Theo's voice ricocheted off the trees as he moved. He tried to stare through the darkened foliage, but even wolf's eyes couldn't pick up any definition among the trees. His fangs poked into his lips as he kept racing through. It had been hours since anyone in the McCall pack had heard from Liam when Scott had called.
At first he assumed that the pack was overreacting, jumping to conclusions without there being a problem to solve. He figured Liam would turn up a trail with a quick walk through the preserve, so he hung up on the alpha without a second thought to him suggesting backup. The only person who was ever tolerable for Theo to work with was apparently playing hooky from his pack.
That was three hours ago. Now he was panicking, only finding the faintest of scent trails, so thick with fear that they burned his nose. Monroe left over a year ago. The hunter war should have left with her. Everything should have settled down. No more high stakes, no more losing people at random. Liam and the rest could finally just be teenagers, not crushed under responsibilities adults barely handled.
"Damn it, Liam. Where are you?" Theo stopped, resting his shoulder on a tree.
Somewhere between harsh words, broken noses, ripped t-shirts, and not dying for him, they became friends. Not something he thought would happen. He hadn't even noticed it growing, not that he accepted that it existed at first. Took a couple more injuries to his face before he believed what Liam and Mason were talking about. How was he supposed to recognize the fuzziness in his chest as friendship? Not like he had much opportunity as a kid. Friends were in short supply when he was growing up with the Dread Doctors. Yet, his stolen heart, as scarred and grossly misshapen as the Doctors had made it, still tried to stretch out. Against his better judgement, he let it keep growing. Somehow tendrils, fine as spider's silk, spanned the trench between himself and the world, grounding him there with the force of steel. Well, one person really. Maybe two. Mason saved his ass more often than he cared to mention nowadays, tutoring him in physics and math.
Before going in the ground, if it came down to leaving Beacon Hills or dying, there would have been no choice. He'd have run and not looked back. Screw anyone who tried to stop him. Now? As scared shitless as he was of going back to Tara, he wouldn't leave. Couldn't. Too much of himself would get left behind, unknowingly given to a certain hotheaded beta that had yet to make him regret it. But that was only if he was honest with himself, which he never was. Honesty never got him anywhere good.
"C'mon, little wolf, tell me where you are." He pushed off the tree, inhaling the surrounding air again.
He closed his eyes, focusing as much as he could on the smells, peeling back the acrid fear that stung his nose, wishing it didn't make the wolf in him so uneasy. Turning, he slowly tried to dig beneath it, find Liam's familiar scent. Explaining it to anyone else would be awkward. A warmth that he didn't have words for except warmth, just like the beta always was. It was warm and… spice! Sweet, artificial spice of Liam's deodorant and the underlying salt from sweat with his warmth.
Theo's eyes snapped open with a growl, glowing gold. He breathed deeply again as he pushed off the tree, claws slicing through the bark with ease, marking it. The smell strengthened by half a hair as he took in another lungful. Yes, he had a trail to follow. Mustering as much control as he could, he sheathed his claws, searching for his phone. He was redialing Scott before he fully pulled it out. The tone cut off as he took a full step forward.
"You find him?"
"Found a scent trail. South-eastern quad, find the marked tree and follow mine. I'm going aft-"
"Wait for us."
"No. The more I wait, the more we risk losing the trail." Theo half-winced at the growl in his voice. He had not meant to let that out. "Besides," he chuckled, throwing on a smirk, "if she catches me, it's not like it gives her any additional leverage over you."
Scott sighed, "Theo-"
"The chimera has a point, Scotty. Just let him wal-"
He dropped the phone back in his pocket. As much as Scott tried to fake his forgiveness, the man was terrible at it. At least Stiles had the guts to openly show his contempt. Not that Theo would thank him for the daily jabs and constant scrutiny, but it certainly kept him on his toes. Liam tried to get between them once. Theo spent the next twenty minutes giving him a target for his rage other than a human whose main defence was a bat or sarcasm. So far Mason and Lydia were the only two to come out unscathed when refereeing his and Stiles' tiffs. He shook his head, refocusing on the fake-spice scent lingering in the woods. He had a job to do.
"Next time, I'm not coming after you," he grumbled, starting off again through the trees, marking a few as he passed.
Theo punched a tree, growling as he felt his skin split against the rough bark, when the trail abruptly turned left for the seventh time, starting yet another circle. Or had he crossed back into the third? No, there wasn't any of his scent lingering on top of Liam's. The cuts would heal before the night was done, so he really didn't care about them. Everything about the situation frustrated him. He was halfway to tearing out his hair. Progress through the woods was nowhere near what he wanted. Every few feet he had to stop and forcefully focus on the scent, figure out if it turned or kept on. The hunters had gotten smart, probably dragged his hoodie through the Preserve, building decoy trails.
