’clock in the morning, drinking gatorade and eating leftovers with her hands.

Lydia seems to realize what he’s smiling about and glowers at him, “I don’t think the person living in an apartment without silverware should be casting stones.”

Theo holds up his hands in surrender, “I said nothing.”

Lydia rolls her eyes but lets it go, starts telling him about a theory that her and Dr. Geyer and Ms. McCall had come up with last night regarding the antidote. Theo answers, sneaking a hand forward as he does to snag a piece of turkey before Lydia can stop him. She initially jerks the tupperware container away but, as the conversation winds on, eventually slides it back, lets him steal a few more pieces as they theorize back and forth.

“Well, as nice as this breakfast and show have been—” She tells him maybe half an hour later, gesturing to his shirtless chest with the tupperware, “—Stiles and Derek have probably come up for air by now, and I need a fork for the rest of this.”

“I didn’t need to know that,” Theo complains, making a face, and Lydia just smirks, starts heading for the door. She’s most of the way there, Theo absently following her, when Theo feels a question form in the space between his lungs, and it's up and out of his throat before he can even think of biting it back, “Lydia.”

Lydia pauses and turns to look at him over her shoulder, curiosity peaking her brows. Theo touches his tongue to his bottom lip, his better sense only now kicking in to second-guess his gut, but, hell:

“Do you know what happened to Josh’s and Tracy’s bodies?” He asks quietly, and can’t stop himself from wincing as he does.

The cramped feeling in his chest doesn’t get any better when Lydia’s scent immediately goes from holiday-morning easy, tinged with a little amusement, to shocked and shot through with threads of anger and not a little fear. He’s almost certain he knows exactly what she’s remembering, because he’s remembering it, too: his claws in the back of her neck, the way he’d said watch this, Lydia as he’d inserted the needle into Josh’s, and Tracy’s, and Corey’s, and Hayden’s veins, pumping them full of the serum he’d used to bring them back to life. She jerks her gaze away from his, her pulse high and fast enough that Theo’s half-braced for Derek to come tearing through the door, but then Lydia takes in a deep breath, and it slows.

“You mean, do I know what happened to their bodies after you left them to rot in the sewers?” She clarifies, her voice hard and the question itself a barb; Theo flinches, and keeps his eyes on the ground.

“Yeah,” He agrees, and swallows past his increasingly tight throat to say, “Do you know what happened to Josh’s and Tracy’s bodies after I left them to rot in the sewers?”

He’s not sure if the repetition—if the acknowledgement, the admission —is going to help, but after a few long seconds of silence, Lydia blows out a short, rough breath, and he looks up at her reflexively.

“After...everything,” She finally says, and means, after Sebastien, and the Doctors, and you, “Corey asked for our help in retrieving their bodies. Josh and Tracy didn’t have any family left—” and that’s an accusation, too, Theo standing close to Tracy and whispering I’ll do it if you want me to, “—so Corey… He gave them graves out in the preserve.”

Theo tries to open his mouth to say something and then has to settle on a jerky nod, his throat too tight to get any words out. Lydia studies him for another long, few, agonizing seconds, and then she taps a finger against the tupperware in her hands. 

“Let me—know when you’re back,” She tells him, the syllables coming out sticky like she’d had to force her tongue to cooperate in speaking them, “and we’ll go borrow the high school lab, see if the theory Dr. Geyer and Ms. McCall and I came up with last night is right.”

“I will,” Theo manages to say, his voice practically a croak, so he clears it, promises again, “I’ll let you know.”

For a second Lydia’s jaw works and her pulse kicks like she had something else to say, but then she gives another of those rough exhales and pivots on her heel, turns back for the door and this time walks quickly through it like she’d maybe been afraid he was going to try and ask her something else. Theo watches her go, and then he covers his face with his hands, takes a few steps back until he can lean heavily back against the rough brick wall separating the apartment’s living room from its kitchen.

He gave them graves out in the preserve, Theo repeats silently to himself, and then thinks: okay.

---

Finding Josh’s and Tracy’s graves takes less time than Theo had feared it might, mostly because Corey’s scent leading from the preserve’s main parking lot and winding its way through the woods is strong enough that it's clear that Corey visits them regularly; Theo has to swallow down a lupine whine when he realizes, his ears flattening against his skull.

Stepping into the small clearing Corey’s scent had led him to, it doesn’t take him long to realize that the two short pillars of stacked rocks positioned in front of a fallen log are headstones, and this time Theo can’t swallow back the whine. He lingers on the edge of the clearing, his paws feeling like they’re rooted to the ground, but: you mean, do I know what happened to their bodies after you left them to rot in the sewers. Gritting his teeth, Theo forces himself forward.

The graves have been there long enough that the ground is once more even, winter-dead grass grown over where the turned earth must once have been and all of it covered in a layer of leaf litter and dried twigs, but there’s a patch of missing moss on the bark of the fallen log in between the headstones that speaks of someone spending enough time there with their backs to it to have rubbed the moss off. Theo noses at the spot, Corey’s scent soaked through with grief soaked through into the wood itself, and then he closes his eyes, takes a few steps backwards until he’s standing in front of both headstones. Out somewhere in the preserve Theo can hear laughter, the sound of people joking and scuffling through the dirt, post-Thanksgiving flag-football games and walks; swallowing down the wounded whimper he wants to give, he slowly lowers himself to the ground, drops his head flat but keeps his eyes on the headstones.

He isn’t sure how long it is before the general noise of Beacon Hills citizens romping obliviously through the preserve gives way to a set of footsteps very specifically heading towards the clearing, but the sound of it immediately snaps Theo out of his head and back into his body, Theo jumping up onto all fours and whipping around. 

“Easy,” Corey tells him as he steps into the clearing, “I come in peace.”

Oh, fuck, Theo thinks, his body already reflexively backing up a few steps, but he’s stuck. He’d already gone far past the limits of common decency by coming here in the first place: shifting back to try and explain himself while standing in front of Josh’s and Tracy’s grace naked would be something else altogether. But Corey just snorts a laugh and ignores his panicked demeanor, swings the backpack he’s wearing around so that he can unzip it and pull a mass of grey fabric out, toss the bundle of it towards Theo. Theo hops reflexively back out of the way and then stares down at the set of sweats quizzically before glancing up at Corey.

“Lydia warned me that she’d told you,” He explains, “And Liam said that if you did come, you’d do it four-legged, so.”

Wincing both because it definitely should have occurred to him that Lydia would tell Corey, and because Liam being able to predict his form makes him feel alarmingly transparent, Theo looks away from Corey, his ears flicking back and forth. Then he sighs and—because really, what the hell else is he going to do—picks the sweats up carefully in his jaws and pads a few yards away, deep enough into the woods that he can shift back and tug on the sweatpants and sweatshirt without either giving Corey a show or feeling like he’s further desecrating Josh’s and Tracy’s graves. 

When he steps back into the clearing, Corey isn’t standing and waiting for him like he’d been expecting. Instead, Corey is kneeling in front of Josh’s and Tracy’s headstones and carefully brushing them clean, picking out the bits of dried leaves and small twigs that had gotten blown into and then caught by the stones. Theo manages to watch for about three total seconds, and then he has to jerk his gaze away, a feeling like acid in his stomach and his guts twisting. 

“I’m sorry,” Theo finally blurts out, after a minute or so has gone by and Corey has yet to say anything, “I shouldn’t have...I had no right to…” He stammers, and then grits his teeth and closes his eyes briefly shut, says more firmly, “I’m sorry.”

Corey glances at him from where he’s still kneeled down, but then he looks back at the graves, keeps cleaning them without responding. Panic and an immediate, all-consuming sort of shame had overtaken Theo’s system the second he’d realized it was Corey coming into the clearing, and his senses are still too saturated with both to really catch Corey’s scent, so he’s operating a little blind, unable to probe for specific emotional markers and left only with his eyes and Corey’s completely unreadable expression. It’s maddening and anxiety-inducing and—possibly exactly what Theo deserves, so he grits his teeth and forces himself to swallow down the slew of excuses he wants to give, just stays silent and waits.

“I’ll admit I was confused, when Lydia called,” Corey finally says, straightening up off his knees and brushing dirt and dried leaves off his pants, “It—wasn’t something I expected you to care about.”

That lands exactly like any one of the numerous gut-punches Theo’s taken in his life, and he hunches forward over the core of himself before he can stop himself. Corey just watches him neutrally, no flicker of pity but no flicker of satisfaction, either, and so Theo forces his shoulders to straighten, braces himself and meets Corey’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Theo tells him again, unsure what the hell else to say, and also unsure whether he means for coming here or for—other things. 

Corey just huffs and looks away, his expression finally spasming with something as his arms cross, “Yeah, so you said.”

“Corey—” Theo starts carefully, tongue touching his bottom lip, but Corey cuts him off.

“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” He says, and manages to hold Theo’s eyes for a few long seconds before looking away again, “It’s just...”

“That it might not matter?” Theo fills in quietly, after Corey’s trailed off and failed to restart, his scent now starting to come through to Theo’s nose, though it’s such a tangled mess that it almost makes no difference.

Corey grimaces, but doesn’t disagree. Theo exhales out quietly and keeps his shoulders from hunching back in through sheer force of will, though he can’t entirely keep his own expression from twisting. He smooths it back out as quickly as he can, though, forces it back as neutral as he can get it. It’s only when he finally looks back up from where he’d reflexively dropped his gaze to the ground that he realizes that Corey had been watching him the whole time, rendering the whole process a little moot.

“Look,” Corey finally says, blowing out a rough breath, “I’m not going to try and tell you… I’m not going to demand you don’t come here, or something dramatic like that.” Theo stares at him, can feel his own expression cracking again as he watches Corey’s do the same, “But…”

He stops, scrubs his hands roughly over his face, and then drops them back down, looks Theo dead in the eye.

“I come here on Tuesdays, after practice,” He says, both his voice and his expression now firm, “Just—not then, okay?”

Theo nods, immediately and without more than a second’s worth of consideration. Corey gives him the barest flicker of a strained smile, and then he stops, really seems to look around for the first time since he’d arrived. The various clusters of hikers and pick-up football players are closer, now, the preserve getting more densely packed with the later hour, and Corey looks back at him, mouth pursing thoughtfully.

“C’mon,” He tells Theo, and tips his head back towards where a not-exactly straight line leads back to the parking lot, “The last thing Stiles’ dad needs is a call about some giant wolf roaming the preserve, I’ll give you a ride back to your apartment.”

Theo’s knee-jerk reaction is to refuse, say it’s okay, don’t worry about it, but. Swallowing, he instead says, “Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks,” and trails Corey out of the preserve, back to Mason’s borrowed car.

There’s a heartbeat inside his apartment, the sound almost seeming to echo in the still-practically empty space, and initially—coming out of the stairwell and with his mind mostly still back in that clearing—Theo thinks it’s Lydia, back and hiding more food in his fridge. Almost instantly he catches a scent, though, and his irritation at Lydia’s casual approach to private property transmutes smoothly into irritation of a different kind.

“Does Derek just hand out keys to my apartment to anyone who asks?” Theo wonders aloud as he comes through his—once more unlocked, this time thanks to Liam—front door.

“Pretty much,” Liam hollers back from where he is—Theo locking the door behind himself and then coming forward into the kitchen—sitting on the island, two tupperware containers by his hip and a shit-eating grin on his face.

“Great, I feel so safe,” Theo deadpans, and then punches Liam in the thigh, “Get off the counter, asshole.”

Liam yelps and attempts to punch Theo back, but Theo had already purposefully moved out of range, so he just rolls his eyes and hops down, “Get some place to sit then, you prick,” He retorts, then adds, “Seriously, how have you not bought a single piece of furniture in the months that you’ve been here?”

“What, so it can sit here gathering dust while I’m in Dorris?” Theo shoots back, but then interrupts Liam opening his mouth to continue the argument by demanding, “What are you doing here, anyway?”

Liam gives him a dirty look, clearly not appreciating Theo derailing their argument, but then he leans over the island so that he can snag the two tupperware containers, drag them over closer to himself. He pops the lid off one of them and holds it out, busies himself quickly with the other once Theo bemusedly takes hold of the first. Glancing down, Theo realizes that Liam had apparently rescued two slices of pie—one pumpkin, one cherry—from the ravenous horde last night, and has now brought them over and shoved them into Theo’s arms. Brow furrowing, he looks back up at Liam, but Liam is still focused on popping the top off his own container. 

“You ran off before you could have any, so,” Liam says, shrugging, and Theo finds his eyes lingering on Liam’s shoulders when he realizes that they hadn’t fallen all the way back down after, still hunched up a little by his ears.

“You brought me pie?” He finds himself double-checking, voice quiet and devoid of absolutely every bit of mocking that he’d originally meant to inject it with.

Liam’s shoulders tighten even further before abruptly relaxing as he airily replies, “Pie which, let’s be honest, you don’t really deserve, since you ran out of Thanksgiving like some kind of weirdo.”

All the things that spring immediately to Theo’s mind to say are completely unacceptable—the you didn’t have to do that too soft and revealing, the joke he wants to make too pointed with insecurity, the thank you too raw—so eventually he settles on looking down at the slices of pie sitting innocuously in their container and manages to say, “There’s just one problem—”

He cuts off and looks up, startled, when Liam’s hand enters his vision, two forks held loosely in his fist as he plants his hand against Theo’s chest. When Theo catches his eyes, Liam grins, clearly pleased with himself, and tells him, “Oh, I know what a failure of a human being you are.”

Theo stares at him in surprise for a second longer, and then he can’t help the amused laugh that leaves his lips, his shoulders shaking with it and his face splitting in its own grin. Liam’s smile widens, his eyes crinkling with it. It lasts until Theo brings a hand up to try and tug one of the forks loose and winds up covering Liam’s hand in the process, and then it stutters, Liam’s expression going a little—shocked. Theo freezes, his fingers still arrayed over Liam’s, his attention caught and held by the brief touch of Liam’s tongue to his bottom lip. They stare at each other for a few seconds, and then Liam shakes himself out of it, pulling his hand free while leaving one of the forks held against Theo’s chest by his own hand.

“C’mon,” Liam tells him, his gaze initially jumping everywhere but Theo’s eyes before he finally meets them.

He leads Theo out into the empty living room, his fork dropped into his own tupperware container and held in his hand, settles down with his back against one of the rough brick walls with his legs stretched out. Theo follows him after hesitating for a few beats, mirrors his posture.

“How’d it go with Corey?” Liam asks after a few stretched seconds pass, his eyes on the forkful of pie he’s carefully carving off the slice of cherry pie in his container.

Theo glances at him, then down at his lap, “Kind of—surprisingly well, all things considered,” He tells him, poking at but not yet breaking off a piece of pie.

“Good,” Liam says simply. Then he stuffs his forkful into his mouth and mumbles, Theo making a face at the visual, “Hey, so, you missed it last night. Scott and Stiles and Derek were having this ridiculous debate, right, and—”

Theo spends a few seconds just watching Liam talk, his mouth starting to curl up as Liam really hits stride and the story takes, as expected, a turn for the absurd, and then he drops his attention back to his pie, takes a bite. He eats both slices listening to Liam’s stories, occasionally and then more frequently interjecting, the conversation wandering off to other topics as time passes but never slowing.

Liam doesn’t leave when his tupperware is empty, just sets it aside, his fork sticking out of it, and vehemently disagrees with Theo’s latest point, smacking him in the shoulder for emphasis as he makes his rebuttal. 

He doesn’t, in fact, leave for awhile.

---

“Talk to me, Theo,” Lydia orders snappishly as Theo is carefully drawing a small amount of their latest antidote attempt into a pipette, “I can’t see what’s happening, remember? You have to tell me.”

“How about,” Theo starts, tone dripping with an exaggerated patience that he in no way actually feels, “you calm the hell down and let me concentrate? When there’s something to tell you, you’ll be the first to know.”

Lydia scoffs but subsides, possibly because while she can’t see specifics from her view from the tablet camera, she can see him hunched over the spread of equipment on one of the Dorris operating theater tables as he prepares to test their antidote, a lab slide prepped with a sample of Cammie Mauger’s poisoned blood already slotted into the microscope. Closing his eyes, Theo sucks in a slow, deep breath, ignores the voice in his head murmuring please, this time please, and then opens his eyes back up and bends over the microscope’s eyepiece, pipette hovering carefully, carefully over the slide as he squeezes out two small drops of antidote.

Fuck,” Theo shouts seconds later, hands slamming down against the table on either side of the microscope; the pipette shatters and embeds several shards of glass in his hand and Theo bites back a snarl, nearly raises his hand to slam it down again and then stops, breathing hard.

Nothing? ” Lydia demands, disbelief and disappointment tangling in her voice even through the slight digital distortion, “I don’t understand, based on the biological breakdown—”

Based on the biological breakdown, nothing, Lydia,” Theo cuts her off sharply, his teeth bared in annoyance as he extends the claws on his left thumb and middle finger so that he can pick the shards of glass out of his right hand, “We’re stumbling around in the dark trying to figure this out, trying to create an antidote for a poison that we had to reverse-engineer from a bunch of dead werewolves ’ blood. I warned Argent and Scott that this would happen. Maybe it’s time to stop pretend—”

He cuts himself off with a bitten-off sound, wincing as he pulls free a large shard that had embedded itself deep into the muscle of right middle finger, and which new skin had already started growing over before he could manage to get it out. Blood drips from the reopened wound for a few seconds before it closes again, and Theo grimaces at his bloody fingers, then leans forward over the table so he can get at the stack of clean white cloths that Lydia had also insisted he stock the operating theater with. 

“Oh, please, Theo,” Lydia dismisses caustically, “Spare me the self-pity—”

“It’s not self-pity!” Theo snarls, can feel his eyes flare with his frustration as he glares at her through the tablet camera, throwing down the now bloody cloth, “Let’s be honest, what we’re missing here isn’t the biological breakdown, or the science at all! It’s the supernatural element from whatever the Doctors did, and the only one left on this planet who might know what that is, is me! Only I don’t know! And it’s not a stolen memory—” He snaps before Lydia can interrupt with that argument, “—it’s the fact that I—”

He trails off abruptly, because what he was going to say is: it’s the fact that I never paid attention. Or maybe: it’s the fact that I never cared. The Doctors’ science experiments were never going to get Theo his pack, and so of what use, exactly, had they been to him? He’d brought the Doctors their test subjects when they’d asked for them, and he’d disposed of the poisoned and dead victims after, but they’d just been bodies, and the Doctors’ experiments had just been an irritating waste of time while Theo impatiently waited to be given what they’d promised him. 

What a fucking idiot he’d been.

“I was their goddamn attack dog,” Theo finally concludes harshly, dropping down onto a nearby stool and covering his face with his hands, “Not their lab assistant.”

It only fully sinks in what he’d said, and who he’d said it to, after he’s done. Theo lowers his hands slowly, eyes rising to meet Lydia’s in the square of the tablet screen.

“I hope you’re not expecting sympathy,” Lydia tells him frigidly, the ice in her voice cold enough to freeze his muscles; his mouth where he’d been opening it to say—something, “Because from what I remember, you may have been their attack dog, but they didn’t keep you on a leash.”

Theo flinches bodily, the accusation coming through loud and clear. They didn’t keep you on a leash because Theo—hadn’t needed one. He’d gone where they’d ordered and he’d come back when they’d called. 

He’d—done a lot worse, too.

“No,” Theo finally manages to choke out, “No, that wasn’t—”

Lydia slices a palm through the air as she looks away from him, and Theo snaps his jaw shut obediently. With her hundreds of miles away in Boston, Theo can’t exactly catch her scent, but the truth is he doesn’t need to: he can see her nostrils flaring, can see the rapid rise and fall of the skin over her chest above her—as always—perfectly stylish top. Theo swallows and lowers his head again, rubs the fingers of one hand tiredly over his forehead.

“It’s just…” He starts, eyes still on the ground, “We’re up to thirteen victims. If Argent’s right, and she managed to kill the four members of the Hornbrook pack in one attack, then she’s—”

“—figuring out how to weaponize the poison,” Lydia finishes for him, her tone still icy but less—jagged.

“And we’ve got nothing,” Theo concludes, only then daring to meet her eyes again, “We’re nowhere.”

The last of the frozen anger on Lydia’s face cracks, and this time it’s Lydia that drops her face into her hands, her elbows braced on the table out of the camera’s view, her fingers tangling in her hair. She holds there for a few seconds, her brow pulling tighter and tighter, and then she drags her hands down her face until they come to rest covering her mouth, her eyes meeting his. Initially it seems like an accident, habit maybe, but then her eyes narrow, and her fingers drift away from her mouth as her head cocks thoughtfully.

“Lydia…?” Theo prompts carefully, his instincts piqued; her look the human equivalent of a hunting dog catching a scent.

“She’s figuring out how to weaponize the poison,” Lydia murmurs slowly, and waves a hand to preemptively silence Theo when his expression twists with confusion, “You and I have been trying to come up with an antidote to a poison.”

“Right, exactly,” Theo agrees impatiently, “So?”

So,” Lydia repeats, “We’ve been calling it a poison, but that’s not what it was, not originally.”

Theo stares at her, the beginnings of intuition stirring at the back of his mind, “It was a vaccine.”

“An incomplete vaccine,” Lydia corrects, “The Dread Doctors didn’t bother to finish it because—” She cuts herself off abruptly, awkwardly avoiding saying because they came to Beacon Hills, “But what if there’s something about the vaccine, something in the way that it broke down into the poison?”

“We wouldn’t be able to see whatever it is, not with the reverse-engineered poison,” Theo answers, half-out of the stool now as he mind starts whirring, the insidious threads of possibility snaking through his veins and burning out his earlier frustration, his hopelessness.

“We have to recreate the vaccine,” Lydia concludes firmly, staring straight at him. 

Theo starts nodding, quickly and absently, his hands flying to his jeans’ pockets as he pats them down, his eyes darting simultaneously around the room. 

He finds what he’s looking for just as Lydia asks, “What the hell are you doing?”

“Calling Shohreh,” Theo answers, diving for his phone where he’d tossed it next to the tablet and dragging it quickly over to himself, “Reverse-engineering the poison from the victim’s bodies is one thing, recreating the vaccine…”

“You’re going to have her examine your memories,” Lydia realizes, and Theo’s just scrolled through his contacts and found Shohreh’s name when she murmurs, her voice a little—reluctant, “Isn’t that...dangerous?”

Theo stops, his eyes jerking up to hers even as his thumb hovers over his phone’s screen.

“Yeah,” He agrees quietly, and isn’t talking about the risk he’s going to be facing in asking Shohreh to dig through his memories, “It was.”

He can see Lydia instantly realize the same, can see her lips tighten as she no doubt recalls the danger that he’d put her in—the damage he’d in fact done her—when he’d dug his claws into the back of her neck and gone tearing through her mind looking for the Nemeton. He manages to hold her gaze for a few seconds longer, and then he has to drop his own away, swallow as he says:

“Recreating the vaccine means I’ve got to find and locate memories where I wasn’t even deliberately paying attention to the Doctors or their experiments. She’ll be able to pinpoint the right memories faster, and see things that I’d overlook.”

“Theo…” Lydia murmurs, “We haven’t even tried you attempting to recall the information on your own. You don’t have to do this, not yet.”

Theo’s chest—his sister’s heart—twists with a bloom of affection, of gratitude, at the entirely unexpected—and a little grudging—concern he can hear in her voice, and he gives her a flicker of a smile.

“I know,” He assures her, and then he taps Shohreh’s name.

---

Theo gets back from his fifteen minutes, Malia, Argent will never know solo-run to the grocery store to find Argent’s SUV in the Dorris house driveway.

“Shit,” Theo informs the air inside his truck cab helpfully, his hands frozen around the steering wheel and his truck still idling awkwardly in the middle of the road from where he’d come to an abrupt stop when he’d turned the corner and immediately realized that he and Malia— you, he can hear Malia’s voice contradict in his head, just you —had miscalculated. 

Sitting in his truck still in the middle of the street is neither going to mitigate Argent’s irritation nor endear Theo to his and Malia’s neighbors, so Theo grimaces and resumes driving, gets his truck pulled into the driveway next to Argent’s SUV. Scott’s Jeep is nowhere to be seen but that could be Scott’s occasional die-hard adherence to traffic laws kicking in; in the absence of life-threatening circumstances, Scott sometimes seems to take maniacally following every traffic law to the letter as his own personal fuck you to the universe. Stuck in the passenger seat with him, Liam is probably about ready to gnaw his hands off at the wrist in frustration.

Except that when Theo steps out of his truck, the local grocery store’s cheerfully branded reusable shopping bag slung over his wrist, he realizes that Liam can’t be with Scott, because Liam is inside, his pulse beating steadily from inside Theo’s room. Brow furrowing, Theo pushes his door shut and focuses, his eyes drifting closed as he starts picking apart the scents layered over and around the house. Huh, he thinks, catching Scott’s and Malia’s coming out of the house fresh enough to be overlaid on top of Argent’s and Liam’s going into the house. Opening his eyes back up, Theo frowns thoughtfully and absently scratches his nose, the burn of Scott’s and Liam’s unsettled scents making it itch.

Argent is in the kitchen when Theo steps inside, half-bent over his tablet lit up on the counter below him. “Welcome back,” He says dryly, glancing up at Theo, and Theo makes a face.

“It was twenty minutes,” Theo retorts defensively as he slings the bag in his hand up and onto the space left on the tiny counter space not taken up by Argent’s elbows, “and if I’d taken Malia it would have been worse—the night cashier at Lane’s has a crush on her. We’d still be there listening to him stammer his way through trying to ask her out.”

Argent snorts, locking his tablet and then straightening up, “I’m having trouble picturing exactly what kind of signals Malia is sending him that he thinks he has a chance.”

Theo tries and mostly fails to stifle a grin as he replies, “I think the fact that she would very clearly eat him alive is part of the attraction, actually.”

He starts putting away the groceries he’d picked up—milk in the fridge with a mental note to remind Malia that they have glasses for a reason, coffee in the pantry, the box of toothpaste left out to be carted at some point into their shared bathroom—with Argent moving obligingly out of the way as he does. That done Theo folds the reusable bag and tosses it in the cabinet under the sink, where it will no doubt flatten itself out and be nearly impossible to retrieve without either Theo or Malia getting bodily into the cabinet the next time they need it. 

Groceries stashed and bag stored, Theo pivots on a heel and leans back against the counter as he looks curiously at Argent, “What are you and Scott and Liam doing back, anyway? This morning you said you’d thought you’d be in Sacramento with Marcus for another few days.”

Argent flinches, near-imperceptibly and clearly involuntarily, and Theo feels his expression go loose with disbelief and not a little concern. 

“Again?” He demands, dropping his voice at the last second and suddenly very mindful of Liam’s heartbeat a room away; there’s the sound of tinny music pouring from the room, which in all likelihood means Liam has his headphones in and is very deliberately ignoring the rest of the house, but.

“They just need some time away from each other,” Argent states, though he just barely manages to sound like he believes it. 

“Yeah, for the last two weeks, apparently,” Theo counters pointedly, but desists when Argent gives him a speaking look. 

Reluctantly dropping it, Theo pushes off the counter and returns to the fridge, pulls it open as he reaches for the small leather case tucked into the back corner. Once retrieved he steps back so that he can shut the door, then holds out the case to Argent. Eyes narrowing with curiosity, Argent leans forward and takes it, starts unzipping and unfolding it so that he can see what’s inside.

“What is it?” He asks, pulling the small glass vial from its padded home and holding it up between his right thumb and middle finger, the liquid inside catching and then throwing the overhead kitchen lights.

“Mine and Lydia’s current best guess at an antidote,” Theo tells him.

Argent’s eyebrows rise as his eyes flick from the vial to Theo, but the expression is impressed, not skeptical, “You managed to recreate the vaccine?”

Theo’s hand drifts absently to the back of his neck; to the place where he’d spent a few long, uncomfortable days with Shohreh’s claws embedded while she helped Lydia sift through Theo’s memories looking for clues and markers on how the Doctors had made their original vaccine attempt. 

“No clue,” Theo answers honestly, giving Argent a smile that’s half a grimace when Argent glances back over at him, “We think we did, but without a live subject to test it on there’s really no way to tell.” Theo doesn’t bother to explain the logistical challenges there, especially since Argent’s already nodding in understanding, “But as of this afternoon the antidote we derived from it works on the blood samples from the victims we have, so Lydia’s cautiously optimistic.”

Argent hums thoughtfully and replaces the antidote back in its indentation in the foam, zips the case back up, “If you’re storing this here, I’m guessing you’ve got more back at the operating theater. This is for Scott and Liam and I to take?”

Theo nods, “No guarantees, but…”

“It’s better than nothing,” Argent agrees. Initially he goes to stack the case on top of his locked tablet, but then he stops, looks down at it as he wryly observes, “I’m guessing you weren’t keeping it in the fridge for aesthetic purposes.”

Theo grimaces, “Freely admitting that we’re barely more than guessing, here—Lydia thinks it’s better to err on the side of keeping it cool.”

Blowing out a slow breath, Argent holds the case back out, “Alright. I’ll figure something out with my car.”

Theo nods and takes the case, tucks it carefully back into its corner of the fridge. Closing the door should be the punctuation at the end of his and Argent’s conversation—Argent is apparently going to let Theo’s and Malia’s lack of buddy-pairing slide, miraculously, and Theo had told him about the antidote—but instead it feels like exactly the opposite: an opening for them to talk about the actual elephant in the room. Or, more accurately: the werewolf one room over.

One hand still wrapped loosely around the fridge’s handle, Theo drops his head back and blows out a rough breath before turning to look at Argent with a resigned expression on his face, “What was it this time?”

“Same thing it always is,” Argent answers simply, “Same thing it’s always been.”

For just a moment Theo’s nose itches again, though this time it isn’t from anyone’s scent but from the phantom memory of Liam’s fist breaking it that first catastrophic night in Chemult. Theo resists the urge to scratch or otherwise rub at it and just nods slowly in acknowledgement.

