Life in the Capital Wasteland ain't all it's cracked up to be and when you open your eyes to see the yellow sky, or a shaved-head raider sneering at you from his broken face, or an endless subway tunnel blasted down to hell (or maybe just central D.C.), you remember life ain't all it's cracked up to be.
He's stumbled into a den of yao guai somehow, he could only smell two over the acrid stench of radiation; instead it's a full den, about five or six of them and they're starving, he can hear their guts twist, they're starving and he hasn't eaten in two days, but he won't die at the claws of these sad freaks of mutated nature. He'll die of his own stupidity on the cracked side of the road somewhere, so Derek shifts even as his body shrieks, he shifts and hunkers, showing his teeth, feeling all his fur stand on end. He isn't small but the alpha yao guai is like those grizzlies the Pre-War stories talked about, big as legend and about as fucking mean and heartless. Derek prepares to fight long enough to die bleeding out miles away, long enough to find a hill where the grass doesn't smell of nuclear devastation.
He paws the ground, kicking up dust, and the closest yao guai roars, then its forehead collapses inward, blood and brain matter splurting outward like a landmine. Derek doesn't look around though, just keeps his teeth out and his eyes on the alpha here. Being shot isn't a bad way to die, as long as he's not fucking mistaken for a shit-scrawny dog (life in the wasteland ain’t all it's cracked up to be).
Another shot takes out the smaller yao guai and Derek pounces on the edging nearest one, wrestling it down as one-two-three more bullets hit skulls, bodies falling hard, and the yao guai run, roar-howls as they go, and Derek growls, sending the sound into the ground, vibrations of his rage.
A voice says, “You aren’t gonna scare them nor me doing that, I’ve got the gun. Got a couple actually and a nice shiny Pip-Boy to go with it, so I won't miss, not with the VATS. So just change back and we'll exchange names like neighbors.” Without thinking about it, Derek shifts like it's an instinctual order; he shifts, grabs his pants, and turns to see a kid smirking at him, a boy standing tall and lean against the horizon like the trees 'round here, like maybe you could push him but he wouldn't break.
The kid says, “I’m Stiles, and those were mean sonsuvbitches,” and Derek says, “Derek, and no shit, I sorta took notice,” before he realizes what Stiles said, change back. Stiles knows what he is and is watching him without the gun pointed at his chest, merely a look of alarmed amusement on his face before the kid laughs, the sound vibrating in the air better than Derek's growls along the ground. His laughter bursts from him in a joy Derek doesn’t see often out in the Wasteland.
“Yeah, I noticed you took notice, and I notice you kinda ripped your jeans there.” Stiles makes a sideways gesture, then his nose scrunches. “Think I might have an extra pair in my pack, if you don’t mind wearing a dead man’s clothes.”
“Are they clean,” Derek asks, pulling at his shirt to see it’s torn at the seams, a kind of fake casualty out here amongst so much dead, he sees they’re standing on what used to be a baseball diamond, the fences up and some desiccated bodies strung along the chain link, sign posts and warnings, no wonder the yao guai set up shop here.
“Cleaner than some,” Stiles says, muffled, up to his elbows in the pack he’s rested at his feet, “clean enough.”
“Clean enough,” Derek agrees. “I don’t mind.” He doesn’t. You can’t out in the Wasteland, he’s passed by shop windows and seen the toppled mannequins, once he walked by and drew his gun thinking there were people, actual people until he saw they weren’t moving. They were upright mannequins, standing in little pairs as if they were talking at a party, torsos angled towards each other, and they wore suit jackets, button-down shirts, Pre-War casual party wear Derek saw in torn pages of magazines. It was eerie, downright disturbing to see those mannequins, untouched by anything: bombs, bullets, mutants, raiders, anyone, everyone, dust, time. They stood behind glass and watched the world change and probably didn’t recognize it. Derek almost didn’t recognize them.
Stiles is holding out a pair of pants and a shirt, “unless you want a vault jumpsuit, I’ve got one of those too, traded it off this paranoid old guy up in the hills. He lives in a cave all alone. Says it reminds him of the vault. Except for the giant ants. They didn’t have those in the vault.”
Derek shakes his head, gives a grim smile. “Nah, this should do fine. You headed anywhere in particular?”
Derek hasn’t been there yet; he’s spotted the jagged bulkhead like a dead giant on the horizon, heard the gunfire and explosions from a distance and that’s close enough. He doesn’t want to fight super mutants. But Stiles has the gun in his hands as if it’s his pet, the Pip-Boy bulky on his wrist, and he’s staring at the sky, and he says, “Dark soon. I know a place to spend the night. If you wanna come along. Just a big metal door in a rock with a hole behind it, but it should suffice.”
He looks so young and sounds so old.
“Yeah, that’d be great," Derek allows, "maybe Rivet City too.”
Stiles nods, runs a hand over his hair. “Maybe Rivet City too.”
Derek doesn’t ask. He gives Stiles all the apples and RadAway he has, says, “Here, you’re looking a little—“
“Sick, yeah, I feel it. Wait, are my eyes glowing?” The boy widens his eyes at Derek and Derek laughs, sort of.
“Damn. If I’m gonna get radiation sickness, I want my eyes to glow.”
He isn’t carrying much, he took a bullet to the shoulder a week back from a raider and that particular noise called more of the insane fuckers to their fight and Derek lost just about everything he had, including a long line of blood before he healed, crouched behind the counter of a burnt-out diner, come out come out wherever you are. He can shift and kill if he wants, but escape is sometimes better. It’s healthier, in the long run.
He’s got water too instead of whatever alcohol Stiles is carrying, the kid doesn’t need that, “you know that slows your reaction time, your VATS won’t help you if you’re drunk,” and he’s harsher than he means to be, but this kid who’s sitting folded up with his knees to his chest, mouth open and his eyes bright (maybe they are glowing), this kid needs to survive, he’s built for it, like the trees he resembles, he needs to fucking survive.
“I’m not drinking a whole bar, Derek,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes, hand cutting through the air and his palm wavers as it goes, “I keep it to trade.”
Derek understands. “You scavenge.”
“Hell yeah. I get to travel, make tons of caps, meet people, and have adventures.” Big swig of water, swallow of pills, and Stiles takes a breath.
“Adventure,” Derek says, flat.
“Yeah, what else is there.”
He rests his head on his knees, face turned away from Derek and Derek isn’t going to ask.
(What is Stiles doing out here all alone. The Wasteland is full of orphans, but Stiles seems healthy, not scarred, not broken. At least not yet.)
They stay in the hole behind the metal door for a few days, it might be almost a week, hard to tell when you’re in a hole behind a metal door.
Stiles is breathing better and his hands have stopped shaking. His eyes are still bright, but Derek’s learned that’s just Stiles and not any radiation burning inside him. They talk about shit Stiles has read in random magazines, stories Stiles collects from the settlements nearby. He has a toy car he pushes around in the dirt and the wheels squeak. They venture further into the hole in the rock and find that it’s a smuggler’s hide, abandoned (they hope) and there’s a walkway of old metal planks leading to crates and –
“Holy shit, that looks like the Brotherhood insignia.” Stiles wipes away dirt. “Holy shit.”
Armor pieces in need of repair, couple of guns, ammo, Derek steps close because Stiles is vibrating, “you should—we could—“
“I don’t need the armor,” Derek says. “Or the guns.”
“But.” The kid gapes at him for a second, then his eyes go into slits. “Yeah, but.”
“I can heal.” Grimacing, Derek snaps his pinkie bone and Stiles practically jumps backwards, crashing into some wooden shelves, but he doesn’t run, he simply watches as the crooked finger resets. “And, hey,” with his thumb, Derek flicks at his teeth, “I’ve got these.”
“Yeah, but last time, you tried to take on a group? pack? drove? herd? whatever, a bunch of yao guai and the only reason you are here to make fangs at me is because of me and my gun.”
“Yeah, so you can take this.”
Eyeing him, Stiles leans against the metal crate. “Stealing from a thief. Awesome.”
“So how long have you been—“
“I’m not sick. And it’s not a mutation, Stiles.”
“I was going to say ‘enhanced,’ but alright.”
Derek sighs a little, this kid is starting to get to him, he used to not answer questions, he used to barely acknowledge people were alive; there is a world out there and Derek tends to ignore it (he’s spent days in wolf form, days, traveling where he wants if the wind smells right and hiding in the ruins of houses, subway stations, buildings without roofs). Stiles watches him, so wide and open like he expects Derek to be the same.
“I was born this way. Werewolf.” He shrugs, pushes at a helmet in the crate. “My family’s always been this way. Maybe it is a mutation.”
“Nah,” Stiles says, taking the helmet from him, he slips it over his head and suddenly, it’s like Stiles is gone, all of him, Derek can’t see his eyes or mouth, he’s metal on a human skeleton and his voice is distorted as he says, “The Pre-War stories have werewolves in them, eating humans in the forests.” Derek’s hackles rise, as if he’s panicking, what the fuck, his claws lengthening, his teeth crowding against his tongue, but Stiles doesn’t notice, that radiowave voice continuing, “so I guess you’re just like those Pre-War books I find occasionally. Some sort of archaeological treasure. Maybe I should take you to the Library of Congress. “
He laughs and Derek closes his eyes.
(He still won’t ask Stiles why or what or how, he won’t.)
When he looks again, the helmet is gone and Stiles is making faces, like he’s stretching his muscles.
“Too heavy. And hot, blech. Still, this gun looks mighty fine, mmmm.”
