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Lay Me Down On A Bed Of Thorns

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One thing that could be said about Theo, no matter who he worked for - or with, was that he had an innate talent for cold-blooded kills. Or, at least, that's what Liam used to think. Of course, finding Theo weeping above his dead mini cactus forced Liam to revise his preconceptions. Then again, a few days prior, Liam would have not believed that Theo would ever willingly adorn his truck’s dashboard with greenery… That was the thing about opinions, Theo would happily say: Liam’s were usually wrong. But this story, like most stories, and though it certainly ends this way, doesn’t start with tears. It starts, as any worthwhile drama does, with well-meaning intentions. Or rather, as any tragedy of quality requires, with well-meaning intentions overheard by the wrong person.

Liam was never subtle: he’d been born and had grown up, bright and loud, the sunshine of his mother’s life in the wreckage of his parents’ marriage. Theo, on his end, secretive and cunning, had never learnt to respect the privacy of others. Maybe, if his upbringing had been different, he wouldn’t have strained his ears to pick up Liam’s muffled words to Mason while he drove them to the Preserve for yet another fruitless patrol. Maybe he would have spared himself an inevitable heartbreak down the roads – the one his truck was hurtling over and the one he was about to entrap himself in. But, try as he might, he hadn’t fully gotten rid of his survival instincts. He had listened in on Liam’s conversation with his best friend.

That fateful night, Theo had become the third link of a chain which went all the way back to Stiles. You see, upon visiting his own best friend’s new apartment on the UC Davis campus, Mieczyslaw “Stiles” Stilinski had thought useful, or appropriate – or, heck, funny, who knows what goes through a Stiles’s head? Nonetheless, he had thought welcome – to point out the frugality of Scott’s interior design.

“A home without a house plant isn’t much of a home,” he had assured confidently, in the way Stiles often did. Scott had deemed the quip relevant – or sassy – enough to recount the whole anecdote to his first and favorite Beta wolf. And Liam, who, much like Scott when it came to Stiles, was positively biased towards anything his Alpha shared with him, had in turn not resisted the urge to repeat the whole story to Mason. Thus, Theo had been made aware of the golden rule of house decor, and he’d realized, with a clenched heart, that his own living arrangements were severely lacking.

One can easily understand the cause and consequence relationship which led Liam, barely a few days later, to inquire about the recently purchased mini cactus, while the plant defied him from its bright red pot on the dashboard. An attentive reader would also notice that, at this point, Liam hadn’t figured out, yet, that Theo was homeless. The younger boy wasn’t even aware that he cared. It partly explains why Liam didn’t instantly connect the two events in his mind. Though, to be perfectly honest, his obliviousness played an equally – if not larger – role in his blatant overlooking of this important clue. Thankfully – or regrettably, depending on the way you see your half glass of whatever your favorite drink is – just as Liam wasn’t ready to see the truth about Theo, his life, and their growing feelings for one another, Theo wasn’t ready to say it.

“Touch it,” Theo had warned with a predatory grin, “and you’ll be finding thorns in places that’ll make you wish I’d threatened to stuff it up your ass instead.”

They’d left it at that. At least, for a while: neither were particularly good at letting things go. And, though the average cactus can resist the highest temperatures with minimal water, even in the most extreme conditions, Theo had not foreseen the aggravating impact of the greenhouse effect. As it turns out, during a Summer heat wave, cars in California, especially the ones inhabited by teenage boys, tend to get unusually stuffy, and, worse, damp. It generally goes unnoticed by human beings, unless they themselves spend a whole day in the cockpit of a car, but, to a small and inexperienced member of the Cactaceae, the struggle was more than enough to be lethal. Which is how Liam, who was running through the moonlit Preserve when he was drawn by his werewolf senses to a source of evident distress, discovered Theo’s place of sleep, and his truck, which doubled as his home, and his dead plant.

It’ll be both a source of second-handed pride and embarrassment for the reader to know that Liam didn’t immediately take in the pillow, nor the duffel bag, abandoned on the backseat. No, he zeroed in on the salted tracks on Theo’s cheeks.

“What’s wrong?”
“He’s dead,” Theo lamented. Liam watched a heavy teardrop escape from his left eye, roll down his jaw, and crash on his thigh. “I followed all the care tips. And he’s dead.”

Liam followed Theo’s wet eyes towards the red pot on the dashboard, and the rotting remnant of greenery expiring in the soiled earth.
“The cactus?” the younger boy asked, disbelievingly.