“I told Malia and Scott to spend the night out—” Argent explains, ignoring Theo scoffing in Dorris? with admirable aplomb, “—doing something. Anything.”

“And what are you going to do?” Theo asks, partly for strategic purposes and partly out of genuine curiosity.

“I—” Argent declares emphatically, one hand slapping down against the counter in emphasis, “—am going to sit on the couch and do nothing.”

Theo manages to keep a straight face for about two seconds, and then he can’t help i as his expression loosens with amusement as he laughs. Argent eyeballs him for a few seconds, and then he very deliberately straightens and gestures at himself before gesturing out towards the living room with its waiting couch. Biting back his escaping grin, Theo sweeps an arm out in a overly-acted grand show of permission. Argent gives him his own quirked version of a smile and nods, grabs his tablet and heads out to the living room.

Theo hears the TV turn on just as he’s turning the door knob to his room and pushing it open. Liam doesn’t even bother to look up when he enters, his eyes on his phone and his headphones blaring firmly away in his ears. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes or otherwise say something snide, Theo instead ignores Liam right back, closing the door behind himself and making for the cheap chest of drawers in the corner of the room. He hadn’t changed out of the shirt he’d been wearing while working in the operating theater before he went to the store, and while to a human nose he probably smells fine, the clinging stench of strong chemicals keeps giving him a there-and-healed-and-there-again headache.

His blasé attitude has exactly the effect he’d figured it might, meaning that Liam lasts exactly as long as it takes Theo to pull his old shirt over his head and toss it towards the laundry basket in the corner of the room, and then there’s a burst of music that signals Liam yanking his headphones out of his ears. Purposefully not reacting, Theo focuses on tugging open one of the drawers, taking his time selecting a new shirt. 

“Reverse psychology, seriously?” Liam snaps after a few seconds, irritation thick in his voice, “Who are you, my mother?”

“Not sure what you’re talking about, Liam,” Theo replies easily, finally reaching in to pull a plain black shirt out, “I’m just here changing my shirt.”

“Oh, please,” Liam scoffs, the music cutting off abruptly as he apparently pauses it, “Like you and Argent weren’t just gossiping about me out in the kitchen.”

“Yeah, okay, Narcissus,” Theo shoots back, sliding his arms into the bottom of the shirt and pulling it over his head, “Believe it or not the existence of a potential working antidote topped our need to trade notes about you.”

That gets Liam’s attention, “Wait, seriously? You and Lydia figured it out?”

Theo finishes tugging his new shirt down and turns to look at Liam, leaning a hip against the chest of drawers, “Best we can tell. Though, you know, touch wood—this is all just very educated guesswork.”

Liam studies him for a second, but then—a small smirk curling his lips—he leans over and taps on the bed’s wooden headboard. Theo rolls his eyes, though his irritated huff is less irritated and more amused than he’d been going for. The smile falls off Liam’s lips fast, though, his eyes falling away from Theo’s, too.

“They overreacted,” He suddenly says, his jaw tightening. His eyes flick to Theo’s as he—unnecessarily—clarifies, “Scott and Argent. It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“You and Scott got into another argument,” Theo surmises, eyes steady on Liam’s face.

It’s the reason he sees it when Liam flinches, “We had a disagreement. About strategy, which last I checked is what happens when you’re working together to catch a mass-murderer.”

“You had a disagreement or you accused him of screwing up the hunt for Monroe?” Again, Theo adds silently, though doesn’t say; Liam’s scent had already started roiling into a conflicted mess, anger and guilt and embarrassment and self-righteous fury all so tangled up together that even Theo can’t tell which one begins and ends where.

At Theo’s question indignation immediately takes the top spot. “I’ve never said that!” He snarls, his eyes flashing gold, though it only lasts for a half-second before they fade right back out.

“No,” Theo agrees, Liam’s eyes narrowing as he senses the coming but, “You’ve just strongly and repeatedly implied it.”

This time when Liam’s eyes flare they stay flared. “Fifteen people are dead,” He snaps, his teeth clicking together hard enough that Theo hears it, “Excuse me if I don’t think any of us deserve a fucking gold star.”

There it is, Theo thinks. When Theo had asked Argent what Liam’s and Scott’s argument had been about, Argent had said: the same thing it always is. He’d said: the same thing it’s always been. Fifteen people are dead and according to Liam none of them deserve a gold star, but the person Liam is the most furious with—the person he’s most disappointed in—isn’t Scott.

“Theo, I swear to god. If you bring up your bullshit theory, I’m going to—” Liam cuts off before he finishes his threat, his shoulders heaving with his harsh breaths.

Theo just raises a calm eyebrow, “You’re going to what, Liam?”

“God, you know what? Forget it,” Liam bites out, scooting towards the edge of the bed and surging roughly to his feet.

Theo doesn’t move as Liam stalks towards the door, “Where are you going, to sulk in Malia’s room?”

Liam whirls around to face him as he snarls, “Maybe I’m going to leave this fucking clastrophobic prison.”

“Good luck with that,” Theo tells him blandly, and smirks when Liam’s brow furrows in confusion, “Argent’s on the couch, so unless you’re planning on crawling out a window…”

Giving him ideas probably isn’t wise but luckily Liam just makes a furious series of gestures and then buries his hands in hair, tugs roughly at the strands.

“You’re such an asshole.” He fumes, but he also stops moving for the door, so.

“This was always going to be a long hunt, Liam,” Theo murmurs once Liam’s settled enough that he might be willing to hear it without storming right back off, “Monroe may be a lot of things, but the one thing she’s never been is stupid.” Liam scoffs but doesn’t interrupt, just folds his arms over his chest and looks furiously away, “Scott, Argent, Malia, you—” me, Theo adds silently, though doesn’t allow himself to say, “—everyone’s all doing the best they can.”

“You sound like a badly-acted after-school special,” Liam tells him snidely, but his shoulders relax some, and his previously-rabbiting pulse starts to slow.

Theo just rolls his eyes, pushes off of the chest of drawers, “Such a charmer.” He tells Liam, then pulls his keys from his jeans’ pocket and motions pointedly at the door when Liam just stands there staring at him in confusion, “C’mon, let’s go.”

“Go where?” Liam demands, but he sounds more curious than argumentative.

“Out,” Theo says, just to be—as labeled—an asshole, though he then relents and adds, “There’s a good burger place in town. Malia thinks the decor is obnoxious so she and Scott definitely went somewhere else.”

Liam looks simultaneously intrigued and wary, “But you just said—”

“—that Argent wasn’t going to let you out the door,” Theo interrupts, then smiles winningly and assures him, “But he should be fine as long as you have a babysitter.”

Liam makes an outraged noise and tries to punch him in the arm, but Theo just twists around and uses Liam’s momentum to slip past him and through the door, Liam protesting hey! behind him and hurrying after him. Argent raises an eyebrow when Theo appears in the hallway mouth, his head propped up on a throw pillow tucked against one of the couch’s armrests, his legs stretched out and his arms crossed over his chest as he watches TV. The eyebrow only gets higher when Liam nearly collides with Theo’s back, Liam’s socked feet slipping on the wooden floors as he tries and mostly fails to come to a graceful stop.

“We’re going to get burgers,” Theo tells him simply, “You want us to bring you back something?”

Argent studies him for a long few seconds, and then his eyes flick over Theo’s shoulder to Liam gone a little rigid behind him. He’s too much of a consummate hunter even with his proverbial hair down to do something so uncouth as to visibly emote, but his scent swirls with a complicated note for a beat. 

“Bacon cheeseburger, medium,” He says finally, turning back to the TV.

Theo bites back a grin, and heads for the front door. Liam jogs to catch up with him silently and after only a second’s worth of hesitation.

---

A week later and Theo is back in the operating theater babysitting his and Lydia’s latest, new-and-improved antidote formula as it simmers.

“I’m just saying—” Theo tells Lydia, glancing at her in the tablet’s screen as he tosses the lacrosse ball that Malia had shamelessly stolen from Scott back to Malia, who’s sat on one of the empty operating tables across the room, “—that a mystical serum that can bring people back from the dead? I have trouble believing it has an expiration date.”

“It’s been sitting in a powered-down tank for over a year,” Lydia counters absently, her attention more on the homework that she’s doing than on Theo, “Mystical serum that could bring people back from the dead when that tank contained Mr. Douglas is different.”

“You sure? I bet before you saw it work, you would have claimed that there was no way something like that could exist, supernatural bullshit or not,” Theo points out, though his point loses some of its oomph when he has to make a bit of a wild catch for Malia’s return throw. Ball safely in hand, he resettles and adds, tongue firmly in cheek, “Free your mind, Lydia. That puddle of disgusting goo in the bottom of that tank over there could be the thing that helps us cheat death one day.”

Cheat death,’” Lydia repeats skeptically, “You sound like a bad TV show.” Theo just grins and tosses the ball back to Malia, who’s also smirking, “Are you even watching the solution?” Lydia demands.

“Watching it boil?” Theo clarifies skeptically, “Watched pots, Lydia.”

“Novel and delicate chemical solutions that have already exploded on you once, Theo,” Lydia retorts in a deliberately annoying prissy and mocking tone.

“Simmer down,” Theo tells her, and grins again when she rolls her eyes at the pun, “Malia and I are both watching it.”

“Really?” Lydia says brightly, “Because it looks more like you’re throwing a lacrosse ball around a laboratory filled with a volatile ongoing experiment.”

“We’re multitasking,” Theo replies cheerfully, catching Malia’s eye. Her face scrunches up in an attempt not to laugh and thoroughly undermines Theo’s attempt to avoid doing the same. 

Lydia just shakes her head and returns to her homework. Theo nearly opens his mouth to continue needling her, but there’s annoying Lydia and there’s annoying Lydia, and he doesn’t actually want to teeter over into doing the latter. 

Shrugging, he flicks his wrist to toss the ball back to Malia as he asks her, “What about you, you think the serum is still good?”

“I think I want to avoid a situation in which we’d have to test it,” Malia answers, and throws the ball back with some added force, “And so should you.”

Theo manages to catch the ball, his palm stinging from the force of her throw, but ends up cutting her off when he pulls out his vibrating phone and gets a look at the screen, “Ow, cool it, it’s your boyfriend.” Sliding his thumb across the screen to answer it, he brings it up to his ear and greets, “Hey, Scott.”

“Theo,” Scott says, and something about his tone of voice immediately hooks into Theo’s instincts and he drops his phone back down, taps the speaker button just as Scott continues, sounding agitated and out-of-breath, “Where are you, right now?”

“The operating theater, with Malia,” Theo answers instantly, his eyes meeting Malia’s across the room; he can see his same tension in her shoulders, the way that all their earlier humor had up and vanished like smoke, and it doesn’t help the sinking feeling in his chest, “Scott, what’s going on?”

Scott just ignores his question, demanding, “The antidote, the new version you and Lydia are working on. Is it ready?”

Theo nearly says define ready before he reels it back in, replies instead, “Almost, but we haven’t had time to test it. Scott, what is going on?

“We’ll fill you in later,” Scott snaps, and Theo feels his spine straighten automatically at the extra alpha force Scott puts into his voice, intentionally or not, “Right now, we need you and Malia to get the antidote, get in your truck, and come meet us. We’ll send you the details.”

“He can’t,” Lydia interrupts before Theo can reply, and then she looks at Theo and shakes her head when Theo’s head snaps to hers, “Theo, you can’t. Not until it finishes setting. If you take it off the heat now, the risk that it’ll destabilize is too high. Best case scenario it just doesn’t work, worst case scenario…”

She trails off, because they don’t actually have a clue what the worst case scenario could be. Worst case scenario might just be that the goddamn thing explodes again, or it might be that it explodes and covers either Theo or Malia—or both—in a substance that might not be treatable with a bottle full of saline. 

“How long?” Scott demands, apparently having heard Lydia’s interruption, “Lydia. How long?”

“Twenty minutes,” Lydia answers quickly, her eyes darting there-and-back to where her phone must be counting down the time.

Cutting it close, Theo can hear Argent say in the background of Scott’s call, his voice nearly drowned out by the sound of a revving engine. They’re on the road, Theo realizes, and then he feels his heart—his sister’s heart—freeze in his chest.

“Who was poisoned?” Theo demands, and feels more than sees Malia’s attention zero in on him like a goddamn laser, “Scott. Was it—”

He nearly says Liam, process of elimination in all it’s coldly logical glory drawing his name up first; Scott wouldn’t be able to be on the phone if he’d been poisoned, and Argent is human and unaffected. 

“I’m fine,” Liam suddenly speaks up, his voice coming through tinny and far away but clearly comprehensible, like Scott had maybe put his phone on speaker; Theo feels his breath leave him in a huge, relieved rush, “But Theo, you’ve got to get the new antidote to us. The old one worked, but only as a stopgap. The werewolf Monroe poisoned is still dying.”

Fuck,” Theo swears, his eyes immediately flying back to Lydia’s, but she’s already shaking her head.

No, Theo,” She repeats firmly, “It’s not ready, not yet.”

“Theo, listen to me,” Argent suddenly says, his voice loud and clear; he must have taken the phone from Scott, “We’ve got the werewolf with us but he isn’t going to last much longer. As soon as the antidote finishes setting, you and Malia take it and you come meet us, okay? We’ll meet in the middle, I’ll have Scott text you the coordinates.”

“Argent,” Lydia calls before Theo can say fine, “We haven’t had time to test this new antidote, yet. We don’t even know if it’ll work.”

“Maybe it won’t,” Argent answers, a certain amount of ruthless practicality in his voice, “But this kid’s dead without it.”

“Send us the coordinates,” Theo interrupts before Lydia can reply, his fingers squeezed tight around his phone and his eyes still locked with Lydia’s, her mouth pursed tight in the rectangle of the screen, “We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

Not that he’d necessarily expected different, but when Argent had said coordinates, he hadn’t been speaking metaphorically: the place he sends Theo and Malia to isn’t so much a location as a specific stretch of State Highway 97. Twenty-five minutes after the antidote had finished setting, Theo spots Argent’s SUV parked off the side of the road with its hood propped up and pulls a highly illegal U-turn across both lanes of the two-lane highway so that he can cut across it, jerk his truck to a stop front-to-front with Argent’s SUV to complete Argent’s apparent car trouble disguise. 

He leaves the keys in the ignition and doesn’t quite manage to get his door all the way shut as he throws himself out of his truck and launches himself towards the SUV, Malia on his heels. Argent—stood by the open door to the SUV’s backseat with his mouth hard and a deep furrow between his brows—sees him coming and then turns briefly back to the open door, snaps Liam, and then steps back. Liam comes scrambling out of the SUV just as Theo rounds the open door, Liam dodging out of the way at the last second so that they don’t collide. Sparing him a quick nod, Theo gets one hand around the doorframe and hauls himself inside, skidding on his knees into the space that Liam must have just vacated.

Scott’s there kneeling on the folded-down backseat and holding a shaggy-haired kid’s head in his lap between his hands, Scott’s veins running black up his arms as he apparently takes the kid’s pain. Hang on, Alec, just a little longer, Scott is repeating on a loop, though his eyes immediately snap to Theo when Theo appears in the doorway. But Theo can’t spare him much attention, his gaze on the kid’s—Alec’s—black-veined arms and mottled red skin; on the thin dribbles of foam that keep escaping his mouth as Alec shakes.

“Jesus,” Theo breathes, then snaps out of it, reaching into his pocket and drawing out the glass container of antidote and the syringe he’d grabbed, “Tilt his head, I’ve got to get at the side of his neck.”

“Not his arm?” Scott demands, and Theo wonders for a second before he remembers: vet tech.

“Too slow to get to his heart,” Theo answers as firmly as he can, “Time is more of the essence than lower-risk injection sites.”

Scott grimaces but doesn’t argue further, just tilts Alec’s head to the side as Theo gets the needle poked through the top of the glass container and starts drawing antidote up into the syringe. For the twenty—eighteen, by the time they’d actually managed to hang up with Scott—minutes it’d taken the antidote to finish setting, Theo and Lydia had argued furiously about the exact dosage to use, Lydia icily insisting that with absolutely no testing, they needed to be careful, Theo erring on the side of he’s dying, this isn’t the time for half-measures. Lydia had won, though, calm and cool and saying you can give him more if needed, but you can’t take it out of him if you overdose him.

Twisting around, Theo steadies himself with one hand spread carefully over the side of Alec’s neck, framing the vein he’s aiming for. Alec’s shakes start to become convulsions and Theo grits his teeth, glances up at Scott, “Can you take anymore? He keeps shaking like this and god knows I’m going to hit a nerve.”

Scott’s jaw clenches and the flow of black up his arms quickens. His skin immediately pales with it and Theo fights back a flinch, refocuses on Alec; on getting the antidote into his system as quickly as possible both for his sake and Scott’s. Taking a deep breath, he presses down a little harder with his bracing hand and then slides the needle into the vein standing out starkly on Alec’s neck, presses the plunger on the syringe halfway down.

Instantly he has to swear and—as carefully as possible—yank the needle free as Alec’s body jackknifes, his flared-golden eyes flying open on a gasp and Scott just barely managing to hold his head down. Theo ignores Alec’s pain-twisted face to instead focus on his arms, on the stretch of skin he can see; the black veins fade, some, going gray and less distended, but they don’t disappear. Biting back a curse, Theo checks the patches of red along his forearms, over his bicep; they’re less stark, too, but still there.

“I’ve got to give him the rest,” Theo decides, bending back over him, “Scott—”

“Got it,” Scott says, and Theo can see the muscles of his forearms pop as he holds Alec’s head steady.

Getting the needle in is easier this time, Alec’s convulsions easing back to shakes. Theo presses the plunger down all the way, emptying its contents into Alec’s neck, and then he leans back, breath held as his gaze drops back to Alec’s arm. As he watches the black veins grow lighter and lighter until they fade, and the mottled red patches slowly dissipate. Adrenaline still running thick and fast through his blood, Theo gives it another few, paranoid seconds, but as Alec’s body bit by bit relaxes, he blows out a huge, gusty breath and drops back onto his ass, his hands—the empty syringe still held loosely in his right—dangling over his knees.

“It worked?” Scott demands, eyes intent on Theo’s face as he searches for confirmation, but whatever he sees there must satisfy him because he gives a weak, relieved moan and slumps, his hands leaving Alec’s head to cover his own face, “Oh, thank god.”

“Jesus christ,” Liam suddenly opines, and it’s only then that Theo realizes that Liam, Malia, and Argent had all crowded themselves around the open back door to watch the process.

Theo stares at Liam and then gives a shaky, unsteady laugh at his assessment. Liam meets his eyes and gives a breathy laugh, too, but it’s all fading-adrenaline-high, and a second later Liam’s expression goes a little green and he groans and pivots so that he can lean his forehead against the probably-cool metal of the doorframe. Malia just ignores Theo to look at Scott, who’d carefully extricated himself from the now passed-out Alec and is slouched loose-limbed and clearly exhausted against the opposite door.

With the immediate danger passed and the adrenaline starting to drain from his system, Theo finds it in himself to finally be a little irritated with the situation, “What the fuck happened?,” he demands, looking from Liam to Argent and then over to Scott.

“It’s not totally clear,” Argent answers before either of the other two can, “We think Monroe tried to take out another pack, like she did with the Hornbrook pack. But something must have gone wrong.”

“Clearly,” Theo agrees, voice dry as the desert. Argent just gives him an equally dry look right back, “But that doesn’t explain how you were close enough to one of Monroe’s intended targets to be able to use the antidote.”

“Alec wasn’t her target,” Scott disagrees quietly, and meets Theo’s eyes when Theo looks over, “He was an accident compounded by a mistake.”

“Yeah, he’s only like six hours old in werewolf years,” Liam mumbles a little drunkenly, and at first Theo thinks it’s a nonsensical comment born of exhaustion until he gets a good look at Argent’s and Scott’s faces.

“Are you telling me he’s just turned?” Theo asks incredulously, then feels his brow furrow as a possibility occurs to him, “Wait.” He demands, looking at Scott, “Did you bite him?”

“No!” Scott denies, clearly offended by the suggestion, just as Argent snaps, “Jesus, Theo, no.”

“Excuse me for being completely lost!” Theo replies just as caustically, “You’re the ones who appeared with a random, newly bitten werewolf!”

“There was another pack on the outskirts of Chemult, remember?” Argent says, getting them back on track before the conversation can get completely derailed.

“Yeah, the refugee pack or whatever, from out east,” Theo agrees, eyes narrowing as he studies Argent’s face, “The one that Ailene was sheltering while the western packs figured out what to do about the pack who’d attacked them.” Then his face falls as he realizes, “Oh christ, Monroe wiped them out…?”

“Tried to, we think,” Scott answers, “We think maybe she was trying to get some of the Chemult pack too, but…”

“We’re pretty sure the poison killed the refugee betas, but it must have become too diluted in the water supply to be strong enough to kill the alpha,” Argent interrupts, but he—sounds less than grateful for the alpha’s survival, his eyes drifting to Alec still passed out on the folded-down backseat between Scott and Theo, “But, well. Either the poison was still strong enough to screw up his mind, or losing what remained of his pack did it, because the alpha…”

“Went rogue,” Theo finishes quietly, certain of it; his eyes drift to Alec’s face, too.

“We were with Ailene when we heard the alpha roar,” Scott picks up the story, his hands rubbing roughly at his face, “By the time we got there, a bunch of Monroe’s hunters were trying and failing to contain it, but some of them had broken off. Ailene’s people took charge of the alpha and the first set of hunters, and we went after the second set.”

“And found Alec, already poisoned. Not that we had a lot of time to quiz him on the particulars, but it looks like the alpha managed to bite him before Monroe’s hunters could corral it, and the hunters attacked him, too, while they were at it,” Argent concludes, sighing and leaning heavily against the open car door, “We had my SUV so we managed to get him the antidote in time to keep it from killing him, but, well.” 

He gestures at Alec and then more generally around, likely to encompass the five of them and the near-abandoned stretch of highway they’re sitting in. Theo nods tiredly, and props his head up using one elbow braced on his knee as he looks down at Alec. An accident compounded by a mistake. Well, weren’t they all.

“Thanks for getting here in time,” Scott suddenly says, smiling first at Malia and then at Theo when Theo looks up at him. He looks drawn and pale and thoroughly exhausted as he adds, “Sorry for...y’know.”

He means for the alpha oomph he’d added to his voice back during their call when Theo and Malia had still been in the operating theater—Theo absently thinking so he did do it intentionally —but that’s not what catches Theo’s attention. He narrows his eyes, studying Scott’s face intently, because Scott looks too drawn and too pale, and now that adrenaline and panic aren’t burning out all his senses, Theo can smell wolfsbane in the air, separate and distinct from the poison or even from the antidote.

“Scott,” Theo starts, drawing out Scott’s name deliberately, “Did you get hurt fighting the hunters?”

Still framed in the open doorway, Malia goes rigid; she’d probably been smelling the same thing, but had written it off as adrenaline or the poison before Theo’d given her outside confirmation. Across from him and even in the shitty lighting, Theo can see Scott suddenly flush.

“It’s nothing, barely a scratch,” Scott hurries to say, eyes flicking from Malia to Theo to Argent —who if his brewing thundercloud-and-electricity scent is anything to go by—is not happy.

“Scott, are you kidding —” Argent starts to say, his voice increasing in pitch with every word, until he abruptly cuts off, his eyes dropping to his pocket; Theo can hear his phone vibrating. Argent takes his phone out and checks the caller, “It’s Ailene, I have to take this. Theo—”

“Yeah, got it,” Theo grumbles, and doesn’t so much lean as fall sideways so that he can get at the large silver case still tucked neatly into the back corner of what would ordinarily be the SUV’s trunk.

“Scott, what were you thinking?” Malia snarls. She gets one foot up on the baseboard like she’d been about to climb inside and take her irritation with Scott to him directly, but luckily Liam puts a hand on her arm and tugs her back, because there’s zero room for another person in the back with them, especially a pissed-off Malia, who always seems to take up more room than should physically be possible.

“There was no time,” Scott argues earnestly, even as Theo is dragging the silver case over to himself and opening it up so he can flick through its plethora of medical supplies, looking for Argent’s frankly psychotic collection of wolfsbane strands, “Alec was dying, and it really is just a graze. I’ve still got hours before I’m in any real danger.”

“Were you planning on treating that martyr-complex at the same time?” Theo mutters, then taps Scott’s left leg—where he can smell the graze on Scott’s calf, now that he’s concentrating on it—so that Scott will stretch it out. Scott has to scoot up some and carefully dodge Alec to do it, Alec’s unconscious form still taking up most of the space.

Scott glares at him, “It’s not a martyr-comp—hey!” He protests as Theo gets the leg of Scott’s jeans between his hands and rips them straight up to expose the festering bullet graze.

Credit where credit is due, Scott had probably been mostly accurate in claiming that he isn’t in any urgent danger, but it still looks awful. Theo pulls two gloves out of the box sitting in Argent’s medical kit and snaps them on, then opens up the smaller case containing the wolfsbane samples and pulls out two strands of northern monkshood. The first he drops into the small metal bowl Argent keeps inside the case for exactly this reason, but the second he carefully places on the ground near him in case the wound needs a second set of ashes. Over his head Malia and Scott are still arguing furiously, Liam occasionally interjecting more with peanut-gallery commentary than anything helpful, but Theo just concentrates on striking a match and dropping it into the bowl, watching the flowers curl up into faintly opalescent ashes.

That done, Theo says Scott’s name warningly and then braces a hand around the graze, holds the bowl in the other as he prepares to dump the wolfsbane ashes over it. Under his hand Scott’s leg tenses, waiting, and so Theo doesn’t delay any longer, just tips the bowl over, making sure to cover the long gash with them. Scott yelps but manages to hold still, though he doesn’t manage to keep from swearing when Theo reaches forward with a gloved finger and presses the ashes down into wound. 

They’re all so caught up in watching the black veins recede from around the wound as it closes that not a single one of them realizes that Alec has woken up until he suddenly mumbles, “Oh, jesus—is that…? Oh my god—!”

Theo whips around just in time to realize that Alec—unsteady as he tries to sit up and almost immediately starts to collapse back down—is going to put his hand directly down on the second strand of wolfsbane flowers that Theo had left out.

“Oh, shit, Alec, don’t—!” Theo yelps, but it’s too late; Alec’s palm comes down on top of the flowers, crushing them under his weight. 

Theo’s already bracing himself for the smell of burning flesh, prepared the instant that Alec yanks reflexively and painfully away to grab the flowers with his still-gloved hand and put them safely away, but Alec doesn’t move, just freezes, his eyes flicking between all of them in confusion.

“Um,” Alec says, his eyes finally landing on Scott, “You—you’re Scott. You’re the one who helped me back at that warehouse.”

“Yeah,” Scott answers automatically, but his eyes are still fixed on the wolfsbane flowers still crushed under Alec’s bare hand, “Yeah, I’m sure you have a lot of questions.”

He has a lot of questions?” Liam interrupts incredulously, and looks at Scott wide-eyed when not only Scott, but Theo and Malia and Alec too, all turn to look at him. He gestures furiously to the wolfsbane-and-Alec’s-bare-flesh combination, “ I have a lot of questions!”

“I second that,” Theo murmurs dazedly, “But first…Alec. I know you don’t know me, but can you—lift your hand? I need to take those flowers back.”

“Oh, uh,” Alec mumbles as he hastily complies, leaning back on his heels and taking his hand away, “Sure, okay.”

Theo delicately reaches forward and retrieves the flowers with his gloved fingers, eyes finally dragging away from Alec’s completely unaffected palm to the wolfsbane he’s carefully holding. After a moment’s indecision he puts the crushed plant back in Argent’s kit; aesthetically pleasing or not, it’d still burn into ashes just fine. 

“Theo, I know you and Lydia were recreating the vaccine, but I thought that was just—part of the process for making the antidote,” Scott slowly says, “I didn’t think you were—”

“—actually recreating it,” Liam finishes for him, his eyes on Theo’s face and still wide with shock.

“Yeah, well,” Theo replies, snapping off his gloves and then looking up from the kit and into all of their stunned faces, “Neither did I.”

---

“So this is…unusual,” Alec double-checks for the fourth or fifth time that morning as he carefully holds a bundle of small white wolfsbane flowers cupped in his hands; since he’s very obligingly and without complaint put up with Theo handing him increasingly rare strands of wolfsbane and then recording his repeated and complete lack of reaction to them for several hours already, Theo’s not going to hold it against him. 

“Extremely,” Liam answers before Theo can, spinning idly around in a circle on his claimed stool; irritated and more than a little distracted by the movement, Theo sticks out a foot and catches the edge of the stool, brings it to a jerking stop that nearly sends Liam flailing off it, “Hey!”

Please go back to bothering Scott and Argent,” Theo begs him, dropping his foot and reclaiming the white wolfsbane from Alec with his gloved hands so that he can place it back in Argent’s borrowed case. 

He spends a few seconds hovering his fingers over the other types, trying to decide which one to try next. Eventually he tugs out a strand of aconitum chasmanthum and makes deliberate eye contact with Alec, waits until he nods to drop it into his still-cupped hands. Nothing happens—no burning flesh, no pain, not even any discoloration—and Theo can’t help his incredulous headshake as he leans over and taps the negative result into the spreadsheet on his tablet that he’s using to track Alec’s apparent wolfsbane immunity. 

“Because that would be completely irresponsible, Argent!” Lydia yells, her voice distorting as the video-call apparently struggles to handle the sudden increase in volume.

Liam gives the corner of the operating theater where Argent and Scott are engaged in a multi-way conference call with Lydia, Ms. McCall, Dr. Geyer, and Dr. Deaton an incredibly dry look, and then transfers the same look to Theo. 

“Yeah, no thanks,” He replies, and then smiles winningly and returns to spinning around; Theo huffs in annoyance but lets it—and him—go.

