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take it from the preacher, take it from the truth

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Theo is already an hour outside of Beacon Hills by the time Scott calls.

He glances at the screen as his phone starts to vibrate, and then smirks and lets it ring and ring through to voicemail, one wrist resting lightly on his steering wheel and the other tapping his buzzing phone against his thigh. After it stills he twists it around so that he can glance down and unlock it, navigating with a few taps over to Scott’s name next to its little blue dot: new voicemail.

“Theo,” Scott’s voice comes through his phone speakers, out-of-breath and tight with tension. “Look, can you get to the hospital? Nolan took Liam there to show him something but now I can’t get a hold of him, and I’m worried—” He cuts himself off with a frustrated noise. “Please,” he asks. “Help Liam.”

Theo plays the voicemail twice, expression distant as he listens to Scott’s request, his eyes on the white lines disappearing one after the other past his truck, and all of them leading back to Beacon Hills.

He doesn’t turn around. Liam will be fine, he tells himself. It’s Liam. It’s Scott. It’s the McCall pack, always eventually victorious over their antagonists.

Their antagonists like Theo, who doesn’t really feel like taking the chance that Scott and his bunch of do-gooder acolytes might not be so gracious in victory; Theo has no intention of serving himself back up to the skinwalkers.

Liam will be fine, Theo assures himself one last time, and keeps driving.

That night in some highway pit-stop of a town, Theo lifts a fat wad of cash off of a trucker no doubt about to go visit the strip club a few blocks over, and gets himself a motel room. He stays in the shower until the hot water runs cold, and then slides naked between the sheets of the room’s shitty bed, stretching himself across it from one end to the other, luxuriating in all the space.

He sleeps like a rock, dreamless and deep.

His phone is free of messages the next morning, and that does cause him to frown; he’d expected a barrage of vitriolic abuse from the McCall pack, I-knew-its and I-told-you-so’s and you-were-never-going-to-change’s. He’d been especially looking forward to whatever would fall out of Liam’s mouth in the heat of his fury; Liam was rarely ever eloquent in his anger, but damn if he wasn’t amusing. Theo feels a twinge of unease, but lets it go: it’s Liam, it’s Scott.

It’s the McCall pack, always eventually victorious.

Theo heads to a nearby diner, and uses the last of his lifted cash to eat like a king. He orders one of everything that piques his interest as he glances over the menu, headless of the waitress’s surprised stare; what does he care if she finds it strange? He’ll never see her again.

He’s free.

He’s just mopping up the last of the puddle of syrup on his plate with a piece of waffle when he hears it. He glances up sharply at the TV set high-up in one of the diner’s corners, a local news channel playing itself out. The volume’s set low enough that the rest of the patrons probably can’t hear it, but Theo can, and he stares.

Authorities are still assessing the fallout of a night of bloodshed in the small town of Beacon Hills, in Northern California. No information has been released yet in connection with the identities of the groups responsible, but a preliminary list of confirmed victims has been provided.

The news anchor keeps talking but Theo doesn’t hear it; he’s too busy staring at the little thumbnails of photos that appear next to her head on-screen, type-written names identifying the people pictured above them in stark white letters. There are photos and names he recognizes, hunters and supernaturals and other random Beacon Hills citizens, but he barely registers them.

He’s too busy staring at Liam’s photo, and Liam’s name.

He stumbles his way out of the diner a half-minute later, ignoring his waitress yelling behind him about his abandoned table and abandoned check, slamming through the door and almost immediately tripping as he staggers over the threshold. He falls onto his hands and knees on the sidewalk, his breath shuddering loose of his chest in uneven, jagged gasps, and his eyes fixed unseeingly on the dirty concrete in between his fingers.

He throws up every bit of his breakfast right there in the diner’s bushes, his waitress eventually kneeling down next to him and putting her hand on his back as his body heaves.

He gets back on the road after that, and drives.

