She's just a child, Chris thinks, about the same age as his own daughter, in an oversized leather jacket with a cropped tee under it. She's wearing daisy dukes and hi tops, her hair loose over her shoulder and she wears her make up like armour. Beside her the boy is agitated, drumming his fingers on the table. Like her he is dressed in thrift store white trash, battered knock off vans, a denim jacket that doesn't quite fit, with ragged cuffs and missing buttons, jeans that are at least a size too large, and a "wonderbread" tee where the neck is torn to reveal a splatter of moles and a yellowing bruise on his collar bone. He has eyes that are a shade darker than those of a wolf.
Chris has never seen two children look so cold before, and he can't think of them as anything but children, for all that they are the ones who have arranged this meeting. It is only when the boy moves that he sees the pin in his jacket, like a trophy, a silver wolf rampant, a gift that Chris had given his father when he had been their age. They're about the same age as his daughter but Allison's eyes are bright with laughter and these two are dull with time.
He knows that they are dangerous, but he can't seem to make the leap in his own head, as the boy plays with his spoon, drumming it on the edge of his empty banana split bowl, and the girl turns the coffee again and again in her hands.
He knows better than to underestimate them, but they are unarmed, children, he thinks, for all the ink that he can see sprawled across her abdomen, a wolf, no, he corrects himself seeing it as she leans forward, her tee cut away to reveal it, the God-wolf of ancient Japan, the white wolf with her flaming shield, curls from under her arm to the line of her hip, before burying it's head in the waistband of her daisy dukes.
She wears her affiliation proudly, even as she turns the cheap cup in her hands, the black coffee forming an inky spill inside, catching the light and rippling, and her bitten nails, painted blue and chipped, bring him back again and again to her youth. When she turns the cup he sees the Greek letter tattooed on her wrist. Theta.
"The one thing everyone agrees on, Argent," she says and her voice sounds old and tired, "is that you're not like your father, that you are a good man."
Chris has heard the rumours about his father, rumours of how he twisted the code, but his father has been missing for over a year, and the boy sitting opposite him is wearing his pin like a badge of honour. The girl is wearing dog tags; they are clawed in half. He wonders which hunter lost them that she can wear them so casually.
She reaches into her shirt and from her bra she pulls a data stick which she slides across the table. "Your code," the boy says and his voice is young too, but sad and tired, he wonders what horrors happened to these children, "it says we hunt those who hunt others, isn't that right?" His lips are chapped and there are marks on them from his teeth, where he has bitten down on them one too many times. "Does that include children?"
"No." Chris answers.
The girl moves her head. "What about the parents of those children?" she asks, "the ones you say you don't take."
"I don't understand," Chris answers, wondering how these two children got so jaded and bitter, and why this girl wears trophies and the god wolf on her skin with such pride.
The boy laughs and the girl's smile is fond to him. "Check the files, Argent." She says, "and meet us here tomorrow, we'll leave our wolves at home." The boy stands up and offers the girl his hand to leave, she throws a few crumpled bills on the table to cover their bill but Chris, wriggling out of the booth hands them back to her.
"Till tomorrow." He can't get the image of Allison out of his head, she starts training next year, trained to be a general, but he wonders if her eyes will be as said as these children, because as hardened as hunting has made them he wants nothing more than to bring them home, to give them something other than being jaded and haunted.
When Chris meets them the next day it is clear that he did not sleep. She has switched out her daisy duke's for white jeans so tight they look painted on, shredded as if by claws, and a sloppy sweater, and her hair is pulled back, but she still wears the dog tags proudly, and a dark red lipstick the colour of blood. The boy is wearing another skinny tee and oversized jeans. Where she is small and distinct he is tall and still growing into his limbs, his hair is dark where her's is red. Chris gets the impression she is the one guarding him.
He's not nearly stupid enough to think that they are alone in here, their wolves are here somewhere. Chris doesn't know what they look like, but they're certainly in the diner. He wouldn't leave them behind either. Not if a fraction of what she gave him to read is true.
There are empty plates in front of them, her nails are green today, but just as chipped. There is a bruise on his collarbone that vanishes under the wrecked neck of his tee shirt. They're younger than his Allison, Chris knows that now. He also knows that they haven't been children in a very long time.
