“So, how is your sister taking the breakup?”
Hayden turns her head and smiles warmly at Liam.
“She's as good as she can be. Just trying not to leave her alone for too long.” Hayden laughs softly. She turns back to stare at her half sister who is reading a Christmas story to all the younger occupants of Wolftrack Inn's dining room. The young police officer grins at the kids, showing no sign that sheds just broken things off with her boyfriend of 4 years. “If she's alone she starts feeling like she made the wrong decision, when she knows full well that she didn't.”
Liam nods as he stands next to her in silence.
It's hard to say anything about Deputy Clark's situation when Liam had gone down a similar road with Hayden. Comfort and a familiar kind of love was what always drew them back together, and it's not that Hayden ever begged to get back together, it was just that Liam still did very much care about her.
But ever since Derek's cousin moved to town, their relationship was never the same.
That miscreant had wormed his way into Liam's life with his charming, devilish smile, and undeniable wit.
Hayden had instantly seen him as a threat, and with little effort, Theo had poked at every swept over and sloppily patched crack in Liam and Hayden’s relationship. He never made a move, he was never inappropriate, he just simply made it obvious how much the Beacon Hills town sweethearts had grown apart.
Jenna, Liam’s mom and proud owner of the Wolftrack Inn, had been livid. She constantly gave Liam looks when he spent time with their favorite Diner owner’s cousin, silently saying with her eyes that Theo was bad news.
Liam knows that it's because Theo reminds his mother of her as a teenager. Sarcastic, wild, and reckless.
Maybe that's why Liam is so drawn to him. Because his mother is the best person he knows. He cringes hard at the Oepidal psychology behind that.
“You okay, Liam?” Hayden nudges him in the ribs, bringing him back to the present.
“Yeah, no, I'm fine.”
They keep watching Valerie read to the kids, making them giggle here and there with her Santa voice. She looks fine. But then again, those sisters are nothing if not strong.
“Your little boyfriend was in a fight at school today.”
“He what- I mean…” Liam bristles at her teasing tone. He can still hear the underlying bitterness. Theo had been far too instrumental in their break up for her to let it go yet. “Hayden he's not… I'm not-”
“I'm just saying.” Hayden sighs and faces Liam fully, keeping her voice low. She looks over her shoulder quickly and Liam follows her line of sight to find Theo looking at a painting in the corner of the inn, trying to look like he hadn't just been staring at Liam and Hayden. “I tried to help him out and I stopped the fight. He exploded at me. Told me he didn't need help from me of all people, called me perfect and pretty and a lot of other angrily yelled compliments. Then he went off and punched a locker. Dented it too.”
Liam places his palm on his face and rubs away his expression so that Hayden can't see the concern there.
He knows it's useless. They’d been together far too long for her to not know him better than he knows himself.
“I’m well aware that you're not together, Liam.” Hayden laughs. “And after his little outburst, I'm now aware that he doesn't know we broke up again, which means you haven't talked to him in over a week.”
“No. I've talked to him.” Liam huffs. “I just thought it would be better if he didn't know.”
Liam finally looks up at Hayden, a sheepish half-smile on his face.
“Well, he's gonna find out when it gets around that I'm going out with Gabe on Sunday.”
“ Gabe?! ” Liam hisses out, just a bit too loudly. A couple of head turn their way and Liam lowers his voice again. “Hayden, you hate Gabe.”
“No I don't.” Hayden rolls her eyes. “He's just really annoying and I need to get word out that I'm single somehow… I've had this smartypants prep school boyfriend with anger issues since most of these kids met me. And plus… I'm not actually interested in him, but maybe if I go out with him, his best friend who's hopelessly in love with him will finally find his balls and ask him out.”
Hayden sighs and looks back toward the children and her sister.
“This is my life now.” She shrugs. “I date gays until they give into the gay.”
Liam snorts hits her arm with the back of his hand.
“Don't be stupid.” He frowns at her. “I'm not gay.”
“Gay, Bi, Pan, whatever.” She heaves another exaggerated breath. “I get people ready for their relationship with a pretty boy. If I dated Allison she would probably date a guy afterward.”
“I'm kidding Liam.” Hayden smiles at her best friend of over a decade. She loops her arm around his neck and draws him in to place a kiss on his temple. “I don't know what's going to happen, but I know I'll be okay. And so will you. Just… don't expect me to get along with him. He's… I may think your better together, bug I don't like that he took you from me.”
Applause and laughter fills the air as Deputy Clark finishes the book and the parents all run in to get their kids bundled up to go on the scheduled Sleigh Rides.
“Come on.” Hayden giggles, ushering them to the front doors of the inn.
Liam sees a bunch of kids, including Hayden little sister off.
He ushers Hayden into a sleigh a few minutes later, her older sister hopping in with her happily.
Liam helps his mom make sure everyone's taken care of then forces her and Dr. Geyer into a sleigh, smiling at them with a full but pressure-strained heart.
“Forgive me, sir.” Johnny, the farmhand who's hosting the sleigh rides nudges Liam’s elbow. It's awkward because Liam is nearly a foot shorted. He looks down at Liam and frowns in pity. “Your sleigh has to take off, we can't wait for anyone.”
“Oh… oh no, I don't…”
“Sorry, bub.” Theo's voice comes out of nowhere and hops up into the sleigh in front of Liam. “I'm here now.”