He doesn’t know where he’s going. He stops when he has to and pickpockets well-dressed businesspeople or liquored-up truck drivers when he runs out of money, but when he sleeps—if he sleeps—he does it curled into a tight ball, and when he eats he barely tastes it. All his vague plans about raiding the Doctors’ other hideouts, about finding a place to stay, to settle—Montana, he remembers feverishly one night. He’d been thinking about Montana; he’d wanted to see the snow—vanish like smoke, like ash.

He just moves.

It’s almost a relief, when Monroe’s hunters catch up with him. He hadn’t been trying that hard to stay ahead of them.

---

Except that Theo wakes up in his truck.

What the hell, he thinks, shaky and discombobulated; had his instincts kicked in, and sent him crawling half-dead back to the closest pathetic approximation he had of a den; of a home? He sits up—he’d been slumped against the driver’s side door, his temple against the cool glass of the window—and glances around reflexively, before he stills.

That’s impossible, he thinks, staring out at the vista in front of his windshield. At the town sitting just beyond his truck, looking washed-out and overexposed in the bright afternoon sunlight. He’d sworn that he’d never come back here.

Beacon Hills.

Theo’s stomach immediately rolls, and he fumbles open his truck door until he can half-fall out of it, onto the ground. He dry-heaves a few times but there’s nothing in his stomach, apparently, which doesn’t make any sense either. He sits back on his heels, and pulls up his own shirt—headless of the way that he’s technically in public—and stares down at the unbroken skin of his stomach.

That’s impossible, Theo thinks. Monroe’s bullets had been poisoned. And more than that: he presses the fingers of one hand up against his forehead, right between his eyes. He squeezes them shut, bewildered; he could remember the scalding feel of Monroe pressing the tip of her still-smoking gun to his skin.

He remembers thinking, please.

But it’d been…a nightmare, maybe? Theo drops his hand, and looks around. Beacon Hills looks normal from this far away, unscarred by Monroe’s assault, and Theo finds his jaw tightening, feeling somehow cheated. Over a dozen people had died that night; that kind of damage should leave more than just mental scars.

He’s caught up in thinking that—in glaring out at the chaotic spill of buildings and roads that make up Beacon Hill’s sprawling mass—when his phone buzzes. He frowns. He’d run out of minutes and data days ago; his phone shouldn’t be able to buzz. Confused, he pulls it out of his pocket and then freezes as he stares down at the screen.

At the group text thread lighting it up, messages pouring in one after the other from—from the McCall pack members.

That’s impossible, he thinks. There’s a clinical part of his brain that’s noting that the McCall pack shouldn’t even have his new number; he’d ditched his old phone that first day, after—after. How’d they get it? And why would they be texting him, of all people, and why—

He stares down at his phone, all thought immediately flying out of his head.

Liam Dunbar: Got it, checking now.

This is some kind of trick, Theo thinks, his breath coming so fast and so shallow that he is, he absently realizes, hyperventilating. This is some kind of cruel, fucked-up trick. When he finds Monroe again, Theo promises himself—and this time he would find her—he’s going to kill her slowly. He’s going to make her pay for whatever this is.

And then he finally, finally manages to unstick his eyes from the middle of his phone’s screen as the text messages continue to pour in, and Liam’s name disappears, and he sees…

Sees the date, tucked away in the corner of the screen.

That’s impossible, Theo thinks again, but the word is starting to lose its force. But it is, his mind insists. The date his phone is proclaiming can’t be right, because…because

Theo’s fingers move before his conscious mind gives them permission to; before his conscious mind can stop them. Still, he brings his phone up to his ear in one shaking hand, and waits.

And then, all at once, the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding bursts loose of his lungs as Liam says, “Fucking what, Theo? I’m kind of in the middle of something, here.”

You’re alive, Theo thinks about telling him. He barely manages not to.

Liam’s nonexistent patience runs out fast. “Did you butt-dial me in the middle of a war, you asshole?” Theo can hear him grumbling to himself as he apparently takes his phone away from his ear, and hangs up.

Theo lets his own phone fall away from his ear, the back of his hand thumping down onto his thigh, and stares sightlessly out at the spread of Beacon Hills in front of himself. Liam is alive, he thinks. He’s back in Beacon Hills, and the McCall pack is texting him, on a phone he shouldn’t have anymore, on a date that already happened.