When he looks back over at Alec, he realizes that Lydia’s jarring interruption had startled Alec badly enough to cause his eyes to flare and his fangs and claws to lengthen. He’s still carefully cupping the wolfsbane flowers, though, and Theo gives him a sympathetic smile, reaches forward and retrieves them. He motions for Alec to drop his hands as he replaces the flowers in Argent’s case, which Alec does gratefully, shaking them roughly as his eyes—still flared—flick over to where Argent is heatedly replying to Lydia’s accusation.

“So this, uh,” Alec says, rubbing his now blunt-tipped fingers on his thighs; he’d been slipping in and out of the shift all morning, but since the worst that had happened was some minor property damage and Alec scratching his own tongue—instantly healed—on his fangs, no one had been worrying about it much, “This could be a big deal.”

“Very,” Malia agrees from her seat on one of the nearby tables, beating Liam to responding; she’d also abandoned the video-call once it’d primarily devolved into a circular risk-rewards debate pitting Lydia and Argent in increasingly foul moods against each other.

“Wow, uh. Okay,” Alec stammers, nodding like he understands the import of Lydia and Theo having potentially and unwittingly creating a wolfsbane vaccine. 

He’s clearly trying to calmly face the complete cluster he’d been unwillingly made a part of and only partially succeeding; his scent keeps kicking up with anxiety, but weirdly Theo’s testing regime seems to help. Probably it has something to do with the regimented nature of it, the process giving him a simple set of instructions to focus on, but honestly: who knows. Theo’s only known the kid for less than sixteen hours. Selecting a stand of Fischer monkshood from Argent’s case, Theo pulls it out and holds it up; Alec cups his hands again and offers them forward, lets Theo drop the flowers into his palms, where they proceed to do absolutely nothing to Alec’s bare skin.

“Seriously?” Liam comments, and kicks the side of Theo’s stool pointedly, “Clearly he can touch the stuff without issue. What about something else?”

Theo gives Liam an evaluating look—biology never exactly having been Liam’s strong suit—and skeptically inquires, “Like what, exactly?”

Liam opens his mouth but gets cut off by Argent shouting, “Eighteen people are dead, Lydia! We didn’t have you and Theo create this vaccine for some write-up in an academic journal, it’s designed to be used!”

“You didn’t have us design a vaccine at all!” Lydia snaps back just as loudly and just as fiercely, admirably ignoring Argent’s not-so-subtle dig as she does, “Which means the fact that we may have created one on accident needs to be approached carefully!”

Ms. McCall and Dr. Geyer jump in, then, lowering the temperature of the debate enough that Liam’s apparently confident Theo will hear him when he responds.

“I dunno,” Liam says finally, and scoots over on his stool’s rolling wheels so that he can lean over the case, too, “If he’s fine externally, what about...internally?”

Theo stares at him in disbelief, “Are you suggesting he try eating wolfsbane?” Over Liam’s shoulder he catches the speculative look on Alec’s face and orders, “Do not put that in your mouth,” and Alec colors and drops his hands from where they’d been drifting up towards his face.

“It was just an idea!” Liam says defensively, but he obligingly rolls back out of Theo’s way, hands raised in a don’t-sue-me kind of gesture.

“Can I ask…” Alec suddenly speaks up, and blanches a bit when Liam, Theo, and Malia all look over at him at once, “Um. What usually happens to—to werewolves when they touch this stuff?”

Theo’s about to describe for him the symptoms of wolfsbane poisoning when Malia renders the whole effort moot by saying, “This,” and reaching over and taking the wolfsbane flowers out of Alec’s hands.

Almost immediately her skin starts to burn, the smell instant and acrid and cloying, and Theo’s about to snap at her to drop them—for fuck’s sake—when she simply opens her hand back up and tilts them back into Alec’s unaffected palms. She holds her vividly red and raw skin out for Alec’s inspection and then takes her hand back, the skin already starting to heal. 

“Oh,” Alec mumbles, looking more than a little green; sighing longsufferingly, Theo reaches forward and takes the flowers away from him, Alec—unaffected as he may be—looking instantly and overwhelmingly grateful for it.

He then jumps and yelps—his eyes flaring and his teeth and claws lengthening—when Scott seemingly materializes behind his shoulder, Scott’s brow furrowed and his eyes narrow. 

“I smelled burning flesh,” Scott states suspiciously, eyes flicking around from Alec to Liam to Malia to Theo intently.

“Your girlfriend decided to give a real-life demonstration of a typical case of wolfsbane poisoning,” Theo explains dryly, putting the latest wolfsbane strand away and then giving in and snapping off his gloves; wrong as Liam’s proposed methodology of Alec eating wolfsbane to test his immunity had been, he’d been right that they were probably done with the external testing, “How goes the Argent-Lydia throwdown?”

Scott’s expression falls, annoyance and exhaustion and possibly the tiniest bit of amusement—Argent being steamrolled by Lydia never not a joy to watch—showing through as he answers, “I think they’ve come to a general agreement that we’ll wait to try using the vaccine—” He stops, quickly corrects himself; Lydia had been fiercely insistent on correct terminology, “—the potential vaccine until my mom, Liam’s dad, and Dr. Deaton have had some time to run more tests. They were negotiating over exactly how long ‘some time’ is when I came over here.”

“Hey look, you’re off the hook,” Liam comments to Theo, kicking his stool again; irritated, Theo kicks his back. 

They probably would have kept going in that vein except that Scott eyeballs them both until they desist and then continues, “The plan right now is to head back to Beacon Hills in a few hours.” Then he stops, something seeming to occur to him as he looks at Alec and earnestly adds, “I mean, as long as you want to come. You don’t—we’re not going to make you help us.”

“No!” Alec immediately blurts out, “I mean, yes. I mean—” He stops, sucks in a deep breath and then exhales it out, tries again, “Um. I want to help. If—if studying this immunity or whatever can help save those people you were telling me about last night, then I want—I want to help.”

He smiles shakily at Scott and then, after a moment’s hesitation and a flush that he tries and fails to hide by ducking his head, adds:

“Not to mention I—don’t really have anywhere else to go.”

Alec had previewed that fact last night when they’d brought him back to the Dorris house and tried to—as gently as possible, given the circumstances—ease him into his new world. Still, Scott’s opening his mouth to probably say something deep and wholesome and true alpha inspired, but Liam beats him to it, clapping Alec on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, don’t worry about it. This pack’s full of strays—you’ll fit right in.”

Alec laughs a little, glancing up at Liam with a helpless smile on his face, his scent—which had dipped with embarrassment and uncertainty—leveling back out. Theo finds himself studying Liam’s expression thoughtfully, doesn’t look away when Liam catches him at it. The cheerful grin Liam had given Alec sobers, a little, becomes something else; he looks back at Theo for a long moment, and then he ducks his own head.

Theo drags his gaze away from the top of Liam’s head when Scott asks, “How much more testing do you have to do?”

“None,” Theo answers easily, “Externally at least he’s unaffected, and I’m leaving the internal testing to the professionals.”

“Good plan,” Scott agrees, seemingly unironically; Theo swallows down a laugh and just waits, since Scott’s got his thinking face on and clearly has more to say, “Look, why don’t you all head back to the house. Argent and I will come meet you whenever he and Lydia are done sniping at each other so that we can get on the road back to Beacon Hills.”

“Yes, great,” Liam immediately says, sitting up from where he’d been slouched and clapping once, apparently for emphasis, “Let’s do that, I’m starving.”

Theo makes a face, “You ate two hours ago.”

“Yeah,” Malia cuts in before Liam can reply, the two of them already on their feet and making for the tunnel entrance, “Exactly. Two hours ago.”

Theo rolls his eyes, motions to Alec and then assures Scott, “I’ll make sure to feed the kids on the way.” He grins when Liam’s sing-songed fuck you floats back to them, “See you back at the house.”

Dorris isn’t actually overflowing with culinary options so Theo makes Liam order take-out for them from the Mexican restaurant on the way back to the house. They eat it spread around the living room, Alec sitting himself very deliberately on the floor, his eyes flicking nervously to the ten short gashes he’d accidentally punched through the couch cushions last night as he’d slept. It ends up being a perfect segue, since Malia and Liam end up tag-teaming sharing stories of all the various pieces of furniture and clothes and pieces of property they’d damaged as part of their own learning to be supernatural stages. Theo mostly sits and listens, smirking and stealing scoops of Liam’s guacamole with his bag of chips while he’s distracted.

Eventually he leaves the three of them in the living room, the conversation transitioning smoothly into hands-on demonstrations of how to control the shift. It’s pretty much a guarantee that the effort is going to end in further property damage, if not blood, but, hell: they’d already lost their deposit based on the couch alone.

Back in his room, and idly listening to the sounds of Malia and Liam giving Alec overlapping and at times conflicting advice, he starts packing a bag for the few short days they’re going to be in Beacon Hills. It’s in the process of grabbing his jacket from last night that he feels the hard lump in the jacket’s pocket, and he stops, curious, and drops his bag, reaches into the pocket to pull out the offending item. The glass vial that had held the antidote feels almost weightless in his hand, empty as it now is, and Theo rolls it around his palm, stares down at it thoughtfully.

Then he jumps and jerks, his fingers closing around the vial reflexively when his door bangs open and Liam comes practically bouncing inside. He takes one look at the vial in Theo’s hand and then another up at Theo’s face, and then he groans and slaps his own hands over his cheeks, drags them down as he groans theatrically.

“Oh my god, how are you brooding right now?” He demands, “You and Lydia created a wolfsbane vaccine. On accident! That’s awesome! Stop frowning.”

Theo just rolls his eyes at Liam’s dramatics, tucks the vial back into his jacket’s pocket and tosses his jacket down over his bag so he won’t forget it.

“We don’t know if we created a vaccine yet.” He corrects, “It could be a fluke. It could wear off.”

Liam just glowers at him reproachfully, “Alright fine, Debbie Downer. Rain on your own parade.” He immediately contradicts his own point by reaching forward and punching Theo in the arm, “You still saved Alec’s life. That’s got to feel good, all things considered.”

Theo feels his eyes narrow, “What does that mean?”

Liam hesitates; catching the sudden edge to Theo’s tone, maybe. Some of his good mood fades and he stops all but bouncing on his toes, settles his weight onto his heels as he touches his tongue to his bottom lip, looks quickly away from Theo and then quickly back.

“I just meant—” He starts, then stops, exhales roughly as his gaze drops. Then his eyes flick back up to Theo’s and he murmurs, “Everything about the vaccine—the original one, the one the Dread Doctors were making—was designed for violence, right? I mean, even calling it a vaccine is kind of fucked-up, because the Dread Doctors were going to use it to make the Beast even more powerful, so that the Beast could kill even more people. And then Gerard stole it, and Monroe started using it to kill innocent people…”

“But?” Theo prompts, when Liam hesitates again; his arms had crossed at some point without him realizing and his fingers are digging into his own biceps.

But,” Liam continues, “You, y’know. You took your memories from the Dread Doctors—the ones that they stole from you—and you took the skills that they taught you, and you…” He pauses, eyes darting there and back to and then away from Theo’s own, “You turned all of it against them. Against Monroe, and Gerard, and the Dread Doctors’ original purpose of creating something to kill and hurt people. You made a real antidote, a real vaccine.”

He stops, his eyes finally settling on Theo’s as he gives Theo a flicker of a nervous smile:

“You took all that fucked-up shit and made something that’s probably going to save a lot of lives. That’s already saved a life. So, yeah,” He concludes more confidently, his chin tilting up in challenge, like he thinks Theo is going to debate him on his thesis or something, “Yeah, I think that’s got to feel good, all things considered.”

Theo doesn’t debate him on it. He couldn’t even if he wanted to, his thoughts all scattered by Liam’s explanation and his heart—his sister’s heart—twisting some kind of painful—maybe good, maybe something else—between his ribs. He just stares at Liam, a part of himself desperately trying to keep the mess of whatever in his chest from showing up on his face, the rest too dumbstruck to do anything else but repeat that’s got to feel good, all things considered on a loop.

But Liam is looking more and more nervous as the silence drags, and so Theo forces himself to pull himself together, purses his lips as he manages to croak out past the tightness in his throat, “Interesting theory.”

Liam stares at him for a moment and then just scoffs, but his scent loses the sour edge of anxiety it’d started to gain and something else—something lighter—takes its place as he says, “Whatever, I know I’m right.”

Still clinging to his nonchalant act, Theo raises an eyebrow, “Oh yeah? How so?”

“No nightmares,” Liam answers instantly and primly, and grins at Theo when Theo squints at him in confusion, “You slept straight through last night.”

Theo doesn’t actually know if Liam’s right; he doesn’t remember waking up from any nightmares last night, which is unusual, but, “How would you even know that?”

Liam just makes a face, “Dude, that air mattress we share when me and Argent and Scott stay here isn’t exactly luxury-grade. If you’d had a nightmare, I would have known. I always have in the past.”

That hits Theo with another wave of feeling like a gut-punch and he just barely manages to keep his shoulders straight, his expression skeptical as he retorts, “I think you’re maybe giving yourself too much credit.”

But Liam’s apparently decided that he’s right, Theo’s skepticism and needling commentary notwithstanding, and he grins and says, “Act as aloof as you want. The sun, the moon, and the truth, Theo—you’re happy that you got to use your Dread Doctors skills to help Alec and maybe make this vaccine, and you can’t hide it.” He stops, points imperiously at Theo, “Your good night’s sleep gave you away!”

“You’re absurd,” Theo tells him, knocking Liam’s finger out of his face, but he’s grinning helplessly as he does it, so.

Liam swings with the momentum and then reclaims his arm, grinning in return as he looks back at Theo. It leaves them staring at each other in dopey silence for a few seconds before a noise from the living room snaps Liam out of it and he shakes his head, seemingly coming back to himself.

“Hey, that reminds me. I was actually coming to get you so that you could show Alec how you turn into a for-real wolf. He thinks Malia and I are making it up,” Liam explains.

Theo squints at him, but manages to switch mental tracks fast enough to respond, “So why doesn’t Malia show him that she can turn into a coyote? Same concept.”

“She’s going to,” Liam replies, very nearly whining as he does it, “But, c’mon.”

Theo rolls his eyes again, but he feels—oddly light, Liam’s good mood returning and apparently contagious, and he huffs, starts reaching for his hem, “Fine, whatever.” Liam grins but then doesn’t move, so Theo strips off his shirt and then throws it at his face, “You’re going to need to go then, Liam, if you want me to do this.”

“Oh, uh, right,” Liam agrees, holding Theo’s shirt in his hands and blinking at Theo’s now-bare chest. 

After a second he drops it and flees the room, leaving the door cracked behind himself so that Theo in his wolf form won’t have to screw with the doorknob. Theo stares at the space where he’d disappeared for a long few seconds, his lips curling back up into a wide, helpless smile, and then he shakes his head at himself

That’s got to feel good, all things considered, Liam had theorized, and, well: Theo’s still smiling as he lets the shift take him

---

The great thing about the set-up of the Dorris operating theater is that Theo knows the instant someone enters the main tunnel from the clearing; his head comes up as his senses reflexively arrow out, but he catches the distinctive rhythm of Scott’s pulse almost immediately and relaxes, refocuses on the distilled burdock root he’s in the middle of measuring out.

“If you’re here for the Denio batch of vaccine,” Theo calls as Scott enters the operating theater proper, “you’re too early. It’s got another few hours to go.”

He finishes measuring the burdock root and brings the beaker up to double-check his amount, then pours it into the waiting mixture in a second beaker. That done, he gooses the Bunsen burner underneath it and sits back, starts peeling off his gloves as he looks up to finally and fully acknowledge Scott. 

The first thing he sees is the pinched expression on Scott’s face. 

“You...are not here for the Denio batch of vaccine,” Theo concludes slowly, and then his shoulders slump and his head falls back some as he exhales roughly, because he’s got an extremely well-educated guess what Scott might actually be here for, “Scott, c’mon.”

“I’m torn between saying don’t shoot the messenger or don’t blame the victim, here,” Scott replies wryly, snagging a stool and dropping heavily down onto it.

Theo watches as he scrubs the heels of his palms roughly over his face, as he drops his hands into his lap and grimaces in response to Theo’s attention. His clothes are clean, stain- and damage-free, but that just highlights the incongruity between them and Scott’s skin, which reeks of adrenaline and fear-sweat and exhaustion; whatever had happened, he’d had the time to change before coming here. Looking away from him, Theo takes a deep breath and then breathes it out slowly.

“I thought you and Liam were doing better,” Theo comments quietly, his eyes still focused out into the operating theater and away from Scott.

“We were,” Scott answers tiredly, and manages a flicker of a smile when Theo glances at him, “Arguably I think we still are, but…”

He trails off, and Theo feels his brow furrow, “You two didn’t argue?”

“Strange as this may sound, I wish we had,” Scott says, smirking, but it’s a humorless smirk and it falls off his face almost instantly. 

Incomplete as that explanation may be, he doesn’t immediately move to conclude it, just stares fixedly at some point between his stool and Theo’s. Theo considers pushing it but doesn’t, just checks the solution steadily boiling next to him and then refocuses on Scott, who takes a few more long seconds before starting to speak again.

When he does, it’s with a nonsequitur, “Do you remember Rossler and Preston?”

Theo tamps down his confusion—and his irritation—and replies, “The two hunters Monroe sent after Liam and I at the zoo, yeah. Hard to forget.”

“Liam would agree,” Scott tells him shrewdly, his jaw briefly clenching as he adds, more soberly, “They were also the hunters driving the car that killed Brett and Lori.”

“Oh,” Theo says blankly, and Scott grimaces like he understands Theo’s sudden uneasiness.

“Argent’s hunter contacts had gotten us that lead, remember?” Scott prompts, jumping topics again, but Theo lets it go and nods, because it’s not like he’s forgotten sitting around the Dorris house kitchen with Malia three nights ago, Scott and Argent and Liam on speaker as Scott had filled them in on the plan to raid one of Monroe’s rumored hideouts with the Carson City and Lakeview packs, “Well, the lead was good. Very good.”

“And yet,” Theo murmurs softly, and Scott gives a low, humorless laugh and looks away briefly, scrubs his face with his hands again.

“Things were going pretty well up until the end of the confrontation, when some of Monroe’s people started trying to escape,” Scott picks up the story after a beat, “We’d already captured a number of her lieutenants, enough that between my dad, the Sheriff, Argent’s contacts, and the other packs, we’d be able to get more leads, keep narrowing Monroe’s options, back her further into a corner.”

Scott hesitates, blowing out a rough breath:

“All the werewolves we brought with us had been inoculated with yours and Lydia’s vaccine, Argent and the other alphas insisted. But Monroe’s escaping people were still crazily well-armed, and even without the ability to use the poison or wolfsbane, they were still causing some serious injuries, both to the packs and to some of Argent’s hunter contacts.” Sighing, Scott lifts a hand and rubs his fingertips over his forehead, “So we—so I —gave the order to let them go.”

“But Rossler and Preston were going to be part of the group that got away,” Theo guesses, his eyes searching Scott’s face; Scott flinches, and closes his eyes briefly.

“I didn’t think…” He says abruptly after a few seconds have passed, “It never occurred to me…I knew Rossler and Preston had been the murderers but I thought—I thought Liam and I were on the same page, that we’d get them later.”

“What happened?” Theo asks quietly, his chest already twisting with dread because he—thinks he’s got a pretty good idea what happened.

“He went after them,” Scott says, and drops his face into his hands, “By himself.”

The only reason Theo doesn’t immediately panic is because he knows—he knows —that if something had happened to Liam, Scott wouldn’t be here calmly, if regretfully, recounting the story; especially not in a clean shirt and jeans. But it still takes a massive amount of self-restraint not to react; to snap at Scott or demand that he get to the point.

“I was on the other side of the warehouse where we’d found Monroe’s people, I didn’t even know he’d taken off until Nina roared,” Scott continues. He must see Theo’s expression twist with confusion because he explains, “Nathaniel took off after him.” His jaw clenches and he looks away as he adds, “Liam would be dead if he hadn’t.”

“They’re both okay?” Theo can’t help but ask, the question teetering on the edge of being a demand no matter how even he tries to make his voice; Scott seems to catch it and straightens, some, some of the exhaustion-borne lethargy draining from his posture.

“Everyone’s alive,” Scott hedges, and grimaces when Theo’s eyes narrow, catching the attempted sidestep, “They were both hurt pretty badly, and Nathaniel took a mountain ash crossbow bolt to the liver. But Nina and two of her betas got to them in time to force Rossler and Preston and Monroe’s other people to retreat, saved their lives.”

“Jesus,” Theo mutters, and rakes his own hands through his hair, “Is Nina…?”

Scott flinches, and his scent tanks, “Well, she’s not about to invoke a pack feud, thank god, but…” He exhales roughly and adds, “She was actually pretty understanding about the whole mess, once Argent and I explained the situation.”

He may not have said but again, but it’s there in the lingering, heavy silence that falls. Nina had actually been pretty understanding about the whole mess once Argent and Scott had explained the situation, but Liam had almost gotten himself and her husband killed in what essentially amounted to a suicide run. She’d actually been pretty understanding about the whole mess, but Scott had still lost control of one his betas during a critical confrontation with Monroe’s people. 

But.

“He can’t go back out with us,” Scott concludes heavily, and shakes his head roughly and surges to his feet when Theo looks at him in surprise, starts pacing restlessly around the operating theater, “I mean, he can’t, can he? If I’m missing something here Theo, please—tell me.”

“Look, I’m not going to argue with your reasoning,” Theo tells him, because Scott isn’t, in fact, missing anything, “But do you really think benching him is going to help?”

Scott makes a face, says, “I’m not benching him. I’m—reassigning him.” But even as he says it, he sounds like he barely believes it.

Theo gives him an unimpressed, if sympathetic, look, “Call it what you want, but having him stay here and babysit me and the vaccine-making process—” because it doesn’t take a genius to realize that’s what Scott’s proposing, “—is highly unlikely to help with his anger issues.”

That draws Scott up short, but from the confused look on his face, not for the reasons Theo would have anticipated, “You think I want him to stay here with you so that he can babysit you?”

Now Theo’s the one who’s confused, “Ye—es? I mean, you just said he can’t go with you, and Derek’s got his hands full training Alec, so unless the Sheriff is willing to tag him like some kind of rare African rhino, sending him back to Beacon Hills isn’t going to work either, because there’s no way he’ll stay put. That leaves here. Babysitting me and the vaccine.” Theo concludes, watching Scott’s face carefully as he does.

Scott looks so completely off-balanced that it’s almost comical, “Theo…why do you think I always brought him here after he and I fought?” Then something seems to occur to him and he looks even more baffled, adds, “Wait. Why do you think I asked you to come with us that night Liam told his parents about being a werewolf?”

“Convenience,” Theo answers immediately to the first question, and as to the second: “And I have no idea why you asked me to go to Liam’s. Never have.”

Scott just stares at him. Theo stares back, feeling himself get more and more confused—and more and more irritated by that fact—as the silence drags.

“Okay, clearly that wasn’t the answer you were expecting,” Theo finally states. He gives it a few more seconds, but when Scott doesn’t take the opening, he prompts, “So are you…going to tell me?”

Scott just blinks and then slowly says, “I—don’t think I should.”

What? ” Theo demands, brow furrowing as he stares at Scott in baffled disbelief. 

But now Scott just grins, amusement breaking over his face and washing away some of his earlier exhaustion and discouragement. Theo would almost be pleased with the result if it wasn’t essentially derived from Scott suddenly choosing to be a mysterious asshole.

“I think you need to figure it out for yourself,” Scott tells him, sounding almost cheerful. Then he definitely sounds cheerful as he adds, “Call it true alpha intuition.”

Theo glares at him in mute outrage.

“I call it a cop-out,” He hisses, but his hostile tone doesn’t puncture Scott’s sudden good mood.

Instead Scott just leans back a little further in his stool, nods at the solution still boiling steadily at Theo’s elbow, “That’s the Denio pack’s batch of the vaccine, right? How much longer does it have?”

Theo doesn’t answer right away, still internally debating whether to try and push the issue. But Scott had come in here smelling of conflicted defeat, his shirt and jeans clean but his skin and hair still a mess from his fight with Monroe’s people, and now he’s grinning and loose-limbed and his scent is making Theo’s nose burn less. Whatever secret he’s keeping isn’t life-threatening, Scott’s good-natured if clumsy approach to life-coaching making that clear, so Theo—let’s it go.

“An hour and a half, now,” Theo tells him finally, glancing down at the running clock on his tablet to check. 

“Alright, well,” Scott starts, crossing his arms and clearly settling in, “Argent’s still in Carson City with the captured hunters, and I asked Malia to go with Liam back to the house. So I guess I’m your buddy for the next few hours.”

He smiles widely after he’s said it, obviously pleased with himself, and so Theo just rolls his eyes, dryly mutters, “I’ll try to contain my excitement,” and turns back to the solution slowly simmering its way to becoming the Denio pack’s batch of vaccine.

He can’t keep from smiling when Scott barks a laugh behind him, though. 

---

When they get back to the Dorris house, the Jeep is on one side of the driveway, and Malia is inside and sitting cross-legged on one of the kitchen counters, her eyes fixed on the door leading to the house’s tiny backyard.

Her gaze flicks to Scott and Theo as they enter the kitchen, but while she gives Scott a brief flicker of a smile, she focuses almost immediately on Theo, tells him bluntly, “I tried talking to him.”

She doesn’t say it didn’t work, and doesn’t need to: from the sound of lacrosse balls thumping heavily into the makeshift net Liam and Scott had put together with salvaged construction supplies already in the backyard, Liam is ignoring them all in favor of taking out his frustration physically. Theo nods to show he’s heard her, and then they all stand in silence for a half-minute or so, listening as Liam’s shots thump-thump-thump their way into the net. Then Scott grimaces and reaches out a hand to lightly touch Malia’s arm.

“I’m going to shower,” He tells her quietly, and Malia manages a smile for him, says okay.

He leaves Malia and Theo in the kitchen, their attention still fixed on the backyard. The sound of shots hitting the net stops, replaced almost immediately by the sound of Liam moving forward to collect his spent lacrosse balls, gather them up so he can start right back up in sending them flying into the net. Theo exhales roughly.

“Has he been doing this since you two got back?” He asks Malia, voice low and soft, even though the effort is almost definitely wasted; chances are slim to none that Liam isn’t listening to every creak and whisper inside the house.

Malia nods an affirmative, then looks at him speculatively, “What are you going to say to him?”

Theo raises an eyebrow and asks, “Who says I’m going to say anything?” 

Malia just gives him a speaking look and Theo drops the act with a single, short laugh. His gaze drags away from her and almost magnetically fixes back on the backdoor, to the thump-thump-thump of Liam’s shots having, as predicted, picked right back up, and then he sighs.

“I don’t know,” He tells her, and he’s maybe being a little tongue-in-cheek but he’s also—not, when he adds, “I was kind of thinking I’d just wing it.”

Malia gives a quiet laugh under her breath and hops down from the counter, “Well, good luck.” 

Theo nods, his lips briefly quirking up in an acknowledging smile, and then he sucks in a deep breath, blows it back out as he prepares to head for the backdoor. He stops when Malia says hey softly and he feels her hand on his arm, looks back at her.

“Once Scott gets out of the shower, I’m going to take him…somewhere,” Malia tells Theo quietly, “We’ll be gone for awhile.”

Theo studies her face for a few seconds, warmth like an ember flaring to life in his chest, and then he nods again, murmurs, “Thank you,” and means it more than he thinks he can really convey.

Malia seems to get it, her brief touch turning into a quick squeeze around his forearm before she pivots on a heel to head for the hallway leading out of the kitchen and to the bedrooms. Theo watches her go for a few seconds, and then he sets his jaw and braces himself, slides open the backdoor.

Liam spares him a single glance but then focuses right back on finishing his current shot, on scooping up another ball. Biting back a rough sigh, Theo slides the door shut behind himself but takes his time stepping down and off the concrete patio onto the grass, tucking his hands into his pockets as he goes. As admirable a job as Liam is doing of ignoring him, his shoulders are getting more and more tense, and so Theo doesn’t say a word, just picks his way over to the section of fence behind Liam’s pile of slowly-diminishing lacrosse balls and leans against it; waits.

“So he told you,” Liam finally spits out two shots later, scoop-and-release, scoop-and-release, “He’s benching me.”

“Those weren’t the words he used,” Theo replies quietly, eyes on the rigid line of Liam’s spine even underneath his clean shirt; Scott must have made him change, too.

“It’s what he’s doing,” Liam snaps back, his next shot very nearly going wide.

Theo gives him another handful of shots— scoop-and-release, scoop-and-release —before he speaks again.

“Can you blame him?” Theo asks him, and while there’s no way to keep the question from being at least partly an accusation, Theo tries to keep it to a minimum; a genuine inquiry: a chance for self-reflection.

This time Liam’s shot does go wide; it cracks against the wood of the fence behind his and Scott’s makeshift goal, splintering the wood but—small favors—not punching through it. Theo can hear the frustrated snarl that Liam lets loose even though he can’t see it. And even if he couldn’t: Liam’s pulse kicks several notches up and his scent goes hot and soaked through with a harsh sort of burn. Not anger—not yet—but getting there.

But when he speaks, it’s in a tone that’s a forced sort of even, and one that’s really almost more of a giveaway than if he’d screamed, “They were going to get away. Rossler and Preston. They did get away.”

He next shot lands dead-center but he’d put enough momentum behind it that when it falls from the net, Theo can see several torn threads. Back in the house the sound of the shower cuts off, and Theo can hear the quiet, baseline burr of Malia saying something to Scott, of Scott responding. Liam can hear it, too; his shoulders tense back up and he fumbles picking up his next ball.

“Rossler and Preston got away for now, Liam,” Theo finally points out, one ear on the rustle of fabric that’s probably Scott pulling on his clothes; on the jangle of metal that’s probably Malia picking up the Jeep’s keys as they head for the door, “They didn’t get away forever. Scott and the others—they’re going to get them.”

