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It's harder than they expect to find a motel room outside Salt Lake. Liam, Scott, and Malia had to snort a line of powdery wolfsbane ash through a dollar bill to heal the burns in their lungs, which was exactly as horrible as Liam thought it would be.

("It's not just wolfsbane," Scott had said, brows drawn together as he dusts his hands off. "I still had a little bit left from some of the things that Deaton gave me." He tilts his head toward the neat line of ash on the hood of the car. "I added some Coltsfoot too. For internal healing."

"Whatever," Malia snapped. "Does it matter? Can we just get this over with already?"

"It's a good idea," Argent nodded, ignoring her. "Without the Coltsfoot, I think the ash in your lungs might do more harm then good.")

Whatever the fuck he just did a line of, Liam's nose is still irritated as they stop at motel after motel, trying to find a vacancy during the Thanksgiving rush period.

It takes them an hour of driving around, Lydia and Scott bickering over the Google Maps app open on a tablet on Scott's lap, Malia screaming at them over the phone to just hurry the fuck up and pick something, borderline tailgating them in her road rage, Argent in the drivers seat, looking like he regrets not being the supernatural-murdering type of hunter anymore.

Everything's kind of background noise, though, because Liam's still stuck on the flaming warehouse they just left behind; a frustratingly underwhelming discovery for an eleven-hour drive to find Theo, but an annoyingly cryptic one as well, and Liam's running it in his head, gears turning as he looks through the window, completely unseeing.

Induction, a voice in his head says, it's the best way to try to make sense out of it all. To think through things. It sounds like Theo, and Liam's heart hurts. Maybe it's a product of the internal burns, but probably not.

He's right, Mason had said. Observations that produce generalizations and theories.

Exactly, Theo replied. Observation, Pattern, Hypothesis, Theory.

Liam tries to puzzle it out, raking his hands through his hair, but he just can't think, can't connect the dots, he's too angry, too discombobulated, thoughts too jumbled, and he's not Mason or Theo, he's just . . . Liam. Good in a fight when he's angry, and not much else.

Stop that, the voice snaps, Theo again, and Liam almost smiles. That's not helping anyone. C'mon, think. Observations. What'd you see? What do you know?

Okay, Liam thinks, Okay, fine.

Observations, Theo prompts.

Observations, Liam concedes.

Observations.

Theo was taken by hunters who thought he was Liam. Theo was tortured by hunters who thought he was Liam. The last Liam saw of him was when he was being rooted through like a goody bag by Monroe and her surgical instruments, strapped down on an examination table, and told that no one was coming for him, that no one would ever come for him.

Keep going. More recent. New observations.

Theo was being held in a warehouse, which has been on fire, for at least the last few hours. No one died in the fire. All it did was burn wolfsbane.

Good, Theo says, and it's stupid to blush because of a voice in his own head, but Liam never proclaimed to be the smartest. Pattern, Theo prompts.

Liam frowns. I don't know what that means.

Yes, you do, Theo replies. You idiot, I'm a manifestation of your subconscious. If I know it, it means you do too.

Liam sighs, scrubbing a hand across his jaw.

Come on, we do this all the time, I know you've got it in you. Pattern.

Pattern, Liam repeats, considering.

Pattern.

The hunters aren't an organized enough force to actually be willing to die for their cause, especially at the lower levels. When things go wrong, that means every man for himself. It's something they've taken advantage of before in the fight against Monroe.

You’re right, Theo replies. So what?

The hunters wouldn't have tried to save Theo from a burning building, no matter how invested in their "experiment" they were.

Liam winces inwardly at the word, even as he thinks it.

You're so weird, Theo says. Keep going. What about the wolfsbane?

Whatever they used on Theo wasn't regular, natural wolfsbane; Liam had garnered that much from his brief visit, even as he was flashing in and out of the room. It was something special, something specific, something tailored.

Expensive, Theo suggests. Rare. Difficult to develop.

Difficult to replace, Liam finishes. Costly to lose.

Their first priority would've been the wolfsbane, and yet wolfsbane was the only thing that burned. Clearly, by the time anyone became aware of the fire, it was too late to salvage the wolfsbane.

I'm impressed, Theo says, and Liam flushes, just a little, ducking his head and turning more of his body to face the window when Lydia shoots him a weird look, temporarily distracted from her argument about the merits of Satellite Mode with Scott. Okay, so what's your hypothesis?

Hypothesis.

The wolfsbane was the first thing to go. Unless it was some kind of freak accident with whatever they used to grow the wolfsbane --

Induction doesn't account for freak accidents, Liam, Theo interrupts. And besides, if that happened, you would've found my crispy corpse somewhere in there.

Liam winces outwardly, heart twisting, a wave of nausea rising up inside him.

You saw me, Theo continues, unperturbed. I was completely strapped down.

So, hypothesis. The wolfsbane was the first thing to go.

Almost there, you're doing great.

Someone destroyed their wolfsbane store on purpose.

Now, Theo says, and Liam can hear the shit-eating grin in his voice, who would do such a thing?

Oh my god, Liam thinks, heart beating faster.

You got a theory, Dunbar? What does all the math add up to?

Someone was able to burn their stock of wolfsbane from the inside.  Theo didn't die in the fire, and there wasn't anybody who would've helped him out.

Theory.

"He escaped," Liam realizes, only noticing too late that he said it out loud, everyone else in the car gone silent as they turn to focus on him, and Liam shrinks into his seat, just a little.

There's an unreadable look on Lydia's face. "Interesting," she says, eyeing him like she's trying to work something out in her head. "How do you figure that?"

"I, uh--" he manages, wincing. "Inductive reasoning."

Lydia's eyebrows shoot up so fast that they disappear into her hairline. Argent is staring at Liam in the rearview mirror like he's grown a second head.

"I don't think so," Scott dismisses, frowning. "He would've found a way to contact us. Called us, or something, to let us know where he was."

A beaten-up blue truck parked on the edge of the preserve in the dark of the night, a deputy pounding on the window. They already know.

Glassy, green eyes on a bruised face, half-delirious with pain, body strapped to a cold examination table, torso ripped open. They all know. They're not coming.

"Would he?" Liam whispers, but it's lost in the hum of the car beneath them, the din of Lydia and Scott ganging up against Argent this time, the sound of Liam's heart thumping loudly in his chest.

 

 

---

 

 

Eventually, Liam loses his already tenuous grip on his patience, an itch to do something starting to roil underneath his skin, and he has to keep himself busy, before he does something crazy like claw his way out of a moving vehicle.

He snatches the tablet from Scott.

"I'll find a place, Christ," he huffs, but is silently grateful when Scott just accepts it. Liam begins to call out directions.

 

 

---

 

 

They finally pull up to a motel that looks empty enough just them, having lost Malia and Kira a couple minutes back, probably because of Malia's creative driving — but it's so seedy that Liam's pretty sure that's dried blood decorating the front of the main office. He can't really smell anything, since there's still ash in his nose, but he's been at this long enough to know blood when he sees it.

"Lovely," Lydia deadpans with a tight smile, as she steps over the suspicious-looking stain on the concrete. The rest of them follow.

The whole place gives Liam an unsettled kind of feeling, like an itch deep inside his bones, where he can't scratch. It raises his hairs on end and he doesn't like it.

When they get inside, the woman at the front desk is drinking straight out of a bottle of Schnapps, alternating between generous swigs and taking desperate puffs of a cigarette, like she can't decide which she needs more, all as she furiously chomps on a wad of gum.

"Uh, ma'am," Scott approaches, brows furrowed in that painfully earnest way of his. "Are you okay?" A hysterical giggle bubbles up from her throat, borderline deranged, and it's anything but reassuring.

"Right," Liam says, stepping up after a couple more minutes of nothing but maniacal laughter. "Can we get three rooms, please?" Scott shoots him a slightly admonishing look from where he stands, but Liam honestly can't be bothered to give a single flying fuck.

She nods, sloppily digging through a drawer of keys before depositing them haphazardly on the counter. "You know," she slurs musingly, "we usually just get truckers in here." She hiccups, and then lets out an impressive belch that makes Lydia frown. Another hysterical giggle. "But you're the second pretty-boy to stay here today."

The itch in his bones, the blood on the pavement, and Liam knows with a bone-deep kind of certainty who the first was.

But instead of asking if she got a name or something — since he knows Theo wouldn't go by his real name, and also, Liam's kind of running on fumes right now — he blurts, "How pretty are we talking?"

Her eyes narrow, even for as glazed-over as they are. "M'not really supposed to say," she says, swiveling around in her chair, and Liam's shoulder slump. "But," she adds, eyebrow raised, "I could be persuaded."

Lydia rolls her eyes with a huff, and fishes in her purse for a bit, before forking over a stack of dollar bills that Liam tries very hard not to look at, because he doesn't want to know how much this little question just cost her.

 

 

---

 

 

"—and them thighs, mmmm." She takes another swig of the bottle, and hiccups louder. Liam shoots Scott an pointed look and Scott counters with an unimpressed one.

"Look," Scott mutters, "I know how much you want to find him, but that could literally be anyone. Let's not jump to conclusions."

"He was a weird one though," the woman continues, pensive, even as she slurs her words.

"What do you mean?" Lydia asks, stepping forward.

She frowns, severe. "He came in with blood on his old clothes," she waves a hand in the air, gesturing sloppily, "and left with blood on his new clothes. Blood on his sheets." She wrinkles her nose. "Blood everywhere."

"Okay," Scott concedes, "I will admit that sounds . . . characteristic. But, it still could be—"

"I would'a thought he was here to dump a body or something, but I checked the dumpster out back, and all I found was this foot." She reaches for the floor underneath her desk and emerges with a severed foot, prompting disgusted noises from all of them, except Lydia, who takes another step forward and squints at it, calculating. "But that's pretty normal for 'round here."

"That's not his foot," Lydia confirms, after a quick examination, and Liam lets out a sigh of relief. Lydia's sharp eyes turn back on the woman, who now has her feet propped up on her desk. "Does he have something to do with why you're—" she waves her hand airily, gesturing vaguely at the bottle and cigarette stub on her desk, "inebriated?"

The woman giggles again, and it grates painfully on Liam's ears. "Oh, honey," she replies, eyes unfocused as they stare somewhere into the distance, "you wouldn't believe me if I told you."

Lydia smiles, sharp and closed-mouth and condescending. "Try me," she says, "sweetheart."

The woman props her head up on her hand, before her head lolls to the side and falls from her grip, and she has to do it again, chin resting on her palm. "He beat some men with my stapler in the parking lot," she says, and they all go very, very still, "and then he left, and some feds arrested them." She huffs. "I had to hide my stash. And my foot." She pokes at the big toe of the severed foot.

"Okay, yeah," Scott relents, wincing, "that. . . does sound like—"

 "Scott, I once saw him almost garrote a man with his shoelace," Lydia hisses. "Who else could it be?"

The front door bursts open, all of a sudden, and Kira and Malia emerge, looking harried.

"Oh, good," Kira says, panting, "I was worried we got the wrong place again." She frowns. "Is that a foot?"

Argent breathes a long, tired sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. Liam can sympathize.

 

 

---

 

 

"But, like, the same motel?" Scott shakes his head as they make their way up the stairs. "That has to be some kind of crazy coincidence, like, what are the chances?" He turns to Lydia. "No, seriously. What are the chances?"

She rolls her eyes, but Liam's pretty sure she's calculating the statistics in her head. "Slim," she replies, a small smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. "Scott, what do we say about coincidences?"

Scott's brows furrow, but Liam remembers. Stiles, Theo, and Lydia repeat it more than Liam cares to listen, but still.

"The universe is rarely so lazy," Kira finishes, and Lydia's mouth twists into a full-blown smirk.

"I don't follow," Argent says slowly.

"Liam gave us the directions to get here," Lydia replies, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "He didn't look at the GPS once. Didn’t put an address in, didn’t glance at the map, nothing."

There's a moment of confused silence, before:

"Coltsfoot," Argent realizes.

"Internal healing," Lydia nods, "and visions and divination."

"So, I-- what?" Liam asks, brow furrowed. "Sensed him?"

Lydia grins. "Looks like that connection is stronger than we thought it was."

Liam tries not to read into whatever Lydia's implying because it can't be anything good. Instead, he just huffs out a breath and keeps walking up the stairs.

 

 

---

 

 

They don't have any more properly-cultivated Coltsfoot, so they can't just use Liam as some kind of Theo-detector. But mostly, everyone's too exhausted, tired from the comedown of being completely wired, half-filled with adrenaline for hours, and they decide rest for a couple hours, and then regroup in the evening.

The room is okay for a motel. The sheets are surprisingly fresh, but Liam still finds an empty bottle of whiskey in the trash can and the entire place just kind of smells like anguish. There's only one bed, but Liam's rooming with Lydia, so it's fine; they're both the smallest, anyways. She curls up into a ball on the other side, and goes right to sleep, and Liam lays awake for a bit, mind racing, before the exhaustion finally claims him too.

 

 

---

 

 

Several hours later, Liam wakes with a violent jolt, and it takes him several seconds to register that his phone is ringing. He makes a blind grab for it, missing twice before he finally manages to grasp it in his hand, and stares blankly at the unknown number on his screen.

He almost declines it. Almost. But something stops him. Maybe it's the Coltsfoot, or maybe it's something deeper inside of Liam, something ingrained. Something in his bones.

"Hello?"

He hears a labored breath, and then another, and he knows it might just be wishful thinking, Liam trying to manifest something out of sheer desperation, but:

"Theo?" he tries, and the breathing sounds stop, like whoever's on the other end has stopped breathing altogether, and Liam's heart is racing in his chest, he almost can't breathe himself. Lydia's eyes are open and she's watching him carefully, eyes wide, before Liam leaps out of bed, tearing the door open, and sprinting into the hallway to Scott's room, barely registering Lydia's soft footsteps behind him as he pounds on the door, desperate, and Scott whips it open, looking exhausted, him, Malia, Kira, and Argent apparently interrupted mid-conversation, but everything is just a blip on his radar, because all of Liam's attention is focuses on the small half-sob that he hears at the other end of the line, and Liam feels his pulse stutter, heart rate going so fast that he feels a little dizzy, a little unhinged.

"Theo," he manages, sounding desperate, even to his own ears, but the breathing is familiar and the sob is familiar, and even the silence is familiar; all sounds that Liam knows like the back of his hand, like the inside of his heart, "is that you?"  He makes his way into the room and starts to pace.

