Being ignored was, to be honest, one of the things Theo hated most about them. He had never expected them to care for his first day of class but he had at least expected them to show the heck up. The thought of three blurry shadows in the crowd of proud parents made him smile a little, even though there was no sight of them. He wanted them to be proud. Really.
Theo Raeken had been taken away in winter, that had been a couple of months ago. Since then, he had let his sister die, he became a werewolf and he celebrated his 10th birthday in the darkest corner of the current lab. Now, it was summer and the scar on his chest was invisible.
Theo survived the opening ceremony by ignoring everything that happened. As he saw a shadow at the exit, he ran towards it, silently hoping they had decided to come.
But it was a stranger. A stranger that grabbed his arm, pulled him behind the exit and placed a book in his arms. Theo was wise enough not to scream. This had not ended well the first time, and Theo didn't expect it to end well now.
"Who are you?" he asked. After all, he was ten years old and he had a healthy fear of strangers. Especially if those strangers had three eyes. That stranger did; the last one was located right on his forhead.
"Read it," the stranger said, and the third eye flickered down nerously on him, "you will see."
"Can't you just tell me?"
"I can show you," the man answered, laughed and shook his head. "No. Read the book."
Theo wanted to say many things. First of all, he didn't read that well. He spelled things the way he saw them on the doctors' notes and teachers had asked him several times if he had French relatives. He talked the way a ten year old talked, with a hint of something older and darker. Nobody had asked him about his situation at home, not yet. People would always ask about a kid's "situation". In Theo's eyes it was the dumbest thing an adult could do. What was he supposed to say?
"Yeah, my parents are those three creepy doctor dudes who made me kill my sister… but they don't hit me, so there's no situation, Sir. Don't worry."
He did not fully hate the doctors either. They had given him power and they made pasta for lunch when he asked for it. Theo Raeken was ten years old, so those were his priorities for all that he cared. He looked down on the book he would slowly grow to hate over the years.
It was green and had letters printed on them Theo didn't fully understand.
"The Dead Doctors?" he asked in confusion.
The stranger scoffed. "Dread Doctors," he corrected him quietly. "I studied them. I know what they do. I know they took you. You need to defeat them for me."
Theo frowned, bit his lip and tried looking around for help. He didn't like this man and he didn't like how he spoke about the doctors. The name was cool, Theo decided, but that was about everything he took from this.
"Theo? There you are!"
His teacher came closer and glared up to the stranger. He didn't seem to notice the eye. Theo had learnt that adults reacted different to the supernatural than children did. They were scared more easily.
"Hello," Theo said.
"Is that man bothering you?" the teacher asked.
Theo cleared his throat and smiled. "As a matter of fact," he said in the tone that adults always found odd about him, "he does."
The stranger looked at him like he wanted to kill him - but he was already late in line for that. Theo grinned towards him, a triumphant, happy grin, and followed his teacher back inside.
He tossed the book into his backback and promtly forgot about it.
2: ten (still but not for long)
He found the book again when he cleaned his backpack. This wasn't an unusual thing for a kid to do, but it was unusual for Theo. For the last few months of school he had just stuffed things in but yesterday, one of the straps had given in under the pressure. He didn't dare asking for a new backpack but the smallest doctor had offered to fix it if he gave it to her.
Empty, she had said with a look that had said it all. It wasn't a "look" exactly; none of the doctors fully looked at him. Theo hadn't read an expression of them ever. That was part of the reason he didn't always understand his classmates' faces. But he understood glares that lingered on him longer than they had to. Glances like those brought tears to his eyes and made his throat go numb.
He had to clean his backpack so she fixed it. So she stopped looking at him longer than she had to.
In the middle of all the chaos was a book. It had survived the banana-explosion and the tons of worksheets crumbled in between the pages. As a matter of fact, the book was too intact after being in the backpack for so long. Theo carefully wrapped a paper towel around his filthy hands and grabbed it.
It was perfectly clean, green and had printed "THE DREAD DOCTORS" on it. The author was T.R. McCammon (Theo didn't know them even though he had read a lot over the last months of school) and when Theo looked closer, the book also said, "A terrifying tale of science fiction and horror.”
Theo liked science. He didn't know what fiction was and he had a vague understanding of what horror meant.
He jumped to his feet, put the book to the side and emptied the rest of the backpack within two seconds. Once he had sorted through the old papers, broken pens and remains of sandwiches, he tossed the backpack towards the doctors. Only two of them actually looked up; the smallest one and the tall one with the metal mask.
"I need to do homework," Theo said even though he had no intention of doing so.