“Oh yeah?” Liam snarls, and this time when his shot goes wide it goes wide, snapping the fence-post it hits and bowing it outwards with a loud crack

Out in the driveway Theo can hear Scott suddenly cut-off mid-reply to Malia, but Malia just says Scott —quietly but firmly—and after a few seconds the Jeep starts up, starts to pull out. Liam either doesn’t clock it or doesn’t care, whirling to face Theo as he throws his lacrosse stick down. Theo feels his pulse spike with adrenaline but very deliberately doesn’t move, just stares calmly back at Liam.

“When are Scott and the others going to get Rossler and Preston, Theo? A week from now? Two? How about a month? Or, hell—how about four months? That’s how long they’ve let Rossler and Preston—not mention Monroe!—go already!” Liam shouts, his temper apparently finally slipping loose of whatever tenuous hold he’d had on it; his eyes don’t flare, but they flash there-and-gone gold.

Theo stares at Liam, his eyes narrowing and his own temper starting to rise. He doesn’t realize that he’s come off the fence and stepped close enough to Liam to be within arm’s reach until he sees Liam reflexively straighten, one foot sliding back and his expression flickering with surprise before it twists right back up into anger.

“Are you…seriously pissed that Scott’s prioritizing protecting the packs over capturing Monroe and her people?” Theo demands, and doesn’t manage to keep the anger out of his own voice.

Liam’s eyes go wide and then narrow at the accusation, his mouth contorting in a fierce snarl. That’s all the warning Theo gets before Liam shoves him, hard and fast and jolting him back several steps.

Fuck you!” Liam yells, and Theo’s too surprised to hiss out a warning about their neighbors, just stares at Liam in shock, “Do not make me out to be the bad guy, here. I am not being unreasonable in wanting Monroe and her murderous little cult caught!”

“No!” Theo agrees, his own temper slipping fully loose of his control, “You’re just being goddamn inconsistent!

Liam stares at him, “What the hell are you talking about?”

Theo glares right back, “Seriously, Liam? Three months ago you were ripping Scott’s head off for not doing enough to stop the increasing body count, and now that he’s damn near stopped the killing, suddenly you’re pissed that he’s letting Monroe’s people get away? Make up your goddamn mind! Or better yet—” Theo snarls, and while he narrowly resists the urge to shove Liam back, he does get right up in his face, “—admit what’s actually going on with you!”

“Oh, you’ve got to be fucking—” Liam starts, his voice rising in pitch; he takes a few loose steps back from Theo but Theo doesn’t think it’s altruistic: Liam’s fists keep clenching and releasing, “Your goddamn theory? ” He shakes his head in disbelief and then gestures roughly, one arm jerking out to cut a sharp line through the air between them, “I didn’t go after Rossler and Preston out of some fucked-up sense of guilt, or whatever!”

“Yeah?” Theo hisses back, “Then please, Liam—enlighten me. Why’d you go after them today?”

“I told you,” Liam snaps back, “They were getting away.”

“So were half a dozen of Monroe’s other lieutenants, but you didn’t go after them! ” Theo counters, near-shouting it.

That seems to draw Liam up short, “I…” He starts, then fumbles, his fierce expression cracking some, “I don’t…”

“Oh, come on, Liam,” Theo presses viciously, knows there’s a mean smirk on his face but can’t wipe it off; can’t stop himself, “You were so righteously sure of yourself ten seconds ago.”

“They’re important to Monroe,” Liam tries, attempting to sound firm but just sounding hunted.

“Not more important than Farrell, and definitely not more important than Richmond, who according to Scott you all but ran right by,” Theo counters mercilessly, “Try again, Liam—why’d you go after Rossler and Preston?”

“God, fuck you,” Liam snarls, his hands coming up to fist tightly in his hair as he whirls away from Theo, stalks a few steps away.

But now it’s Theo who can’t let it go—the memory of Scott murmuring he went after them by himself still too fresh in his mind, maybe—and he doesn’t let Liam retreat, follows him as he demands of Liam’s rigid back, “Why’d you go after them, Liam?”

“Because they were there that night!” Liam shouts back, spinning around to face him and surging forward fast enough that Theo has to actively backpedal to avoid colliding with him. Still, they end up close enough to each other that Theo can see the flecks of gold surfacing in his irises as Liam yells, “Because they were the ones who...and I was the one who…”

There we go, Theo thinks, but there’s no victory in it; in Liam’s wrenched-loose admission. Liam trails off and just stares at Theo, his expression split open and raw and lost, his anger falling away from him like armor cracking and crumbling away. He breathes fast, and short, and unsteady, his shoulders and chest heaving with it, his wide eyes fixed on Theo’s face, like he doesn’t know what to do now that the words have slipped past the prison of his teeth.

“What happened to Brett and Lori wasn’t your fault,” Theo tells him quietly, and Liam’s expression twists with pain and disbelief and a resurged anger that Theo doesn’t think is directed anywhere but inward as Liam wheels away from him. This time Theo doesn’t follow him, just stays rooted where he is as he repeats, loud enough to almost be shouting it, “It wasn’t your fault, Liam!”

Liam doesn’t turn back around, just crosses his arms over his chest, his shoulders hunching down and inward as he argues, “They were right there! I should have known something was wrong. Scott figured out something was wrong.” He stops, shakes his head fiercely like he’s trying to shake something loose; some stubborn, clinging thought, maybe. He turns quickly back around to look at Theo and says, “They were ten feet away from me. If I had just—”

But Theo cuts him off, because he has to ; because he can’t take Liam’s shredded voice or his bitter-and-ash scent, “You didn’t kill Brett and Lori.” Liam’s expression spasms and he starts to turn away again, so Theo says it again, louder and more forceful, “You didn’t kill Brett and Lori!”

Liam jerks his head away from him, eyes staring somewhere else and mouth twisted in a deep, distressed grimace. Theo ducks his head until he can catch Liam’s gaze, force Liam to look at him again.

“You didn’t kill Brett and Lori,” Theo tells him for a third time, and that’s true, but it’s not the only truth. So Theo holds Liam’s pained gaze and says, “But you damn near got Nathaniel killed.”

And there’s the anger again, though stripped of its denial and flimsy cover of excuses, it looks a hell of a lot more like embarrassment, and shame, and regret. Theo darts a hand forward and grabs Liam’s arm, yanks him to a stop before he can wheel away again.

“Liam, listen to me,” Theo says, almost pleading as Liam’s eyes flick up to his. Theo waits until he’s sure that Liam is, in fact, listening—however reluctantly—and then tells him, “You want to kill someone? Actually kill someone, none of this bullshit, self-pity, couldn’t-stop-the-inevitable?” Liam tries to rip his arm out of Theo’s grasp at that but Theo doesn’t let him, tightens his grip and doesn’t think about the bruises he must be leaving as he does, “ This is how you do it.”

That gets Liam’s attention; he stops fighting Theo and just stares, his mouth dropping slightly open in surprise, so Theo loosens his hold on his arm and continues:

“You run off half-cocked, pissed off, and Monroe is going to play you like a drum.” He pauses, searches Liam’s face and then offers more quietly, “And you want to know how I know?”

“How?” Liam croaks, and maybe he’d meant to sound snide or dismissive but he just sounds wrecked.

“Because that’s exactly what I did to you that night with Scott,” Theo assures him quietly, and Liam goes instantly rigid and then just—deflates.

Theo releases his arm when Liam goes to bring both hands up to cover his mouth, seemingly having forgotten about Theo’s grip. He wheels away and this time Theo doesn’t stop him, just watches the line of his heaving shoulders and listens to Liam’s jagged, uneven breaths. He stays like that for half a minute, a minute, and Theo lets him, his eyes never leaving Liam’s tense frame.

“Oh god,” Liam finally gasps out shakily, “If Nathaniel—”

“He didn’t,” Theo cuts him off before Liam can throw himself down that endless well of what-ifs, “Don’t do that to yourself. He’s okay.” 

Liam turns some to look at Theo over his shoulder, and maybe he’d meant it as a quick glance but he doesn’t look away once their eyes lock, so Theo lets the hard expression melt off his face and manages a crooked, flimsy excuse for a smile. Liam’s expression spasms and he looks away again, but his pulse starts to slow. 

“I’m sorry,” He finally rasps out, still turned away from Theo. The muscles of his back and shoulders ripple like he’s fighting off a shudder, and Theo feels his own body tense and release sympathetically.

“C’mon,” Theo finally tells him quietly, and makes sure his face is open and honest and keeping no secrets when Liam turns to look back at him again, “Come back inside. Shower. Eat something.” Cut yourself a break, Theo thinks, but doesn’t say. 

Liam stares at him for a moment longer, and then he nods, the movement still a little jerky, “Okay.” He agrees softly, then sucks in a deep breath and says again, more firmly, “Okay. Just let me—”

He starts to move towards his discarded lacrosse stick and the balls still scattered across the yard, but Theo just stops him with a gesture, tips his chin towards the house when Liam looks at him, confused.

“Go,” He tells Liam, “I’ll take care of it.”

Liam looks at him for a few beats more, and then he nods again, starts heading towards the house. When he gets to Theo’s side he hesitates, his eyes flicking sideways to Theo’s own. But after touching his tongue to his bottom lip, his mouth dropping open like there was something he wanted to say, he just blinks quickly, turns his head away and starts walking again. He pulls the door open and then makes sure to close it carefully behind himself, the latch making a quiet enough snick that without supernatural hearing, Theo never would have caught it. 

Theo stares at the closed door for a few long, stretched seconds, and then he blows out a low, slow breath and bends down to pick up Liam’s stick; to clean up, just like he’d promised Liam he would. 

Chapter Text

“Hey,” Liam calls, still halfway down the tunnel leading into the operating theater but perfectly audible, “You almost done?”

Theo ignores him for the moment, focused on checking the temperature of the wolfsbane slowly distilling down; two days ago he’d gotten distracted by an unexpected burst of laughter at some comment Liam had made, and had left the heat up high enough that the glass beaker had shattered and sent wolfsbane-infused liquid fountaining across the room. Inoculated against the effects of the wolfsbane or not, the liquid had still been fucking scalding.

The temperature is fine and the solution is merrily bubbling away, so Theo straightens out of his hunched position, rolls his shoulders as he looks up at Liam just entering the operating theater proper. He’s got a beanie on and is buried inside a BHHS Lacrosse hoodie, his face still red with cold; he’d been sitting outside the storm doors again. Theo considers giving him shit for it for about two seconds, and then he realizes that if he does it, he’ll probably wind up completing his unintentional and completely involuntary transformation into Argent, and so doesn’t. 

“This needs twenty minutes. Why?” Theo ask, stripping off his gloves; Lydia had somehow found out—probably thanks to Liam —that Theo had been forgoing them now that he didn’t have to worry about wolfsbane poisoning, and had read him the riot act three days ago for an agonizing thirty minutes.

“Booo,” Liam says, making a face; he’s close enough now to hop up on the empty stretch of table next to Theo and so does, glancing interestedly at the pale blue flowers floating in the simmering solution, “It’s still crazy to me that I could touch those now if I wanted.”

“While they’re floating in boiling hot liquid?” Theo counters mildly; Liam makes another face, “Why’d you ask if I was almost done?”

“Because I’m hungry,” Liam says, shrugging and prodding Theo’s side with his foot, “I want empanadas.”

“You’ve been here for a week and a half,” Theo replies exasperatedly, “How do you already have this much of an addiction?”

“Blame Isabella,” Liam shoots back cheerfully, and attempts to prod Theo again; Theo catches his foot and squeezes his ankle in warning, then lets it fall. Liam just grins and leans back on his palms, kicks his legs as he asks, “Who’s this batch for again, Sacramento?”

“Bakersfield,” Theo corrects absently, scrolling through the data on his tablet as he does, “Sacramento’s is going to have to be double this size.”

The host at Isabella’s gives Theo and Liam what in any setting outside of the service industry would be a shit-eating grin when he sees them come through the doors an hour later, leads them to a table near the kitchen doors specifically because Liam has—somehow—already developed a reputation for obsessively watching the food coming out. Theo rolls his eyes but thanks the kid as he and Liam slide into their seats, Liam’s eyes already fixated on where he can see the cooks at work behind the kitchen counter. They order chips and guacamole while they wait for their entrees because Liam’s stomach is, to quote, about to eat itself, and end up inevitably rehashing the morning’s phone call with Scott, Malia, and Argent as they eat them. 

“You don’t think it’s weird that, out of literally nowhere, a hunter family on the other side of the state suddenly spots Monroe from where we last knew her to be?” Liam demands, shoveling a guac-laden chip into his mouth.

“It’s not out of literally nowhere,” Theo counters, a little disgusted and a little fascinated by Liam’s complete disregard for anything approaching manners, “Monroe has been making her way south for weeks. Which makes sense, because—”

“Because Southern California is less crawling with werewolf packs, yeah, yeah,” Liam cuts him off dismissively, Theo glaring at him as he does, “But she was in Modesto three days ago. Why would she suddenly bolt for the border?”

“We think she was in Modesto three days ago,” Theo points out, but feels his brow furrow as he studies Liam’s face, “Why is this bothering you so much? You spent months with Scott running all over the map chasing rumors and potential sightings just like this.”

“Yeah, that’s what makes it weird,” Liam insists, “This wasn’t just a rumor . They were really sure. Like, Chemult pack catching Monroe on that rest stop surveillance footage sure, and Monroe hasn’t screwed up like that since that first time.”

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Theo replies, even as something uneasy briefly squirms in his gut; Liam had a point, “We’ve been hounding her for months, and her main weapon has dramatically decreased in effectiveness, given the number of packs we’ve managed to inoculate. Maybe the stress is getting to her.”

Liam just gives him a knowing look, points at him with a chip as he accuses, “You don’t believe that.”

Theo’s about to reply when Liam’s attention suddenly perks, his posture straightening like some kind of meerkat as he looks fixedly over Theo’s shoulder; their food must be ready. Laughing under his breath, Theo slides his glass and silverware out of the way so that the server—grinning at Liam’s obvious enthusiasm—can set his plate down. 

Theo waits until she’s stepped away to tell Liam, “Look. We’ll call Scott and Malia and Argent after we eat, okay? You can test out your theory on Argent.”

Liam’s already shoveled a massive bite of empanada in his mouth, so he just freezes and looks up at Theo, then nods in agreement. Theo bites back another laugh and drops his attention to his own food, picks up his knife and fork because at least one of them should give the impression they were raised in polite society.

The fact that Liam is too busy inhaling his plateful of empanadas to talk is one of the reasons that Theo’s attention is caught the third time a group comes into the restaurant and politely asks the host for a specific table; the other reasons are long-ingrained habit and paranoia. Keeping his movements smooth and easy, Theo picks up his drink and flicks his eyes first to the trio who’d wanted to sit right by the door, even given the fact that they must be getting blasted with cold air every time it opens. The couple by the emergency exit he studies briefly in the reflection of the restaurant windows, and the second trio conveniently walks right by him and Liam along with the host on the way to their table. 

Their table right in front of the hallway leading to the bathrooms.

“Liam,” Theo says, low but with a casual expression on his face as he sets his drink back down; he grins when Liam looks up quizzically like he’d just said something clever, “The trio by the bathrooms, the couple by the front door, and the trio by the emergency exit. I need you to tell me what you smell.”

Luckily Liam seems to catch on, and instead of whipping around to stare at any of the tables Theo had pointed out, he takes a break from shoveling food into his mouth to grab his drink, lean back with it in hand with a look on his face like he isn’t particularly impressed with whatever Theo had just said to him. He swirls it around and then takes a drink, but Theo can see from the way that his shoulders rise and fall that he’s inhaling deeply, his eyes drifting briefly closed.

“Mistletoe,” Liam breathes as he opens his eyes back up; if they’re a little wider than they had been, it’s not enough to set any watcher’s alarms to ringing, “Mistletoe and mountain ash.”

Theo bites back a swear, the hold he’d had on his adrenaline and panic slipping loose before he manages to regain his stranglehold around both. Monroe’s people had cut off the two main exits, and the trio by the hallway to the bathrooms were either there to grab Theo or Liam if and when they went to use them, to keep them from fleeing through the door to the salon next door, or both, but there was still the service entrance leading out from the kitchen to the alley behind the strip of shops. Thinking fast but making sure to keep outwardly unaffected, Theo pops another bite of empanada in his mouth, blankets the restaurant with his senses as he does.

He also kicks Liam in the ankle when Liam does nothing but stare at him. Liam jolts, but seems to get the message; he picks one of his empanadas back up and starts eating it, but from the way he seems to be struggling to chew and swallow, his mouth had gone dry. 

“Okay,” Theo finally says, still low but not suspiciously so, “Isabella’s in the kitchen. You think you can…?”

Considering that Liam had spent nearly fifteen minutes of their dinner two nights ago waxing rhapsodic about the quality of her empanadas to a bemused but flattered Isabella, Theo is pretty sure Liam can. Liam must think so, too; he nods.

“Go talk to her through the serving window, okay? I’ll stay here like I’m waiting, then get impatient or bored or whatever and come to drag you back,” Theo continues. Liam nods to show he’s understood, takes another bite of his empanada without prompting, “When I tell you, we both go for the service door. Walk. Don’t run until we’re through or you hear them start after us.”

“You don’t think they’ve got people in the alley?” Liam asks quietly, tension around his eyes and the corners of his mouth.

“I’m sure they do, but we’ve got a better chance with the two or three out there, than with the eight in here, especially considering the potential collateral damage,” Theo tells him, “You remember the plan?”

He means, do you remember the plan that Argent and I developed in case something exactly like this happened. It’d originally been designed for Theo and Malia, but given their reshuffled teams, Argent and Theo had sat Liam down and made him tell them the plan over and over until Liam was practically gnawing off his own wrists in frustration, and they were satisfied he had it. Given the short, confident nod that Liam gives to Theo’s question, Theo doesn’t regret a second of Liam’s bitching.

“Alright,” Theo murmurs, and feels his adrenaline start to slip loose again, but he doesn’t clamp down on it as hard this time, instead letting it flow slowly into his veins, his muscles, “You ready?”

Liam sucks in a deep breath—over his shoulder Theo can see the trio of Monroe’s people by the main entrance doing a terrible job of not watching him do it—and then he nods, fakes a passably convincing smile. Theo makes a face as he gets up and Liam makes one right back, and if it’s a little over-acted, Theo’s probably the only one in the room who knows Liam well enough to realize. In a few short seconds, Liam is over by the serving counter, already joking with the waitstaff dodging around him and dryly flirting with the cooks as he leans against the counter with his forearms and calls Isabella’s name, starts talking with her when she laughs and comes forward to talk with him.

Theo doesn’t bother listening to what they say, his eyes on Monroe’s people in the reflection of the windows, out of the corner of his eye; in the shiny surface of the knife he tilts up to see the trio behind his and Liam’s table. All of them had gone momentarily tense when Liam had stood, the three by the bathrooms chairs creaking as they’d abruptly stiffened, and it takes them a few long, slow seconds to relax back down. They watch Liam carefully, barely even pretending not to anymore, but after nearly a minute of Liam casually chatting with Isabella, with the staff, their attention starts to wander. 

Taking that as his cue, Theo makes sure to huff out a clearly visible sigh as he stands, sticks his hands in his pockets as he ambles his way over to Liam. Considering that Malia had been near as obsessed with Isabella’s empanadas as Liam has turned out to be, the staff all know him; they greet him warmly and don’t complain when he takes up another foot of counter space next to Liam, joins in his conversation with Isabella. In the reflection of the chrome counters, the overhead warming lights, Theo can see the spread of Monroe’s people briefly panic, unsure how to react to his and Liam’s behavior, and he forces back a grin, keeps talking with Isabella, needling Liam.

He and Liam have to briefly move out of the way as the serving window fills with dishes and several servers come forward to take them. Theo glances out into the restaurant and sees the table of eight—a birthday party, he guesses, based on the handful of wrapped packages tucked under people’s chairs—and starts quickly calculating trajectories, eyelines. 

Talking low so that only Liam can hear him, Theo murmurs, “Use the servers as a screen. When they block your view of the three by the bathrooms, go.”

Liam gives a barely imperceptible nod, and ten seconds later, when the servers slip in between him and the row of tables nearest them, he moves—not too fast, not too slow—for the kitchen door. Theo gives it two more seconds, enough time for the servers to block his view, and then he goes, too. 

“Wha—Liam, Theo what are you…?” Isabella asks as they appear in the doorway.

“We’re really sorr—” Liam starts to say, still on the move but his hands up and gesturing apologetically, except that Theo hears an alarmed shout from outside in the restaurant and the scrape of several chairs and he swears, shoves Liam forward hard as he yells go!, cutting him off.

Liam takes off with Theo on his heels, Isabella and the cooks gasping and yelling in surprise as the doors bang open behind them; Monroe’s hunters coming through. Swallowing a curse, Theo grabs a prep table, engages his supernatural strength as he drags it sideways, pulling it behind himself and Liam and blocking the hunters’ paths. He hears them slam into and swear viciously but doesn’t stop to look, just keeps his eyes on Liam as Liam shoulders open the service entrance door, practically flying through it.

The momentum ends up working in his favor: the hunter who’d had a crossbow fixed on the entrance mistimes the shot and ends up embedding a bolt in the metal of the door a foot to the right of Liam’s right kidney. That second is all Theo needs to dart through the door after Liam, claws already out and slicing through the unprotected stretch of the hunter’s extended arm, then the hunter’s throat when the woman shrieks in pain and drops the crossbow and her arms. 

The second hunter does better with his shot but Liam’s prepared, dodges it easily and takes the hunter down, using the wall as a jump-point to gain more force; Theo can practically hear the hunter’s spine snapping under the weight. Blood is streaming from his mouth and nose when Theo runs past him down the alley after Liam; the tackle must have sent some of his ribs into his lungs. 

There’s a third hunter at the mouth of the alley, which isn’t surprising but is unfortunate, especially because the door behind Liam and Theo slams back open as the hunters from the restaurant pour out after them. Gritting his teeth, Theo flicks his eyes over the alleyway, looking for something— anything —that could help them. 

He sees it, and yells, “Liam!”

He means, take care of the third hunter, and Liam must get it because he doesn’t respond, but he does snarl, loud and meant to intimidate and successful, if the way the third hunter’s heartbeat goes wild. Ignoring that for the moment, Theo skids to a stop and pivots, turns back and dives for the second hunter’s body; for the hopefully-smoke-grenade strapped to the man’s waist. Grenade in hand, he comes up on his knees and immediately pulls the pin, throws it towards the quickly-approaching hunters. 

They yell in alarm and Theo has just enough time to think oh, shit, not a smoke grenade, and squeeze his eyes shut before the flash-bang erupts. The sound instantly sets his ears to ringing, and if the wet trickle down the side of his neck is any indication, had ruptured his eardrums. 

But the fact that he’d closed his eyes in time means he can see, so he blinks his eyes open and staggers to his feet, forcing his attention to the mass of hunters down the alley all moaning and covering their eyes, stumbling thanks to their probably-blown ears. Smirking in vicious satisfaction, Theo leans down and swipes one more thing from the dead hunter’s body, and then takes off down the alley, his balance getting better and better as his healing fixes his eardrums. 

Liam is nowhere to be seen when he initially comes out onto the street, but he almost instantly barrels into Theo’s side—Theo barely pulling back his reflexive strike—and starts dragging him away from the alley. There’s blood on the side of face and the arm of his shirt is torn and stained red, but he seems relatively unhurt, his grip almost painfully strong on Theo’s arm as they run.

After a few blocks—sirens in the distance; Isabella or someone at the restaurant must have called the police—Theo turns the tables and grabs Liam instead, jerks him to a stop as he orders, “Stop. Stop running,” nearly panting it out.

Hard as it clearly is for him—his teeth gritting, and his body practically vibrating with adrenaline—Liam does. But he must have remembered what Theo and Argent had hammered into him, because he doesn’t stop, just starts walking instead, aiming for casual and getting maybe seventy percent there. Theo does the same, his eyes intently studying the streets, looking for any suspicious cars while his hands fiddle with his stolen walkie-talkie, searching for the frequency Monroe and her people are using.

He finds it just as he hears someone shout we’re turning onto State and Second now, giving him just enough time to get ahold of Liam’s shirt and yank him unceremoniously into a darkened shop doorway just as a black SUV goes barreling past them. Liam stares at him in the shadow of the alcove, wide-eyed and shoulders heaving with his unsteady breathing; Theo sees it as well as feels it, his fingers still twisted in Liam’s shirt and resting on his chest.

“Okay,” Theo breathes after a long fifteen seconds have passed and there’s no sound of screeching brakes or frantic chatter from the walkie-talkie, “Okay, let’s go.”

They experience a few more close calls as they hurry through the streets, but the walkie-talkie always gives them enough warning to dart into alleys or behind corners, and before long they’re at the currently vacant business park where Argent had stashed a beat-up old car; easy to overlook and almost worthless to steal. Theo fishes his keys out of his pocket and momentarily despairs for his truck still back at Isabella’s, but shoves it aside and gets the car unlocked, Liam already at the passenger-side door and impatiently waiting. 

“Call Scott,” Theo orders, the second they’re both in the car and he’s gotten them on the road.

Liam pulls out his phone but then immediately grimaces, “No service. They must be jamming the signal, like they did in Beacon Hills.”

“Fucking fantastic,” Theo mutters viciously under his breath, his eyes carefully scanning the roads and his ears on the walkie-talkie he’d shoved in the car’s cracked and sun-faded cup-holders as he gets them headed towards the highway, “Keep trying. The second we get out of range, call him.”

Liam doesn’t argue or say something smart, clearly demonstrating how completely freaked-out he must be; Theo grits his teeth and resists the urge to drive faster, forces himself to keep their speed at a reasonable ten over the limit while still within the city limits. He and Malia had gotten the Dorris-Yreka drive down to a near-science, but they’d never had to do it with a small army’s worth of hunters on their tail; an hour and ten minutes suddenly feels like an eternity. 

Liam spends the next thirty minutes alternately trying to call Scott and asking Theo increasingly demanding questions about how the fuck they found us . Theo starts out replying as patiently as he can, but ends up snarling I don’t fucking know! thirty miles out from Yreka, because he doesn’t. He and Argent may have anticipated that Monroe and her people would figure out that a dedicated duo was staying in place in Dorris, and they'd done everything they could to try and minimize that happening, but none of that answered Liam’s question. 

What it did answer was why now . Theo has to shove aside the voice in his head furiously berating him for missing the signs, Liam saying you don’t think it’s weird : Monroe had somehow tricked Scott and the other packs into thinking she was on the other side of the state. She’d isolated Liam and Theo best she could, making the most troubling question what the hell does she want, and none of the answers Theo can imagine are pleasant.

It’s only after Liam subsides that Theo realizes what the feeling buzzing insistently away in the back of his brain is: alarm, because the walkie-talkie is suspiciously silent and had been for awhile. Dread curling fast and thick in his gut, Theo finds his gaze dragging away from the road to the device, and then he jerks and swears, his eyes flying back to the road.

He tries to crank the wheel to get them out of the way, but it’s too late: the SUV that had been steadily coming towards them in oncoming traffic jerks into their lane, driving them off the road.

---

Theo comes back to consciousness gasping and choking on thick, smoke-filled air, his eyes stinging and watering and his chest aching where the seatbelt had snapped taut across it.

Arching his head back and desperately trying to breathe, Theo tips his head sideways and immediately goes rigid, because Liam’s seat is empty, the passenger door hanging wide open. Theo’s still staring in mute panic at the place where Liam should be but isn’t, only to jerk when his door suddenly flies open and Liam appears in the doorway, the side of his face caked with blood and his eyes wild. 

“We’ve got to go, Monroe’s people are coming,” He says, all in a frantic rush, already diving for Theo’s seatbelt. His weight across Theo’s chest is agonizing, but Theo can’t manage a protest, the pain too sharp, and anyway: Liam gets the seatbelt undone and leans back almost immediately, “C’mon, c’mon.”

He gets his arms under Theo’s and bodily hauls him out of the wreck, drags him a few feet away. Theo does his best to cooperate, but his legs are shaky—his left had clearly been broken and is still sluggishly healing, along with what feels like the entirety of the ribs on his right side—and his balance is shot. Liam barely seems to notice, just gets his shoulder braced under one of Theo’s arms and starts them hobbling as fast as possible for the nearby woods.

“Yreka,” Theo gasps, “Liam, we’ve got to head towards—”

“I know,” Liam snaps, “This is the way, I checked my phone compass and everything.”

Under any other circumstances Theo would mock him mercilessly for that, but now he just groans and then grits his teeth, forces his legs back into the game. Within another half-minute he’s healed if still aching, which is none too soon, because Theo can hear the sound of car doors slamming and shouting behind them. Try as he might to focus his hearing, try and pick out how many hunters, how far behind they are, his ears are still ringing from the crash, and he can’t.

Except then he doesn’t need to guess as to two of the hunters, because Rossler suddenly yells, “Where you going, Liam? C’mon, now! Me and Preston came all this way just to see you!”

Liam stumbles in surprise, his head immediately jerking to face back the way they’d come, his expression gone rigid. The sudden change in direction and momentum means Theo ends up all but colliding with him, one hand landing on Liam’s chest to steady himself and feeling Liam’s heart beating furiously underneath it.

“Liam,” Theo murmurs warningly, “Liam, don’t do this. Don’t let them get to you. If we don’t get to Yreka, we are dead.”

But right after he finishes speaking, Rossler calls, practically sing-songing, “Li—am. You want to know something interesting? That mutt and his bitch sister that me and Preston killed, they had a very touching moment right at the end, did you see?”

Liam goes even more rigid, his eyes flaring and his lips peeling back from his fangs in a fierce, if silent, snarl. 

“The mutt was already dead, we’re pretty sure, but his sister crawled over to him so she could hold his hand at as we revved up for a second run. It was beautiful, wasn’t it, Preston?” Rossler continues; even without the full scope of his supernatural hearing, Theo can tell he’s closer.

“Liam!” He hisses, one hand coming up to grab the back of Liam’s head, force Liam to look at him, “Don’t.”

