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Handle With Care

Chapter Text

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that hell is other people. For Theo, hell was one other person—Tara.

He did this to himself, Theo knows that. He was the architect of his own destruction. And Scott’s pack, they just always want to do what’s right. At that moment, playing God and sending Theo straight to hell for his sins was the right thing to do. So they watched, unflinching, while he cried and screamed and begged as the ground swallowed him whole. Out of sight, out of mind. Life goes on for the pack, and they dance on his grave.

And below their feet, Theo atones for his sins. Tara would make him pay for taking her childhood away.

It’s the same scene, always. A morgue, dimly lit hospital hallways, her voice calling his name. One moment the heart is in his chest and the next it’s not, a gaping hole where the organ once was. She cradles it in her hands. He chokes on remorse and guilt and thick red blood over and over, and it’s exhausting, but he doesn’t have time to think about that because his sister’s hand is plunging through his chest once again, mimicking the action done to her vulnerable form nearly ten years prior. The last thing he always sees is Tara standing over him before darkness takes him completely.

He stops fighting it, eventually, stops running. He learns that the sooner he gives up, the sooner the scene ends. (it would always start over again, though)

This time, when the cycle begins again, it’s different. Clawed hands dig desperately at the earth and break through. When Theo reaches the surface, Tara is nowhere to be seen. He shifts on instinct, each breath involuntarily coming out as a growl, eyes rimmed with yellow and claws drawn. It’s different this time. He’d never been able to shift before when Tara was after him, always entirely too human and entirely too vulnerable.

It feels almost overwhelming, really. Something about this cycle felt too real, too solid. So real that it had to be fake, another one of Tara’s games.

There’s a heartbeat, two actually, and he sees the sources in front of him, smelling of fear and apprehension, but that could’ve been just Theo. He feels like a passenger in his own body, not quite coherent as the primal side takes over, restless and humming from disuse. Theo grabs the bigger one by the collar, holds him up against the brick despite the exhaustion seeping into his bones, the way his arms begin to shake. His body doesn’t feel all quite his.

“Theo! We’re not trying to hurt you. We’re the ones that brought you back.”

There’s recognition somewhere in Theo’s mind, enough to cut through the fog of panic and paranoia. Hayden. Liam. Pack.

Pack, almost. Pack, but not quite.

When his head snaps towards the girl, all he can see is Tara. All he can hear is the lilt of her voice, all he can feel is her heart being ripped from his chest. His grip loosens on Liam’s shirt as he tries to put distance between himself and Tara.

But when he blinks, she’s gone.

Eyes wild and chest heaving, Theo looks for his sister, knowing she had been there just a moment ago. He needs to run, for once, he needs to get away.

But Tara always catches up.

“Where’s my sister?” he demands, voice rough. Words weren’t coming easily, fangs distorting his speech and panic fogging his mind.

“Your sister’s dead,” Liam pants, the growl erupting from Theo sending a wave of fear through the boy, “She died a long time ago.”

“You killed her, remember?” Hayden adds, speaking to Theo like a spooked animal.

Theo remembers, of course he does. That’s why she’s after him right now. That’s why he needs to get away. He knows Tara is trying to trick him, to make him think that he’s safe. Theo wouldn’t fall for it.

“I’m gonna kill you, too,” he snaps, fangs dangerously close to Liam’s neck, “I’m gonna kill all of you.”

His heart—no, not his—hers. It’s beating too fast, out of his control. Everything is out of his control, feeling more animal than human. Every instinct in his body screaming at him to fight.

“Okay. Send him back,” he hears Hayden distantly order, voice laced with alarm.

Theo doesn’t understand. He knows he’s still here—in hell. She’s still after him. He can’t leave, he’s tried. He can run and he can hide but Tara would always fucking find him and he’s just so, so tired, body beginning to slump against Liam’s rather than hold him up.

Liam holds up a sword in front of Theo’s face, the metal glinting in the light, “You know what this does?”

And suddenly it all comes back to him, a sick surge of anger, fear, and betrayal churning within Theo. He’s no longer an observer of his actions. Kira’s sword, the Skinwalkers. It sent him there. It sent him to Tara.

Theo releases his hold on Liam, taking a step back as he stares warily at the sword in the boy’s grip. His fate hanging precariously in their hands. So easily disposable, such a fall from grace. The boy made to be a weapon reduced to a coward at the sight of one.

Theo’s not quite sure who’s the predator and who’s the victim anymore. He goes with Liam and Hayden, because it’s better than the alternative.

And below their feet, Tara’s hand grazes the horizon between hell and earth, always searching for Theo, but she can’t quite reach.

The appetite of the dead is insatiable. They want, and want, and want.

Chapter Text

Hell-boy walks amongst the living once more, and everyone is unhappy.

Theo’s nearly useless to the pack, they quickly find out. No powers left in him but his own, but he still has his brain.

Even though it’s a little fucked up right now.

It’s hard for him to discern past from present, dream from reality. He constantly sees Tara in his peripheral vision yet she always flickers away when he turns his head to look. He swears she gets closer every time.

The first time Theo is caught half-shifted, growling at thin-air, is on the way to Scott’s house for a pack meeting. Theo’s first pack meeting since coming back. It’s Liam that snaps him out of it.

“Theo,” Liam’s voice gets louder, the scent of agitation and confusion wafting off the boy in waves, “What the hell are you doing? There’s nothing there.”

Theo falters, fangs receding and claws disappearing as he glances at the boy and back to the vacant space where he swears Tara just was. The spot is empty. He doesn’t bother giving Liam an explanation, not that the boy asks for one anyway. Instead, he shoots daggers at the ground below him as if the glare will reach Tara, as if she could feel it all the way down there.

Control is a fickle thing for Theo, now. His heartbeat, his emotions, his grasp on reality, even his shifting. All of it so hard for him to hold onto though it’s been his second nature for practically his entirely life. He knows there’s something wrong, that he came back wrong. He hates it. Everyone else seems to be a little too consumed by the shithole that Beacon Hills has become to notice, though. They don’t see the way the light drains from his eyes, him visibly shutting down every time they threaten to send him back. Don’t notice the way his mouth opens and closes, gaping like a fish as he tries to form an argument that dies before ever slipping past his lips. The way he flinches away from contact, how his eyes are constantly searching for Tara, the way that he persistently digs his claws into the palms of his hands to keep himself present. If any of them smell the blood, they don’t make it known.

He’s still dirty and smelly and covered in rot and grime from crawling his way out of hell when the pack hauls him off to Beacon Hills Police Department to be kept under tight surveillance. He knew not expect a ‘welcome back!’ party or anything of the sort, especially not coming from Scott, or Malia…or anyone else affiliated with the McCall pack, for that matter. What he doesn’t expect, though, is to be quickly shuttered away into the only solitary confinement room the police station has to offer. Quite the V.I.P. treatment.

It’s small, with tiny windows on the ceiling, and contains only a sad-looking cot in the corner, a thin film of dust on top of it. Theo’s body pleads with him, practically screaming for rest, for just a moment of sleep. He’s all too aware that this isn’t meant to be some glorified nap time, but his eyes are heavy and body even heavier so he lies down, ignoring the stale scent of the cot and the way dust tickles his nostrils when he inhales. Sleep comes easily.

Theo wakes up in the morgue.

No, that can’t be right. He’s still at the police department, and it’s dark now. He’s not sure how long he slept, but the room feels smaller. Something is off.

And then he hears it.

Theoooooo

But this time there is nowhere to run, he’s trapped in a tiny room and Tara is going to kill him right here. He knows he’s going to die heartless, choking on his own blood on the floor of the Beacon Hills Police Department. So Theo fights, or, tries to. He would run if he needed to, he’d gotten really good at that, but the door doesn’t budge against his relentless assaults, and the windows are reinforced with steel bars. He hears people outside the room, he knows they’re listening. He knows they’ll sit complacently as Theo gets dragged back to hell, kicking and screaming for the second time.

“Please, someone, just—fuck, let me out!” Theo begs, voice hysterical. His claws scrape uselessly against the metal door of the room. “Please help me, please don’t leave me in here. Someone get me the fuck out of here please, I can’t—”

He breaks off, choking on his own sobs as he sees Tara getting closer. Tears start to fill his eyes, blurring her already shadowy silhouette. He thought he was free, he thought he had escaped her.

She always wins.

“Please don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he wheezes, eyes clenched shut because maybe, just maybe if he can’t see her then she’ll go away, just like how little kids try to will away the monsters hiding in their closets or under their beds.

A hand grips his shoulder, and he screams, begs her to listen to him. Then there’s more hands, and he thinks this isn’t how it usually happens, but he thrashes against the restraint anyway, claws slashing towards skin.

Malia punches him in the face then, just as she had done at Scott’s house as a form of greeting, and suddenly Tara is gone and it’s just her, Scott, and Theo. There’s blood but no wounds, no gaping chest cavity, just a broken nose that is already beginning to heal back up.

“Please remind me, how is he any help to us? He was less of a burden when he was in the ground.”

It’s Malia’s voice, dripping with disdain and the usual irritation, but Theo can’t think of a witty comeback right now. The facade of control is gone, and now they see the chimera in all his horrible glory.

There’s no exchange of words, no questioning. Theo is silently moved to a regular jail cell, Scott firmly gripping his bicep the whole walk there as if Theo would cut and run, as if he would even know where to run to.

This cell is better, with almost full visibility of the rest of the police station. His head feels like tv static and everything feels detached, like he’s watching himself in third person again. He’s tired, but he knows better than to let himself fall asleep, so he keeps his head on a swivel, eyes meticulously scanning the perimeter just in case. It’s like Theo’s six again, holding a flashlight with shaky hands to check to see if the boogieman is really under his bed like Tara told him.

The pack has assembled in the lobby of the station, each member shooting tentative glances in Theo’s direction when they think he isn’t looking. If he wanted to, he could listen to their conversation, hear everything they’re saying about him, find out if they’ve finally realized that they don’t need him, that they never did.

It’s not long before the pack gathers in front of Theo’s cell, demanding answers about Douglas and the Ghost Riders, prior mental breakdown forgotten. When he manages to convince Liam to break the sword, he can breathe a little easier.

No one is happy with the idea that destroy-boy Theo Raeken might truly be here to stay, but there are more important things to worry about, and he makes sure to let the pack know that.

 

Theo is the monster, but the monster isn’t him. Maybe it never was.

Chapter Text

Clarity is found in the shower of a small home left abandoned in the wake of the Ghost Riders.

Finally rinsing the muck off his body, any remnants and reminders of where he had been, Theo begins to feel like himself again. Almost.

The thing is, he’s not quite sure who that person is anymore. That Theo who lied, manipulated, cheated, and killed his way through life feels like it got left underground. The one that came back is just a cheap imitation of that, walking a fine line between hell and earth, fighting alongside the same people that want him dead. No longer in any sort of position of power, now indebted to Scott’s pack, his life felt like something akin to being in a minefield. One wrong step and everything would explode and go back to shit. Theo would have to tread carefully.

He steps out of the shower and dries off, slipping into clothes that definitely aren’t his, but fit well enough that they could have been. Funny thing about coming back from hell is that you don’t have any time to prepare for it. Theo had no money, no place to stay, and no belongings other than the grime-covered clothes that he came back wearing, and the dead cellphone in his pocket. Guess the whole ‘people getting erased from existence’ thing is sort of convenient, seeing as all the leftover belongings are practically fair game.

Is it considered stealing if no one is around to claim the items?

Not that he’s too worried about the morality of the situation. He’s already dug his own grave and knows all to well that one day he’ll have to lay in it once more, no amount of good deeds can change that.

So Theo gets by. He amasses a collection of clothes, some that fit well, and some not at all. Some nights he rests in strangers’ beds, their scents so faint now that it doesn’t even bother him, and other nights he “sleeps” in his truck, a blue pick-up where he keeps most of the pilfered items. It’s not just necessities that he takes, either. It’s small, seemingly inconsequential objects like a worn down deck of cards, a few books, a rubik’s cube, a shit ton of money that he’s remorselessly stolen from the dozens upon dozens of left behind wallets, and hair products, because if the pack is going to treat him like “Classic Theo” then he sure as hell is gonna look the part.

Theo stands in front of the bathroom mirror, foggy from the steam of the shower. He writes his name in the condensation.

T h e o
T h e o
T h e o
T h e o

Like if he writes it enough times he’ll finally know how to be him.

Theo came back wrong. He knows it, feels it, the way sanity seems to be an intangible concept lately. How reality sorta feels the same way. There’s something wrong with him, and Theo isn’t sure what it is, but it’s the most concrete thing he’s felt since coming back.

He swipes a hand over the glass to clear off the steam, checking to see if the change is visible, but it’s the same smug face in the mirror.

A text from Liam shakes him out of his thoughts.

—meet me at the hospital asap

Theo heads to his truck and sets toward Beacon Hills Memorial.

Back to playing pretend-wolf even though he feels a lot more like a stray dog.

A sheep in wolf’s clothing: all bark, no bite.

*

“Hey,” Liam speaks, breaking the spell of silence that had fallen upon the two boys since entering the hospital, “What was up with you in the cell the other day?”

Theo doesn’t acknowledge his question, instead asking, “So, is there a plan here? Are we just going to amble around the hospital and hope to summon up a rider?”

“There is a plan,” Liam responds stiffly, “Just wait.”

They fall into silence again, and apparently the beta just isn’t satisfied with that. 

“Why did you freak out?” Liam probes once more, “Did you see something in there?”

Theo lies, because it’s easier than anything else these days, “I just wanted out of that room. It was stuffy and small and smelled bad, how else was I supposed to get you guys to pay attention to me?”

He's not sure that he remembers the last time he told someone anything true. 

“You smelled scared,” Liam notes, blue eyes locked on the chimera. 

Theo looks away, scowling, “You’ve never been very good at reading chemo signals, have you, Liam?” he pauses, “Why do you care anyway?”

“I don’t,” Liam asserts.

And the silence descends upon them once more. 

*

“This is your brilliant idea? Barricade ourselves in the morgue?” Theo spits, masking his anxiety with contempt.

An entire hospital to hide in, and Liam had to choose the morgue. It felt like a cruel joke but Tara was the only one laughing.

Liam looks determined, because he always does, “The Ghost Riders go after the living, so we hide with the dead.”

The beta yanks open one of the cabinets, two pale feet visible, though the rest of the body is obscured by darkness. It could be anyone. It could be her.

Theo had done enough hide and seek with the dead to last a lifetime, “I’m not getting in one of those.”

He holds his breath, praying to all the gods he doesn’t believe in that Liam won’t be stubborn just this once, that they can walk away from the morgue and never look back. The younger boy stays silent and Theo can taste blood in his mouth, can feel the phantom pain of his heart being ripped out despite it audibly beating in his chest. Theo can see Tara in his peripheral vision again, dark hair draping across her face. He can’t turn and look, can’t risk finding out that it’s real this time.

“Me neither,” Liam suddenly decides, quickly shutting the cabinet back. Theo tries not to let on how relieved he feels.

So he plays the asshole, just like he used to, “Should’ve left me in the holding cell.”

“Should’ve left you in the ground,” The beta retorts instantly, not realizing the effect the words have on the chimera.

Theo bristles, turning to Liam, “What do you think I was doing down there? Just hanging out with my dead sister, having a good time catching up on childhood memories?”

“I think you were rotting down there.”

God, Theo wishes. He really, really wishes it was that simple, and Liam has no clue.

“Liam finally gets one thing right,” he responds, voice devoid of emotion.

But the beta just has to keep pushing all of Theo’s fucking buttons, “I also know that whatever happened to you, you deserved it.”

Theo huffs out a laugh, but it feels like razor blades against his throat. His is voice tight as he asks, “Is that right?”

It was.

Liam and Theo make it out of the hospital alive, but it’s then that Theo begins to realize that being dead might have been easier.

***

Theo picks up a bad habit.

The nightmares are relentless, have been for a while now. For the third night in a row he wakes up with a shout, heart pounding, and claws tearing into the upholstery of his truck’s backseat. Theo can never quite remember the nightmares when he’s awake, only vague flashes of a beating heart being held outside of its body, of choking on guilt and blood and remorse, of hell.

There’s one thing that helps, and that’s pain.

He finds this out one night after a particularly bad nightmare, reaching for his chest with shaky hands and not realizing that his fingernails have inadvertently lengthened into claws. The tips make five perfect little indentations, blood barely springing to the surface as the scratches heal themselves.

And instantly, Theo feels more grounded than he ever did since coming back. He watches the skin knit itself back together, focuses on the stinging pain that goes along with it. Maybe that’s all he really needs, he thinks, to trigger his healing. Maybe the psychological scars will heal just as the flesh wounds did. He sleeps.

Theo digs his claws in deeper the second time, gasping around the pain but reveling in the clarity that it brings. He’s disappointed to feel the wounds beginning to heal, even as his claws are still embedded in his chest. Muscle and skin tightening against his fingertips, trying to replace what has been destroyed.

His shirt is ruined—wet and stained with crimson—but that night, Theo doesn’t dream, blood chasing away the bad things hiding behind his eyelids.

Red on his hands, a boy trying to feel something other than afraid.

Chapter Text

Theo is standing on the bridge.

He’s not sure how he got there, but he’s there nonetheless, standing in the same spot that he pushed his sister from. Shaky hands grab the railing hard enough to splinter the wood under his fingertips, his knuckles turning white from the pressure.

And when he gathers the courage to look down into the dark water, Tara isn’t there. It’s Theo himself.

Crying for help,

drowning,

dying.

The water turns red, and from its depths emerges two pale, decaying arms. Theo can only watch as they wrap themselves around his torso, one hand gently resting right above where his heart would be. Tara’s head emerges from the water, hair dark and drenched. The way she cradles Theo’s duplicate self in her arms is almost delicate, holding her brother as he sobs and pleads for mercy, keeping the two of them afloat.

Tara is whispering, mouth close to the boy’s ear, yet from where Theo is standing on the bridge, he can’t quite hear what she’s saying. He leans closer, ears straining to hear the words leaving his sister’s mouth, to hear her voice one more time, and the bridge creaks ominously.

The noise is deafening in the otherwise silent forest, and Tara’s head snaps from the body in her arms to Theo standing on the bridge. He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. Tara’s grip on the body in her arms tightens as she stares directly up at Theo on the bridge.

The hands that held so gently just moments prior suddenly plunge into the duplicate’s chest, he’s thrashing in the river and gasping for breath that won’t come. He is staring up at Theo, too, eyes glazed and unfocused but brimming with pure hatred.

Slowly, the body stills.

Tara submerges herself in the creek once more, Theo’s body in tow, and all is quiet again.

Theo is on the bridge looking down, but the water isn’t red anymore.

He can’t hear his own heartbeat.

He screams.

*

“Theo, I wasn’t aware that you were still around. What brings you here?”

There’s hesitation in Dr. Deaton’s voice, Theo notices the way the man oh so carefully inches away from him bit by bit. He wants to laugh, finding it odd that anyone could think of him as intimidating lately. Elusive, sure. Theo’s been making himself scarce since the Ghost Riders were defeated. There’s not really any need for him right now. All the more reason to deal with his personal problems before another real threat hits Beacon Hills, like usual.

