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in the valley of your heart

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The woman in black leather is circling him.

The shotgun in her hands is more than enough incentive to keep Theo immobile, despite every instinct in his body screaming for him to flee. There’s one thing he hasn’t forgotten, though, as he stares her down and wills himself not to panic: he’s a monster, too.

“Listen, sweetie,” she chuckles, “I’ve seen you around. I know you’ve got something going on with McCall, so let me make this easy for you. Tell me where to find him, and I’ll let you go in one piece...more or less.”

“Yeah?” Theo mutters, “Tempting, I gotta admit, except I don’t know where he is.”

She’s disturbingly calm, even for a hunter. Her eyes are calculating. She gives him the impression that she’s one step ahead of him, which makes this whole exercise all but pointless. The woman is a cat toying with a mouse, timing the kill to her satisfaction.

Theo doesn’t want to die here. He doesn’t want to die alone.

“That’s too bad, pretty boy, if I didn’t know you were lying. You think you’re the only supernatural thing in this room?”

He pauses. He hadn’t expected that, staring at her as she crouches down, smirking, and grabs him by the chin, forcing his head up. Her eyes are a brilliant emerald green; he’d call them pretty, if the rest of her wasn’t so terrifying.

Something dawns on him, then, from an almost-forgotten talk he’d overheard between Scott and Argent. “You’re her,” Theo says, “Argent’s sister.”

Her smile thins at the mention of her brother. Theo’s mouth curves in pleasure; he’s found something to throw her off. “No offense, lady, but you’re crazier than me if you think I’m going to tell you anything. I’m not friends with Scott.”

“No,” she agrees, standing back up, and Theo is suddenly staring down the barrel of the shotgun. “But you do know his little beta, don’t you? Oh, I can smell him all over you, handsome.”

Can she hear his heartbeat, or is it the stench of fear she’s scenting? Theo grits his teeth, flexing his hands in their cuffs, and spits “If you’re gonna kill me, do it already. I’m not afraid to die.”

That, at least, is the truth. He’s scared of the before, and he’s scared of the after.

The woman slowly edges the barrel closer, nudging it just below Theo’s eye. He doesn’t flinch; doesn’t make himself look away or shut his eyes, and the woman laughs softly, tossing the shotgun to one of the men surrounding them. “That’s not a lie,” she agrees, “I’m impressed.”

She’s motioning for someone to bring her a vial, and from his position, kneeling on the floor, Theo smells the wolfsbane permeating the air. He raises an unimpressed eyebrow. “You know what I am,” he scoffs, “That won’t kill me.”

“No,” she confirms, long hair tickling Theo’s cheek as she bends down, smiling. A needle pricks his neck. “But it will hurt, a lot.”

-

She’s not wrong.

Two hours later, Theo is soaked in sweat, writhing on the concrete. His claws have broken three times over from scratching at the floor, growing back slower each and every time. The men around him ignore his screams. One of them kicks him in the stomach, and Theo coughs up blood.

“Ready to talk, yet?”

She’s back, elegant and poised, but Theo can smell the beast inside of her, clawing to get out. It takes more energy than he’s capable of summoning to sit up, so Theo does the next best thing and rolls over onto his back, wincing, blinking against the fluorescent lights.

“What do you want?” he gasps, curling up on his side, glaring at her through his one good eye, the other swollen painfully shut. His healing is already slower than a werewolf’s, but at this rate, Theo doesn’t know how long he’s going to last. “I don’t know anything. I told you already.”

“Theo,” she sighs, “You know better, don’t you? I’m not buying it. Tell me where to find Scott McCall, or lose a limb. I’m only going to offer, once.”

She means it. Theo doesn’t need to hear her heartbeat to know that.

Since the hunters arrived, Scott’s been laying low along with Liam and Malia. Corey’s taken to making himself invisible, and Mason isn’t a real target, which means Theo’s the only one left to interrogate. Stupid, he realizes, walking around all alone, thinking he’s invincible.

