For a smart person, it took Theo an inordinately long time to realise what was going on.
More than anything, he was pretty sure he hated Liam Dunbar.
He was amused by him, for sure. The kid was funny, all anger and fire and puppyish charm, but in the same way an animal was funny to Theo. It was amusing, until it wasn’t. Until he was annoyed because Liam was in the way, with his unshakeable moral compass and knowing looks.
The first time he could remember really noticing him was after the Dread Doctors had taken him and Hayden. Sure, Theo knew about him—he knew about all of them, but he had just been a piece in Theo’s grand plan. No more or less than any of the rest of them. Beta with anger issues, lacrosse player, IED. The checklist of things he knew.
But what he had noticed was the way the young beta was with his chimera girlfriend.
How gentle he had seemed then, how completely polarised it had seemed from the angry, bloodthirsty beta he had been warned about. The kid who was unusually strong, who couldn’t be contained. Theo had, at the time, felt weird watching them. It had been recon, he told himself. A way to learn more about them. Maybe, even then, there had been an inkling. Not about Liam, but about himself. That there was some version of him, in some reality, that wanted something like that.
Theo didn’t know what it really felt like to want a person. Power. Safety. Control. He knew all about that. But a person? Theo had flirted with Malia and with Tracy, had played upon something he objectively knew people wanted. Played at caring, played at sexual tension and desire. But in truth, it was nothing more to him than an act. Neither of the two women had interested him past what he could gain from them, and Theo never questioned that much. To him, he wasn’t meant to love or to want. He was meant to win. To succeed. To manipulate. The idea of wanting that was as foreign to him as the idea of family. Two things Theo didn’t particularly believe in.
The second thing he had noticed about Liam was, cliché as he knew it would sound to ever admit, even to himself, his eyes. They were blue. Theo knew that, in an objective, general knowledge sort of way. But when they were screaming at each other outside the Hospital, waiting for the Ghost Riders to come for them, it had really struck Theo just how blue they were. It made no sense, why that was what he noticed. He didn’t care, not really, he just… noticed. And once he noticed, he couldn’t un-notice. How blue they looked in the light of the sun. How blue they looked when he was wide eyed and angry. How when they shifted back from a golden glow, they shifted back to a blue that nearly seemed as bright to him.
The third thing Theo noticed, and perhaps the most ridiculous, was that the kid was a really nice person. It was obvious, actually. Hard to ignore. But Theo hadn’t ever paid particular attention because it hadn’t really suited him too. Just as foolhardy and selfless and self sacrificial as Scott. He would’ve rolled his eyes about it, if he wasn’t too busy constantly trying to pull the beta out of the line of fire.
Which was another thing Theo was annoyed about. Why did this damn guy keep feeling the need to throw himself into danger?
Theo could remember it with startling clarity. The moment the Ghost Rider had had him on his knees, by the neck. He was positive he was going to die, and only a few minutes after Liam had told him he wouldn’t save him, that he would use him as bate.
He remembered seeing the gunshot, looking up to see Liam, caught in the throes of his own life or death battle, pointing a gun. He realised that the boy had shot the Ghost Rider that had nearly killed him. That despite promising that he wouldn’t save him, Liam had done just that. Not even just saved him but risked his own hide to do so. There were a few seconds, that felt far longer to him, where Theo just stared in shock at Liam.
From that point onwards, Theo had been unable to see the idiot in danger without running in after him. Throwing him into the elevator had been easy as breathing, Theo knowing full well he might not make it out of that alive. Only the knowledge that getting taken might mean he never got back out kept him alive that day. That, and the underlying, sinking feeling that he refused to forget Liam Dunbar.
He had lied when he said he wouldn’t die for him.
He was sure that Liam knew it too. But Theo wasn’t prepared to give so much away, and he had no idea that Liam felt anything more than disdain for him.
In truth, his feelings of protectiveness had been amping up over time. Theo flat out refused to listen to them.
He told himself it was because Liam brought him from hell. Because he wanted a pack. Because he had to make amends. Because Liam and Tara were actually sort of similar. Because he was learning to be moralistic.
The truth was far simpler.
After the war ended, Theo spent a lot of time in his truck. He had nowhere to go, and while there was nothing left for him in Beacon Hills, he stayed.
When someone knocked on his car door in the middle of the night, Theo began yelling before he even looked up.
“I’m going, I’m going!” He had shouted, before sitting up, finding himself face to face with a red nosed, bleary eyed Liam.
The blue-eyed boy stood calmly, unusually so, waiting for Theo to open the door to him. When he did, Liam began to speak, without stopping.