Theo takes a step closer, “I need your help.”

Deaton nods, leaning against the counter as he regards Theo thoughtfully, “What exactly is it that you need help with?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Theo shrugs, the motion stiff and unnatural, “There’s just…since I came back, there’s been something wrong with me.”

“Okay. Could you elaborate, please?” the older man asks, face giving away nothing.

So, Theo does.

He tells Deaton about the nightmares, about the paranoia, the way he sometimes feels like he never left hell, how his instincts are telling him that there’s a threat around every corner.

How it feels like his heart is a ticking time bomb hellbent on destroying Theo from within.

He crawled out of hell but there’s still a phantom limb stuck down there, tugging, trying to drag him back.

“My wolf is in distress…it’s like I’m fighting myself and losing,” Theo explains, jaw set tightly, “I’ve never had this problem before. It’s never been like this.”

If Theo’s being honest, venting everything he’s been feeling recently lifts some sort of weight off his shoulders. He would never admit that, though.

Deaton has an odd look on his face, as if he’s not quite sure that the chimera is being serious, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I quite understand why you need my help, Theo.”

“I need you to fix it, tell me how to make it stop,” Theo urges, anger simmering behind his eyes. He adds, quieter this time, “Heal me or kill me, but make it stop.”

“You think these…symptoms are of supernatural origin?” Deaton questions.

Theo rolls his eyes, exasperated, “Of course they are, there’s no other explanation.”

Deaton hesitates then, visibly struggling with his choice of words as he considers the boy in front of him.

“Theo, I don’t think your issue has anything to do with you being a supernatural. From what I can tell, this sounds a lot more human than anything else.”

Theo processes the words for a moment before responding, “Explain.”

“You were brought back from hell,” Deaton begins, “That isn’t something that typically happens to people, supernatural or otherwise. I’m sure your experience there was…disturbing, to say the least—”

“Get to the point,” Theo orders, patience running thin. He begins to wonder why he smells pity coming from the doctor.

Deaton nods shortly, sighing, “Theo, there’s nothing wrong with you.”

And Theo laughs, a harsh chuckle that rips from his throat, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I’m sorry, but—”

“No, don’t apologize,” Theo interrupts, scowling, “I’m not leaving here until you fix me, or at least tell me how to do it myself.”

“You went through a traumatic experience. People just aren’t meant to go to hell and come back from it, Theo. I’m no psychologist, but it seems what you’re experiencing are the repercussions of that trauma,” Deaton states, “Do you have someone to talk to about what you’ve been dealing with?”

Theo responds, voice teeming with barely contained rage, “What, you think I need a therapist?”

“I think you need a kind of help that I can’t give you,” Deaton answers carefully, “Guilt is—”

“Guilt?” Theo seethes, stalking towards the doctor, “You think what I’m feeling is guilt? I bare my weaknesses to you, allow you to pick apart my problems, and you’re going to stand here and tell me that after all I’ve been through, I can’t handle a couple of human emotions?”

Theo has Deaton backed into a corner, a growl leaving his throat as his eyes flash threateningly.
“Tell me, what color are my eyes right now?” Theo demands.

Deaton holds his hands up placatingly as he answers, “Yellow. They’re yellow.”

“I have orchestrated death, killed more people than I can count on my fingers, and my eyes are still yellow, not blue. Guilt is not my problem,” Theo argues, though there’s desperation seeping into his tone.

Deaton remains silent, warily eyeing the half-shifted chimera in front of him.

Theo takes a step back then, visibly composing himself, slipping the mask back on, “You’re wrong.”

And he leaves, inhaling cynicism and refusing to breathe out.

*

Theo is walking to his truck, carefully parked in a secluded area of the woods, when he gets the feeling that he’s being watched.

He stills, senses on high alert as he scans the surrounding area, though much is hidden under the shroud of trees. He fights the urge to consider that maybe Deaton was right, maybe this is all in his head, but doesn’t have to ruminate for long because out of the corner of his eye he sees a flash of grey dart past the clearing and back into the shadows.

“Who’s there?” Theo asks aloud, feeling all too much like a typical victim in a teen slasher movie.

Slasher victims aren’t usually equipped with claws and fangs, though, so at least he has that going for him. Twigs snap behind him, and Theo whirls around, claws drawn and teeth bared, ready for a fight.

Slowly, an emaciated grey wolf saunters out from the cover of the trees, steadily approaching Theo. Its fur is patchy, and he can practically count the animal’s ribs. It smells sick. The wolf all but collapses in front of the chimera, and Theo’s primal side whines in distress.

“You’re not a werewolf, are you?” he hums, bending closer to the animal. Upon reaching out a hand to offer some form of comfort, the wolf snarls a warning, and Theo quickly pulls his hand away. The wolf releases another pitiful cry, gazing at a thick patch of trees just past Theo’s line of sight.

There’s some unspoken communication between the two, something that the animal side of the chimera can comprehend despite the fact that Theo’s human side has trouble understanding why he’s compelled to walk toward the desolate area. He does so anyway, hesitant steps guided by some inner instinct as he leaves the ill wolf behind.

All Theo smells is death, pungent enough to make him want to gag.

Dozens upon dozens of wolf corpses litter the forest floor, all in varying states of decay. Theo can’t hear a single heartbeat among them. A molotov cocktail of emotions wells up in his chest that he quickly tamps down, because Theo wasn’t made to care about a few dead wolves. He wasn’t made to mourn for creatures that have nothing to do with him.

But it hurts, still.

He dismisses it as a wolf thing, something he can’t control.

The pathetic grey wolf painstakingly drags itself after Theo, and crumples in between the boy and a few of the corpses. Its body is shaking from the exertion, and Theo can hear the stutter of its heartbeat.

Theo stands over the wolf, face deliberately blank as he eyes its weak figure, “I can’t heal you, but I can make the pain end.”

His eyes flash as he grabs ahold of the wolf’s throat, the animal no longer fighting the physical contact. Theo takes a deep breath, and snaps its neck, just like Deucalion had done to him months prior.

Only the wolf doesn’t heal, and its heart doesn’t keep beating. Theo wasn’t made to care, he was made to kill.

The killing part feels a lot harder than it used to, doesn’t give him the same thrill anymore.

Destroy-boy stifles the guilt he feels upon looking at the corpse, and keeps walking.

Back in his truck, he gets the nagging feeling that something is wrong. There’s a sort of tension humming in the air, rattling in his bones that he can’t shake.

Something is coming to Beacon Hills, and it’s not going to be good.

Theo sticks around, because for once, he’s tired of running.

Chapter Text

Sleep is punctuated by intermittent visits from various members of the Beacon Hills Police Department.

Because of course, the few moments of actual rest Theo is granted just has to be interrupted by a deputy shining a flashlight through his window, or obnoxiously tapping against the glass. Sure, he may be illegally parked on the side of the road, sleeping in the backseat of his truck, but for fuck’s sake, isn’t there actual crime to deal with in this town?

Another night, another cop.

Theo shuffles into the driver’s seat as he raises his hand in a manner to tell the cop ‘don’t worry, I’ll leave’, but as he starts the truck, the knocks on the window don’t cease. Glancing outside, his gaze lands on none other than Sheriff Stilinski, mouthing something about rolling down the window. Theo does as instructed, remembering how unpleasant his last interaction with the man was.

“Good evening, Sheriff,” Theo greets with a paper-thin smile on his face.

“You know that I can’t let you stay parked here overnight, correct?”

Theo nods jerkily, much too familiar with this conversation that he’s had with almost every other member of the Beacon Hills Police Department, “I was just heading to my place. Got tired, figured I should pull over for a little bit. I’ll get going now.”

“I think that’d be a good idea,” Stilinski responds, skepticism dripping from his voice. He looks like he wants to say more, eyes narrowed and mouth parted, but instead takes a step away from the truck.

A nod, another tight grin, and a forced “goodnight”, then Theo is starting his truck and driving away with no destination in mind, just trying to put enough distance between himself and any other Beacon Hills police officer to avoid another confrontation.

*

With significant mileage between him and any other cops, Theo tries to sleep. Tries, being the operative word because he is much too enraptured by the spider crawling aimlessly across the interior side of his window.

Hand resting just below the arachnid, Theo watches as the spider crawls across his fingers, making a slow trek down his wrist and onto his forearm. He moves his arm ever so slightly, trying to watch the trail it makes across his skin, and the spider freezes, one leg stuck up in the air as it rests against the chimera.

In the next second it burrows itself underneath Theo’s skin, leaving no entry wound behind.

A panicked shout escapes his mouth, not from the pain, but more from the shock of watching a spider crawl into his skin and then vanish. He scratches at the surface, where he can feel the spider moving, and he’s semi-convinced that this must be some new fucked up nightmare that he’s having, because everything is these days.

But the spider doesn’t stop moving, in fact, it crawls up his arm toward his shoulder, and Theo keeps scratching and scratching and scratching, nails lengthening to claws. The skin is turning red and raw, but he still feels the spider there and it just won’t leave, an itch beneath his skin that gets worse and worse the harder he scratches. He wants to think that he’ll wake up tomorrow morning and it’ll be like none of this ever happened, but that just makes him angrier.

Theo’s drawn blood by the time he makes the decision to drive out to Deaton’s clinic in the middle of the night. It’s late, half-past midnight, and he knows clinic isn’t open at this hour.

So he breaks in, thinks of it as some sort of payback for the shit Deaton tried to pull with him days prior. He rifles around in the drawers for a few moments until he finds a mirror and a scalpel, turns on the overhead light for better visibility.

And then he cuts.

A quick, precise stab just beneath his shoulder blade is enough for Theo to tug out the spider, the incessant itch underneath his skin finally receding.

He holds up the spider to the surgical light, its tiny legs still wriggling in the air as if it could run away, but when he blinks, it disappears into a puff of smoke. It doesn’t surprise him as much as it should. Nothing really does these days.

Theo considers calling Scott, the number staring back at him derisively, but he doesn’t, opting instead to keep the incident to himself.

He goes back to his truck, weaving secrets like spiderwebs.

Gunshots wake him up instead of cops this time.

*

Fear, Theo realizes, albeit a little too late, is what he had been feeling all around him the day that he found the wolves in the woods. It surrounds Beacon Hills, now, the scent almost stifling.

Fear, something that Theo has become very well acquainted with since returning from hell.

Fear.

Ironically, something that Theo feels none of when he wakes up chained to a metal gate with two other werewolves.

Irritated, sure.

But afraid? No, Theo knows exactly how this works—torture—because it used to be his favorite past-time. He knows that the man before them, Schrader, isn’t desperate for information, but a reaction, he wants to feel powerful. The look in his eyes shows that he’s willing to kill, and it reminds Theo all too much of himself. Or, at least the person he thought he was.

“You obviously have us here for a reason,” Theo speaks to their tormentor, but it only earns the three supernaturals another jolt of electricity.

And Schrader laughs. Theo’s stomach turns, because it’s like looking in a mirror.

“If…if you tell me what you want—” He has to force the words out, because begging, groveling for release, goes against everything Theo has ever been taught. He’d almost rather suffer here, brought to his demise at the hands of a callous sociopath, than plead for his life.

Theo’s life doesn’t even feel like something worth pleading for.

Another press of the button, another series of shocks.

He can’t ever get more than a few words in before Schrader sets off the electric gate once again, sadistic grin never leaving the man’s face.

The smell of burning plastic reaches Theo’s nostrils and he quickly realizes that the electricity has started melting the zip ties restraining their hands.

He’s not great at playing the desperate hostage, but he sure as hell can play the manipulative, calculating piece of shit. He’s been doing it almost his whole life.

“So that’s all you got? Cause I’m not impressed,” Theo taunts, a maddening smirk growing on his face as he stares down Schrader, methodically digging up the man’s past to push each of his buttons before Schrader pushes back.

He wants to feel pain, he wants to hurt.

Theo laughs through the voltage, convulsing violently, but he has the upper hand now. Schrader keeps turning up the power, the electricity coursing through his veins but Theo feels more alive than ever.

He knows this could backfire, that the electricity could kill him before the zip ties disintegrate, but he can’t bring himself to care. Not about the lives of the two werewolves beside him, full of naive bravery, and not about his own life.

Apathy in the face of catastrophe, the grim reaper cowers at Theo’s feet.

His stolen heart is pounding painfully in his chest and his head is starting to get foggy, but he thinks it’s the best thing he’s felt in a while.

The restraints break away, and Theo lunges at Schrader, eyes wild and teeth bared.

*

He leaves Schrader chained up to the gate, voltage switched to maximum power, and doesn’t look back.

Theo can’t tell if he’s still the same killer or not anymore but he swears he will make something out of whatever falls into his destructive hands.

A fallen angel destined for hell, at least this time Theo will earn his spot.

Chapter Text

“It never ends, does it? Even just getting past one crisis, there’s always another after that. It’s exhausting,” Liam mumbles.

They’re standing outside the Beacon Hills Zoo, waiting for Mason to show up when Liam speaks.

And Theo sees it, the utter exhaustion practically radiating off the beta. It’s in his hunched posture, the set of his jaw, the far-away look in his eyes. Theo sees it, and he feels it himself, too. For different reasons than Liam, sure, but he feels it nonetheless.

Two boys, one with the weight of the world on his shoulders and the other with the burden of his sins shackled to his feet.

“Yeah,” Theo responds. It’s a weak reply, but it’s the best he’s got for now, too stricken by the fact that the first words to leave the beta’s mouth weren’t insults or chiding remarks, or at least some sort of acknowledgment of the fact that Theo has been incognito for months now. The honesty of it all threw him off.

Liam looks up at the chimera then, blue eyes too open and too sincere, “What’s keeping you here? You’re free. Why did you stay?”

Theo doesn’t know what to say.

Freedom is fear, it’s uncertainty, it’s all too much.

And he hates that feeling, hates that he doesn’t have a plan anymore.

“Scott is going away to college, Stiles and Lydia, too. The pack, protecting Beacon Hills…that’s my responsibility now,” Liam continues, “You don’t have anything tying you down. So, why?”

It’s feels really shitty, like a stab to the gut, Theo thinks, being reminded that he’s apparently worn out his welcome in Beacon Hills. The word disposable rattles around in his head as he thinks about how he was brought back out of necessity, though the same boy that freed him is now asking why he’s even still around.

Theo refuses to let Liam hear the way his heartbeat falters at the question, the way that the questions leaving Liam’s mouth have been the same ones Theo has been struggling to answer himself.

“I—” he begins, only to be graciously interrupted by Mason pulling up to the entrance next to them.

Existential inquiries forgotten, Liam leaves Theo’s side to greet his best friend, to talk strategy. Theo doesn’t miss the way that the beta stands up a little straighter, looks a little less lost, wipes away any trace of exhaustion that had previously been cast over him like a storm cloud.

He half-listens as he grabs supplies from the trunk of the car, only joining the conversation after Mason’s idiotic offer to fight with the two supernaturals.

“His friends shoot to kill,” Theo scoffs, “Go home.”

He’s not at all jealous that Mason, a human with no supernatural abilities whatsoever, has more pull in Scott’s pack than Theo does himself.

Theo, who’s been trying to help.

Theo, who wants to do better.

Theo, who’s been changing despite the fact that no one seems to realize it.

Then again, Mason didn’t try to kill Scott and take over his pack, so there’s that.

Maybe Theo’s attempts at helping, at redemption, are more of a burden to Liam than having to protect one measly human would ever be. Maybe he adds more weight on the beta’s shoulders than he lifts. Another responsibility for Liam to worry about.

Theo implodes in self-loathing and doubt but pretends he doesn’t care.

No one else would anyway.

*

Theo lands a punch directly across Liam’s jaw, bone meeting bone with an admittedly satisfying crack.

“Yeah, you see that, Scott? Your little beta can’t even take a punch!” Theo yells to thin air, putting on a show for god knows who, “And what do you think, Malia? What, you think you can take me?”

Theo’s voice is edging on hysterical, a crazed grin ripping across his face as he eyes the confused and agitated beta before him.

“Okay, I get it, but did you actually have to punch me?” Liam whispers, eyes wide as he cradles his jaw.

And clearly, no, Liam doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get it at all.

So Theo punches him again, harder this time, his fist colliding against Liam’s cheekbone as the boy crumples to the dirt. Liam is back on his feet in an instant, grabbing Theo by the collar and slamming him up against the wall of the enclosure, rage seeping from his pores.

Theo dodges a punch from the beta, putting distance between the two as he continues his monologue, “See what I mean, Scott? He’s only good in a fight when he’s angry. So let’s see just how angry he gets.”

Now Liam gets it.

He charges for Theo, but is propelled backward by another punch in the face.

When Liam stands up once more, his fangs are bared and claws are unsheathed. There’s pure rage and hatred and violence swimming behind the boy’s eyes.

Theo grins.

*

Wrath-boy has Nolan by the collar, fist colliding with the brick over and over and over until red like rose petals drips down his fingertips.

All Theo smells is anger, anger, anger—and he knows he could let Liam kill the kid, that it would be one less hunter to worry about.

But he also knows that Liam doesn’t deserve that burden, despite his tendency to make fists instead of plans.

So he aims a forearm to the back of the beta’s head and watches him collapse to the ground, an unconscious heap of fangs, claws, and rage.

“Run,” Theo orders Nolan, a predatory grin on his face.

A part of him is hoping the boy will stay, that he’ll be foolish enough to put up a fight, because for once Theo wants to destroy something that isn’t himself. He wants to feel claws tearing through flesh and hands slick with blood that isn’t his own. Violence lurking behind his eyes, Theo decides if Nolan is going to see him as a monster then he’ll really act like one, bearing the insult with pride.

The kid flees, and doesn’t look back.

*

“Next time you come up with a plan like this, pick a place that doesn’t trigger a murderous rage,” Theo suggests, glancing at the boy in his passenger seat.

Liam rolls his eyes, “Yeah, I didn’t know this was gonna happen.”

“Whether you meant it or not, you picked the spot,” Theo shrugs, “You made the plan.”

Liam stays quiet.

“You wanted me to help,” Theo continues, voice softer than before. He forces himself to keep his eyes on the road.

Liam scoffs, self-deprecation ringing heavily in his voice, “If I needed your help for anything, it’d be so I’d get angry not to kill you myself.”

But Theo doesn’t miss a beat, not even sure where the sudden burst of confidence comes from, “You brought me here because that thing that came out of the Wild Hunt is affecting you too. You need to figure this out before you completely lose it.”

Before you end up like me, he thinks.

“The Anuk-ite causes fear. It doesn’t cause anger,” Liam responds.

“People only feel one emotion at a time, Liam,” Theo states, “Which is why you get angry when you’re afraid. It’s why you almost tore Nolan’s head off.”

Theo spews so much bullshit nowadays he’s surprised that Liam even buys it.

The rest of the car ride is silent, consists only of Theo sneaking glances at the beta beside him, whose eyes never leave the window, watching as the surroundings blur past.

Theo wants to grab Liam by the shoulders and scream LOOK AT ME, PLEASE LOOK AT ME.

Because those blue eyes make him feel more like a person.