"Liam—" Theo chokes out, voice hoarse and unsteady, and Liam's heart stops, right there in his chest, and twists and twists and twists, winding tighter and tighter until it hurts. "I— " he says, sounding like he's working himself into a panic, and Liam wants to wrap him up in his arms, wants to cover Theo's entire body with his own, wants to keep him there forever and tell the whole world, fuck off, you can't have this one, he's mine, and he will one day, but Theo needs him now, needs Liam to be his Theo, to ground him. To anchor him. "I— Liam"

"Hey," Liam cuts in, trying to pretend like he's not on the verge of a sob himself, because he can't break down right now, it's Liam's turn to be steady, no matter how wrecked he feels,  “baby, shh, I’m here,” he says, putting the back of his hand over his mouth, because if he leaves it open, uninhibited, he's sure he's going to cry straight into the phone, pour his entire soul out, verbalize every wave of desperation that has crashed through him ever since Theo was taken, say something stupid (honest, but stupid nonetheless), “I’m here, you’re okay.” There's a long, pained-sounding inhale, and while it's reassuring that he's still breathing, it doesn't exactly sound like the epitome of health, and Liam can't help the panic that rises up in him, sharp and quick, as scenario after scenario flashes before his eyes, all of them worst than the last, and he manages a desperate, “you are okay, right? Theo? Where are you? We—

Everything after that happens too quickly. A voice in the background telling him to hurry up, a tension in Theo's voice that he doesn't like. Calgary. Stiles. Supernatural prison. The words ring in his head, bouncing around like pinballs, but he can't make sense out of any of them, mind racing almost as fast as his heart.

"I could really use some backup," Theo says, and Liam doesn't understand the tone he says it in, like he's going to try and convince Liam to do something, like he's going to have to plead and persuade, and Liam thinks faintly, I would do anything for you, you have to know that, thinks, you have to know that by now, you can't not, and then Theo's saying another goodbye, the second one Liam's getting in forty-eight hours, and now Liam's panicking, because it feels like he just got Theo and now he's slipping out of his fingers. “I— what?" Liam says, and his fingers scrabble uselessly on the cellphone, like maintaining a white-knuckled grip on it is going to keep Theo where he can hear him, keep his voice and his heartbeat in Liam's ear where he can keep him safe, and he manages an painfully futile, "Baby, wait—"

“We’re here now, I’m going in,” Theo says, sounding hurried, distracted. “Love you.

The line goes dead, but Liam remains standing there, stock-still, heart in his throat, stuttering and skipping, and suddenly, he's furious, gripping his phone so tight that it crumples, just a little, in his hands.

"Why," Liam grits out, teeth clenched so tight that it feels like his jaw is going to pop straight out of his head, "does he never give me enough time to say it back?"

The aluminum in his hands creaks pitifully.

"Um," Scott says, and that's when Liam's tunnel vision is replaced by waves of newfound situational awareness , and he realizes that there are, in fact, other people in this room. Scott's eyebrows are inching towards his hairline. "Is there something you want to tell us, maybe?" He crosses his arms. "Something important?"

Liam frowns, confused.

"Baby?" Lydia asks, the corner of her mouth flickering up, and Liam's even more confused than before. There's an awkward bout of silence for a bit, in which Liam is trying to figure out what exactly this conversation is about, unable to shake the feeling that he's been dropped into a foreign film with no subtitles.

"Uh," he finally says, after the silence has gone on for a little too long, "listen, Lydia, you're really pretty and smart and everything, but I really see you as more of an older sister-type-- "

"No, dipshit," Malia snaps, allowing Lydia's expression relax back into it's passive amusement where it was getting more and more pinched throughout Liam's monologue, "you just called Theo 'baby'."

Liam chokes on his spit, almost falls over. "No, I didn't," Liam wheezes, but Lydia's still smiling like that and Scott's giving him a look. "Oh my god," Liam says, feeling so faint that he has to sit down on the bed, "to his face?"

"I mean," Kira says, looking sympathetic, "to his ear. But. Yeah."

"Did I?" Liam asks, half-hysterical, raking his hands through his hair, because god, that's embarassing, it's one thing to do it in his head -- he's come to terms with that over the last couple of months -- but to his face? It just slipped out, a reflex, the same one that wants to wrap Theo in his clothes, in his scent, wants to put his hands on Theo's hips and nose along the line of Theo's neck, brush his hair out of his eyes and feel the peak of his cheekbone underneath his fingers, and god, 'baby' is humiliating, but it fits, like a puzzle piece slotting into place.

Theo, Liam thinks faintly, baby, what are you doing to me?

"You did," Argent confirms curtly, looking and sounding incredibly pained, like maybe he regrets all his life decisions, especially the ones where he decided to be the non-murderous type of werewolf-hunter, and that seals the deal, Liam slumping down into the bed and letting out a sound like he's dying, all the blood rushing to his head and making the room spin. "Now," Argent prompts, ignoring Liam's body slowly slipping off the bed, like he is often prone to do. "Calgary?"

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

Theo wakes up to Stiles of all people, clawing frantically at his shirt, trying to tear the material apart. At least he's pretty sure that it's Stiles, but he can't be one-hundred-percent certain, because his vision is blurred in a way that he's learned spells trouble.

"What're y'doing?" he tries to ask, but it comes out painfully slurred, and Stiles eyes whip to his own, looking incredibly panicked.

"Oh, good, you're awake," he breathes, not stilling his hands in their endeavor as they finally manage to start tearing though Theo's tattered, bloodstained shirt. The holes in the chest probably help, Theo's accidental nightmare-induced gouge marks, but they make Stiles frown.

"Why are there so many holes in your shirt?" he asks, disgruntled, muttered low enough that Theo's certain he's talking to himself, but that doesn't stop the laugh from bubbling up in Theo's throat.

Stiles gives him a very strange look. "Great," he sighs, "now your symptoms include hysteria. Awesome."

He finally gets the shirt all the way open, and Theo thinks, I can do it myself, but when he moves to help, he finds himself restrained. On another propped up examination table, because apparently, he just can’t catch a fucking break. What a mess, Theo thinks with a loud, outward groan.

"Are those staples in your chest?" Stiles asks, sounding alarmingly faint. "Oh, god," he breathes, placing a bracing hand over his mouth, "I think I'm gonna be sick."

Another hald-hysterical giggle bubbles out of Theo's throat, uninhibited. "I had a shit week," he manages, through a painfully dry throat.

"Right," Stiles says absently, appearing to brace himself. "Right, right, okay. Okay, this is fine, we can fix this, right?"

Theo hums in agreement, not even knowing what he's agreeing with, but his vision starts to go even blurrier, and he feels his head drop forward, lolling.

"Don't you pass out on me," Stiles hisses, suddenly sounding terrified, "don't you dare pass out on me, Raeken." He grips Theo by the back of his hair, forces his head up. "They injected you with mercury. The Dread Doctors used to use that a lot, right? You should know how to fix that." He pauses, chewing his lip, while Theo's vision goes even blurrier, and Theo hums in agreement.

"S'fine," he replies, blinking blearily. "There's too much in m'bloodstream r'now. Let it m'tabolize. Then I'll wake up, 'nd we'll need t'do s'mthing ab't m'liver." His vision comes into sharp focus, just for a second, and then goes blurry again. "How'd I get landed 'n th' same cell as you, 'nyways?" Theo snickers. "S'a weird coincidence."

"What do we say about coincidences?" Stiles snaps, raking a hand through his hair. "I have friends in here, kind of high up. That's how I got you put in the same cell. They'll be by later, and we'll . . . Fix you, or something."

Theo hums again, and his vision starts to go dark at the edges.

"You're sure this'll work?" Stiles asks, frantic. "I won't end up sharing a cell with a poisoned corpse, right? Because that would suck. Bodies smell."

The joke doesn't hide the fact that Stiles's voice cracks on every other word, but Theo still appreciates it, managing a dry huff that takes the last of his energy.

"D'n't worry," Theo replies, "I know so much ab't biology. Sooo much. Watch." He blinks, furrowing his brows.

"Mitochondria," Theo recites, very seriously, and then he passes out again.

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

One of his friends is able to swing by a little early, since she has an earlier guard shift, but she can't be of much help, since Theo's knocked out and Stiles doesn't know what the fuck he's supposed to be doing, besides trying to work out what Theo's incomprehensible sleep-mutters might be.

"What's he saying?" she asks, and Stiles shakes his head.

"No idea," he replies. "It sounds like Russian, but all I know in Russian is my sandwich order."

She steps in closer, puts her ear right by Theo's mouth, and waits for a bit. It doesn't take long for them both to hear another mumble.

She steps away, half her mouth curled up into some kind of pleasantly surprised smile. "He said," she explains, "'between the fourth and fifth ribs.'"

Stiles frowns. "The fuck is that supposed to me?"

She winks, grinning harder. "Quickest way to a man's heart." And then adds, solemnly, but no more playful for it, "Trust me, I would know."

Theo mumbles something else, and Stiles hears a familiar choked-off giggle, one that's gotten rarer and rarer these last couple years, the one where Stiles said, I think I found something in the bestiary, and she let it loose, with an innocent, amused, I think you mean--

"Now what?" Stiles asks.

"He just called you a train-station whore," she replies dutifully,

Stiles frowns harder, jaw set, mulish. "How do you know he was talking about me?"

She crosses her arms across her chest, brow raised. "He said your name.

Stiles rolls his eyes all the way to the back of his head.

"Just," Stiles says, with a long, tired sigh, "go finish your rounds."

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

Theo wakes up again, and his head is pounding and his mouth tastes like ass, but at least he woke up, which he wasn't completely certain he would.

This time, his vision is clearer, and he spots Stiles sitting against the wall, shooting up to stand when he sees that Theo's eyes are open. He looks kind of filthy and pale, dirt and grime coating his hands and face, and probably a little too thin, the hollows of his cheeks more pronounced, but mostly, he looks okay; no visible injuries that Theo can see, and he lets out a sigh of relief.

The most concerning thing is that his fingertips are looking a little blue, but that's something they can fix easily. Hopefully.

"Oh, thank god," Stiles breathes, scrubbing his hands across his face. "Thought you might've been bluffing there for a second."

I was, Theo doesn't say. I'm not actually one-hundred-percent sure I can die, he thinks, but he doesn't say that either, mostly because it would prompt a lot of questions that Theo doesn't really want to answer, but also because he really isn't trying to tempt fate.

"Okay," Stiles says, squaring his shoulders and setting his jaw. "Okay, we have a bunch of things here, but I don't know what to do with them, so you're gonna have to talk me through it, or something." He walks over to the cart stationed conveniently next to Theo, and only then does Theo take in his surroundings.

The cell itself is nicer than he expected; clearly this was a fairly high-security prison before Monroe and her people staged some kind of demented Siege of the Bastille. There are walls instead of bars, and the door is thick and solid, only a small rectangle of glass where light from the corridor filters in. There's a window too, high above where they could conceivably reach, through which a fairly generous amount of light filters through, which is going to be very helpful for what they're about to do, but overall, the cell is still pretty cold and dark and damp, bereft except for the cart next to him, and a slightly alarming stack of bowls piled up in the corner.

The cart next to Theo is filled with empty test tubes and some metal sampling tools, which is alarming, but nowhere nearly as bad as Monroe's psychotic homemade surgical set.

"They just left these out?" Theo asks, incredulous. Stiles quirks a small smile.

"They think the both of us are handcuffed," he replies, gesturing behind him where, indeed, a small pair of handcuffs is hanging open where it was attached to the wall, so thin that it's almost offensive, so thin that Theo didn't even see them.

"And they don't uncuff you for meals, or anything?" Theo continues, eyebrows inching towards his hairline as he tries not to be impressed with how little damage Stiles sustained from escaping them. "They don't notice then?"

Stiles's smile turns sharp, cutting. "All our food is served in doggy bowls," he says, a hint of something dark in his voice, something Theo would have been dying to bring out of him back when he was desperate for protection and desperate for pack. "Don't need hands to eat out of those." Stiles's head tilts up to meet Theo's eyes, and his eyes widen, the room suddenly filled with the scent of panic, and he shakes himself, just a little, the expression from before falling off his face easily. "Anyways," he says, sounding frantic, "we should probably get that mercury out of you. Like, now. Since it's coming out of your nose. That's bad, right?" He marches closer to Theo, hands flailing, just a little bit. "Right?"

"It's not great," Theo admits, which is such an understatement it's not even funny.

Mercury dripping from the nose means failure and condition terminal. Mercury was once their favorite kill-switch for the chimeras; quick and simple, if messy. Theo finally escaped the Doctors after all these years, and maybe it's some kind of poetic justice that he might now die of mercury poisoning, after all these years, and maybe it should make him sardonic or remorseful, but mostly, it just makes Theo mad.

He didn't live this fucking long, beaten half-dead and coming back to life, like a fucking cockroach, shot and stabbed and sliced right open, held and tortured and literally sent to hell that one time, just to die like this. Theo would rather die of goddamn dysentery than mercury poisoning.

But Theo only has around fifteen minutes to get the last of the mercury out of his body, before it starts to shut down.

"We need to work fast," Theo says, trying to keep his tone light.

"Okay," Stiles says, nodding, raking his hand through his hair once, nervously, before squaring his shoulders, settled. He can formulate a plan, mind still a little poison-sluggish, but working on overtime.

"Our biggest problem right now is that we don't have anything we can use as a scalpel," Theo says, trying to ignore the taste of blood and mercury that's making itself very present in the back of his throat.

"A scalpel?" Stiles asks, sounding more than a little nauseous. "What are you going to do with it?"

"Okay," Theo says, shutting his eyes for just a second, to come to a decision, and when his eyes open up again, his mind is made up. "Okay," he repeats, praying that he's not about to spend the last fifteen minutes of his life in a hunter-run jail cell in Calgary of all places, with Stiles of all people, being slowly poisoned to death.

Stiles takes direction fairly well for someone who's so snarky on the time. Maybe because he can tell that they're on the clock from the increasingly shaky timbre of Theo's voice, or maybe he's just more settled nowadays, but he listens to Theo's instructions well.

They need something to cut Theo open with that won't cause some kind of horrid infection. It takes a couple seconds of brainstorming, but Theo knows what they have to do. Maybe if he didn't have mercury trying to leak out of his body, he would just be able to break both his hands, escape from the thick shackles on his wrists, and cut himself open with his claws, but all the poison in his body is messing with his ability to shift, and it takes nearly everything he has to just extend a singular claw, before driving his thumb underneath the nailbed viciously until he hears a wet sucking noise, and the claw pops out, falling onto the floor with a quiet clatter.

