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Inchworm

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Six months ago, Liam Dunbar sat under the tree in the schoolyard with one of his new friends and told her his fears. Granted, those fears weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been, or as bad as they would get, but while the leaves were still green and they had time to talk, he mentioned Theo for the first time.

“He hates me, and I don’t know why that bothers me, but it does,” Liam sighed, tearing up a piece of grass from the ground and rolling it between his index fingertip and his thumb, eventually ripping it apart. “He reminds me of someone I used to know in Devenford, and I’m not sure I can deal with that.”

While Liam had always been mildly anxious, Kira, the girl who had welcomed him to Beacon Hills High with open arms, stared at the blue sky like she didn’t have a care in the world. An inchworm slowly creeped up Liam’s shoe, and while he waited for a response from the black haired girl, he kicked it off. Stupid bugs. “What was he like?” She asked.

Thinking back to when he was young and easily swayed, he thought of Brett, and how he had made him feel. Theo was different in many ways, one of them being that Theo seemed to hate him all the time and he and Brett were friends, but there was still something that he couldn’t place that drew them together. Brett and Theo were alike, but probably wouldn’t get along...and even if Brett had changed, when Liam knew him, Theo could have beat his ass at anything in a heartbeat.

“I had a crush on him,” Liam said, the answer Kira was waiting for. From where she was leaning against the tree, Kira smiled and nodded knowingly. “And it didn’t go well. I don’t want to like Theo.”

“So don’t like him,” Kira said like it was that simple. That was the thing about Kira; she was so positive and smart, but a lot of the things she said made it seem like she didn’t think about anything more than maybe twice. She was light and breezy, and went along with where the wind took her, right into the arms of the popular group of kids that she didn’t really fit into.

Liam was not light, he was not breezy, and he was so far outside of the popular group compared to Kira that it wasn’t even funny. He was the new kid, the one people generally gave up on once he didn’t break out of his anxious state, as hard as he’d tried. “So...That’s a no-go for Malia, then?”

Liam smirked. “Don’t worry, Kira, you’re safe.”

The bell rang, signaling they all had to go back inside and return to their classes. “Okay, bottom line, if you like Theo, then like Theo. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Except there is,” Liam sighed, getting to his feet. “Crushes never end well. It didn’t with Brett, it didn’t with Malia, and it won’t with Theo.”
Kira, being the positive girl she was, ignored Liam’s negativity. He was right, and he knew it, and from that point forward, he tried to stop himself from getting involved with Theo.

--

He could not, in fact, stop himself from getting involved with Theo.

Something about him just irked him, and it was probably that Theo still hated him. Six months after he had started to actually like him, a lot had happened.

They had had a thing going for awhile, where Theo, Liam, Gabby, and another one of Theo’s friends, Corey, would all work together in English since Theo and Corey were bad at it and Kira and Liam were some of the best in the class. They had a groupchat, and while Liam didn’t always enjoy opening his phone to the random and scary horror threads Theo sent, he was thankful to be a part of something anyway. He considered Corey a friend, no doubt about it, and he and Kira were still going strong, but he was kind of scared to think about what he and Theo were. Theo undoubtedly didn’t pay attention to Liam outside of the classroom, and didn’t spend nearly as much time thinking about him as he thought about Theo. So no, Liam and Theo were never “friends.” They were acquaintances, more like workplace associates. And while Liam just fawned over how tall Theo got since the beginning of the year and how his dark green eyes and light brown hair made his heart beat a little faster, he helped him with his history and language arts and suffered on his own.

He found out that one of his friends also liked Theo, which put a damper on things. Ever since the girl, Kaley, found out about it, they were never really the same. He still sat at the lunch table and listened to her talk about Theo like it was some big secret that she liked him (it was really obvious, she should know that) and rolled his eyes accordingly, but he never brought it up.

