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To Fall As Bodies Fall, For Dead

Chapter Text

 


 

 "Anyway, maybe there weren't any solutions. Human society, corpses and rubble. It never learned, it made the same cretinous mistakes over and over, trading short-term gain for long-term pain." Margaret Atwood- Oryx and Crake

 



Seconds ticked by in Stiles' last class of the day. In hindsight, he probably shouldn't have left this class for his last semester of undergrad, but there was no way he was missing out on "The Dystopia and Post-Apocalypse in Modern Fiction" if he could help it in any way.

Due to scheduling conflicts with several requirements for his Comparative Literature major, he'd put off a few random classes that piqued his interest, and this was the one class he was looking forward to most. However, today? Today had dragged on in the worst way. His homework the night before for his Eastern European Film class took a lot longer than he expected, and now he found himself barely able to keep his eyes open, even after four stops for coffee.

It was too bad really, because the professor taught the material in a relatable and creative way, well for the one book they've read so far. As bleak as he found The Road, he still enjoyed it. He just wished he wasn't running on three hours of sleep, well three and a half if his little nap on one of the couches in the HUB counted (it totally did). Today just wasn't going to happen.

"Once the restriction and constraints of civilization are stripped away, we see many characters in the novel resort to violence and cannibalism. Yet we see the boy and man preserve a grasp on their humanity. What do you believe the author is saying about the essential nature of mankind, and if put in a similar situation, how do you think you'd fare?"

Stiles took off his beanie and ran his hands through his hair while a couple students bantered about their decisions back and forth. Before he could stop himself, he yawned, and loudly at that.

"Are we boring you Mr. Stilinski?" The professor put a hand on her hip.

"Not at all. Long night."

"Drinking on a Tuesday? Dude, save that for Thursday." The guy behind him laughed.

"Ha! I wish. I had a critical write up of Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei. Nothing like having to read subtitles at two in the morning because your brain is too tired to translate. Sorry Professor, please continue."

"Perhaps you have some input. So far your peers would follow the path of the boy and man. Though," she gave the class a wary expression, "I suspect some of them are worried about being the first person to say the contrary."

He groaned inwardly. His punishment for being vocal in class was that the professor always expected him to have a response. "Actually, I am pretty sure, were I in that situation, I would do whatever it took to keep me and mine safe. If that means I have to resort to violence or...well cannibalism that might be a bit much, but I suppose if I was hungry enough or my loved ones were starving, yeah. In a world like the one in the book, it's about survival. Now I don't mean purposefully going after innocent people, but if you threaten my family, all bets are off.
"I understand that the man wanted he and his son to maintain as much of their humanity as possible. That's a great ideal to aspire to. It doesn't seem realistic given the circumstances. It's just a little didactic that's all."

"That's admirable." She said.

"I think it's pessimistic." Another student spoke up.

"Well, I think it's realistic. Look, the truth is, I don't think any of can definitively say what we would do were we thrust into a post-apocalyptic world, what kind of people we would become. I mean for all my talk about protecting my family, I may turn out to be a complete coward. In my case, it probably wouldn't be that bad for me as both my dad and boyfriend are cops whom I am fairly certain would not turn into basket cases in a disaster seeing as they are trained to deal with that kind of stuff. But me? I hope I never find out."

The guy behind him chuckled. "Really? A gay cop, and how has that worked out for him?"

Stiles turned around and smirked. "It's a small town; there are only nine cops on the whole force. Dude, everybody knows, and nobody cares. Anyway, my point is, speculation means nothing until you come face to face with it. Killing, cannibalism, violence or abstaining and clinging to your humanity? It's a moral dilemma. In impossible situations there are no right choices only less wrong ones."

The professor nodded. "That is probably a very accurate assessment, Mr. Stilinski. Anyway, that's all the time we have today. For Thursday, please read the first five chapters of the next book, be prepared to discuss in small groups."

When she dismissed the class, Stiles chuckled to himself. He'd read Never Let Me Go over the winter break. It looks like tonight is going to be a much earlier night. He hurried back to his apartment, offered a quick 'hello, good-night' to his roommate, Brandon, and fell face first into his mattress.

Chapter Text


Stiles looked out his bedroom window at the oppressive snowstorm bearing down on Seattle and sighed. Outside, the wind howled, shaking the panes of his windows as it whipped the falling snow into a frenzy. "That is so depressing. My first major snowfall, and it's a freaking blizzard." He stared up at the ceiling and presumably the heavens. "Why must you torture me? I just want to go outside with my shovel and build a snow fort like I've always wanted. Why is that so wrong?"

Shuffling into the kitchen, still clad in his pajamas, bathrobe, and the Batman slippers he'd been wearing all day, he sought out lunch. Yeah he wore Batman slippers. So what? Just because he was twenty-one years old, hell almost twenty-two, it did not mean in any way, shape, or form that he was prepared to give up his superhero slippers, or for that matter, to call himself an adult. Especially not the second part of that statement. Yeah that wouldn't happen for at least five years... probably.

Why in the hell did they have an electric can opener? Come to think of it, why would anyone short of a commercial kitchen or mobility issues in their hands have an electric can opener? His condensed soup oozed out of the can, taking its sweet time before hitting the bowl with a less than appetizing plop. Ugh, lunch of champions. I wonder if Dominos will deliver today. Probably not. He sighed. "We can expect heavy snowfall upwards of ten to twelve inches. With the sustained winds of thirty miles an hour, blizzard-like conditions are highly probable. Residents are advised to stay home and not to make any unnecessary travel. Road conditions will be dangerous. For King5 news, this is Stormy Plains," he mocked in his best newscaster voice recalling the subsequent story about the long lines at the grocery store while panicked Seattleites overreacted and stocked up for the Snowpocalypse as if the Abominable Snowman himself was coming to terrorize the city. "Fucking amateurs." He allowed the image of a very gleeful Yeti prancing around town using the Space Needle like a toothpick to invade his mind. Giggles ensued. See? Totally not an adult yet.

He watched his bowl of clam chowder go round and round in the microwave, lamenting his lack of saltines. "Thanks a lot Brandon. Ever hear about drinking responsibly?" He called out, well aware that the guy was in Hawaii for a week with his girlfriend and her family, the lucky bastard.

Soup in hand, he settled down on the couch for a marathon of Futurama on Netflix. While the soup was not nearly as satisfying as he'd hoped ("Crackers Brandon! Why my soup crackers?"), his show was as funny as ever. The line "Negative bossy meat creature" still cracked him up every time he heard it. However, after three hours of it, he felt the need to move around.

God he was bored, and with the snow showing no signs of letting up, he resigned himself to the fact that he was obviously not going anywhere any time soon. Should he be proactive and head down to the gym in his building? Some time on the treadmill would do him good, but didn't even sound remotely appealing today. Then again, neither did getting lost down the rabbit hole that was the internet. Though a perfectly good way to waste several hours of his life, staring at countless pictures of animals in hats was just a little too much today.

Instead, he made himself look respectable, or as respectable as a lack of shower, three days stubble, and bad bed head could look on him, before pulling out his tablet and loading Skype. After a few beeps, his dad's face came into view at the station. "Hey Dad. How's it going?"

Sheriff John Stilinski smiled. "It's slow, very. To what do I owe the pleasure? Not that I don't enjoy talking to you, Son. We just usually Skype on Wednesdays."

He groaned, running a hand through his hair. "I'm bored." And okay, that came out a lot more whiny than he intended.

"And I'm guessing Scott is busy?" John asked in reference to his step-son and Stiles' best friend.

"Apparently he has a major exam or something. Whatever. It's the beginning of February; it can't be that major."

"I see, and your boredom wouldn't have anything to do with the snowstorm hitting Seattle would it?"

"Ding, ding, ding. Try blizzard." He walked over to the window, turning the tablet to the glass so his dad could see out. "That's not what I expected when I said, 'University of Washington, why yes I will commit to you.' Rain? Sure, I knew what I was getting into with that. Three and half years up here, and I think I've seen a foot and a half of snow total. Right now? Eh, I'd say there is eleven on the ground so far. It blows, because Brandon is in Hawaii, and classes have been cancelled for a couple of days. You should have seen the news. People were going crazy at the grocery store, like the end of days was coming."

"People like to prepare for the worst. What about you? You're not stuck with an empty fridge or anything are you?"

He cackled. "No. Went to Costco last week. We are fully stocked. And, Dad? Let me show you why I am absolutely in no danger of being unprepared." He smiled and moved into his bedroom. "This is my emergency kit."

 

 


John could see at least four cases of bottled water, a large box of powdered milk, what appeared to be a first responder's first aid kit, not one but two bulk boxes of hand and body warmers, batteries, and three five gallon buckets. "What's in the buckets?"

"Ah those? Two of them are MRE's and the other is empty. Waste bucket in the event of an emergency. The last thing I want in an earthquake is to sit in my own excrement."

John pinched the bridge of his nose. "You know that is well beyond the recommendation for an emergency kit."

"Well you know me. I like to be prepared...and if I happen to be as doomsday prepped as I can be without a hundred thousand dollars and my own bunker...well that's my problem. I also happen to have a short wave radio in there, a flare gun, and some tools. I hope I never have to use any of this shit."

John sighed. There was no arguing with his son on matters like this. Hell, he wouldn't be surprised if the kid also had an 'In the Event Supernatural Creatures Are Real' survival kit as well, one that included wooden stakes, silver bullets, and whatever the hell repelled witches.  

"Slow you said?"

Grateful for the change in subject, John sat back in his office chair. "Only a couple domestic disturbances and a drunken disorderly. It's been a boring week."

 

 



"How are you all keeping yourselves busy?" Stiles set his tablet on its stand on his bedside table before flopping onto his bed.

"Combing through old cases and reorganizing the evidence room."

As he listened to his dad go on explaining the mundane details of the slow week, he could hear someone singing in the station. He smiled. "And what do you have Derek doing?"

"How did you know he was- Oh, the singing."

"You know, in the years we've been dating, not once did he mention being a Journey fan."

"Well apparently my favorite deputy is in a good mood."

Stiles grinned. "Aww, Derek's your favorite. Dad, I'm touched."

John pointed at the screen. "It has nothing to do with the fact he's your boyfriend."

"Yeah I know. Still makes me happy to hear. What's he doing? Because I can't see catching up on paperwork putting him in a good enough mood to sing at the station. Not that I am not enjoying it."

"You kidding? He sings around here all the time. But no, he's cleaning all the guns in the cage."

He hums along. "I miss that."

John's brows furrowed in confusion. "What? Cleaning our gun supply?"

"No. Derek's singing."

"Would you like me to go get him? I'm sure he'd love a distraction if it comes in the form of a call with you."

Stiles smirked. "I bet he would."

He shut the door to his office. "First though, did you get the information I sent you? I hope you didn't delete it, because it took a lot of work to get without tipping him off."

Stiles' eyes brightened. "Oh yeah. It's done. How the hell did you get that?"

John cracked his knuckles. "Your request happened to coincide with the whole department being approved for new gear. We had someone come in to do measurements, which included ones for tactical gloves. I just convinced her to take finger circumference measurements for every one of us, even though they were completely unnecessary."

"And that, Dad, is why you make a great cop." He sat up. "Do you want to see? Be right back." Stiles walked over to dig a small box out of his sock drawer. He held up the ring to the screen. "See? It's nothing fancy; I couldn't afford that, but it's black so it will suit his style. It's engraved on the inside too."

John looked at the simple black band. "Is that Titanium?"

"Yeah. I'm still working on how to do it. I think I'm just going to hang on to it until graduation."

"I think he'll like it." John smiled, even though the look in his eyes was wistful. "I wish your mom could be there for that."

"Me too." Talk about a punch to the gut.

"I'll go get Loverboy. Put that away."

Stiles tried his best to get his hair looking better, probably to no avail as he waited for Derek's face to come across the screen.

"Hi, Babe."

He tried not to stare at the way the sleeves of Derek's uniform hugged his biceps. He failed. He failed miserably. "Hi, Sexy. You look...quit working out so much. You're gonna give me a heart attack. Those arms. Fuck."

Derek shook his head, though he still smiled at the compliment. "The shirt's too small. I forgot to do laundry last night, and this was the only one I had clean. It's a few years old."

"Even so. You look good." He nodded, and then sighed. "God I miss you."

"You've only been back in Seattle for a month. You still have four more until graduation."

His chest hurt. How could he explain how homesick he was? "I started missing you the moment I walked away from you at the airport."

Derek, bless his heart, clearly was trying. "We've been doing this for over three years. You have to be used to it by now."

"The problem this semester is I can see the light at the end of the tunnel known as undergrad. I can see it, but it never seems to get any closer." He ran both hands through his hair. "Just because we've been doing this long-distance thing for so long doesn't make it any easier being this far away. Every time I come back up here from time in Beacon Hills, it's just a cruel reminder I will be sleeping alone, which I hate. "

"Four months, Babe. We just need to make it four months. You still taking a year off before applying to grad schools?"

"Yeah. I don't know where I want to go, and I don't know. It seems like a decision we should make together right? Because I gotta be honest, I can't do another two years of this long-distance shit. It's killing me."

Derek looked like he was at a loss for words. "You cut your hair."

"What? Conversation getting too heavy for you?" He quirked an eyebrow at the screen. "Yeah I did. This is bed head. It's about as long as it was at the beginning of my junior year, but more stylish I guess."

"Looks nice." He looked away from the screen. "It's hard on me too, Babe. I wish I was there right now."

Stiles laughed. "No you don't. We're in a blizzard. It sucks balls. I am here by myself, and I can't leave. Though I must admit, if you were here, I would be so much more entertained. But yeah, I know. Four more months, right?" He watched Derek rub his eyes.

"I would love to stay and talk with you, really I would, but I probably should get back to work. I'm off in an hour, and I only have like five guns left to clean. I'll give you a call before I go to bed though, yeah?"

"Like I would ever say no to that. Especially when I'm going to have the have the image of your arms in that uniform in my head. Go on, finish your work."

"I love you."

"Love you too." He held his hand up to the screen, Derek did the same. It was in no way as comforting as actually holding hands, but hell, it was something. Stiles did not tear up a little when the screen cut out, he absolutely did not.

He took solace that evening in the form of an epic gaming session. What the hell else was there to do?

Chapter Text

Closing the door behind him, effectively shutting out the cold winter air, Derek walked in the station a few nights before Valentine's Day, bag of takeout in hand. He waved to Deputy Graeme at the front desk.

"Just can't stay away can you, Hale? They're called days off for a reason. Sucking up to the boss isn't going to get you the first shift," she laughed, crossing her arms over her chest

He feigned offense, "Hey now, don't be like that. I'm not sucking up; I'm staying on the Stiles' good side by making sure his dad eats well."

"By feeding him takeout? Stiles and Melissa will have your head.."

Derek rolled his eyes. "It's a salad, Tara."

She shook her head. "And I suppose you are going to eat your bacon double cheeseburger right in front of him."

"I am shocked! Shocked and appalled that you would suggest such a thing, Deputy Graeme! I'll have you know, I ordered a Tandoori chicken pita sandwich, thank you very much. One which I am going to go enjoy with my boyfriend's father while you sit and work."

"That boy is wearing off on you, Derek. His brand of sass is all over you like a second skin." She smiled. "You two are cute together. What's it now two years?"

"Almost four," he corrected her as he walked towards John's office. His knuckles rapped on the glass, and he waited outside until he heard the man call him in. "I come bearing bring dinner."

John glared at him. "And by dinner you mean rabbit food don't you? I'd be impressed if it weren't so annoying. How Stiles got you to monitor my eating habits from Seattle, I will never know. "

"Well..." Derek trailed off as he remembered the Earth shattering blow job Stiles gave him when he promised to make sure John ate well.

 

 



John waved him off, "Don't--don't say a word. Wait, I bet you and Mel are in cahoots with each other. The rabbit food probably has non-fat dressing and even less flavor," he accused his family of plotting against him. Stiles and his step-mother had been doing that for five years now. He couldn't remember the last time he had a burger without a side of judgment.

Derek sat down in the chair on the other side of John's desk. "To answer your question, yes it is a salad, but it's a taco salad so it's not as good for you as he would like, but he doesn't have to know specifics. Instead of dressing, there is a heap of salsa and some low-fat sour cream."

John pointed a fork in his direction. "See that is why I like you."

"You mean it's not because I make your son happy?"

"Of course there's that too," he said with a mouth full of lettuce and avocado. He grabbed a remote from his center desk drawer and switched on the small television across the room. If he had to work crazy hours, he insisted on staying up to date on current events and sports' scores. Derek cocked an eyebrow when the tail end of the local news started playing. "My office, my choice in programming, Son."

 

 


Lacking a rebuttal, he simply smiled at the sentiment and tore into his sandwich, listening to John tell him the story of the DUI stop he made the night before. "That sounds...um uncomfortable?" What the story really sounded like was one made up for his amusement, but he couldn't call the man out like that. He liked being on Stilinski Sr's good side; it came with perks, like dating his son for one.

"I'm not kidding, Derek, the guy was dressed like Cupid."

"Like, in a toga, wings and lyre?"

John's face grew red, and his shoulders shook with laughter. "If only he wore a toga. No, try a rail thin and hairy man barely older than Stiles but wearing an adult sized diaper with little pink and red heart stickers all over it and no shirt. I can't decide what was worse, the lacy red top hat or the light up feather pink wings. To complete the ensemble, he had a Nerf bow and arrow set and pink glittery high tops."

Derek choked on his food. "Why the hell did he think Cupid would wear pink sneakers and a top hat?"

"I didn't stop to ask him. I was too busy trying not to laugh at the man. I've been on the job twenty years now, and that by far is the strangest and ultimately most memorable traffic stop I've ever made, and that includes the time I actually helped deliver a baby."

He took a sip of his iced tea. "Better question, because if there is one thing you and Stiles have in common besides that squinty-eye look you get when you are judging someone by their stupid questions or lack of intelligence, it's your curiosity. I know you had to ask. Why was he dressed up as Cupid?"

 

 


"I do not have a squinty-eye-" he paused. "Now that you mention it, I do that don't I?" John pointed his can of Diet Coke at his future son-in-law--and wow calling him that was going to take some getting used to (pending the young man said yes, which he couldn't think of a reason for him not to. The kid was head over heels for Stiles after like six months of dating). Son-in-law was not something he ever expected to say in reference to his son, but hey, he was a progressive thinker. "Ah yes. That I did ask. Apparently there was a Valentine's Dance at The Jungle last night. The officers in booking had a field day with the man's mug shot. He was smiling like a cartoon character asking everyone if they wanted to see his Pacman tattoo. Pretty sure he was flirting with me on the drive to the station. Said he had thing for older men, particularly bears. Derek! I looked it up; in no way, do I match that description. How drunk do you have to be to confuse me with someone that hairy?"

Derek burst out laughing. "Oh man, you pulled over Otter Dan. That is rich. Stiles would have a field day with that story."

John lowered his brows at him. "I shudder to think how you know the man. Wait, this was his second DUI. Did you make the first arrest?"

He wiped his mouth and tossed his sandwich wrapper in the trash. "No, he's the emcee for the Drag Show on Fridays. He's an obnoxious loudmouth, who keeps trying to get Stiles in drag. It... Yeah, I'm not a fan of the guy."

"Oh yeah. I forget you two go there on occasion when Stiles comes home."

 

 



Derek shrugged. "Only safe place in town to dance without worrying about being harassed just because I dared to kiss my boyfriend in public." The local news broadcast had ended and the next program started up; the headline caught his attention.

"Tonight on CBS Nightly News, we start our broadcast with a new virus wreaking havoc on Southeast Asia and Australia. First identified in Manila around New Year's, the virus now being called Philippine Encephalitis or RBNI1, initially did not give cause for concern, causing only high fever, vomiting, and disorientation. However, over the last three weeks a new more virulent strain, RBNI2 has been identified. WHO epidemiologists state that the virus most closely resembles a hybridized rabies and Nipah virus. Early onset symptoms include fever, vomiting, and migraines, and these begin within twenty-four hours of exposure to the pathogen. These symptoms last anywhere from four to six days before progressing to a state of confusion, anxiety, and hallucinations. Within ten days, patients have slipped into a comatose state before coming out experiencing a complete mental dissociation, insatiable hunger and extreme rage. The disease itself does not appear to be fatal, but infected patients in the last stage of the illness have required euthanasia to protect the safety of the general public. A doctor in Sydney filmed this outburst from an infected person five days ago. We have to warn you, the images a graphic and viewer discretion is advised."

Derek watched the screen in horror as the man ripped out his I.V. (some flesh of his arm included) and began pounding on the door to his quarantine room, so focused on escaping that he eventually broke the glass. Even with bloodied hands and arms, he kept snarling as he fought to get out of the room. No, snarling was not strong enough a word. He yowled almost to the point of screaming, with thick ribbons of frothy drool spewing from his mouth. Nothing about the man sounded human anymore, and not much of his appearance suggested he was one either. His eyes, sunken into their sockets, were glazed over and devoid of all life except fury and mania. His skin, while clearly febrile given the sweat dripping from his pores, had taken on an ashen pallor. Patches of hair were missing from his head, as if he had ripped the strands from their follicles himself. He looked like something out of a nightmare. Derek felt sick to his stomach as he watched and wondered for how much longer he'd be able to keep his dinner down.

"So far RBNI2 has killed over ten thousand people with over fifty thousand confirmed infected. Efforts to treat the virus so far have been futile as have methods to control the pandemic. All flights out of and into affected countries have been cancelled. However, infected but asymptomatic passengers may have traveled out of the quarantine zone before the blackout. The transmission method has not been definitively identified, but direct contact with bodily fluids of infected persons seems to be the most likely given the nature of the disease."

He groaned, taking deep breaths to stem the nausea the broadcast caused.

"You okay there, Son?"

"Just, that was pretty gross. I'll be fine just give me a minute."

"There have been no cases recorded in the United States yet, but the CDC is urging citizens to be extremely vigilant. Should you or anyone you know exhibit these symptoms, isolate the patient immediately. Early panic has-"

 Derek's interest in the news program was drawn away by his ringing phone, and he answered without looking at the ID. "Hello?"

"Zombie, Derek!"

"Nice to hear from you too, Babe."

"Don't deflect. Everything they just described screams zombie apocalypse. A disease which causes a complete disconnect between brain and baser instincts, rage, hunger. Did you see that guy? He looked like he was suffering from T-Virus."

"I don't even know what that is, Stiles."

"Resident Evil, Derek! Oh my god, zombies. I don't want to become zombie food!"

"Do me a favor, Stiles, and take a deep breath."

"We're all going to die!"

Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. "Little early for that don't you think?"

"It's only been around about a month, and has fifty thousand infected. I tried to calculate the R0, but fuck if I understand the formula. I'm a comparative lit major, not a math geek, and oh my-"

"What the hell is an R-Nought?"

"It's the rate of reproduction. You know flu has like an R0 of 2 or 3 and measles like 12-15. It's how they predict and determine spread of pandemics. Believe me; I pretty much memorized the CDC website in a matter of minutes."

"Don't you think you might be overreacting?" He held the phone away from his ear as Stiles began freaking out at a much higher volume. He looked across the desk and noticed John wincing at the noise level.

"I don't want to be a zombie!" Stiles coughed,  clearly hyperventilating at that point.

"Babe, I need you to calm down."

"I can't...I can't be a- Zom..bie, what if I ea....I-- oh god. I... can't... I need to be home." he wheezed through the line. "I c-can't breathe."

"Easy there, Babe.. You need to breathe, in 1,2,3,4. Out 1,2,3,4. In 1,2,3,4; out 1,2,3,4. Keep doing that." He continued to talk to his boyfriend through the panic attack. Ten minutes later, Stiles finally seemed to calm down. "Better? You are not going to become a zombie. You're too smart for that. Okay? You know how the news is, it likes to drum up hysteria. Turn off the news and watch something funny...and for the love of god Stiles, do NOT watch Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead. Watch something happy and cheerful like Ferris Bueller or Little Miss Sunshine. Something completely unrelated to the undead. Okay? You'll be okay."

 

"O... okay. Kocham Cię."

He must really be freaked out if he's using Polish. Derek couldn't remember the last time Stiles spoke it to him, and even then it was only a phrase or two. "Love you too. Don't worry about this right now. Okay? Focus on your classes. You're almost done, and then you will be home. Okay?"

"Yeah, I will. I wish you were here, Hon."

"Me too." Derek nodded.

"Be safe. I don't need you getting shot...again."

"Always am. Night Stiles." When he ended the call, he noticed John watching him with an impressed but fond expression. "What?"

"First panic attack?"

"No, it's the fourth or fifth one. Last year, he called me in the middle of one during finals. He had writer's block in the middle of a thirty page paper. He'd been staring at the screen for three hours and nothing. It took over an hour."

John nodded. "Well you sure handled that like a pro. You're good for him; I'm glad he has you. I know my opinion doesn't really matter, but-"

"No, it actually does. Thanks." Derek smiled. Knowing that John approved of their relationship despite the age difference (what was four and a half years anyway? He was twenty-six; it's not like he was ancient), gave him a sense of family beyond just the one he and Stiles were building. Family--that's something he didn't think he'd ever have again, not when his own was so cruelly ripped away from him. He thought for sure as he watched those flames lick into the night ten years ago, burning everything he'd known, all his security, to the ground that he would just never find home like that again.

His older sister, Laura, tried, really she did, and for the two of them, it was a pretty good little family. She'd dragged him to New York, and they got by, even healed. Derek gave up a private little smile as he thought about her face when he told her he joined the police academy after earning his bachelor's degree in International Relations. He actually thought she was going to strangle him, spouting angry words of 'After what we've been through, how could you find yourself such a dangerous career, Derek? I am supposed to take care of you. What if something happens to you? I don't want to bury you too.' He'd simply told her 'I'm  twenty-one. I don't need you to take care of me anymore. I'll be fine.' All she said was that he'd better be, and because the world was unjust, he ended up burying her a year and a half later after a fatal hit and run accident.

So distraught about losing his only family left, he took a leave of absence from the department and ran home, well back to Beacon Hills. He barely left the extended stay hotel in town for the one month he'd been in town, but one day, on a much needed coffee run, he overheard one of the deputies talking to the barrista how they were so understaffed. They'd been looking to fill one of their empty deputy positions for over a year. It seemed that the job of a small town cop was just not as glamorous as people would like. Derek, however, jumped at the chance. He ran back to New York and put in for a transfer the next day. It was a pay cut, a huge one, but that didn't matter if the cost of living was lower.

Fate worked on his side it seemed, because his very first day on the job in Beacon Hills, he met Stiles. The sheriff's chatterbox, but adorable son, who was so inconveniently underage, came by almost every night to have dinner with his dad sometimes actually stopping to have conversations with Derek, even though they mostly consisted of the kid flirting with him, and him trying to remain professional. Who was he kidding? After two months, Derek was totally gone on the kid, and he had to fight tooth and nail with himself to make it four more months, at which point he found himself utterly surprised when Stiles wasted no time in asking him out two weeks after he turned eighteen. Like he said, what was four years anyway?

"You okay there? You have this look on your face."

He smiled. "I'm fine, just thinking." Feigning an excuse of laundry night, he excused himself and drove straight to the gym, where he worked out furiously for almost three hours until he was so exhausted he could have fallen asleep in the locker room. He made it four months before; he could do it again.

Chapter Text

Stiles sat alone in his apartment, front door barricaded just in case those subtle groans and snarls on the other side became a pressing matter. As it turned out, his paranoia, for once was totally warranted, when a week after he'd seen the news broadcast, the first confirmed case of RBNI2 was diagnosed in Phoenix. From there, it spread like a Tsunami. Hell, the Southwest was decimated in less than ten days.

He wasn't stupid; he followed the pandemic in Asia religiously after the night the broadcast aired. Those ten thousand dead quickly turned to twenty-five thousand, turned to seventy-five thousand, turned into two hundred thousand in twenty-one days. A quarter of a million people dead in three lousy weeks.

The problem with quarantine is that it only works if it's followed to the letter. The infected, the healthy, and healthcare and emergency personell needed to take every precaution, and then some. Well, obviously...someone or several someones didn't.

All it took was a handful of infected people to sneak out, carrying the plague with them, before the disease spread to Africa and Europe. Suddenly those two-hundred thousand people seemed like small change. You drop several seriously ill individuals in areas where access to mass media and medical care is limited, then do the same in metropolitan areas as densely populated as Moscow, Athens and Paris where access to news and medical care won't matter when you have upwards of 5000 people per square mile, and what you get is a ticking time bomb.

Stiles had watched in horror, glued to the non-stop news coverage, surprised that for once, his ADHD let him focus on something for more than five minutes, which was fantastic. Heh, fear will do that to a person. However, now he was out of his prescription with nowhere to fill it. The withdrawal had only added to his anxiety.

How did the virus get to the United States? One uninformed man, who felt just fine, who had not even been aware he'd been exposed made the return leg of his flight home to Arizona. The business trip had been long, and he attributed the beginning symptoms to fatigue and jet lag. Thinking nothing of it, he continued living his life, infecting his entire office, thirty people at his gym, and dozens more about Phoenix.

The WHO had been spot on in their hypothesis regarding transmission by contact with bodily fluids failed to take into account, just how much RBNI2 patients were sweating. A patient would wipe their foreheads, then touch a surface leaving behind the pathogen. Unsuspecting persons who touched the surface next only needed to touch their face, specifically their eyes or mouths, which the average person did three to five times a minute, to transfer the virus to their system.

Eleven days after Phoenix became ground zero for the virus in America, it spread to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and into Texas. Once it hit San Francisco, he'd spent every available moment on the phone with his dad and step-mom, Derek, and Scott. He was most worried for Melissa. She was a nurse practitioner at Beacon Memorial Hospital. Nurses came in contact with sick people every day, but she assured him that they all had been required to wear masks and safety goggles with every patient interaction. A decontamination unit had been set up outside the hospital, and all employees had to go through it before and after every shift. Knowing that made him feel a little better. That was until he started hearing about the infected in town.

People he'd known his whole life, suddenly being reduced to mindless, insatiable shells, attacking their loved ones, trying to eat their neighbors. Well it was something he'd never get his head around. Half his teachers from school-- Poof gone. So long Mr. Harris, you asshole.

Mr. Carter, the letter carrier who had delivered the mail to their house since he was eight years old, got bitten, not this time by a dog, but by Mrs. Webber down the street. Of course, the news broadcast had been so busy warning people of contact with the infected, that they neglected to mention anything about animal to human transmission. Well that, now that made things even worse. Nothing like the poodle a street over trying to make puppy chow out of the neighbors. Of thirty thousand people in their town, maybe five hundred were left alive and uninfected. Well... that was as of the last conversation he had with his father. Who knows how few were left now.

When the pandemic arrived, first came martial law, then governmental collapse and anarchy, and then chaos. When the mayhem couldn't be contained and the infection continued to spread, all over America, cities turned into ghost towns.  It scared him shitless.

At some point in the mess, classes were suspended indefinitely. He'd have been lying if he said that being so close, only two months away, to graduating and having it ripped away from him didn't bother him. No, it was a damn punch to the gut. All those hours busting his ass to stay on the Dean's List for seven semesters (okay, so first semester freshman year was a bit tough adjusting), the careful attention he'd paid in school-- He gave up most any nightlife, because he was serious about college. A requirement of his scholarship was that he maintain at least a 3.33 GPA. Easier said than done, and now...now he had nothing. No degree, no sense of accomplishment, just close to four years away from his loved ones for nothing.

He'd been in this damned apartment for two weeks... alone. Two weeks since Brandon hastily took off in the night, hell bent on getting to his family with only an awkward hug and simple 'Good Luck, and take care of yourself' spoken between them. Stiles didn't have confidence in his friend's survival skills. Two weeks since he'd had cell reception, two weeks since he'd spoken to anyone back home.  In those fourteen days, he had more panic attacks than he'd ever had in his life, spending most days in constant fear.

He prayed that his dad had grabbed Melissa and Derek and dragged them to the station, where Scott would meet them and all his friends would do the same. After all, they had reinforced doors and windows, guns, emergency supplies. They could fight off a rabid horde and would be able to stay alive in there for at least month or so. More if they limited their caloric intake. He knew; he'd seen the emergency rations in the station basement. Please be there, please be okay.

However, give him a break; he wasn't a total basket case. He'd searched the apartment from top to bottom for anything he could use as a weapon, cursing the fact Brandon was into snowboarding instead of skiing or competitive wood chopping (no, that was not a euphemism. Get a grip, he was in the middle of an apocalypse. It was no time for innuen- Okay, maybe it was the perfect time dirty humor, but priorities). Those ski poles would have made great spears. So there he was, with a kitchen knife duct taped to a broom handle. The thing had better hold up, he thought. If it didn't? Stiles was screwed.

Even though he had total confidence in his door would hold up (furniture made for great reinforcement), he kept as quiet as possible. Periodically, he could hear growling on the other side of the door; his hourly check out the windows showed the infected roaming the streets nothing more than cannibalistic shells of the people they once were. On more than one occasion, he witnessed some poor soul either joining their ranks (unwillingly of course) or becoming dinner. That kind of scene could unhinge a man.

Twice a day, he ventured out into the building, checking for any other residents, though he wagered that he was one of the last people here. Still, he'd found some more supplies. It was amazing what people deemed important to take with them and what to abandon when they chose to split. Medications are paramount, people!

On one of his apartment checks, he grabbed every bottle of prescription medication he could find. He was no expert, but he was pretty sure anything that ended in -cillin and -myacin were definite keepers. He'd lived through the hell that was dorm life for two years, contracting strep throat twice, two ear infections, and a couple sinus infections. Those suffixes definitely belonged to antibiotics.

His search had initially been for more Adderall, but that turned out to be a big bust. So, he had a little stockpile of things like Warfarin, Celebrex, alprazolam, Vytorin, and something called methylphenidate, among countless others. Not that he had any idea what any of them did. That's where Melissa would hopefully come in.

 He still had power. So that was a plus, because he could see that it was two thirty in the morning and he was exhausted.

It took several painstaking hours to fill his Jeep with his emergency supplies with him moving as quietly and swiftly as possible. The last thing he needed was to attract attention of the undead kind. Ratty blankets served as a disguise for his cargo, while he prayed that no one would break into the vehicle. His plan was to leave at first light if only he could get some sleep. The dread that his family was dead ate away at him.

Ahead of him on his kitchen table, lay Brandon's snowboarding goggles for eye protection plus the half-face mask he wore with said goggles, and the kid's North Face ski jacket. Why he would leave that behind? Stiles couldn't for the life of him understand (illogical: adjective/ def. 1) Lacking sense, contrary to the rules of logic. In a zombie apocalypse, choosing to leave behind drugs and winter coats is illogical. Really people? How thick are you?). It was waterproof, which meant maybe it would protect him from those scary bodily fluids. Though he had to admit, at this point, he was more concerned now about the infected "undead" than the virus.

As he settled down for what would surely be an uneasy four and a half hours of sleep, he pulled out his phone. It was futile; he knew it was, but if he didn't try, he'd regret it. With shaky fingers he pressed the call button next to Derek's name. The call never connected, not that he really expected it to.

He did the next best thing he could and pulled up the saved videos folder on his phone.

"Hi Babe, I just wanted to send this to you so you had it when you woke up. Good morning, Sunshine. Classes start today, and then it's only about five months until you're home. I can't wait; I miss you so much, and wherever you decide for grad school, just know I will be right there with you so we don't have to spend two more years apart. I love you so much, and I am so proud of you, Włodzimierz. I know you hate that, but if I love you enough to learn to pronounce your real first name correctly, well then I must be in it for the long haul. Have a great first day of classes. I miss you, and I'll see you soon."

Once the video finished, he pressed play on it again, and again, and again. He lost track of how many times he watched it, but it had been so long since he'd actually heard Derek's voice, he was actually coming apart at the seams.

Chapter Text

Lights flickered at the sheriff's station. Power had been spotty for over a week with bursts of full lights and systems, which ranged anywhere from and hour to less than a minute. In those moments before the now all too familiar outages, John said a silent thank you to his past self for having the foresight two years ago to allocate some of the department budget into the purchasing of a solar powered generator for the emergency power system. The auxiliary lights were nothing fancy, but it kept them from relying on what little batteries they had. Sitting in complete darkness didn't sound like something any of them wanted to deal with either. Little noises like the dripping faucet in the break room, the wind outside, and sounds of their fellow townspeople now walking shells eating those that remained outside just seemed to become amplified in the dark.

Them? Who did he mean by them? Well of his staff of eight deputies, only two remained: Tara and Derek, with his future son-in-law being there only by pure luck, or a miracle. He wasn't sure which one applied. Stiles would call it luck, but John, well he believed in miracles. The story the deputy relayed to him was that he had been on his way to the station as part of the Stilinski-McCall emergency preparedness meeting location, and yes damn it, Derek was included in those plans...

...Derek's car was overrun by a horde of his fellow townspeople three hours ago, and he had been praying that the glass of the windows would hold up. For all the Camaro's horsepower, it could not push through a mass of over a hundred Ragers. He sat, planning for those hours to be his last, until a small window of opportunity arose.

 A gap in the mob around his car formed. He didn't know why, nor did he really care. From the passenger seat next to him, he grabbed his duffel, slinging it around his shoulders. In it contained two changes of clothes, his last remaining box of Powerbars, a gallon of water, and his most prized possessions.

His journals, the same ones he started keeping after Laura died, all three so far, and one blank one that had enough paper to last him several years if needed , while most people wouldn't think them necessary in a time like this, he did. Sometimes his mind went to dark places, and writing down his thoughts was one of only two ways he kept sane. Plus, they were a record of his life, and on the off-chance civilization survived and rebounded from this nightmare, his empty journal would serve as a primary account.

And the other treasured item? Tucked up next to those four leather bound books, a small blue photo album, with only enough space for thirty pictures or so, sat containing his favorite pictures from his and Stiles relationship up to that point and the three photos that remained of his family.

To the right of the car, sat a laundromat, its front door, intact but slightly ajar. He could see in the windows; the place was empty. The building was only twenty yards or so away.

Thankfully, the infected were not fast; they merely ambled along brainlessly. If he made it to the door, and he would, he had to, he could push a machine or two against the door to brace it. Pending he got there quickly enough, he could draw the blinds and wait out the mob hidden amongst the washers and dryers.

Before he'd left his condo he'd taken what booze he had in the house (save that sixteen year whiskey, that he poured into something less fragile for transportation and stuffed amongst his clothes) and assembled a few Molotov cocktails. Leaning on the horn as he opened the sunroof, he used the cigarette lighter to set the t-shirt wick ablaze. He took a deep and calming breath before leaping out the top of the Camaro, chucking the bottle back at the car, and ran like hell for the laundromat. He could hear the moaning from behind him and the flames licking up their decaying flesh. Oh Black Betty, you were a good car.

Inside the building, he went to work, barricading the door in less than ninety seconds. It took two days for what remained of the horde to finally dissipate, and it took another day for him to make it to the station...

...With only four beds from the two holding cells to stretch between the eight of them, it made for a tight fit. Naturally, he and Melissa could fit on one, and even though it was a tight squeeze, it sure beat the alternative of sleeping alone. The other couple consisted of a couple of fellow government employees, Erica, who worked as a conservation ranger for the DNR and her husband, Vernon, a firefighter. Everyone just called him by his last name, Boyd. The man was Derek's best friend. They'd gone to school together and reconnected when Derek returned to Beacon Hills five years ago. That left Tara, Derek, his roommate, Isaac and Erica's eighteen year old sister, Maria to fight for the two remaining mattresses, which they decided to use on a rotational basis.

Just about everyone was asleep. John, however, had volunteered with Boyd to take watch on the slim chance more people arrived looking for sanctuary. Each night, two people in their group stayed awake to keep watch. So far, after Derek made it, no one else had showed up. Boyd sat on his mattress, his back against the wall, while his wife with her head in his lap spooned her little sister as they slept.

John, though, sat staring at a blank space in the middle of the room. It was too quiet, much too quiet. With naught but the sounds of sleepy breathing inside and the occasional person shifting around, the sounds outside echoed inside the room, creeping in through every tiny crevice in the building, wheedling their way into his mind. Every time he heard a desperate scream outside, he thought of his sons, both still missing. Stiles and Scott were away at college, but it shouldn't have taken Scott two weeks to get home from Davis. One hundred and twenty five miles did not take fourteen days.

With every day that passed, Melissa grew more desperate and more convinced that Scott would never make it back to them, and if he had to be honest, John admitted that if Scott couldn't get to Beacon Hills, then the odds of Stiles making an almost nine hundred mile trip were even slimmer. As the days grew with no contact from him his hope began to wane, even if Derek remained optimistic.

However, it wasn't just Scott and Stiles their little group were waiting on. Isaac was in the same boat as he and Melissa, waiting on his girlfriend, Allison, hoping she got his text message about his destination when Melissa grabbed him from his job as sous chef in the hospital cafeteria the day she high tailed it out of that war zone.

Speaking of Derek, on the other side of the room, John noticed he was still awake. The man should have been sleeping, but he currently sat in the corner underneath one of the lights, a blanket draped around his shoulders as he stared at a small blue book. A pained smile crossed John's face. He knew the book contained photos. That was the beauty about quiet moments like this. It was easy to reminisce, to live inside your head. Hell, he was doing it too, had been doing it since the last time he spoke to Stiles, his mind reliving all the moments they'd shared over the last twenty-two years. Some were extravagant like passing his driver's exam, but most? Most were mundane and simple ones like a lost tooth, learning to change a tire, burning the grilled cheese the first time he tried to make dinner for his dad. Those memories were the golden ones. "Hey. Why don't you come over here, Derek?"

The deputy looked over at the sheriff, nodded, and dragged his blanket over. "I couldn't sleep."

"I know the feeling."

Derek studied the man's face. "He'll get here, John."

"How can you still be so sure?"

"I can't afford to think otherwise; he's all I have left. I can't lose anyone else I love. Everyone I loved has been taken from me. If I don't stay positive, my mind will destroy me."

"Well, I wish I could be as optimistic as you are." The older man nodded. "I guess in your experience it is hard to have hope in situations like this. So I'm proud of you, Son. You are holding together remarkably well considering."

Derek patted John's shoulder. "Hang in there, okay?"

He sighed. "I'm trying. Really, I am. It's a parent's prerogative to worry about their children...even the ones who aren't related to them." John gave him a warm smile. If someone had asked him to pinpoint the moment when he'd welcomed Derek into the family, it would have taken a while to decide. However, he could pick the moment when he knew the young man would become a fixture in the household with absolute clarity. That moment, that day was neither simple nor mundane, but no less beautiful...

...John sat at the kitchen table catching up on performance reviews for his officers. The work required his full attention. After all, people's paychecks depended on what he said in these reviews. So he hadn't noticed Stiles flitting about the house more haphazardly than usual until his son bounded down the stairs looking like he would puke any moment. "You okay, Kiddo?"

Stiles snapped his attention towards his dad. "Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"

"Well you look a little green."

"Oh well, that's because I'm nervous."

John raised an eyebrow. "Why would you be nervous?"

"Um...I have a date."

That really caught his attention. To his knowledge, his son had only gone on three dates in his life, the last almost two years ago. For whatever reason, girls his age did not seem to appreciate him. He was a good looking kid; he'd filled out now that he was done growing. He was smart and funny, treated girls with respect. Why weren't women lining up around the block to date him? John couldn't figure it out. Though he supposed, he should have noticed right away that something was up.

The boy, oh wait, he was a man as of two weeks ago, was dressed in his nicest jeans and best fitting button down plaid shirt he owned. As far as John could see, Stiles only had on one layer, which was in itself an anomaly, though he supposed there was probably an undershirt there. Even his hair looked like he spent far more time than usual on it. "I see. Well good for you. What's her name? Is it Heather? Your mom always thought you two would end up together."

Stiles fiddled with the hem of his shirt. "No. It's not Heather. Um... well-" He scratched his eyebrow.

"Well aren't you being mysterious. It's like you're hiding something. It's not that Clark girl is it? You know, the one with the juvie record who keeps toeing the line with being charged as an adult? Because if it is, I have to admit I will be opposed to you dating her."

He laughed, "No."

John's shoulders sagged in relief. "Oh thank God. I'd hate to see her drag you down with her. Anyway, I haven't heard you mention anyone you were interested in. Is this a blind date?"

Stiles sighed, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth, "You see...it's like...you promise you won't try and use your cop thing and intimidate my date?"

"Why would I threaten to shoot a teenage girl? I mean she is still a teen right? You haven't agreed to a date with like a forty year old or anything have you?"

Stiles looked at him, wide-eyed with a hint of terror in his eyes. "You'd support me right if I um...liked someone you might not have expected me to?"

"Of course. Son, if you like a much older woman, so long as you're not being taken advantage of, I won't stop you." He studied his son's face expecting to see some relief, but only found tears pricking the corners of his eyes. "What's the matter? Did you think I would have a problem, that I would throw you out of the house?"

Stiles thrust his hands into his pockets. "And if, say hypothetically, my date's age gap was a perfectly acceptable four years, and they were someone who was gorgeous and wonderful, smart and surprisingly funny, whom I really, really like and who miraculously likes me, but wasn't..." He took several steps backwards towards the front door as though bracing himself for an angry outburst, "a woman, you wouldn't disown me would you?"

John was sure his mouth hung open for a few moments longer than he would have liked.

"Say something, Dad." Stiles looked like the dams were about to burst on his eyes any moment.

"So you're telling me...you're gay?"

"Only if it doesn't get me thrown out on the street. If that's the case, then nope. Totally straight here. Lovin' all the ladies. This was all a big hypothetical conversation that you can forget ever happened."

John closed the distance to his son and pulled him into the hug. "You can't help who you are, who you love, Stiles." He felt all the tension leave his son's body. "That's better. You're my son. I just want you to be happy, and if that's a special guy, then okay, you have my support."

Stiles straightened. "You have no idea how much better that makes me feel. I have read so many stories of kids being disowned by their families after coming out, and some of those kids had great relationships with their parents up to that point. It's just we never talked about things like that and where each of us stood on LBGTQ+ issues. I was terrified it would have happened to me. Otherwise I would have done it a lot sooner."

"So, who is your date?"

"Derek."

"As in my deputy, Derek?" He shrugged. "Huh, should have picked up on that one quicker. You do spend a lot more time visiting the station since he transferred here." He scratched his chin. "Now that I think of it, whenever you brought me dinner, you would spend a little time sitting by his desk talking."

"Look, I patiently waited five months, innocently flirting. Then I asked him out, not the other way around. Okay?" The ringing doorbell startled him. "So please don't intimidate him. Although we will never agree on who is the better superhero, Batman or Captain America, he gets me, Dad, and for some strange reason finds my incessant rambling charming. Now when I say I really like him, I mean I think I have totally fallen for this guy, even before our first date. So please be nice. I'm begging you." He waited until his father agreed before opening the door. "Derek, you look...wow." With an audible huff, his breath left him at the sight of the man in a tight henley, jeans and boots. "You look great, and you brought me flowers?"

Derek blushed, rubbing the back of his neck. "Was that stupid? It's been a few years since I've been on a date with another guy, and even then I only dated a few. I don't know...are flowers okay for a man?"

Stiles took the bouquet of lilies from him and invited him into the house, beaming as he did so. "They're beautiful. Thank you." He ducked into the kitchen to put them into water leaving his father and date in the living room.

John crossed his arms. "So you and my son?"

Like a deer in the headlights, Derek stood frozen. "I swear nothing happened. Stiles waited until after his birthday to ask me on a date. I mean I thought he was flirting with me for months now, but I tried not to do it back, but he's hard to resist. He's so funny and smart, really interesting, and cute. Like the most beautiful eyes. I mean...oh shit. I mean. I didn't think of him like that at all until he asked me out and ..." He hung his head in embarrassment. "Please don't arrest me. I swear we only talked, and the only time we did that was at the station where there were witnesses who can confirm I was nothing but professional."

"Easy there, Hale. I believe you. Stiles talked to me about it. What I was going to say was, he doesn't have a curfew anymore, but try and have him back at a reasonable hour. He's younger than you, and he doesn't have much experience in dating, so be good, Derek. I would feel more comfortable, and I know you're old enough to do so, if you didn't drink anything tonight. Even if you had him drive for you, just well, you know as well as I how poor decisions can be made under the influence."

Derek nodded. "I can do that, Sir. We're just going to dinner and ice skating. I thought it would be nice in this hot weather. I absolutely swear there will be no drinking by me, and of course I will not get any for him either."

"Okay then. Have fun boys." He patted his son on the back as the two walked out the front door.

Later that night, when he'd fallen asleep watching baseball on the sofa, Melissa and Scott long in bed due to their early morning work shifts, he heard the front door open and close quietly. He sat up and stretched. "Have fun?" he asked before turning around. His son's blissful sigh had piqued his interest. When he looked over at him, he saw him leaning against the front door, the most contented smile plastered across his face. "Good date?"

"The best."

"Gotta say, you're home a lot earlier than I thought you'd be."

"Hey now. I'm not that kind of guy. I don't have sex on the first date, even with someone as good looking as Derek, but...he kissed me. Well I kissed him, and he kissed me back." He felt his lips and giggled. "Wonderful date, best time. I'm so gone on him, and given how he treated me and how happy he looked tonight, he's gonna be around a while."

John smiled. "That's great. I'm glad you had a good time. Night kiddo, I love you."

"Love you too, Dad."

As John climbed the stairs, he couldn't help but feel an enormous sadness creep into his chest that his late wife, and Stiles' mother was not around to see the look of joy on their son's face. She never got to see the way her baby looked when he was in love, and it tugged at his heart...

...John opened his mouth to ask if Derek would like a hug, but was interrupted by a banging on the outside door. "Anyone in there? Let us in! Hello?"

The three men awake jumped to their feet and armed themselves. Derek and Boyd pushed the massive metal bookcase away from the internal door. The hall only had one light so it was hard to see the building entrance (Not like there was much space left to see out the glass. They had boarded up all but a two foot section. "Hello? Who's there?"