"Christ," Stiles breathes, looking on with a morbid kind of fascination.

There's absolutely nothing in their cell, besides what's on the cart. Theo scans the contents quickly, before telling Stiles,  speculative, "curette", and Stiles pulls the long, thin metal rod from where it was resting against a line of empty test tubes.

A sharp claw attached to the end of a curette would make for a functional scalpel, but the problem is binding them together well enough that the claw won't unstick and get lost somewhere in Theo's body. Theo has an idea, but it's crystals, just because he's had such an exorbitant amount of practice with them in the last couple months.

He proposes it out loud and Stiles groans.

"You've been spending way too much time with Lydia," he says, scrubbing a hand across the underside of his jaw, and only succeeding in smearing more grime across his skin. Privately, Theo agrees. Lydia fucking loves crystals, for reasons beyond Theo's comprehension. But if he can get a solid enough crystallization going between the claw and curette to bind them together, it should be able to cut fairly precisely, and that's really all Theo can ask for.

Potassium ferricyanide would crystallize spontaneously enough for them to use it before Theo dies, so it's what he decides to go with. It's main compound, potassium ferrocyanide is prepared by heating a nitrogen source with iron and carbon.

"Potassium nitrate makes up most of gunpowder," Theo says, feeling a little desperate. "You got a firearm, by any chance?"

Stiles slants him an unimpressed look. "If I had a goddamn firearm," he says, clearly annoyed, "do you think I would still be in here?"

It's a fair point, and one that Theo concedes. "Fine," Theo sighs. "I got shot at a lot since I showered last. So, we'll just have to make do with the residue, I guess."

Stiles helps strip the rest of Theo's shirt off efficiently. "I had a dream like this once," Stiles says, tone light and playful, "back when I hated you."

"I know, genius," Theo replies, laughing, even though it results in a fine spray of silver across the cell floor, "I could smell it on you. Why do you think I tried pushing all your buttons so hard?"

Stiles stills where he was scraping residue off of Theo's shoulder. He narrows his eyes suspiciously,. "Were you trying to seduce me in that car? When we were supposed to be watching the clinic?" Theo doesn't reply, just snickers, for the way he knows it'll wind Stiles up. "I knew it," Stiles hisses, "I fucking knew it." He stomps his foot, childish, brows furrowed and arms crossed. "No one believes me," he grits. "When I told Lydia, she fucking laughed at me."

Theo raises one insolent brow in response, Stiles lets out a fussy huff, and then he's back to dutiful scraping. Before long, Stiles has enough gunpowder residue scraped off Theo's body to make a fairly impressive smear of paste on the floor.

Iron, Theo thinks, considering, before prompting, "Give me the claw back."

Stiles wordlessly place it into Theo's palm, eyes a little curious, but he makes a pained, strangled-sounding noise when Theo pierces it through his hand, until the tip is poking out on the other side. Blood pools onto the floor, and they're both quiet, watching dark rivulets stream steadily down his palm, before Theo finally deems it enough, waves his bloody hand dismissively, a wordless go ahead.

Thankfully, Stiles seems to get it, mixing them in together until they're blended. "Carbon, you said?" he asks, brows raised. "So, we. . . What? Burn something?"

Theo raises a brow of his own. "You got anything flammable in here?

"I . . . "he trails off, brows furrowing, before his head whips around to the corner of the room, to the stack of bowls. "I might."

Theo watches curiously as Stiles shoves the stack to the side, an unholy screeching noise echoing throughout the cell as metal drags on concrete, before the corner is thrown into stark relief by the light from the window, west-facing, so the evening light shines almost directly onto them which is good, which is lucky, which is important, because they're going to need it. In the corner, lays a small pile of what Theo presumes to be Cheetos.

Not a pile of bags or anything like that. No, just a pile of sad, lonesome, violently-orange finger-shaped snacks. Theo counts twelve Cheetos total, but his vision also isn't the best right now, since he only has about ten minutes left to live. Whatever, nobody's perfect.

Stiles scoops the Cheetos into his hands gently, cradling them like they're precious. Theo's pretty sure one of them is growing a kind of mold culture that he can't even identify, which is extremely alarming, considering he spent a good of his life in sewers and damp, disease-ridden alleyways. Theo knows more strains of mold than modern science, probably. But whatever's growing on that thick, center Cheeto has to be something supernatural. Theo's pretty sure he sees a tooth on it as Stiles moves closer, but that could just be Theo's body shutting down. One would think by now he would be able to tell the difference, but alas.

"That's disgusting," Theo says, wrinkling his nose as Stiles places the Cheetos on the floor next to the bloody potassium nitrate concoction, but Stiles's head whips to his, eyes narrowing judgmentally.

"You have absolutely no leg to stand on," Stiles retorts. "You eat rabbits raw whenever you and Malia full-shift, so feel free to shut the fuck up."

"Coyotes eat rabbits," Theo counters, unimpressed, eyeing the daunting center Cheeto. "I don't think anybody would survive eating that."

"Yeah, well," Stiles replies, jaw mulish, "our diets in high school were really not the best." He winces. "Let's just say it was a lot worse than prison Cheetos."

Theo has had the rare and unique pleasure of literally biting someone's fingers clean off their hand, way back in the day, and even he can't imagine anything worse than actually eating the monstrosities that Stiles is trying to prop up against each other, messing with them until the demonic orange fingers form some kind of demented fire pit.

"Sun," Theo prompts, nodding toward the evening light streaming in, and Stiles picks up the thread of his thought immediately.

"Glass," Stiles finishes, nodding as he grabs one of the empty glass test tubes off the card and holds it up to the light, directing a beam through the convex glass, like a magnifying glass burning an ant on the sidewalk, concentrating the light until it finally coalesces into a single, burning point, that successfully ignites the Cheeto fire pit. Theo knew in his head that Cheetos were completely made of hydrocarbons, but even he's impressed at the speed at which it burns up.

Within seconds, there's nothing remaining but a suspicious looking scorch-mark on the floor, and a small pile of ash, that Stiles quickly mashes into the mixture. He picks up the beaker again, concentrates another beam of light into the final mixture, and before long, they have semi-reliable potassium ferrocyanide.

"Okay," Theo says, voice much shakier than he remembers it being, cracking on the second syllable, "for it to crystallize, it needs to be dissolved in warm water, covered, and then cooled."

"Got it," Stiles says, mutters to himself, "warm water, warm water, warm water," before his head whips back to the corner of the stacked bowls, and he carefully plucks the highest one off the top of the stack. Theo can hear the sloshing of water.

Theo winces. "How clean is that water?"

Stiles sighs. "Definitely not clean enough for me to be doing this," he says, apropos of absolutely nothing, before he tips the contents of the doggy bowl into his mouth, swirling it around for about a minute, before spitting it back in. "There," he grumbles, "warm. God, Raeken, you owe me so much for this shit, I swear to God. I'm gonna make you buy me lunch, like, every time I'm back in town." For all his bitching, he's gentle when he pries the claw out of Theo's palm, and presses it to the curette, holding it in the warm water and covering the water bowl with the remnants of Theo's shirt.

"Hey, asshole," Theo snaps, and his entire mouth tastes like mercury, which definitely isn't good, he definitely doesn't have more than five minutes left, "I came in here to break you out. If anything, you owe me."

"Break me out?" Stiles asks, voice skipping to the next octave above, half-hysterical. "And how, exactly, is that working out for you?"

Theo laughs, only slightly bitter. "About as well as everything else," Theo says, and he doesn't clarify that he doesn't mean just this week, just this month, just this year. He means from the second he exited the womb, and took up more space than he was worth. There's a brief silence, in the last couple minutes of Theo's life while they wait for their makeshift-scalpel to be done, and Theo can't stand it, he's been quiet for too long, for so long, he's not about to die during an awkward silence. "So," Theo says, pushing past his discomfort and the chemical coating his tongue, "mercury. That's an interesting choice. They use that on all the new inmates?"

Stiles shakes his head, but doesn't look up from the bowl. "They've got all sorts in here," Stiles replies, the skin around his eyes tightening, and he smells furious. "Like some kind of goddamn zoo," he spits, "one of every kind. I think they're desperate. The throw-things-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks kind of desperate. They're trying to find out everyone's specific weakness, trying to develop these sick, fucking," he huffs, a deep, angry breath that's so nearly a growl that it takes Theo aback, "these horrible genetically-modified herbs, wolfsbane and vervain and god," he shakes his head. "They had a werebear a couple doors down, but they upped the dosage of the bearberry too high and killed him. He was literally replaced in two hours."

"So," Theo says, tongue feeling too thick in his mouth as his mind whirs and whirs and whirs, "this isn't really a prison."

Stiles scoffs. "The pack who owns this territory don't exactly take prisoners," he says, something dark lurking at the edges of his tone. "I'd say this is more of a lab than an actual prison. One of each species, usually just to test their compounds on them. Sometimes they try to grill us for information." He shrugs, one-shouldered. "That's mostly why I'm here."

"They took you for information," Theo says skeptically, because Stiles might not be a supernatural, but he should've been able to hold his own against a group of armed humans. That is where his training lies, after all.

"Okay," Stiles relents, with a strain in his voice like it physically pains him to do so, "so I might have come here on purpose. But," he interrupts, when Theo makes a triumphant noise, "Stop that! But," he repeats, "in my defense, I heard some familiar names, and I really did think it was more of a prison, so," he sighs, "I thought I'd be able to break out." He takes the fabric off the water bowl, and peers inside. "Oh, shit!" he says, a smile breaking out across his face. "It actually worked," he says, pulling out the curette, the bloody claw attached to the end of it. The blood reacted with the potassium ferrocyanide to turn blue, like Theo knew it would, and the crystals binding the two pieces together are a brilliant, deep red.

Stiles wipes his hands on his pants, and then approaches Theo with the makeshift scalpel tentatively. "Alright," Stiles says, reluctance visible in every line of his body, and Theo can almost taste the dread, or he would be able to, if he hadn't just lost his sense of taste a couple minutes ago. "What now?"

"We're gonna have to remove part of my liver," Theo says, trying to keep his voice even and unaffected. "Or, you know. You're gonna have to." He shifts his hands in the thick shackles connected to the examination table noisily, demonstrative.

"I'm gonna have to what?" Stiles screeches. "No, no, no," he manages, shaking his head vigorously from side to side. "You want me to say it in French? Non." Stiles paces, but he can't seem to decide which direction he wants to walk in, and the result is both of his legs moving in difference ones, while he continues to panic.

"Stop," Theo snaps, feeling extremely tired. "I don't," he tries, before something gets stuck in his throat, and he has to hack a glob of blood and phlegm and mercury out. When he speaks, his voice is painfully hoarse. "I don't have much time. Just do it. Please."

Stiles looks vaguely nauseous as he eyes Theo's mangled torso up, shoots him a scrutinizing look as he tears one of the staples out of his body and pulls the flaps of skin apart. His hands are shaking, and Theo is filled with an anticipatory kind of dread.

"Don't make fun of me," Stiles says, reluctant, "but which part is the liver?"

"The part that looks like it's rotting," Theo grits out, through a mouthful of clenched teeth. "The silver part."

"Oh," Stiles says. A brief pause. "Yeah, that makes sense."

Theo feels Stiles make a long incision, deep inside, and watches carefully. The cut is neat and precise, the curette, claw, and crystals holding up admirably, but Stiles's hands are shaking almost violently.

"If it makes you feel any better," Theo says, trying to keep his heart rate steady enough not to bleed out on the table, "the liver is regenerative. I'll be fine."

"I'm not scared," Stiles hisses, but both of them can hear the lie, even without his heart skipping a beat. But there's at least some grain of truth in it, because, Theo realizes, nerves aren't the reason that his hands are shaking. The tips of his fingers are much bluer up close. The term mildly hypothermic probably applies. Theo doesn’t know how Stiles has enough feeling in his fingertips to even be able to grip the scalpel.

"Your friends could bring you Cheetos, but they couldn’t bring you gloves?" Theo asks, incredulous.

"They're supposed to bring some tonight," Stiles replies distractedly, a concentrated line between his eyebrows. "It wasn't this bad the entire time. Cold front came in last night and made it a lot worse."

"We're in Calgary," Theo huffs. "Pretty sure every front is a cold front. You got a plan to get out?"

"Yeah," Stiles says,  "kind of, but it's going to take a couple days. They'll be here in the evening at the beginning of their rotation, and we're supposed to finalize some of the details."

That's when everything goes to shit.

The tremor in Stiles's hands make them shake just a little too hard, and the claw at the end of the curette slices through something it's not supposed to, and all of a sudden, blood starts spurting, covering Stiles's front.

"An artery," Stiles says numbly, blood draining out of his face even quicker than the blood's draining from Theo's body, "Theo, I nicked an artery," Stiles hisses, eyes wide and panicked, "fuck, fuck," he swears, hands trembling even harder, "fuck, fuck, fuck, what do I do?"

"Hold it shut," Theo manages, trying to slow his heart down as much as possible, because if he can get it down, he can control the speed at which he's bleeding out. "It's fine," he reassures, "it's fine, just hold it closed. Both hands."

Stiles makes a strangled noise, placing the scalpel between Theo's teeth, and Theo bites down obediently, holding it in his mouth, before Stiles buries his hands inside Theo's body, clamping down hard, and Theo gives himself one, two, three seconds to make a decision, before he makes his mind up, thinks, you only need two fingers to hold a scalpel, thinks, showtime, Raeken.

"Hey, if I pass out, do me a favor," Theo says, pass out being a very generous euphemism. "Slit my throat before the mercury takes over. I am not dying of mercury poisoning." He says it lightly, something that could be misconstrued as a joke, even though he's dead serious. Stiles shoots him a look that says, very clearly, shut the fuck up.

Stiles laughs, shaky. "Yeah, fat fucking chance," he manages. "If you don't make it out of here alive, the second I step out, the angriest beta werewolf in the entire Western United States is going to have his hands wrapped around my neck, so. Absolutely not."

The shackles are tight around his wrist, and he has to break his last three fingers, snapping the bones quickly and efficiently, before he can tuck them underneath his thumb and gingerly maneuver his hand out of the thick cuff.

