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Come with Me and Walk the Longest Mile

Chapter Text

How many times have I prayed
That I would get lost along the way?
-- "The Regulator" by Clutch

Derek finds the kid behind a convenience store in Nebraska, cornered between the building and the dumpster. He's pale and skinny, hair cropped short in a ragged buzzcut that's starting to grow out, and gripping a baseball bat studded with nails. There are three prowlers pacing back and forth in front of him, another one beaten into a mushy pile on the ground at his feet. When one of the prowlers darts in, the kid lifts the bat and waits, steely-eyed and calm, so patient that for a moment Derek thinks he waited too long, he fucked up, he's a goner.

Finally the kid swings, connects, tears most of the prowler's face off with one vicious thwack! It staggers back and falls, thrashing on the ground as the last two prowlers come at him at the same time, one from each side.

Derek knows better than to risk his own neck to help someone else, but it's one kid against all those prowlers, and he's already taken down two. It looks like he'd have a fighting chance if he had a little help.

Derek shifts as he grabs his crowbar out of the truck, joins the fray, and it's all over in seconds.

~*~

The kid is bigger than he seemed at first glance, his shoulders wide, if a little boney. There's almost no fat on him, cheekbones sharp over sunken cheeks, but Derek knows he looks the same, worn down to sinew and bone by scarce rations and constant vigilance. Still, the kid looks beguilingly defenseless when he's not wielding the bat, eyes bright and curious in his young face, the back of his neck narrow and vulnerable.

His name is Stiles, he's sixteen years old, and trying to get back to California. That seems too coincidental to let pass, so Derek says, "So am I. You can come with me if you want." He's thinking of the way Stiles handled himself, and the way he handled the bat. He won't be too much of a burden.

Derek doesn't really expect Stiles to agree. Ever since the sickness, the law of natural selection has come back with a vengeance, and anyone will fuck you over to gain one bare inch of advantage in the survival game. Eat your food, steal your clothes, slash your throat and leave you for the walkers and the prowlers and the feral dogs. Stiles should be more careful.

Stiles shouldn't accept rides from werewolves he meets behind abandoned convenience stores. Stiles shouldn't toss his backpack in the truck and scramble into the front seat and trust Derek not to do something really bad to him. Stiles shouldn't look so happy to throw in with a guy he just met. But he does all of those things anyway.

~*~

"So. You're a werewolf, huh?" Stiles says, before they've even driven half a block. He sounds kind of pleased by the idea, which is a little surprising.

There's always been lot of anti-werewolf bullshit out there, even with all the laws they passed about discrimination. Most of Derek's kind kept a low profile even before the sickness, and it's even worse now. Prowlers are a lot faster and a lot more resilient than human zombies, which has only increased the hysteria. Plus, there's a rumor that the sickness started with werewolves, and one of them infected a human. Derek doesn't know if it's true, but it might as well be—a lot of the people who are left act like it is.

"So you're a human, huh?" Derek shoots back, deadpan.

Some people have a hard time telling when Derek is making a joke, but Stiles, who has known him all of ten minutes, doesn't seem to have that problem. He laughs and says, "Touché."

They make good headway the first day, though travel is still slow compared to how things used to be, before the sickness. A lot of roads are clogged with long traffic jams of abandoned cars, barricades blocking access to towns, even the ones that are empty now except for the infected. Once in a while, booby traps. Pits dug in the road and covered with tarps, that kind of thing. Derek lost his first truck—and a nice chunk of meat out of his thigh—to one in Indiana. His leg's fine now, and he likes the Range Rover better anyway.

The Range Rover's a workhorse, and can go around and over stuff when it has to, so sometimes they make their own road, bouncing across medians, or into fields full of shaggy, surprised cattle the zombies haven't eaten yet. The main problem is keeping it fueled. Derek's become an expert at siphoning gas, and he's got two big red plastic jerry cans strapped to the back of the truck for emergencies. He hasn't been left stranded yet. Stiles seems impressed by the Range Rover, and asks if he can drive it. The look Derek gives him makes him huff in annoyance and put his dirty shoes on the dashboard in retaliation.

Stiles is chatty, and overshares like he can't help it, hands moving constantly while he talks, so within a few hours Derek knows a lot about him. He doesn't seem to notice Derek doesn't return the favor.

"How'd you end up behind a convenience store in Nebraska?" Derek asks at one point, because he's curious, and also because he wants to derail Stiles' current monologue about the unfairness of standardized testing.

It works. In the blink of an eye, Stiles is off and running on that topic.

He was visiting his grandma in Cincinnati over his summer vacation when the sickness struck, he tells Derek. Buried her in the backyard, and barricaded himself in the house, thinking it would be over soon and life would go back to normal. Everyone had thought that at first.

Grandma had come back, later that night, smeared with dirt, pawing at the back door. Stiles had seen enough horror movies to know what to do.

As the sickness spread, and with it the resulting panic, Stiles took his grandma's Cadillac and hit the road. He made it all the way to Omaha before the car gave out; he had just appropriated another and was looking for supplies when he got caught out by the prowlers.

He's anxious to get back home. His father survived, he says with conviction. Derek thinks he's being overly optimistic—what the sickness didn't do, the zombies later did. The chances are probably slim Stiles' dad is alive, but they'll know soon enough.

"What about you?" Stiles asks, inevitably. He's chewing on the strings of his hoodie, which is kind of gross.

"I was living in New York, but I’m from California," Derek says. He shrugs. "Might as well go there." He leaves out the part about how being one of the few survivors of a zombie plague isn't the worst thing that's ever happened to him.

~*~

The closer they get to Lincoln, the more clogged Hwy 6 gets, so when Derek pulls over to refill the truck's tank from one of the red cans, Stiles takes a brand new Nebraska map out of his backpack and spreads it out on the hood.

"We could try this way," Stiles says, one grimy, chewed finger tracing a road that branches off the highway a few miles from here. "It'll take us a little north, but we can come back down here." He taps another road.

It's probably a good idea—Stiles made it this far on his own, so he's obviously capable of navigating—but Derek isn't really listening. In the pile of junk spilling out of his backpack is another map, one for California, and on that one Stiles has marked Beacon Hills with a crookedly drawn red star.

"Is that where you're going?" Derek asks, not quite believing it. He points to the California map.

Stiles follows Derek's finger, then looks at him and tilts his head curiously. "Yeah. Why?"

"That's where I’m from. My family--" His family is probably dead. What little was left of it to begin with. Laura had assured him, during their final phone call, that she and Cora and Peter were fine, but that was months ago. They're probably all dead by now, but the only way to know for sure is to go to Beacon Hills and see for himself. Most days, Derek tells himself he wants to know for sure. "My family is from there," Derek says. "We have territory there."

"Really?" Stiles brightens noticeably at this connection, as tenuous as it is. "My dad's the sheriff."

"Your dad is Sheriff Stilinski?" Derek asks, incredulous, and the look on Stiles' face immediately goes from "bright" to "incandescent."

"You know him?" he asks eagerly. Then his grin turns mischievous. "Did he arrest you?"

Derek laughs. It's a short, rusty-sounding thing, but it's a laugh. "No. We had a problem with some anti-werewolf shitheads a few years ago." He's leaving out a lot of stuff. A lot. But he's under no obligation to share his entire life story with Stiles, even if it feels like Stiles is doing a pretty good job of sharing every detail of his with Derek, and it's only been six hours.

"Ah," Stiles says, nodding. He folds the Nebraska map back up. "Well, this is good! We're both going the same exact place. What are the odds?"

Yeah. What are the odds? Derek thinks. He has no idea how often he'll wonder that in the coming weeks.

~*~

They drive on, turning away from Lincoln when they come upon a giant roadblock made of concrete traffic barriers and sandbags, spray painted with dire warnings that the city is over run. There isn't much else, though, in the middle of Nebraska, and Derek starts to get nervous about gas. The sun is already low in the sky, and it's always worse after dark. The prowlers in particular--permanently shifted zombie werewolves, often roaming in packs--seem to be more active at night, which isn't surprising. Werewolves are always drawn to the moon.

Derek's learned that farms sometimes keep fuel on hand for the equipment, so the next time he sees one off in the distance they drive that way, hoping it's not just a waste of gas. There's no fuel tank on the property, but Derek manages to siphon some out of the old pick-up parked behind the barn, which takes the edge off his worry.

They try another place a dozen miles down the road, with similar results, and then strike gold at the next one. There's a tank, and it's got more than enough to top off the truck plus fill both gas cans. Even better, Stiles finds a third jerry can stashed in an old shed. Derek straps it to the top of the truck and fills it up.

There's an old rambling farmhouse that looks like it might be a nice place to spend the night, but as soon as they cautiously open the door they both reel back, gagging at the smell. There's more than one dead body in there, maybe more than four dead bodies, even. Derek shuts the door, saliva pooling in his mouth as he fights the urge to vomit, and they hurry back to the truck. Sometimes enhanced senses can be a curse, and that's never been more true than it is now.

Everything smells bad now. Rotting food, rotting animals, rotting people. The zombies are something else entirely--putrid decay with an undertone of infection. There's only so much a werewolf can block out. As they walk back to the truck, Derek discreetly hones in on Stiles' scent instead, trying to fix his poor overwhelmed nose. Stiles smells pretty good for a guy living rough, just warm skin and clean sweat, a little hint of Cheeto. It's almost heavenly after the house.

By now it's getting dark, and who knows if they'll find anything better, so after a short discussion they pull the truck into the barn and close the door behind them. Derek jams it closed with a pitchfork, which is just enough of an obstacle to slow down any infected, but not so much they can't make a quick exit if need be.

The barn's not bad. It smells like clean hay, and it's dry inside. Derek's slept worse, even before the sickness.

"Well, this is nice, too," Stiles says, with admirable optimism. He walks over and sits down on a bale of hay. "This'll make a pretty comfy bed," he says, bouncing experimentally.

"We're sleeping in the truck," Derek says, opening up the back and reaching for the rucksack he uses for food. "Safer." Behind him, he hears Stiles sigh, then get up and trudge over, elbowing his way next to Derek to grab his own stuff.

Stiles has an open bag of stale Fritos in his backpack, now smashed nearly to powder, and a bottle of Gatorade that has about a quarter inch of sediment at the bottom. Derek dines on a can of Beefaroni and some water. Gourmet meals by apocalypse standards.

By the time they finish eating it's full dark and getting chilly, and Stiles is yawning. Derek folds the seats down in the back of the truck and they crawl in, wrapping themselves up in snug blanket cocoons. Derek has a couple good sleeping bags he uses to make a nice little nest for himself every night. Stiles has a comforter with an obnoxious floral pattern on it and a matching pillow that Derek suspects came from his grandma's house.

Based on the day so far, Derek expects Stiles to yak his ear off, but Stiles falls asleep before Derek does, quick, like someone flipped his off switch. Derek's a little jealous, actually.

It takes him a bit to relax enough to fall asleep, so he spends a little time laying there, listening to the wind push against the barn, the creaky windmill by the house spinning. There are no walkers, no prowlers, just the slow, even rhythm of Stiles' breaths.

Derek drifts off, and sleeps until morning.

~*~

He wakes up a little too warm, another live body making a big difference in such a small space. Stiles has moved during the night and is now twisted up like a pretzel with his butt pressed against Derek's leg. Derek nudges him with his knee, and Stiles makes an annoyed sound and scoots away.

Before the sickness, Derek was a hit-the-snooze-button-five-times kind of guy, but now when he wakes up in the morning his first thought is all the zombies who want to eat him, which tends to make him get moving right away. He crawls out of his sleeping bag pile, and then out of the truck.

The air is chilly, cold enough to see his breath, but it feels good after the humid warmth inside the truck. He wanders over to the barn door, yawning, and cautiously opens it a crack when his ears don't pick up anything zombie-sized moving around outside.

It's early, the sun just barely over the horizon, birds chirping, and the grass is crisp with frost. No walkers or prowlers in sight, so he takes a moment to relax and watch the sun come up a little higher. He'd love a big, steaming mug of coffee right about now.

He'd also love to go for a run, feel his body get loose and sweaty in the crisp air, feel the sun come up until it's warm on his shoulders. That'd be suicide, though—nothing attracts the prowlers like the sound of a beating heart, the smell of a warm body. Derek reluctantly closes the door and contents himself with some push-ups, some burpees, and some weightlifting in the form of moving around bales of hay. He's leaned out to nothing by now, his belt barely keeping his jeans up, his skin stretched tight and thin over his bones. You gotta stay strong, though, if you wanna live. He does another set of push-ups. Stiles sleeps through it all.

There's a water tank behind the barn, which probably isn't safe to drink for Stiles, but Derek helps himself. The water tastes slightly metallic, but not bad. Once he's slurped up a few handfuls he washes up a little, hissing between his teeth when he splashes the icy water on his steaming skin. As he scrubs his wet hands through his hair and his beard, he keeps one ear cocked for zombies while the other keeps tabs on Stiles, still snoozing away in the truck, but everything is quiet.

Stiles still hasn't moved by the time Derek's changed into clean clothes and rolled up his sleeping bags, and Derek's tired of waiting. They need to get going.

"Hey, rise and shine," Derek says, shaking him a little. Stiles is slow to wake up, burrowing deeper into his blanket, grumbling, until Derek grabs his ankle and drags him almost out of the truck, and then Stiles sits up like he's been electrocuted, all at once and looking ornery. So definitely not a morning person, then.

"Blarrrgh," Stiles groans, sounding a little zombie-like himself, as he blinks in the morning light. It's a miracle he's lasted this long on his own, Derek thinks. All a zombie'd have to do is wait for him to fall asleep, apparently.

"There's water outside, if you wanna wash up," Derek says, by which he means, Go wash up. He waits to see if Stiles gets the hint.

Stiles does. He yawns so hard his jaw cracks while he roots around for his bag, but he's awake and alert when he finally gets out of the truck, and he's put his shoes on. He takes his bat with him, even though he'll be just outside the door. Kid doesn't take any chances--with zombies, anyway—and Derek approves. That's probably how he survived this long.

Stiles comes back in shivering, the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his wet head, looking about as happy as a guy who just bathed with ice water can be expected to. After he tosses his stuff back in the truck, he walks over to where Derek is sitting on a bale of hay sorting through his rucksack, and takes a seat. He smells like flowery old lady soap and cinnamon toothpaste, and he changed his T-shirt. Derek knows he's out of food, so he hands him some Twinkies for breakfast.

"Thanks," Stiles says, voice still morning hoarse, as he tears the plastic open.

They eat in silence for a minute or two, dust moats floating in the sunbeam that's warming their feet, geese honking somewhere overhead on their way south for the winter. If Derek's had another moment this peaceful in the last couple months, he can't remember it.

"I never thought I'd become jaded toward Hostess products, but I was wrong," Stiles says forlornly. He shoves the last of his Twinkie in his mouth and swallows it without chewing. This crap is easy to find, and not rotten, so he's probably been eating just as much of it as Derek.

"I never thought I'd miss broccoli so much," Derek admits.

"Yeah," Stiles sighs, eyes going unfocused, like he's fantasizing about vegetables. He slithers down to sit on the floor, leaning back against the hay bale. His shoulder presses against Derek's knee, but he doesn't seem to notice. "And lettuce. Man, I can't remember the last time I had lettuce." He tips his head back as he closes his eyes, maybe imagining a nice head of iceberg. The sunlight makes his eyelashes look golden.

"Can't make a sandwich without lettuce," Derek says.

"Sure can't," Stiles agrees, without opening his eyes.

"Can't make a sandwich, period," they say in unison, a second later, and Derek snorts around a mouthful of Twinkie as Stiles grins up at him, squinting in the bright sun, and says, "Jinx!"

~*~

On their first full day together as travel companions, Derek discovers Stiles has an iPod and an adaptor he can plug into the truck, so they can listen to music. Their tastes don't overlap much, but it's better than nothing. Stiles still talks a lot, but it seems to be fueled by boredom than anything else—the long hours of sitting in the car make him antsy. Stiles has ADHD, and no access to meds.

"When we'd go on road trips when I was a kid, my mom used to give me a quarter for every lap I did around the car at rest stops," Stiles says, when he's explaining it. "Then I got to spend it on whatever souvenirs I wanted."

"I'm not giving you any quarters," Derek tells him. He hasn't actually seen a quarter in months.

"Going rate's a buck now anyway," Stiles says airily. "Inflation."

Derek pretends to think about it. "I've got a can of olives and some pork rinds," he offers. Worth more than money now.

"Deal," Stiles says and tries to get Derek to high five him. It fails miserably.

The extra stops aren't too annoying, and Derek quickly figures out that even if Stiles doesn't run laps around the truck, letting him get out and move around makes him feel better. It's not too much of a hassle to stop a little more frequently, as long as it's safe.

"I've got an electrical adaptor, too," Stiles says as he scrolls through the iPod. "I've been trying to find some clippers." He runs his hand over his hair, which is sticking up like porcupine quills everywhere it isn't mashed down flat. "I'm way overdue for a cut."

Derek is, too, he knows. His hair and his beard are both long and messy. He looks more like a werewolf than ever, or a deranged mountain man, depending on your point of view.

"Same here," Derek says. A trim wouldn't hurt. "I'll keep an eye out, too."

"Cool," Stiles says, then, "Oh, I love this song!" and turns up the volume.

During a lunch break at a burned out truck stop somewhere between Lincoln and North Platte, Derek learns why Stiles was so accepting of Derek: Stiles' best friend is a werewolf.

"Maybe you know him!" Stiles says happily, drumming on his knee with his thumb. "Scott McCall? No? What? Why are you looking at me like that?"

"We don't all know each other," Derek says, irritated. He wads up his Combos bag and tosses it onto the grass, ignoring Stiles' disapproving glare. Stiles still thinks it's wrong to litter. He doesn't seem to realize things are probably going to get a lot worse than this, and not stop getting worse for a long time. In the grand scheme of things, litter is inconsequential.

"What'd you say your last name was?" Stiles asks, digging the creamy filling out of a Ding Dong with his finger. Despite his grousing about how Hostess heavy their diet is, he's got a major sweet tooth, and goes for the sugary foods almost every time.

Derek never said what his last name was, but he's willing to share it now. Might as well get it over with. "Hale."

Stiles' face tells all. His eyes widen, his mouth drops open in a soft O. He's heard the story. Everyone in Beacon Hills has heard the story. Only a few people know the extent of Derek's culpability.

"It's okay," Derek says. "You don't have to say it." The last thing he wants is sympathy all these years after the fact. He doesn't deserve it anyway.

Stiles sucks the sugary filling off his finger and goes back for more. "My mom died when I was eight," he says after he rolls his tongue around his mouth. Derek usually hates it when people do this, share some tragedy from their own past in an attempt to bond with him or let him know they understand how it feels. No one understands how Derek feels.

"I hate telling people about it," Stiles goes on. "They try to say nice things, but I can always tell they're thinking how glad they are they're not in my shoes." He looks up at Derek, wry. "So, thanks. For once I'm not the unluckiest bastard in the room."

Derek can't help it—he laughs. As soon as he does, Stiles' wry look turns into a grin.

"Glad to help," Derek says, opening his bottle of water. His teeth feel like they've got about an inch of sugar fuzz on them.

Stiles holds up his Gatorade, motioning for Derek to do the same. "To the Dead Parents Society," he says.

"Almost everyone left is in that society," Derek points out, but he taps his bottle against Stiles' anyway, and they drink a toast to family members lost forever.

~*~

The next morning, Derek wakes up with Stiles' skinny butt inches from his face. He reaches up and pokes it with one finger, but all that does is make Stiles snort and snuffle before his breathing levels out again. Derek pokes him again, harder this time.

"Wake up and get your butt out of my face," Derek snarls, poking him a third time, even harder.

This time Stiles jerks and the rolls away, mumbling insults and four-letter words under his breath as he tugs his ridiculous blanket over his head. Derek finds himself choking back a laugh. Having Stiles around is definitely good entertainment.

The morning is much the same as the last one: washing up, eating crappy food, continuing on in the general direction of Beacon Hills. Twice is all it takes to establish the pattern, so that's how most mornings play out after that.

Things are pretty uneventful the next few days, or as uneventful as they can be when you're crossing the country in the midst of a zombie plague. Derek and Stiles get along pretty well, despite being so different, and having someone else in the truck certainly makes the miles go faster, even when they're crawling along the shoulders of log-jammed highways.

They don't see many regular people along the way—everyone's learned to keep a low profile now, because a stranger is just as likely to hurt you as help you. Once in a while as they pass through a town Derek catches movement out of the corner of his eye, too quick to be a zombie, or hears people talking somewhere off in the distance when they get out of the truck to look for supplies, but no one approaches them. Once they see a car going the other way on a divided highway, but it doesn't even slow down, so Derek keeps driving. Better that way for everyone, probably.

Stiles manages to scavenge some clippers and a nice pair of scissors, and they give each other haircuts while they're parked safely inside a lumber yard fence. Stiles' haircut takes no time, just putting the right attachment on the clippers and running it over his head, but he uses the scissors on Derek. It takes a lot longer, so long that Derek starts to get a little nervous, but when he checks himself in the truck's side mirror afterwards, it looks amazingly decent. It's maybe not perfectly symmetrical, but…eh.

Pleased with the results, he lets Stiles get the clippers going again so he can trim Derek's beard down to what he calls "manly scruff."

"Much better," Stiles say approvingly, when he's done. Derek looks at himself in the mirror and has to agree. "Now I won't feel like I'm bunking with Charles Manson."

"Hilarious," Derek says, and cuffs him on the back of the head. It's bristly now, freshly shorn, and he looks even more vulnerable with less hair, eyes bigger, cheekbones more prominent. He looks like something a prowler would love to eat. Derek makes himself think about something else.

"Thanks," Derek says gruffly, when they get all the prickly little hair trimmings brushed off and are settling down for the night. He feels better without all the wild hair, a little bit more like his old self. Six months ago, Derek hated that version of himself. How times change.

"See, I am good for something," Stiles says as he primly adjusts his old lady blanket.

Stiles is actually good for quite a few things more than that, as Derek increasingly learns. He's a whiz at finding back roads and alternate routes, can recap with mind-numbing detail the plot of any sci-fi movie made in the last twenty years, and has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of numerous random topics ranging from the history of jousting to different types of bread mold. It's like traveling with the human version of Google.

The worst thing about traveling with Stiles is that he's a bit of a pack rat. He grabs a lot of random stuff when they're scavenging, useless and appalling things like pink lawn flamingos and a ceramic mug shaped like a boob. He grabs stress balls and fake flowers and novelty keychains, until Derek has to put his foot down before Stiles completely fills the truck with useless junk. Sometimes they sleep in empty houses, but when they can't find a suitable place they sleep in the truck—keeping the clutter to a minimum is a priority.