"John?"

Relief washed over him. "Scott?"

"Yeah. Come open this door. We passed a shit ton of Ragers on the way in, and we have supplies. Please hurry; they're coming this way."

"Who's with you?"

"Allison and her dad rescued me from a horde around 15th ST. I have a little kid with me too."

John rushed forward and opened the door as quickly as he could with all the security measures they'd added, and Scott pushed a small boy through the door. "Go on, Son. You'll be safe in the main room. What do you need help with, Scott?"

Scott thrust a duffel at him and passed a box to Boyd. "That's some of Argent's weapons." He turned his head. "Hurry, Ally."

A few moments later, Allison came into sight dragging a large box through the door. Boyd relieved her of it, and she ran into the main room where she threw herself at Isaac.

Wrapped up in her arms, he buried his face in her hair. "I was so worried. I thought I'd lost you."

She scoffed. "Not me. Dad and I are armed better than a small militia."

"Even still." He sniffled.

Once everyone settled back into the room, the doors once again barricaded, reunion hugs were in order, none more touching than Scott and Melissa. She kept running her hands over his face, as if to make sure he was still there. "I'm okay, Mom. I'm here. I'm fine." He pulled away from her. "Can someone get Anthony something to eat? When I found him, I didn't have anything left to eat. I mean, I found us some, but we've had hardly anything for two days."

Erica led the small boy over to their rations.

"Where are his parents?" John asked.

"Dead. He was hiding on top of an SUV when I drove by. He jumped up and started waving his arms for help. Apparently, his mother died in the initial outbreak, and one night, his father was on watch. He was gone by the time Anthony woke up the next morning. The boy had been atop that car for almost a week, trying to make his food and water last just like his father had taught him, praying for someone to drive past. That was around Stockton, I think. Just past Modesto, I drove over some debris, which punctured my gas tank. We'd been walking for three days by the time we made it to Beacon Hills and hit a massive horde. I don't how we're not dead. It's just luck that Ally and Chris were nearby." He looked around the room. "Where's Stiles?"

John shrugged. "I don't know. If it took you two weeks...hell we could be waiting months or-"

"He'll get here. If anyone could travel a thousand miles alone through a zombie apocalypse and survive, it's him." Derek cut the man off.

Argent piled his weapons on the table in the middle of the room. "I have three fully automatic combat AR's with three thousand rounds of ammo each for those, two sniper rifles with laser sights and two hundred rounds each. Aside from Allison's bow, we also have a compound bow and a cross bow with fifty bolts each. In that box," he pointed to a small cardboard box, "are six 9mm compact pistols, a few 22's, and two 45's. Plus, I have a dozen smoke grenades and five flash bangs, knives and a tactical tomahawk. Weapons I have. We just ran out of rations."

John crossed his arms and nodded at the small arsenal in front of him. "We have those too, but we also have about two months worth of rations left, well with the extra four people, it will cut it down significantly, not that I'm suggestion you four leave. You are welcome to stay here with us. Eventually, we will have to venture out for supplies. Melissa was able to grab a small bag of medication and medical supplies on her way out. Mostly it's just extra months' supplies of any prescriptions she knew we needed, almost a months' worth of Adderall and an extra rescue inhaler for Scott. There's a few suture kits, iodine, a scalpel or two, and a bottle of penicillin."

"I did manage to grab two boxes of syringes, and a box of I.V. lines as well as some fluids. I have no pain medication should the need arise." she added.

"Well," Chris started, "my father, spent his last years before he really went off the deep end and we had to put him in a home, building a homestead that he swore would be disaster proof. It's in Iowa, with five acres. The perimeter is completely fenced in with six foot stone walls. He may have electrified the top, but I don't know. I wouldn't put it past him, and knowing him, there is probably a moat. He said he didn't get a chance to finish some of the bedrooms, so I don't know what state they're in, but something is better than nothing, right? I do know that the property has two septic tanks and three wells on sight, and he said it was completely run on solar power. He was worried about the government using his grid access to control him. One night in his ramblings at the retirement home, he mentioned that he had twenty years of supplies and seed vaults in the basement/bunker. I didn't think anything of it at the time. That much land is enough to garden. It won't be an easy trip, but if we can get there, we all can rebuild there."


Around the room, one by one, the group seemed to agree with Chris, except Derek. "We can't leave without Stiles."

"Derek, we have no way of knowing if he is alive or not." Boyd patted him on the shoulder. "I know you love him, and he's important to you, but we have to think of the group."

"Then you all can go without me. I am not leaving this station without him."

Argent stared at him. "That is suicide."

"Then it's suicide."

John tried to reach a middle ground, "Can we give him a month to get here? That would leave us with two weeks of rations, which would be a start for our trip. If after a month, Derek, he's not here, will you come with us? I don't want to leave without him either; he's my son remember? But he wouldn't want you to wait here to die either. He'd want you to make it even if he couldn't."

Derek crossed his arms over his chest, deep in thought for several minutes. "Okay, a month, but we leave him a note- One that takes up a whole fucking wall, with a map on how to get to your family's land. So that if we missed him, he still knows where we'll be, because if we don't, he is going to assume we're all dead. I know he wouldn't survive that. Can we do that?"

Argent seemed pleased with his compromise. "That is a fair trade. Do you have any sort of wash area set up? Because I don't know if you can smell it, but I feel like I reek of Ragers."

Melissa pointed to the back where the restrooms were. "We have a camp shower set up in the locker room. It is hooked up to a twenty gallon tank. The water hasn't been treated, so don't drink any of it. It's just what we could collect for rainwater. We've been limiting everyone to three minutes of water."

"Thanks, Melissa. Oh, that box Allison brought in has a few sleeping bags if anyone needs one." With that, he disappeared into the back of the station.

Tara patted the mattress next to her and called out to Anthony. "Hey Sweetie, did you want to sleep here? I won't bite.. You look dead on your feet."

He nodded and shuffled over, his dark eyes wide as he assessed whether or not to trust her. In the end, trust or exhaustion won out.

"How old are you?"

"Eight."

"My name's Tara."

He sat down and shucked off his shoes. "Nice to meet you, Ma'am."

She smiled at him. "Wait right here." She walked over to one of the closet where they kept the blankets and comfort items for victims, digging through a box until she found what she was looking for. "I know you're eight, and that's practically a grown-up, but would you like a teddy bear? Sometimes they help." His little hand reached out and took the stuffed animal from her. "Did you get enough to eat? You can have seconds if you need them."

"I'm okay. Thank you for the bear." He grabbed the blanket and curled up on the bed where he was asleep in no time.

The room began to quiet down soon after, Scott choosing to sleep on the mattress with his mom. Well chose was a bit of a strong word. Melissa hadn't let go of him since he came through the door, and John figured he'd have been lying if he'd said after his harrowing trip, that being babied by his mommy for one night didn't feel great, even if the kid was twenty-two years old.

 

 



Derek, however, grabbed one of the sleeping bags and a pillow, his journal and album, and vanished from the room for somewhere quiet and private, which turned out to be the gun cage. He felt absolutely certain, no one would bother him in there. He could lock himself in after all. The highs of seeing Scott arrive and Isaac overjoyed with Allison walking through the door did not make him happy. They only made him feel miserable.

Deep, in the back corner of the cage, behind the cabinets holding the two outfits of riot gear the station owned, he laid out his bed and pulled out his journal where he only wrote three sentences:

        03-26-18 Argents and Scott arrived today; Stiles is still missing. Everyone is going to travel to the Argent family homestead somewhere in Iowa, even if Stiles doesn't show up. I've abandoned him, and it makes me want to die.

He ran a thumb over the front of his favorite picture. It was just a simple photo of Stiles taken the past Christmas morning, one he'd snapped moments after his boyfriend woke up. His eyes still heavy with sleep, and hair askew every which way, but it was his sleepy smile that really got to Derek. The way the sunlight glinted off those amber eyes he loved so much. He'd never seen Stiles look better than he did in that moment.

"Get here. I don't care what you have to do to make it back here; just do it. I miss you, Babe, and I need you here with me." He kissed the photo, and began sobbing as quietly as he could. He didn't need everyone else knowing he was breaking inside.


Derek cried himself to sleep. It was the first time he'd shed a tear since Laura died. He'd held it together during this whole mess, but those tears wouldn't be the last ones to fall from his eyes because of the nightmare they were all living.

Chapter Text

Parked under an awning in an alleyway, Stiles watched droplets of rain hit the left side of the windshield where they sluggishly froze in place. His idea for a makeshift carport to shield the Jeep from the wintry mix wasn't perfect, but it was the best option he had.

Three days he'd been on the road and only just made it to Tacoma. At this rate, he'd make it to Beacon Hills in...Let's see, that's about thirty five miles in three days. So that's like an average speed of one mile per hour over approximately thirty six hours. There are about nine hundred miles to Beacon Hills. So 900 hours of drive time? That would be like thirty-seven days. Right? That sounds right. But then calculate time spent looking for gas and killing Ragers. Fuck it, it would take him forever.

For the last couple hours, he contemplated continuing his journey through the night, but fatigue and treacherous adverse weather conditions-Take that Stormy Plains! Totally nailed that impression of your pretentious weatherman voice-- Where was that train of thought going? Right, conditions forced him off Interstate Five. For crying out loud, it was April. It should be about sixty degrees not thirty. Might as well add ice age to zombie apocalypse. It was not like things sucked enough as they were.

Stiles stretched his stiff limbs, before searching the cab for anything he could use to cover the other half of the car. So far, his quick searches of vehicles on his trip had yielded neither a tarp nor an ice scraper. Apparently the weather gods had a meeting and decided he wasn't being challenged enough. The punishment for all his relentless teasing of KING5's resident meteorologist over the years was clearly freezing rain.

He pulled out his ATM card. Now that credit cards were nothing more than colorful pieces of plastic since, you know, society collapsed and all, it was time to ritually sacrifice one for the task of de-icing his windows. After ten minutes of scraping just to keep up, he surrendered. "All right Marzanna and Strzybóg! You have made your point! Naughty little Włodek has learned his lesson about taunting your patrons! A little help please?" He cursed up at the sky. See Mom, I told you I was paying attention when you read me that book of Polish mythology like fifty times.

To his totally expected chagrin, the freezing rain did not stop. Now, to add insult to injury, his shoes were soaked through. In hindsight, Converse were not the best shoes for an apocalypse, but they were the pair of shoes he owned in the best shape.

With disgust, he glared at his icy windows. He realized that if he didn't find a solution to the ice accumulating on them soon, the morning would be spent chipping ice away from his windows. Chipping that would be noisy and inevitably attract Ragers, not something he really looked forward to. Do-it-yourself pike and empty gas can in hand, with goggles and mask on, he set out in search of a solution.

So far, he hadn't seen a single non-infected person. For all his preparedness, he didn't anticipate the isolation. It was jarring and absolutely soul crushing.

With caution, he began searching the cars, tapping on the windows first to check for live passengers or motionless infected. The last thing he wanted was to steal supplies from another survivor. A minivan of all vehicles, yielded a hunting knife, which he tucked into a pocket on his sleeve for easy access.

With the sky above him blanketed in clouds, he stood in total darkness, save a thin beam of light from his headlamp. If only his homemade spear was a pick axe. Then he'd feel like a prospector about to mine for gold right about now. Absentmindedly, he started whistling "Sixteen Tons."

As it was, he could swear that off in the distance he heard "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" playing. He kept waiting for a tumbleweed to roll across his path. You know what I need? A cowboy hat, a poncho, and a set of spurs. Maybe a cigar. Then I'd look awesome.  Ugh, his brain off Adderall was a traitorous bastard.

In this, his new reality, there was no good, only bad and ugly. Along Pacific Ave, bodies lay fallen amongst crashed and abandoned vehicles, ice clinging to them like the ash in Pompeii. Only instead of volcano victims, these were mangled and half-eaten corpses, but their death poses were no less undignified.

Critics had been saying for years, that video games and graphic television programs desensitized people to violence. Well, he was a devotee of both. So when would he become desensitized to all this shit? He hoped it would be soon, because hell, this much death really hurt to see. Let's be honest, he wasn't the most empathetic individual out there either. Actually, come to think of it, he was kind of an asshole. He meant well, but didn't mince words or pull punches. If he felt horrible at the sight of all the carnage, he shuddered to think of how someone like Scott was managing. Oh Scotty, I hope you had an easy trip and are with Dad and Mom.

He was twenty cars in and still had no tarp, but he'd managed another three gallons of gas. So there was that. Yay for little victories! Celebrate the little things indeed.

The only light on the street besides the one he wore on his head came from headlights of a car probably left running as its poor inhabitant became zombie chow. He clung to hope that the driver took off running and made it to safety. It was a minute amount of hope, but he had to maintain some hope nonetheless.

When he was small child,  a little framed piece of art hung in the hallway, not something he ever really understood or paid attention to, but for some reason the words had always stuck with him. "To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death."* The scene around him finally put the adage into perspective and served as enough motivation to sap all hope from even the strongest person, but he knew that once he went down that road...well there was no coming back.

Commotion cut through the otherwise quiet street coming from the direction of those lights. He'd been lucky so far tonight, only finding a couple of Ragers. So to hear a lot of them should have sent him running back to the jeep. Screw that tarp. Being who he was and blessed with a tragic sense of unabated curiosity, he abandoned caution and went towards the noise. You sir, are a reckless dumbass, and you're going to get yourself killed. He turned off his headlamp.

Not twenty feet away, he could see a small mob of about fifteen Ragers attacking someone and sprang into action. Facing this many at once, he quickly realized the shortcomings of his improvised weapon. God, he wished he had a baseball bat! The heel of the blade kept getting stuck in the infected. Then, he remembered his hunting knife and used a two handed approach to killing zombies. Thrust with the spear, and then stab with the knife while he pulled out the spear. It seemed to work okay.

They snarled and grabbed at him, but he was determined, knocking them back and then sticking them like pieces of litter with a trash pick. The last one left actually got a good grip on him, knocking him to the pavement, his pike and knife skittering out of reach.

Panic threatened to seize control of him, and all the air left his lungs in an instant; he did not have time to try and regain his breath or his wits though. He got his hands up around the Rager's neck. Once again... you're a dumbass! Strangling the thing won't help!  Somehow, and he really didn't understand how he managed to do so, he pulled his leg towards his chest, bending his knee underneath the walking corpse. It gave him just enough leverage to push the thing off him. He lunged at it, clutching at its soaked and bloody shirt as he smashed its head into the pavement again, and again, and again. What remained of its infected brain was now a bloody pulpy stain on the pavement.

Surprised at his brutality, he scrambled back against the car to catch his breath. He wasn't sure how he managed to not end up as Rager dinner. There would be time to process his actions later.

After he collected his weapons, he turned his attention to the unfortunate man on the ground. By unfortunate, he meant the dude was still alive, but clearly on his way out. A large chunk had been taken out of his side, blood pooling onto the wet ground, and his lower leg had been gnawed to the bone. Stiles fought to not throw up.

"Th...tha...nks.." The man's breath gurgled in his throat, wet and thick with blood.

"Don't mention it. Being eaten alive has to be one of the worst ways to die. It was the least I could do."

The man gave him a weak nod. "You c-c-could 'ave die..."

Stiles helped roll him onto his back from his side, propping the nearest soft thing he could find under his head. "Are you in pain?"

Another weak nod.

"I wish I could help you, but I don't have anything for pain."

"S'okay. Least 'm not dyin' 'lone."

Stiles dug through the car for a blanket to cover him with. "Yeah, no one should have to go through that. Sorry I didn't hear you sooner."

The man pointed to the car. "Is a picture, in visor. Family."

Stiles crawled across the front seat and pulled out a photo of him, a woman, presumably his wife, and what looked like two little girls-- his daughters? "Here you go."

He traced their faces with his finger. "They... didn' make..." He patted Stiles' gloved hand. "C-could you..."

"What?"

"Sp...eed it up?" He tapped Stiles' knife.

It took him a moment to make the connection, and for a minute Stiles stared at the blade in shock for a minute before he nodded in assent. Sure he'd accepted that killing Ragers was necessary. They weren't human anymore, and it was unlikely given the current climate, that a cure for their ailment would ever be found. However, he never thought he'd have to kill people, well , the uninfected.

But this... this was a mercy kill, and surely that was different. Right? The man was suffering. It had to be different. "My name is Stiles."

"Felix."

"Well, Felix, are you religious? I haven't been since my mom died a while ago, but I'll pray for you and do my best at last rites if you'd like."

Felix nodded. "Know Hail Mary?"

"Not really. I'm sure I'll just butcher it."

"S'okay, thought counts. Try?"

"I just- I'll do my best." Stiles folded Felix's hands over his chest, and covered them with his own before he bowed his head. "Hail Mary, full of holiness. Virgin mother of Jesus, who art in Heaven, pray for the sinners and dying as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Stay with Felix so he may fear no evil in his time of passing. Please take away his pain and suffering, and guide him to the afterlife swiftly. Please reunite him with his family, whom he misses dearly. He fought bravely in these miserable times, and should be rewarded with heaven. Amen."

Felix managed a small chuckle. "S'not e'en close but...thanks."

Stiles stared at his knife, trying to steel his nerves for what he'd promised he'd do. He took a deep breath and moved Felix's coat away from his chest, feeling for a gap in the ribs on the left side of his sternum. When the tip of his knife rested on the man's shirt, he looked at him. "You're sure you want me to do this?"

"Yes."

"I hope you rest in peace Felix; I hope you see your family again."

"M' too." He swallowed. "After...I have gun, so'where round m'car." He took as big a breath as he could muster. "Take what you need."

"Thank you, and I wish we'd met under better circumstances, Felix." Without giving the man another glance he pushed the knife into his chest as quickly as he could, hoping he managed to hit his heart and not cause him anymore pain than was necessary. Stiles breathed a sigh of relief when Felix's labored breathing ceased moments later. He covered the man with his blanket out of respect.

The gun had slid under the car, where the  strap stuck out from underneath. Stiles turned his head lamp back on and lay on his stomach to pull it out from behind the front right tire. A Remington hunting rifle, and it looked very similar to the one his dad used on their few hunting trips. Stiles failed miserably at hunting when he was twelve. Something about killing an animal apparently didn't sit well with his preteen self.

Just like most hunting rifles, this one was bolt action, of which he was familiar. The big plus on this model? The scope. "Well that will come in handy." There was a towel on the front seat, which he wrapped tightly around the rifle, doing he best to keep the thing dry. Looping the gun strap around his body, he searched the car until he found  a box of ammunition. He'd only been expecting maybe twenty spare rounds, but the dry storage box had at least a hundred bullets.

However, what was tucked underneath the box made Stiles practically jump for joy. A clear plastic shower curtain sat neatly folded next to a bottle of isopropyl alcohol. "Hooray for makeshift de-icer! "Thank you, Felix."

He stuffed the bullets, curtain, and liquid into his pack. Then, he grabbed the gas can in the trunk. The thing had maybe two gallons if he was lucky, but two gallons was another fifty miles or more. Hopefully, he wouldn't meet any Ragers on the way back, as his hands were now quite full.

As he hurried back to the Jeep, what he'd just done started to sink in. He'd killed someone. Sure he'd eased Felix's suffering, but he still sunk that knife into his heart. He'd killed a man...he'd...oh fuck. He was a murderer. Even if for the right-- No, no Stiles. You killed him...you're a killer... you're-

He felt his sight began to tunnel-vision on him. Make it back to the Jeep. You have to make it back. His chest felt tight, and he struggled for air as hot tears pooled in his goggles. No, no, no. Not now, stay away you fucking menace- Silently, he yelled at the anxiety building in his head. He staggered his way down the street until the beautiful blue sight of Roscoe came into view.

You're a killer, you're an animal...you're-Door open, he tossed in his bag, set the rifle down on the passenger seat, the gas can on the floor of the trunk and flung the "tarp" over the unprotected half of the Jeep, taking a brief moment to rinse off his goggles in the rain. In not a moment too soon either, he crawled in and collapsed on the back seat. His body sank down deep into the well worn cushion as the weight of a full blown panic attack washed over him, a tsunami of emotions and dread tearing at his mind. Animal, monster, killer! The blanket he pulled over his body, did little to stop his shaking.

In the beginning of all this, he'd set up rules for himself, hard lines so to speak. Tonight, those lines blurred, and it started with the the Rager whose head he smashed into the pavement. There would come a time, mostly likely very soon in which, one by one, he'd cross every single one.


Times like these made both men and monsters of them all.

Chapter Text

"No, no, no, no, no. Not here!" Stiles shrieked as he watched smoke billow from his engine. Dread rose in his chest at the thought of being a sitting duck forced to walk the rest of the way home. He climbed out of the car and popped the hood. More smoke, but no fire. So that was an important distinction. Fanning the smoke, he tried to see what had gone wrong on Roscoe now, but no dice.

From his glove-box, he grabbed his Maglite and checked the parts of the engine he knew about. Radiator looked good. Transmission fluid was fine, and no belts were broken. However, when it came to the oil and coolant--Zippo, bone dry. He recalled a conversation he once had with his dad about fluid levels in the car and what it meant for any one of them to suddenly be gone. What was wrong with his car? No idea, but it wasn't good. He couldn't even turn the engine over at all. In short, he was fucked, royally fucked, proper fucked.

It took all his strength not to break down in either a stream of warm tears or white hot rage. The universe was betting against him. Thirteen days ago, he left his apartment. Five days ago he hit Portland only to find Interstate 5 impassible. After a whole day of searching for a damn atlas, he continued on down 26 until the 97 interchange. If he had to guess, he'd say he was about ten miles past Bend, but he couldn't be sure.

The thing was, county highways weren't much better. He'd lost count of how many vehicles he'd had to push out of the way, which, by the way, with one person-- Not easy. His muscles had been in a constant state of aching for almost a week.

However, there he was, as daylight waned, the sun sinking to meet the horizon, stranded with Roscoe looking to be permanently out of commission. He'd laugh if the whole situation wasn't so goddamned depressing. Deciding that staring under the hood pretending he knew more than just a cursory knowledge of cars was in no way productive, he closed the hood and climbed back into the cab. Well, at least it had warmed up a little, though not enough to take the chill out of the air.

From the back, he opened two packages of HotHands and a package of foot warmers, which he slipped into his shoes, relishing in the warmth spreading to his toes. Another, he stuck inside a beanie and pulled it down tight on his head. After he grabbed a meal packet from one of his buckets and half a bottle of water, he used the same ratty and dirty blanket to cover his supplies that he'd found in the parking garage of his building. Then, he covered the blanket with the wadded up pieces of paper from the back. Anything to make his stash look less desirable.

"Let's see, what's for dinner tonight?" He flipped the MRE package over. "Ooh, for our five star dining tonight, we have, wait for it...Meatballs in marinara, with garlic mashed potatoes, and an oatmeal cookie. Looks like I am eating like a king tonight." He said aloud to no one. Stiles found on his extended solitary journey, that he was just not cut out for silence and spent as much time as possible during the drive talking to imaginary passengers. It was his attempt to cling to sanity. Maybe it was working, maybe it wasn't. He didn't care in the slightest.

Cold meatballs and mashed potatoes were not as tasty as he'd been hoping they were. Worried about his water supply, he had a small pile of unused flameless ration heaters leftover. They'd probably come in handy sometime, but not right now.

As he did every night, thanks to the wonders of car chargers, he pulled out his phone and spent five minutes looking at photos, watching little videos, or giving himself one or two songs before bed. Tonight, now that he was faced with the harsh possibility of walking the rest of the way, he took almost thirty minutes, unsure when, if ever, he'd get to again. Falling asleep to a four song playlist, the words "There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don't know how. I said maybe you're gonna be the one that saves me, and after all, you're my wonderwall," played in his ears.

                                                                                                                                 *   *   *   *   *

Instead of chirping birds waking him the next morning as was the norm lately, shouting and gunfire roused him from his sleep. He rolled over onto his stomach and peered over the glass to check for Ragers. Finding none, he quickly readied himself for a horde, assuming it was zombies eliciting the gunshots in the first place.

With Roscoe crippled, he knew he might have to make a run for it. His backpack contained the few mementos he'd taken from his apartment and a change of close (three pairs of boxers and socks, he wasn't a heathen, thank-you very much), but he threw in five bottles of water and enough meals for a week. The rest of the space was saved for ammunition.

Quietly, oh so quietly, he opened the Jeep door and stepped out into the foggy morning. Great, just what I needed. Fog. As if Ragers weren't hard enough to spot ahead of  time. Once again, he found his stupid ass going towards the noise instead of away from. Did he seriously have no sense of self-preservation? I really must work on that.

Finally, years of playing video games had come in handy as he crouched behind cars while he advanced, rifle at the ready. I told you, Dad, one day I would find a real world scenario in which Call of Duty would prove useful.

"Get your fucking hands up! Don't be a hero!" Stiles heard someone yell.

From behind a pickup, Stiles dropped to the ground. He was terrified. Ragers, he could deal with. Hell, he'd even come to terms with the fact that killing Felix was not a murder, but an assisted suicide so to speak (not that it made him feel any better about it). He was, however, in no shape to engage in a battle with the desperate, gun-wielding uninfected where he might need to actually kill someone who wasn't on death's door. His body prone on the pavement, he peered under the truck.

On the pavement, a cop lay unconscious with what appeared to be a gash on his forehead. To the right, he suspected, stood another cop, if the tan pants and boots were any indication. Closer to Stiles' position were another five pairs of legs. Shit, I am screwed.

Still, his courage and reckless curiosity went hand in hand. He got up and peered through the truck windows. All five men had guns pointed at the cop, who had his hands in the air while he stood in front of a Clackamas County Sheriff's Department vehicle. From where he hid, Stiles was absolutely certain none of the potential shooters could see him. Having no intentions of going on the offense, he positioned his rifle on the hood of the truck just in case; his hands were shaking.

One of the men, grew tired of the cop's calm defiance. "I said don't be a hero. Ain't got time for that! We want your guns and rations! Give us that and we'll let you both live! We'll even let you keep your car."

"Without weapons, how are we expected to defend ourselves against the Ragers?"

Stiles watched the man's stoic demeanor change to one of panic. It was like the realization that if these men did not kill them, then they'd be left to die with no weapons and no rations had just dawned on him. 

"Not my problem."

Eventually the officer made a choice and moved his hands to surrender the keys from his belt loop. However, Stiles watched in horror as one of the aggressors either mistook his movement for a hostile action, or had no intention of leaving either of them alive in the first place. Stiles jumped out of his skin at the sound of the gunshot, his eyes closing immediately and took a moment to regain his wits.

As he stood again, eyes open now, he watched the cop clutch his stomach and sink to the ground. In that instant, Stiles didn't see the cop as a stranger. All he could see was Derek being shot, the injured deputy on the ground took on the face of his father. Bile rose up in his throat the same way it did every time he heard the notice an officer had been shot in the line of duty come over the scanner when he was a kid, especially because two of those times had been his father.

 "I said not to be a hero!" The man aimed for a second shot.

Aim center mass. That's what Dad told you. Stiles squeezed the trigger on his rifle striking the man in the back of the neck-- Back of the neck was not center mass. When you get a rifle with a scope, Son, make sure the scope is zeroed out. Otherwise your shot will be off target.- Well, Felix, I think that may have contributed to your demise there.

"Where'd that come from?" The rest of the group looked around, but Stiles had already ducked down beneath the hood, concealing himself behind the tire. He needed to get to Derek, to see if he'd be okay, to check on his Dad. Taking short, shallow breaths, he listened to the men argue.

"Larry, you said there were only two of them!"

"That's all I saw."

"Come out, come out wherever you are little piggy."

Stiles had counted five men, now there are only four. There was no way he got out of this alive without engaging them further and without a running car. Time to nut up, Stilinski. Still high on adrenaline, he called out in his most commanding voice, mimicking the words of his dad as he made sure his goggles and mask were on. Maybe from twenty yards away it would look like tactical gear. "Put down your weapons, kick them away from you, and lie face down on the ground with your hands clasped behind your head!" He straightened to his full height, glancing up to see if any of the men complied. Only when they followed his instructions did he come out of hiding.

"Look at the little boy holding the gun."

"Yeah? This little boy just shot your buddy. Right now there is a rifle pointed at the back of your head. Don't give me a reason, Asshole." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a man (Larry?) use the distraction to go for a gun in his sock. Without hesitation, Stiles fired a shot into the man's head. "I said not to give me a reason! What part of that didn't you four jerkwads understand?" Not willing to take chances further, he drove the butt of the rifle into the heads of two of the other men, knocking them unconscious.

Apparently he wasn't quick enough, because the last man standing... well lying in this case, rolled over and lunged at him, Bowie knife in hand. Shit, shit, shit! Before he had time to process or even react, Stiles found himself flat on his back, holding the man off him at arms length in a desperate attempt to keep the man from plunging that knife into any of his vulnerable parts, which for Stiles was pretty much all of them.

He was losing strength and fast; his arms began to buckle under the man's weight. Stiles was going to die if he did not do something. Fucking hell! He was going to die in the middle of nowhere Oregon. Those men were still going to leave the two cops to die, and he'd have sacrificed himself for absolutely nothing. Not on my watch, Dickwad! His only option at that moment was to drive his forehead into the man's face.

As his attacker clutched at his nose, he tumbled backwards off him. In full survival mode (flight instinct be damned--It was fightin' time), Stiles went after him, straddling the threat, slamming his fist into the man's face. As for how many times? Stiles lost count after six, but he knew it was so many more than that. Something eventually made him stop, and fuck if Stiles knew what it was. Fatigue probably, because he still felt threatened.

 He rolled off guy; his chest heaved as he struggled for air. When he looked down at his hands, his stomach churned at the sight of them. Blood, hair and skin clung to his knuckles. That's disgusting.

However, before he could even stop to calm his rabbiting heart, his attention turned to the wounded officers. Some time in Stiles' struggle for his own life, the poor man, whose dark hair and scruff, even up close reminded him of Derek, succumbed to his injuries. That sent what little remained in his stomach up his esophagus on a one way journey for the pavement. Great, just what he needed now, the taste of barf on his tongue. Well at least the other man seemed to be okay, just out cold.

The men he'd subdued wouldn't be out for long, and they were sure as hell to be pissed off when they came to. As if on auto-pilot, Stiles relieved both cops of their handcuffs. If he'd been more in control of his mental faculties at that moment, he'd be appalled at what he did next. Instead of moving the two guys to an empty car nearby and leaving them the keys so they could make their escape later, he dragged both their unconscious bodies about fifty feet away and cuffed each man to the handle of a car door. He kept the keys; he didn't leave them a weapon. It was almost karmic.

He searched for the keys to the almost new Tahoe PPV, pocketing them immediately. With tremendous effort, he managed to get the wounded cop into the back seat. He rolled up the man's uniform jacket to serve as a pillow and went to work cleaning the gash on the man's forehead. The area around the wound had begun to bruise already. Those jerks used the butt of a rifle to knock him out. Wound cleaned and held shut with butterfly bandages, Stiles covered him with a blanket he found in the cargo area. Hooray for shock blankets. As a precaution, he buckled him in, knowing full well that in the event of an accident, his prone position on the seat would not help him any, but the restraints would certainly keep him from rolling onto the floor.

Outside the vehicle, he grabbed every weapon he could find, which did not include the deceased officer's service pistol or revolver. He placed the man's shield in his hand and sidearms on his chest. His name tag and ID, however, he kept, figuring the other officer might want some proof that Stiles hadn't killed the man himself. He crossed the guys arms over his chest, before covering him in an emergency blanket burial shroud. "I should have shot first."

Carefully, he drove back to the Jeep where he moved his stockpile and possessions over to the squad car. Diligently, he checked for anything he might want to keep, knowing this was the end of the line for his beloved Jeep, which included his keys.  

His hand on the hood, he said a few words. "Roscoe, you and me, we had some great times. You broke down on me more times than I cared to count, but you belonged to Mom, and I kept you as long as I could. I'd give you a Viking Car Burial, ol' girl, if I could spare the gas." He sighed and climbed into the Tahoe.

Now he had wheels and a shit ton of additional supplies which included two bulletproof vests, bear mace, and two tactical shot guns. Of course there was food, some water, and a nearly full tank of gas (thank you universe!) but the pièce de résistance of their supplies was the AED. It was one of those things he would probably never need, but given his dad's eating habits, a defibrillator was a valuable piece of survival equipment.

 

His passenger stirred a little, drifting in and out of consciousness for a while. It was three hours into their journey that Stiles' mind caught up with what he'd done. He'd left two men to die, helpless and unarmed, cuffed to the outside of a vehicle. He'd left them to become Rager chow. It wasn't like they didn't deserve it, and hell, maybe they didn't. Maybe they hadn't eaten in days, maybe they had families to feed.

"Oh god! I was right--I am that kind of guy. I am every other character in The Road except for Man and Boy." In that moment, the only thing he wanted was for his mother to hold him and tell him he wasn't the animal he felt he was on the way to becoming, an impossible request. Panic and guilt, well he'd let that control him for two days after Tacoma, he had no time for it now.

He swallowed down what emotions he felt, erecting a wall of stoicism around himself, one he never intended to take down or let anyone inside of. Stiles didn't think he could handle the way his family and friends would look at him if they knew. No, he'd bury it with all those unspoken thoughts of grief he'd felt after his mother's death, where they would never again see the light of day.

The only people who need ever know what he did were the two men he left for dead, himself, and a god he no longer believed in..

Chapter Text

Stiles yawned. The clock on the radio read 01:15 a.m. After the harrowing morning he had, exhaustion had crept up his body, slowly starting at his toes until now even his eyebrows felt tired. The stranger, otherwise known only by the last name on his tag (Parrish), still slept in the back seat.

Said man had briefly woken around three in the afternoon for a few minutes. He'd looked around the vehicle and promptly gone back to sleep. Now Stiles knew with a head injury, it was best to keep the person awake, but hey it's not like he had other things to worry about. You know, like driving and escaping the undead. Besides, he wasn't a damn doctor; how the hell was he supposed to treat a concussion anyway?

The further south he drove, the less congestion he'd found. He supposed no one was actively trying to get closer to Ground Zero USA, though it wasn't like the rest of the country was any better. Don't get him wrong. There were still cars serving as tombs for their former owners, just less of them. Maybe, there weren't enough people left to make that much evacuation traffic. A grim thought. For a brief ten miles between Weed and Mt. Shasta, he even ventured back onto Interstate 5--It was still a mess, before exiting onto 89.

In one day, he'd managed to travel further than he had in the prior two weeks, though he supposed a nearly full tank with enough gas in the five cans in the trunk for another tank and a half probably helped to speed things up. It seemed that after every five hours of driving in Roscoe -Rest in vehicular peace, My Blue Princess, he would need to scavenge for gas to keep up his supply. Being stranded on back highways with no fuel was not a scenario in which he wanted to find himself.

Softly, he began singing along to the song playing through the speakers. To keep himself awake, he'd had the music player app on his phone running in the background. "I am machine. I never sleep. I keep my eyes wide open." Well that lyric was pretty ironic given that he was struggling not to fall asleep in that moment.

                                       Chico 2mi

Stiles gleefully took the exit as he passed it. He needed to find somewhere secure to hole themselves up for a couple days while he tended to his injured passenger, and county roads offered little in the way of that. Now if only he could decide where to park.

For another half an hour or so, he drove around aimlessly, chuckling to himself as he mowed down a couple Ragers. Hooray for push bumpers! Zombie Kill of the Week? Yeah probably.

He almost missed it as he drove past. However, a quick double take and U-turn sent him back to what caught his eye. Okay, so he'd seen Dawn of the Dead, and malls were not the smartest place to seek shelter, but he had ideas. All right?

After locking himself out of his apartment four times in one month sophomore year, he invested in a lock pick kit. Just for fun, because that was the kind man he was, he'd practiced on a couple padlocks in his spare time. Now, despite his skill-set, he'd never used it for nefarious purposes.

Around the back of the mall, he pulled the Tahoe up to the particular loading dock he needed, and oh thank god, he could see a full sized ramp. First things first, after arming himself, he locked Parrish in the car. Wow that bulletproof vest fit nicely. Hunting rifle on his back, shotgun in his hand and two side arms, he lifted the dock door just enough to crouch under. He was ready for war.

Inside, the stillness of the place was surprising. Silence and total darkness surrounded him. Once again, he thanked whatever hapless motorist thought to purchase his headlamp, because he found its red light function especially handy in the dark. Now, in the distance, and he supposed the main area of the mall, he could hear Ragers moaning, growling, or whatever the hell that noise they made was called. Someone needed to write a book called Sounds of the Supernatural: An Onomatopoeic Reference Manual for Your Mythical Creature Needs. Well someone should have. Probably not gonna happen now.

He supposed the lack of Rager sounds in his immediate vicinity was a good sign and soon found his knife proved the most useful while he wandered around the sporting goods store, picking off a Rager here or there. Should call me Stiles 'Stealth' Stilinski, cause I am a machine! His first sweep of the store rid the place of twenty infected scattered throughout.  Finally, he made it to the front doors, and he almost dropped to his knees crying at the sight of the intact doors. They were open of course, but not broken.

They squeaked as he pulled them shut...okay so declaring Stealth his new middle name may have been premature, but he hadn't tripped over a single thing in the place. Not once. It was an improvement.

He pushed the mostly empty racks of clothes towards the doors as a barricade when he noticed the two kayaks on display. He hefted one onto his shoulder, and those fuckers were a lot heavier than they looked, but with some elbow grease, he pushed it on top of the racks--a true balancing act indeed. Why go through all that trouble? Well, he thought it might block any light he turned on from being seen outside the store. Hopefully, his wall of fixtures would be enough to keep out unwanted infected.

Near the dock entrance, he moved racks out of the way from the door, rolled under the metal gate and hurried back to the driver's seat. The ramp, it turned out, was not exactly as wide as he thought it was at first glance. It proved a tight fit, but slow and steady wins the race to a safe sleeping place for the night. Once the Tahoe was securely inside, he pulled the door down and locked it.


Safety.


Not something he'd experienced much lately, and he wasn't sure how to feel.

On his first run through the store he tried to take a mental inventory of what he found so he could come back for it. The guns? Cleaned out. Not surprising though. He did find a box of .22 long rifle ammo, which he pocketed right away. However, he did notice something, well two somethings, in the camping section and ran for those right away.

"Come here, my lovelies!" He cried in absolute joy when he picked the two air mattresses up from their location on the bottom shelf. One, a queen size, contained a hand pump. The other was one of those SUV mattresses, which would come in handy. The shelf above contained one item: An air pump with a car adapter.

On his way back to the truck, he giggled when he saw a set of ski poles, and yep, those would be coming with him, if for nothing else, to serve as an inside joke. He'd gather supplies in the morning. Right now, he needed to get some liquid into Parrish, and then he needed rest.

Headlights made for great illumination, and in no time, he had both beds set up on the ground outside the vehicle. It took a lot of work, but he managed to rouse his passenger enough to get him to the smaller mattress. As he pulled out two meals from the trunk and two bottles of water, he heard a groan from the man. Stiles jumped out the back of the truck to see the man staring at him. "Just give me a second, and I will explain everything okay? I am not going to hurt you." He shut off the lights and pulled out his camp lantern which he set between the two beds. "Do you want Chicken Tomato with Feta, applesauce, and a biscuit. Or do you want Beef Pot Roast, with Au Gratin potatoes and a chocolate pound cake? I haven't been using my flameless heaters because they take water, but I mean, you're injured so I'd warm yours up if you wanted."

The man looked at him, utter confusion plastered on his face. "Um, who are you? Where am I? What-"

"Can you pick one so I can get it heating up for you? It takes a while. I will answer your questions I promise." Stiles took off his bulletproof vest and goggles.

"I'll take the chicken."

"Great." He dropped the MRE pouch into the ration heater and poured in the necessary amount of water. Holding the thing level for a minute, he waited until the water was absorbed before stuffing the whole thing into the provided carton, propping the thing up with his goggles near the man's bed. "That should be ready in about fifteen minutes or so. That water bottle is for you. I have more if you need to drink the whole thing."

"Thank you." He rubbed his head. "Wow, that really hurts."

"Yeah, they hit you pretty hard. All I have some very basic pain meds, but I didn't give you any before. I didn't know if you are allergic to anything."

"No, I'm not."

Stiles handed him a few Advil. "That's the best I have." He waited for the man to swallow the pills before continuing. "My name is Stiles. We're inside a Dick's Sporting Goods in Chico. Why are we in Chico you ask? Well, because... How much do you remember?"

The man winced as he sat up, before deciding it to be a terrible idea and lay back down. He rolled to face Stiles. "I was sleeping in the driver's seat, and these men pulled me out of the car. I guess they'd surprised Ben when he'd gone to take a piss or something. They wanted our guns and food." He looked around. "Where's Ben?"

Stiles frowned and shook his head. "I came upon you guys right as they shot him. I happened to have a smoke bomb. So that helped confuse them. Knocked them out." You liar- Walls, remember that wall. He'd shoot you if he knew what you did. "There was nothing I could do for your partner. I'm sorry. I couldn't help him. Um, I left his shield with him, but I took his name tag and ID for you. Thought you might want the memento." He pulled them from his jacket pocket. "Here. Oh, and I sort of stole your squad car. My Jeep died the night before not too far away from where you guys were, but you were unconscious. I couldn't leave you behind. So here we are. I'm sorry if you were on your way to family or something, but I needed a vehicle."

He shook his head. "Not my family. Ben was from Eureka. They didn't know we were coming. My parents died a few years ago. So I guess I have nowhere to go now."

"You want to stick together?" He took a bit of his pot roast. Not as good as the meatballs. God, I'd kill for a meatball sub and a beer right about now. "I mean, I'm pretty sure you have a concussion. So you could use my help, and I'm not too terrible a traveling companion."

"I'm Jordan."

"Nice to meet you, Jordan. I'm not completely freeloading off you though. I bring my own supplies to the table. I have, well MRE's, obviously, and about two cases of water left. I've been rationing myself as best I can. I have some prescription medication that salvaged from my apartment building. I don't know what any of them do though. I have bullets and a rifle. So... oh yeah. I found air mattresses, but you probably figured that out. I did my best with the cut on your head."

Jordan nodded. "You seem awfully young to be doing this alone."

"I'm older than I look. I'm twenty-one, and hopefully I'm not alone. I'm trying to get to Beacon Hills."

"Yeah, where's that?"

"Near Merced. How old are you?"

"Twenty-seven. What's in Beacon Hills?"

"Home and hopefully, my family. My dad is the sheriff of Beacon County, and it was always the family emergency plan to meet at the station. So I am hoping with everything I have that he is there with my step-mom, step-brother, and boyfriend. Until this damn mess started I was a senior at University of Washington. So it's been a long lonely journey up to this point." He gulped down the rest of his water.

After eating, he found he'd got a second wind. "You okay here? I'm gonna check the place out for useable supplies." Jordan nodded, and he set off to do a more thorough search. His first stop was to go through the camping section with a fine-toothed comb.

In the back corner, several shelves had either fallen down or been pulled off the wall. From underneath them, he pulled two sleeping bags. Excellent. Two aisles away, and he wasn't sure why no one thought to take them, but he found a compass, waterproof matches, and a Lifestraw. Maybe that last one looked like a whistle to the untrained eye.

From there, he moved on through the rest of the store. No, he did not forget about those ski poles. Though all the boxes had been pulled off the shelves, and several racks of shelves themselves had been knocked over, he was lucky enough to find a pair of hiking shoes. So long porous Chuck Taylor's! He also found a pair of cross trainers in Derek's and Melissa's sizes. Five other pairs of shoes in various sizes went into a rolling duffel bag.

Thinking it would be nice to have a layer of clothing that wicked water away from his skin would be nice, he scoured through the remaining clothing for an UnderArmour shirt in his size. All that remained were in women's sizes, but he found one large enough to fit him. Even if it was hot pink, he didn't care. Anything he could find that looked big enough to fit himself or his family went into the bag as well.

In the hockey section, he grabbed two pairs of skates thinking the blades might work if they could fix them to a pole. Rudimentary axe? Why not? There was a set of chest pads on the wall, which he pulled down and threw in the duffel too.

Two fishing poles and a very basic tackle kit had him almost giddy. Someone, not him--God no. He was a terrible fisherman--someone would get use out of those.

On his way back to the Tahoe, his temporary lack of clumsiness ran out, and he stumbled over a box in the middle of an aisle, hitting the ground hard. He lay there on the ground, wincing as he rubbed his aching wrists. Sure hope I didn't break anything. As he turned his head to roll onto his side, figuring it would be easier to get up that way and not irritate his wrists further, his eyes caught sight of something wedged under the shelf, and wedged well.

He could just get his fingers on the handle, but it wouldn't budge. Crouching against the shelf, he got his shoulder on it and pushed with all his might. It only moved maybe three inches, but he felt it slide off whatever had been stuck underneath. After all that work, he wanted, nay needed, to see what the fuck was underneath. It sure as hell better not be a spatula.

"Macheteeeee!" He called to the rafters in victory and practically skipped back to the 'camp' where he fell onto his bed in glee. He pulled out his phone and looked at the wallpaper, a selfie of the two of them atop Seattle Great Wheel. He kissed the screen.



I'm coming, Derek. I'll be there soon. You better be waiting.

Chapter Text

Inside the station, the group minus Derek, Boyd, and Isaac huddled around several maps. Chris highlighted the same route on all of them. "So this will get us to Salt Lake."

Scott leaned forward. "You might want to avoid this here," he pointed to the map, "highway 99 was a disaster from Sacramento to Modesto. Took me five days. I'm not kidding. There were cars and walkers everywhere."

Chris nodded, considering the younger man's words. "Well, we could...no. Give me a minute to think about this."

"What if we took 59 to Carson Pass to 395. That's state route 88. I mean it gets pretty high in elevation, so it's not a route evacuees would normally choose, but we'd be fine with the cars we have. There's not much around through there, but forest. So probably less walkers. As long as we have enough gas, we could make it work. It's only about 125 miles. That's not even full tanks of gas. I mean, it's April, and it's been warming up the last week and a half. The snow should be gone. We could hunt game if needed, and it passes right by Silver Lake. Fresh water."

"That...actually sounds like a great alternative."

Just like it had off and on for several days, a broken and disembodied voice crackled through the scanner. "If...hear me. This message...Hills Sheriff's Depar...Outside Stockton...Soon." And just like before, the voice cut out as quickly as is showed up. No one in the group could decide if it was rescue vehicles or perhaps supplies. Still, a small hope remained that it might be Stiles, but only Derek still believed that.

"How long they been gone?" Melissa asked, looking up from her usual position of organizing and divvying up the dinner rations. The three men missing from their small group had gone for supplies, mainly gas and water.

Little parties had gone out every couple of days, grabbing anything and everything they could from what little remained in the town. They all had a long journey ahead of them, and they'd need every little bit they could find. She looked over at their stockpile of gas cans. By Chris and John's estimates, they had about a hundred gallons of gas, which between their two large SUV's should last them a good chunk of their trip. It would be a tight squeeze as is, and an extra vehicle would sure be nice, if for nothing else, to carry most of their supplies.

"A day and a half now. I'm starting to get worried." John sighed. "No one ever stayed out this long."

"Well, they're three grown men, big guys; they could potentially carry quite a lot." Chris patted John on the shoulder in reassurance. The initial one month he'd given Derek to wait for Stiles had to be revised. That had been  a conversation he didn't want to have. Their initial estimate on rations was off, and they were down to two meals a day. A supply run the week before produced about thirty assorted canned goods, and a box of powdered milk, a nice haul. Even that wouldn't last long with twelve people. Beacon Hills had been pretty much picked dry, and if they were going to have any hope of getting to Iowa, they needed to leave soon. He gave Derek a week. That had been five days ago. The way both Derek's and John's faces fell was a look he'd never like to see again. "And it's our last chance to scavenge the town."

 

 



Everyone ate in silence as the last light outside died. Last week, John disconnected the solar backup generator on the roof, citing it to be invaluable, and absolutely had to make the trip with them. It was now secured in Chris's truck in the garage downstairs along with any supplies they didn't need for the next few days. Only essentials like rations, sleeping bags and hygiene products had been left out.

When the sun dipped behind the horizon, he climbed up onto the roof and retrieved the two solar lanterns left to charge up there for the day. Their dim light wasn't much, but it was enough to see the anxious faces around the room. They were safe in their little fortress, but everyone agreed that without food, they wouldn't be able to stay much longer, and the impending journey had most of them nervous. Pretty much everyone except Chris, but then again, John took him for the type of guy that just didn't get rattled, and if he was, it would never show.

About an hour later, he heard the steel garage door downstairs being manually opened and sighed in relief. The group was back. Sounds of exhausted footfalls echoed up the stairs. John listened...only two sets of feet. Oh no, who did they lose? He held his breath as the door opened. Isaac and Boyd had Derek supported between the two of them. "What happened?"

"Somebody thinks he can still function without sleep." Isaac rolled his eyes. "He had watch last night. Wasn't paying attention to his steps. Caught his foot on something, rolled his ankle."

John took Derek off their hands. "I got ya, son. Come on, let's have Melissa take a look at you." He set the man down on an empty desk, turning the nearby lantern up to full.

"Well, it's swollen." She inspected the injured ankle, flexing his foot. "I don't feel any broken bones. Does this hurt?"

"Not so much. I can walk on it, but I have to limp. I'll be fine."

"It just looks sprained, but we'll keep an eye on it. You look beat. When was the last time you slept?"

He rubbed his face. "I dunno. Three days ago. Even when I do it's-- I don't sleep much." He sighed. "I can't."

 

 



"Well you're no good to us dead. Come on, Sweetie." She grabbed a disposable ice pack and an ace bandage, before slipping a syringe and a vial into the pocket of her cardigan. She helped him hobble into the gun cage, the area he'd claimed as his and no one bothered to question or enter. She tried to hide her little smile at the little fort he'd made for himself, blankets tied to the grates. A roll of clothes wrapped in a blanket was pressed up against the wall, but it was the red hoodie he'd zipped around the bundle that did her in. He'd made himself a Stiles pillow.

