He remembered everything.
Or at least, he remembered everything the Dread Doctors had ever let him remember. Even as images flooded through him and Theo fell gasping to his hands and knees, he knew there were still massive gaps in his childhood. Dark empty spaces that had once held memories he would likely never get back.
Why the Doctors took these from him, Theo had no idea. He only knew that they were gone, and had been for a very long time.
He couldn’t remember if he’d ever been normal or if there had always been something different about him. Something missing or under-developed. The spark that was supposed to light his soul. The flame that was supposed to warm his chest. The thing that should have made his parents want to hold him or spend time with him.
Had he been born with that void inside him that nothing ever seemed to fill? Or had the Dread Doctors carved that spark out of him?
His palms quivered in the gravel and rotted wood chips of the abandoned playground. His chest heaved painfully.
He remembered living in a large, pristinely kept house. A surplus of toys and video games at his disposal. Enough that kids from school would want to visit even if they weren’t really his friends. He’d never had many friends.
Because you were completely unremarkable.
It wasn’t the phantom’s voice anymore. It was his own. Because there, of course, never had been any phantom. Only himself.
He had been average in every possible way before the Dread Doctors. He was just good enough at everything not to be picked on, but not good enough to be noticed. He could remember wanting to be noticed. Yearning for it.
He tried to draw breath, but the air seemed stuck in his lungs. He knew he was about to remember more, and now that he was so close to it, he wanted to stop it. Wanted to slam the brakes on time and make everything stand still. He needed a moment to catch up — but he didn’t have it. Something had been set in motion that was beyond anyone’s power to stop.
He would remember. Not just the things he’d repressed from months ago, but from years, even a decade back.
All of it crashed to the surface of his mind, like a train freed from it’s tracks.
He could recall, in perfect detail, sitting on a carpeted floor next to his big sister. Watching her thicken the lines of a tyrannosaurus in his coloring book. Something she had done regularly for him, so it would be easier for him to stay within the lines with his blocky oversized crayons.
He remembered how she would hold his hand when they crossed the street together. How she’d helped him change the bandages on his scabbed knees after kickball. How she’d sometimes sit next to him in their living room, her eyes focused on a book in her lap while he watched cartoons.
And he remembered how it had all suddenly stopped. How one day, she seemed to wake up different. The girl he’d known suddenly became a stranger to him. She didn’t want anything to do with him anymore. She didn’t want to watch TV with him, complained if she had to take him anywhere. She said the things that they’d once shared together were stupid. “kid’s stuff” that was no longer for her and her junior high friends.
It wasn’t ‘cool’ to have your younger brother tagging along. He could never be anything more than a pest. A bother. Something embarrassing that needed to be pushed aside before it ruined everything.
He remembered how much it had hurt. Watching her do her homework at the island in their kitchen, knowing that she’d snap at him if he tried to talk to her. That anything he said was going to be boring and annoying to her.
He was just as insignificant to her as he was to everyone else.
He wondered how she seemed to make friends so easily. How she could possibly spend so many hours on the phone in her room each night. He wanted to be able to do that. But for some reason, it seemed very difficult.
It was like there had always been a wall between him and everyone else. One that only he knew was there. Why he couldn’t breach this wall and why no one seemed to notice his existence was a mystery to him.
He was becoming a faceless name in a crowd of other children. The kid that people knew was there but never saw. Never wanted. He wanted to be someone. He was getting desperate for it. He started breaking rules, just to see if he would get caught.
But he didn’t.
He was so good at not getting caught that the things he did often got blamed on others. Theo could remember feeling waves of disappointment each time it happened as he still went unnoticed, but they were tempered with the chilling thrills of power when he watched other children punished for his misdeeds.
It was never enough, though. No prideful feelings could ever fill the void of being so thoroughly alone.
Then he’d met Scott.
He was sitting outside the guidance counselor’s office with tears streaming down his face. Waiting for an ambulance to come. He couldn’t talk, could barely breathe, but Scott hadn’t asked him to. His brown eyes had widened as Theo was plopped down into the chair, wheezing.
He’d slipped into the seat beside him, put his hand on his wrist, and told him that everything was going to be fine. Theo couldn’t remember who the teacher was that called for the ambulance, or what it was that had triggered the attack, but he could remember the warmth of Scott’s palm on him. The gentle way that he described what was going to happen.
As Scott talked he felt for the first time in a long time that things could be okay.
Scott had asked to accompany him in the ambulance, but the school staff had, of course, said that he couldn't. Theo was ready for that to be the end of it, but it wasn’t. The very next day Scott had waved to him when he entered the classroom and invited him to play with him at lunch.
He didn’t have to lure Scott to his home with the promise of video games that other parents had banned from their homes. He didn’t have to act out to get Scott’s attention. Scott spent time with him simply because he wanted to.
