In the secret parts of Fortune? O, most true; she
Is a strumpet. What's the news?
None, my lord, but that the world's grown honest.
Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true.
Let me question more in particular: what have you,
My good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune,
That she sends you to prison hither?
The sky turned a bruised purple as the sun dropped behind the hills to the west. Theo and Scott got out of the SUV a moment before Argent did, the air stinging their nostrils much as it had all day. It had been a relief when they had finally left the ghost town by the water, grateful for the vehicle’s efficient air conditioning. The saline, chemical smell of the Salton Sea had given both the werewolf and the chimera headaches all day.
As much as the twilight air stank, Scott paused once he was completely free of the Tahoe. He was tired and sweaty and grimy with wind-blow sand, and he stretched his arms wide in an effort unkink his limbs. Theo, emerging on the side of the vehicles, was just as filthy. His shirt was stained with the sweat of the afternoon’s heat, and he was openly yawning. Chris Argent should have fell over, given he lacked the supernatural stamina of the two younger men and so far more susceptible to the afternoon’s work in 100-plus degree temperatures. Yet, he didn’t show much fatigue at all.
“There’s a restaurant across the street.” Scott pointed at a local diner with glowing bands of red and yellow neon that no one could possibly miss. “Want to go have dinner?”
“I could eat.” Theo yawned again.
“You boys go. I’m exhausted.”
“You don’t really look exhausted, Mr. Argent.”
Chris cocked his head to the side. “Scott, I’ll be lucky if I don’t drown in the shower. If I manage not to do so, I’ll call your mother before I go to bed. Any message?”
“I love her, and we’ll be home soon.”
The older hunter nodded and headed towards his motel room. They had picked up the keys when they had first arrived in town, so now they wouldn’t have to mess with check in. They’d been on dozens of nearly identical missions to this one had become very good at thinking ahead.
This time they had tracked down on three runaway born wolves -- children really -- to the numerous ghost towns on the shores of the sea. They had fled Monroe’s hunters, but they were lost and alone. Yet now they were rescued and at another motel with the other survivors of their decimated pack -- alive and with friends.
“So. Dinner?” Theo reminded him. Scott had watched Chris Argent and drifted off.
“I don’t know, now. A shower sounds really good after all that shit today.”
“Yeah. But it was worth it.”
Scott raised one eyebrow. “You didn’t seem like you were having much of a good time.”
“What? Nah. I was fine.”
Scott frowned. “How about I order some pizza and we eat in my room? You can go clean up and then come over. Give me a half hour?”
Theo took in a deep breath and then nodded. Scott left Theo still in the parking lot to go to his own room. He started stripping off his clothes the moment the door was closed, leaving a trail heading toward the bathroom. His hand was on the shower handle when he bit his lip and came back out. Fishing for his jeans, he pulled out his phone checked it for messages.
There were five texts from Liam, mostly complaining about the cost of graduation robes. There were fifteen texts from Stiles. The first four were normal enough, but then Stiles had forgotten that Scott would be without service all day today until the last text, which was apologetic for the tone of the previous ten. Scott smiled. There was the standard voicemail from his mother. There was also a voicemail from Lydia, a rare enough surprise to put a smile on his face. Neither of them were urgent. His smile dimmed when he saw there was nothing from Malia. He checked her Instagram — she was visiting Manaus with Cora and Derek. His smile faded away completely. Putting the phone on the table, he went back to take his shower.
Theo did almost the same thing in his room, but he didn’t check his phone. After all, there was no one to call him.
Scott was dressed in only his most comfortable pair of sweatpants when Theo knocked on his door exactly a half-hour later. He opened the door, still rubbing his hair with the towel. “I’m sorry, man. I just ordered the pizza. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get here.”
“We can watch a movie while we wait.”
“These motels gouge you on movies.” Theo observed, cynically. “They’re overpriced.”
“Mr. Argent is paying for it.”
“Okay, I’m in.”
Theo followed him into the room as he retreated back to the bathroom to finish drying off. Theo was careful to hide his appreciation as he watched the alpha’s back muscles flex as dried his hair. After Scott had disappeared back into the other room Theo pulled the outside door shut, his hand lingering on the doorknob. His body reacted to Scott’s physique; gritting his teeth, Theo whispered “Stop that” to himself, sitting down in an uncomfortable motel chair.
Scott was pulling on an old lacrosse jersey when he re-emerged. “Find something?”
“I haven’t looked yet.” Theo grabbed the remote and held it up. “What’re you in the mood for?”
“I don’t know. You choose.”
Scott readied the bed, building up pillows so he had a wall between him and the headboard. Theo flipped through the channels, a smile breaking out on his lips...
“Werewolf: The Beast Among Us.”
Theo ducked as Scott flung a pillow at his head. “You told me to choose!”
“Okay, make it something less ironic funny and more ha-ha funny.”
Bowing his head to show he understood, Theo kept flipping. “Clue.”
“I’ve never watched it.”
“Scott! You’ve never watched Clue? It’s a classic.”
Scott looked over. “When did it come out?”
The alpha shrugged. “I haven’t watched a lot of older movies.”
Theo narrowed his eyes and pushed the select button. “I’m not sure why a thirty-year-old movie is on a pay channel, but I think you’ll love it. At least tell me you’ve played the game.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s one of Stiles’ favorites.” Scott sat down on the bed. “We haven’t had much time to play board games recently, but before all of this …” He gestured to himself and to Theo. “We played it during Winter Recess all the time.”
“Of course it’s one of Stiles favorites. Let me guess — he won all the time.”
“Yeah, he was pretty good at it.”
The movie started. Theo kept glancing over to see if Scott was enjoying it. Scott was laughing pretty loudly at the right parts. Theo smiled to himself.
When Leslie Anne Warren as Miss Scarlet declared how she loved getting presents from strange men, Scott spoke out suddenly. “You know, you can sit on the bed if you want to.”
“You keep looking over here at me. I know that chair can’t be comfortable.”
Theo looked uncomfortably away instead of answering, causing Scott’s brows to scrunch up in confusion. Both of them were saved from the awkward moment by a knock on the door.
“Pizza!” Scott hopped up, digging out his wallet. He engaged in some banter with the delivery boy while Theo paused the movie. When he came back, he had two pizzas with him and a two-liter of Sierra Mist.
“Sausage, green peppers, onion and pineapple for me.” He dropped one box on the bed and opened the lid. “Pepperoni, black olives, extra cheese and hold the sauce for you.” Scott put that one next to the first.
“You … know what toppings I like on my pizza?” Theo asked, surprised.
“In case you don’t happen to remember, we’ve eaten a lot of pizza on a lot of missions like this over the last two years.”
“But that’s exactly how I like it.”
Scott squinted. “I...know...”
Theo reached over to snag the box and pull it over to his side of the bed, but Scott grabbed the other side.
“Get on the bed. That chair can’t be comfortable.”
“It’s fine.” Theo kept his eyes on the pizza box so Scott couldn’t see his face.
“Come on. Look me in the face and say that it’s comfortable,” Scott ordered, off-handedly. Theo shrugged, picked up the pillow that Scott had thrown and sat down on the bed. He used the pillow as a back rest.
“There a reason you’re being so nice to me tonight?” Theo asked as he toyed with the controller in his hand.
“I’m not being nice to you. Start the movie.”
Theo pointed at the pizza. “Sierra Mist is my favorite pop. You’re worried about me being comfortable. That’s being nice.”
Scott reached for the remote control in Theo’s hand, but Theo moved it out of his reach.
“You looked like you had it rough out there today.” Scott admitted. “You seemed pretty miserable.”
“It was 102 degrees in the shade, the Salton Sea might be the smelliest body of water on the entire planet, and we had to search through a trash dump. No one had it easy out there today.”
“It was more than that.”
Theo glanced at the motionless actors on the paused television screen. His finger hovered on the button that would un-pause the movie and evade the question. He looked up to see Scott staring at him with a sad expression — the one that Stiles had once described as the Lassie-after-you-shoot-her-mother look.
“Okay.” Theo let out a long sigh.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to tell me, but if you can tell me, I’d really like to know.”
“You remember the Pathologist?”
Scott nodded solemnly. “I got up close and personal with him.”
“He was Russian. While he was born, I think, in the 30s, he was the youngest of the Doctors, and the last one to be recruited. He was into some crazy shit, even before he got his mask. He worked at Aralsk-7.”
“Okay. I don’t know what that means,” Scott admitted.
“It was the premier Soviet biological weapons complex during the Cold War. They made all sorts of terrible things there. It was built on Vozrozhdeniya Island in the Aral Sea. The government abandoned it after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the Doctors built an Operating Theater there. That’s where Dr. Deaton discovered that tooth …”
“Yeah, I remember him telling me about it.”
“Well, when we were there, I wasn’t … I wasn’t needed often, and the Doctors made it clear that they expected me to stay out of the way while they worked. The Aral Sea is like the Salton Sea — it’s drying up. The island isn’t even an island anymore. Today, it was the smell. That smell brought back a lot of memories I’d really rather had stayed lost. I was eleven, and …”
“It’s okay.” Scott’s voice was gentle.
“I was bored. I was lonely. There were people living nearby, but I was told in no uncertain terms that anyone I talked to would have to be … dealt with. So, there were plenty of long hot days alone on the shore of a dying sea.”
Scott reached out and put a hand on Theo’s arm and his eyes widened a bit when Theo didn’t flinch at his touch. When the chimera had first come back from the Skin-walker’s underworld, he shied away from any touch he could see coming. No matter how gentle, Theo’s heart would race and his eyes would dilate, subconsciously reacting to any touch as if he were prey. “I’m sorry. You could’ve said something. Mr. Argent and I could have looked by ourselves.”
“Scott, come on. I’m a big boy, and it was seven years ago. If I can’t handle a little random sense memory, how much use am I going to be if things get really bad?”
The alpha hummed in hesitation. “I think that we all should let ourselves feel things, no matter how long ago they happened.” His blushed awkwardly. “Man, I sound so stupid, but thank you for telling me, anyway. Do you want to talk about it some more? I won’t force you, but I feel like you should.”
“I don’t really want to talk about it. Anymore.”
“Okay.” Scott took his hand off of Theo and settled back down on the bed. He turned his gaze back towards the paused movie. “You know, I always like to think that talking helps because, well, you’ve already experienced what’s bothering you. You’ve already done your best with it. Maybe someone else can do better.”
Theo turned the movie back on. They were quite for minutes, but eventually the movie drew Scott back into it. He started laughing again. Theo sat there and watched, but he no longer quoted the movie. He didn’t laugh. He watched but his eyes cut to watch Scott every few minutes.
Finally, as Wadsworth was about to reveal the first alternative ending to the movie, Theo paused the show.
“You’re a hypocrite.”
“What?” Scott looked confused.
“Everyone who can bring themselves to speak to me in the pack, and I mean everyone, even your own mother, says that they wished you talked to them more about what’s happened to you.”
“No you don’t. You talk to others about what happens to them. You talk about how you feel about what happened to them. You never talk about how you feel about what happens to you.”
“I wouldn’t say never …”
Scott looked shocked, and the shock caused him to scoff.
“I’ve talked about plenty of things with plenty of people.”
Theo made to turn the movie back on but Scott reached over and grabbed the control and tugged it out of his hand.
“Maybe I just don’t want to talk about it with you.”
A fleeting look of hurt crossed Theo’s face but quickly disappeared. “That’s fair … I guess.”
Scott grimaced. “Look, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“No, I get it. We’re not exactly friends, are we?”
Scott looked around the room, at the two of them sitting on a bed eating pizza in front of the television. He turned back to Theo. “If we’re not friends, what’s this?”
“We’re working together,” Theo protested, a little feebly.
“Yeah, coworkers hang out like this, after work.” Scott scoffed once more.
“Let’s just watch the rest of the movie.”
They finished Clue. Then they cleaned up the remains of the pizza and threw the boxes and the empty two-liter into the trash. Neither of them looked at each other, but Theo took a step toward the door.
“You tired?” Scott asked it suddenly and too loudly.
“Uh … I’m tired, but not tired-tired.”
“Wanna .. Wanna watch another movie?”
“Nah. I know me. I’ll fall asleep half-way through it and it’ll be a waste, even for Mr. Argent. We can watch some television.”
Scott chuckled. “Right now, there’s not much on.”
They ended up watching an NCIS marathon, side to side, lying on the bed. Theo felt himself drifting off. “If I start to snore, make me go to my room.”
“I told you there wouldn’t be much on,” Scott apologized. “You don’t have to stay if you’re bored…”
“What?” Theo asked, his tired eyes suddenly more awake. “No, I...that’s not what I meant.”
“So, what did you mean?” Scott tilted his head to the side.
“Nothing.” Theo said quickly. “I didn’t mean anything by it. Forget it.”
Scott playfully socked him in the shoulder. Theo chewed his lip for a long moment, a struggle of some kind written into his features.
“Come on, man.” Scott prodded again. “What’s up?”
“I...don’t know really.” Theo admitted, avoiding the direct gaze Scott was trying to pull him into. “It’s like...I’m getting too comfortable. Too relaxed.”
“And that...puts you on edge?” Scott guessed.
“It’s not as stupid as it sounds.” Theo said, defensively. “Do you know how many nights I spent falling asleep in front of a television before I came back to Beacon Hills?”
“I’m guessing not a lot?”
“Yeah.” Theo nodded. “And I don’t think I’ve watched TV once since I came back from… wherever the Skin-Walkers had me.”
Scott turned the television off and then shifted his body to look at Theo face to face.
“I’m sorry. I …”
“Why are you sorry? You didn’t cause it.”
“I know that, but it can hurt for people to assume things. I kinda … I kinda felt I was pressuring you to do things with me, when I thought you really wanted to sleep.”
“Do you really think, Scott, that I want to be alone?”
They stared at each other.
“No, I guess you wouldn’t.”
“Wait a minute -- you said were afraid you were pressuring me?”
Scott didn’t say anything at first. Theo raised both eyebrows, staring at him, both their sleepiness forgotten.
“Did you think I wouldn’t want to watch movies with you?”
The alpha didn’t say anything at that either.
“You thought I was uncomfortable?” Theo burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“I was uncomfortable, but not because you were pressuring me. I wanted to stay, but I didn’t …”
Now they both laughed and leaned back on the bed. Scott left the television off.
“You are my friend, Theo.”
“Do you want to be?”
“Many people would say that, after what happened, it's impossible for us to be friends. Some of those same people would say that you were being irresponsible and I surely must have an ulterior motive.”
“You have an ulterior motive for watching Clue with me?”
“I’ve done something very similar to that before.”
Scott pursed his lips and then shrugged. “I know the truth now. What could you possibly be hiding now that’s worse than what I've already discovered?” He blinked and then shook his head. “I must be tired. That didn’t make any sense.”
“No, it did.” Theo picked at a loose thread on the bed spread.
“Seriously, though, Theo, you’re not a danger to me. I know people have called you a psychopath or a sociopath, but I know that you’re not.”
“I thought you were going to study to be a vet, not a psychologist.” Theo laughed at his joke, but it died on his lips when he saw that Scott wasn’t amused. “What?”
“When you were doing … what you did … you always had a goal in mind. You were never cruel to be cruel. You wanted power, and you’d do anything to get it.”
Theo looked nervous suddenly.
“You don’t want power for the sake of power anymore. Which is why you work with me. Which is why, tonight, I wanted to hang with you.”
“So you’re trying to what … reform me?”
“No!” Scott looked mildly cross. “I spent hours helping lost children today; I’ve done my good deed for the day. I wanted to hang with you because I want to be your friend and I thought you wanted to be mine.”
“You don’t know what I want!” Theo objected.
“Then tell me.”
Theo looked at Scott for minutes. The motel room was quiet except for the hum of the air conditioner that kicked on once again.
“Scott. You don’t want to know.”
Scott’s eyes locked onto Theo’s.
“You just don’t.”
“You’ll think it’ll scare me.” Scott burst into a smile. He chuckled. “If you haven’t been paying attention, there’s very little out there now that scares me, and the stuff that does, I find a way to overcome.” His voice was light. He was joking. “After all, I’m the hero.”
“That’s the problem.” Theo’s tone was earnest in direct contrast to Scott’s humor. “I’m the villain.”
Scott opened his mouth to protest, but before he could get the words out, Theo darted forward and kissed him.
Theo pulled away. His skin was flushed, and his heart raced. In shock at his own behavior, he tried to turn away, to leave the bed, to look anywhere but at Scott and what he had just done. He moved fast, hands slipping on the bedspread. He would bolt the moment his feet touched the floor.
He never made it.
Scott grabbed him by the wrist. Theo tried to pull away, but the alpha’s grip was stronger than him. Scott yanked him back and pushed him down on the bed.
“Did you mean that?” Scott demanded.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Theo pleaded. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
Scott leaned down over him. He used his hand on Theo’s opposite shoulder, pinning him down to the bed. “I asked you a question. Did you mean it? Because if you didn’t, I … what did I do to deserve that?”
Theo was looking up at him. He licked his lips, but the words didn’t come out. He pushed with his legs against Scott’s. He wasn’t fighting the hold; he was just fighting.
“Tell me,” breathed Scott. “Tell me what you feel.”
“I feel … I feel like Tara’s tearing my heart from my chest.”
Scott’s face softened imperceptibly.
“But it’s just you.”
The words coiled around in the air like a viper let loose from its cage. Time hung suspended until Scott launched himself off the bed, scrambling backwards and up until he was standing over the bed.
Theo still lay on his back, mouth slack with shock, eyes darting from side to side, as if the room had suddenly caught on fire and he was looking for the quickest escape route.
Scott strode slowly and deliberately into the small bathroom and turned on the sink. He stared into the mirror as the cold water ran. The stubble on his chin indicated he needed a shave. The bags under his eyes indicated he needed to rest. Instead, he bent down and splashed freezing water onto his face.
Theo forced himself to sit up while Scott was in the bathroom. He looked around the room, stood up, calmed his breathing, smoothed out his clothes and then moved shakily toward the door. He had put his hand on the doorknob when Scott’s voice stopped him.
“Where are you going?”
Theo froze. He didn’t turn back to face Scott who had come out of the bathroom with water dripping down his face. “I was going to my room.”
“Jesus, Theo, you can’t just say things like that and then go back to your room like nothing happened!”
Theo whirled around at the strange tone in Scott’s words. The alpha hadn’t made it a command, but it hadn’t actually been a request. “Well, I certainly don’t want to be here!”
“I kinda think you do.”
Theo gritted his teeth and glared at Scott. He summoned up a sneer, but it was feeble and half-formed. While looking the alpha in the eye, he reached out with left hand back behind him, feeling for the door.
“Theo.” Scott’s voice softened. “Don’t go.”
“You made it clear how you feel, Scott. I don’t know why you would want me to stay after I did … that.”
Scott rubbed his face vigorously with both hands. “Look, you kissed me out of the blue and then told me that your feelings for me reminded you of the time you were tortured in a hell realm for four months. So excuse me if I don’t know what to say. Please sit down, and let’s talk.”
“Sit.” Scott’s eyes shone red and his voice became a bass growl. “Down.”
Theo gave up and sat down on the motel room chair, shifting it in place so he was facing the rest of the room. Scott returned to the bed, crawled up onto it, and sat cross-legged.
“How long have you felt this way?”
Theo raised both eyebrows, insouciantly. “How long?” He looked at the chair. “We got back around eight so maybe a little less than four hours.”
“You know what I mean. How long have you liked me?”
“Who said I liked you?” Theo attempted to throw it out nonchalantly, but his voice quavered.
“The kiss was a pretty big giveaway.” Scott scooted a little closer on the bed. “You can tell me. I’m not going to get angry.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Okay. I don’t know that, but do you really think I’d ask you to tell me if I didn’t want to know? Do you really think I’d judge you?”
Theo gulped air as Scott watched him squirming in his seat. Sweat appeared on his brow.
“Don’t freak out. Okay?”
“I promise. I won’t freak out.” Scott said earnestly, but he rubbed his palms absently on the bedspread.
“I’ve always liked you.”
Scott tilted his head to the side. “I don’t think that’s true.”
Theo nodded in agreement and then fixed his gaze on the now-darkened television set.
The silence stretched on for a few minutes.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that would mean you liked me when you came back to Beacon Hills at the beginning of my senior year.”
Scott picked his hands up off the coverlet and then, obviously not knowing what to do with them, folded them into his lap. Theo appeared to trying to watch the darkened television with the power of concentration alone.
“How did that work? You were trying to kill me.”
“I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Lying to you was easy. It was really, stupidly easy. Because I wasn’t totally lying to you.” Theo shrugged. “When you lie to werewolves – or even to people who are good at spotting deception – one technique is to mix lies with the truth. I did want to be part of your pack. I did come back for you. I … admired you. You were kind to me when we were young, and you …”
Scott scooted a little closer on the bed.
“I liked that.” Theo finally admitted. The people I was around … ”
“The Doctors. You don’t have to hide what happened to you.”
“They didn’t care. They barely acknowledge my existence. Your pack hates me but at least they look at me when they talk to me.” Theo’s eyes drifted away from Scott at that admission. “So, I liked you.”
“I guess you did. You obviously still do.”
Theo twitched as if caught in an interrogation room. “And you obviously like me!” He snapped his mouth shut on the words as soon as the words were out.
Scott raised one eyebrow.
“Well … after I kissed … you kind of … “ Theo stuttered. “You know what you wanted.”
The alpha licked his lips. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
“I’m the alpha. I’m the focus of the resistance against Monroe. I can’t do things like that.” Scott threw himself back down on the bed in frustration.
“You had a girlfriend when you fought the Dread Doctors!”
“You know why this is different.”
“Actually, no. I don’t.”
“You’re asking me why I shouldn’t act on …” Scott startled, grabbed a pillow, and tried to suffocate himself.
The dramatics brought his standard cynical smile to Theo’s face, but his heart beat so hard it was lucky his ribcage didn’t far apart.
“Act on what?” Theo teased.
“You know what I’m talking about. Your senses may not be as good as mine, but you have them.” Scott talked through the pillow, knowing that Theo could hear it.
Theo hesitated and then as quietly as he could took in a deep breath through his nose. Twisting through the air was the soft scent of excitement, the biochemical signature of arousal, and he knew without a doubt that it wasn’t his.
“So how long have you liked me?” Theo teased, and he was rewarded with the pillow being pulled down on Scott’s face even harder.
Scott didn’t answer, though he stopped trying to put himself out of his misery. He just lay on the bed, the pillow covering his face. He didn’t move and neither did Theo as the numbers changed on the digital clock.
“I’ve always liked you.”
Theo blinked twice. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and then sarcasm came to his aid once more. “You wanted to screw me in the fourth grade?”
Theo chuckled in spite of himself.
“I wanted you in my pack the night you helped me fight Belasko, but I didn’t want you until … until … You remember when we were sitting in the clinic. Hayden, my mom and Liam were in the other room. I didn’t know what to do, and you offered to talk to the pack for me?”
“Yeah.” Theo nodded. “You were pretty vulnerable that day.”
Scott threw the pillow across the room and sat up, angrily. “Why would you say that?”
“It’s the truth, isn’t it?”
The alpha glared at him and then the anger on his face slowly dissolved. “I guess it is. You were there when no else was, and I was so … overwhelmed. But I also remember looking at those ridiculous fucking suspenders you were wearing and wishing I had the nerve to grab them and pull you back when you left.”
“You romantic.” Theo gripped the arms of the chair and then sat upright, teasing abandoned. “So why have you waited so long to act on it? It makes sense I suppose. I know that senior year wasn’t an optimum time.”
Scott’s mouth fell open.
“I mean … hell, attempted murder is one heck of a boner killer.”
“Theo. You don’t have to manage me. You don’t have to cover up your feelings with jokes.”
“Stiles does it.”
“And sometimes I wish he wouldn’t. This isn’t … this isn’t a joking matter, not for me.” Scott rearranged himself so he was squared up against Theo. “How was I supposed to act on my feelings for you back then? To want you … like that is bad enough. To say I felt something for you was impossible. It’s impossible now.”
“I get it.” Theo kept his voice level. “It’s too early after Malia …”
“There’s nothing between Malia and me. Not anymore. I fucked that up.”
“I heard that it was Peter –“
“I don’t want to talk about my ex-girlfriend with you. Especially tonight. But that doesn’t change the fact that …”
There was a knock on the door. Scott and Theo looked at each other and then up at the door. “I’ll get it.”
It was Argent. “Hey. I didn’t know if you’d still be up.” Glancing over Scott’s shoulder, the hunter observed that the alpha wasn’t alone. “Oh, good. Theo, you’re here, too.”
“Yeah.” Theo offered. He shifted uncomfortably and then continued. “We were watching some movies.”
Argent’s eyes flickered briefly to the television, which was not on. He didn’t react more than that, but Theo gulped slightly.
“Anyway, I hate to do this to you, but we have to go back to Beacon Hills now.”
“Is something wrong?” Scott asked.
“There is something wrong, but, for once, it has nothing to do with the supernatural. My great aunt has died, and I need to travel to France for the funeral.”