Stiles stares at him, staunchly avoiding looking into Theo's exposed torso. "Awesome," he says, sounding faint, "you . . . Broke your entire hand. That's great." He laughs, half-hysterical, but Theo doesn't have the time to acknowledge it, pulling the scalpel from between his teeth and cutting the rotting, silvery portion out, trying not to think, millions of dollars down the drain, as he does it, maneuvering the sharp tip carefully around Stiles's spasming fingers -- while Stiles mutters things to himself that Theo only catches brief, hysterical snippets of, like, cool, cool, cool, just cutting your own liver out of your body, cool, this is fine, this isn't crazy at all, nope, not psychotic, this is perfectly normal, god, you need so much therapy, I need so much therapy, we all need -- before he finally makes it to the end of the organ, and the silvery cut of muscle sluices off the remaining tissue, falling to the floor with a slimy noise. Stiles makes a retching noise.

"Oh, god," Stiles breathes, looking even greener than before. "That's your liver. On the floor." He screws his mouth up, lips disappearing into a thin, thin line, pressed white, bloodless. "I'm gonna throw up," he rasps. Theo ignores him, too caught up in the sensation of finally being able to fucking breathe.

He drags in a couple ragged breaths, while Stiles does the same, except more frantic. Theo thinks it might be some variation of Lamaze breathing.

"You sound like you're going into labor," Theo says, brow raised. "You good?"

"No," Stiles hisses, through a shaky inhale, "no, I'm not fucking good, what the fuck? You just cut," he wheezes, "an organ out of your own body." His eyes flick down involuntarily to Theo's split-open body, and he goes even greener.

"Relax," Theo assures, trying to make his tone as calming as possible, because if Stiles is sick in their cell, they're going to be smelling it for however long it takes, "I've had a lot of practice," he says, "and everything should be fine, now that it's out. We just need to get this mess stitched up."

Stiles breaks the needles off of one of the injections lying at the bottom of the cart, and pulls threads from Theo's tattered, bloody shirt on the floor, while Theo tries bending the end of the needle into a functional loop. When Stiles finally procures a string long enough, and Theo gets the loop twisted securely, Stiles threads the string through the needle, and then intently looks away while Theo sews himself back up, apparently fine with cutting into Theo's liver, but still fucking terrified of needles. He's a weird kid like that. Also, his hands are still shaking, still alarmingly blue at the fingertips, and that's something they probably need to fix, and soon.

"We need to get your hands warm," he says, and Stiles quirks a brow.

"What'd you have in mind?"

There's a very big, very warm pool of blood on the floor. Theo points it out, and Stiles looks at him like he's grown a second head.

"That's horrible," he hisses, scandalized, and Theo just rolls his eyes.

"Do you want your goddamn fingers to fall off? It's either that," he waves at the stain on the floor, "or piss. I'm not healthy enough right now to warm you up, and your friends aren't coming by until later, so. Your choice."

Stiles sits, plopping down ungracefully, and, with extreme reluctance, dips his hand in the dark puddle. He laughs, wobbly.

"Damn," Stile says. "Literal blood on my hands." He laughs, half-hysterical, and Theo eyes him, concerned. "Caught," he says, "red-handed!" He starts laughing even harder, and Theo lets out a small huff, focusing back on the sutures he's trying to make through his organs, and then on his torso.

Theo finishes the neat stitch, tying it off quickly and efficiently, and then finally lets himself relax, slumping against the table, unclenching his would-tight muscles, and allowing his heart rate to return back to normal.

Stiles is sitting on the floor, knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them. For all that it's a fairly well-protected position, if a fairly defensive one, he look oddly vulnerable.

Theo enjoys the silence for a couple minutes, the first couple seconds of fucking peace since he left Spencer's car.

But, Stiles Stilinski is nothing if not predictable, and seems to hate the silence almost as much as he used to hate Theo.

"So," Stiles blurts out, way too loud for the quiet cell, echoing around the walls and grating on Theo's eardrums in a way that makes him wince inwardly. "Are we just not going to talk about it?"

The look on his face is unreadable, but there's something strange in his tone, something off-kilter.

"Talk about what?" Theo replies, tone impressively even, considering. It's an escape. An out. One that both of them should take, because Theo definitely does not want to talk about it, and something about the way Stiles smells gives him a gut-tugging kind of instinct that Stiles really doesn't want to listen, and strangely, it's not indifference. It's the complete opposite of indifference, actually. Stiles smells like he would rather stick his arm in a garbage disposal, than listen to whatever Theo has to say, and it's not that he doesn't care, it's that he intently doesn't want to know.

If Theo was hoping that Stiles would take the easy way out, he was sorely disappointed. Luckily, Theo isn't an idiot, and he knows that Stiles has never taken the easy way out in his life. It's only solidified by the unimpressed, if still fairly nauseous, look that he shoots Theo's way.

"Okay," Stiles says slowly, drawing out each syllable with the maximum amount of skepticism possible. "How about how you showed up to the prison that I was being held at, with absolutely no back up? How about how you were covered in gunpowder residue, how the entire front of your body was fucking split open, held together with fucking staples, even before you got here? Why did your shirt have that much blood on it?" Stiles's eyes narrow, considering, and Theo feels pinned under his gaze, strapped down to the table once again to be picked apart and examined. "I know that they didn't do anything to you on your way here besides the mercury."

Theo doesn't answer for a bit, hoping that Stiles will let it go. Stiles does not let it go. He, instead, starts some kind of bizarre stare-down contest that Theo does not have the energy to participate in.

"Like I said," Theo finally answers, tone carefully devoid of all the bewilderment he's feeling, "I had a shit week."

"You want to elaborate on that?" Stiles asks, sounding concerned, and Theo can't, he can't fucking deal.

"Not particularly," Theo grits out, tone acerbic, but Stiles still won't let up, and Theo huffs out a long, tired breath. "Not much to say," he relents. "Monroe took me a couple days ago, because she thought I was someone else." He laughs, bitter. "She was disappointed, when she found out it was just me, and she didn't have her precious bait." He waves carelessly to the mess of his torso. "This is how she retaliated."

Stiles frowns. "'Didn't have her precious bait'," he echoes, like he's picking the words apart in ways that Theo would really rather he not. "I don't follow. What do you mean by that?"

There's no escaping it, no way to beat around the bush, no way to escape the humiliating truth, which isn't that he was alone, with no one at his back -- that's old news -- but more so that he expected something different. Naïve, like a child. Like a stupid nine-year-old who believed the people who said they would make him better, make him less of a waste, like a stupid ten-year old who thought he had a place amongst the good-hearted, like a stupid fifteen-year-old who believed that he had a family, like the stupid seventeen-year-old who thought he could be clever enough to steal someone else's.

Theo's nineteen now, almost. He doesn't have space in his life for stupidity, and even less for naivete, and he's all out of excuses.

"It means," Theo says, completely and perfectly neutral, cool as a Russian winter, so controlled that Wurudlac would be proud, "that she was expecting someone who could draw the others in. Once she found out who I was, why it wasn't working, she got pissed."

He doesn’t say it, he's too embarassed. He doesn't say, nobody came for me, he doesn't say, I'm not really one of you, and, apparently, everyone knows it. He doesn't say, they knew, they all knew. He doesn't say it, but Stiles is smart enough to hear it, to work it out on his own. Theo knew there was a reason he liked him.

There's a beat of shocked, stock-still silence, while the scent in the room thickens.

"That's not possible," Stiles breathes, voice raspy, quiet, shocked in a way that Theo, frankly, just doesn't understand.

"Yeah, well," Theo manages, feeling awkward, abruptly. "It's fine. I got out."

Stiles doesn't even appear to hear him. "No," he says, "that's not possible. Are you kidding? The last time they thought you were gone, the goddamn puppy pack called me. Me. At the F.B.I. Trying to get me to use federally-funded resources, ones that I don't even have access to, to find you. Just because you went to Tijuana on a mission with Argent, and didn't tell anyone. There's no fucking way--"

"Stiles," he snaps, suddenly incredibly tired, and thankfully, Stiles quiets, hand still hanging in the air, mid-flail. "They knew," he says, tone neutral and deliberately unbothered. "And Monroe said no one made a move to leave Beacon Hills, so."

"Maybe they were being secretive about for once," Stiles says, jaw set mulishly, "you know, stealth mode." Theo snorts, but Stiles just crosses his arms tighter over his chest, a muscle in his jaw flexing. "Because you know that there's no way they wouldn't--"

"What I know," Theo grits out, teeth clenched so hard that his entire head feels flexed, "is my place in the pack. Which is definitively outside. It would've been a dangerous rescue mission, so clearly Scott weighed the benefits and the risks, and--"

"Benefits and the risks?" Stiles repeats, tone high and shriek-like, "Are you fucking kidding me? Are we talking about the same Scott McCall? The same Scott McCall who gouged his own eyes out to protect his friends? Scott has never once thought about the risks of saving someone, the fuck? "

"Yeah, well," Theo replies, "maybe he's learning, so--"

"And second," Stiles continues, ignoring him completely, "Even if Scott had said no, you think everyone else would've just gone with it? Blindly followed?" He scoffs. "Outside the pack?" he mutters, indignant, and Theo can tell he's about to go off on some kind of tirade, about to say something disparaging, so:

"Stop," Theo says suddenly, voice embarassingly hoarse, because he can't, not here, not now, can't have someone finally tell him to his face the reasons why he'll never be enough, the reasons why he'll never make up for what he did. "Stop, I don't--" he manages, "I called them before I got here, and I told them you were here, so they're coming to Calgary, but I don't want to talk about it. Please."

Theo doesn't think he's ever said please in his life, and especially not to Stiles. It appears to throw him so much, that he actually listens to Theo, and for the first time, probably in the entire history of his existence, he drops it.

He picks something else up instead.

He huffs, crossing his arms across his chest, and a knot of dread ties itself tighter and tighter in the pit of Theo's stomach. "How about," he tries, voice a little quieter, filled with something else entirely, something Theo's having trouble identifying, "you cutting your own damn liver out of your body? Huh? 'I've had a lot of practice'? The fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"It means exactly what it sounds like it means," Theo shoots back. "What the fuck, exactly, do you guys think I did while I was with the Doctors?"

"Not that," Stiles hisses, the smell of something thick and pervasive starting to fill the entire room. Stiles looks a little wild around the eyes. "What else have you cut out of your body?"

Theo doesn't answer, and so Stiles presses further, pries harder, even though he's not supposed to. "Didn't it hurt?" he asks, voice cracking, but Theo's expression is perfectly blank, the way he's been practicing for years to do.

"After you go through enough," Theo says carefully, "nothing hurts that much, anymore." The scent of Stiles's nausea, sharp and pungent rises up, coats the inside of Theo's mouth, and he almost gags on it, it's so disgusting. "Whatever," Theo sighs, "the last ten years wasn't, like, great. Honestly, it wasn't even good. But, I learned a lot, and that's probably why I'm still alive today, so." He winks, way more playful than he feels, and the mask feels light on his face, stretched too thin, cracking at the edges. "What doesn't kill you, and all that."

He doesn't say any more, because he can't, he already feels too exposed, too revealed, and if this were five years ago, Theo probably would've had to slit his throat in his sleep for everything Stiles knows about him. He doesn't say any more because he can't, but Stiles appears to have filled in the blanks all on his own.

Stiles has gone a strange kind of silent, pale even for him, and Theo almost can't breathe, choking on the chemosignals that seem to suck up every bit of fresh air in the room, acrid and bitter.

"Why do you smell like that?"

"Like what?" Stiles asks distractedly, eyes fixed somewhere in the distance, not even looking up at Theo.

"Like guilt," Theo snaps, because that's what it is; a pervasive, all-consuming kind of guilt that's stinking up the room.

Stiles is quiet for a bit, but the smell doesn't abate, and Theo's just about to push, about to ask him what's wrong, or just tell him to fucking stop it, when he finally speaks again.

"Do you know," Stiles starts, still refusing to meet Theo's eyes, "why I was so suspicious of you, when you first came back to Beacon Hills?"

"You're a naturally and pathologically suspicious person," Theo suggests, with a half-shrug.

"No," Stiles replies, and Theo quirks a dubious brow. "Maybe," Stiles corrects, with a huff, "but I would've just been, like, wary. You know what really made you suspect number one?"

Theo does not.

"You said you were Theo Raeken, someone we had known for, like, half our lives, but, like, there were all these things that you didn't remember. It was. . . odd."

Theo frowns. "Stuff about you?" he asks, because he should have known everything there was to know about the McCall pack, almost an entire year of nothing but planning and plotting and studying, and he's already hearing the ringing in his head, the whirring of a drill, the failure, Trial One-Fifty-Seven, but Stiles interrupts.

"No," Stiles shakes his head, and Theo frowns, mind grinding to a halt. "Stuff about you."

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

Something goes wrong, right in the middle of recess, and Theo drops like a rock, tumbling into the woodchips in an ungraceful heap.

Stiles doesn't remember much of it, except the teachers screaming, rushing to his body laying limp on the ground, some kids whispering and pointing, Scott's hands across his mouth, his face screwed up tight, like it is whenever he's on the brink of tears, and Stiles steps in front of him, instinctively. Shielding.

He remembers the sirens and the ambulance, and how he and Scott slipped out of the school unnoticed, amidst the chaos; tip-toed through the grass until they were past the exit, past the rusty playground gates at the back of the school, and then they ran like hell, small feet pounding the pavement, sweating and panting. Beacon Hills is a small town, and Scott has had to walk straight to the hospital from school more than once, which means Stiles has too. They know where they're going, and it takes them barely thirty minutes to explode through the front doors, demanding to see him, asking what was wrong with him, if he was okay.

Something went wrong with his heart, Melissa says, but he'll be okay. She casts a glance backward to the hallway, something dark sliding over her face, before she turns back to them. His Mom is with him right now, she says carefully. So, it'd probably be best if you just went to see him later. Maybe at his house, after he's discharged?

Scott and Stiles don't listen, because of course they don't.

Theo's in a bed, hooked up to a whole host of monitors, looking even smaller than he normally does. They can only catch a quarter of Theo's Mom's profile from where they're hiding, huddled by the doorframe, but it's enough to see the pinched expression on her face as she scans down a clipboard, pen in hand, tapping impatiently against the edge of it in between quick, efficient scrawls across the paperwork.

"You know," she sighs, "I wish you would get this over with so that we don't have to deal with these," she gestures, pen in hand, "episodes all the time."

"Get what over with?" Theo asks, voice sounding incredibly hoarse, and Stiles remembers, remembers the tube that they have to shove down your throat when you can't breathe, when you're dying, and his breath catches in his throat, anxiety skyrocketing, as he starts drumming his fingers against his thigh, an impulsive, nervous habit.

His Mom rolls her eyes. "You know," she says. "Beeeeeeeep."