Because Liam looks at Theo like he belongs here, like bringing him back wasn’t a mistake.

Because he looks at Theo like he really cares, and Theo thinks that maybe that’s all he needs.

Chapter Text

Theo has never been a religious person.

Even as a kid, his parents would have to practically drag him out of the house to sit through dull church services in which Theo and Tara would pass time by counting how many amens and hallelujahs would be orated by the holier than thou congregants that filled the pews.

Theo’s already shaky, half-formed concept of faith was obliterated after Tara’s death, after spending time with the Dread Doctors.

In church, from what Theo remembers, he learned that God is supposed to be loving, and merciful, and the epitome of all things good. God, they say, is omnipotent and omniscient—in him is the power to control all things, and to know of all things.

Theo thinks that’s all bullshit.

He knows God isn’t real because if he was, then Tara would still be alive and the Dread Doctors would have never manipulated him into being their guinea pig, he would’ve never been subjected to their torturous experiments, and most of all—Theo would be happy. He would have a mom and a dad still, and a sister, maybe a dog too. They would live in a nice house with a white picket fence and lead nice, mundane lives. They would go to church every Sunday and then come home, and Tara would help Theo with his homework and then they’d go out and ride their bikes around the cul-de-sac.

And they’d live their quaint little lives, and they would be happy.

Instead, Theo’s family is dead. He never had a dog, but now he can sorta shift into one if he feels like it. He doesn’t live in a nice house, he lives in a truck. His life is anything but mundane, in the worst possible way. He is not happy, he doesn’t know what that feels like anymore.

People are cowards, full of fear. It’s been that way long before the Anuk-ite ever came around. They hide behind religion because they’re too scared to face a world that exists without meaning, to wake up and realize that there is no purpose to anything that they do. They’re afraid to make the realization that the world is cruel and arbitrary and there are no rules—people suffer and die, having done no wrong in their entire lives, and people who have hurt and tortured and killed can live a century. There is no hope.

If the God that Theo learned about as a kid was real, he wouldn’t allow this to happen.

Theo doesn’t believe in heaven, but he believes in hell.

He’s not quite sure how that fits in with his theological viewpoint as an atheist—can hell exist without a god? But either way, he knows hell is real.

Maybe it’s different for supernaturals like him. Maybe normal human beings simply rot in their graves underground, turning to dust and compost as worms consume their body. There is no afterlife, no purgatory—one life ends while everyone else’s continues.

On the contrary, monsters like Theo get to suffer for what they’ve done, for the lives that they’ve taken. Monsters like Theo get trapped underground, they get punished for their existence, for being something that should’ve never been created in the first place.

And then there’s good guys—like Scott, and Liam, and Corey—who have only ever had the best intentions even though they’ve been cursed with a power they didn’t ask for. Maybe they’ll get to go somewhere nicer when they die. Theo hopes so, at least.

Theo’s favorite stories from Sunday school were always those of Lucifer, fallen angel. Got a little too power hungry, and God kicked him out of heaven. He is the serpent, manipulating and persuading people into lives of sin and torment.

Sounds oddly familiar.

But, Theo is an atheist.

He doesn’t believe in God, or even the devil.

But through it all, he still believes in demons, because they live in his head.

*

“Why do you keep trying to save me?”

The question holds a lot more weight than Liam realizes, and Theo really doesn’t want to delve into it, at least not while Gabe is still in front of them, writhing around on the floor of the locker room in a puddle of broken glass and blood.

“You think it’ll make Scott forget about everything you did? Just let you into the pack?” Liam spits, “Scott is never going to trust you.”

That’s fine, Theo thinks, he’s malicious and rotten and vile, and he wouldn’t even trust himself.

The words still hurt, though. A small, naive part of the chimera still yearning for acceptance from the alpha.

“You might wanna remember what Scott’s goal has been all along,” Theo responds, “Keep people alive.”

Theo deflects, as always, doesn’t let Liam know that he’s terrified of the beta becoming like him. Theo can’t tell Liam that he’s one of the few good things in this town and that he doesn’t want the beta being ruined by blood shed by his own hands. Liam doesn’t know what it means to kill, how it feels, and as long as Theo’s around he’ll make sure that he never finds out.

*

In the midst of chaos, Theo finds comfort in the fact that he’s allowed to stick around and play pack for a while.

He’s in the tunnels with Mason, and god, just being down there is enough to send his paranoia skyrocketing, but he needs to be useful, needs to prove he can help.

It’s admirable, really—how fearless Mason is, for a human, at least. The boy who runs with wolves, who is practically defenseless in the face of any supernatural threat, yet will put everything on the line to defend his friends.

Theo won’t use the word pack, because it’s not fair. Humans don’t get to be included in packs, especially not in place of perfectly capable chimeras that are fighting to prove their worth.

“We’re scared. We’re all scared to come back down here,” Mason admits, steps halting in front of a forked path in the tunnels.

Me too, Theo thinks. He’s terrified, because each step that they take down here Theo has to hold his breath, just waiting for the ground to split apart again, waiting to be dragged down, waiting for the earth to swallow him once more.

A voice in the back of his head tells him that this is all a trap, that he’s been lured into a false sense of security. He knows the sword is broken, saw it with his own two eyes, but maybe his time is up.

Theo doesn’t think he’ll be brought back a second time.

“You’re afraid,” Mason observes, despite the fact that he is the one whose heartbeat is skyrocketing, who smells of anxiety and fear. Not Theo. The human takes a step closer to Theo, eyes trailing over the chimera’s face, “I feel it, too.”

Mason keeps walking, and Theo can’t bring himself to understand how a human can push through the stifling fear when it feels like Theo himself is suffocating, like he’s drowning in it.

Theo flicks out a claw and digs it into the underside of his own hand. Blood drips from his palm and he keeps going, face deliberately blank and uncaring. The two boys keep walking, continuing down an admittedly unnerving path. Arguing is their distraction, because that’s the only thing that Theo is really good at.

“Whatever it takes just to save your own ass, just nobody else’s,” Mason sighs.

Theo bristles, because he’s so damn tired of having to prove that he’s fighting for the same cause as the rest of the pack, “Look, I’m here, aren’t I? Maybe I wanna be in the pack.”

Mason stops walking altogether, disbelief etched into his features, “Yeah, right,” and he sounds angry, angrier than Theo has ever heard him sound before, “You expect me to believe that? A pack is about trust.”

Theo wants to stop him right there, to grab Mason by the shirt and snarl into his face that he doesn’t get to explain the meaning of pack to him, that Theo should know what a pack feels like way more than Mason, a human, should.

And the way Mason is looking at him says everything, tells Theo that they’ll never see him as anything but a killer. That his hands aren’t clean and never will be.

“I mean, the first thing you do is figure out a way to kill all of us!” he continues, “And, and, it doesn’t matter who forgets. I won’t.”

Theo’s breath catches in his throat because Mason knows, he’s not sure how, but Mason knows that Theo’s hope has been lying in Liam’s hands. That Liam makes Theo feel like he still has a chance here, that he should stick around.

Mason is shaking now, voice heavy with spite, “I saw Scott’s mom. I saw what you did. And as much as I’m terrified of what’s down here, I’m way more terrified of turning my back on you.”

Aaron appears from behind them and Theo shifts, pushes Mason out of the way. He tries to let his actions say the words he couldn’t. This is who I was, but not who I am. I swear, I’m changing. Let me show you.

Everything seems a lot more disingenuous when Theo can’t take Mason’s pain.

And Theo doesn’t understand, because he’s seen Scott do it before, and even Liam, and they make it look so fucking easy, but his hand has a vice grip on Mason’s wrist and nothing is happening—

“You can’t take pain if you don’t care,” the boy pants, looking up at the chimera.

Theo’s chest is heaving, tears swimming in his vision that he’s trying so damn hard to will away. He doesn’t let go of Mason’s arm, staring at the point of connection as if he can force black veins to suddenly start climbing up his own arms, as if he just needs to believe a little harder for the pain to start leeching away.

He doesn’t want to prove Mason right. Theo cares. He cares too fucking much and it manifests itself as a physical pain in his chest, telling him that there’s somewhere he’s meant to be right now, and it’s not above ground, a monster trying to play hero with an injured human.

Theo’s grip goes slack, and he stands up, turning again to face Aaron. His eyes flash, claws are drawn, and fangs extended. He distantly hears Mason tell him to stop, that fighting is just giving the Anuk-ite what it wants.

But Theo is selfish, and what he wants is to be torn apart if that’s what it’ll take for someone to see that he has more than his self preservation in mind.

He thinks about being taught that you’re supposed to give sacrifices to God to show your appreciation, remembers his parents writing checks and slipping them into the offering baskets passed along the aisles. Jesus died to show his followers how much he cared for them.

So, Theo offers his body as a living sacrifice, he waits for Aaron to fight back, to finish the job.

He is baptized in blood and tears, but lying prone on the floor next to Mason, Theo is still breathing.

A fallen angel with broken and battered wings, a crooked halo. He feels anything but holy.

Chapter Text

Civilians walk the streets armed like militia. 

Theo’s not sure how it all happened so fast, how none of them noticed sooner that the predators have turned to prey. 

He knows Scott is trying his best—they all are—to keep everyone safe, to formulate a plan that will put an end to this war, that will return some semblance of security back to Beacon Hills. But Theo can’t help but feel like they’re playing right into Gerard’s hand, like they’re practically offering themselves up as sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. The war can’t be won without casualties. 

Theo feels death on their heels, and a small part of him wants it, if only to kill the overwhelming fear and uncertainty, but survival is something that has been so ingrained in him for the past decade of his life that he can’t even bring himself to deny Scott’s request to help out the pack members at the hospital. He refuses to stand around and watch things go to shit. That, and it’s sort of nice feeling needed, even if he’s only a second thought. 

*

Theo receives a warm welcome upon arriving at the hospital in the form of guns, guns, guns, and Liam. 

He has just enough time to pull the beta into the elevator and frantically push the ‘close door’ button before rounds of bullets are peppering the walls. 

“What are you doing here?” Liam pants, staring at Theo as if he’s just a figment of the boy’s imagination. 

Theo takes a steadying breath, running a hand through his hair as he tries to swallow past the overwhelming scent of gun powder, “I was just asking myself the same thing.” 

More rounds are fired at the doors of the elevator, causing sparks to cascade from the metal and fall to the ground. They need to do something, and do it soon, because there’s no way in hell the elevator can withstand military-grade ammunition for long. 

Theo looks at Liam and knows exactly what the boy is thinking, how he doesn’t believe that they can make it out of this alive. Liam looks resigned to the idea that more likely than not, he’s going to spend his last moments on earth fighting against hunters in this hospital. It’s not the usual determined expression on his face, it’s the look of a boy who’s fighting a losing battle and knows it. 

And it’s so fucking wrong. 

“Look,” Theo speaks, breaking the tension, “I’m not dying for you.” 

It’s a lie, but he doesn’t know what else to say, how else to get Liam to stop looking like he’s mentally eulogizing himself already. Control your breathing, don't let him hear how fast your heart is beating. 

“I’m not dying for you either,” Liam shoots back, but there’s no heat behind the words. He breaks their eye contact like it physically pains him to look at Theo, like Theo’s the one pointing a gun at him.

“But,” Liam starts, staring down the elevator doors, “I will fight with you.”

Theo heaves a sigh of relief, because that’s all he really needs to hear, that the boy hasn’t given up.

“Okay…let’s fight.” 

The elevator doors open and Theo’s heart is pounding for all the right reasons, for once. 

Gunfire sings out around them, bullets flying but missing their targets. Theo and Liam are in synch, toppling hunters left and right. The ground is littered in unconscious bodies rather than bullet cartridges. It’s a good feeling, being ready to fight—fueled by adrenaline and a refusal to let Liam know that his earlier words were lies, that all self-preservation goes out the window when the beta’s safety is at stake. 

Theo makes a mental note to figure out why that is, why he feels an incessant need to protect the very much capable werewolf, later when there’s less chaos and bloodshed. 

But for now, he’s pulling Liam away from the spray of bullets being shot at them by Gabe, running for cover on aching legs. He would’ve taken the time to quip about the boy’s god-awful aim if it wasn’t for the fact that he feels the tell-tale sting of a bullet that has embedded itself in his shoulder.

This was a nice shirt, Theo thinks morosely, holding pressure to the wound and willing his body to heal faster, for once. Liam, who just seconds ago was by his side, throws himself at Gabe, struggling for control over the gun in the boy’s hands. 

Theo can’t watch this, can’t watch Liam haphazardly brawl the human when there’s an assault rifle just inches away from his head. The beta’s getting sloppy, fighting out of pure anger and instinct rather than with his brain. That’s how people get hurt, that’s how people get killed. 

But suddenly a round is fired into Gabe’s chest, a round probably meant for Liam, but he ducks away just in time to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. 

The human collapses, pathetically dragging himself across the floor and leaving a trail of blood in his path. There’s no logical reason for Theo to care, the boy just tried to kill him moments ago, but something about the visual is so damn heartbreaking. 

It’s like Theo’s whole world has narrowed down to this one point—to Gabe and his fear and his whimpers of pain—everything else blurring out. It’s not a conscious choice Theo makes to stumble over to the boy, to stand over him as he chokes on blood and weakly tries to apply pressure to the bleeding wounds littering his chest. 

“It hurts,” Gabe mumbles, glassy eyes not quite focusing on anything, “It hurts.”

Theo’s eyes are burning, emotion welling up in his throat that he forces himself to swallow because this isn’t the time or the place to break down. 

He looks at Gabe and all he can see is himself. All he can see is a boy that was recruited into a world that he knew nothing about, a boy driven by fear and misplaced trust trying to do what he thinks is right. The people who promised to protect him, to help him succeed are nowhere to be found as he lies on the floor of the hospital, dying. Theo can feel the betrayal, the hurt, the realization—he was only ever just a weapon to them.  

Gabe’s eyes meet his and something inside Theo breaks. 

With shaky hands he grabs Gabe’s wrist, and the boy watches, confusion giving way to a resigned gaze. As he pushes up the sleeve of the Gabe’s shirt, Theo is mentally screaming at himself to stop, that he’s already proven he’s not capable of caring enough to take away someone’s pain, but he has to force himself to try, because no one else here would. 

He holds firm the point of contact, readjusting his grip because nothing is happening—and panic starts to well in his chest because Gabe is still sitting there, suffering, and Theo can’t do anything to stop it—

Until, suddenly, black veins crawl up Theo’s forearm, and with them a burning sensation that brings tears to his eyes. Gabe’s hitched breathing starts to slow, and all the boy can do is watch as the pain is leeched from his body. 

“Does it hurt anymore?” Theo asks, voice barely above a whisper. 

Gabe shakes his head, the motion almost imperceptible, as he answers, “No.”

“Good,” Theo remarks, but it’s broken and comes out sounding more like an apology than an affirmation. An ‘I’m sorry’ because Gabe isn’t going to get a second chance like Theo did, an ‘I’m sorry’ because everyone will remember him for the person he became under the pressure of fear-mongering adults with guns, an ‘I’m sorry’ because there’s not really anything else to say. 

Gabe’s head starts to lull against the cabinet behind him, eyes drooping and not fluttering back open. Theo can’t feel a pulse beneath his fingertips anymore. 

He wants to cry, wants to scream and yell about how fucked up this world is, how people will sooner tear each other apart than help one another, but in the loss of one heartbeat he’s suddenly all too aware of the several other heartbeats behind him. He’d almost forgotten he wasn’t alone here. 

Theo hears Liam utter a “you lost” to Monroe over the walkie talkie left on the body of an unconscious hunter. 

His chest feels tight as he stands, ignoring the voices calling his name, walks out of Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital, and doesn’t look back. 

 

Chapter Text

The first place Theo goes after leaving everyone behind in the hospital is Deaton’s clinic. This time, the veterinarian is there, and doesn’t look surprised to see him slink through the door in the middle of the night. He looks even less surprised to see Theo remove his hand from his shoulder to reveal a gunshot wound, carefully tugging off his shirt so as not to jostle the injury. 

One glance at the wound and Deaton is pulling on latex gloves, rifling around in his drawers for medical equipment of some sort. 

“You drove yourself out here with a bullet lodged in your shoulder, rather than just having Melissa remove it at the hospital?” Deaton asks carefully, hands ghosting around the bleeding wound. 

Theo shrugs, instantly regretting the motion when pain shoots up through his shoulder blade. 

This time, he uses his words, asking, “How’d you know we were at the hospital?” 

“Scott called me, presumably before the fighting began,” Deaton explains, “He informed me that there could be a few injured supernaturals running around tonight. I figured it was best I stayed here, offer my assistance to those in need.”   

Theo nods slightly, bracing himself as the veterinarian begins to tug at the bullet in his shoulder. It hurts, as it should, but Theo stays eerily still, only moving once he hears the metallic clang of the bullet dropping onto the examination table. 

Theo stands, pulls his shirt back on and mumbles a ‘thanks’ to the doctor, body moving on autopilot toward the door. He only pauses when Deaton calls his name, hand freezing on the door handle. 

“Are you doing alright?” Deaton asks, voice light but his dark eyes weighing heavy into Theo’s. 

“Fine,” Theo answers quickly, “S’already healing up. Thanks, again.”

He knows that’s not what Deaton meant, knows that he was asking a question that Theo really didn’t want to answer, mostly because he wasn’t sure he knew how to. Theo turns back to the exit, taking one step out the door before he stops again.

“Don’t tell them I came by,” Theo instructs the doctor, and proceeds to leave the clinic.

*

Theo’s not running away. He’s not. Running away would mean he had somewhere to run to.

So, Theo’s not running, but he needs time to figure shit out. To figure out what the hell he’s supposed to do with his life now that there aren’t any monsters to keep him busy, now that he’s come to the jarring realization that there’s a whole lifetime ahead of him that he no longer has any plans for. 

It’s a little overwhelming, to say the least. So Theo drives, letting the road signs blur together as he tries to put distance between himself and all of his problems. 

He doesn’t get very far. 

It’s a small, barely noticeable sign on the side of the road that halts all of his progress. 

You Are Now Leaving Beacon Hills.

—Come Again Soon!

Reflexively, Theo’s foot jams against the brake, the truck skidding to a stop in the middle of the empty road. He thinks about the pack, about Monroe and all her followers, about how nothing is ever quite safe in Beacon Hills, like constantly holding your breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

Theo thinks about Liam. 

What’s keeping you here? You’re free. 

Theo would love to tuck tail and run, to leave Beacon Hills and the entire supernatural world far behind him, but he can’t. Because of what he is, because of what he’s done. 

Because it’s not fair.

Not fair that Liam, a high-schooler who should be learning how to drive and playing lacrosse and taking SATs, is instead constantly trying to save an entire town without getting any sort of recognition. And it shouldn’t matter, that shit doesn’t have anything to do with Theo sticking around, he certainly hasn’t laid down roots in Beacon Hills. But whether he likes it or not, Theo is a soul seeking catharsis, a boy trying to right his wrongs. 

God, when did he get so soft? 

