Actions

Work Header

Ocean Eyes

Chapter Text

                                                                                           

 

Brett Talbot was the absolute fucking greatest. He was tall and broad-shouldered, had perfect blonde hair and a smile that could have been from a commercial for toothpaste. The pale blue of his eyes was absolutely irresistible when he squeezed them puppy style, and Brett used that to his advantage whenever he could.

Of course, on top of his good looks, Brett knew he also was the uncontested best player of Devenford Prep’s lacrosse team, and therefore, its captain. The Captain’s armband stretched around his thick biceps as he walked onto the playing field fashionably late as always, joining the rest of the team that had already begun their warm-up. A few of the guys looked pissed, but they should be lucky he graced them with his presence in the first place, and besides, his very own fan club sitting in the front row by the field was way more important.

Both boys and girls had come in large numbers to watch Brett play and win, as usual, cheering when he passed by them and lifted his jersey to show off his eight-pack, a little party trick that never failed to make at least one person swoon and a lot of others stare and drool.

“Hey, Talbot,” one of his teammates called just when Brett had discovered that hot brunette from the previous weekend on the ranks and was aggressively trying to make eye contact.

“How about you stay fully dressed and do some practice shots like the rest of us,” the annoying voice requested. Brett turned around with a pissed-off look on his face, throwing the guy a death glare that would have sent everybody else running for their lives, but not Theo Raeken, who was obviously too stupidly brave for his own good.

“Fuck off,” Brett replied with a wag of his hand. He decided that he had to teach Raeken a lesson, but he had a game to win first. Too many hotties to impress were around, and Brett was aware that all their eyes were on him and only him.

Of course, Devenford Prep won, because how could they not, with a captain as naturally talented and effortlessly perfect as himself? He was a fast runner, an accurate shooter, and above all, a born leader. After his third goal, he’d simply run over to the stands, grabbed one of the many pretty faces marveling at his glorious game and rewarded himself with a kiss on soft and surprised lips. Life was beautiful.

After the game, and after everybody else had long left the locker room, nobody’s shower and styling routine as extensive as Brett’s, the handsome captain found himself alone with his magnificent self. Just to be sure, he looked left and right before he opened his locker and took out a round, prettily silver item the size of his palm. Delicate patterns were engraved in its surface, making it look like a treasure, but what could be seen from the outside had nothing on the magic that it bore on the inside.

Brett opened the thing, and the mirror inside came into his view, and with it, of course, his own face, an image of such exceptional beauty that it blinded him for a few seconds before his eyes could adjust.

The handsome captain cleared his throat and straightened his back before he spoke the required words to bring the mirror to life.

“Mirror, mirror, who does seem - to be the hottest one on the team?”

Green light flickered in the mirror, replacing the reflection of Brett as a voice emanated from the little mysterious object. Brett smiled in anticipation for what he was going to hear, even if he long knew the truth, of course. Who else than him could possibly be the most attractive one on the team?

“You are pretty gorgeous, Brett, and amazingly tall-” the mirror responded in a deep and awe-inspiring voice- “but Liam Dunbar is the hottest one of them all!”

Brett's hand clenched tight around the mirror. Something had to be wrong with the item. Terribly wrong. Maybe its magic was somehow broken? Yes, that had to be it. There simply was no other explanation. Brett didn’t even know who Liam Dunbar was. He’d never heard the name before. So he tried again.

“Mirror, mirror, who does seem,” he repeated the same words, but his tone was grim, “to be the hottest one on the team?”

Again, the green flames licked across the cold surface of the mirror.

“You are pretty gorgeous, Brett, and amazingly tall, but Liam Dunbar is the hottest one of them all.”

“You stupid thing!” Brett screamed in frustration. He was tempted to throw the mirror against the nearest wall to crush it. It had clearly lost its value to him anyway. But then he remembered his father's insistent warning to never, under any circumstances, let the mirror shatter.

“I don’t even know this damn guy” Brett pressed out, not that he expected any further explanations. He tucked the mirror back inside his locker and stormed out of the room, his pretty face contorted into an evil frown. Life sucked.

 


 

“Hey, Nolan” Brett called after the boy with the cute freckles covering his cheeks, aware of the crush Nolan had been having on him forever, counting on Nolan doing anything to help him. It was the morning after the lacrosse game, and Brett had no thought to spare for the class he had in five minutes.

“Hello, Brett” Nolan responded and blushed, smiling shyly.

“Who is Liam Dunbar?” Brett asked right away. He’d barely been able to find sleep after the distressing events of the previous day. Something had to be done, and the first step of his plan was information.

Nolan looked surprised, irritated. “Liam?” he repeated the name.

Brett nodded, waiting impatiently for a more useful reply.

“Liam is the guy who joined the team last week,” Nolan finally explained, “the new striker. I think he transferred from Beacon Hills High.”

Brett considered this information. Now that Nolan was saying it, he could, in fact, remember there being an unfamiliar face on the playing field with them during the game.

“Number nine?” Brett asked. Number nine had scored almost as many goals as himself.

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Nolan nodded.

Without another word, not even a thank you, Brett turned around and walked away, his mind far away from anything school-related and focused solely on what would be necessary to get rid of Liam Dunbar once and for all. He was Brett fucking Talbot, and he always got what he wanted. It couldn’t be that hard.

 


 

On the next day, Brett showed up at Lacrosse practice punctually, for the first time in years. The sun above him was blazing like a wheel of fire. He casually took off the sunglasses he was wearing, tossing them carelessly on the bench next to him. The narcissistic boy was standing as gracefully as ever on the sidelines of the field, his eyes searching for Liam Dunbar, the guy who apparently had stolen his place beauty-wise if he believed what his magic mirror had said was indeed true.

Brett’s vanity was wounded deeply. He wanted to see who this stupid Liam was who dared to snatch his title as the hottest one away from him just like that. Clenching his hands into fists, he felt the anger rampaging inside of him like a storm when he finally caught sight of the boy who made all of his nightmares come true.

Brett narrowed his eyes, watching Liam intensively, taking in all of his features. But no matter how hard he tried, he just wasn’t able to see it. In his eyes, Liam Dunbar was nothing special, he was plain and boring. Maybe a four out of a ten. Obviously, his magic mirror had to be mistaken or it had no taste at all.

Brett glared at Liam in envy as he followed his flawless performance on the field. His perfect movements and precise shots made it seem like Liam was actually performing art. Much to the blonde boy's dismay, he had to admit that Dunbar was a pretty decent player, if not one of his teammates that could actually contest his right as the Captain. Liam's skills definitely could balance out his average looks.

Scowling, Brett grabbed his Lacrosse stick so hard that his knuckles were turning white as he realized that Liam not only had taken his crown as the most attractive one but was about to beat him at his favorite sport as well. It was the final straw that made him snap.

Aggressively stomping onto the field, Brett strode over to Liam with the intention to give the boy what he deserved for stealing what was his all along. He stepped into his path, blocking and tripping Liam deliberately. An evil grin was forming on his lips as he watched satisfied as Dunbar stumbled and went down, hitting the ground with a heavy thud.

Brett’s eyes lit up in a villainous way as he was looking down coldly at his whining teammate, who was lying on the ground, holding his ankle clearly grimacing in pain.

“Whoops, maybe you should better watch where you’re going next time, Dunbar!” Brett snarled, his voice laced with hostility, not even trying to hide his grudge against the younger boy. Listening to Liam whimpering in pain was like listening to his favorite song. It felt so good to have the upper hand and this was only the beginning. Liam would have to face the consequences of taking away what he loved the most and he wouldn’t stop until he would be the most handsome guy and the best player on the team once again. He would literally do anything to reach this goal, even sell his soul to the devil if it was necessary.

After what seemed like an eternity, Liam scrambled back to his feet, hissing in pain as his injured foot was touching the ground beneath him. Shifting his weight to his unharmed one, he looked up, his ocean blue eyes burning with a raging fire.

"What the fuck is wrong with you, Talbot?! Why did you trip me?!" He yelled outraged, having a hard time to restrain his anger. He couldn't believe that his captain would display such an incredible arrogance. He didn't even know what his fucking problem was. He couldn't think of one simple thing he had done in his short time being on the team that could have provoked Brett in any way.

Brett chuckled darkly, arching one of his perfectly shaped eyebrows disdainfully.

"I was just trying to teach you where your place on this team is because you already seem to have forgotten. I'm the one that shines the brightest on this fucking field. If you try to steal my limelight one more time, I'm gonna crush you, do you understand?!" He spat.

Liam inhaled sharply, mumbling some words repeatedly that awfully sounded like the Sun, the Moon, and the Truth, but Brett could have been mistaken. Not like he cared anyway.

"Oh really? You know you could have just said something. With actual words? You didn't have to hurt me!" Liam growled, limping dangerously fast into Brett's direction, shoving him harshly. Brett, who hadn't been prepared for this attack at all, stumbled a little backward.

"Ohh, did I make you angry?!" Brett laughed mockingly, welcoming his chance at starting a fight with open arms. If he had known it would be that easy to rile Dunbar up, he would have provoked a fight a long time ago. Maybe he could use this to his advantage and scratch Liam's pretty face. He lunged out before shoving Liam roughly back, resulting in him to almost fall back to the grass again. The boy was barely able to catch himself, his ankle injury wasn't exactly working in his favor.

Just as both boys were on the verge of charging at each other again, Theo Raeken stepped in between them, separating his fellow teammates from tearing out each other's throats.

“Would you two just stop it? I don’t know if you already noticed, but this isn’t Fight Club…” he said, rolling his eyes in annoyance.

Brett narrowed his eyes, sending Theo a pissed-off glare.

“I would suggest you mind your own business, Raeken! This is between Dunbar and me, so stay the fuck out of it!” He huffed, planting himself in front of Theo threateningly, staring him dead in the eye. But the dark-haired boy didn’t even flinch, which didn’t really help to lighten the sharp tension.

Giving Theo one last disparaging look, Brett addressed Liam again, trying to kill him with the deadliest glare he could come up with.

“This isn’t over Dunbar!” He snapped sorely, turning on his heel, stomping away theatrically, almost breaking his Lacrosse stick he still held in his hands in half.

 


 

Theo stepped into the shower of the locker room, a chill running down his spine as his toes were touching the cold ceramic floor. The dark-haired boy turned on the water, the old pipes squeaking before spitting out a torrent of warm water. Steam filled the room, fogging his vision. The sensation of hot water on his body calmed him down a little from clashing with his team captain on the field once again.

Theo didn't like Brett, nor was he easily blinded by his superior looks. He didn't get why everyone else threw themselves at him like they had no dignity at all. True, Brett had a gorgeous appearance, but on the inside, he was an ignorant shallow person whose dense ideology overshadowed his outside beauty with his ugliness within.

The water dripped down his hair softly. The droplets were slowly running down his body in rivulets, defining his abs and worked-out body perfectly. Theo closed his eyes to the water as the heat was soaking his skin, filling him with warmth, finally taking his mind off everything else. The chatting of his teammates in the distance died out completely as he was enjoying the water falling down on his body.

When Theo finally opened his eyes again, all he could hear was the running of his shower. Everything else had plunged into silence. He carefully listened to the water hitting the ceramic floor in a steady thrumming, drops splitting into tiny little droplets as they met his body. He didn't know how long he had been standing there, but it seemed like he had forgotten the time. After a few more moments, the dark-haired boy turned off the water, grabbing his towel and rubbing himself dry, before wrapping it around his hips. Getting out of the shower, he realized he was indeed the only one left in the locker room. Everyone else seemed to be long gone already.

With a fast pace, Theo went to his locker, opening it to get his clothes and his other stuff but as soon as he had opened the door, he was met by emptiness. What the fuck was going on? Theo stared at his vacant locker in confusion. He was sure he had put all of his stuff in there and couldn't explain what had happened to it.

Frantically, he started to search the whole locker room for his clothes. He was fucking naked for god's sake! He couldn't just leave without any clothes on and walk all the way to his home in his fucking birthday suit. But after searching in vain for almost 20 minutes, he knew there was no chance in hell he would get out of this dilemma unscathed. Groaning, he looked down at himself, taking in his naked appearance before sighing deeply. Looked like he had no choice but to bite the bullet and head home wearing nothing but a fucking towel.

Dreading to leave, he slowly walked to the door that would expose him to the outside world. Hesitantly he grasped the handle and opened the door a small gap, peeking out of it carefully to make sure no one was around to witness one of his most embarrassing moments ever.

The moment he was sure no one was there, he quickly sneaked out of the locker room. Clasping the towel firmly to his body, he started to walk towards the parking lot he had to cross before he could finally leave the school grounds behind. His eyes were shifting around nervously as he set his bare feet into the parking lot. The concrete was burning hot, hurting his every move.

The parking lot was almost empty, only one car was parking there, occupying two parking spaces at once. Theo rolled his eyes, as he realized it was Brett's fancy looking Porsche 911 Cabrio which was the swankiest thing he had ever seen. Of course, the blonde boy would own such a pretentious car to show off.

Gritting his teeth, he recognized Brett who was sitting in the driver’s seat, wearing his thick sunglasses, posing like he was the king of the parking lot himself. Great, the one person he didn't want to meet right now, was only a few a meters away.

Theo panted with rage as everything suddenly fell into place. Of course, Brett would be the one who was responsible for his lack of clothing. That evil dick!
Before Theo could close the distance between them, Brett drove into his direction, stopping just in time to avoid a collision. A twisted smile was dancing on his lips as he looked at Theo's delicate body.

"Raeken", he spat, his voice poisonous.

"Looks like you've lost something" Brett continued in a mocking tone, his smile turning into a wicked grin, while he was still observing Theo shamelessly, watching as droplets of water were running down his well-defined torso before they were absorbed by the fabric of the towel.

Despite feeling pretty uneasy under Brett's stare, he didn't show it, instead, he put on a mask of coldness.

"What the fuck is your problem, Talbot?!" Theo yelled angrily. He was really tempted to drag Brett out of his stupid posh car and to punch the annoying grin out of his face. But he knew that wouldn't be the best idea right now, not when he was wearing almost nothing. He couldn't risk losing his last clothing item too while he was punching fucking Brett senseless.

Brett chuckled darkly.

"Funny that you would ask that. You know exactly what this is about. You always get in my way, undermining my authority. No one asked you to butt in, annoying me with your unsolicited remarks! This is a warning, Raeken. Don't mess with me or you're going to regret it. It is hard enough to find a new striker to replace Dunbar, you wouldn't want to burden our team with searching for a substitute for your position as well, would you?" Brett said cryptically, lifting his sunglasses up from his nose, putting them on his head.

Theo narrowed his eyes.

"What do you mean? Why would we need a replacement for Liam? He is an excellent player. Are you afraid he could contest your position as captain? I mean, everyone can clearly see that he is better than you!" Theo said with a venom-laced voice, still not backing down and standing up to Brett without caring about the consequences.

Brett just laughed evilly.

"Oh, you haven't heard the news? I'm afraid he might not be such an excellent player anymore. Lacrosse is probably the last thing that is on his mind right now..."

After hearing another of Brett's cryptic allusions, an uneasy feeling spread inside of his gut.

"What news? What the fuck did you do?" Theo asked alarmed because he was sure something terrible was up.

"That’s for me to know and for you to find out..." Brett smirked before a triumphant smile brightened his face.

"You know Raeken, it is quite a shame you're such a bitch...Why can't you just admire me as everyone else does? You would be such a nice addition to my list of all the people I've fucked in this school..."
Brett winked at Theo suggestively, before driving off, leaving him in the parking lot all on his own.

 


 

Liam kept hearing Brett's words echoing through his head over and over again as he walked home. This isn’t over, Dunbar.

Usually, he would have ignored the guy’s empty threats, but something about Brett Talbot made him feel like there was a good chance they weren’t completely empty. It was a precarious situation for Liam, really. He couldn’t afford to get suspended from lacrosse or classes again. He would be screwed if he’d been caught in another fight. He would have been already if Theo Raeken hadn’t come in between.

Now, that he was thinking about him, he wondered where his teammate was right now. Usually, Theo would join him after practice, because they almost had the same way home. Just a few days ago Liam had found out that Theo only lived two streets away from him, so it was pretty weird he didn’t show up today. It’s not like they were talking that much really, but it was nice to have some company while walking home.

When he rounded the next corner, Liam suddenly felt like something was off. He focused his ears and was almost certain he could hear two sets of footsteps behind him. He couldn’t have explained why he felt threatened by them, there simply was something in the air that gave him chills all over. He didn’t dare turn around. Just in case his suspicion was correct and somebody was following him, Liam fastened his steps, hoping that they would wait long enough until he could make a run. He was fast. If he made it to the beginning of the street he lived in, he would probably make it home. A sting of pain was sent from his ankle upwards through his leg, but he gritted his teeth grimly and kept walking.

It was no use. Liam could practically feel the aggressive breathing of the two boys sending a shiver down his spine as they caught up with him. He was genuinely shocked to discover they were two of his new teammates, Gabe and Nolan, if he remembered their names correctly. Not that Liam wasn’t used to getting beaten up, but what had been happening to him at Devenford Prep so far was absolutely beyond him. He hadn't even talked to neither Brett nor Gabe and Nolan for more than ten seconds. What on earth could they possibly hate him for?

“Hello, pretty boy,” Gabe greeted him sarcastically as he swung Liam around harshly, shoving him against the nearest wall. With horror, Liam realized that his two attackers were holding baseball bats in their hands.

“What do you want from me?” Liam growled, not expecting a helpful answer, but still genuinely wondering.

“Nothing,” Nolan declared with a malicious smirk, “except for your pretty face to look way less pretty. But we're going to take care of that for you.”

Liam looked around in panic. His house was awfully far away, his back pressed against a wall, and two dangerously looking dudes with weapons were blocking his way. He was fucked.

“I didn’t even do anything to you guys,” Liam desperately tried to defend himself, his arms slung around his torso to protect the important parts.

“This has the fuck all to do with what you did, Dunbar,” Gabe informed him, striking out with the bat in his firm grip.

Liam whimpered but saw a tiny chance for an escape as Gabe lunged forward, Nolan standing right by his side, and so the other side was free, and when Gabe didn’t pay attention because he already saw the wooden bat crush against Liam's skull, Liam ducked away in the very last second, landed a hard punch into Gabe's lower belly and got away under his stretched out arm while Gabe was hunching with pain.

“That little fucker,” he heard the tall, dark-haired boy mutter as he ran for dear life, Nolan right at his heels, but not quite as fast as him, not even with Liam's injured ankle. To his left, the concrete of the street gave way to dirt and roots, and Liam decided to disappear between the trees, hoping that Nolan wasn’t as used to running in the woods as he was. He almost smiled as he heard the blonde boy curse behind him, but he reminded himself to focus on the ground, sticks and stones and muddy parts threatening to make him fall, but he saw them coming every time, sidestepping and jumping to avoid them. Until a strange noise distracted him for only a millisecond.

Liam looked to his right, and he never found the source of the noise, but when he turned his gaze back forward, it was too late to stop. He barely had enough time to close his eyes before he crashed into a thick, low-hanging branch face first. He heard his own nose break with an ugly crack before he felt the soft earth between his fingers, the air knocked out of his lungs as he landed on his back.

“Look at that,” Nolan grinned, although panting heavily, a moment later, drawing dangerous circles into the air above Liam’s dizzy head with the baseball bat. “The trickiest traps are always those you set for yourself, aren’t they?”

Liam saw the wooden bat being raised high into the air. He tried to move as it came rushing down towards him, but his body didn’t follow his brain's orders fast enough. This time, he couldn't escape the blow on his jaw. He could taste blood as he tried to regain focus only to witness Nolan preparing for another hit.

Liam scrambled to his feet, or at least to his hands and knees before he got knocked down again by the bat crashing against his temple. He tasted the forest ground for a bit, but all he could think about was how his right eye didn’t allow him to see anymore, the lids swollen shut. It was in that moment that Liam realized he could be glad if he would make it out alive.

A hard kick into the side of his ribcage followed, at least taking away his brain's attention from the pain in his head and to the pain at his side. Liam stretched out his arm and reached for a thick root a little across from him, but with just the wrong timing, of course, Gabe reappeared and stepped onto his hand with one muddy, clunky boot.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked darkly. “Or should I say crawling?”

Liam didn’t answer. He barely managed to suck air into his lungs. Nolan gave him another kick, and then a third one, causing Liam to wince in pain and roll around onto his back, clutching his bruised side, the arm that was still pinned down by Gabe now unnaturally twisted. “Fuck you,” he finally spat out along with with a lot of blood.

“A little rebel, are we?” Gabe laughed before he turned serious. “Well, you're not going to be able to talk for much longer.”

He proved his words true with an absolutely violent bash onto Liam's head. Warm blood spilled from a wound on his forehead and ran down his face. Moving had long become useless. Liam used all his remaining energy to keep breathing.

“You really should have kept your pretty mouth shut,” Nolan snarled. He struck out, with his fist this time, hovering above Liam, punching him in the face with full force, his knuckles breaking the delicate skin on Liam's lower lips, each of them leaving behind a bruising mark. “You really should have kept your little ass out of our school,” he added and let another blow follow at the same time as Gabe let his baseball bat crush against his left ear that instantly started ringing and then went deaf.

Liam wanted to fight, he really did. He was impossibly angry at those two bastards beating him up for absolutely no apparent reason other than that they didn’t like his face. He was so sick of people trying to solve everything with violence. If anybody knew how little hope that had of ever leading anywhere, it was certainly him. But Liam's body was currently drained of all strength. Bleeding. Numb. Empty. He had one single instinct left to hold onto: survival. And that would be hard enough.

It was the absolute ugliest and most cringe-worthy sound he'd ever heard when Liam’s jaw cracked, and when blood came spilling out from between his lips and running down his chin, he couldn’t even close his mouth anymore to stop it. God only knows how he managed to turn onto his stomach so that he wouldn’t choke on his own blood. He could barely see or hear. Actually, he could barely feel anymore. He was losing attachment to his own body a little more with every passing second and a lot more with every punch against his neck, every kick against his torso, every inch further that Gabe twisted his arm around until he was almost certain he would never use it again.

“Not so pretty anymore now, are you Dunbar?” Nolan commented on his destroyed appearance after what felt like an eternity to Liam. Liam didn’t answer. He couldn’t. He was busy dying.

“Is he even still breathing?” he heard Gabe ask. Funny, he thought. Why would they care now?

“If not he'll at least not come back to school,” Nolan replied. “I’d say we did our job. Let’s get out of here.”

“Should we grab a burger?” Liam heard Gabe suggest as their footsteps were carrying them away. “I feel kind of hungry after this.”

It should have been the moment of relief for Liam. The moment to catch his breath and then get up, to examine his injuries and see if he would make it home on his own. But that was not his reality anymore. In Liam’s head, darkness was washing over him, about to swallow him entirely. Not a single muscle in his body did so much as twitch when his brain begged them to. His vision had long failed him.

Minutes ago, he’d still be able to taste blood, but even that was gone. Everything went blank until there were no more trees surrounding him anymore, and no more ground to catch him. The fall into darkness had taken him a few moments, but then Liam landed into nothing, and all his remaining lights went out at the same time.

Chapter Text

Gabe drove them to the Burger Joint with his pitch black SUV, parking it right in front of the place. When the engine had finally died down, he turned to the passenger seat, where Nolan was sitting in silence, staring out of the windscreen unmoving.

“You’ve been awfully quiet throughout the whole ride. Is everything alright?” Gabe asked his voice void of real concern, his face contorted into slight annoyance which clearly showed he was displeased with Nolan’s behavior.

The dark-haired boy jerked Nolan out of his thoughts harshly, resulting in him to turn his head into Gabe’s direction, brows furrowing in confusion.

“What? Yeah, I’m fine,” he replied still a little lost.

Only a few minutes ago, Nolan had been feeling great. He had been on the top of the world, his heart swelling satisfied with his actions in the woods. Everything he'd ever wanted was to please Brett and if it meant to do his dirty work, he would execute it in the blink of an eye and without trying to question his ulterior motives. He was so in love with the narcissistic boy that he would literally do anything for him, no matter what he would ask him to do and even if it contradicted his own beliefs.

Nolan had been high on adrenaline, euphoria pulsating through his veins the moment he had brought the bat down on Liam for the first time, but now that it was slowly ceasing he felt like hitting rock bottom. Guilt sat inside of his chest, nagging at him, poisoning his heart with regret. Remorse was hitting him like a sledgehammer, making him feel ashamed of himself all of sudden.

“You should be. We did a really good job with Dunbar back in the woods, don’t you think?” Gabe grinned a devious smile dancing on his lips greatly pleased with himself. He held out his fist to Nolan for a fistbump. Obeying, but not really feeling it, the freckled boy met his fist with his own, eyes widening a little as he realized it was still bloodied from getting in contact with Liam’s face.

He awkwardly let his hand drop back into his lap, unable to advert his haunted gaze from his blood-smeared knuckles which were a constant reminder of what he had done.

Nausea spread inside of him and he suddenly felt like vomiting. His heart retracted at the thought of Dunbar lying motionlessly, beaten and battered on the forest's ground. Nolan didn’t know how extensive or gravely his injuries were or if he even was still alive and breathing but now his thoughts were only revolving around it, eating and pestering him in the cruelest way.

The guilt he felt in his gut was like a never-dying fire, depriving him of the oxygen he needed to breathe, slowly killing him in its toxicity. The fire burned him so badly, there was nothing left but a shell, an outline of a person he didn’t want to be.

Nolan watched as Gabe climbed out of the car, shutting its door with a bang as soon as he was standing next to it. Nolan mimicked his movements, getting out of the SUV as well.

The sun was still blazing like a celestial fireball in the sky, the sunshine kissing the surroundings into brilliance. Its warm rays were touching Nolan’s skin but he felt ice cold.
Cold sweat was forming on his forehead and he was nervously fidgeting with his fingers.

The blonde boy knew he needed to get a grip, he needed to think rationally. He couldn't let his conflicted emotions show in front of Gabe. He wouldn't understand what was going on in his mind. Gabe wasn’t a guy that had any regrets and he would definitely judge him for being so weak and he couldn’t risk that. He was afraid of what he would tell Brett.

With steady steps, he followed Gabe into the Burger Joint, wondering how the boy could go on with his life just like that. They had left someone to fucking die in the forest and his so-called friend didn’t even seem to care the slightest bit. No, he had even wanted to go and grab some Burgers afterward and Nolan had agreed to it. What kind of twisted person did do something awful like that?

Nolan didn't recognize himself anymore. His conscience kept on taunting him with his fatal mistake. It was like an unforgiving specter haunting him forever, never leaving him in peace ever again.

Inside the restaurant, Gabe was searching for an empty table.

“I’m going to the bathroom. You can order for me whatever you’re having,” Nolan choked out before he vanished into the direction of the restrooms.

The freckled boy closed the door after him, leaning heavily against its cold surface, closing his eyes briefly. He wished he could go back. Rewind the day, rectify the worst mistake he had made in his life. However, he couldn’t. That wasn’t how real life worked. A mistake like that was irrevocable and he had to live with its repercussions. Remorse etched at his heart, guilt eating him alive.

A tear trickled down his cheek as the memory of the bashing replayed in his mind in a constant loop.

Opening his eyes, he wiped the tear from his cheek before stepping to the sink. Once he got there, he grabbed the cold edge with both of his hands and leaned himself against it. He lowered his head, inhaling deeply. After a few moments, Nolan lifted his head again and his haunted eyes met his reflection in the bathroom mirror. A reflection of a stranger. Someone he didn’t want to be associated with.

Realization hit him like a ton of bricks. He had turned into a fucking monster. Nolan gulped at the sight in front of him. The freckled boy was drained of all color and droplets of cold sweat were running down his face.

His knees felt weak and he was sure to experience a mental break down any minute now. He had a hard time to hold himself together. Nolan longed to go back and take a different path, a less violent one. But that was impossible. There was no turning back, no way to make it right. It was too late.

Releasing his right hand from the washbasin, he turned on the water tap. Immediately a thick stream of water was spluttering out of it, filling the bathroom with a steady rush. Holding his hands under the water, he desperately tried to scrub off the blood from his hands coloring the water in a deep crimson in the process. Frozen in horror, he watched as the scarlet red water swirled into the drain until it was clear again.

The pang of guilt he felt was almost unbearable now. His regret came in waves, burying him underneath. He knew he couldn’t undo what he had done but he could try to make it right. He just didn’t know how. What he had done was unforgivable but he had to at least try to limit the damage.

Turning off the water, he almost bolted form the restroom, quickly crossing the restaurant without even paying attention to his surroundings or to Gabe who was sitting in a booth in the corner. He only had one thing on his mind. He needed to go back to the woods. He needed to make sure Liam wasn’t dead. He needed to help him. He needed to try to right his wrongs or he could never live with himself ever again.

Before he could leave the restaurant though, someone grabbed his shoulder from behind whirling him around. It was Gabe, who was looking at him questioningly.

“Where the fuck are you going?!” Gabe asked, arching an eyebrow in suspicion.

Nolan groaned in frustration, he really had wanted to avoid a confrontation with Gabe but when was something ever going according to plan?

“I’m doing what I should have done way earlier. I’m going back to the forest,” the blonde boy replied, his voice slightly shaking.

“Why would you go back there? To finish Dunbar off?” Gabe looked almost impressed.

Nolan inhaled in shock at the suggestion of his friend. The guy seemed to have no scruples at all. He couldn’t believe he was friends with someone so heartless like that.

“No, of course not. I’m going back to help him. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want him to die. I’ve come to my senses and I realized I couldn’t live with his blood on my fucking hands” Nolan said visibly upset with the whole situation he found himself in.

Gabe shook his head disbelievingly, a dark chuckle leaving his mouth.

“Are you fucking serious right now? We had a precise order from Brett, you can’t back out now. We’re in this together!” The dark-haired boy spat, grabbing Nolan harshly by his shirt.

“Don’t fucking touch me!” Nolan yelled outraged, wrestling himself free from Gabe’s firm grip.
“You’re alone in this now”

Without waiting for Gabe’s reply, he stormed out of the Burger Joint, running into the direction of the forest.

 


 

Brett opened the front door of his home, stepping into the foyer. He carelessly threw his sports bag onto the floor, before vanishing into the direction of his room. But instead of entering it, he slipped into the bathroom attached to it, locking the door behind him.

Inside, he looked into the bathroom mirror, taking in all of his beauty with an approving and dashing smile. Admiring his astonishing features for quite some time, he winked at himself playfully before he took his magic mirror out of his pocket.

The silver object with the ancient looking patterns was resting in his palm when he finally switched it open. Immediately he was graced with his dazzling artistry that was definitely beyond this world.

The handsome boy felt a thrill of anticipation. Only a few more seconds and he would hear the beautiful words he was craving for again. He couldn’t wait to bathe himself in their wonderful sound. There was no doubt that after Dunbar was out of the picture the mirror would compliment him for his unrivaled beauty again.

Clearing his throat, he fixated his gaze onto the mirror in his hand, before opening his mouth to speak the magic words that would bring his source of compliments to life once again.

“Mirror, Mirror who does seem – to be the hot-“ he spoke but was suddenly interrupted by a loud banging on the other side of the bathroom door.

Brett almost jumped out of his skin, nearly dropping the magic mirror to the floor in the process because he hadn’t expected the loud knocking at all. Luck being on his side, he was able to catch the mirror before it made contact with the tiles on the floor. Heavily panting, he placed a hand on his racing heart theatrically, while his other one was grasping his magic mirror for dear life.

“Brett! Hurry the fuck up! Maybe you already have forgotten, but it is my bathroom as well!” A girly voice screamed from the outside, making Brett’s blood boil in anger. Of course, his stupid sister had to ruin his glorious moment.

“Shut up, Lori. I need to concentrate!” he yelled annoyed while drawing his attention back to the magic pocket mirror in his hands, tuning out the rants of his stupid little sister completely.
With his main focus on the mirror again, the words that would bring it to life were leaving his lips, this time without any interruption.

“Mirror, Mirror who does seem – to be the hottest one on the team?”

The mirror's surface replaced his reflection with a green fire licking across its surface.

“You’re a beautiful sight Brett, but even when almost dying. Liam Dunbar is more beautiful than you without even trying!”

The magic mirror chanted with an awe-struck voice, making Brett almost choke at its unbelievable words that were destroying him inside out.

Shell-shocked, the handsome captain gaped at the magic mirror. What the hell was it even talking about? Why would it still state that Dunbar was better looking than him? He had been beaten to a fucking bulb and yet the mirror was still praising his fucking beauty. It had to be broken! All it was telling him were lies. He knew for a fact, that he was hotter than Liam, even more now. Why wasn’t the stupid mirror acknowledging that?

Scowling, he flipped the mirror shut with a rough clap. If it was still denying him the title of the hottest one, he had to take the matter into his own hands. Liam Dunbar would pay the ultimate price for stealing what was his and this time he wouldn’t stop to do everything that was necessary to reach his goal. Even if it meant to get Liam out of his way for good.

 


 

Malia cursed loudly when she stepped into a dirty puddle and her shoes were finally ruined for good. “I swear to god, Scott, if you don’t lead us out of that godforsaken woods soon, I might just have to kill you with my bare hands.” She should never have agreed to this little walk. Scott’s shortcuts were never actually short, and without Stiles around to save their asses in the end, they were hopelessly lost.

“I’m almost sure we can’t be that far off the route,” her boyfriend mumbled back, his eyes focused on the screen of his phone, even if the device was apparently of no use to help them to find their way.

“That would make me feel better,” Malia growled, “if I had any trust left in your orientation skills.” They were just trying to meet their friends at the animal clinic, a place where they had been a thousand times at least, and one that wasn’t exactly hard to find. Well, if you took the official way along the actual street, that was.

“I should have brought my inhaler,” Scott remarked as they were climbing a short but steep hill, which probably would have been easier on all fours, but their feet were dirty enough as it was, no need to get the hands involved as well.

“Yeah,” Malia replied, “and your Stiles.” She felt a little bad for him as she heard him fighting his body for air, but she couldn’t resist the snarky comment.

“We’ll take the usual way home, I promise,” Scott assured her.

“If we ever make it out of these woods,” Malia added. Her back was sweaty beneath her shirt. She hated sweating.

“Isn’t that a road over there?” Scott suddenly asked, pointing ahead.

Malia squinted her eyes. Yes, she saw it too. She sighed in relief before they both started to hurry in its direction, her feet all of a sudden not as heavy anymore, carrying her across dry leaves and sticks and dirty roots, and then - holy shit. A dead body!

Malia screamed. She scrambled back until her back hit against the trunk of a big tree, her eyes wide in horror, a little splatter of blood sticking to the tip of her shoe. Her voice was high-pitched and squeaky and filled with panic. This wasn’t supposed to be happening to her. They were not in a damn horror movie, for fuck’s sake.

Scott turned around, searching for her eyes and then following their direction to the bloody and oddly crooked body that was half buried in mud and leaves, little of the pale skin still visible.

“Please tell me I’m imagining this,” Malia panted, unable to avert her gaze, “please tell me I’m not actually seeing a dead body right in front of me.”

“I wish I could,” Scott replied, reaching out for her hand, his own trembling. “We should probably call Parrish.”

Relief washed over Malia. She had been too shocked to even think about what to do next. The mention of Jordan Parrish’s name made her feel like someone was going to take care of everything, someone a little less terrified and overwhelmed by the mere sight of the damaged and broken body. She pulled out her phone and scrolled through the contacts for the number of the Sheriff’s department. It was already dialing when a strange noise made her jump once more. Could this situation really get any more creepy?

Both Malia and her boyfriend looked around in confusion before they realized where the muffled sound had come from. Another one followed.

“Oh my god,” Scott whispered, crouching down beside the pile of broken bones and bleeding flesh on the ground. He looked down at it, then up at Malia. “He’s alive,” he stated.

Malia was horrified. Truth to be told, the guy lying in front of them, producing sounds that were merely grunts looked like death might have been the better alternative. Her hands were shaking as she helped Scott turn him around carefully, although there probably weren’t many bones left in his body that weren’t already broken. A sharp hiss of pain escaped the boy’s lips before he lost consciousness again, but Scott swore to her that his heart was still beating. For how much longer, though, nobody could know. She called an ambulance, her words at the telephone a sobbed out mess, but a siren came approaching them from the road just a short while later.

“I guess we’re changing our plans,” Scott said as he brushed the dirt off his clothes, which Malia was still too paralyzed to do, even after the broken boy was on his way to the hospital. Would Scott have been equally freaked out by their discovery if his mother Melissa, who was a nurse at the hospital, hadn’t taught him a thing or two about emergency situations? Malia couldn’t believe how calm he was. Before she could even react, Scott was already on the phone with Stiles - she would have recognized that voice anywhere, at any time, even muffled through the phone of the person standing two feet away from her.

“Meet us at the hospital,” Scott said shortly, offering no explanation. He ended the call and looked at her, worry in his warm, brown eyes.

“Are you okay?” he asked, reaching for her hand and squeezing it tight. Her fingers were still covered in a stranger’s blood, but his were, too, and somehow, that made it a little less awful.

“Yeah,” she croaked, “I’m suddenly very grateful for all my non-broken bones and the ability to breathe properly.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Scott tried to reassure her, but she knew that he couldn’t actually be certain about that. She just wanted to get out of that damn forest.

 


 

Theo’s bare feet were hurting badly. He wasn’t exactly used to walking home the entire way from the school to his parents' house - basically at the opposite end of town - without shoes on. Actually, without anything on, except a still damp towel slung around his hips. It was by far the worst day of his life at high school, that much was certain.

For years, Theo had managed to stay relatively invisible, living below the radar, being on good terms with most of the other students, but not really close friends, not making himself part of any specific group, not putting himself under any certain obligation to spend his lunch breaks at a particular table in the cafeteria. He had always had good grades, but never attempted to become the best of his class, simply to avoid the attention. He was far from ugly, as Theo very well knew, but he chose a deliberately boring style of clothing, plain jeans, and sweaters varying from light grey to black, his hair kept short and simply standing from his head the way it did when he crawled out of bed in the morning. It wasn’t like Theo was going to miss the clothes Brett had stolen. Well, maybe the new pair of white converse. A little bit.

Theo didn’t know why exactly, but his life had changed with the arrival of Liam Dunbar at Devenford Prep. While his strategy to loathe Brett Talbot, douchebag of the century (and living humectant of panties), in silence and from a safe distance had worked in his favor so far, he had known those times were officially over when Brett had tripped Liam at lacrosse practice, starting what would have become a fist fight if Theo hadn’t broken it off.

Theo didn’t even know Liam that well. They had simply discovered that they shared almost the same way home after Liam’s first day at their school, and since then, they had spent twenty minutes every afternoon talking about god-knows-what, Theo couldn’t really remember, which could have been related to the incredibly blue eyes shining from Liam’s face distracting him.

Theo wasn’t stupid. He knew exactly what Brett had against Liam. The golden rule at Devenford Prep was strict but simple: Brett Talbot was the fucking greatest, and no doubts were allowed. Theo had never seen anybody try to challenge the asshole, but rumor had it, Brett had had a senior thrown out of the school when he still had been a freshman himself, not that anybody was stupid enough to ask questions about it. He was convinced Liam wasn’t doing it on purpose, he had certainly not transferred schools just to get under Brett's skin, but still, the result was the same: Liam was smoking hot and everybody could see it, including Brett.

When he could hear a car approaching from behind, Theo’s cheeks turned into a bright red, lighting up like his mother’s godforsaken Christmas bowls that also had tiny lamps inside them. His fingers clasped around the fabric of the towel, making sure that it would stay in its place, covering all the important parts.

In creepy slowness, an elderly lady passed by him in her dark green vehicle, windows down and a disapproving, almost disgusted look on her face. Jesus Christ, did she think he was walking around half naked for fun?

“You young people are unbelievable,” the woman commented, just loud enough for Theo to hear her snarky comment. Awesome. Could this day get any worse? Before he could finish his thought, he realized that, of course, it could, since he was still not at home where a hot shower and a closet full of freshly washed pants and cozy sweaters were waiting for him. There was still time to - Oh, great. To come across a young couple holding hands while crossing the street. They were coming from the direction of the woods behind the line of houses and towards him. The girl looked at him grimly, clearly quite unamused.

“I’m sorry,” Theo apologized before he would have to hear another comment on his state of nudity.

“No, I’m not some kind of pervert. Yes, I’m aware that children are playing in this street. No, I don’t think this is funny or some kind of statement or whatever. I’m just trying to get home and put some clothes on, alright? Please, save it.”

They both stopped and stared at him. Had Theo gone a little too far with his harsh words? He had just wanted to say them before they would have.

“Are you alright, man?” the dark-haired boy asked him, genuine concern in his eyes.

Oops. Maybe they weren’t as unfriendly as the old lady from a moment earlier. Theo shrugged.

“I’ve been better, I guess,” he replied, “it’s a little chilly out here, to be honest.”

“What happened to your clothes?” the guy wanted to know.

“Uhm, so…” Theo realized how weird his story would sound. “The short version is, some asshole from my lacrosse team stole them while I was in the shower,” he explained.

“Wow,” the girl mumbled, “this seems to be who-is-Beacon Hills'-biggest-dick-day.”

Theo looked at her. Her incredibly pissed-off expression couldn’t be caused solely by the sight of his dirty feet and bare torso, could it?

“Sorry,” the boy elaborated for his girlfriend, “we just found a guy in the woods over there.” He pointed back over his shoulder. “He was beaten up pretty badly.”

“Beaten up pretty badly?” the girl interrupted. “I still feel like throwing up from that image. God, did you see that arm?” She shuddered.

Theo couldn’t help it. His body fell into shock, Brett’s words from earlier ringing through his numb mind over and over again. I’m afraid he might not be such an excellent player anymore. Lacrosse is probably the last thing that is on his mind right now…

He had known when he had heard them that those words could only mean bad, bad news. But would Brett actually go that far? Chasing Liam to the woods and beating the shit out him? Simply leaving him there?

“Is he…” Theo swallowed hard. No, he couldn't bring those words to his lips.

“He was still alive when we found him,” the friendly guy informed him calmly, but not without worry in his deep voice. “He was unconscious, though. Didn’t look so good. We called an ambulance, so he should be at the hospital by now.”

“Oh God,” Theo breathed out in horror. There was no way of knowing whether it truly was Liam, but he couldn’t stop his brain from imagining the pretty blue eyes staring up from the muddy ground between the trees into the sky, frozen and empty. He started shaking all over. He needed to know. “What did he look like?” Theo finally gathered up the courage to ask.

“You mean except bloody and half-dead?” the girl asked back.

“Malia,” the guy growled a warning at his girlfriend. “A little shorter than me, I guess,” he started describing, “brown hair, pale skin. He was wearing a dark red shirt and a grey jacket. Sorry, that’s all I remember.”

No, no, no, no, Theo prayed to all heavens. No! Liam had been wearing a dark red shirt in school that day. He was unable to contain the whine escaping his mouth.

“Do you think you know who he is?” the girl obviously called Malia wanted to know.

Theo didn’t have it in him to answer, but he didn’t have to. It must have been written all over his pained face.

“We were on our way to the hospital to check up on him,” the guy told him, a warm hand on his shoulder drawing Theo’s attention to his words. “Do you want to come with us?” He pulled his hand away and shrugged out of his jacket. “Here, take this,” he offered, “I’m Scott, by the way.”

 


 

It had been a quite uneventful day at the hospital. Dr. Geyer's shift had been a pleasant one so far. Nothing really bad had happened, just a few routine cases had required his attention. The dark-skinned man was standing in one of the treatment rooms, looking at an x-ray clipped to the wall, analyzing it strictly, while taking some notes on his clipboard. After he had added everything to his current patient's medical file, he put it aside.

His eyes wandered to the clock on the wall, three more hours and his shift would be over and he could go home to his family, to which he was really looking forward to. Just thinking of his beautiful wife Jenna and his step-son Liam, who was like a real son to him, conjured a bright smile on his face. He couldn't wait to learn how their day had been.

Leaving the treatment room, he entered the hospital corridor. A strong smell, a mixture of bleach and antiseptic, reached his nostrils for the hundredth time that day. David nodded friendly at a few passersby’s before he finally reached his destination. The coffee vending machine.

He pulled out his wallet from the pocket of his white scrubs, feeding the machine with a few coins before pressing the button for a black coffee. A paper cup appeared on the machine and was immediately filled with a hot steaming brown liquid.

As soon as it had been brewed, Dr. Geyer took the cup, taking a sip from the cheap and terrible tasting coffee. But at least it helped him to stay focused and that was all that mattered.

Still standing by the coffee vending machine, David took in his surroundings. A few nurses were walking through the corridor. Fetching stuff, helping patients or providing visitors with directions. He could hear the tapping sound of the keyboard at the front desk, the sound of gurneys being wheeled around on the clean and shiny linoleum floor, muffled voices and echoes of footsteps.

It was an ordinary day, a calm one, where he actually had some time to relax. But an unsettling feeling in his gut and experience told him it could just be the calm before the storm.

Just the moment, he was thinking about it, his pager went off, notifying him of an incoming emergency.

David sighed deeply, before hurrying -his white coat waving- to the entrance where he and a few other people from the medical staff were waiting for the announced patient to arrive with the ambulance any minute. He put the coffee cup aside, pulling on some gloves.

Only a few seconds later, paramedics were hastily rushing through the double doors, the wheels of the stretcher scratching over the floor. Dr. Geyer was already in his professional mode.

"What do we have?" he asked, calmly and composed, not having yet taken a look at the unconscious patient lying on the stretcher, while they were wheeling him into one of the unoccupied emergency rooms.

"White, male, sixteen or seventeen. Multiple bone fractures, dislocated jaw, a severe concussion and other grave injuries due to blunt force trauma."

David nodded, taking in all the information.

"Alright, I'm taking over from here. Any signs of internal bleeding?" he added, his voice grim, his stethoscope dangling around his neck.

"There is a high possibility considering of the hard blows he took against his body but to be sure there needs to be a further examination," the paramedic replied seriously, before leaving Dr. Geyer and his team to do their work.

The emergency room was full of activity, people were shuffling around, lifting the patient's prone body from the stretcher to the gurney in the center of the room.

"Ok, at first I need..." David started but his voice broke off abruptly as he took in the sight in front of his eyes for the first time. The realization hit him in the most painful way ever and his heart sank, shattering into pieces. NO! This wasn't happening! It couldn't be. He hoped his eyes were playing some cruel tricks on him. Dr. Geyer blinked desperately but everything remained the same, forcing him to adjust to the heartbreaking reality.

The boy lying motionlessly on the gurney wasn't a stranger but his own son. The dark-skinned man stood there frozen, suspended in time, his heart beating heavily against his chest, his world stopping to move altogether. Gasping in shock, his hand flew to his mouth, unable to deal with the horrid image displayed before him.

