Actions

Work Header

In These Walls

Chapter Text

Liam rolled over with a sigh. He hated sleeping. What was the point anyway? There was so much he could be doing!

This place was strange. He missed his old house, his old bedroom. It had glow in the dark stars stuck to the ceiling above his bed, so at night he would pretend to be an astronaut, floating through space, until his thoughts floated away into sleep.

His dad had put them there.

There wasn't anything of his old dad here, they'd left that all behind.

Liam didn't like this house. It didn't have his stars and it creaked and groaned when he was trying to sleep.

He scrunched his eyes closed and imagined sheep. It didn't work though. Sheep were boring.

So Liam rolled out of bed and crept to his bedroom door, bringing Mr Teddy with him, skirting round the boxes of his things. He reached up and turned the handle, opening the door a crack. He pushed his face up to the gap, one eye peeking through. The hall was dark, but there was a dim patch of light at the end of it, like there was a light on downstairs, the glow faintly reaching up the staircase. It flickered, like there was someone moving around. Maybe his parents were up!

Liam opened his door and walked down the unfamiliar hallway. He peeked through a gap in the bannister and saw that the light was coming from the kitchen. It dimmed and brightened again, so Liam trotted down the stairs as fast as he could, hand wrapped around the railing, because these steps were different than his old ones, and they left him off balance.

He wandered into the kitchen doorway, itching at one eye and yawning. But he was brought to a sudden stop.

The person in his kitchen was not his mom or dad, not even his old dad.

Mr Teddy fell from his arm.

The person turned.

“The fuck you looking at?” the boy said, turning back to stare out the glass door at the pool.

Liam gasped. “That’s a bad word!” he told the boy. He was a big boy, like his mom told him to stay away from.

The boy’s head whipped round, eyes wide, and the lights flickered.

“What?” he whispered.

“You're not supposed to say that word,” Liam said, crossing his arms. “I’m not even supposed to know that word.”

“You can see me?”

“Yeah.” Liam thought the boy might be stupid. He was staring at him like Liam was the most confusing thing in the world. “Why are you in my house?”

The boy blinked. “It’s my house.”

“Nu-uh! My mommy and daddy bought it!”

“Then it's not your house is it?” the boy said, and his voice sounded mean. The lights dimmed, and the boy’s face slid into shadow.

“Is too!”

The boy scoffed. “It'll never belong to you like it does to me.” The room flashed, bare brick and wooden walls instead of patterned wallpaper. Liam scrubbed his hands at his eyes, and when he opened them again, the room was back to normal.

The boy was closer, but different. Smaller than before.

“You should leave before mommy calls the police,” he told the boy. The boy laughed.

“Police can't do anything about me.” He smiled. It made Liam think of a shark. “Now I think you should run off to bed.”

Liam crossed his arms. “No.”

He heard a tinkling begin in the room. It grew louder as the other boy moved closer to him, and Liam could see the cups and plates out on the counter shaking, like in an earthquake.

The boy was so close now, within an arm's reach.

“Why? Are you scared?” the boy asked, grin growing bigger.

“No, I'm bored ,” Liam said, thinking about going to bed and sleeping. This strange boy was much more interesting, even if he had broken into his house.

The boy blinked, shock on his face. But then his eyes grew dark, his brow furrowed in anger. “You should be, little boy.”

“I’m not little!”

The boy laughed again. “Teeny, tiny, itty-bitty, baby boy.”

“Then you're a teeny, tiny... bittier boy!”

“Your insults suck, baby boy.”

“No! You're just as small as me!” Liam insisted, stepping towards the boy and puffing himself up as big as he could get, staring down at him.

The boy reared back, his face confused. He looked down at himself, spinning away from Liam, running to the glass sliding door that led out to the patio. Everything was rattling now, the cupboard doors, and the windows, and the boxes of stuff that littered the room.

But it all stopped when the boy saw his reflection. He raised his hand to the glass to touch where his face watched him. He looked over his shoulder at Liam.

“What did you do?”

Liam opened his mouth to argue that he’d not done anything, but then-

“Liam?”

Liam span to see his mom at the top of the stairs. “What are you doing?”

“There's a boy mommy,” Liam said, pointing back into the kitchen. His mom came rushing down the stairs, looking past Liam to where he pointed. But she didn't say anything to the other boy, just dropped her head to look down at Liam. “Stop playing games and get back to bed, Liam.”

