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What It Means to Stay Alive

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Liam looks down for a split second, it’s his undoing. When Theo comes at him, he really doesn’t stand a chance. He's on top of him before he can even get an elbow up in defense.  

“Are you sure... this is safe?” Liam pants, trying to struggle out of the rock-solid lock Theo’s arms have around him.

“Safe?” Theo chuckles darkly. “Well let's run through this. Currently a Chimera has you pretty much subdued with 3-inch nails pressed right against your throat, and there’s no one to hear you scream.” His breath tickles against the sensitive skin at his neck, which is just goddamned distracting. “I’d say you’re as far away from safe as you can get,” he concludes with amusement.

“I meant is it safe to be doing this when Scott’s going to be looking for me in less than an hour,” Liam huffs, shifting his body slightly and trying to find a hole in his defense. “And there’s still one thing I have over you.”

“What exactly is that?” Theo asks, tightening his hold and laughing when Liam grunts softly as his ribs press together painfully. “It’s clearly not your technical skill or experience.”

“Maybe,” Liam agrees, then kicks Theo’s left foot from underneath him and pivots in a flash while he’s off-balance to pin him on the ground. The beta lifts his eyebrow and grins in victory. “But I’m still way more creative.”

“Try desperate,” Theo hisses, and knees Liam in his groin, using all his weight to push him off of Theo. They return to circling each other in the middle of the clearing.

 

They’ve been coming to this hidden spot deep in the woods more and more often lately. The first time was not on the same terms as it is now. Theo had been relentlessly pushing the Pack’s buttons and Liam took him into the woods to have a talk before eventually all semblance of calm evaporated and they both completely lost it. They fought for a long time that day, interspersed with curses and long oaths and insults until they were both bleeding and exhausted. A few saplings had been sacrificed in the process, and the two were locked together in the mud, shaking from the last beads of adrenaline and fury in their veins before Liam finally growled “Are we done yet?” and Theo was shocked to find that he was. They lay there panting, healing, when the Chimera started laughing and Liam looked at him like he was crazy.

“What?” He asked cautiously.

Theo turned his head, hair dragging in the dirt to look at him. “I needed that,” he confessed smugly.

Liam shook his head in wonder and slight disgust. “You’re insane,” he muttered. Then tried to stop himself from smiling. Shit, that was fun.

The second time was after a lacrosse game with Devenford went bad. Not necessarily the score - Beacon Hills won – it was more when an older player was walking off the pitch and loudly mentioned how they would’ve won had Brett been there. It didn’t help that the guy stared straight at Liam as he said it. He felt his claws poke through his gloves and closed his eyes as he tried to stop the shift. It wasn’t working. He ran to the showers, Corey yelling after him. He gripped the sink until he heard the porcelain start to crack. He heard movement behind him and he turned to see Theo standing in the locker room.

They locked eyes.

“You wanna get out of here?” he asked carefully, voice low. Liam tried to shut up his screaming mind and failed. “We could go to the woods,” Theo suggested, and once the words left his mouth it was no longer a suggestion because it had to happen. Liam nodded once, jerkily, and started to tear his equipment from his body.

That time was even bloodier than the first, and Liam completely lost control the second he let the shift wash over his body and felt a release. It was a part of him he was constantly holding back, and it felt beautiful to just let go. He was messier too, less precise in his attacks. Theo didn’t mock him for it, didn’t chirp him on the lack of self-control, he just fought. He refused to be a sitting target and Liam could’ve blessed him for it. He didn’t want someone to beat up and feel guilty about, he just needed to let it out and fight. No words, just action.

When Theo had him pressed against a tree, so much blood around them they didn’t know whose was whose anymore, and Theo whispered “You done?” the primal part of Liam hated himself for whispering back “Yes”.

They sat against a fallen log – maybe they’d taken it down, it didn’t matter – when Liam smacked Theo with just enough force for him to feel it.

The Chimera bristled. “What was that for?”

Liam looked at him with a bit of embarrassment. “I needed that,” he confessed.

“I noticed,” Theo commented drily, and tried to wipe more blood off his face.  

They sat quietly for a little while in comfortable silence when Liam finally asked, “So what, are we just going to beat each other up every time we feel like we’re going to lose it now?”

Theo rolled his eyes and sighed before looking him straight in the eyes and said very seriously, “It’s not beating each other up, it’s training.”

“Training?” Liam repeated skeptically.

“Training.” Theo responded. And then the bastard started grinning.