He growled again, fangs pricking at his lips, yet again. The scabs were not likely to heal for a few days, given how deep they had to be by now, with their constant reopening over the last hours. He blamed Liam for the habit. It was his nervous tell. Theo hadn't meant to adopt it, hadn't realized he had until Mason had pointed it out a few months ago. There were a lot of things he was slow to realize concerning Liam and himself, apparently.
A sharp scream shot through the preserve. Not recognizing the voice was a positive sign. The near deafening cracks of guns and the roar that followed were not.
"Guess they found something." Theo shook his head, a smirk twisting over his face.
Rolling his hoodie off his shoulders and dropping it to the floor, he kicked off his shoes, placing the bundle under a thick oak tree. At least he'd put on sweatpants this morning. Replacing jeans was more expensive than he could afford and he would rather not take off his pants in the woods. Besides, these were his crappier sweats, and he had a half-decent replacement for his shirt in his truck.
He marked the tree, gouging lines into the bark to find his stuff later. Briefly he paused, honing in on the faint sounds of fighting, and he was off, tearing through the trees. He may be slower than the average werewolf, but he covered ground plenty fast enough. From one stride to the next he tipped forward, running with all four limbs, claws and fangs fully out. He all but shuddered as he pushed forward faster, smiling as he felt his muscles work, stretching out after being so tense from running in circles.
Inhaling deeply, Theo charged ahead, drawing more from his wolf, pulling it forward. Cracks and growls filled the trees as muscles and bones rearranged, but Theo didn't let his step falter. He raced faster, digging in harder against the ground. Instinct guided him as he leapt over and ran through undergrowth and he ducked around trees. It felt… good. How had he forgotten this power and freedom?
A handful of gunshots rang through the air.
Swallowing back the howl building in his chest, he jerked to a stop, looking around with a snarl. Spinning in a couple tight circles, snapping at the air, he shook out his body and snorted. Liam was missing. That had to be his focus, not whatever the hell the awkward tingling in his skin was. Nothing else mattered. Theo growled at himself as he lifted a paw to his face, scratching at his eyes, batting away the faint tingling.
With a sharp shake of his head, he looked around, ears twitching. He should be close enough to pinpoint the Pack's location. Again he launched forward, paws grabbing at the ground beneath him, undoubtedly carving deep tracks through the woods. His coyote warned against leaving such a trail, bristling at the lack of stealth. He would clear it later. There was a job to do.
The sounds of the Pack and hunters would have been decipherable by Stiles now. Blood and sulfur lingered in the air as he slowed to a trotting pace. The closer he got, the more careful he had to be. He crouched as he moved, his black coat perfectly blended within the shadows. It would impress Corey, how invisible he was. He snorted as he peered around the tree, crouched, ready to spring, though he was still several feet away from the all.
He could easily pick out Isaac and Scott through the trees, and the small group of hunters between them. The wolves launched forward in unison. It was almost as impressive as Stiles standing his ground a few feet away, knocking another hunter to the ground with his barbed bat. Theo couldn't see Corey, but he undoubtedly was close by, judging by the whistling popping of his boyfriend's tranq gun. Had no one told Mason that shooting does not require yelling? Theo shook his head, snorting.
What brought them all here? Scott said they were searching all over the Preserve. Theo sniffed at the air again. The usual sulfur from the hunter's guns and the metallic tinge of blood stood above the waves of fear from both sides, burning his nose. He dropped his head, scanning the ground for anything the Pack and hunters didn't leave, besides the musty decay of the forest floor itself. A hint of spice lit up his nose, drawing all of his focus. It was Liam's deodorant; he was sure.
He streaked forward, nose to the ground, following the trail, even as it led straight through the middle of the fight. Maybe they saw him, maybe they didn't, but no one was fast enough to stop him. Not like they needed him, anyway. The Pack was winning. He would only get in their way, or kill someone, neither of which would be helpful.
Theo slowed again, lifting his head from the ground as both Liam's and the hunters' scent strengthened. He stalled, straining his ears. Come on, little wolf, throw up a siren. Starting again along the trail, he moved quickly and quietly through the trees. Though as they thinned, he realized he was running out of Preserve.
A streak of light stabbed through the night, breaking through the trees several yards ahead. Theo dropped to a walk, damn near tiptoeing as he advanced to the very edge of the tree-line, hidden by large bushes.
Theo froze, hackles raising as he gritted his teeth. Any sound would give him away. He had to stay still and quiet, despite the thick scent of Liam's blood from the truck not five feet away. Everything in him roared to rip the hunters to pieces, to bloody the ground and make sure they paid for their offense. Everything except the voice that sounded suspiciously like Liam, telling him not to kill. His lips twitch into a snarl as he flattens his ears, somehow still glued to the ground.