He’s already been tortured, once, but Argent isn’t an incompetent idiot like Schrader. She’s got the brains and the bravado to make good on her threats.

The sad truth is, Theo doesn’t know where any of them are. He really doesn’t; all he's got are suspicions. Scott had sent him a cursory text, telling him he should be careful, and that Theo wouldn’t be able to reach him, but he hadn’t asked Theo to join them. He doesn’t have a safe place, like they do. He doesn’t have the sheriff to protect him.

Argent doesn’t know that, though.

His mind is racing. “The antidote,” Theo says. “Give me the antidote and I’ll tell you where they are. Hand to my heart.”

“Way I hear it,” Argent laughs, “You don’t have one of those. You talk, you walk. That’s the only offer you’re going to get.”

Theo pushes himself to his hands and knees, resting his clammy forehead against the cold concrete. His mouth is dry as a bone, tongue thick against his teeth. If he’s going to die, he’s not going to die betraying Scott. He’ll send her right where he wants her: into the waiting arms of her brother.

“...an old house in the woods,” he rasps. “Burned down, years ago. He’s...hiding there.”

A spark of familiarity lights up her eyes. “I know it,” she laughs. “Well, boys, we’re paying some old friends of mine a visit. Get ready.”

“Wait!” Theo shouts through a raw throat, and the woman pauses, turning around. “There’s more.”

She’s interested, now, coming closer, crouching down in her combat boots. “What is it?” she asks, and Theo lunges; his broken claws tear at her jeans, flecks of blood staining the denim, and when he gets kicked in the head, the world goes black and hazy.

“Filthy mutt,” the woman spits, smoothing down her shirt. Theo doesn’t have the energy to flinch from the needle that stabs at his neck again, his veins burning up with poison. “I’m really going to enjoy you dying slowly, handsome.”

By the time she’s gone, Theo’s clawing deep marks into the floor. Nobody’s around to hear him scream.

-

Past hour eight, Theo is verging on panic.

Something must have gone wrong. He sent one hunter straight to another; maybe there’s nobody left to tell Scott where he is. Maybe Theo’s going to die alone.

After a while, he tries to move, but it’s in tentative little movements, dragging himself with the strength he has left to cross the floor. It feels like an endless struggle, the keys to the cuffs sitting on the edge of a table, taunting him as he wheezes through weakened lungs to make it the ten yards to the other side of the room.

There’s a water bottle, half-empty. Theo doesn’t know which he wants more; the keys to his freedom or the water to soothe his blistering throat.

In the end, he gets neither. His hands are clumsy, bumping up against the table leg. The keys fall through a grate in the floor, and the bottle goes rolling.

For a second, all he can feel is despair, but the anger is quick to follow. “Fuck,” Theo shouts, voice scraped away to nothing, his eyes stinging hotly.

He can last, he tries to remind himself, but the wolfsbane is burning, scorching, and Theo has no idea how much he can take before his body gives up. It’s already stopped healing the superficial cuts and scrapes, blood long since gone tacky on his skin.

He collapses, finally, and sprawls out on the floor, out cold.

-

Theo can’t tell how much time has passed when he opens his eyes and realizes that he’s still alone.

Maybe it didn’t work, sending Argent to her brother. Maybe she’s killed everyone, already, and Theo’s the only one left, dying slowly in an abandoned warehouse. No last stand, no blaze of glory; only a poison eating away at him and nobody around to tell him it’s all going to be alright.

Through the broken windows, he can tell it’s nighttime. He can’t see the stars from here, he realizes, and some impulse forces him to move; to crawl, all over again, to the door left open on its creaking hinges. He can feel a gust of cold wind slink inside, enveloping him in a welcome chill.

He barely makes it to the door. It’s excruciating, pushing himself to his feet and wavering in the doorway, staring up at the black sky and all its little lights; it makes him feel less alone, for a second, until the lights get brighter and hotter and closer.

“Theo?”