Theo and Liam eventually grew apart, and Liam just assumed that he had found out about the crush and wanted nothing to do with him. He often vented to Kira, who at this point didn’t seem to care since Liam talked about it so much, and once again, suffered on his own. If they weren’t friends before, they definitely weren’t now.

Sometimes, things would seem better. Theo seemed to forget about whatever unspoken thing that happened between them, but just like it was with Kaley, once things are out there, it isn’t the same. Theo was causing this year to be one big headache, but he was still hooked on him. He must have said he was quote “fucking done with Theo Raeken” at least twenty times to various people, including his online friends, best friend back in Devenford, Kira, anyone who asked. None of them took, obviously.

So he grew jealous and he grew angry, and grew tired of getting hung up on the same guy who’d never give him the time of day. He was a sad case, thinking about how he was just the stupid new kid, how even Kira, who liked someone else and annoyed the living daylights out of Theo, had a better chance with him than he did. Kira and Theo had been that pair of friends who contrasted in a serious way, and sometimes out of his own spite, he wished the two of them would just shut up. But they had been this way for over ten years in the same school and class. Liam was left with the knowledge that he would never have the same type of connection that Theo and Kira had, with Theo, or sometimes, it seemed like anyone at all.

But the last few weeks were the weirdest.

All of the sudden, Theo was back in his life, and he was mean! Even worse than it had been before when Liam got the silent treatment. Theo had been rude and kind of upsetting before, but Liam couldn’t remember a time when someone he liked was actually mean to him.

“What the hell did I do to him?” He asked one of his friends, one who would listen and commentate on his issues with Theo like it was his job, Stiles. “He’s just...god!”

Stiles kept his thoughts to himself, since he was sure Liam would get upset at him if he did. Isaac, however, didn’t. “He likes you, you dumbass.”

Liam snorted. Many people had tried to tell him this before, but he never listened. “Absolutely not. Next.”

“He does, though!” Isaac insisted. “Look at the facts, Liam. Things have been happening all over the place, you’re just gonna ignore that?”

Liam had to sit and just think about that, because he was right. Well, not about the “Theo likes you” part as far as he knew, but in the last couple of days, things happened.

Instance number one was the time they were on the bus, last week. Theo sat across from his friend Josh, and Josh sat behind Liam, so he could generally hear what they were talking about. It wasn’t that they were talking about Liam (even if they were stupid and loved to talk about Liam, they knew well enough not to talk about him right near him) it was that Theo was always being a nitpicky bitch all of the sudden.

In math class that day, Liam had been paired with Theo to do a presentation on a problem, something Liam didn’t know how to do. He tried not to talk to Theo as much as possible, going so far as to be on the far edge of his seat so he wouldn’t even have to look at the taller boy, but things still went wrong. Liam didn’t know how to do math in general, and he argued with Theo about who was going to present what problem in front of the class. Liam fought hard for his problem, which turned out to be wrong. To make a long story short, Theo was a fucking bitch when it came to showing sympathy, or he really couldn’t tell that Liam was upset.

So he was going to call Mason. Mason was his best friend in Devenford, and he wished every day (especially this one) that he was there in Beacon Hills with him. They’d been through a lot together and he was always up for a good Dunbar rant, so he clicked on his icon and started a facetime call.

“Dude, I have had a day,” Liam sighed when Mason picked up.

“Oh, no, what happened now? Theo again? Listen, I’m in newspaper club right now, so no swearing, be a child of Jesus.” Liam had headphones in, so he didn’t bat an eye. Theo and Mason had never met before, but he might as well know him already.

“Yeah, I’m just-”

“You really shouldn’t be calling people,” Theo said from behind him.

Liam, having already had a bad day because of Theo, turned and gave him an incredulous look. Was he fucking serious? The one thing he said to him all day, and it was telling him to hang up. Liam turned back to his phone and started to talk again. “Anyway, I-”

“Hi Mason!” Theo called over Liam’s voice in the already loud bus. “So, how was your day?” He asked in a singsong voice. Josh had caught on and was playing along too, making random noises and pretending to talk to Mason.