Derek looked over and noticed her staring. "Don't say a word. I was willing to try anything. This helped when I was younger, adds security. Still didn't help me sleep. You know, if I knew he was dead, yeah I'd be miserable. I'd be worthless for a little while, but at least he wouldn't be suffering in this hell, too. It's the not knowing-- Is he out there alone and scared? Is he hurt? Is he one of them now, nothing like the man I love? I don't know." He lifted the edge of the blanket above his bed so he could sit down. "Maybe I never will. It's horrible."

"You're doing better than I would. I was barely hanging on when Scott was missing too, and I'm still just barely there. Everyone forgets I've known him since Kindergarten. He's my son too, even if not blood." She gingerly wrapped his swollen ankle, broke open the ice pack, setting it on the tender skin. "Here's some Advil." She watched him swallow the pills without water.
 
When she filled the syringe with the liquid in the vial, Derek's eyes widened. "What are you giving me?"

"A sedative. Derek, you need a good night's sleep. Preferably a good eighteen hours, but we'll start with eight."

He winced as the needle entered his arm. "Thanks, Melissa."

"Get some sleep." She watched him roll over and snuggle up against the pillow, out cold in a minute or two.

Back in the main room, the group had mostly settled for the night. Especially Isaac and Boyd who appeared almost as tired as Derek. Their haul had yielded two gallons of gas, four gallons of water, and oddly enough a case of beef Jerky among many other small things. She pointed to the box. "Where..."

 

 


"The library stock room of all places. Chris says you can reconstitute it in boiling water, throw some vegetables in and make a stew. So we should be able to get several meals out of it. They also found some dried beans and barley. Chris volunteered with Tara to take watch tonight. Come on, let's go to bed." John turned off one lantern, before dimming the second one. As he got comfortable on their mattress, the last thing on his mind that night was his son. Two days... two days, Stiles.


                                                                                                             *   *   *   *   *

 

"I don't know, Stiles. This place looks like a ghost town." Jordan said, peering through the windshield at the all but deserted Beacon Hills.

Stiles nodded from the passenger seat. "We'll just check the station. Take a left on Ravenswood Blvd. If they're not there, then I don't know where they are, if anywhere. If that's the case, then I guess it's just you and me for now." Outside the window, he stared at a town he barely recognized. He'd grown up there, and nothing looked the way it did the last time he'd seen it only months before. Storefronts had been broken into, cars crashed into streetlights, and everywhere he looked was tragedy. It took a lot of strength to keep himself composed. "Okay in about eight blocks, take a right on Kennedy. You'll take that for two miles, then the right fork, and the sheriff's station will be at the end of that little road. It doesn't have a name. It's just a really long driveway." He didn't have the energy to pay attention anymore, or continue looking at the devastation of his hometown. He reclined his seat all the way back to hide the outside from him.

"Uh Stiles?" Jordan asked about ten minutes later.

"Yeah, man?"

"We have a bit of a problem."

Stiles sat up lightning quick. The scene that he was met with was a nightmare. Surrounding the station, a massive horde of at least a hundred Ragers prevented them from even getting close...at least a hundred. "Oh fuck." He climbed into the back seat, digging through several boxes until he found what he needed. He cracked open a blister package of ping pong balls.

"What are you doing?"

"Improvising." He handed Jordan a box of aluminum foil. "Rip off a square foot of foil for each of these six balls while I get started." Mult-itool in hand, he cut little holes in each ball and then dug around in the glove box for a pen. "Foil?" Jordan handed him a piece, and he wrapped first one ball up and then followed suit with the rest of them. "Got a lighter?"

"Yeah."

"Okay me too. Rifle ready?"

Jordan looked at him like he was insane. "This is suicide. You know that right?"

"Look. I did not just travel a thousand miles to give up now. Now, I need you to cover me while I light these. They'll give us a smoke screen. I dunno, maybe it will confuse them.. Okay?"

Jordan laughed. "That's what you were doing? You know I have tactical grade smoke grenades in the back right?"

Stiles deadpanned. "Way to give a man a heads up. So get them, Boy Wonder."

Jordan reached into the ammo locker and pulled out two grenades. "You ready?"

Machete in hand, Stiles pulled on his goggles and ski mask. "You?"

He tugged on the riot helmet. "Let's do this." He rolled down the window, pulled the pins and tossed them into the horde. Thick smoke began billowing up from the ground.

Stiles had never faced this many Ragers at once. It was terrifying, hearing the snarling all around him, but he was just as blind as they were. Still, he had working mental faculties, which was a plus. Heads and limbs flew off in all directions. He lost track after thirty-seven, and wow this felt like Lord of the Rings, but then which one of them was Gimli?

It was grueling and quickly began to piss him off. The nerve of this virus. 'Please just come into our towns, infect our loved ones, turn them into mindless eating machines. Please, we welcome it. It will be the change we've been clamoring for.' Ugh, fucking zombies. He was so done with this shit.

He'd become hardened since leaving Seattle. Just like this town, he doubted anyone would recognize him now if they really looked at him. Stiles the kid--Heh Stiles the Kid is totally my outlaw name--well that guy had grown up a lot in a month. He was battle weary at this point, and just needed a hug, damn it.

When a Rager grabbed onto his arm, he lost it, going absolutely mad with rage, splitting skulls with the fury of a berserker and a primal yell to match. "I.did.not.travel. his.fucking.far.just to die.at.the Gates of Mordor!" After he sliced a head clean off, there was an eerie stillness amidst the smoke. "You all right, Jordan?"

"I'm good. I think we got them all."

He nodded. "Maybe we get back in the truck and wait for the smoke to clear?"

"Sounds like a plan." They shuffled back to the Tahoe to wait out the smoke. "Ugh that, fucking sucked. And oh blech, I'm covered in Rager guts. That's nasty, man."

Stiles felt his heart pounding in his chest. When the smoke dissipated, the carnage before them was incredible. "I can't believe we fucking did that."

"Good plan, Stiles. What now?"

"Drive around back. There's an entrance to the garage." His nerves began to eat away at him as they inched closer to their destination.

 

                                                                                                               *   *   *   *   *

 

Chris' eyes had begun to flutter closed when he heard the gunshots outside. However tired he felt before, he was wide awake now as was just about everyone else. Everyone but Boyd and Isaac, actually, and Derek, well he was unlikely to wake up any time soon.

John hurried over to him, struggling to put on his shoes on the way. "That's an assault rifle."

Chris nodded. "Sounds military."

"Do you think it's the aid we tried to call for two months ago?" Melissa rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

"Unlikely. We've heard nothing over the scanner about military evac's." Chris frowned, training his ears outside to see if he could pick anything specific out of the commotion, but all he heard were guns and the sounds of Ragers.

"What about that message that kept coming through?" Scott, still stripped down to his pajama pants and a-shirt, joined the group. "Do you think that could have been military?"

"I don't know. We don't know anything. And we won't until they make contact." He looked around the room at a sea of frightened faces. "I suggest we arm ourselves just in case it's someone coming to take what supplies we do have. Gotta be prepared."

Then, all the commotion outside seemed to die out, and for many minutes, all they heard was silence. Filling the room were sounds of anxious breathing, and little else.

"Look, I don't like the thought of it anymore than you do, but this world we live in now, this is war. When someone is shooting at you, you either shoot back or you end up dead." His words snapped the group out of their stupor just in time for them all to hear the sound of the lock on the garage door being fiddled with. "I'll go check it out." He whispered and headed for the stairwell.

Slowly, he descended the stairs, making as little noise as he could. He knew how to sneak, he'd been in the military after all. Once his feet hit the landing, he peered around the corner. Only a small peak, careful to hide his body behind the wall. In that brief moment, he watched a police vehicle drive into the garage. It was too dark to make out any writing on the vehicle, but he could see the lights on the top of the SUV. John had said all his deputies but Tara and Derek were gone. So who in the hell was this? The driver's side door opened and a man hopped out. In the low light, Chris could see he did not appear to be holding a weapon, but he did have a handgun holstered on his hip.

"I don't know about you, but even if they're not here. I need to get out of these clothes...and perhaps burn them. I will never be able to wash all the Rager guts out of them."

Chris watched him walk around to the back and open the hatch where he began shedding his clothes in favor of cleaner ones. The passenger side opened; another man climbed out, this one taller than the first. Chris could make out a set of goggles atop his head, duffel in hand.

"Why are you redressing before you wash the gore off the rest of you?" Layers flew off the guy until he stood in an undershirt and boxers...and boots. How he managed to get the pants off over them, Chris couldn't figure out. However, the voice, though hoarse sounded familiar. "Let's just hurry up. Okay. Someone is here. There are two cars, and," he walked over to them, "they are loaded with supplies."

Chris prepared his weapon, expecting them to make a grab for what little remained of their rations. However, neither man even made an attempt at the door handles.

"Hey," the taller man said, "Jordan. Trust me. I recognize both of these trucks. Just hurry up."

As the crossed to the stairwell, Chris stood, weapon drawn, pointing the barrel of the rifle and the attached light right in their faces. They both froze. "What do you want? Wait...Stiles?"

"That sounds like Mr. Argent. Am I right? Could you lower your gun, Chris?"

The three of them marched up the stairs with no sense of hurry, especially now that Chris knew there was no threat from their late night visitors. "So I found some strays."

"Oh thank, God!" John rushed forward and pulled his son into what he was sure was the tightest hug he could possibly give the kid without crushing him.

 

 


By the time Scott and Melissa joined in, Stiles could hardly breathe. "Hi, Dad. So um...I made it. Just like I said I would. If you guys need any, we have rations and water in the car downstairs." In that moment, he almost felt like a mouse being squeezed to death by a python. "Hey you think you guys could ease up?" When they released him, his eyes quickly darted around the room as though he were cataloging the faces within, and in an instant, his face fell, crashing to the floor.

 

 



John recognized the familiar look of panic on his son's face. "Hey, hey. Calm down. Breathe."

Stiles panted, chest heaving. "Where's...where's Derek? Tell me he made it here." Tears pricked the corners of his eyes. "Please."

Melissa took her step-son's face in her hands. "He's sedated. Been having trouble sleeping." He relaxed in her arms, and his head dropped to her shoulder, where he let quiet sobs take over him. "Let's get you cleaned up, yeah? Both of you." She gestured to Jordan.

Stiles picked up his head. "Oh sorry. This is Jordan. He's a cop, well was. I saved his life, threw his unconscious body in the back seat and then sort stole his squad car. We're buddies now."

She led them back to the officer locker room. "We packed away the camp shower yesterday."

"Why?"

"Well, Argent's dad apparently has, had a homestead in Iowa, with supplies and solar power, wells. We're leaving in a couple of days."

He laughed. "Of course that crazy old bastard would have been a Prepper." The true weight of her words hit him. "You were going to leave me behind?"

"Sweetheart, we're running out of food here. We were going to leave you a map telling you where to go. But you're here now. Anyway. There should be some water in that bucket. There is shampoo and soap right by it, and a couple clean rags and towels are on the window sill. When you're done, I'll have a blanket set up for you, Jordan. Derek's in the gun cage."

He quirked a brow at her. "Really? The gun cage?"

"You know how he is. He needed his own space."

"Yeah. Oh, we have sleeping bags in the car, Mom. And a couple air mattresses if someone wants to use them."

She looked at him, fondness set into her features. 

"What?"

"That's the first time you've done that. Called me mom."

"I did?" He nodded as he thought it over. "Didn't even realize it. Must have felt right."

While he watched the last remnants of his fight outside wash down the drain, all the tension Stiles had been carrying in his body bled out of him. He'd made it to his family; the people he cared about were safe. It was a great comfort to him. He hurried through his quick bath, desperate to crawl in beside his boyfriend, to hold him tight.  

When he found Derek in the back corner of his claimed space, his heart clenched at the sight of him tucked away in his own little blanket fort, body curled around a pillow like it was a person. "Hey, Big Guy." He whispered as he lay down beside him, pulling the blanket up over them both. He kissed his shoulder, nuzzling into the crook of his neck, arm tightly around his waist. "I made it, just like I promised." God you feel like home.

In no time, he fell into a deep sleep.

                                                                                                                        *   *   *   *   *

 

Sunlight glinted through the barred window in the gun cage, illuminating the orange blanket canopy above him. Derek rubbed his eyes, feeling more rested than he had in months. Even still, cocooned in a blanket of warmth, he didn't have any intentions of moving until someone came to check on him, or either his bladder or stomach convinced him otherwise.

Under the blanket, he flexed his ankle. Ouch! That's going to be fun for a couple of days. When he tried to roll over, he found himself unable, as if an immovable wall had closed him into his space. Despite the rest, his head was still a little foggy, hangover of the medication he supposed. Though, he was fairly certain there shouldn't be a wall there, a warm one at that, one with an arm around his waist. Oh hell, who decided he was having such a bad day that they should cuddle him without asking?  He tried once more to roll over, only to be met with a grumble of a person obviously still asleep.

"No, too early. Go back to sleep, Honey. I'll make breakfast later."

Derek's eyes widened, and he instead turned the other way where he came face to face with Stiles. For the briefest of moments, he hesitated waking him, but emotion got the better of him. Snaking an arm around his boyfriend's waist, he pulled him tightly against his body, placing a few gentle kisses on his lips in an attempt to coax him awake. It worked, and those beautiful eyes he adored fluttered open to stare at him, a sleepy smile on his lips.

"Hey you."

Derek held him tighter rolling onto his back and pulled Stiles with him. He needed to touch as much of him as possible in that moment. "You made it." He kissed his forehead. "I missed you so much."

 

 



"Yeah, me too." Stiles lay his head to Derek's chest, listening to the heartbeat drumming beneath his ear, trying everything to keep from falling apart. He'd spent so long with such a singular focus: Get to Beacon Hills. Now, the relief just flooded his body; it was hard to contain. After a minute or two of Derek carding his fingers through Stiles' hair, he decided he didn't want to contain it.

He surged up Derek's body to meet his mouth in a feverish kiss, the kind that turned him into a heady mess. The kind that always led to other things, like lost clothes and desperate rutting against each other. The kind that turned into something epic, like hungry hands over bare flesh and tight embraces on the come down. He didn't care at all if anyone heard them. They needed this.

In their little cave, in a gun cage, in a little police station where everything outside had gone to shit, they ignored the world lost in each other.

Chapter Text

"Someone needs to say it," Isaac said as he stood back, staring at the open hatches of their three vehicles.

Boyd did not look amused by the fact he was still loading up supplies while Isaac 'supervised.' "Say what?"

"That we look like a bunch of arms dealers."

"That's funny, because I was an arms dealer." Chris pushed past him with a hefty box of ammunition. "How about you go help?"

Isaac adjusted his scarf, gesturing to the activity around him. "Naw, I'm a much bigger proponent of observing the process. You know, making sure no one gets hurt and to check for additional space in the vehicles. It's like Tetris. I'm a master at that game."

Derek came up behind him and nudged him towards their stockpile with his shoulder. "Too bad. The sooner we get everything else loaded and distributed as equally as possible, the sooner we can leave." His arms full of weapons, he couldn't help humming as he worked.

"Not more of that! So glad I'm not in your car." Tara laughed. "He sing this much when he's with you? I swear he's like a walking karaoke machine at work."

Stiles laughed. "Yeah, but you're under the impression I don't like listening to him sing, Tara. I love it. Let's be honest, it's not like he has a bad singing voice." His eyebrows rose when he finally recognized the song. "Really, Derek? What prompted Nirvana today?"

Derek turned to him and grinned singing the opening line. "Load up on guns, and bring your friends."

"You're right." He nodded in agreement "Practically sings itself." He gave Derek a peck on his cheek.

Melissa helped Anthony to get buckled in the backseat of hers and John's truck. "Can I get you anything, Sweetheart?" He shook his head, holding tightly to the bear and blanket Tara gave him. The boy had seldom left Scott's side since they arrived, latching onto him like an older brother. Or maybe, it was a case of hero worship. He'd barely spoken. So despite his desire to ride with Stiles, Scott found himself riding with his parents. Not exactly what he had in mind.


"This should be the last of it." Stiles stuffed his, Derek's, and Jordan's bedding into the back of the Tahoe. Since they would have the least number of passengers, their vehicle got the most cargo. Something about equal weight distribution for gas efficiency. Whatever, Chris. Total crap if you asked him, which no one did.

"Good luck surviving the trip with those two." Erica said, clapping Jordan on the back. "You may die of cuteness overload instead of a zombie attack. If you end up driving at all during this leg, beware, they'll probably make out in the back seat."

"I am insulted, Erica Boyd! Insulted! We are not that bad." Stiles shook at finger at her.

"No, you're worse." She cackled and climbed into the Argent's SUV. They'd have a full house with Chris, Allison and Isaac, as well as herself, Boyd, and Maria.

 

 


John stood outside the station looking around, practically committing everything to memory. He'd been a cop for almost thirty years, at this precinct for twenty-five, and just leaving it never to return felt like losing a limb. Yeah the hours sucked, he spent too much time away from Stiles when his son was younger, and the pay wasn't awesome compared to the hazards, but damn it, he loved his job. So engrossed in his last minute walk down memory lane, he didn't even notice his wife approaching until she hugged him from behind.

"Come on, John. We need to go. Chris wants to get to Silver Lake before sundown so we can scout a campground."

To say the mood was somber as everyone piled into their vehicles would be an understatement. Chris, well he had his standard face, one devoid of most emotion, but Allison looked anxious as hell. Her mood was shared by her boyfriend as well as Maria. Boyd just looked glad that he had his family with him, little as it was.

 

 

Melissa felt as conflicted as her husband. She'd grown up in Beacon Hills, lived here all her life, and though he didn't show it, putting on a brave face for their young passenger, Scott was terrified. Tara waxed poetic that if this were a horror movie instead of real life, she was a goner. The black girl always died.

However, the third car, well the mood in that one was the complete opposite. Jordan was just glad to not be traveling alone. Stiles and Derek were smiling, actually smiling. It was enough to make a lesser man vomit from the affection oozing from their pores.

                                                                                                                         *   *   *   *   *

 

Five hours from where they started, Derek chanced a glance over at his boyfriend who stared out the passenger side window. He couldn't help the warm smile that spread across his face until it met his eyes, where eventually, little lines would form on the corners (if he lived that long. God he hoped he lived that long.) Sure he had a gruff exterior, but Stiles just brought out his inner softie, the side of himself he tried to keep hidden from just about everyone else. He'd almost lost him, and he'd really hadn't stopped smiling since Stiles made it to the station.

The man must have felt Derek's eyes on him, because he turned towards the driver's seat. "What?"

He shook his head. "Nothing. Just watching you."

"Cause that's not at all creepy."

"Well I've spent the last months with only a 2D representation of you. The real life version is so much better."

 

 


Stiles felt his emotions rise in his throat. Fuck, he loved that man. Unbuckling, he leaned across the console to plant a few kisses on Derek's jaw, nuzzling his neck for a few moments before he sat back down in his seat. "Same to you, Hon."

 

 



Derek reached over to lay his hand, palm up, on Stiles' leg, wiggling his fingers to draw attention to them. When Stiles got the hint, he intertwined their fingers together. Though he'd never admit it if someone asked, what he'd missed most about Stiles choosing a college so far away was holding his hand. It wasn't the sex, even though, yeah going without that for months at a time with only Skype sex serving as a poor replacement sucked. It wasn't just being around him either. Nope, just the simple gesture of holding his hand. Hell if he was ever going to let go now.

The need to stare at his boyfriend didn't seem as overly pressing at that moment for Stiles as it did for him. "Whatcha looking at?" Derek asked.

 

 


Stiles looked out his window at the forest increasing in density around them. They'd been driving uphill for a while, and though he missed the sign, he was pretty sure they'd entered into Stanislaus National Forest about thirty miles ago.

They'd seen so few cars since they hit the more difficult terrain, that he had almost convinced himself they were all on a road trip, a plain ordinary road trip where there were no such things as Ragers, no RBNI2. Tens of millions of people were not dead around the world, and no one walked around like a zombie, well no more than usual. The wooded hills and the way they subtly grew in height until they became mountains were beautiful as they stretched towards the sky as though they were trying to kiss the clouds. Evergreens poked out of the rocks alongside the highway, and he couldn't help it. He knew that the air had to smell like heaven up here. He didn't know how. He just knew okay? That disgusting stench of death that permeated everything now, just wouldn't be here.

What he wouldn't give for this to be a simple vacation, a getaway with the man he loved. Maybe they'd rent a cabin or maybe they'd continue to Tahoe and stay at resort. "Just looking at the scenery. Thinking, you know?"

Derek turned down the radio. Though there were no stations, but between himself, Stiles and Jordan they had enough music on their phones to make the trip anything but silent. "About?"

Stiles shrugged. "I'm pretending we're going on vacation. I mean, I know we're not, but I just need to give myself this for a couple hours. A couple hours, so I can pretend that the life I dreamed for us has any way of still happening."

"How do you know it won't?"

Stiles gestured outside spreading his arms out in front of him. "Zombies, Der. We're not going to get the life I wanted. We only briefly talked about them, you know, kids. We both knew we wanted them, but we never talked about the how. I just," he looked down at his fingers, knotted in his lap, "where are we going to find a surrogate in this new reality. Adoption is noble, yeah I get that, but I wanted kids that had little bits of us in them. I didn't care which one of us. Maybe we'd get one with your eyes or my ridiculous upturned nose. We're not going to get our house with the nice backyard, no dog, and unless we steal one, no kids. I won't get to critique books for a living, writing my own on the side. When this all started, all I could think of was how I wouldn't get my degree. Then I spent so much energy trying to get back to you, that I didn't really let everything sink in. That struggle just to see you-- I'd be lying if I said it hadn't changed me, hadn't hardened me, shown me what I'm capable of when the chips are down, but I still want that life. I want it so badly. It just hit me as I watched the trees go by. No family trip to Disneyworld. You'll never get to show me New York, where we can take our picture atop the Empire State Building like stupid tourists. I'll never get to see Poland where my grandparents were born. It's almost too much, you know? We don't get any of that. None of us do." He sighed, leaning his head against the window.

Derek brought Stiles' hand to his lips to kiss the back of his hand. "But you have me. We'll have to make a new future. Though, I am bummed about not having children. You'd have been a great dad, and you'd have the worst 'Dad Jokes.' They'd love you." He squeezed his boyfriend's hand. "It bothers me too, but I can't dwell on it, because you made it home. You're here now." He glanced in the rear-view when he remembered Jordan was in the car with them. The man appeared to be trying hard to ignore them as he buried his nose in a battered book. "What are you reading?"

"The Divine Comedy. I've never read it, but I found it in a box of books in the back."

Stiles laughed. "Those are mine. I brought all my favorites, books that stuck with me, or anything I thought to be important. That's one I felt to be important. Felt we'd need them in Iowa. Had to pick a quote and write a paper about it sophomore year."

"Which did you pick, 'Abandon all hope?' That's the only one I know."

"Dude, three quarters of the class picked that. Nope, 'And now I fell as bodies fall, for dead.' Pretty sure the professor was glad to read something different. Got an A."

Derek smirked, and then turned up the radio when he heard the opening bars of the next song. As soon as the words started, he sang along with gusto.

                       "Just a small town boy, living in a lonely world. He took the midnight train goin' anywhere. Just a city boy, born and raised in Beacon Hil-"

"Those aren't the lyrics, you know. They don't even rhyme."

                      "A singer in a smokey room. The smell of beer and cheap cologne. For a smile they can share the night. It goes on and on and on and on."

Stiles burst out laughing. "What the hell are you doing, Der?"

Derek ignored him and kept on going, occasionally looking over at Stiles to sing him a line with great enthusiasm.    

                       "Livin' just to find emotion, hidin' somewhere in the night."

"I didn't even know your voice could get that high." He rolled his eyes, but by bridge, the whole car was singing along."

                       "Don't stop believin'
                        Hold on to that feelin'
                        Streetlight people"

As the song ended, Jordan struggled to catch his breath in the back. He'd lost it and started laughing before he could sing the last line of the song. "That was awesome. I haven't done that in years. If "Bohemian Rhapsody" comes on and you two don't go all Wayne's World with me, I will be seriously disappointed."

Stiles patted Derek's knee. "You're ridiculous, Honey."

"S'not ridiculous. I change the lyrics in songs all the time. Love songs especially."

Stiles raised an eyebrow at him. "Yeah?"

"I change the genders in them to make the lyrics applicable." He blushed. "Can't call you 'girl' and serenade you effectively, can I? It's not like I have a ton of choices for songs sung by men about their boyfriends. I change the she's to he's, her's to him's, Babe. I make do with what I have."

"Fuck, I love you." Stiles leaned his head back against the headrest and smiled at his boyfriend.

Instead of turning the music back down, the three of them continued with it playing loud and singing along at the top of their lungs, which included a surprisingly accurate and spirited rendition of "Jump Around" from Jordan. By the time they rolled into Silver Lake Resort, they had devolved into fits of giggles. Stiles fell out of the car he was laughing so hard. As he picked himself off the ground and dusted himself off, he noticed Chris' disapproving head shake. "What?"

"This isn't a pleasure cruise."

"Well yeah? Rule 32: Enjoy the little things." He grabbed his duffel and bed roll from the back.

"I don't follow."

"Zombieland survival rules."

 

 



The man rolled his eyes. He'd never really warmed up to Stiles. "Whatever. We've swept the cabins, and they're all in decent shape, but the better ones are further away from the store. It's pretty much picked clean, but we didn't check all the buildings. Go find a cabin. Allison, Isaac and I have the The Creek House. Your parents, Scott and Anthony are in cabin twelve. Erica and Boyd are in thirteen. Maria and Tara are in eleven. There is a free bunk in our cabin if you don't want to be the odd man out, Jordan. I mean unless you want to bunk with those two." He pointed to Derek and Stiles. "I wouldn't."

Jordan shrugged. "I'll give them privacy."

"We all decided to stay a few days here. See if we can't bag a deer and eat like kings for a day. Maybe try and fish. If we're lucky and have nice weather, it's not hard to dry meat over a fire."

"Look at you all survivalist." Stiles joked.

"Military. You learn some of this stuff. Anyway, we've tried to stay close together in case of emergency. Stop by my cabin to pick up your dinner and breakfasts."

 

 



Stiles took Derek's hand, and led him away, swinging their arms between them. "There's one right there. Says fourteen. Looks pretty cozy." He opened the door. "Look at the little kitchen!" He walked through the door to the bedroom, and sighed, "A bed, an actual bed." He flopped onto it, smiling like a lunatic.

Derek walked past him and into the bathroom just to test a hunch.

Stiles heard the shower start. "What? How?"

"Well and septic tank, Genius."

"Oh praise the inventor of the great septic tank. Thank the universe for the well!" He actually started crying.

"What in the-"

"These are tears of joy. Two days ago I washed with communal water from a bucket. The closet thing I've had to a shower in six weeks was getting soaked by freezing rain in Tacoma. Before that, I was cleaning myself with baby wipes! Let me be excited about this."

"It's cold." Derek deadpanned.

Stiles was off the bed in an instant, bag of toiletries in hand. "Don't fucking care." Clothes flew of in an remarkable display of elegance, especially from him, on his way to the bathroom. Even more impressive was his one handed grab of Derek's shirt, pulling him along into the bathroom.

                            
                                                                                                               *   *   *   *   *

 

After their shower, Derek had collapsed onto the bed, out like a light in minutes. So, Stiles went and dug in the Tahoe for his lanterns and candles while the sun began to set on the horizon. Curiosity got the better of him, and he took his machete, a spare pillowcase, and flashlight towards the store.

Chris was right. It was fairly empty at this point, but he did find a couple jars of salsa and a can of mixed nuts right up front. A bag of pasta had been knocked off a peg and obstructed by a newspaper. He put both into the bag. Why the newspaper? Preserving history, duh.

He continued combing the store for anything he could find. Stiles was nothing if not meticulous when he had a mission. Aisle by aisle he went through the store. Every little bit would help. His haul: A small bag of cornmeal, one of those plastic bears filled with honey, a soup mix, and sweet Jesus a bag of mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Hallelujah! Those were going to be his private stash. Sharing with the group be damned.

That was it for food though, but they would need other things. He found spare fishing hooks, Tiger Balm (whatever the hell that was), hand cream, a bar of laundry soap (?? Who would use such a thing?), and bug spray. Well that would definitely get used. As would the small bottle of aspirin, a lighter, and a package of tampons he found behind the counter. One of the women in their group would eventually need those. His foot caught on a box under the counter. It was a game of checkers. They'd need some form of entertainment. On his way out of the store something by the door grabbed his attention and he pocketed it for Derek.

Feeling chipper about his meager find, he hurried back to his cabin to find Derek not only awake but preparing dinner on the camp stove from the truck. He'd set the table with candles and plates, trying to make the place look homey. Stiles smiled at the sight and walked up to him, wrapping his arms around his waist. "Whatcha making?"

"Well I don't really know what to call it, but I figured we should save those ration meals for when we don't have time to cook. I traded our dinner for canned food from Chris. I told him I would share with another cabin if he gave me enough. It's just pasta I cooked in tomato sauce with canned spinach, tuna, and olives. Not much, but I tried. Tastes alright. Erica and Boyd were happy to have something other than ration meals."

Stiles kissed his shoulder. "Smells good. Never thought I'd be grateful for a hot meal."

"But, I did try my hand at dessert." He pointed to the item still cooking on the stove. "We only get half."

"What is it?"

"A lame two ingredient attempt at peach cobbler. Anyway, grab a plate, Babe." Once they were seated, meals in front of them, Stiles relayed what he found at the store. "Not bad. Hey be right back. I have to run dessert over to Boyd." Derek grabbed the portion he'd made up for cabin thirteen and was out the door.

Stiles pulled the little gift from his pocket and set it just under the edge of Derek's plate and then dished up dessert for each of them. The man had been right, by normal standards, it was a pretty lame peach cobbler. All things considered, given the state of current events, it tasted like the best damned sweet he'd ever have in his life.  "You have peaches on your face," he said when Derek returned. 

Derek tried to wipe them off to no avail.

"No, just there." Stiles mimicked the location of the confection on his own face. "No, you keep missing. Just let me." He leaned across the table and licked it off Derek's cheek, the roughness of the man's stubble tickling his tongue.

"Gross."

"Yeah, but you liked it."

Derek smiled. "Yeah I did." He rinsed their plates in the sink. Running water was a thing that should never be taken for granted. "What's this?" He pointed at the little package on the table.

"Something that reminded me of you. The etchings on it looked a little like your tattoo." He watched Derek unwrap the pewter wolf pendant that had been hanging, lonely, in a display by the door. "It's okay if you think it's hideous."

Derek chuckled, "No, it's nice." He struggled before handing it to Stiles. "A little help?"

Stiles had no trouble with the clasp, even in the dark, but he made it take as long as possible just to let his fingers run across the back of Derek's neck. There were so many words hanging on his tongue, nervous and trembling, stalling like a desperate man on a ledge. Now, ask him now. It's perfect. No, it's not special enough. You can do so much better. He warred with himself, and besides, he didn't even take the ring out of his duffel. Nothing screams romance like, 'Will you marry me? Wait I have to dig through my luggage for your ring. I know it's here somewhere' You idiot! In the end, his nerves won out. For another day, definitely. He'd do better. He'd plan it.

Instead, he settled for wrapping his arms around Derek's shoulders, nuzzling into his neck. "Wish we could just stay here. This little cabin is a fine substitute for a home, kids or not. Maybe I'd domesticate a duck from the pond. We could call him Daffy, teach him to quack with a lisp." He laughed a little at his own joke. "I bet you'd make one sexy lumberjack. I saw a few flannel shirts in the general store. Grow your beard out. We could grow old out here in the wilderness. Sitting in our rocking chairs as old grumpy men yelling at the ducks to get off our lawn."

Derek rubbed Stiles' forearm. "I hate to break it to you, but I think training a duck to acquire a speech impediment might be a little difficult. What's with all this sudden talk about kids? Something you're not telling me? You're not pregnant are you?"

"Very funny, you dick,"  Stiles laughed. "But can you imagine how whiny I'd get? You've seen me with a cold, and I will be the first to admit I am a big baby when I'm in pain. Well around you anyway."

"Gee thanks."

"Well," he peppered Derek's neck with feather-light kisses, "maybe I like it when you take care of me." He slipped his arms down around the man's waist to stroke the skin of his stomach just under the hem of his shirt. "I like taking care of you too, you know; it's nice to feel needed by my big, strong boyfriend now and then."

Derek turned around in his arms. "I always need you." He kissed Stiles' forehead. "You feeling okay? You don't usually get down like this."

"It's just the stuff I saw, some of the things I did to get to you...When you mix that with the harsh reality- It's eating at me." He felt his throat tighten, and he swallowed thickly, dropping his head to Derek's chest. "I had to kill someone." He shivered. "I mean, the poor man was dying, and I just eased his suffering, but that's not something I'd ever thought I'd have to do." The way he'd left those men for dead, killed those three other men...no, he was still taking that to the grave. "I am faking being okay about it, but I'm not."

Derek pulled him tightly against his chest. "Oh Babe, I'm sorry."

Stiles nodded. "Did you, when you were in New York...did you ever have to?"

"No, but my partner did. Happened in front of me."

"I just...I need," he inhaled deeply, the scent of the body wash they'd used earlier, lingering on Derek's skin. He could just make it out through the fabric of his shirt, "take care of me, yeah? I just need something good to replace what I did."

 

 



Derek cupped Stiles' chin, turning his face up to meet his. "Always." No words beyond that were said, and really, they weren't necessary. His lips brushed tenderly against Stiles' where the faint taste of peaches remained. Pulling him through the door, without breaking the kiss, they tumbled onto the bed.

 

 


Soft kisses grew in hunger; shedding their clothes took a little longer. Neither man seemed to need anything more than the other's mouth at the moment. Stiles clung to Derek like a life-raft, a desperate plea to make him feel less like the animal he thought he'd become, even if for a night.

Moonlight poured into the room, illuminating the man above him as Stiles just let go. He shut off his brain the best he could in a feeble attempt to drive out everything for the past two months. There would be no graphic images of blood pooling onto clothes, no bullets piercing flesh, not tonight.

He shuddered when Derek got his mouth on him, swallowing him down, and fuck he'd missed the way those lips felt wrapped around his dick. For as little as he spoke to anyone but him, Derek sure had a talented tongue. Being in their own cabin made this a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the other morning, because tonight he was sure he was anything less than quiet.

When they'd left the gun cage that morning, he'd felt completely mortified as he finally realized that, oh god his parents had heard him having sex. This? This was so much better, and if they way Derek seemed to be worshiping his body was any indication, Derek agreed with him.

He gave a light tug on the man's hair to coax him up his body. He just wanted to kiss him, keep kissing him forever, to disappear beneath his body into the Earth so long as Derek disappeared with him.

"Hey, it's okay."

Derek's voice, barely above a whisper, brought him out of his head, and what the hell was he talking about? His face felt damp. Was he crying? Fuck no! Stiles Stilinski did not cry during sex. That had better be sweat, but nope, it wasn't. Ashamed, he tried to wipe his eyes, but Derek caught his hand.

"Don't it. It's okay. You went through something traumatic. You aren't going to be able to keep that all inside. I wouldn't expect you to. Just let go."

He looked over Derek's shoulder at a fixed point on the ceiling.

"Do you need me to stop?"

"No, please don't. Don't stop." As his boyfriend kissed his neck, sucking what were sure to be hickies in the morning into the skin, Stiles tried to turn off his thoughts again, but it was harder this time. "We...we have to take care of each other, you and me. I'm not gonna survive this without you."

Derek grabbed one of his hands, intertwining their fingers, as he pressed Stiles' hand into the mattress. "I wouldn't either, and I don't want to."

Stiles nodded, errantly rubbing his finger tip over Derek's fourth finger, imagining what it would feel like to run his finger over a metal band there. He should have asked earlier, and fuck, he regretted not getting those words out. He broke free from Derek's kiss. "Will you...oh fuck." He gasped, his back arching as Derek entered him. So lost in his head, Stiles hadn't even noticed Derek's other hand moving down his body to his ass. The all important question died on his lips, and no matter how hard he tried to form the words again, he couldn't. He was too far gone.

They'd both have marks tomorrow, evidence of the night before. Stiles raked his nails down Derek's back as he came, shouting the man's name and an 'I love you,' which probably sounded more like unintelligible grunts than well formed words, but the sentiment was there all the same.

Blissed out, feeling a boneless, weightless mess, he couldn't even move while Derek cleaned him up and turned off the lantern in the kitchen, practically asleep by the time the man crawled into bed next to him. Derek pulled the blanket up around them both, curling around him, the man's arm tight around Stiles' waist.

Derek kissed the shell of his ear. "I love you. No matter what, remember that," he whispered, his breath ghosting over Stiles' skin. "Sweet dreams."

"You too." Stiles mumbled before finally succumbing to sleep. There would be time for unspoken words another day.


 

Chapter Text

They'd been in Reno for three weeks, Reno of all places. Stiles hated Reno. He had nothing against the town specifically, just an intense hatred for it and towns like it. You know, cities with bright lights that never shut off, temptations to spare, gambling...casinos--places where you walked in at 7:00 pm now that you finally could, lost money you probably shouldn't on games with odds so stacked against you that you wondered why you played in the first place, drinking complementary and watered-down versions of those once illicit cocktails you loved until they became legal, hitting on a cocktail waitresses you had no sexual interest in whatsoever, until you finally rolled out the door twelve hours later, broke and bleary eyed questioning your life choices. Okay, so his twenty-first birthday might have negatively impacted his opinion on Reno and gambling in general.

Wait.

Where was he going with this? Reno...Reno...Reno... Oh yeah, they'd been here three weeks. Why? Because many reasons. The first being gasoline. Initially, two weeks were a gas finding mission. Apparently, their route after Reno was a boatload of nothing until Provo. Great for avoiding Ragers, bad for finding more supplies. Being stranded in the Great Basin Desert in June without gas= a lot of dead survivors. Wonder whose brilliant idea that was-cough, cough- Chris.

After two weeks of daily runs in groups of three out into the "Biggest Little City in the World," they had enough more than enough gas. So why weren't they 'On the Road Again'? Four Words: Topamax, Pulmicort, albuterol and Adderall...well his prescription was low on their list of priorities seeing as their big worry about him sans medication seemed to be distractedly wandering off (which absolutely did not happen six days ago, Dad). Instead of, you know, death.

Stiles shifted in bed. He was uncomfortable, strike that, not uncomfortable. Currently, he was spooned around a nice, warm Derek, whose soft breathing should have lulled him into sleep. It didn't. So, yeah he wasn't uncomfortable, he was just wide awake when he didn't want to be. Yeah, that was better. Insomnia was a cruel mistress.

Focus wasn't his forte, even when medicated. Now... it was almost if he was overloaded on caffeine. He twitched, fidgeted, mind racing twelve parsecs a second. "All ahead. Warp speed Mr. Sulu." Oh great, now he was mixing pop culture. He was fucking screwed.

Stuck in his apartment without meds was easy. It was only himself and his thoughts. He didn't have to travel, hold still-- other people did not depend on him. Frankly, he was surprised Derek managed to get any sleep at all with Stiles fidgeting next to him. Restless legs? More like restless everything, legs and brain included.

He tried to fixate on the little things he noticed about auditorium in which their group was taking shelter. The roof creaked a little when the wind blew. Moonlight filtered in through little windows. The gentle slope of the balcony caused items to roll around on occasion.

As for why they were holed up inside a performing arts center, Stiles couldn't figure out. Partly, he figured, it had something to do with the surplus of padded chairs for them to sleep upon. Derek and he had their air mattress, but many of the others were beyond grateful for the soft place to sleep. He shifted.

"Go back to sleep," Derek groaned over his shoulder at him.

His hold around his boyfriend's waist tightened. "I can't."

Derek rolled over in Stiles' embrace to face him. "Why not? Can't be Ragers. Did you try the relaxation exercise we came up with?" He was more than sympathetic to the way his boyfriend functioned without his prescription.

Stiles pressed a finger to the man's lips. No, it wasn't Ragers keeping him awake. Instead, mixed with the sounds of light snoring and Isaac and Allison speaking in hushed tones several rows away, was pained wheezing. The noise echoed throughout the auditorium. It was a wonder that anyone was a sleep at all.

Being up on the balcony level made for nice security, but every noise had been amplified as it filled the space. It hadn't been all bad though. It had been amusing to rummage around in the costume shop for a couple of -- Oh yeah, wheezing.

"Scott's been at it for three hours. He sounds miserable." That's the thing about rescue inhalers. In a pinch, a lifesaver, but bad for regular use. When his last maintenance inhaler ran out, Scott was okay for a couple weeks, but then...the stress began to get to him. Hell, it began to get to all of them. Stiles' fingernails had been down to the quick for over a month, and he didn't even want to think about what it was doing to his father's heart. At least poor Erica had a week left of her anti-seizure medicine. They were in no way equipped to handle that emergency should it arise.

Maybe he should just get up and dig though those Shakespearean costumes again. That was fun. Codpieces weren't fun and neither were the tights, but he pulled off a ruff and doublet quite well if you ask him, which no one did. There had also been a decent supply of stage make-up sitting in the room, and he may or may not have donned a black robe before giving himself a Darth Maul makeover. Shut up, broomsticks were suitable surrogates for double sided lightsabers. And yeah, maybe a bit of clandestine cosplay was just what he needed to-- No, not when Scott can't breathe. You know what would help? Maybe we could rig a nebulizer to run on a car battery. Or maybe, batteries. We'd have to find one first, and what the hell medication even goes in one of those. Melissa would know. Where the hell would we be without her? An oxygen tank might be accept--

"Shh, shh." Derek rubbed the back of Stiles' neck to soothe him. "Where'd you go for a second there?"

"A galaxy far, far away," he sighed. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. Not like I can help it."

"I know. We'll find stuff tomorrow. I can feel it."

"Yeah," he leaned in and rested his forehead against Derek's, "and some help I've been on that front. 'Hey where's Stiles?' Oh, just distracted looking at shit that doesn't matter, like months' old photography magazines, greeting cards, and other pointless crap. Why? Because apparently in it's natural state, my fucked up brain likes to look at beautiful things instead of tackling what matters, like finding potentially life saving medication for my step-brother and your best friend's wife. We shouldn't be bothering at all trying to find Adderall. Just keep me on a god damned leash like a five year old. That's about how old I feel when I can't even pay attention for three minutes. It's like strobe lights going off in my head, little snippets to catch my attention, sending me hopelessly off course."

Derek brought Stiles' head down to his shoulder so he could kiss his hair. "Hey, hey. Don't do that. Come on now, your quality of life matters."

"Quality of life? Quality of- Derek, none of us have a quality of life anymore. It all fucking sucks."

Derek tightened his embrace around his boyfriend. "I know it does, Babe. We just have to make the best of it, and I am choosing to do that by staying as positive as I can. Spent too long as a 'the glass is half empty' kind of guy." He rolled onto his back, pulling Stiles with him.

"Yeah I know. I'm trying. I am." He said with his ear pressed tightly to Derek's chest, where the sound of the man's beating heart actually succeeded in lulling him to sleep.

 

                                                                                                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

It was amazing how much ground they all covered in a week, hitting every pharmacy, grocery store and department store with a pharmacy they could find. Two days ago, Jordan's group raided a school hoping the school nurse would have some medication on hand from the students. She didn't. Though they did pick up some text books so Anthony could keep learning. In his head, Stiles mimicked the stern tones of his childhood pediatrician,"Kids need structure." The lack of it in his daily life had to be messing with the kid.

Anyway, after an unceremonious wake-up call in which Isaac kicked their mattress, thrusting a Capri Sun and a paper cup filled with peanut butter and some dried apples in both Derek and Stiles' faces, here they were. The guy took way too much joy in being appointed 'camp cook.' Long trips, and lack of sleep the night before (ha! Stiles knew no one else could sleep through Scott's labored breathing) apparently, had taken their toll on the rest of the group. So it was just one group today, with Jordan, Allison, Maria and Tara joining their usual trio on the mission.

Today would take them the farthest away from the group anyone had gone so far, but as Chris so eloquently put the night before, ("We can't stay here and keep searching the same places for medications that aren't there. We'll never get to our destination. Then we'll be fucked.") they didn't have much choice. This was their last ditch effort in Reno. Thank God. Stiles didn't think he could stand being there one more day.

Empty packs strapped to all their backs, save rations and a flashlight each, they were now seven miles from camp with the same list of possible alternates for Scott and Erica. Substituting Scott's medication was easier than Erica's, but Melissa told them to grab whatever they found hoping it might help.

Sweat dripped down Stiles' forehead. Why did unseasonable warmth have to happen today? Bad enough the air was so thick it could be sliced with a knife--so humid you could practically taste the water in the air--but the sun had been hidden behind ominous clouds all day. Stiles just hoped the rain would hold off until they got back.

To his left a Rager pounded on a mail truck. With a slash of his machete, the infected man(?) went down. With the longer trip came more Ragers. Stiles was up to fifty-seven kills already in the day, a fact that should totally sicken him.

My how things change.

"Hey!" Jordan called back over his shoulder. "This looks like a strip mall up ahead. Even if there's no pharmacy, if we come across food or water, we should bring it back. Let's split up."  He and Maria hung back while the other four took to the right. "So, there is a Goodwill over there. Good idea, yeah?"

Derek nodded. "Anthony only has the two changes of clothes and his sneakers look pretty worn. Sounds like a plan."

Inside the store, a mess awaited them. Almost all of the clothes had been picked clean. Still, they found the boy a pair of shoes one size too big and a pair of pants in his size. The kid could easily borrow a shirt if needed. So in all, not a total waste of time. Rather than sift through the shit all over the floor, because that didn't keep his attention at all, in any way, in the slightest, Stiles walked off.

He took the time to grab copies of The Grapes of Wrath, Sense and Sensibility, and Maus off the shelves. More entertainment was never a bad thing. The box of books which took up space in the Tahoe had spilled over into a second. No one complained. Boredom was a dangerous thing. Gotta keep a mind sharp. He even designated another box for games and things of the like. Even with death, the fear of not knowing when they'd find more water or another meal, and the lack of comforts hanging over their heads, fun was still needed, even if the "fun" was fairly lame as far as fun went. A small box of half used colored pencils and a coloring book also went into the bag, along with a travel version of dominoes and five dice. Whatever, they didn't need the score pads to play Yahtzee. He closed the plastic grocery bag inside his backpack and tied it shut. Gotta protect his investments.

He walked his fingertips along the shelves of trinkets and chuckled at the pink plastic King Kong statue he found. The thing was hideous, but an awesome ugly, a cool ugly, complete with its Hawaiian print swim trunks and hula girl Ann Darrow. Definitely went into the bag. A small ceramic beagle holding a sign in his teeth that read 'I love hugs,' also went into the bag, as did a candle shaped like a Christmas tree and a unicorn made out of colorful socks.

Lastly, he caught sight of a small frame containing three mounted butterflies. Not usually his thing, but the colors were so vibrant, beautiful things in a world of crap. Yeah, so sue him. The rest of the group would eventually come to appreciate his new habit, and oh dear God, he'd turned into Wall-e. Oh well, there were worse things to be than a plucky robot. A soulless, menacing autopilot robot for one, would be way worse.

"Find anything?" Derek asked kissing his temple, effectively bringing him out of his head.

"A candle and some books. A couple small games and...some silly tchotchkes. They made me smile."

"Whatever it takes, yeah?"

Stiles nodded as they all left the store, bound for points further south. He almost jumped out of his skin when Isaac clapped him on the back. "Trying to give me a heart attack?"

"You will never believe what I found."

"The prescriptions in question so we can go home and get the hell out of Dodge?"

"Better."

"Better for me or better for you? If we're talking better for you, I would say you stumbled onto a lifetime supply of condoms. Make sure you share with the group."

Isaac laughed. "That would be better for everyone. I guess, except you two. Gotta say I envy that."

"Yeah well, you didn't happen to find any lube did you?"

"No."

"Then don't envy us." Derek deadpanned.

"Right." Isaac blushed. "Anyway, not only did I find four pounds of coffee at Starbucks, but also a french press and several boxes of tea."

Stiles grabbed Isaac's face and kissed his cheek. "You Sir, are a Prince among thieves."

He ran a hand through his hair. "Thought you might like that. How about you guys?"

Sensing Derek's irritation, Stiles laced their fingers together. "Some clothes for Anthony. I found dominoes and some dice, a few books and this masterpiece." From his bag, he pulled out King Kong and watched in glee as Isaac fell into stitches at the sight of it.

"Fuck that's awful. Why is it pink?"

"Who cares?"

"Who thought that gaudy thing was a good idea?" Isaac threw an arm around Stiles' shoulders. "You know, I don't get you, Stiles. I really don't. You'd think after four years, I'd begin to get a handle on how you work, but I haven't. You're erratic, and you never shut up, but I think you have the right idea about this mess. Find anything that makes you happy, makes you laugh, and latch on tightly. I haven't laughed like that in weeks. Thanks."

He gave a weak salute. "No problem."

Laughter stowed neatly away, they continued on amidst the Ragers, oppressive humidity and darkening clouds. They needed to hurry. It was already noon, and the trip back would take just as long if not longer should the clouds above open up.

Three hours, almost four miles, and three pharmacy searches later, they were still unlucky. However, they were plus three liters of water, a jar of Nutella, two cans of creamed corn (blech!), a twelve-pack of condoms (Isaac, no joke, cried), and three bags of banana chips. So that was a plus.

"Over there! It's a Walgreens. Probably empty, but worth a shot."

Blocking their entrance to the store were several infected, and by several, Stiles meant dozens. "I am so done with this shit today!" Between eight of them, they went to work. A split skull here, stabbed through the eye there. Ha! Good luck going anywhere without your legs!

"Help!" Isaac screamed from beneath an aggressive Rager. Somehow, the man had been knocked to the ground and lost his weapon. An arm to the Rager's throat, he managed to keep its mouth away from his throat. His eyes were screwed shut and his head turned to avoid the still harmful saliva.