Scott frowns, head tilting, because he doesn't recognize the sound, but then again, he wouldn't. The thing is, though, Stiles was there when the steady spikes of a heart rate monitor went suddenly flat, he was there when his Dad started sobbing and when they put a sheet over her body. The sound of a monitor flatlining, the sound of death, is permanently etched into his brain, ringing in his ears, and he's too young -- too naïve -- to understand. He thinks, doubtfully, she can't possibly mean--

"I don't have the energy to keep doing this, Theodore," she says, gaze still trained on the clipboard in front of her, as she ticks some more boxes, not even bothering to look at her son, shrinking into himself in the thin hospital sheets. "I'm exhausted," she huffs. "Your father's going to have to work a double for the next three months, just to pay for today. You need to start thinking about people other than yourself. It's not fair to any of us -- not your father, not Tara, and not me -- especially when we didn't ask for any of this."

She doesn't raise her voice, tone perfectly even the entire time, but Theo's shoulders are up to his ears, he's wound so tight. Scott doesn't understand, there's no way sweet, innocent Scott could understand, but Stiles gets it.

"Sorry," Theo murmurs, and Stiles doesn't know if he's being quiet because his throat's still sore, or if it's because it's expected of him, but as messed up as his voice is, his tone stays neutral. Stiles swears he sees Theo's eyes look a little shiny, a little wet, but it could just be a trick of the light. This time, his Mom's eyes actually flick over, brief, before they come back to rest on the clipboard.

"Whatever," she snaps, sounding impatient, sounding annoyed, "It is what it is. Stop making a scene."

 

 

---

 

 

(This is the part of the story that Stiles never tells Theo, that Theo can never know. Not back then, back in the sepia-toned Beacon Hills of childhood memories, and not now, in a dark, damp cell, somewhere in Calgary, with Theo's blood warming his hands. That, really, no one can ever know.

Stiles doesn't know what to do with all the thoughts running around in his mind, whirring and whirring and whirring, and he can't get it out of his head, can't think of anything, except what he heard in the hospital.

Stiles just blurts it out one day, tactless, when he and Scott are hanging out. "I think Theo's parents are hurting him," Stiles says, and Scott frowns.

"How do you know?" he asks, sounding concerned, and now Stiles frowns.

"The hospital?" Stiles replies, incredulous. "You heard some of the stuff his Mom was saying to him."

Something shifts underneath Scott's expression, something buried so far deep and gone so quick that between one blink and the next, it's gone, and Stiles can't pick it apart.

"I don't know, Stiles," he says. "She didn't seem mean. Or even mad. She didn't yell, she just sounded tired." He scratches his head. "It's probably hard for her," he says, before his voice drops down low, almost to a whisper. "My Mom said the Raekens are practically broke."

And Stiles gets it. Stiles understands. Scott's Dad was angry and mean, drank too much and yelled too loud, and it was scary. To Scott, the conversation in the hospital probably barely even raised any flags, because it wasn't the sound of glass breaking, the sound of voices screaming over each other, the smell of cheap booze, the sound of a door slamming. Scott's Dad burned hot, destructive and unpredictable, a raging inferno.

But Stiles knows better, knows people don't always have to burn hot, to hurt. Sometimes people burn cold instead, not destructive and uncontrollable, but ruthless, deliberate, coolly detached, and they just chip, chip, chip away at you carefully and methodically, with every biting word, until there's nothing left.

Stiles also knows that he'd lost his mom just a couple months ago at that point, the wound still raw and fresh, stinging with every accidental pass. Stiles's Mom screamed accusations that Stiles was trying to kill her, and Theo's Mom carelessly dropped the fact that she wished Theo was dead, and in Stiles's head, the math just about evened out. Only one of them actually had a good excuse for saying it, but also, only one of them is alive.

Scott's Dad is scary and angry and Stiles's Mom is dead. Maybe Theo's parents hate him, but at least they're there. At least that's what runs through Stiles's mind, when he's old enough to think it, but young enough to not know better. To not know that sometimes, it really is better to be alone and whole, than constantly chipped away at you're empty inside.)

 

 

---

 

 

They bring it up, once, and it almost turns into a fight.

Stiles drops it in, casually, "You know you don't have to stay with them, right?"

Theo gives him a look like he's grown a second head, while Scott's just stares.

"They're my parents," Theo says, slow and deliberate, like Stiles is having trouble understanding. "Where else would I stay?"

The argument devolves from there, insults flying and words biting, and Scott's trying to get them to stop, always the mediator, but Stiles pushes too far, like he always does, doesn't just hit a nerve, he slices all the way through it.

"Sorry," he says quickly, immediately, because it was really nasty, really horrid, and Theo's gone all the way quiet, as still as he was in that hospital bed.

"It's fine," Theo whispers back, but he's gathering his things, placing him into his backpack with a quick, ruthless kind of efficiency. He's getting up and Stiles doesn't know how to fix it, what to do. "It's not your fault," Theo says, hand tightly clutching the strap of his backpack as he ducks his head. "I'm fixing it," he says quietly, "I have a plan."

They're too inexperienced to know that those words are an omen, to predict the worst.

Theo doesn't come to school for another month.

They worry about him. Scott worries something's happened to him, to his heart, Stiles worries that his Mom has finally snapped. They go to his house once, but no one answers the door.

Stiles thinks about telling someone about was his Mom said. Someone, anyone; Stiles's Dad, who's the Sheriff, and might actually be able to do something, Scott's Mom who's a nurse, and has probably seen things like this, who would know what to do.

We could tell someone, Stiles thinks.

They don't.

Scott probably doesn't even remember this part of the story, because none of it raised any red flags like it did for Stiles; none of it was important enough, strange enough, alarming enough to stick in his memory.

Stiles remembers all of it.

This is the part of the story where Stiles, for once in his life, is quiet, because he was young and worried and stupid, and he didn't know what to do.

The next time they hear news about Theo, it's that his sister drowned in the creek. Scott cries, and Stiles is sad, but they never really knew Tara, for all that Theo was their friend.

When they try to find Theo and talk to him about it, they find his house completely empty, anyone who lived there long gone. The Raekens left town, people whisper, after the death of their daughter. Did you see it in the paper? So sad, such a young girl.

 

 

---

 

 

(Stiles doesn't think Scott thinks about Theo much besides the times they used to hang out, recess and video games and the such, because Scott doesn't know, doesn't remember, but Stiles does.

He wonders absently about Theo Raeken over the years, wonders where he is and how he's doing. Wonders if his heart finally gave up on him, or maybe if his parents did. When his thoughts run away from him, he wonders if his Mom finally got fed up of waiting, and just did the job herself.

If Theo's still alive, out there somewhere, he wonders if he's upset about being stuck with his parents, suffocated by their disdain, choked by a heart he can't control. He wonders if Theo's upset about his plan failing.

(On his darkest, darkest days, when his Dad has a little too much to drink, struck by a sudden kind of grief, as he spends hours moping around the living room, cries and yells and pleads to a woman who doesn't exist anymore, Stiles thinks of a small boy hooked up to a monitor, a cold, detached mother, and a corpse in the creek with her heart eaten out by an animal, and he wonders if maybe Theo's plan didn't fail at all.))

 

 

---

 

 

The next time they see him, it's the night of the Senior Scribe, it's pouring outside, Kira's back and Scott got a text message from an international area code, somewhere in Western Europe, after months of radio silence that said nothing but, add our names please :) xx, and then, from a different number, miss you, that distracts him for most of the night and Stiles helps Scott craft the perfect kind of nonchalant response, before Scott deletes it all, and impulsively sends back, of course I will, adding the xx at the end before Stiles can grab the phone out of his hand.

But that's not the point. The point is that their all standing beneath the underpass, rain pouring, a body at their feet, and there's a stranger with a mask on, smiling too wide, and pretending like he's Theo Raeken, and Stiles's eyes narrow.

Why are you lying, Stiles thinks. Who would lie about being Theo Raeken?

That's when the suspicion starts, sharp and obsessive, and it eats and eats and eats away at him.

 

 

---

 

 

The stranger smiles brighter and more charming than Theo ever did, because Theo was a pretty quiet kid, for all the shit that they got up to.

He laughs and jokes and is so conveniently helpful that Stiles can't help but watch him, wary, wait for him to slip up, to say something that doesn't quite add up.

They had the worst fight they've ever had in their life the last time they saw each other, and all Theo has to say is,  I guess I look a little different from the fourth grade.

There's something unsettling about him, an uncanny valley-type thing, where he's almost Theo, but not quite, and the cognitive dissonance of it roils under Stiles's skin, buzzes in a way that irritates him, that makes his hair stand on edge.

There's a stranger wearing a mask and pretending to be Theo Raeken, but he doesn't bring up the fight, the plan, anything.

And maybe he just forgot like how Scott forgot, maybe it was a long time ago, and these were trivial details that Stiles is exaggerating in his head. That would be the logical conclusion.

Somehow, Stiles knows it's not the correct one.

 

 

---

 

 

Stiles finally snaps, and swipes his registration paperwork, sees the signature with the ink stain, Johnathan Raeken, tells Scott about it.

Yes, it's creepy, and a violation of privacy, and possibly illegal, but Stiles has something to prove now.

Scott, the only person who could possibly understand, doesn't get it.

So Theo's Theo, Scott says slowly, brow furrowed and head tilted, but his Dad isn't his Dad?

Stiles stares at him, incredulous, because, really, how could he not remember.

The stranger pretending to be Theo says something about his Dad being injured, a broken arm, Stiles comes to find out, and the entire thing stinks to high heaven.

Because, the thing is, Stiles knows Theo Raeken, knows him down to his bones, and he can't have changed that much.

The thing is, Theo was always too scared of his father to ask him to sign things. Stiles has watched him forge his parents' signature on every single permission slip they got, neat and precise in a way that impressed him.

The stranger gets along with his parents and smiles too bright and doesn't remember their fight, and says his Dad's injured.

Maybe he fixed things with his parents, Scott says when Stiles tells him this, always the optimist. Maybe things got better.

Stiles remembers, I'm fixing it. I have a plan. Somehow, he doesn't think that was what Theo had meant.

Theo Raeken never would've asked for his Dad to sign something, and he never would have flubbed the signature this bad himself. It's too practiced a motion, fluid and reflexive, and he's seen Theo do it countless times over the years.

So, Theo's Theo, but his Dad isn't his Dad.

Not quite, Stiles thinks back, and keeps watching him.

 

 

---

 

 

What happened to you? Stiles finds himself thinking. Was this your plan?

 

 

---

 

 

Theo grins, charming, tries hitting on Malia despite the fact that Stiles knows he's gay, because they talked about it, all those years ago, he gets along with his parents and he's too loud, too sure of himself. He doesn't say anything about the nine years they shared together besides a small shred of an anecdote, just to reassure Scott.

It was something about the way he told the story, something odd. Something along the lines of, you consoled me after an asthma attack, told me your mom was a nurse.

Because, the thing is, it did happen like that, Scott consoling Theo after especially bad asthma attacks, but Theo has known Melissa McCall was a nurse since the first day of Beacon Hills Elementary. Something about the way Theo made it sound like they were classmates, acquaintances, like he had just seen Scott and Stiles around, maybe had spoken to them a couple times, before he moved away with his family.

For all his anecdotes, he talks about them like he barely knew them, like they had barely known each other, way back in the day, like Stiles was just someone else in the fourth-grade, and not the first person that Theo came out to under the cover of night at two in the morning, in the middle of a sleepover. Like they didn't sneak him out of his house, creeping quietly down the trellis, to explore the dark preserve in the early hours of the morning. Like Stiles didn't sob into his shoulder when they found out about his Mom.

Three pairs of hands interlinked, childish giggling echoing across the tall trees of the preserve as they sprint through with flashlights, tripping over roots and leaves and their own feet and each other.

Three pairs of hands interlinked for years, through Scott's Dad and Stiles's Mom, through broken arms and lazy summers and the first time Stiles got rejected by Lydia Martin.

We knew each other back in the fourth grade, Theo says. We were classmates.

Three pairs of hands interlinked. A hospital bed, a fight, I have a plan, a girl's heartless corpse lying dead and cold in the creek.

Buddy, Stiles thinks, even though he knows this stranger isn't Theo, we were so much more.

 

 

---

 

 

They find out the truth. Tara's body, the Dread Doctors. They told me she wanted me to have it.

It's not your fault. I'm fixing it. I have a plan.

We could tell someone, Stiles had thought.

They didn't.

Stiles is sick when he finds out, after the whole scene in the library, and it takes him an hour to stop dry heaving.

Oh, Theo, he thinks, horrified. You didn't.

 

 

---

 

 

He did.

 

 

---

 

 

Kira sends Theo to hell, and no one's quite comfortable with it, because they can tell she's not herself, but no one seems to be in a rush to get him out either.

He wants to shake someone. He wants to grab Scott by the shoulders and say, Don't you get it? We did this. We didn't understand, all those years ago, because your Dad was too loud and I was too quiet, and we let him go, and this is what happened.

But Scott doesn't remember, he still wouldn't understand. And Stiles gets it, Theo was the first to try to kill Scott and actually succeed.

He doesn't say anything then, but when they pull him back out, much, much later, he tries to be quietly supportive, digging out a place for him in the pack, and Scott is a forgiving enough person to do the same, even if he doesn't remember, and Stiles doesn't know whether to laugh or cry at the bewildered looks Theo always shoots them when he doesn't think they're looking.

 

 

---

 

 

They're in a damp prison cell in Calgary, and Theo came to break him out, in some kind of horribly planned, self-sacrificing, one-man rescue mission, and he says things like, I've had a lot of practice, and, after you go through enough, nothing hurts that much, anymore.

Stiles fills in the rest of the blanks, what could've happened, what must've happened.

It's fine.

It's not your fault.

I'm fixing it.

I have a plan.

Three pairs of hands interlinked. Three lies and one truth.

Stiles stayed quiet, and Theo thought he didn't have a choice, and now they're older and they both have too much blood on their hands, and the fact of the matter is, a lot of things are Theo's fault, but this one? This one is Stiles's.

 

 

---

 

 

This is the story that Stiles tells Theo in Calgary, with Theo's blood on his hands in more ways than one. Theo's strapped to an examination table, and it makes Stiles deeply uncomfortable how comfortable he looks, like it's not the first time he's found himself there. Most truths about Theo make him deeply uncomfortable, actually, the top of which, is being able to cut his own organ out of his body without even flinching.