Liam is alive.

He looks back at his truck. Now that he’s thinking about it—now that he’s really thinking about it—he recognizes where he is; he’d parked in this exact spot the day of the McCall pack’s final confrontation with Monroe. He’d slept in this exact spot the day of the McCall pack’s final confrontation with Monroe.

He’d packed up his proverbial bags, and left from this exact spot, the day of the McCall pack’s final confrontation with Monroe.

It was a dream, he tries telling himself. Testing it out. It leaves a bad taste on the back of his tongue. He frowns, racking his brain, but he can’t come up with any better explanation. It was a dream, he tells himself again, firmly this time; an order.

He gets up.

One by one he tracks down the McCall pack. It isn’t hard. He doesn’t make himself known to them, but he spends a few minutes each watching Scott, and Malia, and Mason, and Corey. Lydia. Stiles. Derek. The newcomers: Jackson, Ethan.

Liam.

It was a dream, he tells himself.

But even as he’s packing up his proverbial bags this time—for real, for keeps—he can’t help but thinking back to Scott’s voicemail, dream or no. What had he said? Nolan took Liam to the hospital to show him something, and then Scott couldn’t get a hold of him. Theo pauses with his hands on the single ratty duffel bag that holds just about every possession he owns, his feet firmly on the ground in front of his open truck door.

Nolan isn’t particularly hard to find, either.

He’s at the hospital, for one thing. Nolan took Liam to the hospital to show him something but now I can’t. Theo walks up behind him in the little alcove in which Nolan had concealed himself just as Nolan takes out his phone, and goes to dial.

He jumps hard when Theo closes a hand over his phone. “Um.”

“Hey, Nolan,” Theo greets, saccharine sweet. “What’re you doing?”

Nolan stares at him. They’ve met precisely twice, and both times Nolan had been trying to kill him, if incredibly ineffectively. Theo can hear Nolan’s heart going a mile a minute. “Um,” Nolan says again, and apparently thinks better of lying. “Calling Liam? I had,” he continues, when Theo does nothing but hum in encouragement, “I had something to show him.”

Theo’s lips curve, even as his mind jolts like two gears grinding: Nolan took Liam to the hospital to show him something but now I can’t. “Show me instead,” he suggests, and tightens his hand hard around Nolan’s around his phone.

Upstairs in the room Nolan takes him to, Theo kills the concealed hunter and removes the wolfsbane-laden IV drips from the comatose werewolves, and then leaves them; they’d wake up, or they wouldn’t. Nolan stays frozen in the corner of the room the whole time, his eyes wide and his mouth dropped open, and after a moment’s indecision Theo gets a hand on his head and slams it against the wall behind him; Nolan goes out like a light, and Theo ties him up, and leaves him in a cabinet to be found later.

It was a dream, Theo tells himself as he’s climbing back into his truck, and closing the door behind himself. But even still: Nolan wouldn’t be taking Liam anywhere. He wouldn’t be showing him anything.

Theo leaves.

Scott calls when Theo is an hour outside of Beacon Hills. Theo lets it ring through to voicemail, his throat tight, even though he tells himself it isn’t. But when Theo listens to it, it’s a generic plea for help. It doesn’t end with help Liam.

Theo doesn’t turn around.

He stops for the night in a highway pit-stop of a town. The same town, that same gear-grinding corner of his mind insists, but he shoves it away. He lifts a fat wad of cash off a trucker no doubt about to go visit the strip club a few blocks over, and gets himself a motel room. He stays in the shower until the water runs cold, jumping and blinking back to himself when it happens, his circular train of thought—it was a dream, it was a dream—broken. He pulls on a pair of sweatpants and layers on two long-sleeve shirts before crawling between the sheets, and curling into a tight ball.

He sleeps terribly, restless and uneasy.

There are no messages on his phone the next morning. Theo spends a long time staring down at the empty notifications screen, and even longer staring at his Recent Calls list, his thumb hovering and hovering over the various names. But it’s Liam. It’s Scott. It’s the McCall pack, always eventually victorious.