“But!” Liam looked into the room at the place where the boy had been. The lights stung his eyes for a moment, back to full brightness, and at the door there was… nothing.

“There was a boy, mom! I promise!”

“Ok sweetie, but it's time to get back to bed,” she said, swooping down to pick him up. She let out a puff of air at his weight, but took him back up the stairs as Liam fought off yawns.

“He was big, and then he was little,” he mumbled, as she lay him into bed. She hummed, and brushed his floppy mop of hair back from his face, leaning down to kiss his forehead as he drifted into sleep.

Chapter Text

Liam didn't see the boy at all the next day. But he talked about him a lot, enough that his new dad called the boy “Liam’s imaginary friend.”

His mom said it was a dream, that Liam had been sleepwalking. Liam didn't mind which it was, because they both sounded really cool.

So he didn’t scream that night when he woke up to find the boy (who was still as small as him) at the end of his bed, staring at him. Instead he rubbed sleepily at his eyes, and asked, “what’s your name?”

The boy stared at him for a while longer, so Liam broke the silence.

“I’m Liam.” He held out his hand, because that’s something that grownups did.

“Theo,” the boy finally murmured, but he just looked uneasily at the hand Liam had stuck out towards him, so he dropped it back to the bed.

“Wanna be my friend?” Liam asked. “I don’t know anyone here yet.”

Theo continued to stare at him. So Liam spoke again. “Can you do the shaky thing again? And the lights?”

Theo’s brow furrowed, but he turned his attention towards Liam’s bedside lamp. Slowly the bulb began to glow, it flickered and grew brighter, and then the lamp began to tremor. Liam glanced at Theo, but his expression had grown blank, eyes staring at the light as if he was lost in it. Suddenly the light shone brighter than it ever had before, like a star exploding, before a pop sent the room back into darkness. Theo’s shadowy figure turned back to Liam.

Cool! ” Liam said, grin blossoming on his face. “Can you teach me?”

“Nope,” the kid said.

“Oh, ok.”

They lapsed into silence.

“You really think it’s cool?” Theo asked.

“Yeah! It’s like you’ve got superpowers! Or magic! I wish I had that!”

“No you don’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because… how you get them isn’t nice.”

“Oh. Well maybe I could have some, for a bit, and not have to go through the nasty stuff. Like I’d just use them for 10 minutes, so I could go back in time and say bye to my dad. What you have to do for 10 minutes can’t be that bad.”

Theo’s voice was closer when he spoke again, although Liam hadn’t seen or heard him move in the darkness. It’s like he was sat on the bed next to Liam, even though he hadn’t felt the bed being jostled.

“I can’t go back in time,” he said.

“Can you fly?”

“I guess… kinda.”

Liam let his body fall back onto the bed to stare up at his ceiling. “Then I’d fly. Right up into space so I could see the moon and the stars.”

“I think that would take longer than 10 minutes.”

“A day then, and then I’d give back the magic.”

“It would be cool to see the stars. It’s not dark enough round here to see them properly. And I can’t fly up to space.”

“I’m gonna get some for my room. You can come back and look at them with me and we can pretend we’re in space.”

Theo hummed.

“But only friends can go on space adventures,” Liam added. “Can you be my friend Theo?”

The room was silent. Liam started to feel sad. The first person he’d met here and they didn’t like him. Maybe he wouldn’t have any friends.

But then came a whisper, so quiet that Liam only just heard it. “I guess.”

Liam grinned. “We’re going to be best friends forever Theo.”

Chapter Text

And they were.

Theo returned each night and they whispered in the dim glow of Liam’s lamp (now with a new bulb) until Liam finally succumbed to sleep.

Liam was fascinated by Theo. The other boy was quiet until Liam managed to get him talking. And then he’d often be mean and pick on Liam. He’d call him stupid, and dumbo, and laugh at him. But Liam’s mom said that people were mean when they liked someone but didn’t know how to show it. And Theo did seem strange. He didn’t know who Shrek was and he asked the weirdest questions.