Shell-shocked, he stared at Liam's lifeless, bloody and battered body. He almost hadn't been able to recognize him because of his heavily bruised skin. An oxygen mask was covering Liam's mouth and nose helping him breathe. An IV-drip was hooked to his better arm, tubes, and wires leading from and to his body. Liam's eyes were closed, one of them swollen shut. Liam looked like death and for a short moment, David feared he really was if it weren't for his still moving chest.

"Dr. Geyer?!" A nurse said firmly, jerking David out of his stupor. He exhaled sharply not having realized he had been holding his breath. He felt his hands shaking, more than they should. He was the fucking doctor on duty. He couldn't let his emotions lead him, he needed to stay cool and collected. But how could he? Now that he knew it was his own son?

"It's my son..." He choked out, his voice barely a whisper, unable to fathom the drama which was unfolding right in front of him. His face had been drained from all the color as he took in Liam's slack features.

Liam had always been so full of life and seeing him like this was more than he could take. Sure, he had been trained for situations like this, but he hadn't expected it to ever happen. Dr. Geyer was a mess and he couldn't do anything about it, his body wasn't functioning properly anymore. His brain just didn't want to cooperate with his body.

He was staring at his son's broken body, his unnaturally twisted arm...everything became too much. He felt nauseous and wasn’t able to shake off his shock.

At first, he didn't realize that someone was gently ushering him out of the room when another doctor took over for him. But as soon as he had left the room, realization kicked in and panic was crawling like poison through his veins.

"My son! Liam! I...I have to go back!" he yelled, his voice distressed as he was trying to free himself from the gentle grip on his arm.

"David, calm down. It's going to be okay. He is in good hands," a warm feminine voice tried to reassure him.

Dr. Geyer looked to his right and his eyes fell on Melissa McCall, calmness radiating from her body making him feel a little less anxious.

"Come on, let's sit down somewhere," she continued, escorting her colleague to one of the plastic chairs in front of the emergency room. They sat down in silence and David was actually grateful for that, because he wasn't sure how long his feet would have had carried him. They felt too weak.

"Do you want me to get you a glass of water?" Melissa asked, eying David concerned.

"No, but....can you…can you call my wife?"

 


 

Half an hour later, Malia and Scott arrived at the hospital, a fully clothed Theo in tow. They had picked up some clothes for him on their way there.

Malia’s expression was grim and laced with worry as they walked to the entrance of the hospital with fast steps where a panicked Stiles almost crashed into them. His eyes lit up in relief as they fell on Malia and before she knew what was happening, Stiles was already embracing her in a bone-crushing hug, even lifting her up from the ground while doing so.

“Holy shit! You really had me worried for a minute there. I’m so glad you’re alive!” Stiles exclaimed the words spluttering out of him so fast, Malia had a hard time following him. The girl let out an annoyed grunt, trying to free herself from Stiles firm grip without so much as success.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?! Put me down this instant!” she scowled, her teeth clenching.

The boy obeyed her orders, putting her back on the ground but not without inspecting her body closely to make sure he hadn’t missed a scratch, he even was looking at Scott for confirmation that she was indeed alright.

“Would you stop it now?!”, Malia growled sharply, pushing Stiles hands roughly away from her. She glared at him, waiting for an explanation as to why he made such a fuss of her well-being.

“Ok, spit it out, Stiles. What’s all this crap?” She gave Scott a look that was silently asking him, what the fuck was going on but the dark-haired boy could only shrug.

Stiles scratched his head in slight confusion.

“Well, you can’t blame me for being worried after Scott gave me that ominous call that I had to meet you at the hospital. What was I supposed to think? He didn’t offer an explanation, so I just came up with one of my own which involved you being hurt. I mean, why else would Scott want to meet at the hospital? Plus you two were late to our meet up at the animal clinic, another clue that added up to my conclusion of what could have happened!” Stiles rambled, still being slightly on the edge.

“Sorry, dude. Something terrible came up and I really didn’t have time to elaborate. Where are the others?” Scott asked, looking around searching for another familiar face.

“The others?!” Stiles repeated slowly as if he didn’t get the question.

Malia groaned.

“The others as in our friends? Everyone who was supposed to be at the animal clinic…” the brown-haired girl offered, glaring at Stiles in annoyance.

“Oh right. Now that you mention it. I might have forgotten to tell them.” Stiles bit his lip, his eyes glinting apologetically.

Malia arched an eyebrow in disbelief, looking at her boyfriend in silent understanding. Scott shook his head incredulously. Sometimes he didn’t know if Stiles really was for real or not.

“What? I panicked, okay?!” Stiles huffed sulking under his friend's disbelieving stares.
“So, what happened? Why did you want me to meet you guys here?” the boy continued suspiciously.

“Ok. Long story short. We got lost in the forest and found someone beaten up badly there, we called an ambulance and then we’ve met Theo here who…wait…Theo?” Malia asked irritated, doing a double take but only to find the spot where the dark-haired boy had been standing still as empty as before. Where the fuck had he gone?

 


 

Theo almost ran over some random dude in a wheelchair as he stormed into the hospital. He had never been there before, had no clue where to start looking, but his body just couldn’t keep still for his brain to think. He rushed down a wide hallway. God, the hospital smell was worse than he had ever imagined. It smelled wrong. Inhuman. A thick door that wouldn’t open blocked his way, so he hurried back into the opposite direction, looking around wildly like a chased animal.

"Hey, honey," he heard the voice of a woman, dull through the curtain of worry around him. "Are you alright?" Slowly, Theo’s focus landed on her brown eyes, the hand on his arm grounding him to reality. "Are you hurt?" she asked.

"Me?" he asked back in confusion. "No. Not me. I need to find him," he pressed out, almost hyperventilating. "I need to see him."

"Shh," the woman made. She was wearing the blue clothes of a nurse. "It’s alright, okay? Tell me who you’re looking for, honey, okay? I’m sure I can help you.”

“Liam,” Theo croaked. “Liam,” he repeated, dumbly. It hurt to even just say his name.

“Alright,” the friendly nurse nodded, rubbing his arm in soothing circles. Without her, he might have been having a nervous breakdown. “Liam who? What’s his last name?” she wanted to know.

Theo tried his best to stop his lip from trembling. “Liam Dunbar,” he said. The uncertainty was tearing him apart. He just wanted someone to tell him that Liam was alive, was going to recover from his minor injuries in no time.

The nurse threw him a funny look, her eyebrows raised as she asked whether he was a family member.

“Well, no, but…” But I have to see him.

“In that case, as you will surely understand, I am not allowed to share any information about his status with you.” She searched his face until he looked at her, then offered him a small smile. “Look, I’ll bring you to the right waiting room, okay? If Liam is a friend of yours, his parents will tell you how he is.” Without waiting for a reaction, she turned aside and led Theo into the right direction with a hand in his back. “Don’t you worry, honey. Everything will be alright.” she kept telling him. How? He wondered. How? How could he not worry when he didn't even know whether Liam was even still alive?

As soon as she had left the waiting room she had put him in with a cool bottle of water and encouraging words that hadn’t helped him at all, Theo was out of his orange plastic chair and on his feet. He couldn’t sit still, not while Liam was in pain from his injuries, or worse, fighting for his life on some surgical table, or even worse than that, already dead. He still couldn’t be one hundred percent sure that the boy Scott and Malia had found in the woods was really Liam, but a part of Theo simply knew that it was him. Brett’s threat, the dark red shirt, the timing, all the puzzle pieces had fitted so perfectly. Theo paced around in the room that was too small for his anxiety.

The sobbing of a grey-haired woman in the opposite corner was ringing through his head. Theo wondered where Liam’s family was, his parents. Was somebody coming to see him? Did they even know? Did they know what had happened to their son? And what was happening in that very moment? Was Liam still breathing? His heart still beating?

Theo could almost hear the beeping sounds of one of those heart-monitor-things, his own heartbeat falling in sync with the one in his head, until he realized that he was imagining it getting slower, the lines drawn onto the machine’s screen flattening with every second, until the beeps came erratically, a little more silence in between them every time. Theo could barely breathe.

His hands clasped around the bottle of water. He lost sight of the room surrounding him, everything a blur, his head growing dizzy, and then, black, everything black with a flat red line drawn through the middle, and one single, permanent beeping sound shattering his heart into pieces. Death.

Theo lost his hold of reality, and it felt like falling, falling endlessly, waiting for the impact of his body crashing into some sort of ground, but nothing came. He just kept falling, air leaving his lungs but never being sucked back in. Theo didn’t even try to hold onto anything physically. There was just one thing he couldn’t let go of, and only in his mind. Liam. And then again: Black. Red. Dead.

His entire body was being shaken, which only hurt more. He wanted to fight the touches on his shoulders, but without air, there was no energy left in him. Theo couldn’t move. He just couldn’t. Noises were audible but from far, far away. He had a feeling he was supposed to listen, but he couldn’t focus. He jumped when something cold touched his face, shock washing over him, and before he knew it, he exhaled deeply, and finally, he had space in his lungs to inhale again. The fog cleared up.

The first thing Theo could feel were his feet on the ground. Then the cold fingers slipping away from his cheek. Brown eyes were looking into his own as he regained focus, brown eyes that he hadn’t seen before. And then he spotted Scott behind the other guy. “It’s all good,” he said, over and over again, and Theo wondered why it actually calmed him when all it was was an obvious lie.

“Nothing is good,” Theo pressed out when he finally found the strength to speak again. “I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t even know whether he’s still alive. They won’t tell me anything.”

“Don’t worry,” the unfamiliar face told him, “we can find that out easily. Scott’s Mom works here.”

“Oh,” Theo made. All of a sudden, he realized how much the eyes of the nurse who had brought him to the waiting area resembled Scott’s. She had been nice to him, although she hadn’t told him anything.

“Yeah, just…” Scott held his hands out towards him in a gesture of begging for patience, “this is Stiles,” he said with a nod towards the other boy. “He can wait here with you while I find out what’s going on.”

Theo was almost a little bit relieved. He nodded and sat back down. But the calm only lasted for a minute. Just when Scott was gone, somebody else appeared in the doorframe. Somebody Theo would never have expected. He was mildly confused, to say the least. Who could Nolan possibly be visiting at the hospital?

“Hey,” the blonde boy said calmly, his freckled cheeks flushed, his hands fumbling with the hem of his shirt.

Theo looked up at him. Not now, he thought. He didn't have the nerve right then. It wasn't like he and Nolan were anything more than teammates.

“So… I guess this means Liam is here, then,” Nolan muttered, his voice weak, his eyes glued to the linoleum covered floor.

“Liam?” Theo's head snapped up immediately. “What do you know about Liam?”

“N- nothing,” Nolan stuttered, “I… I just wanted to see if he's okay.”

Slowly, and then all at once, like a brick hitting his face, realization dawned on Theo. Brett hadn't done the dirty work by himself. Of course not. He shot up from his seat, his fingernails digging into the inside of his clenched fists, rage burning up hot inside of him, his blood practically boiling.

“You're the one responsible for this,” he spat out at Nolan. It wasn't a question. He could see it in the boy's face, and he didn’t give a single shit about the guilt that lingered there. “You’re the one who chased him into the woods to beat him half to death!” he yelled, his chest heaving and sinking in a desperate attempt to contain his anger, his hate.

“I’m sorry!” Nolan squealed, clearly intimidated by Theo’s strong reaction. “I came to check up on him, okay? To apologize!”

“Don’t you dare say that again!” Theo shouted, his voice shaking, but his words loud and clear. “I will shove your fucking apology so far up your ass that it’s going to bleed out of your nose, you fucking son of a bitch.”

“Theo,” Nolan winced, arms stretched out in front of him in a gesture of surrender and self-protection, “I didn't mean to… I just… it wasn't supposed to end this seriously.”

“Oh yeah?” Theo couldn’t believe it. “How was it supposed to end, huh? You didn't waste a second thinking about that, am I right? You were just trying to fucking suck up to Brett.”

“You're right,” Nolan admitted ruefully, “I was. But I know now, it had been a mistake!”

“You call that a mistake?” Blood began swelling from where Theo’s blunt nails were digging through the first few layers of his skin. He was just getting going, Stiles hands grabbing his shoulders to pull him back were completely useless. “Because I call that attempted murder!”

Nolan whimpered and closed his eyes, fighting against tears that he had no right to shed, as far as Theo was concerned. “I never wanted that,” the blonde boy whispered. The sound of his voice breaking only fuelled Theo’s rage. He was not in the slightest a violent person, but at that moment, Theo wanted to tear Nolan apart with his bare hands.

“You better leave right the fuck now,” Theo growled, the uninterrupted wailing of the woman in the far corner reminding him that a hospital was hardly the place to start a fight. Not when so many people were fighting for recovery everywhere around them, including Liam.

“Okay,” Nolan nodded, knowing better than to object any further, “just…” He sniffled. “Just tell him I'm sorry, will you?”

“You bet your ass I won't!” Theo bawled, lunging forward, causing Nolan to take a step back and Stiles to come in between them with raised arms and a strict expression of warning in his features. Theo inhaled deeply. His next words were merely above a whisper, practically just ghosts of words riding on ragged breaths. “You might have just killed him.” If he was ever going to get the chance to speak to Liam again at all, it would certainly not be about Nolan. If. And then the tears came.

 


 

Jenna Geyer had been in the kitchen preparing dinner when she had gotten the call, the call that had turned her pretty ordinary day into an absolute nightmare. Wiping her dirty hands on her apron, she grabbed her phone from the counter answering it on the third ring.

“Hello?” she asked, placing the phone casually between her ear and her shoulder while she was placing a pot on the stove at the same time.

“Jenna, this is Melissa. I’m calling from the hospital…” the familiar voice of her husband's colleague echoed from the other end of the line, the scarily urgent tone putting Jenna immediately on alert. The petite woman knew that Melissa wouldn’t call her without a solid reason which was why her blood was running cold in an instant.

“What happened?” Jenna gulped a lump suddenly forming in her throat, her heartbeat getting haywire, hammering heavily against her chest. Fear engulfed her body promptly, consuming her completely as she was already picturing all the worst case scenarios her mind could come up with, her brain firing negative thoughts at her like a machine gun with unlimited firepower.

The brunette woman held onto the phone in her hand as it had turned into her lifeline and the only thing that could prevent her knees from buckling underneath her.

She could hear Melissa inhale deeply before she finally spoke again. Words she was dreading. Words a mother never wanted to hear ever in her life.

“I really hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s your son. He got hurt pretty badly. It’s not looking good. You should come to the hospital as soon as possible.”

Jenna’s stomach did a painful flip and she suddenly felt like throwing up, the phone slipping from her fingers, hitting the floor with a heavy thud.

Her rapid breathing was turning erratic, giving her a hard time to pump the needed oxygen into her lungs. She felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath her feet as a paralyzing panic spread throughout her entire body like a deadly disease, knocking all the thoughts aside. The only person on her mind now being Liam.

Fear curled up inside of her, leaving a terrible pang in her chest as terror surged through her veins, making it hard for her to focus. She felt helpless and anxious, not knowing what was wrong with her son. Having no idea what had actually happened to Liam for him to wind up at the hospital of all places. The uncertainty was killing her, shaking her to the core.

Tears started to well in her eyes, before falling down her chalk-white cheeks only a few seconds after. She shut her eyes tightly, trying to catch her breath, to collect herself, to be strong but it didn’t work. If all it made matters only worse.

Jenna didn’t know how she had managed to get to the hospital in one piece. Everything had been a blur. She could only remember bits and pieces, her mind running on overdrive, every thought revolving around Liam. She was a sobbing mess, her hair sticking damply on her head, drenched in cold sweat, mascara running down her face, leaving dark marks on her ashen skin.

The petite woman stormed into the hospital, her shaking body finding its way to David easily like it was being controlled by autopilot. A searching look into his worry-ridden face was all it took for Jenna to collapse into his arms, her hands clutching at the white scrubs he was still wearing, holding onto him for dear life. The dark-skinned man embraced his wife in his arms, holding her in silence as she was sobbing into his chest, soaking his shirt wet with tears.

 


 

You might have just killed him. Theo's accusation, and the cruel possibility of it being the truth, and the guilt coming with it were haunting Nolan, tearing him apart and into tiny lifeless shreds of panic as he was sitting on a bench outside of the hospital. What had his life become? Or rather, what had his ridiculous crush on Brett turned it into? How could he have been so stupid?

Nolan hadn't even hesitated. He hadn't bothered asking questions. It was just how things went, Brett asking a favor of him and Nolan complying. Business as usual. When Brett had begged him to, his perfect eyes and perfect lips once again too distracting to question his wishes, it had sounded so plausible. Dunbar has to go. Of course, he had to, if that was what Brett wanted. After last period, Gabe had already been waiting in his SUV, baseball bats resting in the backseat, a dark grin on his face. Back then, he had found it funny, Nolan remembered. Now it made him feel sick.

His hands were trembling as he raised them, examining the pale sprinkles that he only just now realized were blood stains. Nolan had never even talked to Liam any more than absolutely necessary during practice. What if the other boy’s blood on his hands would forever remain the only connection between them? What if there wouldn’t be a chance to make up for anything?

On top of all that, one thought simply wouldn’t let Nolan in peace. His mind went back to the image of Theo Raeken almost slamming him against the next wall as a reaction to seeing him inside. He kept hearing the dangerous growl in his deep voice when he had threatened Nolan to never come near Liam ever again. Nolan knew he had more serious problems right then, but he couldn’t stop wondering. Wondering if after all those years they had known each other, after Nolan’s unconditional loyalty at all times, Brett would ever be even remotely as protective of him as Theo was of Liam.

If Nolan had been the one in the hospital, severely injured, maybe close to death - and he truly wished he was - would Brett have been there? Would Brett have cared? Would Brett have chased away unwelcome guests? Nolan had spent the entirety of high school telling himself so, his attempts to believe that Brett would eventually wake up and realize that he was just so much in love with Nolan as the other way around getting more desperate with every new semester, but never stopping. But right then, Nolan thought about stopping. It had to end. If it was making him a murderer, then it certainly had to end right the fuck at that moment.

There wasn't exactly much hope in waiting any further for Brett’s undying love for him to finally unravel. Nolan had been waiting for so long. And in the end, time wasn't the issue. Brett was. Theo Raeken had known Liam Dunbar for what, a week maybe? And yet here he was, right at the hospital, ready to do whatever to save the guy. Nolan buried his face in his hands. He needed to do something, or he was going to go crazy.

Scrambling to his feet, but unsure of his next step, not even sure which direction to run into, his hands balled into fists, his eyes puffy and red from crying, Nolan got up, bouncing on his feet. He had a sudden and urgent need to wash his hands very thoroughly once again. He wanted to take a shower and dissolve beneath the hot water, simply disappearing into the drain. He wanted someone to punch him in the face until he would be worse off than Liam was, although he still didn't know how bad that really was.

With reddened cheeks, the wind cold where it hit the drying tears across them, Nolan walked off, slowly at first, his steps getting bigger and more purposeful with every second. He wasn't on his way home, or anywhere else. Where Nolan wanted to go was nowhere, praying that the guilt would stop tugging at his sore limbs as soon as he got there. Like a coward - how typical - he was running away, but ultimately, being a coward could hardly be worse than being a murderer, so what did it matter?

 


 

Everything was blue. Blue, and then a quick and bright pang of yellow light in the middle. His eyes wouldn't open. For a moment, everything he could reach of the world around him was the fabric in his hands, thin and rough. The next thing he was hit with was the scent in the air. He knew that he knew it, but not how. It smelled clean, something sharp lingering in it, and underlying that, something warm and peaceful. An odd mixture. He tried to move his fingers to get a hold of reality, but he couldn’t be sure it was working. He had to see to check, but he couldn't. He barely even registered the steady beeping sound that was accompanying every breath he took, every heartbeat in his chest.

Somebody was with him, he realized, maybe seconds, maybe hours later or even days. He could hear somebody shift and cough, steering all the attention he could muster in their direction. When he managed to make out their even breathing, his own fell in sync with it, calming him down, almost making him forget the panic at being paralyzed. His eyes still didn't obey him, but instead of darkness, blinding colors were dancing in his head. It was a step in the right direction, he assumed.

After what felt like an eternity, he could finally tell that his fingers were moving, the friction of the fabric between them helping him to find a grasp on consciousness. On the outside, he wasn't actually moving, but on the inside, he made an effort, urging forward, diving in, pushing ahead, until a sharp sting of pain appeared somewhere. He couldn't tell where, but it came flooding through the entire rest of his body anyway. He heard a strangled noise and realized it had come from his own lips.

Muffled by the fog inside and around his throbbing head, a name rang through the air towards him. Once, twice, a third time. It was his own, as he then understood. Liam.

Liam wasn't sure who was calling him, but something about the voice made him reach out, made him try harder to get to it, wincing in pain, battling unconsciousness, swimming towards the surface with determination, seeing light shining above his head, but the way was longer than anticipated. Liam didn't give up.

He jumped a little when something touched his hand. The other person pulled back immediately, but Liam reached out again, stretching his fingers after them. Their skin had felt so warm and soft. A second later, the other hand was back on his, and that was the bridge he had needed to make it back. The world was still a blur when his lids finally parted, the light shining brighter from the ceiling than he could handle.

“Take it slow,” the low, soothing voice told him. He did, although he wanted to see them.

At first, there was a lot of white. A sheet, a blanket, a wall. Then, there was a person. Liam squinted his eyes. They squeezed his hand. He blinked a couple of times, trying to get rid of the haze veiling his sight. Next, he could see a smile.

“Hey there, Ocean Eyes,” the person sitting on the edge of his bed greeted him, “welcome back.”

Liam would have replied if he had found his voice at that moment. He was holding the hand of Theo Raeken.

Chapter Text

Liam wanted to say something. He wanted to move. He panicked, his brain telling him that something was terribly wrong when his body didn’t respond to its commands. Now that he thought about it, Liam couldn’t even feel his limbs being there, a dull pain consuming his head, like a huge and heavy rock mashing his brains up.

“Shh,” he heard a muffled noise, so at least his ears were working. “Don’t move, Liam.” The voice was so low, so soft, so soothing. He stopped fighting against his own body and relaxed his aching muscles. A light squeeze around his hand made the connection of the nerves through his arm come alive. It sent a sting of pain to his brain, which he welcomed, knowing that when you were in a room so white, pain was better than numbness.

Liam had no idea whether it was actually working as he tried to squeeze back, but all was good as long as the voice was giving him a direction to reach out for in his mind.

“I'm right here next to you,” it assured him, "you’re fighting so bravely, Liam. You can do it, Ocean Eyes, come back to me.”

Ocean Eyes. Theo Raeken, Liam remembered. The next time he tried to open his eyes, he knew what he was looking for in the middle of all the brightness shining down on him. Green. Green that was almost grey. He was shaking with the effort of willing his mind back to consciousness, feeling like he was so close to the surface, the sunlight already warming his face, but the air still too thin, so he fought harder.

For Theo, it was probably just a few seconds later, but for Liam it had taken a marathon until his eyes finally settled on Theo’s blurred face, the edges of his jawline becoming a little sharper with every blink.

“You made it,” Theo smiled. Liam was too exhausted to make another attempt to speak, but if he could have, Theo’s name would have been the only thing he would have wanted to say.

“I'm so proud of you,” Theo added, and by then Liam could feel enough to notice the other boy’s thumb moving over the back of his hand in tiny circles.

It was all too much. Everything hurt, and Liam’s skin tingled where his nerves awakened. Somewhere in his head, he knew exactly where he was, mostly because he’d spent a lot of time visiting his step-dad at the hospital, but he didn’t have it in him to think about a possible reason. He must have gotten in an accident or something.

But all of that, the hospital room, the aching pain, the uncertainty about what was going on, it was all pushed to the background by Theo’s presence right beside him. Ocean Eyes. It came to him like a memory, but it felt more present than the memories of other things that definitely happened in his life. What did it mean? He was almost sure that Theo was the one who’d said it.

Theo kept talking, but as hard as Liam tried to, he couldn't focus on the words coming out of his pretty mouth. He was so tired, his head so heavy. He could only see Theo’s eyes swaying to the door, leaving Liam for the very first time since he'd woken up, widening in surprise first, then softening, a sigh of relief audible in the room. Chaos came with the nurses and doctors, and chaos was more than Liam could take in that moment, but it wasn’t until Theo’s hand let go of his that he truly felt lost.

Liam was being touched here and there, but it didn't feel warm, or grounding, it only made him want to get up and run away. He nodded eagerly when he was asked a question, not understanding anything since too many people were talking, but yes, he was there, he was conscious, he was alive, he just wanted to make that clear.

Theo’s eyes still watching over him from the opposite corner of the room was everything that kept Liam’s mind under control and in peace, and so he searched for the other boy when a nurse asked him to close his eyes and breathe, and he waited until he could be absolutely sure that Theo was nodding, and then he did as he was told, feeling reality slip away again, which had him a little scared, but once they were shut, he didn't find the strength to open his eyes again.

“Your dad is here.” At first Liam wasn't sure whether the voice came from inside his head or outside, but when he felt a hand on his shoulder, big and strong and gentle, he knew David was there for real, and so he tried to smile, not knowing whether it was working as he fell deep into sleep. The nothingness weighed a little less heavy this time.

 


 

Nolan was sitting on the grass in the park, a spot where he always went if he needed some time alone, some time to think. He could barely remember how he had wound up at this place or how long he had already been sitting there, but the fact that the night was already fading and slowly turning into dawn meant it must have been hours.

The trees surrounding him rustled softly in the light morning breeze, as the charcoal sky began to wake from its deep slumber. Darkness quickly surrendered to the light as wisps of clouds scattered across the graphite canvas, highlighted by orange and golden lights expanding along the horizon.

The blonde boy stared blankly at the small pond in front of his eyes. The dark-greenish water was glistening as spears of light touched the surface and danced over the emerald shining liquid as the sun was rising. It was welcoming the day with its radiant lights, the sky slightly resembled a prism as the colors blended into each other like art.

Nolan wished he could have stopped the sun from rising, but he could only watch helplessly as its mesmerizing glow dragged him into the new day he had been dreading all night.

He hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep. The guilt and the nagging thought that he almost had killed someone had been haunting him, torturing his mind and keeping it from resting altogether.

The pictures of the beating had imprinted themselves in his head. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Liam laying motionless and all bloody on the forest’s ground and the sound of his cracking bones was echoing in his head like a broken record he couldn’t shut up.

Shivering, the blonde boy looked down at his hands which were resting on his lap still slightly trembling. No traces of dried blood were visible on his skin anymore, but just knowing it had been there before drove him over the edge.

His stomach churned and a wave of nausea was hitting him so hard that it almost caused him to throw up. Cold sweat was dripping down his face and he had to close his eyes briefly to focus and to hold his stomach back from emptying itself. It took all of his remaining strength to keep his body going and not to just give in.

He took a few deep and shaky breaths before he opened his eyes again, taking in his surroundings a little more aware of them than before.

The trees around him were casting their long shadows on the grass underneath, looking like they were wearing golden crowns. He could feel the easy morning breeze chilling his skin as it caressed his face and blew strands of his hair out of it.

Nolan’s thoughts were still revolving around the previous day and he knew he would never find peace even though he was deadly exhausted.

The freckled boy had tried so hard to find a way to make things right but there had been no use. This time he had gone too far. He couldn’t rewind the past, he could only hope to fix the future.

Nolan had already taken the first step to getting himself onto the right path again before he had ended up where he was now. It had probably been the hardest step in his entire life so far, but a necessary one.

If he was seeking for forgiveness, he had to show everyone how truly sorry he was and there was only one option, one simple action that could display his remorse. He had to face the consequences for what he had done. And that’s how he had found himself in front of the police station the other day, feeling more terrified than ever.

 


 

The second time Liam woke up was a lot more comfortable and a lot less confusing. The first difference he noticed was that the hospital room was lit only dimly, his eyes adjusting way more quickly, which was why he could make out the figure of his sleeping mother in a chair she must have positioned right next to his bed, her arms wrapped around her bent legs, her neck craned in a way that didn't exactly look healthy.

“Mom,” Liam croaked, but barely any voice left his throat. He didn't know why he was even calling for her. It was stupid. He didn't want to wake her up. He knew it had been hard enough for her to fall asleep beside him. Still, a part of Liam, deep down inside him, was crying for his mommy, weeping in a corner, hurt and scared and unable to do anything until she would come and take him in her arms to save him.

The painkillers he was on must be good, Liam decided when he realized that his body did not hurt anymore. He sat up, finding that his arm was in a highly impractical cast, his entire face feeling strange when he tried to open his mouth, so he kept it shut. At least his eyes and ears were working properly again, so he listened to the busy noises from the hallway and his mother’s steady breaths, observed her not entirely relaxed face, the dark circles beneath her eyes and the trails of dried tears on her cheeks suddenly making her look older than usual.

She had been hurting over him, and Liam wanted to punch whoever was responsible for him being in the hospital in the first place. One didn’t simply go and make someone's mother cry.

Liam had no idea how long he had been out of it, or asleep, but suddenly, he felt strangely awake. With most of the pain gone, he could finally focus on what had happened to him. Except when he tried to remember, there was nothing. How was that possible? He just wanted to know. Panicking wasn't going to bring him anywhere, as Liam knew, so he took a deep breath out and tried to concentrate. In his mind, he went back from the second awakening to the first one. He remembered. He saw the image in his head in a blur, but that must have been because the original experience had been just as blurry. It hadn’t gone lost on him. He remembered the pain and the fear that he wouldn't make it. He remembered Theo’s eyes on him and his hand in Liam’s own. Ocean Eyes. He remembered.

At that point it became tricky. Liam exhaled again. He could practically feel the gear wheels in his brain running, but running where? It was like there was a hole in his memory, nothing but blankness as he tried to go back in time, but the first actual memory he came across on was of him leaving school to get home, a faint itch of anger still bothering him after the fight he'd almost had with Brett during lacrosse practice.

Liam remembered stopping at the corner where the schoolyard ended, looking back over his shoulder, contemplating for a second whether he should wait for Theo to walk with him as they had gotten used to since he had transferred to Devenford Prep. He remembered turning away and walking on his own, knowing that neither the grim expression on his face nor the aggressiveness lingering right beneath his itchy skin in that moment would do their newly found friendship any good.

What happened between that moment and him waking up at the hospital, Liam couldn't find an explanation for, no matter how hard he tried. It was gone. The most likely answer, of course, was that he’d been too careless on his way home, once again blinded by the rage he simply couldn't fight back when it welled up inside him. He’d probably been hit by a car while crossing the street without looking. Still, Liam knew he couldn’t be sure, and a tiny confused little voice inside him kept asking him what if - what if it hadn't been that, what if something else had happened to him? What if it hadn't even been an accident?

Liam knew he had to find out the truth or sleep would be cancelled not only for that one, but all the other nights as well. He sunk back into the huge pillow in his back and sighed in frustration. If there was one thing he hated more than Brett Talbot, it was helplessness. Lying in a hospital bed, his body basically useless, his brain also, imagining all the possible scenarios that could have injured him that badly, but never knowing whether any of them came even remotely close, Liam found himself at the absolute epitome of powerlessness. He hated it. He wanted to smash something, but he barely even dared to scratch his chin.

 


 

Nolan didn’t know how much time actually had passed when he was finally leaving the park. He wasn’t able to fathom how it was possible that time had flown by so quickly without him even realizing it.

Only a look at his already dying phone and a dozen unanswered calls and messages displayed on the screen had brought him back to life. Fuck! His parents were definitely going to kill him.

He could already see their worried expressions turning into shocked and disbelieving ones as soon as they finally would find out what had kept him away from home for so long. Nolan didn’t really want to go home, but he didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t hide away from his mistakes forever. It was time to come clean, even though he knew his parents would be greatly disappointed in him.

Quickening his pace, he walked along the sidewalk in the direction of his parent’s house. He could already feel the anxiety wreaking havoc in his body as his heart was hammering heavily against his chest the closer he got. Nolan was completely freaking out on the inside and it took all of his willpower to compose himself a little even though he was still dreading the encounter with his parents more than anything else.

The blonde boy reached the end of the sidewalk faster than anticipated. After he made sure he wasn’t running in front of a car, he stepped onto the vacant road which was the only obstacle keeping him from the continuation of the sidewalk on the other side.

Nolan only got to the middle of the street when he suddenly heard the loud roaring of an engine in combination with the squealing of tires on the pavement. Hastily he turned his head, looking in the direction where the noise was coming from only to be met with a fast approaching black sports car coming straight for him.

Nolan’s eyes widened in shock. He tried to move out of the way, but he was frozen to the spot, his body not cooperating with his brain. All he could do was to watch and wait for his untimely death that would surely follow. His last thought being that karma had finally found him.

The blond boy squinted his eyes in fear, mentally preparing himself for the impact but nothing happened. The car didn’t collide with his body.

Relief was washing over him immediately when he realized that he was still alive and breathing. Nolan couldn’t believe his luck.

Slowly opening his eyes, he took in in the scene before him as a sense of dread was oppressing him like a heavy blanket.

The sports car, a Porsche, had only stopped merely a centimeter in front of him, the front of the car almost touching his legs. Nolan felt faint and his knees were getting weak the moment he realized what a close call it had been. His erratic heartbeat was hammering so hard against his ribcage, he thought it would burst any second.

The blonde boy’s head was spinning and before he could even react, he felt his knees buckling underneath him. But instead of falling to the ground, someone grabbed him harshly and slammed him roughly against the hood of the car, the metal still radiating with warmth underneath his body.

“Fancy meeting you here…I’ve been looking for you forever!” A familiar voice snarled above him. Nolan felt the grip on his wrists tighten, as he was pinned painfully hard against the metal.

Blinking the blurriness away he finally managed to clear his vision, immediately recognizing Brett leaning down on him, his expression grim, his whole demeanor full of spite and hatred.

“W-what?” Nolan croaked unable to process what was even happening. Did Brett really just attempt to overrun him with his fucking Porsche?

Brett must have been out of his mind. Otherwise, there was no other explanation for him trying to do something like that.

“Let me go, you’re hurting me!” The blond boy desperately tried to break free from Brett’s firm grip but he didn’t stand a chance against the taller boy. Instead of releasing him, he squeezed Nolan's writs even harder almost bringing tears of pain to the blonde one’s eyes.

“Does it look like I care?” Brett scowled clinically, his eyes stone-cold as he was pushing Nolan back down unnecessarily violent. Ignoring his whimpering pleas on purpose.

“Let me tell you a funny story first. I was at home admiring my magnificent self in the mirror when my annoying sister burst into my room to tell me that our parents and the Sheriff wanted to talk to me in the living room. You wouldn’t know why he came all the way from his little police station to pay me a visit, would you?”

He asked, his voice cutting the tense mood like a knife. Nolan gulped as Brett learned down to him even further, their faces almost touching. He could even feel Brett’s breath on his skin, giving him chills. Suddenly he was too close for comfort and Nolan felt like a cornered animal awaiting its demise.

 “I...I…” The blonde boy stammered helplessly and completely overwhelmed with the situation. He didn’t know what to do or how to react properly, fearing Brett’s reaction.

The handsome boy chuckled darkly, a devious smile dancing on his lips.

“Oh don’t worry, I already figured you would. It took me quite off guard to be honest. I mean, it’s not like I really suspected that Dunbar would have gone to the police already. There’s no way in hell because of the condition is in. But, imagine my surprise when Stilinski told me you were the one that turned us in” Brett glared at Nolan, his handsome features contorted in anger.

“Brett, I’m sorry. I had to, it was the right thing to do…” Nolan tried to appease the outraged boy in a last attempt to save himself. He didn’t know what Brett had planned to take revenge on him, but he was sure it wouldn’t be pretty.

“You know what Nolan? Don’t waste your breath. I’m disappointed in you. Of all the people to betray me I never thought it would be you. I thought you were loyal, my perfect little pet who does everything I order you to do. But I guess I was wrong. You and Gabe were supposed to take the fall without me getting involved for fucks sake!” Brett bellowed, shaking Nolan roughly, hitting him on the hood repeatedly.

Tears were forming in the blonde boy’s eyes as his back connected with the hard metal a few times. He gritted his teeth, trying to withhold a cry of pain. He didn’t want to give Brett the pleasure of winning. So instead of just keeping quiet and enduring his anger Nolan did the exact opposite.

“God, do you ever hear yourself talk? I can’t believe I ever liked you. You’re the worst person on this planet. Your arrogance is blurring your apprehension of right and wrong. It’s time for you to learn that you can’t treat people like that. I don’t regret the slightest bit that I’ve dragged you down with Gabe and myself” Nolan spit back, not really knowing where he took all the courage to stand up to Brett who definitely had the upper hand at the moment.

Brett arched an eyebrow suddenly seeming to be amused with Nolan’s words.

“As if you could turn me in like that. My parents are rich and my father has lots of influences. I’m already off the hook as we talk. You and Gabe have to face trial alone” He laughed arrogantly. Law couldn’t touch him and he didn’t waste any time to rub in into Nolan’s face, his eyes beaming triumphantly.

“What? No, you’re lying!” Nolan gasped disbelievingly, not wanting to accept that Brett would get out of it that easily. This wasn’t what he called justice. It couldn’t be true. But just one look at Brett’s stupid smirk confirmed his words.

“You wish I was. But it’s true. I get out of it unscratched while you and Gabe aren’t that fortunate” He grinned smugly before he finally let go of Nolan’s wrists which took the smaller boy by surprise. He didn’t expect that Brett would let him go without really harming him in any way. Nolan scrambled back to his feet, still feeling a little dizzy.

“And now get out of my sight. You’re lucky I still like your face. Otherwise, I would have crushed you already instead of just scaring you to death” Brett added coldly while he went back to the driver’s side of the Cabrio, hopping in gracefully. He put his fancy car into reverse, fixing his hair when he was taking a short look in the rear-view mirror before he finally drove away.

 


 

By the time, Liam had found sleep and had woken up several times, even though not knowing what had happened to him still cost him a lot of his peace. It was strange that nobody had mentioned anything, and the worn out look on his mother’s face had kept him from asking. One time though, Liam was pretty sure he’d heard the sheriff asking questions through the door, being shut down by David immediately. 

“He can’t tell you anything,” he’d heard his stepdad insisting, “he has post-traumatic amnesia. You asking him questions would only put pressure on him, and pressure is not how he gets his memory back, which he will. And as soon as that happens, I will call you, of course.”

Liam knew David well enough to know that his priority was clearly not answering Sheriff Stilinski’s questions, but he didn’t care about those anyway. Post-traumatic amnesia. He knew a thing or two that his stepdad had taught him about his job at the hospital, especially at the emergency room. Post-traumatic amnesia meant that he’d lost a part of his memory due to a hard blow to the head. It also meant that the memories were most definitely going to return as soon as his head would recover, but he doubted he could wait that long.

Clearly, there was no point in asking David about it, since the doctor in him would absolutely do the healthy thing and let Liam’s brain get better at its own pace. Jenna was an option he was considering, but Liam was unsure whether he really wanted to make her talk about it. Luckily, there were several other people who had been visiting every day so far, even though he still wasn’t sure why.

Scott and Malia were incredibly nice, and apart from that, they had probably saved his life by finding him in the woods, as he knew by now. Their friend Stiles really just needed to look vaguely in Liam's direction for him to wish he could laugh out loud in his current state. Everything the guy said was hilarious. Both Lydia and Derek seemed to see it the same way, although they tried their best to hide it behind rolling eyes and sarcastic comments. Kira had made a sweet first impression, but over the following days, she'd been making more and more murder jokes. A cinnamon roll of hell. Liam liked her. The only one Liam couldn't really say anything about was Isaac, who kept a safe distance from his bed and disinfected his hands more than it was possibly necessary, but at least he was there, and even though their daily presence didn't make sense to him, it was way better than being alone with his spiraling mind.

Liam remembered them all marching into his hospital room one after the other, comically reminding him of the seven dwarfs, except that they weren’t tiny, and they weren’t wearing pointed hats. Other than that, they made him feel a lot like Snow White, being taken in by them after barely escaping a murder attempt. Okay, maybe that comparison was really stupid, but who could blame him? Liam was on a lot of drugs.

“Welcome to the pack, puppy” Scott had said with a smile when they had all been seated around his bed, and that had been it. He had stopped questioning why they had made the hospital their meeting point. Every one of them had something cool or funny or special about them, and it wasn’t like Liam had a lot of other friends looking after him.

Being alone at the hospital once again made him realize how much he missed Mason, his best childhood friend, the one person who knew Liam better than he knew himself, or at least had once before he’d moved away. Liam had received lots of texts after that, along with pictures of his best friend with his new boyfriend Corey and video calls but being close wasn’t as easy with half the country separating them.

Of course, there also was Theo. Actually, if Liam had made a list of all his favorite visitors, Theo would have been on top. And at the bottom. And in the middle. Everywhere.

He'd known from their very first encounter at school that Theo wasn't going to be just one of his many new classmates. It had only taken so much as one look into the endless grey of his eyes with the piercing green shimmering from it. He'd had to try his very best and hardest not to swallow his tongue while making small talk on their common way home from school.

What Liam couldn't have known, what he would never have expected, was that the little time they'd known each other would make Theo care enough to spend almost his entire free time by Liam's side at the hospital. It was beyond ridiculous, really, for him to worry about how he was looking, embarrassed for his swollen face. He should have had bigger problems, and he did, but he tended to forget about them when the door opened and Theo peeked inside with a smile on his gorgeous lips.

“Hey there, Ocean Eyes,” he would say every single time, making Liam blush.

“You really are my favorite, nurse Theo,” Liam answered that day, “although you still can't compete with Susan's sponge baths.”

Frankly, mocking them was the only way to deal with those sponge baths without wanting to cry. The water was always too cold, the sponge too hard and scratchy on his skin, Susan's treatment too rough, her face too grim for him to dare to complain.

“I'd give you a sponge bath, too,” Theo smirked as he entered the room and let himself slump down at the far end of Liam's bed, careful not to hurt him, “but I don't want the other patients to get jealous, so we'll have to delay that until you get out of here.”

Liam genuinely didn't know how to respond to that. Was Theo… hitting on him? Were they flirting? And if so, how on earth did one do that?

“Close your mouth, Liam,” Theo laughed, reaching out to squeeze his fingers in a silent, more intimate greeting. “You're supposed to let your jaw heal.”

You could kiss it better, Liam was tempted to say, but of course, he didn't. He just laid back and rummaged through the drawer of his nightstand, searching for the notebook and pens he kept there for when Theo came and updated him on what they'd learned in class that day.

“We're not doing that today,” Theo said just when Liam had found them.

The other boy smiled at Liam's confused look before he explained. “The others are coming over as well.”

Liam nodded in agreement and put on a smile, but a part of him wished it would be just him and Theo that afternoon, and not just because the teenager in love inside him wanted some privacy. He needed answers at last, and he was almost sure Theo would provide them if he could.

The smell hit Liam’s nostrils before he could hear or see anybody. It confused him at first, since it was so completely out of place at a hospital, but when he closed his eyes he could pretend like he was outside, just out for food with a couple of friends, and somehow, that was even better than the prospect of eating something other than mashed flatness three times a day.

“Pizza is here,” Stiles cheered enthusiastically, holding out a huge and steaming box that he placed on top of Liam’s blanket with a wide and satisfied grin. Derek followed behind with a grim expression on his face, carrying the rest of the pizzas for everybody. Out of the seven dwarfs, he was definitely Grumpy.

“I swear to god, if I find spinach on mine again,” Malia growled dangerously. Yep, you could definitely see how she and Derek were related. “I need meat,” she added.

Liam sighed and wondered when exactly he’d gotten so used to them being around that their constant bickering made him feel like home a little bit.

“So, not to spoil your brilliant picnic idea or anything,” Theo noted as the delicious-smelling slices were being distributed, “but Liam can’t exactly eat pizza. He has a broken jaw.”

Everybody froze, including Liam. In that moment, he was so done with being injured. “I’m sure I’m going to be fine,” he argued because there simply was no way that he was going to watch them all having pizza in his room and not getting any.

“I can’t believe we didn’t think of that,” Lydia whispered to herself, “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.”

There was silence for a moment before Stiles scrambled to his feet hastily, ever the problem solver, his finger raised into the air as he declared, “No need to worry, all is good.” And with that he was gone, disappearing down the hallway, leaving the others behind with confused, but not really surprised looks on their faces.

“The way he said No need to worry kind of has me worrying a little,” Liam admitted quietly.

“Don’t bother,” Isaac shrugged, “he’s going to come up with something really stupid that will totally make us all make fun of him, but you’ll be grateful for it in the end.”

It turned out that Isaac was right when Stiles reappeared breathlessly and with a mixer in his hands. “God bless your mother, Scott,” he panted before he plugged it in at the side of Liam’s headboard. Liam genuinely wanted to stop him when he shoved a piece of pizza in the little container, but somehow he didn’t, and everybody else was simply watching as the slice was torn apart and pulpified into a reddish mash.

“Voilà,” Stiles said proudly as he handed Liam the result, “the world’s first poothie à la Stilinski. Bon appetit.”

“Poothie?” Malia repeated. Other than the rest, she didn’t try to hide her disgust.

“Pizza-smoothie,” Stiles explained, throwing her an incredulous look as if it was only logical.

Liam decided he had to stop looking at it, since that wasn’t going to make it any better. His eyes found Theo’s and they exchanged an amused look, Theo daring Liam to have a taste and Liam daring Theo to watch him, and then he thought fuck it, because Stiles’ special creation could hardly taste worse than what he’d been eating for the past few days, and with an unconvinced “cheers” he brought the plastic container to his lips and chugged an entire mashed piece of pizza down.

All eyes were on him as he swallowed and dragged the back of his hand over his lips. “Dude,” he told Stiles, “you should totally apply for the poothie trademark. This is fucking delicious.” He wasn’t even lying.

The afternoon went by like that, everybody enjoying their pizza, casually chit-chatting, keeping the atmosphere light and breezy until all of a sudden, it wasn't so light and breezy anymore.

A heated discussion came up about if they all were animals, which one would they be? They all agreed on the animal for the others, but every single one of them saw themselves differently from what the rest associated them with.

“A pitbull? I'm not a pitbull,” Theo pouted, “I'm just protective, okay?”

“Actually, you're like a hybrid of a pitbull and a hamster,” Isaac joked.

“They're called chimeras,” Scott pointed out.

“Yeah well, and you're a snake,” Theo countered Isaac.

“Liam is an ant,” Malia blurted out, “tiny and hard to kill.” She was the only one laughing at her joke.

“At least now we know Malia is the elephant in the china shop,” Derek muttered while everyone else was dead silent.