Even after Derek stops the incoming flow of cheap crap, the stuff that's already there keeps finding its way under his seat, into his rucksack, under his butt when he's trying to sleep. It's like Stiles is slowly taking over every inch of Derek's space, one neon green plastic skeleton at a time.

Derek thinks he should mind that more than he does.

On a day Stiles will probably remember fondly forever, they scavenge a house outside Cheyenne that's obviously the former home of a comic book nerd. Stiles ricochets through the house like a humming bird on speed, rhapsodizing over the boxes of comic books and the shelves of statues, and the giant cardboard cut-out of Captain America in the corner of the dining room.

"Only what you can carry!" Derek reminds him as he digs through the dresser, looking for a shirt or two. Derek's two new rules for scavenging are take only necessities and only what you can carry. Stiles skirts the edges of both rules constantly. Derek can hear him out in the living room having a joygasm over God knows what right now. "And don't forget to look for food!" he yells.

Stiles grumbles something under his breath, too low even for Derek to make out, but a few seconds later Derek hears the sound of cupboards opening and closing.

"You should go check out the clothes," Derek says, when he comes out of the bedroom and finds Stiles struggling to zip the zipper on his backpack. "All the shirts have comic book characters on them." Derek isn't exactly picky at this point in his life, but Stiles will probably appreciate them more.

When they get out to the truck, Derek shoves a pair of newly acquired jeans and some underwear into the bag with his dirty clothes, where he'll leave them for a day or two. He hates wearing stuff that smells like other people.

Then he turns to Stiles. "Show me," he says, jerking his chin at Stiles' backpack.

Stiles rolls his eyes, but Derek was right to insist, because when Stiles opens it up, it's about half food and half books. Cheap science fiction paperbacks, it looks like. Derek disapproves. The truck is already more cluttered than he'd like, and books aren't a necessity.

"Please?" Stiles begs, clutching an armful of the books to his skinny chest, pleading with his big, baby deer eyes. "I miss reading."

"I've got books," Derek points out. Not many, but a few. He's always liked to read.

Stiles grimaces. "Yeah, but they're boring and stodgy. I miss reading interesting books."

Derek should have his head examined, but he glowers and says, "Fine. But you keep them with your stuff."

"Right, yeah, absolutely," Stiles says, even though they both know the damn things'll be spread all over the truck in a day or two. Derek will probably end up using one as a pillow.

That night they find another farm, and more gas, but Derek doesn’t like the look of the house—not secure enough—so they sleep in the truck again. Stiles is pissed, and complains about the chilly temps and the hard surface and the way he can't stretch his legs completely or sprawl out. Which is total bullshit because by morning he'll have his butt wedged into Derek's armpit anyway. He doesn't need a whole lot of room. He doesn't even use what little room they have.

It snows that night, just a dusting that'll melt as soon as the sun comes up, but it's really cold—or at least feels that way to two California boys--and Derek drifts to half-consciousness in the night with Stiles pawing at his sleeping bags, shivering even though he's wearing almost all of his clothes. Derek groans in irritation but relents, rolling so Stiles can open up Derek's blanket cocoon and worm his way inside, flattening himself against Derek's back.

"Jesus, I'm frozen solid," Stiles says through chattering teeth, but he definitely isn't. He's warm against Derek's back, except his nose, which he buries in the back of Derek's neck. Derek makes an annoyed sound, which Stiles ignores. Stiles is snoring again about thirty seconds later, and since there's nothing else to be done about it, Derek just goes back to sleep, too.

When Derek wakes up again in the morning, they've flipped over and now he's spooning Stiles. They're pressed together from head to toe, and Derek has his arm looped around Stiles' belly, holding him against his body. Stiles is using Derek's other arm as a pillow…and drooling on it.

This isn't what Derek had in mind when he asked Stiles to come with him, and he's very aware that Stiles is just a teenager, but it feels good to simply sleep with someone again, share space and warmth. It's something Derek didn't do much even before the sickness, and certainly not after. He'd forgotten how comforting it is, curling around a warm body that smells a little like him now, listening to another heartbeat, and Stiles doesn’t seem to mind the closeness. He can't keep his butt to himself anyway.

Just having Stiles around in general is already starting to shift from being convenient to being a welcome change. Derek's a pack animal, and one who's been living alone too long. It's nice, having someone to think about and take care of besides himself. It makes him feel less alone, which he's always had a tendency to be, even around other people.

There's a little voice in the back of his head that whispers that this is dangerous, nothing good can come of this, remember what happens when you let people in, but Derek ignores it. Pulls Stiles a little more snuggly against his chest and ignores a lot of things.

~*~

Stiles reads out loud while they travel, working his way through his new collection of scavenged books one at a time. They're all Star Wars novels.

Derek has no idea who most of the characters are because he only knows the first three movies, so Stiles keeps stopping the narrative to explain, and inevitably that sparks a fight because Derek is a purist with strong opinions about this so-called expanded universe bullshit. Stiles has equally strong opinions in favor of it. Derek mocks a lot of the stuff in the books, and Stiles gets mad and starts changing the details of the stories on the fly, turning the Ewoks into werewolves, which Derek considers a massive insult.

It's a pretty decent way to pass the time.

One afternoon, they pull over to eat next to a particularly picturesque piece of Wyoming. It's a little early for lunch, but Stiles' leg was starting to bounce, which means he needs a break from being in the car, and the weather's nice, so why not.

They devour about half a dozen Slim Jims while passing back and forth a box of Cheez-Its, sitting on the tailgate and watching the clouds sail by overhead. The trees are already turned, a lot of them past their peak, but the sun makes everything look better, highlights the little splashes of yellow and orange still left among the brown.

That's one thing the sickness couldn’t take away—the seasons will still come and go. Derek can remember thinking, after the fire, how mindboggling it was that the world went on like nothing had changed, when for Derek everything had changed. It doesn't seem as strange to him this time around.

He's always liked fall, especially when he was a kid and it meant football games and Halloween costumes, caramel apples eaten out on the front porch during the full moon. Even back then he'd liked the way the leaves crunched under his feet, and seeing his breath steaming in the air when his sisters chased him through the trees behind the house. He hasn't really let himself think about those things in years, and now that he is he can practically feel the itch of wool sweaters and the slime of pumpkin guts in his hands, smell the dead leaves, the inevitable pot of chili on the stove, the candy corn his dad loved so much.

For years it hurt to think about those things, but now it's only a bittersweet sting. Maybe Derek's finally gotten enough distance, or maybe things have just reached the point where they're so terrible in the present that his memories are a comfort instead of a burden. It only took the whole world going to hell for that to happen.

"When I was a kid, my dad used to rake big piles of leaves for us to play in," Derek says, for no reason he can fathom except that he's thinking about it now and it doesn't hurt and he wants to share it with Stiles. "We used to bury each other and try to hide when my mom wanted us to come in for dinner."

Stiles is silent for a moment, like Derek's surprised him, and he probably has. Derek hasn't said much about his family, holding his tongue of out habit even though at this point he knows the entire Stilinski family history, right down to what kind of underwear the sheriff wears (boxer shorts, plaid preferred).

"Just so you know, I'm picturing a bunch of little wolf puppies rolling around in a leaf pile," Stiles says eventually, turning to smile at Derek. There's something careful in his eyes, though, like he knows this is a big deal for Derek to talk about his family with someone else.

Derek scoffs, and accidentally inhales a throat full of Cheez-It crumbs. Stiles looks annoyingly proud of himself as he whacks Derek on the back a lot harder than is probably necessary.

"We can't turn into actual wolves that young," Derek says, after he's taken a few swigs of Five Alive—pickings are getting very slim—and can talk without coughing.

"Oh," Stiles says, looking genuinely disappointed by this piece of information. "Can you now?"

Stiles doesn't know that question is like a knife to Derek's heart, and it's Derek's own fault for even talking about himself in the first place. This is what he gets for opening his big mouth, Derek thinks. Just because some of his memories are bearable now doesn't mean they all are. This is still a painful one.

"It's…pretty rare," Derek says, side stepping a direct answer, but then he looks over at Stiles' face, the harmless curiosity there, and says, "My mom could. My older sister can. Mom always said I would be able to, but…"

Derek stops, looks down at the half-eaten Slim Jim in his hand, and his stomach does an unpleasant somersault.

The fire happened right around the time he probably would have been able to start going full wolf, so he never got to try. His mother, who would have been the one to guide him, was gone forever. Laura had offered to teach him, but he'd refused. He didn't deserve the power and respect that went along with achieving the wolf shift. He didn't deserve to be like his mom.

"I haven't really tried. Since the fire," he finishes. Stiles already knows about the fire, so at least he won't have to explain that. He makes a silent wish that Stiles won't ask him anything about the fire. That'd be too much.

Stiles nods knowingly. "I gave up playing the piano," he says, closing one eye and using the other to peer deep into the box of Cheez-Its before he sticks his hand in and brings up the last few broken crackers. "My mom was teaching me, before she died." He shrugs and the side of his mouth pulls down before he crams it full of crackers. You know how it is, he's saying. And Derek certainly does.

Stiles is content to let it drop after that, and they talk about nothing consequential as they finish their lunch. Once they're back on the road, Derek gets a little involved in his own thoughts as Stiles reads on beside him. Derek lost the thread of the story several hundred miles ago, so it doesn't really matter if he listens now.

Derek hasn't given much thought to what might happen once they get to Beacon Hills, mostly because his feelings about that place are a tangled up mess of guilt and shame and self-loathing. Stiles doesn't actually talk about it much either, aside from his continued insistence his dad is still alive. Right now they're focused on surviving the trip, which is as it should be, if they want to make it.

It's way too early to say anything to Stiles, but now Derek's thinking that if they continue to get along, he and Stiles can stick together once they get home, too. Despite Stiles' many statements to the contrary, Derek is skeptical that Sheriff Stilinski survived the sickness, and it doesn't sound like Stiles has any other family in the area. There's his friend Scott, but who knows if he fared any better. Derek doesn't really expect to find any of his own family alive and well, either. His odds are a little higher, but still pretty dismal.

Stiles is tough, and a fighter, but he'd still be safer with Derek than on his own, even after they stop moving. Derek hasn't set foot in California since he fled at the age of eighteen, but he knows Laura eventually built a big new house where the old one had stood. Derek will probably have it all to himself, lots of room, and Stiles wouldn't be a bother. Maybe he'd want to come and live there.

Maybe he'd want to come and live there even if Derek's family did make it through the sickness. It would probably make living in that house a lot more bearable for Derek, having one person around whose life he hasn't irreparably ruined.

Maybe by the time they get to Beacon Hills they'll be so sick of each other they never speak again, but as it stands now Derek's been growing more attached to Stiles by the day. He's enjoying his company in a way that feels effortless and probably wouldn't even be noticeable if Derek hadn't spent so many years being wary of liking anyone too much. But if you can't like your only friend in the entire world, what use is there in having one?

And Derek does like Stiles. Quite a lot, actually. It's stupid, but just being in the truck with him, listening to him go on about Darth Maul and the Naboo blockade and Yanth the Hutt or whatever the fuck this story is about is enjoyable. His voice is familiar and comforting now, and Derek likes the way his hands grip the book as he reads. Even better, Stiles smells happy today, which is kind of a miracle given their circumstances. If Stiles had Derek's nose, he might even say the same thing about Derek.

He doesn't notice he's doing anything weird until Stiles stops reading. When Derek glances over, Stiles is staring at him, the corners of his mouth slowly curving upward, like he's about to bust out a grin.

"What?" Derek asks, resisting the urge to check his beard for stray Cheez-It crumbs.

"You're smiling," Stiles says.

Derek cocks an eyebrow at him. "So?"

"You didn't used to do that much." Stiles has no idea what an understatement that is. "Looks good on you."

~*~

East of Cheyenne they find a nice little hobby farm, with a zombified hobby farmer shuffling around in the empty pig pen. It looks like there were chickens, too, and maybe a cow once upon a time, but all the animals are either dead or run off. The grass outside the chicken coop is littered with bones and bloody feathers.

"Wow, and I thought regular zombies smelled bad," Stiles says, covering his nose. The farmer—a prowler—turns toward him and snarls, starts plodding in their direction through the muck. "That was nothing compared to one that's been hanging around in pig crap for God knows how long." The zombie farmer snarls again, like he's offended.

"Just be glad you don't have a werewolf sense of smell," Derek says, trying not to breathe through his nose. It's disgusting. He leans a little closer to Stiles. He'll take the hint of Cheeto over that any day.

There's a rake propped up against the side of the pig pen, so Derek grabs it and snaps the handle in two while Stiles opens the gate, which must have blown shut and trapped the prowler inside, because it's not latched. The weather is shitty, cold and drizzly, wind whipping at their faces, but they wait patiently on either side of the gate until the prowler stumbles through it, and Derek takes care of it with one quick stab.

Derek can't hear or smell any other zombies, but they're still cautious as they check out the rest of the property. The barn's nothing special, though it does yield a little gas for the truck. It's when they peek out the back of the barn that they find the real prize: a greenhouse.

Stiles is literally struck dumb when they walk inside, mouth agape, bat dangling from his hand. The entire greenhouse is full of vegetables: lettuce, onions, cabbage, herbs, and so much more, growing out here in the middle of a gray and brown autumn wasteland. Everything is so fresh and colorful and alive that for one embarrassing moment Derek feels his throat get tight.

It's not much warmer in the greenhouse than it is outside, and some of the plants are starting to wilt, so they found it just in time. With no one to tend it, all this will probably be dead in no time.

Once he shakes off his shock, Stiles wrestles a carrot the size of Derek's finger out of the raised dirt bed and wipes it on his pants before biting into it, while Derek snatches a handful of snap peas. They wander through the greenhouse, stuffing their faces with unwashed vegetables, not caring about the grit in their teeth. There's a vine with cucumbers on it.

When they finally tear themselves away—Stiles carries a tomato with him that he eats like an apple—they find the house is small but sturdy, and kept up. A porch out front with two rocking chairs on it leads into a cramped kitchen with a table under the window, the wood floor smooth and shiny from years of scrubbing. A woodstove takes up one corner, a door that leads down to a cold cellar the other. There's a dog bowl next to the door, but no dog.

The farmer couldn't have been infected too long ago, because there's still eggs and milk in the cellar that haven't turned yet. They also find some potatoes, and jars of homemade jam stacked neatly on a shelf. On the floor is a bottle of champagne, and four bottles of beer. Derek can't remember the last time he saw any kind of alcohol; booze was one of the first non-necessities to run out in the stores, either because people were hoarding it or drinking to forget the horror around them.

"Wow! Score!" Stiles says, after he lights the small candle he found on the top step and can finally see what Derek sees. Derek isn't sure which of the things down here he's talking about, but he agrees with the sentiment.

The main room of the house looks like someone's vacation cabin, complete with a fireplace and a rag rug. On the opposite wall is a doorway with a curtain that's pushed back just enough to reveal a bedroom. Two comfy stuffed chairs face the fireplace, one with a soft red shawl draped over the back and a set of knitting needles with a half-finished scarf attached resting on the arm, so there was a woman, too.

Out behind the house is a well with a hand pump, and what's left of the woman.

They barely glance at her—just another unlucky stiff in a world packed with them—as they check to see if the pump still works and take turns drinking from it. The water tastes good, clean and cold, but even if it didn't, this is where they're staying tonight. They go back to the truck to get their stuff without even talking about it.

Stiles shoulders their packs while Derek grabs all the blankets that he insists have to be folded neatly every morning, much to Stiles' obvious annoyance. Derek's loosened up a lot of his traveling rules since Stiles came along, but he's standing firm on this one.

The front door has two strong locks on it and a crossbar that looks recently installed. Stiles busies himself securing the door while Derek continues on with the blankets, taking them through the main room to the bedroom without discussing it with Stiles. The bed looked big enough for two, and they're used to close quarters.

When he pushes the curtain aside with his elbow, though, Derek pauses in the doorway and looks at the room. There's a big wooden wardrobe in the corner and one bed in the middle, neatly made and covered with a wool blanket. An old wind-up alarm clock sits on a small table next to the bed, with a Bible and a candle. On the other side of the bed is a matching candle and a little wooden frame with a piece of fabric in it, a half-finished picture stitched on it. Needlepoint? Embroidery? Derek doesn't know the difference, if there is one. The picture is a Christmas tree, for a Christmas these people will never celebrate.

Derek's seen a lot of bad things, even before the sickness. And he's long since stopped feeling guilty about helping himself to other people's belongings out here on the road, but for some reason this cozy little house suddenly gets to him. These two people were making it. They had food, they had water, they had shelter, they had each other. He could picture living like this with Stiles, just the two of them, getting by, depending on each other like these people did.

But now their home is just another place ripe for the picking. Derek thinks of all the vegetables, lovingly tended, grown by their hand. The empty chicken coop, the champagne in the cellar they were probably saving for a special occasion. Who knows how long they could have made a go of it here, if they'd managed to escape notice. Two people, out here in the middle of nowhere, where you can see a car or a zombie coming for miles, still somehow got caught unaware, and now they're dead. The animals probably attracted a prowler.

"Hey, there's some homemade bread and it isn't even moldy yet," Stiles says as he comes up behind Derek. He peeks over Derek's shoulder, sees what Derek's looking at, and shuffles closer until he's pressed up against the back of Derek's arm. He stays quiet, waiting.

"Maybe we should bury them," Derek says. It's a stupid idea, a waste of time and energy. Stiles will probably point that out.

"Okay," Stiles says, after a moment.

Derek tosses their blankets on the bed, and Stiles follows him out to the barn.

They find a shovel and a hoe, and a pick-axe that Derek uses to loosen up the first few frosty inches of dirt. It's sweaty, tiring work, but Stiles is methodical about it. He's had practice recently, of course; he's the only one of them who's buried anyone since the sickness started. Even the government stopped after a while, unable to keep up with the sheer volume of bodies at first, and then, when they figured out what was going on, the burn order went into effect.

Moving the bodies is messy business, and they put on gloves they find in the greenhouse to do it. They put the man in first and then the pitiful remains of the woman, mostly just bones and hair, scraps of a warm coat, one blue and white stripped mitten. She probably knitted the mitten herself, Derek thinks, staring down at it.

Stiles suddenly says, "Wait a sec," and jogs off toward the house. When he comes back he's got the unfinished scarf, fastened to the ball of yarn with the needles. It looks like the same bright blue yarn as the mitten.

As Derek watches, Stiles kneels down and gently sets the whole thing in the grave. They finish filling the hole back in together, Stiles scraping the dirt in with the hoe while Derek wields the shovel. Neither of them says anything. What is there to say?

The mood is a little somber after that, but survival is survival, and they have to eat, and all the food here will go to waste anyway if they leave it. Derek makes omelettes with lots of veggies—mushrooms and onion and red bell peppers. Fried potatoes. Toast. The cooking is a little uneven, because neither of them have a clue how to manage the temperature on a wood stove, but hot, fresh food never tasted so good.

When that's gone they finish off the bread, toasted and slathered with butter and raspberry jam. Derek makes himself an actual cup of hot coffee, nearly weeping over the smell of it. Stiles pours himself a big glass of milk, then adds about half a bottle of Hershey's syrup he finds in the cupboard.

The temperature drops and the rain picks up as the sun goes down, so Derek builds a fire in the fireplace and they settle in the chairs to enjoy it for a while. There's a guitar hanging on the wall, but neither of them knows how to play, and the crackling of the fire is nice enough. For all that they've essentially been camping while traveling, they've never dared build a fire, for fear of attracting zombies.

After a bit, Derek gets up and retrieves the beer from the cellar. It's a brand he's never heard of, but when he cracks one open and takes a cautious taste it's pretty good. Stiles is slouched down so far in his chair his butt is practically off the seat. He holds his hand out for the bottle and for a second Derek almost says no. He's not old enough to drink.

Stiles knows what Derek's thinking. He rolls his eyes and says, "Dude, if you can litter, I can drink. Hand it over."

He's right, so Derek does.

This isn't Stiles' first encounter with alcohol, Derek suspects, because he drinks two of the beers and only gets mildly buzzed. They don't talk much, just sit and drink and put more wood on the fire until they start to overheat and have to strip down to their T-shirts. Derek's never seen Stiles in short sleeves before; his arms are hairier than Derek expected, and he's got tight, round biceps to go with his strong hands.

"We can actually wash up with hot water tomorrow," Stiles says dreamily, rolling his head along the back of his chair to look over at Derek as he rubs his fingers over his chin, which is just starting to sprout bristle. Stiles still shaves his face when he can—he refuses to grow an apocalypse beard. His face is flushed pink with the heat from the fire, and probably also the beer.

"Your turn to lug the water tomorrow," Derek tells him. They'd cleaned up their dinner mess with warm, soapy water heated on the wood stove in one of those speckled black pans pioneers use in the movies. Derek washed all the dishes and put them away, hung the dish rag back on the hook above the dry sink. It was pointless, and no one would ever know but them, but Stiles didn't bring that up.

Stiles is watching Derek's face, his eyes gleaming in the light from the fire. "These people made you sad," he says, voice soft.

"Yeah," Derek admits.

"Me, too," Stiles says. He takes another sip of beer, stares into the fire again. "Been a while since I felt sad for someone I didn't know," he says. "I was starting to worry about myself."

"Me, too," Derek says.

~*~

The bed is nice and roomy, but they migrate toward each other in the night anyway, and Derek wakes up the next morning with his arms around Stiles again. Stiles is snoring against Derek's chest and probably not yet aware that his hips are flush with Derek's, pressing their hard dicks together through the layers of blankets between them.

It makes Derek feel things he probably shouldn't about someone he can't just walk away from, and definitely shouldn't about someone as young as Stiles is, but what the hell, the world's ending, and the rules of society don't count for much anymore anyway. As long as he doesn't act on it, no one but him will ever know. He's really starting to like the way Stiles smells.

Stiles looks more innocent and like less of a smartass when he's sleeping, and prettier even than some girls Derek's known. His eyelashes are dark and delicate against the fragile skin under his eyes, and his mouth is really pink. He's probably lucky it was Derek who found him. There are some bad people out there.

Derek brings his hand up to rub the back of Stiles' fuzzy head, letting his thumb stroke the tender skin behind his ear. Stiles' breath skips and he starts to wake up, but he doesn't pull away, just lets Derek keep petting him, relaxing even more heavily against his body. Eventually Stiles yawns, muffling the sound in Derek's chest, and then one of his hands worms its way into Derek's blankets and hunts around until it finds Derek's shirt, slides under it and rests warm against his bare skin.

Outside, a rooster crows. The lone survivor, maybe. Neither Derek nor Stiles make any move to get out of bed.

Stiles doesn't do anything else, just lets his hand rest against Derek's back. Derek keeps doing what he's doing, nothing more. It stays pleasant, non-sexual, and that's good, Derek thinks. More reliable, less likely to end in disaster.

