Derek stopped himself from growling into the phone only because he knew Stiles would derail the entire conversation to make fun of him for it. “You’re going to be by yourself, across the country.”
“I’m nineteen years old,” Stiles said, patronizingly. “I’m even allowed to go to the store, if I promise not to talk to strangers or take their candy. And believe me, I have been tempted.”
“It’s not safe. The rest of the Pack is coming home. No one will be there to help you if something happens,” he said.
“The rest of the Pack go to colleges all around the country,” Stiles argued. “It’s only Lydia and Danny and I here usually, anyway. It’s not like it’ll be a huge difference in my support system.”
“It’s not safe,” Derek insisted.
“Is Harvard a hub of criminal, or supernatural shenanigans, in the broody spaces of your imagination?”
Derek gave in and growled.
Stiles, as expected, laughed at him. “Derek,” Stiles said, mocking and fond. “I have three interviews for summer placements this week. Believe me, I don’t want to stay here while everyone else goes back to Beacon Hills for spring break, but it’s what I have to do because I am practicing at this adulting thing I’ve heard so much about. Apparently I have to do it if I don’t want to bring dishonour to my family when my university releases me unto the world in two years.”
But I miss you, clacked against the back of Derek’s teeth. He clenched his jaw and refused to give it voice. He had been looking forward to seeing Stiles most of all, and he felt the disappointment settle heavy under his ribs.
“Don’t do anything stupid while Lydia’s not there to save you,” he said instead.
“Aw,” Stiles cooed over the phone, all the sarcasm brought 3000 miles over the cellular signal intact. “I knew you cared.”
“Stiles –” Derek growled.
“You worry too much,” Stiles told him. “Say hi to everyone for me. I’ll see you in two months!” With that chipper promise, Stiles was gone.
Two days later, Derek was halfway through his patrol of Beacon Hills when he smelled it.
Stiles would have called it his skulking practice, this compulsive need Derek felt to see for himself that the town was safe and sound every evening. Somewhere between the Argents, and Peter, and the Alphas, and the darach, and the Argents, and the kanima, and the nogitsune, and an entire family of wendigo, and the deadpool, and Beserkers, and the fucking Argents again, Derek had developed an unhealthy paranoia, was Stiles’ assessment.
Derek had just stared at him, eyebrows raised, until Stiles acknowledged that his own recited list of shit Beacon Hills had put them through kind of proved Derek’s point.
If Stiles had been in Beacon Hills, where he belonged, he would have walked the patrol with Derek. He would have moaned and complained and driven Derek crazy the entire time, but he would have done it. Instead, he was in the second of his interviews. Derek checked the time on his phone, calculating the time difference. He should call him, he thought, running the pad of his thumb over his phone. To see how it went.
He was just about to unlock his screen when the scent of rotting flesh filled his nose. He fought off the urge to sneeze, nearly gagged at its sudden, overwhelming strength. Where the hell was that coming from? Tucking the sleeve of his jacket against his nose so the scent of leather slightly masked the putrid smell, Derek moved toward it. He was expecting to come across a dead body, some wretched evidence of the newest supernatural monster come to Beacon Hills. He moved in the alley between closed business in the warehouse district, passing the dumpster behind an advertising firm and a dance studio, following the trail. Instead of a body, though, the only thing in the alley was a person, moving towards him. Derek paused, waiting for them to draw closer, straightening his fingers and clenching them, to release his claws. They would get more than they bargained for, if they attacked him in a dark alley.
The smell was so rancid he was squinting into the wind, eyes watering. They would have had to roll in decomposing bodies to smell that bad. They continued moving toward him, the lights in the parking lot behind them reducing them to a silhouette in Derek’s vision.
Roll around in the dead, or be dead themselves, Derek thought idly, as they took a last stiff step towards him. Then, with a rattling moan deep in their chest, they attacked.
Derek held them off easily, but wasn’t expecting them to shift in his grip, throwing themselves down and biting a chunk out of his forearm. He shouted in surprise, his phone going flying. He grabbed the hair on the back on their head and pulled them away. They tore the flesh from his arm as he threw them back. They hit the pavement hard and rolled, boneless. Derek heard the crack of their head hitting the asphalt, but they were lurching to their feet and rushing him. There was no strategy to their attack, the only goal seeming to get their teeth on Derek again.
Derek was opposed to that, on principle.
With a slash, he cut their throat, but they kept coming. Grabbing them, avoiding their teeth, he spun them forward and crashed their head into the brick wall. They flailed, but made no sounds of acknowledging the pain. Bringing them back, he swung them into the wall again with his enhanced strength. He heard the skull and neck fracture. One of those seemed to do the trick, and the body fell.