Theo puts his phone away, and goes to breakfast.

He spends ten minutes just staring at the menu in the diner he chooses, headless of his waitress’s confused stare, and eventually just gives up and orders a black coffee. He sits with it cradled between his palms and doesn’t realize he’s waiting for something until it finally occurs; on a TV high-up in a corner of the diner, the local news comes on.

Authorities are still assessing the fallout of a night of bloodshed in the small town of Beacon Hills, in Northern California. No information has been released yet in connection with the identities of the groups responsible, but a preliminary list of confirmed victims—

Theo doesn’t wait for the rest of the broadcast. The pictures had popped up while the anchor had still been talking.

“What happened?” Theo snarls at Mason Hewitt mere hours later, shoving him hard up against a wall in the Geyer-Dunbar household, Liam’s parents downstairs and the whole place claustrophobic with the miasmic reek of grief.

Mason just stares at him, and then his eyes fill with tears. “It was the Anuk-ite.”

The Anuk-ite and Monroe, Theo learns. The former may have turned Liam to stone, Liam having gone to the school to help Scott defeat it, but it was Monroe and her people who’d come along and put bullets in all the stone-statue bodies: one in the head, and one in the heart. Liam hadn’t been the only victim, but.

Finding Monroe is as easy as finding the McCall pack had been, as finding Nolan had been. Getting to her is another matter, but Theo is properly motivated; he rips his way through her people and reaches her just as one of her people gets off one, two, three final shots.

But Theo doesn’t care, even as he’s falling, because Monroe is falling with him.

---

Except that Theo wakes up in his truck.

That’s impossible, he thinks, but he only thinks it once.

“Fucking what, Theo?” Liam snaps when he answers his phone. “I’m kind of in the middle of something, here.”

Theo hangs up, and goes to find Nolan.

He’s at the hospital, hidden away in a little alcove. The same alcove, Theo thinks, and while he experiences the same jolt like two gears grinding in his head, it’s the work of a moment to shove it away; to ignore it. “Hey, Nolan,” he greets, saccharine sweet, but there’s something manic to his smile this time; he can tell from the way Nolan’s eyes widen, and his scent sours with fear.

Theo doesn’t pretend he doesn’t know where he’s going. He drags Nolan up the stairs, and into the room with the concealed hunter and the comatose werewolves. The hunter must recognize the danger because he sits up with eyes wide and a gun in hand, but it doesn’t matter; Theo gets his hands on either side of the hunter’s jaw and twists.

He leaves him crumpled there, awkwardly contorted like a stringless marionette, and removes the IV drips from the comatose werewolves’ arms. Nolan is still stood in a corner—the same corner—his eyes wide and his mouth dropped open, but this time there’s no moment of indecision; Theo gets a hand on his arm, and drags him away, out of the hospital.

Nolan is understandably reluctant to take him to Monroe’s warehouse. Theo overcomes his hesitance with a clawed hand around his throat.

It’s the work of a moment to disguise himself; Monroe had only ever seen him for a few minutes, and in the midst of a high-tension, chaotic time. Gerard could be more of a problem but Theo doesn’t think he will be, and even if he was

Theo jams the black beanie further down over his hair and ears, and uses a jar of black grease from the toolbox in the back of his truck to darken his jaw, and mouth, and heads inside.

Nolan is a sweaty, darting-eyed mess—Nolan took Liam to the hospital to show him something but now I can’t—his planned betrayal of Monroe practically written all over his face. Theo ignores it, unconcerned; Nolan would survive, or he wouldn’t.

It’s not Nolan’s survival that Theo’s determined to guarantee.

Monroe’s people and her warehouse are so chaotic in their preparations for their final clash with the McCall pack that there are gaps everywhere in their defenses; Theo walks right through them. He loses Nolan at some point but notices his disappearance only absently; at the end of one of the twisting warehouse corridors, there’s a room.

Theo can hear Monroe and Gerard talking inside.