Tipping his body against the crate, Stiles almost falls in and Derek holds the back of his shirt while the kid rattles off a Brotherhood history, his words rising excited until he says, “But they’re a bunch of assholes, wouldn’t even help when.”
He stops and Derek holds his breath.
Stiles rummages through the ammo and doesn’t say another word.
“So how long have you been—“
“Such an expert with the VATS? Handsome? Amazing? Miraculous?” Stiles wiggles his eyebrows.
In spite of himself, Derek smiles. “Never mind.”
“No, I’m sure the word you’re looking for is there somewhere. Extraordinary? Special? Super special? Super duper special? Extra super duper special?”
“Don’t exhaust your vocabulary.”
“How dare you.”
With all the extra from the smuggler’s cave, Stiles looks at Derek with his hands overflowing with bullets (and ain’t that a sight, Stiles’s eyes shiny as spent casings, life and death in his big palms, spilling between long fingers, his mouth open to breathe in whatever the Wasteland can give). He says, “We’ll need to run by my house. I can’t carry all this to Rivet City.”
Derek shivers a little at the usage of ‘we,’ suddenly gone hot-cold. Nodding, he replies, “Okay.”
And that’s it. They set out at first light in single file: Stiles’s gun barrel, Stiles’s gun stock, Stiles, his pack, Derek, his claws, an extra pack for trade (“I’m not a pack brahmin,” he says and Stiles says, “No, you’re a pack werewolf. Whole different world of difference”). They walk and Stiles talks and Derek answers a few of his questions, some he lets fly over his head to answer later because he wants to learn about Stiles first, not the other way ‘round.
(He still doesn’t ask.)
They walk, Stiles hopping over the breaks in the asphalt of the road because he inexplicably follows the road even though the land is open, all the barriers now are to keep things out or to keep people in. They eat lunch under a gnarled tree, watching a torn shirt sway from what used to be a mailbox.
“I find magazines in those things,” Stiles says. “As if the mail is still running.” He takes a bite of something, iguana maybe. “I always wanted to do that.”
“Run the mail.”
Derek laughs under his breath. Stiles could do it too, would do it, fight through whatever he could to bring people their information, important or not, Suzy says hi and come visit, or Dalton says he’s coming to kill ya, better arm up.
He likes the idea. He could be bodyguard. Not sidekick. He could be the one to give the bad news while Stiles gives the good news.
Maybe after Rivet City.
They walk until Stiles stops. His nose looks a little pink from the yellow sun. He points not along the ground, but up in the air.
“There. That’s home.”
It’s an overpass, snapped into pieces, but way up high because the supports still stand. The on-ramp leads to a settlement resting on what would’ve been the highway, and—
Derek chokes. “There?”
Stiles sighs happily. And a growl starts in Derek’s chest.
He hasn’t been back here in years.
They hike the asphalt and on into the settlement, all corrugated sheet metal buildings. They’re not shacks and they’re not houses, they’re shelter. Walls, a door, a lock. It’s good enough.
Stiles skirts around the traffic barriers and sandbags laid out like chest-high landmines to stop invaders and he whistles a little as he goes. Derek just follows.
There’s no one else.
“There’s no one here,” Derek says and Stiles waves a hand, doesn’t look back at him.
“There used to be. They all died. Or left.”
Some of the buildings look burned-out, a little bombed and abandoned. Their doors are all closed. Stiles heads to the building the farthest back, at the very edge of where the overpass breaks off into the air.
It’s exactly where Derek was hoping he wouldn’t go.
“I can’t go in there,” he says.
Stiles trips to a stop, the backpack almost upending him. “Why not.”
“My name is Derek. Hale.”
And Stiles goes so very still.
See, years back, the Hales were a large family, for the Wasteland. They lived on the overpass, sprawling out and protecting one another and the few other families in those ramshackle buildings. Derek would sit on the walls where cars used to whiz past and stare out at the landscape, down into the town of Megaton. The sun would shine off the huge A-bomb in the center of town and he’d blink against the glare.
They scavenged and sold the shit they found, usually trading in Megaton and around the local area. Derek was the one who’d found the grocery store, the supermarket that looked like it took up an entire acre.
He’d found the raiders there with the bodies hanging out front and the bodies hanging inside.
First time he’d killed someone was there.
First time he’d killed someone with his teeth was when the raids started on their little overpass haven. Fake vampires or real cannibals, no one was sure, but people were being picked off in ones and twos until only the Hales remained.
And one night at dusk, demons came out of the irradiated land and killed or burned whatever they could find.
It destroyed the Hale line. Left Derek, his sister, his uncle. More sob story, and Derek’s the only one alive because his uncle couldn’t take what happened, tried to trade his sister to those human animals and neither of them made it out breathing.
Now Derek stares at Stiles standing where he used to stand and he closes his eyes.
“Home sweet home,” he says.
“I used to wish on your house,” Stiles says.
They haven’t gotten indoors. It’s going dark, the sun sinking with a strange glow through the horizon, but that’s just the winds dragging plumes off the radiation waste ponds.
Stiles points below them. They’re perched on the concrete side of the overpass, where Derek used to climb and sit, and their feet hang out in space, gravity biting at their ankles; there’s nothing to stop them if their bodies move just enough to tip them. It’s a long drop through free air, but it’s the sudden stop at the end that kills you. He says, “I grew up in Megaton. I was born there. Mom said it was during a dust storm. That’s one reason why Megaton has those walls.” He lets go of the concrete to shape the walls from here, hands curving up from the ground. “Some nights I couldn’t sleep, especially after my mom died. I would climb up on the roof and I could see your house. The brightest light in the night sky. Like a star. So I’d wish on it.”
Quiet, then Stiles ducks his head, fingers gripping the concrete again. “I saw the fires. The night of that last raid.”
“Megaton,” Derek says. The town is lit like the tiny crystals Derek found once in a cave, each little light fighting off the darkness around it. The bomb is dark. “You lived there?”
That means they could’ve met, sometime ago before all this.
“’Stiles’ is a nickname,” Stiles says, resettling his legs and he leans into Derek briefly before swaying back into his own space. “My dad was the sheriff.”
“Stilinski,” Derek says. “I remember.” And he does. He remembers a man about Stiles’s height, they’re built the same, father and son, same color hair, but Stiles’s face is like his mother’s. It’s like a photograph album left out in the sun, bleached and colors faded, but Derek remembers.
“Your mom saved me once. I was down there in the rocks.” Frowning, Derek gestures towards a stony patch just outside of the town walls. “Playing, I guess. A raider came up behind me and tried to take me. Scared the shit outta me. I think I shifted, but your mom didn’t care. She wasn’t afraid.” He swallows with a click in his throat. “She had a rifle and she shot him. Didn’t even aim for his chest, which was good, he was wearing body armor.” He makes a gun with one hand, other hand tucked under his leg between denim and concrete to hide claws (he used to have such good control). “She just put a bullet right between his eyes.”
Stiles sighs, glances at Derek, then out over Megaton, but Derek sees it and he does remember meeting Stiles when they were kids, the little boy hanging off the sheriff’s hand as their fathers talked security for the long walk between the town and the overpass settlement. He remembers Stiles fidgeting, his feet climbing on each other, left right left right left right, then Stiles staring up at him with those eyes, cupping his mouth to say in a small whisper, ‘Wanna play cards?’
Then a slender woman with bright hair and her son’s eyes joined them and the men laughed at something she said and she picked up Stiles, carried him away, and Stiles waved at Derek over her shoulder. He’d said, ‘I’ll see you later!’
Derek asks, finally. “So why’re you out here. What happened.”
Pursing his lips, Stiles breathes out heavily. “Those Children of the Atom or whatever they’re called, those hellfire crazies who worship that fucking bomb. One of ‘em decided to set it off. He was standing knee-deep in the radiation pond fiddling with the wires when someone ran to fetch my dad. And when Dad tried to stop ‘em, the guy lost his head, well, I mean, he was trying to set off a fucking nuclear bomb, so he wasn’t entirely sane anyway, but he had a gun. Shot my dad. And that was all she wrote.” Derek sighs and Stiles swings his feet.
“Why didn’t you stay.”
“Oh, the town offered to let me stay in the house, but it was the sheriff’s house and they got a new sheriff about six months after that. They weren’t going to kick me out, but. It’s the sheriff’s house, so I left. Moira took anything I wanted to put in storage, sorta, she told me I could work for her and she had an extra room upstairs in her shop, but every day I had to look at that fucking bomb, and it wasn’t even a house anymore, which sounds crazy, I know, I get it, I’m crazy, but it was just me and it wasn’t. So.”
“You had to leave.”
Stiles makes a sound like relief. “Yes. I didn’t really have anywhere else to go and I couldn’t make the trip to Rivet City yet, so I came up here. Thought there might be someone. But it’s empty.” He brushes at dirt on his jeans, then looks at Derek full-on. “I thought you were dead. After you and Laura up and vanished, my dad would come up here every week. Just to check. And see.”
Derek nods. The sheriff seemed like that type. His son seems to take after him.
They sit there for a while until it’s full dark and the wind is cooler. An explosion sounds somewhere in the hills, then another.
Leaning back, Derek isn’t careful, he just tips until he can hop off the concrete back onto asphalt. He snags Stiles’s sleeve, tugs, and scoops up Stiles’s bag from where he dropped it. He’s heading towards the house, his old home, where he buried his heart in the air when he realizes Stiles isn’t with him.