Derek picked up his phone before returning to the body. He nudged it over with his foot, angrily nursing the bite on his arm. He furrowed his eyebrows when the light from the distant streetlight lit the face. Mr. Anderson was one of Lydia’s neighbours, and had yelled at Scott once for driving his motorcycle on the street in the middle of the night. It woke his dog, he had said, and was unneighbourly. He was seventy if he was a day.
Derek sighed, looking down at the body as his arm healed. He had spent enough time with Stiles to know what this meant.
Derek went to Scott’s, still pissed off that zombies – of all the things – had come to Beacon Hills. He had sworn zombies didn’t exist, when Stiles had asked (and asked, and asked). Now he would have to eat his words, or swear the Pack to secrecy. He was pondering what he would have to promise them to never tell Stiles about this, ever, as he walked up Scott’s street.
It was ridiculously early. He was already anticipating getting to wake Scott up as dawn was just touching the horizon for a legitimate Alpha issue, because that was always hilarious. When Scott’s house came into view, though, Derek’s amused anticipation faded into concern and he hurried his steps. Lydia’s car, the Sheriff’s cruiser, the Argent’s truck and the Yukimera’s SUV were parked haphazardly in the driveway and onto the street. He pulled his phone from his pocket as he crossed the street on an angle, cursing when he saw that the drop during the fight had turned it off. By the time he got to the front door, it was turned on and buzzing angrily with missed notifications. Jumping the porch steps, Derek knocking perfunctorily and opened the door, stepping into the front hall. Melissa came around the corner, eyes wide and arms wrapped around her middle. She was dressed in soft pink pajamas, and her hair was flat on one side.
“Come here,” she ordered, and disappeared back into the living room.
They were crowded on the couches, gazes intent on the screen. The blue glow of it lit the room, and the paleness of their faces. Melissa had hurried to where the Sheriff was pacing in front of the window, his cell phone held against his ear, his other hand repeatedly tapping on the hip that usually held his gun. She reached out as if to touch his shoulder as he passed her but didn’t quite reach him, letting her hand hover.
Derek turned to the rest of them. Kira had one hand over her mouth, the other clenched in Scott’s tightly. Liam sat on the arm of the couch beside her. Derek moved around the couch so he could see the screen, passing by Argent’s post at the corner nearest the exit, and Kira’s parents, sitting together on the small couch off to the side. Deaton stood on the other side, a touch of grey in his dark skin. The screen showed a city in flames. It was the scene of riots, of disaster, of war. There was the tightness of panic in the corner of the announcers’ eyes as the relayed the news.
“Where?” Derek asked, thinking of Mr. Henderson and Stiles’ zombie lore. He had thought it was just another of Beacon Hills’ monsters. If it was an infection…. They were a small, secluded town. How bad did it have to be to reach them?
“Everywhere,” Scott replied.
“They keep getting footage from more cities,” Kira elaborated. “It’s all cell videos, apparently their reporters are… they’re gone. This is Washington,” she nodded at the screen, “but they’ve had reports from all over the States, from Canada and Mexico and Europe. It’s everywhere.”
Derek watched the world burn a second longer before it hit him. “Stiles.”
“Mr. Stilinski can’t get through,” Scott said dully. The footage had shifted to a reporter with a map behind them, infected cities marked with red that spread like blood in the water. “He’s been calling but Stiles isn’t picking up.”
Stiles’ dad swore venomously, and moved to throw his phone before stopping himself. He hugged it to his chest for a moment, breathing hard, eyes closed. Then he redialed a number and pressed it back to his ear. Melissa bridged the gap between them, hand resting gently just above his elbow, her face lined in concern. All Derek wanted to do was howl, but the missing member of his pack was too far to hear.
Let it just be distance.
He sank down on Scott’s other side, pressing against his Alpha as they watched the world end.
Someone somewhere kept the cell system up for two and a half more days. It was nearly useless, so overloaded only the busy signal was available. Stiles’ dad would have kept calling Stiles until the phone broke, if he could, but once Derek relayed the news of Mr. Anderson, he and Melissa had been forced to leave the house. They would be needed at the station, and in the hospital. Scott organized patrols for the rest of them, especially since Derek was still showing no sign of a reaction to the bite. Argent was trying to get in contact with Hunters close by. Lydia and her mother – brought in on the secret, now – were upstairs. Lydia was next to useless, overwhelmed to the point of requiring sedation in the wake of the breadth of death now surrounding them.