The boy, Epsilon, he is called in the files, is fussing with food, there is a plate of burger and fries in front of him, but he doesn't seem to know what to do with the ketchup, Chris wonders how he'd react if he reached across and stole a fry from his plate, dunking it in the sauce to show him how. He'd probably get his throat torn out for the presumption.
"You read it." The girl, Theta, asks him. She was six when the Institute took her, that's what it says in the notes, murdering her parents so that no one would report her missing. Now she's barely sixteen. The boy is four months younger and was in the Program longer. If the files are true they are the only two survivors of the hundred fifty or so children snatched for the Program. Something like a thousand wolves went in and two came out. These two children, and he hates that it's the only word he has for them, were able to get out and bring their wolves with them.
The files called them Handlers, children that were taken to be indoctrinated, to bind the wolves to them so that they could be used, although the files never said what that purpose was. Chris has the location of what remains of the Institute, but he heard about the freak gas explosion weeks before.
There were something like thirty years of files of which she gave him only a taste. He has no idea of the horrors they've seen.
"I read it. I don't know what you want from me?"
The boy rolls his eyes, his mouth is expressive. "We want," he says bluntly, "to know that your sister is dead." He says it bluntly, "that the avenues that she exploited with your father are shut down, we want nothing like this to fucking happen again." Epsilon, Chris thinks, the fifth letter. His hands are long and thin, already a man's hands. "we want to know that we can go somewhere and be fucking safe, that we're not going to get hunted like dogs. We want to know that the rumours are true and you are a good man because all our lives we were told if we could get to a place we would be safe."
Under her breath the girl, Theta, murmurs "Midian."
"That turned out to not exist, we were given just enough hope to hang us with, and all we want is somewhere safe."
"What happened to the Institute?" Chris asks, the files ended before he could learn that.
Theta cocks her lovely head, her name, her real name was not in the files. She was always referred to as Theta. "They underestimated us." She says. "They made a mistake, they trained us for war and we brought it to them." She sounds a little smug. He wonders where she has the knife hidden on her person, he's not naive enough to think she hasn't. Even Allison, sweet innocent Allison carries. In this world you have to.
He wants nothing more than to go home, to gather his little girl up in his arms and hold her tight and safe from the world; from the things that they did to these children. And they are children, just ones forced through horrors and into the wide world.
"I have sent the order up the chain of command." Chris tells them finally, "Kate and my father broke the code and did so repeatedly, the information you shared cleared up a lot of questions we had. Kate's death sentence has been passed by the Argent Matriarch, she'll be dead by sun down."
The girl laughs, a mocking sound. "You are a fool," she says, "if you think it were only the two of them."
The boy pushes away his plate. "You may be a good man, but you are a fool. Lydia asked that we at least try," it's the first time Chris has heard the girl's name. Lydia, it's beautiful, like her. She should be in high school worrying about shoes. "I wanted to gut you and leave you in the street as a warning."
Chris does not for a second think that the boy is incapable of this, but for some reason they haven't, he doesn't think it's as simple as how he paid for dinner the day before.
"Peter wanted to burn you alive like his family was when they took him and his sister and placed them in the Institute, but he's a pet, he won't hurt you if I don't let him." The girl, Theta, Lydia, says, she has the hint of a smile. "But you have nothing to offer us. Can you remove the kill switches?" Chris shakes his head. "Can you stop the hunts?" He shakes his head. "Then you need to clean house." Her tone is even. "If you kill our wolves you kill us, and you don't know how many other wolves and Handlers escaped the Institute, you don't know how many are out there because of what your father and sister did. We are going home, Argent, and if we find you there, or near there, or even suspect you will come, we will unleash hell upon you, and we won't need our wolves to do it."
She looks across the diner to where two men are sat, they are both dark haired, and verging towards muscular, both in Walmart chic, with practical work boots, both men turn and look at them. Both have the suggestion of a beard, one working towards a goatee like a silent movie villain, and the other just scruff, both are, now that Chris looks at them, wolves. Both of them flash their eyes, one Alpha Red, the other a distinctive Steel Blue Chris has rarely seen before, only on one wolf who begged and cried and asked them to save her baby. His father had killed the mother then the child. It was the first time Chris ever doubted his father.