Theo released a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
“Okay. We’ll drive in shifts. You need more sleep than we do, Mr. Argent.” Scott had fallen back into alpha mode. “Theo, go get your stuff.”
“I feel sorry for you. I’m bushed and you still have to go to Europe.” Scott said as he pulled away from the building and headed down the road toward the McCall House. “When’s your flight?”
“You’re going to be exhausted by the time you reach France.”
“It won’t be so bad. I’m really good at sleeping on international flights; I’ve had a lot of practice.”
They drove down the road towards the McCall House.
“I’m going to ask your mother to go with me.”
Scott glanced over at him. He didn’t even think about it. “Sure. I’m sure she’ll go with you.”
The SUV pulled up to an intersection, the light turning yellow. When it switched to red, Scott turned to Chris, silent in the other seat. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
Argent’s eyes narrowed. “I guess.”
“Have you and my mother ever talked about … well … the first few months after I got bit?”
“I’ve explained to her what you must have gone through, yes. She demanded to know everything.”
Scott watched the light turned green. “I meant … our relationship in those first months.”
They drove down one of the main blocks of Beacon Hills. Scott kept his eyes fixed on the road and Argent kept his eyes fixed on Scott.
“You’re talking about me trying to kill you.”
Argent grimaced and went and checked his phone. He tapped out a message, as if Scott hadn’t asked him a question. After he was finished, he put the phone away.
“It’s come up, once or twice.”
“And when it came up, what did you say?”
Scott pulled the vehicle into the McCall driveway. Argent went for the door handle, but Scott hit the locks. The hunter turned a narrowed-eyed gaze back on the alpha.
“Is this important for you to know?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”
“I have explained to her the mindset of a hunter when coming across a newly-bitten beta. I have explained what we thought was happening in Beacon Hills as opposed to what was really happening. I have explained what my sister did and what my father tried to do.”
Scott looked at his hands on the steering wheel. “But you didn’t say what you actually did.”
“No. I did not go into detail about what I did to you. Is that important?”
“You’re getting very close. Are you afraid that if she finds out that you tried to run me over for dating your daughter she’s not going to want you?”
“I’m not afraid. I’m just not willing to risk our relationship out of some childish need to confess all of the details of my wrong doings. Is there a chance that your mother won’t want to see me anymore? Yes. Do you want me to tell her?”
“I don’t care.” Scott said earnestly. “I was curious.”
Argent tilted his head to the side. “Is this about you and Theo?”
“I’m not blind, son.”
“I’m not your son yet, and you’re changing the subject!” Scott said, desperate to change the subject.
“I think it’s the same subject. You don’t regret we’re allies, even though I did harass, intimidate, and assault you.”
“No, Mr. Argent. I don’t.” Scott shook his head. “You’ve more than made up for what you did.”
“Though we’ve never talked about it. I’ve never apologized for it.”
“I didn’t want your apologies. I wanted you to do better.”
“But this next step is more than being allies. This is being family. This is about your mother and I and about you and –“
“No, it’s not!” Scott interrupted.
Argent raised both eyebrows in disbelief. “Do you want me to become part of your family?”
“I want my mother to be happy. You make her happy. But even though we’re allies now, is it possible for us to be a family even after all that terrible stuff happened?”
“It’s that simple?” Scott chuckled. “So how about this? Let’s say you married my mom and one I full moon I lose it and eat a family camping in the Preserve. What do you then?”
Argent’s twisted in surprise. “That’s morbid.”
“What would you do?”
“I don’t know, Scott. I think it would depend on a whole host of details that your hypothetical does not include.”
“What would you do if I stopped caring? If I started doing what I want, when I wanted? If I became a danger to people simply because of what I am, and you were the only one who could stop me?”
“I think you know what I’d do, Scott.”
Scott turned away. “I don’t know why I asked you that. I wasn’t trying to be mean. I’m not trying to ruin what you and Mom have.”
Argent reached out and touched him on the shoulder. “I know. You’re trying to figure out how to be a good leader, how to be a responsible man, and still get what you want. Don’t deny it.”
“It’s not easy. It’s about priorities, and I think your priorities in the right place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have things in your life that aren’t top priority. You can’t decide what will or won’t fit without actually trying to fit them in.”
“Even when everyone will say it’s a terrible idea?”
“You’re a leader, Scott. Someone will call every idea you have a terrible idea.” Argent chuckled grimly. “Now, if there’s nothing else, I need to go get ready.”
Stretching and yawning, he wriggled uncomfortably. Sleeping in the clothes he had traveled had not been a great idea. He picked at them, grimacing at how smelly and uncomfortable they were. He stripped them off and headed toward the shower.
Derek had built the apartments – other than his – with two things in mind. The building had huge amounts of space, so the rooms were big, with tall ceilings. He also had in mind that it would probably be supernatural creatures who would most likely rent from him, so he included a few features that would work for them: large freezers for those with special dietary needs, reinforced furniture for those who might not know their own strength, and amazing showers for when cleanliness could help protect your secrets.
Theo leaned his forehead on the wall of the shower as the hot water washed the discomfort away. His eyes were closed, and he listlessly ran one finger up and down the wall. He must have stayed in the shower for a full half-hour.
“I’m just wasting water.”
He loitered around the kitchen clad only in a towel while he waited for the bathroom to become less of a sauna. The refrigerator was Bachelor-level empty: ketchup, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, three bottles of LaCroix, a forgotten head of lettuce in the crisper, and three soy sauce packets from the Chinese restaurant down the street. The cupboards had nothing but a bottle of Crisco; a mix-and-match collection of plates, glasses, and bowls from the Goodwill; and a bag of salt. Not table salt, de-icing salt.
Theo stared at it in wonder, as he always did when he noticed it.
Luckily, he wouldn’t have to order out. In the freezer was a bag of tater tots and a half-dozen fish sticks. He sighed and pre-heated the oven.
After his food had started to cook, he went back into the bathroom. Having experienced the wonders of being homeless, he groomed himself carefully. He even shaved. He preferred a straight razor – something about the way the steel slid down his skin made him feel in control.
With food baking in the oven, he shed his towel only to realize when he opened the closet that he had no clean clothes. Theo sat down on the bed and put his face in his hands.
Twenty minutes later, he sat in the building’s laundry room, clad in ratty sweatpants spackled with paint and a hot-pink t-shirt proudly proclaiming “Check That Ass-ets!” that Stiles had left in his apartment for some malignant reason. As the washing machine hummed to life, he dipped a tater-tot into the pool of ketchup on his plate.
The door opened and Derek Hale came in. Theo pulled a hand over his face.
Derek watched him. “Laundry day?”
Derek took one of the other washers, putting in his own load of laundry. He then sat down on one of the other chairs in the laundry room. He watched, eyebrows spreading in confusion, as Theo pushed a fish stick around on his plate.
Theo saw him watching him. “Yeah, I gotta go grocery shopping as well.”
Theo’s washing machine switched from spin to rinse.
“Okay.” Derek said. “What’s the matter?”
Theo immediately popped a tater tot into his mouth. “Narflegah,” he answered.
One eyebrow lowered inexorably in condemnation. “Misery smells slightly differently on every person, but it’s still recognizable. What’s wrong?”
Theo looked up, face coloring, fish stick between his fingers. “There’s no way I’m getting out of this, am I? No way I can convince you that you really don’t want to know?”
“Why do you care?” Theo bent down and put the half-eaten plate on the floor with considerable more forced then necessary, but it didn’t break.
“You just spent the last six days travelling with my alpha. If something’s terrible enough to make you this upset, I want to know about it.”
Theo stood up. “I promise, it’s nothing that’s going to hurt your pack. It’s meaningless to them and to you ...” He hesitated. “And it’s probably meaningless to me, too.”
“Your promises don’t satisfy me. The truth does.”
Theo scowled. “Fine. I want something.”
Derek scowled right back. “You want something in return for telling me what’s wrong?”
“No. No.” Theo shook his head. “I want someone … I mean, something, and I don’t deserve it.”
The former alpha leaned back in his chair. When Derek hadn’t said anything for a very long minute, Theo looked up at him. Derek was studying him.
“You know my story. Right?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Theo looked around and then sat back down. “You probably don’t want to hear me recite it.”
“When I came back here, I thought the same way you probably do right now. I thought I didn’t deserve anything because of what I had done. I didn’t deserve a family like the one I had lost. I lived in the burnt-out shell of a mansion because I didn’t deserve a real home.”
“So you’re going to tell me that you actually deserved it, and after everything you were wrong to deny yourself what you wanted?”
“No, I don't think I did. I don't think I do.” Derek’s voice was mellow, surprisingly. “But life goes on, and I met people who could have been my friends, and I treated them terribly. I stalked them, intimidated them, drove them away. Then I chose betas who could benefit from the Bite, but I didn’t treat them like my family, because I felt as if I didn’t deserve one, and so they left me. I had become so fixated on what I had done in the past that I didn’t think about what I should have been doing right then.”
Theo looked up at Derek, searching his face.
“Sometimes, Theo, it’s not about what you deserve. It’s about what they deserve.”
“How could they possibly deserve someone like me?”
“Do you want to take care of this person? Do you want them to be happy? Do you want them to be protected?”
Theo couldn’t evade Derek’s gaze. He nodded in answer.
“Then maybe they deserve you after all.”
Theo walked up to the front door of the McCall house. The sun brushed the tops of trees as it made its way into the west. There was little about the house that set it apart from the others in the neighborhood; if anything, it needed a bit more maintenance than the others on the block. At least one other person had noticed that need, because Theo could smell the scent of freshly cut grass. It might have been mowed as recently as an hour ago, but it definitely was that afternoon. He cut through the front yard; he had had to park his truck a little ways down the street, because the pack’s vehicles filled the driveway completely: Liam’s Bronco, Mason’s Toyota, Stiles’ SUV, and the beat-up old car that Melissa had given Scott. Parked out on the street was a black Camaro that Theo did not recognize but he assumed was Derek Hale’s.
It was nearly six, and Scott had said that they’d start around five, so he was probably the last to arrive. Theo lifted his hand to knock but then sent a worried glance back at the vehicles. He hesitated. His gaze alternated between the door and the line of cars. He hadn’t spent much time with Scott since they had returned from the Salton Sea.
The decision on whether to knock was taken out of his hands when Hayden opened the door. She looked like she had just come from swimming, as she was wearing jean shorts and a light, turquoise beach robe over a hot-pink swimsuit. She might have come from the beach; she lived in Mendocino with her sister now. She examined him, wrinkling her nose as if he were something offensive dying on the front stoop. “You might as well come in,” she said, dryly. “I’ll feel better if I can keep an eye on you, and I can’t do that if you’re lurking out here peeping in windows.”
“I was invited.” Theo bristled.
“Yeah, I know. I hope you’re not expecting a warm welcome.” She turned her back to him and headed back into the living room, moving smoothly enough to catch Theo’s eye. She had been graceful as a chimera, more graceful still as a new beta, but now she walked down the hall like a world-class ballet dancer at a performance.
The McCall living room had been slowly evolving ever since Melissa had moved out and signed the house over to Scott. Technically, it was now his home, but between school and missions against Monroe’s crusade, he wasn’t there very often. Honestly, it was more like the pack’s headquarters, as Scott had had a locksmith make keys for everyone. The absence of clutter and bric-a-brac gave the place the same disconcertingly empty feeling as an abandoned house. It didn’t help that there was a layer of dust over everything that wasn’t at eye level; Scott wasn’t home enough to dust regularly and he would sheepishly admit he wasn’t a great housekeeper. There was a lot more furniture in the living room than before, but it no longer matched the rest of the decor or even each other. Scott had wanted as much seating as he could manage, so he had thrown together all the old sofas he could find. It worked; all the pack members were seated comfortably when Theo reached the living room.
Stiles sat at the end of the room nearest the kitchen, head thrown back and eyes closed, in an old love seat that the pack had lugged over from the Stilinski attic. He had claimed it for himself, and he let no one else use it. Even in the heat of a sweltering June, Stiles still wore layers, and today those were a light blue short-sleeve cotton oxford covered an official FBI physical-training shirt. His jeans and sneakers were spotlessly new; this might be the first time he had worn them.
Theo quickly moved past Stiles, failing to draw his attention as the human was lost in his phone. This meeting would be the first time they had been in the same room when there wasn’t a life-threatening crisis focusing everyone’s attention.
To Stiles’ left, on a deep green soft that was the only original piece of furniture in the room, Mason and Corey relaxed together in the air conditioning. They were sitting closer together than would be comfortable in the heat outside, holding hands. The only other remaining chimera’s eyes widened as Theo came in through the door.
Liam was perched on the recliner, having drawn his feet up so his head could rest on his knees. His gaze was focused directly at the floor, and he didn’t look up when Theo came in. Theo found that unusual, as Liam and Theo had been getting along together pretty well in recent months.
Of course, it could have something to do with the presence of Hayden, flopped down on the couch on the opposite side of the room from him. Scott’s first bitten beta and his second bitten beta were determinedly not interacting with each other, and that hadn’t been surprising. When she opened the door, it had been the first time that Theo had seen her since she and her sister had moved away. Scott had kept in touch with her, predictably not at all resentful for her choosing family over pack. Liam had neither kept in touch nor suppressed the urge to be resentful.
Sitting on the same garish orange velvet-textured sectional couch as Hayden was Alec, a victim of Monroe’s crusade whom Scott had taken in. He was the only one to smile and wave as Theo entered, but then he had only been pack for a few months by this point. Probably no one had filled him in on Theo’s dark past during that time.
Cool and remote, Derek Hale sat next to Alec. He nodded to Theo but didn’t say anything else. Theo swallowed, uncomfortably. He glanced around the room and then chose to sit on the edge of the couch closest to Liam, who still did not look up at him or look at anyone, really.
Theo crossed his arms. “So, what are we doing here? What’s the situation?”
Stiles’ eyes flew open. “I know what we’re doing here, but what are you doing here?”
“He’s here because I asked him to come.” Scott appeared in the kitchen doorway, rescuing Theo from the spiking tension. “Liam, Theo, can you help me?”
Scott retreated and Liam sprung up with the opportunity to get out of the room with Hayden in it. Theo followed more slowly; everyone but Alec watched the First Chimera walk out of the room. In the kitchen, Theo let out a sigh of relief.
Scott pointed to trays on the kitchen table. One was covered with bread and lunch meats and cheeses. The other one had plates, flatware and bowls of corn chips and potato salad. Scott himself hefted two huge ice coolers.
“You got us dinner?” Liam asked, surprised.
“An alpha provides for his pack,” Scott joked with a smile, and Theo rolled his eyes in response. “And I think everyone will be in a better mood once they’ve been fed.”
“Hope springs eternal,” muttered Theo.
They carried the food out and set it up on the coffee table. Scott was partially right — grudges and concerns were forgotten as people stuffed their faces. Werewolves were nearly always hungry, and humans got hungry as well. The food disappeared rapidly. Scott sat down on the couch next to Theo, eating his own fair share. As a joke, Theo would steal pieces of food off Scott’s plate when he wasn’t looking. When most of the pack were done — or at least they were picking at their food rather than tearing it apart like wild animals — Scott put his own drink down and stood up.
“I guess it’s time to get to the point of this. I wanted us to meet today because it seems that recently we only see each other when there’s danger.”
Theo lifted his eyebrows at being included in this, even while everyone listened carefully. Only Hayden seemed to focus on anything else but Scott’s face, her resentful gaze coming to rest on Theo. Theo met her gaze without flinching, and her brows came together in irritation.
“Maybe I’m being sentimental, but I think that it might become a problem if coming together to confront threats becomes all we do as a pack. This constant fighting makes me feel less like you’re my friends and more like we’re a squad of soldiers and I’m your commanding officer. I don’t think pack is supposed to be like that.”
“No, it isn’t.” Derek’s voice rang out immediately.
“Yeah. So it comes down to the idea that we’ve been letting Monroe and people like Monroe tell us who we are. But we’re more than that. We’re friends. So I was thinking that maybe we should make an effort to do friend things.”
Stiles shot Scott a thumbs up. “That’s great, but the whole pack isn’t here.”
“I know.” Cora and Malia were in South America. Lydia had an opportunity this summer that she couldn’t pass up so she wasn’t able to come home. “But if we wait for everyone to be available, it might never happen. I think we should talk, today, about things we can do as a group this summer. I want us to do at least three things together before we go back to school.”
Liam perked up. “That sounds … pretty great, actually.”
Scott smiled at him. “I’ve already planned out one thing. Next weekend, as many of us who can get free, are going to Adamski Beach.”
“That’s like hours away!” Mason exclaimed.
“Yes. I’m not going to force anyone to go, but I was thinking we could bring coolers, camping gear, maybe some surfboards. We could drive down Saturday morning and then drive back home Sunday. Spend a whole day at the beach and a night camping.”
“Are you going to make me take my shirt off?” Stiles narrowed his eyes, but he was clearly joking.
“No, you don’t have to take your shirt off.” Scott scoffed. “I would never force you to do that.”
Alec and Liam had already started whispering together about going to the ocean. Mason and Theo were pretending not to be too excited, but they were listening avidly. Corey and Hayden seemed unsure about the proposal.
“I think that’s a great idea.” Derek suddenly said.
“You’ll go?” Scott sounded disbelieving.
Scott broke out in one of his very special smiles. They tended to be infectious, and this one spread about the room.
“Okay, then it’s settled. Let’s think up two more things for this summer, and I don’t want to be the only one making the suggestions.”
Mason suddenly spoke up. “How about the Northern Nights Music Festival?”
Theo’s face scrunched up in confusion.
“You haven’t heard about it?” Liam asked him.
“No. I’ve…I’ve never been to a concert.”
Corey’s eyebrows crawled up his face, as if the idea that hadn’t occurred to him.
After Theo admitted that, Scott was nodding vigorously. “Then that’s a great idea. Everyone should get the chance to go to one. Who’s playing?”
Mason brought up his phone and started talking over the different acts. Hayden was far more interested in this than she had been about the beach trip, and Alec prided himself on knowing all about the different bands. Stiles and the pack’s newest beta got into an argument over Gold Panda.
Derek looked lost in the music discussion, so he kept an eye on Scott. When he saw Scott relax, his smile not dimming, the older wolf smiled for the first time as well. Scott reached over and patted Theo on the shoulder.
“Looks like you’ll get to go to one now.”
Theo glanced at the hand, and then his eyes circled the room to see if anyone else had noticed the touch. No one reacted immediately, so Theo nodded enthusiastically. “I’m sure we’ll have fun.”
“So that’s June and July, but we’ll have to have a big one in August before we all start school,” Stiles admitted. “We’ll need something to tide us over while we’re away at school. Something big.”
“Naknek Lake.” Derek said suddenly.
Everyone turned to look at him.
“I’ve never heard of that,” Alec piped up. “Where is it?”
“Alaska. On the peninsula. Part of Katmai National Park.”
“You want us … to go … to Alaska.” Stiles said slowly.
“Yes, Stiles. My family has a lodge up there.”
“In … Alaska.” Stiles repeated.
“That’s a kind offer,” Scott offered, “But I’m not sure if all of us can afford …”
Derek shook his head. “I’ll pay for it. And before anyone complains, what’s the purpose of having money if you never use it? I think you’re right, Scott, that the pack needs this, and it’s something my mother would have done. She would have insisted upon it, and I should have suggested it a long time ago. So let me help.”
“What would we do up there?” Hayden asked.
“Relax. You won’t have to worry about the shift revealing your nature or hurting other people on the full moon. And it just occurred to me that what Scott said about being in a pack could be applied to being werewolves … or whatever we happen to be.” Derek gestured to people in the room. “If all we do is hide out of fear of discovery, then why wouldn’t we ultimately resent it? Up there, there’ll no one and nothing around for the lodge for a dozen miles. We can all relax.”
“So, it’s a werewolf thing,” Mason said.
“No. It’s a pack thing,” Scott said firmly. “Right?”
“Right.” Derek nodded. “We did this as a family and there were humans in the family. You’re all welcome.”
Conversations broke out among members of the pack. Liam, Mason and Corey worked on getting tickets and learning all about the Northern Nights Music Festival. Stiles, Alec, Derek and Hayden talked about what they need for a week in Alaska. Scott didn’t say much of anything, sitting next to Theo with a fond smile on his face. Theo didn’t say anything either. He just sat there, listening.
Finally, he turned to Scott. “Things going the way you imagined?”
“I’m happy for you.”
Scott turned to him. “It’s gonna be fun.”
Theo turned back to the crowd, only to find him eye-to-eye with Stiles Stilinski.
Scott’s best friend frowned. “We’re going to have to talk about the elephant in the room sometime.”
“What elephant?” Scott asked.
Hayden snorted as she turned to face Scott, pulling away from the conversation with Alec and Derek, to scowl at Scott. “Seriously, Scott?”
Alec looked confused. Derek looked … like he would rather be anywhere else. On the other side of the room, Liam snapped his head to glare at Stiles, while Mason rubbed the bridge of his nose. Corey was suddenly very interested in the top of his shoes.
“Maybe you should leave the room, Theo.” Mason suggested.
“Theo doesn’t have to go anywhere!” Liam turned betrayed eyes to his best friend.
“Which leads to the question,” Stiles gestured with both hands, “as to why he was here in the first place.”
“He’s here,” Scott said firmly, “because I want him here.”
Theo kept switching the direction of his gaze between the floor and the coffee table. He made to get up but Scott caught him by the wrist and made him sit down.
“Is he pack now?” Hayden demanded belligerently.
The room held its breath.
“Theo’s fought with us. He’s helped us.” Liam stood up, angrily.
“He’s done that before,” Stiles said calmly. “Just sayin’.”
“So what?” Hayden snapped back at Liam. Derek took a deep breath and rolled his eyes when no one was looking.
“He’s done more than you have!” Liam shot back.
“Liam.” Scott’s voice wasn’t raised, but his tone was … severe. “Apologize to Hayden.”
Liam swiveled his head to stare, glaring, at Scott. Scott tilted his head to the side in emphasis.
“Pack is pack. As long as I’m alpha, people who want to be with us can be pack. That goes for both Theo and Hayden.”
Liam dropped his eyes. “I’m sorry, Hayden. I’m … not … “
“He’s an idiot,” Mason supplied helpfully.
Hayden shrugged. “He has a point.”
“Membership in the pack isn’t a contest,” Scott said again. “I want him here because he deserves to know he can be pack, if he wants to be, and he has demonstrated that he wants to be.”
Stiles wasn’t ready to give up yet. “Then why isn’t Peter here?” He looked sideways at Derek, who was just as stony.
Scott flexed his hands but didn’t bring his claws out. He walked to the center of the room to take a commanding position. “Peter doesn’t want to be here. He had his second chance with me, with us, and what did he do with that second chance? He worked with Kate to turn me into a berserker.” He looked Derek in the eyes. “When I gave Theo a second chance, he helped us with the Ghost Riders. And he stuck around when Monroe attacked. He’s been helping us track her down when he didn’t have to.”
“That’s true on both counts.” Derek remained unreadable.
Scott tried to reach for the right words. “This pack exists because of second chances. How many of us would be friends if we never let anything go? Derek, would you want to be here with me? Stiles, would you even be talking to me? Would I want Liam here? Or you, Hayden?”
“You want me to like him?” Hayden challenged.
“No. I’m never going to tell people who they have to like. You don’t have to talk to Theo, you don’t have to pretend to like him, and that’s your choice. If you don’t want to spend time around him, Hayden, then you won’t have to. I won’t hold it against you in any way.” Scott made his voice sound reasonable. “But, once again, that’s your choice, and in this pack, you have to respect other people’s choices as they respect yours. And my choice is invite him to be with us.”
“What makes him different than Peter?” His second beta was being stubborn.
Scott stared at Hayden, and his jaw clenched. His anger was directed not at Hayden but at Peter. “You and Alec don’t know him from before, so it might be hard for you to tell the difference between them. It’s all about attitude. When I ask Theo to help, he either says yes, he will or no, he won’t. When I ask Peter for help, first I listen to a twenty-minute lecture on my youthful naiveté, my appalling leadership skills, and my general incompetence. Then there’s a maybe-I-will, maybe-I-won’t answer designed so he can show up at the properly dramatic time and demonstrate how useful he is without admitting he needs us in return.”
“Got that out of your system, buddy?” Stiles asked in concern at the passion in Scott’s voice. Derek got up and walked over to him.
“Peter’s never changed. Never. He’s still searching for an advantage. He’s still trying to manipulate us …”
Derek took him by the shoulder “We know what he did, but you can’t blame Malia’s choice completely on my uncle.”
Scott had to pause to regain control. After he took a few deep breaths, he looked over at Theo. “Theo tried to destroy us. Tried to destroy me. But that was years ago, and he’s not doing that anymore. His battle with this pack is over. Peter — and I’m sorry to say, I think some of the people in this room — are still fighting the same battles that were finished before I graduated high school.”
“You trust him?” Mason asked. Corey gripped Mason’s hand.
“I do. But I’m not asking any of you to trust him. I’m asking you to trust me.”