He’s staring into the brilliant headlights of the sheriff’s car when he falls.

-

There are blankets wrapped around him, Theo registers, as he’s shuffled into the backseat, struggling to stay conscious. He hit the ground, hard, before strong arms had dragged him back up and eased him over to the car. He’s staring at the sheriff; when their eyes meet in the rearview mirror, Theo slowly looks away.

“I didn’t tell her,” he says, the words rushing out of his mouth. Maybe he’s not making sense, because he gets an incredulous look in response. “The woman. Argent. I swear I didn’t tell her anything.”

It stings, the way the sheriff mutters “You told her where to find her brother,” and then lapses into silence. Theo has never felt lower.

“...that was some quick thinking, kid. You probably saved a few lives.”

For the first time in his life, Theo is genuinely speechless. He can see his own stare, reflected in the window; hollow-eyed and lost, staring back at him. It hurts to swallow, like there’s a lump in his throat. He makes himself meet the sheriff’s eyes.

“They’re alright? They’re all alright?”

“More or less, thanks to you.”

That’s all Theo needed to hear. He closes his eyes.

-

Theo dreams that his hand is being held in a soft, warm grip. For a split-second, he could almost swear it’s the realest thing he’s ever felt, but then the darkness drags him under again, back down to the depths.

-

He stirs slowly, opening his eyes to a room enveloped in dim light. The first thing he hears is a cup being set down gently on a wooden surface. The second is a voice, speaking softly, whispering “Let him sleep. He’s been through a lot,” and another voice, harsher, protesting.

“How do we know he wasn’t working with them?”

“After the way we found him? No, no way. He wasn’t helping them.”

Mason, he thinks, is the second voice. The first, the soft one, is Liam. He’s talking again, now, but Theo can’t catch the words, eyes half-open as he fights to stay awake. “You saw him, Mason. He had nothing to do with what Kate did.”

Shuffling, an exchange of tense breaths. Theo can’t grasp the whole conversation, but Mason whispers “Why are you always defending him?” and Liam is quiet for a long, long time.

“Because,” he sighs, “Even the worst person you can think of gets scared sometimes, too.”

There are more people talking in the other room. Scott’s soft timbre makes Theo open his eyes fully, and the slow change in his heartbeat from sleep to wakefulness is enough to bring Scott into the room, his shadow stretching out across the floor. “You’re awake,” he says, still speaking softly. “You had us worried.”

Theo doesn’t question the us. Scott must be saying it to make him feel better.

A man that Theo doesn’t recognize enters - broad-shouldered and tall, Theo’s brain instinctively pegs him as a threat, but he’s in no state to be fighting. Scott smells calm, though, which means he trusts the guy, and Theo glances between them, slowly sitting up. He’s been sleeping on a pull-out couch, he realizes, and wonders who brought him there.

“How’d you find me?” he asks, but his voice is so raw that the words scrape painfully on the way out. There’s footsteps in the other room, and the man who enters hands him a glass of water. It takes a moment to process that it’s the other half of the Argent siblings, but Theo nods his gratitude and drinks.

Scott’s sat down, by now, and Theo realizes that he’s been cleaned up. He’s staring at the soft sweatshirt he’s been dressed in, no trace of blood on his skin. He can’t think of anyone who’d bother being so gentle with him, and it makes his throat constrict.

“We followed your scent,” Scott tells him, “Kate had your blood on her clothes. Chris and Derek held her off while the rest of us came here, so the sheriff went to get you.”

“I remember,” Theo says, because it feels important, somehow, for Scott to understand that Theo wasn’t the bad guy, for once, and that he appreciates the rescue. “How long…?”

Derek is the one who answers. “Almost two days,” he tells Theo. “You were dehydrated. Almost didn’t get to you before the wolfsbane could be counteracted.”

“She tortured you?” Chris asks. His hand tightens around the holster of his gun. “This is important, so listen carefully. Did you tell her anything? Where she could find us, who she could hurt to get to Scott?”