Liam stares at him fixedly for a few—too many —seconds, his chest under Theo’s other hand heaving, and then he makes a frustrated noise and loops Theo’s arm back around his shoulders, starts them moving quickly forward again; away from Rossler still cajolingly yelling behind them. 

Another dozen or so yards and Theo can take his arm back, start running shoulder-to-shoulder with Liam instead. But almost instantly he realizes—his sister’s heart sinking in his chest—that it isn’t going to matter; with his hearing almost entirely back, he can hear the hunters. More importantly, he can hear them closing in, a whole formation of them spread out through the woods and slowly pinching in to surround him and Liam. Closing his eyes and cursing everything he can think of, Theo reaches out and grabs Liam’s arm, drags him to a stop.

“Theo, what the hell?” Liam demands, and tries to yank his arm out of Theo’s grip, start running again.

Theo just grabs Liam’s arm again, keeps him in place, “Liam, you need to roar.”

Liam stops trying to fight him and just stares at him in confusion, “What? Theo, if I roar they’re going to know exactly where we are. They’ll catch—!”

“They’re going to catch us, Liam!” Theo cuts him off fiercely. Liam’s eyes go wide and he glances around frantically, like he’s expecting Monroe’s people to come pouring through the trees any second, “We’re not getting to Yreka but we should be close enough for one of her pack to hear you if you roar.”

Liam gets a look on his face like he’s clearly considering arguing more, but then all at once he switches tracks, says, “Then we should both do it, right?”

Theo just shakes his head, “I can’t, it won’t work.” At Liam’s furrowed brow he grits his teeth, forces the explanation past his teeth because it’ll take less time than trying to get Liam to let it go, “I’m not a werewolf, and I’m not part of Scott’s pack. Liam, it has to be you. Roar!

Liam stares at him for an agonizing few additional seconds, and then he grimaces and takes half a step back, sucks in a deep breath before doing as Theo instructed and roaring

The sound hits Theo like a goddamn pile driver, and even standing right next to Liam and staring fixedly at his tilted-back head, the instinct to go to him, to find him, is near overwhelming; Theo just prays it’s the same for any members of the Yreka pack who may hear it. Come find us, Theo begs them silently, please, please come find us.

Except that thought gets torn loose when Liam’s roar abruptly cuts off and he gives a choked cry instead, a crossbow bolt punching through his chest. Theo gasps his name and catches him as he staggers, both his hands instantly going around Liam’s back to find the bolt, break off the end so that he can reach back around and pull it out of Liam’s chest. Liam groans as he does it, his head on Theo’s shoulder and his face in Theo’s neck, his fingers spasming around Theo’s arms.

It’s rendered a wasted effort almost immediately; two more crossbow bolts come flying out of the trees to imbed themselves in Liam’s flesh, one in his lower left calf and the other his right shoulder. He hits his knees, and while Theo instantly moves to follow him, he—can’t, another two crossbow bolts cutting through the air to catch him one in the right thigh, one in the stomach. Oh, fuck, Theo thinks, staggering back; the goddamn things were coated in mistletoe. And worse, he realizes, his vision already starting to tunnel as another volley splits the air through the trees, another bolt slamming into his shoulder and Liam giving another pained cry: they were shafted in mountain ash

Liam, he thinks desperately, his knees giving out, but it’s too late; he looks up as a shadow falls across his face, and catches Richmond’s vicious smirk seconds before Richmond raises the stock of the crossbow in his hands and then slams it down against the side of Theo’s face.

---

When he wakes up next, it’s because someone has thrown a bucket of freezing cold water on him.

Gasping and choking, Theo tries reflexively to jerk away and finds that he can’t, because his wrists and ankles are secured to the legs and arms of a metal chair. Worse yet, the damn thing is bolted to the floor; Theo can feel it in the way that the chair groans but doesn’t budge as he moves. The next thing he realizes, agony racing up his spine and settling at the base of skull like somebody has their hand around his spinal column, is that either the chair or his body itself or both are electrified, the current a constant, vicious burn preventing his healing from kicking in; keeping the shift locked under his skin.

Blinking open his eyes beneath his dripping wet brow and hair, Theo still has to fight to get them to focus, his vision swimming both from the water and from pain. The first thing he sees are the jumper cables connecting his chair to a car battery sitting a few feet away. Swearing, Theo forces his gaze up and out, looking for more clues as to where the hell he is, and then he instantly jerks against his bonds, his vision clearing and some of the haziness in his mind yanked away like someone had pulled a curtain back, because he sees Liam across from him, secured the same way. 

Jesus, Liam, Theo thinks, studying Liam intently. He looks fucking awful, the bloodstains on his clothes obvious even though they’re now soaked, his shoulders and chest heaving as he apparently pants for air. His eyes look clear, though, and his mouth is open in half a snarl from where he’s staring at the group of hunters spread leisurely around a table off to the side. When he notices Theo’s attention, though, he immediately turns to stare at him, his expression spasming as their eyes lock. 

“Oh, good, everyone’s awake,” A silky voice suddenly announces, and Theo feels his spine go rigid as both his and Liam’s attention snaps to the side—Theo’s mind absently cataloguing concrete, pillars, fluorescent lighting; a warehouse, maybe?—to look at Monroe as she comes strolling casually into view.

“Monroe,” Liam snarls, low and furious and dripping with threat even without the shift lengthening his teeth or turning his voice into a growl.

Liam,” Monroe echoes sweetly, and comes to a stop in between their two chairs. 

She smiles benevolently first at Liam, then at Theo; Theo peels back his own lips in a snarl. Monroe just smiles, like he’d pulled a particularly cute trick, and motions to one of the hunters standing off to the side. The man comes forward and hands her what Theo realizes, after a moment of confusion, is a pair of thick rubber gloves. Monroe takes them and thanks the man as he retreats back to his circle of rubbernecking hunters, but doesn’t pull the gloves on yet, just holds them absently in one hand as she puts her hands on her hips, flicks her attention between Liam on one side and Theo on the other.

“Well, this is quite the situation we’ve all landed in, here,” Monroe finally says, bending loosely at the waist to tap a toe against the dirty concrete beneath her feet; her whole posture easy and unconcerned and deliberately meant to get under Theo’s and Liam’s skin, which: from the way Liam jerks furiously in his bonds, it’s working. Monroe smiles patronizingly at him again, and then continues, “My intention was to have a nice, easy conversation with you two, but your dramatic little escape attempt at the restaurant, followed by your…” She hesitates, tipping her head back and forth like she’s struggling for the word, “cry for help in the woods, means we don’t have as much time as I’d hoped.”

“So sorry to fuck with your plan,” Liam jeers, his wrists still restlessly turning against his bonds.

Monroe just smiles and laughs a little, though the expression doesn’t touch her eyes; Theo stares at the side of her face, the adrenaline in his gut starting to curdle into dread.

“You know, I don’t think you are sorry,” She tells Liam thoughtfully, “But I think you will be.”

Theo feels his muscles go involuntarily rigid as he catches the confident note to her voice, his eyes flying to the side of her face. Monroe notices his attention and looks back, her mouth curving as she tips her head and studies him.

“You see,” She finally explains, her eyes still locked with Theo’s, “I need something from you. And if I’d had more time, we could maybe have done this differently.”

This time Liam doesn’t respond, his better sense maybe hearing the burr of threat in Monroe’s voice and locking his jaw shut, but that almost seems to amuse Monroe more. She looks at him over her shoulder, grinning widely.

“Oh, Liam,” She murmurs, “Always wisening up too late.”

“For someone bitching about lacking time, you sure seem to be wasting a lot of it,” Theo comments lowly; it’s idiotic and he has to fight past his own instincts to do it, but he’d had one thought start to dominate all others: get her attention away from Liam.

Monroe looks back at him, some of her amusement sliding off her face. Theo forces himself to straighten, tip his chin up in challenge; his claws and fangs instinctively try to lengthen, and the jolt of realization when he remembers that he can’t —the electricity still coursing through him—is almost worse than the burn of Monroe’s attention.

“You’re right, of course, Theo,” Monroe finally says, and smiles at him like she’s grateful for the constructive criticism. 

But then she sighs, and brings her hands in front of her, briskly pulling on the rubber gloves, and Theo feels the tension between his shoulder-blades winch tight. 

“So here’s the thing, boys,” Monroe tells them, looking between them, her mouth curling up in a satisfied smirk when Liam jerks uselessly at his bonds again, “Your little vaccine-making operation has disrupted me and my friends’ attempts to… cleanse this part of the country from its very stubborn supernatural infestation.”

Liam snarls at that but Monroe barely even pauses, though her lips flicker in a smirk.

“So you’re going to tell me where to find the Dread Doctors’ operating theater that you’ve been using as a lab,” Monroe concludes, “so that we can take care of it, and get back to our very important work.”

Off to the side her hunters ripple with laughter, one of them echoing very important work in a smug, insinuating tone of voice. Over Monroe’s shoulder Liam is glaring at Monroe’s back, his jaw clenched hard enough that Theo can see the muscles standing out in sharp relief, the skin around his wrists already rubbed raw from his constant pulling at his bindings. But Theo—he just forces himself to take a few deep breaths and then smirks lazily, leans back like he’d chosen his current chair; like the electricity and the traces of mistletoe still in his blood were creature comforts he was glad to have.

“Operating theater, huh?” Theo comments, meeting Monroe’s eyes when she looks over at him curiously, “Very imaginative, but we’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Monroe replies sweetly, “You and Liam have just been hanging around a one-horse town for months for the culture. Oh, wait!” She suddenly exclaims, “It was you and Malia before, wasn’t it, Theo?” She spins easily on a heel to look at Liam as she says, “At least until Liam here screwed up and nearly got the Carson City alpha’s husband killed, got himself benched.”

Liam snarls at her, fangless but still vicious, and Theo grits his teeth, mind racing: get her attention away from Liam.

“If you know all that, then you’ve been watching us for awhile,” He points out, relief flowing hot down his throat like a jagged pill when Monroe glances at him, “Why do you need us to tell you where the lab is?”

Monroe leaves Liam alone for the moment, turning to face Theo head-on, “Where the operating theater is?” She corrects pointedly. Theo just sets his jaw and doesn’t take the bait, and Monroe sighs, shakes her head in mock despair before she says, “We tried. But McCall and his little band of do-gooders have been relentless, and no matter how often we tried to distract them, we’ve never had as much… breathing room as we needed.”

Theo stares at her, feels his own lips curl up in satisfied smirk as he reads between the lines, “And now without the ability to use your little poison, you’re getting desperate. Followers starting to get antsy, Monroe?”

Monroe’s pleasant expression spasms, though she almost immediately gets it back as she murmurs, “Something like that.”

“Well you can go fuck yourself,” Liam suddenly speaks up, and Monroe’s attention snaps back to him, “Because we’re not telling you shit.”

But alarmingly Monroe just smiles at him, “Oh, Liam—I think you might.”

Liam’s brow furrows; he clearly hadn’t been expecting that response. Monroe laughs quietly and then gestures to one of her men again. He comes forward with something in his hand, and the sight of it so unexpected that it takes Theo a second to convince himself that it really is what it looks like, because what it looks like is an IV bag, tubing and needle and all. Monroe accepts it carefully, her attention briefly leaving Theo and Liam to focus on the bag; Theo tries to use the time to test his bonds again, but it’s useless, just like he expected it to be.

“To answer your earlier question, Theo,” She says absently as she starts unwinding the tubing, the needle held between two fingers, “I know it’s an operating theater and not a lab, because I know where Gerard got the poison he stole originally. And I also know,” she adds, smiling at Theo as she glances up at him, “that creating both the poison and your irritating little vaccine require specialized equipment that only the Dread Doctors had access to.”

“The Hornbrook pack,” Theo realizes before he can stop himself, “That’s why you couldn’t kill the alpha. The poison didn’t get diluted . You’re running out.” Then something occurs to him, and the dread that’d curdled earlier in his gut solidifies in nausea, “You don’t just want to disrupt the vaccine creation, you want to make more poison.”

Monroe’s expression twists with irritation before she gets it back under control, “Always were too smart for your own good, huh, Theo?” She replies pleasantly, though her eyes retain some of their hardness, “We knew you’d found the operating theater and were looking for it even before you created your...vaccine.”

“How did you…?” Theo wonders, just as Liam snaps, “How the fuck would you…?”

But the answer is obvious.

“The hunter family who had the tip,” Theo breathes, staring at her, “They’ve been feeding you information.”

“Very good, Theo,” Monroe congratulates him, “Argent may have poisoned the minds of most of the hunters, but some of them still remember their true purpose.”

Whatever she’d been doing with the IV bag, she’s apparently done; she quits fiddling with it and instead loops the extended tubing around her neck, bag in one gloved hand and needle in the other. 

“But like Theo correctly pointed out earlier, we’re running out of time. The Yreka pack is on the move and searching for you,” Over Monroe’s shoulder Liam looks triumphant, but Theo just feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. And worse, Monroe must see the realization cross his face, because she smiles at him, “That’s right, Theo. Our limited time means…limited options.”

Theo just glares at her, refusing to give her the satisfaction of seeing him squirm. Monroe laughs quietly but then sobers some, sighing heavily as she briefly looks away from both him and Liam. She tips her head back like she’s steeling herself to do something necessary but unpleasant, but she’s not that good of an actress; there’s a satisfied curl to her lips as she glances between them.

“One of you is going to tell me where the operating theater is,” She promises them, her fingers flexing around the IV bag and needle in her hands, “And I don’t care who, but I do care how quickly. And so will you.”

“And, what, you’re going to poison us until we tell you?” Liam spits out, and Theo wishes like hell he could tell him to stop.

But Monroe just looks at Liam and says, “Not you,” almost gently. 

Theo jerks in his bonds, reflexively and without conscious thought, when Monroe takes the few steps necessary to put her in front of Liam, his lips twisting in a clenched-teeth grimace as he stares at Monroe’s back; his bonds don’t so much as give, though the voltage flowing through him momentarily increases when more of his wet shirt contacts the chair. Neither Monroe nor Liam look at him when he makes a choked noise, their attention fixed on each other, Liam’s with hate and Monroe’s with an easy smile as she kneels down in front of him.

“You see, Liam,” She tells him, low and soothing but perfectly audible, “I can’t touch you. You, I need to deal with Scott.” 

Theo can see the instant Liam realizes what she means, and is already helplessly staring at him when Liam’s eyes leave Monroe and snap up to his, Liam’s fierce expression cracking and showing the panic underneath. 

“That’s right, Liam,” Monroe murmurs, her gaze still on Liam’s face even though Liam isn’t looking at her anymore, “Theo’s not one of Scott’s betas, and he isn’t part of Scott’s pack. So while I’m sure Scott would be nobly distressed by his death, he just doesn’t have the same worth as a bargaining chip as you.”

Monroe gets smoothly to her feet after that, blithely ignoring Liam gasping out no, wait, behind her. Theo forces his gaze from Liam to Monroe as she walks calmly towards him, the IV bag and needle still cradled delicately in each of her hands. Closer Theo can better see the shimmering liquid in the IV bag, and feels his breath freeze in his throat as he realizes what it is.

“You recognize it,” Monroe breathes, smiling in slow satisfaction as she catches the look on his face. She kneels down in front of him, mirroring the posture she’d taken with Liam, and holds the IV bag a little closer to him; behind her Liam is shouting Monroe, don’t, I’ll fucking—, but Monroe doesn’t pay him any attention, her eyes fixed on Theo, “Between your chimeric immunity to mountain ash and your irritating new inoculation against wolfsbane, it was a bit of a puzzle figuring out what to use.”

She drops her eyes to look thoughtfully at the shimmering IV bag, tilting it this way and that.

“I thought about using mistletoe,” She explains, like they were having a friendly discussion and she was showing him a project she felt particularly proud of. Then she smiles and straightens back to her feet as she concludes, “But this felt more poetic.”

Theo tries to resist his urge to jerk away and fails, though his movements don’t do more than amuse Monroe as she loops the hook of the IV bag over the back of Theo’s chair; Theo can feel her wrapping the hook tight enough around the frame to make it near impossible to dislodge. That done, Monroe takes hold of his bound left arm with a gloved hand and forces it still, her other hovering the needle over the bend of his elbow.

“Struggle if you want,” She warns him, “But it’ll be worse flowing directly into your muscles.”

Biting back a frustrated snarl, Theo tilts his head back and sucks in a few harsh, short breaths, and then—stops fighting, closing his eyes and relaxing his arm under her hands. Monroe murmurs good boy and braces her hand, inserts the IV needle into the vein in his elbow and then—gesturing to one of her goons—secures it with the strip of medical tape the man hands her.

“Monroe, you bitch,” Liam shouts, the metal of his chair creaking and groaning as he fights his bonds, “What are you doing to him? What the hell is that?”

“It’s mercury, Liam,” Monroe tells him pleasantly, straightening from over Theo; behind her Liam sucks in horrified breath.

“No. No, Monroe, there’s no cure for that, you said—!” Liam yells, his voice breaking; Theo knows he should look at him, try and—do something, calm him down, but can’t; he squeezes his eyes shut instead, his arm already starting to burn icily as the IV drips mercury into his veins.

“I said I cared how quickly one of you told me where the operating theater is, and I said you would, too,” Monroe interrupts, turning to look fixedly at Liam over her shoulder, “At the current rate of infusion, Theo has a little under forty minutes before his system will no longer be able to heal from the mercury. So one of you has until then to tell me where to find what I need, or Theo here ends like he began,” Monroe concludes, her voice suddenly gone vicious, grabbing Theo’s chin and forcing him to look up at her, “as one of the Dread Doctors’ failed experiments.”

She releases his chin, but then she glances thoughtfully over her shoulder at where Liam has doubled his efforts—uselessly, but valiantly—against his bonds, all manner of abuse spilling from his mouth, and leans down to brace her hands atop Theo’s wrists, grinding them into the metal armrests below them.

“Can I tell you a secret, Theo?” She murmurs, and smiles serenely when Theo does nothing but glare at her, “I don’t think it’s going to be you that breaks.” Theo can feel his expression spasm with surprise, and given how closely Monroe is watching him, she must see it, too, “I think you’d die before you’d risk getting more blood on your hands, given your absurd little quest for redemption.” She stops, tilts her head, then comments: “Which is an unfortunate waste, but…” 

She takes one gloved hand off the chair and brushes it across his cheek, Theo attempting to jerk away from it but unable to get very far.

“But here’s the thing, Theo,” Monroe continues, putting her hand back and bracing harder against both, Theo having to grit his teeth against the pain of his grinding wrist bones as she leans in close enough to whisper in his ear, “I don’t think Liam’s going to be able to take watching you die.”

Theo waits until she’s leaned back, a satisfied smirk on her face, and then he tells her, low and fierce, “I think you’re underestimating how much he hates you.”

Monroe just smiles at him, pats him on the cheek as she straightens, “Maybe. But I don’t think I’m the one underestimating how he feels about me.”

She gestures to her people, and they start trailing out of the—warehouse? Garage? Where the hell are they? —room towards wherever Monroe had initially appeared from. 

Monroe keeps smiling down at Theo until they’re gone, and then she raises her voice so that Liam can hear her too as she says, “We’ll be back in thirty minutes to see what you’ve decided.”

Her eyes lock with Theo’s, and Liam’s probably yelling vitriol too loud to hear her murmur:

“Let’s hope Liam makes the right choice, huh, Theo?”

And then she turns on her heel, and is gone.

---

Useless as he knows it is, Theo spends the first fifteen of his and Liam’s allotted thirty minutes trying to force his way loose of his bonds.

Liam spends the whole time trying to help, his voice hoarse and occasionally cracking as he says what about the zip-ties, can you break them like you did when Monroe captured you last time? But Theo can’t, because these zip-ties are military-grade and the voltage flowing through them isn’t high enough to overheat them like before. What about the IV bag, can you dislodge it? But Theo can’t do that either, because Monroe had made sure it was secured tightly to his chair’s frame before she left. He can’t knock the chair over because it’s bolted to the floor. He can’t get the needle out of skin because it’s taped too securely down.

And then, Theo taking a break from struggling against the zip-ties, the chair—the IV needle—to catch his breath, the first drop of silver blood falls from his nose to land on the seat of the metal chair between his legs. Theo freezes, staring at it. 

“Theo, what’s happening?” Liam demands, either seeing or sensing his sudden tension.

Another drop falls from his nose to splash next to the first, and Theo feels his breathing start to speed again, his pulse begin to race. His eyes locked on the growing puddle, Theo’s mind starts automatically calculating, too much time spent with Lydia and Dr. Geyer and Ms. McCall absorbing their knowledge about biology and chemistry like begrudging osmosis to stop himself, body mass and rates of infusion and speeds of cellular absorption all spooling themselves out. Monroe had said he had forty minutes before the amount of mercury in his system surpassed his body’s ability to heal itself, but Theo—Theo thinks she might be wrong.

Theo,” Liam snaps, but Theo keeps his head tilted down, distance and the lack of Liam’s werewolf sight working in his favor, because the silver blood is starting to drip steadily from his nose now, and the second he looks up, Liam is going to see it.

Can I tell you a secret, Theo? Monroe had murmured, leaned over Theo with her bracing hands deliberately grinding his wrist bones together against the arms of the chair she’d tied to him to, I don’t think Liam is going to be able to take watching you die . Closing his eyes, feeling the air stutter in and out of his chest as he breathes, Theo concentrates on the too-quick thump-thump of his sister’s heart in his chest, and then he slowly opens his eyes back up.

“Liam,” He says quietly, head still tilted down and his gaze focused on the spreading puddle of silver blood pooling on the chair between his legs, “I need you to do something for me.”

“What?” Liam breathes, clearly confused as to why Theo’s stopped struggling, and when he speaks next suspicion has kicked his voice up an octave, “Theo, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but don’t—

“Liam,” Theo interrupts him calmly, steadily; gently. Still, he has to briefly squeeze his eyes shut as the poorly-hidden panic in Liam’s voice scratches at his resolve. But: “I need you to promise me something.”

No,” Liam immediately spits out, and from the barrage of sounds that Theo can hear, he’s renewed his struggles against his bonds, “No. You are not pulling some kind of bullshit, self-sacrifice…You’re the one always accusing Scott of having a martyr-complex!”

“It’s not that,” Theo disagrees quietly, “It’s—”

“Wait. Theo, wait,” Liam cuts him off, and Theo’s whole expression twists with pain—the movement causing the flow of silver blood from his nose to briefly increase—because Liam’s begging now, “Please, just listen to me. What if we tell her? Theo, just listen,” Liam says loudly and more insistently, even though Theo hadn’t yet managed to say anything, “There has to be another operating theater somewhere, right? So even if—even if,” He falters, but then soldiers on, “Even if we tell her where to find this one, we can just—we can find another one to start making the vaccine again.”

But Theo just shakes his head, though he winces and stops immediately when it sends pain shooting up his spine; he coughs and then gags, because the movement coats the inside of his mouth with mercury-infused blood. It takes him almost half a minute to recover, Liam saying Theo, what’s wrong?, over and over, higher and more desperate each time.

“Finding this operating theater was a fluke, Liam, remember?” Theo finally says, speaking past his mouthful of silver blood, though he can feel it start to stain his lips as he does, “There are so many things I still don’t remember, and we have no guarantee that I ever would be able to recall the location of another one.”

“You will,” Liam insists, “Between you and Argent and Scott and the others, we can find one. We’ll find one.”

“And just let Monroe go back to poisoning packs with the equipment she steals from this operating theater while we stumble around?” Theo counters gently, “She’ll be even more deadly, Liam. She’ll be able to make as much of the poison as she wants.”

But Liam just shouts, “I don’t care!

It’s enough to snap Theo’s head reflexively up, though he instantly regrets it when Liam makes a choked noise, his eyes fixed on the lower half of Theo’s face; on the silver blood now flowing steadily from Theo’s nose and covering his lips and chin. His eyes fly up to Theo’s and Theo can’t help the way that his own expression cracks open, gone twisted and pinched with pain.

But Liam’s horrified speechlessness gives him enough time to respond to Liam’s confession; he holds Liam’s eyes and tells him, “I do. I care.”

Liam just stares at him, breathes, “What?”

Theo swallows, then jerks and winces when the action coats his throat with the sharp taste of his mercury-infused blood. Fighting past it, Theo forces his eyes back open and refocuses on Liam, reminds him quietly, “I’ve killed a lot of people, Liam, either directly or because I helped—helped others to kill.” 

Liam flinches bodily, his eyes briefly jerking away from Theo. His shoulders start to heave even faster; Theo can see them even with his steadily-blurring sight. So Theo just says Liam gently, waits until Liam looks reluctantly up at him, pain and grief all over his face.

“I don’t want to be the reason that anyone else dies,” He tells Liam, and Liam rips his gaze away from Theo’s again, starts jerking frantically and uselessly at his bonds; he gives a wounded cry that Theo thinks he might not even realize he’s made. The sight twists the core of Theo up enough that it hurts almost more than the harsh burn of the mercury in his veins, and he says desperately, “Liam. Liam, please.”

“You can’t ask me to do this,” Liam tells him fiercely, still struggling. A second later he gives another rough cry and then stops thrashing around, meets Theo’s eyes as he pleads, “Please don’t ask me to do this.”

“Liam,” Theo just says gently, “Promise me you won’t tell her where to find the operating theater.”

No! ” Liam yells, looking away and yanking at his bonds again; even with the shift still locked under his skin Theo can smell blood as the bindings on Liam’s wrists apparently cut through his skin, “No! You can’t ask me to—

Please,” Theo interrupts, and now he’s the one begging, “ Please, Liam—I can’t be the reason anyone else dies.”

A metal clang cuts through the air just as Liam opens his mouth to respond, and they both freeze, realizing what it means: their thirty minutes are up. Liam jerks his gaze back to Theo’s from where he’d been staring to the side, towards the noise, and Theo holds it intently, desperately.

Promise me,” He whispers, just loud enough for Liam to hear him.

Liam stares at him for one long, stretched second, then two, then three, footsteps getting closer to them all the while. But then his expression crumples, agony raw on his face, and he squeezes his eyes shut, drops his head helplessly down.

“I promise,” He whispers brokenly, just as Monroe steps back into view.

---

“So, boys. What have we decided?” Monroe asks, her hands holding her rubber gloves and perched on her hips, her lips curling up in a smirk.

She’s flanked on either side by Richmond and one other hunter, both of whom’s eyes flick to the silver blood coating the bottom half of Theo’s face and grin. Theo bites back a snarl and forces himself to ignore them, drags his gaze over to Monroe.

“Go to hell,” He snarls from between clenched teeth, tasting mercury on his lips as he does. 

Monroe just huffs a single, short laugh as she looks over at him and shakes her head in mock-disappointment, “How predictable.” 

Then she pivots on a graceful heel and—Theo jerking uselessly against his zip-tied bindings—steps slowly and deliberately over to Liam.

“What about you, Liam?” She wonders as she does, “What do you say?”

“I say go fuck yourself,” Liam snarls, or attempts to; his voice trembles and he can’t look her in the eye, his gaze heavy-lidded and fixed shakily somewhere in the middle distance.

And Monroe—she catches his uncertainty.

 “Oh, Liam,” she murmurs, crouching down in front of him.

She’s too smart to touch him—the car battery hooked up to his chair still pumping electricity into him—but she huddles close, peers up at him sympathetically. Liam glances at her helplessly and then instantly yanks his gaze elsewhere, though Theo realizes—his chest cramping painfully—that Liam’s looking everywhere but at him.

“What’d Theo say to you?” Monroe asks softly, and ducks her head to follow his when Liam’s eyes flick to hers and then immediately away, “Did he tell you he couldn’t live with himself if he became responsible for anymore death?”

Both Theo and Liam freeze, Theo staring, stunned, at Monroe’s back, Liam’s attention snapping to her, his expression pinched and raw. Monroe hums gently and nods understandingly, her fingers playing absently over the gloves in her hands as she seemingly considers Liam’s unintentional confirmation of her suspicions.

“Admirable. But, Liam,” She murmurs, and holds his gaze intently, “What about you?”

“Wh—what?” Liam stammers, clearly thrown. His fingers flex against the arms of his chair, but Theo doesn’t think it’s thwarted violence; he looks wrecked.

Monroe just smiles gently at him, “Are you going to be able to live with yourself if he dies?”

Liam instantly pales, his breathing stuttering loose of his chest and his eyes going wide and horrified. Theo snarls and jerks against his own bindings, and then immediately regrets it; the strain causes him to choke on a mouthful of blood and he coughs heavily, ends up gasping for air as his abused system shrieks in protest. When he finally recovers, Liam’s eyes are no longer fixed on Monroe’s, but staring straight at him.

“Liam, don’t list—” Theo tries desperately, but Monroe cuts him off.

“Liam,” Monroe calls quietly, smiles when Liam’s attention jerks back to her, “You can save Theo.” She assures him, voice low and smooth and almost hypnotically pitched as she murmurs, “Tell me where to find the operating theater, and I promise I’ll take the IV out. He’ll be in bad shape but he’ll still be alive when the Yreka pack finds him.”

“Monroe, shut up, stop—” Theo yells, uncaring of the way his body hurts when he fights uselessly against his bindings.

“He’ll live, Liam,” Monroe tempts, ignoring Theo snarling yeah, so you can kill me later as part of your genocidal plan, you crazy —, “He’ll live, and you can find another operating theater—” Liam jerks and his eyes flick instantly to Theo’s, hope briefly flaring in them before he sees Theo shaking his head desperately, “—and restart Scott’s doomed little effort to stop me.”

No, Liam, Theo mouths, Liam’s eyes fixed on his face, don’t listen to her.

“Liam, listen to me,” She suddenly orders, her hand darting up to turn Liam’s chin to force him to look at her rather than at Theo; Theo sees the thick black rubber of her gloves between their skin. Liam stares at her, his shoulders heaving with his unsteady breathing, “I know what Theo said, but you have to understand what’s actually at stake, here.”