“Too soon?” Malia asked in Liam's direction but he didn't get a chance to answer before Theo was up on his feet and between them. Liam could see the tension in his shoulders.

“You do realize that he was nearly killed for real?” Theo pressed out between his clenched jaw.

“As if I could ever forget,” Malia answered. Liam knew that she had been the one to stumble across his almost lifeless body in the woods.

“It's okay,” he said, although he felt far from okay about it, but that was hardly Malia’s fault.

“What happened to you anyway?” Isaac wanted to know. Liam was partly shocked by the sudden turn to seriousness and partly thankful for someone to finally pose the question that had been keeping him awake for days by then.

“To be honest with you,” Liam replied, “I'd like to know that, too.” His mouth was dry, his eyes directed at the back of Theo's head until his classmate finally turned around to him, their gazes locking.

“Theo?” he pleaded his voice barely above a whisper.

Theo was conflicted, Liam could tell, but when he added an almost not audible “please”, he sighed and sat down at the edge of Liam's bed.

“I'll tell you what I know if you really want me to,” Theo said calmly, concern in his eyes as well as in his voice, “but you might not like it.”

“Yeah,” Liam responded, taking Theo's hand and squeezing it, “but I don't like almost dying either, or spending my time in a hospital bed. And I absolutely hate not knowing why.”

Theo pursed his lips as he looked at him for another moment, giving Liam the chance to change his mind, which didn't happen. Then he looked around in the room before his gaze swayed back to Liam. He had all the attention. “Okay,” he finally relented, “here's what I know.”

Liam's palms were sweaty, his hands shaking, his body so tense that his broken rib started hurting again, his eyes and ears focused on Theo alone. He knew that what he was going to hear was bad enough to make Sheriff Stilinski come to the hospital and ask for him.

“Brett Talbot,” Theo said grimly, “if you want the short version.”

Liam couldn't exactly say he was surprised, but the name alone still wasn't really enough of an explanation for him, even though something dark and heavy seemed to fall into place deep down inside him like he instinctively knew there was truth to this information.

“And if I want a more detailed version?” he whispered. If someone - Brett - had done this to him on purpose, silence wasn't going to protect him.

Theo couldn't have been more clearly struggling with the words that followed. His face was contorted in pain as he spoke.

“Brett Talbot has something against you, Liam,” he began, “not that you have done anything to provoke him except for existing under the same sun as him. He's just an asshole like that. Remember when I had to stop the two of you from getting into a fist-fight during practice?”

Liam nodded and swallowed, waiting impatiently for Theo to get to the part where someone had almost killed him. It was a weirdly twisted sort of excitement, a sick thrill to know a thing he was aware he shouldn't want to know, but he couldn't help it.

“Yeah, so since I got involved in that, Brett decided to let me walk home naked that day, which I feel is really irrelevant compared to what punishment he had in store for you, but I'm only mentioning it because that's how I know Brett wasn't the one who attacked you. He was busy getting off on my walk of naked shame at the time.”

“Oh,” Liam made. He hadn't been aware Theo had fallen victim to the entire thing as well, had never given it any thought. Now he felt stupid, and sorry, even more so because a part of him still imagined Theo's naked ass walking down the street Liam lived in.

“I… didn't know that,” Liam replied dumbly, “I'm sorry you got dragged into it.”

“Are you kidding me? As if I give a fuck about what happened to me. The point is that Brett was having a laugh at me while his brain-washed fanatics apparently followed you to almost beat you to death.”

Theo hadn’t said any names, and Liam didn't recognize the voice that suddenly echoed through at first, but he knew there finally was a memory.

Hello, pretty boy.

Theo paused and then continued so quietly that Liam wasn't sure whether the others were still able to understand him. “The sheriff says they found a baseball bat in the woods.”

The baseball bats. Liam knew if there was any blood on it, it was his.

You really should have kept your little ass out of our school.

Liam flinched with the memory of the wooden weapon coming down against his head. He remembered the ringing tone in his ear before it had gone silent. He remembered an evil laugh from the face above him.

“Gabe,” he whispered, looking at Theo for confirmation.

Theo nodded. “And Nolan,” he said.

Not so pretty anymore now, are you Dunbar?

Flashes of trees came shooting through his dull mind, the taste of dirt suddenly on his dry tongue. Panic rose in his chest, pressing against his hurting ribcage from the inside. He smelled blood, although there was none now, but Liam's mind was back in the woods, his body numb where it wasn't burning, his fingers digging into the sheets like they had been into the forest ground, trying to hold onto the straw that hopefully meant survival.

“Hey, Liam, breathe.” The voice was out of place, too full of worry and warmth and genuine care. Liam tried, he looked around to find Theo, but he saw nothing, his eyes may be open but blind again, just as they had been when Gabe had asked, Is he even still breathing?

If not at least he won't come back to school, Nolan had answered.

Everything hurt. Liam was back at fighting for air and wishing for death to find him quickly.

“Liam,” he heard, but he couldn't…  he just couldn't find his way back and out of the terrifying memories that were imprisoning him.

Liam almost pulled away when he felt a touch on his hand, afraid that he couldn't take any more pain, but the touch wasn't painful, it was warm and soothing. It was grounding. It brought him back to reality.

“I remember,” he whispered.

“I can see that,” Theo replied, and Liam only then realized that tears were streaming down his cheeks. He looked down on his own body, on the hospital gown and the cast around his wrist. He just needed to make sure he was good now.

“You're okay,” Theo said, reading Liam like an open book. A sad, tragic, open book. “You’re good now. You’re safe. I'm right here with you.”

Liam wanted to believe him, but it was hard, at least until Theo shuffled closer and wrapped his arms around Liam carefully, offering his strong shoulder for Liam to lean on. Liam tried to fight it at first, but then he leaned in and allowed himself to sob into the crook of Theo's neck. He didn't even notice the others leaving before he looked up from the wet spot he'd left on Theo's shirt.

 


 

The time he'd spent at the hospital felt like an eternity to Liam, all the rest and the calm and the things he hadn’t been allowed to busy himself with almost having bored him to death, but when the day of his release home had come, a part of him still wished he could stay there and far away from school, at a safe distance from Brett Talbot and his minions.

He’d dreamed about the incident in the woods several times every night, a new painful detail coming back every time, the panic feeling so real that he always believed it was truly happening again. Of course, when Liam woke up he knew that he was safe at the hospital, that people were looking out for him. His parents, his newly found friends, Theo. The sheriff was investigating. He’d made his statement by the time.

Still, lying in his own bed again, at home in the street where he’d been attacked, the beat of his heart pulsating through his head like a jackhammer, Liam could only think of school the next day and what could possibly await him there.

He turned to the left, and then to the right, and then onto his back to stare at the ceiling. He closed his eyes, but that only gave his brain more room for dark and terrifying imagination. He looked at his phone at midnight, and again at half past two, and it seemed like ages had passed, but not enough, not nearly enough time to get ready for the upcoming day.

He told himself that he was going too far as he dialed the number, and he was pretty sure that Theo wasn't going to pick up anyway, not at that late - or early - hour, not when sane people were most likely fast asleep, but he was proven wrong by a sleepy, yet sympathetic voice greeting him.

“Are you alright?” Theo wanted to know, ever the caretaker, the protector.

Liam hardly knew how to say that he really wasn’t. He was not a child anymore, he shouldn’t need to cry for help like one.

“Are you scared of going back to school tomorrow?” Theo guessed.

Liam sighed with relief that Theo had pronounced it for him - and that Theo knew him well enough to be able to do that.

“Shitting my pants, actually,” he confessed.

“Who wouldn't?” Theo replied calmly. God, how could he be so calm? Liam was losing his mind. “I’m honestly so impressed that you’re even going back at all,” Theo added.

Liam knew he’d meant it as a compliment, as a sort of encouragement, but it didn’t help him. He could be brave all he wanted, and even with Theo by his side, Brett still ruled the high school, and if Brett had wanted to get rid of him before, what was stopping him from trying again?

This isn’t over, Dunbar, Brett had promised him back when he’d still considered such words empty threats. What if it still wasn’t? Liam could hear the cracking of bones in the back of his mind.

“Can you just… just talk to me?” he begged Theo, desperate to hear something that would make him feel better instead of worse. “Please?”

“How about I tell you a story?” Theo suggested. Liam could hear the smile in his voice, and it was almost enough to make him smile along.

“Go ahead,” he pleaded, wrapping his blanket more tightly around himself, getting comfortable against the pillows, but remaining a little uneasy.

“There once was a cloud at the sky, but it was lonely,” Theo started. “It was heavier than the others, greyer than fluffy white. It carried around a lot on the inside, a weight that the others couldn’t see or understand, so they made fun of the poor cloud. The cloud was sad all its life until it heard beautiful laughter from the other side of the rainbow. It knew it had to meet the other cloud that sounded so wonderful, so it got on its way across the sky. The sun was skeptical, trying to protect the happy, joyful cloud from the sad one, pointing out that it had a tendency to rain on people just for the fun of it. Luckily, the happy cloud wasn’t just pretty and positive, it was also incredibly smart. It knew the sad cloud wasn’t just mean, but that it was carrying around stuff it had to let out every once in a while, and that whenever it happened, it made sure to only rain on those who deserved it.”

Theo’s story sounded adorable, and Liam wondered how on earth he’d just come up with that, but he couldn’t get his brain to focus. All the clouds made him think of was the way the sky had looked while he'd been lying on the ground bleeding. The sun hadn’t been looking out for anybody then - certainly not for him.

“Sounds like the happy little cloud is a keeper,” he mumbled, but his words sounded empty to his own ears.

“Oh, he is,” Theo replied.

Liam would have thought about the meaning behind that statement, but fear was slowly getting a hold of him, an invisible grip tightening around his throat with every minute the school day came closer. He kept silent, although that hardly helped his spinning head, but he didn’t want to worry Theo any further.

“Are you feeling better now?”

“Yeah,” he croaked, wondering how Theo couldn’t hear the lie through the phone. He couldn’t go back to school, could he? He wasn’t fully recovered - far from it, actually. He couldn’t take another beating.

“You should try to get some sleep,” Theo said. Liam knew he was right, and he knew there was no use in telling him that sleep wasn’t happening with the paralyzing fear he was facing.

“Thank you, Theo,” Liam breathed into the speaker. It was all that he could muster.

“Good night, Ocean Eyes,” Theo whispered. Liam hung up before he had to either say or hear anything else. He was fucked.

His body was cold under the thick blanket, his back sweaty, his breathing ragged. Eyes open, his focus was drawn to the dark outside of his window, his mind jumping to the image of somebody appearing in the windowpane at any second to murder him. Eyes closed, the sleepless dreams were even worse.

“He’s going to kill me,” Liam whispered to himself and the monsters underneath his bed that suddenly felt like allies compared to the ones inside his head. They were all tall and blonde and perfectly tanned, grinning maliciously as they warned him: This isn’t over, Dunbar.

He was sure there was truth to the warning. It wasn’t over.

 

Chapter Text

The bright morning light pushed back at the darkened edges of dawn, reclaiming the vivid colors of the day that had been washed away by the graphite of the night. The world slowly came back to life again coloring the sky into a brilliant amber blending in with lavender as the sun broke its way through the clouds. Radiant rays of sunshine spread throughout the horizon awakening the town from its deep slumber, welcoming the day with open arms.

Liam was standing in front of the school, frozen to the spot and staring at the huge intimidating building before him as if entering would seal his terrible fate for sure. Students were passing him by, chattering cheerfully not paying any attention to him as they were rushing through the gates. They were too close, too loud and every movement around him was fueling his fear for the next blow to hit him any moment.

His senses were sharpened, his mind becoming paranoid and running on high alert, reacting to every sound like it was a possible predator. Liam’s heart was racing at tremendous speeds as he stood there for what felt like an eternity but was actually only a few minutes.

Paralyzing fear had taken over control of his entire body which didn’t want to listen to his brain anymore. It took all of Liam’s willpower to wake himself up from the frozen stupor he had been imprisoned in. His knees felt weak and almost buckled underneath him as he hesitantly stepped forward, his legs twitching with every move, fighting the urge to whirl around and run back home.

Liam’s eyes were darting around almost frantically for any possible threats. Somehow he felt utterly helpless and like he was completely at the mercy of Brett and his minions. He knew that he couldn’t really defend himself in the yet not fully recovered state he was in.

The blue-eyed boy looked down at his arm in frustration that was still in a quite impractical cast, which he was pressing firmly to his body as if he was using it as a shield to protect himself. Even some of the bruises were still visible but fading already, leaving faint traces of various colors on his skin, reminding him of the beating every time he looked into a mirror.

The false sense of security he had once felt was long gone and nothing but a distant memory, instead an invisible force of dread was crushing him from every possible direction. It had been in that moment that Liam knew, he probably would never feel safe ever again. The traumatizing experience had left its painful marks on him, and the scars would haunt him forever.

Now that he was standing in front of the entrance of Devenford Prep, he realized that going back to school already had been a terrible idea, a mistake even. It had been too soon, he hadn’t had enough time to cope and come to grips with what had happened to him in the woods. Liam really had thought he would be ready but that was far from the truth. He never would be ready for what was awaiting him here.

Everything came crashing down on him at once and he felt like being smothered by an invisible hand. Fear curled up inside of him and clung to his ribs as it settled uncomfortably in his chest preparing to stay. Liam wished he could turn back time and inject his mind with amnesia again because suddenly forgetting and not being able to recall the events in the woods seemed to be a better option than being confronted with them constantly.

Liam’s hands were trembling, his head was becoming a little giddy and his stomach churned as nausea spread throughout his entire body making him want to vomit. The fingers of his healthy hand were curled into a fist, nails digging painfully into his palm.

The last time he had needed to gather up the courage to go inside the school had been on his first day at Devenford Prep. Back then, he hadn’t known what he had been afraid of, this time, however, his nightmare had a face and it was haunting him like a dark specter of his worst fears. It was so overwhelming that he had difficulties to breathe properly, his breathing becoming erratic, shallow.

Liam tried to fight the panic taking over as his body writhed to be free or shut down entirely. His mind was starting to fail like an engine that was sputtering over and over again never kicking into action.

He couldn’t do this. He needed to leave but he was glued to the spot once again, his feet not cooperating. It felt like someone had put a gun to his head forcing him to hold still, to stop moving altogether. Pure terror surged through his veins as everything around him began to spin, making him feel as if the ground was melting under his feet. His breath came in gasps and he felt like he was going to black out any minute as his vision began to blur.

Liam felt his feet giving out underneath him, but before he could hit the ground strong arms caught him, keeping him steady and preventing him from making an unpleasant acquaintance with the hard concrete.

“Easy there, Ocean Eyes. You need to calm down, everything will be ok. Just breathe” A familiar deep and soothing voice said, reaching out to him, pulling him back from the abyss that had been about to swallow him whole. Saving him once more.

Liam’s blurry vision cleared as the world around him came slowly back into focus again, its features getting sharper with every second passing. His erratic heartbeat regained a normal pace, hammering in a now steady rhythm against his chest. The blue-eyed boy inhaled and exhaled deeply, being relieved as oxygen was finally able to enter is air-starved lungs, letting him breathe properly again.

It took another moment for his shut down mind to restart and being able to formulate rational thoughts again. Slowly he turned his head to his right, only to look straight into Theo’s emerald eyes which were sparkling with concern. A feeling of warmth spread in Liam’s chest, shattering the chains that dread had wrapped tightly around it immediately.

Suddenly he didn’t feel so afraid anymore, not with Theo by his side watching out for him.

He was so close that Liam could feel Theo’s body heat radiating against him. His strong arms which were still supporting him gave him an odd sense of safety and ease he didn’t think he would feel ever again. But as soon as Theo let go, he felt utterly lost again, even though the ghost of his touch still remained on his skin.

“Yes, I...thank you,” Liam croaked weakly, his voice sounding more broken than he anticipated. He felt like he was trying to sell a lie, he didn’t believe in himself because obviously he wasn’t ok but he was sure that Theo could tell. It seemed like Theo knew him already like the back of his hand, always guessing right what his feelings revolved around. He could easily give his emotions the voice Liam wasn’t able to give them himself.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Sadness graced Theo’s face and he crossed his arms in front of his chest while waiting for the shorter boy to answer.

“What do you mean?” Liam asked frowning in confusion because he didn’t get what Theo was referring to at first, but as soon as he realized what he was talking about, his heart sank.

Theo wasn’t an idiot, of course, he had caught on to the fact that Liam hadn’t slept at all the night before. The dark circles underneath his eyes were probably a dead give away and in addition to that, Liam was sure he was looking like death warmed over by now.

Theo sighed deeply, giving him a look full of sympathy.

“When you were calling me last night, why didn’t you tell me it wasn't better after the story I told you to keep you from panicking? You know, one word from you and I would have come over to keep you company. You didn’t have to go through this alone. I’m here for you if you need me. No matter what time it is.”

Liam shrugged. He really couldn’t explain it logically. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Theo, or didn’t believe he was willing to help him through this. Maybe he was just too sick of the demons haunting him to talk about them. Maybe he didn’t know how. Maybe it was all too big and too scary to put it into words. Or maybe those were simply not the words he wished for between him and Theo.

“I’m sorry,” he sighed, although he was sick of those words as well. Neither of them had asked for this chaos. “Can we just… talk about something else? Literally anything. Please?”

Liam looked up into Theo’s eyes, a mysterious grey and a calming green mixing together, creating an image of beauty beyond comparison, and Liam knew in his heart that even with all the fear and the pain and the uncertainty about what was still awaiting him, the one thing that was consuming his soul was his crush on Theo, growing a little more with every look at the other boy.

At some point, they even made it inside the school building and it hadn’t even been that hard. It hadn’t hurt to step onto the school grounds. Barely anybody had looked at them while crossing the schoolyard or entering the broad hallway. Liam had managed to put his stuff into his locker and leave for his first period with only a few pens and a notebook and his textbook, had survived the first part of the day without a heart attack, although he’d been close when his and Theo’s hands had brushed against each other once or twice while walking next to each other.

Liam should have felt a little stupid from the way Theo was smothering him in attention throughout his first day back at school, walking him to class and magically waiting outside the classroom after every single period, carrying his books and shooting a death glare at anybody who dared to look at Liam for just a second too long. It was borderline ridiculous, the whole thing, but strangely enough, it made Liam feel warm and protected, and a little fuzzy whenever Theo smiled at him, waiting for him to return the smile and then smile a little wider even.

Everything was cool until lunch break. And then a little too many things happened a little too quickly.

First of all, Theo wasn’t there when Liam got out of chemistry, even though Liam knew Theo had had biology in the same wing of the school building. But that alone wasn’t generally worrisome, so he simply texted the other boy to meet him in the cafeteria and got in line so they wouldn’t have to wait too long to get their food.

Liam could tell himself he was fine on his own all he wanted, but the truth still felt a little differently deep inside him. It wasn’t just that Theo wasn’t there, it was also that he didn’t know where else he could possibly be, and the fact that there was no reaction to his text message, and all of that seemed pretty unlike Theo. There was the smell of burned food and pasta sauce he knew tasted like nothing, and every squeaking of a pair of sneakers on the linoleum floor echoed through his head too loudly, every cough made him jump.

There were too many people crammed inside the cafeteria, making it impossible to make out distinct faces in the crowd, and Liam didn’t like not having a clear overview over who was present and at which table they were seated. He felt an urge to search the hall for Brett Talbot, just so he could make sure to stay clear of the guy, but then again, he was afraid of the cold, hateful eyes looking back at him, and so he kept staring at his own shoes instead, wondering if they’d ever been this clean before until the realization hit him that his mother must have gotten them cleaned from mud and blood after he’d been attacked in the woods.

Liam could have started crying like a baby right then and there, but he kept his shit together, if barely, but he managed, at least until a voice asking him whether he wanted the regular or the vegetarian option. He couldn’t come up with any more than a shrug, the food lady certainly didn’t expect him to make a decision right now? But the woman with the hairnet simply sighed and piled a brown stew and wobbly vegetables onto a plate she then held out for him.

The plate felt heavier than Liam knew in his head it could possibly be, but being on his own and in a constant state of alert was exhausting, and he suddenly felt tired, overwhelmed by the noise and the sheer amount of different smells and all the colors popping up in a corner of an eye, and it was all too much and he almost wished he was in one of those crappy high school movies where the protagonist eats their sandwich while sitting on the toilet.

But of course, he hadn’t suffered enough. Of course, in the life of Liam Dunbar, it could always get worse. It turned out that not seeing any particular faces among the crowd of students had been the better option, but it was over as soon as Liam spotted Nolan Holloway right across from him, holding a tray in front of his body just like Liam was, staring back at him with widened eyes. The blonde boy with the freckles didn’t look very threatening, not now, not without Gabe in his back and a baseball bat it his hand, not without the self-righteous grin on his face.

Truth be told, he looked a lot like Liam felt, but compassion was not what Liam had to spare for the guy, not what he was ready to give him. He could have died in the woods. The cast on his arm was still making it hard to carry the tray properly.

There was an awkwardly long moment of silent staring, the cafeteria fading into a blur around them, pain and anger and something that tasted bitter on his tongue welling up inside Liam, and the only reason why he didn’t do anything was that he couldn’t decide which direction to go, break out in tears and run or make a scene and throw the first punch.

“Sorry I’m late,” Theo mumbled as he pulled Liam away and out of his trance, “Mrs. Finch made me talk to her about my biology project after class. Couldn’t answer my phone either.”

“It’s cool,” Liam replied, because it felt like the thing he was supposed to say, because it was supposed to be okay for him to be left alone for fifteen goddamn minutes at school, but still, he was trembling all over, his jaw set firmly, his fingers clasped around the plastic tray so firmly that his hands were cramping.

“Hey,” Theo said softly, placing a hand on Liam’s shoulder, grounding him, a wave of calmness spreading through his body from the spot where they were touching to every other part. It was truly incredible how much power Theo had over him, how easily he could bring him down with only so much as a little touch, and it was a little scary, to be honest, but at the same time, Liam had absolutely no intention to fight it.

“I’m okay, really,” Liam repeated, talking to himself as much as he was talking to Theo, seeking for reassurance in the other boy’s eyes and finding something that went a little deeper than that, something that made his stomach flutter in a situation where it felt a little misplaced, a little inappropriate, but what could he do against it? He was falling in love, except that it didn’t feel like falling at all, more like being caught by strong and yet gentle arms, being held against a beating heart.

“Let’s eat,” Theo smiled, and they probably looked like the biggest dorks on earth as they shared the food on Liam’s plate between the two of them across a table in a relatively quiet corner of the cafeteria, but Liam didn’t give a shit, not when Theo kept looking up at him through his long, dark lashes, munching on the food like it was the most delicious stuff he’d ever tasted.

Was it normal for someone to look this sexy while eating? And so fucking adorable? Theo’s lips were full and pink and looking so damn soft, his jawline so sharp that it could probably cut through glass, and Liam’s fingers were itching with the urge to let them trail over the scruff covering his skin. Liam had never kissed a boy before, and suddenly, he was wondering how it would feel like, if the stubble would be scratchy on his own face and if so if he would ever get enough of it.

Liam’s daydream was rudely interrupted by a crackle coming from the school’s speaker system, one of the loudspeakers hanging right above their heads.

“Happy Monday, fellow students of Devenford Prep,” an annoyingly high-pitched voice declared. “This is your reminder to save the date for our annual bonfire Friday next week. Don’t forget to bring your best party mood. See you there.”

“Oh,” Theo commented on the announcement, “it’s that time of the year again.” He didn’t look too enthusiastic about it.

“An annual bonfire, huh?” Liam asked. “Is that a thing? I mean, a thing worth attending?”

“Depends,” Theo shrugged. “How much do you enjoy watching drunk teenagers making complete fools out of themselves? Are you into very short skirts and already too big egos of stupid jocks being stroked some more? Do you like the taste of cheap cheese on pizza and the smell of vomit? Oh my god,-” he gasped sarcastically- “are you one of those people who like dancing on tables while getting their asses slapped by some horny bitches?”

Liam laughed. “Wow, man,” he replied, “you’re really trying your best to sell that event to me, huh?”

“I’m just kidding,” Theo smiled, obviously satisfied with himself for making Liam laugh. “Well, not entirely kidding. But the thing is, it’s kind of a thing in honor of the lacrosse team, you know. So I guess it’s expected for us to go anyway. At least that’s why I’ve suffered through it every year so far.”

“Oh,” Liam made, his heart suddenly sinking. “So I’ll have to go.”

“Nobody’s forcing you to,” Theo answered. For a brief moment, it looked like he was reaching out to grab Liam’s hand, but he withdrew, his glance swaying across the large room quickly as if to make sure nobody had seen it. Liam couldn’t help the sting of pain in his chest.

“When was it, next Friday?” Liam checked. That would mean almost two weeks to get his shit together.

“Yeah,” Theo nodded. “Maybe you should just settle back in around school first. We can talk about the bonfire again next week.”

“Yeah,” Liam agreed, and then it almost became awkward between them, and how ironically bitter it was that Brett of all people was the one to save them from running out of things to say by making his entrance.

Liam hadn’t seen him all day. Technically, he hadn’t seen him for weeks, not since they’d almost gotten in a fist fight during practice, at least not in real life, just the version made up by his mind, haunting his sleepless nights and horrifying dreams, the one with claws instead of fingernails and fangs dropping from the corners of his mouth, eyes glowing in a dangerous yellow, his entire appearance more monstrous than human, just like the things he wanted to do to Liam.

Brett wasn’t even looking at Liam. Not even remotely in their direction, but the entire atmosphere shifted with him in the room. Liam wasn’t the only one afraid of the tall, handsome captain of the lacrosse team, he realized. It was like there was this unspoken law that made Brett Talbot king of the high school and everybody just ducked their heads and hoped for him to pick somebody else as his victim. And that victim being Liam was just his luck. So typical.

“I want to go home,” Liam pressed out, scrambling to his feet and collecting his stuff, not looking Theo in the eyes as he left their table.

“Hey,” Theo called after him, following him outside. “What about afternoon classes?”

“I.. I can’t,” Liam mumbled. His mouth was running dry, the air in his lungs didn’t seem to get out anymore, no matter how hard he tried to just breathe. He couldn’t explain, he just needed… out. He just needed to get out and away and into safety.

“I’ve got you,” Theo said, and then there was a hand in his own, a warm palm pressed against his, a light tug, and he was moving, walking without knowing where to, just following Theo’s lead blindly, content that he didn’t have to think about it right now, and then he found himself in the park a couple of minutes later, standing on a little bridge, looking down into calming waves of blue water, and with every squeeze of Theo’s hand, he took a breath in and let one out, and he was getting closer to being okay again.

“I’ve got you,” Theo whispered again, this time so damn near him, his voice going straight to Liam’s head, his breath warm against the side of his face, and then the hand in his was gone, but two strong arms wrapped him in a tight hug, and a heart was beating against his chest, and so he let his head fall onto Theo’s shoulder and hid his face in the collar of his sweater and just breathed him in. In and out as the world slowed down around them, giving him space although he was being held so tightly, the warmth radiating off of Theo’s body engulfing him, filling up the cracks and piecing him back together slowly.

“Thank you,” Liam mumbled as soon as he was able to speak again, his fingers dug into Theo’s back, holding onto him.

“I told you, I’ve got you,” Theo said, and then the world stopped spinning for good and Liam melted against Theo’s beating heart as a gentle kiss was placed on top of his head.

 


 

Brett parked his Porsche on the sidewalk, blocking the walkway with his swanky vehicle making it impossible for people to walk by. But he didn’t really care, as long he had the best parking spot around.

Taking an extensive look into his rearview mirror, he admired his astonishing beauty which he was sure would make anyone burst with envy. Brett ran his delicate fingers through his perfectly groomed hair which only added to his unspeakable magnificence making his heart swell with pride.

A smug smile appeared on his lips as he was eyeing his god-like features with pleasure. He was glad the rearview-mirror wasn’t like his magical one, destroying his glorious moment with it’s false and unacceptable words. For once in his life, he was grateful for the object's inability to speak.

The handsome captain knew he was beyond good looking, people throwing themselves at him confirmed he was indeed hot but he needed the validation of his pocket mirror, it was the only source he truly believed in and if it didn’t massage his ego, he needed to take some action to make the mirror say the words that were like music to his ears once again.

Brett clenched his hands into fists as an evil grimace overcast his flawless face. He had thought a lot about what his next step would be to get back his well-deserved crown as the hottest one on the team and this time he would leave nothing to chance.

No, this time he would do it himself to make sure Liam Dunbar would never have the chance to outmatch his beauty again. He couldn’t live knowing that someone was possibly more gorgeous than him. It was preposterous, nothing he could accept just like that and without a fight, only he could win.

Brett hated people who were a possible threat to his handsomeness. His mirror had always been on his side boosting his ego to the moon.

Well, if he didn’t count that one ineffable time in the past where it had uttered the outrageous words for the first time ever, scratching his arrogance without mercy. It had been one of the darkest days of his life and probably made him even more determined to keep his place on the beauty throne now.

Dunbar hadn’t been the first name making him want to smash the mirror into pieces.

But it had been a false alarm back then. The mirror’s misestimation. It had taken back the words only two days later, correcting itself and making him satisfied with the result once again. Brett didn’t have to take any harsh measures then and soon the little error had been forgotten.

It hadn’t been the same as it was now. His mirror was praising Dunbar’s fucking beauty all the time, rubbing it straight into his face for weeks now, making him want to do nothing more than to shut up its chanting forever. It couldn’t be true, he didn’t want to accept it.

Liam Dunbar wasn’t hotter than him but the damn mirror was insisting, pestering him even. He didn’t want to take it anymore and today would be the day he got his source of compliments back once and for all. Tonight the mirror would say the words he craved to hear so badly again.

Brett jumped out of his car and gracefully walked to the small cafe on the other side of the street. The doorbell chimed as he was stepping in, announcing his arrival.

For a short moment, he stopped at the entrance, his glance wandering around the cozy interior consisting of chestnut-colored tables and cushioned armchairs which were turning the cafe into a relaxing haven. The fresh smell of coffee hit is nostrils as he was strutting to one of the free tables, flopping himself down on the chair casually waiting to be served.

The handsome captain grinned cockily as the waitress on duty appeared only moments later in front of his table, looking anything but pleased to see him sitting here. He was scanning her exquisite body shamelessly, his glance resting longer on her curves than necessary before he looked up to meet her narrowed green eyes which were observing him in a calculating manner.

“Brett,” she said, her voice cold and unwelcoming, gripping the notepad in her hand firmly, the tip of the pen in her other hand hovering above the paper waiting for an order to write down.

“What an unpleasant surprise. What do you want? You surely aren’t here because you love coffee so much…” The black haired girl continued, her demeanor still cautious as she was looking at her customer with a frown.

A sly grin twitched on Brett’s lips.

“You’re still as feisty as ever. That’s what I like about you but of course, you’re right. Coffee really isn’t the reason I’m here today. In fact, I’m here to pay you a visit”, he answered, cutting straight to the chase, not even trying to pose as a usual customer, his eyes shining aggressively.

The girl rolled her eyes before slamming the notepad on the table in a rather annoyed manner, almost hitting Brett’s fingers in the process if he hadn’t reacted fast enough to pull them back just in time.

“If you aren’t going to order anything in the next few seconds, I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave!” The waitress spat unfriendly, her hands on her hips, looking at Brett expectantly.

Brett’s grin widened even more after the girl’s little outburst. Riling people up was something that was one of Brett’s many talents. It gave him some kind of power over his victims he loved to use against them when the time had come.

The handsome boy’s eyes lingered on the waitress’ name tag for a few moments, even though he already knew her name. In fact, he knew way more of her than just that. The nudes he had on his phone spoke volumes and were proof that she once had been one of the many girls he had had some fun with.

“Ok then. I want a coffee, black and some time alone with you. I have a proposition to make, Tara” Brett snarled unfazed by the unfriendly behavior she displayed.

Tara clenched her teeth, giving Brett a death glare before she stomped away from him to fix the coffee the self-regarding boy had ordered.

She couldn’t believe that Brett fucking Talbot actually had the audacity to stroll into the cafe she worked at in her free time to pay for her college loans like he owned the place. But what had she been expecting? The narcissistic idiot loved to show off, to always have the perfect entrance causing a scene everywhere he went.

Her day had been so pleasant. Only a few customers had entered the tiny cafe, ordering cake and coffee, enjoying the calm of the cozy place. That was until Brett had marched in and had destroyed the peaceful atmosphere altogether.

She didn’t know why he decided to come to visit her today of all days. After all, she hadn’t heard anything from him for so long that she almost had forgotten he actually existed. But now that he had popped up in her life again an uneasy feeling was starting to spread in her gut. She just knew, him showing up out of the blue so suddenly and without any warning was bad news. Bad news she was sure, she didn’t want to know about.

While preparing his coffee, she watched him from behind the counter with narrowed eyes, trying to figure out why he chose to bug her today but she couldn’t think of a single reason and it was driving her insane.

As soon as the coffee was brewed, she balanced it back to Brett’s table, putting it in front of him with so much bounce that the hot dark liquid splashed over the rim of the ceramic cup.

“Here’s your black coffee. It’s as dark as your soul” She snapped because just seeing Brett’s stupid face made her boil in anger.

“Thanks. I’ll take it as a compliment” Brett smiled sweetly, before patting his hand on the free chair next to him. “Sit, we have some things to discuss”

Tara huffed in annoyance, arching an eyebrow in disbelief.

“You can’t order me around Talbot and if you haven’t already noticed because your trivial sense of beauty got to your head again and fried all of your remaining brain cells, I’m at work. So sadly, I have no time to waste on you”

Brett gave Tara a disbelieving look like he hadn’t expected to be treated by her like she wasn’t affected the slightest bit by is immense hotness which made everyone else thirst for him or swoon anymore. An evil expression appeared on his face, his eyes blazing with anger after he had regained some composure again. Obviously, he didn’t take rejection very well.

Tara didn’t like to admit that there had been a time when she had been blinded by his good looks as well. That’s before she had discovered what a shallow and egotistical person he really was. She actually had been glad when he had ditched her as soon as he had found a new toy to play with.

“I don’t care if you're at work, you’re going to sit down right now or I’m going to call your manager and I can guarantee you, it won’t end pretty” Brett barked, his voice threatening admitting no contradiction.

The black haired girl glared at him, before gritting her teeth and flopping herself down on the chair opposite of him to still keep some distance between them, looking nervously around at a few customers who were already whispering and staring in their direction.

“Ok, ok. You win. Spit it out and keep your fucking voice low. I don’t need more attention than I already have” Tara whispered full of spite, her green eyes burning with anger.

“Finally, it wasn’t that hard to give in, was it? At least you realize what’s good for you” Brett said, a satisfied grin dancing on his lips and if it wouldn’t have caused a bad scene Tara would have definitely loved to slap the stupid grin out of his face for good.

“Get to the point. I don’t have all day!” She reminded him, impatience radiating from her body.

“You know tonight will be the annual bonfire party of Devenford Prep, don’t you? I mean, your brother will be attending and surely he would have told you all about it. The main reason I’m telling you this now is, that I want you to lure him away from the party later. I don’t want him to be there, got it?” Brett said nonchalantly taking a sip from his hot steaming coffee.

Tara gave him a strange look before suspiciousness crept over her features.

“Why don’t you want him there?” She asked curious and with a slight feeling of dread. She knew that something was up immediately and she wasn’t sure if she really liked it.

“That’s none of your business. Will you do it? I mean, I can be more convincing...I’m pretty sure you still remember the nice little nudes I have from our little fling in the past. It would be a shame if I had to leak them…” A devious smile spread across his face, his eyes shining triumphantly like he was sure he had already won the game.

Tara inhaled sharply before crossing her arms in front of her chest, shooting daggers at the narcissistic boy in front of her.

“That’s supposed to be convincing? That’s more like something I would call blackmail. You’re specialty I assume. It probably worked out quite well for you so far, right? But you know what? I’m sad I have to be the bearer of bad luck. Do it, leak them. I don’t care and I surely won’t let you blackmail me. If you’ll excuse me now, I have to get back to work” With that, the black haired girl stood up from the chair and was just about to leave Brett behind when he spoke up one more time.

“You should really do as I told you. If you don’t keep your brother from the party, he might get seriously hurt”

Tara stopped dead in her tracks, before she whirled around, looking like she would rip the boy to shreds any second.

“Don’t you dare to hurt my brother or you will regret it!” She growled angrily making Brett almost flinch.

“It’s in your hands. You’ll draw him away and nothing will happen to him. Do we have a deal?” The blonde boy looked satisfied like he knew she would agree now in a heartbeat.

Tara snorted. “Ok, I’ll look what I can do…” The black haired girl knew she had lost as soon as Brett had brought the topic to her brother. There was no way in hell she would throw Theo under the bus, not when she could stop it from happening. She wasn’t taking any chances for her brother to get hurt just because she didn’t want to give in to Brett’s blackmail. Sometimes you had to bite the bullet to keep the people you love safe.

“I’m glad we came to an agreement. Take the change! I’ll text you later” Brett threw a few dollar bills on the table, stood up as well, looking all smug because of his victory before he left the cafe head held high.

Tara watched furiously as Brett left the cafe. She couldn’t believe he had actually managed to make her to one of his puppets who did as he asked them to but sadly she didn’t have another choice if she didn’t want to take the risk of Theo getting hurt. Brett did exactly know what buttons to push to make her agree to help him out.

Sighing deeply, the black haired girl drew her attention back to the table. She grabbed the money and stuffed it into her work purse.

Just when she was about to take the empty coffee cup, her eyes fell on a tiny, silvery object laying on the seat where Brett had been sitting before. The small thing was reflecting in the lights hanging on wires from the ceiling above the table.

Tara took a closer look, realizing it was a beautiful pocket mirror decorated with delicate patterns. She reached out towards the round object, placing it into the palm of her hand while she was inspecting it with great interest. To be honest, she wasn’t surprised that Brett carried around a mirror, he was a really peacocky person after all but it was still highly ridiculous and pathetic.

The mirror felt cold on her skin as she was turning it around in her fingers asking herself why it did seem kind of familiar to her.

Suddenly she felt an odd sense of a deja vu hitting her and her eyes widened a bit as her mind was throwing a fragment of a memory at her she almost had forgotten. Tara averted her gaze from the round item, her eyes nervously roaming around the cafe. No one seemed to pay attention to her, all the customers too engrossed in their conversations.

With one last look at them, she made sure no one was in the need of something before she quickly vanished into the back room. Hastily she closed the door after herself, leaning at it heavily as she switched the mirror open. Immediately her face reflected on its surface.

Tara inhaled deeply before speaking the words that changed everything.

“Mirror, Mirror - what we did once seal. Are you still keeping the part of our deal?”

As soon as the magic words had left her lips, the mirror came to life, replacing her reflection with green flames licking across its surface.

“Tara, you have nothing to fear. I’ll still keep safe what you hold dear!” The mirror chanted in an awe-inspiring voice making Tara relax visibly.

She couldn't believe that Brett was still talking to his stupid magic mirror, taking its chanting way too personal. The black haired girl had hoped, he had come to his senses, but obviously, that wasn't what had happened. On the contrary, Brett's love for himself seemed to have only gotten more dangerous bringing out the worst part of himself.

Tara shook her head, snatching the round item shut after she had made sure it kept the deal she had agreed with it on. Brett didn't know she had uncovered his well-kept secret and that’s what had given her the advantage she had needed.

Once Tara had witnessed the narcissistic boy talking to the mirror and hearing its words, she knew she had to take action and make sure the magic item would never say Theo's name ever again.

 


 

Nolan wasn’t sure how much lower he could possibly sink, but it wasn’t like he wasn’t trying his absolute best. He hadn’t actually talked to Brett again, not since he’d almost run him over with his stupid Porsche, but that didn’t mean Nolan was over him. Done maybe, but not over him.

After all, Brett had been the first person Nolan had fallen for. And the only one. It had all started years earlier, back on the first day of middle school, long before Brett had been covered in muscles, long before he’d known how to style his gorgeous blonde hair, long before anybody else had even paid attention to him. Back then, Brett had been a nice kid with a wide grin on his tanned face, his body consisting of long and skinny limbs, his movements often uncoordinated and clumsy. And so, so adorable.

Nolan had been thinking back to those times a lot lately, back to shared sandwiches and card games, to summers spent almost entirely at the public swimming pool, to ice cream dropping from Brett’s chin and sleepovers with too much popcorn and too little attention for the movies playing. Somewhere deep down inside, he’d known that he loved Brett before he’d known that he was gay before love even had anything to do with sexuality before any of it had become complicated and scary.

But the beginning of high school had brought changes, and whereas Nolan had still been a skinny, slightly awkward boy obsessed with video games, Brett had started working out and looking in every mirror in every room he’d entered, had suddenly cared about the clothes he’d worn and how much his sneakers had cost, had talked to girls who Nolan found stupid, but at least they’d been pretty, at least in Brett’s eyes.

In all honesty, Nolan could have lived with the girls. He could have been Brett’s friend and accepted the weekends where the other boy had had plans with them instead of him, but then there’d been other boys as well, and it all made him furious, especially because Brett hadn’t seemed to choose them by anything other than good looks and popularity. Nolan had become the sidekick, nothing more than that, and on more days than not, he’d felt like even that was just because of how long they’d known each other.

Nolan knew that he shouldn’t be bitter about never having hooked up with Brett. He really shouldn't. If anything, he should be thankful that he’d escaped the shame and the heartbreak and the possible STD, but he couldn’t bring himself to it. He wasn’t ugly, at least he didn’t think so. He’d grown a lot taller since middle school, had even developed a few muscles here and there, had an acceptable face, smooth skin, full lips, long lashes and hair that fell pretty nicely all by itself, had gotten many compliments for his blue-green eyes and the freckles on the bridge of his nose.

Somehow, the compliments didn’t mean that much to him, not when Brett, Brett Talbot who jumped everything that didn’t run fast enough, had never said them to him, had never even tried anything, had never made even the slightest move on him. Seriously, what had been wrong with him?

Not that it mattered anymore. Not after his blinded love for Brett had dragged him so far down. Not after he’d almost killed somebody for his crush. Not now that the guilt was slowly crushing him and there was a lawsuit against him and Liam Dunbar was back at school with a cast and a still bruised face and fear in his eyes that reminded Nolan of a deer caught in the headlights whenever they met in the hallway. He’d gone too far out of his stupid, absolutely hopeless love for Brett, had crossed more than one line, had gone to a point where there was no going back from, and then he’d tried to make things right, and Brett had tried to hurt him too.

He deserved the guilt slowly tearing him apart from the inside. He deserved the hateful looks when he walked through school and the silent treatment. He hadn’t spoken to a single person other than his teachers and his father’s lawyer for days, hadn’t dared to show up to lacrosse practice yet. There was no point. If you stood against Brett Talbot, you stood alone.

He deserved sitting alone at lunch, and he deserved looking at his phone during the break just to discover that nobody had texted him. He deserved being bored at home and playing video games for hours with tears streaming down his face. He deserved being miserable and he deserved being loathed. He deserved it all, and he didn’t try to fight it, just swallowed it down and cried into his pillow at night instead of sleeping, still sobbing when his eyes were long dry of tears, praying that the remaining nine months until graduation would pass quickly, knowing that they wouldn’t, but that was just another thing added to the long list of everything he deserved.

In spite of all the endless pain, Nolan found himself unable to let Brett go. He could have been the devil in person, and still, he was also the boy from middle school, the one that Nolan had lost his heart to, and like it was with love, there were no take-backs. And so one thing led to another, and as Nolan didn’t have much better to do, he followed Brett around for a day, just because why not, and maybe because he was a masochist, apparently, and it felt good in a really fucking sick way to feel the dagger in his heart being turned and twisted as he watched the love of his life smiling like the sun to just another random girl.

And then making out with some boy Nolan had never seen before behind the gym just before lacrosse practice, maybe just so he’d be fashionably late as he should be. And before he could think better of it, Nolan was following him again, although that next time, he really didn’t get to see much more than Brett’s pants pooling around his ankles and the knees of a stranger on the floor in a public restroom. He swiped away the tears as he got back into his car when Brett did, thinking about how dirty that was, how utterly humiliating, and still, not even that he’d ever gotten.

The next stop was in front of a coffee shop where Brett talked to a girl that Nolan couldn’t place anywhere at first, but then he remembered that she had to be Tara, Theo Raeken’s older sister and one of Brett’s previous hookups, one of the many. She didn’t seem very pleased to see Brett, and their conversation didn’t seem to go like they usually did when Brett was seducing someone.

Tara hadn’t even gone to their school. There probably had been no other reason for Brett to ever show interest in her than to piss Theo off. Brett was an awful person, as Nolan knew, no matter how painful it was to admit that to himself, and Tara was a victim if anything, and still, Nolan couldn’t deny the fact that he was jealous of her.

“Why him?” Nolan whispered with a strangled voice, looking into his own teary eyes in the rearview mirror. “Why did it have to be him?”

He could have fallen in love with anybody, possibly somebody who would have loved him back, or at least liked him, or at least not tried to turn him into a fucking murderer.

He could have held the hand of a nice boy at least once in his life, could have been kissed, could at least have made it to a few drunken hookups. But Nolan had had to lose his damn heart to Brett, and now it was shattered in pieces, so many of them blown into the wind that he was far beyond hope of repair and Brett probably didn’t even know. Or didn’t care. Or would find it funny.

This time, when Brett drove off, Nolan stayed behind, the first tear falling as he watched the other boy disappear down the street. And then more followed, and he didn’t bother trying to catch them, because he was sick of it being his own hands drying his cheeks, and it would just go on exactly like that forever, and so he just sat there in silence that was cut by his ugly sobs and whines, and his hands kept still as he watched the life that had long fallen apart around him lying on the ground in rough shreds, dragged his hurting body through them and bled all over the chaos, his broken heart beating, his stupid body still sucking in one breath after another.

 


 

The full moon hung on the ebony-colored curtain of the sky radiating like a huge luminous pearl which's beautiful lasers of light were kissing the lakeside into brilliance. Bright stars like scattered embers of a dying fire were dotted on the pitch-black canvas shining like precious crystals.

The lake was as smooth as black glass and a perfect mirror of the sky above. It reflected on its surface like a beautifully painted piece of art, slightly distorted by the ruffled water.  A warm summer breeze was rustling the leaves of the trees surrounding the water, blending in perfectly with the loud music blasting.

A mesmerizing bonfire crackled on the shore, projecting long shadows of its flames on the ground and the surrounding area. The flames danced across the dark trunks of the trees, painting moving pictures which were changing shapes every second on them. The fire was pulsating, the glowing embers mimicking the flames rhythm. Their colors were brilliant reds, oranges, and light yellows. The flames licked at the wood and their sparks flickered as the heat was emanating from the center.