Theo suddenly stood up. “Look …”
Scott went over and pushed him back down. “You’re staying. You’re going with us. You have to trust me as well. You belong here; you've earned that chance.”
“This.” Theo stretched his arms wide as the wind from the ocean caught his hair. “This was a good idea.”
“I do have them occasionally,” Scott replied taking off his shirt as he leapt up onto the bed of Theo’s truck.
They’d left Beacon Hills at ass-o-clock in the morning and driven to the coast. The early hours had been pleasantly cool, but now it was a little past ten, and the temperature was already racing towards ninety. Tossing his old jersey down, Scott started unloading the tents.
There had been a lot of discussion about which vehicles they were going to take over the last week. At the end of it, Theo had brought his truck, Stiles his new SUV, and Mason his sedan. Even with good air conditioning those three afforded, the grogginess inherent in an early start combined with the slowly increasing heat had dampened their morale. The trip seemed to take forever, yet when they had finally arrived at the campground, a low, grassy hill looking down over the Pacific, the feel of the sea breeze and the roar of the waves on the shore which greeted them felt like a release from bondage.
“Hey!” Scott turned and shouted at Liam, Mason, and Alec as they immediately raced towards the beach. “Everyone helps unload.”
The trio groaned.
“Then we’ll get the tents set up.”
“Yes, Dad,” Liam pouted.
Scott smiled softly at that and then turned back to keep unloading. He started tossing inflatable mattresses to the ground.
“We have too much stuff,” Theo complained.
“We’re spending a day on the water, not invading Normandy.”
Scott laughed at the complaint as he lifted up the gas-powered air compressor. “When you grow up—“
“I’m as old as you are.”
“When you grow up,” Scott continued good naturedly, “you’ll learn that half the fun of camping and taking trips is working together to make them happen. Everyone pitches in; everyone works, so by the time they get to splash around in the waves, they’ve felt like they earned it.”
Stiles and Derek approached with the supplies for the campfire and Scott looked them over.
“Derek, will you pick the best spot the camp site?”
Immediately, Derek started scanning the wooded rise above the seaside dunes.
“Why him?” Stiles demanded with a sparkle in his eye. “You’re the alpha, shouldn’t you pick the spot?”
“Because I acquired the vast majority of my camping skills setting up a blanket tent with you in my backyard. On the other hand, I’m guessing Derek and his family did a lot of actual real camping in the real woods and he won’t pick a place where we end up covered with sandflies or washed away if there’s a storm.”
“Sandflies!” Stiles started watching the dunes as if they were out to get him.
“You’re right about that. I’ll find a spot.” Derek grabbed Scott’s best friend by the shirt sleeve. “Come on, Stiles. Maybe you’ll learn something.”
“So what are we supposed to do?” Hayden came up from Mason’s car with one of the coolers. Corey stood silent behind her with a bag of groceries. The Toyota had carried all food and drink.
“We’ll just pile it over there until Derek finds a spot. But no one goes swimming until the tents are up!” Scott raised his voice. “You’ll all thank me later.”
There was a lot of complaining and longing looks at the blue water, but Scott managed to cajole them into getting the work of building a camp done first. They set up the four tents, built a fire pit, and suspended the food coolers.
“You don’t want bears getting into them,” Stiles had stated sagely.
Derek looked at him strangely.
“There are no bears this far south,” Mason pointed out.
“Coyotes then!” Stiles said sharply and then winced.
Scott did not react to it as Stiles had feared. Instead, he did a circuit around the camp. “All right. Who’s ready for the beach?”
The younger pack members vanished from the camp site as if they had been kidnapped by the Wild Hunt, while Derek, Scott, Theo, and Stiles followed more slowly.
“That water’s going to be cooler than they think it will be.” Derek observed, dryly.
“I’ll cope with it, no matter how chilly it is,” Stiles replied. “I’ve been sweating up a storm.”
“Because you’re still wearing three shirts.”
“It’s too late for me to change now, Derek.” Stiles responded, pulling off his outermost layer. “For everyone’s edification, I shall remove two.”
“I’ll remove you, you idiot.”
Theo and Scott fell behind and fell silent, listening to the good-natured bickering between Derek and Stiles. The ground of the campsite fell away to the sand of the beach, and Scott bent down to slide off his shoes. Theo copied him.
“You know,” Theo said slowly. “I never had the chance to go to the beach when I was younger.”
“I did, but not very often. Most of the beaches in this part of the state aren’t really … suitable for swimming. Too many rip tides and sharp rocks.” Scott started walking again, sand squishing up between his toes. “People do other things at the beach, but it wasn’t something Mom or I enjoyed.”
“Huh.” Theo followed him onto the sand.
Scott stopped and then turned to Theo. “I’m guessing that’s not the same reason you didn’t go, was it?”
Theo shook his head.
“Okay.” Scott bit his lip. “So … race me to the water?”
“Race me to the water.” Scott shoved him playfully. “I’ll give you a three second head start. One …”
Theo blinked once and then dropped his shoes as he hurtled toward the shoreline.
Time flew by. The pack played tag in the surf. Liam, Mason, Corey, and Alec built a sand castle, Hayden sunbathing nearby while ‘supervising.’ Derek, for some reason, permitted Stiles to bury him in the sand.
So far out that he could barely see the shoreline, Scott bobbed up and down in time with the incoming waves, treading water. Up and down, like resting on a sleeping dinosaur, the ocean breathed at him. It was quiet and peaceful, though if he strained his hearing, he could still hear the rest of the pack on the beach.
Theo suddenly surfaced next to him, having swum up to him underwater. Scott didn’t flinch at the surprise breaching.
“I thought you said you’d never been to the beach,” Scott shouted.
“You don’t seem to be having any trouble adapting.”
Theo splashed water at him. “I’ve swam before, doofus. Just not in the ocean.”
Scott splashed water back at him and turned to swim toward the shore. “Come on. Let’s go in. I’m hungry.”
Theo followed quickly after him, cutting through the water with broad strokes. As they began to head towards the shore, letting the gentle waves push them toward it, they came across a few white balloon-like objects floating in the ocean.
“Is this trash?” Theo called out.
“Egg sacks.” Scott answered, avoiding them. “Some fish make them.”
There was a bit of a current, and they had been far out into the ocean, so they came to land a little ways down from where everyone was hanging out, near the place where the beach gave way to a tumble of rocks. When the water became shallow enough for them to walk, they stopped swimming.
“I’m going to sleep like a log tonight,” Theo remarked. “We didn’t really do that much but for some reason I’m feeling really--”
“Yeah. You … OW!” Theo nearly jumped out of the water. “Motherfucker!”
Scott immediately turned to him, a look of concern flitting across his features.
Theo peered down, sourly. “I stepped on a fish, and for some fucking reason, it was sharp. It’s nature’s way of punishing me for letting my guard down.” He stomped out of the water, limping a little.
They had turned up the beach and started walking in the direction of the others when Theo winced and looked down at his foot. His chemo signals must have spiked because Scott paused too. “Something wrong?”
“It feels weird.” Theo suddenly sat down as if he were pushed, but no one was behind him. He gripped his leg with both feet. “It … it feels like it’s on fire. Oh …”
Scott immediately knelt in the sand. “Let me see it. Come on, Theo, let me see it.”
Theo resisted rocking back and forth slightly. His eyes filled with tears. Before Scott’s eyes, his foot started to swell.
“Why is it doing that?” Theo’s eyes started to fill with tears. “What’s wrong with me?”
“You’re going to have to let me look at it,” Scott said. Finally, Theo relented and Scott pulled the leg flat. The bottom of Theo’s foot had been torn open by the fish, and while the wounds had already closed, angry red welts were rising out of the chimera’s skin where they had been.
Without saying another word, Scott shifted his position and scooped Theo up into a bridal carry. Even though he was gritting his teeth, Theo struggled. “Put me down!”
“Stop it. I’m going to bring you back to the others.” Scott’s veins immediately turned back even as he jogged up the beach, leaching the pain through his arms. “Someone might know about what’s happening.”
“Yeah, know how to laugh their asses off. Stiles is going to have a field day.”
“You’re hurt, Theo. No one is going to think you’re a wuss, and if Stiles tries to mock you, I can rely on Derek to put him in his place.”
“Like that’s stopped him before.”
Scott was strong, but he was trying to hurry and Theo was unbalanced. Awkwardly, Theo looped one arm around Scott’s neck -- skin to skin.
The pack saw them coming. “What the hell is this?” Stiles demanded from where he was sitting next to Derek’s burial spot. His face was a mark between disbelief and the possibilities for humor.
“Theo stepped on something in the water, and his leg …” Scott trailed off.
Derek immediately erupted out of the sand. “That’s not good.” The ease with which the older werewolf exploded out his burial spot made Stiles’ face fall in disappointment.
“I thought we healed everything?” Liam asked as everyone started to crowd around Theo, Scott and Derek, unconsciously.
Theo already felt much better; the swelling had slowed, though his leg was still tender and reddish. Then he realized that Scott was still taking his pain. “Hey, knock it off.”
“I’m fine.” Scott cajoled. “I can take more.”
“Poisons are different.” Derek was studying the leg. “Some of them mean nothing to us, but some of them can cause serious reactions. We can still die from them. Did you see what you stepped on?”
“It was a weird-looking fish. Red and orange.” Theo shoved at Scott’s hand. “Quit it.”
Scott reluctantly let go and the pain came flooding back. An exclamation shot from Theo’s mouth before he could brace himself.
“Wow.” Stiles said aloud. “A California scorpionfish.” All eyes turned to the human. “I couldn’t sleep the night before last, so I read about all the dangerous creatures in the ocean.”
“I’ve read about them too,” added Mason. “The article pretty much indicated it’s like a rattlesnake bit you.”
Theo looked up at the pack’s researchers, trying to keep the annoyance on his face and the pain off his face. “That’s wonderful.”
Hayden smirked. “His sarcasm is working just fine.”
Derek sat back up on his haunches. “It seems your healing is already beginning to overcome it. Take it easy, don’t move around too much, and you should be fine in maybe a half hour.”
Theo spoke tightly, obviously trying not to scream. “Easy for you to say.”
Scott knelt down by him and reached out, but Theo tried to shuffle away from the touch.
“Scott, you’ve taken more than enough.” Stiles admonished. “I’m sure someone else can help.”
Liam plopped down next to Theo and placed a hand on the leg. Hayden and Derek, on the other hand, didn’t seem particularly inclined to do so. Theo’s jaw dropped as Liam took his seat. He raised both hands as the younger wolf reached out for him, but, undeterred, Liam grabbed the poisoned leg. Theo wrapped his arms around himself.
Alec came over. “I don’t know how to do that.”
“I can show you. Give me your hand.” Scott knelt down as well.
“Does anyone care what I think?” Theo protested.
“No, we don’t.” Mason stuck his tongue out at him. “You’re hurt, Theo, and you’re in a lot of pain. In this pack, we don’t let people suffer if we don’t have to, so maybe you could show a little gratitude instead of some sort of ill-placed machismo.”
Corey looked sharply at his boyfriend and took a step back.
Stiles burst out laughing. “I’d add something, but I don’t think I could top Mason. Good job.”
Theo kept his mouth shut afterwards and didn’t even complain when Scott carried him to the campsite, Alex and Liam taking turns with Scott absorbing his pain. By the time dinner was eaten and pub away, his leg was as good as new.
“This should not be so hard,” Scott groused.
Hayden didn’t think it was hard at all.
“I don’t mind sharing a tent with someone,” she said again. “Don’t be so 1950s. The only person I couldn’t beat the snot out of would be Scott. Or maybe Derek.”
Liam opened his mouth to say something but glared at Hayden instead and then stomped off to get more wood for the fire.
“Hey, Scotty, put the lovebirds in the same tent together,” Stiles joked to cut ten tension. He waggled his eyebrows. “They just need some time to work it out.”
Everyone gave Stiles the stink eye, except for Derek who patted him on the shoulder.
“That type of stuff only works in fanfiction,” Alec pointed out. He lay on the ground, legs propped up on a log, warming his feet by the fire. He seemed pretty drowsy.
“You read fanfiction?” Hayden asked him.
“As if you don’t.”
“I’d really like it if Corey and I could have a tent …” Mason said carefully. “To ourselves.”
“Boom-chikka-wow-wow.” Stiles commented. Mason threw a smore at him.
“Stiles.” Scott rubbed at his face.
Theo leaned over and whispered to Scott. “I know you’re a democratic guy, but if you don’t just start telling them where they’re going to sleep, we’ll be at this all night.”
Scott stood up. “You’re right.” He went and got a drink from the cool while making up his mind. “Okay, because I think this is going to be easier for everyone, I’m going to just assign tents. Mason and Corey, you have one. Derek and Stiles, you have another …”
“I’m staying with Derek?” Stiles jerked upright. “Why would you do that? Why do you think I would want that? Did he ask for that? What’s going on?”
“I think,” said Derek slowly, “I’m the only one you can share a tent with that won’t murder you in your sleep.”
“That leaves …” Scott trailed off. He looked at Hayden who was trying to look anywhere but at Theo and then he looked in the direction Liam wandered off in. “Hayden and Alec in one tent, and Liam, Theo and me in the last one.”
Theo’s turned away as Scott made the announcement, but he covered his disappointment up quickly.
Alec gave him a thumbs up. “I won’t peek, I promise.”
“You peek, and I’ll pound you like a tent peg,” Hayden threatened, but she was smiling.
With the sleeping arrangements settled for the night, things turned lighter. They tried telling ghost stories, but it didn’t work out. Nothing could be scarier than what they’ve gone through.
Liam came back after a half hour with firewood. It looked like he had destroyed a tree.
“All right!” Stiles called from his chair, right next to Derek who was sitting lotus-style on the ground. “Who wants to play a game?”
“What game could we play?” Hayden had settled next to Alec, who was snoring lightly.
“No.” Corey spoke out. “I’m terrible at them.” He admitted shyly. “And I think we’re all tired.”
“Aww.” Stiles pouted.
“We have been going all day, Stiles.” Scott said from his own spot on a log. “We had a long drive. We could just sit here …”
“I don’t want today to end.” Stiles said suddenly. “I don’t. This has been … we’ve been missing this. I’ve been missing this. I’ve been farther away than any of you, and …” Stiles took a great big gulp of air. “For a long time when I was growing up, I thought that it’d be just me and Scott. Well, I always had plans for more friends, but I didn’t really believe that it would happen.”
Scott got up and went over to Stiles.
“And then all of you crazy monsters came into my life and I had more friends than I knew what to do with. And it wasn’t easy – none of it’s been easy – but for the first time, today, it might have been – you know – a little worth it spending time with you punks. Even Rasputin over there.”
Theo gave Stiles a mock salute.
“We’ll do this again, Stiles.” Scott said firmly. “All of us.”
“We might.” Stiles replied, a tiny bit hysterical. “But you don’t know, dude. The babies are going to college. Eventually, I’m going to graduate and be an agent, and … we don’t get summers off. We’re growing up.”
“You’ve been doing that for a while,” Derek comforted softly.
And I wanted to, but now I don’t. I …” Stiles trailed off. Scott put both hands on Stiles shoulders and squeezed. “I want to go back. I want a do-over.”
They were all silent for a few moments. They didn’t look at each other. Corey reached out and took Mason’s hand and grabbed it, tightly. Liam slowly looked up at Hayden, but she glanced away, her hair covering her expression. Scott gripped Stiles shoulders once again, and then went back to his seat. Alec snored.
Hayden shook Alec’s leg. “Come on. I’m bushed, and you’ll regret it if you sleep out here.” She guided the younger werewolf to their tent and went inside.
“It is kinda late.” Mason said. The magic spell of Stiles’ words had been broken. Corey and Mason disappeared, followed by Derek and Stiles a few moments later.
“They have the right idea. I’m going to turn in. You two ready?” Scott asked Theo and Liam.
Theo rocked to his feet. “Yeah. I’ve had enough excitement for one day.”
“Naw. You two go. I’m going to stay and watch the fire die.” Liam didn’t look at them.
Scott held the tent flap for Theo and then closed them in. Anyone could hear them if they were listening in, but most people would be concerned with other things.
“Is he going to be okay?” Theo asked.
“Yeah.” Scott nodded, closing the tent flap behind him. “He will, but he’s got some stuff to deal with, and none of us can help him with it.”
“Yeah. Don’t we all?”
Scott chuckled in melancholy.
“Stiles is right about one thing though.” Theo crawled onto one of the air mattresses.
“We’re not getting younger.”
Scott flipped out a blanket. The tent was small enough that the large blanket covered both of them. He grunted.
“Are we going to talk about it?”
“All three of us?”
“Liam might not be in for hours. We should talk about what happened at the motel, Scott.”
Scott turned away from Theo. “Not here. I’m not ready. But we will talk about it. I promise.”
Theo ducked through the tent’s zippered door with Scott following close behind him. To most people, this particular tent would be airy and comfortable. It was relatively clean, completely dry, and well-designed to keep nasty, biting insects away. However, to those few equipped with supernaturally-heightened senses, the smell of mildew and mothballs was nearly overpowering. Years in an attic between uses took its toll on even the best equipment.
Scott had brought them down from the attic, so he knew it was going to be a problem. Planning head, he had packed four incense burners, a supply of cone incense, and chains so they could be hung in each tent. In the almost complete darkness, Scott fumbled with a match while trying to light it.
“Where did you get this stuff?” Theo sniffed the extra cones from where he was lying on his back on the air mattress. Looking up from them he studied Scott’s form when it was illuminated by the flickering light of the match. It threw the alpha’s face into sharp relief.
“Had it for a while.”
“You had Spring Rain incense.” Theo giggled. “For how long?”
Scott rolled his eyes and held the burning match to the cone already in the holder.
“How long?” Theo asked again.
“Stiles and I bought it when we were freshmen.”
“Man, I would never have suspected you two were potheads.”
The incense caught on fire and then started smoldering. Scott waved the match out immediately, Theo catching the whiff of sulfur. “We weren’t. We were planning to be.”
“We were fourteen and complete nerds, and we’d do anything to be cool instead. The cool kids smoked pot, so Stiles and I decided that we were going to get high and improve our social station. So Stiles watched every stoner movie he could find, I bought the incense, and we both found an old bong upstairs in my attic.”
“You found your mom’s old bong.” Theo’s broke into a smile that he couldn’t suppress.
“Did you miss the part when I said we were nerds?” Scott answered with a smile of his own.
The mattress jostled Theo as Scott lay down next to him. There were two air mattresses in the tent — that’s all they could fit — but Scott had chosen to settle down on the crease where the two of them met rather than take one whole mattress to himself. With Theo on his left side, there would be plenty of room for Liam on his right if and when he decided to come in.
“I really don’t know why my mom had kept it, and frankly, I’ve always been too scared to ask. When we were both ready, we waited until my mom was at work and set everything up in my room. We never did it right, of course.”
Theo closed his eyes, imagining. “There’s a right way to smoke pot?”
“It’s supposed to be fun and relaxing, but we were like super nervous and paranoid the whole night. I lit enough incense to choke a nagual, and Stiles checked the door locks three times in every ten minute period.”
“Where’d you get the pot?”
“Stiles did. I never asked him where he got it, either.”
Theo burst out laughing. “So how was it, you dope fiend?”
“Terrible. I nearly had an asthma attack. I could never tell if it was from actually trying to smoke pot or if it was because I was so damn nervous.”
Theo’s smile remained on his face. “I would have given anything to see that.”
“You wanted to see me red-faced and gasping for air while Stiles ran around the room screaming?”
Theo nodded enthusiastically. As they let the humor of the story wind down, silence began to creep up under the edges of the tent. They were both lying next to each other, staring up at the darkened ceiling.
“Did you ever?”
Theo blinked. “Smoke pot?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Theo finally answered after giving it a few minutes of thought.
“You don’t know for sure?”
Scott raised himself up on one elbow in the middle of the tent, staring down at him.
“I might have acted as if I had to some people, but I … I don’t really remember if I had really did it.”
Scott’s brows knitted in confusion.
“Hey.” Theo turned away. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“I’m just wondering why you’re not sure if you smoked pot or not.”
Theo sighed, frustrated. “Because my legal guardians manipulated memories as often as your mother makes coffee in the morning.”
Scott’s face fell. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Because I brought up your past without thinking it through, and I should have known better. It’s not right to hurt you, Theo.”
Theo shifted on the bed, but there wasn’t enough room in the tent to prevent Scott from looming over him a little. Theo’s chose to focus his eyes on the faint curl of smoke and heat from the incense rather than Scott’s face.
“Sure. I know that.”
“But I keep doing it.” Scott finally rolled over and lay back down. Quiet descended on the tent.
“I don’t mind,” whispered Theo.
Scott grunted non-committedly.
“I don’t mind because you keep doing it and things like it because you treat me like as if I’m just like everyone else. I’m your friend Theo from grade school. You actually seem to forget that I’m a lying killer. You make me forget it.” It was Theo’s turn to sit up and look down at Scott. “And I don’t mind that. I don’t mind how things have changed.”
“I want to talk about it now.”
It was Scott’s turn to shift uncomfortably. “Theo …”
“Liam’s snoozing out by the fire. He won’t hear us.”
“Who do you think is going to eavesdrop? They’re all in their tents dealing with their own things. Mason and Corey are probably getting it on. Stiles and Derek are pretending they don’t want to get it on. Alec wouldn’t understand what we’re talking about, and Hayden … well, that’s Hayden. But I don’t know for sure what they’re doing, because I’m not listening to them, just like they’re not listening to us. So I want to talk about it. Right now.”
Scott blinked up at Theo’s face. He slowly pulled himself up. “Okay.”
They stared at each other for minutes. Outside, a gust of wind rustled the trees on its way to the ocean.
“I didn’t like what happened today,” Scott finally said.
Theo’s eyebrows lifted up in confusion.
“When you were hurt by that fish. I didn’t like it at all.”
“You don’t like it when anybody gets hurt.” Theo first reaction was to brush it off.
“It’s different with you.” Scott bit his lip.
Theo tilted his head to the side, forcing himself to look Scott right in the face. He felt warm.
“You’re right that I don’t like it when anyone gets hurt, but certain people are special.” Scott turned his head as if he were looking through the wall of the tent and into the tent where Stiles was staying with Derek. “When Stiles gets hurt, I feel like a failure. Stiles has been hurt so much, and so much of it has been because of me.”
Theo made a dissatisfied harrumph.
“You understand that was the type of bullshit thinking I used against the both of you, right? What happened to Stiles is not your fault. You didn’t cause his mother to die, and neither did he. You aren’t responsible for Peter biting you, and neither is he. The nogitsune didn’t possess him because of you. You didn’t send Donovan after him. I did.”
“I didn’t say it was my fault, but all those things — except his mom — still happened because he was my friend. There’s nothing you can say that will make me stop feeling that he would have been happier if he hadn’t stuck by me.”
Theo shrugged off his disagreement.
“When Liam gets hurt, I get angry,” Scott continued. “It’s not rational, I know, but there’s part of me that thinks … that feels that he’s mine and no one should dare hurt him. It’s so funny, because I send him to do things that get him hurt all the time. I asked him to defend people from the Ghost Riders, I asked him to stop the Anuk-ite from merging, and I do it because I know he wants to help. Yet every time I do that, I get angry with myself.”
“Is that why you asked me to help him at the hospital, rather than helping you at the school?”
“I asked you because I knew you would.” Scott’s voice carried a timbre of conviction. “And that’s important to me.”
“So when I get hurt, what does it make you feel like?”
Theo’s breath caught in his throat, but he pushed it out with a laugh. “Come on, be serious.”
“I am being serious.”
“Me? You’re not afraid for Stiles? Or Mason? Or even baby Alec?”
“No.” Scott reached out and took Theo’s hand. “It’s not a fear that you’ll die. It’s fear that pain will be all that you’ll ever know.”
Theo’s jaw dropped open a little bit, but he didn’t take his hand away.
“I know what pain can do to a person. I’m not boasting, and I don’t want a medal. But since I became a werewolf, I’ve endured all sorts of pain. Most people don’t know what it feels like to be poisoned by wolf’s bane gas. Most people don’t know what it feels like to have your best friend twist a sword in your gut. Most people don’t know what it feels like to be tied to a chair and electrocuted.”
Theo tried to say something but Scott shushed him with a finger.
“Eventually, after you feel things like that so often, the pain stops being something you fear and it becomes something you expect. It’s become the price for what I do, and I guess in the end that I’m okay with that. I just …” Scott bit his lip once again. “I know you’ve experienced the same type of pain, only you didn’t have the same chances I had to make a choice.”
“Scott …” Theo struggled to say something.
“I chose my path. I certainly had other options. I could have been Peter’s beta, or Derek’s, or even Deucalion’s. I could have let Noshiko handle the nogitsune, and I could ignored the Dead Pool or the chimeras. But you didn’t choose your path — you were made for it.”
“So you feel sorry for me?” Theo’s voice sounded bitter even to his own ears. He turned away.
Theo didn’t turn back around.
“No, Theo. I don’t.”
Theo still didn’t turn around.