Stiles was closest; he came running over swinging his machete like a broadsword, hunting knife in and hunting knife out, pushing through Ragers like a Roman Legionnaire. Right about then he wished he had some chest pads, because he was not built to body check without them. Ten feet, then five, then two until he was close enough to reach the Rager, to grab it by the hair and yank it off Isaac. Killing Ragers had almost become second nature to him, so he didn't think anything of it when he drew the machete across its neck with enough force to decapitate the thing. He looked up, head still in hand to see the group staring at him.

"What?" He chucked the severed head onto a pile of dead--well re-dead Ragers.

"That." Maria said.

"The Zombie Warrior shit or the lopped off head?"

 

 

 

"Either." Tara nodded as she looked at him. Up until that point, she still saw him as the little boy she tutored in math after his mother died. The person in front of her was not a kid anymore and far from it. "That was some bad ass mother-fucker shit right there. Where'd you pick up all that?"

 

 

 

He looked at the group, stone-faced. "Traveling eight hundred miles by yourself will do that to you. It'll give you quite the skill set when it comes to killing Ragers. Brained one with a 32 oz can of tomatoes in Vancouver. Smashed a head against a car door on my way out of Portland." He shrugged off their surprise and walked towards the doors.

And they thought Goodwill had been a mess. Well it had nothing on this place. While everyone else tried not to become a broken ankle casualty of the cluttered floor, Derek made a beeline for the pharmacy. The rest of the group except Stiles eventually filtered into the space to speed things along as he perused the shelves. Unlike the last places they'd searched, quite a bit of medication remained. He straggled behind wandering, the way he always did.

What remained in the aisles was probably nothing. There would be no food, and few bandages or first aid supplies. But he'd never know until he looked. Good thing he did too. He was getting good at finding things others left behind. The two hot water bottles, well those could be sizable canteens as well as ease aches and pains. No way he was going to leave behind a tube of Neosporin or a bottle of liquid bandage (why would anyone not take those?). Just like in Silver Lake, he grabbed a box of tampons. Those ladies better start saying thank you for his consideration. Three toothbrushes and a tube of toothpaste were quite the find. He also found a bottle of Tums and an ankle brace. Chuckling to himself, he traveled down another aisle on a whim, tossing a couple items into his bag, mostly as a joke, but hey motivation could be a powerful thing.

Bored with his search and find, he walked into the pharmacy. Obviously all the pain meds were gone. Who in their right mind raiding a pharmacy in an apocalypse would leave behind Vicodin? All diabetes medication and anything needed for chronically life threatening illnesses was also gone. Stiles suspected though, that a lot of it was taken as a bartering tool or worse, 'You need this? Well I need your weapons.' type of situation. He looked down his list. Well, they weren't Topamax, but Depakote and Neurontin could apparently treat epilepsy. So both large bottles went in the bag. His eyes flitted over the myriad of bottles. Allegra? Why not? Xanax? Couldn't hurt. Amoxicillin? In an apocalypse, antibiotics were somehow always needed. Box of Epipens? Definitely taking those.

"Guess what I found!" Jordan called out from somewhere in the pharmacy.

"Albuterol?"

"Strike one. Heads up."

Flying over the shelves, a bottle landed with a clatter on the floor next to his feet. There, in his hand, Stiles held an unopened bottle of Adderall containing a thousand 15 mg pills. That would last him over a year on his usual dose. He wanted to cry; so he did, sinking to the floor where he buried his head in his knees. Feeling so overwhelmed over a simple thing like the inability to focus shouldn't warrant tears, but there was something so jarring about feeling like his head was not his own when his mind spiraled off onto several pointless tangents at once, especially when he'd been on medication for so long. He really didn't remember how he functioned B.A. (before Adderall).

"Found a single albuterol inhaler over here!" He heard Tara shout.
 
After a couple minutes of quiet tears, he dried his eyes, rolling onto his knees to push himself off the floor. That was when he saw the bottom shelf, and the medication Holy Grail upon it. His eyes scanned the list once more. All eight packages went into his bag. That one would take care of the steroid and the rescue inhaler. He felt he should get a medal.

"Do you want me to take your meds?" Derek extended his hand. "I have all the others. We found a lot of things that might be helpful, like some antibiotics and iodine, cold medicine too."

Forgetting about the ones already in his bag, Stiles placed the bottle of Adderall in Derek's hand. "Yeah. You hang onto that for me."

"You okay?"

He nodded. "Yeah, just happy. Now let's get out of here."

 

 


On the way out of the store, Derek ducked down the office supply aisle. He needed more pens and grabbed several packages. At the end of the aisle sat two attractive leather bound journals. He tucked them into the waterproof safety of his backpack. More notebooks were never a bad thing.

                                                                                                                *   *   *   *   *

 

Despite increasing the speed at which they headed back to the camp, just past the Goodwill from earlier, the rain started. First, the gentle drizzle was comforting on their skin, which had been overly warmed by the high temperature. Even if the pavement sizzled as the drops hit it, it was still better than ninety degrees.

They'd found a car with the tiniest bit of gas, less than an eighth of a tank. In no way, were that many people supposed to fit in the thing, but the three miles they managed to travel in it before it died, saved them at least an hour of travel time. The rain, still more of a nuisance than a problem at that point, had progressed from drizzle to light. Then, just past the convention center, the clouds burst open with a frightening, thunderous force, and a crack of lightning illuminated the otherwise darkended sky.

By cloud burst, Stiles meant torrential downpour, raining cats and dogs, raining buckets and every other rain cliche except 'It's raining men,' which would make for nice eye candy, but would prove potentially problematic should one of the falling men hit any of them on the way down. With as hard as the water was coming down, he knew they were in serious risk for flash flooding. Sandy dessert soil was not meant for this much water at once. "We need to get off the street!"

"What?" Derek, not even two feet away from him yelled back. "We need to get out of here!"

"Yes, I'm aware of that, thank you!" He couldn't even see the rest of the group between the sheets of rain. His shoes were already soaked through just like the rest of him. The pair of them continued down the street they'd come, hoping that their group had done the same.

With thunderstorms often came strong winds. This one was no different, and a quarter of a mile took them for-freaking-ever to walk. They'd made it only a few feet past Atlantis Casino when they met the horde. With their group, still nowhere in sight, Stiles knew the pair of them were horribly outmanned. There was no way they could push through a group this large, not if they could hardly see two feet in front of their own noses. He'd done this before, played this campaign in Left 4 Dead 2 many times. Somewhere there would be a sugar mill filled with witches who would maul him to bits.

They could do this...right? No, they were screwed. Definitely, royally, and totally fucked. FUBAR* and TARFU* definitely fit the situation.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

Stiles reached out, grabbed Derek's hand and yanked him towards his body. "What do we do?"

Derek looked around. "Follow me!" He pulled him back down the road towards an overturned SUV where, out of sight of the horde,  he shattered the back window with the butt of his rifle. "Get in!"

"Are you cra-"

Derek cut him off with a quick kiss and pushed him into the car before climbing in after him.

"We can't stay in here while it's pouring like this!" Stiles called out, knees sinking into the sandy muddy ground below him. Though the contents of his bag were likely ruined (even with the plastic shopping  bag), he looped the straps of the backpack over the door handle to keep it out of the puddle, growing by the second.

"We can't stay out there with all those Ragers!"

"I know, but if a T-Rex appears out of nowhere to use this car as a stool, we are screwed." Derek gave him an odd look. Or at least Stiles thought he did. Really, it was too dark to tell. "Jurassic Park, you dummy."

"Stiles, what does that have to do with anything?"

"T-Rex or a bunch of Ragers...doesn't matter. They pile on this car, push this thing deeper and deeper into the mud, and we will likely drown! I have a list of five ways I'd perfer not to die, and drowning is number two right behind slowly dying from a terminal illness! I can't be in here!" He clawed at the walls of the car. "It's too cramped; we have to get out of this car, right now, Derek! We need--fuck it. Won't help!" His whole body was shaking, partly from the chill of being drenched head to toe, covered in mud as wind howled outside the mangled vehicle, but mostly in hysteria. "This...this is a freaking nightmare. Where is the rest of our group? Are they Rager chow? I don't know! I don't know anything right now except I'm freezing and fucking terrified, and -"

Derek pulled him against his chest. His drenched clothing did nothing for the chill in Stiles' bones, and to be truthful, it did little for his nerves. "We'll be all right, okay?"

"And if we're not?" His words were muffled against Derek's shirt. "Then what? We wait here to die trapped like rats? Rats can't be trapped this easily! We're like trapped carrots!"

Derek grabbed his boyfriend's pistol, took a bullet from the magazine and handed to him, before doing the same with his own. "We have a back-up plan, a contingency bullet. Keep that one on you, so in that impossible situation, you have an out. So you won't end up like one of them."

Stiles stared at him wide-eyed, still trembling. "I can't do that. I c-can't. I...oh fuck, they're getting closer." He cried just as another clap of thunder broke over head, startling him and sending him into Derek's open arms. "I'm gonna die here, in this stupid SUV, in a scene reminiscent of 90's era Spielberg...where there won't even be dinosaurs! And, and we have all the medicine. Scott and Erica need that. We die here, and they might die as well! I can't do that to my parents!"

 

 



Derek held him as tightly as he could.

"I don't want to die. Not like this, I don't...Derek," his voice squeaked, "I don't want to die. " He kept muttering over and over into Derek's chest.

"Shh, shh. It's okay. We'll be okay." He whispered though he didn't believe it, and even though in the cacophony of noises surrounding them, neither of them could have heard his words. Hail pelted the undercarriage, and he for one, was glad to be sheltered from it. Hail striking unprotected skin could hurt like hell.

 

 



Minutes ticked by, slowly creeping like molasses, stalling and stuttering as they crept on. If either man had been asked for how long they clung to each other in that overturned car, neither would be able to tell you. They didn't know. All they knew was that surrounding their hiding place were dozens of Ragers, walking on as if the threat of electrocution held no concern for them. Derek and Stiles didn't have that luxury. Not only were they sitting in mud which covered their legs and came up to their navels, lightning continued to strike and light up the night sky (At least they thought it was night--who could really tell in a storm like this?)

Eventually, exhaustion set in, and the pair dozed off, unable to keep their eyes open any longer. The come down from an adrenaline high could really wipe a man out. Stiles had gone first.

 

 

The most intense panic attack Derek had seen from him, knocked the guy out cold. Derek, well he was not quite so lucky. He had the pleasure, misfortune really, of listening to Ragers snarl and push at each other amidst the rain, push at the car, climb over it. The chassis creaked and strained under the weight of them, and Derek soon realized why Stiles had been so frantic to get out. The more Ragers piled on top, the more the headroom above them seemed to shrink, like a slowly lowering weight onto metal, pressing and pushing, trying to make it flat.

He didn't stay asleep long, waking sometime later when the noise outside had lessened, only a little, but lessened nonetheless. Surrounding the wreckage, and for as far as he could see, were only a few pairs of Rager feet. The horde must have moved on while they slept. Maybe ten total remained. They could work with that. Now only if it would stop raining.

"Hey, Babe." He shook Stiles awake. "Come on. There's a gap; we need to make a break for it."

Confused, Stiles rubbed his eyes, inadvertently smearing mud across his face. "Damn it. That stings. What now?"

"We have to go, before more Ragers show. Let's go." Derek climbed out first, knife ready to dispatch any Ragers in close proximity. Two on top of the car- two was easy pickings, another eight nearby. Once the threat was gone, he extended a hand to pull Stiles up.

 

 



Stiles waved him off. "I got it." He tried to climb out but found himself stuck. In his haste to exit, he'd only loosened one strap of his backpack from the door. He pulled, but no luck. "Gimme a second. My bag's stuck."

"Just leave it! We don't have time!"

"No, I can't. I need what's in it." Ducking back into the cab, he crawled through the frigid mud. When had the temperature dropped so much? Stupid deserts. Make up your fucking minds! Finally, his frozen fingers released the strap, and he climbed back out the window, only to be thrown into the chassis from behind as Derek crashed into him while he fought with a Rager. After that, everything went dark.

 

 


"Son of a bitch! Where did that one come from?" Derek doubled over, hands on his knees to catch his breath for a moment. "You okay?" His heartbeat skyrocketed when he received no reply. "Babe, you okay?" He turned around to see Stiles crumpled on his side, unconscious in the mud, forehead bleeding. "Oh shit!" He patted his boyfriend's face in an attempt to rouse him. "Come on. Wake up." He shook at Stiles' shoulders. Nothing.

In that moment, he had to abandon his efforts of revival to dispatch a couple more Ragers, effectively clearing the area. He scooped Stiles up, trying to dislodge his grip on that stupid backpack, to no avail. Not twenty yards away sat a building with an awning.


Derek lay him down to check him out, holding his flashlight with one hand, inspecting vitals with the other. Thankfully, he had a pulse and was breathing, but the wound on his forehead seemed pretty bad. Nothing they had on them he could use as a bandage was dry. "Fuck!" He cleaned off the wound as best he could. That bottle of iodine he found at Walgreens came in handy a lot earlier than he thought it would.

Moments later, Stiles came to. "What..."

"Oh thank God. Should have left the bag. You're so stupid." He kissed Stiles' nose. "I'm in love with an idiot." 

Stiles brought a hand to his head. "Ouch. The fuck happened? Whyaretheretwoofyou?" His words were anything but clear, slurred together in a jumble. "W'as wrong with my voice?"

"You got knocked out. Can you walk?" Derek helped Stiles to his feet, but had to catch him almost immediately when the man took not two steps before nearly crumbling to the ground like a newborn fawn. Derek knelt. "Get on. Gonna have to carry you."

"My hero." With shaky legs, Stiles climbed onto Derek's back, cleaving tightly to his shoulders, muttering incoherencies as they trudged along in the rain. "Like your face." He petted Derek's stubble. "Ever tell you that?"

"Once or twice."

"Cold...andseriouslytiredrightnow. Thinkgonnatakeanap. S'alright with you."

"No, no, no, no. You need to stay awake. Keep talking to me."

"Love your grumpy face."

Derek laughed. "Not so grumpy anymore, thanks to you."

"S'true. Very true. You Sir," he shivered, "Are wise man. Very hot..and very wise. 'M fuckin' miracle worker."

They continued on for what felt like years, until Derek had to take a break before he too, fell over.

"What'r you doin'?"

"This is that sushi place we passed on the way out. It's like a mile back to camp. I just need a break."

Stiles reached out in a poor attempt to stroke Derek's cheek. "The hottest guy I've ever seen. Go out with me?"

"Absolutely." He gave him a small smile. "Do you want some water?" He held the bottle so that Stiles could drink.

"Such a gentleman. Gonna marry guy jus' like you someday. Jus' you watch."

"That so?"

Stiles nodded, a dopey grin on his face. "Gon'be awesome. We'll spend day seein' Seattle's finest."

Derek swallowed hard. His boyfriend definitely had a concussion if he forgot about their current predicament. "What about the zombies?"

"Fuck you talking 'bout? Zombies aren't real. Be great... so romantic. So cheesy. You love it."

"You've clearly given it some thought?"

Stiles petted Derek's hair. "Course. Thinking 'bout for years." He winced, holding his head. "You know...notjus'girlsthinkboutweddings. Think I'll wear white."

Sure this was all head trauma induced delirium, Derek felt getting Stiles back to Melissa was a more pressing matter than resting his weary bones. The rain had all but stopped, unlike the bleeding on Stiles' head, and even the clouds had dissipated some. The moonlight crept through every so often.

His feet and back were killing him. Stiles was a lot heavier than he looked, especially in his current state, with most of him feeling like a dead weight on Derek's back. His stomach growled. "You hungry too?" Stiles did not respond. Worried about the man's grip on his shoulders slipping off in his unconscious state, Derek shifted him to his arms. He breathed a sigh of relief when Stiles came to once more to remind him that he needed a shower.

When he didn't think he could make it much further, their camp came into view. Once inside, he passed Stiles off to Boyd and Argent before collapsing, utterly spent on the floor, watching as Melissa tended to his barely conscious boyfriend. To his relief, the rest of their little search party sat inside, nice and warm, and safe. The bastards. Thanks for leaving us for dead. I had all the medicine.

Vaguely, he remembers John speaking to him telling him he needed to get out of his wet clothes. He had neither the drive nor the energy to move only relenting when Isaac and Scott sat him up to divest him of his clothing before dressing him in the same pair of sweatpants he wore to bed every night. Wrapped in a blanket and propped against a chair, Isaac coaxed him into drinking a cup of tea and eating something. Sure he was starving, but his interests were elsewhere.

So tired. He was so tired, but Stiles...was he okay? He didn't think he had the strength left in him, but apparently crawling over to Melissa was more important. "Okay?"

She nodded at him. "As far as I can tell. I had to stitch up his head. Took a good fifteen sutures. He's a little loopy, but his pupil response is good. If we were in a hospital, we'd give him a CT scan. Obviously, we can't do that. We'll have to monitor him. I have an ice pack on his head, and gave him some Advil. That's about all I can do. And you, are you hurt?"

"No. 'm fine." His fingers reached for the pillow inches away. He was fading fast, and curled up next to Stiles, taking his boyfriend's hand in his.

"Should sleep, Hon. Be fine. You see. Mom, says gotta stay awake, but sleep." Stiles bought Derek's hand to his lips.

"Why didn't you let go of the bag? A bunch of trinkets and books aren't worth our lives."

"Not those. I had to." He gestured to his bag, which Melissa obliged and opened for him. "I do good, Coach? Got substi...subs...alternates." His eyes were barely open at that point. "Wannagotosleepnow. PleasecanIgotosleep?" He whined.

She took in the additional and potentially life-saving inventory before smoothing his hair. "You did great, Sweetheart. I'm sorry, you need to stay awake a little longer."

When his voice cracked with tears, he sounded so much younger, almost like a child. "Please. My head hurts."

Derek curled into him tighter, wiping the tears out of his eyes. "You're gonna be okay."

Stiles gave a little nod, bringing an arm around Derek's shoulders. "Yeah. Don't worry. Badass won't go down so easy." He laughed despite his tears.

His words were surprisingly comforting to Derek, and he gave in, letting himself succumb to exhaustion, even if every instinct in his mind was telling him to stay away to make sure Stiles did. He just couldn't.

 

 

                                        

Chapter Text

The thing zombie apocalypse movies never show is just how long it takes to make it to the safe haven, to the promised land, or whatever. See Zombieland made it seem like they made it to Pacific Playland in like a week. In Shaun of the Dead, they are rescued in a day or two. 28 Days Later, well that one is kind of self explanatory. At least on The Walking Dead time actually seems to pass, and the struggle for gas is real.

This trip was taking forever, not that Stiles expected anything less. Where were they now? Oh yeah, Provo. It had turned into Reno 2.0. Just the trip from said city to the Chevy dealership in which they were holed up took almost a month. Why? Apparently three weeks in Reno did not procure enough gas to get them this far, and from Reno to Provo was nothing, a whole lot of empty nothing. Although they did hit a two tank jackpot for the Tahoe at a gas station along the way. Thank you E-85 and FlexFuel capable vehicles.

Thanks to his concussion, which had all but exhausted their Advil supply, he was taken off supply run duty for the foreseeable future. Something about dizziness, coordination and short term memory problems. Really the problem was the migraines. He'd never had one before in his life, and frankly, would have liked to keep it that way. They were awful. Go-go post-concussion syndrome! Though, to be fair, it was better than brain damage. You win some; you lose some.

When he said car dealership, specifically, he meant the service bay. Chris had become very specific about where they chose to camp. If it was inside a building of any kind, it had to have doors wide enough to drive the vehicles inside. Okay, so Stiles maybe gave the guy a hard time, but he was resourceful. He'd give the man that.

Speaking of the guy, he currently stood with Jordan on watch, prepared to pick off any Ragers they saw. In a big surprise to all, apparently Jordan was a military vet who was on bomb disposal, which gave them one glorious advantage. The guy could build an IED out of just about anything so long as there was an explosive content. Big win for team Beacon Hills.

The highlight of their campsite so far? Fully stocked vending machines, and so what if the sodas were room temperature, that can of Mountain Dew tasted like ambrosia on his tongue. Everyone said the last thing he needed was caffeine, everyone except Melissa. She'd commandeered all cans of the fluorescent green cola citing medical necessity. Apparently, caffeine was good for headaches, and since Advil did shit for some of his on the bad days, he was grateful to have it.

Really, the places people didn't think to check for supplies had been mind boggling. Need food and the grocery stores, gas stations, and chain pharmacies are empty? Well, did you consider the bookstore with a Starbucks inside? Nope. So not only had Stiles found more books (yay books!), they'd also yielded some bottles of water and shelf stable juice, bags of chips, and more glorious coffee. Where was he going with this? Yes, retrieving a soda with for his dad.

"Here you go, Pops."

John took the proffered can of Diet Coke from his son. "How's your head feeling?"

Stiles shrugged, climbing onto the tailgate of his father's cruiser to sit beside him, careful not to sit on Melissa's feet as she slept in the cargo area behind them. "Don't know. It's okay today, I guess. Just a dull ache. I can deal with it."

"Well, I hate that you're suffering, but-"

"Scott's doing much better? Yeah, I feel it's a fair trade. I hate to think how badly he be doing in this heat and dry air without it." So, yeah, his little find on the bottom shelf at the pharmacy? Advair=miracle drug for Scott. Totally worth the brain scrambling, well almost. Ask him again tomorrow.

"What are you still doing up?"

"Waiting for Derek to finish his shower." And Stiles used that term loosely. By shower, he meant they were all back to the bucket. Woo hoo, the bucket, the world's greatest shower! Though, admittedly, it was better than nothing. He shuddered to think how badly they'd all smell without their allotted wash time every three days. "And also...I'm not tired."

"Any progress on your big gesture?"

"What?" He wrinkled his brow in confusion. "Oh, yeah code. I keep it on me at all times, just in case the moment strikes me, but I've been a big ol' coward so far."

John patted his son on the shoulder. "Trust me, it's a scary thing, but a good scary."

"Yeah," he sighed, "suppose it is." He looked up to see Derek walk back into the main room carrying a flat box. "What do you have there?"

Derek shook the box. "Checkers. Wanna play? I'm not tired and you...don't look even close."

Stiles jumped off the tailgate, following his boyfriend over to a small table in the customer waiting area. They settled into a companionable, comfortable silence, red and black pieces moving across the board, leap frogging over each other in a silly and poorly coordinated dance. It was funny; Derek was they only person Stiles had ever been able to be around and not need to have a constant stream of words flowing from his lips.

In the low light their lantern radiated, Stiles could see the look of contentment etched on Derek's face. God, he was handsome. Not that Stiles ever forgot, but when the man looked as at ease as he did right now, it was hard to breathe around him. A small smile spread across his face.

"What?"

He shook his head. "Nothing. King me."

Derek stacked a second red checker atop Stiles' other one, then leaned forward to give his boyfriend a peck on the mouth. "Penny for your thoughts."

"Just thinking." He licked his lips; the kiss had tasted faintly of chocolate. "Hmm, you got a brownie with dinner. Not fair."

Derek blushed, or at least Stiles thought he did. The light was too dim to really tell. Even so, Stiles felt a warmth spread throughout his chest. He took Derek's hand, rubbing the skin on the back of the man's hand with his thumb. He made his move, which took another one of Derek's checkers. "What do you think we'd be doing right now, if there were no Ragers?"

"Right now?" He rubbed his chin. "Well," he said, scooting his chair around the table to wrap an arm around Stiles' shoulders, "it's after eleven." They both stiffened as either Jordan or Chris took out a Rager from their watch point. The crack of the gunshot startled the few of them still awake, but didn't seem to wake anyone. Two more shots, and then the room settled into the hushed quiet it had been in before. "Anyway, we'd probably be in bed now. And," he kissed Stiles' neck, "it would be great, because we'd be together. We'd have looked at grad schools for you during the day and cooked dinner together. Nothing too interesting, bit mundane really."

"Sounds real domestic," Stiles said running his fingers through the hair at Derek's nape. "Sounds perfect, actually." From somewhere deep within himself, Stiles found a surge of courage, not the Rager killing kind of courage, but the personal kind-- the kind that kept dying in his throat, the kind that left him vulnerable. He fumbled in his left pocket. "I'd love to have that every day."

"Yeah?"

"With you? Of course. Sounds like an absolute dream." Finally, his fingers closed around the elusive item. "Don't you think?"

"Yeah, I guess it does. Too bad for the Ragers, right?"

"I don't know. So long as you're in it, doesn't matter." He slid out of his chair to kneel between Derek's legs (on both knees damn it, too nervous to try it on one. He'd probably fall over). "Derek...wow, this is tough," he chuckled. Nerves were not going to get the better of him this time. "I love you more than I'll ever be able to say.  Will you marry me?" He held up the ring that had been burning a hole in his pocket for months. One of them anyway. He'd bought himself a matching one after all. Derek just stared at him, open-mouthed and speechless. "Come on, Hon. Say something."

"Why?"

"Why would I want to marry you? Geez, D, looking for an ego boost?"

"No, I mean why get married? Now? Rager apocalypse isn't exactly honeymoon atmosphere. Why would you want to get married in this shitstorm of life? Look, I know it's hectic, but don't think that it changes anything about our relationship."

"Um...what?" Several mixed emotions clouded his mind.

"What's the point? What kind of life would we have?"

"Um... yeah." Stiles stood up and set the ring on the table. "I'm just gonna go..." He felt his insides burning; his hands began to shake, and his breath grew ragged as he beat his hasty retreat for a more private location for his oncoming breakdown.

"Stiles, wait."

"No, I just need a minute. You see when I rehearsed all this in my head, and all the possible reactions you might have, I neglected to actually consider how I'd react if you said no. I... can't... be in here right now." He turned around and sought out an empty office or something with a door where he could shut out the world for a while.

"Wait!" Derek called after him, running to catch up with him at the door. He grabbed Stiles' wrist. "Would you just stop?"

"Would you just let me have a minute?" he snapped.

 

 



"You're overreacting. We don't need to get married. It wouldn't change anything about our relationship. You're just being silly." As soon as the words left his mouth, Derek regretted them.

 

 



"Heh," Stiles chuffed to hide his obvious dejection when his moment of shock wore off. He plastered on his favorite condescending smile, the one he reserved for anger when he didn't want to give someone the satisfaction of seeing just how badly they'd pissed him off. "Let me tell you a little story. Put my reaction in perspective for you. We, my family, used to be religious. Keep that in mind for a moment." Keep it together, Stiles. Don't fall apart. He took a deep breath in an attempt to quell his seething rage. "I wasn't one of those kids like you who realized they were gay or bisexual at a more convenient age of nineteen when they were more mature or had prior exposure. No, I was ten and my mom just died. My friend Heather tried to cheer me up by kissing me. The whole time during that kiss, all I could think was I would actually really enjoy this if she were a boy. Kissing boys sounded fantastic. Kissing girls:bad. Boys: good. What? I had no idea what was going on, but hell, I'm a Millennial. I can use the internet. 'So. You. Think. You. Might. Be. Gay' gave a name to it. Anyway, we were in church, my dad and me, and this was like 2006 when states were starting to legalize gay marriage. I didn't even know that wasn't allowed before that. I thought, 'You grow up, you fall in love, and you get married if that's what you want.' I just wanted what my parents had, to be as happy as they were. And, there I was hearing all the things the minister and parishioners were saying about me and people like me. How we were sinners and sodomites, how we're all going to hell. Marriage was sacred. Here I was thinking it was about love and commitment. I was ten; I hadn't done anything wrong. I couldn't change the way I was wired. So whatever, I filed getting married away as something that happened to other people and wasn't meant for me. Two days," he held up shaking fingers," before my seventeenth birthday: Hallelujah! It's legal. I went up to my room and cried I was so happy. Then I met you, and we started dating, and I was like 'This is the guy. He understands me, finds my flaws charming.' Derek, we've been dating for over four years! You weren't obligated to say yes, but you could have said no with a little bit of compassion, instead of taking something I've wanted my whole life and mocking me for it. I'll be damned if I let my last shred of hope and dream for the future be taken away by zombies." His resolve was quickly deteriorting. "Fuck you, Derek! You don't get to tell me what I'm allowed to still want! You do not get to tell me how I feel!" He took two steps backwards into the empty office and slammed the door in Derek's face.

 

 



Derek stood there, staring slack-jawed as he heard the lock on the door click over. "Stiles, please let me-"

"Go away!"

He slid down the door and sat on the floor, trying to figure out how he screwed up his response so badly. It wasn't at all that he didn't want to marry Stiles. Hell, if there were no Ragers, he'd have said yes in a heartbeat, but with the way things were now-- he believed would jinx things, like the universe would finally decide he'd been happy enough for far too long and took yet another person from him. No, he needed to fix this right now.

However, inside the office he heard Stiles burst into tears. In all their years of dating, through all their arguments, Stiles had never shed a tear. Sure Derek had seen him cry during a panic attack, on the anniversary of his mother's death every year, when he was homesick, or every time he told him about homophobic things some asshole said to him, but up until that moment it had never been Derek's fault. Stiles was sobbing, beside himself.

That was his fault; he'd done that, and it felt like knives. The worst part about it was the fact that Derek was sure it had nothing to do with him saying no, but his flippancy over the whole thing. How could you be so callous?

He pulled the ring out from where he'd hastily stashed it in an attempt to catch Stiles, turning it over in his fingers. Inside the band, his fingertips grazed over metal rougher than the rest of the band. He took out his phone to see what it was, and his heart broke at the inscription.

        And after all, you're my wonderwall

That had been the first song they ever danced to, when Stiles came home to attend the Beacon County Police and Firefighter's ball with him. Derek sang along with the lyrics as they played, his words right by Stiles' ear, only loud enough for his boyfriend to hear. That night they'd said their first 'I Love You's.' Oh fuck. He'd screwed up so badly.

He walked over to his bag, ignoring the disapproving look John gave him, and grabbed his journal before resuming his vigil outside the door.

    06-22-2018

        I'm a colossal jackass. Only I could manage to turn down a marriage proposal that I really wanted to say yes to, but was too damn afraid to accept. I'm sitting outside a the door to this office in some car dealership in Provo of all places listening to Stiles cry his eyes out. I made him feel like this; I'm shit. That's what I am. The one person in my life that I never wanted to hurt, promised never to hurt, and I broke his heart. He's going to leave me; I'd leave me. Who could possibly want to be married to someone like me? Stiles, that's who, and I threw it in his face.

In anger, he closed the journal, making a gesture as though he intended to fling it across the room, but instead hugged his knees, clinging to the book as he buried his face where he shed quiet tears until he fell asleep.

                                                                                                              *   *   *   *   *

 

Derek awoke the next morning as he fell from where he sat backwards, hitting the floor hard. "Ouch," he winced, as he regained the breath that had been knocked out of him. When he opened his bloodshot eyes, he saw Stiles standing above him. "I'm such an asshole, but I swear I didn't mean to be. You can want whatever you want and feel however you feel. I never meant to make you feel otherwise. I'm a screw up. I fuck up everything."

Stiles knelt and helped him sit up. He quickly found himself wrapped in a crushing desperate hug.

"I'm so sorry, Babe. Please don't break up with me, because I'm a big stupid asshole," he cried into Stiles' shoulder. "I ruined your sweet proposal, because...God, I'm a fucking coward." He nuzzled at his boyfriend's neck. "Don't leave, please. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. I will do whatever it takes to make it up to you," he sniffled. "I just- I am terrified that as soon as we change anything about our relationship, anything at all, fate is going to screw me over again and take someone else I love away from me. I won't survive losing anyone else, definitely not you. I just thought if we kept things the way they were, unofficial, if we didn't become a family, well then I'm not quite happy enough to punish, and I could keep this little bit of heaven a while longer."

 

 



Sighing, Stiles sat back on his heels and took Derek's face in his hands. "You're allowed to want, to need nice things, Derek. You're allowed to be happy; you deserve it. Newsflash, Hon, we've been a family now for years." Stiles stared at Derek's wide eyed expression; he looked so young like this, so scared.

"I know, but-"

"If we don't have something to live for, what's the point of continuing to fight? I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and it doesn't matter if it's two weeks or fifty years. Okay? I want this. I've wanted this for years," he sighed.

"But what kind of wedding could we have?"

"I don't care about the wedding, Derek. I don't care that you think we couldn't have a life like this. Whatever we get is so much better than not having you at all. For better or worse right?"

"But either one of us could get killed next week, tomorrow even."

Stiles wiped Derek's eyes. "You don't get it. If I get killed by Ragers, if I die, I want it to be as your husband. What about that, sounds anything less than the best we could make out of this life we have now?" He kissed his boyfriend's forehead.

Derek's chest heaved, and he hung his head. "I just don't want to lose you. I can't."

"If I've proven anything so far, it's that Stiles Stilinski is one hard mother-fucker to kill."

Derek laughed,  "I...I really want to marry you."

Smiling, Stiles made grabby hands. "Give me your ring." He took his out of his pocket and handed it to Derek. "Just so you know, I'm still mad at you."

"That's totally okay with me. Take it out on me accordingly." He smiled as Stiles slid the ring onto his finger and then reciprocated.

"We take care of each other. We protect each other. We love each other. Especially when the shit gets really bad. Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"We're married. Simple as that."

Derek shook his head. "Oh no, no. We'll have a little party, a little fun for a night."

"We can't afford fun."

"Yeah, but you said so yourself. We're allowed it. Even if it's only everyone eating together for the night and a little dancing."

                                    

                                                                                                        *   *   *   *   *

 

The wedding, it was decided, would be later that evening, because that's one luxury you have when there is no more law, no silly waiting period for things like marriage licenses. Stiles, who was insistent that they did not, he repeated, did not need a ceremony, failed to convince Allison, Erica and his step-mother of the fact. They promptly commandeered the planning. Planning? What planning could possibly be necessary? They were in a car dealership with no power, some very unimpressive food, and no decorations. No planning was needed, but whatever, ladies. Apparently, he just didn't understand weddings.

He and Derek had been banished to the roof for most of the afternoon while they set up everything, and poor Isaac scrambled to come up with some kind of a wedding feast. Scott, along with Boyd and Tara went in search of "provisions," and by provisions, they meant booze. Stiles tried telling them about Utah's strict alcohol laws, but they were determined.

Stiles, taking refuge under a makeshift umbrella, turned to Derek. "So...your vows? How are they coming?"

"Pretty terribly, but I swear I am doing my best. You still mad at me?"

Stiles shrugged. "Nah, I've had time to understand things from your perspective, and I know you weren't trying to hurt me."

"Yeah, but I did though."

He crawled over to Derek and kissed his cheek. "And I forgive you. Just don't do it again."

Derek smirked. "Deal." He looked up at Stiles out of the corner of his eye. "Stop trying to sneak a peak at my horrible attempt at wedding vows."

"They won't be any worse than mine. And I wasn't. I was trying to kiss you." Stiles pulled up his sheets of paper and continued scribbling, marking through, and editing. By the time he was finished, he realized he may have over-exaggerated the 'awfulness' of his words. In fact, he was quite pleased with himself. "Well, I'm going to go make myself look presentable."

"You don't have to dress up for me."

"Well, maybe, Mr. Egotist, I'm doing it for me." Feeling a lightness he didn't expect to, he bounded down the stairs and back into the shop, making sure to avert his eyes from whatever semblance of decor the ladies were able to come up with.

In the back of their car, he dug through his clothes. There wouldn't be anything spectacular in there; he knew that, but he still hoped for something that would work. As luck would have it, he apparently no longer owned any white clothing. Well there goes that idea. Instead, he chose his favorite t-shirt out of the ones available, the nicest pair of pants and those Converse. Then, he remembered something he'd grabbed from his apartment for sentimental reasons and thrown in his 'memory box,' a shoebox that held a few photos of his mom and other keepsakes he couldn't bear to part with. He made his way to the restroom to get dressed. 

"You know, I never pictured you getting married in a Batman T-shirt and jeans," his father said as he walked into the bathroom.

"Me neither. I wanted a white suit with a nice blue vest, but we don't get what we want all the time."

John nodded. "You okay? I was awake for your fight last night. Sounded pretty intense."

He shrugged. "Yeah. It was stupid really. He thinks he doesn't deserve happiness, because it will just be taken away from him. You know Derek though, incapable of accurately expressing himself. He was just afraid it would jinx us or something. But we talked this morning, and I get it. He pissed me off, but I know him. In his heart, he didn't mean to say what he did in the way he did."

John patted Stiles on the back. "I wish your mom could see you now."

"Me too, and I wish Derek's parents could be here too, but that's the reality of things I guess."

"You know, Erica took the officiant title very seriously."

He groaned, "Oh god no. Who told her she could do that? You know what? It's okay. I will not be stressed about it." They continued chatting until Scott came to get them.

Stiles tried to hide his laughter upon seeing the altar the ladies came up with: Two ladders with a bright pink beach towel spread over the top of them and garland made of various linked office supplies. They'd made streamers out of toilet paper and gone through his box of beautiful things to find suitable additional decor, which included some fake flowers and that stupid Christmas tree candle. The whole set-up was simultaneously the most hideous set of decorations and the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

"Batman?" Derek asked as they traded their rings back for use in the ceremony.

"Says the man in a green henley."

"Where did you find a bow-tie?" he laughed at the purple tie around Stiles' neck.

"What are you talking about? You don't recognize it?" Stiles feigned outrage. "I wore this the Policeman's Ball that first year. Kept it for sentimental reasons."

Derek couldn't hide his little smile and kissed Stiles' forehead. "Come on."

They didn't bother with formalities like an aisle or best men, what have you. Instead, they stood under that ridiculous attempt at a chuppah (he guessed that's what they were going for, but with Erica, who knows).

"Yo makeshift family, traveling companions, and all. We are gathered here today, because yesterday, these two dudes got engaged, and in the true spirit of a zombie apocalypse, we're having a wedding today. Carpe Diem and all that shit."

Both Stiles and Derek simultaneously facepalmed. She was a menace, an absolute menace.

"When Stiles and Derek asked me to officiate to-"

"Erica, we never asked you."

"Quiet, Deputy Downer. It's rude to interrupt. Anyway, when they asked me, I thought I can do this. I can rock the hell out of this thing. I'll find the best reading possible to open with, but Mister Bookworm here keeps weird shit. So I looked, and I looked, and I looked, until I found one that was kind of perfect especially given our current cultural landscape as it were. I have it here." And then...She proceeded to read Neil Gaiman's "The Day the Saucers Came."

"Oh dear god," Stiles groaned when she was about halfway through the poem, "who let her be in charge of this?"

"...looking at your telephone, wondering if I was going to call," she sighed. "That was beautiful kids. Never been to a wedding with a reading involving aliens and zombies. How's that for quirky? Now on with the vows or whatever you're going to say. Derek, because I long for your unique brand of wittiness, you can go first."

"You're a terrible friend, Erica," he joked. "So um, I am not as good with words as Stiles is, and apparently am just as bad at writing them down too. So...yeah. When my sister died, I don't really know why I came back to Beacon Hills. I guess the slowness of life in a small city appealed to me more than the constant stream of noise of New York. I don't really know if I can pinpoint why exactly I took the job, but I know Stiles is what put me back together when I had no one, when I had nothing. He was this kid, who had this old soul, who understood the world and the meaning of life way more than I ever could or ever will...shit this is terrible. I tried to be creative and memorable...but damn. Anyway, I have a little bit I borrowed from something that just reminded me of you.

        Never opened myself this way
        Life is ours, we live it our way
        All these words I don't just say
        And nothing else matters

        Trust I seek and I find in you
        Every day for us something new
        Open mind for a different view
        And nothing else matters

So, yeah you make me better, and I love the hell out of you for it. That's all I got," he laughed in embarrassment. "Dear God, that was abysmal."

"Did you...did you just Metallica me?" Stiles asked.

"A poet you are not, Derek. Stiles, please salvage this silly ceremony and wow us with your words, because I'd really like to get to the food."

Stiles rolled his eyes, clutching the paper in his shaking hands. "When I realized I was in love with you, I thought about what changed, you know, what took it from liking you a whole hell of a lot to this totally different emotion I hadn't felt before, one I knew was different. I thought about it for god, weeks, too shy to tell you how I felt, because I wanted to sound perfect, instead of the rushed and simple 'I love you,' that I ended up saying. As the years went on, I kept on thinking about it until one day it hit me with perfect clarity. I called you stressed out of my mind, convinced I was going to fail one of my classes and lose my scholarship. I was fidgety, and felt like a thousand volts of energy running throughout my body, until I talked to you. You filled me with this stillness, a calm that I didn't have on my own, one where I was okay not talking, just listening or enjoying the silence. Because, you see, I don't talk incessantly because I like to hear myself speak or because I have anything remotely interesting to say most of the time, and I don't ramble because I can't help it like half of you think I do. No, I fill all those little silences with words and jokes, little stories and facts, because when things are quiet, that's when life gets scary. In the silence, people leave, people die-- life starts to hurt, to kill you a little more each time. There is too much unknown not being said, left up in the air that I have to fill that void with prattle. With you though, the silence and stillness feels safe, even comforting. I realized then that you were my epic love story, the love of my life, because when you find someone, who at the very essence of their being, feels like home, you hold on tight and never let go. The future I built up in my mind for us is gone, but I want to know that before I died that I built a family and a home with you. I don't care if that family is just the two of us and house is that god damned Tahoe. I used to think that a home was four walls and a roof, but Derek, a home to me is wherever you are."

Derek stared at him, misty eyed. Stiles had never said those things to him, and he pulled epic poetry out of his head for wedding vows.

"I knew there was a reason I had you go last. Look, it's been a while since I've been to a wedding. I can't remember most of that 'Do you, Derek, take Stiles' crap. Make it up yourselves."

 

 



Derek laughed. This he was able to come up with. "I Derek, promise you...you want your full name or just Stiles?"

Stiles grinned. "Yeah I guess we should have decided that ahead of time. Stiles is fine."

"Right I promise you, Stiles, to take care of you, talk you through your often irrational panic, listen to your rambling, and never again try and debate why I think Batman is not the greatest superhero there is. I will love you and do my best to not hurt you again the way I did last night." Derek slid Stiles' ring on his finger.

"I Stiles, promise you, Derek to be that one person you trust wholly, to never do anything to damage that trust. I will remind you, every day, why you deserve nice things, because I am a nice thing, and you deserve so much more than me. I promise to never give up on you, but more importantly, I won't let you give up on yourself. I will love you with everything I have." He slid the ring on Derek's finger.

"By the power vested in me by absolutely no one, you're now husbands. Kiss but keep it PG kids."

Stiles wished he could describe in what ways that kiss was different than every other one that came before it, but his mind was a desert of thought. He felt like the Persistence of Memory, time melting and bending around him, encapsulating them in their own little gap in space where it was just them, would always be just them.

                                                                                                         *   *   *   *   *

The wedding feast could hardly be described as such, but tasted like absolute heaven. Derek was pretty sure there hadn't ever been a wedding with Hormel chilli, canned collard greens, and carrots coated in Cheese Whiz as the dinner spread. He was positive a Twinkie wedding cake was not a thing that existed before tonight. Thanks to the miracle of modern day foraging, their cream-filled yellow sponge cake had been frosted with a can of Funfetti icing. The search for booze produced nothing. So they toasted with Sprite by lantern light.

Given the effort Stiles made to engrave their rings with song lyrics, his own containing 'You're gonna be the one that saves me', they chose "Wonderwall" for their first dance. It was perfect.

That night, when the pair of them retreated back to the roof and their air mattress under the late June stars, they exchanged gifts. They lie there, curled up together under a blanket, Stiles practically on top of him just listening to the rhythm of Derek's heart. Derek turned the house figurine over and over in his hands. The group assumed that he found his boyf- wait husband, and wow that felt fantastic to be able to say- husband's new hobby annoying the way most of them did. In reality, he found it absolutely charming. The fact that Stiles considered pretty or amusing things as essential as food or water added another wonderful layer to him. While the rest of the group cared solely about their physical well-being, Stiles seemed to be the only one to care about their emotional health. That spoke volumes. "Where'd you get this one?"

Stiles lifted his head off Derek's chest. "Portland. I picked it up because the trees are giant toadstools, and I'm pretty sure the house is supposed to be made of cheese. Made me chuckle. I thought, seeing as we won't get one, this will be the stand-in for our house. And this," he handed Derek a miniature rubber duckie, "will take the place of our dog. I'm sorry. I didn't find children analogs, but I swear the first treasure trolls I find will join the menagerie. How many do you want?"

At a loss for words, he pulled Stiles to his chest, kissing the top of his head. "Two? Two sounds good." He gave Stiles a present wrapped in a t-shirt.

Inside were the two leather journals he found on their last pharmacy run. "What's this for? I mean, they're beautiful books, thank you. Just what do you want me to do with it? Did you have something special in mind? I want to make sure I utilize this gift to the fullest of its potential."

Derek sighed, looking up at the stars. "Humankind has to survive this. I feel it in my bones. Say we do, and people rebuild. There should be history of the struggle don't you think?" He cupped Stiles' chin and turned his face upward to meet his own. "Write the story of us. Someone should know what kind of people we were, our aches and triumphs, that we loved as fiercely as we fought. I don't know about you, Babe, but I think we'd make one hell of a read."

Stiles smiled, his caramel eyes wide and rimmed with tears. Book still in hand, he wrapped his arms around Derek's neck. "You're perfect, you know that? You may bottle things up until you break, and the way you handle hardships leaves serious room for improvement. Your way with words rivals monks under vows of silence. You can't dance to save your life, and you are the worst Charades teammate in the history of Charades, but you... you're perfect." He kissed him softly, yet deeply, with passion but also great reverence. "And you're all mine."

 

Chapter Text

Stiles opened the rear hatch of the Tahoe and crawled onto the mattress in the cargo area where Derek slept. His ban on supply runs and night watch had been lifted, thanks to Melissa declaring him fit for duty. While he missed traveling outside the camp on their little scavenger hunts, he did not in any way miss the night watch shift.

It had been a nice few days relaxing for everyone from where they camped on the East Creek Trail near Grand Junction, and swimming earlier in the day felt amazing. The rationale for stopping where they did revolved around the available fresh water and remote location, but Stiles suspected it had something to do with the ability to bathe and wash all their clothes. Summer had not been kind so far, abnormally hot, and therefore everyone smelled terrible.

A week ago, they found an abandoned and mostly intact tent. It slept four, and with some lovely duct tape patchwork, it now allowed for more comfortable sleeping arrangements when they camped outside instead of seeking refuge in buildings. This meant aside from the two people who wound up on night's watch at a time, two could sleep in the back of his parent's cruiser, with Anthony in the back seat. Derek and Stiles in the Tahoe (because apparently, no one wanted to bunk with them-how rude). Two in Argent's car with someone in the back seat, and then everyone else in the tent. Before, a few people always wound up under the stars which could either be pleasant or riddled with mosquitoes. Take your pick.

As soon as Scott relieved him of his shift, Stiles made a beeline for his bed. He yawned. Fuck he should be tired, especially with the small waterfall nearby making the most soothing white noise. However, he was also unbelievably horny, and therefore more than a little irritable. Funny how that works. God, I wish we had some lube.

Derek rolled over in his sleep, exposing his bare chest and legs, only a sheet covering him. With as warm as it had been during the day, the night sadly, was only marginally cooler. Too warm to sleep, Derek had taken to sleeping sans clothing whenever he could. Stiles, well he wasn't quite so brave. He stripped down to his boxers and curled into his husband's side.

"Mmm, how was watch?" Derek grumbled, his voice heavy with sleep; he carded his fingers through Stiles' hair.

"Boring. Not a Rager in sight."

"That's nice."

"No, it was horrible. Nothing to entertainment except for my thoughts." Stiles shifted in Derek's hold, before moving to catch his lips in a soft kiss. He had every intention of keeping it to light, languid, half-asleep kisses and hands ghosting over bare flesh. No matter his intentions, things never stayed that way for long.

More than a little awake now, Derek pulled Stiles on top of him, longing to get his hands on as much skin as possible. Even in the warmth of the nighttime air, he didn't care. "You know," he muttered as he nipped at Stiles' collarbone, "I was sleeping, peacefully 'till you came to bed."

"S'that so, Sleeping Beauty?" Stiles gasped, near breathless, when Derek rolled his hips against him. "And is that a problem? I-" His train of thought was interrupted by nails dragging down his back. "Shit, trying to wreck me before we even get started? Well, then I will let you get back to your precious beauty sleep."

He moved to roll of him, but Derek's hands dipped below the waistband of his boxers, grabbing firmly onto his ass. "Absolutely not." He pushed the restrictive garment down Stiles' thighs, letting him do the rest of the work until they both were in a similar state of undress. "Why would I want that?" Derek clutched him tight against his chest and sat up, nestling Stiles in his lap. He drew his tongue along his husband's jaw. "Why would you?"

"Mmm, good point." Derek wrapped a hand around his neck to pull him closer. "This is all fine and well but...are you forgetting something? We're out of provisions and spit is a terrible substitute." Derek stilled, so Stiles tugged hard on his hair. "No. I didn't say stop. Keep doing what you're doing."

"So bossy." He sucked a mark into Stiles' neck.

"Shut up." He pulled on Derek's hair again. "You love it."

"Mmm. You have no idea." Derek fumbled around near the bed.

"What are you-"

 

 



"Found an alt..ter...oh fuck." Derek groaned when Stiles reached a spit slick hand between their bodies to encircle both of them. When he was about to give up, pull away from Stiles so he could search easier, his fingers closed around a small bottle. "Stole some olive oil from the rations."

"Naughty boy."

"So..."

Stiles grabbed the bottle from him, setting it aside and pushed him back onto the mattress, pinning his hands down. "Ah, ah, ah." He licked a stripe down Derek's chest, planting a kiss near his belly button. "Don't jump the gun. I have no intentions of making this a quickie. You just lie there and enjoy yourself."

"Oh really?"

Stiles tightened his grip. "You heard me."