A few students were gathered around the bonfire, holding sticks with marshmallows into the flames, roasting them. Others were chatting in little groups, holding red plastic cups filled with booze in their hands, drinking occasionally from them. Muffled voices mixed with the music and the crackling of the fire.

Some people were dancing, moving their hips to the music playing. Everyone was having fun, enjoying themselves at the bonfire party where they could forget about school and responsibilities just for one night.

Theo and Liam had secluded themselves from the crowd the blue-eyed boy still wasn't really comfortable with. That's why they had decided to take a little stroll alongside the lake. He’d agreed to attend the event, after all, giving in to the expectations that all the players on the lacrosse team should be there, not wanting to explain to any of his super-hyped teachers why he wasn’t interested in the farce that they called team spirit. In the end, he’d wanted to spend the night with Theo a little more urgently than he’d wanted to avoid the crowd of students, so that was that, and now they were there.

They walked next to each other being so close that their shoulders touched occasionally. Rays of moonlight danced delicately across the serenity of the water which was laying still and quiet in its bed created by nature itself.

After a few minutes, they both stopped walking, turning around to the lake to take in the beautiful view. The splendid moon lit up the night and cascaded its light in a breathtaking glow. It's brilliant reflection cast a sparkle as bright as diamond flame on the still waters.

Around the lake, darkness was scattered with tiny glimmers of light that were transforming the surroundings into a magical place.

The small glimmers of light that were touching the blades of grass waving in the soft wind, turned out to be fireflies which were hovering in the night like fireworks suspended in time.

Liam watched the lightning bugs in awe, never having seen such a beautiful display of nature before which was conjuring a fond smile on Theo's lips. It warmed his heart to see him so carefree and happy again after all the torture the blue-eyed boy had been through the past few weeks.

"Did you know they are called fireflies because of their conspicuous use of bioluminescence during twilight to attract mates or prey?" Where the words that left Theo's mouth to break the calming silence around them, causing Liam to avert his gaze from the fireflies electrifying glow and turn his head into the dark-haired boy's direction, surprise written all over his face.

"Wow. How do you know about that?!" Liam asked seemingly impressed by Theo's knowledge, absorbing every word he said with great interest.

Theo just shrugged his shoulders, not really wanting to make such a fuzz out of his knowledge. It was just something he had picked up in class, after all.

"That are the perks of paying attention at biology, I guess. But I don't want to bore you with probably useless facts," Theo replied, his eyes shining brightly in the moonlight.

"They aren't boring. Tell me more, I'm intrigued now..." Liam said smiling, never getting tired of hearing Theo's soothing voice.

"Ok, but you've been warned. Don't complain if you're falling asleep while listening," the dark-haired boy grinned before taking a deep breath and giving Liam a little more insight on one of the earth's most beautiful creatures. They might look quite plain and boring in daylight but at night they were like diamond dust spraying in the air.

"So, fireflies produce a cold light with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically produced light from their lower abdomen can be yellow, green or even a pale red with wavelengths from five-hundred-ten to six-hundred-and-seventy nanometres," Theo explained while both of them were observing the lightning bugs rising from every direction into the air.

"It's beautiful," Liam announced, still being mesmerized.

"You know what else is beautiful?" Theo couldn't stop himself from saying, a faint blush appearing on his cheeks which Liam wasn't able to detect in the moonlight.

Liam turned his head to Theo once again, question in his ocean colored eyes, which made Theo’s knees weak every time he looked into them while drowning in their beauty.

"You," the dark-haired boy whispered huskily, his voice barely audible but loud enough for Liam to hear.

The blue-eyed boy stood frozen, looking into Theo’s eyes searching for the meaning behind the words the taller boy just had uttered. Before Liam could find what he was searching for and was able to react properly, the magical moment was disturbed by the annoying ringing of Theo’s cell phone, making them jump apart, only now realizing how close they had been to each other.

Theo couldn’t believe his bad luck, just when he was about to make a move, to confess his feelings destiny seemed to have other plans. Groaning he got his phone out of the pocket of his black jeans. He angrily looked at the display, ready to give the person who had the audacity to call him right now a fucking piece of his mind. But as soon as he found it was his sister who was calling, his expression softened and was replaced with slight worry even.

Tara knew he was at the bonfire party tonight and wouldn’t call him if it wasn’t important, so something must have come up or otherwise his sister would never try to get a hold of him.

“Tara, what’s wrong?” He asked, his voice laced with concern.

“T-heo….you...help....to-wn...I’m…” Theo couldn’t really make out any of his sister's words because her voice was breaking up all the time, a constant static was swallowing whole words, maybe even sentences he needed to understand the context.

“What? Can you repeat that, please?” He urged, his heart taking up in pace, pounding heavily against his chest. But even after she tried to repeat what she was saying the words still broke up, making Theo realize that the signal was probably too bad out here.

“Fuck, wait a moment,” the dark-haired boy said into the phone, before turning to back Liam.

“Would it be okay for you if I’m going a little closer to the bonfire again? Hopefully, I will get a better reception there. I promise I’ll be right back,” he asked the shorter boy, looking at him for confirmation that it would be indeed alright. He didn’t want to leave Liam if he wasn’t comfortable with being alone. But he would probably be safer out here far away from Brett and his minions than at the bonfire where they were partying at the moment.

Liam nodded, even though he looked a little unsure.

“It’s okay. I’ll be waiting here for you.”

Theo mouthed a thank you before he started to walk with fast steps back in the direction of the bonfire, leaving Liam alone at the lake where he hopefully would be safer than anywhere else around.

When he was almost at the bonfire the signal got a lot better, so he could finally make out the words that Tara was saying.

“Theo, I think someone is following me. You need to help me, please. Can you come and get me? I’m on the other side of the town. I’m really afraid and I don’t know what to do.” His sister’s voice sounded panic-stricken and like she was on the verge of crying.

Theo was immediately on alert, not losing a single minute before he stormed to his truck, he had parked not far away from the lake, everything else suddenly forgotten. The only thing on his mind now was the safety of his sister. He had to make sure she was alright, he didn’t know what he would do if something bad happened to her while she was roaming the town all by herself. There were a lot of creepy and dangerous people out there, especially by night.

“Keep calm, I’m on my way to get you. I’ll be there as fast as I can,” he said rushed and a little breathless after the sprint he had taken to his truck. The dark haired boy unlocked the vehicle hurriedly and jumped in, closing the door with a heavy bang.

While putting on his seatbelt, he turned the key in the ignition bringing the truck’s engine to life before he quickly drove away.

The bonfire and the lake got smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror as he drove until he couldn’t see it anymore. Theo was so focused on his sister and her well-being, that he had completely forgotten about Liam who was still waiting at the lake for him to return.

 


 

Liam felt the soft sand below his feet as the cold water of the lake tickled his toes. He watched the dark water in front of him wearily which had a striking resemblance with a grave of pitch black ink. It was glistening in an obscure shade of black, mirroring the dazzling assemblage of the bright sparkling stars freckled like splinters of moondust in the sky.

The faint wind brushed against Liam’s skin, caressed his hair and caused small ripples to ruffle the stillness of the lake’s surface, shattering its beautiful reflections.

The blue-eyed boy couldn’t believe he actually had found the courage to come to the bonfire party tonight. He had been really reluctant to join Theo but he knew, he couldn’t hide and let fear rule his life forever. It had been weeks since the incident in the woods. Liam really had tried to move on but the uneasy feeling spreading inside of his gut every time he left the safety of his house still remained. Paranoia was pestering his mind, still causing him to jump sometimes when he heard a sound he couldn’t place.

Liam looked down at his arm which had been the last reminder of the agony he had to endure back on that fateful day that had changed his life. The impractical cast was gone now, but he could still feel a slight tingle of soreness in his bones, he hoped would fade away soon.

Averting his gaze from his arm, his eyes wandered back to the lake before he began to frown slightly. Wasn’t Theo supposed to be back already? Liam didn’t know how much time had passed since the boy had gone a little closer to the bonfire for a better signal but a nagging feeling in the back of his mind told him that it had been already longer than anticipated.

Liam wasn’t sure what was Theo keeping away from him for so long, but he was starting to get a little restless as anxiety was crawling through his veins, slowly taking over. The blue-eyed boy turned his head, his eyes focusing nervously on the flickering bonfire in the distance. Faint music was being carried by the soft breeze into his direction and he could see the silhouettes of his schoolmates scattered around the fire but they were too far away for him to recognize Theo among them.

Just when he was debating with himself whether he should go there as well to search for him, Liam could hear faint footsteps approaching him from behind accompanied by a barely audible rustling.

Liam inhaled deeply, relief washing over him immediately as he felt Theo’s presence right behind him, knowing that he could stay away from the bonfire now because it wasn’t necessary to look there for the dark-haired boy anymore. Not when he was finally back again.

A smile crept upon Liam’s lips, waiting in anticipation for Theo to say something but when he didn’t break the silence surrounding them Liam decided to disrupt it himself.

“Theo, what took you so long?” he asked, not having turned around yet.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you Dunbar, but sadly I’m not who you were hoping for,” a sly voice suddenly answered him, shaking Liam to the core, making his smile falter.

The blue-eyed boy stood frozen, his eyes widening in shock as his blood was running cold. His heart was racing and he felt faint. This couldn't be happening, not when he was all alone.

Liam whipped around quickly, all color draining from his face the moment he was staring into Brett’s hateful eyes in absolute horror. The tall boy had planted himself threateningly in front of him, looking at him with malice. He was so close that the blue-eyed boy could feel his body heat radiating off of him.

“B-rett?! What? Where is Theo?!” Liam stammered, slowly backing away, his feet stepping deeper into the cool water behind him with every step he took. His eyes darted around helplessly, trying to find an escape but he wasn’t so lucky. Shakily he clasped his arms around his body protectively, knowing that Brett wasn’t here to only talk and that was what terrified him the most.

A gloating grin appeared on Brett’s handsome face as he quickly closed the distance between Liam and himself again, causing Liam to stumble farther back into the lake, the dark water rippling with every move.

“He left. Seems like he doesn’t care as much about you as you’ve thought,” Brett said unblinking, the harshness of his voice sending shivers down Liam’s spine, making him want to run, but Brett was blocking his only way out, forcing him into the lake even more. They both were already knee deep in the water.

“You’re lying. He wouldn’t leave just like that,” Liam objected faintly, suddenly not so sure about that anymore. Theo had promised to watch out for him, the blue-eyed boy wouldn’t have agreed to come to the bonfire party otherwise. He had been too scared, scared that something would happen to him again but Theo had told him that he would keep him safe, that he would have nothing to fear as long as he was with him. He didn’t want to believe that Theo really was gone and had left him completely unprotected at Brett’s mercy. Theo wouldn’t do something like that, right? He had promised him.

“Oh, but he did. Or do you see him anywhere? Theo won’t be there to save you, he wasn’t there the last time either. He’s never there when you really need him,” Brett laughed, his face contorted into a cruel grimace.

Fear was gripping at Liam’s heart and his stomach was plummeting. It almost felt like he was being back in the woods again. His nightmare was repeating itself but with the difference that this time no one would come to rescue him.  

Suddenly and without a warning, Brett gave the shorter boy a hard shove causing him to lose balance and fall backward into the lake. Water was splashing loudly as Liam’s body crashed its surface destroying the reflection of the moon in the process completely.

The dark liquid clashed momentarily above him, taking the breath out of his lungs for a second before he was able to resurface again, panting heavily. Liam’s clothes were soaked, sticking to his body like a second skin, his wet hair being damp on his head as rivulets of water were running down his face.

Looking up at Brett in terror he frantically tried to scramble back to his feet but there was no use because the handsome boy tackled him down again, not caring that his clothes got drenched as well.

“Why...why...are you doing this? What... did I ever do to you?” Liam asked out of breath, his voice trembling as he tried to wrestle himself out of Brett’s firm grip, his voice almost getting drowned in the splashing noises all around them as he was pushing his attacker away from him with all the strength he could muster.

“You’re far too pretty for your own good!” The blond boy replied, his words making no sense to Liam at all. But before he could try to figure them out, Brett had already regained the upper hand again, pulling roughly at Liam’s hair and dunking the boy’s head forcibly underneath the water.

Liam began to panic, trying desperately to free himself from Brett’s strong grip who was pushing him down even harder now, pressing his head underneath the water mercilessly.

The blue-eyed boy’s arms and legs were trashing in pure panic as he was fighting for his life, kicking and flailing in uncoordinated movements, clawing through the liquid that was trying to invade his lungs.

His head was pounding heavily and every cell in his body was screaming for oxygen. Liam felt like it was going to explode any second, his air-starved lungs in the desperate need of air. The blue-eyed boy was hardly able to hold his breath any longer. He needed to breathe but he couldn’t without pumping the deadly water into his lungs. Liam tried to fight the urge to breathe in as long as he could.

The pitch black water swirled around him, the soft rush of water buzzing in his ears while it was trapping him in its dark clutches.

His entire body was throbbing and he felt like his lungs had been set on fire burning him alive. His heart was beating rapidly in panic. He was still trying to fight Brett in a desperate attempt to break the surface again, but he didn’t stand a chance as his strength was slowly fading and leaving his fragile body.

The urgency for oxygen was now more apparent than ever, his lungs were begging for it in pure anguish. The incredible pressure compressed his chest, squeezing it painfully. Black dots began to seep at his vision, blurring it all together. Liam’s throat seared in agony with the rising pressure of trapped air. He just wasn’t able to stop himself from inhaling any longer and gave in.

The blue-eyed boy opened his mouth to exhale and breathe in the air he needed so badly but he was only inhaling a gush of water as an explosion of air bubbles left his lips. The water rushed into his body, tasting filthy and musty on his tongue.

Desperately struggling for air, he tried to break free from Brett one last time but his body was already too weak to cooperate properly with the signals his brain tried to send to it.

Cold water was thrust up his nose and mouth like a stream sending jets of pain through his body, filling up his lungs with the lake’s water, making him incredibly dizzy.

Slowly everything started to fade away, his limbs went numb and felt so heavy that he almost wasn’t able to move them anymore. The trashing came to a sudden stop as everything around him was moving into silence.

Darkness was enveloping him and his consciousness faltered before the icy hands of death started to suck away the last bit of life that was left in his body. Being that close to death was terrifying. Liam felt cold and alone, he didn’t want to die. Not like that.

Drowning was something he had always feared because it was probably one of the most hurtful ways to go. It was an incredibly painful and quiet death no one should ever have to endure.

The blue-eyed boy was losing focus. He felt himself drift away as life was leaving him slowly. He knew, that this time it would be permanent. There was no way in hell he would survive this. Liam wanted so bad to be saved. He wished for someone to bring him back to life but he knew it was already too late.

Consciousness was leaving him, his eyelids were so heavy that he wasn’t able to keep them open any longer. His limbs slowed down and stopped completely as darkness finally took him.

The moment Brett was sure Liam wasn’t moving anymore, he finally loosened his grip and let go of him immediately. Satisfied he watched the shorter boy’s limp body floating face down in the water like he was a lifeless doll.

An evil smile appeared on his lips as he took in the scene with pleasure. He could still feel the adrenaline running through his veins and the thrill he had felt when Liam had stopped trashing still gave him chills. Brett couldn’t believe it was over. It felt so good that he didn’t have to hear his mirror’s devastating words ever again. He had won. Liam Dunbar was dead and it was time to reclaim his rightful place as the hottest one.

Brett turned around, leaving Liam’s floating body behind like it didn’t matter to him anymore. In fact, he couldn’t care less. It had been the perfect plan. No one would ever doubt that Liam drowning in the lake had been nothing more than a tragic accident.

Gracefully, the blonde boy emerged from the water, reaching the shore in a heartbeat. He was dripping wet, leaving traces of water on the ground. Grinning evilly, Brett disappeared into the direction of his car, never looking back once.

The handsome captain arrived at his Porsche within a minute. Filled with pure anticipation at the prospect of being the hottest one again, he opened the glove compartment on the passenger side, grabbing his magic mirror which had been resting there.

Brett couldn’t believe that he had almost lost it a few hours earlier. Mistakes like that usually were inexcusable. Losing his magic mirror could have destroyed his vicious plan just like that. Fortunately, luck had been on his side today and everything had turned out as he had plotted in the end.

As soon as he was holding the silver item in his hands, he snatched it open revealing it’s sleek and glossy surface. He took in all of his god-like features in wonderment before he spoke the words that would bring the source of his compliments to life once more declaring his outstanding beauty to the world.

“Mirror, Mirror, who does seem - to be the hottest one on the team?” he asked, awaiting the words that would shower his perfect looks in a never-ending praise with satisfaction.

Green flames licked against the mirror’s surface, chanting the words that made his heart swell in victory.

“You’re pretty gorgeous Brett and amazingly tall and there is no doubt you’re the hottest one of them all!”

 

Chapter Text

Beacon Hills was just a small town, the kind where people knew other people and rumors spread quickly, but when you had to drive from one end to the other in the middle of the night to get to your sister, it wasn’t small enough. It took Theo ages to make his way through residential areas and random construction sites, and nausea was eating at the back of his mind a little more aggressively with every second.

Tara wasn’t the type of girl to get scared easily, as Theo knew. She wasn’t tall and she looked rather delicate with her pale skin and the dark, wavy hair, but having grown up as her little brother and preferred victim, Theo knew exactly how strong she was. To what forces anger or spite or protectionism could drive her. Tara was generally closer to fearless than most people, more careful than actually afraid of things.

Naturally, receiving a call from her telling him to come and get her had freaked him the fuck out. He couldn’t help but picture it in his mind, a dark creature following her behind in the nightly shadows, breathing heavily and getting closer, starting to run when she did, possibly chasing her until there was nowhere left to run. No escape. His heart was beating as if he was the one running.

Theo looked at his phone where the little red dot was still moving quickly, leading him to the location Tara had shared with him over her phone after she’d hung up on him too quickly, leaving him with too little information to stay calm. He was too far above the speed limit, and he knew it, and normally, that would never be happening, but normally didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was for him to get to his sister before it would be too late.

And then the red dot stopped moving, still too many blocks away from him. “What are you doing?” Theo whispered to his phone and the sister who couldn’t hear him. “Keep moving,” he begged her, “don’t let him catch you.” Nothing happened. For minutes, nothing moved except Theo’s truck and his shaking hands. His heart was beating like crazy, beads of nervous sweat covering his forehead, his fingers ready to call the police in an instant, or an ambulance.

He half expected to find her dead before he rounded the last corner. He saw her lifeless body lying on the cold, hard ground in his mind, blood dripping from her head, pooling around her and soaking her hair and clothes, her eyes empty and frozen. He remembered their creepy neighbor from years back, a guy in his mid-twenties who’d walked around in their shared backyard wearing nothing but boxer shorts a little too often, offering a little too much ice-cream to a little too young girl, always making promises about showing her his pet snake one day.

Back then, little Theo had been jealous, hadn’t understood why Tara had been offered candy but not him, had thought that a snake must have been the coolest pet ever, had wanted to see it too. Now, it was making him sick. He would have thrown up out of the truck’s window, but he had to find her first. Had to make sure she was still alive.

Stopping before the spot where she must have been coming into sight, Theo jumped out of the truck, closing the last of the distance on his wobbly legs, balling his sweaty hands into fists, feeling the cold of the night crawling beneath the collar of his shirt and down his spine, leaving goosebumps and a disgusting shudder behind. He was moving too slowly, but the fear was almost paralyzing him, and only the concern about his big sister had him moving at all. He swallowed thickly and held onto the wall beside him as he peeked around the corner, not ready to learn the truth.

What Theo saw then didn’t make any sense to him at all. Tara was sitting on a little ivy-covered wall, her feet dangling in the air, a jacket wrapped tightly around her body, her face illuminated by the screen of the phone in her hands, not a scratch visible on it. It looked like she was just chilling there, waiting. But she wasn’t, right?

“Tara?” Theo asked as he stepped out of his hiding spot and approached her.

“Oh hey Theo,” she smiled at him, “there you are. Took you long enough.”

And that was it. That was literally all she had to say before jumping off the wall and landing on her feet next to him, shoving her phone into her pocket and walking into the direction where he’d come from, not another word following, no explanation.

“I don’t understand,” Theo said dumbly, standing there, his heart still beating too loudly for his brain to properly focus. “I thought you were in trouble. I raced here like a lunatic.”

“Yeah,” she replied without turning around. “Sorry for that, little brother. I guess I was just being a little paranoid. I ran for a while, but I don’t think there actually was anybody after me.”

Theo still couldn’t wrap his head around this. A little paranoid? That didn’t sound like Tara at all. It all screamed lie to him. He knew her too well. He didn’t even have to look her in the eyes to sense that something was off. He just couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he practically shouted, making her jump and finally turn around to face him. He usually wasn’t one to raise his voice, not even in an argument.

“What?” she asked with a little too much fake innocence in her voice. “I would have needed someone to pick me up anyway,” she shrugged, “and I was getting bored and tired”

Now Theo was absolutely fucking mad at her. Not only that she called him and made him leave the party, no, she had him worrying about her, had him expecting the absolute worst, didn’t even call him to let him know she was okay. She’d sounded so scared on the phone, but Tara had always been good at acting. The thing was, there was someone out there who was scared for real, someone who had a good reason to be, someone he’d left alone, someone he hadn’t even given an explanation when he’d run to go help his sister, and now that someone was on his own and for what?

“I was with Liam,” Theo growled dangerously. “And he needed me. For real, not like you. If you just wanted to go home you could have called an Uber, Tara.”

“Wow,” Tara breathed out, clearly a little surprised by his vigorous reaction. “Since when is this guy more important to you than I am, huh? Is he really that cute?”

And that was when Theo snapped. As if any of it had to do with how cute Liam was. Who was Tara thinking she was, belittling the connection between them, mocking it, talking about it as if it was just a stupid crush? Theo was in love with Liam, and it might have been too early to do much about it, but he was so serious about the other boy that it almost hurt, and he’d promised to be there for Liam, had promised to protect him, to keep him safe, and now he’d broken that promise, and even if Brett had kept still for a while there, who knew what was happening at the party at that very moment?

“You’re so fucking stupid, Tara!” Theo yelled at her, his hands gesturing wildly, anger welling up inside him until he felt like exploding. “I might just be your dumb little brother, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have good things in my life that you haven’t! And maybe Liam’s the best fucking thing that’s ever happened to me! And maybe he’s really fucking scared because fucking Brett Talbot is after him! And maybe he actually needs to be protected from that asshole, since he’s been beaten into a coma before and all that, but hey, not that you’d care!”

There was a moment of silence and ragged breathing and wide-eyed staring. Theo knew his words had been harsh, and he knew that Tara wasn’t trying to come between him and Liam, but he was mad, and frankly, scared shitless.

Tara pursed her lips and swallowed thickly. “We should probably get back to that party,” she whispered, her eyes glued to the dirty puddle next to where Theo was standing.

“If you think I’m taking you there with me now, you’re dead wrong,” Theo grumbled in response.

“No, Theo,” she said firmly, catching his eyes with hers, worry and sadness lingering in the pale green. “You don’t understand,” she continued, her voice almost too quiet for him to understand, but the next words still managed to cut through him like knives. “I only lured you here because Brett made me. He only wanted to get you away from Liam.”

Theo needed a second to process that information. And then he sprinted back to his truck, barely waiting for Tara to get into the passenger seat before he started the engine and hit the gas, driving just as fast as before, his mind racing through all of the cruel possibilities of what Brett could be doing to Liam in that very moment. He was too caught up in his fear and the guilt of leaving Liam even to be mad at Tara, to be outraged about her helping Brett when she should be hating him for breaking her heart a few months earlier. Theo couldn’t think about that, couldn’t ask her why or how could barely keep enough control over his trembling body to drive.

 


 

Nolan was sitting on a mossy log a little offside the bonfire, firmly clutching the red plastic cup filled with booze in his hand like it was the only thing in the world he could still rely on. Crestfallen, he watched his classmates having fun. Rejection clawed at his chest and his heart felt heavy as his eyes were still resting on his former friends, longing. It hurt that they were enjoying themselves, chattering, laughing and were just having a good time while he was spending his time all on his own. He missed being a part of them, being welcomed in their midst. Hell, he even missed talking to them. The silent treatment and the dirty looks he got whenever he tried to approach or to talk to them were unbearable and probably the worst punishment ever.

The blonde boy already regretted his decision to come here tonight. He didn’t know why he had even bothered to show up at the stupid bonfire party in the first place. Being there wasn’t pleasant at all, on the contrary, it was more like running the gauntlet. Even time seemed to be against him, ticking away painfully slow, making him more miserable with every minute passing.

He sighed deeply, asking himself why he was even surprised at that. Nolan should have known better. After all, he had already experienced what losing his popularity status meant for him when he had been at school. Especially now that Brett had declared him to the new persona non grata, his social life was pretty much over.

The freckled boy had been aware of the fact that betraying Brett would be like committing social suicide, one he probably would never recover from but he hadn’t thought it would be that bad. But the false hope that at least one single person of his great circle of friends would still stick with him after everything that had happened, had been nothing more but wishful thinking. Nolan couldn’t deny that he had gotten what he deserved in the end but he couldn’t deny that it hurt either. For the first time in his life, Nolan felt more alone than ever and it was an awfully painful feeling that was eating him alive.

Getting in Brett’s bad graces was probably even worse than having a lawsuit on your head. A lawsuit he pretty much deserved as well. He was lucky that he hadn’t fucked up his whole future altogether. Why he hadn’t gotten expelled from school was beyond him, but he didn’t complain either. He was just relieved that one terrible mistake didn’t have a much worse impact on his life than it already had. He could live with being an outcast. School was just something temporary, something he could leave behind as soon as he would graduate.

But his future was a whole different story. Once you ruined it, there was no turning back. Nolan knew it could have ended badly, but his lawyer was quite certain he would get off lightly, especially since he had shown remorse and didn’t have a criminal record before the beating which really did help his case. If he was lucky, he would probably get away with doing some social services and a fee to make up for the pain he had caused.

Lost in thought, Nolan stared at the intense and crackling flames licking at the wood, feeding off of their source of life excitedly. Red sparks leaped highly into the air only do die mid-flight, falling back down as blackened charcoal ember.

That was until a dark shadow overcast his features as someone was stepping right in front of him, blocking his sight to the bonfire completely. Startled by the sudden interruption of his chain of thoughts Nolan looked up in surprise, his eyes widening immediately as he realized who was standing there. This was just his luck. Uneasiness spread inside of his body and his grip around the plastic cup tightened as he waited for the other boy to speak first.

“Holloway,” Gabe spat with venom in his voice, his whole demeanor threatening as he was closing the distance between them a little more. Nolan gulped visibly before he scrambled to his feet hastily, almost tripping himself in the process much to the dark-haired boy's delight. An evil grin was forming on Gabe’s lips, his eyes blazing with pure arrogance.

"What do you want?” Nolan asked greatly intimidated by Gabe’s presence, knowing all too well what he was capable of if you dared to spoil things with him.

“I just wanted to stop by and find out how our little traitor is doing…not so well it seems, you look pathetic…” Gabe said tauntingly as he was taking in Nolan’s pitiful appearance. It was more than obvious that he was enjoying his misery with satisfaction before he looked around like he was searching for something. Only a few moments later, his eyes wandered back to Nolan and he tilted his head frowning.

“Where are your friends?” He asked in fake surprise, clearly mocking him, a devious smile creeping up his face as he continued.

“Oh right, you don’t have any” Gabe laughed maniacally and like he had made the best punchline in history. Nolan felt like he was being punched in the gut. Of course, Gabe would use his lack of friends against him, knowing that it was the poor boy’s tender spot now. A pitiful sigh escaped his mouth resulting in him to bite his lips, not wanting to grant Gabe even more satisfaction.

“Are you finished now? Why do you even bother talking to me?” Nolan’s voice was quivering lightly. He was already tired of having this conversation but it didn’t seem like Gabe wanted to stop anytime soon. He found too much pleasure in the pain of others, always kicking people when they were already down. It was just the way he rolled and once again Nolan wondered why he had ever been friends with someone as cold-hearted as him.

“Well, as you might know, I’m not exactly happy that you backstabbed me like that, giving my name to the fucking police. In fact, I’m absolutely livid and if I could I would punch your fucking lights out right now!” Gabe growled darkly, his jaw tight. His eyes narrowing in pure hatred as he was clenching his hands into fists, looking like he was going ready to throw the first punch any second. But he didn’t, the vein pulsating angrily on the side of his head a clear indication that he was having a hard time to keep himself in control of his anger.

“So, what is holding you back then? Why don’t you do it?” Nolan couldn’t explain where he had gotten the sudden courage to ask both of these questions, but he regretted them immediately because he realized a little too late that they strangely sounded like an invitation to come at him. God, he was such an idiot.

Squeezing his eyes shut almost fearfully, he waited for the ultimate blow that would certainly follow but it never did. Irritated Nolan cracked his eyes open carefully, only to see Gabe still standing in front of him, even closer than he had been before which was sending shivers down Nolan’s spine. Then dark-haired boy leaned forward so that Nolan could smell his alcoholic breath and feel its warmth on his skin. Gabe’s mouth was almost touching his ear as he slyly voiced his threat.

“Too many witnesses. One lawsuit is already bad enough. But I would watch my back in the future if I were you. I’ll be waiting, Holloway. One day no one will be around and that’s the moment you will regret what you’ve done, deeply!”

As soon as the threat had left Gabe’s mouth, he stepped back, evilly smacking Nolan’s plastic cup out of his hands. The alcoholic liquid splashed out of it, hitting the blond boy straight in the face and splattering all over his shirt making him look like an idiot. Shooting daggers at the vicious snickering boy, Nolan brushed his clammy hair out of his face, tugging at his wet white shirt which was clinging to his chest in utter disbelief.

He couldn’t believe that he really turned himself into a target. At first, he had been threatened by Brett a few days ago and now Gabe followed his example. This was not how he had pictured his evening to go. Not at all. Maybe he should just leave the party before the dark-haired boy would come up with even more humiliating stuff that didn’t interfere with his lawsuit but still could make Nolan miserable somehow. It was not like Gabe was a creative one when it came to making people suffer but he didn’t want to risk it.

The pungent odor of alcohol radiating off of his shirt reached his nostrils and made him feel like he took a bath in said liquid. He could only hope that he wouldn’t get pulled over by the police on his way home or he would be fucked reeking of booze like that.

Nolan groaned in defeat before he started to walk in the direction where he had parked his car, leaving Gabe and the other people at the bonfire behind. There wasn’t anything that kept him at that place any longer. He wasn’t even welcome there, so why should he bother staying? There was no point.

The blonde boy felt incredibly down as he strolled along the small trail traversed by roots that where snaking themselves through the ground, stumbling more than actually walking. The path was only lit by the moonlight that shone brightly like silver platinum but still wasn’t enough to light up the darkness surrounding him completely. It took the blonde boy a moment before he realized he was walking in the opposite direction of where he had intended to go.

Bewildered, he paused for a moment, taking in his surroundings. Somehow he had ended up at the shore of the lake, the bonfire flickering and crackling in the distance, the music still blasting in the background. The sand underneath his feet gave in as he was stepping forward again, leaving footprints in the shape of his shoes on the ground.

The blonde boy had to admit that it was kind of calming out here, being far away from the people that now hated him was a relief and finally made him relax a little. The heavy burden he had carried on his shoulders was getting lighter and wasn’t dragging him down as much anymore than before.

The water of the lake looked murky, almost like smooth black glass and the glowing orb of the moon was draping long and dark shadows over the surface which were darkening its slightly distorted reflection. Tiny glowing dots were hovering above the water, swirling around like scattered fragments of stars merging together with the lasers of the moon, kissing the lakeside into brilliance and bringing it to life.

Watching the beautiful display nature had to offer, Nolan observed the fireflies in awe. Maybe his night wasn’t such a terrible disaster after all. The small luminous bugs definitely made him feel a little better as they were distracting him from his problems and worries at least for the time being.

Just when he had taken his phone out of his pockets and was about to take some pictures to capture the beautiful moment, he suddenly heard a splashing sound not too far away from him. At first, he thought he had just been imagining things, but then another one followed putting him slightly on alert. Nolan perked his ears trying to figure out where the splashing of water came from exactly.

Nolan let his phone sink, tearing his glance away from the lightning bugs and a little farther to his right side. The blond boy did a double take, blinking in surprise as soon as his eyes fell on Brett Talbot emerging from the dark water fully clothed. Nolan bit his lip as his eyes scanned the hot blonde boy’s graceful movements in admiration while he was stepping out of the lake like he came straight out of a photo shoot.

For a moment Nolan was mesmerized by the sight, staring at a dripping wet Brett frozen to the spot before he shook himself out of his idiotic stupor. Nolan couldn’t believe that Brett still had that effect on him. He knew he should stay away and never think of him ever again but how could he ignore him when he was so fucking good looking? The freckled boy mentally facepalmed. He really should get a grip and get over this asshole once and for all. He was better off without him.

Now that Nolan was thinking about what was happening in front of his eyes more objectively, he began to wonder what Brett had actually been doing fully clothed in the water in the first place. It was strange to go for a swim still wearing all of your clothes.

Nolan narrowed his eyes, suspicion starting to crawl up inside of him. The blonde boy watched as Brett left the shore with fast steps, his drenched clothes sticking to his body like a second skin, defining his muscled body like art.

He waited until Brett was out of sight before he decided to start to investigate. Nolan was curious now as to why the handsome captain had been lurking around here, far away from everyone else. He wouldn’t go into the lake without a reason, right? That wasn’t how Brett would spend his evening, not when he could wallow in all the attention and admiration he caved for by his fans at the bonfire. Brett never did something that wasn’t benefiting himself somehow and that alone was enough reason to be alarmed.

Nolan approached the spot where Brett had emerged from the lake just a few moments earlier. His eyes were traveling alongside the still waters which were laying serenely before him like a grave of pitch black ink, burying everything its dark clutches could claim.

The gentle breeze of the wind touched the blonde boy’s skin, ruffled through the mop that was his blonde hair and carried the salty smell of the lake towards him. The wind created small rifles where it touched the charcoal liquid’s surface which was sparkling in the silver moonlight.

Everything looked peaceful and calm, but a strange feeling in his gut told Nolan to look at the water more closely and that’s when he saw it. There was someone in the water, barely floating on the surface, slowly getting swallowed by the dark depths of the lake to never see the light again.

Nolan froze as he finally recognized the limp figure, floating lifelessly in the water and all color drained from his face, pure horror written all over his features instead. It was Liam.

The freckled boy inhaled sharply and wasn’t really able to grasp the drama that was playing out right in front of his eyes like the worst horror movie he had ever watched. This wasn’t happening. Brett didn’t drown Liam in the lake, he wouldn’t dare, but the horrific images right in front of him told a whole different story, making his blood run cold as his heart sink.

Chills were running down Nolan’s spine and he was shaking terribly as nausea washing over him mercilessly, hitting him like a ton of bricks. His stomach did a painful flip as panic was poisoning his ability to form any rational thoughts, preventing his body from functioning properly. All he knew was that he had to something. Anything. Frantically, he looked around but he was the only one out here at the shore, the people at the bonfire being too far away as to be of any use.

Nolan swore loudly before he finally sprang into action. He felt like being on autopilot, not really registering any of his movements. Adrenaline was rushing through his veins like a burning fire, as he quickly slipped off his shoes, tossing them onto the sand carelessly, his phone following next, before he finally dove into the lake, the water splashing everywhere as he cut through the surface.

The freckled boy was terrified to no end, silently praying that he wasn’t too late, that there was still a slim chance to save Liam. But he had to be realistic. It didn’t look good. Not good at all. He had no idea how long his teammate had been already in the cold water, silently dying without anyone noticing his demise.

By the time Nolan pulled his limp body out of the lake and dragged his deadweight with all of his remaining strength back to the shore, Liam wasn’t breathing, his lips already having turned blue.

“No, no, no…please don’t be dead!” Nolan’s shrill and panicked voice echoed through the night, while everything else had lapsed into silence.

 


 

Hot tears of anger were burning on Theo’s reddened cheeks by the time they arrived back at the party. The ride there had been silent, and truth to be told, that was for the better. Theo was absolutely not done with his big sister, but it was not the moment to work this out between the two of them. All he could think about was Liam. He just wanted to see him alive and uninjured, was that too much to ask for?

Apparently, it was. Theo knew something was terribly, awfully not like it was supposed to be when he parked his truck where dozens of cars had been when he’d left less than an hour before. But the space was as good as empty. The air smelled like fire and the salty water of the lake still, but there was something missing. It was supposed to be a party, for god’s sake! But Theo couldn’t smell alcohol, and although the music was blaring over the whole place, it was not enough noise. The chatter was missing. The laughing and the giggling and the chanting.

“What the hell?” Tara breathed out from behind him. She asked the exact same question that was going through Theo’s head as well. “Where did they all go?”

Everything was scarily empty. The huge terrace with the pizza buffet, the space around the still crackling bonfire, the dock at the lake, the dark green lawn. Tara shut the music off as they walked around the place, not able to process the scene in front of and around them. The silence sent a shiver down Theo’s spine.

“What did he say to you, Tara?” Theo wanted to know. His voice was cold and demanding of the truth, no matter how ugly it would be. “What did he fucking say he was going to do, huh?” He took two large steps towards his sister, so fast and with such a grim determination that she took one away from him.

“What?” he almost laughed. “I’m not him, you know. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want anybody to get hurt!” He was shouting, although he could tell by the look in her eyes that she long knew what she had done. And then he turned all quiet. So quiet that he could practically hear his own heartbreaking as he whispered, “If something happened to Liam…”

Theo’s voice broke. All he could do was sob and look at her helplessly. She was his big sister, why was she not doing anything?

“If something happened to him, I’ll…”

“No,” she finally responded, cutting him off harshly, with a shaking voice that told him she was only trying to sound convincing for his sake. She shook her head as if to get rid of the thoughts inside it and grabbed his hand. A part of Theo didn’t want to be touched by her after the betrayal, another part craved the comfort of his sister.

“I don’t know what Brett wanted to do, Theo,” she said, sounding sad. “I’m sorry. We’re going to find him, okay? Have you tried calling his phone?”

Theo felt like the stupidest person under the pale moon at that moment. Because he actually hadn’t thought of that. When he fumbled his phone out of his pocket and dialed Liam’s number though, he soon found out that it was no use anyway. He heard a buzzing sound and followed it until he found Liam’s phone in the sand by the shore of the lake. It did absolutely not make him feel a tiny bit better. If horror movies were anything to go by, finding something that belonged to a missing person… No! He would not start thinking like that. No way.

“The hospital!” Tara almost yelled at him, sounding weirdly triumphant considering the situation and the fact that once again, the hospital was involved. Theo actually felt like throwing up at the thought of the white walls and the white sheets and Liam’s pale skin and his cold hands. If Liam was in a coma again, Theo was not going to hesitate one second before killing Brett Talbot with his own hands. Not one second.

Tara tucked her phone back into the pocket of her jeans, god knows who she had called to find out about Liam being at the hospital. She took the car keys from Theo, and the fact that he let her was proof enough of his distraught state.

Theo didn’t know how exactly the ride to the hospital happened, he was barely present inside his own mind. Practically jumping out of the truck before it had fully stopped, Theo bolted and merely escaped the clash with a grumpy grandpa in a wheelchair on his way inside. The hallways felt so painfully familiar, not because he’d been there very often, but because of how fresh the memory was, how vivid in his head that it made his skin crawl. With every fiber of his being, Theo felt uncomfortable, like he was at the entirely wrong place at the entirely wrong time, and there was no way that any of it was real. Some things had to be too ridiculous, right?

But of course, it was no mistake. Melissa McCall took Theo by the arm as soon as he saw him storming in and led him to another room than the time before, one on an entirely different floor, but the feeling, the sickness in his stomach, the mix of heat and cold and the sheer panic were the same. If he hadn’t had to for Liam, Theo wouldn’t have made it to the room that his Ocean Eyes was apparently in.

Of course, since there was nothing that mattered more, the first thing that Theo took in after opening the door was Liam’s face. He looked pale and not too great, but his eyes were open and focused on him, the recognition glistening inside the blue as he stepped inside, something like a smile spreading over his lips that looked a little blue and swollen, but other than that, Liam seemed to be surprisingly okay.

Theo’s voice was suffocated, but he had to say it. He was guilty. He had left Liam behind unprotected, had made another attack possible in the first place, was almost as much to blame as Brett himself, and yet, Liam still had this soft expression on his face for him, although he didn’t feel like he deserved it.

“Hey there, Ocean Eyes,” Theo greeted.

Liam didn’t reply, he just sunk back against the huge pillow in his back and looked as relaxed as he could. Theo still had no idea what had happened, but then he noticed something. Or rather, someone.

Sitting on a chair beside Liam’s bed, so close that it almost looked like he was there to look after Liam, except that - well, it wasn’t really possible, was it? - there was Nolan Holloway, his eyes glued to the ground, face turned away from Theo, shoulders tense, hair damp.

“What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Doing. Here?” Theo growled lowly, moving closer to the blonde boy, broadening his chest, willing to rip the guy apart in case he had anything to do with Liam being back at the hospital again.

Nolan scrambled away from him, swallowing thickly.

Theo was absolutely not like this. He was not violent, he was not one to lose control. He didn’t want to hurt Nolan - didn't even want to scare him. He just wanted Liam to be safe. And he would have done whatever to make sure of that.

“Theo.”

Liam’s voice alone could distract Theo from his anger completely.

“He didn't do anything,” Liam told him softly. “Well, actually he did. He saved my life.”

Theo’s brain seemed unable to process that information at first. Nolan… what? Okay, he needed more context.

 “Why did you need to be saved, Liam?” Theo asked, his voice merely a whisper, as if by asking really quietly he could avoid getting a painful answer. And painful it was. Painful because of how absolutely not surprising it was.

 “Brett,” was the only word Liam really needed.

Theo could see the same tears welling up in Liam’s beautiful blue eyes that were burning in his own. All this time, he’d been telling the other boy not to be afraid. A person could not actually be insane enough to go and try to kill their high school classmates, could they? The Sheriff’s department was already on the case of the beating in the woods, and yet, Brett had really started a second attempt. It was completely unbelievable on so many levels.

All the time that it had taken for Liam to recover after his last stay at the hospital. All the pain and the tears shed. All the fear to go back to school, the late-night phone calls and the stories Theo had come up with specifically to calm Liam down. All the encouragement and the promises to keep him safe. The panic attacks and what it had taken to overcome them. The incredible progress Liam had made. Theo had been so proud of him.

But what was any of it good for? Because in the end, the exact thing that Liam had been afraid of had happened, and Theo hadn’t been there to protect him. And apparently, it had been bad enough so that somebody else had had to save Liam’s life, and not that it should have mattered, but that somebody seemed to be Nolan, and although Theo should be nothing other than thankful for that, he did absolutely not like it.

“What did he do to you?” Theo demanded to know. He shouldn’t have sounded so harsh, not when he was talking to Liam, but he couldn’t help it.

“No, Theo, don’t,” Liam winced. Theo needed to know, though.

“He tried to drown Liam in the lake,” Nolan stated feebly, eyes still to the ground.

“He WHAT?” Theo was so out of himself, he even forgot to hate Nolan for a moment.

“Well, technically, he kind of did succeed. Liam was actually kind of dead when I pulled him out. I revived him and the paramedics pumped lots of water out of his lungs.”

Theo felt like he’d been hit by a brick. Right into the face. Or his heart. Or both.

“There shouldn’t be any permanent damage,” Nolan added quietly, “not physically, that is.”

Liam looked miserable, even more broken somehow than when his body had been covered in cuts and bruises. Real pain was emotional pain, Theo knew that.

“Can you leave?” he asked Nolan. His voice not even sounding angry anymore. Just frustrated, resigned, powerless.

“Theo,” Liam tried to intervene.

“I’m sorry,” Theo said to Nolan, “I can’t deal with you right now.”

“I get it,” Nolan nodded, sounding even more helpless than Theo. He didn’t argue, didn’t even try to defend himself. Somehow, that took the satisfaction of sending him away out of the whole thing. But Theo had bigger things occupying his mind.

 


 

Tara was sitting in the waiting area. She had parked Theo’s truck and then thought about what to do. Hospitals were generally not the kind of places where she felt comfortable. If you asked her, any young and healthy person who could afford it, should have stayed as far away from it as possible, but of course, sometimes it wasn’t that easy, and after all, Tara was aware that it was partly her fault.

She wandered the parking area for a bit and then forced herself to go inside. She didn’t want to go looking for Theo, though, especially didn’t want to find him at the bedside of a boy she didn’t even know, but whose life she had put in danger, just because apparently, Brett fucking Talbot still held power over her.

Slumped down in a plastic chair, Tara began to wonder where exactly it had all gone wrong. Probably the moment when she had let Brett convince her to go out with him. She had said no for the first three or four times that he’d asked, mostly because she’d known he’d been younger than her, young enough to be in the same grade as her little brother. He’d even been the captain of the lacrosse team Theo had been in.

The thing was, even back then, Tara had been aware of Theo’s deep and passionate hatred for the guy. Sure, he had been handsome. Tall and well-trained and blonde and effortlessly graceful, and the only way that could possibly be not somebody’s type was if that somebody was blind. But Brett had not been just any pretty guy wanting to go out with her. She’d heard the stories. Everybody had. But with her little brother on the same lacrosse team as Brett, Tara had lived right at the source of those stories. She’d known so much better, and yet…

What had happened all that time ago was one thing. A mistake, a fatal one, but none that anybody else than Brett Talbot was to blame for. The event of the present day, though, well, Tara could hardly claim herself innocent in those. What had she been thinking would happen once she’d lured her brother away from the bonfire party? Truth be told, she hadn’t thought about it. The only thing she had been worried about was Brett’s threat to hurt her brother. Not once had she wasted a moment to think about who else could be on his hit list.

Tara let her head fall back against the depressingly white wall and groaned at the pain as she hit it, but she was sure that she deserved it. “Fuck,” she muttered. “When will it ever end with this stupid fucker?”

“Hey,” someone said from somewhere left of her closed eyes, speaking so quietly that she didn’t realize they were talking to her at first. “Don’t I know you? I feel like I know you.”

Tara glanced over at the boy. He was tall and skinny and yes, the blonde locks and the freckles on his nose seemed familiar. “You’ve probably been at the coffee shop where I work,” she sighed. There was no way she could ever remember all of her customer’s faces.

Recognition flashed over the boy’s face as she looked at him.

“You’re Theo’s sister,” he stated simply.

Thank you very much for reminding her, that was just what she needed in that moment. “Guilty,” she nodded, and she was definitely not just talking about the fact that she and Theo were related.