Theo can’t get himself to drive by that sign, like if he allows the truck to idle an inch past it, he’ll be forced to close a chapter of his life, to leave all unfinished business behind and never look back. He wonders if he were to stay there, to remain precariously parked in the middle of the street, if cars would swerve around him, or would they ram into the truck until it crumpled and folded into an unrecognizable mass of metal and glass and rubber. 

For some reason, the latter seems a lot less scary than pressing his foot on the gas and driving into unknown territory, starting a new life where no one has ever heard the name Theo Raeken. 

Without a second thought, Theo reverses his truck and heads back in the same direction he came from. 

*

Days pass in a blur of aimless driving, always edging closer and closer to the demarcation line between Beacon Hills and the rest of the world. 

Theo’s staring down the sign again, only this time his truck is parked on the side of the road as opposed to the middle of potential oncoming traffic. 

He thinks about his future here, about getting a job, maybe an apartment, too, once he makes enough money, but if Theo’s being honest with himself, he’d rather die than live a life punctuated by a monotonous cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat. At least the constant threats to his life in Beacon Hills keep him both occupied and somewhat entertained. 

Theo used to be motivated, used to have aspirations, maniacal, exploitative and tyrannical aspirations, sure, but aspirations nonetheless. Since coming back it’s like he’s looking into a mirror but can’t recognize the reflection—Theo doesn’t know who he is, he knows the boy the Dread Doctors turned him into. 

The boy who took joy in other people’s misery and called it happiness, a boy who hid violence behind charm and a handsome face, who knew power is the most addictive drug of them all. 

The world’s most insecure narcissist, cracking under the pressure of everybody’s eyes on him. 

Now Theo’s just a boy with cold feet and no plans for his future, with a heart that feels wrong in his chest. Just a concept of a person, only vague, only outlined, trying his best to navigate a world he doesn’t understand. So many fucking façades, he’s lost track of which one of them is really him. Maybe none of them are, maybe they never were. 

Theo’s phone buzzing on the dashboard snaps him out of his reverie; it’s a text from Liam. 

 -don’t know where you went if you’re still around

 but theres a pack meeting today @ scott’s 7pm 

Theo scowls down at the message, gritting his teeth as he types out a reply. 

-Good thing I’m not pack. 

*

“Theo,” Stiles greets, eyes not so subtly scanning the interior of the truck, “So, this is where you’ve been hiding, huh?”

Theo was in the backseat of his truck, on the verge of sleep, only to get visited by Beacon Hills’ favorite sheriff, this time with his son in tow. You’d think that after the shitstorm that went down just barely over a week ago, cops would be more occupied with disarming the residents of the town rather than kicking the homeless kid out of his sleeping spot. Nope, no such luck. 

“Sheriff,” Theo nods tersely at the officer before his gaze returns to the boy beside him, “Stiles, thought you would’ve gone back to school by now.” 

“Yeah, and I thought you would’ve been put back underground by now, but I guess everyone’s full of surprises, huh?” Stiles retorts, smug grin on his face. 

Before Theo can respond, Sheriff Stilinski shoves Stiles in the direction of the patrol car, heaving an exasperated sigh as he looks back at Theo, “He’s uh, flying back out to school tomorrow morning.” 

“Great,” Theo responds, though his voice is noticeably flat and disinterested, “Look, I’ll get going. You don’t have to give me the whole—”

“Do you need somewhere to stay?” Sheriff Stilinski interrupts, leaning in closer with one hand resting against the roof of the truck as if he’s afraid that Theo would suddenly speed off. 

Theo falters, brain rattling around for some sort of response but coming up empty. 

“I’ve got a perfectly good couch you can use, even if it’s just for one night,” he continues.

Theo could feel the Sheriff’s hesitation, watching as he glances back at where Stiles is sitting in the passenger seat of the police car. The bitter stench of pity that reaches Theo’s nostrils makes him want to roll up his window and drive away before Stilinski can even protest. 

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary,” Theo responds, starting up his car to send a hint to the Sheriff. 

Stilinski gets the message, taking a step away from the truck. He nods, but looks disappointed, like he believed Theo would’ve actually taken him up on the offer. 

Theo refuses to be anyone’s fucking charity case, their random act of kindness.  

“Okay,” Sheriff Stilinski sighs, taking another step back from Theo’s truck, “Drive safely.”

Theo nods, pulls onto the road, driving and driving and driving until he’s sure Stiles and Sheriff Stilinski and anyone he’s ever known are far behind him. This time, he’s a horse with blinders on, doesn’t even notice when he passes a small sign on the side of the road, and just keeps on going. 

 

You Are Now Leaving Beacon Hills.

—Come Again Soon!

Chapter Text

They’re in the morgue, Theo and Tara, sitting across from each other on the cold tile floor. All is quiet aside from the humming of the fluorescent lights in the ceiling.  Theo’s holding her still-beating heart in his hands, the gaping hole in his chest a mirror image of hers in front of him. And it’s heavy. 

it’s heavy, it’s heavy, it’s heavy, it’s heavy, it’s heavy, it’s heavy, it’s heavy, its so—

His arms are straining under the weight of the organ, hands aching and trembling trying to keep a grasp on it. Tara is eerily silent, eyes like black marbles staring intently at Theo rather than the heart in his hands. 

“You can have it back,” Theo speaks, voice wavering, “I’m sorry. You can have it back.” 

She says nothing. 

It’s just so fucking heavy. 

Theo’s whole arms are shaking now, muscles struggling to hold up the heart. The heartbeat is almost violent, a constant thrumming that drowns out everything around them. It’s too heavy, he can feel his hands breaking, bones cracking under the weight. 

it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it—

“Please,” Theo begs, gasping around the pain, “Please take it. Take it back, Tara, please.”

She crawls forward, a jerky, stilted movement, and places a hand on top the heart. More weight, bones splinter, fracturing but not healing. 

Theo’s empty chest is heaving, struggling for breath that won’t come. His arms have started drooping, growing weak under the weight. He can’t feel his hands anymore, he can’t feel anything anymore. 

He starts to slump forward, the edges of his vision going black and fuzzy as teary eyes gaze at the decaying face of his sister. 

“You can have it,” Theo whispers, eyes struggling to stay open, “It’s yours, it’s yours, it’s yours.” 

Tara opens her mouth as if she’s going to speak, but Theo can’t hear her, can’t hear anything over the deafening heartbeat. 

His eyes fall shut and all he can see is red, red, red. 

***

Healing process comes in waves. Some days Theo is a wreck, other days are better.

Today isn’t one of those days. 

Too many nights without sleep leave Theo feeling shitty at best. He chases away nightmares with gas station cups of coffee and energy drinks that are probably just as bad for him as not sleeping is, constantly checking his rearview mirror as if he’ll see Tara in the reflection. 

His heart is a poison inside of his chest, cold and unforgiving, spreading more toxins with each and every beat. Poison, bitter and vile, destroying him from within. He thinks that maybe if it was gone, maybe if he takes it away, then all the guilt and the nightmares and pain will go with it. There’s a giant barrier between who Theo is and who he wants to be and that barrier is beating and pumping inside of his chest, circulating venom, and he needs to get rid of it. 

His heart, Theo has realized, is why everything has felt so wrong since he was brought back. It is death and decay, it is rotten. 

That’s how he ends up laying in the outer bed of his truck—not willing to make a mess of the interior—sinking his own claws so deep into his chest that the tips disappear underneath the flesh. Rivulets of blood stream from the puncture wounds as Theo continues clawing, digging through muscle and tissue reaching for the offending organ, the one still beating when it shouldn’t be. 

His shirt is quickly growing sticky and red, but his body keeps trying to heal around the claws in his chest, wounds closing and reopening. There’s the metallic tang of blood in the back of his throat, but it’s not enough. 

Tara lives in his chest, and all he wants to do is free her, to crack open his ribcage and let her out. 

Theo stifles a pained groan as he forces his claws deeper into his chest, imagining his fingertips settling around his heart. And there’s just so much blood—on his hands, his clothes, streaming down into a puddle forming beneath him against the cold metal flatbed. 

His body is a canvas that he is tearing to shreds, ripping apart piece by piece. Theo is the artist, finger painting with crimson, an abstract masterpiece of gore and viscera. 

There’s a chill that’s settled in his bones, a cloud that descends upon his mind, and his fingers start to slow, losing their vigor. Theo wants this blanket-like haze to last forever—foggy, anemic, and thick. He can still feel the thrumming of his stolen heart, but it’s quieter now, a barely-there beat that lulls him into a passive daze. His body is wracked with tremors, like it’s fighting against itself, like it’s devoting all of its effort into putting itself back together. 

Theo doesn’t even notice when his clawed hands falls from his chest, glistening with ichor like rubies as they hit the surface beneath him with a dull thud. He’s just so tired. So tired, and so cold. The air is thick and the fog around his mind thicker. His eyes are heavy. 

They fall shut, and he has sanguinary dreams. It’s the best sleep he’s gotten in a while. 

*

Theo isn’t sure how much later it is when he wakes up, but the sun is just beginning to rise, casting a warm orange glow over everything. 

His head is pounding, an incessant throbbing pain that has settled behind his eyelids. He sits up and grimaces at the feeling of dried blood crusting over his skin and clothes, sticky and red in the bed of his truck. It looks like a murder scene, yet there’s no corpse, no wounds to be found on his body—just smooth, unblemished skin covered in flaking blood. 

It takes longer than it should for Theo to remember what happened, what he did—but when it all finally comes back to him, when he remembers the claws in his chest and blood on his lips, bile rises up in his throat so fast he has to lean over the edge of the truck and gag to avoid adding to the mess he’s already made.

Theo expects to feel embarrassed or upset, even remorseful, but the only thing that settles over him is a disappointing numbness. He doesn’t think about how it felt, refuses to think about why he chose to do it. Instead, he pulls off his soiled shirt and gets behind the steering wheel. 

A gas station shower with shitty water pressure and even shittier temperature control, a car wash, and then it’s as if nothing ever happened. 

Theo’s admittedly surprised to see that he’d missed a few texts from Liam while he was…preoccupied, the night before. It’s been a couple weeks since their last brief correspondence. 

-are you ever coming back? (11:14 pm)

-you should’ve let me know that you were leaving. (12:01 am)   

Theo never left, not really. He had made it out of Beacon Hills for a few hours at most until he was drawn back like a magnet. He’s still not sure why. 

He stares at the messages on his screen, fingers tapping out replies but deleting them without ever hitting send. Theo huffs out a sigh and slides his phone into his pocket. It never used to feel this hard to just sit inside his truck, the sound of his breathing alone too loud in the otherwise silent vehicle.

Everyone knows that lone wolves, they don’t make it on their own. 

 

Maybe he should’ve left when he had the chance.

Chapter Text

Theo Raeken is a glutton for punishment. That is the sole reason he finds himself standing outside Deaton’s clinic, working up the courage to walk in and ask the veterinarian for a job. 

Sure, maybe he’s threatened the older man’s life a couple times, maybe physically harassed him a little bit, but people change, right? Theo wanting to work at the veterinary clinic couldn’t possibly be the craziest idea. With Scott off to college, he’s sure Deaton could use an extra hand or two. 

Plus, Theo needs the extra cash, his stash of money from the whole Ghost Riders situation starting to dwindle down enough to incite a little bit of panic in the chimera.

There are other jobs, sure, jobs that would probably pay a lot better than an assistant position at a small animal clinic, but those jobs require resumes and interviews and possibly high school diplomas—a lot of shit that Theo is pretty sure his supernatural abilities won’t help him with at all. At least with Deaton, he can be useful. 

“How long do you intend on standing outside before coming in?” 

It’s Deaton, hovering just inside the clinic with a half-smile playing on his lips as he regards the boy in front of him. 

“I…I was just—” Theo cuts himself off with a shrug and follows the doctor inside.  

Once inside, Deaton busies himself with pouring various herbs into tiny jars lining the counter. 

“So, is there anything in particular you need?” Deaton asks, back turned to the chimera, “Not that I don’t appreciate the unexpected company.”

Theo nods, clearing his throat, “Yeah, actually. I was wondering if you’d be willing to…give me a job here?” 

At the request, Deaton pauses, slowly turning around to look at the boy. 

“I know Scott used to intern for you,” Theo continues, forcing the words past his lips, “Thought maybe I could do the same thing.”

Deaton looks surprised, almost. He’s never been much of a visually expressive man. 

“You’d like to work here?” The veterinarian repeats, regarding Theo thoughtfully. 

Theo nods slowly, a sigh passing his lips as he answers again, “Yep.” 

“I can’t promise you more than minimum wage,” Deaton states after a pause, as if that would be a deal breaker. And, god, Theo is so grateful that he didn’t have to bring up the topic of a salary himself. 

“That’s fine,” Theo answers quickly, “And I can start whenever. I have time. Lots of it.” 

Deaton smiles then, small and close-lipped like he knows more than he’s letting on, “Okay.” 

Theo leaves feeling a little less lost, like maybe he’s finally taking a step in the right direction, whatever that is. 

This is a start, at least. 

*

Theo texts Liam first this time, because, once again, glutton for punishment. 

-I’m still around. Did you need something? 

He feels regret clawing its way up his throat as soon as the messages are sent. Regret which gives way to a weird sort of relief when Liam responds just minutes later. 

-yea we need to talk 

-pick me up after lacrosse

Relief which morphs into a vague anxiety that settles in Theo’s chest that he desperately tries to tamp down as he convinces himself that he is not staying in Beacon Hills for Liam, that a beta werewolf with anger issues and really blue eyes isn’t the reason that Theo can’t get the hell out of this godforsaken town. 

It doesn’t work. 

*

Liam greets Theo with a wicked uppercut to the jaw. A punch which Theo could sense coming but doesn’t even try to dodge, figuring it’s better to let the beta get it out of his system. 

“Hello to you, too,” Theo snarks, bringing a hand up to cradle his aching jaw. 

And Liam, he’s visibly seething, fists clenching and unclenching by his sides as if he’s deciding whether or not Theo deserves to get punched a couple more times just for good measure. 

“You—I should kick your ass, you know that?” Liam snaps, blue eyes trained on the chimera.

Theo maintains a mask of nonchalance, eyes lazily scanning the surrounding area before snapping back to Liam’s, “You really wanna do this in your school’s parking lot, or are we going somewhere?” 

Liam growls, actually fucking growls at Theo, before climbing into the passenger seat of his truck, sulking while he waits inside for the chimera. After a beat, Theo follows suit and gets behind the steering wheel, starting up the car as he turns to look at Liam. 

“Gotta destination in mind?” Theo asks as he pulls out of the parking lot. 

Liam’s tossing his lacrosse bag in the backseat of the truck, an action that has Theo rolling his eyes. The question goes unanswered as Liam stays twisted in his seat, staring at the backseat upholstery haphazardly covered by a blanket.

“Are those…claw marks?” the beta asks, nose scrunched up as his eyes trail the seats. 

“Yes,” Theo answers casually, desperately hoping Liam won’t press the matter.

But, of course he does, asking, “How did they get there?”

“Rough car sex and claws don’t really mix,” Theo shrugs, the lie slipping past his lips with ease, “Gotta get it patched up, thanks for reminding me.”

It’s a lot easier than explaining the nightmares that spawned the shredded seats, along with the whole sleeping in his truck thing in the first place. 

Liam has an odd look on his face that Theo can’t quite place, but snaps out of it quickly, changing the subject as he asks, “You hungry?”

“I could eat,” Theo replies, a smirk tugging at his lips.

They end up at half-empty diner, sitting across from each other in one of the shiny, black vinyl booths. Liam hides his face behind the menu in his hands despite the fact that they’ve already ordered, as if there’s something sacrilegious about getting seen with Theo outside of pack-related endeavors. It annoys the chimera more than it should. 

“Liam,” he begins, irritation lacing his tone, “You dragged me out here to talk. So…do that.”

The menu slides a little bit lower, blue eyes peeking over the edge of it, “Didn’t drag you out here, you drove,” Liam mumbles, finally setting the menu down. 

Theo shoots him an exasperated look in response, prompting the boy to speak again.

“Where have you been?” Liam asks, voice small and oddly meek. 

Theo raises an eyebrow at that, shrugging as he answers, “Around, I guess.”

“No, you weren’t—” Liam shakes his head, fingers raised in air quotes, “around. You just disappeared, and…and you could’ve at least come to the pack meeting!”

Theo’s brow furrows in confusion, “Is this really about me not coming to the pack meeting?”

“No!” Liam answers, “Well, partly? You still should have been there.”

“I’m not pa—” Theo begins, only to get cut off by the beta. 

“Dude, that doesn’t even matter!” Liam interrupts, voice oozing frustration, “What if things didn’t go back to normal or something? What if we were still targets?”

Theo figures he hadn’t ever really considered that, opting to just push the whole war against supernaturals thing out of his head once he had left the hospital.

“Right. How are people taking it?” he asks, “I haven’t noticed any particularly murderous glares from anybody around here aside from you.”

Liam sighs, running a hand through his hair, “Everybody’s sorta written the whole thing off as a random case of mass hysteria, you know? Like 1930s War of the Worlds type shit…I guess people would rather believe an entire city collectively hallucinated the existence of werewolves and proceeded to start a war against them rather than accept that maybe, just maybe, supernaturals exist.”

“Huh,” Theo snorts, “Sounds like Beacon Hills to me.”

“Yep,” Liam replies, then freezes, eyes snapping back to the chimera’s with a sudden intensity, “Don’t change the subject! We were talking about you leaving.”

Theo takes a deep breath, crossing his arms against his chest, “I don’t understand why you’re so stuck on this. Weren’t you the one asking why I hadn’t left yet a couple weeks ago? I don’t have any obligations to you or your pack, Liam.” 

“Because you’re my…” Liam pauses briefly, gazing at the chimera, “responsibility. You’re my responsibility.” 

Theo isn’t sure why the statement disappoints him. He’s also not sure why he hears Liam’s heart skip at the statement. He doesn’t have much time to think about it though, as their waitress sets down their plates in front of them. The boys eat in a tense silence punctuated by stolen glances and the scraping of silverware against plates. 

“You ran away,” Liam finally speaks, ending their unspoken vow of silence.

Theo levels the beta with a blank look, a french fry held half-way to his mouth before he throws it back down on his plate. 

“God, you selfish asshole. You ran away and didn’t even say anything!” Liam continues, voice raising enough to garner a couple of strange looks from the other patrons of the diner, “What if Monroe had come back? You know she escaped, don’t you? What if we needed you?”

It’s almost incredible how easily Liam triggers his own anger, sometimes. So much so that Theo feels a reciprocal indignation start to well up in his stomach. 

It’s always been about necessity, hasn’t it? Theo was brought back because the pack needed him, he helped fight time and time again because they needed him. They call his name and Theo comes running, at the beck and call of people who would probably still send him back to hell if they had the chance, who would fight with him against unimaginable terrors and yet still see Theo as the biggest monster of them all. 

How fucking pathetic.

“Don’t you dare say that I ran away,” Theo seethes, “I stayed and fought for you.”

It’s a jarringly honest confession that has shock replacing the fury written all over Liam’s face. 

“I stayed and fought, despite who I am…despite what I’ve done to your pack,” he continues, “And it almost killed me. I have always been here for you ever since you brought me back, so—”

“But—” Liam tries to interrupt. 