He recieved a small nod, which was enough for him. He ran back to his corner, picked up the book again and threw himself onto the bed-that-wasn't-really-one. Theo hadn't been this excited for a book ever. The books of the doctors were mostly science related but there were a few books aimed at children. It was obvious that they had no idea what Theo liked when they got them. Theo loved the books about dinosaurs but he hated the one about insects and spiders. He couldn't even look at it. The kids-bible was terrible, they all had agreed on it.
No, one of the doctors had said when Theo asked if they believed in anything mentioned in the bible. He hadn't touched the book again after that.
But the new book promised him science. No creating of the earth and people fighting over apples (he hadn't read more of the bible and he didn't have to), just science. And fiction. And horror.
Excitedly, he turned the book and read the back.
“In a small New England town, teenagers are taken in the night and buried alive. Days later they emerge transformed wreaking havoc and spreading terror, commanded by an ancient order of parascientists known only as the Dread Doctors.”
Theo read it again. And again. He didn't understand half of the words, and what was worse: This didn't sound like science at all. Frustrated and disappointed, he stuffed the book under his mattress and walked back to the lab.
"What's havoc?" he asked.
Now, all three doctors looked up and Theo could feel them communicating in a way he didn't understand. It was like they transfered their bodies onto a new reality and used this new reality to talk (Theo would be surprised later by how close he was to the truth with that).
Where did you hear that? one of them finally asked quietly. It was the leader, with the red lenses. The one who had taken his sister's heart and… what had he done with it? Theo couldn't remember. He was with the doctors because… yes, why was he with them? They were his parents, but they surely didn't give birth to him. Theo knew how birth worked because he had read it in one of the books from them. That book had also taught him that some boys and girls weren't born this way, and that girls could like girls and boys could like boys and that some people liked nobody at all.
"In school," Theo lied. He didn't want them to take away the book, even though he didn't like it.
Again, the blurried whisper continued, followed by a small shrug from the tallest doctor with the metallic mask. The red-lenses-doctor leaned forward and, to Theo's surprise, his voice was almost soft when he spoke. Education was special to the three of them, the books made that obvious.
Do you know what mayhem means?
"No," Theo answered honestly.
There was a small whisper that sounded French. Theo didn't know a lot of French, but he knew a lot of curses he had picked up in the lab. The doctors seemed to think he didn't understand them but Theo had learnt early that quiet, frustrated French meant something bad. (Also, he had gotten detention after he repeated the words in class.)
It means chaos. Bad chaos. Uh, the doctor paused and Theo was certain that he blushed behind his mask. He had read that people blushed when they were embarrassed, destruction. Widespread destruction. You understand?
"I think so," Theo answered slowly. "What's terror?"
The silence was longer this time.
What did you talk about in school? the smallest doctor asked.
Theo looked over to the tank with the Nazi. He wasn't entirely sure what a Nazi was but apparently, they were bad. He knew that many, many adults showed an uncomfortable reaction to the word "Nazi" and that something very bad had happened to Germany that centered around those people.
"Uh, Nazis?" Theo tried.
What happened next was a history lesson he'd never forget. When the doctors were done with explaining, Theo finally understood what the word "awkward" meant, but he had no idea what terror had to do with his book.
He knew one thing though: Nazis definitely were branleurs and nobody could tell him otherwise.
The next time, he found the book, he was crying himself to sleep. They had moved places a couple of times by now, but Theo liked Germany. He didn't want to leave. He had friends, he knew German and for fuck's sake, why did they have to move all the time?
His things were packed already but he refused to get up from his bed. They'd force him in the morning, he was sure of it. They had never hurt him physically but Theo was scared of them when they were scared. And that's what it was. Fear. A lot of fear. Whenever they left. By now, Theo had read a couple of dramatic novels and he was sure they had commited crime somewhere. Aside from… they had done something with him but the memory was slippery.
Theo punched his pillow until it burst open, then he punched the mattress and howled in pain when he hit something.
Are you packing? one doctor asked, the woman probably. Her voice vibrated in the air like no other voice did. It didn't make sense but he had gotten used to the doctors.
"No," Theo yelled back and buried his hand underneath the mattress. He gasped as he found something solid and changed his mind. "I mean... Yes. I'm almost done!"
There was no answer. There never was an answer.
Theo pulled a book from underneath the mattress.
He vaguely remembered putting it there in a hurry when they had arrived in Germany. It had always been underneath the mattress, so he hadn't thought about it.
He flicked through the pages until he found something that hit him. Not physically, but it hit him as hard as books could hit a person.
… Stielhandgranate at the Pathologist,
Aaron jumped to his feet and charged after Judy. The Stielhandgranate sailed wide and landed behind the Pathologist.