Chapter Text

The sickness peaked during the summer, when there weren't a lot of cold-weather clothes in the stores, and what few there were are long gone by now, much to Stiles' continued vocal dismay. It isn't even really that cold yet by middle America standards, but the temperature continues to drop over the next few days, and Stiles is miserable, nose and hands red and chapped. He shivers, hunch-shouldered, in the wind every time they get out of the truck.

Derek has a werewolf's metabolism, and has lived through New York winters, so he tolerates the chill slightly better, but sometimes it feels like knowing Stiles is cold makes Derek feel cold. It makes him want to fix it. He sits close to Stiles when they eat, tries to block the wind with his body when they're walking. It probably doesn't really help all that much, but Stiles leans into him when he can, so maybe he appreciates the effort.

They've both put on a little weight since they started traveling together, benefiting from a little less stress, and sharing the workload of simply staying alive, but Stiles is still woefully short on body fat. He compensates by wearing a lot of clothes.

"You're like that kid in the Christmas movie," Derek says one morning, watching Stiles get dressed. He's got about three layers of clothing on, and is still going.

"I can't put my arms down!" Stiles says, doing a pretty good imitation of the line Derek's thinking of, and grins at Derek's bark of laughter.

Stiles already hates getting up in the morning, and it's even worse now that it means crawling out of warm blankets and into unheated air. Every morning, the first thing he does when he sits up is put on his hat—a black knit beanie he snagged from a house in Grand Island. He's been saying lately he needs some boots to replace his sneakers, and they're due to make Laramie today.

"Maybe you shouldn't have shaved your head," Derek points out while watching Stiles yank his hat down a little more firmly.

Stiles shoots him a dirty look and a middle finger.

"We'll try to find you some boots today, maybe a warmer jacket," Derek says, cupping his hand over the exposed back of Stiles' neck for a second, sharing a little of his body heat, before Stiles flips his hood up and they get on with their day.

The Walmart in Laramie is relatively untouched, which is a miracle. All the fresh foods are gone, along with the bottled water, and most of the camping and survival gear, and the batteries and first aid supplies are wiped out, but that's the case everywhere. There's still a lot of other stuff, including some clothes, which is what they tackle first.

Stiles does indeed find his boots, and puts them on right there in the aisle, leaving his sneakers, which are practically falling apart now, behind. He also finds a pair of earmuffs, which he puts on over his beanie.

Derek looks at them and says, "Really?"

"What?" Stiles asks, adjusting them with a distinct air of defensiveness. "My ears are cold."

"Those are girl ear muffs," Derek points out. They have Hello Kitty on them.

"Screw your gender normative judgment, dude," Stiles sniffs. "This is the apocalypse."

Derek's not touching that with a ten foot pole; Laura had a social justice blog before the Internet went away. He turns and leads the way to the food section, which still has some decent stuff, too.

Derek busies himself mulling his juice choices—cran-apple or cran-raspberry?—while Stiles, two aisles over, fills his backpack with instant noodles and other stuff they can make with just water. At least, Derek hopes that's what he's doing; sometimes Stiles still gets a little off-track. It sounds like he's doing what he's supposed to, though, the crinkle of plastic packaging and the familiar burble of him muttering to himself carrying easily to Derek's ears over the shelves.

Derek hears the other werewolves before he sees them, and freezes.

"Stiles," he says urgently, under his breath, hoping against hope Stiles will hear, but he doesn't. Derek hears him move—oh no, oh shit—even further away, drifting into the next aisle, talking to himself about spaghetti sauce.

The other werewolves—three, Derek thinks—aren't trying to hide their presence at all, and are almost scarily casual about their approach. They spread out as they get closer, ambling slowly toward Derek, and he sets his bottle of juice back down on the shelf next to his crowbar and pivots slowly, tracking them.

Right now he's still between them and Stiles, which is good, so he stays where he is. He'd feel better if he could see—touch—Stiles, but there's no point in leading them right to him. They must know Stiles is here, but for now they're focused on Derek. They've probably decided he's the bigger threat, and that's fine with him.

Finally, one of the werewolves steps into view at the end of the aisle, a big solid guy, the kind with a thick layer of fat over his muscles. Derek's experience is that guys built like that can take a lot of punches. He's wearing a grimy baseball cap on his round head, and a disturbing grin on his face. His jacket has an embroidered name tag on it that says Chubby.

Stiles has gone silent now, thankfully, which probably means he's found something he thinks Derek won't let him have and is trying to stealthily get it into his backpack. For once, Derek is grateful for that.

As Derek and Chubby stare each other down, another werewolf wanders into view from the right, another strapping good ol' boy, wearing a faded flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off, despite the cold. He crosses his bare arms over his chest as he takes up position behind Chubby, flashing his eyes at Derek. They're blue, which isn't a surprise. Almost all the remaining werewolves have blue eyes now, and a lot of the humans would, too, if they were built that way.

Derek doesn't flash his eyes back. He's hoping to get through this without a fight.

No one says anything as the third werewolf finally makes an appearance, also taking a spot behind Chubby. She looks like what might happen if a Goth and a Disney princess collided in the hardware aisle: cotton candy pink hair, numerous facial piercings, and an inch of black eyeliner. She stares flatly at Derek, slouching like she doesn't have a care in the world.

"This is our territory," Chubby says, once they're all in place. It's loud enough that Stiles must hear it.

"Just looking for supplies," Derek replies, friendly as he can make it. "Passing through."

"Those are our supplies," the male beta says, which explains why there's still so much left in the store, but not why they haven't spirited it off somewhere safe by now. Unless it's a lure, and Derek and Stiles just swallowed it whole.

The female beta looks like she's about to chime in but then her gaze sharpens and she lifts her nose. She's just caught Stiles' scent, Derek's willing to bet, and now she knows he's human. Derek really hopes Stiles has the sense to stay out of sight.

"Hey, what's going on?" Stiles says, sticking his head out into the aisle behind Derek. Derek sighs. He's not sure why he expected anything different. He gives Stiles a quick glance before focusing on the other werewolves again. At least he took the stupid ear muffs off.

"These nice people say we're trespassing," Derek explains. He's about to add that he and Stiles will just be on their way then, like he's a character in a cheesy Western, but then he sees all three of their noses flare as their attention zeroes in on Stiles, and he feels his chest burn with a rage so sudden and intense it makes his hands itch to grow claws. He wants to fight all of them, flatten them into the ground, make it so they can't ever look at Stiles again.

"Well, well, well," the male beta says slowly, breathing air in through his mouth like he's drinking Stiles' scent from it and Derek wants to smash his face in.

The female beta grins. "I thought I smelled something tasty."

"Looks like you've got a nice little companion there," Chubby says to Derek, and then licks his lips.

"Ew," Stiles says.

"Might be safer to stay with us," the Goth Princess suggests to Stiles as she takes a step closer, and before he can stop himself Derek drops his fangs and growls. The two betas cackle with glee, and Chubby flashes his eyes at Derek. He's an alpha. Great.

"We'll take good care of him," Chubby tells Derek, hitching up his pants.

"I’m taking care of him just fine," Derek responds through gritted teeth.

"Hey, wait a minute," Stiles says, suddenly indignant. "I'm not some damsel in distress, assholes. I can take care of myself." He hasn't stepped all the way out into the aisle, is still peeking around the endcap, and it occurs to Derek that's probably because he's got his bat in his hand.

Chubby ignores Stiles' comment and lifts his eyebrows at Derek instead. "Be a shame, then," he says meaningfully. "If something happened to you."

"Your dialogue is super cheesy, dude," Stiles says, sounding like he's gravely disappointed by this. The male beta huffs out a short laugh, earning him a glare from Chubby.

"I’m bored," the Goth Princess says as she gives Derek a disinterested glance. "Let's just kill him and take the—"

Derek charges.

It's a ridiculously stupid move, because there's three of them, one of them an alpha, but Derek is enraged, gut roiling with aggression, and he couldn't stop himself if he tried. He doesn't bother with the crowbar—the alpha would probably take it away and use it against him—so it's gonna be a fangs and claws fight. Except for Stiles, who Derek sees wading into the fight right behind him, bat at the ready, face grim.

Derek throws himself at Chubby's midsection, hoping to knock him down, and it's like running into the side of a building. He's as solid as Derek feared, and strong, and Derek basically bounces right off him, and then gets punched so hard he flies backwards and lands on his butt.

Stiles has better luck, using his wait-and-swing move to trick the female beta into giving him an opening. As Derek climbs gingerly to his feet, wiping blood from his mouth, he has just enough time to see the butt of Stiles' bat handle catch her under the chin before Chubby barrels into Derek and they take down a pretty nice chunk of shelving on their way to the floor.

Juice bottles cascade down around them, and one hits Derek in the head, leaving him reeling for a moment, trying to blink away the sting of blood running into his eyes. For one lucky second Derek manages to be on top, but Chubby quickly overpowers him and flips them, pinning Derek's left arm to the floor next to his head. Derek gets his other hand up around Chubby's throat, trying to dig his claws in, but Chubby grabs his wrist and bends Derek's arm backward until the elbow snaps. Derek barely manages to bite back a scream, bucking under Chubby, trying to throw him off as the pain burns white hot in his arm.

That's when Derek's crowbar rolls off the shelf and clangs to the floor next to them.

They both freeze. Derek can hear, almost distantly, Stiles banging his bat against something metal, taunting the betas. He tries to move his arms, wants to get the crowbar before Chubby does, but the left one is still pinned and the right one flops uselessly, all the broken bits grinding against each other when he tries to lift his hand. It's agonizing.

Chubby's face lights up and he looks Derek right in the eye as he reaches over, still keeping Derek's left arm pinned, and picks up the crowbar with his other hand. He hefts it, holding it over Derek's body. Further down the aisle, Stiles is lobbing canned goods at the betas, connecting with pretty good regularity if the sounds are anything to go by. Chubby looks over his shoulder at Stiles, then smirks down at Derek.

"Feisty, isn't he?" Chubby says, and Derek snarls at him before he can stop it, which just makes Chubby click his tongue like he's scolding him. "Didn't your mama ever teach you to share?" he asks, shaking his head.

"My mom's dead," Derek huffs, still straining to get his arm free.

"Oh, really? Tell her I said hi," Chubby says, and stabs the end of the crowbar into Derek's chest.

This time Derek can't hold back the scream, though it turns to a wet gurgle at the end as blood rushes into his lung. Stiles screams almost simultaneously, but not from pain—it's Derek's name, high-pitched and panicked.

Chubby laughs as he finally lets go of Derek's arm and bears down with both hands on the crowbar, pushes it right through until it meets the floor under Derek's back, grinning down at him as he twists it, and Derek screams again, weaker this time. His vision wobbles as blood rushes out of his mouth, and he reaches for the crowbar with his good hand, but it doesn't make any difference, all he can do is hang onto it and let the pain wash over him as he tries desperately to breathe.

He thinks he's about to pass out when he sees Stiles suddenly looming over Chubby's back, bat raised above his head with both hands.

Stiles brings it straight down onto the top of Chubby's head. There's a dull, wet sound, like a watermelon hitting the floor, and when Chubby's eyes roll to whites as he starts to slump sideways. Stiles almost goes with him before he realizes the bat is stuck in Chubby's head, the nails embedded, and he lets it go. Chubby topples over like a felled tree, face slack, and crashes into the floor. The impact knocks the bat loose, and it bounces away. Chubby doesn’t get up.

Stiles stares at Chubby in shock, eyes wide in his suddenly pale face. Derek knows he's killed a lot of zombies and prowlers over the past few months, but this might be the first living person he's taken down.

"Stiles," Derek gasps, tugging weakly at the crowbar still sticking out of his chest. That snaps Stiles back to reality, and he kneels at Derek's side and helps him pull it out; it feels nearly as awful coming out as it did going in, and Derek's vision blurs for a second while he clings to consciousness. Now that it's out he'll heal, but he needs time.

He doesn't get it. The male beta chooses that moment to make his move, coming up behind Stiles and hooking his forearm across his throat, hauling him to his feet. There's nothing Derek can do but watch helplessly as Stiles struggles in the beta's grip, soles of his new boots squeaking against the floor as the beta starts dragging him backwards.

Before Derek can even sit up, the male beta's dragged Stiles around the end of the aisle and disappeared. Derek feels almost frantic to get to him, to get him back. Breathing hurts like a motherfucker, and he still can't move his right arm worth a damn, but he needs to get Stiles back.

Because he doesn't have enough problems, the Goth Princess starts to stir, twitching on the floor a few feet away from him. There's a huge flap of skin hanging off the back of her head, blood smearing the floor beneath her cheek.

Derek fumbles for the crowbar with his good arm, then uses it to help himself to his feet, trying not to notice it's slippery with his own blood. Gasping weakly with pain, he limps across the floor to the Goth Princess, dragging the crowbar behind him, and when she turns her head to look up at him he stabs the end of it into her eye socket. The other eye looks shocked wide for a second, and then she goes limp.

Two down, one to go, Derek thinks. He can still hear Stiles and the male beta somewhere in the store. He yanks the crowbar free and plods onward, feeling a little stronger with every step. His right arm isn't dangling like it was just a minute ago, the elbow joint already knitting itself back together. He moves a little faster, wheezing with the effort but doggedly following the sounds of struggle.

He finds them two aisles over, in the empty freezer section, Stiles is still being dragged away, though even with werewolf strength the beta's having a tough time of it. None of Stiles' limbs are cooperating in the slightest, catching on everything, knocking over what's left of the displays, and he keeps swinging his arms up to claw the beta in the face until the guy swears and tightens his grip on Stiles' throat. Stiles' face starts to turn red.

If Derek had the lung power, he'd roar. He settles for trying to stand up straight and growling as menacingly as he can.

The beta stops moving. Stiles goes terrifyingly limp everywhere except for where his hands are fruitlessly trying to pry away the arm cutting off his air.

The beta speaks first.

"Just listen to me, okay?" he says. His voice is tinny with fear and he has a dent in the middle of his forehead—most likely courtesy of Stiles—that's still healing. "I could kill him in two seconds, and you're in no condition to fight. We both know that. So how about you put down the crowbar and I let him go, and we go our separate ways? No harm, no foul."

Stiles' eyes meet Derek's for a second before they roll away and he paws weakly at the beta's arm again. He's probably about to pass out.

Derek flexes his elbow, finds it's almost healed. "All right," he says. He drops the crowbar. "Let him go."

The beta cautiously loosens his arm enough for Stiles to suck in a big, grateful gulp of air, which he promptly uses to yell, "I said I'm not a damsel in distress!"

The beta swears and tries to tighten his grip again, but Stiles is thrashing like a hooked fish and the beta's arm catches Stiles across the bottom part of his face instead of his throat. Stiles lets out a muffled shout as the meaty muscle of the beta's forearm mashes against his mouth, and then his eyes narrow and he bites down, viciously hard.

The beta yells, startled, and Stiles takes advantage of the distraction to twist enough to elbow the beta right in the nose. The sound is disgusting, a wet crunch, and the beta abruptly falls to the floor with his hands cupped over his face, making muffled pain noises as blood starts to leak between his fingers.

Stiles immediately drops to his hands and knees, coughing and clutching his throat as he crawls away. Derek strides right past him until he's towering over the beta, who's choking on the blood from his nose, groaning pathetically. Derek sneers down at him. He's known other guys like this, big guys who can't take a hit because they've never actually had to, have always skated by on looking intimidating.

Derek hunkers down next to him, hands dangling between his knees, and looks the beta in the eyes. "You scared?" he asks him.

The beta cowers and curls in on himself, eyes wide and terrified. He mumbles something that might be a yes.

He should be scared. Derek is not, in general, violent or bloodthirsty, just pragmatic. But there's nothing pragmatic about the way he grabs the beta's head, and gives it a sharp, satisfying twist. When he lets go, the beta's head hits the floor with a thump, facing the wrong way.

For a moment, it's utterly silent, except for Derek's harsh breathing and Stiles' painful coughs as he rubs his throat.

"Holy shit, that was close," Stiles says hoarsely, wiping his mouth on his jacket sleeve as he staggers to his feet.

"You okay?" Derek asks, turning toward him as he straightens back up, tamping down the urge to scoop him up into a bridal carry or something else equally absurd.

Stiles doesn't actually have a mark on him, but he's sweaty and disheveled, and his face is still pale. He winces as he swallows and then says, "Yeah, dude." His eyes flit down to the big, bloody hole in Derek's shirt, the gaping wound slowly healing behind it. "Are you okay?"

Derek nods, eyes still on Stiles, who steps closer, then closer. Derek starts to reach for him, expecting a hug, but instead Stiles' face suddenly contorts in anger and he flicks Derek in the forehead with a finger.

"Ow!" Derek says, even though it doesn't hurt that much. Just his feelings, mostly.

"I can't believe you went on the offensive," Stiles hisses at him. "Are you nuts? Against three werewolves!" He flicks Derek again. "What were you thinking?"

"Ow, stop it!" Derek says. He rubs his flicked forehead and tries not to pout. A little sympathy would be nice—he just got impaled.

And he doesn't want to admit what he was thinking, or that it was because of the way they were looking at Stiles, and talking about him. Smelling him. Mere minutes after the fact, it already seems crazy, like he was out of his mind. He holds his tongue and looks sadly down at the hole in his shirt.

"Don't think looking pathetic is gonna get you out of this," Stiles says menacingly. "I'm so pissed at you. Let's get our stuff and get the fuck out of here."

Derek knows better than to argue with Stiles when he's in high dudgeon. If he tries to stick up for himself right now, it'll probably turn out worse than the Tobey Maguire vs Andrew Garfield argument from last week.

Stiles trips over his own feet when he turns down the juice aisle and sees Chubby's still form on the floor, a small puddle of blood next to his head, but he squares his shoulders and keeps going. He doesn't look at the body again as he retrieves his bat, and then plucks his backpack from a nearby shelf. His face is gray and tired, and his hands are shaking.

"I can't believe you bit a werewolf," Derek says to Stiles, partly to distract him, and partly because he actually can't believe it. Everyone's always so worried about being bitten by a werewolf. Derek's never heard of anyone doing the opposite. "I've been sleeping right next to you this whole time, never knew the danger."

"Yeah, well, I had to do something," Stiles says as he gathers up a few bottles of juice, too. Derek can't see his face now, but he sounds more irritated than upset. "No one wants to die in Walmart."

Derek hadn't thought of it that way. He's mildly disturbed by it all the way back to the truck.

After Derek changes into clean clothes, Stiles uses one of his T-shirts and some bottled water to wipe Derek's already healed face. Derek could do that himself, but Stiles is firmly insistent, so Derek gives in, closes his eyes, and lets him do it. Stiles probably doesn't know what it means to Derek to have someone take care of him like this, almost like they're a pack. Derek isn’t sure he wants Stiles to know.

Stiles is achingly gentle, fingers of his other hand resting lightly on Derek's jaw as he carefully wipes around his eyes, across his cheekbones. When he's done, Stiles sets the rag aside and then cups Derek's face in both hands and rests his forehead against Derek's. Derek doesn't open his eyes, even when he hears Stiles exhale shakily, feels his fingers tremble.

"We should get going," Derek says thickly. Those three clowns in the Walmart could have been part of a bigger pack. It's not safe to stay here.

"I know," Stiles says, but he doesn't move, and then he doesn't resist when Derek circles his arm around his ribs. "In a minute, okay?"

"Okay," Derek says, and keeps his eyes closed. "In a minute."

Stiles scoots closer, huddles against Derek's body, holds tight to Derek's neck, and there's the hug Derek was expecting. There it is.

~*~

After that, they're rarely out of each other's sight, and even start sharing their blankets outright as soon as they settle in for the night, not even pretending to sleep apart anymore. Stiles claims it's the only time he's truly warm. He likes to be the little spoon, and Derek sleeps better with Stiles nestled safely against him.

Derek would worry about appearing clingy, but Stiles seems to want the physical contact and is completely unselfconscious about it. If Derek touches him, he moves into it, and if Derek doesn't touch him, he moves closer anyway, shouldering his way under Derek's arm, hanging over his back while they read the map at rest stops. He leans against Derek's side when they sit on the tailgate of the truck and eat, and butts his head affectionately against Derek's chin when they go to bed.

Derek probably shouldn't let it happen, given some of the thoughts he's had in the mornings recently, but Stiles is like a kitten weaving constantly between Derek's ankles, and just as irresistible. He can't keep his hands off him.

Derek knows they're walking a thin line, and not just on his part. He also knows Stiles is interested in more than innocent touches, because Derek would have to be deaf, blind and missing his nose to not pick up on the clues. Derek thinks if he tried something, Stiles would be more than willing, despite the age difference. Because of the age difference, Derek's going to have to be the strong one here.

They're getting close to California. He can make it.

~*~

Stiles goes into heat just before Utah.

The decent-sized towns are few and far between out here, and they have to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself, so even though it's a little early to stop for the night, they quit driving when they get to the last town on the Wyoming/Utah border. They need supplies anyway, so they can do a little apocalypse shopping and then get some rest.

They cruise into a residential neighborhood and find a house with a nice sturdy picket fence around it, which is usually enough to keep the walkers at bay, because they aren't very bright. Derek tries the front door, but it's locked, so he tries a window. While he's doing that, Stiles picks up a flowerpot on the porch and finds a key. He holds it up, smirking, and lets them inside.

As he walks past him into the house, Derek runs his hand up the back of Stiles' head, pushing his beanie down over his eyes in the front just to hear his annoyed squawk.

The house is empty and stale, but corpse-free, and still has a little food in the cupboards. Derek disables the garage door opener so he can open it manually, and pulls the truck inside. This draws a small group of walkers, who shuffle around by the fence for a few minutes before wandering away.

They're busy raiding the kitchen—or Derek is, and Stiles is eyeing a kitchen timer shaped like a penguin that they absolutely do not need—when Derek sees something moving outside the window. There's a goddamn zombie in the front yard.

"Dammit," Derek says, and sets down the box of au gratin potatoes he was contemplating.

"Whoa, how'd he get there?" Stiles asks, abandoning the penguin. "Over the fence?"

"Maybe he was already here," Derek says. Could be the owner of the house for all they know, but it's weird Derek didn't notice him before.

It's just one zombie, though, and he and Stiles make quick work of it, and then heave it over the fence into the neighboring yard. They're using the bird bath to wash the muck off their hands when another zombie appears. This one's a prowler.

Two seconds later, another one joins the party.

"In the house," Derek says, grabbing Stiles' arm, hurrying him a little. It's just two prowlers, but the memory of their close call in Laramie is still too fresh, and Derek's still too jumpy.

Stiles doesn't object, so he must be jumpy, too.