He cares, Theo realizes, about everyone in this room except for him. It’s not surprising, and it barely stings. “No,” he mutters. “I could have,” he adds, “But I didn’t."

Scott’s voice is heavy when he says “We know that, I promise. She said...she said you were probably dead, Theo. We came as fast as we could.”

Not fast enough, Theo thinks, but keeps that to himself. He’s tired again, sick of being interrogated, and asks “Where are we, anyway?” as he takes in the floor to ceiling windows and the spiral staircase. “Is it safe?”

“Nobody gets in or out without my permission,” Derek says. “Chris and I fortified the place in case of emergency. Not even Kate can enter.”

Theo wonders where Mason and Liam have disappeared to. He can’t hear their hearts beating anywhere in the building, which means he didn’t hear them leave, which means his senses aren’t what they should be. It makes his skin prickle, the sudden realization of his own vulnerability, especially in a room with two werewolves and a seasoned hunter.

“Deaton looked you over,” Scott tells him, “You’ll be alright in a few days. It’s going to take a while for the wolfsbane to leave your system.”

“I figured,” Theo replies, glancing at Derek, unable to get a read on him. He’s exhausted, despite having slept for what seems like hours; it was nighttime when the sheriff got him, and the sun is shining outside, now. It could’ve been days, for all he knows, but his bones are still heavy. He can’t bear to ask if he can stay for a little while longer, so he tries to get to his feet and staggers.

He’s almost too tired to be humiliated when Scott supports him - almost. “It’s alright,” Theo scowls, “I’m alright,” but Scott lowers him back down, anyway, and shuffles awkwardly in place.

“You should eat something,” he sighs, pushing a plate towards Theo. There’s two sandwiches on it, probably stale by now, but Theo’s stomach clenches desperately at the smell, anyway. “I have to make a call, but Liam will pick you up in a while.”

“What for?” Theo can’t help but ask, wondering why he can’t stay, why nobody wants him around no matter what he does. “I don’t have anywhere to go, Scott. Why are you making me leave?”

Scott knows, already, so it’s not the worst thing in the world, admitting that there’s no home for Theo to return to.

“I’m not,” Scott protests, sounding both surprised and confused. “He’s taking you somewhere safe.”

“I thought this was safe.”

Scott and Derek exchange a glance, keeping some secret that Theo isn’t in on. “We’re preparing for war,” Chris says, blunt and emotionless. “Anyone who can’t fight can’t stay.”

He gets the message, loud and clear, almost choking on his own anger. We can’t use you. We don’t need you. You’re not strong enough.

-

Liam picks him up in Stiles’ jeep. Mason is nowhere to be seen, but his scent is all over the car; anxiety and sadness, Theo picks up, but doesn’t comment on it.

He doesn’t ask Liam where they’re going. Theo stopped expecting handouts a long time ago, so if Liam drops him off at a motel for the night, Theo knows better than to complain. He’s healing - slowly, but he’s healing, and Liam’s got no obligation to play his nursemaid until Theo’s able to walk without his lungs aching.

They don’t talk. When Liam pulls up in front of a cozy-looking house, Theo has to double-check to be sure where they are. “This is your place,” he says, stricken. “Why are we here?”

“Because you’re my sick classmate,” Liam mumbles, “And your parents are out of town, so you’re staying here until you get better. That’s the story we’re sticking with, anyway.”

Scott must’ve convinced him to do this. “Look,” Theo says, more forcefully than he meant to, “Not that I don’t appreciate it, but this isn’t a good plan. Tell Scott I’ll be fine on my own, alright?”

“Scott didn’t ask me. This was my idea.”

The surprises never stop coming. Theo stares, for a minute, before he manages to gather himself. “...this is your sweatshirt,” he realizes, looking down at the soft, gray fabric. “You went through all this trouble-?”

“Yeah, it was a real hassle,” Liam scoffs, “Giving you a sweatshirt and a bed to sleep in.”