Scott grunted and, reaching out with both hands, flipped Theo around. “Look at me.”
Theo relented, even though Scott didn’t hold him there.
“I don’t feel sorry for you. I mean, I do, a little bit.” Theo snorted and Scott raised his hands in frustration. “I mean, I have sympathy for what you went through, but sympathy is something you feel in the present about the past. This is about the future. Your future. I want better things for you.”
“Well, so do I!”
“I’m being serious. If I had my way, you’d never come on another mission with me again.”
Theo’s face screwed up, and Scott detected the scent of anger.
“I said if I had my way, not that I’m going to try to get my way.” He tried to mollify Theo. “I learned my lesson.”
“As much as I might want to, I can’t make others carry the burden of my fears. All that ends up doing is driving them away.”
Theo took in a breath and his eyes searched the tent as if it had suddenly grown far too small.
Scott picked up on his distress. “You wanted to talk about it!”
“You’re talking about Allison.”
“You did your homework. I assumed you would have.” Scott finished it off then sentence for him. “It’s funny.”
A moth fluttered against the outside of the tent.
“I don’t think it is.”
Scott ignored him. “She was … better than me in a lot of things. She was a better fighter. She was better at reading the enemy. She was better at keeping our goals in sight once the fight started. Just like you are.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?” Scott barreled on. “And I was so scared for her that I kept trying to sideline her. I cared for her, but I didn’t respect her. I didn’t listen to what she wanted, and that’s why she dumped me. It hurt. It still hurts.”
“So that’s why as much I’d like you to stay behind, I won’t try to insist.”
Theo was more vehement this time. “Don’t do that!”
They both paused, listening to see if Theo’s outburst had drawn any attention. No one moved outside.
Scott leaned forward in his confusion. “I don’t understand what I did to upset you.”
“You compared me to your ex-girlfriend!”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Scott scratched at his stubble. “It’s a compliment.”
“A … compliment.”
Scott’s jaw dropped a little bit as if he didn’t understand the conversation.
“Okay. Let me lay it out for you. You tell me how much you cared about Allison. You tell me how cool she was. Then you tell me how much I remind you of her and how you want to take care of me the same way.”
“Yeah?” Scott’s brows came together. “Oh. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”
“Yes!” Theo nodded his head vigorously. “Oh!”
“I thought you … I thought you’d be okay with it.”
“Well, that depends on what it is, which is why I wanted to talk about it.”
Scott shuffled a little closer. “So what do you want me to say?”
“We know … both of us … that we like each other as more than just friends, but we’re not more than just friends.”
“Yeah. I see that.”
Scott looked at him. “Do you know why I keep not wanting to talk about it?”
“Because you’re afraid of what the pack will say.”
“No.” Scott chuckled. “I already know what they’ll say.”
“You’ve talked to them?”
“Not really, I simply know them. Stiles will be furious. Derek will be concerned. Lydia will think I’m rebounding from Malia. Liam won’t know what to think. Mason will think I’m betraying Kira. Corey will watch you like a hawk. Hayden will think you’re mind controlling me. Alec won’t know what all the fuss is about.”
Theo slid his hands under his thighs. “I see.”
“No, you don’t see. I know any relationship between us is going to cause problems, I know that. Which is why I tried to pull away, but not because I think they’re right.”
“This is about Monroe, isn’t it?”
Scott folded his hands in his lap. “Until I know that she’s been neutralized, I can’t disrupt the pack by openly seeing you. You saw the fight we had when I invited you to go on these trips with us.”
“You didn’t have to invite me.”
“I did have to because I wanted to. But there’s a line that I can’t cross yet, as much as I might want to.”
Theo smirked. “So you’re saying you want to date me.”
“Did I … did I not say that already?”
“No, you didn’t. But you’re overlooking another alternative — we could be sneaky. I’m good at it; you’re … not so good at it, but we can work on it.”
“I understand why you think you can’t do what you want. You’re trying to be a good leader. I get that and I care except I really, really don’t care. I should care because living up to the title of True Alpha is important to you. You think it helps you help people — people like me. So I’m not going to insist that you stop caring about being a good leader or scheme to get you to stop or anything like that. But I also. Don’t. Care. Because in the end it’s none of their business if you like me. I think that a good compromise is that you date me but we don’t tell anyone about it.”
“It’s just as much lying as pretending you don’t want to kiss me right now, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Scott’s voice was low.
“Let me share with you the selfish point of view. You have a right to be happy, and no one else’s needs and no one else’s hatred has a right to stop you from being happy.” Theo shrugged. “Given our history, they have every reason to be angry with me, to be suspicious to me, to demand that you have your head examined for wanting to be with me, but I don’t give a fuck. And neither should you.”
Scott made an exasperated noise, but he rested one hand on Theo’s jawline.
“I’m serious. You’re leading a war against psychotic hunters at the age of twenty-one. You’ve saved a lot of people doing so. If you want to roll around in the hay with a dangerous monster like me, I think you’re entitled.”
“I can’t …”
“You can. Be a little naughty; see me on the side. It’s not like we haven’t traveled all around the country together during the last two years.”
“I don’t know.”
“I do. Trust me, I’m the villain. I know of what I speak. Now come on and kiss me before Liam demonstrates the world’s worst timing.”
Scott leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. It was nothing earth shattering, just a peck. But it was warm and soft and gentle in a tent by the edge of the ocean and the room spun a little bit for the both of them.
They lay there breathing for a few minutes, watching the line they just crossed.
“You call that a kiss?” Theo whispered. “I know you can do better than that.”
Scott went in again, with more force. Theo murmured something that could have been that’s more like it before he couldn’t make words anymore.
After only a few minutes, Scott pulled back and took a deep breath.
“Okay what?” Theo asked in mock seriousness. “I was just okay? You were just okay?”
“Okay, we’ll keep it a secret.”
Theo smiled. “Yes, sir.”
Scott chuckled. “I don’t think I’m into that.”
Theo laughed, and then he waited.
“Secret, remember? I don’t want to press our luck.”
“Fine.” Theo pushed Scott away, teasing.
It got done, as Derek was thorough about campsite maintenance. But as much work as they did, as hot as it was, they were relaxed and mostly happy.
Mason, Hayden, and Alec got into another rousing discussion about bands; People were already looking forward to next months’ concert. Their excitement was palpable, and Scott couldn’t keep the smile off his face when he overheard them. Or when he looked at Theo.
It was all too good to be true, so, of course, Stiles got a phone call. He stared at the phone mystified. “How am I getting reception?”
As Stiles answered, they were packing away the last of everything. Scott was helping Corey fit the last empty cooler in Mason’s sedan, when Stiles held up the phone to him.
“It’s for you.”
Scott frowned as he check his own phone. He had forgotten to charge it. “Thanks.”
It was Mr. Argent. An alpha in Six Rivers National Forest wanted to talk to Scott, but they wouldn’t give out their number. They wanted to do it in person.
Scott sighed. “Okay, Mr. Argent. I’ll get Theo to drive me up there.” He handed the phone back to Stiles.
“Hey, Derek and I could take you there.”
“Nah. I rode up with Theo, we’ll take a detour and visit that alpha.”
“That’s a long detour. You sure you don’t want to take an experienced werewolf like Derek and an experienced me like me to help you handle things?” Stiles asked.
“I’m experienced. Theo’s experienced.”
“Yeah, but Theo won’t be that useful since you’re not planning to slaughter them.”
Scott dodged the sarcasm with a laugh. “We’ll be fine. It’ll give you privacy to handle Derek.”
“What? What does that mean?” Stiles demanded, seemingly offended, his arms shooting up at strange angles to show his surprise. “Derek doesn’t need handled, not by me or anyone else!”
Corey frowned behind him. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Make sure they all get home.”
Stiles narrowed his eyes. “Okay. I can’t help the feeling that I’ve been hornswoggled, but I’ll do it.”
The drive up to Six Rivers took forever. Scott rolled down the windows of the truck and found a station he could play loudly. He even sang along with the songs. Theo didn’t say much, but he was smiling as he drove.
The alpha was a big pile of ego. He hadn’t wanted to talk to Scott about anything of any significance; he simply wanted to prove that the True Alpha would come when he asked. Scott forced himself to smile the whole time. Theo didn’t bother.
It was an even longer drive back to Beacon Hills from there. They had greater stamina than humans, but eleven hours in a truck and a meeting with a prissy alpha was a lot. By the time they rolled up in front of Scott’s house, both of them were exhausted.
Scott actually cracked his jaw yawning. “I’d invite you in, but …”
“So I can watch you sleep?” Theo joked, feebly. “Nah. Some other night.”
Theo did walk him up to the door. Scott nodded to him and closed the door without another word. Theo smiled though, turned around and headed back to his truck, twirling the keys in his hand.
He didn’t expect to get a crossbow bolt in the chest.
Stiles’ jeep roared down the street announcing his presence to the neighborhood. He had left it in Scott’s possession while he was away at school, yet it had been Derek who had inexplicably worked hard on fixing it up. The older werewolf had overhauled the engine until there wasn’t a scrap of duct tape to be seen, then personally detailed the insides, repairing the dings and scratches. It ran far better now than anytime Stiles had driven it in high school, but the Jeep was still a 35-year-old vehicle and it was never going to be a quiet ride again.
Stiles pulled into the driveway of the McCall house and was out before the jeep even came to a complete stop. He ran up the sidewalk to the front door, skidding to a stop before he actually reached the stoop.
The steps were coated in blood; a pool of it had formed in a natural depression in the sidewalk, cooling and coagulating in the evening air. Swallowing his revulsion, he forced his eyes to examine the scene of the crime. At last, he wiped his hands on his pants reflexively and then followed the trail of scarlet drops into the McCall house.
“Why isn’t it healing?” Stiles heard Scott nearly shout from deeper within the house.
Stiles sprinted down the hallway to the living room. Theo lay on the couch, looking as dazed and unfocused as a dying general in a historical painting. Melissa was checking his vitals, while behind her, Scott was … falling apart, a mourner in that same painting.
Stiles frowned at the sight.
Of the four people in the room, Scott seemed more upset than anyone else, even though it was Theo who was the one actually bleeding. Scott’s claws were out, his fangs jutted outside of his mouth, and his eyes blazed red.
“Honey, you need to calm down.” Melissa said in the professional voice she usually saved for panicking relatives outside the emergency room. “If you look closer, he is healing. He’s not in danger anymore.”
“He’s still bleeding, Mom!”
“I know, Scott, but please, you need to listen to me. The arrow hit his inferior mesenteric artery. As far as I can tell the artery has already knitted itself back together, and the blood you see that’s coming out of him now is actually being expelled from the abdominal cavity, and that’s a good thing.”
Scott bit his lip as he listened. His mother’s words and tone did the trick, and his claws receded into his fingers.
While this was going on, Stiles noticed the offending weapon on the floor where it had been tossed after being taken out of Theo. He snatched up a nearby Kleenex and used it to gently pick up the crossbow bolt, turning it over to inspect it. His mouth dropped open when he recognized its unique construction, and he immediately returned his attention to where Melissa was beginning to bind Theo’s wound.
Stiles pushed past Scott to get closer to the chimera. “Theo?”
“Stiles. Wonderful.” Theo sighed as his eyes managed to focus on Stiles’ face long enough to be sassy. “What can I do for you?”
“Your sarcasm game is weak tonight, but you’re injured so I’ll give you a pass. Where exactly were you when you were shot? Were you on the steps?”
Scott moved forward and took a hold of Stiles shoulder. “Stiles, can’t this wait?”
“Nope,” Stiles shrugged off Scott’s hand. “The longer we wait, the less clues we’ll find.”
“I just turned around…” Theo muttered.
“How long was it between the time you entered the house and the time you left?”
“I … wasn’t in the house.” Theo admitted, weakly. “I had just come to the door …”
Stiles stood up straight, turning suddenly to Scott with knitted brows. “Theo walked you to the door?”
“Yeah.” Scott’s attention was all on Theo, however, so he missed Stiles’ surprise.
“So let me get this story straight,” Stiles said, eyes switching back and forth between Scott and Theo, neither of whom noticed his agitation as they were only looking at each other. “After you left the beach, you drove to the alpha at the state park. Once you were finished, you drove back here to Beacon Hills and straight to Scott’s house. You two pulled into the driveway and then Theo, you walked Scott to the door. When you turned around, you were shot.”
“Yeah,” Scott nodded his affirmation.
Theo’s eyes as closed as Melissa bandaged his stomach. “Yes. That’s what happened.”
“Did either of you see anything?”
“The door was shut, Stiles. They waited until I was inside.”
“No.” Theo coughed a little. “I … wasn’t really paying attention.”
Stiles opened his mouth to say more but then closed it, his teeth coming together with an audible click. He turned and headed back to the front door. “Are we calling my father?”
“No.” Theo spoke up.
Scott objected, loudly.
“We don’t need the trouble.” Theo tried sound soothing.
“Theo’s right, Scott. We don’t need anyone in the community thinking that open season on supernaturals has come around again.” Stiles didn’t wait for a reply but returned to the front of the house, careful not to tread on any of the blood stains. He shut the front door firmly behind him. Once it was closed, Stiles rested his back against the house, closing his eyes and taking a few deep breaths.
“Are you okay?” Derek asked from about three feet away.
Stiles jumped and nearly fell on his ass, but the older werewolf caught him.
“I am going to bell you like a fucking cat!”
Derek shrugged unapologetically.
“When did you get here?”
“A few minutes ago. What’s going on in there?”
Stiles frowned before answering. “Someone tried to kill Theo.”
One eyebrow raised an unspoken question.
“Yeah. Just Theo. This wasn’t a hunter. This was an assassination attempt.”
Derek looked a little skeptical. “Shooting a monster with a crossbow certainly seems like something a hunter would do.”
“All hunters know who Scott is and what he looks like. If they had the drop on both Scott and Theo, which they did, why go for Theo? Why not go for the True Alpha? Instead, they waited until Scott was inside and away from the fight. The assailant was after Theo and only Theo.”
Derek’s eyebrows signaled their disbelief.
Stiles sputtered. “I take my studies seriously, you know!”
Derek nodded without a trace of sarcasm or disbelief. Stiles smiled at him, but Derek responded by pointing at the steps. “Show me what you think happened.”
Pointing at the vehicle, Stiles sprinted to Theo’s truck. “Exhausted from their long drive with its unexpected detour, Theo and Scott pull up in the twilight. They get out of the truck and Theo walks Scott to his front door — and don’t you think for one moment I’m not going to get to the bottom of that!” Stiles walked the most probable path in front of Derek. “After the door closes, Theo turns around and bam!” He mimes getting hit. “Shot to the gut. That means the bolt had to follow this general trajectory.” Stiles gestured along an area in front of the house.
“Then let’s go.” Derek started walking through that area.
Stiles watched him go, confused, but then caught on. “You’re going to find where the shooter waited by your sense of smell.”
The older werewolf didn’t feel the need to confirm it. Stiles caught up to him quickly.
“There’s more going on,” Stiles whispered as he walked next to the werewolf as he attempted to locate where the assailant had been.
“What do you mean?”
“The bolt.” Stiles grimaced. “It was very recognizable. I don’t think that Scott noticed it.”
“Argent?” Derek asked quietly.
“Worse. It’s the same type of bolt that the Doctors used to kill the scorpion chimera, Lucas. It had a hook on the end to allow it to be retrieved, though there was no wire through it.”
“Why use one of those bolts?”
Stiles shook his head once, head tilting. “It was a message. Theo’s past has come for him.”
They walked the most likely trajectory. Stiles remained quiet, even though Derek was mostly using his eyes and his nose. They walked all the way until they got to the house across the street.
“What’s the matter?”
“There’s no scent. How long ago was this?”
“Less than an hour.” Scott had called Stiles frantically within minutes. Stiles assumed he had called Derek next.
“There should be some scent still here. Let’s go over it again.”
They traced the most likely route back to Scott’s door and then out again. They broadened the search parameters. Stiles made sure to stay out of Derek’s way.
“I’m not seeing anything, not even footprints. There’s only so many places from where it could have been fired.”
“Maybe the roof?” Stiles suggested.
Derek carefully looked around to make sure he wasn’t being seen and leapt up onto the roof. There was less pressure now to be sneaky. It had become Beacon Hill’s Topic No One Talks About that werewolves and other supernatural creatures were actually a thing. People simply turned the other way now. They may have still been freaking out, but they also felt shame. The last time that they and their neighbors had discovered the secret, they had reacted by murdering helpless children, even if those children weren’t human. They kept their silence.
Stiles didn’t even try to climb up on the roof, with Derek. Climbing might lead to his demise; however, he searched around the base of the house.
“Nothing.” Derek dropped back down to the ground.
“No scent? How is that possible?”
Derek walked away from the house, getting out of the neighbor’s yard. “Scent isn’t like sight. It’s not always certain. There’s a chance a strong breeze could have scattered things enough that I couldn’t detect anything. There are also scent blockers and scent-reducing hunting gear.”
“Okay.” Stiles thought things over, and he chewed on his thumb. “Okay. I’m getting a picture of what happened here, and it’s not anything good. I have some other leads to check, of course.”
“What’s bothering you?” Derek asked.
“This is, in many ways, a remarkable crime. How did the attacker know when Scott and Theo were getting back? Had they been waiting here for hours? If they were, how could they be so disciplined as to leave no clues behind to their presence? Where did they get that particular crossbow bolt? Mr. Argent claimed to have destroyed everything we could find belonging to the Dread Doctors in Beacon Hills. So, there’s a possibility that the attacker might have access to other Operating Theaters in other places.” Stiles shook his head. “All of that points to a professional with access to a lot of information and resources, but if they are so damn professional, why not make sure the job’s done?”
“That’s not exactly what I meant,” Derek admitted.
“What did you mean?”
“You said something about getting to the bottom of something between Scott and Theo.”
“Oh.” Stiles wrinkled his nose. “That. Maybe this isn’t the place to talk about it.”
“Want to go get some coffee?”
Stiles looked up at Derek. “Yeah. Yeah, sure. Let me text Scott.” He informed the alpha that Derek and he were going to get some coffee while discussing the situation in order to give Theo time to rest. That was partially true.
Derek avoided the nearby Starbucks and drove halfway through town to the small non-chain coffee shop near the public library.
“Are you a coffee snob?” Stiles demanded.
“No. I’m an atmosphere snob.” Derek said as he pulled a seat out for Stiles. “Starbucks makes its workers clean all day. The chemicals they use can’t be detected by humans, but I can smell them everywhere. This place really only cleans after they close.”
“Oh.” Stiles marked that down as one of the downsides of being a werewolf.
The waiter was there quickly with a black coffee for Derek and a vanilla caramel macchiato for Stiles.
“So. Scott and Theo.”
“I think,” Stiles lowered his voice, “that there’s something going on between them. Something … disturbingly sentimental.”
“Oh, yeah,” Derek nodded. “Absolutely.”
“You knew about this?”
Stiles flailed in aggravation on the other side of the table. “When did you figure this out?”
“Last night. At the camp. It was obvious that Theo wanted to be alone with Scott and was disappointed when Scott put Liam in his tent.”
Stiles’ coffee was halfway to his mouth and hovered there. “What? Why didn’t you say something?”
“If you remember, I had something else on my mind. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about that.” Derek smiled at him.
The blush crept over Stiles’ face. “That’s neither here nor there. It’s Theo!”
Derek took a sip of his coffee and acted as if it wasn’t any big deal. “I can see the appeal.”
Stiles spit his drink all over the table. “I know you weren’t here, and Theo may not be as much a raving dickbag anymore, but when he was at full raving dickbag he managed to kill Scott for like fifteen minutes. Yeah, Melissa revived him, with her bare hands, but it wasn’t a sure thing. And why the hell can you see the appeal?”
“Oh, I heard the story.” Derek nodded carelessly. “That’s what makes it so logical.”
“You lost me.”
“Scott’s always been about saving lives, and that doesn’t just mean keeping anyone from dying. When he was first bit, people tried to tell him what he would be. Chris compared him to a rabid dog. I told him that he would likely hurt someone he loved if he didn’t accept who he was. Peter tried to make him his personal killing machine. Scott said no to all of us. Scott said ‘I choose to be different.’”
Stiles coughed into his hand. “Suck up.”
Derek hit him with both eyebrows and a lip twist. “Scott’s belief has always been that self-determination is more important than any other consideration, whether you were born as a werewolf or made in a laboratory. Can you see it now?”
“Yes.” Stiles hadn’t thought of it that way, but it was true. “You’re saying Scott sees the New Theo as a victory, so he wants to jump his bones.”
“Crude. New Theo being New Theo makes Scott happy. Don’t you want to be with people that make you happy?”
Stiles glanced down at the table. “You know I do.”
“Then you should be able to understand what draws Scott to Theo. Also, he does have great arms.”
More vanilla caramel macchiato was spat on the table. “You did that on purpose!”
“Of course I did.”
They sat in silence for several minutes. Stiles cleaned up his mess with a napkin. Neither seemed in a rush to break the silence.
Finally, Stiles spoke again. “But it’s Theo. Why couldn’t he have stayed with Malia?”
Derek’s good mood vanished. “You know why.”
“He could have fought Peter!”
The older man shook his head. “That’s exactly what Peter wanted to happen.”
“Peter wanted,” Stiles hissed, “to take something, anything away from Scott, and he got what he wanted.”
Derek looked down in his coffee. “He did, but it’s still good for Malia.”
Stiles ground his teeth in frustration.
“Our lives have been pretty bad, but sometimes, good things happen. Sometimes, you get an once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something important that doesn’t require running for your life. But it requires you to make a choice. That’s what happened to you and Lydia, right?”
“Lydia and I couldn’t make a long-distance relationship work out. We really tried, but I was so worried all the time that I choked the joy out of it. That’s natural, but Malia’s opportunities to travel the world with Peter were ploys designed to drive a wedge between her and Scott. It’s a completely different thing.”
“Something no one could prove to Malia.”
“Derek.” Stiles set his cup down. “Malia’s not stupid. She must have known that Peter set up those trips to put Scott in a corner, to make him choose between defeating Monroe and being with her.”
“Scott made his choice,” Derek said. “It was Peter’s game, but Scott made his own decision. Did you really expect him not to?”
“No. Even though I told him to go and leave Monroe to others.”
“I know.” Stiles complained. “But to start up with Theo?”
Derek shrugs and sips his coffee, his face going studiously blank. Stiles watched him, his face slowly twisting into irritation.
“I didn’t say anything, Stiles.”
“But you were thinking something. Say it.”
Derek shook his head.
“If you won’t, then I’ll guess. You think that I’m only upset about this because of how Theo nearly pulled Scott and me apart. Well, it’s not true.”
“It’s got nothing to do with me and everything to do with him.” Stiles jerked his chin towards the McCall House, in Theo’s general direction. “What he did.”
“Stiles, Peter tried to kill Scott and you and your friends several times, and while you’re mad about what he did for Malia, you don’t treat him like that.”
“One!” Stiles held up a finger. “I hate Peter in an entirely different way than I hate Theo. I will always keep one eye on Zombie Wolf. Two!” He held up a second digit. “It’s not what Theo did, it’s how he did it.”
“You’re going to have to explain that.”
“Ever since I dragged Scott and myself into the clusterfuck of the supernatural, we’ve had our fair share of enemies. Most of them have tried to manipulate us to some degree or another. But only Theo …” Stiles trailed off looking for words.
“He manipulated you just like my uncle did, like Deucalion or Gerard or Jennifer or Monroe. Or even me. Manipulation is often part of the struggle.”
“But none of you … none of you! … pretended that you liked us. That you agreed with us. That you … believed in us.”
Derek’s brows came together. “Peter spent like a year pretending to be reformed after his resurrection.”
“No.” Stiles spoke emphatically. “Peter never acted like he agreed with Scott or even wished him well. He helped you, because you were his family. He mocked Scott, he avoided Lydia, he traded barbs with me, but he never made anyone believe he had drank the Kool-Aid.”
“Peter never told Scott that all he wanted to do was be part of his pack. Peter never told me how much he admired my dedication. Theo befriended us. Theo sat in a car with me and listened to my fears. He made Scott feel that he would always be there for him. No matter how cleverly Deucalion made us dance, he was always the Demon Wolf. No matter how much Gerard twisted our arms, we never once forgot how dangerous he was.”
“I see. He didn’t just manipulate you into doing what he wanted; he got you to like him.”
“Scott and I never had that many friends until the pack. I’ve never said this aloud, and I’ll deny it to anyone but you, but I loved having new people in my life, even with the dead bodies and the beatings and the fox. Scott did too; having new friends, helping them, protecting them, it made the Bite and all the crap that came along with it worth it for him. He told me once, before Theo came, that when he looked down into Liam’s eyes, when our little time bomb was scared and frightened of what was happening to him, and he said to Liam …” Stiles’ did a passable imitation of The Earnest Alpha Voice. “‘You’re not a monster, you’re a werewolf, like me,’ it was the first time Scott really believed it about himself.”
Derek nodded across the table.