He ends up being right about Monroe, and wrong about Gerard; the former doesn’t recognize him even through his shitty disguise, and the latter does. But it matters precisely not at all; Theo knocks Gerard’s gun away and shreds his throat before his eyes can do much more than widen, and then he reverses direction and slams his shoulder hard enough into Monroe’s chest to crack her ribcage, and send the shattered bones driving back into her heart, her lungs.

Theo stands over their cooling corpses for just long enough to satisfy himself that they’re dead, and then he retreats; he can hear footsteps approaching the room.

He leaves.

Scott calls when he’s been sitting in his truck, in the exact spot that he’d woken up in, staring out over the sprawling, glittering vista of Beacon Hills in the distance, for an hour. Theo lets it ring through to voicemail, and then listens.

“Something happened to Monroe and her army,” Scott hurries to explain, and Theo feels himself absently snorting. Monroe’s army; Scott has always had such a flair for the dramatic. “We’re going to deal with the Anuk-ite and go figure out what it is. Meet us at the school?”

Theo doesn’t meet them at the school.

Instead he waits, his arms folded over his steering wheel and his chin dropped on top of them. He’s too far away from the school to hear it when Scott kills the Anuk-ite, but not far enough away not to feel it; he closes his eyes as the sensation washes over him, this sudden ringing silence in his head as it washes the fear back out, and he smiles, soft and secret between himself and the stunning vista of Beacon Hills laid out below.

But he forgets about Kate.

Scott dies for a second time—for real, for keeps—right there in Beacon Hills High School’s library, not far from where Theo had killed him the first time. And Liam—Liam becomes the alpha, just like Theo had planned what feels like a lifetime—what feels like a dream, several dreams; a never-ending loop of dreams—ago. Theo sits in his truck overlooking Beacon Hills, Liam’s grief-soaked, furious, unmistakably alpha roar fading away, and feels horror congeal in his chest, sticky and making it almost impossible to breathe.

Liam kills Kate.

He kills a lot of other people, too.

Theo reaches him a half-minute and an eternity after Argent does. There are deep creases of pain lined around Argent’s eyes, his mouth, as he looks at Liam down the barrel of his gun, Liam’s eyes red and shining and his clawed hands bloody, the bodies of Monroe’s hunters and Monroe’s recruits and even those Monroe hadn’t managed to recruit, but who’d stood by and watched and did nothing, all around them.

“I’m so sorry about this, Liam,” Argent whispers, and puts one, two, three wolfsbane-poisoned bullets in Liam’s chest before Theo can do more than yell, “No!

Theo is stood over the bloody bodies of Argent and his hunters, his claws dripping, when the Sheriff finally arrives. “What are you waiting for?” Theo wonders dully as the Sheriff comes to a ginger stop on the edge of the circle of carnage, the scent of the Sheriff’s confusion and horror and grief managing to penetrate even the overpowering stink of death.

The Sheriff says nothing. The Sheriff does nothing.

Theo feels his eyes flare bright, and his fangs tear at his gums, as he whips around already snarling to demand, “Come on!

He dies right there on the asphalt in the circle of Liam’s victims; of Argent’s; of his own. But he dies right there relieved, because when he falls, he falls right next to Liam’s body.

He looks over at Liam’s death-slack face, his bloody mouth and closed eyes, and lets his own eyes slip shut as his last breath shudders loose of his lungs.

---

Except that Theo wakes up in his truck.

He doesn’t waste time. He doesn’t think that’s impossible.

He just pulls out his phone and demands, “Where are you?,” the second that Liam picks up.

“At my house,” Liam answers, already sounding pissy. “What the fuck, what’s got your—”

Theo hangs up on him. He speeds all the way to Liam’s house, absently noting the too-empty streets, and gets there just as Liam is coming out of his front door, keys in hand.

“Okay, seriously, Theo. What the fuck?” Liam demands, and then almost immediately contradicts himself. “You know what, nevermind. I have to—”

He’d already started turning towards his beat-up, ancient SUV, putting his back to Theo. Theo hits him hard enough across the back of his head that Liam’s forehead slams against his SUV in turn, and Liam immediately collapses, firmly unconscious.