“What do you—?” Liam breathes, his expression cracking further.

“Don’t, Monroe, whatever you’re doing—” Theo demands, but Monroe—and Liam—just ignore him.

“It’ll be your fault, Liam,” She tells him, soothing and hypnotic tone gone and replaced with steel, with stone, “It’s your call, not his. Which means if you say no, if you refuse to tell me what I need to know, his death will be all your fault.”

What, Theo thinks, his brow furrowing even as he watches Liam’s expression go from cracked open and raw to agonized, a wounded, animal cry leaving his mouth: What the hell . And then his eyes widen, fury burning hot and fast through his chest, because Monroe had been a guidance counselor at the high school; she’d had access to Liam’s file, the picture of Liam’s old coach’s destroyed car, this is all your fault carved into the side of it.

“Monroe, you manipulative bitch! ” Theo shouts, and not even the sight of Monroe’s goons shifting menacingly can temper his rage, “Shut up! Shut up.”

“I don’t…” Liam stammers, his eyes still fixed with hers and every terrified thought there and obvious on his face, “I—I…”

Theo’s chest twists painfully at the sight and he bites back a desperate swear, leans forward best he can in his bindings.

“Liam, look at me,” He begs, “Liam, please.”

And Liam does, his defenses apparently too blown to stop himself. Theo knows he must look half-dead—knows he is half-dead—but he holds Liam’s eyes best he can, lets Liam see the grief and regret and all the rest of the tangled mass of feelings tearing up Theo’s own chest. 

“Liam, please,” He pleads, forces himself not to flinch even when Liam does, “Please.”

Liam stares at him, his expression twisting more and more with pain and helpless fury and grief, and then he jerks his head away, down, his eyes squeezing shut. For a moment Theo’s terrified, don’t, please don’t, repeating on a loop inside his head, but then he sees the frantic rise and fall of Liam’s chest start to slow, his fingers start to straighten from where he’d clenched them white-knuckled around the chair’s arms, the electric current be damned. 

Thank you, Theo thinks, even before Liam murmurs, “No,” shakily.

Monroe freezes, her voice going low and deadly as she asks, “What was that?”

“No,” Liam repeats more strongly, opening his eyes and raising his head to glare at her, “No, I’m not telling you shit.”

Monroe stares at him, and even with her back turned to him, Theo can tell she’s furious from the way the line of her spine goes rigid, her posture losing all its casualness. From the way that her shoulders rise and fall a few times, she takes several deep, slow breaths, and then she abruptly stands.

“Tell me now, or I increase the dosage, Liam,” She threatens, “Theo will be dead long before the Yreka pack manages to find his corpse.”

Liam’s expression spasms with a new round of pain, but he just shakes his head fiercely before lifting his head to glower at her as he snarls, “No.”

Monroe glares down at him for a moment longer, and then she abruptly concludes, “Fine.” Throwing a hand back behind herself, she orders Richmond, and says, “Liam’s made his decision, there’s no point in dragging this out. Open the valve, let’s put Theo out of his misery.”

Richmond grins and starts moving towards Theo, who even knowing he has nowhere to go, still tries to jerk away. Then his eyes fly back to Monroe as she suddenly rounds Liam’s chair, her rubber gloves back on her hands as she leans over Liam and grabs his chin in one hand, forces him to look straight at Theo from where he’d turned away, his eyes squeezed shut.

“Watch, Liam,” She hisses as Richmond crouches down by Theo’s chair to grab hold of the IV line, fumbles with the valve that controls how fast the mercury flows from the IV bag into his arm, “Are you watching?” She asks cruelly, all but pressing her mouth up against Liam’s ear as she holds his chin steady, doesn’t let him jerk away, “I want you to remember this. I want you to remember that I gave you the chance to save him, and you refused.”

She flicks her eyes away from Liam to meet Theo’s instead, fury and vindictiveness and rage all over her face as she snarls:

“I want you to remember that this is all your fault.”

Liam’s expression crumples out of the neutral mask he’d been trying to wear, and Theo feels his own expression twist with mirroring pain as he holds his eyes. He holds them even as Richmond steps away from him, as Theo feels the increased flow of mercury like acid flowing straight into his veins; as his muscles start to cramp and his breathing starts to stutter. 

I’m sorry, he thinks, and keeps holding Liam’s gaze, right up until the point that Monroe jams a needle full of something —mistletoe, probably—in Liam’s neck, and Liam’s eyes flutter closed. I’m so sorry, Theo thinks, his eyes still on Liam’s limp body even as the second hunter disconnects the car battery from Liam’s chair, cuts through Liam’s zip-ties and hauls him up, slings his unconscious body over his shoulder. He keeps his eyes on Liam right up until the hunter disappears out of view with him, and then he drags his tunneling, blurring gaze to Monroe, who’s standing in the middle of the two chairs and watching him.

“You lost,” Theo manages to rasp, though the effort is nearly unbearable; he can’t get his lungs to work right. Monroe just smiles after a moment.

“This round,” She agrees, and then tips her head as she studies him, “But it doesn’t look like you’re going to be around to see how it ends.” 

And then she motions to Richmond, follows after him when he heads after the hunter who’d carried Liam out. Theo tries to watch their progress, but he can’t get enough air, and his heart feels like it’s stumbling in his chest; he blinks, and somehow they’re already five feet further away than they’d been. 

He blinks again, and he’s alone.

---

Art by ArtZeppo

---

The silence, Theo decides after some unidentifiable amount of time has passed, is going to be the worst part of dying alone.

The silence of the warehouse or garage or abandoned building or wherever Monroe had left him means that he can hear his heart—his sister’s heart, and god, what a waste —beating sluggishly and unevenly in his chest. It means that he can hear every agonized breath he manages to draw, his inhales getting slower and thinner as the minutes pass, his exhales getting harsher and shakier. 

At first he lets his head tip back against the back of the chair in despair, because why the hell not, but almost immediately he starts to choke on his own mercury-infused blood, and he has to jerk his head forward, cough harshly and heavily for an excruciating minute before he can stop. When he does, his pants and even his arms are splattered with silver blood, his hands clenching helplessly against the chair. As he glares at his clawless, useless fingers, another several droplets of blood fall from his nose to land in the still glimmering puddle from earlier, and after awhile that—that’s almost meditative, so he stays like that, his head hanging loosely down on his exhausted neck.

I don’t think he’s ever going to forgive me, he finds himself thinking, and then nearly barks a black, humorless laugh when he realizes that—at least to Theo—Liam’s forgiveness or lack thereof wouldn’t matter. Brett and Lori are dead, Liam, Theo had all but shouted at Liam that night in the woods, they can’t care what anyone says about them. Theo supposes he can understand why Liam broke his nose that night.

He tries to hold onto the humor, but the thought of Liam—the thought of Liam slung unconscious over that hunter’s shoulder, Monroe telling him, you, I need to deal with Scott —causes his panic to resurge. He spends a painful half-minute having to fight off hyperventilation, his mind too sluggish to control his steadily breaking-down body. Scott will save him, he has to tell himself over and over again; Scott always manages to save everyone.

Except me, Theo thinks, and the humor roars back tinged with hysteria.

But even that isn’t sustainable, Theo’s burning veins and cramping muscles and failing organs all blurring together into one indistinguishable mass of pain . His eyes draw helplessly back to the drip-drip-drip of the silver blood falling from his nose and splashing into the puddle now flowing up and over the edge of the chair, and after awhile he just—lets himself stare at that, everything else falling away.

Which is why the sudden sound of a metal door banging open somewhere in the building some time later startles him so badly.

He looks up. Or he tries to, anyway, his head rolling bonelessly on a weak neck. He just barely manages to tip it towards the noise of pounding footsteps coming closer, and even the fact that the position once more sends mercury-infused blood streaming down the back of his throat isn’t enough to give him the strength to bring it down. Instead he just chokes, feeling blood start to bubble over his lips as he stares, his gaze unfocused and skipping, towards the empty stretch of room where Monroe and her hunters had both appeared and disappeared from; where he can hear shouting.

Except it’s not just random shouting: Theo can hear his name.

Awareness trying its best to sink its claws into his brain, Theo tries to straighten, to tip his head down, to do something, but can’t manage anything other than a weak gasp. His mind is too sluggish—his body already well on its way to shutting down—for him to hold onto any train of thought, who would be calling his name overwhelmed by pain and poison and lethargy. Then, seconds later he’s faced with a new conundrum, dark shapes like bodies appearing in his blurry vision, but he can’t focus enough to identify them, either.

But then he doesn’t have to, because Liam skids to a graceless halt in front of him, breathes, “Theo,” in a low, desperate whisper.

“Liam…?” Theo chokes out, his eyes running as best they can over Liam’s face; has he started hallucinating?

But Liam’s ignoring him, now, repeating, “It’s okay, you’re going to be okay,” on a frantic loop as he stomps ruthlessly on the jumper cables attaching the car battery to Theo’s chair to disconnect them, as he reaches out shaking hands to grab the needle connecting the IV to Theo’s skin, yank it loose. Theo finds his eyes helplessly following the needle as it falls; as it starts pouring mercury onto the ground by Liam’s knee. Then he jerks, both in surprise and in response to simple physics, when Liam’s clawed hands suddenly strike out to cut through the zip-ties still connecting Theo to the chair.

Except that the zip-ties were the only things that were keeping Theo upright, and the second their bracing holds disappear, he tips forward; Liam has to swear in startled surprise and catch him, his arms looping under Theo’s and Theo’s chin catching jarringly on Liam’s shoulder. It’s okay, you’re going to be okay, Liam promises brokenly again, and carefully moves, twists around to lay Theo gently on the floor. Theo makes a distressed noise and gropes out an uncoordinated hand to try and catch him when he straightens, but Liam just catches it, holds it tightly as he stays on his knees next to Theo’s head.

“Shohreh,” He suddenly calls, though his eyes never leave Theo’s face; Theo knows, because his eyes never leave Liam’s, “Shohreh, over here! Please.”

More footsteps, and then Shohreh appears over Theo, too. Theo reluctantly and just barely manages to tip his chip towards her instead, the movement causing his head to spin, and he groans, squeezes his eyes shut and arcs his neck back. 

“Shohreh, what do we do?” Liam demands lowly, his fingers spasming around Theo’s; Theo tries to squeeze back, but can’t, his body refusing to listen, “How do we save him?”

But Shohreh just murmurs, “Liam,” gently and with grief already saturating her raspy voice.

“No. No, no, no,” Liam denies, and then Theo feels hands on his face, cupping his cheeks; he blinks his eyes open and stares up at Liam, who’s staring down at him, his expression a rictus of pain, “Theo, don’t do this.”

“I’m s—I’m sor—I’m sorry, Liam,” Theo manages to pant out, “I’m so sorry.”

“No, Theo, you—you don’t understand,” Liam tells him, his fingers tightening around Theo’s face, “It’s over. It’s over, okay—Monroe’s dead. Did you hear me? Monroe’s dead.” His expression cracks and he sucks in a shaky breath, says, “You were right about howling. One of Shohreh’s betas heard us. The Yreka pack heard us.”

Theo smiles helplessly up at him, “Heard you,” he corrects dopily, but that just makes Liam’s expression twist more.

Us, Theo,” Liam disagrees harshly, his voice breaking, “They heard us . And did you hear me ? Monroe is dead.”

“Good,” Theo manages, and weakly moves his arm, his hand searching until he finds one of Liam’s forearms, squeezes it best he can, “Hey, that’s good.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it is good,” Liam agrees, and Theo starts when he realizes there’s wetness running down Liam’s cheeks, “So don’t do this.”

“I don’t want to,” Theo confesses, what’s left of his better sense too late to drag it back, keep it locked behind his teeth, “I wish I could stay.”

“So stay,” Liam tells him, his fingers now stroking at Theo’s face; Theo wonders hazily if he even realizes he’s doing it, and hopes so; it feels nice, “C’mon, Theo. Stay.”

“Can’t,” Theo says, and then coughs wetly, his body bowing and his feet scrabbling weakly at the ground as he does; Liam makes a distressed noise and Theo feels Liam start trying to take his pain, though if it’s working, Theo—can’t tell, “Monroe was right. Mercury poisoning. End—ending like I began, as one of the Doctors’ failed—”

“Don’t say that,” Liam cuts him off fiercely, and Theo stops, blinks up at him. 

“Hey,” He breathes, and concentrates everything he can left on reaching up the hand he has wrapped around Liam’s forearm, on touching trembling fingertips to his glistening cheek, “Hey, I need you to promise me something else.”

No,” Liam says, shaking his head vigorously, except that it dislodges Theo’s fingers and Liam makes another wounded noise, darts a hand up from Theo’s face to catch them, hold his hand tightly in the air, “No more promises. Your promises suck.”

“Liam,” Theo just insists, twisting his wrist so that he can free his hand from Liam’s—though it’s not so much freeing as Liam realizing what he wants and letting him go—and puts his hand back on Liam’s face, “This wasn’t your fault.”

“It it wasn’t my fault you wouldn’t have had to make me promise not to tell Monroe where to find the operating theater,” Liam counters, and the burr of self-loathing in Liam’s voice yanks at Theo’s chest, even as weak as he is; Theo tightens his fingers against Liam’s skin as best he can, forces Liam to look at him.

“This wasn’t your fault,” Theo repeats as forcefully as he can, “Liam, you have to promise me—”

He breaks off, coughing again. It’s worse this time, his lungs locking up and all the muscles in his chest seizing; it’s only when Shohreh puts her hands on his arm and starts siphoning as much pain as she can that he’s able to relax enough to start breathing, however unsteadily, again.

“Promise me you’ll work to believe that,” Theo finally manages to finish, his eyes dragging painfully back to Liam’s. 

But Liam just begs, his eyes spilling over faster than ever now, “Theo, please don’t do this.”

Liam,” Theo demands, though his voice trembles and he can feel blood trickling from the sides of his mouth.

Liam stares down at him, his expression twisting up more and more, and then he nods, quickly and jerkily, like he’s afraid he might change his mind if he doesn’t do it fast enough.

“Okay, Theo,” He agrees shakily, “Okay. I promise.”

“Okay,” Theo tells him, smiling up at him.

“Okay,” Theo tells him, and lets his arm fall heavily back away from Liam’s face and to the floor.

“Okay,” Theo tells him, and lets his eyes drift shut.

---

Except that he wakes up.

He doesn’t come awake gasping. He doesn’t come awake at all, really; his eyelids feel too heavy to move, and his jaw feels like its wired shut. But awareness starts to filter back in, little by little and then in an increasing flood as the seconds drag slowly past. 

That’s the smell of the McCall house, the scent of Scott and Ms. McCall and the McCall pack itself seeped deep into the floorboards and walls and furniture. That’s the sound of a baker’s dozen worth of heartbeats, the McCall pack and pack-adjacent crammed tightly enough together that their heartbeats are overlapping in Theo’s ears. That’s the feel of something cool touching his chest, then sliding over to cover the skin over his heart; his sister’s heart.

That’s someone asking, “How long is this supposed to take, exactly?”

And that’s Lydia, snapping, “I don’t know . The last time I saw this stuff used, I was nearly catatonic, and that was with a version of it that wasn’t a year old and possibly useless.”

What, Theo thinks, though the thought is still easy, disconnected; unconcerned. Version of what that wasn’t a year old and possibly useless? Except then he remembers.

Except then he comes awake gasping.

Several people shout in surprise as he suddenly jackknifes upwards on the couch. Stiles takes it to the next level and trips backwards over the coffee table, and is only rescued from falling on top of it and shattering it into firewood by Derek grabbing his arm and hauling him back upright at the last second. Theo stares at Derek’s fingers wrapped around Stiles’ bicep for a few uncomprehending seconds, his breath panting harshly in and out of him, and then his eyes jerk to Lydia, attention caught by her hands as they slowly come up to cover her mouth, wetness starting to spill over and down her cheeks.

“Lydia?” Theo asks in confusion, and then makes a startled noise and catches her when she lunges for him, Ms. McCall—who’d been sitting next to Theo and checking his vitals with a stethoscope—getting quickly out of the way as Lydia hugs him tightly, even with the way that she has to awkwardly bend to do it. 

“I guess you were right about the mystical serum that can bring people back from the dead not having an expiration date,” She manages to choke out through her tears, and Theo feels his own eyes start to burn, so he squeezes them shut, hugs her back just as tightly.

But with his senses coming fully back online, the cacophony of overlapping heartbeats in the room starts to resolve, and a certain heartbeat—stumbling and stuttering over itself—catches his ears. Theo goes rigid, his eyes snapping open and his head jerking up as he looks out into the mass of people in the McCall living room, searching.

Lydia pulls back when she feels him tense and Theo’s attention snaps back to her. “Sorry,” he says automatically, a bit sheepishly, but the rest of him is still straining towards that heartbeat.

Lydia just laughs wetly and shakes her head, climbs to her feet and wobbles a little as she does it, Derek reaching out an automatic hand to steady her, and looks over her shoulder, smiles as she looks right at Liam. 

“C’mon,” She says, and holds out a hand.

Liam just stares at her, wide-eyed and barely breathing if the rapid rise-and-fall of his shoulders is anything to go by, and then his gaze flicks to Theo. His expression starts to crumple in on itself and Theo feels his own breath hitch, starts to push himself reflexively up from the couch.

Except he’s still too weak—too weak from coming back from the dead —and his legs give out. But Liam’s instantly there, catching Theo under his arms and folding with him to the ground, the two of them both hitting their knees. Theo goes to pull back, wanting to look at Liam’s face—wanting to say sorry, I’m so sorry —but Liam just makes a wounded sound and surges forward, nearly knocking Theo back as he wraps his arms around Theo almost tight enough to hurt, his face buried in the side of Theo’s neck. His own expression cracking open, Theo turns his face against Liam’s shaking shoulders, hugs him back just as fiercely.

It takes him a few seconds to realize that Liam is whispering something, so low that even the supernaturally-sensed people in the room probably can’t hear it. Theo can, though. And even if he couldn’t, he can feel Liam’s lips moving against his skin, I didn’t think it was going to work, over and over again. Theo tightens his arms, slides one hand up to cup the back of Liam’s head; presses his forehead harder against Liam’s shoulder, trying to ground him.

Trying to ground himself.

He isn’t sure how much time passes, but at some point someone gently puts their hand on Theo’s arm, says hey gently. Theo jerks and looks up at Scott, Liam doing the same.

“I’m really sorry,” Scott apologies quietly, “And I know how absurd this is going to sound, given, uh,” He falters, seemingly trying and failing to come up with a pithy way to describe you dying and coming back to life, “But my mom, Liam’s dad, and Dr. Deaton want to run some tests. See if everything’s, um.”

He trails off again, and glances blinking over Theo’s shoulder to his mother, because he’s right, and saying see if everything’s alright after Theo had died…however long ago, and is now apparently not dead, will in fact be absurd. 

Theo follows his gaze just in time to catch Ms. McCall offer, “Humor us, please. We’ll all feel better if we can, y’know, make sure your blood pressure is within healthy limits.” She smiles wryly at him as she says the last part, a nudge-wink acknowledgement of the aren’t our lives crazy kind. 

“Humor me,” Dr. Geyer corrects from where he’s stood with Mason and Corey on one side and an incredibly pale and wide-eyed Alec on the other, “Melissa was very must be a day that ends in ‘y’ when Scott told us about this plan, but my blood pressure needs to pretend like this isn’t absolutely insane.” He pauses, seems to consider his choice of words—and consider his step-son, still on his knees and holding tightly onto Theo—and adds, “Not that I’m not thrilled it apparently worked.”

“Right,” Theo tells him blankly, then glances at Scott, at Ms. McCall; at Liam, who tightens his grip around Theo’s shirt and looks at his father.

“I’m going with him,” Liam announces, voice hard like he’s expecting someone to argue with him.

But no one does, and his father just smiles softly at him, murmurs, “Wouldn’t have dreamed of telling you otherwise.” Liam colors, some, but he doesn’t try and defend himself.

Agreement struck or not, no one actually manages to leave the house for another half hour. Once Theo staggers to his feet—Liam automatically and without a word moving to brace his shoulder under one of Theo’s arms—it’s like some spell breaks, and Theo spends the time hugging one person after the next, his ribs aching in the best way with the pressure. 

Ironically Scott’s the first offender; the second Theo is upright, he—after checking with Liam—pulls Theo in for a bruisingly tight embrace. “I’m so sorry,” he tells Theo, then leans back some to look at him, “I’m—”

Theo cuts him off, brow furrowing as he—gently—points out, “You didn’t even do anything.”

“Yeah,” Scott agrees, and smiles sadly even as he steps back, “Exactly.”

Theo doesn’t get a chance to address it; Malia eels her way in between Scott and Theo and yanks him in so tightly that Theo makes an oofing noise and can’t actually get his arms up to hug her back. Staring down at the messy strands of her hair, Theo eventually settles for dropping his chin onto the top of her head, closing his eyes.

“I leave for a week and a half, and you literally get yourself killed?” Malia hisses after a handful of long seconds, tilting her head up so that she can glare at him.

Theo could argue, or defend himself—Malia’s probably expecting both—but he...doesn’t really want to; he can feel the pinch of too-sharp fingernails against his back, and there are blue flecks in Malia’s eyes when he meets them.

So instead he just tells her, “My bad,” and smiles weakly when she narrows her eyes at him. Malia harrumphs, but she lets him go. 

Mason. Derek. Alec. Stiles, back for winter break like Lydia and hugging Theo after a moment of them staring awkwardly at each other. The Sheriff, who pats him on the shoulder after they’ve briefly hugged and says thanks for the overtime in a genuinely cheerful tone of voice; the walkie-talkie clipped to his uniform squawks almost as if on cue, and he wanders away to answer it, saying how’s the clean-up going, McCall. Corey watches the Sheriff go along with Theo, and then turns back to him, smiles slightly.

“Death by mercury poisoning’s a bitch, huh?” He says, and while Mason freezes and looks like he’s strongly considering smacking Corey, Theo just laughs and lets his head drop down loose on his neck, nods in agreement. Corey laughs too, and then he reaches forward and pulls Theo into a hug as he says, “Guess we’ve got that in common now, too.”

“Guess so,” Theo agrees as Corey releases him, “Think we should get t-shirts made?”

Corey grins, but then his eyes flick to the side and he murmurs sorry, Mr. Argent, and moves out of the way so that Argent can come to a stop in front of Theo. His pulse is steady and his scent is gunpowder and metal, but it always is, so Theo has no idea what to expect, just stands still and watches him.

And then all at once Argent seems to abandon his composure, mutters, “Dammit, Theo,” and reels Theo in, wraps him in a tight hug. Theo’s eyes start to burn again and so he turns his face into Argent’s chest, clenches his fingers in the back of Argent’s shirt.

When Argent finally pulls back, Ms. McCall is there and smiling softly, scrubs on and keys in her hand, “Ready to go?” She asks, a gentle prod, and Theo laughs a little wetly, nods; Ms. McCall’s smile flickers wider for a moment and she pulls him in for her own hug, then releases him and tips her chin past the now milling crowd of McCall pack members towards the front door.

Theo glances around for Liam, finds him still standing just behind himself, and at Liam’s small nod, follows Ms. McCall out.

He spends the rest of the afternoon—because it is afternoon, Theo realizing with a jolt that he’d been… out for half a day—at the hospital with Ms. McCall, Dr. Geyer, and Deaton, who luckily seems to give off such an air of supreme confidence that none of the other hospital staff bother to ask what he’s a doctor of

They draw blood. A lot of blood. They run him through an MRI and a CAT scan. They biopsy his kidneys, looking for any traces of mercury. At one point while Dr. Geyer is looking more and more hysterical—Ms. McCall looking a mix between bemused and straight-up amused as she watches him read the results—Deaton hands Theo a stem of wolfsbane flowers, which Theo drops with a yelp the second they touch his skin.

“Interesting,” Deaton comments, and then—as expected— completely fails to elaborate; Theo shares a longsuffering look with Liam, sat on the hospital bed next to him kicking his legs and trying not to smile.

It’s just getting dark when Ms. McCall returns from hers and Dr. Geyer’s latest round of testing yet more of Theo’s blood, her eyes on the clipboard in her hands as she apparently studies her notes; behind her Dr. Geyer has no notes, just a dazed and vaguely bewildered expression.

“Well,” Ms. McCall announces as she comes to a stop in front of Theo and Liam still sitting on the bed; Dr. Deaton had decamped after his wolfsbane test with a shrug and a congratulations on not being dead, Mr. Raeken, “Given that you’re a supernatural hybrid of a werewolf and a werecoyote who just came back from the dead, you seem to be in perfect health.”

Theo doesn’t know whether he’s allowed to laugh at her description—the wry tone would seem to indicate yes, but Dr. Geyer behind her looks a little manic—and so he just stares at her, wide-eyed. Ms. McCall holds his eyes for a few seconds longer, her expression that professional sort of bland that nurses and doctors all seem to perfect, and then her lips slowly curl up into a crinkle-eyed grin.

“You’re free to go,” She tells him, and Theo does grin then, thanks her quietly and is about to hop off the table when she clarifies pointedly, “You are free to go back to my house . Overnight observation. Hopefully between me and Scott we’ll have the non-supernatural and supernatural bases covered in case something does happen.”

Theo opens his mouth to say something, and then closes it a second later when Ms. McCall’s eyebrows start to rise. 

“Liam,” She says, abruptly switching her focus when she correctly interprets Theo’s mouth shutting as Theo wisely refraining from arguing, “You can take him, right? If you need to stop by your house to pick up something to sleep in, that’s fine, but I think you’ve still got a toothbrush and some sweats in the guest closet.”

Liam stares at her, the implication of her choice of words sinking in, and then all at once he seems to snap out of it and nods jerkily as he stammers, “Ye—yeah. I can take him. And, um. You’re right, I think I do have some stuff still at your house, we can go straight there.”

I do not have a toothbrush,” Theo attempts to point out, but no one actually seems to care; Liam just hops down from the table and goes to briefly talk with his father, and Ms. McCall goes back to studying her notes.

When they get back to the house, Scott, Malia, and Argent are the only ones there. Scott looks up at them as they come through the unlocked front door, smiles; he’s sat on the couch watching TV with Malia asleep with her head in his lap, Argent stretched out in the loveseat with his eyes heavy-lidded and his arms and legs crossed.

“Hey,” Scott rasps, blinking some and straightening as Theo quietly pulls the door closed behind himself, Liam hovering uncharacteristically uncertain in front of him, “I figured you’d probably be feeling pretty beat, told everyone we could reconvene tomorrow.”

Theo—isn’t actually sure what he’s feeling. He’d managed to push off feeling much of anything at the hospital by concentrating on the tests, on Dr. Geyer’s obvious but good-natured confusion, on Ms. McCall’s steady hands instead of the needles that she’d been inserting into his arms; into the same exact vein that Monroe had stuck her IV needle full of mercury less than twenty-four hours ago. And when that hadn’t worked he’d concentrated on Liam, never more than a few feet away no matter what test his dad or Ms. McCall insisted on running, his pulse a comforting rhythm that Theo could seek out like a beacon.

But Theo wouldn’t explain all that even if Scott had asked, so he just says, “Good idea, thanks,” quietly, smiles back at Scott when Scott sinks back into the couch cushions. Then he nods at Argent and follows Liam up the stairs.

Liam doesn’t say a word as they move around each other, Theo in fact having to track down one of the extra toothbrushes still in its packaging under the McCall guest bathroom sink, Liam pulling his and a set of sweats as predicted out of the guest closet. He hadn’t said much at the hospital, either, not unless someone had asked him a direct question, and sometimes not even then; Theo side-eyes him as they brush their teeth, picking at his scent.

But Liam just leans down and spits, rinses his mouth out and then braces his hands on the sink, orders, “Stop,” quietly; Theo jerks.

“Liam, I—” Theo starts, flinching; he looks like an idiot holding his toothbrush hovering awkwardly in the air and with toothpaste foam around his mouth.

But Liam just reaches out and lays a gentle hand on Theo’s chest—right over Theo’s sister’s heart—and shakes his head softly, “It’s okay. Just...not tonight.”

“Okay,” Theo agrees, and manages a flimsy and firmly unconvincing smile when Liam flicks his eyes up to his own; Liam watches him for a second and then nods, leaves him alone in the bathroom. 

Theo stares after him, and then catches sight of his own pole-axed expression in the mirror, grimaces. Forcing himself to focus, Theo finishes brushing his teeth and then leaves the bathroom. He has to take a detour to Scott’s room to steal a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt to sleep in; his current outfit, sourced as it is from the hospital, smells like antiseptic and vaguely like illness, and Theo had left his old clothes—the ones he’d died in —to be incinerated along with the rest of the hospital’s waste.

He’s half-expecting it to be awkward when he comes into the guest bedroom, and it is, a little bit, Liam already on one side of the bed with his back to Theo and burrowed under the blankets. But after Theo has swallowed back a sigh and turned off the lights, climbed into the other side of the bed, Liam immediately turns so that he’s facing Theo instead, his eyes searching Theo’s face.

“Tomorrow, okay?” He says, and it’d be a nonsequitur if it wasn’t for his comment earlier in the bathroom; if it wasn’t for all the things left hovering between them.

“Tomorrow,” Theo agrees after a few seconds, and smiles slightly when Liam does.

Liam closes his eyes then, and so Theo does, too. And even as hyper-focused on Liam as he still is, his ears fixed on Liam’s steady heartbeat, his nose on Liam’s scent, it still somehow catches him off-guard when Liam reaches out under the sheets and finds one of Theo’s hands, threads their fingers together.

Exhaling low and slow, Theo tightens his fingers around Liam’s, and falls asleep like that.

---

Except best laid plans: Theo wakes up in the middle of the night alone.

He jerks immediately upright, glancing around wildly in the dark. His senses arrow out reflexively, and while finding Scott’s and Malia’s sleep-slow heartbeats in Scott’s room down the hall, catching Ms. McCall’s and Argent’s in the master bedroom, helps settle some of his instinctive panic, it doesn’t answer the question burning between his ribs. Closing his eyes again and concentrating, Theo stretches out his senses deliberately this time; he finds what he’s looking for and feels his chest cramp, grimaces as he throws back the blankets and gets his feet on the cool floor.