“No,” Theo cuts him off sharply, “Don’t. Just…you said I disappeared, but did you even try looking for me, Liam? Did anyone?” 

The silence that follows is enough of an answer for Theo.

“I wouldn’t have been hard to find. I never left,” Theo finishes, gaze glued to his half-eaten meal as he tries to rein in his erratic heartbeat. 

They’ve both quickly lost their appetites. Theo asks the waitress for some boxes and the bill. 

It would’ve felt great to get the hell out of the diner if not for the fact that Theo still needed to drop Liam off at his house. Liam looks as if he’s thinking the same thing, reluctantly crawling into the passenger seat beside Theo. 

They sit side by side in a miserable silence that swallows their voices whole. They’re well on their way to the beta’s house before Liam speaks. 

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes, and he sounds just as unsure of the reason why as Theo is. 

Theo shrugs, eyes trained on the road, “It’s fine,” he says, because he’s too tired to argue right now.

It’s not fine, it hasn’t been fine in a while, but Theo isn’t given time to dwell on that fact as he pulls up to Liam’s house. The beta doesn’t hesitate to grab his things and head towards to the door, but pauses before he’s too far away for the chimera to hear him. 

“I’m glad you stuck around, Theo, really,” Liam says, turning to walk inside the house. 

Theo makes sure the beta is far, far away before he releases a whispered me too. 

He just hopes it’s a step in the right direction.

Chapter Text

Theo is seven when he first meets the Dread Doctors. Seven years old and his only notion of monsters are the ones from his favorite book Where The Wild Things Are

The Dread Doctors have scary metal masks and even scarier robotic voices, but they promise that they’re here to help Theo. They indoctrinate him in their supernatural ideology, use words and concepts too big and abstract for Theo’s young brain to comprehend, so he just nods and agrees because they promise to make him just like Max in the book, king of all wild things. In the mirror when Theo brushes his teeth, he gnashes his imaginary fangs and holds up his imaginary claws—a rehearsal for the day he gets to become a real monster. He goes to school and brags to his friends Scott and Stiles about being soon crowned king of the wild things, but they don’t believe him. 

Theo’s fine with that, though, because the Dread Doctors assure him that soon enough, his time will come. They say it’ll be just like the story.

It isn’t. 

When Theo turns eight a few months later, the Dread Doctors say that it’s time to begin the process. Something about their clinical voices and their cold, obscured gazes suddenly seems a lot more threatening than before. Theo isn’t sure he still wants to be king of all wild things anymore, and he hasn’t so much as glanced at his former favorite book in a long time. He’s garnered a new fascination with outer space after learning about the solar system in class and decides he would much rather be an astronaut than a monster now. The Dread Doctors tell him that it’s too late to change his mind. 

They tell him he has to hurt his sister, and, sure, maybe Theo and Tara don’t always get along—especially when she teases him for sleeping with a nightlight—but Theo still wouldn’t ever deliberately hurt his older sister. 

Until the day he does, shoving her off the bridge in the forest they used to go on nature walks in before she has any chance to save herself. Theo screws his eyes shut, refusing to look down into the river below even as he hears the dull thud and splash of Tara’s body landing against rocks in the water. His eyes snap open only when he catches the choked cries of his sister, sees the way she uselessly flails her limbs against the current. He stands above her and watches what will be the last moments of her life, trying to convince himself that everything will really be okay. 

But Theo is eight and until this moment, his only experience of death was when his goldfish died. He thinks about the way it floated upside down near the surface of the water, body completely still just like Tara’s is now. His mom had flushed it down the toilet that day. Theo wonders if they’ll do the same to Tara’s body. He hopes not. 

He got another goldfish the week after, but he doesn’t think he’s gonna get another Tara.

The Dread Doctors quickly come to collect her body, manhandling her pale and limp form as if she wasn’t a living, breathing person just minutes ago, and that’s when Theo first feels the loss. A wave of dizziness hits him so fast that he doesn’t have time to notice himself hurtling toward the wood beneath him before everything goes black. 

When Theo wakes up hours later, it’s with a sudden surge of power and rage definitely too strong for an eight year old, with grey eyes turned golden, with fangs and claws that are suddenly not so imaginary anymore. 

It’s the worst thing he’s ever felt in his life. 

*

Buried memories keep springing up from the depths of Theo’s subconscious like weeds, pesky and stubborn and demanding to be seen. 

It’s always the most insignificant, the most seemingly arbitrary things that send him spiraling down a rabbit hole of repressed memories that Theo would much rather not think about, not because they’re bad memories per se, but because they remind him of a time that he knows he’ll never get back, of something he stole from himself. 

Like the bag of m&m’s that have fallen from the convenience store shelf—Tara’s favorite candy—or the scruffy calico kitten brought into Deaton’s clinic that held a jarring similarity to the cat that would sometimes sit on their front porch a whole decade ago, but would never come inside despite Theo and Tara’s offerings of canned tuna. 

Or the stupid broken beer bottle near the grass beside the spot that Theo decides to park in for the night. 

He thinks about the beach, about scouring through gritty sand and masses of shells for pieces of leftover bottles and jars that have turned to sea glass over time. 

“Sea glass starts out really sharp and poke-y, but then the ocean makes it all smooth and pretty, you see? It’s just like a really weird, sorta flat marble.”

 Tara grins brightly, a cloudy blue stone held proudly in her hand. It gets added to the pile of other ‘treasures’ they had found in their time at the beach.

Razor-sharp, all broken and busted shards, rounded and smoothed into something perfectly harmless. Theo feels like sea glass in reverse, something benign and innocuous chipped away at until all that’s left are jagged edges, a rough exterior that only a fool would touch with bare hands. 

Something good turned into a weapon at the hands of men with metal masks and promises of superpowers. He wonders if he’s always been predetermined to be a piece of shit or if the cards just fell that way, wonders if he ever had a chance to be something better than this. 

Theo can feel his past self clinging to him like a parasite, always one step behind him like a shadow. He is the knife sticking from his own back, the snake stuck in its skin, but Theo tells himself he isn’t the same fucked up person he was months ago, and that’s good enough.  

He crushes the remains of the beer bottle under his shoe, swallowing down regret and self-loathing as he feels the shards being ground into tiny, gritty particles almost indiscernible from the gravel beside it.

Sleep doesn’t come that night. 

*

“Whoa, whoa, whoa—what the hell is Theo doing here?” 

It’s Mason, frozen in the entryway to Liam’s living room with Corey in tow. Liam had insisted Theo come over Friday night, giving some bullshit explanation of it being important pack business, and that, no, he didn’t care that Theo isn’t ‘pack’. 

“Dude, please tell me you’re holding him as a captive or something,” he continues, eyes flitting between Liam and the chimera. 

“Free as a bird, actually,” Theo retorts, “Sorry to disappoint.” 

Liam speaks up then, “I invited him over…figured I might as well keep him in the loop on the supernatural happenings around here, since he’s sticking around.” 

The beta’s tone is just shy of nervous, staring up at his best friend as if looking for approval. 

Approval is the last thing Liam would be getting from Mason.

“Sticking around? As in staying in Beacon Hills?” Mason asks incredulously, a sarcastic laugh passing his lips, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” 

“Well…I don’t see a problem with it. Do you, Corey?” Liam looks to the smaller boy for backup. The younger chimera’s eyes widen as he fishes for an answer, opting to instead stay silent as his boyfriend speaks up once again. 

“Did everyone conveniently forget that he is a sociopathic serial killer? Tried to get you to murder your own alpha and then did it himself when you couldn’t get the job done? Just ‘cause he helped us out a little bit doesn’t change that,” Mason states, shaking his head in disbelief. 

“Was,” Liam corrects, shifting uncomfortably, “He was a sociopathic serial killer.”

Mason sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose, “God, dude, no—it doesn’t work like that. A killer who hasn’t killed in a while is still a killer. You’re not supposed to trust him, he isn’t our ally. He’s always been the most dangerous thing here.” 

“He’s been nothing but helpful to us, Mase!” Liam argues, quickly growing exasperated. 

“And he probably has ulterior motives,” Mason shrugs. 

“He is right here” Theo interrupts abruptly, standing up from his position on the couch, “And now he is leaving, because he clearly wasn’t meant to be apart of any of this.” 

“No, don’t, ” Liam objects.

Theo sighs, “Liam, I—”

“I think Theo should stay,” Corey interrupts, his soft voice much bolder and authoritative than normal. Mason stares at his boyfriend in disbelief, the scent of betrayal wafting off of him in waves, but Corey just barely meets his eyes and shrugs as if to say why not? 

After a beat, Mason relents, his voice clipped as he says, “Fine. Let’s just start the meeting.”

Quieter, but still perfectly audible for Theo’s chimera ears, Mason mumbles, “If only Malia wasn’t visiting Scott this weekend…”

The ‘important pack business’ that Liam insisted warranted Theo’s presence turns out to be a brief update on the status of Monroe and her makeshift army—still licking their wounds, still in hiding. There had been reports from packs farther south of Beacon Hills of slight hunter activity, but not enough to cause much concern. It’s a little unnerving, sure, knowing that somewhere out there, they could be plotting for a future attack on Beacon Hills’s supernatural community, but for now? Out of sight, out of mind. 

“So, uh, that concludes our brief pack meeting, I guess. Anyone wanna play GTA?” Liam asks, holding up a couple of Xbox controllers in his hands. 

Mason slowly stands up, grabbing his jacket from the armrest of the couch, “Sorry, dude, raincheck? Corey and I are gonna hit up Sinema. Why don’t you come with us?” 

Theo doesn’t miss the connotation of Mason’s offer, the emphasis on the word ‘you’. 

“Nah, I’ll pass,” Liam shrugs, nose scrunching up, “thanks, though.” 

As the couple gather their things and head out the door, Theo moves to do the same.

“You too, huh?” Liam huffs, controllers forgotten by his side.

Theo freezes, glancing back at the door as if he thinks the beta is talking to someone else, anyone but himself. 

“What, can’t you call up your girlfriend or something?” Theo asks, his socked feet absentmindedly tapping against the worn carpet of Liam’s living room floor.

At the question, Liam’s face darkens, something that has him looking away from Theo as he shrugs and answers, “Don’t have one anymore. She moved away after all the…you know.”

“Oh,” Theo says, because he’s not sure what else to say, because this feels like a topic that Liam would discuss with Mason or Corey or any of his other friends, but not Theo. Because him and Theo aren’t friends. 

He’s risked his life for Liam on several occasions now and sure, Liam has done the same, but that’s not how this works. 

They don’t hang out, or talk about life, or play video games together—they argue, and fight, and get on each others’ nerves constantly, and that’s as far as their camaraderie goes, Theo thinks.

But apparently it’s not, because something about the dejected look on Liam’s face has Theo clambering back towards the couch, hesitantly taking a seat beside the beta. Liam grins, then, small but genuine as he wordlessly hands Theo a controller. He cues up the game and Theo stares down at the white controller in his hand, fingers grazing against the buttons. 

“I don’t really know how to play,” Theo admits, and suddenly Liam is looking at him as if he’s grown three heads. 

“Dude.”

“Don’t call me dude,” Theo grumbles, eyes trained on the loading screen, “Not like I had that much time to play video games growing up.”

“Right, forgot. Too busy learning how to be a ruthless, supernatural weapon of mass destruction, huh?” Liam jokes, mouth clamping shut after the words leave his lips as if he regrets ever saying them out loud, “Sorry, that was—”

But Theo cuts him off with an amused snort, a nod of his head, “Pretty much.” 

So, Liam attempts to teach him, but mostly ends up just playing by himself after Theo decides that playing a video game that involves shooting up cars and committing crimes is a lot less interesting when you’ve experienced those things in real life. Eventually, even Liam gives up on the game’s objectives and resorts to driving around the landscape aimlessly as him and Theo talk.

Like friends.

Like this is normal. 

Like there wasn’t a point in time in which Theo tried to destroy everything and everyone sacred to Liam and his pack. 

It’s a type of closeness that Theo hasn’t felt in a long time, and he’s not sure what to make of that. 

Theo’s reverie shatters the moment Liam’s mother and stepfather come back from their date night. He watches distantly, an observer to a private moment as Liam stands and hugs his stepfather, gives his mother a kiss on the cheek. The way they smile at him, eyes seeping adoration and contentedness and love—Theo has to look away. 

Suddenly, he remembers that this isn’t his normal, it’s Liam’s. Theo feels like he’s suffocating in the utter wrongness of this situation, of being let into someone’s home, bearing witness to the most intimate part of their life, of seeing a happy family when he tore his own apart. 

Because Theo has a dead sister that he only sees in nightmares now, and parents that grow fainter and fainter in his memories each day that passes. 

“Theo?” 

It’s Liam’s voice, and suddenly Theo remembers that he is a guest in this home and has yet to introduce himself.

So he slaps on charming grin that doesn’t quite reach his eyes and shuffles forward, shaking Dr. “David is fine” Geyer’s hand and being pulled into a hug by Mrs. “call me Jenna” Geyer. 

And they’re happy. 

They’re so damn happy.

And they look at Theo and know nothing about all the shit he’s done—and it feels so wrong, feels like he needs to get on his knees and confess his sins to them, to apologize for his own existence. 

But the moment passes, and David and Jenna head upstairs to their room, mentioning something about Liam setting up the guest room in case Theo wants to stay over. 

He’s not sure if it’s the allure of the concept of sleeping in an actual bed for the first time in ages, or if saying no to the hospitality being shown to him seems sacrilegious, but Theo agrees to stay over. 

And he desperately hopes he won’t regret it.

Chapter Text

Theo travels with the Dread Doctors for nine years before returning to Beacon Hills. 

Nine long years, a child turning into a teenager turning into an almost-adult with only the company of three grown-ups that can teach him everything there is to know about shapeshifters and magic and anything relating to the world of supernaturals—but nothing more. He becomes just a vessel, a heart beating in a hollow chest, a blank slate.  

Theo grows intellectually but not emotionally, a child turning into a teenager turning into an almost-adult that feels nothing but apathy. He killed his sister and buried his old self with her. Eventually she becomes nothing more than a memory, a half-formed concept of a time before he was powerful, a vague name in the back of his subconscious. Sometimes he forgets what she really is. 

There’s an evident chasm between Theo and all his classmates, something incredibly tangible but too vague to put into words. He doesn’t make friends. He convinces himself that he doesn’t care. 

Theo and the Dread Doctors move every few months, weaving their trail of destruction across the United States. “Goodbye becomes Theo’s favorite word. He gets used to not setting down roots anywhere, to meeting new faces and forgetting them just as fast. It starts to become a sort of fucked up game, and Theo challenges himself to create a more intricate yet untruthful backstory each time a move happens. Theo is fourteen years old when they pack up and move to Lyons, Colorado. It’s a small town without shit to do except nature trails and boring museums, but Theo quickly decides it’s his favorite place yet. 

It’s mostly because of Silas. 

He’s the first chimera that the Dread Doctors create during their time in Colorado, a hybrid between a jaguar and a wolf with big brown eyes and a smile that makes Theo feel in ways that he hasn’t in a long time, maybe ever. 

Most of the chimeras don’t last very long, the procedure failing after a few days or weeks usually. Once bodies pile up to the point that authorities begin to get suspicious, The Dread Doctors pack up their belongings, Theo being one of them, and move on to the next supernatural hotbed. 

But Silas lasts for five months. 

Theo absolutely hates him at first, because every new chimera is a threat to Theo, because every new chimera cements just how replaceable he really is. So Theo tries, oh god, does he try to relentlessly hate the fifteen year old with every fiber of his being—

But he can’t. 

Theo tells himself it’s just because Silas makes good company, because Silas can tell jokes that actually make him laugh—a sound that Theo himself hasn’t heard in too long. He convinces himself that he likes having Silas around because a burden feels less heavy shared between two sets of shoulders than on one. Tells himself it’s because Silas is the only one who understands, the only one with just as much blood on his hands and as high a body count as Theo does.

So the two teens grow close, really close. Theo notices the way the boy is tearing down his walls, and it’s simultaneously the most terrifying and exhilarating thing he’s ever felt. There’s no longer a Theo and a Silas, but instead Theo and Silas, all the time, nearly inseparable. They are a tangle of limbs underneath the cover of darkness, hesitant fingers reaching out for shy touches, they are fleeting glances and nervous first kisses in the middle of a nature preserve in Colorado.

Theo isn’t sure what it means. He’s fourteen and growing up and as far as he remembers, all of his past crushes have been girls, but suddenly there’s a boy with a great laugh that puts Theo’s stomach in knots, and he’s confused.

He’s so fucking confused, because the Dread Doctors never taught him about falling in love or how it works, because his schools haven’t explained to him that sometimes boys like other boys and that’s fine, too. Theo knows that love on a chemical basis consists of oxytocin and dopamine and serotonin and endorphins, knows that the pituitary gland floods the brain with those hormones when people meet someone they really like—but what Theo doesn’t know is why his heart beats really fast when Silas is around, why he finds the other chimera to be the center of his thoughts almost constantly, why sometimes Theo likes to stare at the freckles dotting the boy’s nose when he isn’t paying attention. 

So Silas explains it to Theo in the form of hand-holding, of really cheesy pick-up lines that Theo pretends not to like, of delicate hugs and kisses. They are the scar tissue covering up each other’s wounds, and Theo thinks he might almost be happy here in Lyons, Colorado.

But Silas has only been a chimera for five months, and he hasn’t had years to work through the grief and self-loathing and guilt that comes with having destroyed everything good in your life like Theo has. It takes a toll on him. Day after day, the light fades more and more from the boy’s eyes, and Theo begins to realize that Silas isn’t feeling the same almost-happy that he himself is. 

“T, do you ever wish you could go back? Like…like before all this. Do you ever want to remember yourself as something other than—” the boy pauses, mouth half-open, searching for a word that won’t pass his lips. 

“A monster?” Theo asks quietly, and saying the words out loud feels all too much like a revelation, like an admission of some sort of guilt that Theo hasn’t come close to feeling in the past five years. 

But Theo surrendered to sin a long time ago, so he doesn’t get it, doesn’t still feel the stifling wrongness of knowing you were forged from destruction and damage.  

Silas nods, words leaving his lips slow and heavy like a sigh, “Yeah. Yeah, that’s it.” 

He stands up and presses a kiss to Theo’s forehead, pulls back and shoots the younger boy a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. Theo pretends not to notice. 

Silas looks tired lately—and not the type that a good night of sleep can fix—it’s the crushing, overwhelming exhaustion that comes with the realization that your body is a war zone, that there is something resolutely terrible about yourself that you can’t change because it’s etched into your DNA, because you can wash the blood from your hands but not from your guilty conscience. 

So Theo can’t say that he’s too surprised when Silas makes the decision to die. He just wishes the older chimera would have told him beforehand, so maybe Theo and Silas could have gone out in a Romeo and Juliet style blaze of glory, so that maybe Theo wouldn’t have been left to find the body of the first boy he’s ever loved lying still and lifeless next to a vial of the serum that the Dread Doctors would use to kill their failed experiments. Silas was never a failure, and he probably would’ve outlasted Theo if he wanted to. But he didn’t. 