The kid is watching him, mouth open a little, surprised and wary, hands in his pockets.
He should say, it’s dark and it’s best to be indoors. He should say, c’mon, it’s okay, I get it. You live here now. It’s fine. Someone should live here, why not you. He should say, You saved my life, I can let you live in the house I abandoned.
He says, “You have your mom’s eyes.”
They lie on the thin mattress, backs to each other. Derek listens to Stiles’s heartbeat and realizes he’s heard it before, of course he has, he hasn’t forgotten it.
“I’m sorry I stole your house,” Stiles murmurs.
“Better you,” Derek says without thinking, “than anyone else.”
“I made a wish before I moved in.”
He’s back to not asking; it was Stiles’s wish, not his, and it has nothing to do with him.
Then Stiles is asleep.
They stay for a while, so Stiles can sort through his inventory of junk, “it’s not junk, screw you, nothing goes to waste,” Stiles says with narrowed eyes and Derek waves a hand at the crowded table, “You can’t carry all those batteries, it’s just useless weight,” and Stiles is suddenly standing toe-to-toe with him, the first human Derek’s come across who might be afraid of him but doesn’t give a flying fuck, “Maybe I’ll make you carry ‘em all, how d’ya like them apples, beast man? I saved your ass, you can carry the shitty batteries.”
Derek growls and Stiles glares and somedays, Derek wishes this kid hadn’t saved him, he’d be lying under the sky with claw gashes separating his ribs, but he wouldn’t have to put up with this obnoxious little shit who smells like fear-fuelled energy and fight.
“Great, fanfuckingtastic, why don’t you just go out and get a deathclaw to do it for you since you’re the great and miraculous tamer of shit-crazy animals, what the fuck am I doing here.”
He stalks outside and spends a day wandering the settlement, nosing about through the other buildings, scavenging in the place where he used to live.
By nightfall, he’s got a good-sized bag full of stuff and he dumps it on Stiles’s table.
“Here. Sell this. It’s not junk. You’ll get a good price,” he says, then he’s almost back out the door to settle himself down in one of the other houses when Stiles grabs his arm.
“Okay, Derek, okay.” Stiles is watching him, cautious, dark under his eyes. “Okay, you’re right. We’ll take it all. I’m stronger than I look.” He smiles and Derek can tell the truth of it from how Stiles is still squeezing his arm in a strange way.
“Alright. Whenever you’re ready to leave.”
Stiles falls asleep pretty soon after they eat and Derek goes out to the asphalt, he’s not tired and he’s confused, being back on the overpass has disrupted him, changed his frequency somehow.
It’s not his home anymore. And Stiles is something else altogether.
He strips off his clothes and shifts and sleeps in the doorway.
In the morning, Stiles takes some pills and says, “Breakfast?”
“No.” Derek likes to move on an empty stomach, especially since he spent the night as a wolf.
“Too bad. Breakfast.” He makes Derek eat, rather tempts him with cooking smells and bad singing, then more talk, easy questions about Derek’s sister. He remembers Laura, talking about how pretty her hair was, dark and long, she kept it loose when so many women like to put it up or tie it back, and it rattles a piece loose in Derek.
“She brought me a toy for my birthday,” Stiles says. “She told me you’d found it underneath your house. I think she meant on the ground under the house, like under the overpass. Way down there.”
“A Nuka-Cola truck,” Derek says, nudging an empty bottle with his toe. “The wheels were broken. I fixed ‘em.”
“Yeah, well, you tried,” Stiles says and his swaps food on their plates, fork moving fast, “it always wanted to drive to the right.”
Derek huffs, stares at the apple pieces Stiles has given him in stolen exchange for squirrel or something, he doesn’t really care. “How’d your mom die.”
Stiles waves his fork like it’s old news, but he looks so young and so old at the same time. “There was a passing caravan. And some raiders. And a couple of Brotherhood paladins. She was trying to buy water. Someone fired first and she took a bullet. The paladins didn’t lift a finger until a bullet came their way, fucking sonuvabitch bastards.” He makes a gesture like he’s going to stab the fork into the plate, but he stops. “My mom lived, but she got sick afterwards. Never quite healed properly. The doc said it was more radiation poisoning than anything. Her body just couldn’t take it.”
And this is why Derek doesn’t ask questions, he won’t ask about Stiles’s wish either. He stands too fast, diamonds in his vision, and he bumps into the table as he tries to escape.
Behind him, Stiles says, “No one’s fault.”
The kid really needs to survive. Derek lets his instincts go, lets claws lengthen, feels his teeth crowding his mouth before he draws them back and says, “So. Rivet City.”
“Yeah, my buddy Scott lives there.” The tone is completely different, like that laugh he had the day he saved Derek, that joy so out of place in the dirty yellow of the Wasteland. “And they’ve got a whole trading market there, we can sell all this stuff and make a fortune.”
Again with the ‘we.’ “You know there’s super mutants.”
Push of air, and Stiles says determined and dismissive, “Yeah, whatever. We’ll make it.”
Derek turns around, smiling. “We’ll make it.”
They head out east for the aircraft carrier.
They haven’t walked half a day when Stiles says, “What’ve you been doing all this time. I mean, since. And after.” He shrugs into the straps of the backpack, hefting one shoulder higher. “Or whatever, dude, you don’t hafta tell me. It’s been awhile since I’ve had anyone to talk to outside of ‘yeah, I’ll take that pair of boots, now buy these damn bottles.’ I just like the sound.” His face scrunches and he picks up a rock.
The rock takes a nice arc when Stiles throws it and Derek watches it hit with a puff of dirt. He doesn’t answer right away, lets them walk aways, because he’s thinking.
“I left,” he says eventually. “Peter got Laura and himself killed in that shitstorm and I left. Wandered. Laid low. Stole.”
“As a wolf?” When he glances over, Stiles is squinting at him, hand raised against the sunlight.
“Sometimes.” Most of the time, but he doesn’t say that and Stiles closes his eyes.
“That translates to ‘most of the time,’ right? Got it. If you didn’t stay human, I wouldn’t’ve blamed you. If I could shift into a badass wolf anytime I wanted and I was alone, I’d probably stay that way for a long-ass time,” the kid allows and Derek watches him, holy shit, he’s not as open as Stiles, but he’s being read like one of those magazines Stiles finds. He’s just another object the kid’s dug up out in the Wasteland and Stiles is shining him up because he doesn’t find junk, he thinks back on Stiles’s expression at the house, he didn’t see junk, he saw worth.
Now he’s going to apologize and he isn’t wrong, so Derek shakes his head, says, “I had adventures.”
“Adventures, yeah,” Stiles says, an echo, so Derek says, “What else is there.”
“You ever hear of Vault 101? Or any of the other vaults? Have you been in a vault? I mean like been inside inside, past the security door?” Stiles asks fast before Derek can answer any of his questions, this kid might not talk all the time, but damn if he doesn’t ask questions as if he’ll forget if he doesn’t ask right that second. Derek wonders if it’s an impatience thing.
“No, well, yeah, but no, no,” Derek says, hand out, there’s that gleam in Stiles’s eye and he’s already learned Stiles’s expressions, that one says, hell yes adventure and he’s got to nip that in the bud, “no, you’re not going near one.”
Offended, Stiles huffs out a hard breath. “Why the hell not?”
“Because, Stiles, it wasn’t shiny and clean and some sort of utopia like any vid or magazine you’ve found God only knows where. It was death, okay?”
“Yeah, I went into one, thinking about scavenging and it was full of clones, Stiles, something fucked up happened there, they could only say their names, that was the only word and everything looked torn apart. Even the walls and the stench was.”
He stops, stares at the ground. “I found one.” He really doesn’t want to say. “They all went insane. In a sealed, enclosed space. You can guess what happened there.” It took him three days to get the smell out of his nose. He almost died escaping a deathclaw because he could only smell the homicidal blood of the psychotics in that vault.
Stiles purses his lips and doesn’t say anything.
“Let’s stop, rest up.”
The kid nods and sits right where he is by simply letting his knees go. Derek joins him and they sit long enough that their shadows start to stretch and the ground feels hot. Stiles rubs dirt on his palms, then fiddles with the Pip-Boy on his wrist. Music flits out of it, those old chipper songs that people danced to, and they listen to a few songs until Three Dog mentions the President, then Stiles switches it off.
They walk and don’t talk and Derek feels like he’s broken something small which could be big later on at some point; he wants to lie to Stiles most of the time since they’re already in this hellhole and Stiles is still healthy, not completely battered or bruised, not completely stomped into the ground, but Stiles somehow demands honesty even when he’s lying through his teeth to Derek (his heartbeat goes to dizzying speeds, sometimes on a whim).
Shit, he thinks, shit shit shit.
Then he spots a metro station.
The metal signs are still standing, guarding the doorway leading down into the ground and life ain’t all it’s cracked up to be because Stiles says, “Oh shit, we hafta take the subway. I totally forgot.”
“Unless you wanna swim.”
“Without a radiation suit? Are you insane? Wait, yes, you are.” Stiles stops and hunkers down, crouching, fingers on his forehead like he has a headache. “Fuck me. I’d really rather not go down there.”
“Rivet City,” Derek says.
“Rivet City,” Stiles agrees with a hard sigh.
The sun’s low, but it doesn’t matter because the station will be dark anyway.
“If I shift, can you carry this,” Derek says, “I can—“ He isn’t sure whether to say protect you better, or kill easier, or lead you in the dark.