Theo says, The Doctors took a lot of my memories, and unless I read the book, I won't ever get them back.

Stiles can't even imagine what kind of horrors he would discover if he read Valack's book. What kind of memories a person like that suppresses over the years. He thinks some memories should stay buried forever, some memories do nothing but hurt. Do nothing but chip, chip, chip away at you.

Theo says, contemplative, you know it's not your fault that I ended up with the Doctors, right? His chest is a long, bloody line, and Stiles can barely even hear what he has to say over the rush of blood in his hears. It doesn't matter what you would've tried back then, I probably would've gone with them anyways.

Hey, Theo says, look at me. Let me take responsibility for my own actions. It's not your fault, he repeats.

He's much less convincing when he's not pretending to be charming, but Stiles wouldn't believe Theo anyways, because Theo also says things like, My parents weren't abusive, slow and cautious, like it's a hypothesis instead of a correction.

Stiles shoots him a look. He doesn't know what kind of look, but it's definitely some kind, because Theo's hackles are up.

They weren't, he insists, brow furrowed, It's not like they hit me, or anything like that.

Cold and cutting, not hot and destructive.

Chip, chip, chip.

Stiles thinks, you were a victim too, but Theo's already wound too tight, he doesn't deserve to have this kind of information dropped on him while his body is still cut open, prostrated on an examination table, recovering from severe mercury poisoning.

They'll talk about it, eventually, because Stiles is done being quiet. He did it once, and it was the worst thing he ever did, and he's never made the same mistake twice.

 

 

---

 

 

Theo smacks his lips together a couple times, and Stiles bets he's suffering from the worst kind of dry-mouth.

"M'kinda tired," Theo manages, blinking slowly.

Stiles feels highly concerned. "You okay?"

"Fine," Theo reassures. "Jus' need rest."

"Rest," Stiles echoes dumbly.

"M'taking a nap," Theo mumbles, resolute. "Night."

And then he's out again.

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

Theo wakes up again, to two people crowding him, and none of them are Stiles.

On reflex, before he even has time to blink the sleep out of his eyes, refocus his vision, he's leaning back to get some leverage, before launching himself forward at the closest person, forehead meeting their nose with a satisfying crunch and a pained groan.

"Theo," he hears Stiles's admonishing voice, "Sorry, he's kind of feral, we're trying to train it out of him. Christ, can you not-- Oh," he says, "you hit Isaac? Never mind, you're good."

Isaac tips his head to the ceiling, blood flowing freely down his chin, one hand pinching his nose, the other flipping Stiles off.

"Isaac," Theo echoes, casting his mind back, back, back, "Lahey?"

He grins, shit-eating, even through the blood streaming down onto his teeth. "The one and only," he says, to the ceiling. "You know," he says, pensive, "I see it now. You and Dunbar, it makes sense. I've gotta be honest, I thought he was the nose-breaker in the family."

Theo ignores him, because clearly he accidentally gave him a concussion, and turns to the girl.

"That means you're. . ." his eyes widen, and her smile grows. "Oh, shit. You're--"

"Allison," she finishes, a dimple in her cheek appearing as she smiles, "Argent. Nice to finally meet you," she says, "I'd shake your hand, but . . ." her eyes flick down to his bloody, broken, claw-pierced hand.

"Argent talks about you guys," Theo says, eyes flicking between them, "a lot."

"Yeah," Isaac laughs, finally able to face him as the blood stops dripping from his nose, "he talks about you too, Theo."

It takes less than a second for Theo's heart to drop down to his stomach.

"You've heard of me," Theo says, in as neutral a tone as is possible, but he can feel his heart racing.

"Will you relax," Isaac huffs, with the most insolent eye roll Theo has ever had the pleasure of witnessing in real life, which Theo thinks is a bit much, considering he's wearing a scarf, but. "We're not here to gut you, or whatever."

Theo's probably a little high on the mercury; that's the only possible reason for why he punches the gift horse straight in the mouth, and starts pushing, "Shouldn’t you guys be more mad?" he asks, because it's bewildering, these people being perfectly pleasant to him after all he's done; Scott might've forgiven him, but he's the True Alpha, and also one of the craziest motherfuckers Theo has ever met in his life. "Aren't you, like, Scott's best friends?"

Allison snorts and Isaac chokes, and Stiles's indignant shriek from behind them, "The fuck? I'm Scott's best friend, obviously. They're," he shoots them a strange look that Theo doesn't even know how to pick apart, ". . . Something else entirely."

Isaac eyes Theo, considering. "We hear you're, like, Scott's supernatural son-in-law these days," he says finally.

"Isaac, no," Allison chides, "if you're doing it like that, it would make him Scott's son too. That's incestuous. Not to mention," she continues, a gleam in her eye that makes Theo thoroughly uncomfortable, "it would make you and Scott--"

"Okay," Isaac cuts in hurriedly, looking a little green, "yeah, no, yep, you've made your point. Thank you, you can stop now."

It takes Theo longer than it should, mind still a little sluggish, to pick apart the words supernatural son-in-law, but when he does, he chokes very violently on his own saliva.

"I-- what?" he says, very calmly, in a voice that's definitely not a shriek, nope, no shrieking here, because Theo is calm and collected and definitely not shrieking right now. "That's not--" he wheezes, thoughts racing faster than he can contain them, before all but screaming, "I TRIED TO KILL HIM ONCE!"

Stiles winces in the background, mouths, Very smooth.

Isaac and Allison look supremely unaffected.

Isaac shrugs. "Happens to the best of us."

Allison pats him on the shoulder, almost consoling. "You're not that special, sweetie," she says, doe-eyes wide with sympathy. "I stabbed Isaac with knives a lot that one time."

"I thought they were Chinese ring daggers," Isaac mocks, and Allison laughs, high and pleased.

"Aw, babe," she says, grinning, "you do listen." She turns back to Theo, still smiling. "Also I shot his brother and sister a lot too. With arrows. And then my grandfather electrocuted them in our basement."

"Right," Theo says faintly, but it's barely audible over Isaac's confused, "Brother and sis--?" and then, the subsequent, indignant, "Oh, so when you do it, it's okay?"

 

 

---

 

 

"Wait, I don't get it," Theo finally cuts in, after the argument has devolved so far that he can't even catch the thread of it anymore. "What are you doing here?"

Allison winces. "The last full moon was pretty rough," she says, "so they aren't watching us that closely. Everyone's guard is down. No one's expecting us back until much later. Besides, this prison is too old for cameras."

"No," Theo shakes his head, "I meant here here. In Calgary, pretending to be one of Monroe's people."

"Oh," Allison tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. "I'm undercover," she says, "as a French omega hunter. Marie-Adrienne. We caught her a week ago, but she was invited to come here, so."

Isaac shrugs. "I'm the newest recruit of the pack."

Theo frowns, but before he can ask, someone else walks in.

Stiles frowns too, and he's the one to speak up. "Who's this?"

"Glad you could make it," Allison greets, with a nod. She turns back to Stiles and Theo. "This is Nicolás, he's helping us with the jailbreak."

"Nico, por favor," he corrects, smiling with the whitest teeth Theo has ever seen in real life. His eyes flick to Stiles, and then Theo, before he stills, giving Theo a very obvious once-over. "You, however, can call me whatever you want."

He winks, and Stiles rolls his eyes. "He's taken," Stiles snaps, and Theo frowns.

"I'm not," he corrects absently, eyes skating over Nicolás's form, because there's something familiar about the way he holds himself, something familiar about the way he shapes his vowels, moves his tongue, a barely-detectable accent.

"We actually have to go," Isaac says, with a small wince. "We'll be back in about two hours, but we mostly just came to check in on the," he waves his hand at Theo's torso vaguely, "uh," he says, "mercury poisoning. Honestly, still can't believe you survived that."

"See you in a few," Allison says, pecking Stiles on the cheek.

Northern Mexico, Theo surmises, placing the accent, trying to put the pieces together as Allison and Isaac move to leave their cell. Theo tilts his head. "What are you?"

Nico's smile widens, and he reaches for the top of his shirt beneath the flaps of his thick leather jacket. He pops one button open, one-handed, and then the second, moving down slowly as he exposes a tanned, muscled chest, maintaining a deliberate kind of eye contact, that might make Theo flush, if he was a different person.

"You've gotta be fucking kidding me," Stiles mutters, disgruntled, but Theo doesn't pay him any notice, not when he sees the familiar black rune inked across his left pectoral muscle.

"An Osorio," he breathes, shocked, flicking his eyes up to meet Nico's, and then through the door, where Allison and Isaac's shadows are still visible, before they shut the door. He narrows his eyes, quizzical. "Would've thought you'd be on her side."

Nico scoffs, shakes his head, charming smile turning bitter. "I'm sure the one's you met in Mexico City weren't the nicest of the lot, but the Osorios aren't here to hunt the supernatural," he says, tone full of a level of righteous fury that takes Theo aback, "they're here to maintain order. To uphold the law." He huffs. "And Monroe and her people," he spits, "are as lawless as they come." His jaw his clenched tight, and his eyes flare, just a little, a pale kind of yellow that Theo has never seen before, translucent, like it's superimposed over his real eye color.

"You smell human," Theo notes, trying again to pick apart his scent, to decipher what, exactly he is. It's not common for weres to become Osorio's, but it's not impossible either -- he'd known a few in the prison.

Nico blinks, confused, apparently, before he seems to catch on to what Theo's asking about, and he winks, again. "I am human. Just took my medicine this morning for strength," he says, and fishes a small white pill bottle out of the front pocket of his pants, before turning back up to Theo, considering. "You know," he says, "you're something of an urban legend back home, these days."

Theo doesn't know what to say to that, doesn't know what Nico could possibly mean, because the only people who have taken notice of Theo are the people who want revenge against him for the stuff that he did while he was with the Doctors, so he just ignores him, choosing to focus on the other mystery instead. He nods toward the pill bottle. "What's in it?"

"You really don't know?" Nico asks, shock coloring his tone as his eyebrows shoot up.

"Uh," Stiles interrupts, and they both turn to him from where they had forgotten he was still in the room, "he literally just said that. Answer the question."

Suspicion, Theo identifies, biting the inside of his cheek and trying not to smile. It's kind of hilarious when it's someone else at the other end of it.

"They call them quimis back home," Nico says, ratting the pill bottle demonstratively. "Short for químicas, apparently. Chemicals. But some of us have a different theory."

Theo raises his eyebrows. "And what's that?"

"It's just a rumor," Nico says, "a popular one, but a rumor nonetheless." A pause. "There's a theory," he says, "that it's actually short for quimera."

Theo feels like the whole world slows down, freezes, for a split-second, everything coming to a complete standstill.

"What," Theo breathes, and it's all he can think, all he can say, as all streams of thought come to a grinding halt.

Nico just nods, like he hasn't just shifted Theo's entire worldview. "They only perfected the prototype like, a year-and-half ago, but the effects last longer now." He flares his eyes again. "These," he says, "last the whole day. Virtually undetectable. No reaction to wolfsbane, mountain ash, or mistletoe. I slipped right under Monroe's radar, even with this in my system."

Theo's tongue feels too thick for his mouth. He stares dumbly, mind whirring, reshuffling and reorganizing and just trying to make sense of something.

"It's just interesting," Nico says, slow and careful, "that the Osorios got their hands on the DNA of la primera quimera, your DNA, the day that someone important escaped from La Cárcel in Mexico City. Just a weird coincidence." Theo knows that tone, knows what's coming, and he tenses up, reflexively, sees Stiles start to instinctively mirror him, muscles winding tighter, feet stepping into a defensive position. "Isn't that weird," Nico asks casually, before, "Tieso Abaroa?"

"Don't," Theo hisses, feeling like he's been hit by a jet of cold water, tendrils of ice creeping down his spine, a phantom migraine beginning to throb in his head, launching himself at Nico, even though he's still bound to the table, furious, "call me that. Don't you fucking call me that."

"Wait," Stiles says slowly. "Abaroa? Like, the--"

"So it's true," Nico breathes. "Oh my god," he says, "oh my god." His hand comes up to cover his gaping mouth while he watches Theo with wide, unblinking eyes. "Oh my god, my friends owe me so much money, mierda, I knew it! I have so many questions. Did you really rip your own kidney out of your body to pay for your freedom?"

"Kind of," Theo concedes angrily, and Stiles makes a punched-out, strangled noise, with a high, indignant "I'm sorry, you what?"  but Theo doesn't pay him any mind because, "Fuck you," Theo spits, knowing that his eyes are flared, aware that he probably looks fucking feral, but not giving a single shit, because the adrenaline is screaming in his veins at that name, and it's either let it out like this, or implode altogether. "I was never an Abaroa."

"You know," Nico says distractedly, like he's still trying to recover from the shock, even though Theo is the one who should be shocked, because no one should know about him, Arturo made damn sure that he was hidden from a big part of the family, and from the rest of the supernatural world. "Gervasio Abaroa said the same exact thing," he says, and Theo bristles. "I was at a diplomatic summit with him a year or two ago, and--"

"Yeah?" Theo spits. "How is that old fucker, anyways? Still creepy?"

"Struggling, cariño," Nico replies, a small line between his brows as he shakes his head. "You know it’s been hard for him since Carlotta."

"I don't know anything about the goddamn Abaroas anymore," Theo says, because it's true, after his sixteenth birthday, the penitentiary in Mexico City, the Doctors finding him again, he had gone out of his way to avoid news about them, but Carlotta, she was his favorite, she was the only one who he ever really considered family. She taught him how to drive a car and survive in the woods in full-shift form and open shell accounts in the Caymans to hide blood money, but also, like, how to put a condom on someone with his teeth. She was ruthless, but in a protective kind of way rather than a power-hungry one, like the rest of her family. Theo wouldn't be able to bear it if something happened to her.

"Since Carlotta what?" Theo asks, mouth dry, stomach filled with the kind of dread he hasn’t had to feel in a while, thinking, no, no, no, because if there was anyone in that horseshit family who deserved to live, it was her. But the life of an Abaroa was dangerous, even for the caporegimes. "What happened to her?"

"Oh," Nico says, looking surprised, "she left," like it's just that simple, but Theo feels like he's trying to put a puzzle together, and all the pieces are from different landscapes.

"She left," Theo echoes dumbly.

"Apparently," Nico says, arms crossed, "shortly after rumors of your detainment and escape started surfacing, and it became known that Tieso Abaroa escaped from La Cárcel, she denounced her claim to the Abaroas."