“I thought nightmares were my thing,” Theo comments hoarsely as he steps out into the McCall backyard a minute later, sliding the door closed behind himself with his eyes on the already-tense line of Liam’s back, which goes instantly more rigid when he realizes Theo has joined him. 

“Wasn’t a nightmare,” Liam disagrees neutrally, his crossed arms tightening, too, “It was a memory.” Theo watches as he takes in a deep breath, exhales it out slowly before adding, “Eleven hours worth of them, in fact.”

Theo feels his brow furrow. “Wha—oh,” he starts to say, and then cuts himself off with a mental curse.

Liam just snorts a humorless laugh and glances over his shoulder at Theo, then goes back to looking out into the night-dark yard. His expression had been hard for the few seconds that he’d met Theo’s eyes, and Theo winces, still stood awkwardly by the door and now too unsure of his welcome to come forward.

“It took an hour after you—” Liam falters, but then forces himself onwards, his voice getting sharper and less carefully controlled as he explains, “—after you died to get back to Yreka from the warehouse where Monroe had us. Scott, Malia, and Argent had turned around the second the Yreka pack called them after they heard us howl, but Monroe’s planted tip meant it still took them three hours after that to get back to Shohreh’s house.”

“Liam—” Theo tries weakly, but doesn’t fight it when Liam just steamrolls right over him.

“Scott wasn’t sure whether he should wait to tell everyone back in Beacon Hills that you’d been killed in-person—he was pretty upset, even if he was trying to put a brave face on it for me and Malia—but eventually Argent convinced him to start calling everyone; he said waiting wasn’t going to change anything, that it’d just make it worse. So that was another hour before he got around to calling Lydia,” Liam keeps going mercilessly, his pulse starting to kick up and his scent going bitter and ashy.

Theo drops his head down, feels his expression going pinched, his own arms coming up to cross protectively over his chest; to cover the vulnerable parts of himself. 

“Lydia remembered the serum almost immediately. You should have heard her, Theo,” Liam abruptly says, interrupting his own flow, “I knew you two had figured out how to work together on the antidote and vaccine, but this—this went beyond that. She kept telling Scott that they had to try the serum, that he had to go get the serum. She wouldn’t let him say no, not that he wanted to. So that was another two hour-long roundtrip for Scott and Argent to get to the operating theater and back.”

He wheels around to face Theo suddenly, and Theo startles backwards some, his eyes flying reflexively up to meet Liam’s. Liam’s expression spasms but he locks it down quickly, his jaw clenching and releasing.

“And then four hours. Four hours back to Beacon Hills with your corpse in the back of Argent’s SUV so that we could try some—some insane plan, injecting you with some disgusting liquid that Scott and Argent pulled out of the bottom of the tank in the Dorris operating theater in the slim hope that it brought you back to life,” Liam finishes, now practically spitting out the words, “You were dead for eleven hours, Theo.”

“I’m sorr—” Theo starts to say, but Liam doesn’t even hear him, his expression cracking open and his hands uncrossing to clutch at his hair, Liam briefly jerking away before turning almost instantly back.

“And you want to know the worst part of it all?” Liam asks him, more than half a demand as he drops his hands to gesture furiously. 

Theo hesitates, almost expecting Liam to keep going without a response, but Liam just glares at him, so Theo says, “What?,” quietly.

Liam keeps glaring, but his expression starts to twist and his shoulders start to heave, his voice breaking as he answers, “It didn’t even matter. Shohreh and her pack found me fifteen minutes after Monroe left you there to die. Monroe was dead within twenty.”

Theo sees where Liam’s going and starts shaking his head, saying, “Liam, no. Don’t do that to your—”

But Liam just interrupts him, snaps, “If I’d refused to make your stupid promise, if I’d told Monroe where to find the operating theater, everything would have been fine. Shohreh would have killed Monroe before Monroe could find it, and it wouldn’t have been too late to save you by the time we got back to you.”

“We couldn’t have known that. You couldn’t have known that,” Theo disagrees, his need to make Liam understand overcoming the fear gluing his feet to the floor so that he can take an insistent step forward.

But Liam just shakes his head and takes a step back, his voice shaking now as he insists, “I never should have made that promise. I never should have agreed to help you sacrifice yourself.” All at once it’s like he can’t handle looking at Theo anymore and he jerks away, turning his back to Theo and his arms flying up to cradle his head as he chokes out, “If there hadn’t been serum left in the tank, if Lydia hadn’t remembered it...If it hadn’t worked, you’d be dead, and it would have been a complete waste, and it would’ve been all my fault.”

And now Theo can’t handle it; he lunges forward and gets a too-tight hand around one of Liam’s arms, pulls him back around so that he can meet Liam’s eyes as he says, low and quick and forceful, “Liam. Look at me, Liam—you didn’t kill me.” And this is possibly the most surreal conversation Theo has ever had, but: “ Monroe killed me.” 

“I could’ve stopped her,” Liam counters, trying to yank his arm out of Theo’s grip, but Theo doesn’t let him go, “You heard her, it was up to me whether or not she took the IV out, and if I’d told her what she’d wanted to know, you would’ve lived! I never should have promised—!”

“I’m glad you did!” Theo interrupts, almost shouting it. Surprise seems to draw Liam up short and he stops struggling for a moment, staring wide-eyed up at Theo. His own shoulders now heaving, Theo holds his gaze intently and repeats, more quietly but no less emphatically, “I’m glad you did.”

“Theo…” Liam breathes, his brow pinching together.

Emotion like a cornered animal tearing at his chest, Theo flinches and squeezes his eyes briefly shut, then slowly opens them back up and finds Liam’s gaze again, tells him quietly, “Liam…My whole life, I’ve only ever wanted selfish things, and I never cared who else had to pay for me to get them. You want to talk about deaths that didn’t matter? I killed my sister . I killed Scott, and Josh, and Tracy, and I still didn’t get what I wanted. And you want to know the worst part of all of that ?” Theo demands, unable to stop himself now even with the stunned-startled look on Liam’s face, “None of the things that I wanted, that I did so many terrible things to try and get, none of them were worth the cost.”

He pauses, wanting to make sure that he has Liam’s full attention, that Liam’s really listening as he concludes:

Except for this.”

“Theo, I don’t—” Liam stutters, his eyes searching Theo’s and pain and grief all over his face.

“Liam,” Theo says more gently, then hesitates, touching his tongue to his bottom lip, “The one good thing I’ve ever really wanted, the only thing I’ve ever wanted that mattered, you gave me .” He stops, searching Liam’s eyes and face in return, “You didn’t tell Monroe where to find the operating theater, and I wasn’t the reason that anyone else died. Because of you, Liam. That’s the part of this—the only part—that’s your fault. You gave that to me.”

He breaks off, his hands coming helplessly up to cradle Liam’s face, holding it steady between his palms as Liam’s unsteady, uneven breathing starts to cause his shoulders to shake; as Theo’s own unsteady breathing causes his own shoulders to shake. Tightening his grip just enough to get that extra bit of grounding that he needs—that they might both need—Theo holds Liam’s eyes.

“So, thank you. Thank you, Liam,” He tells him, voice gone barely more than a whisper now as he helplessly repeats, pulling Liam in against himself and burying his face in the side of Liam’s neck as he says, again and again, feeling Liam’s fingers clench tight in the back of shirt, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

He can feel wetness against the side of his neck, can feel Liam shaking under his hands, and then—Liam pulling back abruptly before just as abruptly changing directions and surging forward—he can taste that wetness on his lips, can feel Liam’s mouth trembling against his own as Liam kisses him.

---

Theo had been caught up enough in his mantra of thank you’s that Liam’s sudden switching of tracks catches him off-guard, enough that he stumbles backwards under Liam’s momentum.

He oofs when his back connects with the side of the McCall house, but that doesn’t stop Liam. Far from it, Liam uses the way the sound causes Theo’s mouth to drop open to lick inside it, his hands coming up to clutch Theo’s head, tugging it into the position that Liam wants it. His brain still trying to catch up with the turn of events, Theo just barely manages to swallow back a moan, his own hands dropping to Liam’s hips to pull him harder against himself as the kiss deepens, turns faster and slicker.

Then Liam’s fingers slip under his shirt, dragging up his sides and over his ribs, and Theo has to break away, gasping. His hips buck reflexively against Liam’s at the sensation and that causes Liam to groan and press back harder, pinning Theo’s hips still with his own and grinding against him, his mouth dropping to kiss and then bite at the join of Theo’s shoulder and neck. 

“Jesus fucking— ” Theo groans, and yanks Liam’s head back up, licks into Liam’s mouth this time, one hand dropping low— low —on Liam’s back to encourage him closer, to grind harder against Theo’s own hips; he ends up swallowing the cry that Liam gives, Liam’s rhythm stuttering.

And then a goddamn siren goes off in the distance, and Theo snaps back to reality to realize that he and Liam are maybe another half-minute of graceless frotting from getting each other off in the middle of the McCall’s backyard.

Jerking his head back—and painfully so, the back of his skull cracking against the wall behind him—and literally holding Liam at bay with his hands on Liam’s shoulders, Theo stares at him wildly and pants out, “We can’t do this here.”

“What?” Liam manages, but his mind clearly isn’t on Theo’s perfectly valid point; his eyes are fixed on Theo’s mouth and he is, consciously or not, straining against Theo’s restraining hold. 

Groaning—and already regretting the decision—Theo lets Liam collapse his arms and surge back into him, their mouths colliding with more force than Liam was likely aiming for, but it doesn’t slow either of them down. In fact it speeds them up, Liam dropping his hands to grab Theo’s hips so that he can pull them against his own, grind his hard cock still trapped in his guest-closet sweatpants against Theo’s. Pleasure winding steadily tighter in his gut, Theo holds Liam’s head still as he moans into his mouth, Liam’s hips starting to stutter against his own, except— except

Swearing, Theo drops his hands to Liam’s hips and uses the grip to shove him backwards, and then—remembering his earlier miscalculation—takes advantage of the space to swing out from between him and the wall, take a few steps away. Liam yelps in surprise and stumbles against the wall in the absence of Theo’s bracing weight, and immediately turns around to glare at Theo in outrage.

“What the hell, Theo?” He hisses, except that instead of intimidating he looks like the best kind of mess, his straining cock obvious through his thin sweatpants and his hair wild from Theo’s fingers, his mouth—even as his healing kicks in and starts to erase it—red and full; Theo has to swallow back another moan at the sight and resist the urge to dive right back in, pin Liam against the wall this time.

So instead he hisses just as quietly, “Did you not hear me? We can’t do this here! We are in the McCall’s backyard, with Scott, Malia, Ms. McCall and Argent all asleep inside. Not to mention,” he starts, gesturing between their admittedly already-kind-of-a-lost-cause clothes, “These are the only clean clothes you and I have access to, so if we mess them up—”

He cuts off, because the second he’d said it, Liam’s eyes had dropped thoughtfully between his legs and he’d touched his tongue to his bottom lip in a clear indication that he was thinking of a way to take care of that last point. His hips bucking against empty air, Theo muffles another noise with the back of his wrist and then holds both hands out in a pleading sort of gesture; Liam’s eyes flick up to his.

“My apartment is fifteen minutes away,” Theo reminds him, but Liam doesn’t look convinced, just takes the half-step forward he needs to hook his fingers in the waist of Theo’s sweats, start pulling him in.

“That’s a long time,” Liam points out, and presses the flat of his palm against Theo’s abs so that he can slide it down and into Theo’s pants, wrap his fingers around Theo’s cock, “Relatively speaking.”

Theo gasps and goes up onto his toes, his fingers rising to clutch reflexively in the fabric of Liam’s shirt, his head falling back as Liam starts to work him. The earlier twist of pleasure that he had, admittedly, denied himself snaps right back, and Theo feels his toes curl against the rough wood of the patio, fully prepared to be proven wrong about whether they could or could not, in fact, do this here.

But then either Ms. McCall or Argent must shift in their sleep, because Theo recognizes the very distinctive squeak of Ms. McCall’s mattress, and he’s reached down and stilled Liam’s hand before the thought has even fully developed.

Liam makes an irritated noise and tries to restart his very determined attempt to get Theo off, but Theo just tightens his grip around Liam’s wrist and, when Liam lifts his eyes from where he’d been intently watching his hand move inside Theo’s sweatpants, promises him lowly, “ I swear I will let you do whatever you want to me, once we get to my place.”

He then immediately has to suck in a gasp when his offer causes Liam’s hand to tighten around his cock, his eyelids fluttering and his fingers spasming around Liam’s shirt and wrist. When he manages to refocus on Liam’s face, Liam looks thoughtful.

And then he says simply, “Can I fuck you?,” and Theo stares at him.

But it hardly matters, because Liam still has his fingers wrapped around Theo’s cock, and it jerks at his question. Liam grins, manages another stroke, two, before Theo manages to gather his scattered wits enough to clamp his hand back down around Liam’s wrist, still his movements.

“Yes,” Theo finally manages to say, going for firm but still sounding irritatingly breathy, “Yes, you can absolutely do that. Once we get to my apartment.”

Liam grins and releases his cock, grins wider when Theo can’t quite swallow back a protesting whine, “Okay.”

“You fucking asshole,” Theo mutters, releasing his wrist so that he can grab Liam’s face between his hands, kiss him deeply.

Liam gives him maybe ten blissful seconds, and then he pulls back and frowns theaterically at Theo, chastises, “Theo, we can’t do this here, remember?”

“You fucking asshole,” Theo repeats incredulously, but he’s laughing, so.

Retrieving their keys turns into a somewhat fraught process, because Argent is a notoriously light sleeper and Theo is, technically, on medical house arrest. But both of them are fairly motivated, so they manage to snag their jackets, keys and wallets tucked safely into the pockets, and then dart out of the front door—their shoes left behind out of both impatience and Argent’s constant lessons about efficiency in planning—and to Liam’s beat-up old SUV. Then they both skid to a stop and stare at it, because it’s not exactly known for starting quietly—it does, in fact, sound not unlike a jet engine spinning up, because of course it does—but then they glance at each other, and both dart for the doors.

No one appears yelling in the rearview mirror after them and neither of their phones start ringing with angry calls, so Theo spends the time on the way to his apartment fending off Liam’s wandering hands at red lights and desperately resisting the urge to grind the heel of his palm down against his aching cock. It doesn’t help that trapped in the cab of the SUV with Liam instead of outside in the open air, the smell of Liam’s arousal fills the space quickly, to the point that five minutes in Theo gives up and tilts his head back against the passenger-side headrest, takes in a deep breath of it as he bucks up against his hand; the SUV whines as Liam apparently presses the gas pedal down harder.

Theo lives on the seventh floor and there’s no realistic way he and Liam can climb seven flights of stairs in their current state, but he still spends a moment staring at the elevator doors when they get inside Derek’s building, because he has extremely well-educated suspicions about what’s likely to happen in such an enclosed space. But Liam just grins and presses the up button, shoves him inside when the doors open. Theo spins around to glare at him, but—as suspected—Liam’s already followed him in and followed him back, pressing Theo up against the back of the elevator and taking his mouth again.

Small favors, the elevator doesn’t stop at any other floors, because while Theo hasn’t exactly spent enough time in the building to become friends with his neighbors, shoeless frotting in the elevator isn’t necessarily the impression he wants to make. The doors pop open on the seventh floor and Liam drags Theo out as forcefully as he’d shoved Theo in originally, and ordinarily Theo would protest this treatment, except he—doesn’t really want to. They’re at his front door quickly and Liam plasters himself up against Theo’s back—which isn’t helping Theo get the door open any faster, especially when Liam slides one hand back into Theo’s pants—but finally after some fumbling, he gets it unlocked and rolled open, Liam taking his hand back to crowd Theo through the door, close and lock it behind himself.

He’d probably meant to get right back to collecting on Theo’s earlier promise— can I fuck you?, and jesus christ —but Theo stumbles, caught, as he looks into what was the empty stretch of his apartment, and is now—not so empty.

“Uh, Liam,” Theo tries, confusion tipping Liam’s name up into a question, “When did I get furniture?”

But Liam just gets his hands on Theo’s shoulders, spins him around so that Theo is facing him; he’s grinning widely and leans forward to kiss him, long and slow and deep, and then he leans back and answers, “Since Lydia decided to get you surprise, please-stop-being-so-pathetic Christmas present furniture. Apparently it was a double-score for her, too, because she made Peter pay for it all. She even got you silverware—congratulations on joining the rest of us in being a semi-functioning adult.” He grins again when Theo sneers at him in response, but then he adds innocently, “She got you a real, non-air-mattress bed, too.”

That jolts Theo out of his absentminded consideration of whether he’s more irritated or weirdly touched by Lydia’s executive decision to interior decorate his apartment without telling him—seriously, there’s a painting over his new couch—and he stares at Liam, possibilities already spooling instantly out in his mind; Theo had been approaching the air mattress problem as a bridge that they’d figure out how to cross when they got there. Liam just grins again and gets his hands on Theo’s chest, slides them up and underneath Theo’s jacket so that he can push it off his shoulders. Theo lets the jacket fall and then drops his keys on top of it, brings his hands back up to hold Liam’s head as he kisses him again.

“Let’s go see this bed, then,” Theo murmurs against his lips after a few long seconds, and smiles helplessly when Liam does.

Getting up a spiral staircase while attempting to continuously kiss someone ends up being an exercise in futility. Mostly what ends up happening is that every few steps one of them pushes the other up against the railing and halts all forward progress for the time it takes the other to groan and shove them off, start moving again. And then, at the top, Liam yanks Theo back around and surges up against his mouth, and in an extremely impressive bout of acrobatics, Theo trips backwards on the last step and lands flat on his back, Liam on top of him.

“Ow,” Theo comments contemplatively from the floor, his hands still on Liam’s hips; it takes him a second or two to realize that Liam is shaking on top of him because he’s silently laughing, and Theo punches him in the thigh, “That was all your fault.”

He freezes after he’s said it—that was possibly going to be a loaded phrase from now until forever—but Liam just props his chin up on Theo’s sternum, says, “Yeah, okay. I’ll own that,” and grins.

Then he leans forward and takes Theo’s mouth, stretches his body out on top of Theo’s, his hands coming up to thread into Theo’s hair. Groaning, Theo opens his mouth to Liam’s tongue, presses his hips up against Liam’s ass. It’s in the process of trying to get his hands on Liam’s skin that he realizes Liam is still wearing his jacket, and Theo sets out to immediately remedy that, gets it slid down his arms and is about to throw it to the side when Liam breaks the kiss and kind of flails for it. 

Theo stops and stares at him, still holding it in one hand, “I mean, I’m not saying I can’t work with this apparent kink, but…”

Liam just rolls his eyes and sits up as he swipes it; Theo would maybe attempt to say something else clever except Liam sits up directly on top of his hard cock, and Theo has to make an undignified choking noise and arch up at the bolt of pleasure it sends shooting up his spine. When he opens his eyes back up, Liam is fumbling his wallet out of his jacket’s  pocket, and then something out of his wallet, and then he throws both his wallet and jacket off to the side. That done, he leans back over Theo and dangles something in front of his face; Theo looks from it to the smug expression Liam is wearing behind it.

“Do I want to know why you had a tiny packet of lube in your wallet?” He asks skeptically, though his body betrays his attempted tone; his fingers spasm around Liam’s hips, because, well: can I fuck you?

“Incredibly awkward BHHS sex education and having Mason as a best friend,” Liam explains cheerfully, palming the packet and leaning back, and deliberately grinding down, the ass; Theo grits his teeth and bucks up in admittedly poorly thought-out revenge. Liam’s eyelids flutter and he bites back a gasp, but then he shakes himself a little and tilts a considering look down at Theo, “Did you want to see this new bed of yours or not?”

He’s not really asking, though; the second he finishes the question he scrambles to his feet and heads for the bed, which is—once Theo has bitten back a protest and twisted around to watch him go—very nice. Whoever Lydia browbeat into helping her haul and assemble—or probably paid, actually, now that Theo has the spare brain cells to think about it—all his new furniture had put together a very tasteful set-up, up to and including a headboard and matching nightstands, the bed itself covered in a full-on coordinated duvet set, pillows and all.

But the part that Theo’s actually interested in—the part that catches and keeps his attention—is Liam climbing onto the bed and sweeping the majority of the pillows off before flopping onto his back and sticking an arm behind his head, his other hand coming to rest as an oh-so-deliberate frame for his hard cock. Theo swallows, and wastes no further time scrambling to his feet after him.

The second he gets his knees on the bed, Liam sits up and drags him forward by the hips, pulls him up and over himself so that Theo’s left straddling him. Groaning, Theo leans down to kiss him, shivering when Liam’s hands slide up and over his back, taking his shirt with them as they go. Once the fabric bunches up under his arms, Theo takes the hint and leans back, strips it over his head and off. 

What he hadn’t fully anticipated is Liam following him up and then crowding him backwards, his hands landing on and then sliding down Theo’s thighs to yank his legs out from underneath him so that Theo hits his back. He blinks up at Liam when he lands, and Liam smirks, takes advantage of his new position between Theo’s legs to grind forward against him.

“Jesus christ,” Theo groans, and arches his head back; Liam laughs and leans down to mouth at the join of his shoulder and neck.

His hands start to wander as he keeps it up, as Theo turns his head and noses at the side of Liam’s face until Liam gives in and kisses him. Theo’s breath keeps hitching as Liam scratches his fingers over one of Theo’s pebbled nipples, down over the curve of his ribs. He starts to bring his trailing fingers back up and over Theo’s arms, but he gets to the bend of Theo’s elbows and jerks to a sudden, graceless halt.

“Liam…?” Theo murmurs, the kiss breaking with Liam’s abrupt rigidity.

He can feel Liam’s jaw working against his own, and then Liam sits back, his left hand dragging over Theo’s arm to Theo’s hip as he goes, but his right hand stays exactly where it’d stopped; right over the thin skin of Theo’s left elbow, the veins underneath.

“Liam,” Theo repeats quietly when he realizes.

“What’d it—what’d it feel like?” Liam asks unsteadily, his eyes flicking up to Theo’s from underneath his ducked brow.

For half a second Theo considers not answering, or trying to distract Liam, but then he touches his tongue to his bottom lip and says, “Cold, at first. Then it burned.”

Liam stares at him, expression gone raw and his breathing uneven, and then he squeezes his eyes shut. Theo winces and is about to bring a hand up to Liam’s face, encourage him down so that Theo can kiss him, when Liam suddenly bends, puts his mouth right up against the spot where Monroe had inserted the IV needle. Theo gasps in surprise, and then gasps again in a confused mix of arousal and—something else, when Liam opens his lips and bites, gently but unmistakably, at the skin; it’s not the same kind of pinch that the needle had been, but it still jolts through him. 

Liam spends half a minute or so laving attention on the area, and Theo’s such a helpless mess of touched and turned-on that he doesn’t know what to do, can only hold his arm still while simultaneously grinding his hard and aching cock up against Liam’s stomach. But Liam doesn’t stop, just keeps focusing on that spot, though his hands drop to Theo’s hips and hook into his sweatpants, pulls them and his briefs down when Theo immediately lifts his hips for him. He breaks off when he has to lean back and shift to get them fully off and tossed somewhere, and Theo thinks about moving, about leaning up and claiming his mouth or something, but then just—doesn’t, just stays right where Liam had put him and stares up at him, panting and now naked and hard.

Liam stares back at him for a long few seconds, and then his lips quirk up in a soft smile, “Hey.”

“Hey,” Theo says softly back, and Liam folds back over him, kisses him again.

They kiss for a few long, slow minutes, and Theo has just tangled his fingers in Liam’s shirt, suddenly outright insulted by it still being on Liam’s back and blocking Theo from feeling Liam’s skin, when Liam suddenly breaks the kiss and starts sliding downwards. Theo freezes, intuition and anticipation both kicking in hard, and then he jerks when he realizes his grip around Liam’s hem has halted Liam’s progress and Liam is glaring up at him from halfway down his chest.

“I mean, if you’re not interested…” Liam throws out, though his shit-eating grin gives him away.

Theo rolls his eyes and instead of letting go of Liam’s shirt like Liam had probably been expecting, pulls it harder up. Liam squawks indignantly and flails a bit, manages to extract himself from his shirt after a few undignified seconds. Sitting up some and glaring at Theo, he reaches forward and swipes his shirt from Theo’s hands, throws it unceremoniously to the side.

“Are you done? Can I get back to what I was doing?” He asks, faux-irritation thick in his voice.

Theo grins and tightens his thighs briefly around Liam’s hips, then releases them before Liam can get actually annoyed, gestures benevolently for Liam to continue. Liam tries to hide it but he’s smiling as he refocuses, scooching down the bed some so that he has room; his hands come to rest on either side of Theo’s hard cock and Theo swallows, looks at that view and then forces his gaze up so that he can meet Liam’s eyes.

That seems to be all the signal Liam had been waiting for; he grins and leans down, takes Theo in his mouth. 

Theo gasps and just barely manages to keep his hips from arching up. He doesn’t manage to keep his hands from threading into Liam’s hair, clenching but not pushing as Liam starts to work him, one forearm braced over Theo’s hips to keep them still and one hand wrapped around the base of Theo’s cock. 

“Holy—holy shit,” Theo pants out. 

His hips strain up against Liam’s hand and Theo swears, looks down and is about to apologize when Liam opens his eyes and looks back through gold-flared eyes as he engages his supernatural strength to drive Theo’s hips back down. Theo’s breath stutters on his next inhale and he jams his head back down, eyes squeezing shut as arousal drives hard through him, his fingers clenching tighter in Liam’s hair.

He tries to warn Liam off when he gets close, his fingers tugging at his hair and—when that doesn’t work—his heel thumping against Liam’s back. But Liam just catches his leg with one hand and forces it back down—which really doesn’t help with the situation—and Theo moans, his back arching and his non-trapped foot scrambling at the sheets, and comes. That’s almost too much to bear as-is, except then he can feel Liam swallowing around him, and he gives another bitten-off cry and arches again.

When he finally comes back to himself enough that he can open his eyes and look up at Liam, his legs splayed bonelessly out and his hands—which Liam had gently untangled from his hair at some point when Theo was... distracted —falling away from his face, Liam is smirking down at him. He looks even more wrecked than he had in the McCall backyard, which up until this point Theo would have bet was impossible, and Theo forces an arm up, hooks his fingers around the back of Liam’s neck until he can pull him down into a kiss. 

The movement drives Liam’s still-covered and still very hard cock against his ass, and Liam moans, his hips jerking helplessly and his hands fisting in the sheets on either side of Theo’s head. So Theo smirks against his mouth and brings one of his legs up and around Liam’s waist so that he can drive his heel against the small of Liam’s back, pressing Liam’s hips harder forward as a result; Liam breaks the kiss and turns his head, pants against the side of Theo’s mouth as his hips roll again, and then again.

“You know, I seem to recall I made you a deal,” Theo murmurs, turning his face some so that his lips drag against the corner of Liam’s mouth as he speaks.

Liam groans and turns his head quickly to catch Theo’s mouth, licks deep inside it for a long second, two, before he pulls back just enough that he can look in Theo’s eyes and correct, “You made me a promise, actually.”

Theo freezes, staring up at Liam, because the emphasis in that sentence wasn’t accidental, but Liam just smiles gently when he catches the panicked look on Theo’s face, leans back down to kiss him soft and slow and close-mouthed. 

Then he pushes back up just enough to catch Theo’s eyes again and says, “You and me, we keep our promises, huh?,” and Theo has to swallow past the sudden tightness in his throat, has to blink away the sudden heat in the corners of his eyes.

“Yeah,” He agrees softly, “Yeah, we do.”

Liam smiles again and darts down to kiss him quickly, and then—Theo squawking in sudden, startled protest—he abruptly straightens and then flops backwards, out of the circle of Theo’s legs. Theo rises up on his elbows to stare, and realizes almost instantly what Liam is doing. Or, more accurately, attempting to do; he probably should have put the lube packet on one of the nightstands instead of the bed itself, because he now—apparently—can’t find it. Theo snorts with laughter and drops back down to his back, then yelps when Liam reaches over and punches him in the thigh for his sass.

But that gives Theo ideas, so he scrambles upright himself and takes advantage of Liam still comically muttering to himself and sliding his hands over the covers looking for the packet to get ahold of the waistband of Liam’s sweats, start yanking them down. Liam’s distraction means that he isn’t prepared for it, and Theo ends up messing up his own plan when he starts laughing hard enough at the way Liam makes a startled noise and goes abruptly flat, that he has to let go of Liam’s pants and briefs only halfway down Liam’s legs to fall sideways, shaking with silent laughter. 

Liam turns around to glare at him, but he also takes advantage of what Theo started to scramble the rest of the out of his sweatpants and briefs, throw them to the side. But that seems to give him an idea, and he peers over the edge of the bed, looking thoughtfully at the pile of pillows that he’d knocked off earlier.

“...damn,” He comments resignedly after a moment, and then heaves a sigh and vaults off the bed, goes to crouch over the fallen pillows as he searches underneath them for the packet.

Theo props himself up on one elbow and enjoys the show; Liam must realize he’s doing it because he throws an arm back behind himself, middle finger extended. Snorting, Theo drops back down flat and waits, snorts again when seconds later Liam gives a triumphant cry and appears over the side of the bed with the little packet of lube held high.

“Impressive,” Theo tells him dryly; Liam just grins and gets one knee up on the bed between Theo’s feet, gets the other up so that he’s kneeling naked between Theo’s thighs. Abruptly it’s not as funny anymore; Theo swallows.

Liam grins and then drops down onto his hands, palms on either side of Theo’s head as he kisses him, licking into his mouth when Theo immediately drops it open for him. And then he shifts, his mouth still on Theo’s but his hands sliding up and over Theo’s head so that he’s braced on his elbows instead, and Theo hears the sound of packaging ripping, can’t stop his hips from bucking up against Liam’s stomach; can feel his cock already starting to harden again as it drags against Liam’s abs.