“Yeah, wolf senses, huh.” Stiles weighs the pack and settles it against his chest. “It might be slow-going, but I can carry it. Long as I can reach my gun and ammo.” They jury-rig the packs, so he’s wearing one on his back, one on his front, and Derek knots a loop, says, “Like body armor,” and Stiles laughs, it’s a full-body experience under Derek’s hands.
“See, those shitty batteries are worth something.”
Derek rolls his eyes and strips, tucking his clothes into a pack and Stiles looks like he might fall over, but Derek shifts anyway, he’s big as a wolf, he knows, he comes up high, almost to the heavy-loaded pack on Stiles’s chest and he presses his side against Stiles’s leg.
“Alright, let’s go kill something.”
The chain-link gate creaks open before them and creaks closed behind them.
There are lights on in the station entrance where the turnstiles are and the doors to the offices and bathrooms are open. Cautious, Stiles fits a gun to his shoulder as best he can, it’s a shotgun, “so I don’t have to aim very fucking much,” and Derek doesn’t mind getting shot because he’ll die of his own stupidity here just as well as on a road somewhere and at least here, he won’t die alone.
It’s all quiet, the lights flickering and buzzing and they check every room, for food, Stiles seems to scavenge like it’s second nature, a compulsion he has, Derek growls at him because they can’t carry any more, they can’t, really, Stiles can’t carry any more, they need to get moving, the metro isn’t safe—
A shuffling noise and an odd short screech and Derek smells it before it appears, he’s not paying full attention and the feral ghoul is there faster than he expects. He jumps, teeth out, ready to tear at it and Stiles says, “Oh shiiiiiiit!”
Derek closes his teeth around its neck and snaps. He spits at the taste of mutated, dead flesh, but Stiles is whispering, “Derek, Derek, get back here, Derek, get your fuzzy ass back here right the fuck now.”
He can smell them, ghouls and humans: they’ve walked into a battle zone death trap.
Another ghoul and another, they’re appearing out of the shadows and Derek sprints to where Stiles is backing away, up the ramp to the station proper, where the escalators used to run up-down to the platforms and the trains would spin fast into the station.
Stiles pulls the trigger, over and over, ghoul flesh spraying everywhere and someone yells, “Well well well, what the everlovin’ fuck do we have here, boys!”
A raider camp with flimsy temporary walls, fires smoking in barrels, the scattered remnants of fucked-up humans attempting civility. A raider whoops, battle cry style, and the others join him.
And Derek’s ready to answer the call. He draws the trailing ghouls to the raiders and all hell truly breaks loose because if it’s not one apocalypse, it’s another.
He throws himself against one of the walls and the barrel behind it falls, tossing fire and burning debris and the raiders laugh in crazed fear and delight.
“Let’s have us some fun!”
He never loses Stiles’s heartbeat, the drumming ratcheting up and he follows it into the fight, he can hear it over the gunfire.
Bullets and fire and running bodies everywhere and Stiles is strangely quiet except for the booming of the shotgun and the clicks of reloading, Derek loses sight of him when a spiky-armored raider slashes at Derek with a huge knife, the blade biting along his flank and then there’s a gun pressed to his muzzle, “fuckin’ hell, it’s a wolf, a wolf, look at this trophy.” He snaps out. The flare of the wide-shot bullet scrapes his nose, he can’t smell anything, and the raider tries to shoot him again, getting a shot off that hits him in the chest between his forelegs and Derek sees red. He wants to take his time, rip this guy’s hands off at the wrist, then move along his body, systematically taking him apart joint by joint, but there’s a flash of light and he’s in agony. He can’t smell, he can’t move his back leg and his throat feels wrong, like it’s hanging from him. His chest seizes tight. He snaps out at whatever moves closest to him, blindly jerking when he finds flesh, warm or not.
But he never loses Stiles’s heartbeat. Arms grab him, he can’t smell, he can’t scent the danger, “Derek, stop, hang on, just lemme—“ and there’s the alive drumming of Stiles, Derek’s being dragged, one long line of pain. Then the screaming stops.
They’re at the bottom of an escalator. Stiles is lying on the shattered floor, starfish with his limbs spread, the packs piled near his head. He looks different, so young and so old and so cracked, his face dark on one side. His hands are palm up and his left wrist is twisted.
Derek stares at him, listening to his heartbeat and feeling his own injuries heal. But he’s healing slow, he doesn’t have the energy for much and he still can’t smell a fucking thing.
So he stares at Stiles, waiting, because the kid has to wake up at some point, he knows there are dead ghouls and raiders up above them, but there could be more live ones down the tunnels leading to the maintenance branches and station exits.
They have so much further to go down here.
“I’m not dead,” Stiles says, unmoving, eyes still closed. “You’re not dead. Let’s celebrate.” His right foot twitches. “Woo.”
Shifting back to human, Derek takes stock of his own wounds, flexing his leg, pressing tight fingers to his trachea, to the hole in his chest.
“You take a lot of bullets, man. Must be nice. I mean, not the pain and excruciating agony, but the invincibility. Very handy.” There’s a feeble attempt at a thumbs up from Stiles who finally looks at him. “And you’re naked. And bleeding everywhere. Awesome.”
“How hurt are you.” Derek’s frustrated, the world is blank without his sense of smell, and he thumbs at his nose, blood streaming down to his mouth. “I can’t tell from here.”
“Then come closer, my pretty, and see for yourself.”
Sliding through dust and blood, Derek inches over as Stiles says, “I’ve got stimpaks. Somewhere. Round here. But I’m kinda tired. I think I partied too hard.”
“Do not go to sleep. Stiles. Do you hear me. Stay awake.”
“Yeah, yeah, grumpypants, wait, are you still a grumpypants if you aren’t wearing pants? Everything’s so serious with you.”
With a click, Derek’s leg heals a little more so he can kneel and he’s at the packs fast, digging into them.
“You’re so intense all the time, doesn’t that get exhausting?” Stiles is still talking and that’s a good sign, but his voice is going soft, as if he’s whispering. “You gotta lighten up, I get that you’re a wolfman, but c’mon, can’t you hang out with the bunnies once in a while instead of killing ‘em?”
“I don’t kill bunnies,” Derek replies as he gathers up a handful of stimpaks and he’s moving Stiles’s clothes for a better look, he needs to get hands on the kid because it could be bad, all that blood is concerning him because it’s not his. “I frolic in meadows and chase butterflies.”
“Sure you do.” He might be losing blood, but he hasn’t lost sarcasm and Derek smirks. “I’m sure you also dance with the deathclaws under the full moon.”
“Excellent dance partners. Except when they step on your toes.”
Stiles winces as Derek pushes gently at his belly. He’s pretty tore up, broken wrist, massive bruising, what looks like a burn, but no bullet holes, a graze along his hip and another at his temple and that’s the dangerous one. The blood’s slid down his face and dried, a half mask of dark red-black, and his eyes are fucking awful in the oldest sense of the word, one in the dark one in the pale, and Derek can only stare at him in furious amazement.
“Your eyes,” Stiles says, gaze loose, “they’re red. And glowing. We come all this way and survive this only for you to get radiation poisoning. Fucking great.”
With a small laugh, Derek shakes his head. “No, not sick, not radiation.”
It takes a second, but Stiles focuses on him a little better. “Werewolf.”
A long breath out and Stiles says, “Great, now change back. I miss your other eyes.” Then he passes out as Derek jams a stimpak needle into his arm.
The metro station is deathly still. There’s dust and debris everywhere, rebar poking out bent from the smashed walls, a few stopped trains resting on the tracks like giant animal skeletons. Derek sits propped against a fallen slab of concrete and looks around. He doesn’t hear any other movement, so they’re safe for a while.
There are fires guttering up at the entrance platform above them where the escalators begin and end. It smells like smoke and death. His sense of smell has returned, it only took a few hours, but it was almost too long, Derek was frustrated and pissed off. He’d pulled himself next to Stiles, to keep a better eye on him, and now he can smell the injuries on the kid, smell the chemical burn of medicine from the stimpak and the bandages. He leaves a hand on Stiles, feeling his warmth and breathing.
The whole station has the odor of abandonment, broken concrete and plaster, years of dust and radiation settled like nuclear snow.
“I think I shot you at one point,” Stiles says on a waking yawn. “I’m sorry.”
“Did you mistake me for a dog.”
Stiles laughs, a jerking noise, nothing like his real laugh. “That must’ve been it.”
Derek reads the graffiti on the nearby train cars because if anything had to survive the devastation of war, it was spray paint, all the better to mark territories, my dear. He tries to focus on the scent of Stiles instead of the massacre starting to decay above their heads and Stiles moves under his hand.
“Why’re you holding me down.”
“I’m not. You’re just…” Not weak, Stiles isn’t weak by any stretch of the imagination, and he’s fragile but only because he’ll break and then keep going beyond all sense. “You’re just tired.”
“Okay. Thanks, Nurse. Is there a reason my head feels fuzzy.”
“You lost some brain cells. Probably couldn’t spare ‘em. That’s how it feels when your intellect goes. I’m surprised you still have motor functions.”
When he glances over, Stiles is watching him, but he’s smiling, his face still bloody as if he’s some sort of sacrifice that survived the reaping. “My brains tried to leak out of my skull.”
“Escape more like,” Derek says and Stiles grins. His lips are striped black. He laughs.
“What’s so funny.”
“Come closer, my pretty, and see for yourself.”