Theo almost laughs, imagining all the time and energy and betrayal that was involved in Gervasio and Arturo trying to keep the name Tieso Abaroa a secret -- unknown to family and enemies, alike -- and it became public because of his incarceration and fake escape from Mexico City. Maybe, if he hadn't been caught by the Osorios, if Gervasio hadn't thrown him to the wolves, ripped the bond out of his head and left him for half-dead, he would still be with the Abaroas, still be their dirty little secret, their teenage attack dog.

But also, Nico's words are ringing in his mind: she denounced her claim to the Abaroas, she denounced her claim to the Abaroas, she denounced her claim to the Abaroas shortly after rumors of your detainment and escape.

"She abdicated," Theo realizes. Carlotta Abaroa abdicated her place in the line of succession for the Abaroa alphahood.

"Oh," Stiles says suddenly, snapping his fingers, "I do remember hearing about that. She went down South of the border after her abdication, passed all the way through Mexico. It was, like, a pretty big deal. Got into a lot of trouble at the capital, apparently, because news hadn't traveled fast enough that she had denounced, so some of the packs further South took it as an act of war, for like, ten hours."

The capital, Theo thinks. Mexico City.

She denounced her claim to the Abaroas, shortly after rumors of your detainment and escape started surfacing.

And Theo almost stops breathing when he realizes: she came for him. She left because of me, he realizes, she looked for me, and briefly, just allows himself an indulgent half-second to wonder what might've happened if he had laid low and lurked around Mexico City for a bit, long enough for Carlotta to find him, rather than laying around in a hotel room, ripe for the taking by the Doctors. Maybe he would've been happy.

It wasn't that long ago; it was right before the Doctors (Theo) had set the McCall pack in their sights. He would've gone south to wherever Carlotta's settled these days, stayed with her. Never would've come to Beacon Hills, never would've tried to kill Scott, never would've gone to hell. Maybe he would've been happy.

Theo thinks of furious blue eyes flashing gold, hair that's too long to not be ridiculous and a smile that's too easy to not make Theo's heart skip a beat, warm apple pie in a cozy diner, the sound of mindless chattering in the back of his truck as too many people pile in. The warm press of a forehead to his own, an arm wrapped around his waist, the feeling of fighting in perfect synchronicity, like someone else is just an extension of his own body.

His sun, his moon, his truth.

So, then again. Maybe not.

"I hear she's somewhere in South America these days," Stiles says, scrubbing a hand across the underside of his jaw. "Playing alpha for some nomad pack."

And that's great, Theo's happy that she's okay, that she escaped too, even though there was literally no one better suited to the role of Alpha of the South, of the Abaroas than she was.

"So," Theo says, "who would be the--?"

"Now, Gervasio has to groom Despiadado to take over," Nico answers, cracking a half-smile, and Theo chokes on his spit.

"Cisco?" he breathes, disbelieving, and then he can't stop the cackle that bursts out of him, "No way, oh my god," he manages, in between peals of loud laughter, "what the fuck."

"I know," Nico replies, a full blown grin shining bright and pretty on his face. "I said the same thing."

"He once asked me if werewolf has an h in it," Theo confides, and then they're both off, bursts of uncontrollable laughter, and Theo would probably fall over if it wasn't for the fact that he's still strapped to an examination table.

"Wherewolf," Nico wheezes, and Theo snickers so hard that he almost tears his stitches.

"What the fuck is happening," Stiles says distantly, but neither of them even register it, laughing until something cramps.

 

 

---

 

 

When Isaac and Allison return, two hours later, they’re worried and frazzled. Allison’s eyes are even wider than they usually are, and Isaac’s hands are visibly shaking, even as he shoves them into his pockets to hide it.

"We need to move the plan up," Allison says, something urgent and panicked in her tone. "Monroe's been sending a lot of the higher-ups away in the last couple hours, they've been getting fighting order's down South. I didn't think it would matter, because I'm not one of her officers, but," Allison drags in an inhale, and breathes it out, Isaac's hand squeezing her shoulder, "I just got mine too. I leave early tomorrow morning." She turns to Nico. "They'll probably give you yours tonight."

"Something's happening," Isaac says, eyes wide. "Something big is happening tomorrow. They're bringing in a bunch of new people from the pack, and trust me, we do not want to still be here when they come."

"A supernatural pack?" Theo asks, "They're allied with Monroe?" Isaac nods, quick and nervous. "Why?"

"Women can still be misogynistic," Allison offers.

Isaac winces. "They're a werewolf pack," he elaborates, "with an . . . Interesting moral code. They're all murders, every single one of them on the higher council, borderline serial killers, but they don't let werewolves into the pack unless their eyes are yellow."

Theo frowns. "I don't follow."

"They've never killed an innocent soul," Isaac responds, brows raised, imploring Theo to understand.

Theo stares, wishing he didn't. "You mean--"

This time it's Stiles who speaks up. "They see themselves as monster hunters, of some sort," he says.

"The higher their kill count, the higher their status in the pack," Isaac explains. "They only kill supernaturals who are guilty, whatever the fuck that means, with the only exception of kids under eleven, because, apparently, that's some kind of weird moon-magic maturation age." Isaac sighs, furrowing his brow, and tugging on one side of his scarf. "They like to play judge, jury, executioner in this region. It's how they expanded so much in the last decade. They control almost the entire coast now. Nobody really knows how they operate except for the people who live here, because it's not really common knowledge. The rest of the world just thinks they're good and pure, because of the color of their goddamn eyes."

Theo turns back to Stiles. "'The pack who owns this territory don't exactly take prisoners,'" Theo echoes. "You said that. What, exactly, did you mean?"

"Rumor is," Isaac answers, drawing his attention, "that before they started acting as patrons for Monroe -- funding her, giving her prison space, whatever -- this was where they would store the people they were planning to execute officially." He pauses, brief, before elaborating darkly, "The people they were planning to make an example of. So, not prisoners, just people waiting in line to die. But since they started funding Monroe, this place has basically turned into a goddamn lab. Pretty much everyone here has been turned into some kind of experiment, besides Stilinski here, because they think humans are, like, the epitome of innocence, and because they didn't even mean to catch him, he just snuck in and didn't have a good enough exit plan."

Stiles flips Isaac off, but Isaac doesn't even turn to look at him.

"Wait," Theo says, digging in in the very back of his head, all the way back to when he was new and scared and barely even a chimera yet. "I did some work up here for the Doctors, way back in the day. Granted, it was all the way on the other coast, up in Quebec, but I might still have some intel."

"Oh," Isaac replies, eyebrows raised, "then you might actually know them. I think they used to be centered around there, before they expanded along the rest of the coast." He sighs. "They're called the Vadeboncœur pack."

 

 

---

 

 

Blood red eyes in the dead of night, in the dampness of a seedy alleyway, a small body lolling in his hold, until it wasn't anymore.

We've heard about you. We know what you've done.

We have no place for you.

You're not welcome here, chimera.

He never thought those words would ever be a blessing, a gift, and yet they were. Ten years old and already a monster, Theo had escaped by the skin of his teeth.

(Theo regrets that he didn't keep researching into the pack, even after he left, after he developed better espionage skills than he had at ten-years-old. That he let his emotions cloud his logic, and avoided all news of the pack for years, and it could've led to someone he cared about being put in a dangerous situation, but Teena was too young, too innocent. They would've hurt her. Even if they're killers. Maybe they'll turn her into a monster hunter too, and she'd put a bullet between his eyes at the drop of a hat, but at least she'll be safe. At least she'll be alive. At least she'll have a family, which, honestly, is more than Theo ended up with.)

 

 

---

 

 

"I did actually ask for backup," Theo pipes up. "I got ahold of Liam, told him we were in Calgary, asked him for help. If everything goes okay, it should only take them about a day to get here."

Allison shakes her head, quick and sure. "It doesn't matter. We need to move the plan up to tonight," Allison says, "because me and Nicolás won't be here tomorrow, and after the rest of the Vadeboncœurs move in, you guys might not have a chance to escape."

"Okay, fine," Theo concedes. "You got a plan?"

"You guys are all the way in the back," Isaac says. "The prisoners in the front, closest to the entrance, are the lowest security ones. They'll be the ones easiest to break out. We're gonna open their cells up first."

"We wanted to do it on the night of the full moon," Allison confesses. "That's when everyone except Monroe's people would be at their peak, except things started going wrong. They doubled everyone's dosages, just in case. And also, we realized that some of the supernaturals they have here are bad. Like, really bad. Ripper bad."

"And, honestly, there's no way to tell which ones," Isaac cuts in. "It's not like we trust them, and it's hard to get this kind of information out of the other guards or the higher-ups. People, hunters and pack members, start looking at you funny if you ask too many questions. Also, it probably doesn't help that we spent the last couple years in Europe, and everyone here is from the Western hemisphere."

"There's no way to tell who'd help us, and who'd hurt us," Nico says, crossing his arms over his chest, shirt still unbuttoned.

"That's . . ." Stiles says, "a pretty big flaw in step one of your plan."

"So, your problem is that you don’t know anyone," Theo extrapolates. Allison gives a conciliatory shrug. "Well," Theo says, grinning. "Lucky for you, I know everyone."

 

 

---

 

 

"Whoever's on shift at midnight," Allison says, "they'll be the greenest hunters here. The most recently recruited, because everyone above them has already gotten their fighting orders. That should make it easier for you." She nods at Stiles. "They've been trying to grill you, lately, right?"

"Yeah," Stiles says. "So . . . What? Say I'm finally ready to talk?"

"Exactly," Nico replies. "They'll have to unlock the door, take you outside. You can take it from there."

"Get their guns," Stiles surmises.

"Get their guns," Allison echoes approvingly.

"They usually lock all the weres up at night really tight," Isaac says, turning to Theo. "They're terrified of how any special moon might affect us, not just the full moon. So, normally, you would be completely tied up, shackled to the wall. Probably an electric current running through you to keep you from shifting, just for insurance."

Theo raises an eyebrow. "But . . .?" he prompts.

"But," Isaac obliges, "tonight, someone," he winks, "tipped off the warden that you've been a McCall pack ally for the last couple of months, but you're probably just slimy enough to turn on them, if persuaded correctly."

"You say the sweetest things," Theo deadpans, and Isaac rolls his eyes.

"You're gonna be tortured tonight for information," Isaac says. "But, they'll have to take you out of this room to do it. Probably to the unfinished part of the prison, upstairs. The prison was supposed to have two stories, but they never finished construction. The point is, you'll be away from the shackles and the currents. In there, they can tie you up, maybe electrocute you a little, but you won't be completely immobile. You probably won't be able to shift, which is what they're counting on, what makes them lower their guards, but I've heard about you." His eyes narrow, head tilting. "Even in Europe, we've heard about you. You don't fight like a werewolf."

Theo shrugs, one-shouldered. "I'm not as strong as one," he admits, because everyone knows it by now, even Monroe's people -- they'll be relying on it, in fact -- there's no point in denying it. "Gotta cover the gap somehow."

Allison nods. "Good," she says. "Then they won't be expecting you. They won't be expecting you to not need the shift to get out. Nico and I are going to be at the front, opening the right cells, letting the right people go. That should create enough of a diversion for no one to notice you and Stiles in the back. And we'll have more support, quicker, since the front cells are the easiest to open." She turns to Isaac. "You're running point."

Isaac looks a little taken aback, for as collected as he tries to present himself. "Me?"

Nico nods. "We won't be able to get to the back in time, if they need help. You're faster than the both of us, even with the quimis. It can only be you."

Isaac is quiet for a bit, apparently thinking it over, before he sighs, bracing. "Okay," he relents. "Okay."

"The most important part of a big takedown like this, when you don't have much support, is pacing. There's too many of them, and not enough of us, so it's something we have to think about. If you time it right," Allison says, eyes flicking between Theo and Stiles, "you two should have to take down the same amount of guards." She turns to Theo. "If you go too early, you'll be out before Stiles can even start, and the guards in this sector are gonna go after you, when you're sore and injured, and Stiles can't even help. He'll be stuck in here, and you're gonna have to fight for your life on your own."

"I don't get sore," Theo snarks, just a little, but Allison ignores him completely, turning to Stiles instead.

"If you start too early," she says, "and the gunshots start before Theo's ready to try and escape, whichever officers are torturing him could just freak out and slit his throat. I've seen it happen before."

"This plan gets better and better by the second," Stiles says, a comically unconvincing fake-smile stretching his face. Allison ignores him too.

"Stiles, make them take you out of your cell, secure their weapons without deploying them, and then, once you've taken them down, you can start shooting," Allison says, staring him straight in the eye, tone firm and unflinching and Stiles nods obediently.

We raise our women to be leaders, Theo thinks, the words in Argent's voice echoing around his head. He and Allison get the same concentrated line between their brows and the exact same tone when their planning. It makes Theo smile, just a little.

"Theo," she says. "Stay sharp. They don't actually know you, they only think they do. They're expecting a werewolf, but you're not one, not really. Make your move as soon as you hear the gunshots. Get out of there." She doesn't seem to be expecting a response, but her eyes are dark and serious, commanding, and he can't help but acquiesce with a quick, telling nod.

Isaac laughs, a little hysterical. "God, I can't believe we're actually doing this."

"Here goes nothing," Stiles says, grinning back, the rush of adrenaline between the five of them so strong that Theo can almost taste it, keeping them from sniping at each other, letting them float on a dangerous kind of high.

A hunter, a werewolf, a supernatural law enforcement officer on supernatural steroids, a human, and a recently-reformed international supernatural spy walk into a bar, Theo thinks, equally hysterical, or, he thinks, walk out of a prison.

"Here goes everything," Allison corrects, respectable and serious, even through her adrenaline-giddy smile.

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

Liam gets a call, around ten minutes after Theo hung up on him, and he scrambles for the sad, crumpled phone to answer.

It's the same unknown number, and Liam thinks, maybe.

It's not Theo, but Liam pretty much knew it wouldn't be, the second he hit the answer button.

"Hello?" he croaks.

"Um, hi. Liam Dunbar, right? I have some information that might be useful to you."

"Who is this?" Liam frowns. "How do you know who I am?"

"Uh," the man replies. "It's Spencer. And," he lets out a deep, tired sigh, "it's kind of a long story."

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

"The mafia, Theo, really?" Stiles hisses, the second Allison, Isaac, and Nico leave. "The Abaroas?"

"I told you I had a rough adolescence, the fuck did you expect?"

"Unbelievable."

 

 

---

 

 

A thick hand smacks Theo across the face, and Theo moves with it, lets his head move with the force, whipping to the side, before rolling his head back up to face his captors.