“Theo destroyed that. He poisoned the pack. He ruined our friendships. Scott and Liam have never been as close after the library as they were before it. Scott and I … that wound may have healed, but it still scarred. Donovan will always sit there between us, ugly and permanent.”
Stiles fell silent staring out the window, but he obviously wasn’t looking at the street and the people on it. Finally, he stirred himself and looked at Derek.
“Well, anyway, I will never forgive Theo for that. Never.”
Derek had a pensive look on his face. Then he reached across the table and took Stiles hand in his own. The public display flushed Stiles’ cheeks.
“Stiles, you don’t have to forgive him. You don’t have to like him. You don’t even have to be nice to him. But since he’s coming with us to the music festival and to Alaska, it’s probably going to be for the best if you could at least try to be polite to him.”
“Ugh.” Stiles stuck out his tongue.
“You can do it. I have faith in you.” Derek squeezed his hand. “But as much as I do, I also have to say this. You need to mind your own business.”
Derek’s tone didn’t shift, but the words still shocked Stiles.
“You don’t have to forgive Theo, but you don’t have the right to tell Scott how he should feel about him.”
“I have the right to be worried!”
“No, not really.” Derek winced as he said it. “Do you have any feeling that Theo is up to no good?”
Stiles lips puckered bitterly. “No.”
“Do you think that Scott is under the influence of some sort of magic or drug or other form of mind control?”
Derek took Stiles other hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “You said that the scars are still there, but if you want the image of Donovan to fade, you have to trust your friend.”
Stiles watched Derek’s hand in his. The bitter look faded, replaced with a tired humor. “That’s easier said than done. You know me.”
“I do.” Derek nodded.
“I’m going to watch Theo. I’m going to watch him like a hawk.”
“You’ll get plenty of chances to watch him at the festival and in Alaska.”
“And I have a perfect excuse. We’ve got a would-be killer to catch!” Stiles snapped triumphantly. Derek didn’t say anything, but he didn’t really have to.
The sun had set an hour ago, disappearing behind the tallest buildings in Beacon Hills’ downtown. In a strange twist of fate, the industrial and business districts of Beacon Hills had been built on an area of flat ground that happened to be the lowest point of the valley. Derek’s building itself occupied a unique position where the sun rising in the morning and the sun setting at night both seem to happen very quickly, due to the mountains on the east and the tall buildings to the west.
That speed had left both Scott and Theo sitting in the darkened living room of Theo’s apartment. Scott was sitting on one of the kitchen chairs that Liam had purchased from the local mission store. They were sturdy, wooden, and old; Liam had dragged Mason and Corey into helping him sand them down and apply a new layer of varnish. Scott’s beta had claimed that he was simply tired of sitting on the floor when he came over.
Theo sat on a gray-upholstered couch, with one arm draped across the back and his legs spread apart. The couch was an old hand-me-down from Derek. The older werewolf had bought a new one, he claimed, and he had forced Theo to drag it over from the other side of the building.
They hadn’t spoken for maybe fifteen minutes. Scott’s posture was ramrod straight. His feet were planted directly in front of him, deliberately parallel, and his hands rested on his knees. His eyes studied Theo closely, and his mouth was drawn into a thin line.
Theo rolled his neck leisurely, but the hand resting on the back of the couch gripped the cushion a little too intensely to be completely relaxed. One leg was flung out, pointing across the room, and the other was bent comfortably. Theo’s gaze focused on the spindle of Scott’s chair.
Even though no one had moved to turn on the light, they could still see each other perfectly well in the dim shadowy room, illuminated only by the distant city lights. It had become a bad habit among their circle of supernatural friends; several times Melissa McCall had been startled when she entered her living room only to find Scott, Liam and Malia all talking with the lights off.
“I should cancel the trip,” Scott spoke deliberately. It wasn’t the first time he had said that since he had sat down.
Theo sighed. “No.”
“You keep saying that but you don’t want to tell me why.”
“Isn’t it obvious? Everybody in the pack is looking forward to going to this concert. It was a great idea you had, and you shouldn’t cancel it for a minor incident.”
Scott spoke through gritted teeth. “Someone is trying to kill you.”
“We don’t know who it is.” Scott gripped his knee with both hands as he failed to keep his voice steady. “You don’t have any idea who it could be.”
“Well, that’s not true. I’ve got ideas, but I don’t know anyone specifically.”
“We need to cancel.”
Theo shifted in his seat. “What possible good would that do?”
“How are we supposed to protect you at a concert attended by thousands of strangers for an entire day? Even if you stayed home, we’d be five hours away, and you’d be all by yourself.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Theo chuckled. “I’m going.”
Scott stood up, pushing the chair back with an angry scrape across the hardwood floor. “There. Is. Someone. Trying. To. Kill. You.”
Theo patted the couch next to him. “Sit down.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Sit down, Scott. Come on.”
Scott turned to the outer door and took a single step toward it. Then he paused, glanced over his shoulder at Theo’s hopeful face, and instead went to sit by him on the couch.
“I love that you want to protect me.”
Scott crossed his arms, staring at anywhere but Theo. “I want to protect everyone.”
“Yes, I know that, too.” A smile spread across Theo’s face. “Admit it, though, you don’t want anything to happen to me, specifically. As incredibly validating as I find that, you really can’t make everyone give up their lives in order to make sure I’m safe, Scott. You certainly can’t give up your life to protect mine.”
“Actually, I can. If there is anything that the last five years have taught me, is that I can give up a whole lot of things to protect others. This concert is not a big deal. I’d give up a whole lot more to keep my friends safe.”
Theo reached out with his hand and then hesitated as it hovered between them. His throat moved, and then he pushed forward and put his hand on Scott’s arm in the dark. Scott responded by dropping his defensive posture. “Well, I don’t want you to do that. Mostly … mostly because it’s pointless.”
“Saving you is not pointless.”
“Why is it that now that I’m with the good guys, I’ve become so bad at manipulating people?” Theo shook his head ruefully and stroked Scott’s arm in an attempt to calm him. “That’s not what I meant. I meant … what I’m trying to say is … I’m always going to be a target. You don’t do the things I’ve done and then start acting like they didn’t happen.
“I don’t think you really do know, at least I think you don’t understand. How many people died because I came back to Beacon Hills during your senior year? Five dozen? Six?”
“You’ve only killed three!” Scott winced after he voiced that protest. Theo smiled fondly.
“Technically, that’s true. But realistically? I had been helping the Doctors with their experiments for years. Mostly, I kept people like you out of their way. You don’t know anything about what I did with them before I came back here. I was their assistant ever since the fourth grade.”
“You were manipulated!” Scott protested. “They took a ten-year-old and they turned him into exactly what they needed.”
“That may be true.” Theo shrugged. “Yet, it doesn’t change the fact that they couldn’t have done what they did without my help. There will be mothers and fathers, here and elsewhere, who lost their children. Kids lost their parents; people buried their lovers. Not all of them are going to be like you, and you can’t ask them to be.”
“It’s not fair to hold you responsible for what they did, when they had such complete control over you. I saw it, Theo. You wanted their approval even as they terrified you.”
Silence fell between them like the quiet of a funeral. Theo squeezed Scott’s arm once.
“How many times did Peter Hale take control of your mind when you were first turned?”
Scott reached up and took Theo’s hand in his hand. “Not the same thing.”
“But it’s very close. He found you, he changed you, he tried to control you, to make you his minion. You resisted him; you fought like hell; you risked everything to be free. I didn’t.”
“Theo, I was sixteen, you were eight, but it’s not a contest! None of that matters, because you’ve changed. I’ve watched you change. All of us have watched you change. You’re completely different than who you were then.”
“Yeah, though not as different as you might think.” Theo blushed a tiny bit. “And I think you’re underselling how you and your pack helped me to do that.”
“However it happened, it means something. You’ve helped save lives — the lives of people you didn’t even know. You shouldn’t have to spend the rest of your life in fear.”
“You see, that’s where I think you’re wrong. I know I’m not the same person, and I believe that it does matter, but I also believe that it can’t wipe away that much blood.” Theo’s voice was calm and accepting. “One of the things I learned under the ground is that you can’t reconcile your life like a bank account. There’s no cosmic accountant seeing if my good deeds outweigh the bad. Nothing I do — nothing I will ever do — will erase the fact that I killed my sister, Josh, and Tracy. Nothing I will ever do will erase the pain the Doctors caused with my help. Nothing I will ever do will erase the deaths caused by the Beast that I helped create. I understand this, and I’m okay with it.”
“I’m not!” Scott exclaimed.
Theo boldly lifted Scott’s hand to his lips. “Of course you aren’t. That’s what makes you, you. But, to me, these are facts. To me, the worst thing I can do is cower, forever trying to run from the truth. So, that’s why you’re not going to cancel the trip. I want to go, and I want to go with the pack.”
“I’m not suicidal. I want to live. Really live. With you … and everyone else. That means no hiding and that means no canceling events that everyone is looking forward to. Including me.”
Scott deflated on the couch. He covered his eyes with both hands and let his neck go loose until his head was resting on Theo’s outstretched arm. “Okay.”
Glimmers of the twilight faded as they sat together, the sun sinking even more into the distant Pacific. Theo stretched his free arm out to the end table which he had scavenged from the Stilinski basement when Stiles had cajoled the pack into cleaning it out. He placed the phone on a speaker stand and selected some appropriate music; Jaymes Young though he saw the devil this morning.
Scott didn’t react beyond slowly turning his head to the speakers. Theo could see his profile.
With his arm still pinned in its spot by the alpha’s head, Theo’s other hand found the crook of Scott’s arm. He tapped his fingers on Scott’s flesh, softly, feeling the warm skin. Scott’s eyes began to glow softly red in the dark.
Theo slid his fingers up the bicep, tracing the invisible veins underneath the skin. He moved slowly, giving Scott plenty of time to react to what he was doing, to the touch, to the rest of his arm brushing up against Scott’s chest, to Theo’s face getting closer and closer to his. Scott remained still, breathing steadily, watching; his eyes began glowing ever so faintly.
When Theo reached the hollow between Scott’s shoulder and his neck, he stopped. Theo pushed a finger down until he could feel his pulse, even though he could already hear the beat of Scott’s heart. The alpha responded with a soft, pleased grunt.
Theo smiled, widely, like a child who had won something at the carnival. Slipping his hand behind Scott’s neck, Theo pulled Scott forward as he leaned in. It was a kiss entirely shrouded in darkness and silence, known only between them. When they broke apart, Theo’s eyes were lit soft gold and Scott’s red eyes glowed even brighter.
“What do you want?” Theo whispered.
Red eyes flickered and dimmed.
“Tell me, Scott.”
“I wish you were someone else.” Scott said so softly that Theo almost didn’t hear it. Almost.
Theo’s smile vanished, and Scott kissed him again, hard.
“Who did you want me to be?” Theo asked after they broke apart once more.
“I knew this kid in the fourth grade …” Scott trailed off. He shifted his body so he was no longer sitting on the couch, but kneeling on it. Then he pulled Theo’s legs up and moved them sideways, so the chimera’s back was resting on the arm. Scott leaned forward until he was on top of Theo, pressing his lips into Theo’s neck and capturing Theo’s lips when he tried to protest.
Theo responded to them, but finally he caught Scott and pushed him up a little, hands splayed on the alpha’s chest. “Scott …”
The alpha stopped, softening.
“He’s dead. He’s not coming back.”
Theo’s eyes glowed brightly, his heart beat steady, his scent was full of happiness and arousal. He wasn’t afraid.
Scott’s lower lip quivered slightly, but the almost-frown finally disappeared. “Can’t we pretend? Just for one night?”
They came together once more, languidly, and then shifted so they were both lying on the couch.
“Sure,” Theo whispered. “For one night.”
The windows on the old truck had been rolled as far down as they could be, so Theo tried to shove as much of his body outside as he could. Stiles could no doubt have made a dog joke. Instead of taking a nice vehicle, Liam had insisted on driving his beat-up piece of shit to the festival. The ancient air conditioner had been totally inadequate and had completely quit fifteen minutes outside of town.
“I could strangle you,” Theo growled.
“Come on,” Scott, ever the peacemaker, tried to mollify him. “It’s not that bad.”
Liam didn’t say anything, he focused grumpily on the road.
“Really, Scott? You’re drenched in sweat.”
“It’s not that bad.” Scott insisted, as Theo watched another bead of sweat slip from the Alpha’s brow and down his neck.
“I guess not, though I need to remind you that none of us are immune to heat stroke.”
“If you don’t like it,” Liam finally snapped, “you could always get out and walk.”
Theo lifted one corner of his lip and sneered at Liam.
“Guys.” Scott pleaded.
“I could walk,” Theo said bitterly, “but I also could have taken an actual vehicle that wasn’t older than you are and had perfectly good air conditioning.”
Liam opened his mouth to reply, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.
“Both of you.” Scott’s voice dropped an octave into alpha mode. “Cut it out.”
Silence reigned in the car. The tips of Liam’s ears burned red. Theo turned his face completely out the window to study the dead landscape. Ten miles unspooled along the state highway. This early in the morning, other traffic was scarce. The wheels thumped along the concrete seams in a distracting rhythm.
“I’m sorry.” Liam broke the silence between them.
“For what?” Scott turned to look at him.
“I wanted to drive my truck. Theo’s right, this is miserable.”
“It’s not that—”
“Scott, I swear to the God I don’t believe in, if you say it’s not that bad, I will hogtie you and leave you in the car like a bad pet owner,” Theo snapped. “Why did you have to bring this truck?”
“I was making a point.”
Scott’s brow wrinkled.
“I was making a point to Hayden. She was all sarcastic last trip and I wanted to demonstrate that I could pull my weight.”
“So you decided to do that by making us ride in a mobile Easy-Bake Oven?”
Scott rolled his eyes at Theo’s sarcasm. “You pull your weight, Liam. You always have. Did Hayden really say that?”
“No.” Liam sounded annoyed.
“It’s okay to still like Hayden.” Scott said softly.
“I don’t like Hayden!” Liam protested, gripping the steering wheel. “Yes, so maybe I do like her a little bit. But she left.”
“She left to protect her sister. I know.”
The bitter tone in Liam’s voice ended the conversation, so they drove on with Liam paying rigid attention to the road and Scott trying to read his beta without being obvious about it. Theo ignored them both, choosing to perspire in isolation, at least until he saw a rest area ahead.
“I need something to drink. Pull over.”
It was a relatively new gas station. It had all the bells and whistles, including one of fantastic mix-your-own-soft drink machines. Scott stayed outside to check on the others why Liam came in with Theo. He was probably just as thirsty.
Theo watched Liam making his decision before the drink machine. His lips twitched as the younger werewolf started with one combination and then cleared it and then started with another combination and then cleared it.
“As this rate, we’ll reach the festival at midnight.”
“Fuck you,” Liam growled.
“It’s all right to be conflicted about Hayden,” Theo leaned up against the counter. “She’s still the first person you fell in love with, and those feelings don’t go away.”
“What would you know about it, psycho?” There was no heat behind Liam’s words.
Theo chuckled. “I was well trained to study people’s emotions and motivations. Even if you don’t want to date her, you could always have some fun.”
Liam paused in choosing his drink and turned his entire body to face Theo. “What the hell? You think this is about me wanting to fuck her?”
Theo answered with a shrug.
“It’s about her leaving. It’s about …” Liam balled his fist but closed his eyes before he punched the machine. With an act of will, Liam calmed down. “It’s about how much we sacrificed to save her life. Scott bit her. He never ever wanted to bite anyone, but he bit her.”
“But he didn’t want to bite you.”
The look Liam gave Theo would have killed a lesser creature. “I’m not jealous, I’m angry.”
“Well, that’s not new. You’re mad that she’s ungrateful?”
“You know what I did … for her. I can’t stop thinking about what would have happened if I had killed Scott and then I’d be alpha and then she’d turn around one day and said …” Liam’s voice took on a whining tone. “I’m think that I’m going to move to San Bernardino so my sister’s okay, so sad you murdered someone to save me. Okay, bye.”
Theo’s eyebrows shot up at the harshness of his words.
“So yeah, I get mad every time I look at her, because I do care about her, but I don’t want to. I don’t want her around. I don’t want her in the pack. I want to show her what a real beta, a real friend is like, but I can’t.”
“Because of what we did.”
Liam looked Theo in the eye. “Stop. This isn’t about you.”
“I’m trying to help—”
“You’re trying to get me to feel better by taking the blame. I knew what I was doing. I knew who I was doing it for. I thought …” Liam suddenly rubbed his nose. “I thought it was forever.”
Theo stepped forward and finished punching in Liam’s drink buttons. “You know Scott’s not going to kick her out of the pack on your say so.”
“You know you can’t tell Scott about this. He’d try to fix things.” Theo handed him his drink.
“Some things can’t be fixed.”
“I knooooow.” And suddenly Liam sounded like Sophomore Liam.
“I will strangle you if you make me ride in that solar furnace of a truck when the temperature’s over fifty ever again.”
“Oh, please. Scott wouldn’t let you.”
“I can get around him. He’s easily fooled.”
“You don’t want to get around him.” Liam smirked as Theo chose a drink for both himself and Scott. “You want to get under him.”
Theo only froze for ten seconds.
“Are you going to try to convince me I’m wrong?”
Instead of answering, Theo paid for the drinks.
“It’s okay, you know,” Liam said to them as they were leaving.
Theo opened his mouth, closed it, and then held open the door. Then he let it swing shut, and his eyes traveled to where Scott was talking on the phone to Stiles.
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”
The cloudless blue sky and the brilliant sun baked the forests of Mendocino County. Even though the pack had left very early in the morning, by time they reached the campground the air was still blistering hot. As inviting as taking it easy in the shade or getting in the nearby water had been, Scott had put his foot down and made them sent up the campsite first. That was pretty important in this case, for camping space was first come, first serve at the festival and all the best places would fill up soon. The pack had found a really nice one, with a live oak and a very young redwood for shade and a stone’s throw from the South Fork of the Eel River.
After the alpha had been satisfied that everything was in its proper place, Scott gave the pack permission to get changed, get the float tubes, and join the rest of the festival-goers in what had to be the refreshing cool waters of the river.
“You’ll thank me tonight,” Scott commented as he sent the youngest into change first, leaving him, Theo, Derek, and Stiles standing around in the heat. He stretched as Derek and Stiles took seat on the lawn chairs they had brought with them and Theo sat down on a patch of grass. “I wish Lydia and Malia could be here with us.”
“You think Lydia would enjoy this?” Stiles sneered at him humorously. “She have taken one look at this place over the rim of her sunglasses and went to get her nails done.”
“I think you’re exaggerating, just a bit.”
“Yeah. A hundred bucks I can get Lydia to go camping with us.”
“You’re on! Easiest money I’ve ever made.” Stiles sat still for perhaps three minutes before he ambled over to the tent into which Corey and Mason had disappeared. “Hurry up you two. No necking!”
“We’re not necking!” Mason shouted back through the canvas.
“Or whatever you youngsters call it now,” Stiles rapped on the tent so hard it shook. “Us old folks are dying out here.”
No matter how much cajoling they had to endure from Stiles, they took their time coming out. Stiles grumbled about losing his touch. When they did emerge, Mason and Corey wore matching swim trunks, Liam had a pair of plain board shorts, and Alec was wearing bright red Speedos. Hayden emerged wearing a very attractive flower-print bikini, and Liam immediately had to look away.
Stiles grinned the same way he had grinned at Jared on the bus to the cross country meet. He opened his mouth, but Scott snagged him by the arm and pulled him into the tent so they could change.
“But … Scott … Scotty … so … many … jokes!”
“I know.” The alpha manhandled his best friend into the tent. “Let them have a little fun first before you put them through the wringer.”
“You’re going to owe me,” Stiles threatened.
“For what? That’s always been my job, keeping you from getting pummeled when you go too far.” Scott smiled back and started taking off his clothes. Stiles turned away as he started changing. Scott frowned. “Are you still worried about how you look?”
Stiles didn’t answer immediately, but right before Scott was about to ask again, Stiles changed the subject. “I really think this is a good idea.”
“So you’ve told me.”
“I mean it. I’m happy. Have I told you that?”
“No.” Scott dug around in his bag and came up with some suntan lotion. “Even with …”
“Yes, even with the fact that I’m surrounded by supermodels. Even though I’m suddenly with Derek, and I want this summer to last for twenty years. Even with stupid Theo’s twin mysteries.”
Stiles nodded as he snatched the sunscreen out of Scott’s hand. He wore a pair of cutoff jeans and a tank-top covering his pale skin.
“Yeah. Who’s trying to kill him and why you think you’d ever be able to hide your new feelings for him without me noticing.”
Scott paused, thrown off balance. They locked gazes and Scott colored, as Stiles waggled his brows at him. He took the cover off the sun screen.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Stiles opened his mouth to present his case, but raised voices from outside ended their conversation. Liam was confronting what seemed to be a knot of slightly pissed off festival goers: three couples, carrying little camping gear. Scott could smell marijuana and a few more drugs. .
“This was our spot, man!”
Liam had his hands balled into fist; his shoulders were tensed, yet he forced the words to come out of his mouth in even, measured tones. “It’s first come, first serve; that’s what it said in the ad. There was no one here when we got here, and there wasn’t any signs, and that means it’s our spot.”
“We were here this morning,” a freckled blond woman replied, “but we had to go do things. Didn’t you see that pile of sticks?”
Liam turned to where they were pointing. There was indeed a pile of maybe ten sticks, which could have come from anywhere around the campsite. “That?”
Finally, one of the men broke free of the group and stepped forward; it looked like he was going to take the lead now. He was tall, with longish but thin red hair, the beginnings of an attitude, and red-rimmed eyes. He was thoroughly baked. “Yeah. Those were our sticks, man.”
Liam squinted at the leader, dubiously. His breathing was beginning to increase in speed, and slowly the pack began to gather behind him.
“Hey,” Scott raised his hands to placate the strangers and raised his voice to break Liam’s attention. “I’m sorry, but we didn’t realize you’d been here before.”
“Scott!” Liam objected strenuously, with only a hint of a growl.
The rest of the pack weren’t as angry, but they assembled together, unconsciously, backing up Liam and outnumbering the group of strangers like wolves isolating an elk. Oblivious, the red-haired leader seemed to draw strength from Scott’s admission. “We came early this morning. Really early.”
“Then why weren’t you here where we got here?” Liam demanded.
A small slip of a woman, about a foot shorter than the leader, took a step forward. “My van broke down a little ways down the road. It’s a long drive from San Francisco, so we came here first, chose this spot, and then went to get our stuff. This is all we could carry.”
“I’m sure we can work out something.” Scott suggested. “How about we help you set up in a different spot?”
The alpha’s amiability confounded their leader. “Uh. Sure.”
“Derek and Theo, can you stay here and watch our stuff?” Scott remarked casually. The pack looked to him.
Theo nodded his assent, and the pack went off with a very confused group of San Franciscans.
Derek took out a lawn chair and sat down on it in the middle of the very tidy camp. Unlike their trip to the beach, this was a professionally-run camp ground; it had been landscaped to provide comfort. There was an already existing fire pit, a latrine, and a shower facility close by. It wasn’t really like camping.
“He’s such a bleeding heart,” Theo remarked, digging into a cooler for something to drink.
“You think so?”
“Yeah. What point is there in caring about a group of dirty potheads he’ll never meet again?” Theo asked offhandedly and then wilted when he looked over at Derek. “I don’t mean …”
“Yes, you do.” Derek’s voice was soft, but Theo could hear it perfectly well. “You shouldn’t lie when you don’t have to.”
Theo couldn’t bring himself to look Derek in the face. He opened the drink clumsily, as if he didn’t know what to do with his hands.
“I don’t like crowds.”
Derek’s admission came out of nowhere. Theo turned to look at him.
“I can handle crowds. I can get what I need to get done, done. But they make me nervous. It’s like being a little bit under attack by everyone at once.”
“Okay.” Theo looked pointedly at the rest of the festival grounds. It was quickly getting very crowded.
“I’m here because as much as I don’t like crowds, I like the pack more.”
“You mean you like Stiles more.” Theo shot back.
“One of these days, Theo, you’re going to learn that you don’t have to deflect with me. With any of us really, not anymore. I like the pack, and I like Stiles, and I’m finally ready to act on it. Are you?”
“Finally ready …” Theo wilted under a lifted eyebrow from Derek.
“Part of being pack is being known by the pack. That means being yourself.”
Theo muttered to himself. “They know me.”
Derek shrugged. “Toss me a beer. They knew you. Do they know who you are now?”
Most of the people in the pack had been to nightclubs before. Derek, Scott, and Stiles had been to The Jungle several times, even some times when they weren’t chasing a deranged lizard. Everyone but Derek and Alec had been to Sinema before it had closed forever. While they were still dating, Malia had dragged Scott to all the big college hangouts in Davis. When Liam had driven Mason and Corey to UCLA, they even had a few clubs that catered to movie stars. Even Hayden had a social life in Phoenix.
