Liam Dunbar was never exactly known for his intelligence. He wasn’t stupid, by any means. But he also wasn’t always emotionally aware.
So when Theo Raeken kissed him, Liam might as well be finding out that Santa Claus really did exist and was going to hunt him like Monroe.
It wasn’t that Liam had never noticed Theo. In fact, it was very, very much not that. Theo had always been attractive. Annoyingly so, if you asked Liam. He had no right to be so good looking, especially whilst being the sort of person he was. And yet, he was.
No, it was more that it had never even occurred to Liam that Theo might look at him that way.
Theo was, well, Theo. All sharp edges and biting wit and Liam sometimes felt out of his depth. He felt like something useless and mediocre, against someone so smart.
It’s just polyester. The words rung over and over in Liam’s head. Just polyester his ass—it was the first step to them becoming friends. It was the first time Liam had really felt like Theo might be one of them. The first time he thought he could make him stay. That he could make up for the shit Theo had been through.
Liam wasn’t naïve about the things Theo had done. He knew he’d been a bad person, that he’d brought bad things down on them. But he also knew Theo had been indoctrinated into this as a nine-year-old. He knew he’d been manipulated and twisted and tortured. He knew he’d suffered for it. He knew Theo regretted it.
He could remember the first night he snuck into Theo’s room in the dead of night, without speaking, without prodding. He could remember how he had heard Theo crying. It was so foreign that at first he didn’t even notice it. Or at least he didn’t understand it. He thought maybe Theo was watching something on his phone, or that he was laughing. But after a few moments of silence, the chemosignals were enough. He was sad. Scared. Grieving. He was terrified. Liam had moved slowly. It took him a few minutes to decide to move at all, but he couldn’t just leave him there alone any more than he could just abandon him in that truth.
He crept into the room in silence. He had no good plan, instead, just laying atop the blankets in silence. The crying had subsided, leaving shaky breathing. Theo didn’t look at Liam, or even speak. Liam didn’t either. He just took Theo’s hand in his own and lay there in silence until Theo’s breathing evened out again, and Liam knew he was asleep. It didn’t take long for Liam to fall asleep too.
When he woke up, Theo was gone, the shower was running, and Liam saw himself out. It became a pattern. Not every night, but most. Liam let himself in in silence, Theo didn’t speak or look at him, Liam didn’t either. He just held his hand. That was how he knew Theo regretted it. He knew how, in the dead of night, when no one but him was around, Theo was overcome with grief and emotion. Liam didn’t want him to feel more exposed than he was ready to be, so he never spoke of it, not even to Theo. But he knew.
Liam knew how often Theo wore the hoodie. He might try to hide it, but he underestimated Liam sometimes. Or at least, underestimated how much Liam looked at him.
Still, Liam didn’t think he had liked Theo like that. Had he? Theo was objectively attractive, sure. But did Liam want to date him?
Could he picture holding Theo’s hand? He already had. Could he picture falling asleep by his side, curling into his muscled body and feeling safe and warm there? He already had. Could he picture them staying up late talking and laughing? They already had. Could he picture kissing Theo?
Okay, so maybe Liam had the emotional awareness of a particularly stupid fish, but he was doing his best here.
He got to his feet a few moments after Theo had begun to run away, a dumbfounded look on his flushed face. “Wait, Theo!” He called, moving to run after him. Liam was faster, but Theo had too much of a head-start, Liam wasn’t going to be able to catch up on him.
“Fuck,” the beta muttered, calling Mason on instinct. When the line picked up, Liam didn’t even wait for Mason to speak before he launched into it. “Theo kissed me and ran away, he’s going to skip town, I can feel it.”
“Um, okay. I’ll try to call him?” Mason suggested, unsure. Liam was barely paying attention though; his mind was elsewhere.
When he’d brought Theo back from hell, Liam had thought he hated him. When he’d brought Theo back from hell, Liam had been sure he was going to put him back.
When he told Theo he would use him as bait, he really didn’t know he was lying. But when push came to shove, Liam wasn’t a killer. He was too much like Scott, too hell bent on saving people, on doing the right thing, by any means necessary. When he saw Theo in danger, no matter how angry he was, he did what he felt was right. He saved him.