When Stiles took him in his mouth, Derek swore he saw stars. His husband's most prominent feature, his mouth, and by that he meant strongest personality trait, was also the most sinful. The things he could do with that mouth--Derek, were he any kind of a writer, could write sonnets to that mouth. Oh sweet pink, deep crested, cupid's bow and sinful smiles, you will be the death of me...


                                                                                                     *   *   *   *   *


Isaac sat up and rubbed his eyes. Despite his best efforts not to wake Allison when he opened the hatch, she stirred. "Sorry, Alli. I just gotta take a leak and stretch my legs." He gave her ankle a soft squeeze. "Be back ten minutes tops." He pulled on a pair of gym shorts and his shoes, then grabbed his flashlight and the crow bar he'd become so fond of.

He could see Scott and Chris sitting around the small fire they built to keep the bugs away. On his way to seek out some privacy, he waved to Chris. No one was to leave without notifying the group. Both men seemed to be in the middle of a conversation, but Isaac was sure they saw him walk by, pretty sure at least. Whatever, it wouldn't take him very long. He was emptying his bladder not baking a fucking cake. He'd be back in no time.

When he was far enough away from their camp so as not to attract animals to the area (whatever Scott, animals would not be enticed by the smell of human piss), he relieved himself behind a shrub. Just as he tucked himself back into his underwear and shorts, he heard a noise. That oh, so familiar by now sound of a Rager, carried the short distance between them. Crow bar at the ready and flashlight aimed in the direction of the noise, he took cautious steps forward. Daytime, yeah he'd be content to let the thing wander on. There would be plenty of people awake to dispatch the thing, but at night? Yeah, not going to take the chance of it getting the jump on Chris or Scott.

His flashlight gave off only a small beam of light, and he suddenly wished it was not a cloudy night. He could use some extra light right about now. When a five minute search turned up nothing, he doubled back towards camp. At least he thought it was towards camp. Hard to tell at night.

Out of nowhere, the Rager came scrambling out from behind a rock right at him. Before he could swing the crowbar, the thing got its hands on him, knocking him back and off trail. Now Isaac didn't happen to be built like Derek or as skilled with self defense as Chris or any of the three cops, but he was tall and had some mass on him.

None of that mattered at the moment.

Somewhere in the scuffle, he dropped his flashlight and was now in total darkness. If he could. just. free. a. hand- Easier said than done, but eventually accomplished, and with a strong swing, crashed the crow bar into the Rager's skull. A second hit took it out for good.

He took a moment to catch his breath and to look around for the flashlight, to no avail. When, in reality, he should have been more mindful of his surroundings. A misstep sent him off-balance, and in his attempt to regain it, his foot caught a rock. He braced himself for impact, but none came.

Instead, he found himself slipping and tumbling down a hillside, desperately grasping at brush, rocks, anything to gain purchase. A million thoughts raced through his head at that moment, none of them coherent except for the panicked plea that he would stop falling. Rocks and sand cut into his skin, his body bruised and battered, but he felt no pain, only fear.

When there was nowhere left to slide, Isaac stopped with a jarring and terrifying crack.


                                                                                                              *   *   *   *   *

Allison rolled over, and where she expected to find Isaac's chest, she found only empty bedding. She hadn't remembered falling back, but his side of the blanket was cold, so she'd been out a while. Rubbing her eyes, she slipped on her shoes and ventured outside their vehicle.

Chris looked up when he saw her. "What is it, Allison?"

"Have you seen Issac? He got up to go to the bathroom. Said he'd be back in ten minutes no more, but he's not there"

"When was this?" He asked his daughter.

"Dunno. I didn't check before I fell back asleep. Just felt like a while. Did you see him come out here?" Both men shook their heads. "Stubborn idiot. He knows to give the heads up."

Scott patted the empty space on the rock next to him. "You're welcome to sit down and wait. Would you like some water?" He shook his bottle at her.

"No, I'm good, thanks. Do you, do you think we should go look for him?"

Chris glanced at his watch. "Let's say we give him a little bit. We haven't heard any commotion or yelling. If he'd met Ragers, he would have raised the alarm."

She wrapped her arms tightly around herself. "Yeah, I guess so."

 

                                                                                                         *   *   *   *   *

 

Isaac blinked, rolling over onto his back. He wasn't sure for how long he'd been out. His head didn't hurt, so felt pretty sure he hadn't hit it. Still, he couldn't be sure why exactly he'd passed out. Sometime in his mental vacation elsewhere, the clouds above had dispersed, leaving enough stars to lend some light.

Though his head felt fine, everywhere, and he meant everywhere, else hurt. He could feel the deep scrapes up and down his arms. His back felt like he'd been hit with a 2x4, but he could move his arms and legs-wait leg...what in the...

He tried to sit up and damn near broke down in sobs from the pain. Okay, so ribs...not doing so hot. Finally, with effort, he pushed himself to a seated position only to glance down at his legs. Left leg looked just fine but with a splendid case of road rash. Right leg however--totally different story.

With timid fingers, Isaac reached down to touch his shin where he could see a bit of bone had come through the skin. How are they going to fix me up? Tears welled up in his eyes. Looking up the hill he'd just fallen down, it was at least a hundred feet. Didn't seem all that steep, but the tumble had damn near incapacitated him. He opened his mouth to call for help, yet stopped when he realized that not only had he lost his left shoe, he'd also lost his crowbar. If he made a lot of noise, he had no way to defend himself if he attracted Ragers.

He couldn't say how he did it (human will-power could be a powerful thing), but using only his left leg and arms managed to stand up. Hopping on one leg over to the hill, he gained a better view. He could do this. Scratch that. He was going to do this. He'd survived being locked in a freezer and outright child abuse for years. A fall down a hillside was not going to take out Isaac Lahey, even if it cost him a leg.

The first movements up the hill were torture. He'd forgotten just how much work jumping on one leg was, and more than once, he needed to lean against large rocks to catch his breath. Yeah there was definitely a broken rib or two in his chest.

Hop, stop, breathe.

Hop, stop, breathe.

Hop, stop breathe.

                                                                                                     *   *   *   *   *

 

"Oh fuck, fuck- don't--just like--" Stiles panted inside the Tahoe. They hadn't had sex this physical in months, and if the way Derek looked right then was any indication, the man needed this just as badly as he did. Derek had been reduced to wordless syllables, grunts and little noises beneath him. Just the way Stiles liked it. Those sounds, those were the things that really got to him. He didn't even need to look at Derek during sex. Stiles, as his inability to stop talking would indicate, craved the auditory side of sex more than anything else. He pitched forward, hands pinning Derek's to the mattress, to capture his mouth in a kiss, rolling his hips in one smooth decadent motion.

 

 


"Oh god, I love it when you do that," Derek mumbled against Stiles mouth, unable to stop the moan escaping his lips when his husband did it again, and again.

Stiles took Derek's earlobe between his teeth with more pressure than usual. "Why do you think I do it?"

The feel of Stiles' breath on his ear sent sparks down his spine, sparks and an energy he couldn't stop, and within moments found himself coming harder than he had in...well since he could remember. "Fffuck," he groaned, Stiles continuing to relish being in control, not that control was ever something Stiles ever asked for. He just took, and Derek didn't care one bit. Those sinful hips of his didn't give Derek a moment of reprieve.

He felt Stiles' body tense above him, the man's mouth hanging open in a breathless gasp. Derek knew that face well; he was close, and just when he felt him hit his tipping point, someone knocked on the window. "Shh, shh. Just ignore it, Babe. You're so close."

 

 


Stiles gave his hips a snap before coming with a shout, Derek's name and curses on his lips. He collapsed on top of Derek in a sweaty, boneless mess. A few seconds later, there was another knock on the glass. "For crying out loud," he grumbled, moving towards the back hatch to open the window. "What?" he snapped, though sighing inwardly in total relief that it was not his dad or step-mother to knock on the glass. "What can I do for you, Tara?"

"Get dressed, Isaac's missing." She couldn't look him in the eye as she told him.

Stiles let the hatch window swing shut, muttering to himself about knowing your surroundings as he used his shirt to wipe the cum from both their chests. "So in hindsight, falling on you, not the best idea right now. Ugh, open the windows will you?" He wrinkled his nose while he dug through his bag for a clean shirt.

"Sure thing, Bossypants."

Stiles leaned over and kissed him. "S'that a new pet name?" He nipped at the skin of Derek's neck. "I kinda like it." he ducked out of Derek's reach when the man tried to ruffle his hair.

Outside the Tahoe, the pair of them walked towards the group. "About time." Chris deadpanned.

Stiles gave him an icy stare. "Says the man who was on watch last. Look, I'm terribly sorry you're not getting any, but-"

"So, I'm not sure how long he's been missing," Allison interrupted their pissing match. "He left to go to the bathroom. Said he'd be back in ten. We need to fan out and look for him."

Stiles nodded. "And if he got into trouble with some Ragers..."

"Then we take care of him, give him a dignified end." She nodded solemnly. "It's what any of us would want."

The group gathered their flashlights and weapons, choosing two groups of three and a group of four with Maria and Melissa electing to stay at the camp with Anthony. Any temporary stress relief Stiles gained from their tryst, had all but evaporated the moment they armed themselves.

"So..." Tara started.

Stiles tried to ignore her curious tone. "Yes?"

"Never would have pegged you for a top."

He rolled his eyes at her, though in the dark, his expression could not be seen. He settled for a huff. "What makes you say that?"

"Well, I mean, you two were pretty loud, and you were definitely bossing him around in there."

"Oh my God, Tara."

"So that was a no then?" she smirked.

"And anyway, who says I can't be aggressive in the sack?" Stiles deadpanned. "Besides, it's none of your business, Tara. You've known me since I was eight years old. I am not talking to you in detail about our sex life."

 

                                                                                                     *   *   *   *   *  

 

Never had such a short distance seemed so damn far. The gentle grade at the bottom of the hill had long since given way to a steeper slope, and Isaac's hopping technique no longer worked. Having to drag himself up the hill, his fingertips were raw, worn down and bloody.

Almost there. He was flat out exhausted. Needing to rest, he wedged himself between a couple of large rocks as best he could, just for a moment to catch his breath. As he did, he paused to take in the nighttime sounds of the desert.

Somewhere, and not too far away either, he heard the familiar hiss and shake of a rattlesnake. Shit. Just what he needed, when he had no way to retreat. Hold still, stay quiet. It's not that close. Farther in the distance, a coyote or two howled, and they were definitely more terrifying than that stupid rattlesnake. He heard the rattle again and determined it to be down the hill from his current position.

Okay, not so bad then. Just don't fall again. Ha! Easier said than done, as his leg was killing him. He could feel the blood dripping down his leg, soaking his sock and probably shoe. Everything he'd done so far had been in an effort to keep the leg as still as possible, to keep that bone from coming through the skin even further.

The top of the hill was maybe twenty feet above him, but it would be no cake walk either. Somehow, he found the trail and made a difficult decision. He lay down in the dirt, on his left side as close to the brush as he could get. Taking a few moments to steel his resolve, as this, given the injuries to his arms and left leg, was really going to hurt, he stared up at the night sky.

More stars than he'd ever seen in his life shone back at him. If circumstances were different, and he were gazing at them on a normal night, he'd stop and appreciate them a little while longer. Off to his left just a ways, he picked out the shape of Pegasus, his favorite constellation. Be that damned winged horse, Isaac. Fly to the top of this hill.

Slowly, and agonizingly, he dragged himself the rest of the way up the hill using the brush like a rope. Drag here, scramble to the next plant there, drag some more. At one point, he ran out of shrubs to use for handholds and had to use his left leg to push himself off a rock to the next plant two feet above his reach.

Finally, he hit the summit, flinging himself over the edge with his last bit of strength. He lay on the ground, unable to go any further, praying that they'd find him soon.

 

                                                                                                               *   *   *   *   *

 

"Isaac!" Derek shone his flashlight around rocks. "Hey man, you out here?"

"Hey you scarf wearing bastard, get out here!" Stiles yelled. "You got your girlfriend worried sick! And the rest of us are tired!"

Derek gave him a soft punch in the arm. "Be nice."

"I am being nice. Isaac appreciates my level of 'niceness' with him." Stiles stared at him. "What? Your friend has a serious scarf fetish. You know that right?"

"Isaac!" Scott called out just as his foot hit something. He looked down to see a Rager, still and unmoving on the ground. Taking no chances, he hit it in the head with his axe. Not three feet away, he found a shoe. "Hey guys. I found Isaac's sneaker."

"You sure?" Tara asked.

"Yes. Red and black Nike's with a bright yellow swoosh. They're his." He picked up the cross-trainer. "I think he struggled with this Rager. Isaac! Can you here us, Buddy?"

Stiles cast the beam of his flashlight to the ground. "I don't see him anywhere around here."

Without saying a word, Derek ran in the direction of his light, crouching down near the edge. "Hey, hey. We're here. We're here." He checked Isaac's pulse and breathing. "We're going to get you some help."

Isaac tried to speak.

"No, no. Don't talk. It's okay. Were you bitten?" Isaac shook his head weakly. "Oh God, Buddy, you look terrible. What happened?" Isaac coughed, then whined, and pointed over the edge of the hill. "You...you fell?" When Isaac nodded, Derek looked at him in shock. "How'd you get back up here?" Isaac's shallow breathing was beginning to worry him. "Stiles, go get Boyd!"

"Why?"

"I need someone bigger than the three of you to help me carry him! Go! Now!" He turned his attention back to his injured friend. "Isaac?" The man turned his hands over and laid them on his chest. Derek stared at his fingertips, almost worn  down to the bone. "Did you drag yourself back up here?"

"Yes." Isaac's response was weak and barely audible.

"Where do you hurt the worst?" Isaac patted his chest and pointed to his right leg; Derek tried not to be grossed out by the sight of the man's broken bone. A moment later, Boyd came running over with Stiles and Erica. "Okay, you took some EMS training, Boyd. How do we get him out of here without a backboard?"

Boyd unfolded the beach towel in his hand. "You three, log roll him onto his left side. One, two, three." He quickly slid the towel against Isaac's body. "Okay. I need the cardboard. Put it down on the towel," he told his wife. "This is the best I could come up with given our supplies. Carefully now, roll him onto this. Derek, cradle his neck better. Yeah, like that." When they had him on the makeshift gurney, he and Derek lifted on three. "Keep the towel as taut as you can." The rushed back to camp. "Melissa, where do you want him?"

 

 



"In the back of our cruiser. Let me get in first." She climbed in and helped them pull Isaac into the SUV. Inside, she had all available lanterns set up to give her as much light as possible. Around her were medical supplies and some of the water they'd boiled earlier in the day. Quickly scrubbing her hands with iodine, she tugged on a pair of gloves. "I need three of those palette slats Chris keeps for firewood, the straightest ones you can find." She turned to Isaac. "Sweetie, I need to ask you some questions. Okay?" He nodded. "Did you hit your head at all?"

"I don't think so," he rasped out. "Doesn't hurt 'cept for my face."

"Well, you're scratched up pretty good. Can you tell me your name?"

"Isaac."

She shone the light in his eyes. "Follow the light. Okay, good. How many fingers?" She held up three, and when he correctly answered her, she moved on to other tasks. "Okay, I need you to grab my finger as hard as you can, first with your left hand then your right...and oh," she said when she saw his palms and finger tips, "never mind. I do not want you doing that right now. Boyd, you're going to help me. Take care of his hands, arms and face. Use that irrigation bottle in Stiles' first aid kit. It's empty, but I need you to flush out his wounds. There is a pair of medical tweezers in the kit I made. Can you handle the debridement of his upper body?"

"Yeah."

She grabbed one of the syringes in her kit. "Derek, go through that box of medication. No, the other one with all the vials. What do we have in there for antibiotics? I've marked them all with a red marker on the glass."

Derek dug through the plastic container.

"Isaac, are you allergic to any antibiotics?" she asked, and he shook his head.

"Um, you have amoxicillin, ciproflaxin, tetracycline, cefoxitin, and clindamyacin."

She thought a minute, doing the math in her head for Isaac's approximate weight and their lack of appropriate IV fluids. "Um give me the cefoxitin." She loaded the dose, lower than probably needed, but she didn't want to give him too much, and injected it into an uninjured part of Isaac's thigh. "Do we have any lidocaine?"

"No."

She sighed and finished irrigating the compound fracture in Isaac's leg, her heart constricting every time he winced or flinched. "Isaac, I have some bad news. We have nothing stronger than ibuprofen for pain. I'm so sorry, but this is really going to hurt." The panic in his eyes told her that he understood. "I need a belt, or something leather." Boyd quickly divested himself of his belt and handed it to her. "No, fold that up. Isaac, you're going to bite this, okay? Now before I continue, I have more bad news. This type of injury is best treated with plates, rods, or screws. I don't have any. To be truthful, I wouldn't trust myself to set your bone that way even if I did have them.  More than likely, you're going to have a permanent limp. Understand?"

He nodded.

"Take a deep breath." When he struggled, she stopped. "Do your ribs hurt?"

"Yeah."

"Well as deep as you can then. Derek, you get his shoulders, Boyd, his hips. You need to hold him down and as still as you can. It's crucial. I need to get this bone back into place as easily as possible. Ready guys." Both men nodded from their holding positions. "Isaac, I'm going on three. One, two," before she got to three, she pulled in a downward motion until his tibia disappeared back into his leg, continuing until his limb was straight again. His screams could probably be heard from miles away, even with the belt in his mouth. She wrapped the three slats in some t-shirts for comfort, positioning one on either side and one under his leg, and holding them in place haphazardly. Now that the bone was set, she had an open wound to tend to.

She'd already cleaned it while Derek looked for medication. In the little kit next to her, she cut several strips of tape, hanging them from the side of the plastic box. Then, she cracked the seal on a small bottle of saline solution and opened some gauze, dampening the cloths slightly to pack in the wound. "I know, Sweetie. I know it hurts. I'm being as gentle as I can, but this needs to be done." She covered the wound with several more gauze squares and secured them in place with the tape. "Boyd, elastic bandages from that box. All of them." She finished wrapping his splint. "Okay, now take some of that Neosporin and apply it to the road rash, then cover with the rolled gauze. Isaac, I can't do anything about broken ribs, but I need to listen to your chest." She took the stethoscope she'd been wearing the day she fled Beacon Memorial hospital and listened to his breath sounds: Labored but even--no sign of a collapsed lung or punctured lung. Good news. The three of them finished tending to Isaac's wounds. The poor guy looked about ready to pass out. She climbed out of the back of gate, grabbing all the used medical supplies to either throw out, or boil if they could be salvaged for other uses (the tweezers for example). She propped his leg up and told Allison to go sit with him while they had a meeting.

"So," Chris began as the group convened around the dwindling fire, "he gonna make it?"

"Yeah, barring any infection I can't treat with the antibiotics we have. But we need a hospital. I'm out of suture kits, and he needs pain medication. I need, at the very least, an open-air cast. Something better than what we have. And crutches or he is going to have muscle atrophy from sitting still for six weeks. That's my best guess. I can't actually tell you if the break was clean in only one place or comminuted."

"What is com-"

"Shattered. He's gonna limp from now on. I don't know how badly, but a crutch would be helpful. We need a hospital."

John turned to his wife. "Well, we're no good right now. I say in the morning we take one of the vehicles into Grand Junction. There has got to be a hospital with at least some of that. The pain meds might be a stretch."

She rubbed her forehead. "The narcotic meds would all be gone. The common ones with names people recognize. Oxy, Vicodin, Fentanyl, Percocet, methadone, morphine, codeine. Those, yeah those will be gone. But you might get lucky and find Ultracet or Demerol especially if they don't recognize the generic name. I'll give you a list. And frankly, even if it were daytime right now, I'd tell you to wait, just in case we get a complication. I'm going to look and see if we have anything for a blood thinner to prevent clots. This is...bad injury. I'll stay up with him. Go back to bed or watch." She shooed everyone away, crawling back into the cruiser with Allison and her patient.

Derek stared at the flames, lost in his head for a minute or two, until he felt Stiles hug him from behind, resting his chin on Derek's shoulder. "Hey." He laced their fingers together, the metal of their rings making a faint clinking noise.

"You okay?" Stiles kissed the back of his shoulder.

He shrugged. "I guess so, maybe, I'm not sure. It was gross, and his face- Look I've seen people in a lot of pain. You know car accidents, but never someone I know, someone I care about. He's in so much pain, and...and..." Derek sighed. "He kind of looked like Laura did." His chest heaved, and he screwed his eyes shut to drive out the memory. "I had to identify her, and yeah, they'd cleaned her up, but she looked a lot like that--road rash, torn up skin, broken. It's just...a bit of déjà vu, you know?"

"Yeah." Stiles hugged tighter. "Come on. I'll take care of you." He tugged them towards the Tahoe.

"You don't have to do that. I'll be okay."

"You took care of me in Silver Lake. Let me help you now."

Derek gave a pained laugh. "I'm not up for another round of sex."

"Well good news, me neither." He opened the hatch for Derek. "Get in." Climbing in after his husband, Stiles stripped out of his shoes, pants and shirt before flipping the blanket over. After closing the hatch, he lay down on his back and patted his chest.

Derek smiled and crawled in next to him, letting his head rest on Stiles' chest. Stiles wrapped a protective arm around him and drew soothing circles on his back. "This...this is nice."

Stiles kissed the top of his head. "Yeah. Good night."

"Night." Derek placed a kiss on Stiles' chest above his heart. "I love you."

 

 



"Kocham Cię, Hon." Stiles held him tightly and closed his eyes. If he was lucky, he'd get two or three hours of sleep--But he was seldom lucky..

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The building loomed before them, empty and bleeding with tragedy. "Yeah, pretty sure I saw this episode already. Somewhere Cylons are going to come out and haunt us." Stiles said as they stood outside St. Mary's Hospital. "Where's Starbuck when you need her?"

Scott stared over at at him. "What are you...you know what? Never mind."

Under his breath Stiles grumbled, "I hate hospitals."

"I know you do." Derek gave his shoulders a squeeze. "Don't worry about it." He kissed Stiles' temple.

Easier said than done. Every hair on Stiles' body stood at full attention as they breached the doors. He'd seen enough horror movies to be on high alert. Going to hospitals was never a good idea. His initial dislike of the places began as he and his father watched his mother die slowly in one when he was a child, and only cemented further two years ago...

...Stiles rushed through the doors to the emergency room at Beacon Memorial Hospital. He was exhausted; Wednesdays were both his early days and long days, he'd been up since six, and blown off his last two classes. He tried to keep his calm when he approached the front desk.

"May I help you?" the nurse asked.

"Um, my boyfriend was shot." His pulse raced. The only thing the text message had said was:

              D, 10-71 LOD- You have a plane ticket waiting for you at SeaTac, Love Dad.

He tried to steady his breathing. Just then, he saw Melissa round the corner carrying a chart. "Melissa, tell me he's okay."

"I got this one, Judy. I'll take you to the waiting room. He's still in surgery."

When they arrived to the room, he saw his dad sitting in one of the chairs. "Dad-" His voice broke, and he couldn't continue.

John stood and wrapped his son in a tight hug. "He and Moreno got called to a domestic disturbance over Beacon Heights. It got ugly. A man was drunk and tried to kill his wife. Derek got in the way."

Stiles nodded into his father's shoulder. "Is he..."

"I don't know anything yet. Mel, has been keeping me updated." He took the cup of coffee his wife handed him. "Here, she brought you some coffee."

Stiles took maybe two sips of the drink, leaving it to sit on a table as it grew cold. He and his father sat in silence for another four hours until the doctor came out.

"Which one of you is Officer Hale's emergency contact?"

Stiles raised his hand. "I'm his boyfriend, Stiles."

"He was admitted with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. There was some major internal trauma, but we were able to repair the damage to his spleen without requiring removal of the organ. However, we did need to remove part of his liver.. Don't worry; the liver does regenerate. There was some hemorrhaging, and it took awhile to stop the bleeding, but we were able to get that under control. He's being moved to the ICU for recovery."

"Is...He's going to be okay, right?"

"Barring any complications as he heals, yes. He is expected to make a full recovery."

Stiles had never felt more relief in his life. However, staring at Derek hooked up to all those machines as he waited for him to come out of anesthesia did a number on his nerves. Sometime around one in the morning, he felt a light squeeze on his hand.

"St...stil..." Derek croaked out, his voice scratchy from intubation.

"Hey. I'm here. I'm here."...

...Knowing about their mission, Stiles had lain awake since about five in the morning, unable to fall back asleep after a vivid nightmare. As he stared up at the roof of the Tahoe in the dark, his fingers kept running over the misshapen scar on Derek's left side, a constant reminder how close he'd come to losing him; he couldn't keep his mind from taking him back to all those horrible memories spent in a hospital.

No matter how hard he tried to shake that sense of impending doom, and to be honest, he always carried around a small sense of dread (it was how he was wired after all. He wasn't quite sure when hypervigilance started being a thing for him), Stiles couldn't convince himself that what they were doing was a good idea. Inside the building looked like his worst nightmare and the scene of countless films and TV shows. He kept waiting for the maniac wielding a chainsaw to pop out from behind an overturned gurney.

Wires hung from the ceiling like roots of a tree, desperate to take their place in the soil, to remake the world in their mechanical image. They would find little resistance in this world now. Dirt and grime covered the floor, caked thick in some spots, and debris littered the hallways. Every so often, pools of water had collected on the tiles, and more than once those puddles turned out to be a drying mixture of blood and gore. Who had died here? Were they a Rager when they did so, or just some poor sap who skimped on their cardio and obstacle course training? When the wind blew, it echoed through the building in a long, mournful wail, almost like the wind knew what happened there. In short, it was enough to start his stomach roiling.

Because it was presumably the hardest escape, they started in the basement. Words were shared about energy expenditure, but he didn't really pay attention. He couldn't; the overwhelming trepidation hung above him like a crescent shaped, razor-edge pendulum, swinging lower and lower until-

"I'm not finding anything!" Scott called out from the room he searched, his words snapping Stiles back to attention. What was he supposed to be doing again?

"Nothing here either." Jordan rejoined the group in the hallway. "This floor has pretty much been picked clean."

Undeterred by the scarcity of anything usable in the basement, they moved their search upwards. The first floor yielded a bag of saline and nothing else, though on the second floor, Allison found the hidden jackpot of suture kits and stowed the entire box into her bag. The fourth floor gave them a set of crutches, too short, but better than nothing. There were a lot of rooms, a lot of empty rooms with little more than decaying corpses, and in the summer heat was enough to make Stiles lose his breakfast from the stench.

The place was a lot bigger than they'd expected, and the search was exhausting, especially when only two people at a time could search as the others dispatched throngs of Ragers, who all appeared to have been staff or patients, maybe visitors. Could Ragers climb stairs?

"This is insane!" Stiles yelled, wiping Rager guts from his goggles. Yep, he still wore the things, and nothing anyone said would convince him otherwise. Prior planning was the best prevention.

Derek yanked his knife out of a skull. "Tell me about it. I say we keep going up. This floor has just too many Ragers."

"I found a walking boot!" Allison ran out into the hallway, holding the cast above her head like a trophy. "I think it's too small, but we'll make do."

"Now we just need the drugs. Let's go." Chris led everyone up the stairs.

Fifth floor? Nothing but a field of Ragers so thick that none of them even bothered to open the door from the stairwell. Too big a risk, too small the possibility of reward. The sixth floor gave them various simple medical supplies, but still no medication. Floor seven was a carbon copy of the fifth floor, but unfortunately, the door had seen some damage and wouldn't close completely. Rather than trying to barricade it and draw further attention to themselves, they sneaked up the stairs as quietly as possible to avoid detection.

The eighth floor was a ghost town, all but completely devoid of Ragers, strangely dark like windows had been blocked by beds and cabinets. As if Ragers could crawl up the outside of a building to windows 180 feet off the ground. The biggest obstacle they would face on this floor? Somewhere on the floor above, the floor leaked. With as quiet as they were stepping foot onto the floor, dripping water echoed down the hall. Drip, drip, drip, drip. How was there still water left? Where had it come from, and was it drinkable? Drip, drip , drip.

Stiles squinted in the low light. Between the last four rooms on the floor, a large pool of water sat, being fed from the water trickling down through the ceiling. Thank God, there were no live wires. He mentally added electrocution to his list of ways he'd prefer not to die.

Two people on guard in the hall while everyone else searched made things move much faster. Somewhere near the end of the hallway, as they approached the far stairwell, the Ragers who'd made themselves scarce on the floor made an appearance with a vengeance. Lulled into a false sense of security by the empty floor, they neglected to check the door at the end of the hall. It had been completely ripped off its hinges allowing Ragers to filter up from the story below, unchecked. So, that solved that question. Ragers could, indeed, climb stairs, and they'd made the ascent in full force. Dozens pouring out of the stairwell at a time, the group turned to retreat back to the other stairwell.

Now, anticipating trouble, the group had armed themselves to the teeth before leaving camp. Everyone had a rifle and a side arm, as well as a knife and melee weapon of choice. A few grabbed extra items as well at Chris' insistence. So their group of seven looked more like a small militia than a group of survivors. Stiles had doubts any of that would help them now.

With every rifle blast, Stiles fought the urge to flinch; the sound of a gun shot indoors was so much louder than he ever expected. He didn't even have time to wad up a couple cotton balls and shove them in his ears. Ragers were just too numerous. At this rate, he'd be deaf in no time. He didn't want to burn through his bullets, having grown so comfortable with weapons other than a firearm.

He flexed his fingers around the handle of the aluminum bat in his hands, swinging at the heads of the infected with fervor and great force. The crack of metal against skulls still sickened him a little; he'd be worried if it didn't. The more he hit, the more he felt his clothes begin to cling to him, heavy with Rager blood. Don't get cut. Don't get scratched. Keep your mouth closed, or you'll end up like them.

 

 



With the added danger of the large pool of water, Erica slipped and fell flat on her back. The impact knocked the wind out of her, and Derek ran back to help her fight off the last of the Ragers around her while she regained her wits. The cop in him said 'Conserve your bullets. It's an enclosed space.' So he drove the butt of his rifle into and through several rotting Ragers with a knife to the temple to finish them off.

 

 

 

The hall would light up briefly with every muzzle flash, a scene right out of a haunted house. Flashes, bright like strobe lights, illuminated the undead for only a moment. Stiles didn't want to be here anymore. Somewhere there had to be an emergency exit, or a director to yell cut.

Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles saw Scott reach for something on his belt (how he managed that when faced with the six Ragers in front of him, he'd never know). It took his brain a few seconds to register what the hell was going on, but when it did, he couldn't yell out fast enough. "Scott, no!" Stiles watched in slow motion as the pin hit the ground. "Grenade!" The group took cover as best as they could, ducking in rooms, behind desks, Stiles choosing to use the bodies of Ragers as human...well undead human shields.

The blast rocked the hallway, shaking the survivors to their cores. When the dust settled, the few Ragers that had remained before the explosion had been blown apart. Aside from a couple minor shrapnel wounds, the group seemed okay.

"You idiot!" Chris shoved at Scott. "Do not use the frag grenades in close quarters!"

"I....I thought it was a flashbang!"

"We don't even know if those would work on Ragers! All that would do is mess with our heads."

"I was trying to help!" He shoved back.

Stiles tuned out the men arguing to take in his surroundings. His ears rang, and the effect disoriented him. If the pair hadn't been yelling at each other, he surely wouldn't have heard them at all. Blinking several times, trying to focus and take in his surroundings, he leaned against the wall. The blast had a dizzying effect, and he just need a few moments. One, he needed to gain his bearings, and two, he needed a breather. Instead of either, he felt vibrations move down the wall. What in the... His eyes watched part of a ceiling tile crumble and fall into the puddle, then another, and everything made sense, shocking him into action. "Run! Back down the hall! Do it now!"

"What?" Allison stared at him like he'd sprouted horns.

"Just trust me! Go!" He gave her a push to ignite the fire under her feet, and they all began moving back the way they'd come. Why he did it, he couldn't say, but he chanced a look over his shoulder to see the ceiling begin to give way just as Derek pushed Erica ahead of him. He stopped, frozen in horror as the ceiling, weakened both by the water damage and the grenade, caved in, trapping his husband on the other side of it. "Derek!" His feet couldn't carry him towards the debris fast enough. In pure desperation, knowing Derek could be injured, he pulled away pieces of rubble. He didn't even know how far down the collapse went. For all he knew, he was digging in vain. That was, until his fingers broke through. "Derek, are you okay? Talk to me. Talk to me, please." He felt a wet hand grab his own.

"Yeah. I'm okay." Derek said through the hole.

It wasn't that he didn't trust him, but Stiles needed to see it with his own eyes. He peered through the hole, which was only big enough to get his arm through, and breathed a sigh of relief. With only a small cut above his eyebrow, Derek was fine. "I'm gonna dig you out. Stay back." However, as he tried to move a few large pieces around the gap, what remained of the floor above creaked and shifted. Smaller pieces of debris slid down the pile where they hit the puddle, sending the water splashing onto Stiles' shoes.

"Stop! That's load bearing. Babe, you can't move it without the whole floor coming down on the both of us. I'll go back to the sixth floor and come up the other stairwell. Okay? I'll see you guys on the ninth."

"Okay. Be careful." He squeezed Derek's hand. When he pulled his hand back to look through the hole again, his heart about leapt out of his chest. Not only had the grenade brought the ceiling down with it, it served as a Rager homing beacon. Every Rager that remained on seven seemed to come barging up the stairs and through the door trapping Derek with no way out. "No! Come on. I don't care if the ceiling caves in more! Derek!" His fingers pulled and plied at the debris with reckless abandon, amidst a hail of gunfire on the other side of the rubble.

Out of nowhere, he felt himself being yanked away from the collapse and down the hall.

Stiles looked over his shoulder to find his step-brother pulling him towards the stairs. "No, Scott! Let me go!" He flailed in Scott's arms, kicking and scratching at the hold the guy had on him. "Let me go! Derek! I can't just leave him like that! Scott, let me go! Let me go! I have to get him out of there!" His words were lost amidst the rifle fire. He continued thrashing as Chris took over, dragging him up the stairs. "No! We have to go back! I can't just leave him here to die!" Tears welled up in his eyes, his voice thick with panic "Take me back! Don't make me choose!" He dropped to the floor and tried crawling down the stairs. "Take me back!"

Three sets of strong hands pulled him to his feet. "It won't take them long to push through that cave-in. You go back there, and it's suicide." Scott tried to reason with him.

However, Stiles was hysterical, and no amount of logic would change his mind. "That's what I'd fucking prefer!" He scrambled down the stairs towards the wall of rubble just in time to hear the heart rending click of Derek's rifle running out of ammunition. Another click. His pistol was empty too. Stiles waited, unable to move, unable to speak, for another cartridge to load, but nothing. Once more he tried moving debris away only to hear a deafening crack. After that, all he heard was buzzing, a ringing in his ears that would haunt him forever.

                                  
                                                                                                              *   *   *   *   *

 

"Someone needs to talk to him." Allison said, pointing to Stiles' unmoving body in the back of the Argent's SUV, where he sat, knees clutched to his chest. Since that second blast, one Chris decided was Derek throwing another grenade to bring down the rest of the ninth floor all the way to the stairwell nearest him, Stiles hadn't said a word. He'd barely even blinked, face devoid of emotion, tears, anything. He was just blank.

They'd waited around on the tenth floor where they'd found a couple Fentanyl patches and a few pain pills. They waited for twenty minutes. Derek never showed.

The atmosphere in the car was tense at best, tragic at worst. It wasn't as if the loss hadn't affected the rest of them. They all felt the sting of losing a friend,  but Stiles? It was as if the guy had hit the off switch and checked out. Scott scrambled over the seat to join his best friend in the back. "Stiles. Hey, look at me. Derek wouldn't have wanted you to stay and die with him. You know that." He reached out to touch his shoulder, but Stiles batted his arm away with force, a frazzled jerky movement.

 

 



Stiles slammed his hands over his ears and buried his face in his knees. He couldn't do this. He couldn't. This had been his fault. He'd pushed, and he'd jinxed them. This was all his fault, all his fault. Derek had been afraid something bad would happen. All his fault. He taunted the universe. All his fault.

Stiles couldn't breathe, his heart too tight in his chest. With his breathing, secretly shallow and ragged, his reaction hidden by his legs, the panic overwhelmed him, and somewhere between there and the camp he passed out. The car jerking to  a stop brought him around. He couldn't move, not just yet, maybe not ever. His legs had forgotten how to work, just like the rest of him.

 

 


Outside, Allison ran the supplies to Melissa, while the rest of their group piled out of the vehicle. Stiles, sat on the floor, hatch open staring off into nothingness.

"You found everything?" Melissa asked, Allison nodded. "Then why does everyone look so-"

"Where's Derek?" John asked. Allison could only stare at him, and give a little shake of her head. John cast a glance at his son, hardly moving in the car. He looked so young and scared in that moment that John felt the urge to rush to him and fold him in his arms. The scene reminded him of when he finally made it to the hospital after his wife died, only to see an eight-year-old Stiles curled up in a waiting room chair in exactly the same position. The only difference this time? The startling lack of tears or any emotion at all. When a small child was able to process a death better than an adult, he knew the loss felt greater more desperate, more devastating. Enough to break him? Probably.

Without looking at him, Stiles pushed him away, grabbed his bat and hopped out of the car, leaving the rest of the group to only watch him walk away in silence.


                                                          
                                                                                                               *   *   *   *   *


Stiles moved as if on autopilot, grabbing the box with shaky fingers. With a side step around the rest of his group who still looked at him shell-shocked, he walked down to the flat space near the waterfall. The box hit the dirt with a thud and clatter, its contents crashing against each other with the impact.

At that moment, his stupor receded and a white-hot, crippling anger take over. He kicked the box onto its side, letting the items spill onto the ground. With his fingers, white-knuckled, around the grip of the bat, he took a deep breath and swung.

The first hit shattered a cut-glass vase into hundreds of pieces. Little shards of green glass sprayed out in every direction, catching the late afternoon sun like a prism. He didn't stop there. The second destroyed the beagle, sending the little sign back towards the camp. Guess he didn't love hugs anymore. Number three saw a pair of figurines, old married couple in rocking chairs, into dust. If someone asked him later, he'd say that destroying those hurt a little, but it wasn't enough to deter him. Broken glass and the bat, cut one of the preserved butterflies in half. The others flew off like they'd reanimated. He moved like a man possessed, and he kind of was.  Swing after swing connected with his collected trinkets, sort of like destroying his future.

He didn't say a word. There was none of that clichéd movie dialogue, the kind that declared "This is for Derek!" or "Haven't I given enough?"--Only silence amidst grunts of exertion.

The dirt glistened with the tiny shards of colorful glass and porcelain. The only items not destroyed were the house, rubber duck, and pink gorilla, with the former tucked safely away in Derek's things, and the latter keeping Isaac company in the cruiser. Stiles kept going, kept swinging, destroying, breaking until he had nothing left in him. 

Soon, the only thing that remained in the box was a little statue Melissa found for him on one of the supply runs. It was such a simple little thing, but it was the most uplifting thing in the box. Wooden and ivory colored, two parents had arms wrapped around a small child. There were no faces, genders were nondescript.

He loved it. It had to go.

When he rose the bat to swing one last time, it felt like Excalibur or Mjölnir, too heavy for his unworthy hands to yield. He tried to bring it down on the statue. Instead, the metal club tumbled out of his hand and clanged as it hit a rock on the ground. With a frustrated shout, Stiles kicked the box as far as he could, before letting out a primal yell at the sky. Those witnessing, waited with bated breath for him to collapse in grief, but nothing happened. He collected himself and walked back to the camp.

Scott stopped him before he could shut himself away. "Why did you do that?"

"What need now do I have for beautiful things, when the most beautiful thing I ever held, ever touched..." His lip quivered, and his whole body began to quake as the dams burst on his eyes. "Oh God." Scott tried to catch him as he collapsed to the ground, but he was too slow, and Stiles hit the dirt hard. John came over and wrapped his arms around his son. Stiles welcomed his father's embrace, but pushed hard at Scott with both hands. "You should have left me die there too!" He screamed at his step-brother. "That's what I wanted! I wish you'd killed me too! Get away from me!"

 

 


John held his son tight as wave after wave of grief-stricken sobs wracked his body. He knew no words of comfort would help in any way. They'd only be empty words, the kind that only made things worse.

                                                                                                          *   *   *   *   *

 

Across town, a supply room on the eighth floor on the other side of an insurmountable wall of broken ceiling tiles, wires, and support beams was a reprieve, a fortress, a lifeline--a little place to hide as a desperate man tried to puzzle out a way to save his life.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Ah shit." Derek groaned, rolling over in the nearly pitch black room. What happened? He winced and rubbed his forehead. Oh yeah...

...Ragers stumbled over themselves just to get into the hallway for a chance to sink their teeth into him. Behind him, he could hear Stiles frantic cries and mad scrambling to move as much debris as he could, anything in order to get Derek out of there. He was out of ammunition, armed only with a hunting knife. The longer Stiles worked to free him, the odds of Ragers getting through the cave-in increased. Derek understood, there was no scenario in which he made it out of this scenario alive, but he had to make sure Stiles made it out of there. Even if it killed him in the process, Derek had to make sure. 'Save him. Save Stiles.'

If Scott hadn't thrown that grenade, well he wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. He wouldn't have heard those desperate, maddening screams from his husband begging to go back so he could just be with Derek. Yet if Scott hadn't made that mistake, Derek would have forgotten about the two grenades on his tactical belt. He gave one more glance over his shoulders, burning Stiles' image into his mind forever, for however long he had left.

He didn't have long to think about it, just enough time to check the doors nearest him. The first door was unlocked, but something blocked it from the other side, most likely knocked over in the first explosion. He could move the door enough to get through. That would have to do.

The smoke bomb came first. White smoke filled the hallway, acrid, burning his nostrils. Then came the fragmentation grenade. Instead of throwing it, he rolled it to where he wanted the blast to hit. Then, he threw all his body weight at the door and crawled inside, leaving only seconds to spare.

The grenade had not rolled far enough, not by a long shot. The shock wave vibrated through the floor and his chest. 'Oh shit! This is where I die.' He thought just in time to lose consciousness...

...He took a deep breath. His chest didn't hurt, and what a tremendous relief that was. His head though, totally different story.

On his belt, he fumbled for his Mag-Tac, breathing a shaky sigh of relief to find it still there. He checked himself over. His left arm bore a gash about five inches long. The cut above his eye had been dripping blood down his face since the cave-in. Nowhere else looked bad from the outside.

Now that the dust had settled, Derek took in his surroundings. His knee throbbed as he stood and shone his light out the little window on the door only to see the way out blocked entirely by debris. Shit. He'd unwillingly buried himself alive in this room. Speaking of which, where the hell was he?

Shelving units lined the walls, stocked with mostly bedding. So a supply closet. He could work with that.

He grabbed a sheet off the shelf and wincing, sat down to dig in his pack. Somehow, he'd ended up with that bottle of saline. That alone, would have to work for cleaning out his cuts and scrapes. After ripping the sheet into long strips, he bandaged his arm, tying the ends in place. A second piece went around his head. The rest of the strips, he rolled up and stored in his bag for later.

He looked at his watch. The screen was cracked, but the piece itself still worked. He'd been out a long time. Yeah, that probably was not good.

What else, what else? He only had one bottle of water, two granola bars, and three strips of beef jerky, which would have to last until God knows how long. Sliding down the far wall, he took a few swigs from his bottle and ate a couple bites of his bar. How was he going to get out of here?

After sitting a few minutes to think, something his father once said to him as they hung a shelf in the living room stuck out to him. You need to make sure you find a stud. Otherwise the bracket can pull out of the wall. They're usually sixteen to twenty-four inches apart. If only....

Break through the wall. Excellent plan. The interior walls had to just be drywall over support beams. Yeah, maybe there would be some plywood, but if Ragers could break through a wall so could he. Although, what would he do once he got through? His eyes, now adjusted to the darkness save for the small beam of light his flashlight provided, fell back onto the shelves.

He counted and came up with twenty-seven sheets. After unfolding one and holding it up against his body, he determined it to be about a foot taller than himself. From there, he did the math, talking out loud because who was there to hear him? "So, losing about a foot per sheet to the knot, that would leave me with six feet of sheet. That's...seventy-two inches. I'm on the eighth floor. So that's...fuck, about 180 feet? Sounds like a good estimate. A hundred and eighty feet is how many inches? About 2200? Sounds pretty close. This would have been much easier with a pen and paper. Wait no, 2160 inches. Okay. Now twenty-seven times seventy-two is...1941 no 1944, which subtracted from 2160 is... 216, divided by twelve is..." He drew the figures in the air. "Eighteen feet? That's a bit of a jump to the ground. Wait. I'd have to anchor it to something. So maybe say I lose another five feet. Twenty-three feet would put me on the second story. That wasn't so bad. Not a lot of Ragers on that floor." He tried to psyche himself up, but found it a little daunting. "All you have to do is make a rope out of these sheets, hope all the knots hold and it can support your weight. No problem." Yeah, falling eight stories to his death did not sound like the most fun way to spend a day, but hell. It would be faster than dying of dehydration in this stupid room.

     1.) Unfold sheet.

     2.) Refold lengthwise.

     3.) Tie sheet to end of another sheet.

     4.) Pull taut.

     5.) Test.

     6.) Repeat as needed.

With the makeshift escape rope coiled on the ground, he turned his attention to the wall. Now remember, Derek, there is always a stud in the corner. So, knocking on the wall to look for hollow versus dull sounds, he went in search for a gap between two studs. It was not as easy as his dad made it seem, and growing frustrated, he grabbed his rifle and jammed the butt into the wall in irritation.

He shone his flashlight in the hole the gun left in the drywall. To his right, he could see the support beam. After several more jabs, more drywall crumbled around his feet, enough so that he could pull large chunks around with his hands. Breaking through a wall was so much more work than he anticipated, especially given the little amount of water he had, but he kept bashing at the wall until he had all the drywall cleared from his side.

To fit between the studs, he'd have to turn sideways. No big deal, he could handle that. As he prepared to strike the far wall, he pressed his ear against the sheet-rock. It sounded quiet on the other side, but how could he tell really?

Instead of being impulsive, he snapped off a piece of the shelving unit. The end was pretty sharp. Plus he still had his knife and gun, which even without bullets could be useful.

After a few well placed blows, he broke through, and mercifully, on the other side sat an empty patient room. Kicking through the rest of the wall until he tumbled through the hole, he lay flat on his back almost giddy with laughter.

The room had a window. Looking down, he could see he sat above the awning covering the emergency room entrance. Excellent! He wouldn't even have to go through the second floor. He could do this. He would do this.

Now that he had light, albeit evening sun, he looked in his bag once more and cursed the fact his photos were in the Tahoe along with his journals. He did luck out though; he still had his copy of the map. Looking at it brought his mood crashing down. He had no car, and thanks to his watch, knew he'd spent almost a day barely conscious; the camp was over thirty miles away. When they'd left the morning before, Chris had told them all to hurry back because they were rolling out at dawn.

He was on his own, and it crushed him.

                                                                                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

Derek looked down, and that was his first mistake. The eight stories turned into eighty before his eyes. He had no safety harness, no guarantees that his rope would hold two hundred plus pounds for the entire trip down. He had no gloves, so rope burn would have to factor in. There was also the small matter of his fear of heights. That trip to the top of Seattle Great Wheel would have been hell on Earth if Stiles hadn't been sitting next to him with his arm around his shoulder.

You got this, Derek. Stiles didn't give up on you. Don't be a wimp! You won't give up either.

His pack, now heavier with a full bottle of water (thank you toilet tank), the pillow he'd rolled tight and tied to the buckle, and a couple snacks he found in one of the cabinets, he crossed over the breach to make his escape.

Don't look down. Scratch that. Don't look down again, you moron. Oh, and don't fall.

Shaky arms and hands would surely result in his death. He took a deep breath, and hand over hand, descended.

"Fuck! They make this seem so much easier in all those prison escape movies!"

Halfway down, he felt with absolute certainty that his grip strength would give out before he made it to the bottom. His fingers burned. The skin on his palms was now raw and blistering.

Five floors down.

Six down.

Seven down.

Eight- His feet made a triumphant thud on the overhang as he let go of the rope. That stupid bed sheet trick worked. The fucking rope held. He didn't know whether to shout or cry. Turns out, his body decided for him. Hot tears streamed down his face before he could stop them.

Apocalyptic nightmares: The great masculinity equalizer. Everyone cried now.

With the light waning on the horizon, he sat down and pulled out the map. The compass function on his watch seemed to work just fine, as it matched where he was on the map. And Stiles said he'd, "never have use for all the stupid modes on that $400 piece of wrist-wear." Eat your words, Babe. He gave a crooked smile before he could stop himself.

There was no way he'd get to the camp. He'd accepted that. Denver, he'd travel onto Denver. The altitude and trek was going to kill him. Finding a working car for even a hundred miles would help. On the bright side, he'd be out of the fucking desert. Finally! If he never saw sand again, it would be too soon. As the last light faded, he unrolled his pillow, untied a sheet, and curled up on the awning.

He would leave at dawn, but for now, he stared up at the sky, knowing that Stiles was under those same stars somewhere, the only thing keeping him going.

Chapter Text

Stiles passed Boyd on the change for the overnight shift watch without so much as a word exchanged between them. Though they'd taken refuge in a post office in Vail, Chris maintained the regiment of constant vigilance. Stiles had, in jest, called him Mad Eye. It was not well received. Seriously, the man had no sense of humor whatsoever.

He had at least another three hours in him. It wasn't like he was actually sleeping much anyway. Sleep was a luxury, or at least that was the lie he sold himself.