His illusion of safety substantially shaken, Derek watches uneasily from the picture window as another prowler appears, and another. Soon there's an entire pack of five out front, and with their combined strength and weight they manage to push the gate in and fall into the yard. All the commotion draws more zombies, most of them the same walkers from a few minutes ago. With the gate down, in a few minutes this place will be over run.

"Fuck," Derek says, under his breath. "We're not gonna be able to stay here. Grab what you can." There must have been a nest nearby for there to be so many so fast.

Getting the garage door open by hand is tricky with so many zombies right there, but Stiles manages it, and hops in the truck before Derek floors it down the driveway. The truck takes out probably half a dozen zombies along the way, and the rest try to follow the truck but are left behind in seconds.

"Holy shit," Stiles says, looking back at the house as they speed away. "Must be a nest."

"That's what I was thinking," Derek says, wondering how far they should go before they stop. A few miles oughta do it, but Derek drives a few more just in case.

They eventually end up at a gas station on the outskirts of town, where Derek manages to get some gas for the truck, but the inside is picked clean, not a single can of Red Bull or bag of Funyuns in sight. He pulls the truck into one of the repair bays and they have a quick dinner of stale crackers and peanut butter. It's getting colder, the wind picking up, and they can't waste fuel by running the truck's engine. Derek thinks mournfully of the house, which would have been a lot more comfortable. Bum luck.

With nothing else to do, they turn in early.

Derek wakes up because he's cold and Stiles isn't next to him.

He opens his eyes in a panic, but Stiles is still in the truck, curled up in a tight ball, breathing too fast to be asleep. His back is to Derek and he's wrapped up in his own blanket, heart beating fast like he's scared. Derek sits up and it practically slaps him in the face, the warm, enticing smell of Stiles, but somehow even better than usual, deeper and sweeter. Like every good smell Derek's ever encountered in his life all rolled up into one person. Derek's entire body responds and he has to grab hold of his pillow to keep from rolling over on top of him.

For a second, Derek has no idea what's come over him. It's just Stiles. Why does he smell so—why does Derek feel so--

"Jesus fucking Christ. You're an omega?" Derek hisses, and Stiles' heart speeds up even more and Derek sees his head move as he nods and curls up even smaller. "Fuck!" Derek says, and flings the blankets aside and opens the door so he can get out of the truck.

He slams the door shut behind him and takes great, heaving gulps of cold, fresh air, letting the smell of motor oil and old cigarette smoke dull the impact of Stiles' scent. It's diluted enough now that his head starts to clear a little, but it's clinging to him, on his skin, in his hair. His dick is hard and throbbing, but he tries to ignore it as he paces back and forth outside the truck, swearing as he tries to think rationally despite the blood pounding in his ears.

What he does think, when he's able to, is that things just got a whole hell of a lot more complicated.

Derek doesn't have much experience with omegas, but he knows that they're not quite human and not quite werewolves, and pretty rare. For years they were ostracized by humans, because it was thought they came from polluted blood, but they've always been something of a prize in werewolf society. Derek has only encountered a few others in all his life. What are the odds? What are the fucking odds?

When he feels like he's more irritated than horny, he stalks back to the truck and opens the door. The smell hits him in the face again, but he's focused enough that it doesn't sidetrack him. Stile hasn't moved. Derek tightens his grip on the door, and braces his other arm against the side of the truck to stop himself from climbing inside.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks. Stiles has talked about himself all day long for weeks, and he never brought up this tiny little detail? What the ever loving fuck?

"I didn't think…" Stiles starts to say, before he trails off. He smells so good.

"Didn't think what? Didn't think that was important information?" Derek asks.

"I didn't think it would matter," Stiles says, small. "I didn't know this would happen."

That seems impossible, but Stiles is telling the truth, so Derek has no choice but to believe him. He forces himself to stay still. Stiles doesn't move or say anything.

Derek asks, "How long will it last?" It's different for everyone, he seems to recall.

"I don’t know," Stiles says, and Derek's about to ask how the fuck can he not know that either when Stiles continues, "This is my first one."

"Fuck," Derek says again, and lets his head drop down to hang between his arms. He's just in his socks, and the cement is cold. He tries to focus on that. His erection has subsided a little, but not completely, and Stiles still smells way too good.

"I just woke up and…I felt weird," Stiles continues in a wobbly voice. "And then I realized what was happening and I—"

He separated himself from Derek, was what he did, and Derek's stomach caves in as he realizes that Stiles was afraid of what Derek would do to him.

Despite all the laws and awareness campaigns, there's a lot of propaganda about there about how brutal and uncontrollable werewolves are; a kid who grew up an omega probably had that drilled into him from the time he was little. And a curious teenaged omega like Stiles has probably Googled a lot of really scary shit.

No wonder, of all the various details of his life Stiles has shared with Derek over the past few weeks, he left that one out.

"Look, I'm not going to—to force you," he says, after he takes a deep breath, willing himself to stop sounding angry. "I can control myself. It's not like that shit you see on the Internet."

"Okay," Stiles says. He sniffles, but Derek doesn't smell tears.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Derek says, for lack of any other appropriate sentiment, and Stiles cringes noticeably.

"You don't have to take me with you anymore. I can get to California by myself," Stiles says, but he sounds miserable over the idea of it, and the thought of leaving Stiles behind is so repellant to Derek he can barely stand it, though that might just be because he's drugged on Stiles' hormones right now. "I'll understand if you don't want me around," Stiles says, and his voice breaks a little, which actually helps Derek re-focus.

He should be worried about Stiles here, who is sixteen years old and scared.

"Hey," he says, finally crawling back into the truck. He reaches to rub the back of Stiles' head, then hesitates. "Can I touch you?" It's bad etiquette to touch an omega in heat unless they invite it.

"Yes," Stiles says, but his voice is still shaking a little. Derek touches him anyway, cups the back of his head, rubbing softly, and Stiles' whole body shudders and his scent gets even better, even wetter. Derek feels himself begin to harden again in response, but ignores it. This is supposed to be about comfort, but it's a little too stimulating for both of them to be strictly that.

"It'll be okay. We'll just deal with it and in a few days or so it'll be over and things will go back to normal, okay?" Derek says, trying to be as positive as possible, which isn't something that comes naturally to him by any means.

"Okay," Stiles says, sounding like he really wants to believe that's true.

"Okay," Derek agrees. He makes himself sit back and stop touching Stiles; it's surprisingly difficult.

Stiles finally pushes himself up, turning to face Derek, still looking uncertain, and a little self-conscious, too. His face is flushed a rosy pink, his mouth looks a little more lush than Derek remembers, and he's breathing a little heavier than the situation warrants. As Derek watches, the expression on Stiles' face slowly morphs from cautious to interested as his eyes drift down Derek's face to his chest, then lower.

Something bangs on the glass door out in the customer service area, and they both jump, startled.

The truck door is still open, and Derek slowly eases out enough to see.

"Prowler," he says to Stiles. Even though he kept his voice low, the prowler pauses in its pawing at the glass and cocks its head like a dog. This one is in pretty good shape, barely decayed at all, which means it's newly infected and is gonna be a little stronger. As Derek watches, it gnashes its fangs, then tries to bite the door handle.

"We might as well get going," Derek says. He could go take care of it, but he doubts either of them will be able to get back to sleep, and the sun will be up soon anyway. Not worth the effort.

"All right," Stiles says, sounding uncharacteristically meek.

They take turns cleaning up with cold water in the grubby gas station bathroom. Even that can't kill Derek's hard-on though, and he jerks off quickly before he comes back out, thinking of one of his favorite porn clips that he'll never get to watch again. A few minutes later, he sits in the truck and tries to ignore that he knows Stiles is in there doing the same thing.

The prowler's managed to crack the glass, and is probably only a few minutes away from getting inside, when Stiles finally comes out of the bathroom. He looks almost back to normal, not as unsettled. He still smells like he's ready for sex, and his cheeks still have a splotch of pink on each one, but he's fine.

They'll be fine.

~*~

When they get on the road, though, Stiles is withdrawn, and seems self-conscious. Where he used to be a careless, twitchy sprawl, now he holds himself tense and careful. He turns the music on and then stares out the window as the sun rises on a day that should be just like all the others they've spent together before this, but absolutely isn't.

Pretending everything is normal is impossible. They're hyper-aware of each other, not making eye contact if they can help it, and yet the awkwardness does nothing at all to dampen the lust sparking off the two of them, like lightning arcing between their bodies. That quick jerk off session back at the gas station didn't buy Derek much relief, and it smells like Stiles is in the same boat--the mouthwatering scent of him slowly fills the truck again until the air feels thick and sweet with it.

Derek cracks a window. Stiles hunches down in his seat and averts his blushing face, but doesn't say anything.

Derek's grateful for the silence, because he needs to wrap his head around this.

What's really galling is that Derek didn't see this coming, even though the signs were all there: the growing closeness between them, Derek being affectionate and Stiles eating it up, Derek's sudden appreciation for the way Stiles smelled. The nighttime cuddling and the morning thoughts, Derek attacking three werewolves to protect Stiles, Stiles taking care of Derek afterward.

Looking back, it's all classic omega/werewolf behavior, but neither of them recognized that for what it was, because it was all new to both of them. Derek had thought it was some kind of—of bonding or something. That they were becoming almost like a pack to each other, taking care of each other. But it was just the hormones. Derek feels manipulated, and disappointed that it wasn't real, but that's the least of his problems right now. An omega. Christ.

Derek doesn't know if Stiles is fully aware just how popular omegas are in the werewolf community, where they're practically fetishized in some circles. As a teenager, Derek had gone through a phase—most young werewolves did—where he'd been fascinated by them, so he's heard the stories that get passed around, and read a few of the books that are basically romance novels, though no self-respecting werewolf would ever call them that under pain of torture.

He's also seen the porn, which he found disappointingly unsatisfying. It was mostly omegas out of control in heat, practically mindless with it, and werewolves going crazy with the pheromones, pounding into them as they begged to be fucked. Now that he's a little older Derek realizes most of those omegas in the movies probably weren't omegas at all, and all of that stuff was just for show.

No one knows why omegas smell so good to werewolves, but the theory is it entices them to reproduce outside their bloodlines, which keeps inbreeding to a minimum. A werewolf who breeds with a human will always have human babies. The only way for a werewolf to breed with a non-werewolf and have more werewolves is with an omega.

The upshot is that Stiles is biologically programmed to go into heat every so often, and Derek is biologically programmed to respond to it, and this is the absolute worst time for this to happen.

~*~

Things start to relax a little between them around lunchtime—maybe they're adapting to the weirdness of their current situation, who knows. They stop to eat alongside the road up in the mountains, enjoying some rare fall sunshine, and even manage some awkward small talk before a prowler comes shambling out of the woods. It's a long-haired guy wearing a pucca shell necklace, one hiking boot, and nothing else.

"Ugh," Stiles says as he opens a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Derek has yet to see him eat a single Cheeto, and yet he smells kind of like them all the time. It's mystifying. "I do not need to see this. They're bad enough with all their clothes on."

Derek's in full agreement. "You wanna flip for it?" he asks, digging around in the food box for the pickles.

This one's in bad shape, moving pretty slow, one arm dangling by a ribbon of stretched out skin. They do Rock Paper Scissors, and Stiles loses. He is always going to lose, because he has about four different tells, but he hasn't figured that out yet. Derek takes advantage of that fact without shame.

"Great," Stiles says, shoulders slumping. He shoves a handful of Doritos in his mouth and then mumbles something that Derek thinks is, "Gimme the crowbar."

It's propped against the truck's tailgate, next to Derek's leg, so he hands it over and Stiles takes it, hefts it in his hand a few times as he approaches the prowler, who zeroes in on him immediately. Derek digs another pickle out of the jar and crunches on it while Stiles stabs the prowler in the forehead and then cleans the crowbar off in the long grass next to the road.

"Just another day in paradise," Stiles sighs, when he comes back with the crowbar and takes a seat.

"Sure is. Pickle?" Derek says, holding the jar out. Stiles takes a pickle, and proffers the Doritos in return.

"You know, we're probably gonna see a lot of naked zombies eventually," Stiles says after he finishes his pickle. "If their clothes rot faster than their bodies."

Derek thinks about that for a second. "You're probably right."

"So we have that to look forward to," Stiles says.

Derek tries to hold back a laugh and ends up sputtering pickle bits all over the ground. It's not that funny, but it's the first regular conversation they've had in hours, and it's a bit of a relief they can still manage it.

Those few minutes of familiar lunchtime routine—eating odds and ends, killing zombies, black humor—seem to help, and things are a little more normal between them when they get back in the truck. Once they're out on the highway again, Stiles gets out one of his books and starts reading out loud, though he's clearly distracted, stumbling over words in a way he never has before.

And maybe Derek's going a little nuts, but he swears Stiles' voice is…huskier than it used to be or something. Derek's never seen the appeal of phone sex, never been much of a talker during regular sex, and he's spent the last couple hundred miles listening to Stiles read from those stupid books, so he's completely unprepared for what it does to him now. The book Stiles is reading isn't the least bit sexual or suggestive, but every word he says feels like fingers running through Derek's hair, a warm tongue dragging up the back of his neck.

Derek cracks the window again.

Stiles pauses, then turns up the heat and reads on, oblivious.

The window doesn't help. Before long it feels like Derek's dick is being strangled by his jeans and he's actually sweating, but when he tries to turn the heat down Stiles objects.

"Hey, I'm just getting comfortable!" he says, even though he's got about four layers on to Derek's measly two. He immediately reaches for the knob and turns it back up.

The steering wheel makes a squeaking sound when Derek tightens his hands around it--his palms are that damp. "Maybe you should—stop reading," Derek says. Now his voice sounds huskier, too.

There's a moment of silence, and then Stiles says, "Really, dude? Me reading about Palpatine is doing it for you?"

"Yes," Derek says through clenched teeth. Then he groans, "Jesus, stop," when there's an unmistakable spike in Stiles' scent.

"I can't!" Stiles says, a little shrilly. "Now I'm thinking about it because you're thinking about it!"

Derek stops the truck so fast the tires squeal. He kills the engine and they both bail out onto the road, leaving the doors standing wide open as they pace back and forth on opposite sides of the truck. After a minute, Derek goes back to his door, but doesn't get in, just braces his arms on top and closes his eyes as he takes one steadying breath after another. He feels like his skin is literally steaming.

He can hear Stiles' boots scuffing on the pavement on the other side of the truck, but he can't look at him yet. This is turning out to be a lot more difficult than he thought it would be.

In Derek's limited experience, being around an omega in heat is like walking past a bakery and smelling the fresh cookies. Derek's felt drawn to them, yes, but it was mostly just…kind of pleasant. It wasn't like this at all, this gnawing, nagging need, this unavoidable awareness between them that they want to fuck each other.

But none of those other instances were with an omega Derek already knew and already liked. And none of those omegas were like Stiles—young and alone, with no experience navigating a heat cycle, feeling a lot of things that are probably new to him. This isn't something either of them have dealt with before. But they don't have any choice. They need to figure out a way to stay focused.

Heats aren't usually a big deal in daily life, as far as Derek knows. He assumes omegas who have been through it a few times can probably deal with it just fine and not let it interrupt their lives, and werewolves have a pretty strict code of conduct when it comes to omegas, drilled into every werewolf from the time they're old enough to understand what omegas are and react to them.

Or they used to have a code, before the apocalypse. Derek nearly slaps himself on the forehead when he realizes what really happened in Laramie: those assholes in Walmart could smell what Derek couldn't, because Derek was with Stiles all the time, twenty-four hours a day, and hadn't realized his scent was changing. That was why they were so interested in him.

The thought makes Derek's blood boil, and he has to start all over again with the steadying breaths.

He told Stiles he can control himself, and he can. He's not worried about that at all, because he can't imagine hurting Stiles, or forcing him to do anything he doesn't want. The problem is Stiles does want, and Derek can't pretend otherwise, because he's broadcasting it loud and clear. If they were both adults, if Stiles weren't dependent on him…

But there's no use even contemplating that, is there?

"I’m sorry," Derek says, when Stiles comes creeping back, arms wrapped tightly around himself. So far Stiles' first heat experience has been pretty terrible, and Derek isn't helping.

"It's not your fault," Stiles says glumly.

"It's not yours either," Derek says, in case that's what Stiles thinks. Stiles can't help it.

Stiles gives him a grateful look as he gets in and shuts his door, already shivering just from that short time outside. Derek waits another minute or two, giving the sweat a chance to dry. His shirt feels plastered to his back.

When they get moving again, Stiles sets his book aside and gets the iPod out instead. They're both pretty sick of the songs on it by now, but it's the lesser of two evils.

"Too bad I don't have any Michael Bolton on here," he says as he scrolls through the menu. "Where's a real boner killer when you need one?"

~*~

Stiles doesn't have any Michael Bolton on his iPod, but he does have some Bon Jovi, which kills Derek's boner just fine. Enough that the rest of the drive isn't quite so fraught. The early start combined with practically empty roads and very few zombies wandering around means they make amazing time through the eastern side of Utah.

The road into Salt Lake City is marked with signs warning travelers to go around, but that isn't necessary anymore. In the early days of the sickness the city was briefly the headquarters of a surprisingly popular doomsday cult that believed the world was ending and the only way to find eternal salvation afterwards was to become a zombie now. Anyone with a lick of common sense got the hell out of town, and the cult died out pretty fast, because eventually everyone in it was a zombie, and zombies aren't good at grassroots organization.

Now Salt Lake's a ghost town. Even most of the zombies seem to have moved on—there aren't nearly as many wandering around as Derek expects from a city where thousands of people came to be purposely bitten. That's pretty convenient for Stiles and Derek, because they still need to stock up on supplies before they head for Nevada.

The first house they try doesn't have much they want. It belonged to a little old lady living alone, so there aren't any clothes they can use, and the cupboards are almost bare. The little old lady is upstairs dead in her bed, rosary clutched in her desiccated hands. The second house has what looks like a whole family of zombies locked inside, pawing at the front door and hissing, so they skip it.

The third they try is blessedly empty of both zombies and dead bodies, and Derek gets a few shirts, a pair of warm boots that are only a little too big, and some peanut butter. Stiles scores some socks and a new set of clippers. As they walk out, Stiles grabs what's left of a case of bottled water sitting by the back door, a dozen bottles or so rolling around in the cardboard and plastic packaging.

"I can carry that," Derek offers, but Stiles says, "Nah," and uses his knee to tuck the unwieldy package more securely under his arm. The truck's right out front anyway, so Derek doesn't argue.

Maybe it's the noise and the smell of the zombies in the other house distracting them, maybe it's just carelessness, but neither of them notices the prowlers until it's too late.

Derek's gone on ahead, hurrying to open the truck while Stiles tries to walk and hold the case of water together at the same time, and it's stupid, so stupid because they know better. They're smarter than this, especially since Laramie.

The three prowlers come lurching out from behind a hedge, right in between Derek and Stiles. There's no way to know if it's a coincidence or some kind of leftover werewolf instinct, but either way it works: Derek and Stiles are now separated, with a pack of prowlers between them.

"Fuck," Stiles says, a faint thread of alarm in his voice. When Derek turns around, all three prowlers are focused on Stiles.

Derek sees what happens next in terrible, heart-stopping slow motion: Stiles lets go of the water so he can use both arms, but when it falls to the ground a few of the bottles slip out of the packaging and scatter. As Stiles lifts his bat and steps backward, pivoting to get his back to the hedge, he steps on one. His foot shoots right out from under him, like a cartoon character, and he goes down.

One of the zombies is on him in a second, and he barely gets his bat up in time to drive it back with a bloody thwack to the face.

Derek drops his pack and sprints toward Stiles, which draws the attention of one of the prowlers. It turns, dirty fangs gnashing in its rotting mouth, and Derek sees the faintest glimmer of red in its eyes—it was an alpha. That doesn't matter much anymore. Derek takes it out with one well-placed stab of his crowbar.

The third prowler is on top of Stiles now, trying to scratch at his face with its claws, but he's got his bat braced across its chest, and he manages to heave it off of him just as Derek puts his crowbar through the back of its head. The zombie Stiles hit in the face is staggering back toward them, snarling, lower jaw half gone.

Derek hauls Stiles to his feet and they run for the truck. Screw the water.

"At least they weren't naked," Stiles says shakily, when they're safely locked in the truck. The last remaining prowler is smearing its slimy face all over Stiles' window.

Derek runs it over on purpose before they drive away.

~*~

"This one looks promising," Stiles says as they cruise through Salt Lake City in search of a place to hole up for the night. After the close call at the last stop, they've mutually agreed to call it a day. "Turn here."

By now they've learned how to suss out the nicer areas of a city, and this time they've hit the jackpot with a gated community, the gate hanging conveniently open. A stray cat watches from atop the wrought iron fence as Derek pulls through and then closes it behind them, bending a couple of the bars together so it stays put.

They roll up to a big beige McMansion and let themselves in, finding it a pretty nice place, with lots of big bedrooms and comfortable beds. Derek can already tell the house is empty, but they open every door, look in every closet and under very bed, before rummaging through the kitchen. No one likes a surprise zombie.

There isn't much to eat—either the family tried to hold out here for a while, or they took most of their food with them--but Stiles gets excited over a box of Fruit Roll-Ups and a can of gooey fake cheese.

"If you eat those together I'm gonna barf," Derek threatens, before taking the last of their Ritz crackers out of the food bag and shoving them toward Stiles.

"I might," Stiles says, a defiant glint in his eye. "Since you got me thinking about it."

He doesn't, though. He puts the cheese on the crackers like normal person, and offers one to Derek, who declines. He'd rather have no cheese at all than eat that crap. They've got other stuff that's a lot more appetizing.

Derek gets the maps out while they eat and they hash out their plan for the next few days. Stiles has kept a running tally of miles left scribbled on the edge of the California map, and now it's finally under a thousand, which feels like an accomplishment, or an occasion worth celebrating. Stiles smiles as he traces the next day's route with a pink highlighter he picked up somewhere.

Once they don’t have that to focus on, though, Derek notices Stiles' eyes intently tracking his hands, like he's thinking about Derek touching him. It makes heat prickle through Derek's spine, pool heavy between his legs again, and he suddenly can't forget that he has hands, which is stupid--of course he has hands.

But the way Stiles keeps watching them makes everything Derek does with them feel obscene. And he's not the only one thinking that, because pretty soon Stiles' teeth are sinking into his puffy lower lip like he's getting turned on watching Derek open a packet of beef jerky. Derek desperately wants to reach down and adjust his pants where they're pinching him now, but he doesn't dare. That would probably blow the lid right off this thing.

Derek can't remember when he's ever been this sexually aroused and in the presence of someone who wanted him back for such an extended period of time and not done anything about it. But Stiles doesn't really want him, does he? He just wants and Derek happens to be the only werewolf available.