Scott had made him feel things that he’d forgotten how to feel. For the first time in a long time he felt hopeful at the start of each day. There was at least one person that was waiting to see him. Someone whose eyes would light up when he waved at him as he climbed onto the bus.
As the year went on Theo had started to feel other things for Scott. Things that were new to him entirely.
But he never got the chance to explore what he felt, or see if the growing desires were returned. Because not long after that they had come.
Like something out of a nightmare, reaching for him as he lay paralyzed in his bed. Their ice cold metal fingertips on his skin. Their iron grip around his neck. Piercing him with their drills, slicing him with their scalpels, filling him with their poisons.
He was nothing again. No person. No soul. Just an object to be dissected. His screams were pointless. His tears meant nothing.
Then he was back in his bed, with his mother pushing him out the door to school. Her face filled with shock when she watched him burst into tears and start trembling as he waited for the school bus. He’d tried to explain what happened, gestured at the places that he’d been cut open, but couldn’t get through it. He broke down each time into hysterical sobbing.
For the first time ever, his mother had taken a half day off a day from work to bring him to the hospital. And, also for the first time ever, Theo’d thought that maybe she actually did care about him. That feeling melted away when they arrived at the hospital and the doctors informed her that there was nothing wrong with her son. No appendicitis, as she’d assumed, nothing.
Her fear quickly turned to fury when Theo was finally able to describe what had happened.
“A nightmare!” He could remember her shrill voice ringing in his ears as he was carted back to school in the passenger’s seat of her Mercedes. “ A fucking nightmare!”
Shame filled him.
From there, things got blurry. The gaps in his memories grew wider and more frequent. Large chunks of time blotted out, as if redacted with black marker. He couldn’t remember the sequence of events. He couldn’t remember when or how things became so bleak he couldn’t come back from them.
But he could remember how his world crumbed around him. How they took things from him that he could never get back.
He could remember feeling that wall again between himself and everyone else. Feeling it grow stronger and more dense. He wanted to talk to someone, to tell them what had happened, but talking about it became increasingly difficult. It had taken everything in him to confess to his mother what had happened, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it again.
He’d tried so many times. But each and every time anxiety had crippled him.
At the same time, tragedy had struck another child in their school. Stiles Stilinski’s mother had passed away, and from the whispers Theo’d heard, it had been a very dramatic ordeal. One that had required the complete attention of Theo’s only close friend.
Theo watched as Stiles returned to classes and people reacted around him. He was excused from assignments and from group activities. No one wondered why he would skip school some days, or why Scott often asked to be excused with him.
But the dark drawings that filled Theo’s school books, the dormant look that haunted his eyes, the way he’d fall asleep in class or suddenly lash out at others— these things his teachers didn’t understand. The death of a parent was something they could easily comprehend. Being abducted, torn apart and sewn back together on a nightly basis and being unable to talk about it? That wasn’t something they were equipped to identify or handle.
During the very few times he’d spent with Scott after Stiles’ mother had died, Scott had noticed something was wrong. He’d asked Theo if he was okay, but Theo had lied to him. He couldn’t repeat the things that were being done to him. He couldn’t risk Scott’s face turning with horror and revulsion like his parents had.
Scott wouldn’t be able to help him anyway. No one could help him.
Everyday Theo felt his grip on reality slipping. He would walk through the school halls in a daze, not sure if what he was seeing was real. Every night he would hold his breath, waiting to be spirited away by inhuman hands that were impossibly strong. Impossibly cruel.
Every adult in his life said that the Doctors weren’t real. But how could that be true when it felt more real than everything else?
He was desperate to make it all stop. He would do anything to keep the world from tipping upside down around him. Anything.
And so he had.
Once he’d surrendered himself to them, they’d finally offered him a choice. A way off the operating table and into their midst. They offered him hope and they’d offered him validation. He wasn’t like other children, they’d said. He could never be like other children. But he could be better. He could be something extraordinary. Something their feeble minds couldn’t even begin to understand.
True Evil had a better ring to it than disposable lab rat.
Their price was a heart that had already shut him out. Turned against him. If he gave them that, then he could finally be something worth being.
It wasn’t until the dust had settled, until nearly everything was over, when the world stopped spinning, that he truly understood what he’d done. And then it was far too late. There was no turning back. The gravity of his crimes was not something that could be faced. The guilt of his actions too heavy to bear. He couldn’t look at it. He couldn’t ever look at it. He had to not care. He had to.
So he didn’t. He’d sealed off the part of him that could care. The part of him that could feel hurt.
Made it disappear along with the slender trembling white hand of his sister as it slipped beneath the dark rippling river. It could never touch him.
He didn’t need help. He didn’t need love or compassion or forgiveness. He was fine without them. He had to be.
And so he had been, for a very long time.