 

Believe it or not, after that they did sometimes meet to train. They learned from each other; moves, techniques, just the ability to use intuition. The longer they fought the more they began to anticipate, and that's when the fun really began as they tried to out think each other. Other times, somebody got triggered and control slipped past the point of no return, or words were said, or something needed to be settled, and things got messy. They fought brutally, until they were left shaking and broken, and then they breathed. And they healed. Whatever it was they were doing, it worked.

Somewhere around the fourth time, they were packing up their things, and Liam was changing his ripped-to-shreds t-shirt and complaining about not being able to wrap his head around their biology assignment. Theo finally sighed, and Liam thought he was going to tell him he didn’t care and to just shut his face about it, but instead listed: “Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase. That’s mitosis. Meiosis has the same stages, but cells divide twice at the end of Telophase. So cells are haploid, not diploid, and the chromosomes-”

Liam had gawked at him openly and Theo shut his mouth. “Do you want help or not?” he finally asked, impatient, and Liam grinned.

“Hell yeah.”

After that Theo would often come home with Liam after they “trained”. Some days they played video games or watched movies, others they’d just sit quietly and read or Liam would do his homework, Theo mocking him for getting a problem wrong before helping him fix it. Sometimes they’d make food - Theo loved making food. Liam suspected it was probably because everything he ate was from a store or fast food vendor. There was only so much he could do when he lived in his truck. Liam started asking Theo if he wanted to sleep on his couch, but the Chimera would always look at him in annoyance and snap that he could handle it. Now it was just a long-standing question Liam would ask and immediately know the answer to.

One day they had come home and Mason’s car was already in the driveway.

“Oh, shit,” Liam mumbled under his breath, as the human opened the front door. He had given Mason a key to his house a long time ago. They exchanged a look and grabbed their stuff, jumping out of Theo’s truck.

“Where have you been?” Mason asked impatiently. “You haven’t been answering my texts for hours and we were supposed to-” He stopped, eyes wide, and gawked at them.

‘What?” Theo asked testily.

“Why are you both covered in blood?” Mason asked quietly, as if he almost didn’t want to know the answer.

Theo and Liam looked at each other, the former somewhat uncomfortable, the latter slightly panicked, before Liam slowly turned and said carefully, “We were training.”

Theo’s mouth twitched. Then Liam snorted, and Theo grinned, and Liam broke down and then they were both laughing in front of a still horrified Mason.

And that’s how the pack found out Theo and Liam were spending time together. It seemed to help Theo’s cause an infinitesimal bit, and Liam was grateful for that. He still thought the Chimera was an arrogant, selfish, deadly, insufferable master of subterfuge, but he had changed. He deserved another chance.

 

Theo draws a claw painfully down his neck, drawing blood, and it forces Liam back the present. He’s not fighting well. Today is the last full day Scott’s in town, and its distracting Liam more than he cares to admit. Theo has no such qualms. He pins him quick enough to make Liam’s pride sting and leans down to murmur “Something’s on your mind.”

Liam growls and tries to push up on his chest, but his heart’s just not in it. He flops back on the ground in defeat with a sigh, disgusted with himself.

“Scott’s leaving tomorrow,” he admits, and Theo releases his hold on his arms and legs, crawling off him.

“And?” he asks, settling himself against a nearby tree, apparently resigning himself to the fact that Liam’s too preoccupied to fight.

“And he’ll be gone for weeks,” Liam says to the sky, not bothering to move splayed out on the ground. “He’s working a case with Stiles, something important.” He twists his neck to look at the Chimera, who shakes his head, as if not understanding the significance.

“Good for him?” he tries, blinking sarcastically.

“I’m the beta,” Liam reminds him bluntly.

Theo’s lips twitch. “Good for you?”

Liam throws a stick at him and Theo catches it midair effortlessly, and grins like a Cheshire Cat. That reaction was almost worth not hitting him in the face. Theo hardly ever smiles like that; unguarded. Something inside him jumps when it happens, and just wants again, again, again.

“And now you’re staring,” Theo comments. “Are you feeling okay?”

Liam scoffs, internally shaking himself. “Like you care.”

“You don’t want me to respond to that.”

“You just did,” Liam shoots back, and Theo rolls his eyes. They sit in silence for awhile, listening to the birds and the faint trickle of a river a couple kilometres away. Liam doesn’t want to look at his watch; doesn’t want to know if he should be leaving.

“So you’re taking over for now?” Theo asks quietly, and Liam tries to hide his surprise at him actually taking an interest in this. “I need to know who I’m dealing with,” Theo adds, as if he can read his mind.

He takes a deep breath before saying, “He wants me to.”