Now Silas is gone and Theo is alone again and suddenly all the flowers that had bloomed in his chest are wilting and turning into rot. Suddenly, Theo thinks he may have learned how to hate the boy, because it’s a lot easier than giving into the tears and heartache that he’s been taught to suppress for so long. 

Theo packs up the few belongings he has and leaves all of Silas’s things behind. The Dread Doctors and their first chimera depart Lyons, Colorado two days later. 

Silas is the hardest goodbye of them all. 

*

“Uh, so yeah, this is the guest room. Bathroom is down the hall on the right,” Liam motions down the hallway, “I’m right next door if you need anything.”

Theo nods, clears his throat awkwardly, “Thanks.”

“Yep,” Liam shrugs, blue eyes flitting up to meet Theo’s as he hovers in the doorway, “So, uh, goodnight, I guess.”

A half-smirk graces Theo’s lips as he steps further into the guest room, “Night, Liam.”

Liam heads to his own bedroom, and Theo is left standing in the middle of the spacious guest room trying not to think about how long it’s really been since he’s slept in a bed, trying not to think about how he has ended up spending the night at the house of someone who months ago would’ve considered him a rival. 

Heavy feet take hesitant steps towards the king sized mattress in the center of the dimly lit room. Theo crawls under the covers, relishing in the sensation of resting against something other than stiff leather upholstery and thin, scratchy blankets. He can hear Liam just next door, the sound of him shuffling around the room, turning off the lights, crawling into bed like Theo did moments ago. 

But Theo just can’t get comfortable. Not because of the bed, or even the sounds of Liam in the room over, but because everything about this situation feels so unbelievably wrong. Because he doesn’t deserve the unabashed kindness that Liam insists on showing him time and time again. Because right next door a boy whose life Theo tried to ruin is falling asleep peacefully as if he hasn’t let an enemy into his home.

So Theo stares up at the ceiling, listening and listening and listening to every fucking sound in the house—every creak, every heartbeat, every hum—in an effort to keep himself awake, a self-imposed punishment for god knows what. 

It doesn’t work. 

The cadence of Liam’s heartbeat, slowing as the beta settles into sleep, becomes the only thing Theo can hear. There’s an ever-present rhythm thrumming in his mind and before Theo has the chance to realize it, the sound isn’t distracting him from sleep but pushing him closer and closer towards it. He doesn’t notice that his heavy eyes have fallen closed until they’re sluggishly blinking back open, a yawn caught in his throat as he slides his body further under the covers.

And maybe it’ll be okay if he just rests his eyes for a moment.

Maybe it’ll be okay if he just lets them fall shut. 

*

Mercury drips down into his lungs. It’s thick and cold and hard to breathe, hard to breathe, hard to—

There’s a stolen heartbeat thrumming underneath frail fingertips, poking and prodding from the men in metal masks. 

wakeupwakeuppleasewakeuppleaseplease

He can’t swallow past the bile and blood and mercury. There is something in his chest trying to break free. He inhales as deeply as he can but there’s still not enough air.

He thinks he’s underwater. He thinks he might be drowning. 

She pulls him out, an angel dressed in decay and rot. Water droplets cling to his skin, pricking like needles against the cold air. 

There’s music in the melody of screams and pained cries.

A hand on his chest, gnarled fingers on his heart, a hole where his heart should be. 

The ghost behind his ribcage is still thrumming and it hurts. Soon his body will begin to rot. 

He looks up into dead brown eyes

and then they turn blue.

They want to kill him and watch him suffer. They want to see him decompose.

The ground swallows him. He can’t come back this time. 

*

Theo’s first coherent thought is that there is a body pinned and writhing beneath his own and he isn’t sure how it got there, but there are claws where his fingernails should be and fangs where his canines normally are so that means there must be a threat. 

He digs his claws in deeper to subdue the individual, pressing substantial weight against the assailant’s neck as golden eyes cut through a fog of terror and adrenaline to assess the body underneath him. The air smells like blood and fear and—

Liam. 

Bloodshot blue eyes meet golden, begging and gasping for breath as blood drips past Theo’s clawed fingertips. 

But it can’t be real. It’s never real. 

“Please, Theo,” the plea from the beta is quiet and strangled, the chimera’s grip not yet slackening, he feels like a passenger in his own body. 

He can’t let go. If he lets go then she’ll get him. If he lets go then she’ll kill him. 

Theo’s grip tightens, blood streaming in rivulets from the puncture wounds beneath his claws, and the body beneath him stops struggling. 

It’s the stuttering heartbeat that lifts the haze, that disconnects dream from reality. She never has a heartbeat in his dreams. 

Grey eyes meet half-lidded blue ones and suddenly Theo scrambles away from Liam’s limp body. He can’t do anything but stare wide-eyed, even as the beta coughs, taking greedy breaths back into his lungs, even as Liam drags his body into an upright position with great effort, even when he reaches up a shaky hand to touch the claw marks in his neck, staring back at Theo as if he’s seen a ghost. 

Theo does everything to make himself smaller, knees drawn into his chest and arms held tightly by his sides. He sees the bloodied boy in front of him and a sob catches in his throat. This is the final straw. Mason was right all along and Theo just proved that. 

He’s always been the most dangerous thing here.  

And suddenly Liam is right there in front of him, mere inches away from the same boy that just tried to tear his throat out, eyes boring into Theo’s as if looking for an explanation. 

But Theo doesn’t know how to explain to the beta that sometimes memories control his mind, and that lately it’s been getting harder and harder to discern his nightmares from reality—and even if he could figure out how to put these feelings into words, Theo’s not sure that his mouth and his brain are on friendly terms right now. Talking seems like something akin to climbing Mount Everest. 

Liam sighs heavily beside Theo, grimacing as he rubs a hand against the remains of the sluggishly healing wounds dotting his neck. 

Theo can’t part his lips to offer an apology, or any sort of explanation, but still, shaky fingers reach out and wrap a feather-light grasp around the beta’s wrist. He doesn’t miss the way Liam instinctively flinches at the contact. Black veins trail up Theo’s arm, Liam gazing at him in shock as the pain evidently ebbs away. 

There’s a few more moments of uncertain stillness before Theo stands on unsteady legs. His eyes stay glued to the floor as he walks out of the guest bedroom. Liam doesn’t even try to call his name, maybe because he doesn’t want to wake up his parents, maybe because he knows the chimera won’t answer anyway. 

And Theo walks downstairs and then out the front door without so much as a glance back to see if Liam would try to stop him as he gets in his truck and puts the key in the ignition. Driving seems like an incredibly daunting task at the moment, but he knows he has to get away from this house, from this neighborhood, from anywhere near the vicinity of Liam and his life. 

Theo has been running away from casualties for nearly a decade, why stop now? 

He doesn’t say goodbye. 

Chapter Text

He’s in the woods again. Whether it’s night or day doesn’t matter, he can still feel her beating heart underneath his fingertips. He keeps trying to bury the past.

At least he doesn’t feel so alone when she’s breathing down his neck, whispering all his sins into his ear

*

-I’m not mad at you (2:34 am)

-I wish you wouldn’t have run off though (2:36 am)

-We should talk (2:37 am)

*

Theo doesn’t want to stick around Beacon Hills. Really, he doesn’t, but now he has a paying job that requires him to actually show up and offer his assistance when Deaton needs it, so sticking around is exactly what he ends up doing. It feels like an involuntary game of hide and seek, constantly avoiding Liam and the rest of his pack while still lingering around a space that they frequent. 

Deaton doesn’t question why Theo ducks into the back as soon as he hears Mason pull into the parking lot with Liam in tow, and Theo is so grateful for that. 

He lingers, still, hidden from view in the back closet of the clinic but close enough to hear the exchange between Deaton and the two boys, close enough to smell the metallic tang of blood and poison, and the stench of pain—Liam’s. 

“Hunters,” Mason explains, voice tinged with muted panic. 

Theo can hear Deaton laying Liam against the metal examination table, hears the beta’s labored breathing and pained groans. 

Deaton hums, voice even as he asks, “How many?”

“Two,” Liam rasps, “They got away.”

There’s the sound of latex gloves snapping against the veterinarian’s skin, the clatter of medical appliances against the metal table.

“Purple Monkshood,” Deaton mumbles, “Fairly common. This will hurt, Liam.”

Theo can hear the click of a lighter, smell the embers of burnt wolfsbane before Deaton places the ashes against Liam’s wound. 

And then come the screams—guttural cries of pain that are almost too much for Theo’s chimera ears to handle. He holds his breath waiting for Liam’s pained shouts to cease, and gradually, they do, turning into weak whimpers as the beta’s healing kicks in. 

“Thanks,” Liam pants, exhaustion seeping into his voice.

Theo isn’t relieved, he’s not. Being relieved would mean that he was worried for the beta in the first place, and he was never worried. Theo Raeken doesn’t worry about anyone other than himself. Liam Dunbar is a pain in his ass, a thorn in his side, and Theo is not concerned in the slightest bit. 

But for some reason, hearing the breathing of the younger boy steadying out quells the tightness in Theo’s own chest. 

Weird. 

“What is it, dude?” Mason asks, anxiety creeping back into his voice, “Do you hear something? Did the hunters follow us here?”

There’s a painfully long pause that puts Theo on edge, on the brink of coming out of hiding just to kick the asses of whoever hurt Liam. 

Not that he cares or anything, though. Theo’s concerned about his own self-preservation, and the hunters running around Beacon Hills pose a threat to him, too. 

“No…it’s not that. I just, I thought I heard another heartbeat in here,” he answers. 

Shit. 

Sure, Theo is a total pro when it comes to controlling his heartbeat, but he never really mastered the art of making it stop completely whenever he wants it to. Though, that would really come in handy right about now. 

“There’s a dog I’m keeping in the kennels for overnight for observation,” Deaton speaks up, “No need to worry, I’m sure that’s the heartbeat you’re hearing.” 

Theo adds that cover-up to the ever growing list of things he’s gotta thank Deaton for one day. 

“Oh, phew,” Mason heaves a sigh of relief, “Had me worried for a minute. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve had enough life-threatening escapades for one night.” 

Liam grunts in response, “Yeah, you’re telling me. Thanks again, Deaton. I’ll keep you updated on the hunter situation…let me know if you hear anything, too.”

“Will do,” The veterinarian replies. 

Theo doesn’t move from his spot in the back until he hears the bells above the exit chime, signaling that the two boys have left the clinic. There’s a single bullet placed on top of the examination table, still coated in Liam’s blood. The sight of it makes Theo feel ill. 

“Care to explain the sudden vanishing act? It seems almost as if you’re avoiding someone,” Deaton speaks, not even sparing a glance at the chimera. 

Theo frowns as he begins to reply, “I’m not—”

“Hey, Deaton, why is Theo’s truck—” The question dies in Liam’s throat as his eyes meet the chimera’s, “Theo. You’re here.”

Theo tears his eyes away from Liam’s, letting them bounce from the blood staining his shirt, to Mason standing behind him, to the floor, where they remain. 

“Astute observation,” he drawls, sarcasm oozing from his voice. 

Undeterred, Liam asks, “What are you doing here? Were you hiding from me?”

There’s something in his voice that sounds a lot like hurt, like disappointment. Theo ignores it. 

He shrugs, “Hunters. I was running in the preserve when I heard them,” Theo lies, “Got away before they could see me, though. Figured I should let someone know.” 

“So you decided to tell Deaton instead of us?” Liam scoffs, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“No offense, Doc,” Mason adds quickly, shooting a shaky smile to the veterinarian.

Deaton shakes his head, seemingly amused by the interaction, “None taken.”

“You didn’t cross my mind, sorry to disappoint,” Theo answers, keeping his heartbeat steady. 

“Is this about—” Liam stares at the chimera for a long time, seemingly changing his mind before he sighs, “Fine, whatever. I’d appreciate a heads up next time.” 

“Your wish is my command,” Theo retorts, voice steely. 

Blue eyes meet grey and it’s different this time. 

Liam isn’t looking at Theo like an almost-friend, like someone who he played video games with and introduced to his parents. He stares at Theo and it’s like he’s looking at whatever jackass put a bullet in his stomach mere hours ago, like he’s looking at someone who has never been anything but an enemy. 

“You know,” Liam begins, a resigned irritation cutting through his tone, “If you’re going to stick around here you could at least be helpful, you could at least act like you give a fuck about the people in this town.” 

Theo stands a little taller then, plasters on the most loathsome smirk he can muster up, and says, “Throw a fucking fit, then, Liam. See if I give a shit. I don’t owe you anything.” 

“You don’t mean that.” 

It’s the only thing Liam says before him and Mason leave, looking more tired than angry. 

Theo can’t help but fall back to bad habits, letting people in but pushing them away before they get too close. It’s easier this way, it’s better. He’s okay with hurting feelings as long as his are still intact, cause that’s how tough boys play—all harsh and emotionless, with paper walls hiding what’s weeping inside. 

“Sometimes it’s good to have people on your side, Theo,” Deaton speaks well after the two boys have left, “Lone wolves don’t often make it on their own.”

*

Theo leaves the clinic that night with a pit of regret in his stomach and a boy with blue eyes on his mind. He’s tired and restless to the point that he can’t sleep. It’s not the first time this week. 

So Theo drives straight into the preserve looking for a fight, lets himself shift into his wolf form, lets himself feel more animal than human. He’s both the hunter and the hunted, predator and prey. 

A lone wolf by choice, by necessity. 

He isn’t in the preserve long before he hears the sound of a bow being drawn. Theo whips around, golden eyes landing on the figure of a single hunter before him. He lets out a warning growl, claws scraping against the dirt as he stalks towards the human. 

The hunters shoots the arrow, missing wildly, and Theo thinks that this is almost too easy as he takes the opportunity to pounce on the solitary human, his sharp teeth glimmering in the moonlight mere inches away from the hunter’s throat. 

Amateur, Theo muses.

He snaps his teeth just beside the hunter’s face, motivated by the smell of fear that isn’t coming from himself for once.

It feels so right, playing the big bad wolf once again. This is what Theo was made for. 

“P-please,” the hunter begs, voice barely audible thanks to Theo’s weight against his chest, “if you spare me, I promise the others will leave you and your pack—”

Theo cuts the hunter off with a growl, too enraged by the mention of a pack to which he doesn’t even belong, to notice the sound of several other heartbeats behind him until it’s too late. A bullet embeds itself just beneath his ribcage and Theo whirls around to see a whole group of hunters, at least three more than Liam and Mason had encountered.

There’s a fire beneath his ribs and instincts telling him to run, but Theo decides he’ll either leave this forest a killer or a martyr. His body vibrates with anticipation and a desire to tear something apart. He’s only an animal, just a heartbeat and some teeth. 

Theo flashes his eyes, stands up a little taller, and lets a wolfish grin fall across his face. He came looking for a fight. 

A fight’s exactly what he’ll get. 

Chapter Text

There’s bloodshed on both sides—Theo, and the hunters. 

If Theo wasn’t so damn prideful, he might admit that he’s a bit out of his league going against a whole group of hunters on his own.

But Theo is prideful, so much so that he fights through the pain of however many bullets—he’s lost count now, somewhere around four—have embedded themselves in his body, fights through the sting of an arrow protruding from the muscle of his hind leg, fights despite how much he wants to tuck tail and run, to lick his wounds. 

He’s never been so grateful to not be a werewolf, to not be as susceptible to the wolfsbane that is probably coursing through his veins at the moment. That being said, Theo is still vastly outnumbered and starting to realize that maybe this whole thing is gonna end up being a suicide mission. He feels his heart hammering in his chest—out of fear or out of excitement, Theo isn’t quite sure. 

Seems like lately the only mode he runs on is self-destruct. 

The combat has come to a standstill, a wounded wolf being circled by a group of hunters as if he’s the prey, as if he couldn’t rip them all to shreds.

“Aw, c’mon, let’s just put the mutt out of his misery,” one of the hunters speaks, cold eyes settling on Theo’s golden ones. 

“No way,” another answers, hand grazing over a gash inflicted by Theo’s claws, “Let’s have a little fun first. Send a message to his pack.” 

Theo lets out a wicked warning howl that reverberates through the preserve, and probably even further, but does nothing to deter the men before him. 

No one really fears death in Beacon Hills, anyway.

*

Theo learns how to full-shift just after he turns twelve. 

It takes ages of tireless instruction from the Dread Doctors, especially after learning wolfsbane wouldn’t have the same effect on a chimera as it does on an actual werewolf. 

Theo has to learn how to tap into his “primal side”, seeing as it wouldn’t come naturally to him. 

He picks up the skill quickly after being given an ultimatum by the exasperated Dread Doctors—figure out how to shift into his wolf form, or be eliminated like the rest of their experiments. A failure. 

Theo figures it out in only two days time after that. 

Full-shifting hurts. A lot. More than it would for an actual werewolf. The sensation of bones breaking and reforming as he transforms into a wolf feels wrong—like a reminder of what Theo isn’t, of what he will never really be. 

Once the pain subsides, the first thing that Theo notices is that he is a lot closer to the ground than he was just moments ago. Then the senses kick in—even more intense than they are normally. Everything is louder, his vision is sharper, and scents are bombarding his nose one by one. It’s overwhelming enough to cause him to accidentally shift back, stumbling on two human feet rather than four wolf ones suddenly. 

“Adequate,” is all the Dread Doctors say. 

The second time, Theo learns how to shift for a lot longer, though it does take a significant amount of concentration and energy. He catches his reflection—long, jet black fur, same golden eyes, a patch of white on his chest—and attempts to comment on his appearance but the words come out as a series of excited yips and barks, he can feel his tail wagging but isn’t quite sure how to control it. 

The Dread Doctors let Theo run around and play wolf while they look on and pride themselves on their creation, their shiny new toy.

Theo thinks he may like being a wolf more than he likes being a human, until the full moon happens. 

It’s a day that he’s been anticipating for a while. He expects to feel something, to feel some sort of elemental tug from the moon like werewolves do, something that makes him feel more animal.

But he feels nothing.

Theo looks to the moon like a moth to a flame practically begging to feel something, something to prove that he is more than the product of a glorified science experiment, that shapeshifting is genetically coded into his DNA. 

The moon stares back like a cold blank eye. 

Theo runs around in the woods that night, four paws instead of two legs, lets out a broken howl just to see what happens. 

It goes unanswered. 

It’s been years but Theo still feels like he’s playing make believe, a little boy looking into a mirror with imaginary claws and pretend fangs. 

*

People are yelling things that he can’t hear. 

He’s cold and something hurts—a lot hurts, actually—and this feels all too familiar. Theo thinks he tries to speak but it instead comes out as a bunch of garbled moans. Iron coats his tongue and the smell of blood is too strong to pick up any other scents. There’s a hand in his hair, a hand on his forehead, too many hands touching everywhere but Theo welcomes the warmth. 

Dude, he doesn’t look good.

He’s gonna be fine! Just…just call Deaton. Tell him we’re on the way. 

A hand presses gently against his abdomen—he doesn’t remember shifting back to his human form—there’s a sharp pain followed by nothing, an ache ebbing away.

