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It’s actually probably a good thing that Argent and Ms. McCall hadn’t let Liam come with Argent and Theo to the diner, because when Argent had said he was going to get several of everything on the diner’s menu, he hadn’t been kidding; his SUV’s entire backseat winds up covered in aluminum trays of eggs and hash browns and pancakes and bacon and whatever else Argent could convince the bemused staff to provide. There wouldn’t have been room for Liam in the car.

Still, when they get back to the McCall house, Liam is waiting on the porch. He’s sat on the top step with his elbows on his knees, and his hands are clasped tightly enough together that Theo can see, even through the windshield and down the street, that they’re bloodless from the pressure. He jerks, and looks wide-eyed up at Argent’s SUV when he hears it rumble onto the McCall’s street. He visibly shudders out a breath when his eyes lock with Theo’s.

Argent doesn’t say a word, just pulls back into his spot in the McCall driveway, and shuts off the engine. Theo had wound up in charge of the cardboard carafes of coffee, wedged snugly in between his feet in the footwell; he retrieves these as Argent hops down from the driver’s seat, and hovers waiting in the doorway. Argent takes them with a wry smile, the quirk to his lips subtle enough that Liam—already rushing down from the porch—probably won’t see it, but Theo does. Theo’s lips quirk back, entirely beyond his control.

He climbs down from the passenger seat as Argent rounds the hood of his SUV, and passes Liam on his way. Liam shoots him a wary look, which just winds up being more comedic than anything; his hands full of cardboard carafes of coffee, Argent—to Theo, at least—looks whatever the opposite of threatening is.

But context matters, and Theo has a great deal more, now, than Liam does.

Liam doesn’t slam into him, but it’s a close thing. He does skid to a stop, and almost has to backpedal a little to regain the extra few inches he needs not to collide with Theo, stood waiting by the passenger door. He waits until the front door closes behind Argent to exhale out a huge, shaky breath, his eyes searching Theo’s face.

“Jesus christ,” he hiss-whispers. “I was genuinely worried that—”

He doesn’t actually finish that sentence, so Theo doesn’t know what he was genuinely worried that. But Theo can take an educated guess. No doubt Theo had genuinely worried about some of the same things himself, when he’d been following Argent out of the house originally. “I’m okay,” he replies quietly, instead. It feels like an understatement, in fact, but Theo doesn’t think now’s the time to get into that with Liam, though he—wants to, at some point. He will, he decides.

Liam just shudders out another breath, and reaches forward to twist his fingers in the absolute edge of Theo’s shirt. If Theo had had any sense he would have left the passenger door open, giving them a physical barrier between themselves and the McCall house and the McCall pack inside it, but he hadn’t. Instead, it’s just Liam and the angle of his body, hiding his white-knuckled, gripping fingers behind the bulk of his own chest.

It’s just Liam, tipping his head down just enough that it’s just brushing the curve of Theo’s shoulder, but not resting there. “Jesus christ,” he breathes again, and then he, in quick succession: twists his fingers even tighter so that the edge of Theo’s shirt digs into Theo’s lower back; leans forward so that he can press a quick, hard kiss to Theo’s collarbone; and wheels away, stepping around Theo to reach for the door to the backseat of Argent’s SUV just as the McCall house front door opens, and spills out Scott and Malia and Stiles and Corey and Mason, already yelling about how starving they are. Nolan follows bemusedly after, tugged along in their wake and looking like he’s not at all sure how he’s gotten to where he is.

Lydia and Derek are in the kitchen and dining room respectively when Theo gets inside, calling out measurements back and forth to each other and Ms. McCall as they apparently strategize how to fit all of the food on tables and counters with the least chance of potential catastrophe. Stiles tries to help, at one point—his arms still full of aluminum trays—and gets immediately, universally shut down. He scowls, for about two seconds, and then he shrugs and starts trying to peel open one of the corners of the trays to get to the bacon underneath; Derek slaps his hands away and yanks the trays out of his arms, which may have been what Stiles had wanted all along. He beams.

Breakfast is a chaotic affair. In addition to what Argent and Theo had brought back from the diner, Ms. McCall had apparently sent Liam to the corner store a few blocks down to buy several cartons of juice and milk and cans of flavored sparkling water. Mason ends up grabbing one of each of the latter, him and Corey clustered in front of the coffee table on the floor of the living room and trying each before giving it a score, and lining the cans up in order of preference.

Malia joins in, after a while, and immediately declares grapefruit the undefeated champion, which is like a gilded invitation for the rest of the pack to get involved. Lydia is eventually harangued into score-keeping, Ms. McCall digging out a worn spiral notebook from a random drawer in the kitchen and then handing that and a cheap ballpoint pen over with a wry look.

Theo just stays behind the island, the living room and its associated chaos visible through the open entryway, and watches with a bemused smile on his face. Liam does, too, though he braces himself on his elbows on the opposite end of Theo, and determinedly doesn’t look over. His scent still smells just slightly sour with fear, and his pulse is still a little fast; every now and then he’ll glance at Argent, and then just as quickly jerk his eyes away.