“What, and you don’t?” Theo asks, a touch judgemental. Liam remembers how badly the Chimera wanted to be in his position, and wonders how much of an idiot he must look to him.

He shrugs, brushing his shirt against the dirt. “I don’t know…” he trails off. “It’s just a lot. A lot of important decisions, a lot of people to take care of, a lot of control you need to have.” He bites his lip, before throwing caution in this wind.

“You were an Alpha once,” he starts tentatively, and turns to look at Theo, who is staring at him with an incredulous expression, eyebrows creeping up.

“You really don’t want to finish that sentence,” he warns, and Liam shuts his mouth. He’s probably right.

Liam finally dares to look at his watch and groans, rolling into a sitting position. “I need to take off soon,” he says into his hands, and Theo laughs quietly behind him at his blatant distress. He makes himself get up and throws everything back into his backpack that’s stashed on another fallen log at the edge of the clearing. Theo joins him to take a drink of water. They fall into a regular rhythm, packing up and starting to wash and scrape off the dirt.

“Just be a better leader than me and you’ll be fine,” Theo says with a low voice, pulling the drawstring of his bag.

“Pretty low bar to set,” Liam mutters, and he really shouldn’t be surprised when Theo tackles him one last time for that one.

 

When he gets to the McCall house, he’s only a few minutes late, but almost entirely free of dirt and twigs. He thinks. He’s trusting Theo’s assent that he’s clean, always a risky move.  

Scott smiles when he opens the door and invites him in immediately.

They climb up to his room, grabbing some food from the fridge, and it all just feels so natural. He’s been in this house so much it’s like an extension of his own.

They go over all the basic shit: contacts, who to call in what kind of emergency, potential scenarios Liam might have to deal with. He responds to everything just the way Scott wants, and he feels more and more confident as they go through everything and Liam’s prepared with answers.

“You’ve got this!” Scott finally says, and leans back against his headboard. “I get you’re nervous, but you’ve got the foundations, and I didn’t even have that to start with.”

Liam exhales nervously and brushes his hair back. “But what if something else happens? Something I’m not prepared for?”

Scott smiles at him. “There’s always going to be something you’re not prepared for. That’s what life is.”

He mock glares at the Alpha. “Don’t go all wise-teacher on me. I mean it, what if some ancient power comes back to kill us? Or Lydia predicts an major earthquake? Or if something comes back from the dead? Or-”

Scott holds up his hands to stop him and looks like he’s trying not to burst out laughing. “Okay, woah. First of all, if the first two things happen, it’s not just your problem. You’ve got people in and out of the pack who are going to have your back the whole time. Just because you’re leading doesn’t suddenly mean you’re alone.”

Liam breathes and sits back against the wall, still somewhat unconvinced.

“Look, I believe in you, okay? I wouldn’t be leaving if I didn’t think you could handle this.”

Liam smiles a little for the first time. “Really?” he asks earnestly.

“Really.” Scott confirms. “The most important thing is to just look after everyone. I’m still Alpha, but when I’m gone, this is your pack. You already care, and that’s what makes the difference between a good and bad leader.”

He glances quickly at his watch and curses softly. “I hate to say this, but I’ve gotta finish getting packed. But I’ll drop by before I go tomorrow, alright?”

“Okay,” Liam sighs, and slides off the bed. They go back downstairs, and as he pulls his on backpack he can’t help but blurt out, “Did you feel ready to be the leader?”

Scott smiles wistfully. “I don’t know; it was different for me because I’m a True Alpha. It was in my blood to become who I am. But don’t try to be me when you lead. Find out how to do it your way.” He holds Liam’s shoulder, and the beta goes all out an hugs him.  They grip each other tightly and Scott whispers “you’re going to do great” in his ear, making him smile.

Right as Liam’s about to leave, he whips around, remembering something. “Wait! You didn’t tell me what to do if something comes back from the dead to haunt us!”

Scott looks about two seconds from gutting himself laughing. “That’s because you clearly know how to deal with that one. You kinda already have.”

Liam looks at him blankly before slapping his face. “Freaking Theo.”

Scott laughs at him, and Liam hesitantly wonders if he’s supposed to be doing anything about the Chimera while he’s in charge. Watch him, or something?

“What about Theo?” he asks cautiously.

“What about Theo?” Scott echoes. “You handle the guy better than I do even when I am here.”