There are three of them. If Theo had to guess by the way they're holding themselves, he would say one officer, and two newer recruits.

There are no fancy shackles, just a pair of handcuffs thicker than human ones, and an electric current running through his body. These are annoying, but not the worst thing they could've done.

He's barefoot, cuffed to a wooden chair that's precariously close to a hundred foot drop, an alarming area of unfinished flooring, where a slight tip backward would take him straight downstairs. There are still power tools and support beams littering the area, hooks dangling from chains hanging from the ceiling (that Theo is honestly surprised they didn't make more use of), old scaffolding still covering the sides of the room. Isaac was exactly right about where they would take him.

"Who are you allied with?" the officer asks him, trying to play coy in a way that Theo doesn't really have the patience for, and struggles not to roll his eyes at. "The McCall pack, right?"  he continues, and one of the henchmen come forward, and tip his chair backward, until it's just balancing on the back two legs, holding him there, and Theo can feel the gravity pulling him down. All the hunter has to do is let go, and Theo would drop a hundred feet. At this height, with the current running through him, his liver just taken out, still recovering from the effects of mercury poisoning, there would be no healing from that.

Theo's legs instinctively reach for the floor, toes pointed as far as they can, just barely brushing the concrete, as they kick reflexively, and Theo makes eye contact with the hunter tipping his chair back, tries to see if he'll actually do it.
 

"Does he think we have to go through him to move South?" the officer asks, and Theo's eyes flick back to him.

"South?" Theo asks, and the hunter tipping his chair back slowly lets up, until all four legs are back on the ground. "All that's down South is nostalgia and Abaroa territories, and we both know that those things are too powerful for the likes of you."

The officer chuckles, dark and mean, as he takes a step toward Theo, and then another.

"The Abaroas?" he echoes, incredulous. "Their hold is paper thin over the southern front these days." He keeps moving forward until he's right in front of Theo, brow raised. "Your outdated information betrays you," he says, taking another step forward, before eyeing Theo, considering. "The infamous First Chimera," he says, clucks of disappointment escaping, "and he turns out to be nothing but another pretty face?"

He moves back, out of Theo's personal space, and all Theo can feel is relief, as he pushes harder, tries to get deeper under their skin. "Aw," he coos, mock-pleased, "you really think I'm pretty?"

The officer takes another step back, eyes flicking to the hunter next to Theo, and the hunter grabs Theo, one hand tight in the back of his hair, the other wrapped across his jaw, holding it open clumsily, pushing his bottom jaw to the side in a way that Theo's pretty sure bones aren't supposed to move, one hand pressing hard into his cheekbone, while the officer walk farther to the back.

"You're going to tell us McCall's plan," the officer says, stepping closer and closer to the card in the back. "You're going to tell us if he's going to interfere in our plans to move South, because we've seen McCall presence in the Pacific Northwest, between here and where we need to go, in the last couple days."

The officer finally reaches the cart. "You're going to tell us," he says, before he pulls a rusty-looking pair of pliers from the card, and turns to face Theo with a twisted smile, "or we're going to get it out of you."

Theo stays quiet, even as the officer moves toward Theo, with one step, and then another.

Come on, Stiles, Theo thinks desperately, really not in the mood to lose my last remaining molars.

The officer is right in front of Theo, pliers dipping into his mouth, and that's when the gunshots start.

All three of them startle, just a bit, heads whipping down to the direction where the noise is coming from, and it's the opening that Theo needs, the hunter's grip slackening on Theo, until he's not even touching him, and Theo makes his move.

"Sorry, y'all," Theo says, grinning. "It's been fun, but we're gonna have to cut this party short." And with that, he aims a sudden, vicious kick to the groin of the officer in front of him, who immediately doubles over, pliers tumbling out of his hand as he falls to his knees, and Theo pitches himself forward, until their heads meet with a satisfying crack and the officer falls to the floor, body rolling, struggling to get back up.

He gets up, maintaining a constant forward lean to keep his balance, the chair still attached to his back, shackled to his arms, and both hunters approach him quickly. He focuses on the closer one, kicking him in the groin with a force that sends him backward, landing flat on the floor with a thump. The other hunter, a woman, moves quicker, swings a meaty fist at Theo that he has to duck to duck to dodge, and she swings her body with the force of her punch, leaving her back vulnerable, so Theo twists himself, until the back of his chair thuds into her back, sending her to the floor as well.

The first hunter starts getting up, and Theo almost loses his balance, but he turns the forward momentum into a forward roll, centering the somersault along the line of his shoulders, and when he reaches the hunter, Theo's back is to his front, the chair between them. Theo whips his hips backward, so that the back chair legs hit the hunter's kneecaps hard, hears a groan, and then he shifts his weight back, putting the back chair legs down on the hunter's feet and pressing until he hears them crunch, and when he feels the hunter's pained breathing on the side of his neck, can tell the position of the head, and the angle Theo needs to move back in, he whips his head backward, and the back of his skull meets the hunter's face in another satisfying crunch. He feels the wind of the hunter's arms rushing up to grab his broken nose instinctively, which means his arms are occupied, he's not centered anymore, and Theo gets up, and turns, using the back legs of the chair to sweep the legs of the hunter, and the hunter crashes to the floor.

The woman has gotten back up, recovered, and makes her way towards Theo, swinging desperately, but Theo kicks her in the stomach before she can follow through, and her fist falters. He hits her in the side with the back of his chair again and she grabs her injured arm, and Theo hears rustling, sees the hunter on the floor maybe trying to make a recovery, so he goes back, kicks him in the chest for good measure, and when the woman moves toward Theo again, Theo doesn't even hesitate, and uses the hunter's back the way he's used to using Liam's, pushing against it to get the leverage he needs to spring his legs back and flip forward into the air, turning three-sixty degrees, before landing on the woman with the back of his chair, and it finally gives out, legs, seat, and back snapping, only the arm rests he was cuffed to still attached, the cuffs still running a constant current through his body.

The hunter Theo used to flip forward has used the time to get up, and grabs Theo from behind, but Theo's not incapacitated anymore, he can use his hands, and he does, grabbing the hunter's hand from where it's gripping bruises into his ribs, and bending the fingers back until he hears them snap until he hears him scream, and then, before the hunter can react or retaliate, using his hold on his arm and his exposed midriff to punch the point of his elbow into the weakest part of his ribcage, and then, when his arm comes back down to protect it, whipping him in the bicep with the thick wooden rod still cuffed to Theo's hand, and the hunter moves with the force of it, turning.

Theo jumps up, pushing his legs hard enough to get his legs high enough to kick him in the chest hard, the force of it sending Theo backwards and down, onto his back, and he compresses his body with the momentum, curves his arms by his head, and twists his legs back up, using his whole body like a spring to flip back onto his feet, and then getting a running start towards the man, each step measured and precise, launching his body up, and wrapping his thighs around the front of his neck, moving into a backward flip, legs swinging back down gracefully, and the man's head moves with Theo's legs, twisting to the ground and sliding forward, falling onto his back with a loud groan. He doesn't get back up, but he's still breathing.

Both hunters are on the ground, but the officer finally starts struggling up. He's not a trained fighter; he moves too slow and too clumsy. But he's armed right now and he could be important later.

Theo grabs one of the chains hanging from the ceiling, makes his way to the officer, who still looks bleary, grabs the back of his head, and slams his forehead forward into the metal scaffolding, and when his head turns to Theo, Theo grabs his calf, hoists it up until the officer loses his balance and his grip on his firearm falters, and wraps the chains around the ankle tight, before shoving him lightly through the unfinished flooring and he falls, around seventy feet, before the chain finally catches him and he stops, suddenly, dangling there upside down by his ankle with a loud groan.

Theo jumps onto the chain, sliding down the length of it like a fireman pole, hopping off when he gets to the ankle, but not before he nicks the pistol from the officer's belt, and jumps the remaining twenty-something feet, dispelling his momentum with a quick, perfunctory forward roll, and swinging the door open to head back to the main part of the prison, quickly making his way through the hallways to Stiles's section.

 

 

---

 

 

Theo gets to Stiles's section to find out that Stiles is still in his cell, and he freezes for just a second, unsure.

"Uh," Theo says. "You were supposed to be out."

"Yeah," Stiles hisses. "No shit. But, Allison and Nico started earlier than the guards could make it here, and so now, I'm pretty sure their at the front, with the rest of the prison staff."

Theo frowned. "So you've just been, what? Sitting here?"

"Of course not," Stiles snaps. "I've been making Molotovs," he says, gesturing to the back, the cart with the empty test tubes, except the test tubes aren't empty anymore.

Theo quirks a brow, "Lydia?"

Stiles nods. "Lydia," he confirms. "Plus, they didn't account for us having mercury, or, uh," his eyes flick back to the dark, congealed pool of blood on the floor, "iron."

Theo shrugs, acquiescing, before calling, just loud enough for werewolf hearing to pick it up, "Isaac!"

"I mean," Stiles says, rubbing the back of his neck, "it still needs an ignition source, probably something with--"

"Isaac!"

"--nitrogen in it, so if I just get my hands on a gun, I could--"

"Isaac, I fucking swear to god."

"--probably do some real damage. Oh, hey, Isaac."

Isaac holds up a finger as he remains doubled over, hands braced on his thighs as he pants heavily.

"Hey," he finally says, when he catches his breath. "You called?"

Theo stares at him incredulously for a second, before flicking his eyes to Stiles, still in his cell.

"Oh," Isaac says, freezing, furrowing his brows. "That's . . . a problem."

"Yes," Theo says, rushed, "we got that, thanks. Now, can you help us, or what?"

"What?" Isaac asks, head whipping to Theo, eyes wide. "What am I supposed to do?"

"Kick down the door," Theo replies, trying to keep the exasperation out of his tone. It doesn't work.

Isaac eyes the door dubiously. "I can't," he insists. "That thing is solid steel."

"So?" Theo snaps. "You're a werewolf, just dig deeper. Just get angry."

"What?" Isaac repeats, louder, almost yelling and Theo is so, completely done with this. "I still wouldn't be able to kick through solid steel, what the fuck?"

Theo frowns harder. "What the hell kind of werewolf are you?" Theo screams back, arms thrown up in exasperation, and Isaac shoots back, "A regular one, Jesus fucking Christ."

Theo sighs. "God, I miss Liam."

"We know," Isaac and Stiles chorus, in a horrifying, humiliating kind of unison, and Theo sighs harder.

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

Stiles remembers three pairs of legs tangled underneath a warm duvet. They're all on Scott's bed, but it's in the early hours of morning, so Scott is dead to the world. Theo has problems falling asleep, just like Stiles does, so they're staring up at the ceiling, shooting questions back and forth.

"What do you want," Stiles whispers, "like, in a guy, I mean."

Theo draws the duvet up higher, all the way up to his chin, and he's quiet for so long that Stiles thinks he might've pushed too far, like he does sometimes.

"I don't know," Theo whispers back, finally. "Maybe, just. Like." He sighs. "Someone who would fight for me."

Stiles is eight-years-old, and doesn't know what to say to that. Fight what, he thinks. Fight who?

"Oh," is all he says, and Theo must hear something in his tone because he shoves at his shoulder with a snort.

"Not all of our brains stop at strawberry blonde hair, Stilinski," he snickers, and Stiles shoves him back.

 

 

---

 

 

Stiles wasn't in Beacon Hills for the Wild Hunt, even though he hears that they brought him back from Hell before they got Stiles back, and privately, he's relieved. Maybe Theo will finally get a chance to be who he wants to, without his parents or the Doctors, or anyone. He isn't around for the Wild Hunt, so he doesn't see where it starts, with the exception of something strange in Liam's eyes when they all talked at the train tracks.

Liam's sprinting away from them, suddenly, and Stiles asks, Were we like that?

Scott laughs, replies, Worse. But he doesn't take his eyes off of Liam's figure shrinking into the distance.

What's wrong, Stiles had asked, and Scott shook his head, dismissive, even as he answered.

I don't know, Scott says. There's something different about him. He tilts his head. His heart was beating too fast.

Stiles frowns. There was a beat of silence. He was running, Stiles suggests.

Scott shakes his head again, looks a little pensive. Still, he replies.

 

 

---

 

 

Stiles isn't there for the Wild Hunt, and he isn't there for most of what goes down with Monroe in Beacon Hills, but between "You really thought you were doing this without me?" and the end, with the Anuk-Ite, shattering a jar of mountain ash onto the floor of the library, blood dripping from Scott's eye sockets, Stiles had watched.

Not in a paranoid way, not anymore, but he sees the way they respond to each other, finding each other in the middle of a room, almost automatically, locking eyes, moving in sync without even realizing it. Push and pull, like the gentle, consistent waves of the ocean.

Theo's not the same as when Stiles left, not at all. The fake smiles are gone from when he was pretending to be good and charming and the fake hostility is gone from when he was pretending to be evil and power-hungry, and what's left underneath is something more genuine, more raw. He's quieter and Stiles has only seen him smile once, standing next to Liam, exchanging low murmurs, and it's the smallest thing, the slightest quirk of the corner of his mouth, but it's real in a way that Theo hasn't been since he came back to Beacon Hills, probably hasn't let himself be in a long, long time. It's everything of the Theo he used to know, and something more.

Liam pushes, Theo pulls, and they sway together, standing side by side, knuckles brushing together as they're all discussing the plan, and Liam's eyes shoot up to lock with Theo's right after he says something, Theo gives a small, almost imperceptible nod, and Stiles doesn't know what just passed between them, what any of it means, why Theo seems to be the only one who can calm Liam down, why Liam's the only one who Theo replies to so earnestly, but he still remembers, maybe just someone who would fight for me, and has to fight a smile as he thinks, buddy, you might've found him.

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

Isaac and Theo are still bickering, when they hear it again -- the gunshots.

"I knew I heard them," Theo says, turning to the direction where they're coming from; the front.

"Allison doesn't use guns," Isaac says slowly. "And Nico uses a silencer."

Stiles frowns. "Then who--?"

"Wait a second," Theo says, "I know that gun, that's--"

That's when they hear it. A long, loud roar, one that reverberates through the walls, rattles the doors of the cells -- one that Theo can feel in his teeth, it's so much brighter than the average roar -- and something else, something deeper, something that Theo can feel in his bones.

A roar, the responding low growls -- one of them, in particular, that Theo is embarrassed at his ability to pick out -- the continued gunshots, the clanging of a sword, a blood-curdling scream.

"No way," Isaac breathes.

The unmistakable call of a True Alpha and his pack.