Johnny arches a distrusting eyebrow at Theo and then nods on the direction of the sleigh reluctantly.
“Whatever.” Liam inhales deeply then hops into the sleigh. He settles in beside Theo, tightening the scarf around his own neck as the horses neigh and the drivers take off.
They ride in silence for a bit.
Liam would like it. He really would. Except for the awkward silence. He decides it's better to just rip off the bandaid.
“Heard you made a scene at the school.”
“You heard wrong.”
“Why did start a fight with Gabe?”
“I didn't. You heard wrong.”
“Gabe's a jerk anyway.”
“Yeah, he is a jerk. But you're the one hanging around when you hate everyone.”
“Got nothing else to do.”
“Whatever.” Theo shrugs and looks out into the snowy forest. “So, you and Hayden still going strong this time?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“No reason.” Theo fits his gloved hands into his jacket and shrugs his shoulders again. “That's good that you worked things out. She's nice. You uh… you deserve someone nice.”
“Theo.” Liam shifts so he's sitting up a bit straighter. He angles his body toward the boy in question. “Why do you do this? Why do you get into fights and make scenes like this?”
Theo doesn't respond. Liam keeps staring.
“Tell me why you got in a fight with Gabe.”
“He was telling all his little cronies that he was finally gonna get Hayden in his bed this weekend and and show her how much better a straight guy fucks.”
Liam’s jaw drops and he stares at Theo in shock.
“And I walked by and asked him who he was gonna get to fuck her for him since he doesn't qualify after the month he spent giving it to the Holloway kid.”
“Oh my God, you didn't.” Liam gasps. The words from Gabe don't surprise him. Gabe has been jealous of Liam's openness about his sexuality over their teen years. But the idea that Theo would be bothered by them when he hates Hayden does. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Gabe's been in his biphobic, homophobic shame-closet for years. Everyone knows it. That was completely uncalled for.”
“Its your girlfriend they were talking about, Liam.” Theo growls at him. Liam recoils in surprise. “I couldn't stand by and let someone disrespect you like that. I can't… I just wanted…”
Theo looks away, out into the forest.
“You still care?” Liam whispers, shock and confusion still overwhelming him. He feels the words stuck in his throat. “Even if I choose to stay with Hayden, you care?”
“No.” Theo grunts and shrugs his shoulders higher up toward his ears.
“You don't even hate Hayden, do you?” Liam starts to smile and shake his head. Theo grumbles loudly, still stubbornly facing the other direction. “God. I bet you even like her, you're just pissed that she has me so you try and tell yourself that she's a bitch. You know that you guys would be best friends when you moved here if I'd never been a factor. It makes sense. You guys are both-”
“Fine. Fuck .” Theo turns and his eyes are red rimmed and glossy. It instantly wipes the giddy smile off Liam’s face. Theo is panting and his rubs at his eyes with his mittens. “Yes. I care. About her too. And I'm jealous. Yes, Liam, being stupidly in love with you was incredibly inconvenient and fucked up everything because it's shown me that I apparently have a heart. It's … it's important to me that you're happy. I'm gonna have your back, whether you want it or not.”
Theo is staring into his eyes with determination and Liam wants nothing more than to just lean in toward him and take what he wants. But their relationship is so messed up that its hard to figure out if that'll get Liam him his ‘happily ever after’ or a punch in the face.
“I'm not with Hayden.” Liam says, instead. “We broke up for good a while ago.”
Theo looks like the air has been punched out of his lungs. Not in a bad way, really, but so much so that Liam doesn't want to push it. He waits, trying to will as much feeling as he can across the foot separating them in the cheesy holiday sleigh with just a glare.
“Why the fuck are you looking at me like you're constipated?” Theo blurts finally. He fails his hands around. “I didn't do anything. I wasn't trying to break you up!”
Liam rears back in surprise.
“What?” Liam screeches. The horses whinny and the sleigh driver turns back to glare at Liam. Liam nods and raises a placating hand.
“Listen Liam, do not blame me-”
“Jesus, Theo, I don't.” Liam hisses. He leans closer to Theo and grabs his chin with a wet, mittened hand. “I want you. It wasn't a second choice. It just happened. I fell for you because that's just… what happens when you meet someone who gets you like no one ever has before.”
Liam’s gaze narrows as he realizes he has started Theo in on some existential self-loathing spiral. It's to be expected when the kid only listens to Morrissey.
“Theo, I don't get it.”
“Why you can't just do things the easy way.” Liam laughs. “Just be our friend, Theo. God, everyone would like you if you just chose to be nice. We sort of care about you as secretly as you care about all of us.”
Theo stays silent for a moment, then he turns to Liam.
“What's the easy way?” Theo looks at Liam through heavy snowflake covered lashes. “I'm not really used to... easy.”
Liam laughs once more and reaches over to put his gloved hand through the loop of Theo's arm. He scoots closer and cuddles into the tense young man's side.
“We'll work on it. Together. Possibly on a date. But the meantime, I believe that arch we just passed under had some mistletoe hanging from it.” Liam whispers into Theo's ear before pecking him on the check, then leaning his head on Theo's shoulder.
Theo relaxes a tiny bit before pressing closer into Liam's side.
Liam smiles as the horses continue pulling them along.