Derek's body doesn't care, though. His nose keeps twitching, even when he tries to make it stop, and if he doesn't focus he keeps zoning in on Stiles' heartbeat, which speeds up every time Derek looks at him for too long. Every atom of Derek's being is aware of Stiles all the time, and it's excruciating.

Derek had hoped he'd get a handle on it, but sitting in a dark kitchen watching Stiles lick aerosol cheese off his fingers—which should be disgusting—knowing what Stiles is thinking…well, Derek wants to give it to him. Put his hands on him, run them up under his shirt, down into his pants. Stiles would probably make some amazing noises, grab Derek's hair with his capable hands…

Stiles is staring at him like he knows what Derek is thinking, breath going a little ragged as tension crackles between them. Derek looks down at his applesauce and tries to get control of himself, tune his ears to the wind outside, his nose to the fading smell of these unknown people and their pets—a hamster, he thinks. A turtle, too.

They don't talk for the rest of the meal, and Derek keeps himself in his chair only through sheer force of will and repeatedly reminding himself that Stiles is a minor.

"We should probably sleep in separate rooms, I guess," Stiles says, not looking happy about the idea at all, when they make their way upstairs to go to sleep.

Derek doesn’t like that idea, either. But sharing a room—never mind a bed—is probably an even worse idea. They can't even share a box of Ritz without it turning sexual.

He takes the first bedroom, which evidently belonged to a little girl who loved the color yellow. It's the first one at the top of the stairs, which puts him between Stiles and any unwelcome visitors who make it this far. It's unlikely that will happen, but Derek's at peace with being paranoid, given their close call earlier today. Stiles picks the room right next to Derek's—as close as he can be while still staying separate.

By the time he's gotten his boots off and settled into the narrow, frilly bed with his crowbar on the floor within reach, Derek realizes he's not going to be able to sleep this far away from Stiles, and he's seriously pissed about it. He hates that he's being compelled to behave this way by Stiles and his stupid heat. After a few minutes of stubbornly trying to convince himself Stiles' hormones aren't the boss of him, he gets up and grudgingly gathers his things, wondering if he should bother to make an excuse for moving into Stiles' room, or just not say anything at all.

He practically gets run down in the hallway by Stiles, who comes bolting out of his own room with a wild look in his eyes. He smells like anxiety and strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups.

"I think I should—" Derek starts, as Stiles says, "I can't sleep in there alo—"

They stare at each other for a second before Stiles wordlessly turns and goes back into his room, Derek right on his heels. Stiles doesn't have werewolf night vision, so he's got a candle lit, his blanket and pillow in the middle of the double bed, boots and jacket on the floor at the foot. It's too cold, even in the house, to take off anything else.

"Are you cold?" Derek asks, trying to justify this in his mind, for his own conscience. Stiles is used to sharing Derek's body heat at night.

"Yes," Stiles says, hands fidgeting with the pocket of his hoodie as he sits down on the bed. "But that's not—I don't know what's wrong with me. I just can't stand being in here by myself." He's not meeting Derek's eyes, like he's ashamed. "Did you—did you miss me, too?"

"Yeah," Derek admits. "Puberty's a real bitch."

Stiles laughs, bright and uninhibited, like his old self. It warms Derek's heart. Derek's heart is a real sap.

Stiles snuffs the candle while Derek adds his sleeping bags to the bed and they arrange them like usual, huddling under them together. When they finally settle, Derek reaches for Stiles and pulls him close like he used to, and then wonders if that's a good idea when he hears Stiles' breath catch in his throat.

"Is this making it worse?" Derek whispers in the dark.

"Yes," Stiles says, then quickly, "No. Don't stop. It's better, overall, I think." He lays his arm over Derek's, like he wants to keep it there, curled over his belly. "Don't leave."

"I’m not leaving," Derek says, nosing at Stiles' hair, inhaling him. Spooned together like this, Stiles' butt in Derek's lap, is the closest they've been by a long shot since Stiles' heat started, and it's probably a really bad idea.

Derek feels himself start to get hard again, which isn't going to help things. And there's no use wondering if Stiles can tell, because his scent suddenly gets stronger, richer, even more appealing. He squirms a little, butt rubbing against Derek's erection, which makes Derek almost bite his tongue in half holding back a moan. When he tightens his arm to hold Stiles still, a breathy little whimper comes out of him.

Derek's never going to be able to fall asleep, he thinks. He should have at least jerked off before he came in here; failing to do so was probably a grave tactical error.

The next few minutes have Derek clenching his jaw and willing his hips not to move, but rather than suffering through a night of ongoing torture, something in him slowly settles at having Stiles so close, right here where Derek's gotten used to having him. And the same thing must happen to Stiles, because his heartbeat gradually slows down as he melts into Derek's arms. He falls asleep almost as quickly as he usually does, and Derek follows soon after.

Chapter Text

The next day they try their luck scavenging again, and the results are dismal. Derek's never seen a city picked this clean of any and all useful supplies--even the cans of creamed corn are gone. Every store Derek's raided since civilization went in the toilet has had at least a few cans of creamed corn sitting on the shelf, like the kid picked last in gym class. Nobody likes that shit.

And despite the fact that the city seems light on zombies over all, it must be pretty heavy on prowlers, because even though it's broad daylight outside, when they should be less active, they're out in force wherever Derek and Stiles stop. It makes the supply runs a lot riskier than either of them are comfortable with, and burns up a lot of time and energy they can't really spare.

They have to keep trying, though. They still need to get across the Salt Flats and all of Nevada before they hit California, and there might not be a lot of opportunities to stock up between here and Reno. They drive to a different part of town, but it's an exercise in futility. The same thing happens at every stop, the same thing that's been happening since that house in Wyoming. Prowlers find them wherever they go, like they somehow know they're there, like they're drawn to--

It's downright embarrassing how long it takes Derek to figure it out.

~*~

Stiles is stunned, and then eerily stoic, when Derek explains it to him: the prowlers are finding them faster because they can smell Stiles' heat. They're zombies, but they're still werewolves, and they still act on instinct. Walking down the street with Stiles is like chumming the water.

"We need to split up," is the first thing Stiles says. "We need to find me a car, head in different directions—"

"Like hell we do," Derek says, louder than he intended, but there are no words for how strongly he is against that plan. Viscerally and absolutely against it. Stiles wandering around alone out there while in heat would be a death sentence for him.

Dismayed by Derek's reaction, Stiles doesn't give up. His voice is pleading when he says, "Derek, come on. You know it makes sense."

It does not make sense. It makes the least amount of sense of anything Derek has heard since back when the sickness first hit and the CDC insisted they had it under control and there was no need for travel restrictions. It makes so little sense it's downright stupid.

Stiles is adamant, though, and they fight about it, their first real fight. Derek tries to play up how dangerous it would be for Stiles on his own, and in the process unintentionally insults him.

"I survived fine on my own before I met you," Stiles snaps.

Derek politely does not point out that Stiles was cornered by a pack of prowlers when they met. Instead, he reminds him that he wasn't in heat back then, and it'll be even worse now. He reminds him that the last house in Wyoming, the one with the zombie in the yard, was nearly overrun in no time at all after Stiles went outside for just a few minutes, and that was before his heat was even in full swing.

"You've seen what it's like out there, Stiles. You won't ever be able to stop moving, they'll wear you down." They've almost worn Derek down, and he's a lot more durable than Stiles, just by virtue of being a werewolf. "It'd be suicide."

Stiles makes an exasperated sound and rubs his hands over his face. "It's not fair to you," he says, voice shaking.

"Fuck fair," Derek says. Not much of anything has been fair to him in recent years; he's used to it. "I’m not going to just fucking abandon you."

Stiles steels his jaw. "You're not abandoning me if I leave," he says, and it sounds like a threat.

"And then I'd have to come after you and it would be a giant fucking hassle, so I'd rather you didn't," Derek says, and he is one hundred and thirty percent serious about this. It's non-negotiable.

Stiles mutters something under his breath that sounds like stupid werewolves, but then he flings his arms in the air in exasperation and says, "Fine!"

"I'm serious. Don't even think about it," Derek warns him, because he's not sure Stiles isn't above pretending to agree and then sneaking off when Derek's not looking. "We’re not splitting up."

"Whatever. It's your funeral," Stiles says sullenly. "But if you change your mind--"

Derek cuts him off. "I’m not changing my mind." Stiles would be prowler chow in ten minutes. Or maybe something worse. "It's not just the zombies you have to worry about. There are other werewolves out there who didn't get sick."

"What's that supposed to—" Stiles says, then pauses. Derek can practically see him piecing it together. "Are you saying that's what happened in Laramie?"

"I'm pretty sure, yeah," Derek admits. "I think they could tell you were starting to go into heat. I think they sniffed you out."

Stiles looks skeptical. "I know werewolves are supposed to be able to tell, but how come you didn't know in Laramie, then?"

Derek shrugs and tries to keep his face neutral. This is a sore topic for him. "I think I didn't notice at first because I was with you constantly," he says, because he doesn't want to say, I thought it was me, I thought I was the one who was changing. "I couldn't really tell a difference then, like I can now. But I think I knew. I just didn't know I knew."

"Okay," Stiles says slowly, eyebrows collapsing down in confusion. "And that means what?"

Derek's just gonna have to say it, as humiliating as it is. "I think that's why I reacted the way I did," he says. Stiles stares at him uncomprehendingly. "Uh. When they were talking about you."

"Whoa," Stiles says, clearly shocked when he finally gets it. "You went all berserker rage on those guys because you were territorial? Over me?"

"Protective," Derek says testily. That sounds a lot less disturbing. "But my point is, they picked up on it. They smelled it on you, and they were gonna take you."

It takes a bit for the full impact of what he narrowly avoided to sink in, and it's not fun to watch. Stiles' face literally pales, and he kind of shrinks down into himself. "I thought all that stuff was just, you know, exaggerated. For the porn," he says after a moment. "Like you said."

Derek had thought it was, but now he's not quite so sure. Or maybe it was true, once upon a time, but that world is gone. "Things are different now. There aren't any rules anymore, people do what they want. And like I told you," he says, trying to steer the conversation back to the original purpose, "The prowlers know. You smell good to them, and it draws them."

Stiles gives him a nervous look. Derek silently curses the fact that he's so bright. "Does the way I smell make you feel that way?"

Derek knows Stiles isn't talking about the prowlers, but he goes for the joking, evasive response anyway. "Like I wanna eat your flesh? No."

It doesn't work. Stiles scowls at him. "You know what I mean, dickbag."

"I would never make you do anything against your will, ever." He could leave it there, but there's no point in hiding it; it's not like Stiles doesn't know Derek wants to fuck him. He's seen--and felt--Derek react to him physically. "You do smell good to me, obviously," he admits. "But you smelled good to me before that, so. You know." He shrugs. "That's probably another reason why I didn't notice at first. It was just you, but...better."

Stiles' face practically splits in half around his wide, pleased grin. "Really? You liked the way I smelled?" He's practically gloating. "What do I smell like?"

Derek's always hated it when humans ask that question; it's never something he can put into words. "Unwashed teenager, usually," he says, because "like Cheetos" sounds ridiculous and Stiles wouldn't believe him anyway. He palms Stiles' outraged face and easily pushes him aside when Stiles throws himself at Derek and tries to give him a wet willie.

After that the conversation devolves into insults and teasing, so Derek considers it a success.

That doesn't change the fact, though, that wherever they go, the prowlers find them. As long as they keep driving they're fine, but as soon as they stop and Stiles gets out of the truck, the countdown starts. Even when they try to hide as thoroughly as possible, they can barely find a few hours to rest and eat before a prowler comes calling, drawn by the scent of a receptive omega.

"It'll be fine," Derek insists when they're back on the move, bleary-eyed. Stiles seems to be taking it pretty hard, blaming himself for how much this sucks; Derek can practically feel him getting ready to suggest splitting up again. "It's gotta end soon. We'll stick it out and then things will ease up a bit and we can go back to just being terrified and hunted at the regular level we're used to." Even as the words come out of his mouth, he's thinking that sounds like something Stiles would say.

Stiles snorts. "That sounds like something I would say," he says, clearly pleased by the idea he's rubbing off on Derek.

"Good, then you can't argue with it," Derek tells him.

Stiles chews on his lip and looks out the window, like he's gathering his courage. Finally, he says, "It'll end sooner if—"

"We'll wait it out," Derek says firmly, because he doesn't want Stiles to finish that sentence. He doesn't want to acknowledge it, doesn't want to the words out there. "We'll wait for it to go away."

~*~

Twenty-four hours later, they've finally--barely--got enough supplies to head out of Salt Lake, but Stiles is exhausted, Derek is exhausted, and they're both so distracted they almost end up prowler meat again. It's too late to leave town anyway, so another night in Salt Lake City it is, whether they like it or not.

They've nearly given up on getting any rest for the night when Stiles spots an electrical substation, which are always surrounded by strong fencing to keep animals and idiots from electrocuting themselves. Back when the electricity still flowed, you couldn't have paid Derek to get this close to one—the humming of the transformers, the sharp smell of electrified air, and the constant feeling that every hair on his body was standing on end would have driven him crazy. Now it's just a secure place with a nice strong fence.

"This has to stop soon, right?" Derek groans, flopping down in a heap in the back of truck once they're safe inside.

"You know how to stop it," Stiles says quietly, and Derek says, "No," immediately, but guilt prickles at him, because he wants it. He wants it so bad, and wanted it, a little, if he's honest with himself, even before Stiles' heat.

But Stiles is sixteen years old and this isn't a situation where he's making a choice of his own freewill—he doesn't have a lot of options. He's backed into a corner, just like he was when Derek found him, except now he's got every prowler in the vicinity plus Derek standing just outside of his reach, wanting in.

Not for the first time, Derek wonders if Stiles can actually sense a weakness in Derek, or read his mind, or something. Because instead of being put off by what sounded to Derek like a pretty vehement no, Stiles scoots forward a little on his butt, eyes keen as he winds up to make his pitch.

"Look, I won't make a big deal out of it," Stiles says, even though his heartbeat is pounding in Derek's ears. He's not feeling as matter-of-fact about it as he's trying to appear. "I know it's just something we have to do. I won't go home and tell my dad we're an official couple or anything."

The thought of Stiles telling his father, the sheriff, any of this is so pants-shittingly terrifying Derek refuses to think about it for even a second.

"I don't even know if it's true, what they say about stopping it," Derek hedges. "It might just be a bunch of bullshit." Something people say to trick omegas into sleeping with them.

"It's true," Stiles says, with surprising conviction. "I had to go to a class, when I turned twelve. Sex makes it go away."

Derek doesn't know if he's glad to have that confirmed or not. On the one hand, it takes some of the uncertainty out of the decision, knowing it's a legitimate solution. On the other hand, it also takes away his last objection.

And it's not just any kind of sex Stiles is talking about, if what Derek's heard is right. There are a lot of really enjoyable ways to have sex. It's penetration that ends the heat, satisfies the biological imperative.

Derek's done that before. It's not his favorite thing—blowjobs will always be at the top of the list—and he can usually take it or leave it, but he's got his own biological imperative egging him on now and he's never wanted to put his dick in someone so badly. Just talking about it is making him sweat again.

But he remembers being sixteen years old, putting his faith in an adult he thought he could trust. Someone he thought cared about him. He was too young and naïve to know all the ways it could go bad. He doesn't want to be that adult for Stiles, but then he wonders if, by worrying he might be, he's already made it impossible that he will be.

He gets caught up in the circular logic of that argument, and takes so long to hash it out, that Stiles' bravado starts to desert him. Stiles looks down at his hands, rubs them over his knobby knees. "Unless you don't want to. You know, with me," he mumbles, shrugging a shoulder like he doesn't really care one way or the other, but Derek can tell he does care, a lot.

The only thing harder for Derek to bear than a frustrated, miserable Stiles is a sad, dejected Stiles. "I do want to, but only if you're sure," Derek says finally. He knows Stiles' body wants to, but Derek wants to make sure he's mentally ready, too. He ducks down to catch Stiles' eyes. "Tell me you're sure, Stiles."

Stiles lifts his head enough to meet Derek's eyes and nods. "I’m sure," he says firmly, though he still reads as nervous to Derek. "Just, um." His eyes dart away as he hunches his shoulders. "Don't hurt me."

Derek is repulsed by the idea of hurting Stiles in any way. "It's not going to be like the stuff in porn," Derek says, trying to reassure him. He doesn't have any firsthand experience to back that up—he's never had sex with an omega--but he doesn't have even the slightest urge to force Stiles, or dominate him. He wants to fuck him, yes, but he also wants to take care of him. Mother Nature is a crafty bitch. "And I would never hurt you."

"Okay," Stiles says, but his hands are twisting anxiously in the blanket now, knuckles white.

Derek reaches out and puts his own hands over them. He runs his thumbs over the hard knobs of Stiles' knuckles, and Stiles starts to relax a little. Then he suddenly tenses again and his pulse picks up, but this time it's not fear. Stiles looks like he's about to start unbuttoning his pants right now.

"Whoa, just…hold on," Derek says, a little shocked by how quickly things escalated, just from touching his hands. "We've got a little time." Not much, but a little. The thought of having sex with Stiles here in the truck, parked next to a burned out transformer, feels gross and crass. Derek isn't exactly picturing rose petals and candlelight, but there's got to be something better than this.

"I don't need time," Stiles says hungrily, inching closer, until their knees are bumping.

"Well, maybe I do," Derek says back.

Stiles pulls his hands away, looking wary, like he thinks Derek was just humoring him, or has already changed his mind.

"Hey," Derek says softly. He cups the side of Stiles' face with his hand, and Stiles' eyes flutter closed as he tilts his head into Derek's palm. "Let's wait to find someplace where we have some room, and a real bed. And we need to find some condoms anyway." That's all they need on top of everything else right now is a damn pregnancy.

"Oh," Stiles says, eyes opening. He looks a little sheepish. "Right, yeah. I forgot about—and more room, that sounds like a good idea."

Derek gives Stiles' head an affectionate little shake, then lets his hand glide down along Stiles' arm. Stiles catches it and laces his fingers between Derek's, and doesn't let go. Derek hasn't held hands with anyone since he was fourteen years old, but if that's what Stiles wants, that's what he'll do. Whatever Stiles wants, he'll do.

"If there's anything…" Derek trails off, clears his throat, starts over again. "If there's stuff you like, or stuff you don't like, you should tell me."

"Stuff…?" Stiles wonders, looking unsure.

"In bed," Derek clarifies. His hands twitch when he says the word "bed," like they're eager to get Stiles into one. Derek hopes Stiles didn't pick up on that.

"Oh," Stiles says. His cheeks suddenly flame red and he looks down at their joined hands. "I haven't actually done anything," he says, sounding embarrassed.

"Really?" Derek asks, surprised. Stiles is a good-looking kid, and he's bright, got a sharp sense of humor, and he's an omega. The schools are integrated now, surely someone his age...

Stiles scowls. "Really," he confirms huffily, so it might be a touchy subject.

Derek chokes on nothing, garbles out an Oh fuck before he can stop himself. This beautiful little untouched omega is asking Derek to fuck him. Maybe this is going to be a little more like porn than Derek thought, because he's pretty sure he's seen this one.

"Sorry," Stiles says, like he's failed Derek somehow.

"Hey. Hey, no." Derek circles Stiles' wrists with his fingers so he can pull him closer. "That's not what I--it's okay. I don't mind."

"Good," Stiles says, corner of his mouth twitching up wryly. "Because there really isn't anything I can do about it."

"Guess not," Derek says with a small laugh. Then he asks, "So when you say you haven't done anything…?"

"Nothing. Zip, zilch, zero, nada," Stiles says cheerfully, a little more of his usual humor and bluntness coming back, which is a good sign.

"Not even this?" Derek asks, and then carefully takes Stiles' face in his hands and kisses him.

It's pretty clear Stiles hasn't done even that, based on the stilted kiss that follows, but he's a quick learner. At first it's just their mouths pressing together, but he opens up readily enough when Derek nudges his way inside, and they start out slow and soft. It picks up speed pretty fast, though, especially when Stiles presses himself against Derek as closely as he can and grabs hold of Derek's hair, his jaw, the collar of his jacket, like he can't keep his hands still while his mouth is moving. They kiss until they're both breathing heavy and grinding against each other, dicks hard in their pants.

"Not even that," Stiles says fuzzily, when Derek finally gives him a little break. He looks wrecked, just from kissing. Derek wants to put his mouth all over him. Not yet, though. Not yet.

"Now you have," Derek says, and gives him one last kiss.

~*~

They wake up plastered together a few hours later, both of them overheated and wincing at how hard they are. This is followed by several difficult, white knuckle minutes, because there's nowhere private to go take care it on their own—they just have to ignore it.

Breakfast should be a distraction, but that backfires spectacularly. Derek can't stop watching Stiles' mouth and Stiles' gaze keeps skating across the breadth of Derek's shoulders, darting down between his legs and then back up again. The sexual tension in the truck is off the charts, and that's really saying something. If Stiles so much as utters the word "Palpatine," Derek might have a spontaneous orgasm on the spot.

By the time they're ready to get back on the road, Stiles is grouchy and Derek is snappish, and it doesn't help that they have to go through a big hassle to get out of the damn gate.

The prowlers that gathered around the fence during the night managed to claw a hole in it, but the first one through got stuck, effectively corking up the opening, which was a stroke of luck. Unfortunately, they can't roll the gate open without shearing her in half with it, which takes a little muscle. Stiles manages to hold the other zombies back while Derek shoves the gate, wincing at the sound it makes as it slices the stuck prowler in two. Derek kills two more before he gets back in the truck, just because he's got to do something with all this frustration.

Despite all the prowler problems, over the last few days they've managed to squirrel away some food and water, and the jerry cans are full, as is the gas tank. If Derek's math is right, they have almost enough gas to get all the way to Reno, so all they'll need is another can's worth of fuel somewhere along the way, which hopefully won't be too difficult to find.

They just have one more thing they have to get before they leave Salt Lake City.

It doesn't go well.

There isn't a condom to be found anywhere. They check the drug stores, the grocery stores, the free clinics, any place that might have some. Everything's been picked clean. They start breaking into houses for the sole purpose of digging through bedroom drawers and looking under beds. Derek finds an expired package of omega birth control pills, but even if they were still good they'd take weeks to kick in, so that's no help.

They find a lot of other hidden stuff—some things that Derek can't even identify much less figure out how to use—but not a single condom. Birth control was one of the first things people started stockpiling when it became obvious how bad things were—they might as well be searching for a leprechaun.

"I got some lube," Stiles says after one stop, when they're back in the truck. He holds up a bright purple bottle that's still shrink-wrapped, thank God. "Almost grabbed the matching dildo, I’m that desperate, I swear to God."

"Stiles," Derek says, sounding strangled. It was a lot easier to deal with him when he was still shy and slightly hesitant to talk about sex. That lasted about twenty minutes, sadly.