Derek leans sideways and Stiles kisses him, warm mouth open and happy, and Derek panics, pulls back, says, “Stop it, you’ll hurt yourself.”
“By kissing you?”
He’s made of broken glass and razorwire, he’s all teeth and claws and broken bones, so he says, “Yeah.”
“Doubt it.” Stiles holds him by the nape of his neck, that strength he keeps hidden so people can underestimate him, Derek underestimated him, and Stiles kisses him again.
Derek kisses back, but keeps it light and clean, small kisses, and Stiles makes a sound, bruises shifting dark under his skin.
A glare and Stiles says stubbornly, “No. I’m sorry I shot you. I’m sorry I dragged you down into the subway to get ripped to pieces by the irradiated and the insane. I’m sorry I stole your house and brought up old memories and—“
“Are you sorry you saved my ass from those yao guai?”
A glare again and Stiles says stubbornly, “No.”
“Then shut up and rest. Stop apologizing.” His claws are out, to make a point (no pun intended), the tips snagged in fabric of Stiles’s shirt on his chest and Stiles pushes against them, as if to force his counterpoint. Derek presses on him with the flat of his hand. “Stop squirming.”
“Stop being a dumbass.”
Derek rips open a stimpak and jabs it into the kid’s shoulder and Stiles looks a little betrayed before his eyes close.
“Now you’re sorry you saved me.”
Stiles’s hair swishes in the dust as he shakes his head. “No. Not sorry. Never sorry.”
He sleeps and Derek goes back to listening to the silent station.
The escalators don’t move. Derek counts the steps, reads the warning labels, wishes he had the time to tinker with them to get them working again, just for the hell of it. He thinks if they cleaned out this station, not only of the living and the dead but also some of the debris, it might be nicer than a hole in a rock behind a metal door or even the house on the overpass. It’d be theirs, relatively safe and hidden.
He dips his head, staring at the train tracks. He thinks back on the smile on Stiles’s face when they sat on the overpass barriers, free bodies in the air and sunshine, as yellow as it may be, it was still sunshine and free-moving air.
He saw the traces of orange paint on Stiles’s fingertips, the sharp cutting smell of fresh spray paint before they left. He knows Stiles painted up the front of the settlement on the overpass, maybe marking it as his. Or theirs.
He doesn’t know.
It’s better if they sleep in a train car and he’s sizing up the ones closest to them when Stiles stirs.
“Is it morning. Five more minutes.”
“It’s—well,” Derek isn’t sure what time of day it is or what day, they’re underground, so no windows, he makes an executive decision, “it’s time to get up. You need to rest and—“
“Wait, you’re making me getting up, so I can rest?” Stiles’s gaze is still a little unfocused, either from his injuries or the latest stimpak, he smells of blood and medicine now constantly. “That makes zero sense, buddy. Like, negative sense. The absence of sense. Nonsense, yeah, that’s it.”
“Let’s get to a train car, then you can sleep for five days and I won’t care.”
“I see how it is. A sleeping Stiles is the best Stiles.”
“Fuck you, dude.”
“Fuck you, too.”
Stiles nods as if that’s settled and sticks out his hand, “Help me up unless you’re gonna drag me along as wolf or human.”
Instead, Derek kneels and waits for Stiles to understand, he does not give piggyback rides, this is merely an effective mode of transporting the wounded, except how it puts pressure on the bruises across Stiles’s belly and chest, but Stiles flops onto Derek’s back, arms hanging loose over his shoulders and Derek fits his hands into the nocks of Stiles’s knees and stands.
“Best way to get around,” Stiles murmurs into Derek’s hair. “I saved your life, so now you’re indebted to me, like an indentured slave, I should have you carry me around the Wasteland all the time.”
“I shoulda thrown myself to the yao guai. Or the raiders. Or the ghouls. Or off the overpass.”
“Now, now, no need to be suicidal. It can’t be that bad, being my slave, I’ll treat you nice.”
Derek feels the grin and smiles back even though Stiles can’t see him. They find an open car, relatively clean and ignored by the station’s squatters and the seats don’t look comfortable at all, but Stiles sighs as if he’s found a brand-new clean mattress.
They stay a few more days and the station stays quiet the whole time. They have fire in tin cans and Stiles attempts to devise a way to best carry the little lanterns with them; he doesn’t set fire to himself or Derek or the train car and that is success on a certain level. Their food is okay, but will get low soon and Stiles starts refusing stimpaks after the first day they move in to the car. The medicine heals fast (well, faster for humans than without), but it muddles him and he’s already muddled, he tells Derek, “my brain moves so fast, sometimes, I think I hallucinate. Matter of fact, I thought I’d hallucinated you at first, shifting into a wolf and ready to fight those furry fuckers, then I realized shit was about to go down in a very real way.”
“You didn’t hallucinate those headshots.”
“No, I did not.”
Derek knocks his head against a window of the car. “I’m still real.”
Stiles glances at him, then back to his pack he’s currently reorganizing for the third time. “Yeah, I know.”
The air is so still, it’s what Derek imagines being deaf is like, just sheer, absolute blankness.
There was a kiss, but that was days ago and so Derek doesn’t try again.
The tunnels are long and curved and lit enough that Stiles grabs Derek by the arm and says, “Mine.”
“I thought we discussed this: I’m not your slave.”
Stiles’s expression is withering. “Landmine.”
On the walk along the tracks, a mine light blinks orange.
“Ah.” Derek shrugs out of the pack, handing it to Stiles, says, “Don’t shift your weight, don’t move.”
Taking it to heart, Stiles doesn’t even reply.
It’s not much different from sneaking up on prey, Derek decides, it’s all about quiet and ease of movement, keeping your center of gravity level to propel you forward without tripping anything in the air or on the ground.
He deactivates it and the light stops blinking.
“Oh my God, never fucking do that again,” Stiles over-enunciates, “I can’t believe you just—“
Then Derek points and Stiles’s mouth snaps shut.
Eight feet away, another tiny light blinks.
“Of course. Oh my God. Wasteland, 2837. Us, 0.”
After three mines, Derek starts to think it’s fun. Stiles hisses at him that he’s crazier than Stiles and that’s fucking saying something.
They’re arguing about whether to sell the mines or use them strategically for hunting or protection, “you can’t fucking hunt with those, Stiles, you’ll blow up whatever you wanted to catch, picking up pieces of mole rat is not easier than cutting it up yourself with the machete, what the fuck,” “no, you asshole, I meant ‘hunting’ in the headhunting sense of ‘kill all those fuckers who try to kill us,’ it goes along with the protection part of protection.”
Then a screech comes out of a maintenance doorway ahead of them on the left and Stiles scrunches up his face.
“You take me to all the best places,” he says and Derek scowls.
“Ghouls are not my fault!”
“Whatever, whatever,” Stiles says and the ghoul appears and Stiles shoots it in the leg, then the chest, and it topples over, moan dying out with its breath. “Y’know, once we clean this place out, it’d make a nice summer home.”
Derek laughs and there’s sunlight ahead beyond the chainlink fence smothering the tunnel exit out.
The sky is yellow and somehow that metro didn’t lead to hell (probably because it didn’t lead to central D.C.). There’s water and radroaches and half-cracked buildings everywhere, but not hell. Stiles leans against Derek and Derek lets him and they take a breath, then go.
It’s daylight and there’s no gunfire, which is good, but being here at the outskirts of all the hellish ratnests of the city makes everything feel open and exposed. Life ain’t all it’s cracked up to be in the Capital Wasteland and you’d think being out in the open country, the suburbs sort of what they used to be, that’d be more exposure for the violence left behind after the bombs. But it’s in between the buildings, walking from broken structure to broken structure like they’re creeping to safety, that’s what makes it feel exposed, with a target on their backs. Movement out in the hills is just dust devils maybe; movement in the rubble is a sure sign of something to shoot at.
Stiles doesn’t talk, still walking with a little hitch in his step since he isn’t fully healed, Derek wanted to club him over the head for refusing stimpaks, but they’re both grown, somewhat, Stiles sometimes occasionally looks like he’s twelve, especially when he’s sleeping or when he’s pouting, then he looks like he’s five and Derek’s some sort of deranged babysitter escorting him across the desolation.
The crack of rocks that used to be walls, the sliding trip over rusted metal, and the sounds of their shoes on what was once upon a time a road, all those flattened boats of steel that used to be cars.
They walked miles, past abandoned shacks with radio music tinkling inside, past city maintenance buildings that only take you deeper into the bowels of the city to where the real monsters congregate, past Grayditch which Three Dog told them was overrun by fire ants and neither of them wanted to tangle with fire ants, though Stiles swayed in place, he desperately wanted to do something because there are people there (were people there), but it’s just the two of them and they need the ammo and the energy to get around to where they’re going.
The water of the river sounds soothing, lapping as it does, but Stiles coughs and Derek’s nose burns from the radiation coming off the water when the wind blows towards them. If they could stand it, they could swim to Rivet City, and Stiles would do it too, Derek realizes he knows Stiles would do it, but that ain’t gonna happen, no sir. Derek can heal, even from continued radiation, his body healing and rehealing and rehealing at an out-of-mind pace, but he might be overcome if he got too tired. Stiles on the other hand would just soak it up until his eyes glowed and his body decayed right in front of Derek.
They walk. Gunfire to the north of them and a loud roaring sound and they duck-and-cover behind a halted bus still sitting on the road in its lane. The fight isn’t headed their way and Derek sighs and Stiles’s hands shake a little, his face flushed.