“Nolan,” the boy introduced himself. Tara vaguely remembered his name being mentioned at some point. By Theo probably. Or wait, Brett?

“Shit,” she gasped, “no offense, but… are you not Brett Talbot’s little sidekick?” In that moment, she clearly remembered seeing him over the broad and bemuscled shoulder of Brett, always nearby, always in his shadows.

Nolan exhaled deeply, his eyes glued to the ground as he sat down in the chair next to her. He looked tired. Very, very tired.

“I guess I’m guilty, too,” he shrugged.

“What are you doing here, then?” she wanted to know. She had a feeling she was supposed to get away from the boy, was supposed to hate him for his loyalty to the biggest and most narcissistic asshole known to mankind, but something in his eyes, in the way his jaw was set and his hands nervously shaking, something about him made her stay and listen.

“I’m not sure,” he replied hoarsely. “Trying to become something else than the little sidekick, maybe.”

“Took you long enough,” Tara remarked snarkily. He didn’t exactly look like he needed another finger pressed into the wound, but she couldn’t help her bitterness.

Nolan looked at her for a moment, pursing his lips, then returned his eyes to his own hands in his lap. “I know that,” he confessed. “It’s not exactly easy to fall out of love with someone.”

The confession went right to Tara’s own damaged soul. It was certainly not like she’d let Brett make a fool out of her because he was hot. No. She, too, although she’d known all along that she’d been making a fatal mistake, had been in love with him. Just an innocent crush at first, one of the kind that you never thought actually meant anything, that was probably just your teenage mind’s reaction to everybody else swooning over the guy.

It had been all fun and games as long as he’d been the unattainable high school hot guy, and not even at her own school. But even when Tara had refused his first few propositions to go out with him, persistence had been all it had taken to bring out the truth about her heart being lost already. She had wasted months of her life trying to please him, had theoretically known better than to let herself dream of being the one girl to tame him, but what had theory had to do with it? Up until the present day, although the hatred was by then stronger than love for him, Brett was under Tara’s skin, never allowing her to move on. She could tell herself that she was free of Brett’s spell all she wanted, but in the end, she was still on her own, with no interest in anybody else, and that surely meant something as well.

“I swear to god, that dude performs dark magic,” Tara muttered. Honestly, how many hundreds of teenagers in Beacon Hills had fallen victim to Brett’s unique charms?

“It would absolutely not surprise me,” Nolan agreed.

They fell silent for a while. It didn’t seem like Theo was going to come back out and ask her to bring him home anytime soon, and Tara felt highly uncomfortable with the scent of disinfectants hitting her nose and the sounds of white sneakers squeaking on the linoleum floor.  She thought about leaving, just texting Theo to give her a call when he would need her to pick him up again and escaping the depressing atmosphere of the hospital.

She got up from the stupid plastic chair and looked down at the boy next to her, leaned forward, his face buried in pale hands. He looked even younger than Theo, especially in that moment, looked like a kid lost in a world that was too cruel to him. She wondered how long. She couldn’t recall seeing Brett at any party without his shadow, suddenly feared that Nolan was in even deeper than she was.

“You look like you could use a coffee,” she said. A part of her didn’t want to deal with him, but another part told her that she had sucked bad enough in the big sister department that day so far.

“The coffee here tastes awful,” Nolan replied in a designated tone.

“I know a place,” she smiled. Smiled? Honestly? Was that how badly she wanted to lighten his mood?

 For some entirely inexplicable reason, apparently, it was.

 


 

Theo sighed with relief as he shut the door behind Nolan. Of course, the most important thing was for Liam to be alive, and if that was thanks to Nolan, then sure, Theo had to be grateful for that. Still, he couldn’t forgive the boy for what had happened before, for the attack on Liam in the woods, for almost killing him. If Nolan had succeeded back then, there wouldn’t have been a life left to save that night, and that much Theo knew.

“Was that really necessary?” Liam croaked, his eyebrows raised strictly, his face pale except for the dark circles beneath his eyes. Somehow, he looked really small wrapped up in a bunch of blankets.

“Probably not,” Theo admitted quietly as he remembered the shock in Nolan’s eyes, the fear as he had stepped back when Theo had stepped forward, the instinctive ducking of his head, the instant retreat into defense mode rather than fight mode. Nolan might have been an idiot. A complete, love drunk and brainwashed idiot, but deep down inside him, not a murderer.

The anger on Liam’s face looked like he was going to say something else, was - out of whatever reason made him feel empathy towards Nolan - going to defend his previous attacker some more, but then Liam’s eyes turned away, and suddenly he looked more tired than anything, especially when he slumped down and sunk deep into the pillows, sighing at lying his head back carefully.

Looking at the boy with the perfect ocean blue eyes, the brown hair darker then because it was still damp, his entire appearance somehow fragile, a perfect image of vulnerability, the heart beating inside Theo’s chest broke apart; the heart that long belonged to Liam alone.

All of a sudden, he understood what was happening, understood why Liam wasn’t as mad at Nolan as he was, why Liam didn’t see a point in hating their teammate for what had happened at the party, because Liam knew who truly was to blame, and that wasn’t Nolan, no. It was him. It was Theo, who had made promises only to break them. Theo hadn’t been there when Liam had needed him the most. Theo who had simply left.

There was a moment of silent staring, Liam’s eyes barely open and yet bearing an accusation that went straight to Theo’s already broken heart, cutting through it and making it bleed even more. Guilt washed over him, and the fact that Liam didn’t say anything only made it worse, the air heavy with broken trust and unspoken words, Theo’s tears close to escaping his eyes.

“I know,” Theo whispered, his head bowed. He wanted to sit by Liam’s side, wanted to take his hand, wanted to wrap himself around Liam’s too cold body and sacrifice his own warmth and comfort, would have loved to at least get the chance to make up for everything, at least a little. He stayed where he was though, the sight of Liam somehow keeping him away, the shivering, the exhaustion, the resignation that came with learning that your trust had not only been misplaced but that your only true ally had suddenly hurt you more than the enemy you’d been afraid of.

“What?” Liam asked quietly.

“That it’s my fault,” Theo shrugged. Saying it hurt even more than just the feeling of it, but who was he to whine about that; certainly not in front of Liam who had - for the second time within a few weeks - just been close to dying.

Liam said nothing, just stared right at him with his mouth open. Possibly because he was too tired to tell Theo how much he hated him for the betrayal, maybe in regretting that Theo had fucked up what could have been something - or the beginning of something special between them. All the time since Liam had come to Devenford Prep, they had gotten along so well without having to put much effort into it. It had been more like two fitting puzzle pieces falling into place next to each other, the fact that their connection felt completely natural making it all the more beautiful.

But that had been before Theo had left Liam alone at the party that he’d been dreading the entire week, alone without even a warning, alone to get drowned by his nemesis.

Theo kept on talking, even if it hurt, because Liam’s silence was a million times more painful. “I really meant it, you know,” he began quietly, speaking carefully as if the air in the hospital room could explode at any given second if he used so much as one wrong word. As if Liam and his patience with Theo were that fragile. He didn’t dare look into the ocean blues.

“When I said I’d be there for you. When I said I’d protect you from Brett Talbot and his minions. When I said I’d fight them for you. I really meant that, Liam, although I know that it means nothing now.”

Liam coughed and shook his head lightly at first, then with more vehemence as Theo still didn’t look up, seeing the other boy just from the corner of his eye. “It doesn’t mean nothing, Theo,” Liam answered simply.

“Yeah,” Theo nodded in agreement, “it means that I’m a liar. It means that I made promises I couldn’t keep. That I only made things worse by letting you believe you were safe when in reality - I mean look at you - you were apparently still on Talbot’s hit list, and that bastard was only lurking somewhere around the next corner, waiting until I’d leave you alone.”

He couldn’t help the tears. It was too much. It was all too much. How could Liam sit there, looking a little weak, sure, but generally pretty okay, talking to him like -. Damn, if Nolan hadn’t saved Liam, or if he’d come only a few seconds later maybe then they probably wouldn’t even be talking anymore. They would never be talking again.

“Why did you go?” Liam wanted to know.

Well, that was the interesting part now, wasn’t it? The worst aspect of Theo’s confession, the moment where he’d have to tell Liam that he’d had absolutely no good reason to be gone at all, that it had all been just a farce, and above all, that once again, Brett had been the one behind it, tricking him. And Theo had bought it.

“It’s stupid,” Theo said, because it was so stupid that he was ashamed of it.

“Why is it stupid?”

Liam was really going to make him say it, wasn’t he?

Theo sighed deeply. “Because it was nothing, Liam,” he growled in frustration, and he hated himself even more after it was out, because it had sounded like he was mad at Liam, even though he only loathed himself. And Brett, of course, but at that point, that was kind of a given.

“I don’t understand,” Liam whispered. “You were gone for so long. If it was nothing, then why didn’t you come back?” The resignation in his voice was breaking Theo. Because what without saying, what was absent in Liam’s words but evident in his tone, was the fact that he was asking his last question about the matter, and therefore, giving Theo his last chance to explain himself.

He bit his lips while struggling to at least reply without any ugly sobbing interrupting his words. He was so sorry, so full of regret and pain and guilt and it was all too much, and then he decided to stick to the truth and keep it simple.

“Because she lured me to the other end of the town,” Theo said shortly.

“Who?” Liam asked after a moment, and that was more than Theo had expected to get from him, awakening the slight hope that not everything between them was ruined yet.

“Theo,” Liam said softly, “look at me.”

He wanted to, but he was afraid it would destroy him for good. In the end, because it was Liam begging him with his angel-like voice, Liam with the magical eyes and the heart full of kindness, even when fear had its grip tight around it. If Theo hadn’t known it before, he knew it in that moment when his eyes settled on Liam’s face. He loved that boy more than he loved his own life.

“Tara,” he admitted. “My sister. She called me. Said she needed my help. That someone was after her and I needed to pick her up immediately.”

“That doesn’t sound like nothing,” Liam replied, “is she okay?”

Theo almost laughed. It was all so ridiculous. The fact that out of all people, Tara had assisted Brett with his evil plan to get rid of Liam, that it almost would have worked, that the actual victim now even felt bad for her.

“Oh yeah, she’s fine,” Theo snorted. “In fact, she’s perfectly fine. She didn’t even have anywhere to be at that end of town. She just called me there because she’s apparently still not over Brett and was getting me away from you for him.”

“I don’t - your sister and Brett?” Liam asked. Theo could relate to the confusion on his face all too well. Personally, he’d never understood it either.

“Yeah,” Theo confirmed, “I don’t get it either. And it’s not like it ended in a way that would result in her owing him her help in this, so yeah, I- I honestly don’t know what to tell you, Liam.” He sat down at the edge of Liam’s mattress, testing the waters, moving slowly and with great caution, half expecting Liam to send him away, but that didn’t happen. “I’m sorry I left you alone.”

Liam’s eyes were big and blue and watery as he swallowed down the lump in his throat. “No,” he said decidedly, shaking his head in a protesting gesture. “I don’t want you to apologize for that.”

“But I promised-”

“No, Theo,” Liam cut him off. “I was perfectly fine the moment you got that call. You thought your sister was in danger and at least then, you thought I was safe. I’m not going to blame you for being tricked by them.”

It was all wrong. Liam was the one in a hospital bed recovering from almost drowning, a few single strands of his hair still wet, his body shaking from the cold that was still crawling up and down his skin. It was now practically official that Brett Talbot was after him, and that the guy was very much serious about getting rid of him permanently. Liam hadn’t slept well in weeks, haunted by potential monsters waiting behind every next corner, tortured by panic attacks whenever they got too close.

Liam should be the one crying like a baby, feeling lost and helpless and like the world was about to end in front of his eyes, like life itself was running through his powerless fingers like sand. But Liam wasn’t, and he didn’t. He sat up although it obviously pained him, leaned forward and grabbed Theo’s hand.

They’d done this before, holding each other’s hand, feeling the warmth of their palms against each other and lacing their fingers together in a way of silently connecting with the other, existing not only side by side, but together. They had done it before, sharing this sort of intimacy, the unspoken truth everywhere in the air around them that hand-holding was not a thing friends did to comfort each other, not like this, that both of them needed something deeper than that.

They’d done it before, and yet, in that moment, Theo discovered a new part of his soul, a new side to the world he lived in, a new form of truth to life itself, learned what love was without even understanding any of it in his mind, but his body knew. It just knew.

“You got hurt, Ocean Eyes,” he whispered. He couldn’t let it go. Simply couldn’t. They’d had to pump the water out of Liam’s lungs on the way to the hospital.

“That’s not your fault, Theo,” Liam answered sternly, and boy did Theo wish he could believe him.

“I wasn’t there,” he argued bitterly.

Liam squeezed his hand. “You’re here now.”

When Liam leaned in, Theo couldn’t help but freak out a little. What was happening? Why were their faces suddenly so close? Was this the appropriate reaction to someone almost drowning? Why was Liam looking at him like that? And why the hell - oh boy. Oh damn, Theo was lost.

Liam’s head fell onto his shoulder and Theo shifted carefully, positioned them into a better angle, feeling Liam’s breath against his neck and a hand at his side, touching him. Liam’s hand. Touching him. Touching Theo. Liam touching Theo. It was perfectly innocent, the soft strokes just meant to give them both closeness, to let them try out being more than two completely distinct persons, and Theo had done a lot more with other people before, had gone a lot farther than this, but he was in so much awe of what it was doing to him on the inside that he barely dared to breathe. He didn’t believe he deserved Liam’s tenderness, but he didn’t want it to ever stop.

“What are you doing?” Theo asked, his voice barely above a whisper. Liam was rubbing his cold nose along his neck, pressing their chests together, drawing circles onto the sweater covering Theo’s back. He didn’t understand. After everything that had happened, why would Liam…? Why would he even want this? Why would he even want him?

“I feel like all I’ve been doing for the past few weeks is being afraid,” Liam mumbled against the goosebumps on Theo’s neck. “And you know what’s completely ridiculous? You wanna hear what I’ve been most afraid of?”

Getting killed, maybe?

“What?” Theo wanted to know. He didn’t dare touch Liam the way the other boy was touching him, but he was holding onto Liam’s arms at least, hoping that Liam knew how to let go of him right then.

 “Falling in love with someone who doesn’t love me back,” Liam answered.

Theo didn’t know how to handle this. Was it even real? Was he even truly holding the most amazing boy in the world in his arms, so close that he could smell the salt on his skin? Had he really heard those words coming out of Liam’s mouth? And what if it was real? What if he actually had a chance? What if they were about to…

“That’s indeed completely ridiculous, Liam,” Theo whispered so quietly that his own racing heartbeat must have been louder. “How could that someone ever not love you?”

Liam looked up at him and suddenly there was a smile on his face that defied everything bad and evil in this world. Not the I-told-you-I’m-okay-quit-asking-already-smile. Not the I’m-tired-as-fuck-leave-me-alone-smile. Nothing fake about it, nothing forced. It came from Liam’s heart. And it was the most beautiful and pure thing Theo had ever seen.

Drowning was not a bad thing at all when it happened to a boy losing himself in the waves of blue inside Liam’s eyes. Theo felt like soaring a few inches above the ground, like running with the wind in his back, like everything good and warm and reassuring.

Liam’s gaze dropped from his eyes to his lips. It was happening. They both knew it as they still relished the moment right before, the magic of losing all reservations, of giving up control, giving in to the magnetic forces pulling them together, feeling the proximity tingling on their faces in the shape of warm breath and lingering looks.

Theo brought his hands up to cup Liam’s wonderful face, his thumbs caressing the soft cheeks, framing the most precious thing in the whole world. It was real then, undoubtedly real. There was no space left for questioning that. There was no fear left and no danger from the outside, no pain. Just longing, craving.

And then their lips brushed against each other, and for a second, it felt like the craving was gone, an entire universe of overwhelming sensations flooding Theo’s mind, but just as quickly, it was there again, increased by a thousandfold, the sweet taste of Liam’s lips and the soft pressure on his own driving him so crazy with sheer want that he started trembling all over.

A minute later, Theo had forgotten everything he’d ever known except how to kiss Liam. They’d found just the right way to tilt their heads by instinct, their lips connecting like they were made for that one purpose alone, the pressure varying from feather-light touch to greedy pushing. Hands were buried in hair and slipped beneath the hems of pieces of clothing, tongues kept licking and teasing and exploring while the reality around them had faded far into the background.

 


 

“Tell me again why we had to get up at four in the damn morning, babe, because my brain won’t process that part properly,” Corey whined, a huge backpack weighing heavy at his tired shoulders.

“To catch the earliest flight possible, honey,” Mason replied softly. He hadn’t given his boyfriend the remotest chance to talk him out of this plan, not this time, but still, Corey wasn’t exactly an early bird, and Corey had never even met Liam personally, so it was only understandable that he didn’t have the same motivation to this spontaneous trip across half the country to visit a guy in the hospital.

“We could have taken the one this afternoon, you know,” Corey mumbled drowsily, “could have used a little more sleep.”

“We could have,” Mason remarked, taking Corey’s hand in his own and dragging him closer, “but I decided against it, because this is very urgent.” He pressed a gentle kiss on Corey’s cheek and watched his boyfriend’s expression going from slightly annoyed to deeply content.

“You still haven’t told me what happened to him,” Corey pointed out as they crossed the large hall at the airport with their joint hands dangling between them.

Mason looked at him, and even though it was the most perfect face right in front of him, the one person who always managed to lighten his mood, to make him see the bright side of every situation, this time, he felt sad and scared, and also, yes, a little guilty due to his own absence through the whole drama about Liam.

Liam who had been his best friend since forever, in many ways more like a brother than a friend. Liam who had used to sleep over at his place and then eat all their pancakes in the morning. Liam who had forced him to try out lacrosse together, and then allowed him to give it up after about ten solid minutes of embarrassment, who had smiled knowingly every time Mason had come along to watch practice. Liam who had never judged him. Liam who was a literal ray of sunshine in the world. Liam who had been missing from his life every day since Mason’s parents had decided for them to move away from Beacon Hills. Awfully far away.

“There’s this guy at the lacrosse team Liam plays for,” Mason began explaining, a shudder going through his entire body as he said the name. “Brett Talbot. He’s the captain. The hottest guy in that school, no doubt. Has a fucking eight-pack.” Corey’s eyebrows shot up in an impressed expression at that.

“The thing is,” Mason continued, “the dude is absolutely crazy. Obsessed with being the best at everything, a fucking attention whore. I’m telling you. Apparently, he can’t deal with Liam being good at lacrosse and looking hot on top of that, so he’s trying to get rid of him.”

“Yeah, but, that dude’s a teenager!” Corey interrupted. “Surely he won’t actually go as far as killing someone?!”

“Honestly?” Mason answered. “I’m not sure. A few weeks ago, Liam landed in the hospital after being beaten into a coma by Brett’s minions. He’s been back at school for an entire week and now he’s back there after almost getting drowned in a lake. Sounds to me like there’s not that much that Talbot wouldn’t do.”

“That’s so fucked up, Mase!” Corey exclaimed. “I mean, I go to high school too, yeah. Of course, I know jealousy and jock rivalry and narcissism. But fucking murder? What the hell is wrong with that dude?”

“If only I knew,” Mason sighed, “but I highly doubt anybody does.”

“And now?” Corey wanted to know. “What about Liam now? What happens to him? Jesus, I haven’t even met him and I feel scared for his life after that story.”

“That’s why we’re on the way to Beacon Hills now, honey,” Mason said. “I don’t know if there’s much I can do against Brett Talbot, but I know that my best friend needs me now.”

“You are honestly the best person walking this earth” Corey told Mason with a loving look in his eyes. Neither of them gave a shit about the looks they earned from other passengers waiting in line before the counter.  

“Doesn’t Liam have anybody on his side as well?” Corey continued with his questions when they were comfortably settled into their seats on the plane, Mason at the window like he’d wanted it, Corey happy with the middle seat as long as his boyfriend was happy.

The concern was still there in Mason’s eyes as he replied, but he couldn’t hide the smile spreading over his lips. “There’s this guy,” he explained. “Not that Liam has ever admitted it, but I think he has a huge crush on him. We only talked on the phone a few times since he transferred schools, and I definitely remember him talking about a few other guys visiting him at the hospital the last time he was there, but mostly, all of our conversations were about Theo, Theo, Theo, Theo.”

 “Theo, huh?” Corey smirked, his thumb caressing the back of Mason’s hand. “Sounds like a hot guy.”

 “Honestly, the way Liam speaks of him, he sounds like an angel in a human body,” Mason noted. “Sure, a very attractive body, but it’s more about the help he’s been to Liam, or at least that’s what I think.”

 “Boyfriend material?” Corey asked with an amused look.

 “Sound like it, yeah,” Mason smiled back.

“Maybe we should get them together, then,” Corey suggested. “Just to see if they’re really that good for each other and give them a little push.”

“I honestly don’t know why you always have to set people up with another,” Mason replied, “but in this case, I think I could get behind it.”

“Awesome,” Corey beamed.

“No, you’re awesome,” Mason argued, leaning in for a short, sweet kiss on the lips.

Of course, their journey was not a vacation or a fun little weekend trip, and Mason knew that better than anyone. He was worried about Liam. Extremely worried. He was scared shitless, had already dreamed about arriving at Beacon Hills just to be told that he was too late, that Liam had died from the damage the attacks on him had done to his body. He had already seen himself picking out a nice suit for a funeral. Okay, maybe he was being a little over dramatic, but so was the fucking asshole trying to end his best friend’s life!

In spite of all the fear and the worry, though, Mason couldn’t help his excitement for Liam to finally meet Corey. For all of his life in Beacon Hills, he had thought he was damned to watch lacrosse practice forever, to drool over hot players and occasionally bring one of them a water bottle just to watch droplets of it running down their chin and throat as they drank too greedily. Although Liam had always told him to be patient, had always had him believing in his ridiculous soulmate-theory, Mason couldn’t deny that he had felt incomplete.

Until he had met Corey. One look into the shyly smiling face with the dark green sparkling eyes and that had been it for him, he had been lost. Somehow, the fact that his borderline brotherhood with Liam and the relationship with Corey had taken place at entirely different ends of the country so far seemed wrong. Simply wrong. The thought of Liam and Corey finally meeting excited him more than it maybe should, given the circumstances.

“Don’t worry,” Corey whispered into his ear softly before he let his head fall onto Mason’s shoulder and closed his heavy eyelids for a nap during the flight. “I’m sure he’ll be fine. And once we’re there, we can all figure it out together.”

Mason told himself to relax. He sank deeper down in his seat and snuggled up against Corey as well as the seatbelts allowed them to. Just a few more hours and he could see for himself. If he managed to get some sleep, it would be just a bit…

The last few moments of Mason’s dream were very hectic, entirely too loud and filled with too much fear, leaving behind a bitter taste on his tongue as he was woken up by a mechanic voice talking to him. Corey looked even more confused than he was, rubbing his eyes and looking around frantically, the sight of the other passengers not making anything any better.

“Mason,” Corey whispered, his blunt nails digging into Mason’s arm. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know!” Mason shrieked, his voice suffocated by a heavy feeling that he didn’t manage to swallow down entirely. “I don’t know!”

It took him a few moments to makes sense of the words pouring from the speaker above their heads.

We’re currently facing minor technical difficulties. Please remain seated. Fasten your seatbelts. Please do not panic. Please remain seated.

Please do not panic.

It was too late. Panic had taken over.

“Please tell me I’m still dreaming,” Corey whispered, his face pale and absolutely horrified, one hand clasped around Mason’s, the other one making sure that his seatbelt is as tight around his middle as possible.

Mason didn’t get to reply - not that he would have known what to say - before a loud rattle went through the entire plane, shaking them in their seats, the voice from above repeating the same words like a mantra. Please do not panic. Please remain seated.

He looked straight ahead, afraid of the impression that in the corner of his eye, the clouds around them had disappeared, endless blue had taken over, and the earth came closer again.

“No,” he whispered, his breathing entirely too fast, “no no no no no. This is not happening. It’s not happening.”

“Mase…” The fear in Corey’s voice was always worse than his own, shaking Mason to the core. “Are we sinking?”

No matter how hard Mason tried not to look, not to notice the crying children and the terror in people’s eyes, not to feel the bumping and toppling, not to hear the strange roaring from somewhere beneath him, he couldn’t fool himself. Yes, they were sinking.

It all went by impossibly slowly. So slowly that Mason wished for it to just be over already, however it was going to end. He thought about Corey and the things they wanted to do together but still hadn't gotten around to. He pressed his hands over his ears to pretend like the almost deafening noise around him wasn't there, but it wouldn't leave him alone. He thought about Liam and that his life was in danger, couldn't stop the thought that he was the one on his way to help save a life, not lose it.

At some point, the speakers quieted, a loud bang ending the monotonous voice, cutting it off, replacing it with a terrible beeping sound, but the wailing of a woman somewhere behind him got so much deeper beneath Mason's skin. The plane cut through the air too quickly, the angle was all wrong, Corey was hyperventilating and Mason didn't know how to help him.

They were shooting down towards the ground and it might have taken an eternity at first, but as soon as clumsy hands - Mason had no idea whose - had put them in their life jackets, everything went too fast.

The plane was shaking violently, almost throwing them out of their seats, and Mason didn't wish for it to be over anymore, he just prayed for his and Corey's life. He heard the first crash when his face was already wet with tears, Corey's fingers intertwined with his own, the impact rocking both their bodies.

“I love you,” Corey sobbed, but Mason couldn't reply, couldn't even turn his head to his boyfriend.

There was another crash, and after that, Mason lost the connection to his body, suddenly felt like floating, but in all the wrong ways. He smelled smoke, and soon it was threatening to suffocate him. Metallic pieces and shreds shot through the air, a cold hit his face, and then there was suddenly fire.

At the third earth-shattering crash, the world stopped.

For a brief moment, Mason fought his way back to consciousness, but it wasn't worth the pain. There was blood and fire and gasoline, pieces and shreds scattered everywhere, the snapback of the little boy in the row in front of them dusty on top of a shattered pile of… something.

Mason could barely breathe. He didn't feel anything except fire from his chest downward, which might have had something to do with the iron bar stuck in his gut. He closed his eyes. He tried fighting for air, he really did. For a solid twenty seconds before he realized that the hand in his own was limp and completely unresponsive. And then he gave up.

 

Chapter Text

Tara placed two cups of steaming hot coffee on the chestnut-colored table before she flopped herself down opposite of Nolan, sliding one of the mugs carefully into his direction.

“Thank you,” the blonde boy said in a quiet voice, nervously looking around the empty coffee shop that didn’t seem as cozy anymore after closing hours. The lights hanging on wires from the ceiling were casting different shaped shadows onto the wooden surface of the table, turning parts of it into an even darker shade of brown, making the place look shady, while the silence settling in the room that was usually filled with conversations and laughter made the whole situation a little uncomfortable. How had they even ended up here? Tara and Nolan together, the two of them, out of all people?

The black haired girl quietly stirred sugar into her coffee with a spoon, the silverware rattling constantly against the ceramic of the cup. This wasn’t how she had imagined her night to go. Not at all. She hadn’t meant to cause any harm, on the contrary - she only had tried to do everything in her power to prevent her brother from getting hurt but then all of her good intentions had backfired on her. Now Theo had every reason to hate her, and about his friend Liam at the hospital - she didn’t even want to start thinking about him.

True, she had kept her brother safe but she had put someone else’s life in grave danger. The black haired girl knew, it could have ended in a death she would have been partly responsible for and that thought alone made her feel sick in her stomach. If it hadn’t been for the boy sitting in front of her, the night would have taken a turn she didn’t even want to imagine.

Tara watched Nolan emphatically as he firmly grasped the mug with his still shaking hands like it was the only lifeline he could hold onto. The incident at the bonfire was obviously still present in his mind, haunting him like a dark specter that would probably not leave him for the next few days, if ever. She could relate perfectly. Guilt was an emotion that weighed heavy on one’s soul, leaving a permanent bitterness behind.

His whole posture was tense and he seemed to be highly uncomfortable, so Tara decided to break the deafening silence surrounding them.

“Are you okay?” She asked, her voice laced with concern as she put the spoon next to her cup on the table before she turned her eyes to him, boring into him intensively. She wondered whether he was feeling just like her, whether he loathed his role in the story of the night as much as she did hers, or maybe even more.

Biting his lip, Nolan looked up. The bright light of the lamp fell onto his face, intensifying the dark circles underneath his eyes which were standing in an extreme contrast with his paper white skin. He looked awful and terribly exhausted, making Tara want to do nothing more than to make him feel better. Even though she was quite aware of the part he had played in Liam’s first excursion to the hospital. But who was she to judge him after what had happened only a few hours ago? She was no better than him.

She could clearly see the younger boy’s pain, it was written all over his face. Nolan didn’t even try to hide his emotions, she could read him like an open book. Tara could still see traces of a boy that had been so much in love with Brett that it hurt. The freckled boy had been under the handsome captain’s spell for far too long and he was obviously still struggling with letting him go even though he knew it was for the best. 

“Why are you being so nice to me?” The freckled boy asked shakily, looking at her like he didn’t understand why she hadn’t just ditched him at the hospital when she had realized who he was. Everyone else was avoiding him like the plague after all, so why didn’t she do the same?

Tara gave him a small but sad smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“Because a part of me understands you. And after what I did tonight to help Brett to lure Theo away from the bonfire, I hardly wash my hands of responsibility. My thoughtless actions almost got someone killed. I could have assisted in a murder tonight.”

Nolan nodded in understanding, running his fingers through his still damp hair that was sticking flatly to his head.

“But you didn’t know Brett would try to drown Liam,” the blonde boy pointed out, guilt written all over his face when he was thinking back to the day in the woods, where he had known exactly what the fallout of his actions would be. Other than Tara who had been oblivious to the consequences.

The black haired girl sighed deeply.

“True, I didn’t know that, but I should have expected that he would do something terrible after he had threatened to hurt my brother when I had refused to help him at first. We’re talking about Brett Talbot here. You and I both know what that means.”

She paused, taking a sip of her coffee before she continued. Her expression hardened and terror was clouding her face. It wasn't easy to process that she had taken part in a murder attempt. The fact that she hadn’t helped in the actual act didn't really make her feel any better. It hit her hard that Brett almost succeeded because of her.

“I don’t even know how I could have been so blind to the obvious. I should have known better. But I honestly didn’t think he would ever go that far. I only wanted to keep my brother safe, there was no time for any second thoughts. I had to make a split second decision and I’m certainly not proud of the outcome.”

Her shoulders slumped down as she looked at her conversation partner. She felt defeated. Tired. A part of her broken that she couldn’t make anybody else responsible for. And every look at Nolan only made her more aware of it all.

“At least you didn’t beat someone half to death just because Brett said that Liam was far too pretty for his own good and that someone should take care of that…,” Nolan muttered in a small voice, still having a hard time to cope with the remorse he felt and the pang of guilt in his chest that had been eating at him for weeks now. He shut his eyes for a brief moment to inhale deeply. But it wasn't enough to calm him down, his inner turmoil still was raving like a storm underneath his skin. The fact that he’d saved Liam that day somehow didn’t make up for the things that had happened before. Not at all.

Tara's eyes widened disbelievingly at this reveal. She still couldn't quite fathom that Brett would really send people after someone for something as trivial as his beauty. But what was even worse was that he actually had found someone who had been complying without questioning his ulterior motives.

“Oh wow, that’s...I don't even know how to react…,” the black haired girl didn’t even try to hide her shock after this confession but only a moment later, she did a double take, gaping at Nolan in utter amazement mixed with a realization that hadn’t been there before.

“Wait! Repeat that. What did Brett say?” She asked agitated, her heart racing rapidly against her chest.

“Yeah, I know. Speaking it out loud makes it so much worse. I don’t even know what I was thinking. It was such a low motive…I mean, who beats a guy into a bulb just because he’s too good looking?” Nolan buried his face into his hands in shame.

“Oh my god.” Tara couldn’t believe it. How could she have overlooked all the signs? Mentally facepalming herself, she shoved the empty coffee cup away from her, shaking her head while she still asked herself why she hadn’t come to the conclusion that was now crystal clear to her sooner. She grew restless all of a sudden, the realization wanting out of her, urging her to do something, now that a new puzzle piece had fallen into place.

“You’re right, it’s terrible. I’m a sad excuse for any human being,” Nolan said, avoiding to look Tara into the eye. He knew that he had fucked up pretty badly and it seemed that Theo’s sister had just realized how bad it really had been, probably kicking him out of the coffee shop within the next moment, but Nolan was used to rejection by then. He’d survive it.

“Everyone makes mistakes, Nolan. Some of them are only harder to forgive than others. I know you’re sorry and maybe one day you’ll be forgiven. It will probably take a lot of time. It is a long process of healing and rebuilding trust but that actually wasn’t what I was referring to.” Tara’s voice softened when she saw how much the freckled boy was beating himself up over the awful things he had done. But it wasn’t the time to dwell on the past, it was time to take some action to prevent more bad stuff from happening.

“Listen. I’ve just realized something that has slipped my mind before, even though it has been right in front of me all along. You’ve been spending an awful lot of time with Brett. Did you know he owns a pocket mirror?” She wanted to know breathlessly, before she nudged Nolan slightly under the table, finally making him look up again.

He furrowed his brows, glancing at Tara in confusion.

“I...what? Are you talking about that ridiculous silver thing he always carries around to admire himself in?”

The black haired girl nodded.

“Yes, that’s the one. Okay, I don’t really know how to spring it to you, you’ll probably think I’ve lost my mind at first, but I swear I’m not crazy. Just hear me out please, without judging my mental health,” Tara replied, her tone serious.

“Okay,...you’re kinda scaring me now, but I promise,” Nolan said a little tentatively because he didn’t really know what to expect. A slight uneasy feeling spreading in his gut as he waited for Tara to elaborate. Was it even possible to get any crazier than a teenager manipulating others into assisting him in a murder of someone, purely because that person was too handsome for his liking? Nolan had his doubts, but he stilled and listened. He was intrigued.

“Brett’s mirror isn’t an ordinary one. It is magical,” she revealed slowly, chewing on her lip and gazing at Nolan for reassurance.

“Magical?” The blonde boy repeated lamely, tilting his head and arching an eyebrow skeptically. He wasn’t sure if he’d understood her correctly. Had she really said that the mirror was enchanted?

“Yes, I don’t know how to explain it really. But Brett talks to his mirror, asking him who the best-looking one was and the mirror answers him,” Tara confirmed, letting Nolan in on the secret revolving around her former love interest’s pocket mirror. Exhaling deeply, she felt relieved to finally get the well-kept mystery off her chest. Nolan might as well think she was insane, it would hardly make things any worse than they already were.

“You mean like in Snow White, the fairytale? Are you kidding me?”

Nolan looked at her incredulously, having a hard time to comprehend her words. It wasn’t like you got told about a magic mirror every day and it was more than hard to believe. Surely Tara was joking, it couldn’t be the truth. Magic mirrors didn’t exist. It was just that her face seemed so utterly serious that he didn’t know if laughing would be appropriate.

“You’ve got it. Just like the fairytale and I can assure you I’m not kidding at all, I’m dead serious right now. I’ve witnessed it first hand. But back to what I’ve just figured out. What if the mirror told Brett that Liam was better looking than him and he snapped because of that? I would make so much sense...even the murder attempts…”

Tara continued, convinced that she had finally uncovered the truth after all the time of being in the dark.

Nolan sighed heavily, debating with himself whether he should believe it or not. After all, he had to admit it kind of sounded plausible, but he was still a little uncertain about it. It was crazy, right? Completely insane? Sure, he enjoyed reading all sorts of fantasy stories, and there was always that one character who didn’t believe in magic until they got sucked right into it, but those were just books, right? It was fiction - nothing real about it. Or was there?

“Don’t you think this is a little...far fetched? This is real life and not a fairytale...but I have to admit it kind of makes sense….you maybe….no, it can’t be. Jesus, now you’ve made me all fuzzy in the head.”

“Fine,” Tara shrugged, “you don’t have to believe me. Let’s just talk about what could be done. You know, hypothetically. In case that Brett’s mirror somehow turned out to actually be magical. If that was truly why Brett wants to get rid of Liam. If he’s really trying to eliminate all competition. Then what do you think we could do to stop him?”

“Me?” Nolan asked, clutching a hand over his heart in a disbelieving gesture. “You don’t seriously expect me to get involved in whatever is going on with Brett and Liam and all that? I think I’ve had enough of that, Tara. Thank you very much, I think I’d prefer to go home now.” He pushed his coffee mug away from him and stood up from his chair, getting ready to leave, unable to make sense of why she’d really brought him to the little coffee shop for.

“Yes, You, Nolan,” Tara called after him, the tone in her voice as she said his name so urgent that it made him halt. “Who knows Brett better than you?”

Nolan sighed. “Nobody,” he admitted. It hurt to think about it, about all the years of admiration and pining and silent suffering, everything that had led to him knowing Brett better than the egocentric captain knew himself.

“Exactly,” Tara concluded. “You and me, Nolan. I know it doesn’t sound like a great idea. I’m not asking you to be my friend. I’m not asking you to help my brother or Liam. But isn’t there at least a little part of you that wants to stop Brett? To make him pay for everything he’s done? If not for what he’s done to Liam, then at least for what he’s done to you.”

Nolan didn’t like it, but she had his attention now. “You have no idea what you’re talking about!” He snapped at her. Did she really have to rip off all the band-aids at once, exposing the wounds he’d just thought were finally healing to her expectant eyes? Was it really necessary?

“Oh, I think I have a little idea,” Tara objected with a bitter laugh, “you think I’m in this mess for any other reason than you are? For any other reason than what a pair of baby blue eyes and a fucking eight pack did to me?”

“I…-” Nolan hadn’t really thought about it. Sure, he remembered a time where Tara had been one of the girls that Brett had hung out with, but there were many people to remember, and surely not all of them could be in as deep as he was. “I… don’t know.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter, does it?” Tara replied, although to Nolan, it felt like it did. “The point is, you and me, we know more than Liam or Theo or anybody else. I know what I saw of that perfidious mirror, and you’re the closest to Brett imaginable. So who else would have a chance against him?”

Nolan almost had to laugh. “So you want us to team up against him?”

“Why not?” Tara asked. “Is that really such a terrible idea to you? Do you have anything left to lose?”

Nolan considered it for a minute. Of course, he didn’t. He was doomed anyway. “No,” he admitted quietly.

Tara’s eyes blazed relieved and she let go of her breath she hadn’t known she had been holding in. “You know what that means, right? We need a plan,” she said to him, “and it better be a good one.”

 


 

Brett was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, admiring his reflection of pure grace once again. Over the years it had become one of his most favorite routines, one he loved to perform as often as he could. The handsome captain never got tired of idolizing his angelic features, on the contrary, he was thrilled to worship himself at every chance he got.

Without a doubt, his body was like the most beautiful art that had ever been painted, the epitome of pure perfection. He was the reincarnation of a Greek god and he knew it. Brett's flawless beauty was outstanding and he adored to display his superior looks every second even if it was just in front of his mirror.  

The handsome boy savored being the center of attention. The attention only he deserved. Brett wasn't one to share the spotlight. It belonged to him and him alone. Everyone who dared to steal it wouldn't live to see another day. Not anymore. Apparently, it hadn't been enough to just beat the shit out of his rival...so it had only been the next most logical step to eliminate the only person that had been standing between him and his goal to be the hottest one on the team again.

A wicked smile spread across his face, flirting with the corner of his perfect sculptured lips as his mind wandered back to the night before and to the bonfire party. He still couldn’t believe that he had actually succeeded. That he had finally been able to reclaim his title as the hottest one on the team. A title that had always been rightfully his, at least until Liam fucking Dunbar had had the audacity to show up only to throw him off his beauty throne in a blink of an eye. But now that his rival was out of the picture for good, no one would be able to contest his beauty ever again.

The gorgeous boy chuckled darkly, still feeling the thrill of pushing Liam underwater until all of his beauty had left him when he had taken his last breath. Brett didn’t feel any regret even though he was perfectly aware of the fact that he had killed someone in cold blood. He didn’t see it like that though. Drowning Liam in the lake had been a necessary evil. A collateral damage in a fight for his right to become the most handsome one again. It couldn’t have been avoided. After all, it had been Liam’s own fault for daring to be so pretty. The audacity alone had been reason enough to put him six feet under. No one messed with Brett Talbot and his beauty status like that and got away with it.

Brett felt absolutely ecstatic, now that his magic mirror was finally bathing him in compliments again, praising his elegance with every word it chanted. The validation the mirror massaged his ego with was all he had needed after all of these terrible weeks of only being the second best.

If he was being honest, he couldn’t wait for the mirror to repeat the words of praise, he was dying to hear, again. They made him feel incredibly good because who wouldn't love to be glorified?

Slowly he turned his eyes to the small silver item, that was resting in the palm of his hand. Brett’s fingers traced the delicate patterns and engraved letters carefully, treating the mysterious object like it was the most prized treasure he owned, before he finally switched it open, revealing his own artistic reflection on the mirror’s shiny surface.

He took a moment to marvel at his own perfection and cleared his throat to speak the words that would bring his source of compliments to life.

“Mirror, mirror, who does seem - to be the hottest one on the team?” He asked the tiny object in his hand, his voice full of anticipation. Of course, he already knew what the mirror’s answer would be. How could he not, after he had heard it only a few hours ago? Even the magic item couldn't deny the truth now. It was obvious no one could outrun his beauty anymore. Brett knew he had won and couldn't wait to make his mirror repeat the words of approval over and over again.

 As soon as the magic spell to summon the pocket mirror had left his mouth, green flames licked across its cold surface, bringing the ancient item to life.

“Your beauty is exceptional, Brett,” the mirror chimed in an awe-struck voice, conjuring an arrogant smirk on Brett’s face that faltered only a second later as the mirror continued and confronted him with a truth that completely caught him off guard. One he hadn't expected at all and made his blood boil with anger.

“-but a fair warning ahead, Liam Dunbar isn’t dead. He’s still very much alive and more beautiful than ever, seems like your plan to drown him wasn’t that clever. You’re still not the hottest one on the team, what a shame, I suggest you to step up your game. You know what to do so that soon the most beautiful one will be finally you.”

After the mirror spoke those dreadful words, Brett’s flawless face darkened immediately, becoming grim all of sudden. Sharply inhaling, he looked at the magical item in his hand like it just had insulted him in the worst way possible.

The air surrounding him suddenly was thick with tension as he gaped at his source of compliments in incomprehension. He blinked disbelievingly, asking himself whether he had heard it correctly or not. Clearly, this had to be a joke.

To say that the handsome boy was shocked was the understatement of the century, he was appalled even. How dare his mirror to say those awful words again? To praise a boy’s beauty who was now dead as a doornail.

Brett huffed in frustration, his fingers clasping the magical object in anger, having a hard time to restrain himself from smashing the stupid liar against the wall to shatter it into fucking pieces. He didn’t understand. Why was it still saying Liam’s name? How could Liam still be prettier than him? Or even alive for that matter? The mirror had to be broken, maybe it had sustained an irreparable damage somehow and therefore wasn’t able to function properly anymore?

There was no way in hell that Liam could be still more beautiful than him. The boy was fucking dead, Brett had been there. He had killed him with his own bare hands. This had to be a mistake, so he tried again but the mirror didn’t change its statement, it cockily substantiated its ridiculous allegation instead which was the final straw to drive Brett over the edge completely.

His jaw tightened, his nostrils flaring with fury and his blue eyes were blazing in pure hatred. Blind with rage, the blonde boy roughly clapped the mirror shut and forcefully put it on the sink, provoking a loud bang as the metallic item clashed against the ceramic.

Clenching his hands into fists, so hard that his knuckles were turning white he felt even more anger burning inside of him. The mirror was a fucking liar. Didn’t he see how awesome he looked? How well-defined his body was? How thick his incredible biceps was? He was everything everyone wanted to be and more. So what did this stupid Liam have what he didn’t?

In his eyes, there was nothing special about him and yet the mirror told him how beautiful the boy was every goddamn time. It was outrageous and that was what bugged him even more. He was livid because he just couldn’t understand the mirror’s reasoning.

“Fuck you Dunbar and your pretty face!” Brett roared angrily before his fist connected with the wall next to the bathroom door to give his anger the vent it desperately needed to cool itself down. The pain he felt in his hand afterward was nothing compared to the pure anger he still felt crawling through his skin.

He stared at the wall, his features still contorted in anger, only to see that his fist had left a fine, barely visible crack in the tile the wall was plastered with. Brett let his fist drop next to his body, still staring at the now bloody tile in front of him like it was the reason for all of his misery.

Suddenly he heard a hectic shuffling and footsteps on the other side of the door, followed by his sister’s frantic voice.

“Brett?! What happened? Are you alright? I heard you screaming and some other alarming noises.” Without waiting for a reply, Lori shoved the door to the bathroom open with all the force her petite body could muster.

“Don’t come in!” Brett shouted through the door. He would have hated for his sister to see him as agitated as he was in that moment. He was Brett Talbot and the world was at his feet at all times, so naturally, he had no reason to get angry at anything. He was too good for such a cheap feeling, after all.

Unfortunately, Lori was faster than him, and he managed to turn around and hold his hands out to catch the door from fully exposing his reddened face to her sight, but not in time to prevent her from smacking the surprisingly hard wood right between his eyes.

The moment the door hit his handsome face Brett could feel his nose crack, accompanied by the ugliest sound he had ever heard. The next thing he felt was the searing stab of pain that made him groan in anguish. The blonde boy stumbled backward dazedly, pressing his hand against his now broken nose. Warm blood was seeping through his fingers, tasting metallic on his lips.

The first thought that came to his mind was that of how small and straight Liam Dunbar’s nose looked, and if the rest of the offending little guy was still alive, then that meant there was now a slightly more flawless nose existing in the world than Brett’s, which hurt considerably more than the physical pain alone.

Lori was standing in the entrance of the bathroom, looking shell-shocked at the sudden turn of events. She clasped her hand in front of her mouth as she was taking in all of the blood that was still running from Bretts nose, his hand smearing it all over his face.

“Oh my god! I’m so sorry, Brett. I didn’t mean to hurt you...I was worried and wanted to make sure you were okay and shit...this wasn’t supposed to happen!” The blonde girl said tearful and full of guilt.

Brett turned to Lori, his cold eyes shooting daggers at her and if looks could kill she would be most certainly dead. Of course, he knew that she hadn’t done it on purpose, what did it matter now that his perfect face was ruined? It wasn’t like the mirror would take Lori’s mistake into consideration before making his judgment over who was the hottest on the team, so Brett was still furious because of her endless stupidity.