“Nobody else would,” Theo points out. “Nobody else did.”

“I’m not everybody else,” Liam says, like it’s poignant, like it means more than he’s willing to share. “Come on. Let's go inside.”

-

Theo never told him, but he's been in Liam's house, before. After coming back to Beacon Hills and worming his way into Scott's good graces, Theo had skipped class and made his way to Liam's place, entering through a window he unlocked the night before. He remembers the pictures hanging on the wall, a happy family smiling down at him. He remembers rummaging through Liam's medicine cabinet and briefly considering tampering with his risperdal, before deciding against it. He doesn't think Liam wants to hear about it, though, and stays quiet on the walk up to Liam's room.

He's waiting for Liam to pull out a sleeping bag, or a cot, but Liam gestures at the freshly-made bed and says "It's all yours," like it's nothing, like Theo deserves the kindness, and he has no idea what he's supposed to say. Declining would be the polite thing to do, but Liam's looking right at him when Theo's eyes take in the bed, going boneless with relief. He's spent too much time on a cold floor to think twice about taking the bed.

He can’t bring himself to say thank you, but he thinks Liam knows. He’s looking at Theo strangely, like he’s trying to solve a puzzle, and the whole time that Theo’s getting undressed, stripping down to the borrowed boxers and tank top, Liam’s careful eye never wanders.

Theo shifts in place. He feels naked, bared to Liam’s stare.

“You can sleep in,” Liam finally says. “There’s food in the fridge and, um, towels in the cabinet. I’ll leave my phone, in case…”

Theo’s phone got lost in the woods, while he was running. Liam leaving his own behind for him is unbearably thoughtful.

He’s left alone, eventually, but the door’s open just a crack; Liam’s scent permeates the room, and Theo sinks into the soft bed, pretending that he’s safe.

-

He’s alone when he wakes up. Liam’s at school, already, and Theo has the house to himself.

The first thing he does is brush his teeth. Liam’s got a second set of everything; a spare toothbrush and a drawer full of clothes he hasn’t worn, yet, a size up from what would fit him, but perfect for Theo’s build. This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, he realizes. Liam went through a lot of trouble to make sure Theo would be comfortable.

Theo showers, too. Someone cleaned up the blood while he was unconscious, but the sweat and the grime is still clinging to his skin, and it’s almost heavenly, standing in Liam’s shower and washing it all off, wincing when his ribs tug uncomfortably, still sore from Kate’s steel-toed boots and her cattle prod.

He stares in amazement when he opens the medicine cabinet and finds a post-it stuck to a bottle of pills. Deaton’s own recipe, it reads, for the pain.

Examining the pills doesn’t reveal anything. There’s no scent to put him off trying one, so Theo swallows it with a glass of water before gingerly getting dressed, wondering what he’s supposed to do, now. Without Liam here, everything feels like some kind of crime - even helping himself to the pre-wrapped casserole in the fridge feels like an invasion of privacy, so Theo makes himself settle for an apple and a glass of orange juice.

His parents had a house just like Liam’s, once. Theo thinks he used to be happy, there.

It’s almost noon. Theo checks Liam’s phone, but there are no messages; nothing telling him to stay put and behave himself, but nothing suggesting he’s free to go, either. He’s never been comfortable being anyone’s prisoner, and a sudden surge of panic floods through him.

He’s all alone. The house isn’t impenetrable; Derek and Chris and their guns are busy protecting Scott and the others, and nobody is around to keep Kate from coming for him, again.

His hands are on the counter, keeping him upright. Theo breaks out in a cold sweat, and a shaky, helpless thought overwhelms him: what if the pills were poisoned? What if it’s the wolfsbane all over again, slowly working to weaken him?

The glass of juice shatters to the floor. He’s moving so fast he’s dizzy, shaky hands unlocking the front door, prepared to flee, to run for as long as he has to, but the sight of a gun in his face when he throws the door open makes Theo fling himself backwards, scrambling to get away.