Some of them liked clubbing more than others, but all the werewolves and Theo had to learn to either shut down their sense completely or take what little pleasure they could while enduring discomfort. Heightened senses could easily be overwhelmed in truly loud and crowded venues, if not from the amped-up music then from the smell of so many sweating bodies or the strobing lights.
But here, under the stars, the atmosphere generated by the concerted had been completely altered. While there were many more people at the concert than any club, the night wind spread their scents out across a wide area. While there were strobing lights — even a really fantastic laser show — the effect was diffused against the backdrop of stars and the waning crescent moon. While there was music, amplified so the audience could feel it, the lack of walls killed the echoes that would confuse or alarm.
Mason noticed it first, and pointed it out to Corey. Alec, Liam, and Hayden had started out enjoying the evening performance in the same way they had, laughing and talking and sometimes dancing, abut as the concert progressed, they started to speak less and less. They still seemed to be having fun, but they grew more tactile, until the three of them were pushing each other, like they were in a mosh pit, even though the band was playing electronica.
“What does it look like they’re doing to you?” Mason came up and tugged on Scott’s sleeve. He’d been standing next to Theo, swaying to the music.
“Dancing,” Scott replied, somewhat dreamily. Theo followed their gaze. Liam had tackled Alec and was … gently head butting him.
Corey added helpfully from the other side of Mason. “That doesn’t really look like dancing.”
Theo studied it. “They’re acting more like wolves do.”
Scott looked over and watched as Hayden tried to pull Liam off of Alec but she tripped and fell down, laughing, their animosity seemingly forgotten during the concert. “Yeah.”
All three of them turned to look at Scott. He seemed a little out of it too.
“Are you okay?” Theo asked.
“He’s fine,” Derek said, walking up to them, carrying Stiles on his back like he weighted no more than a toddler. He had an easy smile on the face. “I didn’t think of it at first, but I should have expected this.”
“What?” Scott sounded a little dopey, like the hippies had.
“It’s not the full moon,” Theo protested. “Are you sure nothing is wrong.”
“They’re experiencing a milder form of sensory overload,” Derek said. “I am too, but I remember how it felt. You know how I grew up … when our family got together, we’d play music, cook a lot of food, build a bonfire, and … we’d open our senses to it, let our instincts out. It’s a little like being drunk.”
“Why is this just the first time I’ve ever heard about this?” Stiles squawked from Derek’s shoulders. He climbed down. “I’ve known about all of this for four and a half years, and I’ve never heard that you get tranced out at backbeats?”
Mason went over to stare more closely at Liam. Liam sat up from where he was rolling on the ground with Alec and Hayden, staring at Mason. Suddenly, he booped Mason on the nose.
“It’s not just concert. It’s the combination of the forest and the night sky and the music.” Derek explained, smiling at Stiles. “They’re also in the right state of mind.”
“State of mind?” Stiles narrowed his eyes.
Scott reached out and took Theo by the hand and pulled him closer.
Derek bent down and kissed Stiles. “We’re with pack. We’re safe. We’re happy.”
Scott smiled down at Theo. “See?”
“You’re cute when you’re like this,” Theo replied. He tried to sound snide, but it came out anxious. He looked back at the four younger people, and they were rolling around on the ground, giggling and laughing. He looked at Derek and Stiles, and they were busy as well.
“You don’t feel it?” Scott put his face right up against his.
“No.” Theo couldn’t hide his disappointment.
“I wonder why?” Corey asked. “Because you’re not pack or because you’re not a real werewolf?”
Theo flinched as if cold water had been doused on him. He tried to pull his hand away but the alpha wouldn’t let him.
“Hey, that wasn’t nice,” Scott reprimanded gently.
“You don’t feel it either, do you?” Theo asked softly.
The other chimera turned away and went to the gamboling pack. Alec clambered over him, dragging him to the ground. It was so ridiculous that Corey finally broke into a smile.
Theo, on the other hand, studied the tops of his bare feet.
Scott’s voice was soft, without a word of command, but Theo looked up anyway.
“Hey,” Scott said again.
“I’m fine.” Theo waved it off.
Scott didn’t look convinced and then pulled him a little distance away from the others. “Dance with me.”
“We were dancing,” Theo said in half-hearted protest.
“You know what I mean.” He tugged at him again, insistently.
So they danced together, one of Scott’s hands resting on the small of Theo’s back and the other one playing with Theo’s hair.
“It’s getting long,” Theo says and then rolled his eyes at himself.
“I like it.” Scott rested his forehead on Theo’s.
Theo kept his hands moving, never resting permanently on one spot, even as they swayed to the music. He couldn’t get comfortable. He kept glancing over his shoulder at the others, but they were all engaged in their own pursuits.
The alpha let out a breath so close that Theo could feel the brush of it on his lips.
“Come on, Theo. Relax. No one is going to judge us here.”
Theo settled for resting his arms on Scott’s shoulders, his hands clasped loosely at some point beyond Scott’s back. The music shifted tone, even softer and the crowd around them shift, like a collective sigh. The stars above them glittered like the distant lights of a heavenly city. Theo closed his eyes to the beauty of them. It was too much.
Unfortunately, the set ended, and the tenor of the act changed. The spell was broken on Scott, but he was still smiling. He did not pull away, but Theo did.
“What’s the matter?”
“I have to use the little chimera’s room.” Theo winked at him.
The latrines they had were tented for privacy and it was hygienic enough. Of course, the smell for someone with enhanced senses was enough to choke a horse, but Theo had long ago learned how to shut them down when he needed to do so. On the way back, he stopped by the campsite. He looked around to make sure that no one had been there, and then dug into the cooler to grab two drinks — one for him and one for Scott.
He had just straightened up when he felt something being shoved through his back. The tip of a blade jutted out about an inch in front of his chest.
That’s the last thing Theo felt.
He turned his attention to the rest of the pack. He found Stiles and Derek near the river, where they were taking a break from the concert. They weren’t close to the campsite, instead relaxing on some boulders they had seen earlier that day in the middle of the river, dangling their feet into the water. Scott pushed through the water, which was only to his chest.
Derek was immediately aware of something wrong. “Scott?”
In the dark of the river, Stiles couldn’t see very well, so at Derek’s words, he slipped on the rock and nearly fell face first in the water. Derek grabbed him by the back to the shirt, holding up. “What’s wrong with Scott?”
“I’m right there. I’m sorry for interrupting.” Scott felt the current pushing at him as he stood next to the rocks. “I can’t find Theo. He went to piss, but that was like a half-hour ago.”
Stiles narrowed his eyes after he regained his balance. “Are you sure he isn’t out somewhere causing mischief?”
Derek patted Stiles on the shoulder, and Stiles suddenly looked sheepish.
“I’m sorry, it’s —”
“I know this is disrupting your … you time, but I’m getting worried, okay?”
“We’ll help you find him.” Derek promised, gracefully leaving the rock. “Have you already checked the campsite?”
Scott hadn’t, so that was their first destination. On their way, they passed by the concert, and stumbled across Alec, Hayden, and Liam. The younger pack members were partying with a bunch of new friends and apparently having the time of their lives. The trio watched as Liam kissed Hayden passionately and then with his free hand, pulled Alec closer to both of them and turned to kiss him.
“Someone’s having fun,” Stiles remarked sardonically.
“Let’s not disturb them yet,” Scott said. “If we can find Theo without them, it’ll be better.”
“But you can disrupt my sexy times!”
“Stiles.” Scott sighed. “I need you with this. You’ll have plenty of time. Let’s go.”
Derek said nothing; he was already on his way back to their tents, Scott and Stiles hurrying to catch up. Derek was careful to move at a reasonable pace, and Scott kept pace with Stiles. They didn’t move as fast as they could, because while most of the festival was focused on the concert, not all of them were. Reaction to monster men was the last thing they wanted.
Scott stopped in the middle of their pack’s clearing, near the cool fire pit. He listened for Theo, for the way he moved, for the way his heart beat. Stiles stuck his head into each of the tents, running from one to one.
“I don’t see him,” Stiles reported.
“I don’t hear him.” Scott sagged a little.
“He was here,” Derek announced, standing by the cooler. “Scott, his blood is all over the cooler.”
Scott rushed over to see what was going on. Closer, the blood was clear to his senses, but before he could do anything else, Stiles grabbed him and hauled him away.
“Let me look first.”
They locked eyes and then Scott nodded. Stiles grabbed the lantern they brought for the humans, turned it on and investigated.
“There’s not enough blood here for a human to die,” Stiles said eventually. “And not even close to how much it would take for Theo to die.”
Derek grabbed the back of Scott’s neck. “That type of thought doesn’t help.”
Scott’s voice jumped an octave. “We could follow the blood, but there are so many scents here. Oh, God, we’ll —”
“Scott.” Derek’s voice took a hard edge. “You need to focus.”
The alpha blinked at his beta but then he nodded slowly. He took a deep breath, held it, and then let it out slowly. “Okay. Derek, you and I will use that technique for tracking down elusive scents you taught me. Stiles, you try to see if there is anything else here. Afterward, go find the others. Let’s do this.”
The first time a person experiences it, true darkness seems solid to the eyes. It freezes the limbs; it constricts the throat. True darkness happens so rarely that the absolute lack of light can oftentimes be treated by the body as an attack.
Theo jerked awake, disoriented by his loss of vision. He was lying on his back, he wasn’t restrained, and he was still wearing the same clothes he had been dancing in at the festival. When he inhaled, he caught Scott’s scent from them, and it caused him to relax but only a little. His chest throbbed in pain, but not too badly, so the memory of being stabbed was real. That area didn’t feel particularly soaked, so he must have stopped bleeding. All told, he didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger.
“Somebody out there must like me,” he muttered, but the words echoed immediately in his ears. He was in a small space, and that made Theo’s heart beat so hard, it nearly burst in his chest.
With a trembling hand, he reached out to explore his new surroundings, only feeling the texture of metal on the sides, the corners, and the floor. The realization that it wasn’t a morgue drawer slowed his stampeding pulse only a fraction. Theo tried to force himself to relax.
Checking his pockets, he found them empty. His phone was nowhere near him.
Without control, he took one breath after another. He would have to get himself out of this, and the first step would be to prevent himself from freaking out.
Carefully, he put one hand on the metal above his head, splaying his fingers in order to get a feel for the weight and then tension. After another breath, he followed the first hand with another. He closed his eyes — not that the action meant anything in the absolute dark — and pushed with as much strength as he could bring to bear on what he hoped was a lid. It gave a tiny bit.
“Okay.” He spoke out loud, his voice quavering. “On three.” The echo sounded hollow in the dark.
Theo gritted his teeth.
He shifted to get a better position with his arms.
He braced his legs against the bottom of the box as much as he could.
With a weight-lifter’s grunt, he tried to push past his limits. There was a shrieking groan, which he was sure had to come from hinges. However, he sensed something falling into the box near the edges. He stopped pushing and reached out to touch whatever had fallen in the darkness. It was dirt.
He was underground. Again.
The scream of gut-churning fear forced its way out between his teeth. From the bottom of his lungs, it ripped at his vocal chords and nearly burst his eardrums in the confined space. He began to beat on the lid with his fists, as more and more of the dirt fell.
He was losing it. He was panicking.
“Scott!” Pointlessly, a name pushed its way out of Theo’s mouth like the shock after a car crash. “Scott!”
He started to pound his head against the floor of the box and clawed at his face, blood running down into his eyes. He tried to slow his breathing breath; he tried to calm, clenching his fists, but he managed only seconds before he started pounding at the lid again. Eventually he stopped trying to stop.
He scratched at the metal; the claw of his left pointer finger broke off on the metal.
“Let me out!” He bellowed. The air stuck in his throat; he was going to run out of oxygen.
As a last gasp of rational thought, he managed to rotate so that he was face down, so he could push up with both his knees and his legs to a certain degree. The metal lid kept creaking and more dirt began to slip in through the sides. His cries stopped being words and became wordless articulations of panic and fear. He might soon enter a final frenzy.
He wasn’t a werewolf, but Theo could still go mad.
Then something gave way.
It might have been the hinges or the lid itself but suddenly the metal was rising, Theo rose with it, and the trickles of dirt became a torrent pouring into the small box. The earth was trying to swallow him up and he had to get out, he had to get out immediately. He clawed at the soil, he pushed at the weight holding him down, he shrieked and he howled.
He erupted out of the ground, eyes blazing yellow, claws out, bleeding from his face and hands, a horror movie come to life. He fell over, flailing around, the sweet air of the above ground not dispelling his panic.
He didn’t have pack instincts like a real werewolf, but he wanted … he wanted his friends. He wanted help. He wanted safety.
So he howled.
Then he collapsed on the ground, passing out from stress and fear.
“You’re going to be okay.”
Theo didn’t respond. He lay there, shaking almost imperceptibly, but he didn’t try to move.
The camping lantern swayed as Stiles circled the metal box and the opened grave. He bent down and peered into the container, fingers tracing the damage Theo had done to the box without touching it. He was looking for clues. Derek stood behind Stiles, keeping watch out for enemies or bystanders.
“Theo?” Scott’s voice brought Theo’s attention to the alpha’s face.
“Yeah.” His voice was still hoarse, his throat still raw. He had screamed so loudly that he had damaged his vocal chords.
“Do you remember what happened?”
“Okay,” Scott didn’t pressure him to be clearer. Instead, he showed Theo his open hand. “May I look at your wound?”
Theo nodded. It was less painful than talking.
Scott lifted up Theo’s filthy shirt and searched his chest. Knowledgeable fingers ran over skin of a wound that was almost completely healed, nothing more than a bump in the flesh. “I’m going to turn you over, if that’s okay.”
Theo nodded once again.
The alpha was strong enough to lift Theo up with one hand. He checked the entrance wound. “When they stabbed you, they weren’t trying to kill you.”
A bitter laugh escaped Theo’s lips. It hurt none-the-less.
“They were careful, I think. You passed out?”
“There was some type of anesthetic on the blade. I can smell it in the wound. I don’t know what type it is; I don’t know what would work on us.”
“Me.” Theo rasped.
“What?” Scott inquired.
“Work on me. Not a werewolf.” Theo tried to catch the same scent that Scott had, but all he could smell was dirt and his own blood.
A shadow passed over the alpha’s face at Theo’s words. He moved on. “Relax. Let us worry about it. You’ll heal soon.” It was something needless for Scott to say. Everyone there knew it, but it was supposed to be comforting.
“Okay.” Stiles stood up and walked over to Scott. He glanced down, reluctantly, at Theo. “Uhm. I got some ideas, but …”
“Theo should know,” Scott agreed, but when Theo tried to sit up, Scott pressed him down with one hand. “You need to recover. You can listen on the ground easily enough.”
“Okay,” Stiles rubbed his hands. “It looks like the site was prepared a few days ago. Maybe yesterday.” He looked to Derek for confirmation and the older werewolf nodded his agreement. “The good news is that the box was buried in only a foot of earth.”
Rather than talking, Theo made a quizzical expression.
“Given that the person obviously knows what you are …” Stiles hesitated. Whatever news he had, he was loathe to share.
“Come on, Stiles.” Scott prodded gently.
“They buried you alive but they didn’t want you to stay buried. In fact, I think they wanted to make sure you got out.”
Theo laughed, harshly.
“They were trying to scare him?”
Derek shook his head. “Scott, they were trying to torture him.”
“We knew this,” Theo sat upright, pushing Scott’s hand away, no longer caring about his throat. “They’re not satisfied with just killing me. They want to make me suffer first. Scott, please help me up.”
For a moment, it looked like the alpha was going to be stubborn; instead, Scott helped Theo get to his feet.
“Okay. Let’s go back to the festival.”
“What?” Scott’s voice raised in protest.
“They made their point. They’re probably not going to come at me again to tonight. Let’s go back to the festival. Dance a little”
“Theo, they … they …”
“I know what they did. Stiles, Scott will listen to you, do you think it’s likely they’re going to do that again?”
Stiles had turned to look back at the makeshift grave. He startled, unprepared for Theo’s question. “No, no I don’t.”
“Then it’s okay, we’ll go back, I’ll take a shower and we won’t let any of the others know.”
Derek studied Theo’s face and his posture. “Fine. Come on, Stiles.”
“What? We shouldn’t leave him—”
The older werewolf grabbed him by the arm, pulling him away.
“What is this with werewolves dragging me around just because they’re stronger than me?” Stiles was about to complain even louder but then he looked at Scott, who was beginning to look a little red in the eye and a much calmer Theo. “Okay. Let’s go.”
The chimera and the werewolf stood in the clearing, surrounded by evergreen trees, and a busted metal box in an open grave. They waited until Derek and Stiles were out of normal hearing range.
“I don’t want to make a fuss about this.”
“A fuss.” Theo thought that was what Scott said, around a set of protruding fangs and a growl that rose from the diaphragm. Scott shook his head, trying to reclaim his voice.
“Yeah. We can enjoy the rest of the festival—”
Theo sighed and tried to straighten his dirt-covered shirt and shorts. “I’m going to need to change. I look like a wreck.”
“You looked like you were buried alive,” Scott’s anger was clear in his tone. “Because you were. I knew I should’ve cancelled—”
“And I said no! It’s my life! You don’t own me, unless you’ve been taking alpha-ing lessons from Peter!”
Scott blinked and his werewolf features vanished only to be replaced with a look of infinite hurt.
“I didn’t mean that.” Theo replied quickly, his voice going to a higher pitch. “I just didn’t feel like getting into this fight with you right now. Or ever. Because we already had it and I already told you how I felt, and I know it’s traumatic for you, but it’s a lot more traumatic for me, and I feel right now that if I don’t take back some control of my night and my life, I’m going to run. And I don’t want to run. And I’m hoping you don’t want me to run.”
As he had been speaking, his words had gotten more frantic and he had started crying without trying to realizing it.
“I don’t want you to run.” Scott stepped forward and took him into a hug. “But I’m with you.”
Theo sniffled. He nearly collapsed in Scott’s arms. “I know.”
“I mean, with you. You eat lunch, I’m wiping your face with a napkin. When you’re sleeping, I’m in bed next to you. You go to the bathroom, I’m holding your dick while you pee. Until we know who’s doing this, you don’t leave my sight.” Scott put his mouth at Theo’s ear. “And if that’s too constricting for you, tough shit.”
Scott looked Theo’s in the eyes. “I don’t understand why you won’t let me protect you to the best of my ability. There will be plenty of time to do these things later, but I … I accept that this is what you want. But you’re going to have to get used to what I want and this …”
Scott looked directly at the dirt-rimmed pit. “This doesn’t happen again.”
“Okay. I can accept that. As long as we go back …”
“How can you think of partying at a time like this?”
“I really can’t, but I can act like I’m enjoying myself,” Theo admitted. “I don’t want to ruin it for the others, so they’ll never be able to tell that this happened, unless you tell them.”
Scott’s mouth thinned out into a bitter line.
“I’m close to you now, but these last months, I’ve felt closer to them, to … pack, than I have … ever. It’s what I want. When I’m being honest with myself, it’s all I ever wanted.” Theo turned around to face Scott. His face was clear of all the horror and trauma he had just experienced minutes ago. A perfect lie. “So, let’s go back.”
True to his plan, Theo acted as if nothing happened. He joked with Liam, he danced with Mason and Alec and anyone who asked him. He laughed when Hayden pranked him with a water balloon. There wasn’t a single slip in his demeanor. Stiles’ eyes nearly bugged out of his head, but he didn’t spoil the act, mostly because Derek would drag him away for some private time whenever it became evident that Stiles couldn’t keep his natural curiosity in check.
True to his word, Scott never left Theo’s presence. They ate together, showered together, slept together. But Scott also never told anyone else in the pack what had happened. To them, it had been a three-day trip with great music, good food, and just … fun. No one ever became wise to the incident.
They finally reached home late Sunday night, pulling up in front of the McCall House a little before midnight.
Alec yawned. “Do we have to unload now?”
“No,” Scott said. “I can get it. You’re all tired.”
Alec headed into the house, and Theo made to follow him.
“Hey,” Scott called out. Theo looked back. “Stay inside.”
Theo lingered on the steps, as Scott started unloading stuff from Liam’s truck. It didn’t take long, but then there was a pile of stuff in the yard. Derek had already left to drive Stiles home, and Mason and Corey were just pulling away.
“Oh, shoot. You’ll need a ride home,” Scott said to Hayden as he lifted the last tent from the truck.
“Uh.” Liam blushed. “I was going to give her a lift home.”
Hayden rolled her eyes in the background. “It’s not a big deal.”
“No, it’s not.”
Liam rushed her to the truck and pulled away in order to avoid any sort of complicated conversation.
Theo entered the house from the front yard. He could hear Alec already in the shower upstairs. He could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hallway, one of the few pieces of truly expensive furniture Melissa had left. She always intended to give it to Scott.
He walked through the living room with its mismatched couches. There was a stack of school books and a few comic books, where the pack studied and relaxed when they were supposed to be studying.
He walked into the kitchen. He’d cooked there several times with Scott, for the pack, when they were home from their trips. He checked in the freezer, rooting around in it, and selected some pork to defrost. The shadows of the house were momentarily brightened by the refrigerator light. Theo hesitated in its glow, put the pork down, and shut the door, plunging the kitchen back into darkness.
Theo jumped back at the sound of the lid — no, the door — closing. His breath choked in his throat. He froze, checking his surroundings like a dear who had heard a hunter chamber a bullet in the dark. He could still pinpoint Alec in the shower. He could still hear Scott putting tents in the garage. All he had to do was shout, and they’d be here, but still he trembled.
He pulled his shirt over his head, letting it drop to the floor. He kicked off his shoes, staggering over to the back door. Theo grabbed its handle while a whimper escaped his lips. “Don’t run.”
He whispered it to himself, but even as he did so, his other hand slid to his waist and undid his belt.
“Don’t run.” Yet his grip bent the metal of the door knob as he twisted it to open it. His pants slid down around his ankles.
Without a further sound, the coywolf sprinted out into the night, heading toward the Preserve.
Theo has made a den in the corner, hidden under a work table that had been left behind. The coywolf remained quiet, watching the human-shaped Scott walk across the laboratory.
“Come on out.” Scott held up a bag. “I brought you some clothes.”
Crawling out, Theo trotted over to Scott, ears flattened and tail tucked between his legs.
“I’m not angry with you.”
Scott got down on his knees and reached out to touch Theo between the ears. “I promise, Theo. I was very mad, but you went through something terrible. I’m not going to yell at you for leaving.”
Theo backed away and stood up, bones cracking and fur receding until he was standing there. “I don’t know why I ran.”
“I do.” Scott dropped the bag and stepped forward, wrapping Theo into an embrace. “You were freaked out. You hid it for two whole days, but shit like that is going to come out eventually.”
Scott placed a kiss on Theo’s forehead. “As long as you’re safe, I don’t care.”
“You didn’t do this when you were hurt.”
The alpha chuckled grimly. “Yeah. You gotta stop comparing yourself to me, because myths of my invincibility are just that.”
“I studied you. I know what happened. I read how Araya Calaveras tortured you with electricity and you walked it off. Kate Argent and turned you into a berserker, but you didn’t run away like a co-”
Scott covered Theo’s mouth. “Stop. We’re different people. I didn’t run away. I went limp. I went silent.”
“Better than running.”
“Was it? You used that very behavior to break me and Stiles apart because I didn’t want to deal with what was happening right in front of my face. I nearly lost Kira because I couldn’t open my mouth and share my fear.” Scott reached out and used his fingers to raise Theo’s chin after the chimera dropped his eyes in shame. “I’m not trying to hurt you, but people deal with horrible things like we went through differently. It’s healing; it’s not supposed to be a strategic advantage.”
“You aren’t hurting me. I … I thought I was better than that. I thought I had mastered my emotions.”
“You haven’t, and that’s a good thing.” Scott kissed him gently. “It means you’re human.”
Theo kissed him back and it wasn’t just a peck on the cheek. When they broke apart, they were both breathless and flushed.
“You’ve got a choice, Scotty. This whole situation isn’t working out for me.”
Scott’s jaw had dropped in confusion and a little bit of fear.
“Either you let me put some clothes on, or you take your clothes off.” Theo winked at him.
Shoulders shagging in relief, Scott shook his head. “You asshole.” He mock-glared at Theo, then reached down to pull his t-shirt over his head.
“Oh. Ew, ew, ew, stop!” Stiles appeared at the top of the stairs. “While this resembles the beginning of some of my favorite porn, can you not?”
Theo darted over and grabbed the bag that Scott had brought, pulling out a pair of boxers.
“Hey, don’t get heated.” Stiles started walking down the stairs. “I didn’t mean to spoil sexy time, but I’m going to have to. We’re not in the point in our friendship where we get to swing, anyway.” Derek appeared behind him, at least having the good grace to seem embarrassed.
Scott sighed. “How did you find me?”
“I followed you!”
“No,” Derek correct. “I followed Scott by scent. You just talked all the time.”
Theo buttoned up his cargo shorts. “I think the real question he wants to ask is why you two followed him?”
Stiles looked at Derek. “It can wait.”
Derek’s eyebrows came together in condemnation. “You have to tell them. It’s not going to hurt less if you wait.”