"I'd let you watch," Stiles says, sly, then laughs at the look on Derek's face.

~*~

The day's a waste. They're distracted, trying not to obsess over all the sex they aren’t having. After spending too much time fruitlessly searching for birth control, it gets dark almost before they know it. It's pure luck they find a big metal shed behind a house on the outskirts of town, protection enough for the night. Dinner's the usual apocalypse hodge podge: canned peas, rice cakes, Pop Tarts. Derek eats his share and tries not to ogle Stiles too much.

Stiles is clearly very frustrated by now and has no qualms about ogling Derek. He smells like he's so ready for him, wet and open and wanting. They've barely finished eating when he makes his move, climbing into Derek's lap, kissing him eagerly.

Derek groans into his mouth, hands clutching at his skinny little hips. They probably shouldn't do this; Derek's not sure how much willpower he has left. It's his own fault, though, for starting it.

"Can we do something?" Stiles pleads into Derek's ear. "Anything, I don't care. Just touch me." His hand tightens around the back of Derek's neck, and he shoves his hips forward, grinding against Derek's stomach.

God, Derek wants to. And maybe he's rationalizing, but he thinks it might be a good idea, and not just because it means his dick will stop being hard for ten minutes. Maybe it's a good thing they can't do the big deed right away. Stiles said he's never done anything, but Derek has, so he can show him a few things, relieve a little tension along the way.

Derek kisses Stiles one more time and then gently tips him back until he's lying on the blankets, and shifts so he can hover over him and get his pants open. Stiles' belly is heaving, and his hands keep clutching at Derek's arms. Derek can see the outline of his dick, straining against his underwear. When he cups his hand over it and rubs, Stiles makes a startled sound and his hips lift up off the bed.

"Oh, God," Stiles says, slightly higher-pitched than normal. "Do that again."

"I will," Derek says reassuringly, still touching him, petting lightly with his thumb. "Tell me if I do something you don't like."

"Fat chance," Stile snorts, catting his hips up again.

Derek stops moving his hand so Stiles will focus on him. "I'm serious, Stiles."

Stiles' eyes search his face, and he must see that Derek means it, because he curls up to kiss his mouth and says, "I will. I promise."

Satisfied, Derek gets Stiles' underwear pushed down a little and reaches inside. Stiles' dick isn't nearly as scrawny as the rest of him, and immediately starts leaking all over Derek's hand. Stiles wiggles against the blankets, lifting his head to look down at himself, and then whines at the sight of Derek's hand on him. His hands clench into fists in Derek's shirt as he thrusts up into Derek's fist and says, "Oh, please. Yes."

It doesn't take much to finish him off, young and frustrated as he is. Derek holds the back of his head and lets him cry out into his neck, getting come all over their clothes. Afterwards he stills his hand but doesn't let go, holding him gently as he softens, kissing his face until his heart stops racing.

"That was great," Stiles says, sounding kind of drugged. His hand clumsily gropes the front of Derek's jeans. "What about you? You want a turn?"

Derek definitely wants a turn. He sits up and fumbles to get his own pants open, hands not even close to being as steady as they were before. Stiles tries to sit up, too, but Derek urges him over onto his belly instead and drags his pants and underwear down until they're below his ass. Stiles immediately hitches his butt up in the air, and Derek groans as he straddles the backs of Stiles' thighs.

Derek's cock looks big and dark and dangerous where it's arrowing over the pale slope of Stiles' butt. But Stiles—Stiles says he wants it in him, and he'll like it, Derek will make sure of that, he'll be so careful. As he works his hand up and down his dick, Derek imagines parting Stiles, easing into him, moving inside of him until Stiles comes. His body flashes hot all over just thinking about giving Stiles what he needs, nudging into his hungry body, making him feel good.

It doesn't take Derek long, either, with those kinds of thoughts running through his head and the smell of Stiles' heat, of his come, filling his nose and amplifying everything.The feel of his foreskin slipping over the head of his cock is almost agonizingly good, the muscles in his thighs burning with tension that crawls up into his balls, his belly. Stiles looks over his shoulder at him, eyes glazed in his flushed face, and tries to draw his knees up under himself, lift his ass a little higher. Derek says, "Yeah," and his hand speeds up until it's a blur, every breath harsh and raw in his throat now.

The first spasm hits him so hard he curls over himself, trying to keep his rhythm and failing. All he can do is tighten his grip and fuck into it, hips straining forward as he comes with a hoarse shout, all over Stiles' ass.

"Oh my God," Derek says, as he pitches over to collapse next to Stiles, his pants still caught around his thighs. That was easily the most intense orgasm of his entire life and Stiles didn't even do anything. He was just there.

Derek isn't sure he's going to survive this. But what a way to go.

~*~

By now they're getting far enough into the outskirts of Salt Lake City that there aren't as many places to scavenge, and there isn't going to be much of anything between here and the Salt Flats. Civilization is slowly petering out into a stark landscape of salt evaporation ponds and scrubby grass.

They decide to keep moving, keep heading away from Salt Lake, but stop when they can to look for condoms and other necessities. With promising places getting fewer and farther between they cover a lot more distance each day, but that doesn't fix their immediate problem. And always there are prowlers, appearing at every turn, and then attracting any nearby walkers.

"Face it, dude. We're not gonna find anything," Stiles says after another failed search. He flings his backpack into the back of the truck and climbs in after it, sighing.

"I did find this," Derek says, and takes a dusty box of chocolates out of his rucksack. It was old even before the sickness—the box is shaped like a heart and covered in velvet.

Stiles takes it from him and gives him a mischievous look as Derek climbs into the truck, too, and Derek immediately wishes he'd taken the candy out of the box first. "Are you wooing me? Am I your Valentine?"

"If you don't want it—" Derek starts to say, reaching for it, but Stiles holds it away where he can't reach.

"Shut up, of course I want it," Stiles says, and takes out his pocketknife to slit the shrink wrap open.

The chocolates are old, obviously, but still look okay. Stiles dives in right away, biting into one and then examining the filling as he rolls the other half around on his tongue. "Caramel," he says, approvingly, and then holds the remaining half up to Derek's mouth. Derek drops his fangs as he opens his mouth to snatch it from Stiles' fingers, and Stiles laughs.

"I’m not afraid of you," he says, grinning cheekily.

Derek retracts his fangs and takes the candy from Stiles' fingers with his human teeth. He already knows Stiles isn't afraid of him. That's what started all this in the first place.

"Anyway," Stiles says after he eats a few more pieces. "Getting back to the complete lack of condoms anywhere, we don't have to use one."

"Yes, we do," Derek says, helping himself to another piece of candy. "Unless you want to be a sixteen-year-old dad."

"You don't have to come inside me," Stiles says matter-of-factly, rooting around amongst the empty wrappers for another chocolate. "I trust you."

Derek has a hard time swallowing his mouthful of toffee. He's never had sex with anyone, male or female, without a condom. The thought of it, sliding into Stiles bare, nothing between them, feeling him all hot and slick inside. That'd be…

Risky, he reminds himself sternly. And that's putting a whole lot of faith in Derek's self-control. He sometimes feels like Stiles already has too much faith in him in general.

"Or we could just drive around Utah forever looking for birth control, attracting prowlers everywhere we go," Stiles says. "Up to you."

Stiles does have a point. "If we don't have any other choice," Derek says. "Let's give it another day or two."

"All right," Stiles says through a mouthful of candy, and then lets the subject drop.

The truth is, though, that they might have to take the chance. They can't waste any more time on searching for birth control or they're gonna get stranded on this side of the mountains for the winter. In the long run, that's a lot riskier than unprotected sex.

Stiles offers him another piece of candy, but Derek's had his fill; he's not the sugar fiend Stiles is. He scoots down to lie flat next to Stiles' hip, and slides his hand up the back of his sweatshirt to touch bare skin. As much as he's looking forward to having sex with Stiles, so far his favorite side effect of that decision is that Derek can touch him again, and be close to him like this. Derek likes that he can just sit with him, listen to his opinions—Stiles has an opinion about everything--and watch the way he gets his whole body involved when he talks.

Is he going to feel this way about Stiles once his heat is over? Does he want to? Does Stiles want him to?

It's kind of pathetic, but for a moment Derek lets himself imagine what it'd be like if things were different. Maybe if Derek had stayed in Beacon Hills, and if the sickness hadn't ever happened, they'd be a normal couple. They could go to movies and cuddle in front of the television, and take walks in the park—all the things Derek missed out on because of Kate, and Stiles hasn't done yet at all.

It's all a pointless fantasy, of course, because even if the sickness hadn't come, even if Derek had stayed in Beacon Hills, what are the odds they'd even know each other? Even if they did, what are the odds Stiles would want him? Before everything fell apart, Stiles would have been sought after once he started his heats, and would have had his pick of werewolves. Derek, so much older, and with so much unpleasantness attached to his name, wouldn't have had a chance.

Better to just focus on the now, Derek tells himself, tapping his fingers on the knobs of Stiles' spine. His skin is warm and soft. Untouched by anyone but him, Derek remembers, and feels his pulse quicken.

Once again Stiles demonstrates his eerie way of synching up with Derek's thoughts when he chooses that moment to ask, without looking at Derek, "Did you have someone? Like a girlfriend or a boyfriend, before the sickness?"

"No," Derek says. He doesn't bother to ask Stiles the same question, since he already knows the answer.

"Have you ever, you know. Had sex with a guy before?" After he gets the words out, Stiles turns his head to look down at him over his shoulder. He's got a bulging cheekful of candy, like a chipmunk.

Derek says, "Yes."

"With an omega?" Stiles presses.

"No," Derek admits, and then is amused to see a little wrinkle form between Stiles' eyes. "But I'm pretty sure I'll be able to figure it out," he assures him.

Stiles gets that familiar sassy glint in his eye as he swallows and then probes his cheek with his tongue. "Well, if you have any trouble, I saw a diagram once in school," he says, the little smartass.

"Thank God one of us is an expert," Derek says dryly, and then fells embarrassingly proud when Stiles laughs. Making Stiles laugh isn't especially hard, but it always feels like a victory to Derek, who went a lot of years without anyone who appreciated his sense of humor.

"You didn't have to take a class, did you?" Stiles asks curiously. "Like I did? Is there stuff like that for werewolves?"

"Not really," Derek says. It seems so long ago to him, and most of the time he feels like he wasn't really a teenager all that long, like he skipped from being a happy kid to being a broken adult without stopping in between, even though that wasn't true. He lived through all his teenage years, both before and after he killed most of his family. Maybe the issue is he'd rather he hadn't. "It's up to your pack to teach you that stuff, mostly. We watched that After School Special in health class, though, Where Do Omegas Come From?"

"Oh, yeah!" Stiles says, brightening. "The one from, like, 1989? With all the weird haircuts?"

"Yeah, that's the one," Derek says. He runs his hand in a broad sweep up Stiles' back, then down and along his ribs, and Stiles squirms a little, like it tickles, but keeps talking.

"That was so embarrassing," he says. "I was the only omega in my grade and I felt like everyone was looking at me the whole time. And then my dad thought I wasn't getting enough information, so he made me sit down with him and watch one for omegas called Me and My Hormones and I was traumatized for days."

Derek doubts the veracity of that claim. It's hard to imagine Stiles being traumatized by much of anything for more than a few minutes.

"When I went to that special class I thought it would be better," Stiles goes on, "but I think the idea of it is to, like, scare you."

Derek thinks he has a pretty good idea what that means, but he asks anyway. "Scare you how?"

"Don't walk by yourself at night when you're in heat, don't ever go somewhere alone with a werewolf. That kind of thing." He gives Derek an apologetic look. "Basically it's about how to protect ourselves from you guys. They kind of make you think that being an omega sucks."

"That's not how it is with us," Derek says, giving Stiles' waist an affectionate squeeze. "We're taught that omegas are special. My parents gave me a book called The Heat Is a Gift." Stiles groans at the title. "It had some sex stuff in it, but it was mostly about respecting omegas, and understanding what they're going through." There had been one short, not very detailed chapter about heat sex, which Derek had read obsessively as a kid, before he figured out he could find free stuff to jerk off to on the Internet.

"Understanding what I'm going through doesn't help much," Stiles mutters darkly. "Unless you're doing it with your hand in my pants." He turns back to his chocolates and angrily shoves another one in his mouth.

Derek sits up and snugs an arm around him and nuzzles his neck a little while he's absorbed in the candy box, filling his nose with the delicious smell of him. Every time they talk about having sex Stiles gets excited, and it makes him smell even more irresistible.

"You smell so good," he says, nudging the collar of Stiles' shirt aside with his nose, looking for the back of his neck so he can put his mouth…right…there.

He hears Stiles set the candy box aside, and then his hand comes up to cup the back of Derek's head, fingers sliding through his hair. Derek opens his mouth and tastes Stiles' skin, and can't hold back a pleased hum.

"This is exactly the kind of thing they warned us about in that movie," Stiles says suspiciously, and Derek laughs softly into his neck. "Next you're gonna try to touch me in my swimsuit area."

"You bet I am," Derek says, reaching around for the button on Stiles' pants. "I think we should practice a little, make sure I know where everything is."

"Good idea," Stiles agrees, breathy. He shifts a little so he's practically in Derek's lap. "We wouldn't want you to get lost."

They kiss for a while after that, mouths languid and sugary, and slowly collapse into a rutting tangle on the blankets. It gets warm in the truck, the windows steaming up, and Stiles strips out of his sweatshirt, and takes off his boots. Derek shoves Stiles' T-shirt up so he can mouth at his belly, bite the flat muscles over his ribs. He's not as scrawny as Derek thought when they met—solid under his hands and mouth, strong and wiry.

"Ugh, pants, the worst," Stiles says, plucking at the front of his jeans. Derek takes the hint and opens them up, pulls them down a little, along with his underwear. Then he coaxes Stiles over onto his belly, and holds him still when he tries to rub his cock against the blankets.

"We'll get there," he says, petting Stiles' hip. Stiles makes a frustrated sound, but goes pliant for him while Derek settles between his spread knees.

Stiles' ass is fucking fantastic, round and firm. Derek leans down and squeezes one side while he bites at the other, just hard enough to make Stiles twitch. Then he rubs his bristly chin against the place he just bit, and Stiles makes a disgruntled noise.

"Sorry," Derek says absently, distracted. He puts both hands on Stiles and spreads him open. He's pink and swollen and wet, and he smells unbelievable. Derek's mouth waters. He's never rimmed anyone before, but he's suddenly seeing the appeal.

"You leave beard burn on my ass I'm gonna get the clippers and—ah!" Stiles says, as Derek drops his head and gives him a long, slow lick. "Oh fuck, oh holy fucking Christ," Stiles whines, hips jerking under Derek's hands.

The taste of Stiles floods Derek's mouth and he moans before he can stop himself. It's like all that wonderful Stiles scent that's been teasing Derek's nose for days, but concentrated, lickable, delicious. Stiles' opening is small and tight, but yields beautifully to Derek's mouth when he laps with the flat of his tongue, patient and coaxing. Eventually Derek teases the tip inside where he's velvety soft, and is rewarded with a trembling cry from Stiles as he flexes around Derek's tongue.

After he gets him nice and relaxed and loose, Derek backs off enough to watch while he circles one finger slowly, twice, before easing it inside, and Stiles bucks in his hands, pushes back onto it. The sound of Derek's finger moving in and out is obscene, slick and dirty, and the longer Derek does it, the wetter Stiles gets, until his hips are rolling in a steady rhythm and his hands are clutching fistfuls of the blanket, Derek's hand wet to the wrist.

When Stiles' cries turn raw and needy, Derek adds a second finger, then helps Stiles lift his hips up even higher so he can reach around and jerk him off.

"There you go, I've got you," Derek murmurs, mouthing the small of Stiles' back. He tightens his grip on Stiles' cock, and adds a third finger to his ass. The next words come out before Derek can reconsider them: "I'm going to take care of you. I'm going to make it so good for you, Stiles."

Stiles goes crazy for it then, fucking himself back on Derek's fingers and then forward into his hand, chanting that he's close, he's so close, please. When he comes, he clamps down so hard on Derek's fingers that Derek can barely move them, settles for gently crooking them, rubbing him deep inside while Stiles' dick twitches in his other hand.

When it's over, Stiles flops down face first and doesn't move except to heave panting breaths into the blankets. Derek gets his own dick out and uses both hands on it, covering himself with all of Stiles' scent, and almost blows his load just from that. The noise he makes as he runs his wet hands over his cock is soft and broken, but he doesn't care, can't be self-conscious about it.

Stiles finally stirs, awkwardly turns over with his pants still down. His eyes are greedy as he reaches for Derek, peering down to watch him touch himself. Derek stretches over him and tugs his own shirt up and out of the way so he can rub his cock on Stiles' wet stomach. It's only a few slippery thrusts before he comes, his whole body locking up as he spills between their bellies, Stiles' hands clutching at his shoulders.

"So that's one thing the porn got right," Stiles says, as he's wiping himself off a little later with one of Derek's socks. "You guys love to come all over us."

Derek rolls his eyes and feels his face get warm, but screw it, he's not gonna deny it. He is what he is, and Stiles isn't actually complaining.

~*~

The Salt Flats are beautiful in an alien landscape kind of way, big and empty and unending, so white it hurts to look at them without sunglasses. What's less beautiful is that for some reason thousands upon thousands of walkers are congregating there. It's the most terrifying thing Derek's seen, and that's saying a lot.

"How the hell did she get all the way out here?" Stiles wonders, when they see the first one on the road, shuffling along in the middle of nowhere, baked brown and dried by the sun and the wind, like a walking stick of beef jerky.

The mood in the truck grows increasingly uneasy as they see another, then another, then a whole group staggering next to the road. Stiles turns the music off, and they ride in silence.

Derek checks the gas gauge and decides to pull over and top off the tank. They've got more than enough to make it across the Flats, but filling the tank can be dicey with too many zombies around. Stiles stays in the truck—out here his scent will carry for miles—and watches, jumpy, the whole time. It's just too eerie.

Somewhere in the middle of the Flats they come across what appears to be the preferred gathering place, where the zombies are the thickest. There's nothing but walking corpses as far as they can see in any direction, swarming all over the road in places. The only way out is through, so they go through.

Thankfully, they don't show much interest in the truck, and Derek drives right over the ones that don't get out of the way. The sound is disgusting, the truck smeared with gore, but they have to keep going, no matter what. If they stop here, they're dead.

After a few minutes Derek realizes the zombies aren't just gathered aimlessly—they're clustered together but in motion, like the penguins on those nature shows, the ones that constantly swap places in the huddle so everyone stays warm. Like they've migrated for the winter. Maybe they have. What happens when a zombie freezes?

 

"You know," Stiles says thoughtfully, as they slowly plow through what seems like an unending wall of zombies. "It would be pretty easy to take out a whole shit-ton of 'em all at once here, if you had enough people and the right weapons. Surround them, use guns and bows to provide cover and catch any strays while you set the whole herd on fire. Molotov cocktails would do the trick. Flame-throwers would be even better."

By now Derek should be over being surprised by how coldly calculating Stiles can be, how easily he problem-solves, how quickly he spots an opportunity he can exploit, like it comes to him as easy as breathing. The sheer scope of this plan, though, uttered so casually, makes the hair on the back of his neck prickle. Derek's speechless for a moment.

Stiles picks up on it, and turns his head to look at Derek. He's smiling. "Don't look so freaked. I'm a cop's kid, remember?"

"I'm not freaked," Derek says. He scratches his chin, which needs another pass with the clippers soon. Then he says, "That's a really good plan."

"I know," Stiles says, and goes back to looking out the window.

~*~

It feels like forever before they get out of the Flats. Thankfully, the zombies start to thin out as they get further and further away from the middle part of the herd, but Derek's so tense he can barely let go of the steering wheel when they roll into Wendover. And he'd give a lot for a working car wash; there's something that looks suspiciously like a lung stuck to the bumper.

This side of Wendover appears to be relatively uninhabited, maybe because of all the zombies passing through in a steady stream on their way to the Flats. The streets are thick with them, plodding drunkenly along, but most of them don't even pay any attention to Derek and Stiles. It's only when they're parked in front of the hotel and a prowler zeroes in on Stiles that things get touchy, but they get inside before it even gets within striking distance.

Derek can barely believe their luck: the Montego is in nearly pristine shape, and is the biggest, fanciest hotel they've seen so far, and has generators in the basement. Derek worked as a maintenance guy for a while in New York, and he knows enough to get the them running, which impresses Stiles, who watches the process with his usual mix of genuine curiosity and hilarious commentary.

The backup power comes on in the hotel section, but the casino stays dark and quiet, which is a blessing—no need to attract attention by lighting the whole place up like a Christmas tree.

Next order of business is finding a room. The elevators aren't working, but the emergency lights are on in the stairwell, so they make their way up to the top floor and claim the nicest suite for themselves.

"Go big or go home," Stiles says cheerfully, when they find it.

It's big, all right. Stiles gives a low whistle when Derek gets the door open and the lights on. "Oh, you are definitely deflowering me in this place," he says bouncing his butt on the enormous, pillowy bed. He gives Derek the hairy eyeball. "No more excuses."

"I haven't been making excuses," Derek says, miffed. "Pardon me for not bending you over the hood of the truck and nailing you immediately."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "I'm a sixteen-year-old omega virgin in heat. I wanna get nailed."

"Oh, you're gonna get nailed," Derek says, and lets his eyes flash and little growl come into his voice. The instant spike in Stiles' heartbeat is gratifying.

"Now?" Stiles asks, sounding a little reedy.

"Nope," Derek says, pulling him up off the bed by his hood. "First we're gonna find something to eat."

"Ugh," Stiles says, slumping. "Fine," but his stomach growls so loud Derek could probably hear it even if he weren't a werewolf.

The hotel has several restaurants, which means numerous kitchens to raid. Others got here before them, but they still find enough for a good meal, plus stuff they can take with them when they leave. This makes Derek, who's been nervous about food and water, feel a lot better.

The stoves, which are gas, don't work, but Stiles finds a set of portable burners in a rack of banquet supplies and they haul it up to their room where they make spaghetti and canned meat sauce for dinner. The sauce tastes a lot like the can it came in, but it's a nice change of pace.

"That was great," Stiles says, when they've eaten all they can stand. He's drinking flat Mountain Dew out of the boob mug. "What's for dessert?"

"You," Derek says, and Stiles flails so hard and so comically that he nearly falls out of his chair.

Chapter Text

They shower first, which is so heavenly that at first it distracts Derek from the fact that he's completely naked with Stiles for the first time. Running water's been a distant memory for months, and with the exception of their stop at the hobby farm, most of the wipe-downs they've managed have been with water that was tepid at best, freezing cold at worst. A hot shower is a forgotten luxury.