He had barely noticed Theo’s shock, and he had had no idea it would mean anything to Theo until Theo had thrown him in the elevator and run. It was weird, how Liam hated him, but seemed to gravitate around him all at once. He still thought he was a dick, but he took notice. How Theo had said he went through all of it to keep him from being taken. How Theo kept stopping him from hurting people. How he had told Liam ‘your dead friends are going to stay dead’. Liam had been so angry at the time. Later, he sort of realised it was the worst ‘run away with me’ speech ever. Trying to stop Liam getting caught in the crossfires of someone else’s danger.
Liam had no idea why Theo kept saving him, but he could only assume it was because he felt like he owed him. Because Liam had brought him back. Or that maybe Theo believed saving him would make Scott trust him more, let him be a part of the pack.
Liam heard Theo’s heart skip when he said he wouldn’t die for him. Liam heard his own heart skip when he said he wouldn’t either.
Asking him to live with him had been a weird sort of thing. Liam didn’t know why he was doing it. He didn’t know what he stood to gain. He had everything to lose, if Theo was truly not as good as he pretended to be. Not as changed.
Yet, he couldn’t let him go. Couldn’t let him lay out there alone in the destroyed car he had carried Liam to to stop him from hurting Nolan.
He didn’t know when he and Theo had really become friends. When it had gone from an uncomfortable alliance to a friendship. When it had gone from a friendship to a best friendship. When Theo had become his anchor.
Liam knew he was Theo’s. He figured that was why he kept taking his sweater. That was why Liam would wear it sometimes and then give it back. So the scent wasn’t truly gone.
Liam knew Theo was his too. He stopped him from killing. Stopped him from getting too angry, or at least found a way to channel it.
When Hayden had come back, Liam had felt relieved somehow. This made sense. It was easy. He could do this and not have to feel bad about it. It wasn’t that he loved Theo. Absolutely not. He didn’t like him either. They were just close. And Hayden was a safe choice. His first love, someone he cared about, someone who hadn’t hurt their pack. Someone he knew for sure Scott would approve of. That his friends would.
When Hayden had had a go at Theo, Liam had felt anger flare in his stomach. The familiar feeling of anger climbing into his blood, into his mind. He’d controlled it, kept it back, because he knew he couldn’t snap now. Liam remembered how unbothered Theo had seemed, how he’d barely looked up, barely taken the smirk from his face when he’d said he spent more time with Liam than Hayden did. Liam’s stomach had flipped, but he told himself it was because Theo was fighting with Hayden, not because the almost flirtatious implication had had any effect on him.
Theo had left and Liam had followed, finding him seemingly half asleep by the river. Liam hadn’t known why he wanted to search for Theo there exactly, it had just felt like the place to go. Felt like the place he would be.
Theo kissing him was not something Liam was even remotely prepared for. It wasn’t even a possibility. Something which had never crossed his stupid mind. He knew, or at least thought, Theo cared about him, but in that way? Liam never would’ve seen that coming.
But it was over before it’d even begun and now Liam was faced with the fundamental question. Did he want Theo to kiss him?
Liam got into his shitty, beat up old car, driving to god knows where. All he could think of was to head to the roads out of Beacon Hills. If he knew Theo, and he was pretty positive he did (maybe better than any living person) he would be skipping town right now. He drove past his own house, just to see, but found nothing. No truck, no lights on. No Theo.
Liam drove for hours, doing nothing but thinking. Mason had promised to keep trying to call him, to tell him Liam needed to talk to him, that he was part of the pack and couldn’t leave, but Liam couldn’t shake the feeling it wouldn’t work. Theo was probably already gone, if his usual crazed driving was anything to go by and he doubted he’d ever hear from him again. Theo knew how to disappear, and he had taken so, so long to let Liam in in the first place. Liam knew he had cared, at least enough to keep him alive, but he didn’t know whether that was something they could get back now.
Still, thinking back over it, things seemed to become clearer in Liam’s mind. Theo, wearing his hoodie. Theo, sitting by his side while they played games or watched movies for hours on end, rolling his eyes at anything unrealistic, but staying by his side, nonetheless. Theo, coming to all of his lacrosse games, even though he had no interest in the sport. Theo, who had come to Liam’s house all on his own, agreed to sleep in a room next to him, let Liam sleep beside him and not bothered (after a while) to hide his cries. Theo, begrudgingly accompanying him to dances and events he had no interest in. Theo, who thought Liam loved Hayden.