“Have you been in the cemetery,” Stiles asks in a loud whisper.
“Don’t you want to.”
“Why,” Derek replies and Stiles says, “Those walls, man, don’t they make you wanna climb it and see what’s in there. A man passing through Megaton a few years back said it’s empty. Not of the dead, of course, just empty. Like a no-man’s land, untouched and peaceful in the middle of all this,” he waves a hand at the city, “mess.”
“You wanna go to the cemetery,” Derek says.
“Don’t use your eyebrows at me.”
“Just a question.”
“Maybe I do. Maybe I’d rather go to Hubris Comics. They’re around here somewhere.”
Of course, Stiles wants to roam the streets with a gun in his arms and a machete in his hand so they can go to a comic book publishing house. Derek growls.
“What,” Stiles says, mystified. “What.”
They make it to Hubris Comics. Just by the skin of their teeth because two centaurs find them and chase them, spitting that poisonous radioactive shit from their mouths before Stiles gets a proper shot off and almost buries the creepy-ass fuckers in rubble.
“Never again,” Derek says, leaning against the doors to the publisher and Stiles puts a finger to his lips, shhhhh.
He has to creep to the reception area and hack the computer there, the green screen flickering because the security drones are about to laser their nuts off.
“Never again,” Derek says as a robot stops short of the desk and this time, Stiles laughs.
“Wanna know a secret.”
“In the metro station. I wasn’t—I didn’t get hurt that bad from the fight. You pretty much took care of anything that wasn’t already attacking—that was such a clusterfuck. Anyway. What happened was I tried to pulled you away. And.”
The kid pauses, embarrassed and laughing at himself, and Derek feels hot in his skin.
“I fell down the escalator,” Stiles confesses as a Protectron ambles around the corner, welcome to Hubris Comics, security protocol not found, please enjoy your stay, zone one empty, welcome to—.
“You fell down the escalator.”
“Trying to drag your heavy-as-shit werewolf ass! You’re heavy, man, did you know that? Seriously, like pure muscle on muscle on muscle. Heavy. And the stairs were right there ‘cause you can’t heroically collapse anywhere safe, you just—”
Derek laughs high and surprised, and Stiles rubs at his eyes, muttering under his breath, “Fuck you.”
“Next time, I’ll plan our exit strategy better.”
The publishing house is pretty disappointing. Infuriated, Stiles kicks out at the printing presses, the assembly line with a few unfinished comic books, he kicks out at empty bottles scattered around the broken floor.
When they leave, Stiles kicks out at the building and Derek picks up a rock, not really thinking about it until Stiles takes it from him and hurls it. The rock smashes a window, the sound of glass tinkling far away, like strange carousel music. Derek picks up another rock and throws it, catching a higher window, up where the windows aren’t as shattered.
Stiles’s expression is flat, so are his eyes, but he takes the rock Derek offers him and breaks another window. Derek understands, life in the Wasteland ain’t all it’s cracked up to be and sometimes the only thing you can do is break something.
He’s thinking about the kiss again, he’s thinking about it, watching Stiles get out of breath with frustration as he throws rock after rock and when Stiles starts hitting wall instead of glass, Derek grabs his arm, takes the rock from him.
He breaks a window for Stiles, then puts his hand on Stiles’s neck, pulse tight against his skin and he kisses him.
Stiles kisses back, much like he’s smashing a window.
They kiss for long minutes, then there’s gunfire down the road and they drag each other around the side of the building to hunker in dust and rubble.
“Later,” Derek says and Stiles nods, that look on his face is his stubborn and determined one, Derek knows it, fuck, he knows this kid now, and Stiles nods again, agrees, “Later.”
He squeezes Derek’s shoulder and Derek nuzzles his temple, then they’re off, sneak-skittering around and away from the gunfire.
They have to take the metro again, descend into the depths of dusty hell, and this time it’s more FUBAR than clusterfuck and they don’t get to kill everything in sight, they merely make it far enough down a side tunnel to find a room and close the door and hope they don’t make too much noise or stink so badly anything can find them for a while.
Derek feels stuck in wolf form, unable to change back because of the pain and Stiles is flat on his back, staring at the ceiling, singing softly to himself, more like thick breathing with word sounds, it might be a lullaby.
It sounds slow and sad and Derek presses against his side and Stiles slurs, “You’re hot. And heavy. Think we’ve been over this.” But he gets his arm under Derek’s neck, almost in a chokehold and Derek doesn’t care.
They bleed at each other for a while until Stiles says, “Oh, hey, you’re back.”
One long push of pain and Derek’s human somehow, he’s not sure, his animal brain tells him Stiles drags him back, sometimes literally, and he whispers, “Why’s Scott in Rivet City.”
Stiles groans (but not too loudly). “Oh, shit, that damn bathtub, don’t remind me. We’re almost there, right?”
A ragged breath and Stiles whispers, “His mom’s a nurse. Decided living there was better than Megaton. Went out to Rivet City to help the doctors. Most of ‘em are scientists, but there’re doctors, like medicine doctors, too. And she didn’t like the doc in Megaton. Cranky sonuvabitch. They didn’t really get along. So I haven’t seen Scott in. A while.”
“Wanna know something,” Derek asks.
“Goody, confession time,” Stiles says, sounding interested even with the exhaustion in his voice. “It is your turn. You’re overdue.”
Derek chokes a little as Stiles laughs (but not too loudly), then he’s about to talk when something slip-slides past their door, an odd scraping noise, and they have to shut up and concentrate on not dying.
It’s been two days and they need food. Back topside, back in the sunlight, Stiles tips his head back and closes his eyes and spreads his arms wide, careful of the bandages on his shoulders.
“Fresh air. Sunlight. A nice breeze of radiation. Ain’t life grand,” he says and Derek takes the packs from him, carries them both because Stiles has been hurt too much in too short a time and Derek is punishing himself for it all. Besides, he can carry the packs, no problem.
They discover an abandoned camp (“shit, I hope this is abandoned,” Stiles wheezes), dark and gone cold, shoved into a small alley and the dog at the entrance whines, wags its tail, and Stiles’s heart breaks, Derek can see it on him.
“Hey, boy, where’s your master. Huh. Did he walk off and leave you.”
The alternative is the dog’s master is lying on the concrete somewhere full of bullets, decaying in the fresh air and sunlight and the nice breeze of radiation, ain’t life grand. Kneeling, Stiles gathers the dog close, hands in the ruff of its neck and Derek isn’t jealous, he grunts, moving to check out the camp and Stiles says, “Don’t be jealous, grumpycakes, you’re my wolf, this is just a passing fling.”
“Uh-huh. Now you’re gonna smell like dog.”
“You can give me a tongue bath once we find a lovely abandoned building, okay.”
Derek shivers a little because they haven’t done much except kiss and bleed all over each other and he likes to pull Stiles against his body at night because it’s cold. Stiles likes to shove his hands under Derek’s shirts at night because it’s cold.
He’s carefully looking over a collection of crooked office shelves with boxes and tins stacked haphazardly when Stiles says, “So what was your confession. You didn’t get to confess your confession. Confess it to me. What a weird word, ‘confess.’ I wanna hear it.”
Sighing, Derek turns over a can of pork’n’beans. “The word or the confession.”
“Yeah, really.” That insistent snarky tone, it gets right into the crevices of Derek’s brain.
A yell breaks the air, I’M GONNA FIND YOU, HAR HAR HAR, and they all hunker down. A super mutant prowling a couple of streets over and there’s a whirrrrrrr, then bullets start flying, they can hear the scattershot pinging hitting metal and glass.
“Holy fucking shit, what the fuck, seriously,” Stiles whispers and the dog whimpers, then jerks from Stiles’s hold, “hey, wait, no no no nononono!” but it’s gone, running, skipping over upheaved asphalt.
Stiles puts his head in his hands and Derek reaches out to touch him, but Stiles sits up, steady, that determined look on his face as if he’s decided he will be okay, then he smiles tightly at Derek, makes a hand-wave motion, go on.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Derek says, crouched, reading the labels on the boxes before shoving stuff into a pack.
“What, avoiding the mutated hulk over there with rail gun?”
“No, well, yeah, but I mean the mail thing.”
Night’s gathering and he can only see Stiles’s eyes in the gloom where the shadow of his body is. “Mail thing.”
“You’re a man of so many words, Derek Hale.”
They’re whispering fiercely, so Stiles scuttles further into the camp, fuck it, even if it’s not abandoned, it’s theirs for right now.
“Your Wasteland mail delivery idea. Delivering stuff for people,” Derek clarifies as Stiles shakes a box of Sugar Bombs. He mouths no and Stiles rolls his eyes, but his face brightens as he gets what Derek’s said, then they both duck as the gun whirs to life again, not far enough away to feel safe.
“Should we be discussing this now?”
Derek shrugs. “You asked.”
HAR HAR HAR, A-HAR HAR HAR! the super mutant laughs and an explosion makes dust fall on their heads.
Stiles shrugs too. “You wanna be my sidekick.”
“Bodyguard,” he replies before he thinks about it.
“Bodyguard,” Stiles says, gaze gone as he stares somewhere at Derek. “Guard of my body. Guarding my body all up close and personal. Mmmmmm.”
“Oh, I am, I really, really am.”
“On grabbing this food and some ammo and avoiding the mutated hulk with the rail gun,” Derek presses and Stiles leans in, kisses him fast and dirty, and Derek holds him there for a good second.