Theo catches him under his arms, and then carries Liam to his truck.

He doesn’t take any chances. Every time Liam starts to stir Theo knocks him out again. They’re an hour outside of Beacon Hills by the time Scott calls, and Theo doesn’t even bother to look at his phone tossed carelessly on his dash; he just lets it ring, and ring.

“Theo,” Scott’s out-of-breath, tight-with-tension voice comes through the speakers when Theo plays the voicemail. “Have you seen Liam? I talked to him earlier today, but now I can’t find him, and we have to get to the school to fight the Anuk-ite.” He pauses, clearly frantic. “Please,” he asks. “Find Liam.”

Theo glances at Liam slumped passed-out against the passenger-side window of his truck, and deletes the voicemail.

But the next time Liam wakes up, his eyes are red.

Oh, no, Theo manages to think, already having been reaching over to knock Liam out again. But Liam’s too fast, now—alpha fast—and he catches Theo’s wrist and twists it, more out of instinct than intent; Theo can see the confusion in his eyes, even awkwardly contorted as he is.

But the confusion clears fast, and he stares at Theo with burning red eyes. “What did you do?” He whispers, and then, “What did you do?,” shouted through a mouthful of fangs.

They’re in the middle of nowhere, some backwater highway in the middle of rural California. When Liam lunges at him, clawed hands extended and fanged mouth open in a fierce snarl, there’s plenty of space for Theo to jerk them into as he loses control of the truck.

There’s a rocky drainage ditch just off the side of the road.

The crash is over in the space of a breath; the space of the breath stuck jagged and sawing in Theo’s lungs. His ears are still ringing with the sound of screeching tires and grinding metal, shattering glass and the strangely innocuous crunch the cab of his truck had made as it had collapsed in on itself.

As it had collapsed in on Theo and Liam, still trapped inside it.

Liam dies first. He may be an alpha now but there are limits to the damage even alphas can take, and half-crushed by the truck’s engine, Liam apparently surpasses his.

Theo stares at his death-slack face in horror, in disbelief—that same jagged breath hitching and hitching, forever incomplete, in his lungs—and then he tips his head back, one leg half-crushed between the rocks on the cab and his heart and one lung half-impaled on a rusting metal pipe, and waits to die—prays to die—too.

---

Except that Theo wakes up in his truck.

He doesn’t think that’s impossible. He doesn’t pull out his phone, and call Liam. He just slumps back down against the cool glass of the driver’s side window, and closes his eyes.

It’s the skinwalkers, maybe; it’s Theo’s own new, evolved personal hell. He decides, abruptly, that he doesn’t want to play anymore.

He stays right where he is, and doesn’t bother to move.

Scott calls while he’s still slumped just like that against the window. Theo has no idea how much time has passed. His phone rings and rings, vibrating angrily to itself across the dash where Theo had set it, until finally it vibrates itself right off the edge, and crashes to the floor at Theo’s feet.

Theo stares at it, and then he slowly leans forward, and picks it up.

“Theo,” Scott’s voice comes through his phone speakers, out-of-breath and tight with tension. “Look, can you get to the hospital? Nolan took Liam there to show him something but now I can’t get a hold of him, and I’m worried—” He cuts himself off with a frustrated noise. “Please,” he asks. “Help Liam.”

Theo plays the message twice, his expression distant. Help Liam. But he’d been trying that, hadn’t he? He’d helped Liam in every conceivable way he could think of. But then he stills, and looks back down at his phone.

Look, can you get to the hospital? Nolan took Liam there to show him something but now I can’t—

Look, can you get to the hospital? Nolan took Liam there to show him something—

Look, can you get to the hospital? Nolan took Liam there—

Look, can you get to the hospital?

He leans forward, and starts his truck.

The hospital is already a war-zone by the time he gets there. Theo ignores each and every one of Monroe’s hunters as he slips through the hospital corridors, his ears and mind and the tight cramping feeling in his chest focused on only one thing.

The elevator doors ping open, and Theo reaches forward and drags Liam back and to the side just as the gunfire starts.