And he was cold . When Liam was close to Theo he got goosebumps on his skin. But Theo didn’t let that happen often, because he didn’t like to be touched. He’d not said that, but every time Liam reached out towards him, Theo would move away. So Liam tried to remember that, because sometimes Theo would leave after Liam got too close. And Liam liked having Theo around, no matter how mean he could be. Theo said things that made him laugh, and when Theo smiled it made him feel good. Well, he didn't like all Theo’s smiles, not the ones like he had done that first night, like a shark about to bite him. But the small smiles that Theo let slip. They didn’t happen often, and that made Liam like them even more.

So Liam would stay up with his new best friend, way into the night, and Liam’s parents began to notice a change in their little boy.

For starters, he took much more waking up in the morning, and would continue to yawn through the day.

For another, he couldn’t stop talking about his new friend. They took him to the park, but he would babble about how much Theo would like this - “oh, would he?” - and Theo had said that - “did he?” - and how boring it was without Theo - “don’t you like spending time with us?”

He would sometimes ignore the other children, or when he didn’t he would loudly proclaim that he already had a best friend - “Liam, sweetie, you can have more than one friend.”

Liam’s mom worried, but her fiancée reassured her that this was normal. Plenty of kids had invisible friends, it was simply his way of coping with all the changes in his life. He’d make real friends, soon enough, and this pretend one would fade away.

Only he didn’t.

Theo hung around her little boy like a bad smell. She would think he was gone, drifting out of Liam’s mind like so many things did, and then Liam would bring him up again.

She didn’t know what to do. What was best for her baby boy? To be comforted by his imaginary friend through all the changes happening in his young life? Or to move into the real world, with real people?

But she took her soon-to-be-husband’s advice, and let things be. He would grow out of it .

Chapter Text

Liam’s mom shouldn’t have worried. Summer came to an end, and so Liam started his new school. And sure enough, after his first day, all he could talk about was Mason.

Much to his mother’s delight, Mason was a real boy .

Theo was not as happy about this new development.

He was sat quietly at the end of the bed. It had become Theo’s spot, and Liam always tried to curl his feet away from where Theo sat, even when he hadn't yet appeared in his room.

Liam jabbered on, telling him how Mason had let him play with his toy plane that shot lasers and everything! Theo just looked down and played with a thread at the bottom of his jeans.

“Theo?”

The boy looked up, startled.

“Yeah?”

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah.”

Liam glanced to the lamp at the side of his bed. There was barely any light coming from it, so little that he could see the little wire burning orange inside the bulb.

“Are you sure?”

The light suddenly blazed, and Liam had to shield his eyes from the glare.

“Mason seems great,” Theo said, but it was in a voice Liam didn't like. Mean and angry. “He sounds like the best friend in the world. I’m sure you’ll have a great time with him. You can go to the park, and play all your baby games like hide and seek and push each other on the baby swings and be best friends forever!”

The light faded as suddenly as it had shone, and it revealed Theo sat on the edge of his bed, his back towards Liam and his shoulders hunched. All Liam wanted to do in that moment was hug his best friend. But he couldn't. Theo wouldn't like that.

“Theo?” Theo twitched at the sound. “Mason isn't my best friend. You are.”

“How can I be when you can't do all the fun stuff with me?”

Liam had learnt shortly after meeting Theo that he couldn't leave the house. Theo said it was because of his magic. Theo couldn't do a lot of things, but that didn't matter to Liam.

“I do do fun stuff with you,” he said.

Theo laughed, like he didn't believe him.

“I do!” he argued. “I could talk to you forever!”

“Because talking’s the most fun thing to do in the world.”

“It is with you,” Liam said, quietly, because he was starting to think that maybe Theo was getting bored of him; that Theo didn't enjoy spending time with him. But when he finally looked up, Theo had turned to look at him, and the light had grown again, a growing glow that illuminated the hope in his face.

“Really?” Theo breathed.

Liam wanted to do something to show Theo how much he really meant it, so he grabbed Mr Teddy and leapt to the end of the bed. He held the bear out towards Theo before he could move away. “Hold his hand with your little finger,” he demanded.

Theo looked at him like he was the craziest person in the world, but he did it, gently wrapping his finger around the bear’s arm.

“What are we doing?” he asked.

“A pinky promise. That we’ll be best friends forever.” Theo looked at him silently. “You have to say it too.”

“Oh! Erm, I pinky promise... that we’ll be best friends forever.”