It’s as he and Theo are standing there, at least five feet of distance between them, deliberately not looking at each other, that Stiles suddenly looks up from where he’s sat cross-legged with Malia and Mason and Corey in the living room, and squints at them. Theo stiffens. Absolutely no good can come from that look on Stiles face.

He’s proved right seconds later. Stiles cocks his head, and asks, “Are you two leaving room for Jesus because you think everyone didn’t hear you last night?”

Liam makes a choked sounding noise and his elbow slides off the edge of the island. If it wasn’t for his werewolf reflexes the end result probably would have been him breaking his nose on the counter as he slips, but as it is when he manages to jerk back upright, his cheeks are flaming. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, but doesn’t manage to say anything.

But Theo just squints right back at Stiles, and then he concludes, absolutely sure of it: “You didn’t hear shit.”

Stiles freezes, immediately looking both shifty and therefore caught. But after a split-second his limbs go liquid again, and instead of denying Theo’s claim, he just rocks back on his sit-bones so that he can loop an arm around Derek’s neck—Derek sat behind him in an armchair—and pull Derek slightly down and off-center as he counters loftily, “Yeah, but someone did.” Derek gets this look on his face like he wishes he could be doing literally anything other than being forced to take part in this conversation.

Sat next to him, Mason is glancing rapidly back and forth between Stiles-and-Derek and Theo, looking salaciously interested. “Someone heard what?” He wonders eagerly, and then he really seems to study the bright-red flush on Liam’s cheeks and the careful amount of space left between Liam, himself, and Theo, and his eyes widen. “No way!” He squawks, and then he seems to realize: “Did you hear?” He demands of Corey as he turns towards him, the question half an accusation. The pinched look on Corey’s face seems to be enough of an answer for him. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He wails.

“Maybe because I was trying to pretend I couldn’t hear,” Corey mutters darkly, his cheeks filling with their own brush of color as he glances up from under his lashes and glares at Theo and Liam both.

Theo grimaces apologetically—Liam’s still frozen, deer-in-the-headlights style—but apparently their torment isn’t over. Malia had still been focused entirely on the lineup of flavored sparkling waters in front of her, apparently having been partially persuaded by Stiles’ impassioned ode to mango flavor and looking really determined to pick a final winner in the match-up, but she looks up at Corey’s claim.

“Hear what?” She wonders, and then she seems to take a good look around the room, finally, and catches on. “Oh,” she says, and Theo preemptively winces, because: “You mean about Theo and Liam having sex last night?”

Liam squawks out another wordless protest. There’s nothing around for him to accidentally concuss himself on as a result but he looks like he maybe wishes there was, his cheeks flushing an even brighter red, which Theo would have previously thought impossible. Theo just groans and covers his face with his hands.

It’s Ms. McCall, bless her, who rescues them all from themselves. “La, la, la,” she half-chants, half-singsongs, her hands raised pointedly over her ears. “I can’t hear you! But whatever it is that I’m not hearing is not going to be discussed in my kitchen and living room, over this lovely breakfast that we went out and got you all!”

Mason and Corey and Stiles and Malia and everybody all mutter immediate, abashed apologies, but not before shooting final glances at Theo and Liam. Theo makes sure to glare and/or sneer back at every one of them, depending. But he also gives up, and slumps back against the kitchen counter behind himself, and when Liam apparently gives up, too, and comes to slump down next to him so that their arms press together, he just quirks him a tired, bemused grin.

Liam returns it, and then—either in spite of or because of everyone’s eyes still very much on them from the living room—he leans over, and arches up, and presses his lips to Theo’s. It’s only once Liam pulls back from the brief-but-firm kiss that Theo sees the upraised middle finger Liam had preemptively presented to the rest of the gathered pack. Stiles cackles.

But either Liam’s kiss or Liam’s upraised middle finger or both seem to act as some kind of signal, or sign—punctuation—and the entire interlude is laid to rest right there on the floor between the kitchen and living room, right over top of the plaster dust from the bullets that had ripped through the walls just a few days prior. Malia and Stiles go back to squabbling over sparkling water flavors—Malia rescinding her previous partial acceptance of the superiority of mango, and going all-in on grapefruit—and the rest of the pack—and Nolan, who still looks confused as to his continued presence in the middle of it all—drift off into other side conversations.

Theo starts to relax. He lets Liam take hold of his right arm and turn it closer to the window over the sink, Liam’s eyes flicking over the permanent-marker veins there again, this time in the natural light rather than the harsher fluorescents of the basement. His fingers stroke lightly over the marks and Theo can feel eyes on them again from the living room, but he doesn’t look up. I want to see these tomorrow, Liam had declared, and it hadn’t been a question last night but it’s one Theo has answered today regardless, and the crooked smile that takes over Liam’s mouth is soft and wondering and as delicate as his fingertips on the inside of Theo’s elbow.

Theo cups Liam’s face with his left hand and leans forward and kisses him—ignoring Stiles’ attempted wolf-whistle, cut off by Derek’s hand flattening over his mouth—and then gently edges past him to go get more coffee.