Liam’s mouth falls open, whether to protest or just in surprise he’s not entirely sure, but Scott’s already shaking his head in amusement and puts his hand on his shoulder. “You understand him; I mean as much as anyone can understand Theo. You’ve connected with him. I’ve seen it, and he seems to have connected with you in some way as well.” He shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know what to tell you, kid, but all I want to do when I’m around him is punch him in the face and send him back to Hell.”

“Oh believe me, I definitely still want to punch him in the face on a constant basis,” Liam reassures the Alpha.

Scott smirks at him like an older brother teases his sibling. “But you don’t,” he reminds him playfully, stepping back, and Liam snaps his mouth shut. Before he can think of a response, Scott’s already closing the door.

“Sometimes I do!” he yells as the door shuts, and he can hear Scott laughing from inside. 

xxxxx

The first two weeks go smoothly, and Liam alternates between being relieved, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Scott checks in when he can, although he’s really consumed in whatever the hell he and Stiles have gotten themselves into. The pack is in good spirits, and school isn’t as horrible as it could be. He’s still not doing very well, but thankfully Mason helps him and Corey. They play lacrosse, Coach is ridiculous without Scott to help direct, and they lose more than they win. He blows off some steam with Theo like normal, who actually seems comfortable with Liam’s new role. He was worried there might be some sort of jealousy or residual resentment, but if anything’s there, they fight it out and then it’s gone.

The only hiccup happens the first time they meet after Scott leaves. Liam invites Theo over like normal, and the Chimera hesitates.

“Are you still allowed to do that?” he asks coolly, and Liam blinks because under his constant pretense of unending confidence he almost sounds nervous.

“Do what?” he asks, completely confused.

Theo glares at him, frustrated. “Have the enemy over at the pack leader’s house,” he spells out, talking to him like he’s stupid.

Liam rolls his eyes. “I’m the leader, not a morality detector. They already know you come over sometimes, and if they have a problem with it, they can deal.” Theo stares at him with raised eyebrows. Liam stares back. “What? Besides it’s not like you’re even the enemy anymore.”

Theo’s mouth falls open for a split second at that, then snaps shut. Liam loves rendering Theo speechless, and he grins shamelessly before climbing into his truck.

On the drive over Liam decides to push it just a little bit more and casually mentions, “I also don’t think it would matter if you decided you actually wanted to sleep on my couch for once-”

“Drop it, Liam,” Theo warns, but he’s fighting a smile.

 

So yeah, everything’s going pretty smoothly, and Liam’s just starting to feel comfortable. Maybe that was his first mistake.

He gets a call from Corey one afternoon, just as he gets home. His last class ends early that day, and he usually takes the free period to just chill in his room.

“Liam,” the Chameleon says, and his voice shakes slightly. “You need to meet me. I think something’s going on.”

 

He finds him and Mason in the almost abandoned school library, and by the time he gets there any action has already passed. He makes Corey tell the story over twice, just so he has everything committed to memory.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asks for sixth time, and at this point Corey’s exasperated with the question.

“I swear I’m good, Liam,” he shrugs. “I’m just confused. And surprised.” He furrows his eyebrows and tries to look annoyed, but just appears nervous. “I thought I was done having to worry about Theo.”

Mason puts a comforting had on his back and gives Liam a meaningful look. “So did I.”

“But neither of you have to worry about it now, alright?” Liam tries to reassure them. “I’ll take care of it.” After they both nod, he asks Corey, “You’re sure they didn’t notice that you knew him, right?”

“I don’t think so,” he says carefully. “I mean I raised my head automatically when they said his name, but then I tried to just look confused. A lot of people looked confused, so I thought I’d just…” he twists his lips in a wicked smile, “I dunno, blend in?”

Liam and Mason groan and Corey looks victorious.

“Just be careful, okay?” Liam tells him. “Keep your head up, and if they come back, pretend to be completely clueless.”

“Shouldn’t be that hard,” Mason mutters affectionately, and pats his boyfriend’s arm, which is quickly swatted away by a glaring Corey.

They hang out for awhile, and then Liam leaves them to take a long walk. He needs to think. He pushes down the automatic instinct to call Scott and ask him what to do. He can handle this. He comes up with a dozen different reasons why these people have swept into town looking for Theo. None of them are good. He tries to plan future moves, but he has so little information to go on. He knows that he needs to talk to Theo, but he doesn’t know how to start the conversation.

When it gets late Liam buys some dinner and slowly walks home, not completely understanding when it even got dark. He’s decides that he needs to see Theo in person. It’s easier that way. Easier for Liam to get a read on him, easier to avoid misunderstandings, easier to pass along non-verbal cues.