“You broke my fucking nose, you stupid bitch! How am I supposed to reclaim my title as the hottest one now, huh? You’ve destroyed my beauty! Just look at me? It’s disastrous!” He hissed, his voice laced with enough venom to make his sister tremble slightly.

He couldn’t believe this was happening. This was clearly not how he had pictured the day to go. The only thing he had been looking forward to was to admire himself and to bathe in the mirror’s compliments. But instead of hearing the words of praise, the mirror had been denying his beauty and on top of that, his sister had the fucking audacity to damage his attractiveness for good. The whole world seemed to be against him and that just wasn’t fair at all.

 


 

Malia seriously had to ask herself why she was even doing this as she pulled the remains of the third absolutely burned to death attempt of a nice little cake out of the oven and dumped the hot catastrophe into the sink. Being nice and considerate really wasn’t as easy as Scott had made it sound like. And it smelled pretty bad too.

“Where are you?” Scott asked on the phone two minutes later, causing Malia to take a quick glance at the clock on the kitchen wall and let out a gasp.

“Oops,” she replied, “looks like I’m going to be a tiny little bit late. Sorry.”

Scott sighed. She knew he wasn’t truly angry at her - he never was. It was just who Scott was, making this whole plan to visit their newly adopted puppy friend in the hospital, wanting to be there for Liam although he had no reason to feel responsible for the younger boy, but he did it anyway. They’d found Liam in the woods, they’d taken him in, and as weird as it felt for Malia as his girlfriend, she kind of knew she had to accept the fact that Scott had gone into dad mode since then.

“Do you at least have the cake you said you’d bake him?” Scott wanted to know next, and uh-oh, there it was because no matter how quickly she’d get dressed and how fast she’d run, making up a cake out of thin air was definitely not a possibility.

“Please tell me you didn’t forget that,” she heard Scott say from the other end of the line, “I think there have been enough things going wrong already.”

“No, no,” Malia answered. She couldn’t help it, there was just something in the tone of his voice that went under her skin like it often did, something that made her usually chaotic self-want to do better, to try harder, to be the least disappointing version of herself that she could be. She didn’t have it in her to tell him the truth about the trainwreck that was her baking skills. Not in that moment. “Just give me twenty minutes, okay?” she begged. “I’ll be right there. With the cake, of course.”

If anybody had ever asked for her personal opinion, Malia had told them that really, the emotional trauma of finding a practically dead body in the woods that then proceeded to turn out to be not completely dead was enough of a sacrifice already. The blood stain on the tip of her shoe was still visible, pale and tiny and probably only striking to her own eyes, but it was there nonetheless, as well as the memories that would never allow her to go out at night without a certain fear following her behind.

Of course, nobody asked her. As always. It was a tragedy. Scott had only looked at her with those big brown begging eyes that she’d never stood a chance against, and in the end, yes, naturally, she also felt really bad for Liam who she wouldn’t have wanted to switch places within that moment. Although she could hardly believe that Liam was perfectly innocent in the whole thing, because never ever in all seven hells would a high school student try to kill their classmate twice for no reason - she had to admit that Liam looked pretty shitty, and the things he had to say when he talked about Bretton Tallboy or whatever that crazy dude’s name was, those things were even worse, so she did feel for him.

Not being entirely sure whether the plaid shirt she threw on was her own, or Scott’s, or possibly even Derek’s, who was her cousin and also the last person she wanted to catch her wearing their clothes, but she didn’t have time to sniff at it, or at least she didn’t have time to get changed if it would turn out to reek of the wrong Hale. She rushed out of the door and into her car, stopped by a bakery and paid a ridiculous amount of money for one tiny little apple pie that didn’t even look that… - no, actually, it looked perfect for her very specific purposes, since everybody would totally believe that it was homemade. She just had to get rid of the weird wrapping paper and everything was alright again.

Just as she gracefully got out of the way for a grandpa in a wheelchair leaving through the main entrance of the hospital, Malia discovered a huge coffee stain on the chest of her plaid shirt, which wasn’t exactly what she’d planned look-wise, but at least it made her pretty sure that the piece belonged to her own wardrobe and not her cousin’s, thank god. Greeting Melissa McCall briefly but with enthusiasm, she walked down the hallway and right into Liam’s room where Scott, Theo, Stiles and the others were already gathered around the boy’s bed.

“Hey guys,” she smiled, setting the pie down at the little nightstand to Liam’s left, presenting it proudly. “Here, look what I made you.”

“Are you serious right now?” Stiles and Derek said in unison, both looking at her with shocked expressions on their faces. She didn’t understand. Sure, she’d been a little late, but it didn’t seem like that was the problem.

“What?” she asked. Stiles just gaped as if he was waiting for her to magically get what was going on in that weird brain of his again, Derek had his lips pursed and his eyebrows raised disapprovingly, so Malia let her gaze wander from one of her friends to the other - Scott, Lydia, Isaac, Kira, then Stiles and Derek again, all of them sitting in a perfect row like chickens. It was almost a little bit creepy, nobody said anything, Liam just stared ahead, seemingly clueless as well.

“Really?” Stiles finally sighed after a long moment of silence.

“Yeah,” Derek agreed, “really? Wearing my shirt, Malia? What the fuck?”

Oh well. Not the accusation she’d expected, but at least it wasn’t something absolutely unforgivably horrible either.

“Uh, shut up, Derek,” Stiles said as he rolled his eyes. Awesome, apparently Stiles had something else to add. “An apple pie, Malia?”

“Uh… yeah?” she croaked out, feeling like maybe he was suspecting her cheating with the pie, but it turned out that it wasn’t that either.

Apple pie?” Stiles repeated, his voice firm and insistent, but Malia didn’t know what she was supposed to catch up on. “Made out of apples?” Stiles continued. “A pie for Liam containing actual apples?”

 “I’m sorry,” Malia said to Liam, “don’t you like apples?”

“Uh, sure,” Liam shrugged, “honestly, I don’t mind the apples. Thanks for the pie.”

“Oh no no no no no,” Stiles intervened, snatching the pie away and out of Liam’s reach, dumping it in the bin by the door of the white little hospital room. “Are you guys all kidding me now? Am I the only sane person in this room?” he complained. “Apples, guys! Jesus, did you not watch any Disney movies when you were kids? Did your parents not read you any fairytales as bedtime stories?”

“Yeah, so?” Lydia wanted to know, which made Malia feel slightly better. If even Lydia didn’t understand what Stiles was on about, well then nobody could blame her for not getting it either.

“Ever heard of Snow White?” Stiles asked, now standing in the middle of the room, everybody’s attention strained towards his wildly gesturing hands. “You know, pretty girl that barely escaped her own murder? Ran away to flee from an evil queen? Seven heroic young men providing her shelter? A second attempt to kill her? And then a third one? With a poisoned apple?”

Nobody said anything, but surely they must all be thinking the same as Malia, which was that Stiles was absolutely out of his mind, and probably in desperate need of professional help at last.

“Wow,” Isaac finally broke the silence, “that is the most creative way to refuse someone’s baking that I’ve ever heard.”

“Come on, guys!” Stiles kept insisting. “Don’t tell me you can’t see the parallels! We’re basically inside that fairytale. Like, literally, right in the middle of it!”

“Do you see me wearing a pointed hat?” Derek asked snarkily, looking like he often did when it came to Stiles, done with the other boy’s bullshit. In a loving way, but still.

“No,” Stiles bit back, “but your face makes you the grumpy one out of the seven dwarfs more than a pointed hat does anyway, just so you know. I’ll call you Grumpy from this day on and until forever.”

“Don’t you dare,” Derek grumbled.

“Whoops,” Stiles smiled mischievously at him, punching the screen of his phone with both thumbs. “Already changed you in my contacts.” He shoved the device back into his pocket and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Dude,” Scott finally got involved. It was about time he started defending his girlfriend, to be honest. “You don’t actually think that apple pie could have been poisoned. I mean, Malia made it, remember?”

“Oh, Scotty,” Stiles sighed, “poor, naive, disney-wise uneducated Scotty. After everything that’s happened so far, would you really put it past Brett to somehow get his hands on a pie made for Liam specifically? Or maybe the apples Malia used? Honest advice, Malia-” He turned his head to throw her a serious look. “- if I were you, I’d get rid of all the apples in my house immediately. Just to be on the safe side, you know.”

“Well, it’s not like the thought has ever occurred to me,” Kira remarked.

"Because you’re not as equipped as I am,” Stiles answered.

“Equipped with what exactly, mister sheriff’s son?” Derek snorted.

“A sharpened mind, endless knowledge of crime and mystery, oh and also a sixth sense for anything curious going on in this town,” Stiles responded to his question in perfect seriousness.

“A deep mental disorder, you mean?” Malia hissed. She didn’t mean to come across as bitchy, but Stiles just throwing her apple pie away and making a conspiracy theory out of it did hurt, especially after all the effort she’d put into all of her failed baking attempts. She hadn’t even picked the apple pie on purpose. And now, she’d probably never eat an apple ever again in her life.

“Maybe so,” Stiles shrugged, “but is anybody in this room actually willing to risk it?”

Everybody remained silent, Theo moved to sit down at the edge of Liam’s bed, pulling him against his side in a gesture of protectiveness.

“Didn’t think so,” Stiles concluded.

 


 

Liam’s first instinct when he was finally home again after another week at the hospital was to call his best friend. He was fine, physically, even after technically being dead for a few minutes. They had only made him stay so long because the previous injuries after the beating in the woods hadn’t been so long ago, just to make absolutely sure he was okay before releasing him.

Just like the time before, the worst part about staying at the hospital had been the utter boredom, the lack of things he was actually allowed to do, even when Scott, Stiles and the others had come to visit him almost as often as Theo had, but sometimes he felt more like everyone was trying to look after him than that they really wanted to see him, which sucked, mostly because it utterly failed to distract him from what had happened at the bonfire party.

Theo was amazing, really, always there when Liam needed him, holding him in his arms and calmly talking Liam to sleep with his wonderfully low and soothing voice, bringing him his homework and keeping him up to date with what was going on at school, which Liam frankly didn’t give half a shit about at that moment, because his mind was consumed by two big things. Unfortunately, as much as Liam wished it was less complicated, for both of those things, there were reasons why he hesitated to pour his heart out to Theo about them, and that was what he needed Mason for.

The first big thing was the obvious one, Brett Talbot and Liam’s name on the top of his hit list, however, he had managed to end up there. It was scary, to say the least, to think that the guy had almost succeeded to end Liam’s life, for the second time by then. Any teenager who showed that much dedication to murder a fellow student they didn’t even really know personally would certainly pass a psychopath, but for some inexplicable reason, nobody seemed to see it that way, or at least nobody did anything to stop him. Liam knew the sheriff’s department was working his case, and still, Brett was free. Free to dump him in a lake, free to possibly have another shot at him.

In retrospect, it didn’t appear very surprising that Brett had had his minions, Nolan and Gabe, do the dirty work for him with the baseball bats in the woods, but Theo’s sister helping him the second time was a bit of a shocker to Liam. Of course, he didn’t know the girl, but it was hard to imagine someone related to Theo being even remotely unfriendly to anyone, let alone assist with a murder.

The most terrifying part about it was, if Brett could use Tara so easily, then what other tricks did he have up his sleeve? How many others were naïve or stupid enough to still be sticking to Brett’s side? How loyal were Brett’s followers exactly? Loyal enough to make themselves guilty of a crime for him? Was there anybody on the lacrosse team or at school or even in all of Beacon Hills that Liam could still trust?

Thinking about it like that, Liam realized that he didn’t even know much about Scott or Malia or Stiles or Lydia or Kira or Isaac or Derek, who - no offense, but that was the truth about him - looked more like a serial killer than anybody else Liam had ever met. Sure, they had been super nice to him that far, but a part of Liam had always wondered why. Even after Scott and Malia had been the ones to find him in the woods, they hadn’t needed to check up on him afterward more than once, and they hadn’t had a reason to bring all their friends along. Wasn’t something about that whole thing off? Wasn’t it all a little strange, a little to unexpectedly friendly to be true?

Liam sighed. He was going to be at home for the next couple of days, just him and his parents and maybe, hopefully, Theo, who Liam secretly knew was the only thing that kept him going sometimes, but he already dreaded the time after that, when he was going to have to go back to school. He remembered well enough how hard it had been the last time, and although he didn’t feel the same panic in front of Nolan anymore, he was instead afraid of the entire rest of the world, and that was way worse, not that there was much potential left for things to get any worse. Having panic attacks during lunch really didn’t need to become a regular thing in his life.

The second big thing was Theo. It seemed a bit out of place, really, like it didn’t make any sense for his heart to get lost to a boy in the middle of all the fear and the pain, but there was absolutely no way to stop exactly that from happening. With every smile and every touch of a hand, with every tight hug and whispered word of encouragement, Liam fell a little deeper in love. It was strange and confusing, and not at all going the way Liam would have wanted it to, but at the same time, Liam couldn’t stay away, couldn’t deny that it was filling him with warmth and a pleasant tingling.

He would have wished it being different, would have preferred for Theo to wrap his arms around him out of genuine affection only and not to comfort him after almost being killed, had hoped for Theo’s hand in his being something else than the connection back to earth during another panic attack. He hated it sometimes, had turned his head away more than once when Theo had leaned in, not wanting their kisses to happen at the hospital.

It wasn’t like he doubted Theo had real feelings for him. In some way, Theo had even told Liam he was in love with him, even if he hadn’t used those exact words. He wouldn’t have been there through all of the drama with Brett if not because he cared for Liam, right? After all, Theo was getting himself in danger just as well. Still, in those moments when it was just the two of them, Liam wished it was less complicated, their relationship less burdened in its early state. He would have loved to just enjoy it, to just look into the endless green and grey of Theo’s eyes and get lost in them.

As out of place as it felt sometimes, beneath all that was going on with Brett Talbot trying to murder him, Liam was still a teenage boy discovering feelings he hadn’t had for anybody in his life that same way. He was still confused and nervous and completely flustered when Theo called him Ocean Eyes again, was still self-conscious about his looks even when he knew Theo had seen him half dead in a hospital gown. He was tired and terrified and constantly on the edge, but he was still craving a lengthy talk with his best friend about his crush, about the things that had happened and the things he wanted to happen.

Nobody else in the whole world would understand Liam as well as Mason would when it came to those things. Nobody else would calm him down and get him all excited about his possible romance in all the right ways. Nobody else would ask the same questions and give the same advice as Mason. Nobody else would manage to give Liam the same courage and confidence, and it had been entirely too long since they’d seen each other. A part of Liam felt like all he needed was to crash down in his best friends arms for a while, just to stop pretending to be alright for a moment, to be completely honest about the things that were weighing him down.

Liam’s bed didn’t feel as comfortable as he remembered it after once again sleeping at the hospital for several nights. The mattress was too hard, the pillow too soft, the sheets to thick, the blanket too thin. He wiggled around for a minute, trying to find the ideal position, but it was no use. Liam sighed and pulled his phone out of the pocket of his jeans anyway, pressing the call button next to Mason’s name, already feeling a little liberated by the sound of the device dialing.

Of course, because why would anything in the world ever work in Liam’s favor, Mason didn’t pick up. They didn’t live in the same time zone anymore, Mason a little bit ahead of Liam, but since it was afternoon in California, that didn’t explain why Mason shouldn’t be available at that moment. It definitely wasn’t for school or sleep, and Liam didn’t feel like anything else was a good enough excuse. He changed positions and tried again, but he knew long before he hung up again that he was listening to the steady beeping in vain.

“Dammit, Mason,” Liam whispered into his phone as he let it sink down onto the mattress after his eighth call, “where the fuck are you?”

It was strange, really. Admittedly, Liam hadn’t really kept up during the last couple of days, but as he was trying to get a hold of his best friend, scrolling through Mason’s Instagram, finding the same photo of him and his boyfriend Corey on top that Liam had already seen a week ago. “Weird,” he mumbled to himself. Mason must have been super busy if he even hadn’t been sharing any of his selfies for a whole week. Honestly, he could have posted at least seven dinner dishes during that time.

Liam sat up. He had no idea how he was supposed to sleep in his bed that night. He rubbed his face with both his hands and sighed when he heard a faint knock on the door.

“Yes, Mom,” he said. He hadn’t realized that the hospital had taught him to distinguish everybody’s knocking style.

“Hey there, sweetie,” Jenna smiled as she stuck her head inside. “What are you up to?”

“I was trying to call Mason,” Liam shrugged, “but he isn’t picking up. I don’t know what’s up with him.”

Liam’s Mom looked at him and opened the door properly, walking inside and stroking through Liam’s hair as she sat down beside him. Liam hated the concern in her eyes even more than the dark circles beneath them. He knew she hadn’t been doing much else than watching over him whenever she had been home lately, and he felt guilty for all the times he’d ignored her calls when she’d been trying to check on him while being at work. She only wanted the best for him, and Liam knew that. He could tell she wanted to say something, like she was always the first person to cheer him up, to catch him, to be there, and he could feel how badly she wanted there to be words that would make him feel better in his situations, but she shook her head and sighed, probably because she couldn’t find them.

“It’s just that I could really use him right now, you know,” Liam said quietly. “It’s been so crazy lately and I just want to know that there’s still something in my life that hasn’t suddenly turned upside down. I just need him to... to be just Mason for me.”

Jenna nodded understandingly, although tears were welling up in her eyes. Liam was so tired of watching his mother cry. Sometimes he was sure that that feeling was worse than almost dying, more like getting his beating heart torn to shreds rather than having it give out slowly.

“You can always try again later,” she told him, rubbing his back, trying to keep her voice steady, “or call him tomorrow. He’s your best friend, after all. You know he’ll be there for you.”

“Yeah,” Liam agreed, “it’s just strange to not hear anything from him for so long.”

“Maybe he’s been busy,” Jenna forced a smile as she got up. “I’m sure he’s fine. Anyway, what I actually came up here to tell you is that Theo’s waiting downstairs. Do you want to come to see him?”

Liam couldn’t stop his heart from beating a bit faster. In the end, that was how he knew Theo was worth it all. He’d just gotten home from the hospital after his life had almost ended for the second time in an awfully short while, he was exhausted, and not in a way that would be fixed by a good night’s sleep, he was slowly losing faith in the town he called his home, was missing his best friend terribly, was done, completely done with the chaos that his life had turned into, and still, there was a spark ignited by only the mention of Theo’s name, a spark that spread inside his entire body and left him wanting.

“I’ll be right there,” Liam promised, taking his phone to try Mason’s number one last time before he headed downstairs. Again, no luck.

 


 

“Hey there, Ocean Eyes,” Theo greeted Liam with a light but genuine smile. Liam was used to the nickname by now, but he blushed nonetheless, a little deeper maybe than usually due to his parents witnessing the whole thing, but all it seemed to do to Theo was for his smile to widen. “Come here,” Theo mumbled, pulling Liam into a hug by the shoulders. “Welcome home.”

It felt like his mouth was betraying Liam when he was suddenly smiling into Theo’s soft sweater, but the thought bemused him that while his own bed had felt all wrong, in Theo’s arms he actually felt like being home again, even if he would have preferred for Jenna not to be standing in the same hallway watching them. It didn’t change anything though, not the warmth engulfing him or the sudden calmness didn’t keep Liam from inhaling Theo’s scent and holding onto the other boy a little longer than he normally would have.

Although he didn’t want to let go, Liam felt a hundred times better already as he finally pulled away from Theo and they both went to the living room instead.

“Hello, Theo,” David said as they passed the kitchen, “you do realize we’re not paying you for being Liam’s bodyguard, right? At least not in anything other than spaghetti for dinner”

Theo laughed and turned his head to look at Liam. “Yeah,” he nodded, “I know. I’m actually just here because you guys have a way bigger tv than I do.” With those words and a smug smile, he suddenly held a few DVDs up in the air in front of Liam’s face. “What do you say? Comedy? Romantic comedy? Oh, how about good old high school trash?”

Liam had to laugh. It was too ridiculous, Theo standing in his kitchen with a selection of movies that Liam was pretty sure had originally belonged to his sister, but he wasn’t joking at all, he was perfectly prepared and highly determined to take Liam’s mind off of everything going on outside of his home for the night. Liam was so far gone for that boy, he didn’t even care that his parents were right there to see it written all over his face.

“Let’s see what you’ve got there,” Liam muttered, snatching the DVD cases from Theo’s hand and making his way to the big sofa in the living room while reading through the descriptions on the back. “Are you serious about these? Mean Girls, Easy A, Ten Things I Hate About You, She’s The Man? Is that what you mean by high school trash?”

“First of all,” Theo replied, “that is exactly what I mean by high school trash. Secondly, don’t sound so judgy, Liam. Sometimes there’s really nothing better than to watch a bunch of high school bitches lose their shit and silently thank god they’ve made you a guy.”

Liam threw him an incredulous look. He’d known before that Theo was willing to go a long way to cheer him up, but that right there? It was like there was a whole new piece of Theo peeking out from underneath the beard and the low voice and the soft touches, a shiny, brightly colored and slightly sparkly new piece that, admittedly, suited him well. “No offense,” Liam laughed, “but you have never sounded gayer than just now”

Theo shrugged. “So what?” he answered. “I happen to like being gay, you know. Some days more than others, but right now I can’t complain.” And then he had the absolute audacity to wink at Liam, resulting in his legs to go so weak that he had to sit down on the sofa real quick. With one look back over the to the kitchen counter, Liam made sure that neither Jenna nor David were witnessing his utter failure to just casually flirt back, or the deep hot red covering his cheeks.

“You need to stop doing that,” Liam mumbled when he was convinced they weren’t being watched, “it’s not fair.”

Theo looked at him and laughed. “Of course it’s not fair, Liam,” he said, “nothing in life has ever been fair. And I’m not here to be fair to you.”

Liam swallowed. How could Theo just say things like that? Just like they were that simple? Just like the world wouldn’t be turned upside down in the blink of an eye or a touch of a hand or maybe - hopefully, a kiss.

"Then what are you here for?” Liam asked bravely, his voice shaky and weak, sounding strangely distant to his own ears, but at least the question was out, and he could tell by the look on Theo’s face that the other boy appreciated him taking that step, a warm smile spreading on his lips. Liam’s heart was beating like crazy, but the fear was a good kind at that time, the wanton need in him not really dimmed by his nervosity. Even without Theo saying anything, the soft shimmer in his eyes seemed to promise Liam that he had nothing to worry about, that the feelings were mutual, and Liam knew there was a chance that the sparks sizzling between them would turn out to only be made up by his obsessed brain, but he couldn’t believe in it, not really.

“For you, Ocean Eyes,” Theo answered with a shrug of his shoulders, again sounding too nonchalant, but Liam wasn’t going to doubt him anymore. All the tiredness and the frustration, the horror of going back to school eventually, the pain in his aching limbs, the missing of his best friend, all those hurtful feelings started to feel like items he’d misplaced somewhere - he knew they were still there, but at that moment, he couldn’t see or feel them, was consumed by Theo alone and out of reach for anything else to get a hold of him.

Liam didn’t pay attention to which movie Theo picked. He watched a bunch of brightly dressed and curly-haired girls walk around a high school on the screen of the tv, heard their shrill voices, but it was all just background noise he didn’t have any concentration left to spare on with Theo sitting so closely next to him that their arms and knees were touching. He felt warm, allowed himself to relax, and with his brain getting tired, it was enough for his body to feel safe next to Theo’s.

“You’re cute when you’re sleepy,” Theo whispered into his ear a few moments later. Only then did Liam realize that he was yawning nonstop. With his mind on constant alert, the previous couple of days had felt like sleep was his natural enemy that he tried to avoid whenever it was possible, but he’d underestimating the consequences of the deprivation of proper rest. Liam blushed and let his head drop onto Theo’s shoulder.

“Liam,” Theo whispered again, nudging his shoulder carefully. Liam groaned quietly and didn’t put up any resistance against Theo changing positions beneath him, wrapping an arm around Liam and pulling him down, fumbling around until Liam found himself on his side against Theo with a woolen blanket draped over them both, his head resting on a steadily heaving and sinking chest, Theo’s fingers gently caressing his arm. He sunk into his human pillow with a deeply content sigh and swung one arm across Theo’s torso.

For the first time in weeks, there was nothing lurking in the shadows behind his closed eyes. Liam could feel himself slowly drifting off, for once neither falling nor drowning, simply floating away, calmness and peace engulfing him along with the scent of Theo. When Theo shifted slightly and pressed a kiss on top of his head, Liam wasn’t entirely sure anymore whether he was still awake or already dreaming.

 


 

Liam’s unpleasant dream came to a sudden halt as he was harshly shaken back into reality. His eyes fluttered open frantically, his thick lashes faintly brushing against his skin as he blinked several times to adjust to the dim light that lit the room.

Beads of cold sweat had formed on his forehead as his heart was racing at enormous speeds, every thought running through his head in high definition, putting him on high alert. Panting and breathing heavily, it took him quite some time to remember where he was and that he wasn’t in immediate danger anymore.

Liam squeezed his eyes shut and inhaled deeply while slowly counting to ten to calm himself down. Even though he knew that he was safe here in his home and in Theo’s arms, he couldn’t shake off the feeling of dread that was still as present as ever, consuming him completely.

Opening his eyes again, he turned his head to catch a glimpse of Theo who was sound asleep next to him, his muscular arm still draped around him in a protective manner. A ghost of a smile appeared on Liam’s lips as he silently watched the dark haired boy sleeping. Listening to his constant breathing gave him an odd sense of security making his still erratic heart rate finally slow down. He remembered the way Theo called him Ocean Eyes all the time, amazed by how easily the thought soothed his restless mind.

The TV was still playing in the background, its lights flickering brightly as the credits of the movie kept rolling, projecting little, dancing shadows on Theo’s angelic face. Carefully and to avoid arousing Theo from his deep slumber, Liam gently lifted his arm to slip out of his tight embrace unnoticed.

Liam felt awfully exhausted, his eyelids droopy and leaden with sleep that he could barely keep them open. His muscles felt weak and his whole body sore, like it had been deprived of all energy. Sleep hadn’t been easy on him for the past few weeks. He wasn’t even able to remember the last time when he had felt well-rested. The lack of sleep and the constant urge to fight it, had definitely taken its toll on him. But every time he closed his eyes traumatizing memories of his near-death experiences replayed in his head torturing his soul to the point where he was too afraid to even go to sleep.

The blue-eyed boy let out an exasperated sigh, realizing that even though he was tired as hell he couldn’t just tumble back into a dreamless sleep he desperately needed. Drowsily, he shoved the blanket off his body, resulting in it to skit halfway from the sofa he was still sitting on.

For a while he was just sitting in the dark, the highlighted credits rushing over the TV screen which were accompanied with melodic music were the only things that disrupted the silence and the darkness the room was submerged in. When the music finally stopped, he could suddenly hear hushed voices that were coming from the kitchen and were slowly gaining on volume. Frowning in confusion, he stood up from the sofa to get to the bottom of it. He only hoped that his parents weren’t fighting, after all the terrible things he had to endure he just wanted something nice in his life for once. He could take a lot, but some things in his life were just essential for it to still be his life , like his parents being there for him, making everything better.

An uneasy feeling immediately spread through his entire body as he sneaked out of the room and tiptoed into the direction of the kitchen. The floorboards underneath his feet creaked lightly but not loud enough to catch anyone’s attention. Something wasn’t right. Something about the voices echoing from the little room didn’t sound very comforting. A cold nervousness broke out inside Liam, running down his back in beads of cool sweat.

The kitchen door was open a narrow gap, giving way to an illuminated kitchen as Liam finally stopped in front of it. At first, he could only understand bits and pieces of a slightly heated argument cutting through the silence like a knife, but as he sharpened his ears and leaned a little closer to listen in, he could clearly understand their whole conversation.

Liam felt bad for eavesdropping but he couldn’t help himself. After everything that had happened to him, he had gotten a little paranoid and always needed to know what was going on around him to make sure he didn’t have anything to fear. It was a terrible feeling, but he just couldn’t brush it off, so he strained towards the whisper-shouted conversation and listened.

“You should have told him. This isn’t something you can keep from him forever, Jenna!” The voice of his stepfather was clearly not approving of whatever his wife had said before. Liam didn’t know what they could possibly be talking about, but these days he always had to assume it had at least something to do with him. Furrowing his brows in puzzlement, he tried to make some sense out of the words that were uttered.

“Don’t you think I know that already? I’ve tried so many times to tell him but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. He’s been through so much already…” His mother sounded broken and like she was already in tears. His heart sank as he realized that they were talking about him… No - they were even fighting which was stirring up a feeling of guilt in his stomach. Liam didn’t want to be the reason for their argument, but yet he was. He felt guilty without really knowing what for.

“I know, you only want to protect Liam, but he has a right to know. He is already wondering why Mason isn’t answering his calls… I wish there was another way, but there isn’t. We need to tell him that his best friend is dead. He’s going to find out eventually. And not even eventually, but soon. What did you think you were going to tell him when Mason doesn’t call him back tomorrow?”

It only took one moment for Liam’s brain to register the tragic meaning behind those words before he froze and his body shut down in shock. Dead. Mason was dead. Words he didn’t want to hear right now, or ever. He wanted to scream, to wail, to jump at David telling him to stop spreading these lies but his body didn’t move, he was frozen to the spot. The news of his best friend’s death had hit him with such an immense force that the impact of them had knocked every wisp of air from his lungs which suddenly didn’t seem to remember how to pump oxygen into them anymore.

Liam struggled to inhale, to exhale, to function properly at all but his body refused to cooperate with his mind any longer. The voices of his parents cut out, the world around him lapsed into silence as time came to a sudden stop.

All color had drained from Liam’s face, turning it chalk white. He felt dizzy and the urgent need to support himself on the wall because his knees were growing so weak that he feared his legs would fail him any second. Everything seemed to be in a blur, the sharp stabbing pain in his chest bringing the synapses in his brain to a complete standstill. His mouth was hanging open slightly in an expression of stunned surprise, his whole posture clouded in terror.

Liam’s whole body was shaking as he tried to process what he had just learned. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be true. He refused to believe that his best friend had died. He had been young and healthy, he had had his whole life still ahead of him. There was no way he suddenly wasn’t there anymore. That death had snatched him away from him just like that.

Grief came in waves, engulfed and washed over him. The feeling was so intense and overwhelming that he nearly doubled over in pain. Tears began to spill from his already reddened eyes, leaving salty traces on his ashen cheeks. The emptiness in his heart and the numbness pounding in his brain had taken hold of his soul, squeezing it full of pain before shoving him off the edge where no one was waiting to catch him from falling. Liam was being torn apart.

Every inch of his body felt heavy, like all of his limbs suddenly weighed twice as much and suddenly he couldn’t take it any longer. It hurt like hell. Liam crumbled. He fell, broke, lost a few shattered pieces as he barely managed to hold on, to keep sucking in the next breath.

Liam felt helpless, he didn’t know how to cope and that’s why he decided to run instead. The brunette boy needed to leave, he needed to escape the pain that was tearing him apart. He needed to go somewhere where the news weren’t true. To a place where everything was just a misunderstanding. A case of a mistaken identity. A place where Mason was still alive.

The door didn’t click shut behind him, but Liam couldn’t turn back around. There was only one direction, his inner compass leading him away from the terrible things his parents were talking about in the kitchen, pulling him toward more hopeful places, maybe the playground a few streets over, or the high school bleachers, or the little cabin in the preserve, someplace that didn’t hold anything else than memories of Mason and him being together, being carefree and fearless and young and alive.

Storming down the driveway, Liam tried to dry the tears streaming down his face with the sleeves of his sweater, but it was no use since he was sobbing loudly, only crying more with every second that the fresh information trickled through the cracks of his wounded soul. He couldn’t think clearly enough to decide whether he wanted to believe what he’d heard his parents saying or not, didn’t have enough control over his damaged body to consciously choose where to run.

Liam couldn’t recall how he had ended up on the other side of the town. It was obvious he had left the house in a hurry, he hadn’t even bothered to put on a jacket or even shoes. Tears of anguish were shining in his ocean blue eyes, that now seemed dull and broken, the spark of life long gone. They were streaming freely down his paper-white cheeks that almost looked unhealthy in the bright light of the glowing street lamps on the side of the street. It felt like he was in a daze, as he staggered alongside the pavement with wobbly feet. He didn’t know where he was going anymore, he had no destination at all. Except for the end of the suffering.

His blurry vision turned his surroundings into unclear pictures, the colors mashing together like someone had thrown a glass of water on a picture painted with watercolors, destroying it completely.

The ear-splitting sound of screeching tires was the first thing his mind registered, abruptly awakening him from the stupor he had been in. He looked up only to be blinded by bright shining headlights that were coming straight for him.

Liam blinked in stunned surprise, not having paid any attention to where he was going before but now it was already too late to avoid the collision. All he could do was to hold his arms in front of his body in a protective manner to hopefully lighten the blow that followed only a few seconds after.

The next thing his mind dimly registered was laying on the hard asphalt, the smell of burned rubber, the stabbing pain throbbing in his entire body and the silhouette of a black Porsche, before everything went black despite his efforts to cling to consciousness. It felt even more terrible because he was already familiar with the feeling of reality slipping away from him like sand running through his fingers.

No, he thought, wanted to scream it, but couldn’t make a noise anymore. Not again.

But darkness came and swallowed him without mercy. Again.

 


 

Theo knew before he was fully awake that something was wrong. Again. To be exact, it was just the same feeling building up somewhere deep inside him and crawling up his dry throat to leave a bitter taste on his tongue that he’d had two times before. The first time had been when he’d been walking home after school naked and two shocked looking teenagers had emanated from the woods to tell him about a severely injured, or a rather half-dead boy they’d found there. The second time had been in the car with Tara on the way back to the bonfire party.

On neither of those occasions had Theo known for sure that something had happened to Liam - it had always just been that feeling, an instinct that he didn’t know where his body could possibly get it from. But the important point was, the feeling hadn’t been wrong those two times before. And now it was there again, painfully reminding him that Liam was not only the boy he’d fallen in love with, Liam was also the boy fighting an entirely unfair battle for his life against Brett Talbot, and Theo had been stupid enough to forget that for a while.

The blanket lay half on the ground, the space between Theo and the backrest of the sofa was empty. Liam was gone. Theo sat up hastily and looked around the dead silent living room, his heart threatening to jump out of his chest.

No, he thought, begged for it not to be true. Not again, he prayed. It didn’t make sense that Liam would disappear out of his own living room without Theo noticing, his parents home as well. How much better protected could he have been than that? And still, he was gone. Out of whatever reason, and god only knew where, but he was gone. And Theo didn’t know where to start looking for him. But that didn’t stop him from jumping to his feet and running like a lunatic.

Chapter Text

By the time Lori climbed into the driver seat of the black Porsche, darkness had already claimed the last remaining light of the day, turning the sky into an ocean of smooth blackness. Stars twinkled like sequins on the charcoal canvas above in all their glory, kissing the darkness away, illuminating the girl’s surroundings into lasers of light.

Lori buckled herself in, the engine of the car roaring loudly through the night as she turned the key in the ignition bringing the sportscar to life.

After spending most of her day outside of town, she was glad to finally pass the ‘Welcome to Beacon Hills’ sign on the side of the road, indicating she wasn’t far from her home anymore. Despite having had a great day with her friends, she was really looking forward to her warm and cozy bed that was only a few minutes away now.

The narrow street leading the way to her house lay before her like an assemblage of dark lanes drenched in pitch black ink. Tall metal street lamps on the sidewalk were casting their artificial glow onto the asphalt below, the glossy black tarmac reflecting in their light like the surface of a wet photograph.

Lori watched the few trees planted on the pavement appearing in regular intervals, swaying as the night breeze hit them, painting shadows of their enormous crowns on the cracked and potholed concrete.

The car jolted a few times as she drove along the bumpy road, causing her to slow down a little in order not to damage her brother’s precious car. It had been hard enough to convince him into lending it to her, so the least she could do was to get it home safely. On top of this, she really didn’t want to meet Brett’s unrestrained wrath if he would detect a single scratch on it. She wasn’t really trying to push her luck, knowing she would only lose in the end.

The blonde girl focused her tired eyes on the street, pinching the bridge of her nose to make the burning sensation she felt in them go away again.

All of a sudden she registered a movement and a high-pitched shriek escaped her mouth as a figure appeared right in front of her car.

Frantically, she stepped onto the breaks in a desperate attempt to avoid a collision. The deafening sound of the tires screeching shook her to the core, but even her quick reaction didn’t save her from hitting the person that had appeared out of nowhere. She could feel the blow jolting through the car. Lori got thrown forward, her blonde hair flying in every direction, the activated airbag saving her from hitting her head on the dashboard before she was yanked back roughly into the seat as the Porsche finally came to an abrupt standstill.

Lori was frozen to the spot as paralyzing fear was seeping through her body, oppressing her like a heavy blanket that was robbing her of her ability to breathe properly. Her eyes were wide, horror written all over her chalk-white face, staring sternly at the airbag in front of her, unmoving and deeply in shock.

The blonde girl couldn’t recall how long it took to free herself from the frozen stupor she had been imprisoned in, but by the time she did it, she was panting heavily and her heart was hammering so rapidly against her chest that she thought it would burst any second. Her mind was racing and it was hard for her to catch a rational thought that didn’t fuel her panic even more. It didn’t take long for the realization to finally kick in, making her stomach churn and doing an unpleasant flip.

Oh god, had she really run someone over with her brother’s car just now? She usually was such a safe driver, but this time everything had gone wrong. Lori was terrified, the awful sound of the screeching tires still echoing in her ears on replay. She tried to push strands of her messy hair out of her ashen face, to regain a better sight but they just slipped through her shaking fingers.

A feeling of pure dread started to crawl through her bones and only the thought of leaving the car to check on the person she had hit, caused her blood to run cold. She knew that she couldn’t stay in the car forever, knowing she had to bite the bullet at some point and take a look at the crash site even though she was dreading it. Lori didn’t know what sight would await her outside, she was terribly afraid that she would actually be responsible for killing someone. Being the cause of someone’s death wasn’t exactly on top of her bucket list or on there at all for that matter, it was more like the storyline of one of her worst nightmares coming true.

With shaking hands, she tried to unbuckle her seatbelt but it wouldn’t budge at first, she needed three more attempts in order to finally free herself, which caused her to panic even more. Closing her eyes for a brief moment, she tried to calm herself down a little bit before she grabbed the handle of the door, shoving it open reluctantly.

With wobbly steps, Lori surrounded the car, feeling like her body was being controlled by autopilot. Her feet felt incredibly heavy and her knees were so weak she was afraid they would buckle underneath her any second.

Lori stopped dead in her tracks when she finally came face to face with the person she had hit. Pure terror blazing in her eyes as they fell on a guy, probably not much older than herself, lying motionlessly and in an awkward angle on the hard concrete in front of the car. She gasped, her hand covering her open mouth in shock. This wasn’t happening, her mind screamed repeatedly as she approached him, falling to her knees next to his unmoving body.

She took in the boy’s slack features, his eyes were closed, his lips parted slightly, his pale face smeared with blood seeping from a gash on his forehead, coloring his hairline crimson. Fuck, it really looked bad. The blonde could only hope that he wasn’t dead. In sheer panic, she tried to check his vital signs, breathing a sigh of relief when she was able to feel a pulse. Lori felt like a heavy burden was suddenly lifted off of her shoulders and she was finally able to regain full control of her body again.

Lori examined the unconscious boy carefully, trying to rule out any life-threatening injuries but she wasn’t a doctor and didn’t have much experience in first aid at all and the lack of it made her really nervous, especially now that she had gotten into an accident and had put someone life in grave danger.

“Hey, can you hear me?” she asked, nudging his shoulder gently. Lori waited a moment for a reaction but nothing happened, the boy didn’t even stir.

“Come on, please wake up…” Lori begged, already feeling tears welling up in her eyes as she tried to slap his cheek this time, in a desperate attempt to get a reaction from him, but still nothing.

Just when she was about to give up, trying to contemplate what her next step should be, the boy started to come around, a pained groan escaping his mouth as his eyes fluttered open slowly.

"Thank god” The blonde girl whispered in relief, her heart regaining a calmer pace again.

“Can you tell me where you’re hurt? Do you I need to call an ambulance?” She asked, her voice slightly quivering before mentally facepalming herself as she realized that she was probably overwhelming the poor boy with all of the questions she was drowning him in. He groaned again, blinking a few times, probably trying to adjust his eyes to his surroundings. Lori watched him closely, noticing a disoriented and distant look in his ocean blue eyes, that slowly began to fade as his eyes were starting to regain focus.

He tried to sit up, but Lori stopped him, pushing him softly but firmly back to the concrete.“Easy there, are you sure you’re able to get up? Do you want me to call an ambulance?” Lori repeated a little helplessly, feeling incredibly useless in that moment, but the boy didn’t answer. Instead, he lifted his hand to his face, his fingers touching the wound on his head. He hissed in pain and grimaced when they brushed his damaged skin, blood coloring his fingertips in a crimson red.

Lori sighed, realizing the boy was obviously in shock. She tried to repeat her questions once more.

“Do you need….” but before she could finish her sentence, the boy cut her short with a barely audible “No”, his voice cracking. The blonde girl frowned but she was kind of glad she had received an answer even though she didn’t exactly know what to make out of it.

“What?” she asked dumbly, looking at the injured boy, brow furrowing in question.

“No ambulance, I’m fine…” He elaborated, his voice more audible this time but still a little raspy and weak.

Lori arched an eyebrow, looking at the boy like he had just told her the sun and the moon had switched places.

“No offense dude, but you’re far from fine. You just got hit by a car and you’re bleeding. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t call this being fine at all,” the blonde girl pointed out, wondering how he could even think he was okay, considering the fact that he was lying in the middle of a street bleeding.

Ignoring Lori’s words altogether he tried to sit up again, this time she didn’t try to stop him from doing so, but she watched him carefully, afraid he would faint any second because everything was too much for his body to actually process.

Lori bit her lip.

“Are you sure you really don’t want to go to the hospital? I could even drive you there? You really took a pretty bad hit. It couldn’t hurt to get your injuries looked over. You never know how grave they could actually be...Maybe you feel alright now, but that can change...you shouldn’t take it lightly,” she tried to convince him to get at least a checkup, just to make sure but the boy didn’t seem like her suggestion at all. After all, it was her who’d hit him. She wasn’t going to let him die or anything.

“No, no hospital...please…” he pleaded, seemingly afraid to end up there for whatever reason. Lori didn’t want to ask why he was so determined to stay away from the place where he could get the help he needed but she knew that she couldn’t force him to go there either.

“All right. No hospital it is then. Do you want me to drive you home instead?” She gave in, even though an uneasy feeling spread in her gut because she still thought the hospital was the best and safest option they had.

As soon as she had spoken the words, she could already tell they were the wrong ones as well. His distraught face spoke volumes and the faint shaking of his head only confirmed it. Apparently, the boy not only wanted to stay far away from the hospital at all costs but also far away from home.

The blonde haired girl wondered what must have happened to make him not even want to go home, but once again she didn’t dare to ask why. He was already in pain and upset enough as it was, he shouldn’t have to deal with something he didn’t want to. At least not right now.

“Ok, I get it. No hospital and no driving you back home but we can’t stay on the road either…” Lori thought out loud, thinking about any other possibilities she could offer to the poor boy.

“How about you come home with me? Let me clean you up and take a look at your injuries?” She suddenly suggested the only thing that came to her mind. Her parents didn’t have to know, they weren’t home anyway, being on an important business trip in whatever country. Lori couldn’t really remember and it didn’t even matter at the moment. The only thing that mattered was that someone was taking care of the injured boy, who was still sitting on the ground, looking at her somewhat thankfully even though he didn’t express it with words. She decided to take it as a yes concerning her offer.

“What’s your name?” She asked after a moment of silence, realizing she didn’t even know his name. She tried to rack her brain but she couldn’t place his face, so he probably didn’t go to her school, not that she would actually recognize everyone there, she was really bad with putting names to faces and the other way round.

“Liam” he responded, squeezing his eyes shut as a sharp pain shot through his head, causing Lori to give him a concerned look.

“I’m Lori”, she introduced herself, before seizing him up and down, worry reflecting in her eyes. “Can you stand?” She added after a moment of just looking at him, unsure.

“Yeah, I think I can,” Liam said, pressing his lips into a thin line, before he tried to scramble back to his feet, failing instantly. Only now Lori realized that he wasn’t even wearing shoes. She stared at his bare feet in pity, trying to figure out how he had ended up in front of her car barefoot and without wearing a jacket too. Lori didn’t even want to imagine what had forced him to walk through the town by night like that. Now that she was watching him more closely, it was obvious that he had been running away from something. Something terrible if she interpreted the signs correctly.

“Wait, let me help you.” She couldn’t watch his sad attempts to stand up by himself anymore, knowing that without her help he wouldn’t be able to get up from the road any time soon. Lori held out her hand to him which he grabbed a little hesitatingly before she finally pulled him gently back up from the ground, steadying him as soon as he was back on his feet counteracting his swaying. She lifted up his arm and put it around her shoulder, stabilizing him before she accompanied him to the passenger side of her brother’s car.

A crunching sound disrupted the silence surrounding them, Lori’s eyes wandered to the source of the noise, causing her to look down to her feet, realizing she had stepped onto pieces of broken glass. Probably from one of the headlights of her brother’s car. So the damage was indeed real. Fuck, she really hoped that she could hide the traces of the accident from her brother for the time being. If she was lucky, he would be already asleep when she finally would arrive home. She really didn’t feel like putting up with his rage at the moment, not when she had to take care of Liam first.

 


 

A few minutes later, Lori had switched on the lights in the living room and had helped Liam to the couch, where he was resting now. He looked slightly out of place on the luxurious piece of furniture that seemed to be more expensive than his mother's car.

The blonde girl examined the injured boy once again, her worried expression deepening. “Are you still feeling ok?” She addressed him a little nervous. She was afraid that his answer would be no or that she wouldn’t receive a reaction at all but at least he was still conscious which Lori assumed was a good sign after all.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Liam answered, his voice sounding groggy. He tried to give her a reassuring smile that ended up being more a grimace of pain.

“I’ll get you something to drink and the first aid kit,” Lori announced, suddenly realizing that she was still standing uselessly next to the couch, not doing anything at all but staring at the hurt boy.

Before Liam could even acknowledge her words, she already reappeared armed with a glass of water and the first aid kit she had quickly gotten from the bathroom. Lori handed over the glass to Liam, the water splashing slightly over the rim of the glass when he accepted it with a slightly shaking hand. He took a small sip from the water before he thrust it back into Lori’s outstretched hand. She placed it on the abstract looking table next to her, before sitting down on the couch as well.