The Pathologist. Something familiar crawled up his throat; Theo blinked a few times and stared at the door. Somewhere behind him, he felt the doctors.
The Dread Doctors.
The Pathologist was one of them.
The book was real.
Theo's brain seemed to burst with pain. He had to hold back tears as he stared down onto the page. He finished it. He finished another one.
He remembered. But he also didn't.
It was like remembering someone else's memories. Theo knew who they were, he knew who he was and what he had done. He stared at the letters that barely made sense to him and blinked a couple of times. He thought about the tall Pathologist trying to pet a corgi in public. He thought about the Geneticist fixing his backpack for the 3rd time in a month. He thought about the Surgeon's long stare at the second tank (the one with the man Theo hadn't dared to ask about), and he thought about asking "were you ever in love?" and the Surgeon saying, yes.
He wasn't sure what to feel but he was sure that he had to get rid of the book before the doctors found it. He emtied the pillow and put the book into it, then he packed his last stuffed animals and the book into his suitcase. Surprised by how heavy it was, he pulled the suitcase into the lab.
"We can leave now," he said. "Are you sure you guys aren't criminals?"
The Pathologist looked up from his work. Out of all the masks, his one was most impossible to read. He didn't gesture a lot either; mostly he just looked at Theo.
"We move a lot," Theo explained.
Apparently, his words weren't enough to erase the silence because a second later, the doctor went back to work. He put a bunch of teeth into a jar (which had been disturbing many months ago but now it wasn't), closed the jar and put it next to the other ones. Theo spotted a couple of eyes in a jar, and to his surprise this was normal to him too.
Ten minutes, the Pathologist finally said, which led Theo to believe that he only said something so he would leave. It worked, because Theo walked to the exit and sat down on the suitcase. He could see a train driving past the abandoned station that currently was their home. Theo had loved walking to the next station and talking the subway. The subway in Germany was great because it drove above the ground as well. It wasn't on time a lot, though.
Still, Theo had loved taking the subway. From where they were located, it took him 15-20 minutes to reach Bonn, or a bit longer to reach Cologne. Both of those cities sucked in their own way but Theo had made friends. He knew how to take care of himself just enough so teachers wouldn't ask about how things were "at home". It was a stupid question anyway; what was he supposed to say?
"My parents are doctors who maybe kill people. But they never hit me or hurt me, and I actually kinda like them. So, things are good, Sir."
He wondered what their next destination was.
4: fourteen and a half
High school, Theo had decided, sucked. Everyone was smelly, people made out in the hallway, one teacher gave black students worse grades than the rest and everyone asked him if he had a girlfriend yet. Theo had asked the doctors how to fake having a girlfriend, and after an awkward explanation, he had learned that the Surgeon had actually done this. This method needed a boyfriend and those boyfriend's sister to "go out with". Theo had none of those things.
What he had, was a plan. Over the last few months, he had finally realized what the doctors were doing. When Theo had been nine years old, they had promised him power. This power was great, but it hadn't been meant for him to keep. He was supposed to be a body for the Surgeon's boyfriend (the one whose sister he pretended to date!). For some reason, that plan had failed and Theo was now a spy. A cooler one than James Bond and not-quite-as-cool as the guy in the Bourne movies. Like every great spy, Theo wanted to betray his bosses. He wanted more. He wanted a pack.
Theo had discovered that he wasn't actually human. He was partly werewolf and partly werecoyote. This was the power the doctors had talked about, not getting rid of his asthma. But they had done that too.
A good werewolf needed a pack. He needed one. And he wanted to be alpha.
Whenever the doctors found a new body to try out, Theo begged for them to keep it. The last time it had almost worked but then the kid had died in the middle of class, right when Theo wanted to befriend him. As much of a failure George had been, Theo loved that he wasn't one. Sure, he wasn't the right body but he was a success. "Success" was the doctors' favorite word, so it slowly grew on him. He heard it whenever he brought home a perfect test, along with an awkward hug whenever he asked for one. He didn't ask much lately, hugs were lame and parents were even lamer.
They were his parents, for all he cared. They made lunch, allowed him to go out and bought his clothes. Sometimes, they'd forget that Theo was mortal and needed food, and Theo knew exactly how to trick them into getting more sweets. It was better than having normal parents because they never threatened him with a divorce and they never talked about their feelings. The dead experiments weren't too bad either.
And what was he supposed to tell people?
"My parents kill children in our lab but it's just to get a loved one back. Other than that, the lasagna they make is really good."
Theo spent his days like every other 14-year-old, until he found the book again. He found it hidden in between his kids bible and the kids lexicon. He hadn't touched those books in years, maybe that's why he had ignored the book for so long.