Stiles isn't as distracted by the shower.

"Whoa," he says, standing, owl-eyed, gaping at Derek as water droplets cling to his eyelashes. Derek can't remember when he's ever noticed another guy's eyelashes as much as he notices Stiles'. "I knew you were good-looking, but you're like—" he waves his hands up and down in front of Derek's face, his torso. "Beautiful."

Derek thinks he might be blushing. No one's ever called him that before. Usually people say he's "hot" or "really hot" or "really hot but kind of a dick." Derek's used to compliments, but this is the first time in a long while he hasn't brushed one off as meaningless. Stiles thinks he's beautiful.

"And hairy," Stiles adds.

That surprises a laugh right out of Derek. "I could shave it all off before we start," he teases, lifting an eyebrow as he rubs his hand across the hair on his chest, tracing the narrow line of it down his stomach to his groin. "If you don't like it."

Stiles' eyes follow Derek's hand, and he gulps, "Um, no." His voice cracks a little, which Derek tries not to preen over, and probably fails. "No. I like it." He reaches out and takes the same route with his own fingers, but more tentatively, lightly tracing the line of slicked down hair that bisects Derek's belly.

Derek grabs him by the hand and uses it to reel him in until their dicks bump. Stiles makes a startled sound and his eyes go, impossibly, even wider.

"Good," Derek says, leaning in to mouth at his jaw. "I like the way you look, too." He doesn't think he's ever told him that, and that's a shame. "You're beautiful," he says, and kisses him, drags his fingers down Stiles' back, making it curve into his hands. Stiles is long-limbed and sleek, pink where he isn't pale. Derek wants to lick him everywhere.

They spend the next few minutes simply standing under the spray together and kissing, rubbing against each other, enjoying the novelty of both the shower and being naked together. Eventually they try to wash themselves and each other at the same time, hands skimming everywhere, getting shower gel all over the place. Stiles seems fascinated by Derek's cock, running his soapy hands over it until it's so hard it's standing up straight against Derek's belly.

That's when the appeal of a hot shower starts to rapidly lose ground to the appeal of sex with Stiles. Derek manages to wrestle his way free from Stiles' hands long enough to shut the water off and throw a towel at him, but by the time they stumble to the bed they're back to kissing and groping again.

Derek feels like all his senses are heightened, zeroed in on Stiles, and he drinks it all in--every tiny sound Stiles makes, every trace of emotion in his scent. Lowering him onto the sheets makes Derek's heart surge in his chest, ache with how trusting he is.

Despite his constant assurances to Stiles, Derek did worry a little he'd feel frantic, and get too excited, or forget he was supposed to be gentle, but if anything it's the opposite—he can't help but be soft and sweet with him. It's nothing more than an accident, a twist of fate that put him in Stiles' path, but he feels like he's won a prize all the same. Stiles is his, at least for tonight, and he's going to make this as good for him as possible.

He isn't a saint, though.

"Okay, now what am I supposed to do?" Derek asks Stiles when they're stretched out on the bed, Derek hovering over him but not touching. He keeps his tone as sincere as possible, and Stiles falls for it for a fraction of a second, jaw literally dropping in disbelief. But Derek can't keep a straight face, and when his mouth starts to twitch Stiles figures it out. His eyes narrow and then he strikes, digging his fingers into Derek's armpits, either trying to tickle him or twist all the hair off, Derek's not sure. He's kind of doing both.

Derek tries to pull his arms in to protect himself, and lands on top of Stiles with a grunt. Somehow, his dick doesn't drill a hole right through Stiles' leg; it feels hard enough to.

"You're an asshole," Stiles fumes, fingers digging into Derek's ribs, making him yelp.

Derek captures Stiles' hands and pins them to the bed above his head. "So are you," he says, bumping his nose against Stiles'.

"I know," Stiles grins. His hands twist until their fingers are intertwined. "It's like we were made for each other. It's so gross. I'm grossed out. Now please put your dick in me before I get sappy."

"Pffft," Derek says. He can't picture Stiles ever being sappy—the constant sarcasm would get in the way every time. He's on board with the dick part, though. He gives Stiles one more kiss on the mouth before he starts working his way down his body.

Derek licks a drop of water out of the hollow of Stiles' throat, rubs his chin against the tiny patch of hair in the middle of his chest. Stiles' nipples are puffy and pink, and sensitive when Derek uses his mouth on them, but Stiles squirms awkwardly like he's not sure he likes it, so Derek keeps going, trailing little bites to his bellybutton and dragging his tongue down the dark line of hair below it. He skips right over Stiles' stiff dick, and huffs a laugh against Stiles' thigh when he grumbles with frustration.

Derek's got another target in mind, though, and Stiles knows just where—he spreads his knees and tilts his hips when Derek slithers down between his legs. He's already wet down here, and he parts easily, legs twitching against Derek's shoulders as Derek sinks his fingers into him. Stiles doesn't really need much prep, but Derek takes his time anyway, nipping at the skin stretched around his fingers, then soothing it with his tongue. Stiles shoves himself shamelessly at Derek's face, straining for more when Derek holds him back, pins him down and eats him out until they're both wet and sloppy.

When Derek finally lifts his head, Stiles is a quivering mess, held to the edge of orgasm by nothing more than Derek's patience. Derek leans up and swipes his tongue across Stiles' belly, wet from where his cock's dripped all over it. The taste is sharper than what's dripping out of him further down, and when it spreads over his tongue Derek growls low against Stiles' stomach. There's an answering hitch in Stiles' breath as it vibrates through him.

"Derek," Stiles says, pleading, lifting his hips to bump Derek's chin with the wet tip of his cock.

"I know, I know," Derek says as he slips his fingers into Stiles' body again. He doesn't move them, just holds them deep as he takes the head of Stiles' cock in his mouth, sucking softly. Stiles jerks like he's been shocked, hands clutching at Derek's head, and he comes like that, caught between Derek's hand and Derek's mouth, choking out Derek's name again. Derek swallows, looking up at Stiles through his eyelashes to watch his face as he throbs in Derek's mouth.

It takes Stiles a few minutes to recover, lying limp on the bed until Derek eases his fingers out. Derek's dick is achingly hard now, the head glistening wet, trails of pre-come all over his belly and thighs, but he can wait. He levers up to lie next to Stiles and take him in his arms, and they kiss lazily, Stiles openly curious about Derek's mouth now. Stiles doesn't flinch away when Derek puts his wet fingers in his mouth and lets him taste himself there, too, but he doesn't seem to like it as much as Derek does. He strokes Derek's cock a little, spreading the wet around, but Derek can tell he's distracted and antsy, his own dick starting to get hard again already.

"Come here," Derek says, turning Stiles away from him and pulling him back against his chest. Stiles lifts up a little so Derek can slide one arm under his ribs, hold him tight with it. Spooning, like they usually do when they sleep, except this time, they aren't going to sleep. "You ready?"

"I'm fifty miles past ready, get on with it," Stiles says, sounding a lot bossier than a virgin—a virgin who just had an awesome orgasm, thank you very much--should, in Derek's opinion, but that's Stiles for you.

Derek feels fifty miles past ready himself. It's only been a few days since Stiles went into heat, but Derek feels like he's been waiting for this forever. He rubs his face in Stiles' damp hair and breathes him in for a moment, savoring all the skin-to-skin contact, and the way Stiles fits so perfectly in the curve of his body. Stiles' hands come up to rest on Derek's arm across his chest, petting lightly, and he nuzzles back for more kisses.

While they're kissing, Derek grips his own cock by the base and eases his way between Stiles' cheeks, rubbing the tip against where he's slick and open. It makes Stiles hold his breath, but he doesn't tense up or pull away. Derek can feel his heartbeat thudding under his palm.

"Breathe. Relax," Derek says softly against Stiles' mouth, and pushes with his hips a little. Stiles' body opens for him, and the head of Derek's cock slides in.

Stiles makes a broken little sound and his face scrunches up, kissing forgotten. Derek kisses his ear, his cheek, his softly open mouth. "That's the widest part," he assures him, embarrassed a little by how gravely his voice sounds. His body is trembling with the effort to not move at all, not even twitch. This is affecting him more than he thought it would. More than it ever has with anyone else. "Is it bad? Does it hurt?"

"No," Stiles says, almost a sob. He blindly reaches back to wrap a hand around Derek's hip and urges him to keep going, so Derek does, hitching in and in and in while Stiles shakes in his arms and says, "Oh God, oh God, oh God." He sounds like he's falling apart.

Derek feels the same. He's never been inside anyone like this before, with no barrier between them. Stiles is silky and soft inside, slippery and hot. It's almost too much.

By the time he gets all the way in, flush against Stiles' butt, they're both shaking. Stiles is tight around him, and the backs of Derek's legs tingling, his mouth dry. He stills for a moment and gives Stiles time to adjust, physically and mentally. Derek believes him that he isn't hurting him, but having someone inside your body for the first time is strange, even when you want it so badly.

Stiles uses the lull to experiment, arching his back, grinding his hips, tightening up inside until he's squeezing Derek so hard he whines into Stiles' neck. Through it all, every sweetly agonizing second, Derek holds still and lets him play. It's his first time, and he's curious, and Derek wants him to remember this as a good experience, despite the circumstances.

Stiles finally settles with a little shimmy of his hips, so Derek rocks his own just a little, just enough to move in and out a tiny bit. When he hears Stiles suck in a strangled breath he does it again, and again, until pretty soon he's easing in and out in long, slow thrusts that have Stiles shuddering against his chest. Before today Derek would have scoffed at the idea of fucking somebody tenderly, but there's no way to deny that's exactly what he's doing, and it feels right, exactly what they both need.

"You're doing so good," Derek says in his ear. Stiles is so loose-limbed and pliant that his whole body rocks forward and back with every thrust. "How does it feel?"

"It feels good," Stiles says in a shaky voice. "Does it feel good to you, too? Do you like it?"

Derek's heart cracks open a little bit at that, and he has to hide his face in Stiles' hair and swallow hard before he answers.

"Yeah," he says hoarsely, hips flexing. "Yeah, it's--" He stops himself before he gets sappy. "It's really good. You feel so good, Stiles."

Stiles tightens his grip on Derek's hip and says. "Can you do it faster?"

Derek does it faster. A little faster, and a little harder, but still careful, still focused. After a minute he can tell that even though Stiles is enjoying it, it's not what he really needs, and Stiles is too inexperienced to know what his own body wants. He shifts restlessly in Derek's arms until Derek uses his hand to lift Stiles' leg up a little, tilting him, and that must be the magic angle because Stiles practically wails, an amazing sound that makes all the hair on the back of Derek's neck stand up.

"Yeah, there you go. Come on," Derek says, switching to deeper, measured thrusts that push hitching little cries out of Stiles every time Derek rolls his hips. This is what he needed. Derek adjusts his grip a little, slotting his fingers comfortably behind Stiles' knee, and starts to slide his other hand down Stiles' belly toward his cock.

"No no no," Stiles says instantly, grabbing onto Derek's arm with both hands and mashing it against his ribs. "Hold onto me, hold onto me."

Derek falters for a second, then starts moving again, curling his arm tighter around Stiles' body as Stiles clings to it.

"Shh, it's okay," Derek says, leaving kisses on his cheek and ear, the edge of his jaw. His face and neck are red, his hairline damp with sweat, his eyes half-closed. "I will. I won't let go. Can you touch yourself? Can you do that for me?"

Stiles nods jerkily and fumbles a hand to his dick, giving himself a few clumsy strokes. "Oh. Good idea," he breathes, before he mashes his face against the pillow and starts to come.

It's intense and long, and Stiles is almost shocked silent by it, a cry stuttering weakly out of his open mouth. He stiffens in Derek's arms, back bowing as his hand stops and he just holds himself, moaning quietly into the pillow as come starts to leak from between his fingers, drip onto the bed. Feeling Stiles contract around him, seeing him lost in his orgasm, nearly pushes Derek over the edge, but he bears down and hangs on, gently fucking him through it, waiting until it's over to pull out, almost too late, and wrap his hand around his cock. It only takes a few tight strokes and he's shooting all over Stiles' sweet little ass, pinked up now from Derek's hips slapping against it.

As soon as he's done he pulls Stiles back to him again with both arms, so close it feels like their hearts are thumping against each other through their ribs. While they catch their breath, Derek noses his way into the space between Stiles' neck and shoulder, presses his face there, and closes his eyes. He needs a minute, and for once Stiles is quiet and patient, fingers stroking slowly up and down Derek's arm where it crosses over his chest.

But Stiles doesn’t stay quiet for too long—that's not in his nature. "Wow, the heat really is a gift," he says, sounding half asleep already, but not too sleepy to make jokes. "That was even better than I thought it was gonna be."

Derek says, "Same here."

~*~

When Derek wakes up in the morning, Stiles' heat has broken. The bedding and the room reek of what they did, and lingering traces of Stiles' heat scent, but Stiles is back to normal. He still smells good, but it's the old hint-of-Cheeto good that was regular Stiles. Derek likes it just as much as he always did, maybe even more now.

Stiles is already awake, which is rare, and cuddled up to Derek's side. Derek is pleasantly hard, and they're conveniently in bed, but the agreement was to break Stiles' heat. Once is all it takes, and that's what they agreed on. Derek tells himself to be happy with that.

"How do you feel?" he asks, rubbing his hand across Stiles' shoulder blades.

"Great," Stiles yawns, stretching out long and then curling back into place. "Like, more clear-headed, I guess. I slept a lot better." His hand drifts down to Derek's thigh and Derek puts his own hand over it and presses down.

"We don't have to do it again," he says.

Stiles squirms his hand away and slides his whole body up and over so he's on top of Derek. Stiles is hard, too. "I know. But I kinda want to." He looks down at Derek's chest and chews on his lip for a second. "I think I went into heat because of you. I wanted to do this with you, before my heat. I think that's what triggered it."

"I didn't know that could happen," Derek says. It makes him feel better to hear that, less like what they did was the best option in a no-win situation, more like something they both did willingly. "Did you learn that in your class?"

Stiles nods and nuzzles his face into the middle of Derek's chest.

Derek touches the back of Stiles' neck, runs his fingers along the edge of his ear. He wants to be as tactful as he can, but there's no easy way to say it. "Are you sure it wasn't—I've heard that an oncoming heat can--I mean, now long before it starts do you start to…act different?" Which came first, he's wondering. It's possible Stiles doesn't really know.

It's been bugging him a little, in the back of his mind, all this time. He's been wondering just how far back it went, and if he'd unknowingly been dragged around by his nose since the beginning. Maybe that was why he decided to ask Stiles to come along with him, way back in Nebraska. How do either of them know how much of what happened since they met was real and how much of it was just hormones?

Stiles is pretty intently petting Derek's chest hair now but he shrugs and says, "Everyone's different, but they say anywhere from a few hours to two days, I guess, is when all the--" Stiles wrinkles his nose "--lovey dovey stuff starts. But I wanted to way before that." He turns his head and bumps his nose against Derek's left nipple, and Derek makes an involuntary noise, but he's only half focused on that. His mind is stuck on the words two days.

Two days. A lot of the stuff that happened between them, a lot of the things Derek did and felt, happened well before that. Which means it wasn't Stiles' hormones influencing them. Stiles snuggling with him at night, Derek telling him stuff about his family--that was all pretty early on. It was all real.

"I wanted it, too," Derek confesses. It feels safe to tell him that now. "Before your heat. Before the two days."

Stiles' lifts his head and his smile is blinding. "So can we? Again?"

Derek should say no. "Yeah, absolutely."

Stiles slides down and settles between Derek's legs, and Derek certainly isn't going to stop him. He has a serious look on his face, studying Derek's dick like he's gonna get quizzed on it later, running his fingertips up and down the length of it, toying gently with the foreskin. Derek feels like his brain is liquefying.

When Stiles takes him into his mouth, Derek groans and grabs hold of his head, fingers slotting behind his ears. Stiles obviously isn't skilled, and he plays around a lot, stopping and starting, mouthing here and licking there and sucking here, unknowingly making it the best and worst blowjob of Derek's life. He's so earnest, and teasing Derek without even realizing, drawing it out until Derek's so hard he aches.

"Stiles, enough," he groans, when he's close to coming completely unraveled. "I can't—let me come."

Stiles pauses and looks up at Derek, his pretty little lower lip still teasing at the head of Derek's poor, twitching cock. Derek sees the knowledge sink in—it's right there in the way his eyes change when he realizes the power inherent in sucking someone's dick, and how he's in control at that moment, and Derek knows he's fucked. He's so fucked. Stiles is going to be a terror in bed.

He takes Derek in again, lowering his mouth until Derek feels the back of his throat, and then he gags. Stiles comes up for air, coughing a little, and then takes a deep breath, looking determined, before he goes down again. His eyes flutter closed over his hollowed cheeks, and his pink mouth slips lower and lower, and then lower still, lower than last time. Derek slaps his hand over his eyes. This kid is going to kill him.

Feeling dizzy, Derek takes deep breaths and wills himself to hold still, to not fuck up into Stiles' tender throat. A few agonizing minutes later Stiles has figured out how to use his hand and his mouth at the same time, and Derek is clutching the sheets and digging his shoulders into the bed. "Coming," he hisses through clenched teeth, just in time for Stiles to get out of the way and finish him off with his hand. The sound Derek makes is more werewolf than human, and Stiles doesn't even bat an eye.

Before Derek's even stopped coming Stiles levers himself up to straddle his stomach, ass brushing against Derek's softening dick, making desperate little noises in his throat. He grabs Derek's hand and guides it to his dick, and uses it to jerk himself off.

"Me now, please," Stiles pants, voice a little rough, because Derek's dick was in his throat oh God.

"I should make you wait," Derek grumbles as he takes over, but he's feeling too full of affection and post-orgasm happiness to follow through with that threat, and in no time at all Stiles has striped Derek's chest and collapses forward into it, gasping into Derek's ear.

"I think we should start the day like that every morning," Stiles says when they've both recovered a little.

Derek wraps his arm around him and squeezes. "So do I," he says, the closest he'll let himself come to saying what he really wants. Stiles smiles as he kisses Derek's mouth, sleepy and gentle.

So that's that. They're together now.

~*~

It's obvious Stiles is reluctant to leave Wendover, and Derek can't say he blames him. This is the best set-up they've had in a while: hot running water, hot food, comfortable bed, no daily zombie attacks. The generators won't last much longer, though, and then what?

"I know," Stiles says, worming his way under Derek's arm. They ended up back in bed after breakfast. "But maybe we could stay one more day?"

Derek understands—he likes it here, too—but it doesn’t seem like a good idea to tempt fate, and they've already burned up more time than they should have in Utah. "We have to get over the mountains before it snows," he says. "The roads won't be plowed."

"Oh yeah," Stiles says, deflating a little. "We don't wanna end up like the Donner party." He cuts a mischievous look over at Derek. "You don't taste that good."

Derek gives him a fang-filled grin and says, "You do," and feels slightly smug about the little shiver he feels racing through Stiles' body.

It's another hour or two before they finally hit the road, but Derek feels more relaxed than he has in years and Stiles is practically glowing with satisfaction, so it was worth it.

They don't see many more zombies in Nevada, and the ones they do see are headed in the opposite direction—probably to the Flats—and not easily distracted from their goal. The few prowlers they come across aren't any more interested in Stiles than they are anyone else now, which makes life a lot easier.

Derek, though, is more interested in Stiles than ever, and Stiles is a horny little thing even when he isn't in heat, curious and eager to do more, try different things, learn his way around sex.

"You should let me ride you," Stiles says, kneeling over Derek's thighs. "We don't have to worry anymore. You can come inside me."

They're in a run-down motel somewhere between Wendover and Reno, and it's late, and they need to get up early tomorrow and get moving again, but how can Derek say no?

This time it's different than it was when they were being driven by the hormones, and Derek isn't so focused on being so careful with him—Stiles is anything but fragile, and this isn't his first time. It's more playful, and a little leisurely. Stiles' eyes practically sparkle with happiness, and he grins, and laughs as they roll around in the sheets in the flickering light of the candle.

Derek's never had sex like this in his life, like it's a joy to do. Stiles makes no secret of the delight he takes in Derek's body, and in making Derek feel good, and in making him crack up with laughter while they're messing around. Before they get down to business, Derek spends some time working his fingers slowly into Stiles' body, with plenty of lube from the purple bottle, because there's no heat to ease the way this time, and he doesn't want to hurt him.

Stiles does ride him, face smiling and blissful at first, then biting his lip in concentration as he figures things out, finds what feels best for him, and starts rocking, fingers digging into Derek's ribs. Derek watches him and watches him, tells him how good it feels and how amazing he looks, and then wraps his hand around Stiles' cock, nice and snug, when Stiles starts rolling his hips with intent. He can't remember why he ever thought sex like this was something he wasn't all that interested in—that seems unbelievable now.

After long minutes of trying, Stiles comes all over Derek's belly, squeezing tight around his cock in a quick rhythm, and then when he opens his eyes he blinks down at Derek, panting.

"Wow," Stiles says. Derek doesn't think he's ever seen anything more gorgeous. It hurts to look at him.

There's an urban legend that once you have sex with an omega you get attached, that in exchange for having their body, you give them your heart.

Derek doesn't know if it's true or not, but he thinks it might be true for him, with Stiles.

~*~

And okay, Derek thinks later, maybe that stuff in the movies about a werewolf pounding frantically into an omega while they beg for it is a little bit true sometimes, too.

~*~

There's snow on the roads closer to Reno, but not enough to stop a Range Rover yet. Every once in a while they see tire tracks, signs of other mysterious survivors, but no actual people. No one bothers them, human or zombie. Even abandoned cars are few and far between here, which makes the driving a lot easier.

They barely stop in Reno, just long enough to siphon some gas and find some food and water, get a little sleep. Stiles is obviously anxious to press on, now that they're so close to California, wondering out loud if his dad's eating healthy and doing his cardio. It'd almost be cute if it weren't so heartbreaking.

Derek, on the other hand, has had to have a few increasingly stern conversations with himself about time being of the essence. The closer he gets to California, the less enthused he is about arriving there. Living on the road is rough, but he's used to it now, and for all the inconvenience and uncertainty of it, spending all day traveling with Stiles, and a good part of the night having sex with Stiles, isn't half bad. It says a lot about Derek's life before this that he's perfectly happy with the way things are now.

It stings a little that Stiles isn't, and he won't be until he's back in Beacon Hills. But maybe after…maybe. Derek's tempted sometimes, when Stiles is talking about his dad and about how much he can't wait to get back to Beacon Hills, to say, What about me? Where do I fit in? He's tempted sometimes to tell him about the house on the old Hale land, and that he's welcome there, if he wants.

Stiles is something near elated when they cross the state line. Derek holds his tongue.