He ends up running out to his truck immediately after, because his phone when he goes to check it is running on fumes, and every other charger in the house is already occupied. When he gets back inside with it, the little white cord with its plug dangling forlornly off the end, Mason has scuttled into the kitchen from the living room, and is hiss-whispering something into Liam’s ear. He notices Theo’s reappearance and starts dragging Liam sideways, towards the door to the back porch.

“I can still hear you,” Theo calls pointedly after them, because even as Mason is sliding open the back door and hustling Liam—who just looks longsuffering—outside, Mason is still alternately exclaiming and asking Liam questions that Theo simultaneously hopes Liam has no intention of answering, and desperately hopes Liam has every intention of answering, specifically in a place where Theo can overhear.

Mason just slaps both of his palms over Liam’s ears, like that will in some way help. He glares back at Theo. “Well, maybe pretend like you can’t, then!” He orders, still in that same low hiss like he isn’t in a house full of primarily-supernaturals who are all doing one of the worst jobs Theo has ever seen of acting like they are not also listening.

Theo just rolls his eyes and leaves Liam—who gives him a quirked, amused smile over Mason’s shoulder—to his fate. He spends the next few minutes trying to locate a free power outlet for his charger, and when he finally comes up for air—a small smile on his face that every now and then becomes a smirk as he does, in fact, overhear Mason’s and Liam’s conversation in the backyard—it’s to Scott standing nearby, and looking absently out the back door. Theo jumps and bangs his elbow accidentally on the wall. Scott glances down at him and grimaces as he apparently clocks his own hovering behavior, and offers Theo a hand up.

Theo takes it.

He takes it with his right hand, which hadn’t been intentional, just instinctual. Still, it means that Scott doesn’t let go of his hand right away. Instead he twists it carefully over, so that the permanent-marker veins that Theo had traced there last night are on full display. It’s almost exactly the same move Argent had pulled earlier in the morning, though there’s no way Scott can know that.

Scott’s eyes run over the veins for a long few seconds, and then finally he releases Theo’s arm. He says, quietly enough and with the two of them in their own little pocket of calm in the midst of the chaos—the least interesting thing going on, considering—that he probably isn’t overheard: “It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it?”

And Theo gets why he didn’t say it’s a good feeling, or whatever, because it hadn’t been. Taking Gabe’s pain had hurt, obviously. But that’s not the feeling Scott means. Scott means: the feeling of being able to help someone like that. The power inherent in using the frankly stunning abilities that they’ve been gifted to help, rather than to hurt. It’s why Theo nods, in response, his throat too tight to verbally agree.

Scott may not be holding Theo’s arm anymore but he doesn’t stop looking at Theo, his attention just as much of a physical weight. He cocks his head, just slightly. He wonders, “Planning on sticking around this time?”

This time, unlike last time, when Theo had taken advantage of the quiet recovery that had fallen after the Wild Hunt to disappear before anyone could decide whether or not they wanted to take the option away from him. Theo doesn’t regret it, exactly, but he is now curious what may have happened if he hadn’t.

He looks over Scott’s shoulder through the back door at Liam dragging crooked fingers down his face in an exaggerated grimace, his groan audible even to human ears as Mason continues to rant at him. In the reflection of the glass, Theo can see his own marked-up arm.

He thinks he’d probably left exactly when he needed to have left, and stayed exactly when he needed to have stayed.

That’s why when he looks back at Scott, he answers, “Yeah,” and then: “Yeah,” a second time as he swallows past a suddenly-thick throat, “I was thinking that I’d—like to figure out how to do that. If that’s—” he hesitates, his eyes flicking down to the unbroken drape of Scott’s shirt, and Scott’s stomach underneath; sometimes if he tries, though he never wants to, necessarily, Theo can remember exactly what it’d felt like to drive his clawed hand through Scott’s gut, “—if that’s okay.”

Scott’s lips just flicker. “Yeah, I think that’s okay,” he replies. “I think, in fact,” he continues, “that I’d like to figure out how to help you do that.”

And then he tips his head over his shoulder, out towards Liam still sequestered with Mason in the backyard.

He adds, “And I don’t think I’m the only one.”

Theo expects that to be the end of it—Liam’s lips quirking in turn through the glass and over Scott’s shoulder—but Scott keeps the gesture going, the tip of his head becoming the sweep of an arm as he includes within it the rest of the pack. Malia and Stiles and Corey are all ignoring them, still engrossed in their ongoing flavor match-up, but it’s benign negligence; it’s an almost familial, familiar disregard. Derek notices the movement of Scott’s arm and glances up, which causes Lydia to glance up, which causes Nolan to glance up, but they all just smile and go back to whatever they were doing. Argent and Ms. McCall both nod.

Scott looks back at Theo, and the flicker of his lips becomes a full curve, crinkling the corners of his eyes. He says, “I mean, if you think that’s okay.”

Theo can’t help it; he laughs, quiet and under his breath but heartfelt.

“Yeah,” he answers. “Yeah, I think that’s okay.”