Derek called Stiles’ phone. He went with the Sheriff to the station, too, and patrolled the streets. He helped Melissa move equipment and set up generators. They went to houses all over town and instructed people to save water, to save gas, to save food. They helped quell riots and looting and somehow – despite the news of werewolves becoming common knowledge – Beacon Hills avoided outright panic and began to strengthen into something ready to weather a storm. He brought newly bitten wolves – those Scott could save from the zombie infection – to safe houses. He taught them about what the Bite means. He talked to Cora and was assured that she was safe. He killed zombies.
And through it all, he called Stiles.
It became route, to hit the smarmy picture Stiles had taken of himself in those stupid wolf sunglasses – where had he even found them? – and put as his contact picture on Derek’s phone. Derek listened to the busy signal, that pre-recorded message that he had heard so many times it had rotated through and past unbearably annoying too many times to count.
Due to the number of callers, service is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.
Derek called again, waited for the click and the voice to begin speaking – “Hello, Derek?” – and nearly thumbed the END CALL button automatically before it registered.
“Stiles?” he said, frantic. He was standing in the street, alone, clutching his phone closer to his ear as if it could bring the voice on the other end to him.
“Oh my God, Derek,” Stiles cried. “I’ve been trying to call. I’ve been trying to call everyone!”
“We’re here. Everyone’s okay. Your dad’s okay.”
“Oh, thank God. Jesus.” Derek could hear him struggling to calm his breathing. “I guess I should have listened to you about coming home, eh?”
Derek couldn’t help his laugh, even though it felt ripped from him. “Where are you?” he asked. “Are you all right?”
Stiles was silent for a moment and then his breath hitched. Derek felt numb coldness begin to spread from his chest outwards. “We got out of the city,” Stiles said finally. “A bunch of us from the dorms. We thought, if we got to smaller towns, that maybe we could steal some cars or something, but these things. They’re everywhere. We only got to like Wayland.”
“Where are you now?” Derek asked, forcing calm into his voice.
“In some apartment building,” Stiles replied. “We’ve barricaded ourselves in, but its… its bad, Derek. I don’t think…” He stopped, voice thick with tears. “Is my dad with you?”
Derek cursed himself for not thinking of that. “I can get to him,” he promised, starting to jog towards the station. “Stay on the line.”
“Okay,” Stiles said. He sounded so much younger, when he was afraid.
“Are you safe,” Derek asked as he hurried down Main, the boarded up shopfronts closing him in. They were saving gas, so Derek hadn’t taken his car and the station was clear across town.
“They were right behind us,” Stiles admitted. “We tried to keep them out of the building, but I don’t think it. I don’t think…. Everyone has been very impressed with my supernatural ass-kicking know-how,” he told Derek, laughing a little. “I’ve been trying to keep them all going, you know?” He paused. “They’re sleeping. I’m hiding in the bathroom so they can’t hear me, because I don’t think we’re getting out of here and they’re already so scared and I can’t, Der’. I can’t save them and I’m scared. God, I’m so scared –”
“Stiles, calm down. You’re going to be okay. Can you get out of there? Can you get to a car?”
“We’re trapped in –” Stiles’ breath hitched. He was quiet for a long moment.
“Stiles?” Derek asked. He had broken into a run, sprinting across the lacrosse field, taking the steps on the other side by threes. The motion of his run distorted the sound of the phone as it jostled against his ear, but he could hear the voices on Stiles’ end, now, rising in volume. “Answer me!”
“Have you got to my dad?” Stiles asked. His voice was small.
“I’m almost there,” Derek said. “Stay in the bathroom. Don’t leave the bathroom, just stay locked in there. Is there a window?”
“I can’t leave them out there alone,” Stiles said. He took a deep, bracing breath. “Okay. Okay. Tell my dad I’m sorry I couldn’t say goodbye, and that I love him, okay? You have to do it for me, allergy to feelings or not, okay?” He spoke over Derek as he tried to cut him off. “Just, don’t tell him about me being scared. Don’t tell him that part.”
“Stay in the fucking bathroom,” Derek bit out, still running. He could see the Sheriff’s station. The voices on the other end of the line were rising in panic and there were loud crashes and bangs – the unmistakable sound of flesh hitting hard against wood or steel.
“Take care of the Pack,” Stiles said. “Love you, Der’.”
Derek stopped running when the call ended. He stood in the street, panting, staring at the phone in his hand, the call directory showing Stiles’ face. He stared at his, breath coming faster and faster until the howl was torn from his throat with all the force of a scream.
The Pack howled back, but it didn’t fill the empty space.