“A pinky promise is the strongest promise. No one can break a pinky promise,” Liam told him. “So now we’ll be best friends forever.”

Theo smiled, a tiny little lift of his lips, and Liam smiled back.

Chapter Text

Liam lay on his bed, looking up at the stars tacked to his ceiling. They shone dimly in the darkness, and the splatters of glowing paint that his new dad had put between them made it seem like he was looking at a whole galaxy of stars.

He turned his head to look at the boy laid next to him. There was just enough space between them to stop them from touching, but Liam’s hairs stood on end down the left side of his body.

Theo’s eyes were wide as he stared upwards.

“Which one shall we explore?” Liam said.

Theo frowned, his eyes darting from one planet to another, before settling on one in the corner of the room. “That one,” he said, raising his arm to point it out. Liam followed his gaze and quickly found the one he meant. It was medium sized, but one of its points was missing. Theo had made a good choice.

Liam raised his hand to his face. “Crrrrrch. Houston come in. Captain Theo has picked out the next planet we will explore. Crrrrch.” He raised his hand and pressed the imaginary buttons before him. “Beep, beep, boop. It is one thousand and twenty lightning seconds away. Crrrrch. Captain Theo, are there signs of life?”

Theo looked over at him.

“Press the buttons and find out,” Liam whispered. Theo raised his hand slowly, pressing one finger into the air, glancing back at Liam who nodded in encouragement.

“Crrr. It says… Yes there are life signs on the planet.”

“Captain Liam,” Liam hissed.

“Captain Liam.”

“Crrrrch. There are aliens on this planet. We’ll set our guns to stun.” He raised his hand in the air, shaping it like a gun, and moved his other hand in a twisting motion at its side. “Click.”

He looked over at Theo expectantly, until Theo copied the gesture.

“Crrrrrch. Coming into land now. Hold on!” Liam wriggled and jiggled, shuddering as he held an imaginary steering wheel, making whooshing noises.

It made Theo laugh, and he turned slightly to look at the other boy, whose face was crinkled in amusement. Liam smiled back as Theo shook next to him, starting to get the hang of their game.

He brought them to a stop with a screech, throwing himself forward to roll down the bed. He sat up to find Theo staring at him.

“I forgot to put on my seatbelt,” he shrugged.

Theo laughed. “You doofus.” He raised his hand to his mouth with a cheeky grin. “Crrrrch. Houston we landed safely. Captain Liam was thrown from the spaceship-”

Liam gasped and threw himself at Theo without thinking, trying to grab his hand to pull away the radio. But Theo leapt up too, laughing and running away from Liam.

“-because he’s an idiot. But he’s ok, it’s just his brain that’s damaged. But that’s not new. Crrrrrch.”

“Theo!” Liam cried, as Theo drifted up towards the ceiling where Liam couldn’t reach him.

Theo’s grin widened. “That’s Captain Theo to you.”

“Fine, Captain Theo. Get your gravity booster working properly and come back down. We’ve got exploring to do!”

Theo lifted his arm and twisted an imaginary knob, gently floating back down to the ground. Liam was pleased to see that he was learning, was fully in their game, following Liam’s lead and pretending they were actually in space. Sometimes people said Liam’s games were stupid, or they didn’t take them seriously. But Theo did. 

They raced across a desert and fought off a great lion-headed lizard that tried to eat them, before sailing across a lake to reach the jungle at the other side. They were now creeping through it, Theo leading them towards life signs that his sensors had picked up.

It was then that Liam felt it. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, but Theo was across the other side of the room. He turned towards the door. If he strained to hear past Theo’s excited babble, it sounded like something was in the hall, something with rattling breaths and slow steps. Something scratched along the wall. A shadow moved in the gap beneath his door.

“Theo?”

Theo fell silent. Liam glanced back. He was staring at the shadow, horror on his face.

“Theo?” Liam whispered again.

“Get into bed Liam,” he said.

“What?”

“Get into bed and close your eyes.”

Liam stood his ground, fear beginning to gnaw at his belly. “What’s happening Theo?”

Theo finally looked towards him. “Do you trust me?” 

Liam nodded, straight away.

“Then get into bed and pull the covers over your head. Close your eyes. Don’t open them no matter what you hear.”