“Hey, hey, calm down! It’s alright. Theo, it’s alright.”

Parrish. His mind is trying to put the pieces together, but everything is muddled. He can’t think of a reason for Parrish to be here, other than to put a bullet in his head.

“Don’t,” Theo croaks, “Please don’t,” and Parrish’s eyes widen, gun returning to its holster. He’s holding his hands out, slow and careful, kneeling down to meet Theo’s eyes.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” Parrish promises. Theo can’t focus enough to pinpoint his heartbeat, but he makes himself breathe, trying to remember that Parrish is one of the good guys. “I’m not, I swear. I’m here to keep you safe.”

It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense at all. Liam left him all alone, and Parrish is trying to keep him here, trying to make him stay where anyone can get to him. He shudders, a harsh tremor running through his body, and brings his knees to his chest, burying his face in his folded arms.

“Leave me alone,” he whispers, “Go away.”

A hand grazes his elbow. Theo curls up tighter. “Go away,” he almost begs, all dignity forgotten. The hand retreats, and Theo’s alone again, still unable to breathe.

-

Parrish calls someone, speaking in a low, hushed tone.

Theo stays on the floor, chin tucked to his chest, sitting in a patch of sunlight. It feels calm and peaceful, nobody trying to put their hands on him. It makes him feel like he’s drifting.

“I don’t know,” Parrish is saying, “He won’t move or talk, and he won’t let me touch him. I don’t know what to do.”

Kate and her people held guns to his head. Parrish did, too. Theo can’t think of anything else.

“...yeah,” Parrish’s voice whispers, “I think so. Get here as soon as you can. I’ll stay with him. Why-? I heard something break. I thought someone got inside. No, I…”

Theo stops listening. It doesn’t take a lot of effort; his head is filled with a buzzing white noise. He feels outside of his own body, drifting in a vacuum somewhere, and it takes a while to realize that someone’s calling his name.

Liam’s eyes are huge and worried. “Thank god,” he blurts when Theo meets his gaze, one hand reaching out before hesitating, falling short of Theo’s knee. “You’re alright."

For a second, Theo can’t remember why he’s sitting on the floor, but Liam looks at Parrish and it hits him hard, the scene he made when Parrish barged in with his gun in Theo’s face. It makes him bite his tongue against a frustrated scream; he didn’t mean to melt down, especially not with an audience.

His face feels hot and wet. “I got it,” Liam tells Parrish, and Parrish promises to keep checking in on the house before he’s gone, leaving Theo burning with shame and Liam as a witness.

It helps that Liam can’t seem to figure out what to say, because Theo can’t think of anything that would make this less painful. He’s already out of commission; he doesn’t have the luxury of being a total basket case, too, not when Liam’s going to throw him out on his ass for losing it and wrecking the kitchen.

“That’s called a panic attack,” Liam mumbles. When Theo raises his head to stare at him, he finds Liam sitting cross-legged in front of him, looking like he’s prepared to stay that way for a long time. “You cut yourself, you know.”

Theo glances down. He must’ve stepped on the broken glass, he figures, and slowly unfolds himself to start picking the pieces out, but Liam stops him with a little half-shout that takes Theo by surprise. “No, don’t,” Liam insists, “Your hands are shaking. Stay here.”

He’s barely gone for a minute before returning with tweezers and a damp cloth. Liam cradles Theo’s ankle in his hand like he’s done this before, carefully picking shards of glass out of the sole before wiping the blood away, working slowly. Theo almost starts laughing; he’s survived a broken neck, but Liam’s acting like a few cuts warrants this kind of attention.

"I'm sorry," Theo says, "About breaking the glass."

“Don’t worry about it,” Liam says, picking the last of the pieces out. The cuts sting, but they’ll heal. Slowly, too slowly, but he’ll get there.

Liam doesn’t get up, right away. He stays where he is, one hand curled loosely around Theo’s ankle. It’s shockingly intimate. He can’t remember anyone else ever touching him so gently.