They load up and Stiles glances around for the dog, but it’s a lost cause. They listen for the earthquake footsteps of the super mutant and circle around it as it finds something else to kill.
It’s dawn and they haven’t slept when the bulk of the aircraft carrier rises out of the city ruins. They’ve been dodging all kinds of monsters, human or otherwise, and they haven’t slept, so when the sky goes yellow and the broken aircraft carrier appears in sharp geometric relief, Stiles says, “Oh my God, is that what I think it is.”
They still have to cross from minefield of the buildings to the gangplank of the carrier and there’s a lot of dangers in the space in between, but Derek can hear a clanking noise, “a bell, it’s a brahmin,” and Stiles grips his arm, “It’s a caravan,” and that somewhat signals safety, somewhat.
If they go now while everything’s still caught between that drugged state of night and day, they’ll make it easy and Derek whispers, “Go, go.” He’s got a rifle (he shot cans for Stiles the other day in a quick-caught moment of safety, “you’re a werewolf who can shoot, that’s a Western I’d pay to see, oh wait, you’re right here” and that devolved into not-shooting and lots of sticky kisses and hands all over each other), so he pushes Stiles out into the road. He watches as Stiles runs, all lanky lines moving by instinctual grace instead of practiced athleticism and he thinks, How did I get him to like me.
Then he has to shoot a centaur, hoping to fuck that its super mutant master isn’t anywhere close, maybe it’s a lost pet, please oh please, he can still see Stiles dodging a burnt-out car, Stiles burning so bright as the yellow light breaks across the sky, and there’s a whistle.
He stalks out, gun at his shoulder, the packs are a little in the way, but he doesn’t mind, he can take it, and it feels like miles before he’s at the stairs leading up to the gangplank and a brahmin is snorting at him when he appears.
“That was a stupid fuckin’ thing to do,” the traveling salesman says, hat high on his head. “Both of ya, coulda been killed dead.”
“Well, we ain’t, mister,” Stiles says and he laughs, one of those full-body laughs Derek likes to see, then they’re stomping their harmonious way up the metal stairs and Stiles pushes the button to call for the gangplank out to Rivet City.
The aircraft carrier is huge up close, taking up the rest of the horizon and Stiles grabs Derek’s hand, and he looks so young and so old.
The gangplank screeches as it swings towards them and at the end of it, a guard waves them across.
Derek is going to get lost. There are so many holes in the ship, doorways everywhere, and so many levels and Stiles just drags him along, chattering about being friends with Scott, how they grew up together until Scott and Mrs. McCall left when he and Stiles were fourteen. He talks about stupid shit they did in Megaton, how Mrs. McCall let the Sheriff lock them up one time overnight because they’d done something really hair-raising, though Stiles doesn’t remember exactly what and Derek despairs because a) that’d be a really good story and b) it means there were so many stories like that that he gets them confused and c) it also means Stiles pulls that hair-raising shit all the damn time and not just with Derek.
They’re on one of the levels and there’s a shout, “STILINSKI!” and a kid hurries towards them, as fast as the narrow hallways will let him. There’s lots of hugging and shoulder-slapping until Stiles winces because he still has new-old bandages and Derek hears himself growl before he knows it and Stiles laughs, says, “Scott, Scott, Scott, hey, listen, this is Derek.”
Scott looks like a puppy, he does, messy brown hair and eyes and his face scrunches as Stiles says, “Derek Hale. You remember? They lived up on the overpass. He came along. Dude, he saved my life. So many fucking times! Dude, you have no idea. There was this one time, in the metro, we were surrounded by—“
“Derek,” Scott interrupts with a hard nod, and Derek understands: Scott was Stiles’s protector before Derek was, a long time before Derek was, for a long time, and now Derek’s trespassing.
“Scott,” he replies and he says, “Uh, you said something about a hotel.”
Stiles’s eyes widen, then narrow, mouth opening to say something, but Scott says, “Yeah, upper deck. Weatherly.” So Derek shifts the packs and heads the direction Scott pointed. He doesn’t have to be around for the reunion and he doesn’t have any place in it.
He finds the door and climbs and Stiles doesn’t say anything.
The room is a room, but it feels infinitely safe because of the thick metal walls and the thick metal door with the ridiculous wheel on it. No wonder people came to Rivet City and never want to leave: they’re living on a floating fortress.
Derek thinks he feels the sway, but the carrier is beached, there shouldn’t be any real rocking.
He sets everything down and starts to settle a little before he remembers the packs are carrying his stuff and Stiles’s. He takes out his and takes out Stiles’s and divides them between the packs, then he kicks back on the bed and closes his eyes.
A banging on the door wakes him and he doesn’t remember where he is, the knocking sounds like he’s in a tin can or a metal tomb, it echoes dully. Then he remembers.
“What,” he says as he opens the door a crack, then Stiles is shoving it open, shoving him back.
“So this is our room,” Stiles says in lieu of a proper reply and Derek glares. “What, I’m staying with you.”
“Aren’t you staying with Scott. He said something about an extra cot.”
“Yeah, yeah, Mrs. McCall is the queen of hospitality, but a few hours in a small space with me and she ‘remembered’ why she used to kick us out of the house all the time in Megaton.” Hands on his hips, Stiles surveys the room. “I’m not a bad influence on Scott, per se, no matter what she ‘claims,’ but I am—“
“Psychotically energetic? Noisy? Ready to damage something?”
“Hey! But for the record, she didn’t kick me out, so much as I said I was staying with you, it’d be weird sleeping without you, I’d probably wake up thinking ghouls were about to eat me and no wolf around to save me, oh no—”
Ignoring Stiles’s damsel-in-distress tone of sarcasm, Derek runs a hand through his hair. “You’re staying with me?”
Stiles looks at him as if Derek’s cracked his head open like an egg for a party trick. “Uh, yeah, that is the plan. The master plan. We’ve got four walls. A door that locks. The walls should be somewhat soundproof. We can get naked without fear of death or dismemberment. How could this go wrong?” He smirks and Derek rolls his eyes, smiling despite himself.
“Famous last words.”
“I like to think so.”
They actually sleep, though Stiles mumbles, “Do you know the plans I have for you, do you, they’re very dirty, filthy even, just absolutely filthy,” then he’s asleep and Derek falls asleep listening to him breathe.
They’re having a fight, Derek cannot believe it, they always fight, but this is a fight, because it’s safer for Stiles to stay in Rivet City, no matter how much he likes the mail delivery idea; Scott is waiting to give Stiles a tour of the marketplace and they’re fighting because maybe Stiles belongs here.
“Fuck no, fuck this, and fuck you,” Stiles spits, pushing at Derek with each hard syllable. “You have no fucking idea—“
“Oh, I don’t? Please, tell me, Stiles, what don’t I know. I know that this is a military-built homebase, you can’t tell me this isn’t safe and you won’t be getting fucking shot at here, you moron—“
“I wouldn’t have come here if you didn’t come with me!” Stiles shouts. “Did you know that?” Derek blinks and Stiles keeps going, “I was gonna hafta hire someone to hike out here because yeah, I was fucking going to Rivet City, come hell or shitty radiated highwater, but I can’t afford to hire anyone! It was that or sneak my scrawny ass in alone and that would’ve only gotten me so far and then I’d be a ghoul breakfast!”
“Bodyguard,” Derek mutters and Stiles glares at him, he’s learned that expression from somewhere, Derek almost recognizes it, “You listen here, asshole, I wanted to have this with you. This isn’t just an adventure, some madcap, wild road trip across the Wasteland. I wanted to prove I could make it to Rivet City, I wanted to show you—“
“Me? What in any hell does this hafta do with me.”
“Look at you! A gorgeous, stupidly muscled-bound werewolf who travels the Wasteland alone? You’re like the ridiculous hot loner who survives everything! I’m a pasty, skinny kid with sarcasm and a gun and I remember you, I remember when we were kids, I remember you, I even remember you as a little wolf fighting a mole rat until your sister came to get you, I know you, if you hadn’t’ve left and Lydia Martin hadn’t appeared in Megaton for those exceedingly pubescent years, I woulda been jumping off of buildings for you, so you woulda thought it was a good idea and you’d’ve jumped with me. And the mail delivery thing? We would be amazing, oh my God, if we shoot enough stuff, we’ll clear a path and you can deliver the bad news with your growly voice and I’ll deliver the good news ‘cause I’m so fucking charming. We’d survive, we can both shoot worth a damn and you’re a werewolf—
Suddenly self-conscious, Derek glares, “So this has to do with me being a werewolf. That’s it, that’s all it is.”
Stiles throws out his hands, huffing in exasperation. “No, you’re such a giant, moronic dumbass! It’s you. I wanted to do this with you, all of it, ever since I saw you ready to massacre those yao guai. I thought I was hallucinating, you had to be a hallucination, it was so fucking fantastic. Shit, you’re a walking miracle, didn’t you know that?”
Derek shakes his shoulders out and stares at the floor. He had no idea, Stiles is right, he has no idea and shit, wow, it’s possible he has no right because Stiles is Stiles and probably needs someone better, but fuck it, if he has no right, he’ll leave and be gone, however, he has right now, so he gets his hands on Stiles and kisses him.
Stiles kisses back and drags him to the bed and Derek goes because he’s underestimated Stiles, the kid’s so strong and he wants it as much as Derek.