He finds himself at his house and quickly runs up to his room and grabs his phone. No more waiting, no more overthinking.

 

For a second Liam doesn’t think Theo’s going to pick up, but at the last second the line connects and he immediately says, “I need to see you.”

Theo’s silent, which is infuriating because he can’t read or interpret silence. He guesses that’s kind of the point.

“It’s pack business,” he explains, and then cringes, knowing what the next words are going to be. Scott would’ve gone about this better.

“I’m not in your pack, Liam,” Theo reminds him coldly.

“I know, I know,” he responds immediately, regretting everything. “I’m an idiot.”

Theo snorts. “Well that’s something we can agree on.”

“Look, can you just come over?” he tries again. “Something’s happened and you need to know about it.”

“Why can’t you just tell me over the phone?” he asks testily, and it’s not Like Liam can respond: Because I want to see your reaction. See if you knew about this, if you knew them.

He can’t think of a way to say this diplomatically, so instead just opts for, “Why can’t you just come over?”

“Liam…” Theo says his name and he sounds utterly exhausted. A thought flashes through his head.

“Did I wake you up?” he asks, and Liam’s not religious, but prays he says no.

“Why don’t you look at the clock and tell me what you think?” Theo responds, voice trying to sound vicious but still sounding tired.

Liam’s head snaps to the clock on his desk and the blood drains out of him. It’s 1:16 A.M. As if Theo doesn’t already have enough things to keep him from getting a good night’s sleep, now he can add ‘Liam’s phone calls’ to the list.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers into the phone, and he hears a low grunt in response. “Do you want me to just call you tomorrow?” he asks tentatively.

“No, Liam,” Theo sighs, annoyance creeping back in again. “I’m up now, so I want you to just spit it out already.”

Fine. He gives up.

“There are people in Beacon Hills looking for you,” he blurts out.

Silence.

‘Theo?” he asks hesitantly, “Did you hear me?”

“I heard.” He’s fully awake now, his voice cold as steel.

“They came to school this afternoon. They were asking everyone if they knew someone called Theo Raeken. They said it was vital they found you.” He hesitates. “It sounds like they still have no idea where you are.”

“They?” Theo asks sharply, and Liam hears shuffling in the background. “You keep saying ‘they’. Who the hell are 'they'? How many? Are they human? Armed?”

“There were two of them,” Liam relays, trying to predict what Theo will do with the information. “A woman and a man. They didn't have any weapons on them, but they were also trying to lay low parading through a high school. We don’t know their names, we don’t know where they came from or where they went, but we think they’re human. They smell human.”

“You smelled them?” Theo asks in a shocked tone, more unidentified scuffling underneath his voice.

I didn’t,” Liam confesses. “But Corey did.”

The sounds on the other line stop abruptly. Finally, “Corey?” His voice sounds guarded and for the millionth time Liam wishes he could see his face, although knowing Theo, that would be unreadable too.

“Corey was the one who first reported it,” he says carefully. “He was in class when the visitors came and interrupted. Mason caught a glimpse too before they disappeared when a teacher threatened to call the police because they didn't have ID. I had already gone home.”

There’s more silence on the line, and then Theo swears so quietly Liam wonders if he imagined it. “He didn’t give me away?” he finally asks.

“Of course not, you asshole,” Liam responds, irritation and protectiveness bundling up inside for his friend. “Corey hates you, but he’s not vindictive. He wouldn’t just sell you out like that, he’s not…” He searches for the right adjective, giving Theo time to insert his contribution.

“What, like me?” And the assumption just makes Liam angrier.

“Bullshit, Theo. I wasn’t going to say that,” he shoots back, raising his voice before catching himself. If it’s the middle of the night, that means his parents are home and probably trying to sleep.

“Look,” Liam says firmly, “I called you because I’m trying to help. I’m on your side here, so don’t turn this on me.”

Theo sighs, and the exhaustion is back. “I know,” he responds quietly, and there’s a period of uneasy silence on both ends.

“What are you going to do?” Liam finally asks, and Theo laughs bitterly and sighs.

“I guess I’m just going to have to make myself very hard to find.”

He doesn’t like the sound of that. He gets up from his chair by the window, nervous energy flooding him. “Theo?” he asks warily, then repeats, “what are you going to do?”

“Thanks for telling me about everything,” Theo says quietly, and Liam hears the ignition of his truck rumble to life.

“Wait!” he yells, his heart starting to race. “At least tell me where you’re going!”

He might be crazy, but he swears he can hear the smile over the phone.

“Bye, Liam,” Theo says softly. And then the line goes dead.