“I know you’re going to say no, but I have a spare bed available. It’s freezing out tonight and my parents won’t care, neither of them is ever home.” He blew into his gloved hands, before glancing back up at Theo. “But since I’m pretty sure you’re about to say no,” Liam was right, Theo was about to say no, “Here.”
Liam had left the hoodie and was gone as quick as he came. If not for the soft maroon thing in his arms, Theo might’ve thought he imagined it.
But no. It was Liam’s lacrosse hoodie. Thick fleece that made him feel a little warmer. Theo never would’ve admitted it, but he was pretty sure that was the exact night he was truly a goner. No going back, no undoing it.
Laying alone in his truck, surrounded by warmth and Liam’s scent, Theo felt less alone. He felt less like a dead man walking.
It took weeks for him to finally park his car outside Liam’s house. He didn’t go in, didn’t make any move to signify he was there. It only took ten minutes for Liam to notice, and to come let him in. Theo was awkward about it, barely speaking to anyone, barely taking up any space.
It took months before he even unpacked the few belongings from his car, into his new closet.
Which led him to right about where he was now. Standing alone in the hallway of Beacon High, about to finish up his (repeated) final year of school, watching Liam walk down the hall with Hayden at his side.
Theo had never had any particularly strong feelings about Hayden before, but right then, he loathed her. And he knew, because he could smell, that she hated him too.
Hayden was holding his hand, and Liam was smiling like nothing could ever be wrong in the world.
Because of course he was. Because Liam loved Hayden. Liam had loved Hayden since before Theo had even liked Liam. Hayden was Liam’s and Liam was Hayden’s. He remembered seeing them in the car, after they’d been kidnapped. Remembered the tenderness. How Liam had been so angry at the thought of losing her he’d turned on his own Alpha.
Theo had been angry and violent, but he had never, ever been like that over love.
Although, he realised, that wasn’t true. Theo had been willing to hand himself to the Ghost Riders. Willing to go up against Monroe’s soldiers. Willing to walk right into danger again and again and again. For Liam. For Liam and his blue eyes and his self-sacrificial attitude and his absolute compassion even in the face of someone who had manipulated and hurt him.
Theo had had Liam all to himself for a while. It had started off slow, awkward breakfasts sat across from each other. Become movie nights in pyjamas, curled next to each other on Liam’s bed. They were, Theo would hazard to presume, friends. Liam had become Theo’s best friend.
But it wasn’t enough. And Theo felt stupid, wearing Liam’s sweatshirt, pretending not to watch the two.
It’s just a sweatshirt, he reminded himself, and nothing more. It didn’t mean anything. To Theo, it had become his most worn item of clothing. Mostly at home and in bed, where no one would see him, not even Liam. Wearing it today had been a first time, a risk. It had been a pretty public statement that he and Liam were… something. Friends? He didn’t know.
He started when someone pressed a hand on his shoulder and glanced back to find Mason behind him.
“He’ll realise.” Mason said, and Theo just stared at him a moment.
“I’m sorry?” He asked. Theo had spent time around Mason and Corey, obviously, but not the same way he had Liam. And what was more, Theo was only just realising himself how badly he wanted Liam, how did Mason seem to know already?
“He’ll realise.” He repeated.
“Nothing to realise.” Theo defended, putting a smirk on his face. It didn’t feel right, didn’t feel confident. Theo tried not to think about how it must look. “When’d she get back?” He tried to keep his tone from sounding bitter, but ultimately failed miserably
“Few days ago.” Mason filled in, still looking at him with pity. Theo thought it was easier when he looked at him like he was a monster.
He nodded slowly, glancing back at them, now walking away. “Good.” Theo lied; glad Mason wouldn’t be able to sense it. “I know he was pretty broken up by her leaving.”
Mason nodded slowly, as if thinking about it. He obviously knew Liam better than Theo did – he should with a ten year head-start – but Theo didn’t really know how else to play off this vulnerable and weird conversation. “Sure.” He agreed, “But that doesn’t mean they’re right now.” He paused, seeming to deliberate before adding, “He’s happy around you, you know.”
Liam was the reason Theo was a part of the pack now. Of course, it was Liam’s pack now, so it should be his choice. Still, Theo didn’t think any of the rest of them cared much for him. He thought he was tolerated, at best.
Theo snorted, “Happy around a chimera of death?” He attempted, a weak shadow of his former lying ability.
“You haven’t been that in a long time, dude. You’re wearing his sweater.”