In reality, every night since had been plagued with nightmares with fleeting moments of sleep and pleasant dreams in between. By nightmares, he meant nightmare, the same one, every night. As soon as he drifted, as soon as he hit the REM cycle, his head would fill with the same horrific images: That ceiling falling in perfect slow motion, exactly the way it happened before his eyes. He saw every piece of rubble, big and miniscule hit that puddle, becoming a tomb. He felt Derek squeeze his hand one last time. He heard his own desperate screams, and then the Ragers came. That click. That horrible click echoed through his head on repeat like a laugh track in television. The way Derek glanced over his shoulder as though the man were Orpheus himself, chancing a look back at his love on their way out of Hades. If only Stiles had disappeared back into the underworld, he'd never have seen the flash and then the bang and have to deal with the way they haunted him even when awake. Those moments were the worst, when he'd check out and relive those last few seconds over and over and over.

He awoke in a sweat and to the sound of his own screams every night, chest heaving, too tight, a vice grip around his heart. It was killing him. He wanted to blame anyone, everyone. He blamed Scott and his stupid idea to throw the grenade. He blamed Isaac for not being more observant about his surroundings. Mostly? He blamed Chris, because every day since, the man had looked at him with such...Stiles didn't know, contempt, disdain? Looked at him like he was pathetic for needing to grieve the way he was.

At this point, two weeks later, Stiles would give anything to be able to compartmentalize his emotions the way Argent did. General offense, minor hurt, disappointment--these were all things Stiles could lock inside. The strong emotions? Like anger, anguish, and abandonment, they were too big, too volatile to keep inside himself without exploding. It was better for everyone that he didn't. The day he learned how to bottle all that up and maintain an air of being okay, to don a veil of vacuity masking how he really felt- how those primal feelings were eating away at him-- well that was the day he would realize he was completely broken. Right now? He was cracking, but not broken yet.

 

 



The rest of the group could see the change in him. It was even stronger than the one his father noticed when his son finally made it Beacon Hills. This one didn't make him look older or hardened. No, this change was worse. To everyone else, he just looked lost, rudderless, but to John, it was as though he could see the huge Derek shaped hole in his son's chest. Though not exactly, John had an idea how his son felt. He'd lost a spouse too, but he'd tried burying his grief in work or whiskey. Stiles, on the other hand, had gone silent for the most part. His eyes held none of their familiar mischief and elfin gleam. Behind those bourbon colored irises, was the start of hinges coming undone, the pieces beginning to slowly crumble.

He watched as his son climbed into the back of the Tahoe, leaving the hatch open, presumably to let in the lantern light. Stiles sat, seemingly numb on his lonely air mattress. John would be lying if he said he hadn't heard the broken sobs coming from inside the car every night since they lost Derek, the night terrors, or the way he heard him talking to the empty pillow next to him as if the love of his life were still there.

It had taken him almost a week to come up with anything more substantial to say than, "I'm sorry, Son." What kind of words were those? As strange as it was to say, he missed the sound of Stiles' voice and his constant rambling. After what his son had said at his wedding about talking and silence, John couldn't be sure if Stiles' reticence was an attempt to still feel close to Derek or something more sinister. Gut wrenching as the concept might be, John figured the lack of words signaled how afraid Stiles was, and well that, that didn't sit well with him at all. Resolving to say what needed to be said, he trudged over to sit next to Stiles. "How are you feeling? Doin' okay?"

"That's it? That's all you have? No words of comforting wisdom? Nothing about how, yeah it hurts now, but I'll get through it? Just 'How are you feeling? Doin' okay?'. Really, Dad? Well," he took in a deep, shuddering breath, "my heart was ripped though my chest as I watched helpless, being dragged away against my will. How do you think I'm feeling?"

That right there, was more than Stiles had said in two weeks. John struggled to regain his composure. "Probably like I did right after I lost your mother."

"I suppose this is different, because I don't have copious amounts of alcohol in which to drown my pain, right? You didn't think I knew about that, did you? It's okay; I get it. If I had the option, I would probably be doing the same thing right now. I wish was like you or Chris, Dad, but I'm not. That's not the way I'm wired." He sighed. "So, if you don't mind, I'm going to continue crying my eyes out every chance I get, because I swear to God, I am barely hanging on.
"I am going to fall asleep tonight praying that tomorrow morning I will roll over, and I will be in Seattle. Derek will still be sleeping next to me. He'll sing while we cook breakfast. I have to cling to that fantasy, Dad, because the reality is too much for me. I just can't process it all. I have nothing."

John patted his son's shoulder. "You'll get through this, and maybe you'll find someone else to help ease the pain."

Stiles scoffed. "If you thought it was hard enough to find acceptable dates before, try being gay in the zombie apocalypse. The odds are overwhelmingly against me, don't you think?" He wrapped his arms tightly around his chest, as the dams broke on his eyes again. "Twenty-two years old, and I'm gonna die alone with no one to comfort me but my right hand the rest of my life." John could see him as he tried to fight it, but Stiles broke down in wracked sobs. "Every night, when I'm not seeing his death flash in front of my eyes over and over, I dream about us. We're old and our children are playing in the yard with their children. I'm not naive, Dad. Once the pandemic hit, I knew my life was not going to go the way I wanted it. All I wanted out of this hellish new reality was to spend the rest of my life with Derek."

"You got that."

He shoved at his father's chest. "No, Dad, I didn't! I got to spend the rest of his life with him. That's not even close to the same thing. As long as I had Derek, well that was a future I could live with. But I didn't even get that."

John was stumped for any words of consolation, floundering even with the few he'd said in edgewise so far. "You just need to find something to keep fighting for."

Stiles glared at him. "I had something to fight for. Chris and Scott made me leave him for dead. They didn't even let me put him out of his misery, to prevent him from becoming one of them. For all I know, he's out there now wandering around a brainless shell taking the future away from someone else. My biggest fear is some day, I am going to run into the Rager he's become, and there will be nothing left of the man I love."

John threw an arm around his son's shoulders. "We'll just have to help you get through this."

He shrugged out from under his father's arm and pressed his palms to his eyes to stem the flow of tears. "That's just it, Dad. I honestly don't think I am gonna get through this." He sighed, "I think I am going to hang on just enough to get you all to Iowa. Then some day after that, I don't know how long, it could be two days or two years, I am going to break. When that happens, I will walk out behind the house and put my Contingency Bullet in my brain. Hell, I wake up every morning and think 'Is today the day?' That sound like a man doing all right to you?"

"You're serious?"

"Like a heart attack." He glared at him. "And don't think I can't hear the way you're all talking about me as if I'm not here. 'Why isn't he talking?' 'Is this healthy?' 'Why is he talking to him like he's still here? Derek's dead; he needs to accept that.' It's all crap! Why would I say anything when I could be mourning instead? Because that's the injustice of it all. If I don't feel his loss, who will? You think I've been too far gone to notice how none of you have so much as shed a tear for him? Not one. Everyone grieves differently. I'm not an idiot; I understand that. Yeah, he was surly, sucked at communicating, and aloof. But he was a good person, a beautiful human being, and someone besides me should be feeling the hole his death has left on the world instead of being reduced to an evening of vacant stares and numb expressions then calling it grief. That's what hurts the worst, the way none of you even seem upset anymore. So if I want to cry, I am going to fucking cry about it! Now if you'd excuse me, could you please get out of the car so I can have my nightly conversation with my dead husband?"

No sooner than John climbed out of the back of the truck, did Stiles shut the hatch and begin sobbing. His muffled sobs of 'I miss you, Hon. You should be here,' and 'Come back, please; I can't do this by myself,' broke his heart.

Chris stopped him on his way back to his chair. "Look, I hate to say it. Really I do, but he is going to need to pull himself together. Emotions are only going to get him killed. Get all of us killed. Look, just like you, I lost my wife and had to get myself back to even."

John rubbed his temples. Chris' no nonsense, 'This is war,' mentality grated on his nerves. Sure, it had its merits. Planning, reconnaissance, and killing Ragers all benefited from his way of doing things. Handling the delicate situation of someone's psychological and emotional health did not. "Well, I hate to break it to you, Chris. He's not you. We can't all be robots."

 

Chapter Text

The air up here was a lot thinner than Derek expected. His ass hurt from sitting on that stupid bicycle all day, and despite the comfortable temperatures he'd been traveling in for what felt like years, Derek still sported a four day old sunburn, made worse by the next day's long hours in the sun. It wasn't like he resembled a lobster or anything, but his skin had adopted a nice pink glow. Lord knows how bad he'd look if he had a fairer skin tone, one closer to Stiles'.

Stiles.

Derek closed his eyes for a brief minute to push down the pain. He wasn't good on his own. The longest he'd gone without being around people before Grand Junction was two weeks, right after Laura died. If his mindset then was any indication, he should have been a total wreck by now. However, unlike last time, he had a purpose: Get to Iowa.

The road was so much lonelier on his own.

The thing was, he forced himself to keep going because he knew, knew that Stiles had it harder. Stiles believed Derek died in that hospital. His mindset had to be tenuous. Barely holding on even. The thought of Stiles giving up before Derek could meet up with them, haunted him, kept him going like a man possessed.


How did he come by the bike? Well, it had been a godsend when he found it. At best, he traveled five miles a day, and that was on a good day. He only had his backpack, and surprise, it didn't allow for much supplies. Every day, he'd have to stop and forage. Water, surprisingly hadn't been too hard. The walk from Grand Junction to Palisade took three days, and on his way out of town, Derek took shelter in a house for the night.

He'd feasted that night, and he meant really feasted. A nice thirty-two ounce can of pineapple chunks, the juice from which he saved in an empty water bottle, followed by a can of condensed cream of potato soup. That was it for food though, but hey, he'd had naught but a granola bar and a tiny bag of vending machine pretzels since he'd fled the hospital. That meal tasted like heaven in canned form.

He took that back, there was a small bottle of honey hidden away on the top shelf of one of the cabinets, but he didn't consider that food. That had been moved over to the first-aid section of his backpack. That cut on his arm, didn't look much better after three days, and the honey probably saved his life now that he thought about it. The last thing he wanted was to die from an infection. It also held the bandage on pretty well too. As far as supplies went, aside from his tactical knife, that honey was the most valuable thing in his possession. He didn't even know why he knew that about honey, probably Stiles. Saving my life, Babe.

The house itself yielded finds just as valuable as food. For example: Socks and two pairs of boxer briefs, and yeah, he should feel a bit weirded out about second-hand underwear, but he'd long since got over any squeamishness as a result of the current state of the world. Those four pairs of socks would probably save his feet. The guy that had lived there had the same size feet, and Derek traded out his worn out cross-trainers for hiking boots. He'd also found a yoga mat in one of those little carrying cases with a strap. On the days where he couldn't find a residence in which to sleep through the night, that mat had been softer than sleeping on the ground alone.

Desperate for water one day and in possession of nothing to make a fire to boil water with, he sat and wracked his brain for anywhere in a house that water might be hidden. The answer had been simple, so deliciously simple he couldn't believe he'd overlooked it: The water heater. Once any sediment had been filtered out, there had been a ton of water in the thing, more than he could carry in his one gallon jug and two spare twenty ounce bottles, but it gave him hope for the next day, and the day after that. He'd also found some bleach he'd poured into a small bottle. A few drops ought to do it. The best part about that surplus of water? Washing off the sweat, grime and Rager gore.

So the moral of his little story, traveling alone sucked, especially when he could only take what he could carry.

Anyway, the bike. He'd found it in Parachute, tucked away in the garage. The bike alone would have been enough to make him cry out in triumph. Instead of walking five miles a day, he could ride at least three times that, adjusting, of course for elevation and the standard stop for supplies. However, tipped over and buried under a shelving unit, had been a bike trailer, one of those ones meant to give a child a place to sit while their parents rode. The netting was damaged, but it hooked up to his bike perfectly and had been in perfect working order otherwise. He'd cried, actually cried, when he found it.

Why was this so wonderful? For one, he didn't need to have all that extra weight on his back. Two, it increased the amount of supplies he could travel at least tenfold. That one gallon of water, well now it was four gallons. So that was four days travel or so in which he wouldn't need to scavenge. Those three t-shirts he'd found would not go to waste. He took a pair of scissors to the giant and nearly threadbare white t-shirt he found in a rag pile, cutting it across the chest and under the arms before slicing it from hem to his cut line. Now, when he set out for the day, he imagined he looked a little like T.E. Lawrence with it tied around his head. What? Black hair got really hot in the sun. Okay? Ever have sunburn of the scalp? Well it itches like hell when it starts to peel. He didn't want to go through that again.

As he rolled into Glenwood Springs, now eighteen days since Grand Junction, he found the first available house, did his nightly search for food, refilled his water jugs (seriously, hot water heaters were his new favorite thing in the world. He'd build an altar to them if  ever he had the time), and crashed.

 

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The next morning, he rummaged a few nearby houses, picking up a box of baking soda, half a pound of rice, and a bottle of molasses. He'd been tempted to leave behind the tar-like substance (the stuff tasted terrible), until he read the nutrition label. Source of iron, potassium, calcium, and other vitamins? Huh, who knew? He guessed it was coming along.

As he passed by the fireplace, he thought about his lack of fire-building supplies. There was nothing, only small pieces of wood burned down to...charcoal- Wait. One of their days on the road, Jordan told him how to make a water filter out of two plastic bottles, gravel, sand and charcoal. So long as he could find some fine mesh, or tightly woven fabric, he'd be set. Derek was a pessimist. Eventually, his new-found water source would leave him high and, ha dry. Thanks Stiles. Now even I chuckle at bad puns. Even your bad jokes are endearing.

He plopped himself down on the couch to think. Dishrag? Probably too porous. Now if they had cheeseclo- Who the hell just kept cheesecloth on hand anymore? Honestly, he had no idea what the shit looked like, either. His eyes darted around the room, and it was then that he noticed the decor. Flowery wallpaper, frilly throw pillows, decorative plate collection. Little cabinets that held various trinkets, and the entertainment center was cluttered with statues of little mice. He grabbed a couple of the more whimsical items and some souvenir spoons, placing them in a little box. He'd sort of continued Stiles' knick-knack collecting now that they had been separated. Somehow, it made him feel close to his husband, like they weren't so far apart. He also commandeered a sewing kit. Clothes would probably last longer if they were mended.

Something else about the room came to his attention. All these outdated decorations most likely meant one thing.

Someone's grandmother had lived here. Think Derek. Think. Think like Stiles. What would his husband use?

In a fit of inspiration, he dashed upstairs to the master bedroom. Afghan and rocking chair, yep, Grandma's house. He pulled open the dresser and yanked free every pair of pantyhose the woman had owned. They were stretchy, tightly woven. They'd work. Hell, they had to have other uses.

What else did grandma's do? They gardened. Curious, he ventured outside to find the far end of her yard contained overgrown raspberry bushes. The yard itself, was a blanket of yellow. Dandelions grew everywhere. Hello food.

See, this is why he and Stiles would have survived the apocalypse by themselves. His other half, and definitely his better half, had a real knack for finding useful things in urban settings, but this? Out here where there was no civilization for miles on end, Derek had this in the bag.

Before the fire that claimed everyone in his family but Laura and him, the family home sat deep in the preserve in Beacon Hills surrounded by lush woods. He'd known every inch of that land; it had been in his family for generations. He knew of and could confidently identify several species of edible mushrooms, having gone hunting for them with his father dozens of times. Though he hadn't eaten it in years, he couldn't count how many times they'd had dandelion greens with dinner. They had a couple apple trees in their yard, and he'd watched his mother dehydrate the fruit in the sun at least once or twice. Hell, on his solo journey, he'd taken to eating cactus a few times. Prickly pear was a nightmare when it came to removing needles.

In the back corner of the yard sat a small shed. Inside, as expected were various tools. The full size shovel, that was coming with him. He looked around for gloves that might fit him, but no luck. Before he partook in an epic weeding project, he popped off all of the window screens on the first floor, propping half up on some edger stones he plucked from around the yard. The rest, he set aside.

When he'd picked every useable raspberry from the bushes, he arranged the fruit on the screens, setting aside a large bowl of them for lunch, and covered each screen with another. Then, he prayed it didn't rain.

He'd forgotten how back-breaking weeding a lawn could be. This was worse, because he had to do it with care. He needed the leaves as intact as he could get them. It took him hours, but he knew the work was worth it. Using the bone-dry bird bath, he filled it with water to wash the greens before they too would sit in the sun to dry off. Dehydrating them all was not in the cards. They'd make good meals for a few days.

Just before he turned in for the night, and probably next day and a half while his harvest dried, he carried several gallons up to the bathroom, one at a time so he could revel in actually taking a cool bath after the day of hard work. Though, he could really have done without the old lady smell the available soap and shampoo gave him.

Beggars couldn't be choosers after all.

                                                                                          *   *   *   *   *

 

Twelve days later he rolled into Silverthorne. Maybe rolled was too strong a word. He cruised into town at walking speed, because the day before, his back tire had gone flat. So he'd been pushing it, because to abandon it meant to abandon the trailer carrying his supplies. Not a scenario he could live with. He was exhausted and ready for a rest

More than that though, he longed for human conversation. The few words he spoke to the only picture of Stiles he had on him (one they both took in a photo booth and he kept in his wallet) every night didn't count. Not really.

He'd filled his days singing as he rode, amazing himself he remembered the lyrics of so many songs. Those he didn't know all the words too, he gave new ones. Singing quietly, at the top of his lungs, total nonsense, and some pretty good originals he never thought he had in him. He'd lose himself in his head reliving their relationship.  It wasn't the same though. He wanted someone to talk to him, to say words back. In short, he was lonely, cripplingly so. Being alone sucked, okay? He was trying his best not to fall apart. He needed his journals badly. The thoughts in his head were...fuck! How was he still going?

He'd thought for sure people would survive in mountain towns such as these. The people in them had to be hearty, and the remoteness should have helped them outlast the Ragers, but no. It was as though everyone in the state of Colorado had vanished into the void.

While he contemplated a supply run for either a new tire or a new bike, he saw a Lowe's from the interstate. Worth a shot, he decided and pushed the bike off the exit. Look at me going the wrong way on the on ramp. He chuckled.

Inside, the store was a disaster. Naturally, a hardware store would have been ransacked for it's garden tools and other items to use as pole weapons. Chainsaws? Great apocalypse weapon if you want to spare the gas. Derek, of course didn't. Though he did find a six volt flashlight, which came in handy as he combed the massive store for a rubber patch kit and an air pump.

Also on his list of things to find? Something else to use as a weapon. His rifle was good in a pinch, but he'd rather use something quicker than beating Ragers to death with it. His knife brought the things in too close for comfort before he could kill them. He did find a four foot dowel about an inch in diameter. With a grinder wheel and some sandpaper, he could make a pike. That had to be better than nothing.

First though, the bike patch. The air pump was easiest to find, but the inner tube repair kit, not so much. The search took forever, and after two hours of searching and clearing the building of Ragers, barricading the door to keep more out, he instead, sought out a place to sleep. Given the size of the place and the shoddiness of his barricade, he looked up for shelter, settling on an empty shelf twenty feet above the ground as it had the most space he could find between it and the shelf above. He would be able to sit up, and that was ideal. There were no ladders around. Damn it.

Derek walked his bike back to his intended campsite, parking it right under neath for easy access. In his quest, he found an escape ladder, the kind that rolled up and were tossed out the window in the event of a fire. The only problem? He had to get up to the shelf first.

The first shelf was at eye level. Look, Derek considered himself in shape, very strong, but as he pulled himself up, and climbed to the next one, all he could think about were the times Stiles sent him a video of him and Brandon rock climbing. The guy made it look so easy, pulling himself up by hand holds, even the ones in hard to reach places. By the time he rolled onto his "perch," Derek was winded. He supposed 160 pounds was a lot easier to pull up than 200. That's what Derek got for having a sturdy build. He secured the ladder and descended for the supplies he'd need.

It took the better part of two days to make what he considered a useable pike. Okay, so the thing was beautiful by the time he was finished, whittled then sanded to perfection. It seemed a shame that he would waste such craftsmanship only to impale the undead, but at least he'd be killing them in style. In reality, Derek didn't think he had it in him. Well, maybe he had a new usable skill when he got to Iowa. Derek Hale, Master Pike Builder.

It took another three days, scouring the store, inch by inch to find a patch for his bike tire. He found two, actually, which was a plus. Water supply restocked courtesy of toilet tanks again, a vinyl shower curtain for rain shelter, and four king size packages of Snickers later, Derek loaded up his trailer, tied the pike to his back with pantyhose, and was on his way. He knew those nylon things would be useful.

He'd only been back on the interstate for a mile or two when he heard a car approaching from behind him. He could travel on by himself and knew to use caution with strangers (especially in this day and age). Deciding on safety versus convenience, he moved out of the way to let the car pass. However, it came to a stop about ten feet away from him. When the driver door opened, a petite redhead stepped out, using the door as a shield and pointed a handgun in his direction.

"Traveling by bike. Smart. Most people I've come across keep looking for gas." She said.

"Says the woman using a car."

She pointed to the car. "It's a hybrid. Fifty miles to the gallon on the highway. Not as hard to travel this way as you'd think."

"Well the bike arose out of necessity if it makes you feel better. Prior to that, I'd been walking."

"Alone? Gutsy move."

"Also not my choice. I got separated from my group in Grand Junction. Just trying to get to our final destination alive."

"Well, you are the first person I've come across since Interstate 15 in Utah."

Derek tried to suss out this woman's angle, which was not as easy considering the gun aimed at his chest. "I see, and you've been on the road since..."

"Vegas. Miracle I got out of there alive. You?"

"Merced. It's by Modes-"

"I know where Merced is."

Get to the point, Lady. "Sorry. Did you need something? Directions? I have a map. If you were looking for supplies," he pointed to the little child trailer, "I only have what fits in there, which isn't much. So you wouldn't get far if you just intended to kill me and take my shit. I'd like to ask you not to kill me if you could." She laughed, and Derek could tell she was used to getting what she wanted, a formidable adversary. In short, the kind of woman who was a force to be reckoned with and often ruled as Queen Bee of the public school system. Yeah, he wasn't really into that.

"I have no intention of killing you unless you give me a reason."

"Then what do you want?" He lowered his brows, more than a little wary. Okay, so his trust issues still hadn't improved even from being with Stiles.

She dropped the act. "I'm bored. I desperately need personal interaction. I am going to lose my mind if I don't."

"And by that you mean me? Because, I've been told, I'm a terrible conversationalist."

She tossed her head back in a genuine laugh. "Just my luck. Well, I won't judge you by your poor communication. What do you say? Want a ride? And judging by the whole murderous eyebrow thing you've got going on, this is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever had. Anyone tell you that you give off serial killer vibes? Still, I probably should have tied you up until I trusted you. For all I know you're the Interstate 70 rapist."

He fought back a groan. "Yeah, really planned ahead on that one."

"Well, you never can tell now. This outbreak has turned people into monsters."

Derek clicked his tongue and looked down at his feet. "I've never killed anyone, very much against rape, nor have I shot anyone who wasn't a Rager, if that helps. Can't really help my resting angry face." He sighed. This was probably he only chance to talk to someone until Iowa. Against his better judgement, he acquiesced. "Where are you headed?"

"Wichita."

"May I ask what's in Wichita?"

"My mother."

"I'm trying to get to my family too. They're headed to Iowa with the rest of my group. That's where I need to get. They're not really near each other."

"How's this? You be my traveling companion, keep me from losing my mind while we look out for each other, and after I get my mother, I will make sure you get to Iowa? There is nothing keeping her in Kansas. I mean, it's not where either of us is from. She just worked there. I honestly, have no idea what she and I will do after that." The woman chuckled. "I don't even know if she's alive, but she's all I have. You know?"

"It's depressing how much I understand that. Could you lower the gun?" He lay down his pike and knife on the ground and pulled out the map, shaking it for her to see. "This is where my group was headed when we got separated. One of our people has land there, a property with high stone walls. If you are serious about getting me to Iowa under the condition I tag along to Wichita, I will make sure they offer you a place to stay."

She nodded, brushing her ginger hair out of her face. "Sounds like a plan" She offered her hand. "I'm Lydia."

Derek shook it. "Derek."

"Well, Derek. Let's get you loaded up. The bike won't fit, I'm afraid."

After all his hard work to fix that damn tire, it seemed a shame to leave it behind. On the other hand...Lydia had a car. Yeah, not really a hard choice.

Once his supplies were loaded, they were on the road. Two hours later, after listening to her give him her life story, offering very little in edgewise, she seemed to finally be out of words for the time being, and the car settled into silence. He didn't realize it, but when the silence stretched into hour three, unaware, he began to sing.

    "Hot air for a cool breeze?
    Cold comfort for change?
    Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?"

Turning his head to the window to hide his face, he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Why did he pick this song? Nothing about the lyrics screamed happy song. But fuck-- it felt cathartic.

     "How I wish, how I wish you were here.
    We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
    Running over the same old ground.
    What have we found?
    The same old fears.
    Wish you were here."

When he finished, he chuckled, "Sorry. I've been keeping myself sane by singing while I traveled. Seemed less suspicious than talking to myself."

Lydia glanced over at him, well more specifically his hand as he ran it through his hair. Her eyes caught sight of the band on his ring finger. "Don't be. You have a nice voice. I was an idiot when I fled, forgot to pack a phone charger. I forgot how boring driving can be without music. Were you like a music teacher or something?"

"No," he laughed, "I was a cop. You?"

"Emergency room physician."

He couldn't hold back the awkward laugh that built in his throat and erupted from his mouth. "God, I wish we'd crossed paths in Grand Junction. The whole reason I am traveling alone is because my buddy was an idiot and wound up with a compound tibia fracture. A group of us went to search a hospital for some supplies, and well...Ragers." He sighed, "They all think I'm dead."

"That's terrible." She actually sounded, genuinely concerned. "Your wife is probably beside herself. You got kids too?"

"Wait what? I don't have- How do you-" He looked down at his hand. "Oh right. Well...kind of. No, we don't have kids, but I am trying to get back to him."

Lydia flushed in embarrassment. "Sorry, I just-"

"No, don't worry about it. How about you?"

"Single. I found dating too difficult with the work schedule. I just finished up my internship last year, and- well you were a cop. The hours can suck."

"Yeah."

"What's his name, your husband?"

"Stiles." Smiling, he looked over at her, "It's a nickname. His given name is Polish, and well, he hates it. So we don't use it." Derek sighed, "He'd make a much better traveling companion than I. He never stops talking."

"That has to get annoying."

Derek shook his head. "Actually? I love it. It's nice not having to think of something to say, and I find his words soothing. Sort of you know, a distraction from my thoughts, and he's so smart. He knows so much shit that I always thought was useless until, well, Ragers happened."

Lydia nodded. "I can see that. I imagine as a cop you saw a lot of bad things."

"Not really. Small town. I lost my family at young age, and sometimes it just messes with me. You know?" Derek looked out the window, longing for the tangential rambling of his husband. The story, Derek imagined, would start off about his neighbors dog, before diverging into a tale about his neighbor's recent trip to the drugstore or something, before moving on to how pharmaceutical companies send expired drugs to other countries, and he would end the story talking about the history of male circumcision (not that Derek ever wanted to know about any of that). Really, it didn't matter what Stiles said, the sound of his voice put him at ease.

I'll get there. We'll be together again; I promise. Don't give up.

Chapter Text

It had been a long day, but a productive one. Denver was a big enough city to give them a ton of supplies. Stiles had taken to working with Allison and Maria on his daily supply run. They didn't judge if something triggered him and he needed to take a break and deal.  

Right now they stood in Costco. He wasn't even sure why they stopped here. It was picked clean just as they expected it to be. In the whole silly store, they'd found a can of shaving cream and a ten pack of disposable razors. Yay. It took him three months to even begin to have facial hair. He had no use for the things. Derek got five o'clock shadow by noon...well, used to get. Stiles stopped to take a deep breath. Push down those emotions. Do it now.

"Hand me those empty milk jugs, Stiles," Allison said. "I'm going to check the tanks on the toilets. Maybe we'll get lucky."

"Yeah, hopefully." Otherwise, he was declaring this stop a bust. He was about ready to do it anyway.

Maria kicked an empty soda can with her foot, sending it flying towards the back of the store. "Hey, what about the stock room? Maybe no one thought to check."

Sounded feasible, but unlikely. "Hey Ally," he called into the bathroom. "We're going to check the stock room. You okay without us keeping watch?"

"Yeah. I got this."

The pair of them walked towards those mysterious doors at the back, Stiles stopping to grab a coil of rope on the way there. "Turn on your lantern."   

Every shelf was empty. Big shocker. Stiles rubbed the back of his neck to work out a knot. For some reason, he chose that moment to crane his head towards the ceiling.

Suddenly, he could hear angels singing. Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" rang out. At least forty feet up, on the top of the shelves sat at least a dozen canvas-covered pallets. They appeared to be laden down with goods. He looked around, no ladder or forklift-- and that, folks, is why the shit was still there. The shelves had to have ten feet between each of them. No one had the guts or skill to climb the racks.

Well, their loss, because all through college, Stiles' fitness routine consisted of two things: A treadmill and the three climbing centers on campus. Finally, after eighteen years, he'd found a physical challenge that catered to his special blend of sinewy skinniness. Score one for Stiles.

He unwound the rope only to coil it around his waist, looping it around his shoulder a few times. He took the lantern and put it on the highest shelf he could reach. "Keep your flashlight trained at the top."

"Yeah. Don't fall."

"Thanks." In what probably looked like an awkward dance, he pulled himself onto the second shelf, grabbing hold of a rung on one of the support legs as high as he could reach. From there he swung back and forth to give him some momentum in order to-

"What the hell are you-" Allison's verbal entrance to the stock room was cut off as he pulled his knees up, and like a spring, launched himself up three feet to the next shelf. "You're like a hyper monkey. You know that?"

"Shh," Maria chided her. "He needs to concentrate. Don't want him to fall."

He repeated his routine a few more times until he pulled himself to the summit of Mt. Shelverest....get it...Ever--oh never mind. In front of him sat a row of mystery items.. Those canvas tarps were absolutely coming with them back to their camp in a high end furniture store (he'd spent the last week and a half sleeping on a  $6500 mattress. It was like sleeping on a cloud. In short... Awesome).

Like Christmas morning he pulled off the wrapping. "Oh you're shitting me!"

"What?" Maria asked. "All that work for empty boxes?"

"No, no, no. Go grab a pallet cart. Grab two of them." He made a cradle out of the rope and began lowering 24 pack cases of shelf stable chocolate milk down to the ladies. "I have six of these!" When that pallet was empty he moved onto the next. They were now in possession of another 72 bottles of water, a 24 pack of coconut water, and two cases of V8. Go veggies! Just like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects scurvy until it happens.

That was all for the first shelving unit. Instead of climbing down, he looped the rope through a rung, tossing both ends down to the ground. "Hold that." In no time, he was back on the ground and began his climb to the rack directly across from the one he'd just been on. The second one was easier. Six pounds of peanut butter, 128 ounces of applesauce, 24 cans of canned chicken, and two cases of green beans later, they pushed their haul out to the loading dock.

"Okay, you know what, I'm gonna say it. That is enough searching for today. Let someone else do the hard work tomorrow," Allison laughed as she buckled in behind the steering wheel.

                                                                                          *   *   *   *   *

 

The mood in the car on the drive back was light, with Allison and Maria trading jokes. Stiles kept quiet mostly, giving a forced chuckle back and forth. There was a time when he would have found all of their jokes funny. The time for that was long gone.

He spun his wedding ring around his finger a few times. Wish you were here, D. You'd have been seriously impressed with me in that stock room. I was like Tarzan, no lying. Fuck, I miss you so much. After his conversation with his father, his conversations with Derek had moved inward instead of aloud. The only words any of the group heard him say to the man's memory were his nightly, 'Good Night, Hon. Love you.'

If any of the three in the car had been more alert instead of distracted, they would have noticed a red pickup following behind them about a hundred yards. It had turned onto the road two blocks away from Costco and had maintained its distance ever since.

Allison pulled to a stop, climbing out of the driver's seat. "You know, I think our haul absolves us from supply runs for at least a week. That is until my dad decides our arsenal is just not big en-" Her words were cut off as she was grabbed from behind.

"Don't move, Girlie. Don't put up a fight, and don't even think about going for your weapons."

Before Maria or Stiles could come to her aid, they found themselves in a similar predicament. Stiles flinched when the cold steel blade came to rest against his neck. "Don't be a hero, kid. Drop your weapons."

Their rifles, or in Allison's case, her compound bow hit the ground first, then their knives, and Stiles' machete. Allison, however, had long sleeves which concealed her wrist sheath. All three of them now had knives against their throats, so she'd need to wait for the right moment to act.

"Are there more of you?" The man holding Stiles seemed to clearly be the leader. Stiles gave a small nod. "How many?"

"Ten,"  Stiles said.

"Okay, call all of them outside. Say you need help unloading. Don't give them a reason to doubt you. Do it!"

"Hey, can we get some help out here?" Allison's voice did not contain any hint of fear. "We made a great find. The truck is packed full, and we passed some Ragers not far from here. If you all come out it will go quicker!"

Then they waited.

As their friends and family filtered out of the building, Isaac, hobbling along on his crutches, stared in horror at Allison. He opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off before he had a chance.

Maria's captor spoke first. "We want your weapons, and we want food! Do that and these three don't need to get hurt."

Apparently, the man holding Stiles had other plans. "Now you know what...change of plans."

Stiles watched shock spread across the group's faces.

"It's been a while since we've come across any uninfected. See, these are the first young things we've come seen in months. You can imagine what that does to a guy. A man's got needs. So let's make a deal. We'll take half your food, some of your weapons and these three." He ran his hands through Stiles' hair. "I like this one. He has just about the prettiest mouth I've ever seen. Too nice to just let go. Not usually into the Twinkies, but I'm choosing to ignore the fact. That's the kind of thing that happens when you get desperate." He gave a sniff to Stiles' neck. "Smells real nice. Should be easy to overlook."

God damn stupid cherry blossom shampoo.

Standing in front of the store doors, their little family exchanged worried glances. None of them looked quite sure how they wanted to proceed as they'd come outside unarmed, not expecting to find a threat.

You idiots. Allison called everyone outside. Why would she ask Isaac to come help? He's on crutches. Anthony's a kid. She tipped you off.

Chris spoke up, "I can't let you do that. That's my daughter you have, and," he points to Maria, "she's just a kid, seriously." The man tried to de-age her in the attackers' minds. Maybe if they thought she was a child, they'd let her go. "Not even sixteen."

"Is that so?" His grip on her neck loosened a little when Maria nodded. "Well-"

"Cooperate and maybe we'll change our minds. Give you back one of them. May even let you pick."

Okay, Stiles really hated the fucker holding him hostage.

However, his words seemed to convince Chris to proceed. He signaled Jordan and Boyd to start bringing out their supplies in order to comply with their demands. "We'll give you whatever you want, just don't hurt my daughter. Please just let her go." He pointed to Maria. "You gonna take someone's baby sister away from her? She's a child. You don't look like you'd be into that sort of thing."

Stiles' breath caught in his throat. He was screwed. For all of Chris' pleas, not one of them appealed for Stiles' return. He found himself appalled and about to unravel at the fact his father didn't even speak up for that. Maybe the man was frozen in fear for him. God, Stiles hoped so.

Armful by armful, the group watched their supplies being loaded into the pickup truck. Stiles squirmed against the knife at his throat. He felt the sharp sting of it slicing into him, not deep, but enough to break the skin, and the sensation of blood trickling down his neck churned his stomach.

He had the disadvantage of being the farthest away from the pickup. Everyone's attention focused on Allison and Maria, their captors choosing what they wanted out of the groups supplies. It was as if they'd all forgotten Stiles was even out here. Great. Behind him, he felt the man's breath ghost over his ears.

"You hear that? They don't even want you back. I am going to ruin you so badly, no woman will ever want to touch you again."

Of all the days to consider a pair of basketball short acceptable leg wear. Lip quivering, Stiles screwed his eyes shut when a hand went down his pants, and he definitely tried to block the fact the guy was stroking him off, dryly at that. Mind over matter. His body betrayed him. Stupid physiological responses! Stiles gave a silent curse to his dick, the traitor.

"Hmm. Bigger than I thought you'd be."

Stiles wanted to yell, to fight, but the fear for his jugular made that a little difficult. He willed someone in his group to look his way and entreat for the man to stop his assault. They were all too busy "supervising" the hand-off. "Funny, not the first time I've heard that."

He pressed the knife a little harder into Stiles' skin. "Smart mouth you got on you. It's going to look great when I wreck it. But for now," he removed his hand and shoved two fingers in Stiles' mouth. "You bite me, you die. The wetter you get them, the easier it will be for you. Not that it will really matter when I bend you over the tailgate. You and that virgin ass will be begging me for it, a total cockslut by the end."

Six years overdue for deflowering, Asshole. Stiles felt like throwing up when the fingers yanked free of his mouth. He knew what came next and tried to ignore the bite of the blade into the cut when his attacker's less than gentle thrust inside him jerked his body forward. Eyes closed, all Stiles could think was 'Leave your body, Stiles. Leave your body.You're on a beach somewhere. Tahiti, right now.' His silent mantra didn't work. Fingers fucked him open, and while it felt fantastic all those times Derek had done it, now it felt terrible. It was emasculating, and--nope, nope, nope not gonna happen. This fucker was not taking an intimate act he'd once craved from the man he loved and corrupting it, mutating it into something that traumatized him. He cleared his head, took a deep angry breath, and just like that...

The door blew off the hinges. The last tether holding him to his emotions snapped. If anyone, anyone at all had been watching, the change would have looked instantaneous.

No one saw a thing.

He let his eyelids slide open in a fluid, robotic movement. Turning his head as though he was going to plant a kiss to the man's arm, he opened his mouth, bared his teeth, and clamped down on the inside of the man's wrist. Blood poured into his mouth when Stiles broke the skin, and he let it keep flowing in, holding onto that skin and those tendons for dear life, completely disregarding the way the knife had moved downward, slicing his skin from jaw to sternum. He waited until the weapon fell to the ground before driving his elbow into the man's groin. Then, as he tore his mouth away, taking flesh with it, he turned around to spit his mouthful in the monster's face, temporarily blinding him. "You could never make me beg," Stiles growled in his face. With full force, Stiles took his thumbs and ground them into the guy's eye sockets. As long as he lived, he would remember the sound an eyeball made when it popped.

Stiles dropped the guy onto the ground. The whole fight had taken seconds, too fast for anyone to even register a thing. From the ground, he plucked up his rifle and bashed in the guy's kneecaps. At this point, Allison's gaze flickered over to him, where he gave her a little nod. She slowly brought her knife out of its case while he crept up, looking more like a Rager than man at that moment for all the blood on his face.

"Hey asshole!" Stiles called right before smashing the butt of the rifle into the guy's face the same time Allison plunged her knife into her captor's leg. Finally, the man holding Maria noticed the commotion and released her before Stiles got to him. Though, most likely, staring down the barrel of a gun would make one reevaluate their life choices. "You! Drop your weapon! Now, kick it over here!" The hunting knife skittered across the pavement. "On the ground!" The man did not comply. "I said 'On the ground!' Do it now!"

"Please," he begged from the asphalt, "I didn't touch her."

Stiles stared down at him. "Sorry, I don't make deals with rapists." He didn't even blink as he squeezed the trigger. Without so much as a glance to his group, he grabbed the ankles of the man he'd left bloodied and blinded on the pavement, dragging him away from their building and down the street a block. He repeated the same action with the man who'd been holding Allison. He craned his head to the sky, calling out for the world to hear. "Hey undead fuckers! I got some nice Rager chow right here! Come and get 'em!" Stiles glared down at the man who would probably haunt his nightmares forever (ha! Get in line) as he whimpered offering apologies that fell on deaf ears. "Should have thought about that before you took what you wanted. You picked the wrong guy to fuck with!" To ensure he couldn't get away, Stiles put a bullet in each knee. The one Allison stabbed was on his way out. He saw no need to hasten it.

He took a cleansing breath, waiting for the sure onset of panic, but none came. In his brief walk back to the camp, he felt nothing. No emotion whatsoever. He was sentient, but as far as his psychological state went, it was as though he'd been upgraded, a Cyberman in the flesh. Everything, every movement, every breath was mechanical.

"That's not the way we do things," Chris said.

Stiles turned to face him, his face devoid of all feeling, and jabbed a finger into the man's sternum. "You are in no position to tell me what to do." His words came out equally as detached as the rest of his body language. His tone was even and calm, eerily so. "None of you did a thing to help. I saved Maria. I gave Allison the distraction she needed to get free. I saved myself. 'She's just a kid. Don't hurt her. Let her go.' You know what is missing from all those pleas? 'Let him go.' There was no regard for my safety, my release. Nothing," he trained his gaze on John and Melissa, "not even from my parents. So while you all stood, watching them load their truck, totally oblivious what that animal you're trying to defend was doing to me, Chris, I acted accordingly."

"The man had surrendered, and you left the other one defenseless. They were no longer a threat."

Stiles wiped the blood from his chin; he stared down at the bright red on his palms. "How long until they did the same thing to somebody else? I may have a lot of shit on my conscience, but I don't need that on there as well. You wanted to let them go, men who think rape is an acceptable means to get what they want?"

"He didn't actually-"

"Uh..." Stiles interrupted him, looking up and to the left for a second. He shook his index finger back and forth. "Tsk. Tsk. Legal definition says he did, and since I'm the victim here, I will be the one to chose how I want it labeled. Not you. For all any of you know, he drilled me against the Tahoe."

"How can you be so callous about all this?" Scott asked.

"Did you not just hear me? For the violation alone, I think I was justified, especially when you consider how I prevented it from happening to Allison and Maria. You can get over yourself, because none of you have any idea what I'm feeling right now." For all the venom in the meaning of his words, he sounded like his voice was made of stone. His gaze shifted back to Chris. "You said I was too emotional. So in order to defend myself, I activated my 'Vulcan Defense System.' You like the results? You all," he addressed the group, "get a cold, calculating, and ruthless Stiles from now on. Should have been careful what you wished for, Argent. Good luck any of you figuring out what's going through my head now."

"You just killed a man, and left two more to die. You have to be feeling some kind of remorse," Scott said.

Stiles gave him his best robot impression. "Does not compute." When his father tried to catch his arm, his volume finally rose above the monotonous level he'd been using before. "Don't. touch. me! None of you get to fucking touch me!" He walked back into the store without another word. They could clean up the mess outside. He was done helping.

                                                                                                 *   *   *   *   *

 

He could still hear the rest of the group outside, moving supplies around, comforting Allison and Maria, and who knows what else. Stiles had no fucks left to give. It was odd.

On the one hand, he was about to completely fall apart about what just happened. Not over what he did. No, that, in his frayed pysche, was absolutely justified. What he'd just been through threatened to spill over the dam any moment. Keep it in. Don't let any of them know how you just want to curl up and die right now. On the other hand though, this strange, out of body numbness had spread over him like a fog. He was there, but his head- who knows where the hell it was. With Derek's body back in that hospital probably.

The first thing he did was to find that fucking bottle of shampoo. He picked it up out of the rotation from the personal hygiene supplies and wound-up as though he intended to throw it against the wall, to watch the pink slime creep down to the ground. His hands shook too badly as he did though; the cloying smell his attacker had loved so much lingered around the cap. His chest tightened. His stomach emptied itself of its contents right there on the floor.

 

He didn't clean it up.

 

No. He came to a more appropriate solution instead. The first scrap of paper he could find and a sharpie later, he marched the shampoo to a table in prominant display near the door. Was it passive aggressive? Absolutely, but it should get the point across.

Still bleeding, he dug through the supplies for bandages, iodine, gauze- anything he might need to clean what he knew were horrible looking slashes to his neck and chest, the disfiguring kind. He was so over caring about those things, just like he was caring about a lot of things, over caring about everything for that matter. Find the right time, Stiles.

When he found the body wash/shampoo that smelled the farthest away from that fucking Cherry Blossom nightmare he used that morning, he grabbed clothes.

In the women's bathroom, because they were less likely to try and bother him if he hid in there, he broke, scrubbing at his skin with a Scotch-Brite pad until every inch of him burned. Instead of pale, now it was just raw, red, scoured open in some spots. Then, he rinsed and repeated, and rinsed and repeated, forcing the memory of the man's hands on him off his skin. While he cried his eyes out, he used the rest of the bucket of water and the entirety of the bottle of body wash.

He couldn't be bothered to care.

Standing, a towel wrapped around his waist, he stared at himself in the mirror. Now that he was not constantly washing it away, blood dripped down his skin. The sight would have sickened Stiles yesterday or hell even that morning. Instead, he just wiped away the red with an iodine soaked gauze pad, looking straight ahead anesthetized or in a stupor. Really, was there a difference? He didn't think there was. After the last butterfly closure had been applied, he vacated the room, leaving the mess he made behind him. By that time, his group, people he called "friends and family", had re-entered the store, their eyes following him around the room in shock.

He probably looked like Frankenstein's monster. At that moment, he felt like him too. Created, uncared for, alone, stitched together but barely contained.

Chapter Text

"Would you hurry up in there?" Lydia kicked an empty box as she kept watch outside the thrift store. "I hate Kansas! What did people here do for fun before the outbreak? This has been the biggest waste of time. "

Inside the store, Derek just groaned. "I'll be out in a minute. Now could you just relax, please?"

"There is nothing in there of any use. No food, no water. No shoes or clothes that would fit anyone but the very large!"

He ignored her and went back to searching the store, finding a mostly empty composition book with at least three quarters of the book filled with empty pages. Lydia was right for the most part, the place was nearly empty. On he way out of the store, he caught sight of a couple Weebles on the floor, a boy and a girl. Well, they weren't Treasure Trolls, but if they made him smile, they'd make Stiles smile. So he stowed them in his backpack.

Just above where he'd found the toys, on the bottom shelf sat a fake bronze bust of Beethoven...amusing. That came along too. "What the hell?" He asked just under his breath as he saw a misshapen and repugnant statue. "Who got paid to make this Buddha?" He shook his head, and into the bag it went along with a dog-eared but intact copy of Batman: Year One. Stiles had to be going crazy with the few graphic novels he'd brought along. They always seemed to distract him in the right way.

Outside, he raised an eyebrow at the sight of Lydia sitting on the curb. "Very effective watch keeping stance.

She spread her hands out wide in front of her. "Keeping watch? From what? We haven't seen a single Rager the entire time we've been in this stupid town. All I want is some lunch and a tube of god damned lipstick."

"Relax, we'll just go back to the Walmart. They have to have at least one."

She rolled her eyes at him. "I am not using Walmart lipstick, Derek. Okay? I have standards."

Derek rolled his eyes right back. "I'm pretty sure in this day and age, Lydia, no one has standards. Did you think I let this facial hair get this scraggly before? No. Look, do you want it or not?"

"Fine," she grumbled. The car had run out of gas in the middle of the town and they'd been scrounging on foot for supplies for several days now. The towns on this leg of the trip had been far and few in between, and Lydia had run out of things to talk about three days ago. She snapped at Derek and told him that getting him to talk had been like extracting teeth. Derek didn't oblige her much.

The road back to the Walmart was deserted as was everything else in this town. Not a single Rager in sight, just like Lydia said, which should have made him feel at ease, but instead filled him with dread. They had seen very few decaying corpses either. Even in his trip up to Denver, he at least saw a few here and there at every town he stopped. Here, there had been nothing, a bunch of nothing. This little town in Kansas was a ghost-town.

The sign into town had listed the population at 4489. Forty-five hundred people couldn't  just disappear.

"I'm so bored, Derek! Tell me a story, sing a song, something!"

He'd kept mum on just about every detail of his life. Those belonged to him, and even though he and Lydia were now traveling companions, he just didn't know her well enough to just spill his life's story. He also didn't feel like singing. Instead, he began whistling.

"Whistling? Really? What even is that?"

"Led Zeppelin. It's the first thing that popped into my head, okay?"

 

 

 

"You really are no fun at all."  She kicked a rock up the road. Maybe she was coming off as petulant, but they hadn't eaten much in the last couple of days. When she was hungry, she got cranky. "Three weeks and you've sung nothing but classic rock. Know anything made in the last ten years?"

 

 

 

Just to spite her he started singing. "Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good, when the levee breaks, mama, you got to move."

"Okay fine. Sing your stupid Led Zeppelin. You're like what, almost forty? Makes sense. Bet you and your husband bonded over that shit, music of your youth."

Derek stared at her in shock. "Gee thanks. I'm twenty-six." He chuckled. "It's the beard, makes me look older. Anyway, he's not that big a fan of it, the music that is. I only got into it because my older sister worshipped at the altar of Classic Rock. She made me listen to it all the time in the car."

"Yeah? And is she part of that group you're trying to reach?"

He shook his head. "No. She's dead."

"I'm sorry. Was it the virus or the Ragers?"

"Fatal hit and run almost five years ago."

"Wow, that sucks. At least she missed all this right?"

"They all did. So I guess it's a good thing."

Lydia picked up a crumpled bag of Doritos off the ground. "Please have something in here." The bag was empty. "Damn it. By they you mean?"

"My whole family. Mother, father, two sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins...everyone else besides Laura died in a fire when I was sixteen. Stiles and his family are all I have." He adjusted the pack on his back.

She looked like a kicked puppy. "Wow, that's...I'm so sorry." She stopped to pat him on the shoulder. "Tell me how you met Stiles then."

Derek fought the urge to groan. "I met him at the station."

"Oooh, fell for the bad boy I see? Was his record filled with petty crimes like vandalism or more serious stuff like grand larceny?"

"Neither." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It's more like I fell for my boss' son." He lifted a downed tree branch, moving it off the road.

She cackled. "Even better."

"To be specific, my boss' seventeen year old son." He winced. Yeah, she was going to have a field day with that.

"Why Derek, I am shocked. You hooked up with jailbait?"

"Hey now! His dad was my boss, and I was a cop, remember? There was no hooking up until after he was legal."

"I see. Well that's kind of cute."

He smirked, "Yeah."

"What's he look like?"