Theo squeezed his eyes shut, his fingers curling into fists in the dirty mulch and gravel. He choked as tears streamed uncontrollably down his face. There was a swelling in his throat so large and dense he couldn’t breathe.
Damn Scott McCall.
He had been fine the way he was before Scott. He might not have been happy. He might not have been free, but at least he’d been able to breathe. Able to function. He didn’t have to recognize the deepest and most desperate desires his warped soul still had the gaul to ache for. To openly feel the longings for things that he could never have.
Now he was exposed, for the first time in years, to the true crushing weight of his actions. Scott had systematically removed the thick protective skin of lies and denials he’d long kept himself wrapped in.
There was nothing left between himself and the furies that would feast on his flesh. Half-starved and insatiable, their razor-sharp serpentine teeth would gnash at gnaw into him. Greedily gobbling up all they could find.
Tara’s face flashed before him. Her rippling dark hair and warm features filled with life.
He had loved her. And he had killed her.
He felt the compulsion to scream, but couldn’t. No sound, no air could escape his trembling lips.
Scott had done this to him. Scott had taken away all of his defenses, and he’d done it on purpose .
He felt tricked, even though Scott had never lied to him.
Rage flooded him. Rage at himself. At the world. At the unfairness of it all. How everyone else could so easily reach for and obtain the things that he desperately needed. Things he could never have. Rage at Scott for ripping the scab off a long ignored wound. For his stupid optimism for the human soul. For his belief that he could ever recover from what he’d done. Rage at—
He heard a voice behind him. Suddenly everything stopped spinning and all the scattered fragments of his mind snapped back into place.
His hands stopped shaking. His eyes snapped open.
The hot blood in his veins had suddenly gone ice cold.
* * *
From the moment the photographs went soaring into the air, Stiles knew he’d fucked up.
He’d never planned on confronting Theo. It wasn’t something that he’d made a conscious decision to do. It was something that just seemed to happen. He’d been looking for Scott. He found Theo first.
Maybe it was because it was the first time he’d seen Theo alone. Maybe it was because he’d only just found out what happened at the school. But regardless of the reason, he’d found himself jumping out of his Jeep. Words flew out of his mouth before he had the time to think them through.
It wasn’t till the evidence folder was knocked from his hands and he’d seen Theo reaching for the photographs gleaming in tall patches of grass that he realized how irrevocable his actions truly were.
He’d moved to gather them, but it was too late. Theo moved too fast. Now Theo was hunched over on his hands and knees, his back to Stiles. Trembling.
“Th-Theo?” he asked, taking an apprehensive step towards him.
Theo’s shoulders stopped shaking. He made no sound, no motion. Stiles wasn’t even sure if he was still breathing.
And then a low, scratchy, and bitter scoff.
“Congratulations, Stiles.” Theo’s voice, raspy and fraught with emotion, mused. “Looks like you caught me again.”
Stiles stopped dead in his tracks, suddenly aware of the creaking abandoned playsets, and how very alone he and Theo stood among them.
When Theo turned to face him, his eyes were red and bloodshot. His cheeks were flushed and still wet with tears, but he was no longer crying. His lip was pale and the corner of his mouth pinched tight with the twisted vengeful hint of a mirthless smirk.
“You think you’re so much better than me.” Theo snapped, suddenly on his feet and standing in front of him. “Don’t you?”
Stiles took a step backwards.
“It must be real easy to, from where you’re standing.” Theo went on, his voice reverting to the taunting lilt that sometimes still haunted Stiles’ nightmares. The ones that made him snap awake, furious, scared, and sick. “With everyone around you telling you how you’re right all the time...”
“I—” Stiles started cautiously. “They don’t say that...”
“Oh, but you know it’s true.” Theo goaded, stepping closer. “You know you’re right all the time. You were right about me...”
He leaned down and picked up a photograph off the ground.
“Look at all this great evidence you’ve found proving it.” he mused. “How’s Scott ever going to look at these and still want me around?”
Stiles swallowed, but didn’t step back. He wasn’t going to give Theo the satisfaction of letting him see he was scared. Even if Theo could likely already smell it.
“And that’s what you wanted, right?” Theo asked, his voice still smooth but his eyes gleaming with wild hatred. “You wanted me to be lying when I came back here looking to be a part of his pack. You wanted it so bad .”
The lilt was starting to bleed into a growl.
“I didn’t want that.”
“ Bullshit .” Theo growled, his hand darting out to shove Stiles in the chest. “You couldn’t stand the thought of having to share Scott with anyone else! You never have. Not even when we were kids. You always hated me!”
Stiles didn’t have time to question if it was true. All he could do was notice that Theo’s hands were trembling again, and that his claws were out. He glanced at the claws, then at the truly insane look in Theo’s eyes.
He’d seen that look before. It was the look of a rabid animal that had been cornered. One that realized it had no way left to go except through whoever had been chasing it.