Theo hid his face in his hands.
"Alphactus was in his prime, Dunbar. It was brought down by treacherous watering...", he sniffed, while his face contorted into masks of inconsolable agony and revengeful fury.
"You named it Alphactus?"
"What," Theo wailed.
"Nothing..."
“The site said the first thing was to give him a name,” the older boy sobbed. “It needed to be a strong name, too.”

It should be noted that Theo’s tips shouldn’t be taken too seriously by any cactus enthusiast, and not attempted at home by children without an adult’s supervision. To his credit, Liam had serious doubts about the authenticity of Theo’s sources as well. To his even bigger credit, he didn’t bring them up. But either because Theo’s words gave him an indication of the extent of his friend’s isolation, or because, as most people who don’t know what to say do, he looked around, and noticed the incriminating pillow, Liam finally caught on. His mouth clamped shut with a resounding clash of teeth. Instead of antagonizing the crying boy, Liam did what he did best: he acted. He climbed in the truck’s passenger seat. Theo didn’t raise his head when he banged the car door close. An uncomfortable silence rose between them.

“Who would gain access to your truck and drown your cact- Alphactus?” he wondered out loud. Theo threw him a withering look. Liam cleared his throat, then tried on another approach. “Would you like to say a few words?” he proposed.
“What do I say?”

Liam was suddenly reminded of his sixth birthday. More accurately, he recalled his sixth birthday’s gift. And the never-ending sorrow he had gone through when they had to flush it down the toilet a fortnight later, because Bubbles would then exclusively limit herself to backstroke swimming.
“You say you loved him very much,” Liam suggested, softly, “and that you’re happy for the time you had together.”

Theo, evidently, said none of it. Which, for Theo, speaks volumes. This, at last, seemed obvious to Liam. So, they remained, sat next to one another, in complete silence, while Theo sniffled and whined. Liam didn’t pat Theo’s back; he didn’t wipe Theo’s cheek with his thumb; he didn’t offer his own shoulder for the other boy to keep crying on. But, in the quiet secrecy of the car, he took note, for himself, of these urges, to re-examine them again, later, in his own bedroom. He shook them out, eventually. The good thing about Liam’s thoughts, though, is that they are as strong headed as he is. When they eventually tired him out, he enrolled his best friend’s help to do what Liam does best. Act.

The next time Liam exited Theo’s truck, the older boy was dropping him off at his house after one of those chaotic Pack meetings. Theo had spared a mournful glance at Liam’s vanishing, yet still waving hand, and he was getting ready to pull away from the curb, when he jerked in surprise. His eyes snapped back to the Geyers’ alleyway and widened, though he’d never admit it, comically. Now, the abode itself, painted a dull beige under a graphite-tiled roof, looked absolutely normal. Most things did in Beacon Hills, CA. – which, considering the town’s sheer concentration of supernatural creatures, let alone the number of open murder investigations, was nothing short of extraordinary. Amidst all the daily mayhem, what struck Theo as odd, however, turned out to be the singular presence of a potted mini cactus, forsaken in plain sight, in the middle of the ocher brick path leading to the front door.

Clearly disconcerted by grief to that day, Theo killed the engine and jumped off his truck to rescue the endangered vegetal species. Of course, he questioned his impulse – and his sanity – shortly, when the sun caught him, standing in Liam’s driveway, his shadow pinned, stretched and unmistakable, on the green grass. He glared at the cactus reproachfully for putting him in this position, silently demanded an explanation for this situation, but the placid plant wouldn’t be intimidated. Indeed, though cacti are in fact susceptible to unfriendly climates, they are also incredibly resistant to massive amounts of smug smirks and raised eyebrows. As Theo was coming to the unavoidable conclusion that his favorite tricks would remain ineffective, he bent down to grab the insolent weed.

His shock was even greater this time around. A few steps away, another cactus stood proudly, in its turquoise flower pot, on Liam’s mat. Understandably flabbergasted, he deposited the retrieved mini cactus on his forearm, cradling it against his chest, and examined the facts. Liam was nowhere to be found. And, Theo scanned his surroundings again for confirmation, no one seemed to be observing him, either. Nonetheless, any reader who knows a bit about the chimera will be used to exercise extreme vigilance with appearances. After all, once was happenstance. Twice, coincidence. But thrice…

This story could have stopped there. Right there. With a hardened Theo opting for caution and turning tail, leaving cacti and antics behind. But tears were promised, and promises must be held, at all costs, even and foremost, at the cost of a Theo’s well-being.

So, yes, this story could have stopped there, but.

One of Liam’s and Theo’s common traits, which they never discuss, is their inability to revise a plan of action they have already set in motion. Liam is not much of a schemer at all, himself; he merrily barges in and jumps into the fray. Theo, on the other hand, takes great pride in his own devices – and, considering he’s the closest to have ever achieved the downfall of Scott’s Pack, he has every right to. Once trouble has been instigated, though, neither can be stopped. When they’re together, there’s not a single soul in their right mind to even try. In this particular instance, this quality means that Theo strode over to the second mini cactus to pick it up as well… and to find the Geyer’s door ajar.