Bzzz. A hunter's radio chimed. "Come in, squad four."
A woman pulled her's from her belt, "Squad four, ready."
"Prize acquired. Repeat, the alpha is in hand. Squad two, requesting pickup and return to compound."
Theo shook his head, processing. The others had been winning, moping the floor with the half-trained flunkies. For these idiots to get ahold of Scott, of all people. It took a moon-crazed, IED-fueled beta to just nearly kill him. How could they have gotten him?
"Copy, squad two. What is your location?"
Theo growled, a deep sound from his chest, as he stood, emerging from beneath the bushes. He launched at the nearest hunter before she pulled her gun. Tearing out her throat was his first thought. The little voice screamed at him, Scott doesn't approve of killing. He clamped his mouth shut, barely nicking her neck, leaping off as they hit the ground. He grabbed hold of an arm, bitting down hard. He twisted his body, wrenching the hunter off of their feet with all his weight. The scream of pain made Theo's gut half-twist. Before, his coyote would have almost enjoyed causing pain like this. The blood that spurted from the gaping wound, leaking into his mouth would have spurred him on… He spat out the limb, backing a few feet away, his snarl more vicious than ever as he shook his head. He wasn't supposed to hurt people anymore.
Pain exploded in his shoulder, sending a sharp squeal out of him as he backed another step, forcing his attention back to the situation. Three hunters took aim while two more rushed towards him. Theo roared as he surged to meet the hunters. Skin shredded beneath his claws and bones cracked between his teeth as he brought the two to the ground. Neither of his animals cared, but he tried to leave them more or less alive.
He lunged for the center one, grabbing her ankle in his jaw and shaking his entire body, dragging her off balance. He sprang for the right one, swiping a paw at her head. Pivoting on her chest, he snarled at the last hunter, staring at the barrel of his gun.
"Time's up, monster," he chuckled, cocking the weapon.
Theo growled again, straightening from his half-crouched position. This was a first. A hunter with a backbone. Oh, any other day, he would rip out that spine and feed it to the man. One last snarling twitch of his lips, and Theo turned tail before the man could blink, disappearing into the blackness of the Preserve.
He had to get back to the others, try to stop Scott from getting taken too, if he could. It was a long shot, but he had to try. No one would believe him otherwise. His legs burned, no longer conditioned to sprint across half the Preserve, but he didn't slow. What abysmal energy reserves he had left, he used to push faster.
Chest heaving, he skidded to a stop in the clearing. Whipping in circles, he looked for Scott. Theo stopped, standing still, shaking as his tail and head drooped limply. Everyone was there, either knocked out or restrained, but present, except Scott.
"Where the hell were you?" Stile growled from behind him.
Theo almost flinched at the tone, as it sliced into him, squarely hitting him in the gut, rubbing salt onto the wound he doubted Stiles thought existed. He lifted his head a few inches. A low grumble rose in his throat as he turned, meeting Stiles' furious glare without a blink.
"You think I didn't see your furry ass race through here? Where did you go, Raeken? Huh?" Stiles stepped into Theo, forcing him back as he growled. "And what are you covered- Is that blood?"
Theo dropped his head again as he stepped away. He grumbled, tossing his head around with a snort. Of course he was the one Stiles reprimanded for being bloody. It's not like anyone else had it on them. Oh wait, yeah they do. A coarse, rumbling growl built in his throat as his ears flattened.
"Did you kill someone, again? I swear to god, Raeken, if you did, you're going away. For good this time."
Theo froze, eyes narrowing at the threat. A snarl slipped out before he could bite it back. To Stiles' credit, he didn't even blink when Theo stepped towards him, lips pulled full away from his teeth, growling. Shaking his head in slow, deliberate motions, Theo backed away.
"I'm pretty sure he's saying he didn't," Mason translated, shrugging his shoulders.
"As if the psychopath will admit he murdered people." Stiles rolled his eyes. "We'll find out eventually I guess."
Theo growled, hackles raised, eyes narrowed at Stiles' back. Dropping him would make his life so much nicer. No more jabs at his pre-Hell actions. No more incessant distrustful questioning of his motivations.
"Chill, dude. It's not like the rest of us agree with him." Mason walked toward Theo, setting a hand on his shoulders, soothing the raised fur. "You got anywhere to sleep tonight?"
Theo huffed at Mason. He always had somewhere to sleep. He nudged his friend's leg before walking off, slowly making his way towards his truck. The shoes and jacket would be safe for the night, and even if they weren't, it was the opposite direction. Fewer steps the better, he decided as he finally saw the vehicle.