He brings his hands up to clutch at Liam’s back, dig into the rippling muscles of Liam’s shoulders as Liam shifts again, his weight now braced on one elbow. Theo’s breath hitches in anticipation and he drops his leg wider as the back of Liam’s free hand brushes the inside of his thigh, as Liam presses a slick finger against the rim of his ass and then pauses there.

“Yes?” He asks against Theo’s mouth, and Theo bites back a moan and surges up into him, kissing him hard and wet and dirty; Liam makes a surprised, punched-out sound and kisses him back.

“Yes,” Theo tells him when he breaks away, “God, yes. Please, yes.”

Liam grins cheekily down at him, “Don’t have to tell me twice.”

“Pretty sure I just told you three—” Theo starts to snark back, and then cuts off on a moan that goes higher and breathier as Liam slides his finger in slow and steady.

Theo pants against his mouth, gasps out jesus, Liam, as Liam starts to work his finger. He doesn’t really have the presence of mind to kiss Liam back, too focused on the pressure and the burn and the steadily increasing pleasure of Liam’s finger inside him, but Liam doesn’t seem to mind, just mouths at Theo’s jaw, his neck as he keeps pumping his hand, twisting his wrist.

Not long after, he presses a second slick finger against Theo’s entrance and Theo gives a jerky nod before Liam can even ask, has to arch his head back, the muscles in his stomach and legs going tight with the sensation as Liam slowly withdraws his first finger and then presses both just as slowly back in. The added stretch means that Theo feels all of it, the bumps of Liam’s knuckles and the drag of his fingertips, and he can’t quite bite back a whine; doesn’t regret it when the sound causes Liam to groan and his hips to buck against Theo’s thigh.

And then Liam’s searching fingers press against something inside of him and Theo sucks in a sharp breath, arcs hard enough at the spike of pleasure that Liam has to shift to pin him more fully down. He doesn’t stop, though, just keeps at that spot until Theo is panting and clutching at his neck, the back of his head, his fingertips digging into Liam’s skin as his hips jerk helplessly against Liam’s hand, his cock once more hard and aching against his stomach.

“C’mon, Liam. C’mon, please,” He finally gasps out, and Liam groans and nods jerkily against his shoulder, withdraws his two fingers only to press back in a half-second later with three.

The additional burn combined with the shocks still jolting through his system causes Theo to cry out and he has to turn his head away from Liam’s, pant against Liam’s shoulder as he digs his fingers harder into Liam’s muscles and spreads his legs wider, presses back against Liam’s hand as Liam presses harder in. Liam buries his own moan in Theo’s neck and goes searching for that spot again, finds it again quickly and is prepared for Theo’s reaction this time, already pinning his hip down and holding him steady as he works it.

“Okay, enough, c’mon,” Theo moans after—half a minute? A minute? Theo has literally no idea —some time, his knees squeezing at Liam’s hips and his fingers raking up Liam’s back to clutch at his hair, pull him up so that Theo can look at him.

He looks wrecked, his eyes wild and his hair in complete disarray, and he must see an equally desperate look on Theo’s face because he starts nodding frantically. Then he stops, holds Theo’s eyes in warning as he slowly withdraws his fingers. Theo swallows back a protest, his hips jerking, but lets Liam go when he sits back, stares at him in heavy-lidded desperation as Liam fumbles for the discarded lube packet, gets his hand slick and then wraps it around himself, his eyelids fluttering shut. 

Liam,” Theo moans, more because he can’t stop himself than as an order, but Liam takes it as one anyway, folds back down over Theo with one hand braced by Theo’s head, the other holding himself steady as he presses the tip of his cock up against Theo’s entrance. But then he pauses, and Theo catches Liam’s eyes to glare at him, tells him warningly, “If you’re waiting for me to say yes again…” Liam just grins at him and doesn’t move, so Theo groans and smacks him on the shoulder, says, “ Yes,” then says it again when Liam starts to press immediately inside.

Liam may have been intending to pause again past that initial first bit of resistance, but Theo doesn’t let him, just wraps his legs around Liam’s waist and starts slowly but relentless encouraging him further, and further. Above him, Liam sucks in a sharp breath but doesn’t fight him on it, just keeps pressing forward until, between his own movements and Theo’s admittedly unasked-for assistance, he’s fully seated. Then he pauses, the muscles in his thighs tense like he’s expecting Theo to immediately start trying to get him to move and he’d been saving up all his stubbornness for not doing that, but Theo doesn’t. 

He can’t, the sensation of being full and stretched briefly shorting out his ability to think. Instead he just lays underneath Liam and pants, every other exhale a breathy moan, his fingers clenching and unclenching rhythmically around Liam’s back and his legs trembling around Liam’s hips as he adjusts to the feeling. Liam starts murmuring nonsensical praise, pressing his lips to Theo’s jaw, his neck; the corner of his slack mouth. Theo turns into it best he can, kisses Liam sloppily back, his body occasionally jerking with little zings of pleasure and sensation.

And then the feeling of being overfull steadily becomes a feeling of being perfectly full, and Theo groans, wraps his arms more tightly around Liam’s back and uses the grip he has around Liam’s waist with his legs to move, to fuck himself back onto Liam once, twice. Liam gives a surprised shout and his hips buck forward hard, pressing Theo’s hips down into the mattress, and Theo gasps, head arching back.

“Couldn’t have just said I’m ready, could you, you show-off,” Liam mutters, but he has to pant it out and his hips keep giving these short, sharp little jerks, so Theo doesn’t take it personally.

Instead he just grins and uses his leverage to pull the same move a third time, and Liam makes a noise and reaches down to grab his hips, forcefully pin them to the bed. 

“I feel like you’re following the letter but not really the spirit of your earlier promise,” He points out, glowering, and now Theo grins cheekily, drags his hands over Liam’s shoulders and down his chest so that he can scratch his fingernails over Liam’s pebbled nipples, grin wider when Liam gasps.

“Just trying to help,” Theo tells him innocently, and gives a startled laugh and yanks his hands out of the way when Liam abruptly folds down over him so that he can take Theo’s mouth, kiss him deep and harshly.

He leaves his hands on Theo’s hips, though, and when he starts to move he uses them to keep Theo’s hips still. Theo moans in a startled burst of arousal as he tries to move like he had before and can’t, Liam’s grip preventing him, and Liam smiles fiercely against his mouth and thrusts forward harder, his fingers digging furrows into Theo’s hips, the curve of his ass.

And then, of course, as if Theo needed more evidence of Liam’s determination to take full advantage of Theo’s promise to him, he deliberately finds that spot inside of Theo and starts hitting that on every thrust; Theo gives a choked cry and scrabbles at his shoulders, his legs tightening best they can even with Liam’s restraining grip. He can feel himself clenching tight around Liam, and while Liam’s rhythm doesn’t so much as stutter, he drops his forehead to Theo’s chest and moans, then does it again as he keeps up his relentless pace.

It isn’t long before Theo feels arousal winding tighter and tighter in his gut again, his cock dragging against Liam’s stomach with every thrust and starbursts of pleasure shooting up his spine every time Liam hits that spot, and so he wraps his arms more tightly around Liam’s neck and shoulders, pants out, “Liam. Liam, I’m going to—”

Liam darts up and takes his mouth just as he gives a long, loud cry, and comes. He pauses in his thrusts as he does, pressed up tight against Theo’s ass and holding there as he rides out Theo’s orgasm with him, and finally Theo collapses back down, his arms falling bonelessly away from Liam’s shoulders and to the bed as he stares pleasure-dazed up at him.

Liam goes to let go of his hips—probably correctly interpreting that Theo couldn’t get clever with his movements now even if he wanted to—but Theo’s hands reflexively dart down before he’s even thought about it, holding them there. Liam’s brow furrows as he looks back up at Theo, and Theo just stares back at him, startled by his own reaction but also really, really willing to roll with this turn of events. A slow, satisfied smirk curls Liam’s lips, and he deliberately tightens his fingers hard around Theo’s hips, smirk widening when Theo gives a sharp, shaky gasp and jerks against him.

“Yeah, okay,” Liam tells him, and leans down to kiss him slow and wet and dirty, “I can work with that.”

And then he starts to move again.

Theo’s officially tapped out between the orgasm still sending aftershocks zinging through him and his earlier one, but that—actually seems to work for both of them, Liam taking advantage of his pliability to haul Theo’s hips further into his lap—his fingers still tight around Theo’s hip-bones—and Theo clutching his hands in the blankets beneath him to brace himself best he can against Liam’s thrusts. Liam bends back over him and kisses him, though from the increasingly uncoordinated swipes of his tongue, the way that it mostly devolves into breathing against each other’s mouths, he’s on the edge, himself.

So Theo turns his face against the side of Liam’s head, his mouth right up against Liam’s ear, and gasps out, “That’s it, Liam, c’mon. C’mon, please,” and Liam gives a choked cry that becomes a long, drawn-out moan as he comes, his hips jerking forward to press up tight against Theo’s ass and then staying there.

Theo keeps murmuring whatever nonsensical praise he can think of as Liam continues to gasp against his shoulder, as his hips continue to give tiny little jerks as he slowly comes down. He releases the blankets to bring his hands up to Liam’s back, dragging his fingertips lightly over Liam’s shoulders and ribs and shivering in sympathetic response when that causes Liam to shudder and bite off a low groan. 

Finally Liam pants out, “Okay. Okay,” and then, a question, “Okay?”

“Okay,” Theo agrees, and braces himself for the strange, dragging-and-then-empty sensation of it as Liam pulls out, flops down next to him on the bed, one leg left carelessly over one of Theo’s and the other bent at the knee and splayed outwards. 

The position is probably accidental but it still draws Theo’s attention down to Liam’s spent cock and he has to swallow back a moan, cover his face with his hands as he tries to catch his breath. When he drops them, Liam tilts his head towards him and smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling with it. Except—except then the smile abruptly falls off his face and his expression spasms; Liam jerks his head away and all at once sits up, digs the heels of his palms against his eyes.

“Liam?” Theo asks in alarm, and goes to sit up, too.

But Liam just twists around and plants a hand in the middle of his chest, keeps him down. He’s still not looking at Theo but he shakes his head in clear instruction, and so Theo reluctantly relaxes back down, though his eyes never leave Liam’s face. Finally Liam sucks in a deep breath and drops his other hand, leaves the one he’d used to pin Theo where it is as he turns his head slightly to meet his eyes.

“Your, um,” Liam starts, a little hoarsely; he stops, swallows, and tries again, “Your face...the bottom half of it was covered in mercury when we—when we got back to the warehouse. When you…” He trails off, but Theo knows the end of that sentence finishes with when you died. Swallowing again, Liam looks away and confesses quietly, “I don’t think I’m ever going to get that image out of my head.”

Theo flinches. Liam must feel it through the hand he still has on Theo’s chest because he looks at him, gives him an apologetic smile that’s really more of a grimace. 

“Hey,” Theo says, and wraps his fingers around Liam’s still half-braced hand on his chest, tugs lightly; not enough to dislodge it, but enough to indicate what he wants. 

Liam hesitates for a second, and then he lets Theo collapse his arm, twists back around and folds back over him so that they can kiss again, soft and slow. Theo doesn’t say I’m sorry, though he is, and he doesn’t say it’s okay, because it both is and isn’t. He just kisses him, and when Liam sighs against his mouth and then pulls back, scoots down some so that he can bury his face in Theo’s neck, Theo just wraps his arms around him, presses the side of his face to the top of Liam’s head. 

They stay like that for another few minutes, Theo’s eyelids starting to get heavy and Liam’s heartbeat slowing from where Theo can feel it beating against his own ribs, and then Liam groans slightly and mumbles, “We need to go back to Scott’s, don’t we?”

“Yeah, we do,” Theo agrees.

But neither of them moves.

---

Theo wakes up the next morning not because it is, in fact, morning, or because Liam’s ridiculous hair is in his mouth from where he’s pressed up tight against Liam’s back, but because there's an immensely irritating, crunch-and-clink repetitive sound nearby, and it’s driving him nuts. He blinks open his eyes, then shouts and flails as he catches sight of Scott, Malia, and Stiles all studying him and Liam from the chic little sitting area Lydia had apparently deigned to put in the corner of the loft. 

“Boom,” Stiles crows in victory, and makes a grabby-hands gesture with one hand towards Scott, his other holding a bowl of cereal, “Longer than five minutes. Pay up, Scotty.”

Scott groans and arches up so he can get his hand in his jeans’ pocket, fish out his wallet as he whines, “Aw, c’mon. It’s usually takes like, thirty seconds, max, for Theo to wake up once someone opens his door.”

“Yeah, well. Liam must have really worn him out,” Malia comments, her arms crossed and her legs stretched out before her from where she’s sprawled back in one of the chairs; when Theo’s attention jerks to her, she smirks sharply.

“Okay, what the fu— ” Theo starts to demand, absently giving all the thanks that he and Liam had climbed under the blankets at some point last night, because they are both still very naked.

Except Liam chooses that moment to join the party, raising his head and glancing sleepily around as he complains, “God, Theo. Why are you yelling?” Theo stares at him incredulously, but then Liam must catch sight of Scott, Malia, and Stiles, because he freezes and says, “Oh. Uh, hi, Scott. Malia. Stiles.”

Stiles says hi, Liam in a deliberately over-cheerful tone and Malia rolls her eyes, but Scott raises his eyebrows and says, “Hey, Liam,” in a voice dry enough to give Argent’s best a run for its money, “So. Funny thing happened this morning.”

“Yeah?” Liam replies weakly, “Any way this story could wait until I am—we are—wearing pants?”

“I’m not sure people who aid and abet medical house arrestees with making a jailbreak get to make requests,” Stiles offers, still sounding annoyingly cheerful, which only gets worse when he starts eating his cereal again: crunch-clink, crunch-crunch-clink.

Scott just ignores both of them—and Theo, who flops back onto his back and covers his face with a groan—and continues, “So my mom wakes up and goes to check that her patient is, y’know, still alive, only her patient and the person who was supposed to be watching her patient are both gone without a trace.”

“Her first mistake was putting Liam in that lofty a position of responsibility,” Theo mutters, then yelps when Liam punches him in the arm; Scott ignores that, too. 

“You two seriously couldn’t have left a note ? Or, I don’t know, worn shoes?” He demands, “We only put together where you likely went because—”

At that point he abruptly trails off, an embarrassed and slightly pole-axed look crossing his face, which only gets worse when Malia fills in, “When I smelled what you two started getting up to in the backyard,” with her usual lack of bedside manner.

Scott winces and says, “Yes. Thank you, Malia,” a little haltingly. Then he returns to glaring at Theo and Liam and concludes, “Luckily Derek was able to confirm he could hear your heartbeats in the building when I called him, or you’d be dealing with Argent right now.”

Theo’s about ninety percent sure they’re going to be dealing with Argent later regardless, but: “Would you rather we stayed?” He asks Scott pointedly, and is desperately and unexpectedly trying not to laugh at the look that crosses Scott’s face when he hears the front door roll open and he drops his head back, complains, “Seriously?,” to the ceiling as Lydia, Derek, and Alec all walk in.

“Who won the bet?” Lydia calls up, sounding blithely unconcerned with the fact that she’s now becoming the fourth person to technically break into Theo’s apartment this morning. 

“Me!” Stiles yells back gleefully, turning to lean over the loft railing to beam down at her, “Well, technically us. You were the one who made the original guess.”

“Oh my god,” Liam groans, and starts apparently attempting to suffocate himself with a pillow; Theo grabs it away from him, but hits him with it for good measure before he throws it to the side.

“Okay!” Theo announces a little more shrilly than he’d intended, glares at Scott, Malia, and Stiles when they all look over at him; he can hear Lydia’s, Derek’s, and Alec’s footsteps on the stairs, but he’d already resigned himself to his and Liam’s audience doubling in size, so: “Glad we could have this talk this morning. Anything else?”

Lydia is smirking when she crests the stairs and even Derek’s lips have some curl to them—Alec just looks a little hunted, like he’s definitely not sure if he should or wants to be a part of this insanity—and Theo gives her a dirty look. She just raises an eyebrow and gestures around, a clear oh, I’m sorry, don’t you want to thank me for my brilliance with respect to the bed and all Theo’s other new furniture, and Theo just snorts a laugh, shakes his head. And then he refocuses on Scott when Scott tosses something— two sometimes—onto the bed with him and Liam; one each of his and Liam’s abandoned shoes. 

“Yeah,” Scott says, answering his earlier question about there being anything else: “You two need to get up and get ready. We’ve got to get on the road.”

Theo just squints at him, “Get on the road to where?”

“Well, I mean, if you don’t want your truck back,” Scott says, shrugging, and Theo jolts as he remembers that he’d had to leave it at Isabella’s when he and Liam had fled Monroe’s hunters... yesterday, what the actual fuck. Scott laughs at the look that must be on Theo’s face and then he adds, “Not to mention, there are some people in Yreka who’d like to see you, too.”

“Oh,” Theo says softly, remembering Shohreh’s hands on his arm when he’d been dying on that warehouse floor, “Right.”

Scott’s smile softens and then he glances at Malia, smacks a hand down on her thigh as he pushes himself to his feet, hauls her up when she takes his hand afterwards.

“We’ll be downstairs,” Scott tells him and Liam, moving to follow the train of Alec, Lydia, Derek, and Malia heading back down the stairs; he has to grab and unceremoniously shove Stiles to get him to go, too.

Theo just stares after him, but it’s Liam who comes back to himself when Scott is already halfway down the stairs to shout, “Oh my god, just go to Derek’s, you perverts!”

“Nope!” Scott sing-songs cheerfully back, “You two have officially lost your unsupervised privileges for the foreseeable future!”

Liam’s only response is to pelt a pillow over the loft railing where it—based on sound alone—manages somehow to hit Stiles, who yelps in surprise and swears. Liam smirks, and then he frowns contemplatively at the ceiling as he announces, “I...do not have clothes here.”

Forty-five minutes later and he’s tugging one of Theo’s shirts further over his wrists, kicking a leg to settle one of Theo’s pairs of jeans over his shoes, while he and Theo spill with Scott and the others out of Derek’s building and into the parking lot. Derek, Stiles, and Lydia peel off to head for Derek’s Toyota and Scott, Malia, and Alec beeline it for the Jeep, but Theo jerks to a graceless halt and then slaps a hand out over Liam’s chest to stop him, too, because Argent is leaning up against his SUV and watching them with a silent but very judgemental raised eyebrow.

“He—ey, Argent,” Liam tries, already wincing; Theo looks heavenward in despair at his lack of grace. When Argent doesn’t say or do anything—literally, he doesn’t so much as blink—Liam grimaces and offers, “At least we stuck with our designated buddy?”

If the look on Argent’s face gets any drier, he’s going to officially be in danger of shriveling up, but luckily Liam’s comment just causes him to stare in disbelief at Liam and Theo before he sighs heavily and orders, “Just get in the car.”

Liam goes, scrambling into the back and greeting Ms. McCall sat in the front seat with another cringe-inducing he—ey, Ms. McCall, but Theo doesn’t move right away, a question eating at him. Argent catches his hesitation and turns back from where he’d started heading for the driver’s door, meets his eyes.

“The hunter family, the one with the bogus tip,” Theo asks, can feel the tension between his shoulders winching tight as he looks back at Argent.

Argent’s jaw clenches and his scent briefly spikes with anger, but he just says, “Taken care of.”

Theo holds his gaze for a few seconds longer, then jerks a nod, heads for the back door that Liam had left open for him. Once he’s settled and buckled in—Argent back in the driver’s side seat and already turning the engine over—he looks up to see Ms. McCall studying him in the rearview mirror. When she sees him staring back her expression goes dry, and she raises her eyebrows.

Sorry, he mouths, wincing, and means it, but Ms. McCall’s eyes just flick over in the rearview to Liam bent forward in his seat so he can hold the back of Argent’s chair and pester him with questions, and she just smiles, looks away. Theo bites back his own smile and settles back against his seat, his eyes drifting out the window, then almost immediately has to turn back when Liam smacks him on the shoulder and pulls him into the argument that he has somehow already gotten into with Argent.

Mason’s hybrid is already in the stretch of field that serves as the overflow parking lot at Shohreh’s ranch house, along with, Theo’s realizing, nearly two dozen other cars, many of which he recognizes. Nina’s and Nathaniel’s crossover is parked next to Jyoti’s mustang, and Ailene’s Jeep is squeezed in between Marcus Sivaraja’s sensible four-door and Rosalia’s dust-covered truck. Theo stares at the stretch of cars signaling the presence of the Carson City, Lakeview, Chemult, Sacramento, and Denio packs, among others, his ears catching the dull roar of dozens of voices inside the house and out in the backyard, and slowly, slowly, pushes his door shut.

Ms. McCall and Liam had already gone to catch up with Scott and the others just pulling in, but Argent lingers by his door, very deliberately not looking at Theo. Grimacing, Theo shakes himself out of his stupor and tucks his hands in his pockets, kicks a foot against the ground.

“Not what you were expecting?” Argent asks mildly, and tilts his head back slightly to meet Theo’s eyes finally when Theo looks over at him.

“Monroe’s dead, most of her people are dead with her or captured, and the stragglers don’t stand a chance,” Theo answers, shrugging, “Mostly I’m surprised Shohreh managed to pull a celebration like this together in less than a day.”

Argent just gives him a slight smile and—ignoring his attempted deflection—says, “Monroe being dead is part of it.”

Theo looks up at him, and something must be all over his face, because Argent laughs quietly and reaches out a hand, reels him in for an unexpected, if quick, embrace. Then he claps Theo once on the shoulder and shoves him lightly towards where the rest of the McCall pack had started heading for the house, Liam walking backwards to talk to Mason, Corey, and Alec, Lydia with her fingers threaded through Derek’s and Stiles’ arm around her shoulder; Scott pauses from where he’d been talking with his mother and Malia to gesture back at Theo and Argent: hurry up, c’mon.

The instant they hit the house, the pack gets pulled in all directions. Scott gets pulled into a circle of alphas, all of whom immediately stop whatever they’d been in the middle of to demand that Scott introduce them to his mother. Malia is almost immediately swarmed by Yreka pack children who definitely want to show off their cool shapeshifting playmate, and she winds up dragging Derek off with her. Lydia becomes an instant celebrity by merit of being the one who’d come up with the vaccine, and she—and Mason, who accidentally answers a complicated biology question and gets yanked into the conversation, too—winds up surrounded by starstruck werewolves. For Stiles, Corey, Alec, and Liam, there’s a pick-up lacrosse game happening in the backyard, werewolves and pack-born humans alike, and they’re on the field and whooping within minutes.

Theo’s leaned up against the back railing watching them along with Argent when Deputy McPherson steps out of the house, two beers in hand. He hands one to Argent, who thanks him absently, and nods at Theo.

He starts to say, “Good to see you…” and then trails off, clearly wondering how impolitic it would be to say alive —or just still thrown by the complete insanity of having watched Theo die yesterday and seeing him up and perfectly fine today —and then he laughs quietly, and quirks a smile, tells him simply, “Shohreh’s in the kitchen.”

“Thanks,” Theo tells him, and pushes off the railing so that he can head inside; McPherson takes his place, starts talking with Argent.

Shohreh is indeed in the kitchen, talking with Ailene and chopping the tops off of strawberries, tossing them into a bowl. She breaks off when Theo walks in and smiles warmly, sets the knife down and opens her arms; Theo doesn’t slow, just walks right into them, presses his face against her shoulder as her arms come around him.

“I have to admit, Mr. Raeken. When Scott told me his plan, I’d thought he’d lost his mind,” She confesses, then murmurs, “I’m very glad to have been wrong.”

“Thank you,” Theo tells her, his voice gone hoarse; he squeezes her tighter and adds more quietly, “Thank you for saving him.”

Shohreh presses a kiss his cheek, then pulls back some to look at him, brings her hands up to cup his face as she says, “Thank you for saving all of us.” When Theo just frowns at her, she strokes her thumbs over his cheekbones and explains, “Liam told us about the promise you made him give.”

Theo colors, he can feel the heat in his face, and opens and then immediately closes his mouth again. Shohreh smiles at him and leans forward to press another kiss against his forehead, then releases him, shooing him back towards the backyard.

“Go, go. Enjoy the party. This is as much your victory as anyone else’s,” She orders, and picks her knife back up, resumes chopping her strawberries.

Theo hesitates for a moment, and then he smiles, nods, murmurs hey, Ailene, and then heads back out to where he can hear the pick-up lacrosse game still going strong. He’s still there, sat on the same couch he’d fallen asleep on that one time, when Scott finds him later, now watching a veritable herd of various packs’ children running after Malia and Derek in their full-shift forms; somewhere down in the grass, he can hear Lydia and Stiles laughing with delight as she watches them, can hear the rest of the McCall pack members scattered in and among the other packs, all talking and laughing and joking. 

Theo looks up when Scott drops heavily down onto the couch next to him with a groan, a mason jar full of something sweet and acidic—strawberry lemonade, Theo realizes, thinking back to Shohreh’s bowl of fruit—in his hand. He takes a long drink and then grins at Theo, props his head up on his hand as he looks out into the backyard, to where Liam had apparently made some tongue-in-cheek comment to Nathaniel and is now hurriedly running away from him, Nathaniel giving chase while Nina and Mason and Corey all yell peanut-gallery commentary.

“So. I guess you figured out why I asked you to come to Liam’s with us that night, and why I kept bringing him back to Dorris,” Scott suddenly says, grinning at Theo when Theo looks over. 

Theo squints at him for a second, confused, but then he remembers. Scott, staring at him in the operating theater not quite two weeks ago after Liam’s screw-up with Rossler and Preston, saying: why do you think I always brought him here after he and I fought? And then, even more confused: Why do you think I asked you to come with us that night Liam told his parents about being a werewolf?  

And then there had been Monroe, standing over Theo with that sharp smile on her face and saying: I don’t think I’m the one underestimating how he feels about me

“Yeah, I…guess I did,” Theo agrees quietly, his eyes drifting back out to the grass; to Liam, who feints right when he should’ve feinted left and runs right into Nathaniel’s outstretched arm. The sight of him is like a warm weight in Theo’s chest, wrapped tight around his sister’s heart; an anchor. 

Scott laughs quietly, easily, nods as he absently watches Nathaniel catch Liam in a loose headlock, Liam squawking and trying mostly ineffectively to get free. Then he touches his tongue to his bottom lip, taps his fingers against the glass in his hand.

“Scott?” Theo prompts gently, studying him. 

“I’m almost definitely not going to say this right,” Scott warns, but then he sighs and sets his glass down between his feet, braces his elbows on his knees and then his chin on his hands, and tips his head to look at Theo as he tells him, “Liam told me what Monroe said when she had you two tied up, before she—before she started poisoning you.”

Theo feels his expression pinch and looks away, fills in neutrally, “That I’m not one of your betas, and I’m not part of your pack.”

Scott grimaces, nods in confirmation, “That last part is obviously bullshit—” Theo jerks and stares at him in surprise, but Scott doesn’t even slow, “—but I wanted to…I thought maybe…”

He huffs in frustration and brings a hand up to scratch awkwardly at the back of his neck, then finishes:

“I wanted to offer you the Bite.”

Theo stares at him. He’d already been completely thrown from Scott’s that last part is obviously bullshit comment, and this just knocks whatever progress he’d made in reassembling his scattered thoughts right back down. Scott winces, colors some.

“I knew that was going to come out weird,” He mutters, possibly to himself, but he doesn’t take it back, just smiles best he can at Theo given his apparent embarrassment, “But, well. It worked with Hayden, so I figured…”

They’re both distracted by a sudden burst of noise. Out on the grass Liam has freed himself of Nathaniel’s headlock and jumped on his back with a theatrical cry, which turns out to be a bit of a strategic error given that Nathaniel’s over a head taller than him. Nathaniel just oofs and laughs and then flips Liam—relatively—gently off, kneels in faux-victory, arms raised, against Liam’s chest as Liam guffaws with laughter and Nina, Corey, and Mason all cheer. Theo listens to it all, and finds a slow, helpless, and wide smile breaking across his face as he does; he looks back at Scott.

“Thanks. Really, thanks,” He tells him, but his mind isn’t on Scott anymore, not really: it’s on Liam, that night in the forest, snarling you’re not here because anyone’s making you.

“But…?” Scott prompts, correctly interpreting Theo’s response.

Theo glances back at him from where his gaze had drifted back out towards the grass; towards Liam, now out from underneath Nathaniel’s knee and bouncing from foot to foot with his hands up like a boxer as he faces a sniggering Nathaniel; he looks like a complete dork, but the sight of him causes Theo’s chest—his sister’s heart—to bloom with warmth. 

“But…,” but the sun, and the moon, and the truth, “But I think I’m finally figuring out how to be a chimera,” Theo finally says, looking back at Scott and smiling. 

Scott studies him for a long few seconds, and then he smiles back, reaches forward and claps him on the shoulder, shakes him a bit once he’s got a grip. Theo laughs and rocks with it, and then his head jerks up and out—Scott’s doing the same—when Liam suddenly calls their names.

“Hey, what are you two doing up there?” He demands; Nathaniel attempts to take advantage of his distraction to rush in, and Liam has to shriek and dodge away. Once he’s successfully put a few feet between himself and Nathaniel, he yells, “C’mon, get down here.”

“Guess we’d better go,” Scott comments wryly, and reaches down to grab his glass, drains it quickly before setting it back down and pushing himself to his feet, jogging down the steps to the grass. 

Theo doesn’t move immediately, just watches as Scott drops down next to Corey, laughs at something Nina says. Liam dodges out of the way of another attempted grab by Nathaniel and then spots Theo still sat on the couch.

“Come on, Theo!” He shouts, “Stop sitting up there on a couch by yourself, you’re a part of this now, better come own it!”

And so Theo—he grins, and gets to his feet, and does.