"Do you feel better?” Liam asks, and Theo wonders if there’s any point to lying.

He still has to think about it, though. His head is quieter, now. The fear’s slipped back where it belongs, distant and quiet. “A little,” Theo settles for. “I don’t know why I freaked out.”

“You had plenty of reason,” Liam tells him. “I get it. Kate scares me, too. I freaked out a lot when she was after us. I know what it’s like.”

But Liam wasn’t cuffed, helpless on the floor, unable to get help, not knowing if the last thing he’d ever see was the rats scurrying across the floor. Theo has been hunted, before, but nobody has ever terrified him like Kate Argent does.

“I thought nobody would come,” Theo says, wondering if Liam’s already figured that out. “I thought I was going to die.”

Liam’s eyes flash, blue to gold and back to blue again. He almost looks guilty. “No,” he insists, “You weren’t going to be left behind. I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Was it you?” Theo asks, because he’s been wondering who caught his scent. It was a gamble, at best, hoping someone out there would understand and come for him, somehow finding his scent under the smells of the forest and the exhaust of the highway. “Why weren’t you there?”

“Scott wouldn’t let me go,” Liam mutters, avoiding the question that matters. “I had to-”

He cuts himself off abruptly, and Theo hears what Liam must’ve heard, too; Parrish talking in a low voice on the phone, asking Scott if they have a lead on Kate. Theo’s stomach turns, and he almost admires Liam for not shrieking when he throws up all over the floor.

“Oh, god,” Liam mumbles, and for the first time in days, Theo laughs.

-

Three steady heartbeats. Three sleeping bodies, curled up under the covers. Theo lies awake for a long time, waiting for the right moment to slip out of bed.

Liam is down the hall, in the guest room. His breathing is slow and rhythmic, deep asleep. He doesn’t hear a thing as Theo packs a bag, taking nothing more than a change of clothes before padding down the stairs, as quietly as he can.

He gets a burner phone, on the way out of Beacon Hills. He only sends one text.

Thanks for everything, and then he’s gone.

-

The car dies on the highway, miles away from the closest small town. Theo rests his forehead against the steering wheel, willing himself to ignore his rumbling stomach, the nausea of hunger filling his mouth with bile.

It’s dark and cold outside, but Theo walks. A man in a trucker cap offers to give him a ride. Theo gets in, then breaks the guy’s nose, eventually, after he gets handsy, and throws himself out of the truck as it screeches to a halt.

He runs. He’s been getting better at that, lately.

-

“I fucked up.”

His voice is small and scratchy when he leaves Liam a message. He hasn’t gotten far; a five-hour drive and Liam could be here, standing right in front of him.

“Where am I supposed to go?” he groans, voice wavering. “I don’t - I don’t know how to stay, do you understand? I don’t know how.”

He can’t think of anything more to say, but before he hangs up, he sighs “Take care,” and pretends that it’s enough.

-

He’s surprised when the sleek sedan that pulls up rolls down the window and reveals Chris Argent staring back at him.

“It’s time to come home,” he says, and Theo’s voice is a little defeated when he mutters I guess it is and gets in the car.

It’s beyond awkward, the drive back, and Theo feels like a runaway child being dragged home by the ear. Chris glances briefly at him as he adjusts the rearview mirror, then asks “Did you think running would really solve anything?”

“No,” Theo scoffs, “But what else am I supposed to do? Stick around and give your psychotic sister another chance to finish the job?”

Chris’s jaw tightens. Theo knows he’s struck a nerve, but he doesn’t push.

“We’re all fighting this war,” he tells Theo, “Nobody gets to sit this one out.”

-

Liam punches him. Theo considers it a return to normality, especially when Liam shouts “You gigantic asshole!” and storms off, fuming, while Theo rubs the blood on his chin, mouth slowly forming into a smile.