It was hours of driving into the early hours of the morning before Liam gave up and headed home. He had school the next day, had work and lacrosse and a pack he had to look after.
He didn’t want to let it go, to let Theo go, but he had no idea where the boy was going, and no way to find him unless Theo wanted him to.
Laying in bed, Liam sent out a text to the boy he was only just realising the depth of his connection to. He felt anxious and overwhelmed, writing and rewriting a thousand texts he wouldn’t ever send, with varying degrees of pleading or vulnerability.
Eventually, he settled on a few words.
Liam: It’s not just polyester. Please come home.
Days passed. Late nights where Liam would go out driving, go out in the woods looking for any sign. Classes where he would look around for Theo’s truck or his familiar frame, only to find nothing. The rest of the pack didn’t talk to him about it much, apparently sensing it was a sore topic. Hayden had barely spoken to him since the incident in his bedroom, after Theo had told them to get out.
On the sixth night after he left, Liam drifted to sleep. He dreamt of Ghost Riders and Dread Doctors, hunters beating him senseless in a classroom full of laughing students, Oni and red eyed killers. He dreamed of the Anuk-Ite and facing his worst fears. He dreamt of Theo. Theo in the elevator. Theo fighting by his side. Theo getting taken by the Riders. Theo getting tortured by the Doctors. Theo getting shot with an arrow or turned to stone. Other people he loved made appearances, but there was only one constant.
Liam slowly stirred back into reality when he felt a weight on his bed shift and a warmth in his hand. He looked up at the familiar warmth and smell, wondering if he was supposed to speak. Wondering if he was allowed.
“Don’t.” The boy cut him off. “Don’t. I know. I know I’m not Hayden. I know I’m not trustworthy. I know I’m not… what you want. Don’t. Don’t try to let me down gently. I’m back, okay? Just… don’t.”
Liam sat in silence for a minute, trying to figure out where to begin. All he could think to do was ask a question.
“Why did you leave? Go into the woods when you did?” He asked, his voice barely a whisper, he was sure it would’ve been inaudible to human ears.
A beat passed. Then another. “I couldn’t watch you and her. I know she’s what you want and that’s fine. You should be happy. But… she was right. I’m not worth being around you. Being here. I had to get out.”
Blue eyes ran over the silhouette of Theo, an empty shape in the dark. He knew just what face the boy would be making, and even in the darkness, he could picture the exact green of his eyes. He blinked into the darkness, pondering his words. The conversation was slow but measured. More vulnerable than any they’d ever had.
“After you told us to get out, I told Hayden she had to accept you were here to stay or leave.” Liam breathed out.
Theo’s shadowed silhouette turned to Liam. He couldn’t see Theo’s face, but he knew what look he was getting.
“She left.” Liam added, a sort of nervous quiet to his voice.
“Why would you do that?” The older boy asked, brows furrowed in confusion.
Liam could hear his own heart pounding. “I loved Hayden. In a way, I guess I always will. But… I guess…” He felt like he might vomit, suddenly. “I guess I love you too.”
“As a friend?” Liam had never heard Theo sound so young. So vulnerable and afraid.
Liam could speak, but he couldn’t find the words. Instead, he leaned forward, pressing his lips against Theo’s. This kiss was far softer. There weren’t any banging teeth or awkward tenses. Liam squeezed his eyes shut, feeling his stomach flip and his heart beat hard. Theo’s hand rested on Liam’s face, gently touching the edges of his floppy hair.
After a second of silence, Liam’s forehead rested against Theo’s in the dark, Theo spoke again. “I heard your hearts beating fast, I thought maybe you were…” He trailed off.
Liam frowned, confused, “Wait, you thought we were having sex? Theo, I thought you were good with chemosignals.”
Liam could almost hear the smile in Theo’s voice. “Guess I was just scared to lose you.”
After that, Liam and Theo didn’t hold hands in silence in the dark. They didn’t pretend it didn’t happen. After that, when Theo saw Liam walk down the hallways, he wasn’t looking for Hayden. He was looking for his anchor.
He was looking for Theo, wearing his sweatshirt, seeming to finally begin to believe they wanted him there. Theo didn’t need the sweatshirt anymore; he had the real deal. Liam, curled around him every night, snoring softly on his chest.