It was still green, incredibly clean and he hated it the second he looked at it again. He frowned as his fingers touched the surface. Over the years, Theo had read a bunch of science fiction books, maybe he was ready for it now.
...the floor and roll away. Her chest rose and fell again and again as she sucked air into her lungs. As the adrenaline began to wear off, Judy felt her eyes sting with tears. She looked away from the twisted remains of the creature that was once her friend as a wail escaped her lips.
With a labored step, Judy turned toward the open door at the end of the walkway. Blood pounded in her ears every step of the way like the droning of a great cloud of bees.
She pushed the door open until it clanged against the outside wall. Night air filled her lungs and for the first time in weeks Judy felt like everything was going to be all right.
She stepped outside into the darkness and ran like hell.
He threw the book into his backpack where it slipped between his calculator and his math book. Theo glared at the backpack one more time, then he walked into the lab and sat down next to the Surgeon.
Theo? the doctor asked.
His name was a code-word.
"Theo?" in its most simple form was just a "Theo?". His name. But sometimes, it was something else. Like an affectionate "Are you okay? Does the dinner taste well? Is there anything I can do for you?". And then, on a few occasions, it was a professional "Can you hand me the screwdriver? Would you open that jar for me, my gloves are really pissing me off today." After a quick glance at the Surgeon's gloves, Theo walked over to him and opened a jar with dried roses. And while he was at it, he turned on their kettle and prepared four mugs for the tea.
The words blurred and vibrated on the frequency. Theo swallowed the feeling in his throat and decided to smile towards the doctor with the red lenses. It was going to hurt to betray them, he realized. He could do it, of course he could. Betraying them would be as easy as falling asleep.
But, he thought as he carried over the four mugs to their table and begged the doctors to play cards with him, it was going to hurt.
He read the first few chapters on the way to school but they gave him a headache, so he switched to Harry Potter instead. He wasn't sure why he should read a stupid book about the Dread Doctors when he already knew everything about them. He knew that the love for his boyfriend kept the Surgeon alive. He knew that the Pathologist wanted to get a dog. He knew that the Geneticist would die for her friends. Most importantly, he remembered who he was and what had happened.
There was nothing the book could give him.
Theo looked at the pack he was trying to take over. They all focused on the book he had tried to read for years; their silhouettes glowed on the human frequency that was so different from the ones the doctors disappeared on. He thought about Liam and how some boys liked boys. After a while, Theo looked down on his own text, grinned to himself and continued pretending to read.
Theo couldn't believe he was about to follow the instructions of a stranger he met when he was ten.
The book was useless, Theo thought as he found it again. The pages had turned yellow over the years but he could still read the words. The book had been in his flat ever since he moved in; and he had no memory of reading it. He knew it had been there, because he had passed the green cover at least ten times a day.
"What are you doing?" Stiles asked from behind his phone. Ever since Lydia had left for her exchange year, he lived with Theo. Not officially, of course, but Stiles told it everyone that didn't want to hear it.
"Thinking about your sex-life," Theo answered without really listening to him.
"Oh, and how it's better than yours?" Stiles asked.
"You wish you were a part of mine, Stilinski."
"We can change that."
Theo finally looked up and grinned. "What would your mom say about that?"
Stiles' face mirrored the pain in Theo's eyes as he answered, "What would your parents say about that?"
"I'm sure that at least one of them was gay."
People always asked what had happened to his parents and why there had been nobody at the wedding with Liam. Theo had nothing to say to them.
What should he say anyway?
"My parents were killed by the project they had worked on all their life. Maybe it's better this way."
"I know it sucks," Stiles said. Theo took the time to focus on his face, the small imperfections on his skin, the fresh buzzcut and the small smile on his lips. He had become used to him, just like he had grown into liking living with the doctors. Time did this to him, sometimes.
"It always sucks when someone dies. My mom… I know she loved me. I don't talk about it a lot because it makes me sad but the memory is still there. Somewhere."
Theo nodded because he couldn't speak. He didn't talk about real emotions a lot, they irritated him and never helped in a productive conversation.
"In some weird way, they probably liked you. Otherwise you'd be dead. You are a sacrifice they weren't willing to make."
Stiles shrugged, forced a smile onto his lips and leaned back on the couch.
"You could answer me," he suggested.
"I don't want to," Theo said.
"That's okay too."
Stiles pointed at the book. "Did you ever read it?"
Theo shook his head. The book looked too normal in his eyes, like a bad novel you take with you on summer vacation and leave behind on the beach. He opened it, flipped the first few pages and looked down on the index.
"Whatever," he muttered, "I've read worse."
The kids bible, for example.