Derek sighed. This, he could do. He could talk about Stiles all day long. "Well, he's about my height, brown hair that kind of sticks up, well it did before the outbreak. He's been lazy with fixing it since then, and I mean who wouldn't? So it just kind of hangs there now. Um, I'd say he's got a lanky build, fair skinned, kind of like yours actually, dotted with moles." The tone of his voice made him sound like a Disney princess, specifically Ariel talking about Prince Eric. "These gorgeous brown eyes- you know what?" He pulled his picture out of his bag. "See? I can't actually describe his eyes and do them justice."

"He's cute. Looks a lot younger than you. What is he now? Nineteen?"

"Wow really? Twenty-two." They settled into silence after that. He no longer felt like talking, and in the quiet, he swore the piano track from a silent movie began playing in his head. Any moment now, townsfolk would filter out of the buildings along Main Street, walking at speeds too fast to be anything but comical.

Where the hell were all the people? He just couldn't get over that feeling. There should have been a Rager somewhere, anywhere.

Before long, they caught sight of the Walmart, and Lydia in a fit of impatience ran to the doors. Something about this feels off. "No, Lydia! Wait!" His cries fell on deaf ears as she opened the doors.

"Holy-" She couldn't even finish her words, turned on her heel and bolted back towards Derek. "Forget the lipstick! Run, just run!" She caught his hand on the way past, dragging him after her. "I found the townspeople. It figures. The only fucking thing to do in this god forsaken, middle of nowhere town is to hang out at Walmart. It's like they locked them all in and then got the hell out of Dodge!" She panted as they booked it to the side of the building trying to get as much distance between them and the Ragers as possible. Once they turned the corner, they saw a horde crowded around a large tree at the back of the building.

Ragers blocked the road ahead of them, but the Ragers pouring out of the store by the hundreds behind them had God knows how many days of pent up hunger and aggression stewing. "What do we do, Derek?"

Pointing to the smaller horde, he nodded. "Fifty is easier than thousands." He grabbed his pike, recently upgraded with nails they found in Burlington. Studded about a foot below the point, it could be used as a bat as well. Every time he smashed it against a Rager's skull, he could hear Stiles' voice in the back of his mind saying, 'Derek mad, Derek smash!'

Lydia, as it turns out, was pretty damn lethal with the knife and tire iron combo she had going. Not something he would have thought when he first saw her, especially for someone who looked like she could out-brain everyone instead of...you know... braining someone. Looks always were deceiving.

Every crack of his club brought a Rager to its knees, with only a few requiring a second blow to take them out. A lot could finally be said about all those hours he put in at the gym, all that time spent playing baseball finally paid off.

Ragers fell left and right, piling up around him. However like the undead, Derek felt himself pushed forward by one of them. He crashed hard into the ground, unable to move. His cheek bled onto the ground beneath him, as he lay, pinned to the pavement by the Rager on his back. He managed to grab his knife, but couldn't turn his arm enough to do any damage. Resigned to his fate, he closed his eyes and said a silent apology to Stiles that he would not make it back to him. Becoming Rager dinner was number one on his list of ways he didn't want to die, but things don't always go the way you want them to, especially if your name was Derek Hale

All of a sudden, the weight on his back stopped moving. Not that he had time to take a breather or even to figure out why he now had undead dead weight on his back, he army crawled out from under the Rager to find a knife sticking out of its eye. He yanked the knife free and pushed to his feet to find Lydia attacking the ones around a tree with reckless abandon. Every once in a while, a pole would jab down from the canopy of the tree. What in the h-

He didn't have a chance to think about it as another Rager came at him. Derek mad, Derek smash!

Surrounding the bottom of the tree, by the time the dust settled (and by dust, he meant Rager blood-spatter), at least twenty dead Ragers had piled up. He walked over to where Lydia stood, chest heaving. "Thanks."

"For?" She arched a manicured eyebrow at him.

"Throwing that knife and saving my ass."

She laughed in his face, "Me? I can't throw a knife to save my life. You owe the safety of your," she looked behind him to ogle, "spectacular ass, to our mystery friends in the tree."

"There are people in the tree?" He raised an eyebrow. Yeah, he didn't believe her for a second. However, no sooner than she spoke the words, a young man hung from the lowest branch (which was at least ten feet off the ground), before dropping to the ground.

The guy, well kid to be more accurate, stood and waited for a couple bags to be lowered down from the dense canopy of leaves. One backpack, two backpacks. Then came a lacrosse stick with the end filed down to a point, and....were those nunchuks? A moment or two later, a woman who looked about Stiles' age jumped down from the tree as well.

As there were still too many Ragers to count pouring out of the Walmart, and it would only be a matter of time until they came upon Derek and the others, they all took off running, turning a corner to escape behind the building and back towards the center of town.

When the megastore was far enough behind them to pose no threat, they all stopped to catch their breath. The woman retied her long black hair into a ponytail. "Thanks."

"And thanks for the um....knife throwing thing," Derek said, handing over the leaf shaped blade to her.

"Least I could do. The pair of you were the only way Liam and I were getting out of that tree. I'm Kira by the way."

Lydia waved, "Lydia and that's Derek. Just a question. How did you end up in the tree anyway? It was at least ten feet to the nearest branch."

Kira pulled a set of gloves out of her backpack. The palms had little spikes which curved backwards. "Shuko. I gave Liam a boost to the branch and scaled the trunk."

"So...like a ninja?"

Kira shrugged. "Basically, yeah."

"Why were you in the tree?"

"That horde had us surrounded, and I'm not gonna do much damage with nunchaku, and the gloves, well they work great for smashing Ragers in the face, but that's a little close for comfort for me." She stored the spiked gloves back in her bag. "I wish I had my katana but it's at home. The only reason I had these was because I forgot to clean out my duffel before left. We were on a trip for lacrosse regional finals in Denver, you know the level before nationals, when the outbreak hit. We thought we got out in time, but a couple of the kids were already infected. The bus ride back... only five of us made it off the bus. Then we lost the other three."

"And you're what," Lydia gave Kira the once over, "the chaperone?"

"Sort of. I'm, well I was, the history teacher and coach of the martial arts club at the high school and another teacher besides the lacrosse coach needed to go. There were parents on the bus, all gone."

Liam had just stood there, one arm crossed across his chest, rubbing small circles into the other arm. "I...Miss Yukim- Kira's all I have now. My mom and step-dad were on the bus. It was horrible."

Derek could understand where the kid was coming from. "How long were you up there?"

"Three days."

"Do you need some water?" He offered his bottle to her, but she passed it to Liam instead.

"Thanks. We've been walking forever, months now."

Lydia nodded as though she were mulling something over in her head. "Where are you headed?"

Kira looked over at Liam. "Not really sure. We're from Kansas City, but...my parents were vacationing in Japan when Asia went on lockdown back in January. I haven't heard from them since. I have no expectations that I will ever see them again."

Looking over at Derek, Lydia exchanged looks with him, and in the span of maybe ten seconds, and entire conversation passed between them, conveyed only by eyebrows. When he nodded she turned to Kira and Liam. "What do you say? Care to stick with us?" The relief that washed over Kira's face was visceral enough to almost touch.

Derek took a deep breath. Four people made their odds so much better.

Chapter Text

"Why in the hell are we choosing this as suitable shelter?" Chris groaned, stepping out of the truck. "Last time I let you pick, John."

John shrugged, "Looking for a change of pace I guess." He had perfectly good reasons for choosing the public library in Sterling, Colorado. All of them pertained to his son, who since...well John couldn't even say the words without feeling sick to his stomach- Stiles hadn't said more than five words. If he thought Stiles had grown quiet before, then it was nothing compared to utter lack of his boy's voice creeping into the silent spaces, filling his world with chatter. It had been that way for his son's whole life, as soon as the child could speak, he'd been talking, constantly and not stopping. Talking about nothing, about things he found of great importance; it didn't matter now, because John felt like a huge part of his life was gone. He'd taken all that incessant prattle for granted and now it was just...gone, he didn't know what to do.

John failed as a parent that afternoon; he knew he had. The worst part about it was, he couldn't even give a reason why he didn't look. A simple glance in Stiles' direction would have stirred him into action. Unlike everyone else, he was always armed, and he was an excellent shot, always scoring outstanding on the department's recertification requirements. He'd passed marksman training during his service in the army. He did nothing, and now he was left with his child nothing but a shell. I fucked up, Clauds. I let something terrible happen to our boy, because I was too distracted by what was right in front of me. He scrubbed his hands with his face.

Stiles climbed out of the back of the Tahoe. He hadn't even cared enough about self-preservation to ride in a seat. Instead, he elected to stay in the cargo area on his bed, staring out the rear window the whole trip.

John's hope had piqued when Jordan told him Stiles spent a lot of the time reading, that he'd even seen him scrawling away in what he thought was one of Derek's journals. John tried to reason a way to catch a peek of them, just to get a glimpse of his son's mindset, especially when Stiles had already told him he was worried about breaking at some point and ending it all. He'd be an even bigger failure of a parent if he didn't try everything he could to prevent that from happening.

He stood beside Stiles. "I thought you might want more books to read. You always loved to read, as soon as you were able, you never stopped. Curious George books were some of your favorites, especially when your mom read them to you." Stiles stared up at the library sign, and John swore, or maybe it was wishful thinking, that he could see a glint of something in his eyes, emotion, hope. He didn't know. "I was thinking maybe you might want to look around. I've moved around some stuff in our car. If you want to fill a couple more boxes, we have room. You said you wanted to make sure we had a sufficient library in Iowa. This couldn't hurt right?"

Stiles shrugged.

"Do you want me to leave you alone to browse?" John received another shrug. When they received the all clear from Chris and Jordan, he held the door open for his son. "You know, I miss talking to you." Stiles gave him a pointed look which said 'You're talking to me now.' John chuckled, "Yeah I guess I am. I mean I miss hearing your voice." This time he received no reaction as they walked the stacks. Stiles walked his fingers over the spines of the books, like he was deliberating the novel's potential worth in their new home. Finding a suitable one, he pulled it from the shelf. "I'm sorry. I should have looked to you. I should have said something. Chris shouldn't have forgotten about you, and I think what you did was justified. You were a hero." His next action was pure instinct, an act of comfort from a parent to a child. He reached out and laid his hand on Stiles shoulder.

Stiles flinched away from him so fast it was almost violent. The book in his hands fell to the floor. "You all martyred me. I was...expendable. How..." His voice cracked, and he closed his eyes, reeling himself back in. Emotions were put back in check, just where he apparently wanted them. He turned to his father, his face empty and cold. "Don't touch. No one touches me." Without another word, Stiles walked off to find a place to hide.

John stood there for a moment, unable to move, realizing in that moment exactly where his son's head was. He stooped to pick up the book from the floor. In his hands he held a hardcover copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. That had been the only book Stiles had shown even the slightest interest in. Before he had time to change his mind, he hurried out to the Tahoe and dug through his son's things.

He rifled through both Stiles' and Derek's bags, finding only the man's journals, absent of Stiles' haphazard scrawl. John had no interest in those. At the bottom of Derek's duffel, left practically untouched, sat a house figurine and a rubber duck. These must have been from Stiles. In his son's bag, he found nothing but an empty notebook with a short note to Stiles in Derek's handwriting. He didn't read it; that was private.

Whatever notebook Jordan had seen his son writing in was nowhere to be found. He'd damn near torn the back of the Tahoe apart trying to find where he'd hidden it, to no avail. In order to not upset Stiles further, he put everything back the way he'd found it and walked off to find a place to sit in quiet contemplation.

Had he moved away all the bedding, lifted up the deflated air mattress, and opened up the compartment storing the flat tire, he'd have found the notebook wedged in the space between the tire and wall. Had he done that and opened it up, what he read would have broken his heart:

07-21-18

Derek's gone. We left him there. If it came to it, we were supposed to go together. We didn't. I said I'd never give up on him; turns out I lied.


07-25-18

Can't sleep. I keep seeing the blast when I dream. Sometimes during the day, my ears start ringing and all I hear is the dust settling.


08-05-18

         It haunts me when I'm awake now. I can't escape it, and it's punishment for leaving. I know it is.

 

08-17-18

        I thought everything that could be taken from me had been when Derek died. I was wrong. First they took my heart. Then they took my voice. Today they took my body.   And I'm not talking about the Ragers. 

        No matter how much I scrubbed, I could still feel him, still smell him- it's never going to leave.


08-21-18

        Everyone keeps trying to touch me! I don't want to be hugged! I don't want their condolences! I want to fucking die.

       

 08-29-18

       They've decided I'm not stable enough to go on supply runs. I am just dead weight now- I have no use. I have so much I want to say, but they don't deserve to hear any of it.   I should never have left that hospital. I should have shot myself right there. I should have bitten his fingers off. He'd have slit my throat right there before he could ever touch me. It would have been kinder. I wouldn't feel this shattered now. I lose my head several times a day and relive all of it. When I come back, they stare at me like I'm an exhibit in a zoo.

      There is no Stiles- only what I am now. It's not much. Just a caged animal. Here for amusement.


09-01-18

      I'm too much of a coward to do it myself. Tried twice this morning. I wonder how badly an Adderall overdose would feel. Would it take a long time? Or would my heart just          explode?


09-04-18

     I think Melissa suspected something was up- They took away my meds. I am not trustworthy now. I can't help anyone. I can't get supplies. I'm not worth saving. Why am I still     alive? Please someone put me out of my misery. I can't do this anymore.


09-06-18

    I WANT TO DIE! I WANT TO DIE! I WANT TO DIE!


09-08-18


    Why does everyone think it's okay to touch me without asking? That's what he did!

 

                                                                                               *   *   *   *   *

In the library, deep within the children's book section, Stiles had moved a few shelves in the corner just enough to give him maybe a four foot space in which to curl up hidden from all of them. The shelves he picked had been chosen for a reason. They were the ones with a back to them so the books couldn't be pushed through and out the other side. About five feet in height, they offered enough privacy to lend an air of security. From the 'reading mat', he plucked the battered, or more accurately well-loved bean bag chair and tossed it over the shelves into his fort. Then, he wedged himself through the gap, making sure to shimmy the bookshelves back into place.

Once he'd made himself as comfortable as the cramped conditions would allow, he covered his face, a technique he'd perfected in the last few weeks, one that allowed him to shed tears in absolute silence (or quietly enough for no one in his group to hear him). He only did that when he was certain that he was alone. That aloof disposition he adopted as a coping mechanism had been easy to keep up around the group for a little while, but as the days ticked on, he found it harder to maintain without allowing himself a small catharsis once a day. Of course, those moments were when he talked to Derek.

It's getting bad, D. I'm barely hanging on anymore. I walk around in a constant state of panic that I have somehow hidden behind a veil of just not caring. In fact, short of noticing an uptick in my pulse and breathing, no one would notice my panic attacks anymore. I just want to be done with all of this. I can practically see your face right now, shaking your head in disapproval. But I can't, Hon. I just can't. I don't even feel like myself anymore. I just want to go to sleep and wake up to your face, but I know that is not possible. I hope you were right, and there is an afterlife. I hope you're somewhere nice with your family, and that you're happy even if I'm not there. I love you so much, and this hole you left in my heart when you died is not a feeling I'd wish on anyone

He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, emotionally wiped out. He needed a nap.

 

                                                                                                    *   *   *   *   *

 

It turned out that John's plan to stay a few days was vetoed by just about everyone. Even Stiles, when he finally emerged from wherever he'd hidden himself for six hours, seemed eager to leave, clutching onto the four books he'd selected for the box.

"Okay, so here's the plan. I know we got a late start in the day, but everyone looks well rested. I want to get to Grand Island, that's in Nebraska, before we make our next multi-day stop. We have full tanks and should be able to get there with gas to spare. The map makes it look like it's a town about the size of Beacon Hills. That should have opportunity to stock up. There's a campground right off the Interstate near Kearney that would work for our overnight stop. We could make camp there for a night. Objections?" The group voiced their assent, and well Stiles simply nodded. "Let's move out."

When Allison and Isaac climbed into the back of the car, Chris gave them a stern look, one his daughter shot down immediately. "Relax, Dad. I'll be fine." She helped pull Isaac in after her, and he winced. "I'm sorry, did I get your leg?"

"Yeah," he hissed, "Melissa said a couple weeks and we should be able to try without the cast and just one crutch, simple rehab and stuff." He scooted his back against the rear seat and patted the space between his legs. Allison sat up against his chest. "I'm just... if I can't run anymore, we better get to Iowa soon. I don't want to be dead weight."

"You're not dead weight. You've been able to make what food we find palatable. That's valuable."

"You know what I mean. I won't be able to pull as much weight. First we lost Derek, and well now we have enough dead weight as it is."

She sighed, "He's not as unstable as you all think he is. Keeping him stuck at the cars is leaving him to his mind. At least on a supply run, he has a task to keep his mind off everything."

"The guy's gone mute on us. It's horrible to watch, but we need people out looking for food we can depend on. It's not like I'm not advocating pulling an Old Yeller or anything."

"I'm not sure, were I in his shoes, that I'd be any more useful."

Isaac leaned his head against the back of the seat. "Yeah, me neither." He grabbed a book off the floor and handed it to her. Its cover showed signs of having been read many times.

"What chapter are we up to?"

"Five, the caterpillar."

She tried to give it back to him."

"Oh no. It's your turn to read."

Allison rolled her eyes and opened to the dog-eared page. How many times has he read this book- She wondered and began to read. "Chapter V: The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar..."

Isaac fell asleep to the soothing sound of her voice, his arms wrapped around her like a safety blanket.

 

                                                                                                    *   *   *   *   *

 

Their small caravan rolled into Kearney, pulling to a stop near the river where the tent campsites had been. Several abandoned RV's remained, but little else. The moon hung high in the night sky, and everyone looked bleary eyed as they climbed out of their vehicles. From the back of the Argent's car, Isaac handed Allison two cans of chili, a can of corn, and the jar of applesauce. "We need to finish that off tonight. I don't trust it one more day without proper refrigeration." He waited for her to set the food down on the ground before handing her the dutch oven and firewood. "Chris, can you get the fire started?"

Allison took his crutches as he slid out of the car and unfolded their bedroll. "Here you go."

"Thanks, Sweetie," he kissed her cheek, taking the crutches back from her. "Where would I be without you?"

"You'd be a lot less spoiled. I can tell you that much."

Isaac covered his ears, "La, la, la, la. I can't hear you." He grinned to see she'd already set up a chair near the growing flame of the fire. "Oh, I would be totally lost. Can you imagine me dragging this chair and everything over here and using these things?" He tapped his crutches and plopped down in the camp chair where he started opening the canned goods, dumping them into the pot. Though the thing was made of cast iron, he wasn't a complete invalid and managed to wedge it into the fire to warm.

From the car, he pulled out a small notebook, flipping through it for the meals he'd haphazardly planned out (really, it was hard to plan at all when he didn't know what their next search would bring). Chocolate milk. I need seven bottles. He'd been appointed in charge of food rotation and rationing when they set out from Beacon Hills.

"Okay, we're going to do a sweep for Ragers. Allison are you okay watching Anthony and covering Isaac? Why am I asking? Of course you are," he handed her the compound bow and quiver. "Boyd, Erica, Maria. You're together. I'll take Tara and Jordan. That leaves, Stilinski/McCall, I mean if you're sure Stiles is good to-"

John cut him off, "He's fine."

With that, the search groups fanned out, leaving Isaac and Anthony to work on dinner with Allison to keep watch. Isaac handed Anthony everyone's red plastic Solo cup. "I need those filled with half a bottle of chocolate milk each. There will be a half a bottle left. Try to make that go between all the cups as best you can. Okay?"

Anthony started working on his task, setting the cups up on a bench next to the cheap plastic bowls each person had been given. "Got it." In the months since Scott found him, he'd slowly warmed up to the group, though he still chose to stick tightly to Scott and Melissa most.

Isaac stirred the pot, testing it for temperature just as his stomach growled. "Heat faster. If I'm starving, everyone else is." His ears perked up as Allison picked up her bow. "What is it?"

"Thought I heard something. Let me go check." She pushed a large stick his way.

"What am I supposed to do with this? I can't-" When she leveled him with an icy glare, he mimed zipping his lips. "Hurry back. Be careful" As she disappeared into the dark, Isaac sat, wholly uneasy. She'd left him with a weapon he couldn't use on the go and still manage his crutches. No one thought to leave him a handgun. Gee thanks. There he sat, hobbled, with a club he couldn't swing and a hunting knife to protect the both of them.

Minutes ticked by, and Anthony who seemed to pick up on his anxiety, sat net to him on the ground. After about five minutes, he thought he heard Allison coming back to the camp only to turn and find himself staring at a dozen Ragers heading straight for them. They were fucked. "Anthony run! First car you get to, close yourself in! Go!"

His cries had to be heard by the rest of the group. If he could just hold off the Ragers for a few minutes, someone was bound to come to his rescue. He took a deep breath just as Anthony slipped into the back of the Argent's SUV, pulling the hatch closed with his shaking little hands.

Prayers were answered when Allison appeared at the camp. Unfortunately, his relief was short-lived as she'd been followed by at least dozen more Ragers. Her reemergence distracted him, and soon the small horde was merely feet away from him.

He tried to grab his crutches to scramble away, but in his fear, dropped one, and he didn't have time to pick it up.

"Isaac!" Allison screamed running towards him, letting arrows fly at the Ragers, just to give him breathing room. "Run!"

Allison reached back in her quiver and found it empty. In her haste, she'd miscounted. Knocking back a couple here and there with the bow, didn't help for long. There were too many of them. "Oh shit!"

Isaac had hobbled away on one leg, half hopping, and fully clumsy. Her words, though, snapped his attention back to her just in time to see her bow get knocked away. There was no way he would reach her in time, but he still tried. He'd drag himself there if he had to.

A crutch, he found, worked well to knock Ragers back so long as he kept his balance. As he reached the spot where she'd been standing, one last push sent him tumbling to the ground where he fell, right next to Allison. She lay there, practically choking on her own blood. "All-" His words caught in his throat, as he covered her body with his own.

Gunshots rang out above them Ragers falling where they stood, some falling on them both. The added weight on top of him, pressed Isaac's body onto his girlfriend's, and she whined under him.

"Get those bodies off them!" Melissa commanded the attention of the group. "Do it now!"

As Boyd pulled off the last Rager corpse, the group was left staring at Isaac clutching his girlfriend's dying body. Allison reached a hand up to his face. "You never did tell me your favorite part."

"Part?" Tears ran down his face.

"Of the book, our book." Her voice cracked under the strain of just those few words, and she coughed, blood pooling on her lips.

"No, no. You're gonna be okay. You have to be okay."

"Please."

"It's when the Cheshire Cat says 'She who saves a single soul, saves the universe.'"

"I like that. I saved you."

"And Anthony. You saved the universe twice" he choked on his words.

"Good. That's good," she coughed violently, and that was it.

Isaac shook her. "No, no, no, no. Ally, come back. Ally, My Alice. Come back." With the moon shining down, he dropped his head to her still chest, sobbing, his pleas of 'Come back' carried through their little camp like a song on the wind.

 

Chapter Text

Maria mulled over her decision as she watched Stiles climb into the back of the Tahoe with his lunch. It must be a good day, she thought, because he left the hatch open. She took her peanut butter, crackers, and Tang from Isaac, trying to keep the look of pity off her face. Somehow, just like with Derek's death, she didn't have words. How do you offer sympathy or empathy for something like that and have it mean enough, you know?

The days had been somber since Kearney. Isaac made sure to hug everyone more often, even tried to offer Stiles extra treats, almost as a peace offering. She wondered what that had been about. Chris though, seemed to be running on Autopilot, filing away his grief with wherever he kept his sense of humor. Frankly, she'd rather watch grief come in the method that either Stiles or Isaac chose, because not only did just ignoring it seem unhealthy, it was also unnerving, as though any moment now he would explode. Heaven help you if you were in the blast radius when he did.

Still, lunch in hand, she slowly approached Stiles. "Can I sit and eat with you?"

He looked up from his food and nodded, taking her drink and bowl from her so she could slide in to sit beside him.

Maria brushed her blonde hair away from her face. It had grown way too long since she'd been able to get it cut, preferring it much shorter than it now was. "So," she said, between bites of peanut butter slathered crackers, "I wanted to talk to you. Is that okay?"

"Yeah."

She seemed taken aback by him voicing his assent instead of just nodding like he was wont to do lately. "And you don't have to say anything if you don't want. It's... I can hear them, at night, your nightmares. Are they as bad as they sound?"

He swallowed, washing it down with a drink. "Worse." When Maria stayed quiet, he looked over at her, to see her staring down at her bowl. He thought a moment about letting it go and staying quiet, but he couldn't. "You get them too?"

"Yeah," she nodded, "and how weird is that? I mean nothing really happened to me, and I still wake up sweating, feeling like I'm being choked, the sting of the blade against my neck. If yours are...worse than that, how are you still holding on?" He froze, staring out at some point on the ground of the restaurant they were staying in Lincoln. Silence filled the cab of the car. "You're not, are you?"

Stiles shook his head, lip quivering, before taking a deep breath. She watched him shove whatever he was feeling back down.

"I'm sorry for what happened to you. Media, society, everyone tells us how terrible rape is for women. I really don't think they need to clarify that with a gender. It's horrific no matter who you are." This caught his attention. "I should have done something to-"

"You had a knife to your throat. I was never mad at you or Anthony not Allison," his voice cracked at her name. "You were in the same boat as I. He's just a child. It's everyone else I want to scream at. To ask them how fucking dare they?" He scrubbed his face with his hands and pointed to the hatch. "You mind if I close this?"

"No." She helped him swing the rear door shut.

"It's just... it all makes me feel sick. Even little brushes of fingers when I'm handed something makes me want to throw up." He offered up a painful laugh, "How horrible is that? Because a hug and a shoulder to cry on would probably help a lot." He pressed his palms to his eyes. "Skin hunger is a very real thing. I don't want to be afraid of touch for the rest of my life."

"May I say something?" She waited for him to nod before continuing. "My sister and Boyd aren't bad people. She's been responsible for me since she was eighteen. That's seven years, Stiles. At this point, even though she'd never admit it, she thinks of me a bit like her own child, and when those men had all three of us, there was nothing that would have been able to tear her eyes from me. Either of them really. I mean, I've known Boyd since I was nine. He's not just a brother-in-law to me. I know I was their only concern at that moment, just like Allison was Chris and Isaac's was. I don't know what the hell was up with everyone else."

 

 

 

"I know they're not," he said as he considered her words.

"It seems cruel to say, but I know Derek would want you to keep fighting. And I say that, because, well you knew how he was. He saved my sister's life, and it cost him his own. I just wish he could see how doing that destroyed you. Maybe he'd choose differently. Maybe with two of them, they could have fought them off. We'll never know, will we?"

He swallowed hard, opening his mouth several times and closing it. Words stuck to his tongue, glued there in place by fear. Any moment now, they'd choke him.

"Go ahead and say what's on your mind."

"If only I'd run faster, maybe I could have got there in time. Maybe I could have saved her."

She reached her hand out to pat him on the shoulder, but pulled back before she made contact. "What happened was not your fault. You went with your parents just like Chris told you to, and you know what? If you'd tried to protest to stay behind, I doubt he would have let you. He thinks you're a loose wire right now. Do you think for a moment he would have trusted you to defend her if it came to that? He's the one that chose to have her guard Isaac and Anthony, neither one of whom, were adequately able to defend themselves. He left no one to protect her. Allison's death is not on you. It's on Chris. Okay?"

Stiles set down his empty dishes and lay back onto the deflated air mattress, chest heaving, almost like he was shedding dry tears in silent sobs. "No. It's on me. I..."' Breathe Stiles, breathe. But it was too late. He felt his chest seizing, choking him from the inside out. The edges of his vision turned black, his world becoming a vignette photograph before his eyes.

 

 

 

"Hey... come on. Let's do this somewhere else, yeah?" she asked. Between gasps, he managed a frenetic nod. "Do you want my help? To make sure you don't fall?" He nodded again. "Okay. Here's what we're going to do. You are going to follow me to the ladder leading to the roof. I'm going to go first, and if you feel like you might fall, grab my ankle. You get to make that choice." He pushed himself to a seated position, agreeing emphatically. Before Maria could stop him, he bolted, running to the exit to the roof. She didn't even have a chance to catch him before he was halfway up the ladder. So much for needing my help.

 

 

 

 

Stiles crashed through the door, flinging himself out onto roof, gasping for the air that had eluded him in that stifling restaurant. He threw his hands over his face to shield it from the blinding sun beating down on him as scalding tears he could no longer hold back broke through the dam. Hide. Just hide somewhere. Anywhere. Don't let them see. Just as he rolled over, scrambling to stand and find a place on the roof he considered safe, his strength gave out, and he crashed down onto the onto the hard surface.

"Can I help you up? At least so you're sitting?"

"No, don't." He rolled over and sat up.

 

 

 

"Well, um, I have this cloth. I got it wet before I came up here. Do you want me to put it on the back of your neck?" She showed him the damp rag, and he acquiesced. With timid fingers, Maria lay the compress on his neck, taking care not to make direct contact with his skin. Then, she knelt in front of him. "It's okay. I won't tell anyone anything you say up here. You can cry or scream, curse, ramble until your voice gives out." She sat back on her heels, voicing little reassurances like 'You're safe,' and 'it's just us up here. Let it out.'

Eventually, his heavy breathing and rocking stopped, but that's when the words started. "It's all my fault, everything is. I'm being punished. Allison was my friend, and I loved her. First Derek, then Allison. People I care about are dying because of me."

"No."

 

 

 

"Yes, they are. I have blood on my hands, and the universe is taking retribution. When I saved Jordan, the story I told him was a lie." He took a deep breath and told her everything he'd sworn never to say. "I did that. It was me. They were just hungry; they didn't want to shoot Jordan's partner. They made a mistake, and then when they tried to fight back...what if they had families they were trying to feed, children...and I left them there. Oh fuck. I'm going to get everyone killed." His eyes grew wide, and slipped into another crippling bout of panic.

"I'm going to be right back. Okay? I promise."

"O...okay." He clawed at his scalp, praying he could just split it open, as Maria disappeared back down the ladder into the building. His insides were scorching; he felt like he was burning alive. Maybe he really was. Spontaneous combustion at the hands of karma. Instead of turning black, this time his vision just blurred, and shallow breaths grew more rapid until he passed out.

 

                                                                                                        *   *   *   *   *

 

He awoke some indeterminable time later, supine, his face shaded from the sun enough so that opening his eyes did not hurt at all. As his vision came into focus, he looked up into sunlight diffused through a piece of navy colored fabric. It had been stretched taut and tied to whatever Maria, and he assumed it was Maria, could find. A full bottle of water and some dried pineapple sat next to him on a towel.

"Good morning, Sleeping Beauty. Please don't freak out. I'm sorry, but I had to move you. I thought you might have hit your head; I needed to check you out to see if you were bleeding. Then I moved you onto the towel." She looked at him for further signs of panic. "Um, I can point out where I needed to touch you. Do you need me to do that?"

He blinked and stretched out his neck. How the hell does she know all this? How does she know what I need to hear when no one else seems to?

She mistook his silence for agreement. "I touched your left shoulder when I rolled you over. Because I thought you hit your head, I also touched the back of your neck and the back of your head. I pulled you onto the towel by your wrists. That's it."

Anyone else, and he'd be throwing up right now, but maybe it was the earnest expression in her eyes that prevented that. He didn't really know why exactly. However, one thing weighed on his mind.

"Are you okay? Do you want me to go?"

He shook his head. "How...I mean...who...'

"Ah. You're asking me how I know the right thing to do here? Friend of mine was drugged at a party. So not as violent as yours, but it still happened. I would have come to you sooner, but you're right. I thought you were mad at all of us, and I believed I'd be doing more harm than good, that people deal with things in different ways. What worked for her, might not work for you. I know now that was a mistake."

"Yeah, maybe."

She took a drink from her bottle of water. "I'm going to be honest with you. There are going to be bad days, and even some really bad ones that make you feel like you are coming apart at the seams, that make all the good days feel useless. I'm here anytime if you need an open ear, a hug, someone to sit with in silence, anything. I won't even tell people you talk to me if that's what you want." She pushed a package of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups towards him. "I just don't think you should be shouldering all of this alone. Grief is bad enough, but throw trauma on top of it, and well I may not know you as well as my sister and Boyd do, but I'd like to think we're at least friends."

He cracked a tiny smile and opened the wrapper, taking one candy out and handing it to her. "We are, and friends share. So tell me, Doc. Did I crack my head open?"

"No. Your noggin is as intact as it was before you passed out. Why did you pass out anyway?"

"Panic attacks can lead to hyperventilation, which can make you pass out. Never had two back to back like that." He ate a bite of the chocolate, and the appreciative moan that escaped his lips sounded damn near orgasmic. "You have no fucking idea how much I miss these things. I found a bag of minis in Tahoe and was stupid. I gorged myself on them." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her stand and pull something out of her pocket.

"It was my turn to charge my phone yesterday." She set it down on the now, non-functioning air-conditioning unit. "If you're feeling up to it, I think I have an idea that will make you feel a little better. What do you say?"

He furrowed his brows at her. "I don't under-"

"Stand up. Shake out those limbs, and get your cute butt over here. You are dancing with me, and I don't care how badly that might be, how awkward or ridiculous. We are dancing like complete fools up here on this roof, where there is nobody around to see you. Sing at the top of your lungs if you want. Is it going to magically heal the hole in your heart? Absolutely not, but if it keeps you holding on for today, maybe tomorrow, well then it was worth it.

He watched her scroll through her music player until she found the playlist she wanted, grinning like a maniac as upbeat music played as loudly as the speakers on her phone would allow. Yeah, it might have sounded tinny, but to Stiles it was fabulous. He stood and, feeling a bit self-conscious, waited for her to start dancing before he began to move. Her idea of dancing was little more than jumping around waving her arms in the air off time to the music, but it served as enough of an inspiration to get him fully committed.

One song turned into two, turned into ten, turned into, well he lost count. "The Twist?" He hadn't done that in years. The theme to Ghostbusters? Bring it on. "Sexy Back" made his steps feel a little lighter, even if it was only temporary. They danced like silly children for hours, until the afternoon had long become evening. He wasn't sure what made him do it, but when the fatigue made his limbs almost leaden, he reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her into a dance hold. "Is this....is this okay?"

She beamed. "I should be asking you that?"

"Yeah. This is okay." This was different. He'd made the choice; he'd grabbed her hand, and that, he thought, made all the difference. She'd offered to help, to listen, to just be there. No one else had said anything close. It had been all empty apologies with no effort to atone. That wasn't what he wanted. He just didn't want to have to ask for it. Picked that up from you, D. He wasn't much of a singer, especially compared to Derek, but he definitely needed to sing along with this one.
            "And I am done with my graceless heart
             So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart
             'Cause I like to keep my issues drawn
             It's always darkest before the dawn
             Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
             Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
             And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
             So shake him off, oh whoa"

As the song drew to a close, he dropped her hand, removing his own from her waist. She noticed the change in him. "Too much?" He shook his head, a look of deep consideration etched on his face and moved forward. Maria picked up on his body language and spread her arms out wide, an invitation. When Stiles wrapped his arms around her, she waited for him to tell her it was okay before hugging back. They stayed that way for a long time.

"Thank you," he muttered into her shoulder.

"Anytime. Just ask. Don't tell anyone, but this helped me too."

Downstairs, Isaac announced dinner. They packed up the items from the roof. As he descended the ladder, Stiles took a deep breath. She'd said there would be bad days, but today?

Today was a good day.

 

 

Chapter Text

As they walked past the shop window, Derek couldn't help but stop and stare inside. The little ceramic statues, vases and sculptures caught his eye and not because he loved the ceramic arts. He just found himself sucked into a fond memory.

When their little group made it to Wichita, they immediately sought out Lydia's mother's home, which turned out to be empty. As Lydia sat down on the curb to cry, they tried to think of their next course of action. Admittedly, no one in the group knew what to do next. Should they keep looking or continue on to Iowa? The whole time they sat there with no ideas, he felt irritation bubbling beneath the surface. He'd been on edge for days, fighting not to snap at everyone for every little thing. The distance away from Stiles had been eating away at him slowly. It didn't help that he had the worst case of blue balls, he'd ever had in his life. Not a moment's privacy to be found anywhere. It was driving him crazy

After a good hour of watching everyone mope, Derek cracked and finally asked Lydia where her mother might go if she wasn't at home. Lydia responded that she could only think of the school where her mother worked. Sensing an opportunity to find food and other supplies, the group agreed that should be there next search. If nothing else, so long as it wasn't overrun with Ragers, it offered a safe place to sleep for a couple days while they tried to replenish their stock.

They drove the car several blocks at a time, and then doubled back to check available stores and houses for anything they could use. The big problem lately seemed to be gas. A stop at a Home Depot produced several five gallon buckets which worked great for water. They had enough water for a week, and enough food for two weeks if they kept up their meager rations. Whatever, they'd all lost some weight since the start of this thing; being a little hungry had become second nature.

That brought Derek to where he currently stood. He jiggled the door handle and pushed his way inside.

"Derek, what could you possibly hope to find in there?" Lydia snapped.

He waved her off and signaled for them to give him ten minutes. She'd been right, there was little in the shop that served them any good. That wasn't why he went in. The reason was much simpler than that.

It reminded him of Stiles, and he needed some time to himself.

The year before, Derek surprised him on Valentine's Day by showing up at his apartment for an unannounced visit. One of the best days of his life...

...Derek didn't even have a chance to knock on the door before Brandon yanked it open and ushered him inside. The guy was dressed to the nines, his normally chaotic blonde hair had been brushed and smoothed into place. "Dude, he is going to flip when he gets home."

"That's what I hoped for. Thanks for handling everything on this end."

"No problem. He's been so mopey the last few weeks. It's become a pain in the ass. You're helping me out too. So yeah, I won't be back tonight. Taking the girlfriend to Vancouver. You have the place to yourselves. Don't have sex on the couch."

With that, the guy was gone. Derek knew he had about an hour until Stiles came home from class. So he quickly showered, then arranged the flowers he'd made sure to order a month ago, only picking them up on his way to Stiles' apartment. He set them on the kitchen table where Stiles was sure to see them as soon as he walked in the door. He lay down on the couch to hide himself, but where he could sneak an eye up over the arm to watch Stiles' reaction.

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later, the keys jingled in the lock. Derek watched Stiles' face brighten upon seeing the roses. "You shouldn't have, D." His fingers carefully plucked the little card from where it hid among the blooms, and he read aloud. "'The real present is in the living room.' What have you done, Derek?"

He lie in wait until his boyfriend crossed the threshold to the living room before he answered. "Surprised you, that's what." He said as he sat up.

The shriek Stiles let out was definitely less than manly, as was the enthusiastic way he jumped into Derek's lap. "Oh my god! You scared the shit out of me!" He gave Derek a playful smack in the chest and nuzzled at his neck. "Fuck, you smell amazing." His arms wrapped tightly around him. "I missed you."

"Yeah me too." Derek said while he rubbed circles into Stiles' back. "Good surprise?"

Stiles pulled back and kissed him fiercely, fingers fumbling at the buttons at his shirt. "The best." He said against Derek's lips.

Derek caught his hands. "There will be time for that later. But go get changed. I'm taking you out."

"But can't we just stay in the apartment and have lots of sex?" He whined.

"I want to spend time with you, talk to you, hold your hand. I want to go out and do something we haven't done before, and then come back and have lots of sex. I promise it will be lots of fun. You don't need to dress fancy. We're eating at Pike Place."

Stiles grumbled all the way to the bathroom...

...As Derek's fingers walked along the pieces of art, his eyes scanned the room for the perfect piece to take with him. Why would a pottery gallery send him down memory lane? The after dinner entertainment, that's why...

... Derek held the door open for his boyfriend.

"Ooh such a gentleman." Stiles said with a hint of his usual snark.

Derek kissed his forehead. "I try."

Stiles took in their surroundings. "Why are we here?"

"It's a pottery class for couples."

Stiles rolled his eyes. "It's a little Ghost for my tastes."

Derek poked him in the nose. "Don't be a brat. It'll be fun." He turned to the clerk who greeted them. "The reservation should be under Hale, Derek."

"Right this way." The clerk led them to a pottery wheel and gave them the basic run down for how things worked.

Stiles' initial aggravation at Derek's idea of fun melted away once he got his hands on the clay. Admittedly, his attempts at 'art' turned out to be a disaster, when vase after vase crashed back down onto the wheel. "So yeah, I pretty much suck at this."

Derek laughed, and scooted his stool behind Stiles, placing his hands over his boyfriends'. "I don't know. I just don't think you have the patience." He kissed the back of Stiles' neck. "Or the soft hands." He nosed up Stiles' neck. Derek's lips brushed the shell of his ear. "Personally, I think soft hands are overrated. I prefer a good strong grip."

A bright red blush spread across his face. "You are the worst...literally the worst." He ran a clay covered finger down Derek's cheek.

"Yeah, but you love me."

Stiles' hand slipped once again, reducing his best attempt so far into a brown pile of mush. "And fuck if I know why."

Derek rested his head on Stiles' shoulder. "Because you think I'm hot. Don't think I haven't seen you lick your lips at the sight of my naked torso."

"Yep. That is the only reason."

He kissed the back of Stiles' neck. "And because you like my singing."

"Such a lovely voice. I swear to god, if at any point "Unchained Melody" plays tonight, and you don't start singing, I will be seriously disappointed."

Grinning, he wrapped his arms around Stiles' waist, taking care not to soil his boyfriend's shirt with his dirty hands. "And because I make you happy."

The pottery wheel slowly came to a stop as Stiles eased off the pedal. "Yeah you do." He sighed and let his head fall back to rest on Derek's shoulders. "You have no idea how much." He moved off the stool. "Your turn to fail miserably at this. I'm going to go get us some treats." He kissed the top of Derek's head. "Don't show me up too badly."

Stiles finally came back about ten minutes later, his cheeks stuffed with chocolates. They were so full he looked like a chipmunk. Derek's heart felt like it would burst at the sight of him.

"Open up." He said, or attempted to say. Instead he gestured to Derek's mouth and popped the confection between his lips.

"Delicious."

Stiles' eyes caught sight of Derek's sculpture and forced himself to swallow. "Not fair! I've been trying for forty-five minutes to make anything less than an embarrassing failure. You...are too much, Hon." He plopped down on his stool at the adjacent table and began working the clay like a little kid with Play-Doh. Mashing it with his fists into a shape that resembled absolutely nothing. However, his eyes lit up when the song playing through the speakers switched over to a new one. "Don't let me down, D."

Derek raised an eyebrow. "I'm afraid I don't understand."

"What? I am outrage-"

Derek smirked and began singing."Whoa, my love
                                                      My darling
                                                      I've hungered for your touch
                                                     A long, lonely time
                                                     And time goes by so slowly
                                                    And time can do so much
                                                    Are you still mine?"

Surprising both of them, a couple other people in the room also sang along to this one. Stiles didn't seem to hear them much though, his attention entirely focused on Derek, as if he'd hung the moon...

...The memory of the rest of the night had Derek about to break, already painfully hard in his pants...

...Stiles fumbled with the keys to his front door, dropping them twice. "Damn it."

"I can't believe you made a penis sculpture." Derek laughed, his arms tight around Stiles' waist.

"I did not! It was supposed to be a puppy! Quit mocking me. I tried really hard at that sculpture. Stop laughing at my shortcomings." He said as he finally got the door open and pulled Derek towards his bedroom. They didn't make it that far.

"If it's endearing, it's not a shortcoming." Derek nipped at the skin at Stiles' nape. "Love your quirks." He huffed into his neck.

The way the moonlight glinted in through the window's slightly open blinds, casting the perfect ray of blue light onto Stiles' skin drove Derek crazy. He removed his arms from around Stiles' waist and began opening the buttons on his boyfriend's shirt, his mouth never leaving Stiles' skin. He couldn't even form words to say how much he'd missed him since he dropped him off at the airport a few days before the semester started.

"Stop with the slow romance shit. I need you in me like yest-"

Derek spun him around and cut him off with a kiss. "Actually, I was," he kissed him again, "thinking about..." He felt his cheeks flame. Three years into their relationship and he still couldn't ask for something he'd wanted to try for years.. "Do you," another kiss, "want to top? I've never..." He steeled himself for what he assumed would be laughter. None came. Instead, he felt the power dynamic shift slightly as Stiles took over...

... After making sure he was out of sight of the storefront window, Derek's hand closed around his dick...

...Stiles looked so beautiful above him, as he worked him open. He'd taken things so slowly, trying to make it perfect for him, Derek could hardly breathe, overcome with emotion, every synapse in his body firing. This...all of it felt so much better than anything he'd tried on his own. The snark which dripped from Stiles' lips had long been replaced by hushed tones of, 'You doin' okay,' 'Let me know if you want me to stop,' and the ever important 'I love you.' Before long, Derek was reduced to begging.

"Trust me, you don't want to rush your first time."...

... And they didn't. It was beautiful. The memory of which should have been enough to have Derek spilling into his hand by now. The only problem, his heart wasn't in it. Before he could stop himself, he felt tears sliding down his face. Nothing killed the mood faster than crying. There he was, left holding his half-hard dick in his hand, crying like a baby.

He didn't want to get off. He just wanted to get to Stiles, to hold him, kiss that sinful mouth of his that never stopped talking, hear the way his laugh filled a room, and this, this sad attempt at jerking off wasn't going to get him there any faster.

He stowed his dick back in his pants and walked back outside.

"Feeling better?" Lydia sassed.

"No. Let's just find that fucking school." He grumbled as he walked off.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

The next morning, the four of them stood in front of the middle school where Lydia's mother had worked at before the out- Well before all this. The place didn't seem to be crawling with Ragers, which was a plus, but the building had clearly seen better days, and a lot of them.

Derek read the sign. "Doesn't look so pleasant anymore."

Kira giggled at his joke. "No it doesn't. How should we do this? You know, plan of attack?"

He took in the building. "Perimeter check. Look in the windows we can. See where the Ragers are most highly concentrated. Meet back here, and we'll formulate a plan."

They split into two teams, Kira and Liam choosing to stick together. Go with what you know, right? However, he and Lydia soon noticed something odd about the school. There were no Ragers to be found.

"Oh god, this is like the Walmart all over again!" She stopped at the rear door to the gymnasium. "Like they're all roaming the halls or something. So our only hope is that the second floor is clear?"

Derek peeked into the small window on the gym door. From what he could see, the room was filled with Ragers. "I don't think so. If they were in the halls, we'd have been able to see them from the front entrance. I think they might all be in here."

She didn't look convinced. "And if they're not? How do we get upstairs?"

He thought a second and then chuckled. "Overhang that covers the front entrance."

"That's at least twelve feet off the ground. Should I just drive the car right up to it and we all hop up?" she sassed, one hand on her hip.

He nodded. "That sounds like the perfect plan. Let's just skip right to the second floor just in case." They circled back to find Kira and Liam already waiting for them.

"So..." Liam trailed off. "From the back door, we can see nothing but Ragers. I don't think we should go in. Feels like a bad idea."

Derek pointed up. "We're going up."

Liam's eyes widened as he quickly came to realize the impossible task with which he'd been given. "And if there are Ragers up there? Jumping down ten feet, doesn't feel good."

Lydia shook her head. "If we can't get in the school, I don't know where else my mother would be, and accept she probably is dead. Okay? Let's just get this over with." She didn't let anyone get a word in edgewise, just walked away and pulled the car to the best location for a ladder.

Derek climbed atop the car. "So I will give you three a boost."

"But how will we pull ourselves up?" Liam asked.

Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. "I probably weigh about a buck ninety maybe one eighty if I've really lost weight. Tell me, which one of you is going to give me a boost up there? Now I am tall enough standing on this car to give any of you three more than enough height to be able to pull yourselves up, and," he looked up and raised his arms above his head. How the hell was he going to get up there? With a good jump he could probably get his hands on the ledge, maybe get a good enough grip to pull himself up, "then you all can pull me up." He cupped his hands to make a step for Kira. She looked the most agile out of the group, and he figured she had the best shot at getting to the top. He was right. The good three and a half feet he was able to lift her, made it easy for her. Next went Liam, and it turned out, the kid had been worried for nothing.

"Really one-ninety?" Lydia asked before she stepped up.

"Why does that surprise you? I was 210 the last time I weighed myself."

She sized him up, and tsked him several times. "Six foot and about two hundred pounds. Such a shame that a) you're married, and b) that you bat for the other team, because I would be all over this," she gestured to his body, "in a heartbeat."

He scoffed, "I don't bat for the other team."

"What do you mean you do-"

"Switch hitter, Lydia. Come on, up you go." He lifted her up as high as he could, having already learned about her lack of athletic prowress. Once she disappeared over the ledge, he readied himself for a good leap, bending his knees like a spring, and jumped. His first attempt was about a foot short. You'll have to do better than that, Derek. His second jump was more successful. A good jump, and an even better grip. With little trouble, he got himself onto the awning.

"Switch hitter you say? Well, then it's really too bad you're married."

"Sorry. Not my type. You remind me too much of my older sister."

"Is that so?"

"Thought she knew what was best for me and liked to boss me around. We'd be terrible together." He patted her on the shoulder and peered in the nearest window. It was empty. Rather than break the window and attract the attention of any Ragers, he asked for Lydia's crow bar and pried the window open as quietly as he possibly could. "I'd say after you, but I'll go first."

Every step he made into the school seemed to freeze his breath in his throat. Honestly, he didn't know what to expect when he neared the stairwell. A mob most likely. He kept his flashlight off, and the light coming in from the tops of the windows, well from the bits of the windows not barricaded, gave just enough light to see that whoever was in the school last, blocked off the stairs with chairs, desks, lockers, basically anything they could get. From outside, he and Lydia had not seen any open windows. So someone was most likely still hiding in the school somewhere. That could be great, but more likely it wouldn't result in anything good.

The dimly lit hallway seemed to be plucked right from his nightmares. All it needed was a puddle in the middle of the floor and a partially caved in ceiling, and it would look just like the hospital in Grand Junction. He found his head swimming and his chest tighten. So he found the first open door and went in.

