Theo wasn’t sure when it had all started, couldn’t really pinpoint a moment the small subtle changes had started through all the bigger recent changes in his life, couldn’t quite put his finger on it. But he knew Liam had everything to do with it.
The first time the feeling snuck in subtly, if he had to guess, was during the war and after it when the blue-eyed boy found him sleeping in his truck late one night. The boy guiding him into living with him and not taking no for an answer, stubborn as he always was.
The moving came, from his truck into the house. Angry with embarrassment that his best kept secret had been found out, and not having the strength to deal with Liam’s stubbornness right then, Theo agreed to it. Setting foot into the house for the first time, Theo felt overwhelmed with what that meant for him and his life, feeling like he was invading on something private where he shouldn’t be. Liam, as he would, told him otherwise.
Next came the guest bedroom, with the bed already made up for him for the night, at which Theo dropped his only bag with stuff as he saw how big it was. The bed, as he concluded, was one of the softest he slept in in all his life. Lastly, of course, came the warm meals starting the night after that, that Theo didn’t know how to thank for properly enough, as he for once didn’t have to worry about what he was gonna eat, or even got to eat at all, and the hungry rumbling in his stomach slowly faded. The small unsure smiles from Liam from across the table, wordlessly asking if he was satisfied with it all, made him feel warm inside in an entirely different way.
Despite that, thought, his life starting to look up for what seemed like the first time in forever, there was one thing that Theo knew was never going to change. It came in the form of tired eyes, trembling hands and a sweat damp forehead, of a racing heart and a hazy mind as he tried to decipher where he was and whether he was safe.
Theo wasn’t really sure when it had begun, it happened gradually, with Liam standing in the doorway of the guest room the first time he’d startled awake in the house and lying down beside him, reassuring him even when he protested. After that it had become more normal, until Theo found himself being brave enough to wander into Liam’s room at night instead. Now he couldn’t imagine going to sleep without Liam’s reassuring arms around him anymore. Even that, though, couldn’t always stop him from waking up with a start in cold sweat, his breath spilling past his lips shallow and quick.
‘Another nightmare?’ Liam’s sleepy-sounding voice came from somewhere to his right, the rustling of the sheets letting Theo know that he was moving to sit up, and felt a warm hand rubbing up and down his back.
Screwing his eyes shut tightly, his hands trembling in his lap Theo tried to control his breathing, to no avail, the only image on his mind being the eerily empty hallway of the hospital where all of his nightmares started before Tara came, and he shook his head. ‘I’m sorry… For waking you up,’ he pressed out, flinching at the way his voice came out like a trembling whisper, ragged, his mind still reeling from the sensation of a cold gray hand plunging into his chest and ripping his heart out, his sister reclaiming it as her own. He knew, despite having trouble distinguishing between what was real and what was a shock-induced remainder of his nightmare, how sorry he was, and how that would never be enough for her, and a wave of guilt washed over him, nauseating him, and how, again, he wished he would be able to tell her just how sorry he was.
In the corner of his eyes he felt the familiar sting of tears, screwing his eyes shut tightly in response, and his stomach churned, a sour taste in his mouth, as he could swear that the terrors haunting his dreams got worse every night. And a warm hand, covering his own, keeping him from losing himself completely.
‘Hey, hey, don’t be,’ Liam whispered next to him, his thumb rubbing circles over the back of Theo’s hand and a sad undertone to his voice that had Theo exhaling a shaky breath, as it did nothing but worsen his guilt. His voice sweet, patient, keeping Theo grounded and tied to reality, and he could feel the mattress denting in under the weight as Liam moved closer to him.
‘Ssh, don’t be, it’s okay,’ he whispered, his voice closer now and keeping Theo from slipping back into his nightmare in a flurry of panic, his words easing the guilt that came with waking the other boy up. ‘It’s okay, you’re awake, you’re here with me. You’re safe. I’m here. She’s not real. You’re here and I’m here and she’s not real and you’re safe with me, you’ll always be safe with me,’ as he continued rubbing his hand up and down Theo’s spine, and Theo instinctively leaned closer to him.
The words sparked a warmth in his chest, a hope that they could be true that he didn’t dare let too close, and he screwed his eyes shut, letting out a shuddering breath as he tried his hardest to let Liam’s words wash over him, and not the image of Tara, looking at him with her pale, gray face and her dead eyes. For a moment, Theo wondered how Liam always had the right words to say. Though, he supposed, having to put up with the evidence of how much he had screwed up on a nearly daily basis was a nice practice for the other boy.
Swallowing, immediately pushing away the ungrateful thought in his head he hadn’t been able to stop, Theo shivered against Liam. He trusted him, he really did, the beta had proven more than once to be more than capable of calming him down again after a nightmare. But in times like this, with the guilt making his stomach churn in nausea, Theo was never sure whether he needed close reassurance or distance. Feeling a wave of panic settling in the pit of his stomach again, the too real images of Tara spill spinning around in his head, Theo forced his eyes open, looking over, and a whimper escaped him.
‘Hey… Hey,’ Liam’s steady voice pricked through his panic then, the boy’s arms folded securely around him. ‘Are you okay?’
With difficulty, Theo straightened his back, exhaling a deep breath and shaking his head wildly, as he didn’t quite trust his voice right then. When he looked over, he caught Liam looking back at him with his eyes wide in shock, concern written over his face, and something painfully guilty stung in his chest.
‘Hey, you will be, you will be okay,’ Liam spoke softly, and, much to Theo’s surprise, placed his hand on Theo’s chest over his heart, where it was beating rapidly. ‘Breathe with me, okay? Just breathe with me.’