Liam stared at the other boy. He’d never seen Theo like this. Afraid. Theo - no matter how mean he was being, or what game they were playing - never ever told Liam what to do like this. Like his mom.

“Will you stay with me?” He whispered.

Theo’s expression twisted. “I can’t.” 

And Liam didn’t ask why. Because Theo had different rules to other people, and this sounded like another Rule. So he moved towards the bed, as Theo walked to the door.

“Will you be ok?” He asked, as he lay down, bringing Mr Teddy with him and holding the blankets ready to pull over his head, just like Theo had said.

Theo paused.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” It sounded like a lie.

Theo stared down at Liam, and Liam stared back, wishing he could pull Theo into his bed. But instead he pulled the blanket over his head and closed his eyes.

Liam’s world was silence and darkness. He counted the seconds, and it lasted so long that he almost opened his eyes. But then he started to hear things. Things he didn’t understand. The house creaked and groaned like it was about to cave in around him. He heard inhuman screams and wails, couldn’t tell if the thumping in his ears was the pounding in his heart or coming from outside his room. Lightning crashed and he jumped with each crack, his hands pressing against his ears, but it didn’t drown it out.

And he heard Theo’s voice. Shouting and crying and gasping. He wanted to throw off the duvet and run to help him, just as much as he wanted to run to his mom and burrow under the covers to hide next to her.

But Theo told him to stay in his bed. To keep his eyes closed. So Liam scrunched up his eyes as tears rolled down his cheeks, pressed his hands over his ears and his face into Mr Teddy's fur, imagining that the sound was his spaceship hurtling through the stars, Theo by his side.

Chapter Text

Liam didn’t realise he had fallen asleep, but when he woke up, all the sounds had disappeared. He pulled the covers from his head to find sunlight streaming through his window, like a halo around his curtains.

He blinked and rubbed his eyes, a strange feeling filling him, something like relief and worry, all rolled into one.

“Liam?”

Liam rolled over, and there was Theo.

Liam had never seen him in the daylight before. He looked different, like he was a shadow of himself. Like he was smaller than he had ever been before.

“Theo,” Liam breathed, because he didn’t know what else to say.

The boy was stood by the door, arms wrapped around himself. “Did you open your eyes?” Liam shook his head.

It brought the tiniest of smiles to Theo’s face, but Liam knew it wasn’t a real smile. Not a happy smile or even a shark smile.

Theo turned to leave, but Liam stretched out his hand. “Wait!” Theo turned back ever so slightly.

“Stay with me? Please,” Liam asked.

He thought Theo was just going to disappear, it took him that long to respond, but with a slight nod he moved towards the bed. Liam shuffled over frantically to give him room and lay back on his side, pulling Mr Teddy into his stomach. Theo crawled into the bed and lay on his back, looking up at the stars. They were silent for a long while. Theo staring at nothingness, whilst Liam stared at him.

“We should go to that one next,” Theo said, pointing up at the large star directly above them. “No life signs, just the sea.”

Liam thought it was a good choice.

***

When Liam woke again, Theo was gone. His belly grumbled and so he trotted downstairs for breakfast, hearing his parents in the kitchen.

When his mom saw him she pulled him close, lifting him up to kiss his forehead, squeezing him against her.

“Are you ok mommy?” He asked, holding her back tightly.

“Yes baby... I just had a bad dream.”

Chapter Text

As Liam grew, so did Theo. The years passed, and Beacon Hills became home, his new dad became Dad, and the man who was his biological father faded to memory. He made new friends, and enemies too, but Mason stuck by his side through thick and thin, even though when he said they were best friends, Liam never quite said it back.

And through all this, Theo was a constant in Liam’s life, barring one night every year when the house would screech and groan around Liam’s tightly closed eyes. But then Theo would always return the following morning. He even began to appear in the daytime, although still only Liam could see him. It made Liam feel special; Theo was his . But he knew Theo felt differently, that he longed to leave the house, to play with other kids like Liam did.

So Liam did what he could.

“Happy birthday dear Liam! Happy birthday to youuuuuu!”

Liam took a deep breath and blew out his candles, scrunching his eyes shut and wishing with all his might. I wish other people could see Theo too.