Kept from closing by a wedge, placed against the doorframe.

Upon inspection, the reader will have guessed it by now, the hold ended up being a third mini cactus, prettily attired with a fuchsia pot. We’ll skip ahead from this point on. Equipped with the knowledge of Theo’s aforementioned pattern of behavior, the perspicacious readers will easily infer the chimera’s course of actions. The more creative ones will pleasantly picture Theo as he snatched the third fiend, thus pushing the door open, just to keep on discovering more and more cacti waiting for him in the hallway, and every third or fourth steps up the stairs, here on a white cupboard, there on the pale grey carpet, each time stopping on his way to lift them up and to locate a free space for them in his hold against his chest. Quite evidently, Theo well knew he was being led into a trap of sorts. But his curiosity – or would it be better called eagerness? – pushed him, his beating heart loudly keeping time for each step forward. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw when he reached his destination.

The guest room was littered with mini cacti. They had commandeered the large wooden desk, forming strange pyramids, and piling up, Theo assumed, by rank. Some spied on the scene from the vantage point of the bookshelves. Others lay, inconspicuous, on the windowsill, whereas a few, cheekier, had made their way to the bed, where they gathered in smaller groups spread out across the bedding. Cacti of all forms and sizes – provided that said sizes ranged from little to minuscule – were represented: there were short, wider ones, with a tuft of thorns at the top. Some flexed tiny arms, whose extremities were ornated with a small flower each. Lanky ones curled around themselves, trying to hide behind their own trunks. A handful were covered in luxurious pinkish flower buds, while others, drier, twisted in every possible direction but up. Several stood tall, almost elegant, if it hadn’t been for their unusually long spikes. A taller, buffier, one, with a slight crook, presided over the assembly. Objectively, it was, in the history of Cactaceae’s congregations, the ugliest arrangement of mini cacti ever formed. As it was, it doesn’t really matter, because Theo, whose impression solely counted, didn’t see it that way. From behind him, near the entrance of the room, Liam cleared his throat. Theo swirled around.

“We can’t keep them all,” the younger boy warned, not unkindly, “but I thought you could pick the ones you like most, to decorate your room.”

Theo’s mouth hung open, but he didn’t drop any of his possessions. A lucky turn of events, as fate would have it, because, had he clenched his jaw and released his cradling hold on his armful of mini cacti, Liam would have had a lot of explaining and cleaning up to do. Disaster averted. More than one, actually. So much more, because the older boy fully comprehended what he was being given. Safety. Stability. Heating. Food. Protection, trust, warmth and care, all packaged in one bubbly ball of brazen beta. Theo had no words to accept the offer. His gaze simply floated around the room again, caressing each and every thorn with affectionate eyes. Talking wasn’t necessary, though. And he probably would have ruined the gesture with whatever he’d have chosen to say anyway – Theo was only great with words when they grated on someone else’s nerves. But all the gratefulness Liam needed was there to witness, out in the open, with another emotion the younger boy had never seen on Theo’s face before: wonder.

Liam was possibly aware of the rarity of the spectacle he was observing, but a more likely explanation of what happened next is that he got caught up in the moment. Whichever reason fueled his courage. Moved by the realization that he might not get a better opportunity to be around such an unguarded and pure version of the boy he was in love with, he shuffled closer, stood on his tippy-toes to lean over the nest of thorns in Theo’s arms, and stole a kiss from his parted lips.

When he took a step back, Theo’s glazed-over eyes were already hardening, his whole countenance shutting down to cover his inner turmoil. Liam knew him enough to not let him retreat completely.

“Look,” he said, softly, as he wiggled the red-potted cactus which had led Theo home, “Alphactus II has found himself a Pack.”

Then, he deposited it in the middle of the desk, and pressed Theo against his chest, thorns be damned, until they could both pretend the boy hadn’t teared up once more. His boyfriend’s tears of joys, Liam didn’t mind them raining down on the toughest cacti.

(For accuracy, it should be recorded that Theo’s updated status as Liam’s boyfriend had, while these events occurred, momentarily eluded his knowledge. While there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt in Liam’s mind already, Theo hadn’t even let himself dream about the possibility of them. Once he had acknowledged his own longing, a while ago, he had deemed useless to entertain an unrealistic and ultimately hurtful hope.

That’s another great truth about opinions, Liam would gladly tell you: Theo’s were just as equally wrong.)