Liam hung up on the call, and looked back at Theo and Mason. “You guys are fucking annoying,” He said under his breath, knowing that both boys could report him to the driver if they really felt like it, but not caring about the consequences. He shot a text back to Mason and apologized, saying ‘sorry, people are annoying’ and sat there angry.

Instance number two was in gym class. They were starting a volleyball unit, and Liam sucked at volleyball, along with math, to say the very least. He couldn’t serve the ball, and he often chose to practice with Stiles, who didn’t take it seriously and never let Liam get any actual practice. So when he ended up on a team with Corey and Theo, he had to watch Theo look at him and talk to him like he was some kind of idiot. In his defense, Liam had never played volleyball before now, and while it looked so easy, it was the hardest thing they’d played all year. “Come on,” Theo groaned, throwing his head back as Liam failed to serve the ball again. As he said it, Liam finally got it over the net, but he fantasized about it bouncing off Theo’s perfect head and going off the wall, the satisfying thump and the concept of knocking that smug bitch down a few pegs being appealing.

He wasn’t sure what day this happened, it might have been the same one, but it was on the bus again. Everyone, literally every person in their grade used their phones on the bus, because it wasn’t a big deal. Sure, the older kids were supposed to enforce the rules, but they didn’t follow them. They weren’t snitches, and the bus driver didn’t even care.

Liam was trying to text another couple of his friends when that voice came up behind him again. “You should probably get off your phone,” Theo said, sounding pleased with himself.

You should probably get off my dick, Liam thought, among other things. One of them was “make me,” but even Liam’s sharp tongue didn’t allow him to. He didn’t say any of it. He just gave Theo another one of those scowls. It didn’t register to him that Theo probably liked it when he did that, because he was doing it all the time and it was funny at that point. Theo made him mad in the worst way. He stayed on his phone for a few more minutes, but shut off the screen, keeping his earbuds in. He still didn’t want to get written up. Looking back, Liam wondered what Theo would have done if he had gone with “make me.” Might have smacked his phone right out of his hands, he wasn’t sure.

The fourth and most recent incident took the cake, and it was what made Liam start to notice a pattern. Even if this might be normal for other people, Theo had never been this obvious about his hate for the boy than these few weeks. It was volleyball again, since a lot of their interactions happened where it wasn’t controlled, gym class or on the bus. Liam had since gotten better at serving the stupid ball, but still missed on his first attempt. The ball rolled under the net at Theo’s feet.

The smaller boy watched as Theo picked it up, Josh looking at him curiously to see what he would do.

It’s important to note that a lot of people on Liam’s team had missed, and Theo simply rolled the ball back under the net like he was supposed to. It was basic protocol. But of course, that’s not what happened. Theo picked up the red, white, and blue ball and Liam must have blinked, because he didn’t notice when Theo threw it.

It went hard, and hit the wall next to Liam’s head. “Easy!” The gym teacher scolded. She had obviously noticed long before now that Theo often did this; in floor hockey, he would swing his stick extra hard against Liam’s to disarm him, and in basketball Theo always seemed to throw a chest pass just a bit too hard to be an accident. It happened every time. Liam grit his teeth and gave Theo a glare that he didn’t seem at all affected by, besides a little smirk on his face.

“He’s always talking to his friends about you. I hear your name brought up like it literally just was,” Isaac argued. Liam snapped out of thoughts and listened, now sitting down at a picnic table. That was true, since Liam was wondering if he heard things when he heard his name come from Josh’s mouth when Josh, Corey, and Theo walked behind them. “Like, whenever you miss a shot in volleyball, all his friends look at him like they’re waiting for him to do something. He likes you, I can tell. And you’d be cute together.”

---

After thinking about all that, Liam did the one thing he was always sure to do: he talked to his mom.