“Stop,” Theo manages to force out, the word leaving his lips slow like syrup. He’s not sure who or what he’s saying stop to, but it feels like the right thing to say. 

If he’s hurt he might as well feel it. 

Theo?

His body feels so heavy. 

Can you hear me? Stay with me, man. You’re gonna be okay. 

It’s the kinda thing a person would say to someone who’s dying, who you know has no chance but you don’t want them to feel bad anyway. 

Theo distantly wonders if he’s dying. Ashes to ashes, you know how it goes. 

Is he healing?

I…I don’t know, there’s just so much blood. 

Theo wants to tell the voices that really, he feels fine, but even the thought of doing that is so exhausting. He’s just tired, and the hand carding through his hair is only making him even more so. 

It’s just so much easier to go to sleep. 

Theo dreams of mercury, of men in metal masks. He dreams of being torn apart and put back together. It feels less like a nightmare and more like a memory.

*

The sun is rising when Theo first opens his eyes.

The ghosts of his wounds from the night before are all that remain, leaving him with a dull ache all over his body.

Last night was a mistake, Theo knows that. There was no plan, no backup, just him and all of his pent up emotions versus a group of hunters. It was impulsive, stupid—but, god, for a few moments there he really felt unstoppable.

Even up until the very end, Theo laying on the forest floor with pupils sky-high, grinning up at the moon with blood-stained teeth. 

He remembers the hand in his hair, the murmured reassurances. 

It felt like an ending. 

Liam saved him, and Theo still isn’t sure how that happened, how he knew Theo was in the preserve, why Liam came to his rescue anyway. 

“You’re awake,” Deaton comments as he joins Theo in the examination room. 

Theo glances at the veterinarian before returning his gaze to the ceiling, “What happened to the hunters?”

“Sheriff Stilinski and Deputy Parrish have them in custody,” Deaton answers, “They went to the hospital for the injuries inflicted upon them by a ‘feral dog’ and were promptly arrested following their treatment.”

Theo sits up then, forehead creased in pain as the movement jostles his half-healed injuries. 

Deaton frowns, “If you don’t mind, could I take a look?” 

Upon Theo’s noncommittal shrug that shoots another wave of pain through his body, Deaton lifts up the chimera’s shirt. From what Theo can see, the wounds are now just inflamed pink scars jutting out against his skin. 

“The outside heals first, but it looks like the inside’s still healing,” Deaton states, “You’re going to be sore for a little while, ibuprofen will help with that.” 

There’s a stretch of silence in which Deaton organizes the equipment lining the counters. 

“So, what? No lecture? Not gonna give me some cryptic advice or warning like usual?” Theo asks, warily eyeing the man in front of him. 

Something like a smile crosses Deaton’s face, “Is that what you want me to do, Theo?”

“No,” Theo pauses, “I don’t know.” 

“You’re very lucky you have people looking out for you. What you did last night was, frankly, reckless,” Deaton says after a moment, “but I think you know that already.” 

Theo nods slightly, eyes glued to the tiled floor. 

“Parrish drove your truck back here from the preserve. You should go get some rest,” Deaton suggests. 

Theo can’t find it in him to disagree, already craving sleep. He stands up slowly, ignoring how dizzy the change in position makes him feel. 

“After you rest, I think you know there’s someone you need to have a long conversation with,” Deaton remarks, shooting Theo a pointed look. 

Theo pretends to not know what the veterinarian is alluding to. 

“Thanks,” Theo says, hand on the doorknob, “for everything.”

He hopes the older man understands the depth of his gratitude, that there’s so much to thank him for but words just really aren’t Theo’s strong suit.

Deaton nods slightly, “Just doing my job.”

Theo walks out of the clinic and finds his car in the parking lot, just as Deaton had said. He climbs into the backseat and immediately lays down, not even bothering to move his truck somewhere more private to sleep. He’s out as soon as his head hits the upholstery. 

*

-Are you at home? (6:33 pm)

Theo types out the message and presses send instantly, knowing any further deliberation would lead to him changing his mind and continuing to give Liam the cold shoulder. 

It’s stupid. It’s so fucking stupid—he doesn’t want to care about how he may have hurt Liam’s feelings, but he does. So he has to suck it up and talk to Liam like Deaton told him to, because for some reason, the universe hates Theo and Deaton is always right. 

-yeah why? (6:36 pm)

Theo glares down at his phone screen, his fingers reluctantly typing out his response.

-Can I come over? (6:37 pm)

-I guess (6:40 pm)

He figures the answer he gets from Liam is better than a flat-out no, so Theo starts his car and drives to Liam’s place. 

He tries not to think about why the route to the beta’s house is practically ingrained in his mind, no gps needed. 

*

Theo’s nerves are only slightly calmed when he’s greeted by Liam at the door rather than one of his parents. 

“Hey,” Liam addresses the chimera, shifting slightly out of the doorway so Theo could join him inside. 

“Hey,” Theo mimics the greeting, shifting his weight awkwardly, “So, I—”

Liam speaks at the same time, “Looks like—” 

The two boys pause, each waiting for the other to finish. 

“You can go,” Theo shrugs, eyes briefly meeting Liam’s.

Liam nods, a piece of hair that was tucked behind his ear falling in front of his face, “It’s nothing, just, uh, looks like you’re doing a lot better than the other night.”

“Yeah…” Theo agrees distractedly, eyes fixated on the strands of hair that have settled beside Liam’s eyelashes. He clears his throat, quickly looking away, “I am better. Thanks for, uh, helping me.”

Theo tries to fight back the grimace that threatens to cross his face at the words of gratitude. 

A sigh leaves the beta’s mouth, “Mason helped too, but you’re welcome.”

“Oh,” Theo replies, “You can thank him for me, I guess.” 

There’s an uncomfortable silence that passes in which Theo starts to believe that coming here was a big mistake. 

“Come on, let’s go sit down,” Liam suggests, turning and walking into his living room before Theo can protest. 

Theo follows behind like a lost puppy, hesitating before he takes a seat beside Liam on the couch. It felt a lot less uneasy the last time they were in this position. 

“What were you doing out there, Theo?” Liam asks, blue eyes fixed on the chimera. 

Theo shrugs, looks away, “Going for a run.” 

“Even though you knew there were hunters in the preserve?” Liam questions, “Even though I had just been shot by them like an hour before? Dude, do you have a death wish? You’re lucky I heard you howl.” 

So that’s how Liam found him. Huh. 

“I can take care of myself, Liam,” Theo shoots back defensively. 

Liam scoffs at the reply, “Can you? Cause it really didn’t look like you could when Mason and I found you bleeding out in the middle of the preserve. Who knows what would’ve happened if—god, I don’t even know how could you be so stupid.”

Theo wants to laugh at the fact that Liam thinks Theo would even care about whatever worst case scenario could have happened the night before. 

“We’re practically invincible, Liam. I would’ve been fine,” Theo shrugs. 

Liam stares at Theo, eyebrows practically raising into his hairline, “That’s not true and you know it!” 

Theo thinks back to the night spent trying to claw his heart out of his chest, how he woke up with no evidence of any injury other than the dry blood crusted onto his skin and clothes. 

“Might as well be,” Theo states, face deliberately blank. He notices that Liam smells like anger, or at least even more so than usual. He watches with mild interest a Liam stands up abruptly, mumbling under his breath.

“The sun, the moon, the truth.”

The beta repeats the mantra a few more times before turning to face Theo again, “This…this is because of the stupid nightmare, isn’t it? Big bad Theo Raeken couldn’t possibly show weakness so he has to save face by running around the woods taking on a group of hunters all by himself, huh?” 

Theo stands up then, eyes steely and voice dangerously low, “Stop it.” 

“Why?” Liam challenges, “Am I hitting a nerve? God, I just don’t get you at all! Every time you start to show that you may not be such a terrible person after all, that maybe I didn’t make a mistake bringing you back, you have to go and fuck it up by proving just how big of an asshole you really are!” 

“Do you know how often I have to defend you to the pack?” Liam continues, “To this day Malia still holds a grudge against me for breaking the stupid sword. I know you’re better than this, Theo. I’ve seen it.” 

Theo nearly growls at the beta, but opts to use words instead, “You don’t know shit, Liam.” 

“Yeah? Well how about you enlighten me,” Liam proposes, crossing his arms. 

A harsh chuckle rips from Theo’s throat as he stares at the boy in front of him, “Why did you bring me back, Liam? You don’t even like me, you just keep me around, so tell me, why?”

“I—” Liam begins, before Theo cuts him off. 

“No matter what I do with my time here, no matter how fucking good I am, I’m going back to the same place because of what I’ve done. That will never change, and every time I try to go to sleep I’m reminded of that. So what’s the point?” Theo asks, voice raising.

“The point is you get a second chance to not be such a dick this time around!” Liam argues. 

Theo shakes his head, lips pressed together in a thin line, “That’s the thing, though—suddenly I’m supposed to know what I want to do with my life after years of being told what my future is. You want me to feel relieved? To feel grateful? I’m fucking terrified, Liam.” 

The confession hangs heavy in the air as Liam stares at the chimera ahead of him with wide eyes. 

“I’m tired, Liam,” Theo admits, taking a step forward, “It’s not a death wish, I’m just tired.”

He feels too small, too vulnerable in this moment—with Liam looking at him like he needs to be bubble wrapped and stamped with a big ‘handle with care’ across his forehead. It makes Theo’s skin crawl. 

“Theo, I…do you want to sleep over tonight?” Liam asks, genuine concern written all over his face. 

Theo tries to laugh, but it sounds hollow, his voice has a dangerous edge to it, “You don’t get it do you?” 

Liam, not sure how to respond, simply shakes his head. 

“You still have the sword, right? All the little pieces?” Theo asks, eyes gazing unwaveringly into Liam’s. 

“What, I just told you it’s broken. You watched me break it!” Liam states.

“But you still have it?” Theo asks urgently, “It can be put back together, yeah?” 

Liam slowly shakes his head, “Theo…”

“Can’t someone fix it?” Theo presses, taking another step closer to Liam, “Just…just send me back before I mess things up, okay? Send me back where I belong, you fucking idiot, can’t you see I’ve had enough? I’m tired, Liam, I just so fucking tired of pretending.”

Theo doesn’t notice how blurry his vision’s gotten, doesn’t hear the trembling in his own voice, the way his hands have started shaking—but he does notice Liam’s face, the way he looks like he’s caught between comforting Theo or beating him up. Theo hopes he’ll pick the latter, thinks it’ll be easier that way. 

Liam looks like he’s about to say something, then seemingly decides against it, instead pulling Theo into a tight hug. Theo tenses as the younger boy’s arms wrap around him, and suddenly he’s all too aware of his own stuttering breaths, of the tears threatening to spill from his eyes. 

“You’re not the guy I remember, Theo,” Liam murmurs beside his ear, “You’re better.” 

Theo takes a shaky breath then, and hesitantly reciprocates Liam’s hug, a feather-light embrace around the beta’s shoulders. 

He tries not to feel disappointed when Liam lets go, when he's suddenly all too aware of the negative space between them two. 

“You know, you give really bad hugs,” Liam says, an uncertain smile on his face as he tries to break the tension. 

Theo laughs, shaky but genuine, “I’ll add that to my list of things to work on, right after being less of an asshole.”

Liam gazes at the chimera, a more earnest expression crossing his face, “I don’t dislike you, Theo. If you want to talk about—”

“I don’t,” Theo says stiffly, taking a step away from Liam. 

And the walls come back up just as easily as they were torn down. 

Liam nods, “Okay.”

It’s suddenly awkward again, like the two boys have breached into uncharted territory and neither of them are sure where they stand with each other. 

“Um, Mason, Corey, and I have plans to go the movies and probably grab a bite to eat in like an hour,” Liam begins.

“Oh, I can uh, get going,” Theo offers, running a hand through his hair. 

“No!” Liam protests, “You should…you should come with.” 

It feels like it should be a joke, but Liam’s face looks serious. 

Theo shrugs, “No, it’s fine, you don’t have to—”

“I want you to,” Liam affirms, and Theo doesn’t hear his heartbeat change. 

“Mason and Corey aren’t necessarily apart of the Theo Raeken fan club,” Theo says, shaking his head, “Have fun, though.”

Liam makes one last ditch effort, “Please? Otherwise I’m just going to be the third wheel the whole time.”

Theo thinks he looks like a little kid begging their parent for a piece of candy, wide blue eyes meeting his own. 

“Uh…” Theo trails off, “Sure, I guess.”

Those stupid puppy-dog eyes. 

Liam smiles at him, relieved. 

There’s still underlying friction between the two—a tangible, unspeakable feeling that exudes unresolved tension, that both Theo and Liam silently opt to ignore for now. 

So Theo puts on that mask of his own face and pretends this is fine, because it’s always easier that way—keeping everyone at a distance. 

He’s just gotta keep on pretending. 

Chapter Text

Theo is sixteen and some change when he returns to Beacon Hills. A homecoming, but just without a home. 

Sixteen, closer to seventeen, really. It takes a lot of convincing with the Dread Doctors, bargaining and pleading to return to the place in which they first recruited him. They were beginning to get bored of him, Theo senses it, so going back to the supernatural hotbed that is Beacon Hills—giving them the opportunity to create more chimeras and himself the opportunity to quietly slip out of their despotic grasp and form his own pack—seems like the only chance for Theo to save himself, to not end up like the others.  

Eight years have come and gone and Theo isn’t the same naive little boy that grew up here. Not much in the actual town, however, has changed—old surroundings blurring past, exactly where he remembers them being, it’s almost like he never left.  

Except he did, running away from the mess he made all those years ago. Learning at such a young age to be a transient, fleeting thing, to never get too comfortable. Stir up trouble and leave the collateral damage for someone else to deal with.  

His emotions—pathetic, useless little things they are—have been lying dormant for quite some time now, hibernating like animals during a cold winter. Beacon Hills pulls them all up to surface like fish to bait, like the flower buds blooming in the beginning of spring. It starts subtle, a muted sense of excitement that thrums under his skin as he sees the sign on the road that reads ‘Welcome to Beacon Hills!’, the blue paint a lot more faded than he remembers, and beginning to chip away. 

It’s Friday the 13th when they pull into town, and Theo has never been superstitious, but maybe that should’ve been the first warning, a bad omen of what was to come. He thinks this town has always been a little cursed. 

The first few weeks are relatively uneventful. Theo and the Dread Doctors stay down in their underground tunnels each plotting out their own schemes. Sometimes Theo goes out into town, hiding in plain sight as he surveils Scott McCall and his pack from afar. Strange to see how the timid asthmatic boy who he once called his best friend had become a person of such power and responsibility. It makes Theo’s stomach roil with envy. 

He begins to inspect the population of Beacon Hills High School, looking for the right targets to enlist for his pack after taking over Scott’s own. By the time he’s submitted his enrollment documents and begins his first day of classes, he already has carefully selected several students—Corey Bryant, Josh Diaz, Tracy Stewart, and Hayden Romero—chimera prospects that quickly are deemed failures by the Dread Doctors. 

Until Theo revives them, that is. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as they say. Plus, there’s strength in numbers.

His favorite is Tracy, once shy and insecure transformed into confident and predatory thanks to a little taste of power...and it helps that Theo is attracted to her. 

The feeling is mutual, of course, but it’s more than that. Tracy treats Theo like her lord and savior, showing her devotion to the chimera in the form of blow jobs beneath barren stairwells after school, or quick and messy and hot sex in the school’s basement. He fucks her harder on days when he can feel his footholds slipping, when power seems like such a distant and abstract goal, because he’s edging on seventeen and his life may be falling apart but at least Tracy is one thing he has control over.  

Maybe it’s because this is the first time his body feels like his own, like he is something more than a glorified plaything for a trio of sadistic adults with mal-intent. 

Sometimes Theo stays at Tracy’s place. Times when sleeping in a bed that smells of a genuine home, despite it not being his, feels better than playing house with his fake family, better than looking into the eyes of actors pretending to be his parents and seeing only fear and trepidation rather than the adoration that Tracy’s company could offer. 

They were fucking again, because the supernatural libido is a damn miracle. Once they finish up, Theo coming undone after Tracy moans his name in the exact way that he likes, Theo rolls over, back turned to his beta. She traces shapes against his shoulder blade in a way that makes his skin crawl, an action too delicate and gentle and altogether too foreign for Theo. He tenses, shifts forward a little. 

“Theo,” she whispers his name with reverence. 

Theo’s voice is tight when he responds, sounds too rough even to his own ears, “What?”

“I love you,” she divulges, “I’m in love with you.”

The way she says it is less like a confession and more like a statement of fact, like she’s just finally putting words to something that’s been there all along.

He doesn’t say it back, doesn’t say anything at all as he grabs his things and leaves without so much as a goodbye. Theo doesn’t love Tracy, he never has. Love makes people weak, and he has no room, no tolerance for weakness. Especially not now. Not ever.

So it’s not a difficult decision for him to kill her, to use her love as a weapon. As he later watches the light fade from Tracy’s eyes, he wonders if that night would have been his last time hearing someone say those words to him, wonders if he’d ever say them to anyone else. 

Theo Raeken always has and always will choose himself.  

*

Mason and Corey may not be members of the Theo Raeken fan club, but they’re at least playing nice for tonight. Theo thinks Liam may have something to do with that, but lets it go. 

The movie ends up being some alien sci-fi bullshit that Theo couldn’t have enjoyed even if he wanted to, though Liam, Mason, and Corey leave the theater and walk to the burger joint across the street still gushing about the ‘kick-ass alien fight scenes’ and whether or not aliens would really look that cool if they did exist in real life. 

“They exist,” Theo interrupts their debate begrudgingly as they sit down in a booth, “It’s not a question of ‘if’ they are around, but where.”

The three boys pause, staring open-mouthed at the chimera who up until now had been silent the entire night. 

“So,” Liam begins, head tilted in a way that makes him look all to much like an overeager puppy, “You mean to tell me, you’re one of those pseudoscience, tin foil hat conspiracy theorists that think aliens are already among us, huh?”

Theo shakes his head, somehow resisting the urge to roll his eyes at the beta as he says, “You got all that just from me saying that aliens are a real thing?”

“Who knows what kind of otherworldly knowledge got magically pumped into his brain while he was learning how to be an evil mastermind with the Dread Doctors,” Mason comments, his tone only slightly disparaging, “As much as I hate to admit it, if the dude says aliens are real, I’m inclined to believe him.” 

Corey nods, voicing his agreement with an emphatic, “Ditto.”

“Sounds like you guys are the conspiracy theorists to me,” Theo huffs, albeit a little amused at the topic of conversation. 

Liam gently elbows Theo in the side, blue eyes gleaming with excitement, “So, c’mon. Tell us what you know.”

“My knowledge of aliens has nothing to do with the Dread Doctors,” Theo mutters, “We live in a world where werewolves and a shit ton of other supernatural creatures exist. Just a couple months ago we dealt with undead cowboys that rode electrical currents and could erase people from existence with magical lassos. You really find it that far-fetched that there’s life on other planets?” 

Okay, so maybe Theo went through a short-lived alien phase when he was younger. Doesn’t mean what he’s saying is any less true. 

“But—” Corey begins, yet pauses when Theo continues speaking.