"Can I ask where home is?" He says. "I can arrange a lift if nothing else."
The boy laughs. "No," he says, "We've had enough of your kindnesses to last a lifetime." His tone is bitter, "you weren't there when the orderlies came in the night and there was nothing we could do, you weren't there when they broke our bones to make our wolves shift, you weren't there when our wolves cried the first time they saw the sky, terrified that they would fly away. You weren't there, and we want nothing from you now." He turns ot his companion, "I told you we should have killed him."
"We're reformed now, Stiles," she says and pats the boy's hand. "Remember." She's condescending and the boy grins at her. It's a killer's smile. He's seen it before, on hunters just before they had to put them down. He never thought he'd see it on a child.
"You're right, Lyds," he says, "it's better like this, it happened on his watch and he's going to have to live with that. We're going home," he repeats it like a mantra, something repeated, "and we're going to be safe there, because otherwise you see that data stick we gave you, we'll give the rest of it to the press, we'll blow the institute and the hunters and everything wide open, and we'll see what your precious code means then, because everyone knows werewolves aren't real. They'll see government testing or corporate or whatever they want, and you and yours will be in jail and your daughter, your precious little girl, will be at best arrested. Do you understand, you will not come near us, you will not even come in the same state as us."
He slides out of the booth, "are you coming, Derek?" he asks the Alpha, who gets out of his own chair at the command, Handlers, Chris thinks, trained to war, trained to control these creatures. He thinks about what he read in the files, how the Alpha was female, how the alpha was unbonded, how she was the niece of one of the bonded pairs, and the brother of the other. He sees how they were underestimated now, how they killed one of their own to escape.
"Why come to me?" Chris asks as Lydia pulls herself from the booth.
Lydia smiles, "because you didn't read all of the files," she tells him, "or you'd know."
He knows about the systematic abuse, how the wolves were forced to mount the children on pain of death, death that they had seen and experienced. He knows about the experiments and the reprisals. He knows about the kill switches and the cattle prods and the scars on her legs now. He knows so much about what they suffered and he wonders how he could have missed something when his mouth still tastes like vomit. He won't sleep for a while. They are children, younger than his little girl.
It's four thirty AM on a Tuesday and Deputy Graham is done, she's worn out with over an hour and a half of her shift left. Beacon Hills is quiet, there are two drivers out on patrol, the Sheriff is on call, and she's manning the phones just in case. She has a game of solitaire going on the PC because it's quiet and the tick tick tick of the clock on the wall, with the occasional hiss of the coffee machine.
She's moving the red seven unto the black eight when the phone rings. It's not the emergency number, but the desk phone so for a second she's surprised before training kicks in and she answers the phone. "Beacon Hills Sheriff's Department, deputy Graham speaking, how can I help you?"
"I," the voice says on the other end of the line, "can I speak to," he stops again, "I'm looking for Deputy Stilinski." He says finally.
"Sheriff Stilinski isn't available right now," she's careful to correct the boy without offending him.
"He got Sheriff?" the boy asks, there is a lump in his throat, for a second she thinks he might be proud. "Tara? is this Tara?" She can hear him crying and it's then that she makes the realisation of who it is, of who is calling.
"Stiles?" she asks, "Stiles is that you? Oh God, Stiles," she is running through a hundred emotions, and she doesn't understand any of them, she's trying to stand, to get her cell from her pocket so she can call the Sheriff, she has to call him. They haven't heard a word in ten years and then he calls. The Sheriff had been so insistent when he was a deputy, teaching Stiles the department number. "Honey, I need you to hold the line. I'm going to call your dad, okay."
"I can't, not yet," he says, "I just," he sighs down the line, "I just needed to know he was okay."
"Stiles, we can come and get you, we've been looking for you for so long."
"It's not safe yet," he says, "but soon, I'm okay, I just, I need you to tell him, I'm okay, it's going to be okay, I'm coming home."
She's dialling even as he talks. "Stiles please," she manages, remembering the little boy with the flashing lights on his shoes that she took to the hospital that day - the day that he vanished, she remembers his smile and how he talked and talked and there hasn't been a day that she didn't hate herself for not staying just a little longer, for not stopping him being taken. She half hears him say "goddammit, Lyds," but by the time she has finished speaking the line is dead.