He doesn’t know if Liam hears him when he says “I missed you, too,” but that’s not the point. The words are coming out of Theo’s mouth without his permission, and it’s the closest thing to happiness he’s felt in years.

-

Theo remembers the first few months after the Wild Hunt; being left at loose ends, stranded in a limbo of indecision. The chains were off. Nobody was watching him around the clock, anymore, and Theo still hadn’t been able to leave.

He felt like someone had left his cage open and hated himself for a long time for not running. It had felt like a weakness, wanting to be a part of something bigger than himself and constantly being denied, never able to prove himself. He’s learned one thing, though, and that’s the fact that he doesn’t have to prove himself to Liam.

Liam hasn’t officially uninvited Theo from his house, yet, which means Theo sometimes stays the night. It’s not awkward, but it’s tense, the two of them walking on eggshells around each other with the constant tension of Theo’s abrupt departure hanging over them both. He hasn’t apologized, yet, but words aren’t going to make a difference.

It’s thawing, though, the ice between them, and Theo isn’t blind. He sees what Liam doesn’t want him to.

They’re the last ones left behind at Derek’s loft. Chris showed them the basics of handling a firearm, all of them glancing at each other like the brewing war wasn’t real until then, with guns in their hands, heavy and cold between their fingers.

All of them are just kids. Nothing had proven that more than Corey turning white and whispering “This is really happening,” in a thin voice, looking around at everyone like he was waiting for someone to take all the responsibility off of his shoulders.

The cattle prod swinging from Chris’s hip almost made Theo flinch. It did the same to Scott, he noticed, and decided not to ask.

The loft feels too big for the two of them, standing on opposite sides of the room. Liam’s looking at him again, something soft and innocent about the curve of his mouth. When Liam looks at him, Theo is looking right back.

“I notice, you know, when you’re staring like that.”

They haven’t talked about what Theo leaving means. They haven’t talked about what him coming back means, either, or the fact that he’s still wearing the clothes Liam got for him. He wonders if Liam’s noticed.

He’s standing by the window and watching the sunset. Liam’s skin is pink and gold with the fading light, and Theo walks closer, standing beside him. They’re close enough that their shoulders brush.

“Staring like what?” Liam asks, averting his eyes, looking back at the horizon and all the bleeding reds and yellows. Theo’s looking at the sun, too, the fading light caressing Liam’s jaw in a gentle touch.

“You get this look in your eyes, sometimes,” Theo murmurs, “Like you’ve just realized I’m edible.”

Liam’s eyes are impossibly blue. Theo has never seen them up close, before.

He’s terrified, and Liam knows it. Theo hasn’t fought wars, before. He was never a soldier, and his heart isn’t brave enough to get through this unscathed, but Liam saw him at his lowest and stayed. Theo can stay, too.

“I wished you were here,” Liam tells him, “Every single day you were gone. My room smelled like you, you know?”

Theo used to live in a house like Liam’s, and he thinks that he used to be happy there before he made all the wrong decisions. There are no second chances for people like him, but Theo’s shown Liam the best and worst in himself and somehow, Liam has chosen both.

“I wished I was here, too,” Theo confesses, because there are worse things to be guilty of than longing. “Every day.”

The glass in the window is warmed by the sun. Liam presses him up against it, his body following Theo’s, fitting them together from hip to chest. There are still fractures, Theo remembers, fractures in them both, wounds that haven’t healed, but Liam rests his forehead against Theo’s breastbone and it feels almost alright, slowing down to breathe for a second.

“You leave again,” Liam says, “Don’t come back.”

“I won’t leave, then,” Theo decides, his nose bumping Liam’s when their faces draw closer, Liam’s eyes closed, lashes brushing the tops of his cheekbones. “Promise.”

Liam’s mouth brushes Theo’s. It’s soft and chaste and tender. It’s everything Theo imagined it would be. It’s worth dying for, he muses, thumb tracing Liam’s lower lip.

At the end of the night, he decides that Liam’s mouth must be heaven: the kisses keep falling over him like stars.