He opened his eyes, hoping to see shock on his family and friends’ faces as they finally saw Theo peering over Mason’s shoulder. But they didn't. They cheered and smiled at him, asking what he’d wished for, eyed the chocolate cake with its eight candles and hurried to thrust presents at him. Through the chaos, his eyes found Theo’s at the back of the room, away from the mass of bodies. The boy sent a small smile back.

Liam forced everyone to play hide and seek after that, because it was a game Theo could kind of join in with. He knew all the best hiding spots and helped Liam search for the others when it was his turn. Liam loved how infuriated Hayden got when he found her again within 30 seconds. Theo found it hilarious too.

And after even Mason was sighing at the thought of playing another round, they changed to charades.

Liam had never seen Theo laugh so hard.

“You look like a constipated dinosaur!” He cried as Liam ran around the room, clucking and flapping his arms which were bent at the elbows.

“Running…bird?” Garrett offered.

“That’s not even a film!” Brett screeched.

“You need to find some more intelligent friends,” Theo said, watching Violet fall from her chair in fits of giggles. “It’s clearly Chicken Run.” Liam would've pointed out that he was pretty sure Theo wouldn't have had a clue if they hadn't watched it last week, but he'd learnt not to talk to Theo in front of other people.

“Chicken Run!” Mason hollered.

“Yes!” Liam shouted, high-fiving his teammate and pretending not to notice the way Theo rolled his eyes.

Liam couldn't have been happier that day. He got a card from his old dad, a spaceship Lego set from his parents, and spent the day with his favourite people, including Theo.

That night he crawled into bed, belly full to bursting and limbs so tired he could barely get under the covers. His mom kissed his forehead, whispering a final happy birthday before turning off the light and closing the door behind her. Liam’s eyes fell closed, but when the darkness changed into a faint orange glow behind his eyelids he forced them to open.

Theo was sat at the end of his bed, staring at him.

“Hey,” Liam breathed.

“Hey,” Theo copied, looking down at his hands in his lap.

“Did you have fun today?”

Theo looked up at him again. “Yeah,” he said. “I did.”

“Good, me too,” Liam said, his brain failing to come up with anything else. His eyes fell closed again as Theo stayed silent.

“Thank you,” Theo whispered. Liam didn't understand, but before he could do anything, Theo continued.

“Happy birthday,” Theo said, his voice even more quiet than usual. Liam opened his eyes to find something laid next to him on the bed. He sat up and peered down at it.

It was small, fitting easily in the palm of Liam’s hand when he picked it up. His eyes widened as he realised what it was, a star with a broken point. It was made from some sort of copper wire, wrapped around and around itself to form the outline of the shape. Liam cradled it gently in his hand, tracing it with a finger.

“It’s nothing much,” Theo said in a timid voice.

Liam looked up at him with huge eyes. “Are you kidding me? This is the best present ever!”

Theo looked like he didn’t believe him, so Liam clamoured on.

“This is our star. You made something for me, and it’s our star! How did you do it? I couldn’t make something like this!”

Theo was looking down at his hands, but there was a smile on his face, one of the ones that Liam was seeing more and more of, what he liked to think of as Theo’s real smile - one that would just appear, that Theo didn’t plan to make. Small. Quickly hidden. Beautiful.

“Thank you Theo,” he said. “This is the best present I’ve ever had.”

Theo looked up at him, eyes wide, mouth open, like he couldn’t quite believe him.

They stayed like that for a few moments, before a wicked grin grew on Theo’s face, the one he’d use when he teased Liam.

“Liar.”

“Pinky promise!”

“Then I guess it’s the best gift I’ve ever given.”

Liam huffed. “I’m never gonna be able to give you anything as good as this." And then his eyes widened in horror. "Wait, when is your birthday?” He asked, hit with the realization that they’d never done anything for it before.

“Don’t worry, I don’t have a birthday.”

What?

Theo just stared back at him.

“But everyone has a birthday!” Liam exclaimed.

Theo shrugged. “I did once I guess. But I don’t remember when it was.”

“Then pick a day, any day, and that’ll be your birthday!”

“I don’t think they work like that Liam.”

“But everyone needs a birthday, so if you don’t remember when yours is, we just need to decide on a day to celebrate. Although not this month, I’ll need time to get a present.”

Liam stared at Theo until he squirmed. Then he muttered, “May 30th.”

It wasn’t until many years later that Liam realised this was the day he moved to Beacon Hills.