“Ok, look at me,” she said softly, waiting for Liam to turn his head into her direction, before she carefully cleaned the gash on his forehead, the skin around it had already started to change its color to black and blue. Liam winced as the disinfectant, she was cleaning his wound with, left a soaring and burning sensation on his skin.

“Do you…” Lori cleared her throat as the words were harder to speak than she had anticipated. “Do you want to talk about it?” She finally asked, getting a bewildered look from Liam in return because he didn’t really seem to get what she was referring to. She chewed on her lip, almost regretting to even have asked but it was too late to back out of it now.

Focusing her eyes on cleaning his face from the dried blood, the haunted expression displayed in his eyes made her heart sink.

“I mean, do you want to talk about the reason why you were walking barefoot and without a jacket through the town in the middle of the night?” She clarified, putting her hand on his shoulder in a gesture of comfort.

Liam shaking his head was the only response she got to that, but she had expected it already. She couldn't miss noticing that he wasn’t ready to talk about it yet but she had wanted to let him know, that she would be there to listen if he needed someone he could talk to.

“Ok, let me know if you change your mind, I’m here to listen,” Lori squeezed his shoulder comfortingly before she started to examine him further.

“Alright, let’s check your other injuries.” The moment she was about to help Liam out of his shirt to inspect the bruises and scratches he had suffered from, a voice cut through the calm atmosphere like a knife, increasing the tension by a 100 percent.

“LORI!” The voice screamed indignantly, almost causing her to fall off the couch because the sudden screaming had actually startled her.

“What the fuck has happened to my car?!” The voice yelled, laced with raw rage, followed by an evil growl.

Only a few seconds later, Brett stomped into the room furiously, his face contorted in blazing anger.

“Lori, what the fuck?! I swear I’m going to kill…” The handsome captain stopped dead in his tracks as his eyes fell on Liam who was sitting on the couch in front of him, looking like a deer caught in headlights. For a moment Brett was too irritated by finding Liam in his own living room, to even continue screaming at his sister. He stared at the shorter boy in utter confusion, trying to make sense out of his presence.

“What is Dunbar doing here?” He scowled, his anger intensifying only by being in the same room as his rival, his eyes boring angrily into the ones of his sister.

Lori flinched at her brother's harsh words, slightly taken aback by his strange reaction towards Liam. The blonde girl was at a loss, she didn’t know what was happening. One moment her brother was yelling at her because she had ruined his precious car and the next he was already demanding what Liam was doing in their living room. Lori couldn’t even pinpoint the exact moment when Brett’s demeanor had changed drastically. Not only was he angry because of his damaged Porsche but now he was even looking like he wanted to jump at Liam and strangle him any second.

With maximum irritation, Lori looked from Brett to Liam and back again. Liam’s face was drained of all color again, he seemed to be absolutely terrified of her brother, trembling like a leaf.

“What’s going on?” Lori asked, still being in the dark completely.

“I...I need to go,” Liam managed to croak out faintly before he scrambled back to his feet, which were almost buckling underneath him when he tried to make a run for the door, a run for his life.

Before Lori or even Brett could stop him, Liam had staggered out of the room as fast as he could, almost falling to the floor more than once as he was stumbling over his own feet, trying to escape his incarnate hell.

Lori jumped up from the couch as well, shoving her brother out of the way in order to run after Liam, who was already out of the house when she finally reached the front door.

“Liam wait! Let me at least call you a cab!” She called after him, not being able to fathom what had caused him to flee the house like someone was trying to murder him if he didn’t get enough space between his possible predator and himself.

 


 

Liam almost hadn’t believed he’d make it back home again. Ever. After everything that had happened to him over the previous weeks, it was actually a miracle that he was still physically and mentally able to walk through Beacon Hills and to his own home all by himself. And he even survived it. There had been no assault on his life when he finally reached the front door, no car running him over again, nobody with a baseball bat crossing his way, nothing that had seemed even remotely threatening.

It was almost too good to be true. Liam had expected some kind of terribly looking monster to jump out from behind every tree or bush or corner of a building, but nothing. He had half believed that at least one of the cars on the road must have been following him, but they’d all passed by at some point, leaving him behind. Paranoia was washing over him in waves and made his way home a torture.

His bare feet hurt like hell by the time he stepped into the hallway, hunched over, struggling to suck enough air into his lungs, but the few scratches and bruises he’d carried away from his little too close contact encounter with the black Porsche were nothing, were almost not perceptible. The fear that weighed at his tired body was so much worse. It took Liam until the door was securely shut behind his back and at least some feeling returning to his frozen feet until he looked up.

He almost jumped out of his skin, when he saw Theo standing right in front of him, watching him with wide eyes, one hand clutched over his heart, his lips parted. Liam hadn’t even noticed him before and that’s why his sudden appearance had caught him off guard, making him stumble a few steps backward even. He needed quite some time to get his erratic heartbeat back under control again before he took in Theo’s worry-ridden features.

All the time, no matter what had happened, Theo had always seemed at least somewhat collected, if only for the sake of Liam. He’d kept his head up, had pretended to stay strong and hopeful, had held Liam and built him back up, and for the first time since they’d met, Liam was now thinking that Theo looked just as scared as he felt.

It was silent for a moment between them, only Liam’s heavy panting audible, Theo looking him up and down, his eyes lingering at his dirty feet and the bloody gash that was gracing his forehead. A bump had already formed there, turning the skin black and blue.

Liam thought for a second that Theo should probably be used to the image and that he’d looked way worse since they had known each other, but the thought alone tasted like bitterness on his tongue. He’d made a run, had left Theo alone, simply disappearing, not even leaving a message behind. Considering the murder situation, Theo had every right to be shocked and to be sick with worry.

“There you are!” Theo sighed finally as pure relief was washing over him. He closed the distance between them with two large steps, pulling Liam into his arms. His ribcage ached beneath the touch, and it was slightly harder to breathe, but Liam felt like Theo’s embrace was the only thing that could still save him. He allowed himself to sink into Theo, to lay his head down against his strong shoulder, to breathe in his scent, to hold onto him like he was the only thing keeping him alive and halfway sane.

“What happened to you?” Theo asked shakily, referring to the shorter boy’s deep cut on his forehead, pure concern evident in his voice. It was the only visible injury he was able to detect at first sight but he was afraid it wasn’t the only one.

Only the thought that Liam had been hurt again was killing him, reminding him of how fragile life really was, especially if you were on top of someone’s hit list. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing Liam, the possibility alone was tearing him apart. Seeing him bruised and battered like that once again made him realize that facing a future without the love of his life had probably been closer than he wanted to imagine and it was terrifying him to no end.

Liam didn’t answer though, he couldn’t bring himself to. The shock of getting hit by a car, miraculously surviving it without any grave damage and ending up at Brett’s home, of all people, was still rattling his bones. Was more than his shaken mind could even grasp right now.

The blue-eyed boy felt both their bodies shaking, smelled the salt of tears, only to realize then that they were streaming down his face. All of a sudden, now that he was home again, standing in front of the kitchen door, being back in Theo’s arms that he initially fled from, Liam realized why he’d run away in the first place.

The memories came back to him like crashing waves, threatening to drown him, filling his lungs up so that there was no room for air left. The words from his parents, half whispered and half shouted came back, echoing through his throbbing head all over again. Liam began sobbing into Theo’s sweater, feeling like not even the pair of arms wrapping around his back could ever pick him back of after this.

Not when it was about Mason. Mason, his best friend since for as long as he could remember. Mason, who had gone through thick and thin with him. Mason, who had always been there, always the light shining into the darkest corner of his life. Mason, who was dead. Mason, who had died without Liam knowing. Mason, whose funeral Liam hadn’t attended. Mason, who would never talk to him again. Who would never visit him again and then occupy four-fifths of the bed. Never again. Never. A permanent condition. Something so final it hurt only thinking about it.

Brett wasn’t even important. Liam wasn’t important either. Not even Theo. None of it mattered anymore. His life, the death he had escaped just barely, the wounds on the outside as well as on the inside of his body, the cracks in his terrified soul. The panic attacks, the love he’d found without looking for it. In that moment, Liam couldn’t even access any of the emotions related to those things. He had no free capacities for any of it.

There was only pain. A new, different kind of pain. A kind that cut deeper and stayed longer, that burned both hotter and colder at the same time, a kind that screamed louder drowned him in more silence. Involuntarily, Liam had familiarized himself with countless different types of pain, emotional and physical ones. This time, it was both at once, consuming every fiber of his being, breaking him in half and then picking both halves apart shred by shred, eating him alive.

“I wish it had worked,” Liam sobbed into Theo’s shoulder. It sounded ugly, out of control, inhuman.

Theo was carding his fingers through Liam’s hair, but the touch almost didn’t feel real. It didn’t feel like there was actual physical contact, Liam’s heartbreak draping him in a cocoon of misery where Theo couldn’t reach him.

“What are you talking about?” Theo asked, but Liam didn’t hear him until he called his name and repeated his question. “Liam? Ocean Eyes, what are you talking about?”

Theo didn’t understand. Finally, ultimately, after all the suffering and the comfort and the encouragement and the protection, they were now at a point where Theo didn’t understand him anymore, where the level of being messed up and broken was too high for Theo to keep up and see inside of him. No ‘Ocean Eyes’, and no back rubbing, no wise words and not all the kisses in the world could help anymore. There was nothing. If Theo couldn’t, then there was no hope for Liam to be saved this time.

“I wish they’d killed me,” Liam pressed out. He had no idea whether Theo could even understand him, but it hardly mattered.

“Don’t say that!” Theo replied, his voice weak and urgent at the same time. He held Liam at arm’s length by the shoulder so that he could look into his eyes. “Never say that, Liam,” Theo added more quietly. “I know you’re hurting. I can’t even begin to imagine how much. I’ve spoken to your parents. All this, Brett Talbot trying to murder you, all the hospital visits and the pain and how afraid you must be, and then your best friend… I’m so sorry Liam.” He let out a shaky breath, giving Liam time to fall a little further apart. “I’m so sorry, but I’m here, and I care about you. I love you, Ocean Eyes. And the thought that they could have succeeded in trying to kill you scares me more than anything else in the world.”

Liam couldn’t deal with it. Literally, there was no way. There was no capacity left in his brain. Theo had just told him he loved him, but Liam was consumed by crushing sadness. He was cold and lonely and a little empty inside, trying to understand that Mason was indeed dead, that they would never be together again, that his parents had betrayed him, not telling him about it immediately. That Brett Talbot was still after him and that his tired limbs were once again hurting terribly. That this seemed to be his life from now on, pain eating him up from the inside, and the panic growing that something even worse could happen any second.

A part of Liam wanted Theo to love him. An even bigger part wanted to love Theo back. For a brief moment, it even tasted like the words would come over his lips, like he at least knew how to form them, but he couldn’t speak, not with a fire burning a hole in his middle and the smoke suffocating him. Everything was too much.

Liam couldn’t do anything else but shake his head and feel the cold of the air on his damp cheeks as he ran up the stairs to his room. He’d tried running away already and had gotten him even deeper into his misery, so he decided to bury himself beneath the sheets in his bed instead, praying that his parents were considerate enough to leave him alone, which they were, but Theo, on the other hand, proved himself quite persistent.

He didn’t say anything, though, as he got in bed behind Liam, didn’t raise the sheets covering Liam from head to toe, he simply wrapped an arm around him and pulled him close against his chest, his hand rubbing Liam’s arm for hours while the boy cried and sobbed worse than a baby, trying to let out everything that threatened to destroy him from the inside.

Liam couldn’t sleep until what must have been early in the morning when Theo’s body had finally warmed his own up, when there were no more tears to be shed, his cheeks dry, his eyes too tired to stay open and frantically searching. He didn’t trust the world to not eat him while he’d be asleep, to not make another catastrophe happen, to not kill another innocent soul, to not dig the hole he found himself in any deeper than it already was, but he couldn’t fight it when sleep finally came over him.

“I’ve got you,” Theo whispered over and over again, god knows for how many hours. “I’ll never give up on you. Never. I’ll fight this whole damn world for you, Liam.”

Not one single word came over Liam’s lips in response, but somewhere deep down inside, he felt that it was okay. He’d earned his peace, Liam thought as he drifted away, unable to hold onto consciousness any longer.

 


 

Brett couldn’t believe any of the madness that his life had become recently. When Liam Dunbar had first joined the lacrosse team and his magic mirror had uttered the dooming words about him for the first time, Brett had taken it with a grim look and a deep sigh. He’d made a plan, and honestly, that plan should have been enough. The stupid pretty boy shouldn’t have survived the attack with the baseball bats, or Nolan and Gabe should have tried a little harder to do a decent fucking job with them.

Mistakes happened, even Brett had to admit that to himself, which was precisely why he’d taken care of Liam himself the next time. Tara was also way less of an amateur than both Nolan and Gabe combined, who had never been capable of anything other than following him and repeating every word he’d said like a pair of parrots. Why Liam had still been alive after that was in all honesty inexplicable to him. Completely inexplicable. He’d watched with his very own eyes as the bubbles had disappeared from the water’s surface. Liam had been drowning, had been dead. Someone must have fucked with him again after he’d left the scene.

For Lori’s assistance, he had never even asked. Her running Liam over with the car she’d annoyed Brett into lending her was nothing more than a little bonus. Still, Brett didn’t understand why the universe would throw him that bone and then not let him enjoy it, forcing him to look Liam in his still somewhat pretty face in his own home instead. It was infuriating. An outrage. Unbelievable. And completely unacceptable.

Something had to be done. It was as obvious as ever to him. Liam was still walking around, breathing, and meanwhile, Brett wouldn’t be able to go to school for at least a week due to his broken nose that made him look like the loser of their game. Only that it wasn’t a game to him. To Brett, his beauty was everything. Everything that he had, everything that he was. And he was tired of competing with someone as dull as Liam. Entirely sick of it. He wasn’t going to play around any longer. Extreme situations required extreme measures. Certainly, the mirror could help him with that.

To make sure there wouldn’t be any unpleasant surprises that time, Brett locked the door to his room behind him. No Lori would disturb him like that, nothing could distract him from his mission. He had no nerve left for anything else to come between him and his throne of uncontested beauty. Brett took a seat on his large bed and flicked the pocket mirror open. He might have a broken nose, but in his own eyes, he was still the most perfect looking human being walking the earth.

As they always did, bright green flames accompanied the mirror’s coming to life after Brett had called out to its magic powers, a deep voice echoing through the room.

“Brett, your beauty is exceptional and really does shine,” it declared, “but Liam Dunbar outruns it easily every time. You want to be the hottest one again, you really have tried. Hear out my proposition to save your pride. I’m suggesting a pretty evil scheme, to regain back your rightful place on the team. How to get rid of your rival once and for all you might wonder? The only way is to finally put him six feet under. You're in need of assistance, you aren't able to figure out a sure-fire plan all by yourself, maybe you should consider taking a look at your father’s magic bookshelf.”

Brett sat there for a moment, thinking. He kept looking at the mirror for more of an explanation, maybe a little further elaboration on what exactly he was supposed to look for, but the magic item’s surface had gone cold and lifeless again, and he knew better than to call for its advice again after he’d just received the longest answer from it in his life. Finally, he tucked it away carefully and got up. It was time for a little visit at the attic, where he knew his father stored a whole lot of things that he had no use for anymore. Brett remembered the day he’d found the magic mirror among those things like it had been just some days earlier.

The amount of dust in the attic was clearly an attack to his thoughtfully picked outfit and artistically styled hair, but Brett was ready and willing to make some sacrifices to finally get what he wanted so badly. He climbed the stairs and cleared the way by moving a few heavy boxes, even catching his finger one time, which hurt like a damn bitch, but he cut the whimpering short and resumed his search for what would hopefully help him eliminate Liam.

A few minutes and coughing fits later, Brett had reached what must be the bookshelf his mirror had been referring to. It was huge and seemed heavy, containing a collection of thick, mostly leather-bound books with mysterious signs and hieroglyphs drawn to their backs. Only a few letters were recognizable in between, which had Brett slightly worried. He definitely wasn’t prepared to dig into his research in some ancient language.

Looking the entire shelf up and down twice, Brett tried to figure out how any of the books could be of use to him. He was highly annoyed by the sheer amount of things that weren’t making sense to him, so annoyed that he nearly gave up when finally, his finger was tracing a book title that made a connection in his brain come alive, sending a wave of excitement through him.

The book was about magic poisons, and since raw brutality hadn’t worked so far, he thought that he might be looking exactly at the right solution to his problem.

“Step up my game, huh?” Brett muttered under his breath, quoting what the mirror had previously said to him. “I wonder if this qualifies for that.” He pulled the thick book out of the shelf and took a closer look at it, asking himself how old it might be. He flicked through a few pages and then decided to take the whole book to his room to look at everything in peace, and hopefully to find a quick and easy recipe for an effective and unverifiable poison. That certainly couldn’t be too much to ask for, could it?

Of course, it could. It turned out that what Brett had found in the attic wasn’t exactly a cooking book. There were countless poisons in it, varying immensely in regards to their ingredients, the effect they had on a human body, how long they took to show an effect at all. A whole lot of them weren’t even strong enough to actually get Liam killed, so they were out. A few other ones contained some really freaky shit that no normal person could get their hands on in the twenty-first century, not even if you were rich as fuck and ruthless enough to bribe someone. In the end, after many hours of scanning the yellowed pages, Brett had narrowed it down to three options that he thought might actually be doable, would most certainly kill a human teenager, and seemed to not have any conspicuous smell or color to them.

It was annoying, really. With his ruined face, Brett was without a doubt in his mind not going to school anytime soon, so technically, he had a lot of time. Still, he wasn’t used to things requiring such a great deal of effort before they even remotely started to work out for him. It was way more practical to just call one of his lackeys for help, or pay someone to do the work for him, which wasn’t an option this time. This time, he had to actually sit down and read through several pages of an ancient book, had to go to the internet to find out where certain herbs could be purchased, had to drive to the other end of Beacon Hills and even out of town one time to collect everything he needed. But he was gladly taking all of those obstacles if it was what would be necessary to regain his rightful place on the team and finishing off his rival for good this time around.

After researching and working on getting the ingredients for four days, the experiments could finally start, but again, it was a lot of work that Brett wasn’t used to, carrying around pots, cutting up terribly reeking roots and vegetables, pinching his eyes shut when spicy steams threatened to blind him. It took another two days until the outcome looked at least somewhat like the pictures drawn into his book, and when Brett accidentally spilled a bit and splashed it over the back of his hand it started burning like fire instantly, he was sure he must be getting close.

According to his ancient wise source, it was best to induce the poison to some sort of food that wasn’t too heavily cooked, or ideally completely raw. Drinks weren’t very suitable, apparently, for whatever insane reason, but who was Brett to argue with what the magic book said. He put quite some thought into the best way to execute his evil scheme. What kind of food would he most likely be able to sneak into Liam’s lunch at school somehow?

There was only one thing he could think of. Maybe he would have had more options if he’d paid closer attention to his loathed rival and his eating habits, but at least Brett knew this one thing about Liam: He’d eaten an apple before or after practice at least once, so he must clearly like them. With a bunch of apples from the nearest grocery store, Brett tried it out. He dunked one in the brewing poison, but it turned into an unnaturally bright green right away, and there was no way Liam or any sane person would ever bite into something so obviously dangerous. He tried holding one apple over the pot and into the steam for a while, but he wasn’t sure if anything had actually changed about the fruit after, so he decided not to trust it.

In the end, Brett managed to come up with a syringe that he filled the poison into, injecting it in the middle of one of the apples, watching as the color changed slightly, turning just a little redder, but it still passed as a regular apple. To be completely honest, it looked delicious. Brett would have eaten it himself right away if he hadn’t known what it contained.

All that was left from that moment on, was for Brett to wait for his nose to fully heal and his face to look as perfect as people were used to again before returning to school. And then he’d have to find an opportunity to plant the evil apple. Just in case, he prepared a few more. If he was going to fail again, then certainly not because of a lack of backup apples.

 


 

Theo almost hadn’t brought himself to leaving Liam in the morning, after yet another hard night full of nightmares and grief, but unfortunately, there was still this annoying thing that called itself high school, and neither his parents nor any of the teachers seemed to accept him taking care of Liam as an excuse for not attending class. In the end, Theo had gotten out of Liam’s bed at six in the morning, stroking the sleeping boy’s cheek and kissing his head before leaving, driving home for a set of fresh clothes and some breakfast before the first period.

“Hey, little brother,” Tara said quietly as she entered the kitchen, where he was just stuffing his face with as many pancakes as he could manage before he’d have to leave. She looked tired and avoided direct eye contact, but the same part of Theo that was in love with Liam just couldn’t make himself feel sorry for her. She could have been a decent person and not nearly ruin someone’s life. She should have. But of course, even his own sister was under the spell of Brett Talbot.

Theo said nothing in return, just grunted with his mouth full and rolled his eyes to let her know that her presence in the same room as him was very much annoying, and then he continued digging into the food on his plate. He was actually quite hungry. Theo might have forgotten to eat properly over all the worry about Liam lately, just as he’d forgotten about homework and lacrosse practice and pretty much anything else that wasn’t a loved one in immediate danger all the time. Who could blame him?

Tara reached out for an apple from the kitchen counter, but instead of eating it, she held the fresh fruit in her hands and played around with it, rubbing the end of her sleeve over it until it was all shiny, but still, she didn’t seem to actually plan to eat it. She looked up at her brother briefly and averted her gaze again, looking down, swallowing, her lips parting to let her speak.

“So, um, how’s Liam doing?” She finally asked, her voice weak and shaky. Well, she was completely right for feeling guilty, that much was for sure.

Theo stopped chewing and looked at her standing there, leaning against the kitchen counter. She looked small and young and exhausted. He swallowed his mouth full of pancake down before he answered.

“He’s feeling like shit, Tara,” he told her. It was true, and she definitely didn’t deserve him sugarcoating anything for her. “His best friend just died in a plane crash, which he had to find out by overhearing his parents talk about it because they didn’t dare to tell him, because he was in the fucking hospital pretty much all the time, because some lunatic is trying to fucking murder him!”

Theo had raised his voice with every word, and by the end of his sentence he was standing on his own two feet, watching his sister flinch as he spat it into her face, but he didn’t care, because she’d taken her part in the whole story, had played her role, had let Brett use her despite everything he’d done to her, and Theo was having a hard time imagining that he could ever forgive her that.

“I… I didn’t know that,” she stammered, “about his best friend. I… I’m so sorry.”

“Are you though?” Theo asked coldly. “Because you didn’t consider his feelings much when you agreed to help Brett get rid of him, did you?”

“Well, I obviously didn’t know he was going to go and try to fucking kill the boy!” She replied, trying to defend herself. “You don’t actually believe I would have agreed to assist in a murder, do you? I didn’t know who Liam was. How much you cared for him, but I still wouldn’t have done it if I had known of Brett's plan. You’re my brother, Theo, you kind of just have to know that.”

“I don’t know, Tara,” Theo said quietly, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m not sure I do.”

Tears were welling up in her eyes when she spoke again, threatening to suffocate her, but she clearly had things to say, and no matter how mad and hurt he was, something about the look on her face made him sit back down and push his breakfast away, made him listen.

“I only ever wanted to protect you,” Tara pressed out. “I didn’t lose one thought to what Brett had planned while I was luring you away from the bonfire. It’s not like he told me all about his elaborate plan to drown Liam or anything, okay?”

“What did he tell you, then?” Theo wanted to know. He’d been too angry so far to ask any of the questions about that night, but he was still wondering. Wondering why Tara had let Brett use her again. She should have known better than to get involved with him. He’d thought she did know better. He’d been so sure.

“Only that I had to get you away from there,” Tara sniffled, “and that you’d get hurt otherwise.”

“Oh yeah?” Theo snorted. “What would he have done, huh? Pushed me into the lake as well? Tried to drown both of us? What a fucking joke. What did you think he was going to do, huh?”

“How was I supposed to know that, Theo?” She asked in return, tears now streaming down her reddened face. “All I know is that he threatened you, and we both know Brett Talbot well enough to know he doesn’t do that for fun. His little murder missions are not just a hobby, Theo. That guy is serious. He’s evil. So my choice was between telling him to fuck off and waiting for what would happen to you, or getting you away from there, knowing you’d be safe. What kind of choice did I have, Theo? You can’t seriously blame me for trying to protect you.”

“I can blame you for not thinking further than that,” he responded calmly, although his sister’s tears were doing something to him on the inside that he wished he could simply push aside. “And I do. I do blame you, because you should have known Brett had some sort of plan, and if I wasn’t the target, you should have asked yourself who else was. Because that somebody else almost got killed that night.”

“I know!” Tara sobbed. “You think I wanted that? We both know Brett is a fucking psychopath, okay? I didn’t think I could protect the rest of the world from him. Only you.”

“It’s not the rest of the world that he’s after, you know,” Theo said, “it seems to be only Liam. For whatever reason there might be.”

Theo thought the conversation was over at that point. Tara remained silent, and he didn’t assume there was anything else to be said between the two of them. He knew Tara was sorry, and in a way, he did understand the place that she’d come from when she’d made the decision to do as Brett had told her just to keep him safe, but that didn’t mean that he was ready to forgive her. Liam’s world was still falling apart and he couldn’t forget the sadness, the utter heartbreak he’d seen in those ocean blue eyes he loved so much.

“You know,” Tara whispered into the silence of their kitchen, surprising him a little. “I might actually be able to shed a little light on that mystery.”

“You what?” Theo asked, sitting up. All of a sudden, he was very intrigued by what else she had to say. Did she actually know something he didn’t? Maybe even something that would help him protect Liam from any further murder attempts?

“Well, so there’s a thing that I found out about Brett back when… you know,” she started explaining. “And for a long time, it didn’t matter anymore. But maybe it does now. I’m not sure. And to be fair, it’s going to sound completely crazy. Like, absolutely insane. But I swear to god I’m not messing with you. I just want to help.”

“Then tell me, what is it?” Theo asked. He was highly curious. If there was any useful information existing in the world, he sure as hell was dying to hear what it was.

Tara sat down across from Theo and put her apple down on the table between them. She brushed a strand of dark hair out of her face and tugged it behind her ear, inhaling and exhaling deeply.

“Alright,” she began, “here’s what I know. Back when I still thought Brett was a handsome and interesting guy-” Theo made a grimace at the mention of his sister fancying Brett, but he didn’t interrupt her. “- I overheard him doing something weird this one time. I only heard his and another voice, so I wasn’t sure what exactly I’d heard, especially since it was the strangest shit ever. But your name was mentioned, and so I couldn’t help but pay attention from then on.”

Theo was confused. “ My name?” He asked. “What on earth does my name have to do with anything?”

“Brett has this little pocket mirror, I’m sure you’ve seen it before.”

“Of course,” Theo almost laughed. Every living soul in Beacon Hills had seen Brett Talbot admiring himself in that stupid thing at least once in their life.

“I know there’s a good chance you won’t believe me, but what if I told you that mirror isn’t just a mirror?”

“What else would it be?” Theo wanted to know. “You mean like, a weapon or something? Because I’d totally believe that.”

“Not exactly,” Tara said, shaking her head lightly, “more like some creepy kind of… advisor?”

“A what?”

“It can speak, Theo!” She exclaimed. “He calls it with a certain spell and then there are green flames on it and it fucking speaks!”

“What does it say?” Theo asked. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure that he should believe his sister about the existence of a talking mirror, but it couldn’t hurt to get all of the other facts, right?

“He asks it a question. The same one every time, actually. He asks who the hottest guy on the damn fucking lacrosse team is.”

Theo almost had to laugh out loud. He hadn’t expected something so trivial and… well, stupid, to be honest. But of course, it was Brett who they were talking about, and there was no person who was any more superficial than him on earth. Everybody knew Brett’s obsession with his own looks went far beyond anything healthy, so why not have a strange pocket mirror telling him every day how gorgeous he looked? It didn’t exactly sound like a thing that was totally unlike the guy, Theo decided.

“And then the mirror praises his unlimited beauty, I assume,” Theo suggested with a bitter laugh.

“Well, ideally, it does, yeah,” Tara nodded. “But it didn’t back then when I was eavesdropping on him.

“You’re kidding me, right?” Theo said. “You’re not trying to tell me that there’s a magic mirror telling Brett that I look better than him, are you?”

“That’s pretty much exactly what I’m trying to tell you,” Tara replied. Theo looked deep into her green eyes, contemplating whether she was being serious. There was nothing but drying tears and sincerity there, none of all the endless signs he knew were a safe giveaway of a lie from her.

“I don’t get it. In that case, why am I not the one he’s after?” Theo pointed out.

“Because that was years ago,” Tara informed him, “and the mirror stopped saying your name soon after. And then it was just Brett for quite a while. Until…”

“Until Liam transferred to Devenford and joined the lacrosse team,” Theo finished her sentence.

Tara pursed her lips and nodded. “That’s what I assume must be the reason, yeah.”

Although he’d wanted it, Theo had to admit that he was quite overwhelmed by the explanation that he suddenly had. It wasn’t a good enough reason, to own a crazy ass mirror that could talk and tell Brett who on the lacrosse team was better looking than him. To no sane human person, that would have counted as a justification for going after that person and trying to kill them, but Brett was still Brett, and to be completely honest, there wasn’t really anything left that Theo thought was beyond that guy and his limitless narcissism.

 “There’s still one thing that doesn’t make sense to me,” Theo said. “You said the mirror said my name first, right? And I mean, Brett has definitely been a dick to me, but he never actually tried to harm me in any way. How did that happen, then? Did the mirror somehow change its mind about the way I look?”

“Not exactly,” Tara whispered, looking down at her own hands.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Theo wanted to know. “Does it mean there’s a way to get somebody off of Brett’s hit list? Because if there is, I’d very much appreciate it if you told me about it immediately.”

Tara shook her head sadly. “It’s not like that, Theo,” she told him. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“Then how does it work?”

Again, she shook her head. “You don’t want to know this part, okay? The mirror used to say your name, but now it doesn’t anymore. Just be glad about that, alright? Anything else is hopeless.”

“You can’t possibly be serious! You just told me there’s a way to make it stop, so why not tell me how? Please, Tara. I’m begging you.”

“Why not tell you how? Because if you bargain with the mirror, Theo, it’ll cost you. And you’ll pay that prize for the rest of your life. There has to be another way. To stop him, I mean. To destroy that damn fucking mirror and hopefully get Brett Talbot behind bars in the process.”

Theo sighed deeply. “Please,” he repeated. “You don’t even know what kind of sacrifice I’m ready to make, okay? This is…-” He looks away to gather himself, to will the tears back and his voice strong. “- it’s about Liam.”

“You know, that’s actually my point exactly,” Tara said.

“I don’t get it.”

“I made a deal with the mirror, okay?” Tara explained. The frustration was audible in her voice. “I got it to forget your name forever, and in return…”

“In return what?”

“I’ll never know what it feels like,” she whispered, a fresh wave of tears threatening to escape her eyes. “The way you feel about him. I’ll never love anybody. And I’ll never be loved.”

Theo had to swallow at that, covering his mouth with the palm of his hand. He couldn’t even begin to process what she’d just told him. He thought about Liam lying in the hospital, bruises and cuts covering his entire body. He remembered the pain and the fear, the panic attacks. He felt the stabs at his heart again when his mind went back to those beautiful ocean eyes filling up with tears, breaking his heart. He thought about two things.

One - that it could have been him. It could have been him half dead in the woods, drowning in the lake, barely surviving, having panic attacks at the mere thought of going to school. It would have been him if Tara hadn’t sacrificed her own happiness for him.

Two - how much he loved Liam. How much a human heart could swell with bliss at the sight of another person. How holding Liam in his arms made him feel complete. How nothing had ever scared him as much as the thought of losing his precious Ocean Eyes. And that Tara would never have anything like it, because being his savior had been more important to her.

All of a sudden, when he opened his eyes again to look at his sister, the person he saw was a different one, his anger towards her blown away completely. At that moment, Theo felt like crying for the rest of his life. He wanted to say something. He wanted to say something to her about how he’d had no idea, how he never would have thought something like that, how he was sorry, so endlessly sorry, but he didn't know how. And then, his eyes fell onto the apple still resting between the two of them on the table, and it clicked.

Ever heard of Snow White? You know, pretty girl that barely escaped her own murder? Ran away to flee from an evil queen? Seven heroic young men providing her shelter? A second attempt to kill her? And then a third one? With a poisoned apple? Come on guys, don’t tell me you can’t see the parallels!

Stiles hadn’t been so crazy after all, Theo realized. Not at all, actually. He’d gotten it perfectly right without even knowing about Brett’s magic mirror. He’d warned them, and although they’d thrown Malia’s apple pie away, everybody had kind of still made fun of him, but none of it seemed funny to Theo anymore, not with the new information from Tara.

“Snow White,” he whispered, more to himself than to his sister who was sitting across from him.

“What?”

“He’ll try it again,” Theo said simply. Because whether through a poisoned apple or not, he was sure of it. Brett would try to kill Liam again. And he would make sure to succeed this time. “We’ve got to do something.”

“I know,” Tara agreed, “see, we’re kind of working on the details of a plan already, so I’d suggest you look after Liam in the meantime, make sure he doesn’t leave the house on his own or anything.”

“We?” Theo asked.

“You remember Nolan, right? He’s kind of in this thing too,” Tara explained.

“Oh.” Theo couldn’t help his surprise. “Yeah, I didn’t think he’d be up to actually helping us.”

“Well, not everybody who’s ever been stupid enough to fall for Brett Talbot is forever evil, Theo,” Tara said.

“I know that,” he admitted. He didn’t trust Nolan, not at all, but he also wasn’t going to reject his will to help them. In the end, it didn’t really matter how, the point was that Brett needed to be stopped.

“Great,” Tara said, “off to school, then.” Not that Theo wasn’t hopelessly late already. “Talk to you later, okay?”

 “Okay.”

 

Chapter Text

Jenna felt awful. She’d been feeling awful for quite a while, the endless worries about her only son robbing her of sleep and the peace of her mind, but it had turned into something different with the conscious decision to lie to him. She wasn’t that kind of a mother, usually. She believed that honesty was important, that parents who expected their children to tell them things had to treat them the same way in return. She believed that good and protective intentions didn’t give a mother the right to hide the truth, and yet, in the very situation that Liam had been in for the previous few weeks, she’d gone against all of those principles.

Simply because she’d been scared.

There were few to no things that could shake a mother to the core the way a call from the hospital could, informing her that her baby boy had been admitted, that he was severely injured and currently fighting for his life in the operating room. Jenna remembered the moment exactly, had relived the horror a thousand times since. She could still hear the phone clattering to the tiles on her kitchen floor, her hand simply letting go of it, because her body hadn’t been capable of anything but panic anymore.

She had no memories of her ride to the hospital, but she could picture Liam’s pale face almost perfectly, the cast that had covered his arm, all the bruises. It had broken her heart worse than anything else ever before to see him that way, like life had taken him out of his routine growing up and becoming a smart, responsible young man, like it had thrown him off of the path she’d helped him walking, leaving him somewhere to see if he’d make it back.

Of course, that had only been the beginning. What had almost been worse than finding an injured Liam in a hospital bed, was the reason why he’d winded up there in the first place. Her precious son had been beaten up with baseball bats by nobody else than two of his own classmates. Jenna was still having trouble believing it. Believing the cruelty that must have driven those boys. She had no words for it, but the thoughts had been keeping her up at night.

Worse than that, they had been keeping Liam up at night as well. Although he had Theo, and Theo was nothing if not an absolute sweetheart, Liam was suffering. He’d landed in the hospital again after that first time, looking a little less awful from the outside maybe, but she’d been able to tell by the frantic look in his eyes that something inside him had been broken.

It had turned out that a boy from school was after Liam, for whatever reason someone could possibly have to hate her sweet little baby boy. Liam had no explanation, Theo had no explanation, the sheriff’s department hadn’t gotten any explanation out of their suspects, and Jenna was left utterly clueless. It was the most terrible feeling, to watch her son being scared every minute of every day, unable to help him, to make life at least a tiny little bit easier for him.

It was the only thing she’d lived for ever since Liam had been born. It was what made her a mother. Working, using her paychecks to build a life for him, a home, security. Giving him her time, reading him stories, explaining him the things that were mysteries to a little kid, holding him in her arms. Teaching him, encouraging him, watching him grow. Guiding him, letting him go, staying in the background for him to always return to her when she was needed. Giving him roots, giving him wings. Watching him take off and fly.

Watching him crash had never been part of the vision, and it was tearing her apart. It was all wrong, so wrong that it felt like her heart was being attacked with a million tiny daggers at all times. Every time a door opened, Liam flinched away. An unannounced touch of a hand on his shoulder made him jerk. In the middle of the night, she could hear him screaming, and then breathing heavily for an entirely too long time before he found sleep again.

She hated making him go to school. She hated forcing him back to that place where some other boy had apparently lost his mind completely and was out to harm him in any way he could. She hated the fear in his eyes when school came up. If there had been any other school in Beacon Hills that he hadn’t already attended before, she would have sent him there, but there wasn’t. She let him stay home as long as it was explicable every time, but he had to go back eventually, and Theo picking him up in the morning to accompany him, promising Jenna he’d look after Liam every second of the school day was honestly the only reason she managed to let him go at all.

He could have been killed. Twice. That was exactly how the doctors at the hospital had expressed it, how even David had said it. Liam could have died. It belonged to a mother’s life to fear for her kid, but the fear to actually lose them, the fact how close to reality the thought had suddenly become, brought the whole feeling to an entirely new level. Jenna was absolutely terrified.

Liam was the bravest kid there was, without a doubt. And yet panic was eating at him. She wasn’t ready to watch it break him apart. She simply couldn’t.

Her baby boy had just been in the hospital for the second time, with water in his lungs and emptiness turning his face into that of a stranger when she’d gotten the message that Mason had died.

Jenna had spoken over the phone with Mason’s mother, who had been a close friend of hers since they’d both walked around pregnant, waiting for their boys to be born. She’d barely been able to take it, the heart-wrenching cries and sobs. They’d felt like clean cuts right through her soul, leaving her at the absolute lowest she’d ever been after hanging up, because she’d just gotten a glimpse of the ‘what if’ she’d been carrying around in her head.

Liam and Mason had been inseparable for all of their lives. She remembered their little kid hands clutched into another when they’d allowed him to walk to the playground a few streets over without parents for the first time. She remembered Liam wishing for walkie-talkies for his birthday so that he and Mason could talk to each other over them. She remembered the lunchbox full of dirt and worms and bugs she’d once opened, Liam’s and Mason’s little private zoo. She remembered the two boys feeding the cats of the neighborhood with milk stolen from her fridge. She remembered Liam calling for help when Mason had fallen from his bike and ruined his skinny little knee. She remembered their first day at school and the beginning of high school. She remembered Liam’s tears when Mason had left because his family had moved away.

At first, it hadn’t even been about her not wanting to tell Liam, or not knowing how. At first, it had been too much for her to process to begin with. The thought that Mason, the nice and sensible boy that he’d always been, was dead. That he’d never smile that wonderful bright smile of his ever again. That Liam would grow up and celebrate birthdays, graduate from high school and go to college and find a job and possibly get married, and there’d be none of those things for Mason. That a life was over, just like that. A young, innocent life, shining bright like a star in the one moment, had been erased just a second later.

The next thought had been that death was real. Not an abstract concept, not something that happened to old people, or somewhere entirely else in the world. Death was close, right around the corner at any given moment. Right where it could dig its cold claws in Liam’s shoulders, and that there was no protection from it. A person wasn’t safe because they were young, or especially promising. Liam wasn’t safe.

It had been too much to think about. It had been tearing her apart, living life, walking that narrow line between the tears washing over her whenever she’d been alone and putting on a smile whenever Liam was around, pretending to be strong, pretending like she was still his protector. She’d felt the absolutely worst she’d ever had, and that had been even before the thought had come to her that she’d have to tell Liam.

Liam who’d been on the absolute edge already. Liam who’d needed everything good in that moment and certainly nothing bad, nothing making his situation even worse. She’d told herself that it was the right thing to do and waited until he’d at least gotten released from the hospital. After that, she’d really wanted to tell him. He’d had a right to know, and she’d been aware of it. She’d gone up to his room, wanting to see whether it would be a good moment.

And then Liam had been trying to call Mason, not reaching him. He’d looked so frustrated, so sad, so heartbroken. He’d talked so passionately about his best friend, had very obviously been missing him so incredibly much. Of course, Jenna had known in her head back then that the truth had needed out. But her heart hadn’t been able to break it to him. Who knew what Liam would have done. He’d been in a very weak and helpless place already. She’d been afraid for his life. She’d been afraid he’d never recover from any of the tragedy.

With her heart weighing heavy in her chest, Jenna stood at the end of the staircase, looking up. Guilt was eating at her, and uncertainty. She’d given Liam space and time, same as David had. But she knew that at some point, space and time wouldn’t make things better anymore, and some point, she’d have to apologize and make amends.

Climbing the stairs in her own home had never been so hard, but Theo had just left for school, and she knew the occasions on which the two boys weren’t together were rare.

After what felt like an eternity, she’d finally made it to the upper level, staring at the door to Liam’s bedroom for another eternity before knocking softly. There was no answer at first, which hurt, but not as much as it did when she called his name and he harshly told her to go away.

She didn't do as he asked, though. He already hated her, so why not go against his will one more time?

“Liam,” she said as she stepped inside the room. It was warm and smelled unfamiliar, not only like Liam, but also like Theo, and Jenna realized how much she’d have loved to know more about who the two boys were together.

“Don’t tell me there’s more,” Liam whispered, a plea lingering in his eyes as he raised his head from his pillow and looked her in the eyes. “Please.”

She shook her head. “No,” she answered. And she hoped it would stay that way. Good god, did she hope for it. None of them could take any more. “I came to apologize.”

“Oh.”

“I should have told you about Mason,” she added. He slowly sat up and pulled his knees close to his body, slinging his own arms around his bent legs, looking down. “You had a right to know, and I was wrong to keep it from you for so long. I would have told you if I’d known how.”

“You listened to me rambling about him not picking up the damn phone,” Liam replied, his voice on the verge of breaking, tears welling up in his eyes, “you told me to wait for him to call me back, Mom! When you knew all along that he wouldn’t!”

“I know,” she admitted. Her motherly instinct told her to reach out for him, to sit down next to him and wipe away the tears that were about to spill on his cheeks, to take her baby in her arms and protect him from all evil, but this time, the evil had been her.

“I’m so sorry,” she pressed out. “So, so sorry, Liam.”

Liam pressed his eyes shut, but it didn’t keep the tears from falling. “I don’t want you to be sorry.” He could barely speak, but the words found their way out from between his trembling lips. “I want my best friend back!”

He looked so lost, catching her eyes, begging her to be a mother, to be his Mom and do something, like it was her goddamn job, to make the world a better place before he went out into it, to save him, to mend him, and she wanted to, wanted nothing more than that, but death wasn’t something that anybody could be saved from. Not when it was too late.

Jenna’s heart was shattered into a thousand, a million tiny unrecognizable pieces by the time she finally pushed herself to take her wailing son into her arms. “I know,” she whispered into his hair. “I want that too. I wish I could help you, Liam. I wish there was anything I could do. I’m so sorry. So sorry.”

The pain went right under her skin and through her body to her broken heart, seeping through the cracks in her soul. Liam was shaking in her arms, crying, repeating over and over again how badly he needed Mason to come back to him, but this was the ugly truth to it. No matter how much she wished for it, there was nothing she could do. Absolutely nothing.

 


 

Nolan still wasn’t entirely sure what to make of his new found friendship with Tara Raeken. Or maybe it shouldn’t even be called friendship. Really, it wasn’t about much more than putting an end to Brett’s morbid mission to secure his position as Beacon Hill’s hottest. It was strange to think that her story with Brett was a tiny little bit like his own, although other than Tara, Nolan had never been more than the sidekick.

It was an even stranger feeling to be plotting Brett’s downfall. Of course, it was long overdue, and on a rational level, Nolan didn’t feel bad for it one bit. Nobody, no matter how handsome they were, should be able to get through with attempted murder. Who knew how many others were out there like him and Tara and Theo and Liam, who had seriously suffered from Brett? How much more damage had to be done until it would be enough?

Nolan sighed and shook his head sadly. No, it didn’t feel great planning the betrayal of the only person he’d ever loved, but it was absolutely out of the question that it had to be done. Brett was no longer the kid with the light blond curls falling over his ears and the wide grin on his face that he’d once fallen for. It wasn’t just that they hadn’t become boyfriends, or anything of that sort, it was more than a deep friendship between boys, a secret sharing kind of friendship had turned into Brett using Nolan to his advantage whenever he could, and Nolan willingly doing anything for him, never getting anything in return.

It was clear then that even that was over. There was no more them. Brett had maybe, possibly already forgotten about Nolan’s existence, and that was if he was lucky.

Clouds hung from the sky heavily as Nolan parked his car outside of the little coffee shop again. It was only fitting, the grey surrounding him, the air smelling like rain and wet concrete. There were barely any people out in the streets. The entire town seemed to be waiting for the rain to come, but for Nolan it meant feeling a little less awful as he got out of his car and crossed the street. Hateful looks were a difficult thing to live with. Guilt was a burden that weighed a little heavier with every day, and his young shoulders were getting tired.

“There you are,” Tara greeted him, clearing a table and pointing him to sit down. The place wasn’t exactly very busy, so in spite of her having to work, they’d mostly have their peace while working things out. “No offense, but you look like you need something big, black and strong.”

If Nolan hadn’t been in his current situation, he could have appreciated the joke, but he simply nodded, because a coffee was indeed the only thing that could make him feel at least slightly better in that moment.

Two girls sitting in the far corner of the coffee shop kept stealing glances at him, and Nolan vaguely remembered a time when girls would do such things out of different reasons, because objectively speaking, he was a pretty boy, and it wasn’t like nobody had ever told him so. Just not the person he would have wished to hear it from. It hardly mattered anymore, though, especially since the looks he was getting weren’t that kind of looks. The girls were averting their eyes because they were creeped out by him, and they didn’t blush or giggle when they stuck their heads together and whispered.

In moments like that, Nolan wished for the ability to make himself invisible. Living life in Brett’s shadow, it had felt like it at times, because nothing had ever made him feel like he was being seen for who he was, but the truth was that that didn’t make him invisible at all, it just meant that people saw in him what they believed he must be, and there were enough rumors and half-truths going around town to give their suspicions at least some background.

Nolan pulled out his phone and started scrolling through his messages, although they were all either from Tara, his Mom, or over a month old. He typed in a new one, using no actual words, just giving his fingers something to do while the shame was slowly and painfully killing him. Just when Tara came to his table with a big cup of steaming hot coffee, the two girls stood up and left, flicking their hair back over their shoulders quite aggressively as they marched out through the door.