“No fucking hero worship,” Derek says and Stiles laughs into his mouth, “It’s not hero worship, you egomaniac,” and Derek retorts, “Maybe I meant me with you, prima donna,” and Stiles scoffs, “Sometimes I really just wanna punch you in the head—“
And he does, accidentally, trying to get out of his shirt, Derek takes a right cross to the mouth and Stiles freezes in place, then gives him a little apologetic punch in the belly and Derek growls, pounces onto a full-body laugh from the boy underneath him.
They fuck on the bed they’re sharing, in their room, at Rivet City, the walls are only somewhat soundproof when Derek says with teeth, “Could be you’re the miracle,” and Stiles hits the wall with his fists, sound echoing like a moan, and it’s so good, it’s so fucking good. An hour and a half later, Stiles shrugs, the movement showing a big bruise on his neck in the shape of sharp teeth, as he says, “Sorry, Scott, we had some positions – I mean, propositions, business to discuss and then I was hungry, so I tried to find you, so we could eat, but wow, man, this is a big ship, seriously, how do you—“
Scott waves his hand, “Whatever, man,” and takes them to the marketplace.
They sell Stiles’s “superior stolen and scavenged shit” (it’s his technical term) for damn good prices and he doesn’t wait before he jingles the bag of bottle caps at Scott and Derek. He says, “I am so rich, we, we are so damn rich!”
They load up on ammo and a couple of weapon overhauls, get a few medical supplies, and Stiles buys Derek a hat, “you need a hat ‘cause you look ridiculous.”
Scott rolls his eyes and says that Stiles should treat them to lunch and the way he says “us,” it includes Derek but grudgingly. Derek just nods and lets the two of them talk and he isn’t smug when Stiles sit next to him, so close they’re sharing body heat.
Over food, Scott mentions the mysterious Lydia Martin with a quizzical sideways glance at Derek and Stiles ducks his head, shy like Derek’s only seen him once or twice, and Stiles shrugs one shoulder, then the other, replies, “Oh, yeah, well, she went to Tenpenny Towers, I think, and that was the end of that.”
Scott tells Derek, “Pfft, he was in looooove with her for years, followed her around like a lost puppy—“
Stiles bites into his food and mutters something dark and Derek says, “Pretty, redhead, kinda bossy?”
“Yeah,” Scott says with a small smile, “smarter’n the rest of us and very vocal.”
“Yeah,” Derek says, there was a girl like that in Megaton with her family, her boyfriend, and their Pre-War high society ways, he can see why Stiles liked her for so long, that unattainable star, like the lights of his house on the overpass.
In the dark of their room, Stiles rolls over in bed and says, “Sorry ‘bout that. It’s just—“
“I get it,” Derek says, fingers finding Stiles’s ribs, “I had one too, blonde, sorta on the wild side, homicidal actually—“
“Yeah, okay,” Stiles cuts him off, that earnestness with urgency, and he finds Derek’s lips with his hand, then his mouth.
They stay long enough in Rivet City that Mrs. McCall pulls some strings and gets them set up in a room of their own, “temporarily,” City Security calls it, or “squatting handsomely,” Stiles calls it. Stiles and Scott talk over each other, shooting the shit and telling tales and Derek usually sits back and listens and Stiles kicks his feet up into Derek’s lap, lets Derek massage his ankles with his thumb.
Nothing big, nothing like a daydream, just them and Scott, and Scott still allows Derek along, though he gets the message, sometimes Derek hangs back and reads, lets them stomp up stairs and through corridors, whatever the hell it is they’re doing, and by the end of the afternoon, Stiles is searching for him, his eyes so wide and burning amber, he says, “Derek, c’mon, c’mon,” and they’re either going to eat or Stiles is stealing his book to see what page he’s on or they’re shimmying out of their clothes as fast as they can, needing skin on skin.
Some days, the three of them go out onto the carrier deck, open to the air and sky. Derek likes investigating the ruin of the ship, the broken edges and how the flattop tilts. He watches Stiles lean against a rusted railing, Scott at his side, and they throw debris into the murky water, listening for the splash. They scuff boots against the deck and Stiles makes hand motions, whooooosh, imagining jets taking off from the carrier in the Pre-War times, maybe during the War. His hand skips off his palm and shoots into the air and Derek watches him, thinks of the little kid who wanted to play cards, those hands cupping his mouth to say, I got a Nuka-Cola truck, wanna see it. Stiles stands on the deck of the carrier, tall and lean against the geometry of the water and sky, tall and surviving, and Derek wants to put hands on him.
He walks over to where Scott and Stiles are talking (he remembers Scott too, briefly, smaller, with the brown fluff of hair, usually running with Stiles in circles around the Megaton rocks) and Scott says, “Hey, man, Mom’s cooking tonight, so don’t be late, she might skin you alive.”
And that’s that. Mrs. McCall talks to Derek over supper about his family and life in Megaton and they swap stories because she was a friend of Derek’s mom. She points at Stiles (shoveling food into his mouth) and says, “You keep an eye on this one. He was born during a dust storm. Most folks think he was born, then there was a dust storm and it never went away, all the trouble he causes. I remember when he and Scott decided to try to tame a radroach and all they had to feed it was those Fancy Lad snack cakes, damn sugary abominations. The two of them were so hyper and hyped up, I don’t think they slept for two days and me and Stiles’s mom had to run ‘em around town to tire ‘em out.” She narrows her eyes at Stiles and he looks who, me innocent and Derek smirks. “Then we grounded ‘em. All I could take away was access to Stiles.” She winks and Derek’s smirk grows. With a handful of words and a bottle of wine, he gets more embarrassing stories out of Mrs. McCall as Stiles and Scott start glowering and Stiles slips further and further down in his chair until he’s almost under the table.
All in all, Derek likes Mrs. McCall. She gives him a kiss on the cheek, whispers, “He’s a good kid. Stubborn as all hell and too smart for his own good. You keep him safe.”
He says, “I will,” and he means to. Back in their room, Stiles kisses him, heavy and open-mouthed and Derek kisses back with all he has. He knows he might not be the best for Stiles, but he will never let him be beaten down and broken.
One night, Stiles is awake and Derek can’t sleep because Stiles keeps moving. He lies there and gets toes pressed against his calf, then Stiles says, “Derek.”
“If we don’t get outta here soon, I’m gonna start stealing stuff and selling it back to them in the marketplace.”
Derek laughs, hands covering his face, and when there’s a burst of light, he looks up to see Stiles with his Pip-Boy light, scowling at him, cranky and annoyed.
“I mean it. I’m going stir crazy,” Stiles insists, that way he has of being completely earnest without even trying, he just is, it’s in his makeup and that’s how Derek likes him because he gets an arm around the kid and pulls him close and Stiles falls into the movement, earnest and true even though he’s irritated.
“Alright, okay, but I thought you wanted to hang out with Scott…”
“I did and I have and I’m glad and now it’s time to go.”
Stiles licks his lips, leaves his teeth in the bottom one, thinking. “Wherever. Back to the overpass. I dunno. Somewhere.”
Nodding, Derek hauls Stiles over his chest so he can put his nose there on Stiles’s pulse where he can smell Stiles and his blood, so young and so old. “Okay.”
It’s early morning when they leave. The carrier is dark in the yellow of the morning and if they go now, they might beat any of the dangerous before it starts for the day.
Scott hugs Stiles until they fall over and they exchange corny jokes. Scott gives him something he found on the ship, a piece of twisted metal, bullet casings fused together from some time before the bombs fell and Stiles gives Scott a bottle of whiskey, “don’t open it ‘til we come back, then we’ll drink ‘til we’re dumb enough to do something utterly and mind-blowingly stupid.”
“You already do that, no alcohol required,” Derek points out and Stiles sticks out his tongue while Scott laughs, bottle tight in his hands.
“Dude, yes, absolutely.” Scott nods, hair flopping, then he shakes Derek’s hand. It’s not acceptance, but it’s something. “Don’t get shot or maimed.”
“That is the plan, mon capitan.” Stiles salutes, ready to head down the gangplank, he grabs Derek’s wrist, long fingers curling around Derek’s pulse, then a guard comes up to them, says, “You guys headed up towards Canterbury Commons by any chance?”
Derek waits for Stiles to reply, it’s his question to answer, and Stiles purses his lips. “We can be,” he says.
The guard looks relieved. “Great! Fantastic, I’d ask the caravan, but they already left, headed to Megaton. Think you could take this package up there? Payment on delivery, I swear.”
Easy as breathing, Stiles grins. “Of course, good sir, of course. Just gimme the details and we’ll get it there safe and sound.” He glances at Derek and Derek raises an eyebrow, mouths, Canterbury Commons? and Stiles shrugs back, why not. Derek rolls his eyes, smirking, and the kid’s grin grows until he’s almost laughing.
“Why not,” Derek says under his breath.
They detour to Arlington Cemetery and get inside and it’s a hard piece of work, but they get in and stand there looking at the blasted graveyard.
It’s skinny trees and gone-grass and stone monuments.
The package is burning a hole in Stiles’s mind and his backpack, so they don’t stay long, but they do take a while to sit in one of the pavilions in the quiet of the dead. The stones are cold against their legs. The walls are high and it’s as if they’re cut off from the rest of the Wasteland.
Stiles leans over and says, “Wanna know what I wished for before I stole your house.”
Derek leans into him, feeling Stiles’s hand on his thigh. “Sure.”
So Stiles whispers in his ear and Derek listens as Stiles makes a complicated gesture (the kid is always moving).
Then he nods, says, “Well, it came true,” and Stiles grins.