“The universe is constantly expanding and our solar system is just a tiny portion of an even huger galaxy, of which there are tons of other galaxies. You really think seven billion dumb human beings are the only living creatures to exist anywhere ever?” Theo poses the question to the table. 

“Well—” Mason starts, only to get cut off again. 

“It’s a statistical improbability. Do you know how we started off as life forms? Tiny little microbacteria that you can’t even see with your eyes. If aliens exist, which they do, they’re not gonna be zooming around the galaxy in flying saucers, all ‘hello, earthlings, take me to your leader’, they probably exist in forms that we can’t even comprehend. Miniscule. Microbacterium. Maybe not even sentient beings. Who knows. It’s not conspiracy, it’s science,” Theo states matter-of-factly, “And, that movie was dumb.”

“Erm, how about some waters to start?” a frazzled waitress asks, presumably after hearing the whole discussion because of the way she’s now warily eyeing Theo. The boys rattle off their orders and she leaves just as quickly as she had come.

“So...what do you think about Bigfoot?” Liam asks, a maddening grin on his face. 

Theo does roll his eyes then, “A big, bipedal bear, Liam.” 

*

“Hey,” Liam speaks from the passenger seat as Theo starts his truck, “Thank you for coming tonight.”  

Theo shrugs, eyes trained on the road, “Sure.”  

He can still feel Liam’s eyes on him, can almost sense the boy’s inner debate before he speaks again. 

“You should stay over tonight,” Liam suggests, then, and his voice has a note of finality to it, like Theo doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. 

“Liam.”

Theo says his name like a warning, like the beta should tread carefully—not to push the subject too hard, because the night had ended on a pretty decent note and Theo really doesn’t want to spoil it. 

“Why not? You have to drop me off, anyway,” Liam continues, “Just trying to make it easier for you.” 

If you were trying to make it easy for me, you’d back off, Theo thinks, his hands tightening their grip against the steering wheel. 

“I’d rather just go home,” Theo responds, gritting his teeth because even he heard the way his own heart skipped at the statement. 

“That…was that a lie?” Liam asks, and Theo refuses to give him the satisfaction of thinking he’s right for once. 

Theo keeps his heartbeat steady this time as he answers, “No.” 

“Where do you even live?” Liam wonders aloud, “I’ve never seen your place, I don’t think.”

“Around,” Theo answers vaguely.

Liam falls quiet then, turning his attention to his phone rather than the chimera beside him, and Theo revels in the silence, as short-lived as it is. 

“Do you like waffles?” the beta questions suddenly, just as Theo pulls into the driveway of his house. 

With a sigh, Theo appeases the younger boy, “Yes, Liam. I like waffles.”

“Good!” Liam beams, “My mom will make us some in the morning. I texted her that you’d be sleeping over.”

Theo expects to feel something—some sort of indignation or anger or at the very least, annoyance—but when he looks over to the beta next to him, all he feels is tired. 

“Liam,” he starts, exasperation heavy in his voice, “Why are you doing this?”

Liam’s eyes widen, he shakes his head slightly, “I don’t know what—I’m not doing anything, I’m just…I’m just being a friend?”

He says it like a question, like he’s checking with Theo to make sure that wording is appropriate. 

And Theo doesn’t know how to respond to that, can’t remember the last time someone referred to him as a friend.

And maybe it isn’t a big deal to Liam, maybe he can throw around the word liberally because that’s what he’s used to, but Theo isn’t.

“Friends,” Theo echoes, but his voice sounds hollow, “Is that what we are? We’re friends?”

What if we needed you?

You’re my responsibility.

Liam sounds a lot less sure, now, practically shrinking into himself as he answers, “Yes? At least, I thought so.”

This feels like a forked road, like a big decision that Theo is supposed to make that can have two drastically different outcomes. 

Theo decides that uncertainty isn’t a good look on the beta. He turns off the ignition and steps out of his truck, leaving Liam behind as he walks toward the front door. 

“Are you coming or what?” Theo asks, turning around to look at the boy still seated in the passenger seat of his truck. 

Liam scrambles after the chimera, as if he were to wait one moment longer then Theo would change his mind, which, to be fair, might be true. 

There’s something blossoming deep inside Theo’s chest, something unfamiliar and out of place, like a flower blooming in between the cracks of a concrete sidewalk. 

It feels like hope. 

Chapter Text

“If you want to borrow a pair of sweatpants or something to sleep in, you can,” Liam offers as they walk upstairs, “I know I didn’t really give you a chance to pack a bag or anything.”

Theo doesn’t tell Liam that he could easily walk back out to his truck and get anything he needs, instead opting for a simple “okay” in response. He also chooses not to tell Liam that he doesn’t intend to sleep tonight anyway, not after last time.

There’s something oddly intimate about being in Liam’s room, in a space designated solely to him. His house is different, tells Theo more about Liam’s family than Liam himself.

But, Liam’s room is something entirely separate. Just being in here, Theo suddenly feels like he’s learning more about the boy now than he has in the past few months fighting beside him.

The walls are a pale navy color, with a weird mixture of band posters, skateboards, and historical advertisements plastered against nearly every inch of the surface. A desk sits against the wall, covered in various papers and assignments, as well as a laptop and a small tv turned towards Liam’s bed. There’s a bookshelf in the corner that holds some textbooks, a few dvds, and framed pictures of Liam with family and friends, many of whom Theo’s never even seen before. Theo pauses when his eyes land on a polaroid that couldn’t have been taken but a few months ago. It’s of the pack, everyone crammed together on Scott’s couch so tightly that it must have been uncomfortable, but they’re smiling nonetheless. Even Derek is there, not looking at the camera, but at Stiles who is draped across his lap. Hayden is there too, head resting against Liam’s shoulder as she grins brightly.

Everyone looks so happy, being a family, being a pack .

Theo could’ve had that, maybe. Could’ve felt that same closeness.

He almost had that, but he has this strange habit of sabotaging his own success.

Theo wants to believe that all of his fuck-ups were fate, that his destiny has been completely out of his hands, and there is nothing he could’ve ever done to change what happened with Tara, with the Dread Doctors, with Scott—and though lies slip past his lips with ease when talking to other people, Theo’s never been great at lying to himself.

He has to tear his eyes away from the photo, moving away from the bookshelf entirely and awkwardly stepping over a couple pairs of shoes and a lacrosse stick to hover next to Liam’s desk.

“Sorry about the mess,” Liam mumbles as he curiously observes the way Theo practically tiptoes around his bedroom, the chimera’s eyes scanning over the space with meticulous precision.

“It’s fine,” Theo shrugs, “Do you play?”

Theo nods his head in the direction of a guitar leaning against the wall.

“Sometimes,” Liam hums, “You?”

Theo wordlessly shakes his head no, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he tries figure out what to do with himself. It’s never this weird around Liam, usually, but the boy’s earlier words are still swirling around Theo’s head.

It’s kinda fucking with him, if he’s being honest. Not in a bad way, per se, but more like...the phrase “my friend Liam” keeps rattling around Theo’s brain on repeat, pushing out any coherent thoughts.

“You can sit down, dude, get comfortable or whatever,” Liam says as he kicks off his own sneakers and hops on top of his bed.

Theo doesn’t correct Liam for calling him dude this time, because Liam and Mason are friends and call each other dude, so it shouldn’t bother Theo that Liam does the same thing to him.

Because Liam is Theo’s friend.

And Theo is Liam’s friend.

And Theo is sort of still trying to wrap his head around that. He doesn’t think he would personally ever choose to call someone who has lied to, manipulated, and threatened him a friend, but Liam has always been a better person than Theo is, so, there’s that.

“Your room is nice,” Theo comments as he sits down on the edge of the bed. Liam is fiddling with the remote control, turning on the television when he looks up and shrugs.

“It’s alright, I guess,” he says, “What’s yours like?”

Theo snorts, quickly glances toward the window. He can’t remember the last time he really had his own room. Sure, there was his fake bedroom in his fake house with his fake parents that he used when he first got back to Beacon Hills, but it was stuffy and small and smelled like new paint to the point that it gave Theo headaches. He usually just slept in the tunnels with the Dread Doctors like he had done for the seven years prior to that.

He thinks that maybe the last time he had his own room was when he was eight, and, okay, that’s really fucking sad, but the thought just leaves Theo feeling sorta empty.

“It’s...a lot different than this,” Theo answers, because that’s really the most precise description he can give of his “room” without divulging that the room is really the cramped backseat of his truck, a makeshift leather bed with a couple blankets and lumpy pillows that Liam has unthinkingly thrown his lacrosse bag onto several times.

When Theo tears his eyes away from the window, Liam is staring at him with an unreadable expression on his face—something between uncertainty and interest.

“What,” Theo says, and really it’s meant to be a question but the word comes out too harsh, makes Liam shrink back the tiniest bit.

Liam shrugs a little as he answers, “Nothing, it’s just...you could say we’ve been through a lot together, yeah?”

Theo stays silent, opting to instead to shoot the beta an inquisitive look. And?

“I mean,” Liam continues, “You manipulated me and everybody else in my pack, tried to get me to kill my own alpha, then killed him yourself...then we sent you to hell ‘cause you kinda deserved it. Oh, and then there was the whole me bringing you back from hell thing...and you being sort of useful, I guess? But still kind of a semi-evil asshole.”

“Liam,” Theo interrupts, voice pleading because he really doesn’t need a complete history of ‘Theo Raeken being a bad person’.

Liam shakes his head as if he’s forgotten where he’s going with his tangent, “Uh, point is...I hear the name Theo Raeken and a lot of things come to mind, good and bad, but, I feel like I don’t really know you. You know?”

“No,” Theo answers dryly, walls up as high as he can possibly build them.

“I mean, you’re here in my bedroom sitting on the bed that I sleep on,” Liam points out “and, that’s fine or whatever, but it’s also like there’s a complete stranger sitting next to me. I know more about your supernatural track record than I know about you...just as a human being.”

Theo freezes slightly, voice even as he says, “I can leave.”

Because for some reason the only thing he took away from Liam’s statement was “there’s a complete stranger sitting next to me” and the last thing he wants to do is make Liam uncomfortable in his own home, to wear out his welcome.

“Wait—no, what? Don’t leave, I’m not saying I don’t want you here, Theo. I’m trying to say that I know stuff about you that most average people will never find out...but I don’t know the most basic things, like your favorite color. Tell me,” Liam says in a tone so gentle that Theo feels ignoring the request would be almost sacrilegious.

So he plays along, answering, “Red, Liam. My favorite color is red.”

Liam hums, seemingly satisfied with that response, “Mine is blue. Favorite food?”

And it’s something so mundane, so trivial, but still Theo files the information away in the space carved out in his brain for Liam.

“French fries,” Theo replies easily.

Liam smiles at him, then, and Theo realizes that this stupid game is far from over.

He can’t really help but grin back.

*

The first few months on the road with the Dread Doctors are the hardest. Theo feels guilt, loneliness, grief, like a knife in his stomach, the ache of a self-inflicted wound.

The nightmares come quick and hard, and there was a time not too long ago when his mom or maybe Tara would soothe him when he’d wake up incoherently screaming about a monster hiding under his bed or in his closet, but those times have come and gone. Now, Theo has nightmares about Tara instead, about what he did to her and their family. He still wakes up screaming, but now there’s just no one there to tell him that it’s just a dream, that everything will be okay.

Probably because it’s not really just a dream anymore.

He starts pissing his bed again like he did when he was younger, so the Dread Doctors make him sleep on the concrete floor with just a tattered blanket for the three weeks that it takes for him to kick the habit like a dog being house-trained.

Soon enough, he becomes an adult in a nine year old body, thin, gangly limbs, a high-pitched voice, and a few baby teeth that haven’t fallen out yet, but with the poise and maturity of someone at least a decade above him.

It’s a survival tactic, Theo soon learns, if he isn’t able to be the chimera they want him to be, he’s dead. The Dread Doctors did not take him in to raise him, to guide him through boyhood to adolescence to adulthood—they took Theo in to turn him into a machine of death, the perfect killer.

So Theo doesn’t wait for his last teeth to fall out, sees them as marks of immaturity, as little loose ends holding him back from being all that he needs to be. Instead, he wraps small fingers around each of the molars before they’ve even begun to loosen, tugs them out one by one and grins down at the bloody teeth in his palm. He doesn’t place them under his pillow at night, doesn’t go to sleep hoping to find money in their place—instead, he crushes them under the heel of his shoe, and with them goes the last of his innocence. He forgets what it means to be a child.

The story goes something like this—little lost boy, lost heart, lost sister, lost everything. Gained power, gained strength, gained enemies, gained years of trauma that’ll take a lifetime to work through.

The story hasn’t ended yet, but he wishes more than anything that it had.

*

“The posters on the wall, what are those all about?” Theo asks, voice heavy with sleep. He tears his bleary eyes away from the adornments and they land on Liam, who isn’t looking too far from dozing off himself, sprawled against the sheets of his bed beside Theo.

They’ve been doing this for hours now, shooting questions back and forth at each other like each boy is trying to learn the other’s entire life history within the span of one night. The alarm clock beside Liam’s bed reads 3:19 AM in little red numbers. They’ve reached that odd, incoherent stage of exhaustion where words tumble past their lips without making much sense but they don’t really care anyway. It’s sort of nice.

The beta shrugs lazily, “I like history. And music.”

“And skateboarding,” Theo adds when the beta trails off.

“Hm? Oh, yeah,” Liam nods, “plus, a lot of the posters are covering up holes I’ve punched in the walls that my mom doesn’t know about.”

“Sneaky,” Theo comments.

“I’ve gotta be. My parents are finally starting to trust me again, starting to believe that I’ve finally gotten my anger under control. I just don’t want to have to see the disappointment in their eyes if they ever find out that I’m still pretty much a walking ball of rage most of the time,” Liam sighs.

“It’s your mantra,” Theo speaks, rolling onto his side to face Liam, “It’s weak.”

Liam stifles a yawn, sits up a little bit as he asks, “What’s that mean?”

“The sun, the moon, the truth. S’just a couple of words, do they even mean anything to you aside from the fact that they’re supposed to put a muzzle on your anger?” Theo asks.

When Liam shakes his head, he continues, “Exactly. Maybe that shit worked for Brett and Lori and their pack, but you gotta find something that matters to you, something that you care enough about that you can use as an anchor.”

“Like what?” Liam questions.

Theo shrugs, “That’s up to you to decide.”

There’s a long spell of silence punctuated only by the sound of the two boys’ slow and steady breathing, and Theo is almost certain Liam’s fallen asleep until the beta shoots another question at him suddenly.

“Who are you?” Liam asks.

*

The first person Theo kills after Tara is a husband and father of two. The Dread Doctors don’t give Theo a reason to kill this man, don’t give him any incentive. It’s just an order, clear as day.

Kill him.

It’s a test. A test of Theo’s loyalty, of his obedience, a test to see how much humanity has been shed from the young boy like snake skin during his first year with the Dread Doctors.

The man pleaded for his life, on his knees in front of Theo in an unknowing act of submission. Once he realized bargaining wouldn’t work, all he asked was that Theo not harm his daughters or wife. And it should’ve been ridiculous—in any other scenario, a young boy shouldn’t be able to slaughter a grown man, twice his size, all on his own—but little Theo Raeken with claws and fangs and the strength and speed possessed only by wild animals kills a man in cold blood on his tenth birthday, watches the life flicker out of the man’s eyes like candles on a birthday cake.

He considers satisfying the Dread Doctors and living to see another day his gift.

*

Theo doesn’t even realize his eyes have been closed until he opens them to the sight of Liam staring intently at him.

“What type of question is that?” Theo mumbles, resting his head against the palm of his hand.

“Before tonight...in my head you seemed just like a blurry shadow of a person, you know?” Liam says, “I had the general idea of what you were, but...but now, you’re more like an outline of a person. I can see the general features, maybe a couple details that I was missing before, but still, you’re not all filled in or anything. Like a blank coloring book page. Give me some crayons to work with, dude.”

Theo can’t hold back the chuckle that rips from his throat as he gazes at Liam in front of him, “I think you’re getting delirious.”

“I’m being serious!” Liam whines, and the sound is so damn grating that the chimera almost wants to cover his ears.

Theo grunts and sits up a little, “God, fine. Okay...what do you want to know?”

This feels like stepping into uncharted territory, like a question too loaded for Theo to answer because there’s more things Liam doesn’t know about him than does, things he’s not sure he can ever let Liam find out—like the way his voice cracks around the word sister, or how the first week after being brought back from hell he peed himself after nightmares like he was nine years old again, or the way that Theo used to fake stomach aches in elementary school to sit with Scott in the infirmary after asthma attacks, and now he’s afraid no one will ever look at him with that same gratitude and respect ever again.

Or the way that Theo’s not sure which parts of his personality are his and which parts were created to please the Dread Doctors. Maybe they’re all the same. Sometimes he forgets that he’s not a puppet anymore, that his marionette strings have been severed and all that’s left is a boy who hasn’t really figured out how to navigate life on his own yet.

“What do you do nowadays? I mean, you’re there when we need you, but only then. What about the in-between time when Beacon Hills isn’t on the verge of some supernatural disaster, where are you then?”

It’s not at all the question he expected to receive, and if Theo’s being honest, he never really thought anyone would notice his absence, never thought it would come into question. He’s almost reluctant to reveal that he doesn’t live some secret, exciting life like Liam might expect. He thinks it might kind of feel akin to finding out that Santa Claus is really just your parents, or something like that.

“I work,” Theo answers.

“Where?” Liam asks just as the words have slipped past the chimera’s lips.

Theo tears his gaze away from Liam, focuses instead on the bare ceiling above them as he replies, “Deaton’s clinic.”

“Wow. Didn’t pin you for an animal lover,” Liam comments, “Except...maybe cats, ‘cause they think they’re superior to everyone else, just like you.”

There’s a grin tugging at the corners of Theo’s lips that he isn’t doing a great job of hiding, “Maybe,” he says.

“Is that what you wanna do, though? Be a veterinarian?” Liam questions.

“Not at all,” Theo pauses to yawn, “I wanted...I wanted to study immunology. Or maybe biochemical engineering. I don’t know.”

Theo blames the sudden honesty on the effects of sleep deprivation on his brain.

“Wanted,” Liam echoes, “Why the past tense?”

Theo sighs, long and slow, “I haven’t even graduated high school, Liam.”

I’m also homeless and have no money to put me through college. I can barely pull myself together enough to go to work everyday, he thinks.

There’s a stretch of silence before Liam speaks up again, “You could re-enroll. School only started a month ago, prob’ly wouldn’t be too hard to catch up.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Theo hums in a noncommittal fashion, wondering why the boy even cares about his education or lack thereof.

Liam closes his eyes then, mumbles something that Theo can’t quite hear.

“What?”

“Sour skittles with a blue raspberry slurpee,” Liam repeats, “I didn’t tell you my favorite food.”

Theo snorts down into the comforter, “That’s not a food, you dumbass.”

“It is if I say it is,” the beta mumbles, and Theo doesn’t argue the point any further, “Next question…”

 

And they stayed up mumbling facts about themselves until sleep caught up with them.