“I figured it out, Scott.” Stiles said heavily. “I know who’s trying to hurt Theo.”
Theo finished pulling an a-shirt over his head, but it caught his interest, even as it caught Scott’s.
“And we weren’t really following you, Scott.” Stiles said sadly. “We were following the person who was following you.” Lifting his voice, he accused the empty room. “Isn’t that right, Corey?”
Emerging from the wall, Corey Bryant appeared, holding what looked to be a flamethrower. “Yeah. Pretty much.”
“Corey?” Scott stared in bewilderment as if he had never seen Corey emerge from his invisible state before. The alpha’s voice carried several different notes of disbelief and hurt. His eyes dropped to the flame thrower and then quickly shifted to Stiles before coming to rest on Theo.
Theo sagged as if weights had been hung on his limbs, while a long slow sigh escaped his lips. He didn’t look away from Corey, didn’t avoid his gaze in the slightest.
To his lift, Derek shifted almost imperceptibly, body tensing so as to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. He took a slow step forward, measuring the distance between Stiles and the other chimera.
Corey moved the nozzle of his weapon to point in Derek’s direction, shaking his head at the movement.
“It’s not a cliché.” Stiles broke the tension, his voice echoing loudly in the old laboratory. He startled at the volume of his own declaration, but, after taking a deep breath, he started again. “It’s not a cliché; it’s a process. You wouldn’t call baking a cake in an oven a cliché, would you?”
“Stiles?” Scott roused himself from his shock. “What are you talking about?”
“Method, motive, opportunity.” Stiles answered, drawing strength from Scott’s question. “The concept appears in most detective stories and a lot detective television shows, though not as often recently. It’s a good mnemonic to keep your mind focused during an investigation. It’s how I figured out it was you, Corey.”
Corey kept the weapon trained on the werewolves. “Where did I mess up?”
“You didn’t really mess up; I mean, I don’t think it was mistake more than it was a necessity.” Stiles’ voice rose in pitch as he tried to take command of the situation. His eyes darted about the room as if we were analyzing all the different possibilities for chaos. “I wasn’t absolutely sure until this afternoon, when I determined that you had the best range of opportunities to commit all the crimes, I mean, incidents. I made a list of the number of people who would have known that Theo was the one driving Scott home after we left the beach. I made a list of the number of people who knew enough about Scott and Theo to estimate the length of time it would take them to get home. Even a professional assassin couldn’t get that information so quickly. Narrowing the list down was made easier when Scott insisted that the pack tell outsiders as little as possible about the trip to the music festival.”
“You did that?” Theo asked without looking at the alpha. Scott grunted in answer.
“There were two alternatives. We were dealing with a world-class assassin with significant resources, or we were dealing with an inside job. I started with the most likely option first.”
Scott closed his eyes and when he spoke he sounded weary, wearier than most people had ever heard him. “You investigated the pack.”
“Yes, I did, and I was right to do so!”
Derek moved horizontally to be closer to Stiles. “I think you’re missing the point.”
“No, I’m not.” Stiles answered sharply. “I know Scott wants us to be one big happy family, but that’s unrealistic. Theo has a painful history with every single member of the pack except you, Derek. So …” Stiles took a deep breath before he continued on. “Corey, I found out you borrowed your uncle’s truck the day before we went to the festival. No one — not even Mason — knew where you were all day. I’m guessing you drove to the campsite and buried the box.”
Corey shrugged. With one hand, he unbuckled the harness of the flame thrower.
“Where did you get that?” Theo asked, incredulously, looking at the weapon. “Why did you get that?”
“Oh, where he got it is easy. He stole it from the local forest fire brigade. They’re used for controlled burns.” Stiles took the initiative. “And why? Because he’s recreating exactly what happened to him.”
“What do you mean?” Scott said.
“Once I put everything up on the board, it’s obvious. Theo stepped on a scorpionfish at the beach, but I don’t think you planned that, did you?”
“No,” answered Corey, letting the flamethrower drop to the ground. “That was an accident, but it did give me the idea for all this.”
Scott made a sound a little deeper than a whimper; Theo scoffed like things suddenly made sense. Derek glanced back at both of them. “I wasn’t here. Someone explain it to me, please.”
“Corey’s first boyfriend, Lucas, was a chimera too,” Scott said sadly. “He was made into a girtablilu.”
Derek recognized the name immediately. “He stung someone.”
Scott nodded to Corey.
Corey didn’t make any attempt at a reply. He simply stepped away from the flame thrower, which brought the tension in the room down a few notches.
“I’m going to take a guess here,” Stiles began again. “You saw Theo stung by the fish, and it reminded you of what happened between you and Lucas.”
“What was done to Lucas,” Corey suddenly spat.
“After that, when you heard from Mason about Scott’s and Theo’s side trip, that’s when you started planning this. You went and got the crossbow and bolt from where?”
Corey didn’t answer.
Theo guessed, ruefully. “Argent and Deaton didn’t get all the operating theaters, did they?”
Shaking his head tightly, Corey began to speak, though his eyes never left Theo’s. “That night, at the beach, in the tents, Mason fell asleep but I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop thinking about Lucas. I couldn’t stop thinking about how he died. How his parents didn’t even get the chance to bury him, how Parrish had burned him to ash at the Nemeton. You know he doesn’t even have a grave?”
“No, I didn’t know that,” Scott replied. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save him.”
Instead of responding to the sincerity in Scott’s voice, Corey shot him a venomous glare.
“I don’t get it; Corey has a scent,” Derek wondered. “He couldn’t have shot Theo in front of Scott’s house without leaving some sign for me to find.”
Stiles flailed a hand at Derek, shushing him impatiently. “So you chose to recreate at the McCall house the way Lucas died.”
Corey nodded. “Turns out I’m a pretty good shot.”
Scott let out a strangled exclamation. “Corey, you almost killed him--”
“No,” Stiles interrupted. “He didn’t. You were very careful, weren’t you? You see, the biggest problem I had immediately after realizing that Corey could be our culprit was determining the method. Corey is many things, but he’s not a trained assassin. I’m also pretty sure he hasn’t been hoarding Dread Doctor artifacts. I think that Mason would have noticed it if he had been.”
“Mason has nothing to do with this.”
Theo stirred himself finally, remembering something. “At the festival, you stabbed me with a sword the same way they killed you. You weren’t going to stop with Lucas’s death.”
“But burying him alive?” Derek’s brows knitted together.
“It was the closest I could come to arranging a resurrection.” Corey said, his eyes glittering at Theo with malice.
Theo took a deep breath. “You were going to burn me like Parrish burned you at Eichen House.”
“But how?” Scott demanded. “How did you leave no trace? How did you get these things?”
“I can answer that,” Theo said. He took a step toward Corey and dropped his claws. Scott protested immediately as did Stiles, but Derek intercepted the pair, stopping Scott with one hand and snagging Stiles’ shirt with the other. As Theo approached, somewhat menacingly, Corey pulled a pistol from thin air with a flash of green light. It looked like an old Colt Army Model 1860. He pointed it directly Theo, his eyes blazing with that same green light, and Theo nodded in self-satisfaction. “He’s a Ghost Rider.”
“You’ve grown more powerful. I’m betting you can now invoke the memory loss as they could. I certainly believe you can shift matter back and forth between our dimension and theirs.” Stiles’ excitement grew as he solved the mystery. “With those abilities you could have gotten into places like CalFire or Argent’s storage facilities. It’s also how you were able to kidnap Theo in the middle of a festival; it’s how you were able to wait for Scott and Theo to return in broad daylight and no one would see you.”
Derek sniffed the air. “When you use your powers, your scent fades.”
Corey was focused on Theo, who stared right back at him. The green in his eyes intensified and Theo didn’t flinch.
“It makes sense, of course. The first thing I figured out was that the person wasn’t trying to kill Theo; they were trying to send a message. But someone powerful enough to pull this off wouldn’t worry about concealing their identity?” Stiles bit his lip. “Unless they had too much to lose.”
“If this was bothering you so much, why didn’t you say something?” Scott took a step forward.
“Nobody move,” Corey ordered, clicking back on the hammer. “Or I erase him from reality. You won’t even remember he existed.”
Theo swallowed. “You can do that?”
“Can I do that? Can I do that?” Corey laughed bitterly, hysterically. “I’ve been growing stronger since the first time I went invisible. When it first happened, I was able to only to turn myself, but later I managed to do it with Mason when he needed to. Then I found I could move small things back and forth between the dimensions. But it wasn’t until after I was a fucking focal point for two dimensions merging that I began to realize that I could do everything a Ghost Rider could do.”
“I didn’t think—” Scott began.
“Of course you didn’t! You didn’t pay attention!” Corey sneered. “No one paid attention but Mason. But don’t worry about ignoring me, I’m used to it.”
Scott took another step forward, regardless of the danger. “Corey, put the gun down. Please. There are other ways to get what you want.”
“What I want right now is for you to stop moving. You know what this gun can do.” Corey snarled. “Instead of moving, we’ll start with a few questions.”
“Anything you want.” Scott tried to placate. “I don’t know why you didn’t come to me.”
Corey snorted. “Well, that leads to my first question. Who the fuck do you think you are?”
The other four people in the room all seemed to react as if Corey was talking to any of them. In frustration, Corey shifted the gun from Theo to Scott. “You. Alpha. Who the fuck do you think you are? You’re not Jesus Christ. Who are you to forgive Theo for what he did to anyone but you?”
Scott looked slightly puzzled. “Theo changed. You’ve seen it.”
“I don’t think he has,” Corey rejoined. “I think that when I met him, he was a scheming bastard who did dirty work for other people in order to get what he wanted. Now, he’s a scheming bastard who does dirty work for other people in order to get what he wants. The only real change is who he’s working for and what he wants.”
Stiles glanced at Derek, who gestured for the human to remain still. Theo didn’t wince at the accusation. In fact, he seemed remarkably placid in the face of this revelation.
Scott bit his lip. “Theo is not the same.” He said it carefully and slowly. “I mean, what you are saying is true on a certain level, but that difference is a real difference.”
“Says the guy who wants in his pants.”
“You don’t get it, Scott. Maybe you did once, but this True Alpha bullshit has gone to your head. You want to save everyone, even people like him. You think that he’s different? He’s not different at all. He’s what he always was — a tactician.”
Stiles pursed his lips. “Corey has a point.”
“I don’t believe either of you.” Scott looked between them. His jaw quivered with suppressed anger.
“Theo knew that the only way he could be safe was by staying here and becoming part of your pack, and the most efficient way of doing that was by convincing you that he’s changed.” Stiles said with a degree of relish. “But honestly? You and Liam are the only people he’s bothered trying to convince.”
“I’ve been giving people space!” Theo protested.
The gun jerked back to Theo. “Is that what you call it?”
“Corey.” Scott tried to get the angry chimera’s attention back to him. “I’m sure that you’re angry with me about this. But you should be angry with only me about this. I didn’t mean to act as if what happened to you didn’t matter.”
Corey softened, but there was still an edge to his voice. “Mason called you a shark once.”
Scott’s eyebrows lifted as far as up as they could go.
“We were drunk. Well, he was drunk, we were drinking, and he told me about how certain sharks — not all of them, but some of them — have to keep moving in order to breathe. He told me you were like them. You have to keep moving forward or you’ll drown.”
Scott’s face clouded over with confusion, but Derek, standing to the side, nodded in agreement.
“He told me about everything that’s happened to you since you were bitten. Stiles filled him in.”
At the alpha’s glance, Stiles shrugged. “Someone had to. You’d never talk about it.”
“Mason told me that what happened to you has to mean something, has to produce something good, or it’s only misery. You tell yourself if you can make people like Theo into an ally, or a friend or a lover, you can convince yourself that all the torture you went through was worth it. That’s why you’re so mad at Peter, because he won’t move on. But you’ve forgotten that other people aren’t like you, Scott, and that it’s okay not to be like you. Which is why I resent you for trying to force Theo on me.”
“You are. You said in no uncertain terms that he’s here because you want him here. Well, I want him gone. I look at him and I remember not just what the Doctors did, but what he did. How he threatened me to keep me in line. How he abandoned me in Eichen House when Parrish burned me. I look at him and I remember what he did to Tracy and Josh. Don’t you remember?”
“Don’t you look at him sometimes and remember him murdering you? Don’t you remember him tearing open your chest after he got Liam to beat you nearly to death? How can you stand to be in the same room with him?”
The alpha closed his eyes. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I have to believe in a future where what he did doesn’t matter in order to get out of bed in the morning, but that’s my choice. But I also remember what was done to him. He was raised by the men who hurt you, Corey. He was put in the ground by the Skin-Walkers and he came back out a different person — that has to count for something.”
Theo blinked. He had been listening quietly.
“Bullshit. He came out of the ground the same way he went in. Want to know how Douglas got to me, Scott?”
“Corey.” Theo spoke out loud. “You can shoot me.”
“He doesn’t want me to keep talking. He doesn’t want me to tell you how little he had changed when he escaped their hell. He recognized Mr. Douglas, my science teacher, as Der Soldat, but he didn’t tell anyone, because the one thing you can always rely upon about Theo Raeken is that he constantly looks for an advantage.”
“Corey,” Theo began again.
“Why do you think he’s trying to fuck you?” Corey spat.
“Shoot me.” Theo couldn’t bring himself to look at Scott or anyone. “Shoot me now.”
Stiles raised a voice. “That’s a little extreme, Theo. Trust me. You don’t want to experience being erased.”
Theo started walking toward Corey, regardless of the look of anger on the boy’s eyes and the exclamations of caution from the others. “It’s the only way, Corey, for you to get everything you want. Shoot me.”
Scott launched into an action, rushing to pull Theo out of the way of the gun.
Corey pulled the trigger.
The train station echoed with Theo’s footsteps. The air was oddly stilted, almost stale, and his nose was filled with dust. There looked like there had been a fight amid the benches, but there was no sign of what had caused the commotion. In fact, there was no sound, no fresh scent, and very little light. It could only have been minutes since he appeared here, but it felt like hours.
Corey suddenly emerged from one of the side tunnels.
“It’s done then? No one remembers me?”
“I think so.” Corey shrugged. “You’re the first person that I’ve erased from reality. It’s not as easy as they made it look.”
“Did you practice?”
“Sort of. Most of it was trial and error, but I think that the crossover effects is not just …” Corey thought for a moment. “It’s not a function of the object’s location but the object’s nature. All things that are not directly observed can exist or not exist at the same time. When something is brought over here, the lack of observation is retroactive; it’s a property of this dimension.”
“So you’re saying that once you shift something to this place, it not only doesn’t exist in that other dimension, it never existed.”
“Not exactly. It’s in a state of quantum superposition. It exists and does not exist there because it can’t be observed.”
“Why do memories bring a person back?”
“Memories, in a way, are recordings of earlier observations of an object. Recalling a memory is similar to the act of the observing, so if someone there can manage to remember enough of you, it can tip the scales back into existence.”
“You worked this all out by yourself?”
“Oh, hell no. Mason did and explained it to me enough times that I finally got it.” Corey shook his head violently. “You’re being awfully calm about this. Why did you ask me to shoot you?”
“Because I needed you to shoot me.”
“You’re going to have to explain that.”
“No one over there remembers me. Right?”
“They won’t remember me?”
“Most likely. They remembered Stiles, but that was mostly due to Lydia’s abilities as a banshee. She’s in Massachusetts.”
“So no one can bring me back but you. If you shifted back to that dimension right now and never came back, I’d be trapped here forever. There’s no escape.”
“It’s important to me that right now you have all the power. Right now, I’m at your mercy. At any time, you could go back and have your life with Mason and finish college and adopt children and have everything you’ve ever wanted.”
“So. Let’s talk.”
Corey blinked twice and then blinked again. “What?”
“As long as you were afraid of me, as long as you think that you don’t have control, you weren’t going to listen to anything I had to say. In this place, I think you can hear me. You get to decide if I’m lying or not. And the first thing I want to say is that you were right about me, Corey, but so was Scott. I have changed, but I haven’t changed all that much. At least not as much as Scott and Liam think I’ve changed.”
The other chimera kept blinking at him.
“I seek advantage. I gravitate towards power. It’s true. It’s always been true.” Theo spoke earnestly. “I’d speculate with some pop psychology, but I don’t think you really care about how I became like this.”
“No. I don’t.”
“You don’t and you shouldn’t have to. I guess I’ve always known how much I was hurting you by just being around. It does, doesn’t it? It hurts to see me happy.”
Corey hesitated. He had obviously not expected this line of argument.
“You can say it here. There’s no one to judge you.”
“Yes.” Despite himself, the chimera suddenly couldn’t look Theo in the face. “It does. I tried. I really did, but I can’t look at you and forget what you’ve done.”
“I understand, and I can’t blame you for it, but I don’t want to leave. I won’t leave the pack unless you make me.”
“Even if that means I leave you here? Time flows differently here.” Corey threatened. “I could give you food and water and you could live here for months your time but, for us, it would be years.”
“Then that’s what you’re going to have to do if you don’t want me around.”
“Because I love Scott.”
Corey blinked once more, his eyes returning to their human color. “But you said …”
“I said I was attracted to power, that I seek advantage, but I also told you I changed. I do. I love Scott. I love him because of his power.” Theo licked his lips. “I don’t believe I can possibly understand how you feel. I lived with the Doctors for years, and they hurt me and they used me, but they died. I hurt you. I used you. I’m responsible for almost every terrible thing you went through. I can’t imagine what you feel watching while I slowly rebuild my life into something different. It’s got to feel unfair.”
“Yeah. It feels very unfair.”
“But you don’t understand what I feel like either. I’m not the victim. I’m the villain.”
“Tell me then.”
“You can’t imagine it, Corey. You can’t imagine how it feels to look in someone’s eyes and know that the person in front of you knows every terrible thing you’ve ever done. He knows what I did and who I did it too. He wasn’t surprised when you told him about me lying about Douglas. He already knew I was capable of that. You can’t imagine how it feels to look in someone’s eyes and know that I tried to murder him and he doesn’t think it matters anymore.” Theo raised his arms. “These hands ripped open his chest, and he still wants me around.”
Theo started laughing, bitterly.
“This is going to sound maudlin, but there is no power greater than being the reason someone changes their life. I look in Scott’s eyes, and I know he believes I can be better. He wants to see me be better.”
“Strangely enough, yes. It’s the biggest advantage I could possibly find anywhere: someone who sees me differently than I see myself.” Theo glanced at the empty train station. “The only way I’m going to leave him is if you make me. Scott made his choice; so have I. Now you get to make yours.”
Mason finished the conclusion for his essay saved the file. The essay wasn’t due until a week from yesterday, but he had been so interested in the topic that he found he couldn’t stop writing. He shoved it into a metaphorical drawer and promised himself he would look at it tomorrow for there was a need for some editing. It was supposed to be three to five pages, but he had ended up writing a whole ten. Ms. Zarif had warned him several times that page limits worked both ways; he had to learn how to focus his own thoughts in order to meet requirements of any assignment.
The ideas presented in Hamlet about the impossibility of justice in a world of cruelties and lies had spoken to Mason on a fundamental level. A wrong had been done to Hamlet’s father, and while Hamlet had the opportunity to avenge it, in the end, his attempts to deliver justice had done more damage than it helped. Almost every member of cast was dead and though Fortinbras promised a reestablishment of justice, what did that matter to the people who had died? Had punishing Claudius been worth it?
Mason had found himself eager to answer the question because it was very similar to a question he had posed to himself recently. Someone was pursuing Theo, and Stiles had convinced everyone that their motivation was to punish him for his work with the Dread Doctors. Mason could sympathize with the mysterious attacker. He had never told anyone, but he had never quite forgiven Theo for the things he had done, even though part of him thought he should have. Mason was alive, he had Corey, he had the pack, and he had a future. He didn’t really remember the times when Sebastian Valet had taken control of his body and as the Beast murdered dozens of people.
Yet, the wrongness of what had happened still hung in the back of his mind, like a lingering cold. He’d encounter signs of the Beast’s rampage, such as noticing the faint scar on Lydia’s neck or driving past the high school and seeing the news sign. Even worse, sometimes he’d meet someone who lost a family member or a friend to Valet’s rampage. He couldn’t hear about Monroe attacking an innocent pack of werewolves and not acknowledge that her rage came from never-healing scars which his body had caused.
That feeling made him want to vivisect Theo Raeken, but he told himself he was a good person and that he would never do something like that.
He must have been sitting at his computer for ten minutes, staring at the essay on the screen, hands clenched at his sides, before Corey spoke up behind him.
“I couldn’t do it.”
“Man, I love you, but you have to stop scaring me like that.”
Mason stretched out his hand, his tension disappearing. Corey crossed the room and allowed Mason to pull him into a one-armed hug.
“I couldn’t do it.” Corey repeated, sounding sad and resigned at the same time.
“What couldn’t you do?”
Corey pulled out of the hug and went and sat on the bed, obviously miserable. Mason got up from the desk and followed him over, sitting next to him.
“Kiss me,” Corey asked.
Mason blinked but he did as he was asked, leaning over and bringing his lips to his boyfriend’s. Kissing between them was always gentle. They didn’t need any more rough stuff in their lives.
“Tell me you love me.”
“I love you.” Mason said automatically. He meant it as well, but concern crept around the corners of his eyes.
“Tell me you love me no matter what I’ve done.”
Mason said quickly. “I love you no matter what, but you’re scaring me here, Corey.”
“It was me. I was the one hunting Theo. Hurting him.”
Corey’s eyes wouldn’t settle on Masons, but neither did they drop to show embarrassment or shame. Mason sat there, working it all out in his head. With the confession, everything fell into place.
“Why would you do that?”
“For you!” Corey responded. “For me! For Lucas and Hayden and Tracy and Tracy’s dad and Josh and Beth and Noah and all the people whose names we don’t know!”
Mason folded his hands in his lap.
“I was going to do it for them. I was going to make sure that Theo felt everything they felt, what their families felt. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand going to be the beach with him. Every time he said something witty, I wanted to punch him so bad.”
“You think I wanted you to do that?” Mason asked, trying to be what Corey needed and feeling like a hypocrite.
Corey turned to him. “You wanted to hurt him. I know you did.”
“Yeah.” Mason said slowly and then nodded. “Yeah, I did. But maybe I didn’t want you to do it!”
They finally stared into each other's eyes. Corey’s passion subsided while Mason waited for the right moment to continue.
“You went through so much. I know, I was there. You didn’t need to do this for me or for any of them. It doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t make them feel better. Did it make you feel better?”
“No.” Corey’s voice was small. “But no one else was doing anything.”
“The Skin-Walkers did something.”
Corey frowned. “Until Liam let him out.”
Mason sighed, sadly. “You’re looking for vengeance, but you’ve forgotten what Deaton taught us. Death, pain, and misery done to someone isn’t balanced by death, pain and misery done to someone else.”
“I know, but Theo will never be tried. He’ll never have to face the families of the people he helped kill. Does that seem right to you?”
“It doesn’t. Don’t pretend I don’t feel the same way.” Mason replied with a hint of anger. “But time only flows in one direction.”
“I couldn’t change the past, but I thought I could make a new future, one without Theo.” Corey said, miserably. “But … but in the end I couldn’t go through with it.”
Mason took both of Corey’s hands. “I’m not surprised. You’re a good person.”
“No, I’m not a good person. I was going to, but Theo talked me out of it. Theo reminded me of how much I could lose if I killed him. He reminded me that I could end up like him.”
“You are a good person, and you’re nothing like him. If anything, he could end up like you.” Mason squeezed his hand when Corey looked up at him. “I mean it.”
“You are more good than bad, Corey, and that’s all anyone can ask for.” Mason kissed him again.
Unfortunately for Eric, the principal had seen him do it. It didn’t erase the humiliation Derek felt nor had he had time to redo the math homework. Yet, when he had got home from school, Mom had been waiting with a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, and she had taken the time to sit down and do not only the homework that had been ruined, but the homework for the next day alongside him.
It was one of his best memories.
He stirred the lemonade once more as he picked up a platter containing glasses and sandwiches with one hand. Then he picked up the pitcher, imagining this was how servers did it at restaurants and headed toward the living room or the loft.
Stiles was perched on the couch. He had drawn his knees up until the touched his chest and wrapped his arms around it. He was staring straight ahead as if he was trying to look through the brick wall in front of him.
Derek set down the sandwiches and poured them both a glass of lemonade.
“I thought you might be hungry.” Derek sat down next to him. “I made some food.”
Stiles brought his legs down and studied the food. Finally he reached out and took a sandwich, eating it slowly and deliberately. Derek tried to eat his own sandwich, but he spent more time watching Stiles. Something was obviously wrong. Derek decided to wait until Stiles was ready to talk.
After a single sandwich and half a glass of the lemonade, Stiles looked up at the ceiling. “I’m not going back to George Washington.”
“Why?” Derek kept his face very neutral, because part of him didn’t want Stiles to go back to the other side of the country.
“There’s no point in spending all that money in D.C. if I’m not going to become an FBI agent.”
Stiles made the announcement so placidly that Derek might have been fooled into thinking it didn’t matter to him, but Derek could smell a burst of misery come off of Stiles.