“Bitches,” Tara muttered, sitting down and wiping her hands on her apron before settling her focus onto Nolan, reaching up to fasten her ponytail, as if to ready herself for business to get serious.

“So, what’s the great plan?” Nolan wanted to know. He took a sip from his coffee and closed his eyes for a second, feeling a hint of life returning to his body with the heat running down his throat. Few enough things could still make him feel like a human being, but at least he could count on the power of coffee.

“If you ask me,” Tara began, “the mirror is the key. Very obviously, the mirror is what tells Brett that Liam is a problem to begin with. So I suggest we smash it.”

“You really think that would solve the issue?” Nolan asked. “I mean, I can guarantee you that Brett will one hundred percent still be the biggest asshole known to mankind after we destroy his precious little mirror. Maybe even more so. Maybe he’ll hate us just as much as he does Liam. I don’t know about you, but I’m not necessarily trying to get my name on that hit list.”

“Neither am I,” Tara replied seriously. “But what else are we supposed to do? There’s already a lawsuit against him, remember? But if you’re rich enough to hire the best lawyers in all of California, that doesn’t seem to mean anything will happen to you.”

“Yeah,” Nolan nodded bitterly, “I happen to remember that quite well. In fact, I pick up trash in the park every Thursday and will continue to do so for a few more months because of the same lawsuit.”

“Oh. I wasn’t aware of that.”

Nolan shrugged. “Not everyone can have endless money to buy themselves out of their guilt.”

“I’m sorry,” Tara mumbled.

“Don’t be,” he answered, “I’d feel worse if I’d just gotten away with my actions. I mean, I did beat up another person with a baseball bat. And he could have died. He would have, if somebody else hadn’t found him in the woods.”

“Isn’t it crazy?” Tara asked. “How far from the right path love can take you without you even noticing?”

“Yeah. It was so easy, happened so fast. And now, it doesn’t even seem real anymore. It doesn’t even feel possible, for me to be that person. That same person who did those terrible things. Now I see myself in the mirror and I think that I would never harm any other person, but I also know that I did, and that’s what my stupid feelings for him turned me into. Someone who wasn’t me anymore. Just a dull shadow following his every step. And for what? Absolutely nothing.”

“I totally get you,” Tara agreed, “it’s hard to see what exactly drew you in so much once you’ve made it out, right?”

Nolan almost had to laugh. He didn’t quite make it, but it was nice to know his body still knew how. “Is he even that hot?” He asked bitterly. “I mean, is he really that much better looking than anybody else in Beacon Hills?”  

“I don’t know,” Tara replied with a smile forming on her lips, “how many other names come to your mind when I talk about a ridiculously tall, perfectly tanned guy with an eight-pack and a jawline that you could cut paper with?”

This time, Nolan couldn’t stop a little huffed laugh from escaping his lips. “You got me there,” he admitted, but somehow, it wasn’t the most terrible thing in the world anymore to be talking about his tragic crush on Brett, at least not with Tara nodding her head because she understood.

There was a brief moment when they both looked at each other curiously, because what they were seeing were the other one’s corners of their mouths perked up a bit, and it was rather unfamiliar, even after they’d spoken before, after they’d decided to team up and do the right thing together. Feeling miserable together was an entirely different thing than simply feeling miserable. Nolan wondered if they were more than allies in this mission, whether the girl across from him actually cared about his feelings. Sadly, he realized that he’d never tried to make friends based on things like that. Maybe it was about time.

“So, back to business,” Tara said a few seconds later, her expression turning back to seriousness. “Are we agreed that the mirror needs to be destroyed?”

“We’re definitely agreed that the mirror can no longer be in Brett’s hands,” Nolan said. “Honestly, if it can do all the things we know it can do so far, then maybe it wouldn’t be such a wise decision to smash it altogether. It clearly has some creepy powers or something.”

“Which is exactly why it shouldn’t exist, if you ask me,” Tara argued.

“You’re not entirely wrong about that,” Nolan explained his point of view, “but there’s really no way to tell what will happen, right? If we destroy it? That thing is possessed by some dark magic. It’s obviously evil. Who knows the damage we can do by destroying it.”

Tara pinched her nose and sighed deeply. “Fine,” she gave in, “doesn’t really matter for now. We can revisit this discussion later. But we need to steal the mirror.”

“Yep. We definitely need to steal the mirror.”

“So, how do you think we could pull that off?” She wanted to know. “Doesn’t he always carry it with him?”

Nolan thought about it for a moment. “Almost,” he then answered. “He leaves it in his locker during lacrosse practice. Well, and he probably doesn’t take it to bed with him, but I’d really rather not break into his house at night. The Talbot’s have a crazy ass security system, I’m telling you.”

“Getting it from his locker seems like the easier option, then,” Tara agreed. “You can do that, right?”

“Me?” Nolan complained. Why did it always have to be him?

“Well, between the two of us, there’s only one who can easily get into the locker room without raising any suspicions, don’t you think? It’s not like anybody would ask you any questions.”

“Yeah, because nobody ever talks to me anymore,” Nolan mumbled. It was frustrating, but Tara had a point. It was almost ridiculous how simple the plan seemed. He would have easy access, and Brett generally wasn’t used to having to be careful, didn’t know what it meant to have your guard up, so it shouldn’t be too hard to actually go through with it.

“You’ll be one step closer to becoming the hero of this story, Nolan,” Tara said.

Nolan sighed deeply. It wasn’t about him becoming a hero of any sort. He wasn’t even seeking redemption or forgiveness. He simply wanted for Liam not to die. In the end, he knew that this plan was their best shot at it, so he agreed to do it with a low growl. Nobody had said it would be easy doing the right thing. He’d been prepared for his hands to get a little dirty. Now it was time for some action.

 


 

“I need a favor,” were the first words Brett Talbot spoke to her when he was finally back at school after over a week of absence and complete radio silence. To Tracy, it had been kind of funny to watch his fan club getting more agitated and nervous with every day passing without receiving any news about the handsome captain's whereabouts. She had actually been wondering how long it would take for the first person to report Brett missing. They seemed to be totally lost, helpless even if they didn’t have their idol to admire and gush about around anymore.

Apparently, he had such a huge impact on his fellow students and played such an important role in their daily life that they simply didn’t know how to go on without him. But all amusement aside, Tracy had to admit deep down that she had been feeling the same. She had missed Brett’s presence. Missed to admire his well-defined body, a sight that always made her swoon over him even more. In her eyes, Brett was the epitome of pure perfection, a gift to humankind sent from above and it was definitely a bonus that he knew exactly what kind of effect he had on other people.

The dark haired girl not only marveled at his absolute gorgeousness but she also was smitten by his invincible self-confidence. To say that she hadn’t been surprised when Brett had approached her today, completely out of the blue, would be the understatement of the century. Sure, there had once been more between the two of them but usually, Brett wasn’t one to get back to play with a toy he had already enjoyed in the past.

“A favor?” Tracy repeated slowly, her voice sounding intrigued, a playful fire blazed in her eyes as she arched an eyebrow at Brett in question.

“Yes. Are you going to help me?” The handsome captain asked, a dashing smile crossing his lips that made her knees go weak by just looking at it. She could tell, that he already knew he had won her over the moment the smile had lit up his gorgeous features, it was like a magic spell, never failing its desired effect.

“Always,” Tracy answered immediately, not having to think about it twice. Brett’s hotness and his smile had her already under his spell. How could she say no to such a blinding sight of sheer artistry? The dark haired girl swirled a loose strand of hair around her finger in a flirtatious way before she continued. “What do I get in return?” She couldn’t help but ask, the hope of getting another chance with the god in front of her clearly evident in her voice.

The smile on Brett’s handsome face turned into a smug smirk, his posture victorious.

“You can have everything you want if you manage to execute the favor I’m asking you for flawlessly. It is of great importance to not make a mistake, do you understand?” He said, his voice sounding hot and intimidating at the same time, causing shivers running down Tracy’s spine, making her want the blond boy even more.

“I do understand. What’s the favor?” The dark haired girl asked, her eyes hanging on his lips every time he ushered a word. Only him speaking alone charmed her completely, his voice being the most addictive sound she had ever heard. Just listening to him talk forever would be enough to make her do everything he wanted her to do in a blink of an eye.

Without answering her, Brett’s glance shifted around the school halls attentively as if to make sure no one was around to eavesdrop on the secret he was about to let her in on, making Tracy feeling special.

When he was sure no one was looking their way, he grabbed Tracy by her hand and dragged her to the nearest empty classroom with him.

Excitement spread over Tracys features and she felt a spark of electricity where Brett had touched her skin. She watched him close the door behind him soundlessly before he turned back to her. The sudden loss of contact when he let go of her hand didn’t harm her excitement in any way.

“An empty classroom and only the both of us, I like where this is going…” she said in a playful manner, watching Brett with hungry eyes.

“I can tell,” the blond god grinned but he didn’t make a move, on the contrary, he nonchalantly reminded her of the favor instead.

“But remember, you won’t get rewarded until you’ve fulfilled the favor.”

Tracy sighed a little disappointed even though she had already expected that to be the condition. It was Brett, after all, he never did anything unless he had thoroughly enjoyed his own benefits to the fullest first.

“Ok, I get it. Do you care to elaborate now? What’s the mysterious favor?” She asked, before flopping herself down on one of the desks, crossing her legs and looking at him in anticipation.

Brett seemed to only have waited for the question to be asked again, as if on cue he pulled out a red apple from his jacket, presenting it to Tracy, holding the red shiny fruit in front of her face.

“Do you see this? Do you know what this is?” Brett asked slyly, his eyes looking at the apple like it was the most valued treasure the world had ever seen.

Tracy arched an eyebrow in disbelief, a little taken aback because of all the things she had expected, Brett shoving an apple in front of her face clearly wasn’t one of them.

“Well, it’s an apple…” Tracy declared lamely, not really sure where this conversation was going. Did Brett really think that she didn’t know what an apple looked like or why did he ask her such an idiotic question?

“Wrong,” Brett scoffed almost looking appalled at her outrageous statement before he regained his posture again and elaborated.

“This is not just an apple. It is the key to regain my rightful place as the hottest one in this school again!” He exclaimed determined, stroking the apple’s waxed surface, a devious grin tugging his lips.

Tracy gave him an irritated look as she tried to process his words that made absolutely no sense to her.

“What do you mean ‘again’? You are aware that you’re already the hottest guy here, aren’t you? The dark-haired girl looked at him genuinely confused.

“Right…” Brett said slowly almost a little flattered that Tracy still thought so, even though his mirror had told him otherwise. But it was only Tracy, her words didn’t really matter to him. He needed his source of compliments to tell him those exact words otherwise they meant nothing.

“Although, I have to admit that Theo Raeken is kind of good looking as well…” She suddenly interjected after thinking for a short moment.

Hearing those dreadful words suddenly leaving Tracy’s mouth almost caused Brett to drop the apple in shock. His eyes widened comically and he was clearly taken off guard.

“What?” He asked in utter disbelief and he felt his anger already starting to boil in his veins. This was blasphemy. Why the fuck would Tracy find Raeken hot? She must have clearly lost her ability to see. It was bad enough already that his mirror was praising Liam all the fucking time but hearing Tracy say that someone else was also hot made his whole world shatter, especially since it evoked a memory he had already forgotten about. A memory of his mirror saying Theo’s name once before it suddenly had stopped. Even though the mirror had been mistaken back then, it had still been outrageous. Especially now that Tracy was bringing Raeken’s fucking name in too.

Tracy’s lips twitched suspiciously before she burst into laughter, making Brett’s blood boil even more. He couldn’t see what was so funny about her telling him that Theo Raeken was good looking.

“Chill, Brett. I was only joking but you should have seen your face. It was hilarious!” Tracy giggled, her eyes glistening mischievously. She couldn’t believe that Brett had actually fallen for it. Sure, Theo wasn’t bad looking at all, but he wasn’t even remotely close to being able to compare with Brett’s outstanding beauty.

Brett huffed in annoyance, clearly not amused that Tracy had been playing him like that but he decided to not hold a grudge against her because of it. He still needed her to do his dirty work, he could push her off a cliff later.

“That wasn’t funny” He scowled, his pride still deeply wounded. “But back to the favor. I don’t have all day to joke around. I want you to slip this apple into Liam Dunbar's lunch.” He cut straight to the chase, not wanting to waste any more time.

“I’m sorry…” Tracy said ruefully after she had realized her joke hadn’t been exactly well received by Bett but she was glad, that he didn’t lash out at her and just got straight back to business.

“How am I supposed to do that?” She looked at Brett expectantly but he didn’t elaborate on how she should put it into action, knowing it was better not to ask for the reason why.

Brett just shrugged. “I don’t know. Impress me!” Was all he said while he thrust the apple into Tracy’s hand. She took it, holding the fruit in her perfectly manicured fingers.

“Oh and remember, no mistakes!” He added cryptically, before he vanished out of the empty classroom, leaving Tracy and the apple behind.

The dark haired girl still stared at the open door even though, Brett had already vanished before her eyes fell back on the apple in her hand. Sighing deeply, she couldn’t help but wonder how she was supposed to set Brett’s strange request into motion but she knew she had to figure out something. She could only hope the odds would play in her favor somehow.

 


 

Liam was glad that his Mom had apologized to him, and when David had come home from his shift at the hospital that night, he hadn’t even needed his stepdad to repeat the same things again, had just given him a sad shake of his head and let the man wrap him in a bear hug. Liam didn’t feel great now. Not even good, but how could he? The best thing that was possible at the moment was to see the things that weren’t terrible in his life, the people that he would keep fighting for, the hopes he wasn’t ready to give up.

Call him an idealist, a hopeless romantic even, but Liam believed that there was a light at the end of the tunnel even when he currently couldn’t see it. He believed that if only he survived it, there would be better times waiting for him once the fight for his life would be over. It couldn’t keep going forever, after all. Not even Brett Talbot was capable of such things.

His nap that afternoon had helped. His Mom had helped. Looking through a photo album of him and Mason as kids had helped, too, in a strangely twisted way. Pain could be therapeutic. Crying had helped, letting it all out, although Liam had believed it already had all been out, had felt empty. But as it turned out, empty and full to the brink were almost the same things sometimes. Almost.

One thing helped more than the others, or rather, one person. Liam had gotten so used to him always being there that maybe, over all of the heartbreak, he’d forgotten to appreciate it for a moment. It was hard to see the bigger picture sometimes, through tears and darkness.

But the bigger picture that was his life included Theo, and that was a fact.

“I don’t know where I’d be right now without you,” Liam admitted when they were climbing up the stairs on their way to Liam’s bedroom after dinner, the clattering of plates that David was cleaning fading to the background. Theo’s hand in his own felt like an anchor to a safe haven. He hadn’t even asked Theo to stay, it was just a given. Theo wouldn’t sleep until Liam would have drifted to at least a peaceful slumber.

Theo looked at him and smiled. If Liam made a list of all the reasons why he hated his life and one with all the reasons why he loved his it, then one of them would be considerably longer. And the other one would contain Theo’s smile right on top.

“I don’t know where I’d be without you either, Ocean Eyes,” Theo replied, squeezing his hand lightly. “Probably not here, since this is your house and all.”

Liam couldn’t fight it. He really wanted to. It had to be against some kind of rule, to be laughing so soon after his best friend had died, right? The thing was, Liam couldn’t hold it in. Theo was so ridiculous. And pretty. And so damn good to him. And hot. And more than he ever thought he’d get. Liam laughed just for a moment, but he could tell by the look on his face that Theo took enormous pride in causing that laugh, and he couldn’t be mad about it.

“You’re such a dork,” he mumbled shyly. Theo was a dork, but he was also his… or was he?

“If you think that insults me,” Theo declared, “I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you. Not when you say it like that.”

Liam could barely concentrate on Theo’s words as the other boy sat down on his bed without letting go of Liam’s hand, the bedroom door closed behind them, but he tried.

“Like what?” He wanted to know, standing in front of Theo, looking down into beautiful, green eyes, his thumb playing around with Theo’s. It was almost like a part of him was soaring a bit above the thick carpet he was standing on, like the tragedy that reality had been trying to force on him couldn’t touch him for a moment, because Theo was there to protect him from it.

“Like that, ” Theo said, nodding at Liam’s face. He couldn’t recall ever catching the other boy blushing. That was usually his part, wasn’t it? Or did Theo maybe have the same butterflies fluttering around in his stomach, making a mess in his dizzy head? Was it that?

He stepped closer until his legs were touching Theo’s and the other boy had to crane his neck to meet his eyes.

“Like what?” He asked again, this time only whispering.

Theo swallowed. His knee was pressing against Liam’s, or maybe it was Liam who was seeking the contact.

“Like it’s only half of the sentence you actually want to say.”

Liam loved this. He wasn't sure what exactly they were talking about. Theo’s answer was even vaguer than what he’d said before. They were holding hands. They were pressed firmly together in Liam’s room, with his bed right there. Theo wasn’t there because he was a nice guy, was he? And Liam certainly didn’t want him to be there just out of pure goodness of his heart. He wanted a little something more.

Neither of them was saying it. Not in those words, and yet, somehow, on a deeper level, they understood.

“What’s the second half?” Liam asked. He’d never been so tired of being weak before, but finally, for once, in that very moment, it seemed like he could do something about it. Like he only had to reach out and the power would be his.

Liam lifted his free hand and placed it on Theo’s shoulder carefully, his fingertips touching the delicate skin of his neck.

Liam never made the first move. Theo did. Always. Theo came over, Theo picked him up for school, Theo talked to him. Theo took his hand, Theo wrapped his arms around him, Theo let his lips brush over Liam’s cheek. But not this time.

This time, Liam got over himself and stood between Theo’s knees, leading the hand that he was holding to his hip before cupping Theo’s face.

“Tell me what the second half is.”

“Mine or yours?”

“Mine first,” Liam decided. Their eyes were locked, blue and green crashing into each other like the ocean hitting the shore of a blooming island.

“You want me to kiss you,” Theo answered. His voice had always made Liam weak, but it had never before shaken him to the core the same way. A shiver ran up his spine. It was nerve-wracking and beautiful at the same time.

“Yours?”

“I want you to kiss me.”

Who knew that fear could feel so sweet, Liam thought as he leaned down. Theo wrapped his arms around Liam’s waist and pulled him closer, Liam held his face like the greatest, most valuable treasure in the world.

They kissed.

Not like in a fairytale, or a movie or some other bullshit. Just like two boys in love. They pressed their lips together carefully, a little nervously at first, trying out how the other one would react to the pressure. Liam kissed Theo and Theo kissed Liam back and it tasted fantastic. Theo’s lips were soft, the beard stubble scratchy against Liam’s chin, his breath warm, the noises coming from him almost not audible, but so, so precious and sweet.

Liam could feel his own body melting in Theo’s arms, his entire world narrowing down to the boy beneath him. To the fact that he was wanted. The feeling was addictive. He couldn’t get enough.

Every time they broke apart to breathe, they grinned against each other’s lips. Theo pulled Liam even closer and Liam sunk down on his lap, knees at either side of Theo’s hips. They’d never been so close before, but it wasn’t enough for Liam.

He kept kissing Theo and tugging at the collar of his shirt, getting greedy pretty damn quickly until he had them toppling over, Theo falling down on his back and Liam landing on top of him. They shared one look and then burst out in laughter.

“Damn, Liam,” Theo breathed into his face.

“Damn, Theo,” Liam said.

Before that day, Liam had been kissed one single time in his life. By the time he was slowly drifting off to sleep, he couldn’t possibly count the kisses anymore. Not those on his lips, not those on his cheeks or his forehead or on top of his hair or both of his hands. They hadn’t gone any further than that, and it hadn’t been the right time for that.

Too many things were still going wrong in Liam’s life. His heart was still bleeding from too many wounds. But as he snuggled up against Theo’s strong chest and let himself fall into unconsciousness, Liam was confident that their time would come, and that it would be worth the wait. Theo would be worth it. Without a doubt.

After all, a proper fairytale almost always had a hero. A knight in shining armor. And Theo was the hero of his story, Liam was sure of it.

 


 

Tracy was observing Liam Dunbar from afar, trying to watch for the perfect opportunity to slip the apple into his lunch. But finding the right moment was a lot harder than she had imagined, especially since it seemed to be a physical impossibility to even catch the boy alone. Every time she saw him wandering the halls, he was accompanied by Theo Raeken, who was following him around like a shadow, always being around to keep possible predators at bay.

The dark-haired girl groaned in frustration, it was ridiculous. Sure, she could understand where Theo was coming from. Too many terrible things had happened to Liam since he had transferred to Devenford Prep, but in all honesty? Raeken’s protective instinct was massively exaggerated. Tracy doubted that something could happen to Liam at school. It was supposed to be a safe place after all. Devenford Prep was even known for its exemplary solidarity and its anti-violence and harassment policy and most of the students were playing by the rules. There was absolutely no reason to worry and Raeken definitely took his role as Liam’s personal watchdog way too seriously for her liking.

She really needed to catch him all by himself somehow, otherwise, there would be no chance in hell for her to accomplish her mission to plant the apple in Liam’s lunch. Tracy leaned against the wall, her eyes never leaving Liam and Theo who were talking to each other in front of Liam’s locker, getting their books for the next period.

While watching them, she played with the red apple in her hand. Repeatedly throwing it up the air and catching it every time it fell back down before she realized that it probably was unwise to draw so much attention towards her. It definitely wasn’t the best move when she was trying to be sneaky, so no one could backtrack anything to her if her actions would cause any harm.

Stopping in her movement altogether, she fixated the delicious fruit in her hand curiously, suddenly starting to wonder why in the seven hells Brett had asked her to slip it into Liam’s lunch specifically? It didn’t really make any sense to her but she knew it wasn’t her place to ask any questions. The handsome captain probably wouldn’t have told her what his intentions were anyway but she had a feeling that it wasn’t something good. But even knowing that didn’t stop her from taking part in whatever evil scheme Brett had contrived. She wanted to impress him no matter what and if it meant that she had to execute this stupid favor somehow, she wouldn’t hesitate a second.

Besides, Brett would find somebody else to help him in the blink of an eye, so there really was no point in denying him her assistance. If somebody was going to enjoy Brett Talbot’s gratitude, it was going to be her and no other stupid bitch.

The only thing she had to do now was to figure out how she could implement her task. She hated it when things didn’t go according to plan. Hated to put too much thought and work into it. Patience wasn’t exactly one of the attributes she was good at and Theo never leaving Liam’s side was absolutely wrecking her nerves.

Highly annoyed, Tracy narrowed her eyes because she hadn’t gotten a chance to strike yet. Theo and Liam seemed to be glued together, it was a disaster. The dark-haired girl was on the edge, the lack of opportunities was starting to make her nervous. What was she supposed to tell Brett if she didn’t manage to put the stupid apple into Liam’s lunch? That’s something she really wasn’t looking forward to, so she could only hope she would get a chance soon. With a deep sigh, she watched as Liam and Theo were walking around the corner, vanishing out of her sight completely and decided to try again as soon as lunch break would come. Lunch seemed to be the perfect location for switching an apple and so she waited but her chances got destroyed once again.

Liam didn’t even show up to lunch at all. Neither did Theo. They were probably both avoiding the crowded cafeteria and eating somewhere else. Tracy pursed her lips into a thin line as her eyes were wandering around the place searching, but there was no use. They weren’t there and didn’t show up during the whole break.

But then lacrosse practice came and with it the perfect opportunity to catch Liam all alone. Even though the boy was still part of the team, he was far from being in any condition to participate in practice again. It would probably take a few more weeks for him to be fully recovered and that was exactly what was playing in her favor excellently. Tracy couldn’t even believe her luck when Liam and Theo finally parted their ways. Theo going to Lacrosse practice and Liam into the direction of the library.

Tracy’s features brightened up the moment she saw Liam walking into her direction, alone, books in one hand and his lunchbox in the other. If she wanted to do it, now was be the right moment.

The dark-haired girl quicked her pace, bumping into Liam’s side accidentally on purpose, causing him to drop his books and his lunch box, which all scattered across to the floor immediately.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” Tracy said innocently, giving Liam an apologetic look. “I wasn’t paying attention where I was going. Are you okay? I didn’t hurt you, did I?” She continued, her voice laced with fake worry.

Liam seemed shell-shocked and she could even see fear momentarily crossing his face before it was replaced by something that seemed close to relief. It was obvious that she had scared the shit out of him and she had to admit that she actually felt a little sorry for attacking him out of nowhere just like that. For just a second, Tracy wondered why Brett would even want to mess with Liam. She doubted that he’d ever done anything bad to the lacrosse captain. But who was she to question his ulterior motives?

It took the boy a whole moment to compose himself before he was finally able to free himself from the frozen stupor he had been in.

“It…it’s alright, I’m okay,” he stammered, his voice a little shaky even though he tried to tell himself that Tracy wasn’t of imminent danger to him. She was just a fellow student, always being nice to everyone. He had seen her around a few times but he had never had the chance to talk to her before for obvious reasons. Not being able to attend school a lot, had made it literally impossible for him to get to know people better, to make friends.

Sudden movements and noises still scaring him and making him all jumpy weren’t exactly helping either. Tracy running into him had shaken him up a little more than he’d liked to admit, making him feel so much more assailable again all of a sudden. The fear had never gone away completely, it was a part of him now and he had learned to accept it, to live with it, but it was easier when Theo was around. But now he wasn’t and that made things a lot worse.

“Thank god, I’m really glad about that. Here, let me help you….” The dark-haired girl ushered quickly, getting down to collect Liam’s stuff from the floor before he was even able to react himself. He then followed her example and started to pick up his books while Tracy focused on the lunchbox. She picked it up while having her back turned towards Liam, so he couldn’t see what she was doing.

Tracy opened the lid quickly, her eyes blazing joyfully as she caught sight of an apple in it. This was perfect. Even better than she had hoped for. Replacing an apple was easier than slipping one into his box when there hadn’t been one before. It would have been highly suspicious then but like this? There was no way Liam would even realize. She couldn’t believe her luck. The odds definitely were playing in her favor this time.

Quickly, she switched the apples, closing the lid and turning around to Liam, a bright smile twitching on her lips as she held the lunch box out to the boy. He took it.

“Thank you” He said trying to smile as well, even though it didn’t completely reach his eyes, his voice being steady again.

“You’re welcome. Again, I’m really sorry. I’m vowing to pay more attention to where I’m going next time. See you,” Tracy answered, the same smile still plastered on her face before she walked away, leaving Liam behind.

As soon as she was out of his sight, a satisfied grin spread across her face. She had done it. She had planted the apple in his lunch like Brett had asked her too and she couldn’t wait to tell him the great news and finally get her reward.

 


 

Lacrosse practice had been his own personal hell. Apparently, Brett had declared open season on him, turning him into a fox being chased mercilessly on the field by a bunch of wild hunters that were out to get him. He had gotten shoved around, deliberately tripped to the ground on different occasions and at some point, someone had even thrown a full water bottle at his head, he only barely managed to duck out of the way of.

His teammates weren’t longer ignoring his entire existence anymore but now that they were acknowledging him again in the worst way possible, he wished he could just turn invisible again.

Nolan knew that he should probably quit Lacrosse, now that he seemed to be on the entire team’s hit list but at the same time, he didn’t want to give them the pleasure of getting rewarded with exactly the reaction they were trying to provoke. They wouldn’t get rid of him that easily. Also, there was still a mission he was on.

The blonde boy was standing in the locker room, alone. Almost everyone had left already, while he had stayed back for a reason. Now that Brett was finally back at school, looking as hot and flawless as ever, it was finally time to set Tara’s and his plan to steal the handsome captain’s magic mirror into motion.

Sighing deeply, the blonde boy slowly lifted his jersey, revealing his bruised and battered torso that displayed what toll practice had really taken on him. Flinching, he looked down, brushing his fingers carefully against his broken skin. A barely audible hiss escaped his mouth as he was tracing them alongside his purple-colored skin, before the let go of the fabric of his shirt, letting it cover the only evidence of his misery again.

Chewing on his lip, his eyes started to wander around the locker room cautiously to make sure he was indeed alone. He couldn’t risk there being any witnesses who would prevent him from getting what he had come for. It was too important. It was a matter of life and death, after all, he couldn’t fuck up, not again. Liam’s life was depending on it and he surely didn’t intend to let him down, not after what he had done to him in the woods.

Nolan shuddered, just thinking about it made him want to throw up. He knew that doing the right thing now wasn’t going to miraculously heal his guilt-ridden soul or excuse his actions in any way but he could at least show that he was trying to be better.

His ears perked up at the sound of the water rushing coming from the showers, indicating that Brett was still where he expected him to be at the very moment. Nolan was aware of the handsome boy’s extensive styling routine. He could even tell with the accuracy of a clockwork how long it would take exactly. Having spent so much time with him was finally paying off.

Nolan inhaled deeply before he sneakily approached Brett’s locker. For a moment he was just standing in front of it, staring at the dark-grey colored door which’s old paint was already coming off in curls and where overdramatic love declarations were engraved in, before he reminded himself of the mission he had to accomplish.

With shaky hands, he carefully opened the locker, the door giving a painful creak as it finally sprung open. But instead of being graced with the mirror he had been looking for, he was met by a bunch of apples that were falling out of the locker, almost hitting him in the process.

Startled, Nolan yelped and jumped back a little, causing the apples to tumble to the floor loudly.

Fuck, the blonde boy thought, looking shell-shocked at this unexpected turn of events. This hadn’t been part of the plan. He could only hope the crash hadn’t been loud enough to alert Brett, who was still showering.

Nolan looked at the mess he had created frowning deeply, raking through his brain to find an explanation for Brett’s unexpected and strange obsession with apples. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t think of a single reason as to why the handsome captain would hoard apples in his locker. This didn’t make any sense at all.

He picked up one of the apples, turning the shiny red fruit in his hands, examining it closely. It really looked incredibly delicious, making him realize that it hadn’t been the best idea of him to skip lunch altogether.

For a moment he was even considering to take a bite just to find out what it would taste like. But could he really risk endangering his mission just because his stomach was growling and begging for something to eat? Nolan stared at the apple in his hand intensively and then his gaze fell to all the others scattered on the floor. There were so many, he was pretty sure Brett wouldn’t even notice if one of them went missing, but on the other hand, he didn’t really have time for a little lunch break, not when he was so close in stealing the mirror and accomplishing his task.

Before he could complement any further about what he should do, the apple was suddenly slapped out of his hand forcefully, causing Nolan to almost jump out of his skin in the process. Not being able to defy gravity, the read fruit fell to the ground, rolling across the floor only to be stopped by a wall it collided against.

The blonde boy whirled around, his heart racing at tremendous speeds, thumping heavily against his chest, his eyes widening when he realized who was standing right in front of him.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Brett snarled dangerously, his blue eyes blazing with anger as he was staring daggers at the blonde boy, clearly not amused to catch him in front of his open locker.

Nolan paled, taking in the handsome boy’s appearance, genuinely wondering how Brett had gotten dressed so fast. He blinked irritatedly, not getting behind it. He had been so sure, he would have more time. Brett usually took ages to get ready, why didn’t he this time around?

“Aren’t you supposed to be showering?” The moment, the dumb words had left his mouth Nolan already wished he could take them back. He mentally facepalmed himself at his own idiocy. Way to not make himself any more suspicious.

A twisted smile crept its way to the gorgeous Brett’s face, swirling around his perfectly shaped lips before a dark chuckle escaped them that had a light mocking touch.

“You’re not wrong, but I decided to cut my styling routine a little short,” Brett explained, his voice cold. “I’m not dumb, Nolan. In fact, I’m very observing and I knew you were up to something when I saw you roaming around the locker room earlier.”

Nolan didn't know how to respond to this. Brett had just caught him red-handed, so any explanation was kind of redundant, he thought. He was only going to make a fool out of himself, possibly getting so distracted by Brett’s admittedly still blindingly beautiful appearance that he wouldn’t even get proper words out. Lucky him that Brett loved hearing himself speak a lot anyway.

“So you got behind the power of my mirror at last, huh?” The taller boy said, standing so closely in front of Nolan that all he could see were tense shoulders and a clenched jaw. The posture certainly didn’t fail to have its intended threatening effect on him.

Nolan nodded shyly, wondering what this meant for him. Somebody walking around with the knowledge of Brett’s secret couldn’t be to the guy’s liking, as he assumed. But if your name being called by the mirror was enough to make Brett try to assassinate you, then what was Nolan in for now? Did he have to die now, too?

“Funny, don’t you think?” Brett smiled. Smiled, seriously? It made Nolan’s skin crawl. “All those years that you followed me around like a pathetic little puppy, and you never got it. I didn’t even try to hide anything from you. And I didn’t have to. You only saw the best in me anyway. Does it sound weird if I tell you I miss that a little? They all want me, Nolan, but I think you were the only one who’s ever really wanted me because you thought I was truly good.

“No,” Nolan pressed out through gritted teeth, “don’t find it funny at all.”

“Maybe you will,” Brett shrugged nonchalantly. “Maybe once my genius plan has been put to execution, you’ll see the beauty of it. You’ll understand the meaning behind all these apples and you’ll be impressed by how much effort I’ve put into creating them.”

“What do you mean, creating them?” Nolan wanted to know. He’d had a hunch that something was wrong with so many apples tumbling from Brett’s locker, but there were still a few puzzle pieces missing for anything to make sense to him.

With that typical smirk on his smug face, Brett grabbed one of the pretty red fruits and held it out for Nolan to take a close look at it. “They’re not just apples,” he declared, pride resonating through his voice, “they’re poisoned apples.”

Nolan sucked in a breath. It was almost too much of a cliché to be believable, to think that Liam was supposed to die from a poisoned apple, but maybe that was exactly what made it so dangerous.

“That’s right,” Brett nodded. Nolan loathed the sparkle that was visible in his blue eyes as much as he’d once adored it. “I’m not just about those irresistible looks, Noleyboy. I’ve got brains, too. And I’ve decided to use them. This time, there’s no escape for that ridiculous excuse of a boy anymore, I’m telling you. He’s had his fun at Devenford Prep, and he’s cost me considerably more nerves than anybody else so far, I guess I’ll give him credit for that. But that shit ends now.”

Nolan was almost speechless. He felt like a kid stubbornly stomping its foot, but it was the only thing that came to his mind, so he tried to sound especially spiteful as he said, “Liam’s never going to eat any of your stupid apples.”

Brett only laughed at that, which truly and thoroughly concerned Nolan. “Who knows, maybe he already has…”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“You’re a liar!”

“Oh yeah?” Brett replied. He was entirely too relaxed while talking about this, which was freaking Nolan out big time. “Tell me Nolan, if I was lying, would I be stupid enough to just let you go now?”

Again, a dumbfounded “What?” was all that Nolan could come up with. Brett couldn’t possibly be serious? Letting him go just like that? He almost couldn’t believe it. Why would he spare him when he was out to kill everyone else who was getting in his way? But no matter how hard he tried, Nolan couldn’t figure out the reason why.

With a winning smile, Brett took a step back and gestured towards the door leading outside of the locker room. “You’re free to leave,” he told Nolan. “You’re not even important enough to this story to fear you, You're just a stupid little boy. What damage could you possibly do anyway, huh? You’re not going to change the outcome of this showdown between me and Dunbar. Never. You hear me?”

Nolan’s fingernails were digging into the skin of his palms, anger welling up inside of him. He was so sick of it. Not even now that he’d switched sides and betrayed Brett, not even after all the courage it had cost him to go to the sheriff’s department and turn himself in, to jump into a dark lake and pull a drowning person out of it, to go to the hospital to face both Liam and Theo, to team up with Tara, not even now was he more than a shadow following the acting parties of life behind, at least not to Brett.

He felt like getting really mad, like throwing a tantrum and kicking something, maybe smashing a window with a lacrosse stick or at least do some damage to Brett’s flawless face before the other guy could kill him with his bare hands, but in the end, Nolan did nothing but turn around and march away, not looking back over his shoulder, no matter how much self-restraint it cost him. He was done with Brett. Done.

The blonde boy almost expected that Brett would attack him from behind, as soon as he had turned his back toward him. But nothing like that happened. For some unexplainable reason, he'd just let him go like he had said he would.

Nolan knew he had to hurry, that he couldn’t lose any more time. He needed to save Liam’s life. Let him know about the danger that was awaiting him in the shape of a harmless fruit. He could only hope that he wasn’t too late already.

 


 

Theo was positively exhausted after lacrosse practice. It felt great to be running across the playing field with a clear goal in mind, an opponent breathing down his neck who wanted nothing more than to stop his attack, and yet Theo knew he was faster than all of them if only he tried hard enough. He enjoyed the rush of adrenaline that came with playing. He loved that moment in front of the goal, that game between him and the goalie when the only thing left to do was to pick a corner and then show Coach and his teammates what strength and accuracy he’d got.

Truth be told, with Liam still not recovered enough to play lacrosse again, it felt like something was missing by his side, in his back. The other guys were good, too, but Liam had a very calm and strategic way to read a game, could eliminate an opponent with a twitch of a muscle. Theo missed him. Of course not only because of his lacrosse skills. Not even mainly because of those.

Not even Brett Talbot could take the joy that lacrosse brought him away from Theo. The weeks without the narcissistic captain had been heaven on earth, granting him and especially Liam room to breathe, to walk around school grounds without every inner alarm bell ringing at just the slightest noise or sudden movement.

Nobody knew why Brett had been absent for a while, and if Gabe was the one person who did, then he didn’t let it on. Which was typical for one of Brett’s minions. Better keep your mouth shut if you wanted him to at least have some further use for you. Theo didn’t give a damn.

Theo gulped down about half of his water bottle when Coach let them go, took off his helmet and caught his breath. He remained on the field for a few moments longer than everybody else, because to him, being able to do that, to inhale deeply and consciously feeling his lungs filling up with air, exhaling again and thinking about how easy it was, how good it felt, was something special. Something that he now knew he had to appreciate.

“Raeken!” Coach Finstock bellowed, interrupting Theo as he let the sun shine on his face. “Are you having a stroke or something?”

“Nope,” Theo answered, gathering up his gear and water bottle before he bolted. He also didn’t want to let Liam wait, so he took a really quick shower, threw his clothes back on and got on his way outside. They’d agreed to meet at Theo’s truck in the parking lot, but instead, he almost ran Liam over as he rushed out of the locker room.

“Oh! Hey there, Ocean Eyes,” he greeted him.

Theo loved seeing Liam, but he loved it even more when Liam saw him and it managed to put an actual, genuine smile on the boy’s face. God knew Liam deserved to look like that every once in a while. And dear lord, did he look pretty when he did. Theo had it so badly that sometimes, he had to hold himself back in order not to propose to Liam. No kidding. That was exactly how far gone he was for that boy.

Liam smiled, but he also blushed. “You don’t need to call me that all the time,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” Theo asked seriously. “It’s how I call you. It fits you. Don’t you know the song? I've been watching you, For some time, Can't stop staring, At those ocean eyes, Burning cities, And napalm skies, Fifteen flares inside those ocean eyes, Your ocean eyes.

“Uh, no,” Liam answered, shaking his head. “Never heard that.”

“I’ll show you when we’re home, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Good,” Theo laughed, wrapping his arm around Liam as they walked towards the parking lot. That moment when Liam laid his head on his shoulder was such a rewarding one that he couldn’t stop an idiotic grin from spreading over his face, simply because they must have looked like a couple, like boyfriends, and Liam must have realized, but he didn’t mind. Theo was in heaven. They had survived school, they were on their way home, and they were together. Nothing would ruin their day.

“How was practice?” Liam wanted to know. “Did you miss me?”

“Terribly,” Theo replied. He wasn’t even exaggerating. “But I think it was good. What were you doing?”

“Library,” Liam explained. “I’m afraid I have a whole lot of catching up to do. It’s not like my grades were the best before I spent all this time at the hospital.”

“I’ll help you,” Theo told him, “don’t worry.”

“You know what?” Liam responded. “I don’t. I think I have actually just not worried for like, five minutes or something.”

Theo laughed and squeezed his shoulder. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear that.”

“Yeah, but let’s not push it. I’d rather get out of this place now. Home with you is still my favorite place to be.”

Theo nodded his head enthusiastically. “One hundred percent agreed. Do you happen to know what your Mom’s making for dinner? I’m starving.”

“No idea,” Liam said when they’d finally reached the truck. Theo climbed behind the steering wheel while Liam got into the passenger seat. It was funny how their hands found their way back to each other over the middle console as soon as they were seated and their seatbelts fastened. It had become a thing for them to drive like this, with Theo holding Liam’s hand even while operating the gearshift.

Liam’s touch was igniting a spark of warmth inside of his body that made him feel like home. In that very moment, everything was like it should be. When they were alone together anything else hardly mattered anymore. There was no Brett Talbot who was after Liam’s life. No dark shadows lurking in a corner ready to strike, to kill. No grief, no pain, no fear. Just two boys being in love, being safe from the cruel and outside world just for a while. Theo was quite aware of the fact that the hard times were far from over but he was sure that everything would be ok in the end, as long as they had each other.

“Oh, you know what?” Liam suddenly remembered, letting go of Theo’s hand before he began to rummage through his backpack. “I think I have some of my lunch left.” When he had found what he had been looking for, a triumphant grin spread across his lips, brightening up his face so much, it could easily compare with the sun.

Theo knew he could call himself pretty lucky to have someone like Liam in his life. He was such a cutie, looking after Theo just the way he did after him as well. They were perfectly complementing each other and he was sure that they were just meant to be.

“Here,” Liam said, leaning over and pressing a sweet kiss to Theo’s cheek before holding the remains of his lunch out on his palm, showing it to him.

“How about we share?”, he suggested, his eyes sparkling fondly.

It wasn’t like the thought didn’t cross Theo’s mind when he saw the apple in Liam’s hand. It did, really. He could practically see Stiles’ face, could imagine the exact words that he would use to call them complete fools with, but it was completely ridiculous, right? In the end, they weren’t actually trapped in a fairytale, and Brett wasn’t actually an evil queen or some bullshit, and a simple apple wouldn’t actually harm a person or even kill them. All of that wasn’t real. It couldn’t be.

He looked down, averting his eyes briefly from the street in front of him to give the apple a little once-over before he concentrated on the road again. He had to admit, that the fruit looked delicious. Nice and red and fresh. It’s shiny surface reflecting in the sunlight, intensified its deep red shape even more. Theo’s stomach told him to stop worrying. His brain told him to be careful. And his stupid, stupid heart saw nothing but the beautiful, expectant eyes of Liam in front of him, wanted nothing more than to believe the pain was over, that they were finally heading towards their happy ending.

“You’re too good to me,” he said, chuckling lightly. Theo shook off the bad feeling that was pestering the back of his mind, tuning out its alarming screams that were desperately trying to warn him. He knew that he shouldn’t worry all the time, to stop expecting the worst to happen any second. Brett hadn’t even been anywhere around Liam the past couple of days. Had kept a surprisingly low profile for someone who was so desperate for attention. Even though all of that was a reason enough to make him more alert, he decided that he was just being paranoid. Theo didn’t care about Brett. Not now. He didn’t care where he was in that moment or what he was doing. As long as he was nowhere near Liam, everything was going to be fine.

They were free, at last. Nothing could stop them anymore. Theo simply wouldn’t let it happen. Nothing would come in between them. The previous night had definitely proven that.

Liam shrugged, smiling happily and raising the apple to his mouth, his lips already brushing it when Theo snatched it away from him in the very last second before he was able to take a bite.

“Hey! What the hell?” Liam gasped in surprise, a look of bewilderment crossing his features as he was staring at his now empty hand in utter disbelief before his eyes searched Theo’s, noticing a mischievous glint in them. Liam shook his head at the other boy’s childishness but couldn't hide a fond smile.

“Last one loses,” Theo declared, taking a bite himself, a soft crunch drifting around his ears as an icy sweetness filled his mouth. The apple tasted delicious... until it didn’t.

Until something did come in between them in the shape of an asshole with a huge car, simply cutting Theo off, forcing him to hit the brakes with full force. It was just their luck, right? So of course, he readied himself for a crash, for a loud bang, maybe an explosion even, but it didn’t happen. Instead, the truck had come to a complete standstill, saving them from a possible collusion and a sudden death.

Relief was washing over Theo immediately upon realizing they were okay. That Liam was okay. Just when he was about to turn to the blue-eyed boy, to make sure he was indeed alright, Theo suddenly felt his chest tighten, making it harder for him to breathe, to pump oxygen into his lungs. It took him a whole moment before he even realized what was wrong. That he was choking on the bite be had taken from the apple before. Coughing, he desperately gasped for air. Theo barely registered Liam patting his back, frantically trying to help him to free his airway from the apple bite that was stuck in his throat. The dark haired boy hated the feeling of something being stuck in his windpipe. It felt like dying, although it was just a damn tiny piece of a harmless fruit. It wasn’t supposed to any harm.

The coughing didn’t stop and brought tears to his eyes. He felt light-headed as dizziness was seeping through his body, making his head all fuzzy. Theo blinked as his vision began to blur like a picture made of watercolors getting drenched in the rain. Slowly losing focus, his surrounding became unclear shapes, swimming before his eyes until he wasn’t able to see the world outside of the windshield anymore. It had blurred beyond recognition.

Theo heard Liam calling out his name in panic, soudning more terrified than ever, his voice fading further into the distance with every time until it plunged into silence completely. He was falling deeper and deeper, knowing that when he would close his eyes, he would never wake up again.

Some people say that when you die your whole life flashes before your eyes but it wasn’t like that. Theo didn’t relive any childhood memories nor did he see a bright light or anything remotely close to that, he just saw Liam’s deeply saddened ocean eyes begging him not to leave, trying to make him stay.

Theo tried to fight it, tried to stay awake but his eyelids felt so heavy, he had a hard time to keep them open. There was nothing he could do. Not breathe, not move, not scream. Nothing. His heartbeat getting fainter with every thumping against his chest.

He panicked, he couldn’t leave Liam. Not now, not like that. Not again. Not after everything that had already gone wrong. Simply no. He couldn’t do that to him. But as darkness came, burying him underneath its thick black blanket and his consciousness was slowly fading, he knew that he had lost.

Theo couldn’t believe that he had been so foolish. So stupid to ignore the signs, the connection between Liam’s life and the fairytale. He should have known better. Should have realized they were already into deep. That Snow White and real life had somehow clashed. He should have known that Brett would go indeed so far as to poison an apple and now he was paying the ultimate price for his ignorance.

Time seemed to stop and his world stopped spinning altogether when his eyes fell shut and his limbs went numb the moment his heart gave out.

Liam could only watch in horror as Theo’s body suddenly went slack, the apple he had had still grasped in his hand slipping from his limp fingers.