Liam shoves reflexively away from him just as the doors close. He gapes. “What are you doing here?”

Theo stares right back at him. He sees Liam’s face on that news broadcast, flat and clinical. He sees his face as it had been surrounded by the carnage Liam had caused before Argent had put him down, blood-splattered and grime-streaked. He sees his face from the other side of Theo’s crumpled truck cab, half-hidden by the twisted metal that had killed him.

He sees his face now, open and mobile and curious, staring back at Theo with his brow furrowed and his heart pounding and his breath panting loose and then sucked back in, loose and then sucked back in, of his lungs.

Theo surges forward, and kisses him.

Liam gives a startled exclamation as Theo crushes him back against the opposite wall, his hands around Liam’s face. For a moment he doesn’t respond, frozen underneath Theo’s palms, against his body, and then he gives a shaky, quiet moan and slumps in Theo’s hold, and kisses him back.

Theo pulls back, eventually. He doesn’t go far. Liam blinks up at him, dazed, and then he gives a disbelieving laugh. “You know,” he points out, easy and amused and with his heart pounding against Theo’s own; with his lungs expanding, and contracting, almost in time with Theo’s own. “As much as I’m not complaining, this really might not have been the time.”

“It’s exactly the right time,” Theo disagrees immediately, without thinking; with every fiber of his desperate, strung-out, hopeless being. It might be the only time, he thinks, but manages not to say; he wants to have this, for however long he’s allowed to have it.

Liam stares at him, some of his amusement dropping away. Then he frowns, and straightens up. He turns his head towards the doors, clearly listening.

“Still out there?” Theo asks, even though he knows the answer; Liam nods tightly. “Look, I’m not dying for you,” Theo tells him, and knows instantly that Liam has misinterpreted the desperation in his voice; he gives Theo a furrowed-brow, strange look.

“I’m not dying for you either,” he shoots back, like it’s obvious; like it’s not even a possibility. Theo feels his chest clench hard. Then Liam frowns, and looks away, his jaw working for an instant before he looks back. “But I will,” he offers, grudging, “fight with you.”

Theo stares at him, but: “Okay,” he agrees, a little blankly. What else did he have to lose? Another sickening jolt when he wakes up in his truck, still trapped in whatever this is? At least this way he’d have the memory of Liam’s lips warm and wet against his own; of Liam’s heart beating strong and fast against his own. “Let’s fight.”

They fight.

They win.

Liam lets out a disbelieving, shaky laugh after Nolan knocks out the last hunter. Theo’s head snaps around to look at him, his eyes fixed on Liam’s blown-open, ecstatic expression, his ears fixed on Liam’s beating, pounding heart; his nose filled with Liam’s smoke-scarred, sharp scent. You’re alive, Theo nearly says. He looks down at his own, unmarked torso. I’m alive.

Gabe dies with Theo’s hands around his wrist, and Liam stood solemnly behind him watching. Monroe demands that someone pick up a radio and talk to her, and Liam does: you lost. Scott kills the Anuk-ite, and Theo closes his eyes against that same remembered wash of feeling as it crests over him, dragging away some of his fear—not all of it—as Theo watches Liam gasp through the same. Gerard and Kate tear each other to pieces.

Monroe escapes.

“Not for long, though, huh?” Liam says later.

Later, Theo still at the hospital stood in arm’s reach of Liam alive and riding his still-strong adrenaline-high. Later, Theo not jolting awake slumped against the driver’s side window of his truck.

Liam punches Theo in the arm. “I mean, clearly the universe is on our side, here.”

He raises his arms to seemingly encompass himself, and Theo, and Corey and Mason and Ms. McCall and Nolan and the rest of the McCall pack, all scattered throughout Beacon Hills and all of them—all of them—alive.

Theo laughs, breathy and helpless, and doesn’t correct him.

What he does, is kiss him again. He gets a hand clenched in Liam’s shirt, and drags him forward against his own body, and kisses him, both of them sweaty and filthy and with Mason whooping in surprised glee in the background.

He just presses his palm to Liam’s heart, and his lips to Liam’s helplessly smiling mouth, and kisses him.