“Do you want to tell me why you’ve made that decision?”
Stiles bit his thumb, clearly thinking about how he wanted to answer it. Derek gave him his space by making a big show of eating his sandwich. Derek wanted to know, wanted to make it better, but he had learned that the harder you pressed Stiles, the more he resisted. He’d be patient.
“Corey is guilty of two counts of assault and battery, one count of burglary, and one count of criminal confinement.”
Derek nodded. He hadn’t suspected this was the problem, but it made sense. “Stiles …”
“Theo.” Stiles shook his head. “I can’t even count how many crimes of which he’s guilty.”
“It’s not that simple. Theo’s been punished.”
“He spent three months in the Skin-walker’s hell realm. The average person convicted of murder in the United States spends 13 years in jail.”
The werewolf reached out and took Stiles’ hand. “What has that to do with you?”
“Once I get a badge, once I get a gun, once I’m an instrument of justice, how can I possibly be pack? How can I take a trip with Theo to Alaska and then look at myself in the mirror? The night before last, you, me, and Peter sat down and watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier in this room.” Stiles held up both hands, fingers splayed. “Peter’s guilty of eight murders that I know of!” Stiles tucked his right thumb in. “And I think he’s responsible for the death of Jennifer Blake, though I can’t prove it.”
Derek felt a little sick out of empathy. “There were … extenuating circumstances.”
“I’ll be an officer of the law. I won’t get to determine who deserves to be arrested and who doesn’t! If a father kidnaps the men who gang-raped and murdered his daughter, tortures, and then kills them, I won’t get to take extenuating circumstances into account. I’ll arrest him. Even if I cut myself off from the pack, the knowledge I have isn’t going to go away. There is no statute of limitations on murder. Even you could still be arrested for trying to murder Lydia; you won’t be safe for two more years.”
“Your father doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.”
Stiles looked away, bitterly. “My father broke every oath of office he ever took, mostly to protect me. He’s lucky that Scott’s dad wasn’t serious about the impeachment, or he could have found himself in big trouble.”
Derek didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t find an argument against the decision. His family had founded Beacon Hills, lived in it, and protected it, but they had done so out of necessity. It was a safe place that made it easier to conceal what had to be concealed from humans.
“This is my nightmare scenario. I spend the next four years becoming an FBI agent. I spend a couple of years after that as a real agent, so that’s my entire youth, right? Then one day I’m testifying in a case, and the defense attorney asks if I’ve ever failed to report a crime, and I’m screwed because Monroe — or whoever succeeds her — gave the defense information.”
“For example, they give the defense proof I know who murdered Jennifer, Peter’s nurse.”
“How would they be able to do that?”
“I’m under oath; they can bring in any evidence which might demonstrate that my testimony is unreliable. They could do that by proving that I knew about a murder and didn’t tell anyone. They could prove that I knew about multiple murders and didn’t tell anyone. They could even prove I was involved in multiple murders — say the hospital massacre or the death of Katashi and his men — and neglected to share this with the Bureau. My career would be over, and at the very least, I’d have wasted six to eight years of my life and a lot of money. At the most, jail time.”
“And this just occurred to you?”
“No. It was always in the back of my mind.” Stiles gripped Derek’s hand. “Corey … reminded me of something. I guess I kept pretending that all of this — all that’s happened — would eventually no longer matter. But it will, won’t it? It will always matter. You know that better than anyone, don’t you?”
Derek nodded. “I do.”
“So how do you go forward with all that … weight on you?”
The werewolf reached out and lifted Stiles chin with his finger. “You find something worth moving towards.”
Stiles smiled wobbled but it strengthened when Derek returned one of his own.
“Hello, Theo, how can I help you?”
“If it isn’t too much trouble, could I talk to Scott?” Theo asked, politely but then this face screwed up. “No, I’d like to talk to him even if it is too much trouble.”
Deaton’s left eyebrow lifted maybe a quarter inch. That was all the reaction to Theo’s sudden shift in attitude merited. “He’s working with a sick Siamese right now.”
“Fine. I’ll wait.”
“It might be some time.”
Theo flopped into the hard plastic seats. He had avoided this place since the time that Hayden had been dying in the back room. He was never comfortable here. He was even less comfortable in these seats. Old conversations tumbled over and over in his head.
It might have been an hour or maybe an hour and a half before Scott came out of the back room. Theo had been so upset that he didn’t remember what time it was when it came in. Scott didn’t look at him immediately. Instead, he hung up his white lab coat on a peg and went to the desk. He was filling out paperwork.
“Just a moment.”
Theo gritted his teeth. He knew what this was, so he was willing to play along, for a while. The second hand slowly moved across the face of the clock. Outside, life went on as it always did in Beacon Hills.
Scott finally finished with the paperwork, signing his name and sliding all the forms into the cat’s medical file. He stood up and headed over to the filing cabinet. With his back to Theo, he broke the silence.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you.”
Scott’s tone sounded so reasonable that it made it Theo stand up right out of his chair.
“Yes, here. Because when I stop by your house, you pretend not to be home even though I can hear your heartbeat standing at the top of the stairs. I came here because you haven’t been answering your phone.”
Something about the word choice made Scott flinch and then turn to face him. “And that wasn’t a big enough hint for you?”
“A hint? A fucking hint?”
“Can we not have this fight right here?”
Theo clenched his hands and licked his lips. “Then come with me and we’ll have the fight anywhere you want, but I’m not going anywhere until we talk.”
Deaton had perfect timing as usual; he happened to be in the doorway between the back room and the lobby. “I think I can spare you for a little while, Scott.”
Scott looked momentarily betrayed. Deaton gave him the slightest nod and went back into the work room. Without another word, Scott walked to the front door and then held it open for Theo. “Come on.”
Theo only made it half-way across the room before he paused, suddenly, and all color drained from his face. His heart beat loud in his own ears; Scott must have heard his fear, smelled his panic.
“Come on, Theo, it’ll be okay.”
“Sure.” Theo rolled his shoulders and then went through the front door.
Scott let the door swing shut and then went to where his motorcycle was, leaning up against it. “Yes. I’ve been avoiding you.”
Theo wandered about, not sure where to stand, where to put his hands, where to keep his eyes. “I get it. What we have … what we had puts me you into a difficult position. You’ve forgiven me, I don’t doubt that, but it’s not just me you have to worry about. You’re their alpha. I understand … if you have to end it.”
The alpha’s brows crinkled. “What are you talking about?”
“Uh.” Theo felt on the wrong foot. “I thought … I thought that Corey …”
“I understand Corey. I wanted you to be part of the pack so much, I didn’t really think about how other people would feel. I’ll apologize to him.”
“You’ll … apologize?”
“He’s right. I don’t have the authority to insist that he forgive you. Or that anyone forgive you. I don’t have the ability to absolve you of any sin or crime that wasn’t only directed at me. You understand that right?”
“I always have. I told you that.”
“Then why … why were you avoiding me?”
“I didn’t remember you.” Scott almost reached out to touch Theo, but he stopped himself. “I know how a Ghost Rider’s power works. It erases people from reality. Everything you are and everything you’ve done. You know what? When I didn’t remember you, my life was just fine.”
For some reason, Theo couldn’t breathe.
“I was a little lonely, I suppose, but I had my pack, and I had my family, and I knew I had school when I get to go, and I’ve done so many good things in my life that I felt content.” Scott continued. “When he erased you, I didn’t know why I was in one of the Doctor’s old operating theaters, but in the end it didn’t matter. Derek, Stiles and I figured out no one was hurt, so we went to go get fucking ice cream because it was hot. And I didn’t miss you at all.”
Theo felt like he was going to throw up.
“Then Corey brought you back and I remembered everything, and then I was angry. I was so angry.”
“Because I didn’t miss you at all. Fuck you, Theo.”
Theo blinked at the anger.
“There’s only one way that could happen, Theo. There’s only one way I could have feelings for you, one way that I could have feelings this strong for you, and then not be crippled when you left. You’re not really mine. You never have been.”
“It’s obvious when you get some distance. You may want to be, but you don’t consider yourself pack. You always act as if any day we spend together is the only day we’ll ever have. I realized that what you said to Corey was right — you’re a tactician, and you’ve been kissing me while you’ve had one foot out the door.”
“I’m not following.”
“I love you, Theo, but I don’t have you. There’s a tattoo on my arm. Do you know why I got it? Because I went a whole summer not calling or texting Allison, and it was agony. There’s an obsidian throwing star in my bedroom. Do you know why I have it? It’s Kira’s tail, and she gave it to me to look after, and I might hold it for decades. They changed me. They gave themselves to me, and when they left, they took part of me with them. The holes they made are there when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed at night. But you? You were erased, and I was as still as complete as I was when you were here.”
Theo bit his lip and his eyes filled with tears.
“When the Ghost Riders took Stiles, I didn’t remember him, but I felt like my arm had been ripped off. Do you get it now? You’re being strategic with me. You’re playing it safe.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Move in. This week. Today. Leave your dirty clothes on my floor. Use all the hot water. Scream at me when you’re angry. Push yourself into my life so deeply that I’ll never get the stink of you out. Make me fight for you. Make me cry for you. That’s what I want. That’s all I’ll ever want from you.”
Theo opened his mouth to say yes, easily, but the words caught on his teeth. Scott was looking at him so intently that Theo realized … he had to mean it.
Scott didn’t move, but it was like he had exploded into joy.
“Fuck, Scott, you are so goddamned romantic.”
“Yes, I am.”
“I’m surprised that you don’t have fat little cupids following you.”
“And you’re a cynic.”
“I’m a realist.”
“Well, Mr. Realist, if you want to, come over here and kiss me.”
So he did.
The stoop was made of several large rocks worn smooth and from them the path wandered down the low grassy slope until it stopped at the water’s edge. Scott sat on those rocks, watching three of his betas run about in a grassy field in the light of a dimming sun. In the distance, what he assumed was a grizzly bear and her two cubs made their way along the shoreline of the Iliuk Arm of Naknek Lake, watching the frolicking werewolves apprehensively. Scott yawned; it was nearly ten p.m., but the sun was only now beginning to sink into the distant Bering Sea.
Even with his alpha stamina, it had been a long day. The night before before, they had arrived at King Salmon Airport, and way too early that morning, they had driven from there to the Hale cabin. It had only been twenty miles, but there were no roads. Luckily, Derek had arranged for three Land Rovers to be waiting for them, including one that had six wheels in order to haul all the food and kerosene they needed for their stay.
Scott snorted at the idea of calling this building a simple log cabin. Built over the rise of the lake, it consisted of two stories, with four bedrooms, a full kitchen, a full basement, a kerosene-powered generator, a kerosene-powered hot-water heater, and even an old CRT television set. It had all the comforts of home.
Except it wasn’t home. All Scott had to take in a deep breath and that became clear to him all over again. When he was at school, or working at the clinic, or just walking down the street in Beacon Hills or Davis, there was always a need to tamp down his sense of smell. If he were careless, he could be overwhelmed in an urban environment. Here, he didn’t have to tamp it down, and that freedom was like stretching a stiff muscle. Here, the world was like the primeval forest in which werewolves had to have developed. He could pick out each individual person who had come with him, their direction, and their rough distance by scent alone. He could tell when someone turned on a hot water tap because of the slight increase in the intensity of the burning kerosene.
He could hear better as well. Theo always had a habit of moving stealthily but Scott was aware of him before he even got within three paces.
“Are you going to sit out there until the sun sets?” Theo didn’t stop until his knees were touching Scott’s shoulders. Scott leaned his head back so he could look up into Theo’s face.
“I might. It’s definitely tempting.”
“I seem to remember that when we went to a beach earlier this summer you made everyone work until all the tasks were done.” Theo pursed his lips like a disapproving schoolmarm. “And yet, here you are, goofing off.”
“Completely different. We were camping on a beach.”
“It’s not the same thing.” Scott stuck out his tongue in response to the teasing. “I was taking a break, because … it’s so different here. Is there really that much left to do?”
“Nah, I’m kidding. Mason and Stiles are going to kill each other trying to get the rec room power back on.”
“Hey, don’t look at me. I said as much and they said that it might rain tomorrow, and if we’re stuck in the house with nothing to do we might all kill each other, which given our track records …” Theo nodded in exaggerated agreement.
Scott still rested his head on Theo’s knees. “I guess that makes sense. Anything else?”
Scott stood up and turned around, yet he chose to stand on the bottom step to give the illusion of him being shorter than Theo. “This place is something else. The Hales must have loved coming here, even if they had the Preserve.”
“It’s the freedom. The isolation. It’s primal,” Theo added. Then he bent down a little and kissed Scott on the tip of nose. “The extent of that influence I suggest we try out tonight.”
With a chuckle, Scott lifted Theo off the steps bodily and then tumbled down with him into the grass. They rolled a little with Theo ending up on top. Scott stared up at him and the stars emerging from the darkening sky behind his head. “I wonder why they didn’t move here permanently.”
“I’d guess it would have to do with the nearest school being thirty miles away. Or the fact that there’s no Internet. Or the fact that there are no movie theaters, or Starbucks, or a Gap that’s not on the other side of an ocean or a mountain range.”
Scott tickled him and Theo burst out laughing. “Do you think so?”
“He’s right you know,” Derek said from the hallway inside the house. “It’s great to get away from it all, but I, personally like barber shops. And roads.”
Theo rolled off from on top of Scott and put a couple of feet into them to watch the older beta as he emerged from the house.
“Don’t do that,” Derek chided. “If you hide what you’re feeling, you’ll get frustrated, and that won’t be good for anyone.”
“Given recent events, I don’t think it’s smart—” Theo began to explain.
“Nope.” Derek popped the ‘p,’ picking up the mannerism from Stiles. “That’s not how pack is supposed to work, especially not here. We’re supposed to relax while we’re away from civilization, and we’re supposed to have fun, but the real point is that the only thing we have to occupy our time out here is each other.”
Scott smirked and bit his lip. “I’m making my best effort to keep my mind out of the gutter, but I get what you’re trying to say.”
“Would you explain it to me then?”
“It might feel like just another vacation, but it’s also about being honest with each other because there aren’t any distractions. There’s no school, no parents, no work, no practices, no video games, no responsibilities to get in the way. We’re going to find out who we are, so they’re going need to see you and me together. Liam is going to have to make peace with Hayden. You’re going to have to find some balance with Mason and Corey and Hayden.”
Theo sighed. “Do I have to?”
“Yes.” Derek and Scott said in unison.
“I wish I could go back to being a bad guy. They never made me do this touchy-feely stuff.”
Derek pulled his shirt over his head. “Take off your clothes.”
“Dude, he wants to run with you,” Scott said, rolling over to his side. “Right?”
Derek nodded and started slipping off his pants.
“Go ahead,” Scott encouraged him. “I think that Derek would love to have someone who could run with him. He hasn’t been able to do that since the last time Malia was home.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll just watch my beta children play like any grumpy old alpha.”
In the distance, they heard a cry. “I’m two years younger than you!”
Theo relented and Scott didn’t bother to hide the fact that he enjoyed Theo taking his clothes off. Soon, they were both transformed. Derek was a huge black wolf, his eyes glowing blue with the stress of the shift. Now that they were side-to-side, Theo was noticeably smaller as a coywolf. Scott had taken enough classes to be able to pick out the coyote traits. Theo’s eyes glowed golden.
“Go run.” Scott flashed red eyes at him. “We’ll be fine.”
They sprinted away, rushing past the three betas at the water’s edge and sprinting off toward the forest in the distance. Alec, Hayden and Liam stopped and watched them go.
Scott could imagine what they were feeling. He pulled himself up off the ground and sat back down on the stoop to wait. During his high school years, it had never even occurred to him to be jealous of Derek’s full transformation into a wolf. Now, he couldn’t help wondering how it felt. Did that make him a hypocrite?
Peter had spent years attacking him for his apparent dislike in being a werewolf, as if the Bite had given him nothing but benefits. Yes, he had had asthma before it and it might have killed him and he would never have gotten to play lacrosse, but, on the other hand, he also had never been mind controlled before. Never been shot before. Never been clawed or stabbed or ran over by cars or poisoned or drowned or turned into a Berserker before either. Playing lacrosse, even as a werewolf, hadn’t been fun given that he was usually consumed with worry about another blood-soaked monster. And, well, as for being killed? That had happened. A lot.
What had bugged him when Peter tried to ridicule him for not appreciating his forced gift was that in the end, it didn’t matter. Scott may have not enjoyed being a werewolf, but he still seemed to be ten times better at it than Mr. I-Am-The-Alpha-I’ve-Always-Been-the-Alpha. When Scott got his ass whipped, it was always by the Beast of Gevaudan or the Demon Wolf, it wasn’t by high school sophomores.
Scott asked himself why he was thinking of Peter. This trip was supposed to be about bonding, about coming closer as a pack, not about letting an antagonistic old bastard claim more of his head space than absolutely necessary.
Yet, in the back of his mind, he answered his own question. It’s because he could sense Corey approaching. Without another word, the Ghost Rider chimera sat down on the stoop next to them.
“What’s going on with Mason and Stiles?”
“Everything’s pretty much done, but they’re still debating the necessity of reading the directions. It got a little heated and a little repetitive, so I exercised the better part of valor.”
They sat on the stoop as the sun continued to set. In the distance, the three betas had rolled up their pants and were wading in the lake.
“Mason was right. I am a shark.”
Corey looked over at him, sharply.
“We have to start talking as a pack more, if we want things to be better. As the leader, that means I have the responsibility to start. He was right; I’m really only happy when I move forward.”
The chimera looked down at the ground beneath his feet.
“You never met my father.”
“I did.” Corey offered hopefully. “When we faked leaving Beacon Hills during Monroe’s time?”
“Oh. I didn’t think you were at the … oh, later.”
“What did you think of him?”
“When I was young, he had a drinking problem. And a working problem.” Scott had picked up a little sarcasm over the years. “And a yelling problem. I got it into my head that I was at fault for making my parents fight all the time. So, I tried to be a good boy.”
“Well,” Corey said, only half joking and only half bitter, “you succeeded.”
“Uh. Thanks. But that’s not my point. I’m doing this wrong.” Scott took a deep breath. “I don’t like fighting. It’s not just because people get hurt when you fight, and they do, it’s … it feels like I’ve failed. I want everyone to be happy together, because there’s a part of me that thinks it will keep people from leaving. It makes me want to move past the bad things and get to the better things.”
“I guess I’m trying to say — I’m sorry for trying to make you treat what happened the way I wanted you to treat it. I bullied you, because I used the power I have as alpha and I didn’t take into account your feelings.”
“Okay. Apology accepted.” Corey bit his lips. “I apologize for hurting Theo. I hadn’t dealt with my feelings about what he had done, and I felt … ignored.”
Scott nodded. Everyone who met them had experienced the benign neglect of Corey’s parents.
“I … I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“Okay.” Scott smiled.
“Yeah. I’m doing my thing — moving forward. In the future though, if you think I’m ignoring you, can you come talk to me before you start stabbing people?”
Corey looked at Scott at the corner of his eyes. When he saw that Scott was serious but not particular angry, he nodded. “I promise.”
The Alaskan wilderness began to fade from day to the shortest night. In the distance, Scott heard a howl; he was sure it was Derek. Theo joined him, and a smile crossed Scott’s face. Theo never howled, and the alpha always thought it had something to do with his worries that he wasn’t a real werewolf. The three other betas joined their voice, until finally Scott threw back his own head and answer them.
It was … something pure.
Corey waited for the howling to end. “I think I get it now.”
“Why you hate Peter and you love Theo.” Corey answered. “Theo keeps changing. He’s growing. From everything Mason and Stiles and Deaton told me, Peter doesn’t. He’s still fighting the same fight you had in high school, trying to prove he deserves to be alpha and you don’t.”
“I can see how that’s frustrating. I’ll give your method a shot.” Corey stood up. “Won’t be easy, but I’ll try. I’ll move a little forward, too.” He went back into the house.
Finally, Derek had turned them back towards the cabin. Twilight had come which meant it was after ten. Night would last maybe five hours, so they had to make do with the darkness they had.
Theo felt … liberated. He had never before used his coywolf form to enjoy himself. It had always been a tool before, a means to an end. Tonight, it had been the end.
He watched Derek leap in through one of the open first floor windows. That was all very well and good for him, but he needed to find his clothes. He had left them on the ground in front of the house.
But they weren’t there. Theo yipped in frustration. He supposed he could scratch at the door and get someone to let him inside. He could leap inside the same window that Derek had, but that was Derek and Stiles’ bedroom. That would be awkward.
Theo decided sniffed where they should have been, and he scented Liam. It must have been the beta’s idea of joke. There was a clear trail leading back towards a copse of tree on the side of the cabin opposite the forest. It didn’t take him long to get there. He began to plan his revenge.
He almost missed his clothes, hung on a very high branch of the largest tree in the copse, fluttering in the breeze. On four legs, he walked around the base of the tree. He’d never get up there in coywolf form. After checking for nearby people, he shifted back into human form. Luckily it wasn’t too cold out. He still felt a little exposed, but he started to climb.
It wasn’t easy. The tree was young and strong, but the branches were wide enough to stand on but they still hurt his feet. If he hadn’t been preternaturally graceful, he would have fallen three times before he was half way up.
Theo had been convinced he was alone. The shock at finding he wasn’t made him nearly tumble off the tree. He grabbed a heavy branch and managed to keep himself from falling, one foot balanced precariously on a branch.
Hayden stood at the foot of the tree. “I have to say one thing — you keep yourself in good shape.” She nodded appreciatively.
“Do you mind?” Theo demanded, his voice a few octaves higher than usual.
“Nope. Enjoying the view.”
After a bit of flailing, he managed to get back on the branch, relatively stable. But he was still very naked and only half way to where his clothes were. He wanted to distract from this awkward situation. “How’d you do that?”
“I could have sworn I was alone!”
“Oh, before she died and I moved away, I spent some time with Satomi. She taught me how to conceal my presence. Turns out I’m a fast learner.”
“You did this.” Theo did the calculations in the head. “You got Liam to help you, but this was your idea.”
Hayden put her hand on the tree. “Maybe I like seeing you naked?” The words sounded false. “Or maybe I like seeing you vulnerable. Manipulated. Used.”
Hayden punched the tree, very hard. It shook and Theo had to use his own strength to hold on. She was right; he felt very vulnerable right now.
“I get it.”
“No, you don’t.” She spat and hit the tree again. “You faced consequences for your actions, but you knew that there was a chance you would when you started. You understood what was at stake, what the benefits could be, what the possible outcomes were. I didn’t. I went from average teenage girl with a kidney transplant to science-created monster to dead to alive to beta werewolf in a month. I keep trying to tell myself I’m better now, but I have no idea what better is. I don’t think I’ll ever know. You helped take that … capability away from me.”
“I don’t know what you want from me,” Theo spoke carefully. “I don’t think you want an apology.”
“You’re right about that.”
Theo wasn’t going to tremble but he wasn’t sure he could move. If he tried, and she hit the tree, he’d fall. He was trapped and helpless. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” Hayden tilted her head to the side. “Ask.”
“May I get my clothes without you making me fall?” Theo asked.
“Yes, you may. Ask.”
“Is this all about explaining to me how it’s going to take time before you do anything but hate me?”
“Yes, it is. Ask.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Remember what it feels like to be helpless every time you talk to me. And … remember if you hurt Scott or Liam, I’ll break every bone in your body before I rip your heart out with my own hands.”
Hayden turned and walked away. Theo watched her go and then climbed up the tree for his clothes.
“It’s okay.” Theo said.
“No, it’s not.” Scott answered. “They …”
“Yes, it is okay, and yes they can. You’re right, and he was right, and she was right. If I want to be a part of this pack, it’s going to take … things like that. It’s not like Hayden stabbed me.”
Scott shifted, petulant, irritated.
“You have to let them heal, Scott.”
“I know. I told Corey as much but … I care about you. I don’t want you to get hurt so they can feel better.”
Theo brought himself up on an elbow, so his face hung over Scott’s. “Yes, you do want me to get hurt. You want me to get messy, to commit. This is what commitment looks like, especially with our particularly fucked-up history.” He bent down and kissed Scott on the forehead.
“Does it have to be so … mean?”
“Yes.” Theo smiled and Scott gave him a small smile back. “People heal in different ways. I told you I’m ready for it, and I am. I’m here for the long haul.”
“So am I.”
Theo kissed him on the lips then, long and passionate. “I know. You always have been.”
Scott pulled Theo down on top of him and Theo let himself relax. Scott held him his arms. “So, do you think you’re going to like Alaska?”
“Right now? Yes.”
“When we get back, it’ll be time to decide what our next move is.”
Theo sighed. “Can we pretend that we don’t have to go back?”
“Yes. For a little bit, but there’s work to do. There will always be work for us to do, until it all ends.”
“So we’re stuck together until doomsday?”
Scott squeezed him tighter in the warm darkness of the Alaskan night; it brought a smile to his face that he didn’t have to let go. “Doomsday, at the very earliest.”