Mason left and Theo stood there, wondering if he should just get in his bullet ridden truck and drive the hell home, put it in the wash and return it to Liam’s room. Liam had worn it plenty of times since that day. It sort of passed between them, a shared thing. If Theo didn’t know any better, he would think Liam was doing it on purpose. He would think Liam knew how his scent warded the nightmares away. How it shielded him from his past and from the crushing fear of loneliness that had begun to blossom in his chest during late, cold nights.
Turning on his heel, Theo left before he could be soon. Before he could be judged. Far as he knew, Liam hadn’t even noticed him in it, he didn’t have to own this. Only Mason had really taken too much notice. Mason, who was apparently far nicer to him than Theo had realised.
He ignored the buzzing in his pocket, only reading the messaged on the screen when he pulled up outside Liam’s – now his – house.
Puppy: where the hell are you?
Puppy: can’t believe u ditched me, ur my lab partner
Theo hadn’t even considered that. He thought about writing something petty back about how maybe Hayden should be his new partner, but he couldn’t muster it. Hayden had been there when Theo hadn’t. Hayden was his first love. Hayden, who’d never tried to kill him or manipulate him, who hadn’t been to hell.
If Theo was still harbouring more homicidal qualities, he might wish she was gone. Her and her stupid hair, her stupid eyes. She was a real werewolf. She was too many things Theo could never be.
The beginning, and the end of that thought, was Liam. She was Liam’s. Something Theo would never have.
It was hours before Liam returned home and Theo could hear two heartbeats. Hayden’s too, he was sure.
When Liam opened the door to his room, Theo seriously considered jumping out the window.
Instead, he stayed put and watched as Liam walked into his room. Liam, who was pintsized and bright eyed, who was kind and compassionate where Theo had always been selfish and manipulative. Who had annoyed Theo so much at first, but who had come to mean so much to him.
Theo would do anything for him. Theo would do absolutely anything for him.
Including letting him go.
“’S’up?” He asked, feigning casual disinterest as he stared down at his homework. He needed to start paying more attention, this looked like hieroglyphics to him.
“Where were you today, man? Can’t believe you left me alone with Finch. You know I can’t stand her.” He began, jumping up and sitting on Theo’s desk. Hayden followed, leaning in the doorway.
“Hi.” She greeted, her voice stilted and awkward. She clearly didn’t want to be around him, probably didn’t approve of Liam letting him live there. That was fine, Theo didn’t really approve of her either, but only one of their opinions really mattered to Liam.
“Sorry. Just wasn’t feeling the best. Also I was falling behind, so I decided to have a study day.”
“Going to hell will do that to you.” Even despite the obvious dislike Hayden was displaying, Theo wasn’t expecting that. It had been a while since anyone had treated him like the enemy, and he’d almost forgot how it felt. Green eyes finally shifted to meet brown, and he was met with nothing but anger and hatred. Distrust.
“Hayden,” Liam sounded more tired than angry, and Theo was pretty sure this wasn’t the first time they’d talked about this.
“No, it’s fine.” Theo began, defensive, “Say what you need to say, Romero.”
He didn’t know why he invited it, especially when he knew it would sting so badly. Especially when he desperately didn’t want to remind Liam of how unworthy he was.
“I don’t know why you’re even still here.” She snapped, staring him down, “You’re the reason I died. The reason Corey did. The reason Josh and Tracy stayed dead.” Yep. It stung. Theo just stared at her though, refusing to show a hint of a reaction. “You don’t have a genuine bone in your body.” She snapped.
Theo could apologise. He could try to reason with her. Try to appeal to Liam instead. He could try to show her how he’d changed – and he had.
Instead… “Sure. Yet I spend more time with your boyfriend than you do.” He smirked, “Or are we just supposed to forget how you skipped town when the going got tough?”
Hayden’s eyes flashed yellow and she opened her mouth to speak again before Liam cut in between them. “Enough.” He said quickly, his tone enough to remind Theo why Liam was the one left in charge. He did have it in him, when the time called for it. When he wasn’t busy giggling like a puppy at some movie he was watching in his boxers, eating cereal at 3am.
Those were the parts of Liam Theo loved best though. The messy, unusual, sort of strange moments of him. Running in in the middle of the night to tell Theo about his dream. Falling asleep in Theo’s bed and then refusing to leave till morning. Spilling tea all down the front of himself because he got distracted ranting about something while holding it. Liam as a big serious Alpha who helped people and put himself at risk was one thing, and Theo did love that too, but Liam, curled around himself and snoring? That was his favourite Liam.
“Can you get out of my room?” Theo finally said, glaring her down. And, for good measure, him too. Liam hadn’t done anything, except have the audacity to not love him back. But he felt angry right at that moment, so that was what was going to happen.