He took in a few breaths, slow and deep, and out again, and Theo did, looking anywhere that wasn’t at Liam’s eyes on him and focused on the boy’s breathing, following the rhythm with all his might. And slowly, he could feel the panic in his stomach subdue, fading, being replaced by one much calmer, and he closed his eyes. Next to him, he could feel Liam wrapping his arms around him securely, locking him in place and putting the pieces of him that had broken off back into place, pulling him closer, bringing a warmth with him that made Theo feel nothing but safe, and with a sigh, he melted into him.
‘I’m sorry,’ Liam mumbled, resting his chin on top of his head.
Against him, Theo opened his eyes, staring at Liam’s grey shirt where he had his face buried in the boy’s neck. ‘It’s not your fault,’ he managed, his voice raspy, muffled by where he was pressed against the beta’s shirt.
‘I’m sorry this happened to you,’ Liam said again, never one to give up easily, and Theo paused, something unfamiliar fluttering in his chest, he took only a moment before freeing himself from his embrace and looking back at him. Liam’s eyes were insecure, sincerely, genuinely apologetic, and Theo swallowed.
‘What…’ Liam coughed, taking a moment to reconsider his words and work out the best way to ask. ‘What do you want to do now? Do you want to go back to sleep, maybe?’
Immediately, Theo flinched at the question, a small wave of panic settling in his stomach at the thought of returning to the dark corridor where Tara would be waiting for him. ‘No! No, I… I don’t want to go back to sleep,’ he continued, softer this time.
‘Okay.’ A small smile tugged at the corner of Liam’s lips, sympathetically, and he squeezed Theo’s hand, gently, in a way that made Theo long for the warmth of his arms again. ‘Then how okay are you with taking a walk? I know the perfect place.’
Theo felt his stomach warm at the proposal, and really, how could he say no to that?
‘Stargazing was a good idea.’ Theo’s voice came out soft, his head turned up towards the sky, the soft grass prickling in his neck as he lay in the field. A calm, peaceful feeling washed over him, welcoming it with open arms and drowning out the last of the sorrow still swirling heavily in his stomach after his nightmare, settling over him like a blanket.
Next to him, he felt fingers intertwine with his own, and looking over, turning his head lazily, he caught Liam looking back at him with a soft smile, something small twinkling in his eyes.
Theo couldn’t have stopped the warmth it sparked in his chest if he wanted to, and, like an instant cure, Theo felt warmer, at peace, the worries and fears usually plaguing him floating to the back of his mind until they’d been reduced to a quiet, barely even there whisper.
‘The stars are beautiful tonight,’ Liam said.
Theo glanced up at the words, at the dark night sky with little holes of light in the otherwise sea of black. Above them, the stars twinkled like little lanterns, giving him a strange sense of hope that things could actually change, and a breath escaped Theo. Closing his eyes for a moment, a peaceful feeling settled over him, a warmth that was too big for him to know how to feel completely, and he rested his head on Liam’s shoulders, the only words he could say to him for what he’d done after the events of tonight popping into his head, and hoped it would come across encompassing all the other things Liam had done for him as well.
Theo felt the other boy shifting by his side, moving away leaving him feeling cold and bare, and when he looked back again, he was taken aback by the serious expression settled on Liam’s face, his eyes sincere as he searched Theo’s face, and for a moment, Theo worried.
A sigh escaped Liam, leaning half up on his elbows as he looked down at Theo. ‘You know I’ll always be here for you, right?’
Staying silent, Theo swallowed, staring back at the other boy with his eyes widened, wandering over Liam’s face and searching for something untrue, but he came up empty-handed. All he saw was honesty. Sincerity.
Now, in the past, this was exactly what could’ve sent Theo running in the opposite direction fast, someone seeing through him and leaving him feeling exposed, vulnerable. But this was Liam, with his kind words and his sweet voice and his uncanny never-failing ability to talk him down, who had been so good to him and had already seen him at his worst, and Theo knew he couldn’t do it. Knew he didn’t want to go anywhere Liam wasn’t.
Feeling overwhelmed with the seriousness of the situation, leaving him feeling exposed, Theo averted his gaze, needing a moment to gather his thoughts and process the feeling of how undeserving of all this he was, pushing it to the back of his mind. They’d talked about that a long time ago, and he’d believed in it ever since.
With a smile tugging just at the corner of his lips, he looked back at Liam. ‘I think I love you.’
It wasn’t the way Theo expected those words first to be said, especially when he and Liam had never talked about making anything official, and he froze, his shoulders stiffening as he turned to Liam beside him looking back with wide eyes, and he considered how good of a chance he had denying this and pretending he never said the words. At least as he was looking at him, that was, until he came to the realization that he meant them. Really meant them. Then it was just waiting, excruciatingly, embarrassingly long waiting.
Liam sighed, looking over at him seriously, and for a moment Theo worried, the air knocked out of his lungs in fear, before he shuffled closer and Theo watched another expression settling in Liam’s eyes, shy and hesitant and questioning and hopeful. He leaned closer and Theo couldn’t describe it as anything other than shock when Liam’s lips brushed over his own, softly and just for a moment, unable to do anything to stop it and pretty sure that, even then, he wouldn’t want to.
Pulling back, his heart skipped a beat at seeing the small, shy smile tugging at Liam’s lips, knowing that he would never want to stop seeing that, and Liam chuckled, a warmth filling Theo’s chest by how close they still were, a sound just for them to hear.
‘Well, that’s good,’ Liam uttered, soft yet in a way that caused Theo no problems to still hear him perfectly, quietly whispered between them, a secret only for them to know underneath a sea of stars. ‘Because I think I love you too.’
Theo looked up, sure to have shock written all over his face. And suddenly, in that moment, he felt like the luckiest boy alive, knowing that with Liam, he would be okay.