~*~

Susanville is unlike any other place they've stopped so far. It's not a huge town, but it has two enormous, sprawling prisons in it, right next to each other, that the survivors have turned into a secure, zombie-free compound. They've got what look like gardens, dormant now for the winter, and herds of livestock. It's the hobby farm in Wyoming on a community scale.

An actual welcoming committee rides out to greet Derek and Stiles on horseback, like something out of the Old West.

There's five of them—three men and two women, all armed--to greet two strangers. They're friendly but politely wary, and if they can tell Derek is a werewolf they don't seem to care. The horses look fat and shiny, just as bright-eyed as the people, so they must be doing something right in Susanville.

The guy who appears to be the head welcomer introduces himself as Judd. "We don't get many new folks up here anymore," he says. "Most people are already dead, settled, or moved on. You see a lot of infected?"

"Not recently," Derek says, and Judd and the others nod like that's the answer they're expecting. Then he tells them about the Flats and what they saw there, and how it seems like most of the zombies they've seen recently are headed that way.

"If you had the firepower, that might be a good place to go and wipe out a whole bunch of them all at once, for good," Stiles pipes up, when Derek's finished. "I've got a plan."

Judd and a guy with a crossbow strapped to his back exchange a look that tells Derek they've definitely got the firepower, but don't want to say that to just any stranger.

"Let's hear the plan," one of the women says, giving Stiles a somewhat skeptical look. The Hello Kitty earmuffs don't exactly lend him an air of strategic mastermind.

Stiles happily obliges, and the version he rattles off has a lot more detail now, which means he's been working it over in his mind since he brought it up the first time. When he's done, a few of the people in the welcoming party look a little like Derek felt when Stiles first told him the plan—slightly spooked that someone so young and goofy-looking could so shrewdly plan a mass extermination.

"He's a cop's kid," Derek says, lest these nice people think Stiles is a budding serial killer.

"Sounds like a damn good plan, though," Judd says after a moment, resting his forearm on the horn of his saddle and leaning on it. He gives Stiles a nod of approval. "You fellas interested in helping?"

"We can't," Derek says, a little regretfully. He wouldn't mind watching all those zombies burn. "We're trying to beat the snow."

Judd's eyebrows go up. "Where you headed?"

"Beacon Hills," Stiles says, before Derek can stop him. These people seem okay, but Derek wasn't the most trusting person even before the sickness. He'd prefer not to give people they don't know any information.

"Good luck with that," the guy with the crossbow snorts, and Stiles pales.

"What's that mean?" Derek asks, a little too sharply.

"Sealed up," Judd says, pushing his hat back to scratch his forehead with his thumbnail. "Has been since the sickness started. There's a militia in charge, is what I hear. No one in or out unless they say it's okay. They got every road into the town blocked off. We had a fella here who was kind of a troublemaker, and when we told him to shape up he decided he was gonna move to Beacon Hills. He came right back with a butt full of buckshot. I hear it's real nice there, but they don't take just anyone in."

Stiles has regained some of his color. In fact, he seems almost cheered by this news.

Judd offers them a hot meal before they carry on, but Stiles is plainly eager to keep going. Derek, not so much.

"Give us a sec?" Derek asks Judd, and he and the others politely move their horses a short distance away and start talking amongst themselves.

"You still wanna head that way?" Derek asks Stiles.

"Yeah, of course," Stiles says, looking bewildered by the very question. "Why wouldn't we?"

Derek's bewildered he has to explain it. "Listen, it looks like they've got a pretty good set-up here. And if there really is a militia in Beacon Hills…" He lets the sentence trail off.

"I bet that's my dad," Stiles says excitedly. "He was in the army before he joined the sheriff's department. He would totally organize something like that."

Derek is not so sure the militia news is something to get excited about. He's never had the same confidence Stiles does that his father is still alive, and even before the plague Derek wouldn't have been too thrilled to run into any kind of militia—the history of his kind and armed civilians is a nasty one. He's willing to bet that post-sickness they're probably in the business of killing any werewolf they see.

Derek has always been silent, up until now, when Stiles talks about his dad, because Stiles acts like it's a given he's alive, and Derek thinks the chances of that being the case are very, very low. He thinks the chances of his own family being alive are just as low, but it's not like he had anywhere else to go once he started driving.

Stiles is no dummy. He narrows his eyes shrewdly at Derek. "You don't think he's alive, do you? You don't believe me."

"I think there's a good chance a lot of people in Beacon Hills are gone," Derek says carefully, trying to be gentle about it. "I think it's a good idea to be cautious." To not get your hopes up is what he means, but it's far too late for that, really. Stiles' hopes have been through the roof this whole time.

There's no way to be gentle enough, though. Stiles looks utterly betrayed by Derek's lack of faith in Sheriff Stilinski. Derek stares at him for a moment, but Stiles doesn't say anything else, just nudges a rock around with the toe of his boot. Derek turns and walks over to the welcoming committee.

"Thanks, but we're gonna keep going," Derek tells Judd. "We've got people there. Or had people, anyway. We gotta at least try."

"Fair enough," Judd says, nodding. "Don't dawdle, though. You get there and they won't take you in, you can always come back, but you'll be racing the snow."

"I know," Derek says. Behind him, he hears the truck door open and close. Stiles is ready to leave. "Listen, if Beacon Hills pans out, we might come back next summer, if we can, bring some more people, take a trip out to the Flats." If Stiles' militia theory is right, maybe they can form an alliance with these people and wipe those fuckers on the Flats off the face of the Earth.

"Hell yeah. Go out to the Flats and burns us some zombies," the crossbow guy says, sounding like he's ready to go right now. One of the women gives him a fond look.

Judd tips his hat at Derek before they leave, and sincerely wishes them luck. If Beacon Hills isn't an option, maybe they will come back here, where civilization seems to be gaining a little ground again.

Things are quiet in the truck as they leave Susanville, cruising slowly past another mounted patrol that waves them through the city limits. Stiles doesn’t play music, or read out loud. Derek hates every blessedly silent second of it.

"I'm just trying to be realistic," Derek says after a while. "I hope everyone's fine, but you never know."

"Well, at least I'll know for sure soon," Stiles says. His voice is flat, that little spark of positivity he's had in him this whole time snuffed out. Derek feels like shit for doing that to him, but Stiles needs to face reality.

Stiles is mostly silent after that as the truck winds its way through the hills. He's probably mad at Derek, and Derek feels bad about that, but he was just trying to temper his hope. If the sheriff really is dead, Stiles is in for a big letdown, so big Derek can barely stand to contemplate it.

The sheriff might actually be dead and if that's the case Derek will be there to see Stiles find that out, and for the days after that, too, when Stiles is broken and grieving. A sixteen year old kid with no parents.

"I bet he's fine," Derek says, giving the back of Stiles' neck a reassuring squeeze, because he suddenly wants to believe that. He wants to believe it just as fiercely as Stiles does.

~*~

According to Stiles' scribbles, it's two hundred and fifty-five miles from Susanville to Beacon Hills, a distance they can make easily by the end of the day if the roads are clear—which Judd seems to think they are—and their luck holds.

Their luck doesn't hold. An hour outside of Susanville it starts to snow.

It's not too worrying at first. What's already on the roads isn't very deep, and the snowfall isn't particularly heavy, but it does slow them down a little. Derek doesn't actually have much experience driving in the snow—he never had a car in New York—so he's probably being overly cautious, but the road's twisty, steep and only two lanes wide in some places. They've come too far to get careless now. Stiles, without being told, turns off the music so Derek can concentrate on driving.

The snow doesn't stop, though. It just comes down and down and down, and the road in front of them transforms into a featureless expanse of unbroken white. It's impossible to tell exactly where the edge of the pavement is, so Derek tries his best to keep the truck in the middle of what he thinks is the road. He's regretting those jokes they made about the Donner party.

As the snow continues to fall and the light starts to fade, they still have a hundred miles to go, and Derek knows they aren't going to make it to Beacon Hills tonight. The visibility is shit, and his shoulders are so tense he thinks he can hear them creaking when he moves his arms. Eventually, when they drift too far over and the tires on Stiles' side drop off the shoulder, Derek wrenches the truck back onto the road and carefully hits the brakes.

"We're gonna have to stop for the night," he says as he puts the truck in park.

Stiles doesn't take the news well. He holds up the map he's had in the lap for the last several hours while he carefully ticked off the miles. "We're so close!" he protests. "Derek, c'mon. We can't stop now!"

"It's not safe," Derek says. He lets go of the steering wheel and rolls his shoulders, cracks his neck, flexes his stiff hands. His heart's still pounding from the close call. "I can't see where I'm going. We have to wait 'til it's light."

For a moment Stiles looks like he's tempted to get out and start walking, but then he slumps and says, "We're so close." His eyes actually well with tears and Derek feels something akin to panic at the thought of making Stiles cry. Fuck it, he thinks, he'll keep driving. He'll carry Stiles on his back if he has to, anything to keep him happy.

Luckily, before Derek can actually do anything that stupid, Stiles takes an unsteady breath and swipes at his eyes with his sleeve. "Sorry," he says, sniffling. "I'm being dumb."

"No you're not," Derek says, and uses his own sleeve to help, even though he doesn't see any actual tears on Stiles' face. "I know you're anxious to get home. But if we go in the ditch, we're fucked."

"I know," Stiles says, nodding. He smells miserable.

Derek unbuckles Stiles' seat belt so he can pull him into an awkward hug across the console. Stiles comes willingly, and hides his face in Derek's shoulder for a minute while Derek rubs his back.

"We'll sleep a little, and as soon as the sun starts to come up, we'll get moving again," Derek promises. They'll hopefully drive out of the snow before too long—it almost never snows down in Beacon Hills, and they're steadily losing elevation as they drive. When Stiles doesn't say anything, Derek plays his trump card: "I've got peanut butter cups."

Stiles' reaction is immediate. He stiffens in Derek's arms and practically yells, "What? Since when?" He untangles himself and sits back in his seat. His expression is outraged. Derek tries not to laugh.

"Since Nebraska," Derek says, and then barely ducks his head out of the way in time when Stiles starts thwapping him with the rolled up map.

"You know those are the Holy Grail of post-apocalypse candy finds," Stiles accuses, after Derek wrests the map away from him. It's got a big tear in it now, but it doesn't really matter. "I can't believe you didn't tell me."

"I've been saving them for a special occasion," Derek says. They both look out the window, trying to decide if being stranded in the snow constitutes a special occasion.

"Eh," Stiles says with a shrug. "Close enough."

The peanut butter cups are a little dry and old, but it still taste plenty good. Derek and Stiles curl up together under their blankets in the dark and split the pack, each taking one. Stiles eats his in small bites, savoring it; this might be the last peanut butter cup in the country. His mouth still tastes like peanut butter when he kisses Derek.

The kissing goes on for a bit as the snow continues to fall outside. When Stiles' hands start wandering around under Derek's clothes, Derek rolls him onto his back and climbs on top of him. Maybe it's selfish, but Derek's glad for just one more night together. Whatever's waiting for them in Beacon Hills probably isn’t going to be pleasant for either of them. Hell, the militia might shoot Derek on sight.

It's too cold to get naked, so they settle for sticking their hands down each other's pants. Derek comes first, biting softly at Stiles' bared neck, sliding slick and dirty through his clenched fingers. It takes longer for Stiles, because Derek draws it out for a while, thinking this might be it, this might be the last time he can touch Stiles like this, and listen to him whimper his name. It might be the last time Stiles snuggles up to him after sex, sleepy and relaxed. It might be the last time Stiles is Derek's little spoon.

Derek burrows his face down into the space between Stiles' neck and the pillow. It's a long time before he falls asleep.

~*~

The road into Beacon Hills is barricaded, as promised, and there are armed sentries waiting behind a jerry-rigged gate. They lift their guns to their shoulders as Derek brings the truck to a stop. Stiles is already scrabbling at the door, but Derek grabs his jacket collar and holds tight until Stiles stops and looks at him.

"Slow," Derek says firmly. "They're probably trigger-happy."

"Okay," Stiles says, swallowing hard, but his eyes keep flicking away and he's tense as a piano wire.

"Hey, look at me," Derek says, shaking him gently, and then when Stiles is focused on him he says, "Slow. I mean it."

This time it seems to register and Stiles nods. "Right. Got it."

"Let me get out first," Derek says. If they're going to shoot on sight, Derek has a better chance of surviving it, unless they've got wolfsbane bullets. He really hopes they don’t have wolfsbane bullets.

Slowly, very slowly, Derek opens his door and gets out with his hands raised. No one shoots him immediately, which is slightly shocking.

"We're not armed," he calls, which is essentially true. Derek's always armed, and Stiles' bat is in the back as usual, but they look unarmed anyway.

He hears Stiles get out on the other side and say, "Please don't shoot me. I'm too young to die."

There's a moment of tense silence and then one of the sentries says, "Stiles?" and Stiles says, "That's me!" and Derek hears someone else say, "Holy shit! Let 'em in! Someone call Sheriff Stilinski!"

Stiles hears it and he drops his hands to grab at the truck door like he needs it to stay upright. Derek lowers his own hands and walks around the front of the truck, watching the gate out of the corner of his eye, but the sentries don't take exception. They're too busy scrambling to get the gate open and talking amongst themselves.

"My dad's still alive?" Stiles asks, but Derek isn't sure the sentries hear him. His voice is a hoarse croak and they're too far away, and human. Derek puts his hand on Stiles' shoulder. Stiles grabs a fistful of Derek's shirt, twisting it until Derek hears a seam start to give way. Stiles is shaking, knuckles rattling against Derek's sternum.

Derek hears someone thumb a radio and practically shout, "Someone get the sheriff down to checkpoint four! His kid's here!" Then, lower, to someone nearby, "He swore if his kid was alive he'd find his way back here. I thought he was nuts."

"Your dad's alive," Derek says to Stiles, and Stiles buries his face in Derek's neck and lets out a wrenching sob. "It's okay," Derek says, rubbing his back. "He's alive."

~*~

The sentries open the gate and let Derek drive through. He parks on the side of the road and they wait, Stiles gripping Derek's hand like his life depends on it. He slowly composes himself, but that all goes out the window again when his dad arrives minutes later in an SUV with Beacon County Sheriff emblazoned on the side.

Stiles flies out of the truck and into his dad's arms, and there are more tears, some of them from the bystanders. Derek looks away, toward the trees next to the road, and blinks until his own eyes stop watering.

Sheriff Stilinski looks older and more haggard than Derek remembers, but of course it's been five years and a zombie plague since they've seen each other. Once everyone regains their composure, Derek gets out of the truck but stays near it, staring at the asphalt, feeling awkward. He doesn't want to intrude on their moment.

He hears Stiles ask about Scott, and get an affirmative answer, and there are a few more tears from Stiles. Then Stiles asks about a few more people, some he's never mentioned to Derek, and not all of the news is good, but he handles it well. Finally, Derek dares to look over at them again.

Stiles senses it, and turns to wave him on over.

"Dad, you remember Derek Hale?" he says. When Derek gets close enough, Stiles grabs his arm and pulls him even closer, then slips his hand into Derek's, which isn't a good idea in front of his dad, Derek thinks. Civilization may be in tatters, but he's guessing the rules still apply in a town run by Sheriff Stilinski, especially any rules in relation to his underage son.

"Of course," the sheriff says, not missing the handholding, but not saying anything about it, either. "Thank you for helping him get back home."

He holds out his hand to shake Derek's free one, an act that feels foreign and quaint—Derek hasn't shaken hands with anyone since before the sickness, and had pretty much forgotten people did that kind of thing. The sheriff has a firm grip, but his hand is trembling a little.

"No problem," Derek says. He wants to say that Stiles helped him as much as he helped Stiles, maybe even more, but he gets flustered and holds his silence instead.

"We ran into each other in Nebraska, isn't that crazy?" Stiles tells his dad. "He was coming here, too, so we—" Stiles abruptly goes silent, looking abashed. He's just remembered that Derek was coming here for a reason, too. Derek had family here, too. "The Hales?" Stiles asks the sheriff, face so hopeful it makes Derek ache. "Are they…?"

Derek knows the news isn't good, because the sheriff's face takes on an expression he recognizes instantly, sympathetic and paternal. The last time Derek saw that expression, most of his family had just burned to ashes.

"I'm sorry," the sheriff says to Derek. "Not all of them made it through the sickness." Not all? But some? "We put everyone we could in quarantine, trying to stop it—" he starts to explain.

"Who's left?" Derek asks, cutting to the chase.

"Cora and Laura are fine," the sheriff says, and Derek's knees almost buckle.

It's so astonishing he can barely comprehend it. He fully expected Sheriff Stilinski to say no one. He never really thought he'd get a happy ending, too. Laura and Cora are fine.

"Peter?" Derek asks, his voice not quite steady.

The sheriff shakes his head sadly. "He's around here somewhere, but..."

"He's a prowler," Derek guesses. Figures. Derek's mom always said he'd end up no good.

"He's the only infected still left in the town," the sheriff says. "Your sisters have been trying to find him for months." Kill him, he means. "He's wily, especially for a prowler."

"That's Peter for you," Derek says though a watery laugh, and realizes he's still holding Stiles' hand, clinging to it, really. He should let go, because he shouldn't be doing this in front of everyone, but he can't make his fingers unclench.

"I’m sorry," Stiles says, soft, and hugs Derek, who lets himself hug back tightly for a few seconds before he composes himself. He sees the sheriff's eyebrows twitch up, and knows there are going to be a lot of questions later.

"It's okay, Stiles. I'm good," Derek says into Stiles' hair. He's better than good. "Laura and Cora—" He can't finish the sentence without embarrassing himself.

"They'll sure be glad to see you," the sheriff says to Derek. He gives him an encouraging smile, like he somehow knows Derek needs to be reassured. Then again, he's Stiles' dad, so maybe he does know. Maybe reading Derek like a book is a family trait.

"I should go find them," Derek says, because Stiles is still trying to squeeze all the air out of him. When he finally eases up a little, Derek sees the look on Stiles' face, like he's torn between going with Derek and staying with his dad, so he makes it easy. He drops Stiles' hand and turns toward the truck and says, "I'll get your stuff."

He doesn't want Stiles to ever have to choose between him and his dad. Of course, that might not even be a problem—Stiles' dad might make that choice for him. Stiles is just a kid, and there's a chance his dad won't let this continue.

He makes it to the truck before he hears Stiles say, "Just a sec," and trot after him.

Derek opens the back and starts digging through the stuff in there for everything that belongs to Stiles. His backpack, his bat, his books. The ugly blanket that's technically Stiles' even though they've been using them all together. The stupid boob mug rolls into view and Derek hastily covers it up with his pillow. He does not want the sheriff to see that.

Everything smells like them, the both of them together, and when Derek yanks on a blanket he gets a faint, lingering whiff of what Stiles smelled like when he was in heat. It makes his stomach swoop.

He turns around and there's Stiles himself just inches away, looking unsure as Derek hands him his backpack, which he slings over his shoulder. After a moment's hesitation, Stiles reaches past Derek into the truck and picks up the bat, but ignores the blanket. He's probably got his own at home. He's going back to his old house, all of his things that were there when he left for what was supposed to be just a week. Everything Derek owns is in this truck.

"You're not ditching me, are you?" Stiles asks, mouth curved up at the corner like he's teasing, but there's an undercurrent of anxiety in this voice and he smells nervous.

"You have a lot to talk to your father about," Derek says carefully, aware that they're being watched. He never said a word to Stiles about his vague plans for their life once they reached Beacon Hills, and he's not going to start now. Everything that happens next is up to Stiles and his dad.

Stiles looks annoyed by that answer. "Yeah, well, fuck you, I'm not doing it alone," he says.

Derek tips his head back to look at the sky and groans. It might sound a little like a whine. Stiles telling his dad the details—hopefully not all of the details, please God—is an uncomfortable enough thought as it is, but to actually be there for it? Agony.

He brings his gaze back down to look at Stiles, who is looking both determined and worried, and knows it's a lost cause. Whatever protective mojo he thought Stiles' pheromones worked on him seems to actually be a permanent fixture in Derek's psyche, because he's going to do it. He's faced down zombies and werewolves for Stiles, and he'll do this, too, even though the sheriff is about three times scarier. Derek's going to try his damnedest to win him over, though.

"Okay," he tells Stiles. "You're right."

Stiles' shoulders drop about two inches as he relaxes. "Damn straight I am. You break it, you bought it," he says cheerfully and Derek cringes inside.

"I didn't break you," he hisses, darting a glance over at Stiles' dad, who is watching them, his thumbs hooked over his gun belt, face impassive.

Stiles wiggles his eyebrows at Derek. "You break it in, you bought it," he says, with absolutely no shame at all. Derek is really, really glad Sheriff Stilinski doesn't have werewolf hearing.

"I made it all the way across the goddamn country during a zombie apocalypse and now you're gonna get me killed in my own hometown," Derek grumbles, but he can feel a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, and he's probably not going to be able to suppress it much longer.

"Dad, can Derek come over later?" Stiles yells, never taking his eyes off Derek. "We need to tell you he's my boyfriend."

"Kid hasn't changed at all," someone in the checkpoint group mutters.

Derek drops his head and hides his face in his hands. What the hell is dignity and did he ever have any? He's not sure at this point. "You told me you weren't going to do that," he groans, thinking now would be the perfect time for a zombie to wander by.

"Sorry," Stiles says, sounding the least sorry anyone has ever sounded in the history of the world.

The sheriff coughs like he's trying to cover a laugh and says, "Sure. Seven o'clock. And as long as he's there, we can talk about how much I appreciate him volunteering for night patrol duty."

Derek lifts his head and glares at Stiles. One of the guys clustered near the gate snickers.

Stiles looks sufficiently contrite for a second before he rallies. He smiles at Derek and says, "Awesome."

"You're impossible," Derek tells him, but that only makes Stiles puff up with pride, rocking back on his heels and grinning. Derek gives in and grins back, feeling only slightly ridiculous.

"Stiles, let the boy go already," the sheriff calls, just before things get completely humiliating. "I'm sure he wants to go see his family."

Stiles darts forward and grabs the front of Derek's jacket and kisses him on the mouth, quick, then again, not as quick. Derek feels incredibly self-conscious, aware everyone is watching this, but his hand comes up to cup Stiles' elbow anyway. He can't help himself.

"One two nine Woodbine," Stiles says against his mouth. "Bring your sisters, okay?"

Looks like they're going all in, then, him and Stiles. That's not as terrifying a thought as it probably should be. In fact, Derek can't wait.

"We'll be there," Derek promises, and gives Stiles one more quick kiss before he pushes him away. He's got family to go see.

Stiles winks at him and then jogs across the road to where his dad is waiting. Derek gets in the Range Rover and starts the engine, waving to Stiles as he and his dad pull away. He takes a deep breath, lets it out.

They did it. They made it.

The End