They both left and Theo tried to ignore any and all sounds coming from Liam’s room. When he could hear heartbeats racing, he decided he couldn’t take it and left. He dropped the freshly washed maroon hoodie by Liam’s door and headed out, grabbing his keys and figuring anywhere was better than here.
His phone buzzed a few times, but he didn’t look. People only texted him if they needed something (unless they were Liam) and Theo wasn’t in the mood to be needed right now.
But Theo would always end up here. Sitting at that bridge, staring down into the water. It would be cold, but nowhere near as cold as it was that night.
He thought about Hayden, about her long, shiny hair. About her real werewolf eyes, unchanged by murder and cruelty. He thought about how much Liam had fought for her and ignored the way it hurt his heart to think of. He thought about how Liam had told him about Hayden before, how she had been his first love, how he would’ve done anything for her back then. He thought about how Liam kept a picture of her in his room. Granted, Mason and Corey were in it too, but still.
He thought about Tara. Icy, dead eyes and long stringy hair. The cruel, familiar lilt to her voice when she called out his name. He thought about the pain, about the crushing guilt, thought about how he could never make amends. He thought about how, sometimes, when no one was looking, Liam would sneak into his room in the dead of night and lay by his side, holding his hand until the sun came up again. Liam never asked, Theo never told, and they never, ever acknowledged it.
The worst nightmares were the ones with Liam in them. Tara’s hands reaching through his chest, ripping his heart from his chest, looking Theo did in the eye.
Theo shouldn’t be able to love. Monsters didn’t love.
Yet, he did. He had hated Liam so vehemently. Hated his stupid hair, his doe eyes, the way he could go from looking like a threat to a guppy in a matter of moments. He thought about how despite all his rage, and despite all his mistakes, Liam kept getting back up. How he kept helping Theo. How he insisted on giving Theo a place in the world.
He thought about how that place was gone, now that Hayden was back.
Theo barely noticed when Liam sat beside him. He was half asleep, living in this weird place where he could almost imagine what it would be like to be Hayden. What it would be like to be able to touch him. To be able to look at him without hiding the affection in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Liam began, clearly about to go on a little rant, if his sharp breath was anything to go by.
Theo cut him off, “It’s fine, Liam. Nothing she said was untrue.” He shrugged, trying hard to pretend it didn’t bother him.
Liam let out a long, annoyed sigh. It sort of caught Theo off guard, he’d thought Liam was about to apologise, not get annoyed at him.
“For fuck sake, it’s obviously not true, Theo. I know you’ve changed.” He began, annoyed, like Theo had somehow done the wrong thing to him.
“You don’t have to—”
“No, shut the fuck up.” He snapped, “I’m over this. Whatever this little thing is you’re doing; I don’t like it. You’ve been acting weird since Hayden got here. It doesn’t change anything, Theo.”
It changed so much. How could Liam not know how much it changed? Theo wondered what dumb, lovestruck look must be on his face. He hoped he looked annoyed instead. To hell with this vulnerability thing, he didn’t want Liam to know. He didn’t want to see the way Liam’s eyes fell away, didn’t want to see him try to let Theo down gently.
“It changes absolutely everything.” Theo snapped back, without his brain’s permission.
“No, it doesn’t. You’re in my pack, Theo. You’re my friend, no matter what you think. And what the fuck is with you putting the hoodie back? It’s yours, Theo. I gave it to you.”
“It’s just polyester.” Theo snapped, “I know I’m your friend. I get it.” He snarked, shaking his head.
“What the hell does that mean?” Liam asked, annoyed.
For someone so smart, Liam was so stupid.
Theo couldn’t take it. As it turned out, he was stupid too.
He leaned forward, eyes squeezed shut and pressed his lips against Liam. It was needy and too forceful, but Theo was acting on one second of insane courage here, so what did it matter? It would be the one and only time this happened anyway. He would have to skip town after this. He couldn’t see Liam’s awkward placations. He couldn’t deal with Hayden’s hatred. He couldn’t face Mason’s pity. He couldn’t face the guilt of what he’d done to Corey.
He had to get the hell out of here.
The second he pulled away, Theo got to his feet and took off running.
Not only was Theo stupid, apparently, he was a coward too.
He got back in his truck and drove. His clothes were at Liam’s, but it didn’t matter, he had to get the hell out. He had to leave. His phone began ringing and barely stopped. He wished he didn’t have that stupid phone mount in his car, because he could see it. Liam’s picture, sitting on the floor in his boxers, kept flashing. Then, in a more surprising turn, Mason’s photo. Corey’s. Theo figured that meant they knew too, and god, there was no way he could go back now.
Theo would do absolutely anything for Liam.
Including letting him go.