Jenna Geyer knew what was up, and how teenage boys worked, because if she was being honest, she played the field when she was Liam’s age. It was different for girls, of course, but Jenna knew how guys acted when they liked someone. So she told Liam exactly what Isaac had told him: It sounds like he likes you. Liam protested, since she had never met Theo or even been to their school to see what went on, but she used that as her own argument. “Remember when you said you started being all mean and rude to him on accident?” Jenna asked. Liam nodded. “As much as it sucks to say it, boys that age sometimes like it when people aren’t so...available. So when you were nice to him, he didn’t like you. But now that you were a little rude…”

“Oh, God,” Liam groaned. “Are you kidding me?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m not. Think about it. I’m not saying you should be mean to him, per say, but it seems to be working in your favor.”

“Maybe, but we just hate each other and insult each other all day, how’s that gonna work?” Liam sighed.

“Well, eventually, if he likes you enough, you’ll stop skirting around each other. That doesn’t say he’d be a good boyfriend-”

“He has the potential to be a terrible boyfriend,” Liam agreed, and Jenna laughed.

“Probably. But just see where this takes you.”

And that was hard for Liam to do, but he did it anyway.

--

The next day, Liam did what he was told. He ignored Theo throughout homeroom and history, the times where he had the most opportunities to talk to him, but he wasn’t mean. It pleased him when Theo seemed to notice, trying to talk to him or at least looking a little put off by Liam’s silence.

Art class was their second period, and Kira told him something that made his heart hurt. “Pinky promise you won’t hate me, but Josh and Malia said they’d pay me five dollars if I ask Theo to the dance.”

That one hurt, coming from the girl who he had trusted with that. It was just a dare, a bet, and he knew she didn’t actually like Theo, but he was worried all day that he would actually say yes. So being a supportive friend in Kira’s endeavours to get some snack money, he pinky-swore (the equivalent of a binding contract in Kira’s standards) and waited for her to do it, pretending he wasn’t upset.

She may have done it at lunch, but Liam never found out. She didn’t tell him, and Theo was still the chill and collected person he always was. It either didn’t happen or she got shot down, either of which Liam and Theo were both fine with. The stress was over.

That made it particularly cute when another incident happened. The pattern of Bus, Gym, Bus, Gym was still going, because on his way home on Wednesday afternoon, Theo said his name again. “Liam,” He said, and Liam was about to ignore him, but since he said his name specifically, he at least answered. “You want a centipede?”

Liam wasn’t expecting him to actually have something in his hand, but when he turned to face Theo, there was an inchworm in the palm of his hand. A little, tiny, baby inchworm that Liam had no idea how he mistook for a centipede, but Liam recoiled a little bit. “Oh, he does not like the centipede,” Theo said to Josh, dumping it in his hand instead.

“No, it’s okay, I just wasn’t expecting you to have an actual bug,” Liam explained, holding out his hand. Theo watched as Josh put the baby inchworm in the center of his hand, and Liam smiled at the little thing. It was cute.

“His name is Willie,” Theo decided, and Liam smiled.

“Oh, that was in my shirt,” Josh laughed when he remembered. “Lydia found it and put it in there. Cherish that.”

Liam’s hand went still. “Alright, take it back,” he joked, and Josh took the inchworm back from him, Theo and Josh laughing along with him.

Several things came to mind later. It occurred to him after the fact that he was afraid of and generally grossed out by bugs, and if it were Kira, Malia, or Isaac who had tried to put it in his hand, he would have acted annoyed and not taken it. It also occurred to him that what Theo had done was cute.

And hours later, Liam wondered how a little inchworm fixed so much for him, but he was distracted by Kira asking him to the dance, and the whole throw-a-volleyball-at-Liam’s-head thing Theo had going on.

It was the prospect of Theo not hating him, the gesture suggesting friendship, something Liam had been previously afraid to think about when it came to him, or maybe even more. But Liam found that although he had feelings for Theo that he couldn’t deny, he was content with either.

The inchworm was hope, and even if it was now god knows where now that Josh had it back, it was still there.