He reached for the phone in his pocket, but he’d no sooner pulled it out when Theo slapped it out of his hands and it soared through the air.
“Come on, Stiles.” Theo goaded, stepping even closer as the phone clattered down onto the rusted merry-go-round several yards away. “Tell me how good it felt just now. To rip everything from me.”
Of course that’s how Theo would see it. Even in the grave danger of the situation Stiles couldn’t help the rage at the hypocrisy coming out of Theo’s mouth from boiling in his veins.
“Oh right,” he spat, sarcastically. “This is my fault somehow. I must have just forgotten the part where I made you do all that shit. I didn’t rip anything from you, Theo. You did that to yourself. ””
“Oh, because you wouldn’t have, right?” Theo demanded. “Because you’re so damn good ?”
“I’m not a fucking murderer !”
“ You have no idea who or what you would be in my place !”
There was no pretense of reason or rationale in Theo’s eyes anymore.
Stiles dashed for the phone and Theo sprung after him.
He reached the merry-go-round. But no sooner had the rusted metal groaned under his foot than the chimera caught up with him. Theo grabbed the merry-go-round’s railing and snapped it into motion. It spun under his feet. The guardrail slammed into his stomach, knocking the air from his chest and sending his body crashing to the ground.
For a moment he couldn't breathe. He could feel dark purple bruises blossoming beneath his shirt. He heaved, hunched over in pain, clutching his stomach.
“—I’d like to see how you would have handled it!” Theo was raged as he took hold of his ankle and dragged him back across the playground to the mess of photographs. “Getting cut up every fucking night. Your parents acting like it’s somehow your fault that you’re such a fucking wreck. Like you fucking asked for it...like you wanted to be that way... ”
Stiles head was spinning, he could barely make out the frenzied words leaving Theo’s lips.
Had he hit his head in the fall? Everything was a blurr in front of him.
“You were always so stuck on yourself. You bitch and moan and everyone falls the fuck over you. Poor Stiles, his mommy is dead… ”
“Fuck you, you fucking asshole !” Stiles kicked at Theo as hard as he could, but he couldn’t shake him loose.
“What’s that, Stiles?” Theo asked, crawling over him and grabbing hold of his neck. “Does it suck to want to run, but you knowing you can’t? You don’t like that? It’s not fun for you ?”
Fuck… was all Stiles could think as Theo’s grip tightened on his neck. Fuck, fuck, fuck…
“I wonder how much you’d like getting strapped down. Dissected . Watching, while someone takes your insides out piece by fucking piece...Do you want to find out?”
Theo brought his claws up. They glittered red before Stiles eyes, catching the last rays of the sinking sun.
“Tell me how good you think you’d feel like being after that .”
Anticipating the downward slash, Stiles closed his eyes. Held his breath.
But it didn’t come.
A moment passed, and nothing.
Theo’s hand was still on his throat, restricting his breathing, but not completely choking him.
He slowly opened his eyes.
Theo was still on top of him, straddling his hips. His claws were still raised, but his eyes had changed. There were wide. Staring. Surprised in some way.
No. Not surprised. Terrified.
His lip trembled, messy tears fell from dark eyelashes.
And then, in a flash, he was gone.
Stiles gasped, clutching his throat as he was finally able to draw unrestricted breath.
He turned his head just in time to see Theo’s back disappear into the darkening woods
* * *
“They’re…” Scott started, still trying to process the image of Gabe’s mangled body laid before him. “I…”
“It’s clearly not self defense Scott.” Noah reiterated. “He was killed from behind. And with excessive force. The method of killing—”
“But—” Scott tried to interject.
Noah ignored him.
“—is disturbing. To say the least .”
“I—I know that.” Scott said, his heart sinking in his chest.
It was true. It was disturbing. It was terrible. Unthinkably vile.
“But the circumstances still matter.” Scott said after a long moment. “They were trying to kill us. I was dying. I know this is bad. You know I know that, but...it doesn’t...it doesn’t mean…”
Theo hadn’t been ready to see combat. He hadn’t been ready to be put in that kind of situation. But that didn’t mean that Theo was a lost cause, or that he was hopeless. Surely the Sheriff would be able to understand more than anyone how even police officers often struggled to make the right split-second decision in that kind of high-stakes situation? Much less someone with Theo’s history and fragile mental state...
But it was still quite clear that Theo was not nearly as far along as Scott had thought.
“I just…” Scott said, “I just need a second…”
But not even a moment later the door to the Sheriff’s Office flung open.
“Scott—” Stiles panted, leaning on the door frame from support as he tried to catch his breath.
There were bruises on Stiles neck. Panic and guilt flickering in his eyes.
Oh no… Scott’s eyes widened as he beheld his best friend. Oh, fuck no...