He just needed a few moments to clear his head. A few turned out to be five, and once he could form coherent thoughts again, he retrieved the rest of his group. "Okay, so as best as I can tell, there are no Ragers on this floor. I mean I didn't search every room.

"Why not?" Lydia asked.

"I don't think we're alone here. The stairs have been barricaded along with the windows for the most part. Call it a hunch. Let's go."

Halfway down one section of hallway, Lydia poked Derek in the shoulder. "This feels like Nowhereville, Kansas all over again. You know that, right?" she whispered.

Yeah, he had to admit, he felt more than a little déjà vu. He nodded, but didn't voice his concerns, just kept his studded pike at the ready. When they neared the end of the opposite hall, they could hear voices. Derek's pulse ratcheted up at that.

They held back and discussed their options. Once again, they decided that Derek should go in first, as he seemed most able to defend himself from multiple attackers should the need arise. The others, waited off to the side, ready to rush in and help if needed. As it turned out, their sense of unease was unfounded.

The door handle was not locked, and he opened it slowly. Inside, sat a middle-aged redhaired woman, and two men about his age, maybe a couple years older. All three stared at Derek like he was about to murder them. "Um...hi." That's it. He couldn't come up with anything else. You are a mess, Derek.

"We don't have weapons. Or much food if that's what you want," the woman said.

"No. We don't-- We're just looking for someone."

From the hall, Lydia called out, "Mom?" She didn't even wait for an answer before rushing into the room.

Yep, the woman was definitely Lydia's mother.

"Oh my god, Lydia. You drove here just for me?" The woman smoothed down Lydia's hair, running her hands all over her daughter's face. "I can't believe it. I thought I'd never see you again."

Derek couldn't keep down his lunch at the happy moment and left the room to find somewhere private to empty his stomach. "You better be in Iowa when I get there, Babe," he whispered to absolutely no one. It wasn't fair, but he did feel relief for Lydia.

By the time he returned, introductions were underway.

"There you are!" Lydia snapped. "Again? What the pottery shop not enough time for you? Good Lord. Why doesn't your right forearm look like Popeye's? Jesus, Derek."

He cocked his head to the side and glared at her. "Really? You actually thought I'd want to stay in here and watch the tearful reunion? Do I need to remind you why I was on my own when you found me?"

She rubbed her temples. "Yes, how could I forget. This is Derek, found him somewhere near Denver where he was hell bent on riding his bike the rest of the way to Indian-"

"Iowa."

"Tomato, tomahto. Derek, this is my mom, Natalie."

"Nice to meet you. These are two of my fellow teachers, Jackson and his boyfriend, Danny."

The lighter skinned man, Jackson, did not appear to agree with her. "Excuse me. We are not a couple!"

Natalie rolled her eyes. "Right, sure you're not. Don't think I don't know what you're doing when the two of you sneak off."

"Mutual blowjobs do not make us a couple!"

Danny looked at him. "It doesn't? I totally thought we were a thing, Jackie."

Jackson, and Derek could already tell he was going to want to strangle the guy, snapped and jabbed a finger into Danny's sternum. "I told you not to call me that."

"When?"

"Fifth grade."

"So what?"

"I'm not gay."

Derek waved a hand to shut them up. "Do you enjoy them, the mutual blowjobs?"

"Well yeah?"

"Sounds like you're struggling with you bisexuality. You know what though, I don't care. Now, can we get back to the point here?"

Lydia nodding in agreement, "So, they've been slowly depleting the food stores they dragged up here from the cafeteria. They have maybe two weeks left, and no real weapons."

"Is your mom on board?" he asked.

"Yes, but..." she trailed off as she jerked her head towards the other two in an attempt at a subtle gesture instead of pointing at them. "Can I talk to you outside?" She grabbed his arm, dragging him into the hall. "We can't take them."

Derek looked at her, as though he was trying to read her mind and motives. It didn't work. He never had much luck trying to figure out what women were thinking, or men for that matter. Just Stiles, and how sad and pathetic was that? "Why not?"

"My car only seats five. The trunk is filled with supplies. We have no room. It will be packed enough with my mom."

He crossed his arms and gave her reasons some thought before giving a rebuttal. "So you want to leave them here, with no weapons and a dwindling food supply?"

"Well not really, but what choice do we have?"

"Find another car."

She threw up her hands in frustration. "That will only require more stops to find gas, Derek!" Lydia paced up and down the hall a few times. "I don't want to leave them. I just don't see another option."

He nodded, "I can't in good conscience leave two people who appear to be perfectly healthy and not mortally wounded behind where they will probably die. I can't"

"Oh my god! Were you a solider as well as a cop? Of course you'd follow the 'No Man Left Behind' credo."

"No. It's called having respect for my fellow human beings." Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could hear Stiles talking about 'Ohana' in his best Stitch impression. It took a lot of effort to keep the smile off his face. "It would be wrong to leave them here." Derek tapped his nose with his index finger, while the rest of his fingers scratched his beard. As Stiles told him once, this gesture was his signature, had 'Derek Hale Thinking Face' written all over it. "We have to find another car. I can take Kira and the two guys out to find more gas and another vehicle. That would give you time to reconnect with your mom. Liam should stay with the two of you. Three makes for easier defense than two. Ideally, we'd find a pickup. The bed would give more than enough space for supplies, seating, and sleeping while making the drive."

"Three words for you: Crappy gas mileage." She counted each word on her fingers.

"And I have three words for you: Too fucking bad." The two of them had an intense staring match complete with immense eyebrow action for several minutes before Lydia scoffed and walked back into the room.

The next morning, Derek, Danny and Jackson ventured off in search of gas and bigger car. They could still hear Lydia's protests as the left the school. They returned three days later with a red pickup and enough gas to fill the tank three times. She couldn't fault the plan after that.

Derek had been right, Jackson was an asshole, and he almost throttled him in his sleep the first night on the road.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jordan stopped to rest, sitting down on the curb in the residential neighborhood where they'd been searching for hours. They needed cooking fuel and more clothes...and gas... always more gas. He surveyed his search group. At least three of the four of them had on threadbare shirts. He knew his wardrobe was filled with garments falling apart, but today's mission was actually to find as many winter coats as possible.

Apparently, and he was going on Chris' word, Iowa had miserable winters. With everyone in the group from either California or Oregon, none of them knew just what they were in for. Well, he had kind of an idea. Afghanistan could get pretty cold sometimes. Anyway, according to Chris, it was better to take the time to find the jackets now when they didn't need then than when it was below freezing. So far? They'd found two.

Erica handed him a meal pouch and bottle of water from her bag. "So, how long are we going to continue in this neighborhood? Could we just get back to the camp and tell Chris this town has nothing? We would find so much more stuff in Omaha."

Jordan laughed, "Yeah, we probably would." Just outside Lincoln, they saw the overpass crossing Cornhusker Hwy was down. The field on either side of the interstate that, with their vehicles, they could drive across otherwise, was littered with cars, small aircraft parts, downed lights, and other pieces of mangled debris. They veered off course and took Highway Six instead. It would take them close to Omaha, and cutting back on a smaller road, they'd eventually get back to the interstate.

So, the town they were in now, was very small and had little in the way of supplies. But, every little bit helped, a motto which had become truer with every passing day. The more days passed since the outbreak, the less supplies they would find. The sooner they got to Iowa the better, though caution was still needed.

Boyd came out of a house two doors down from where Jordan and Erica sat. "So I have no coats, but here are three hoodies, boys size 12. I have one pair of ladies size seven snow boots, and," he looked through his trash bag, "eight pairs of socks in various sizes. What did you both find?"

Jordan held up an afghan. "Ugly blanket and can of peas. Man, that house was completely picked clean otherwise. Not even toilet paper."

Erica swallowed a bite of her applesauce. "Box of maxipads, some Advil, unopened tube of lipstick."

"Erica," he pinched the bridge of his nose, "we're supposed to look for clothes."

"Yeah, not leaving the pads behind, Honey. I mean, I also found a bra that should fit one of the ladies. You want to talk about that instead?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Jordan saw Tara shake her head as she walked over carrying an ushanka and a couple heavy sweaters. "I don't know whether I find your brand of bickering annoying or cute."

"Oh we're adorable." Erica said as she stood and dusted off her pants. "Come on. I'm tired of looking at the houses in this subdivision. They all look the same. I'm having a Pleasantville moment, and I don't think I want to be." She trudged off towards the end of the street and the last few houses on it.

Jordan had to agree with her. They'd picked the more upscale area of the little town, thinking it might have a better offering, but as it turned out, they hadn't been the first ones to come up with that plan. The high point of the neighborhood?

Two streets over, he found an unopened six pack of white t-shirts, and he cackled with glee as he stuffed them into his bag.

 

 *   *   *   *   *

 

"Okay Isaac, draw four, red," Maria said laying down a card on the overturned box between them.

"Oh come on! You did that to me three turns ago," he whined at the small stack of cards in his hands. "No way I am ever getting down to one card in this game."

Scott chuckled and placed a red six down on top of Isaac's discard. Maria followed in turn with a Skip card, eliciting another groan from Isaac. "I gotta admit man, watching you squirm over this is hilarious."

From where he lay, head on Maria's thigh, Stiles shifted. After a month without a post-concussion headache, he'd awoken that morning miserable. Hell, he'd thrown up twice already, and the earplugs he wore to keep out the noise didn't do much when Isaac raised his voice in frustration. He turned his head and looked up at Maria with large pleading eyes.

She'd become pretty good about reading his body language as a form of communication between them when others were around. The afternoon spent on the roof listening to music had worked for a few days, but he still held his tongue around everyone else. She didn't dare ask if it was on purpose or because of a mental block. Then, when he'd woken up to one of those bad days she told him would happen, she sat with him in the back of the Tahoe and let him vent and shake with a combination of rage and panic for the entire day, continuing well into the evening. Eventually, he'd fallen asleep in much the same position he lay now, and he woke up the next morning, looking and feeling a little lighter. The look he was giving her currently meant he was begging for a comforting touch.

Still, even though he asked her to, he still flinched a little when Maria began massaging his scalp to help relieve some of the tension and pain of his headache. Stiles sighed, saying a silent prayer that his response to touch since that day in Denver went away soon. He hated it. Beneath her fingertips, he found himself drifting off to sleep.

Scott lay down a wild card. "Green. So..." His eyes darted back and forth between his step-brother and Maria. "What is this?" he asked, pointing.

She shrugged and lay down a Draw Two card, much to Isaac's chagrin. "A scalp message. What does it look like?"

"Yeah, and what is it when you sleep in the Tahoe with him?" He raised an eyebrow at her.

"Platonic." She didn't elaborate further.

"You sure?"

"Yes. Pretty sure I'm not his type by any stretch of the word," she deadpanned. "That whole lacking a penis thing would totally be working against me if I harbored even the slightest romantic feelings toward him."

Scott was not amused by her sass.

"Fine, call it progress." She didn't dare elaborate on the platonic cuddling that had occurred on a couple of occasions. That was Stiles' piece of information to divulge, should he so choose, and frankly, she didn't see him doing that any time soon. "You and Isaac are welcome to jump on the 'just friends' snuggling bandwagon." She lay down a blue four.

"But why you and none of the rest of us?"

"Call it bonding over a shared traumatic event, and I'm not saying anything else about it." Isaac played a blue Reverse card, and she chuckled as she changed the color to red with her own Reverse. "Uno."

"It just doesn't make sense. Does he talk to you?" Scott looked like a kicked puppy when he asked the question, as he lay down a red two.

"Doesn't need to. I win." She played her red eight and grinned. "Pleasure playing Uno with you boys."

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

"I can't believe we found a winter cape but no coats. Seriously, what kind of person has a full length, woolen cape with a hood?" Tara asked from the passenger seat as she inspected the garment in her hands. "Looks like it's straight out of the Revolutionary War."

"Well maybe they were a reenacter," Jordan said, looking out at the road as the sun crept towards the horizon.

"In this town? Were there even enough people to reenact a battle? Probably not."

Erica reached forward and grabbed the evergreen colored cape from Tara's hands. "I don't know. I think it's pretty, and it looks really warm too. Has closures, goes to the ankles probably. It's certainly better than the red puffer vest Boyd found. I put that on, and I  looked like Marty McFly. No thanks, I'll take classy Revolutionary War wife instead." She stretched out and put her feet in Boyd's lap.

Boyd laughed, "You go right ahead and do that."

"Oh, I intend to. I miss the days when I could look nice instead of like a hobo."

He patted her knee. "You always look nice to me."

"Uh huh. Sure I do."

Tara groaned, "Too much cuteness in this car. Enough to make a girl lonely."

Jordan glanced over at her and burst up laughing.

"What?"

"Nothing." He looked back just in time to see a deer run in front of the car. In his attempt to swerve and miss it, the right front tire hit a deep pothole. The next thing he realized, the SUV was rolling...and...rolling...rolling.

When the car finally settled, all he could hear was a ringing in his ear. Dust and debris settled around him. Wow, he was upside down. He blinked, trying to focus, but everything around him was fuzzy, blurry even as if in a dream.

Was it a dream?

Sand lay inside the Humvee along with pieces of debris. Gunshots echoed all around him. Jordan pressed a hand to the wound in his shoulder where a shard of what once was the shell of an RPG stuck out of his skin. He watched the blood trickle between and ultimately over his fingers, pooling into a small puddle on the floor...wait roof of their vehicle.

When a mortar shell hit an adjacent building, the blast shook the wrecked Humvee. He could feel the vibrations in his chest, and those were definitely broken ribs. Wincing, he braced himself before slicing through his seat belt with his combat knife. He hit the ground hard. "Hey Chambers, you okay?" he asked, shaking the crumpled heap of his gunner. As Jordan rolled him over, he took in the sight of the gaping hole in the man's neck and knew that he was anything but okay. Outside the vehicle, lay a leg and hand.

He was going to be sick.

Still, he understood that staying at the crash site would get him killed and dragged himself for cover, clamping his hands over his ears to drive out the noise.

Jordan blinked several times, and the streets of Kandahar faded away. Instead of a war zone, he saw just the interior of the wrecked SUV. Ignoring the bits of broken glass on the roof, now below him, he braced himself so he didn't fall on his head when he released the seat belt. He still fell like a stone, but on his shoulder at least. His door had crumpled in a little in the wreck, the window frame bent so badly he knew he wouldn't fit through it. Pushing the door open took several good kicks. Once he was outside the vehicle, he lay, flat on his back staring up at the sky, catching his breath for a few minutes. He hadn't had a combat flashback in years, but he wasn't all that surprised that he did. The accident was very similar to the one in Afghanistan.

He could feel the dampness in his shoulder where the seat belt had broken the skin near his old shrapnel wound. There was a large cut across the back of his right hand that was bleeding pretty badly, and he was a little disoriented, but otherwise okay. The other passengers in the car? How were they?

Jordan moved towards the mangled remains of the SUV. He could see that when they'd rolled, the floor of the back seat had become crushed and Jordan's seat broken loose from its bolts to trap Boyd's legs. Honestly, he couldn't tell if he'd be able to free Boyd from his seat.

He scrambled around the car. Tara was unconscious, but did not appear injured too badly. Her pulse was steady. In normal circumstances, he knew not to move an injured person. But nothing about the circumstance was normal now, was it? Cradling her neck to the best of his abilities, he was able to get her out of the car and onto the ground.

Erica? Totally different story. For whatever reason, she'd neglected her seatbelt. She had been thrown from the car as it overturned, and probably been rolled over in the process. Even before he checked for vitals, he knew she was dead. One look told him that. He pressed a balled fist to his mouth to keep his emotions in check.

Yeah, he'd only been part of their group for about six months, but these people had become like his family, and now they'd lost two people in less than two weeks. That was on top of losing Derek, whom he'd become to think of as a good friend. He steeled himself, and went to try and help Boyd. It took most of his strength to open the rear driver's side door, and the noise stirred Boyd awake.

"Oh fuck, Man," Boyd groaned, coughing. "My chest hurts. Feels like broken ribs. Hold on, gonna try to get out of the car." Moments, that's all it took for him to realize his legs were pinned, and also that he couldn't feel them. "I am so fucking screwed. Think I broke my back or something."

Jordan looked in the cargo space behind him where he saw a piece of the frame puncturing through the seat, and presumably into Boyd's back. He gulped. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to help you."

Boyd turned his head looked for his wife. "Where...where is Erica? She get out okay?" The look on Jordan's face told him everything he needed to know. His face screwed up in anguish. "S'okay. You should go. Go get back to the camp."

"But-"

"Just leave me. You won't be able to help me out of here, and I know I'd slow you all down if I can't walk anymore. Besides," he licked his lips, "I don't really want you to get me out of here anyway. I won't be anyone's burden. Can you...move her? Move her in here with me?"

Jordan nodded. Carefully, he scooped up Erica's broken body and placed her in the car, her head in Boyd's lap. Then he grabbed Tara's pistol out of her holster. Unconscious, she wouldn't need it. He handed it to Boyd. "Take this. I don't want you to end up live Rager dinner."

Boyd wheezed as he laughed, "Me neither. Take what you can carry, and don't worry about the rest. Stuff and supplies don't matter. Just get yourself back safe." He lifted his hand and shook Jordan's. "Be safe. Take care of Maria for us, yeah?"

"Absolutely." Jordan took a good long look at them both before stowing the two coats they found in his pack, which he found in the wreckage along with Stiles' machete he'd borrowed. Once he lifted Tara, fireman style, over his back he continued on towards their camp without knowing how far away he was, or for how long he'd need to carry Tara.

He could it; he knew he could. After that crash years ago, he had carried a fellow soldier and only other survivor of the wreck, two and a half miles back to medical care. You got this, Jordan. Mind over body. You got this.

 

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

It was late back at their camp inside the clubhouse on the town golf course. John and Melissa sat awake at a little table playing cards, a game of gin rummy to be exact. Chris had fallen asleep at the bar where he'd been cleaning the groups weapons, ensuring them all to be in working order and taking inventory of their remaining ammunition. Anthony slept in the cruiser as he always did, curled up in the back seat. Isaac and Scott had been bouncing a tennis ball back and forth for a while until about ten minutes ago. Scott, whose attempts at comforting Stiles, had been rebuffed, turned his attention to helping Isaac work through his grief over losing Allison. Mostly, his methods consisted of keeping the guy distracted. Now, however, both were asleep in their respective sleeping bags in the middle of the floor. John looked over at the Tahoe, happy to see Stiles had left the rear hatch open. He could easily see that his son appeared to be sleeping soundly, for now, and that both relieved him and comforted him as well.

He didn't even mind that Stiles had turned to Maria for help, or maybe she'd just offered the right kind of help. Whatever it took to keep him from going over the edge, from where John knew no one would be able to pull him back. She often slept in the back of the Tahoe with him now it seemed. They didn't touch; it just seemed that the presence of someone he trusted nearby was enough to keep him asleep most of the night. Stiles deserved a friend like that right now.

"Gin," Melissa said, laying down her cards, a mix of threes of a kind and three cards in order. "Hey, you with me?" she asked when he didn't respond.

"Sorry. Just thinking. Well, you've beaten me six hands in a row. I think that's a sign I should call it a night." He stood up and offered a hand. "You coming or you gonna stay up?"

"Well someone needs to stay up and keep watch. Go. I'm fine for a couple hours."

In less than ten minutes, Melissa was the only one still awake as she played a hand of solitaire to pass the time. They barricaded the door from the inside as soon as Jordan, Tara, Erica, and Boyd left for the day. When they returned, if they did tonight, she'd need to let them in. She figured they'd stopped and taken up shelter somewhere for the night. That was the smart thing to do anyway.

The time on her watch read 11:46 when she decided she was bored out of her mind. Almost as if he'd read her mind, Stiles walked over, well stumbled was a more accurate depiction of the way he moved whenever he first woke up. "Hey Sweetie, couldn't sleep?"

He shook his head and sat down in the seat previously occupied by his father. With a wave of his hand, he gestured to the deck of cards as if to ask if she wanted to play.

"What do you want to play?" Stiles worried his bottom lip between his teeth for a moment, then shrugged. "Gin? War?" Both received a shake of his head. "Go fish?"

That sounded acceptable to him, and he nodded a little.

Melissa shuffled and dealt out seven cards to each of them. "How's the headache?"

"S'okay." He pointed to her, deferring the first play.

"You sure?" When he nodded, she looked through her hand. "Eights?" She fished a card out of the pool when his expression told her no. "Okay, how is the rest of your head? Getting better, healing?"

He didn't really know how to answer the question. "More bad days, than good." He held up three fingers.

Melissa handed him a three from her hand. "Nightmare? Must not have been too bad, because I didn't hear it."

He sighed; he didn't really want to talk, and anyway, how could explain the phantom sensation of fingers on his neck, breath ghosting over the shell of his ear...the smell... oh god the smell... that sm-- Chest tightening, he slid his chair back, and leaning forward, elbows on his knees, cradled his head. Too long fingernails clawed at his scalp, and he held his breath afraid that once he inhaled, that cloying smell of flowers mixed with the scent of sweat would creep into his nose again.

"Stiles? You need to breathe."

With vehemence, he shook his head.

"Yes, you do." She knelt in front of him. "You're here. You're safe. No one is trying to hurt you. Please take a deep breath."

Instead of listening to her, he leaped up from his chair and staggered towards the Tahoe, crashing into the back of it as he climbed in and shut the door. In his haste to get to his safe place, he'd woken Maria.

"Stiles, are you okay?"

"That smell... I, it's like--" Fat tears rolled down his cheeks

"How can I help?" she asked, sitting up.

"I, I uh...--" He leaned forward and dropped his head to her shoulder, sobbing. "Just...make it stop. I need it to stop."

"Well, tell me what to do to help that happen."

He grabbed her hand and placed it on the back of his neck, the coolness of her fingers worked to slowly draw him out of a dangerous head-space he didn't want or need to be in. "That's...it helps."

"You sure?"

"No, just...yeah." They sat like that for quite a while until the quiet outside the car was interrupted by crashing at the doors.

The noise jarred everyone awake, and Jordan's pleas for help spurred most everyone into action. Stiles, however, still bleary eyed and woozy from his panic...wait was that a panic attack? He rubbed his temples. No, he thought, that was a little flashback, well the start of one. It spoke volumes about his current mental state that he could spot the difference so quickly. He hung back, cleaving to Maria's hand to ground him.

When all the furniture had been cleared away from the doors to the clubhouse, Jordan crashed through the door, exhausted, carrying a barely conscious Tara over his shoulder. He handed her off to Chris and John, watching as they lay her on a long table for Melissa to examine.

"What happened?" John asked.

Panting, Jordan drank half the bottle of water Scott passed to him before replying. "Deer. Swerved too hard, rolled the truck."

Stiles felt Maria's grip on his hand break free, and she rushed forward.

"Where's my family?"

Doubled over and still trying to catch his breath, Jordan looked up at the group with a look that said 'Where do you think?' "I don't know why she wasn't wearing a seat belt, and he was pinned, paralyzed even. I couldn't get him out. He...told me to take Tara and go."

"Don't you say that! Don't you dare!" she screamed as she gave him a good shove. "Don't tell me that!" Her voice cracked, and the dams holding back tears burst open. Her legs gave way under her, and Stiles barely had time to catch her before she hit the ground. She punched at his chest when he folded her into a hug, but relented, overcome with grief. "I lost them both!" The sound of Maria's wailing filled the room.

Stiles bent his head down to her ear. "Come on. Let's get up off this hard floor." He helped her to her feet, leading her over to the Tahoe. He climbed in after her. She'd collapsed on the floor of the car, balled up in the fetal position, inconsolable. "What can I do to help?"

Maria didn't say a word, just grabbed his hand and pulled him down to the floor with her. She curled into his chest, soaking his shirt with tears. He felt a little awkward, not sure where to put his hands, but decided a hug was probably for the best. Why hadn't he let someone hold him when Derek died? He probably wouldn't be so lost now, but the damage had already been done. The bodies kept piling up around him, and even though he wasn't responsible for them, he could still see the blood on his hands. The more he scrubbed them, the brighter it became. Don't try to hide the evidence, Stiles. You are a walking curse upon this whole group. Blinking back hot tears of his own, he choked down his negativity as best as he could. Truth be told, his best wasn't very effective.

Her muffled sobs didn't quite drown out the sound of conversation outside their safe-haven. He could hear his father and Chris trying to figure out what to do.

"No Chris, we don't need another vehicle. Look Jordan, Stiles, Maria, Scott and Anthony could fit in the Tahoe. That would leave space in the cruiser for you, me, Melissa, and Isaac. We could lie Tara out in the back while she recovers. It'll be a tight fit with our supplies, but we can do it."

"Speaking of supplies, we lost so much today. Did you forget that? Not just a vehicle, but gas, and food."

Stiles winced when he heard Melissa snap, "And two people! Don't try putting things above their lives. Our numbers are dwindling quickly. I say we stop in Omaha, and after we get everything we can there, we hightail it out of there then haul ass for Iowa. We have a couple people, if you haven't noticed, who are barely hanging on here. For crying out loud, Chris, you lost your daughter and have been on autopilot since! You may think you've compartmentalized you emotions sufficiently, but the rest of us are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. You sit here and tell us that Stiles is unstable, and we should be worried about him lashing out, when his reaction to not one, but two traumatic events is completely understandable! A little sensitivity on your part may have actually helped, but now we are all holding our breaths waiting for you to crack."

Chris crossed his arms, nodding while he processed her rant. "Have you taken a good look at him lately? He looks like he wants to shoot all of us."

While Melissa stitched up his hand, Jordan tried to interrupt, but was cut off.

"Acute stress reaction doesn't mean he's unhin-"

"Actually Melissa, at this point, you should just call it PTSD. He's been showing the signs since Derek died. A lot of guys I know from the service that have it, act like he is. Chris, could you stop perpetuating the myth that all of those suffering from it are dangerous?"

Chris ran his hands through his hair. "Whatever. It doesn't matter. We don't have nearly enough water or food to get us to Iowa. That was my concern! Not the car!"

John managed to get a word in edgewise. "Then we pull a repeat of Reno. Search every day we can for as much as we can. Both remaining cars have hitches. I'm sure we can find a trailer. I bet we can find a cargo trailer at a U-Haul. Can we please stop arguing? We'll make this work."

Stiles gritted his teeth. He wanted to stick his head out of the back of the car and yell at them all to stop talking about him as if he couldn't hear them. He'd procured more rations, water, and supplies than anyone else in the group, and they insisted on treating him like a child, something fragile to be kept inside and monitored closely.

In short, he was sick of it. Hell, he was pretty much sick of everything.

 

 

Chapter Text

The low light of dawn filtered in through the tops of the uncovered windows of a UPS store in Omaha. The moment the group arrived, they had pushed the copy machines, faxes and furniture up against the large panes of glass at the front of the store. The loading dock in the back made getting the vehicles inside easy in that it hadn't been so much a dock as a large door which opened to the outside. There was no ramp to walk down. As far as space went, the store was not the largest place they'd ever chosen, but it worked and it was secure. They'd even been surprised to find two full vending machines in the break room. Hard to argue with that.

With as securely as they were able to close up the building each of the five nights they'd been in town so far, the need for someone to keep watch had not been as great. So that meant, the place was damn near silent aside from the various sounds of sleeping survivors. Sadly, their recent losses made nighttime sleeping arrangements much more complicated.

The Argent's SUV had contained most of their sleeping bags, and without the extra cargo area, some had to sleep on blankets on the ground. The carpeting inside the reception area of the store made things a little bit more comfortable, but not much. Stiles gave up his air mattress for those that had to spend the night on the ground. Isaac and Scott had been thankful for that. On the larger one, Jordan and Tara slept.

The loss of Erica and Boyd, naturally hit Maria hard, and after that first night where she'd cried herself to sleep in Stiles' arms, she'd been more distant around him, around everyone. He would be lying if he said the sudden loss of emotional support from the only person he been able to connect with since Denver hadn't derailed him a little. Of course, he didn't blame her. Grief was odd like that. Stiles had turned into a basketcase, Argent, a robot, and Isaac, an emotionally clingy golden retriever. If Maria needed to just be alone for a little while, he wouldn't hold it against her.

That being said, not having her available to talk to and confide in, split open the tentative cracks in his psyche he was trying to patch up. He'd had six bad days in a row. Six days of restless sleeping, barely sleeping at all for that matter, six days of feeling himself leak through the splinters everything had left in him. At this point, it was spilling out faster than he could put it back in.

He didn't blame Maria; he couldn't do that. He just...needed someone. Fuck it all, that he'd been so wounded that his mental stability now depended on someone else. Stiles Stilinski-Hale was many things, but needy had never been one of them. Yet, here he was anyway.

Where was here specifically? Well, at the moment, it was inside one of the offices, curled up on a pallet of blankets, the door locked to keep everyone out. However, mostly it was to keep anyone from trying to talk him through the nightmares. That never worked. He knew they weren't real. Didn't help.

For the time being, he appeared to be sleeping soundly.

Hand in hand, they walked into Derek's loft, but within moments of the door sliding closed behind them, their hands were all over each other. Stiles was leaving for college in the morning, and they'd spent the majority of the day together.

If someone had asked Stiles to describe the last six weeks, one word could have summed them up: magical. Flirting with Derek before they started dating was nothing compared to how it felt to walk down the street holding hands, or splitting a milkshake, a soft kiss in public--all those clichéd couple things he'd never really had. The way Derek's stubble felt all at once rough and soft against Stiles' skin was amazing; his strong hands made Stiles feel safe but also like he was something to be cherished. Hell, everything felt fantastic.

Here they were though, making out in the dark, the only light in the room, came from the moonlight shining in through the picture windows on the far wall. Hands groped frantically at clothes in an attempt to shed them as quickly as possibly. They were desperate to get skin against skin for the first time.

It wasn't like Stiles was a virgin. Come on, that ship sailed over a year before. It wasn't memorable. Derek had been insistent that they build up to it; he'd been wounded badly in relationships prior and wanted to take things a little slower with Stiles.

Stiles hadn't complained about his boyfriend's reluctance to take things further. The way the man kissed could win the Kissing Olympics in Stiles' opinion. Hell, his handjobs were something to marvel at, not that Stiles lacked in that department. Derek had been more than satisfied by his skills.

With Stiles leaving in the morning though, they'd both said 'fuck it.' When Derek shucked his shirt to the floor, Stiles felt his knees practically buckle. Seriously, his boyfriend had been hiding THAT body beneath his clothes! Okay, yeah, he'd felt the muscle definition through his shirt, but that did not do the man justice. The abs...those abs! Stiles just wanted to lick them.

His fingers worked Derek's belt buckle as his boyfriend opened the buttons on his shirt. The heat of Derek's hands on his chest made a nice contrast against the air-conditioned chill of the loft, and he shivered. In the finest display of dexterity in his life, Stiles had Derek's pants off on the first try. Derek, on the other hand, struggled to find the buttons on Stiles' fly.

Derek spun him around to kiss the back of his neck, trying the buttons that way. It seemed to work, and soon they both stood in a similar state of undress, with Derek's feverish hand wrapped around his dick. Stiles slid an arm behind Derek's head to tangle fingers in his hair. He gave the strands a little a tug.

"Fuck, I love when you do that." Derek nipped at Stiles' ear, his breath ghosting white hot over Stiles' skin.

Stiles panted as Derek's hand twisted around the head of his dick in that way that drove him crazy. "I know." He could hardly breathe. "I wish I wasn't leaving tomorrow." He plucked Derek's hand from him, taking two fingers into his mouth.

As Stiles sucked on his fingers, Derek groaned and placed a kiss to Stiles' pulse point just below his ear. "Me too. I'm gonna miss you so much." Derek pulled his fingers free of his boyfriend's mouth and trailed his hand down Stiles' back to gently push at his entrance.

"Oh my god. Do more of that."

Stiles went practically limp in his arms when Derek's finger breached his rim. "And I'm going to ruin you so badly, no woman will ever want you again."

Suddenly, Stiles brain went into overload, and he spun in Derek's arms only to find the face of his boyfriend replaced by that of the monster that haunted most of his waking moments. No, no, no.

Stiles woke up half with a scream and half with a strangled sob. He didn't even try to stop the tears pouring down his face. His whole body trembled as he rocked back and forth. Sure he'd never be able to think back to the first time he and Derek had sex without freaking out, he struggled to keep down the bile rising in his throat.

It was no use, and he bolted out of the room for the bathroom, making it just in time to empty his stomach into the trashcan. Still sobbing, he dipped his hands into the wash bucket to splash some water on his face. The nightmares were getting bolder, more vivid, and this last one...had been his greatest fear, that the pathways to all his wonderful memories would somehow become crossed in his mind.

It wasn't fair, and if he was being honest with himself, he didn't think he could take much more.

By the time he left the bathroom, many of the group were now up and about. Thankfully, no one had seen his mad dash for the restroom. There would only be questions he didn't want or think he could answer. He dressed for the day and went to grab breakfast from Isaac.

Oatmeal again. Great.

It wasn't like they'd had oatmeal for breakfast for the last week or anything. They totally had, and all he wanted was a god damned omelette and bacon. Fucking Ragers. They ruined everything.

He sat in the open back of the Tahoe next to Maria. They sat in silence for almost ten minutes until she turned to him. "Are you doing okay?"

As had become the norm when others were around, he gave no response, but this time didn't even give a non-verbal reply.

"Hey. I know I've been kind of out of it this week, but please don't think I'm not here if you really need me."

He waved her off and patted her head, as if to say, 'Yeah I know you are,' but the truth was, he'd never felt more alone in his life. As he sat forcing himself to swallow the bland and unsweetened oatmeal, he fought his body not to begin shaking again.

He'd pretty much zoned out entirely until Tara walked past the Tahoe, fresh from her turn at the wash bucket. His breath caught in his throat and his heart damn near stopped in his chest. That...smell... no. He'd told them to get rid of that shampoo. His note had explicitly said so with big black letters reading 'TAKE THIS SHAMPOO AND MAKE IT DISAPPEAR. I NEVER WANT TO SMELL THIS AGAIN.' How was that not clear enough?

His mind felt blank, numb, and his feet moved on their own accord to the bathroom, where the bottle of Cherry Blossom shampoo sat next to the bucket. That horrible scent filled the entire room, and it was too much, too much. His fingers shook like an earthquake as he grabbed the bottle, staring at it with unfocused eyes, menacing laughter and vile words echoing in his head.

"They don't want you back."
"Prettiest mouth..."
"Twinkies."

He screwed his eyes shut; his hands clamped tightly over his ears. When that didn't help, he clawed desperately at his scalp, trying to drive the sound away.

"No...will...touch you again."
"You bite me, you die"
"Mouth...look great when I wreck it."

His breath came in short ragged bursts, and he was back there on that street in Denver with those hands all over his skin.

"I'm gonna ruin you"
"Ruin you"
"Ruin you...ruin you....ruin you."

Stiles fled the bathroom, and he couldn't say where in the store he ended up. How he got there, the path he took, it was all foreign to him. Hell, he didn't even know where he was, just that it was small and dark... and safe.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 


Out in the loading area of the store, Maria waited for Stiles to come back from wherever he'd disappeared to, and waited, and waited. At first she thought it was a call of nature kind of thing, but when he'd still not returned after half an hour, she went looking for him only to find the spilled bottle of shampoo on the bathroom floor. Where did he go now?

She knew not to go looking for him too hard, as his hiding places were always too creative for any of the group to find. They seemed to be having a decent meal, and then off he went. For all she knew, he'd had a panic attack and passed out, or a wave of grief had hit him and he needed privacy. However, by the time she returned to the Tahoe, she found him sitting in the cargo area with a blank expression on his face. Ink smudges covered the side of his hand. He'd been writing, and yet again had managed to do it with no one watching, managed to hide the journal from prying eyes. Not that she would look. The same could not be said for anyone else.

"Stiles? Look at me."

He blinked a few times and then complied.

"What's going on with you? You're scaring me."

 

 

 

He shook his head. "I'm...nothing. It's fine." It was a lie, utter bold-faced lie, but she appeared to buy it.

"Okay. Do you want to talk about it?"

Nope, he definitely did not want to talk about it, not that he could remember anything from the time Tara had walked past until his mind once more became his own and he found himself wedged between the wall and a copier. "There's nothing to talk about. It's done."

"Well, if you decide that you do, come find me. Okay?"

Stiles gave a little nod just in time to look up to see Scott and Jordan readying themselves for a supply run. They seemed to be struggling to find a third person. His dad, Melissa and Argent had gone the day before. Isaac, though the cast was off, could not run, probably never would again. Not a good candidate for a dangerous situation. Tara still bore the injuries from the crash, her broken ribs preventing her from over exerting himself, and no one could even fathom sending Maria out yet. Seeing a chance, he stood and walked over to them, sliding a mask of a perfect mental status over his features.

"Hey Stiles. What's up?" Scott asked.

"I can go. I'm good today."

Scott stepped back in shock. Those had been the first words his step-brother had said to him in weeks. "You sure? I don't want to make-"

Stiles gritted his teeth. "I'm not useless. I can help."

Jordan stepped in between them. "You well rested?"

"Enough."

"Okay. Gear up."

Calmly, Stiles walked over to the cruiser and grabbed a pistol, filling a couple spare magazines. He cast a glance over his shoulder and breathing a sigh of relief to find no one watching him. Then, he slipped a piece of paper into the underside of his father's pillowcase and took a gun from the case. He didn't need ammo for this one. There was a single bullet stashed in his pocket, and he stowed the pistol in his sock.

From the Tahoe, he grabbed his machete and his bag, making sure to place his favorite picture of him and Derek in a safe place. He even managed to grab his rations for the run without anyone so much as giving him a second glance. Well Argent did, but he didn't trust that Stiles was good for much of anything.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

The three of them had been away from their camp for a couple hours now. They'd found not only a Walgreens but a dentist's office. As to be expected, the pharmacy didn't have much, but they did find a few food items and some additional medication off Melissa's list. The wall on the back contained a couple pairs of socks, and those were always a nice find.

The dentist's office was like hitting the medication and medical supply jackpot though. Nestled in a strip mall on the second floor, tucked away near the back of the building, it hadn't even been touched. Lorazepam, Diazepam, and several other anxiety medicines were nice finds. Stiles suspected with every fiber of his being that Melissa had put those on the list solely for him. Too bad he wouldn't need them.

In addition to those, they found Lidocaine, ten pills of Vicodin, a fluoride rinse and three bottles of Listerine. The large quantity of gauze, masks and gloves didn't hurt either. Jordan had the sense to grab as many suture kits and syringes as he could find, saying something along the lines of, 'With the number of stitches this group has received already, couldn't hurt.'

Their next stop took them by a Holiday Inn, and Stiles convinced them to listen to him and check the place out. The vending machines had been raided, but a couple cabinets in the service area produced some cereal and shelf stable creamer as well as coffee. They grabbed some towels and a couple blankets too.

Given his time in the military, Jordan's backpack was the one he'd used when deployed. The blankets had fit nicely underneath it, secured by straps and buckles. The thing was also massive. Bigger pack=more supplies. A win-win if Stiles had to say so.

He made sure that all the items of great importance went with Jordan, taking only innocuous little food items in his, just enough to not draw attention to himself.

After they left the hotel, they continued a while, eventually stopping at a shopping mall.

"Bad idea guys."

"Why, Stiles?" Scott asked, clearly still not used to Stiles talking at all, even if his words had been sparse.

"Haven't you ever watched a zombie movie? Malls are bad news. Too much enclosed space with limited exits."

Scott scoffed, and they continued towards the entrance amidst the mass of abandoned cars. Halfway across the parking lot, a horde of at least fifty Ragers thick staggered out from behind three jack-knifed semis. As they came at the group, both Jordan and Scott began taking them out. Stiles helped until he saw that they would be able to dispatch the rest without him.

He shed his outer shirt, and ripped some fragments off it. Placing the scraps strategically under and around the mutilated corpse of a body. The thing was so mangled, they'd have no choice but to believe it was him. Then, he backed away as quietly as he could, slipping in and out of cars until he reached the edge of the parking lot, where he ducked behind the Olive Garden and made a break for it, running as fast as he could for the place he'd seen from a mile back. It was in the opposite direction of their camp. Neither Jordan nor Scott would think he'd run this direction, if they even thought of him at all.

The logical answer for when they noticed he was missing would be that Ragers got him. If they were smart, they wouldn't spend long looking for him. It's what he wanted. Scott would be emotional, but Stiles knew he could count on Jordan to realize that with two of them, they should turn and go back. Please don't be idiots. I just can't do it anymore. Stiles prayed silently. His lungs burned but when his fingers caught on the door handle to the Goodwill, he yanked it open and stepped inside.

Just like the one in Reno, it was mostly empty, the clothing selection decimated. That wasn't why he sought out the place. With all the trinkets and silly kitsch items on the shelves, Stiles felt a little closer to Derek in here.

It was the perfect place to end it all.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Once they'd killed the last Rager, Scott and Jordan, still unaware of Stiles' absence booked it for the mall's entrance. The doors has been knocked in, and with one glance inside, they realized it would be suicide to go in there.

Panting, Scott laughed. "Looks like you were right, Stiles. Should have listened to you." He turned around. "Stiles?" Backtracking a little, he kept looking. "Stiles! This isn't funny. Come out man!"

After a few minutes of searching, which included moving the still bodies of countless Ragers, he called out again. "Stiles, if they had you trapped somewhere, they're all dead! It's safe to come out!" Nothing.

Scott felt panic rise in his throat. "Stiles! Stiles!"

When his volume continued to rise, Jordan ran over to him and clamped his hand over Scott's mouth. "Shh! Did you already forget about that mess of Ragers inside the mall? You want them coming out here?"

Scott wriggled out of his grip. "We have to find him. What if he's hurt?" He backed away, searching in and out of the vehicles, when his foot caught on something, sending him to the ground. As he stood, he noticed the familiar fabric. He felt sick. "Oh my god...Stiles." He dropped to the pavement. "No, not like this. Not..."

Over his shoulder, Jordan heard several of the infected begin to move outside the mall. He yanked Scott to his feet. "Come on. We're heading back now before we get ourselves killed too."

Scott's feet wouldn't, couldn't work. His face scrunched up in pain. "Stiles, he-"

"I know. I know, but we have to get out of here. There will be time for grieving when we're safe."

"I can't. I-"

"Look!" He pointed to the mall's entrance where several Ragers had turned into twenty, more following them out by the second, likely drawn out by Scott's shouts. "We have to go. Now!" He practically had to drag Scott by the arm to get him moving.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Inside the Goodwill, Stiles found a sheet and sought out a space in the middle of a couple aisles. He felt like an asshole for setting Scott up to believe he'd become Rager chow, but he couldn't do it anymore. After the nightmare that morning and the shampoo induced flashback, he knew he'd never be okay again.

He sat his bag down and joined it on the tile floor, leaning up against the shelf. From his bag he pulled out the package of Reese's Pieces he'd found at the Walgreens and the photo he'd grabbed before leaving camp. Fine last meal, a fine last meal indeed.

His fingers traced the outlines of Derek's face in the photograph. It had been taken at Christmas the past year when the two of them, sat cuddled after dinner at one end of the couch while everyone watched It's a Wonderful Life. Stiles sat, practically in Derek's lap, his head resting on Derek's shoulders. Neither one of them faced the camera, at least not directly. Melissa, the sneaky photographer that she was, had snapped it without either of them realizing. Derek had an arm around Stiles protectively, and the look of love on his face was so apparent, even strangers could have seen it.

"I'm sorry, Hon. I tried. Really, I did. It just...I'm broken now, and tired, so tired. I miss you so much, and I can't sleep. I need you here. You made me better, and I don't want to do this anymore. I'm sorry. So, so sorry. Forgive me, okay?" He kissed the photo, and with a few tears rolling down his cheeks, dug the bullet out of his pocket. He turned it over in his fingers. It was the same one Derek had handed him in Reno. His contingency plan.

He expected his fingers to shake when he loaded it into the pistol. They didn't.

After the sheet had been pulled up as far around his shoulders as he could get it, he pressed the cold metal to his temple. Hopefully, he would fall in such a way the blanket covered most of him like a shroud. He took a deep breath, and looked towards the ceiling. As he was about to pull the trigger, something on the second shelf from the top caught his attention. There, sitting, with nary an item around them were two treasure trolls, one blue and one green, his and Derek's favorite colors.

He set down the gun and stood up. Then, something unexpected happened, he began to laugh, and not half-hearted chuckles either. Toys in hand, he collapsed into a fit of full body, quaking laughter, and continued until he felt light headed, until tears of mirth instead of anguish ran down his cheeks.

When he finally regained control of himself, he wiped his face with the back of his hand and looked at the silly things he held. He was not religious. Far from it--he didn't believe at all, not in a higher power, not in miracles, and not in signs. Yet, here he sat with something he'd promised Derek he would bring back if he ever found them, that they were their favorite colors only drove the point home harder. "You win, D. You win."

The laughter had left him lighter, his brain a little clearer, and the trolls only made it better. He could do this, make it another day. For Derek. Just had to make it back to camp.

Suddenly, he heard screaming and banging at the front doors. He hadn't locked them. So, machete in hand, he ran to the doors only to find a woman frantically trying to open them. It was then he saw why she couldn't. Her hands were covered in blood, and more of it was seeping through her clothes, pooling on the ground. He could see Ragers, maybe ten behind her approaching quickly.

He opened the doors and pulled her inside, before stepping out of the store to take out the infected. There were only eight, but the poor woman seemed to have lost her weapon. When he came back inside, she'd collapsed on the floor, barely breathing. She'd landed on her side, and so Stiles tried to roll her onto her back to make her more comfortable, but found the bag on her back prevented it.

As he slipped the straps off her shoulder, the bag made a noise. He jumped back with a start until it started to cry. It wasn't a bag. It was a baby carrier.

Realizing at this point, that the woman would want to know her child (he just assumed it was hers) to be okay. Carefully, he pulled the baby from the carrier. The child had a small cut on its forehead and dirt on its face, but was otherwise unharmed. Okay, that was two things in a row. Maybe he should start believing in miracles.

"He's okay." Right? He? Stiles took in the baby's clothes. They had trucks on them, but that could just be all the woman could find. He checked the child's diaper, which was yay, clean but also confirmed his words. "Yeah. He's okay." He placed the baby next to his mother.

Similar to how he'd found Felix, Stiles knew there was nothing he could do for her. "I'm sorry. I don't have anything to fix you up. I have...wait here." He ran back to his bag and returned with his bottle of water, pouring a little into the cap for her to drink. "Can you talk?"

She opened her mouth to speak, but the only word out of her mouth was 'Please,' and even that came out garbled."

"Please what? I'm so sorry. I have no medical supplies with me." Damn it. Why did he give everything to Jordan? At least then he'd have some anesthetic, something to make her comfortable. "I can't fix you."

Shook her head. "Pl...please." Then, she looked at her son and repeated the word. She didn't speak again.

Stiles scrambled away in a bit of a panic. What the hell was he supposed to do? He couldn't leave the baby here. The child would die, and that was not even something he would consider to be honest. Yet, the boy was maybe six months old, and damn, this poor woman had given birth after the outbreak with probably no medical care. He felt his heart constrict in his chest.

He stood and turned around. Not even fifteen minutes ago, he'd been holding a gun to his head. Now...that was three signs in a row: The troll dolls, despite the mother's mortal wounds, the child was okay, and now he had been left a child. He'd been...holy shit. "Stiles pull it together. Pull it together."

Just outside the door, he saw a large blue duffle bag that hadn't been there when he arrived. As he retrieved it from the sidewalk, he found it to be filled with six canisters of baby formula and three packages of diapers. Several jars of baby food lie inside as well as two empty baby bottles. None of the canisters had been opened, which Stiles surmised to mean one thing. She'd been out looking for food for her child, and it cost the woman her life.

"Well little guy. I guess you're with me now," he said to the infant while he searched the woman's person for anything he could take as a memento for the boy. She had a small photo in her back pocket. It showed herself and the boy. One half of the picture had been torn off, but the back read 'Mama and Mig-' That was it. "I'm gonna take a stab here, and say your name is Miguel." Even that brought a chuckle out of him, the name being something of an inside joke between him and Derek. "Well, I'll call you Mikey for short. S'that okay?" He asked as he slipped the straps of the baby carrier over his shoulders, and picking the boy up, tucked him into the carrier. "Well now," Stiles said, looking down at Miguel, "Let's see if we can find clothes for you in here. Then you and I, we're going back to camp."

He loaded a cart up with any baby clothes he could find that might fit both now and in the future. Stiles didn't even care what they looked like. Pants, dresses, leggings, everything went into the basket. He even grabbed a small package of wooden blocks and a soft doll that looked age appropriate. Not much for toys, he had to admit, but something was better than nothing. At the last moment, he grabbed a fuzzy blanket from the floor. It seemed clean enough and was really soft.

Miguel cooed and looked up at him, his little eyebrows furrowing as if he was considering Stiles. When Stiles glanced down to see the baby staring at him, he felt a lump rise in his throat. With his dark hair and eyebrows, he kind of reminded him of Derek, though he knew the pale eyes on the boy would probably darken and turn brown. It didn't matter to him. He found himself smiling at the familiarity of the child's features, not exact, but just enough to ease the ache in his chest, even if only slightly. The life he wanted with Derek that was ripped so cruelly away from him flashed in his mind, and for the first time since Grand Junction, since Denver, he felt he had a purpose again. Things seemed a little bit less miserable.

Still, he realized he was not the best candidate to care for a child given his current mental state. He would work on that, talk to more people, open up. He would do whatever it took to get back to something resembling normal, because if he couldn't take care of this baby, who would?

Even if he hadn't made his choice, he knew there was no way he could leave the baby behind now.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Jordan lifted the door to the loading bay, allowing both he and Scott to stumble in, before closing it tightly behind them. Then, he steeled himself for the inevitable onslaught of grief. Frankly, he was wearing thin because of it. Just too much loss too fast. What was he saying? Losing anyone was too much too fast.

Scott shoved him out of the way and sought out his parents. Within moments, the wailing started. Jordan wished he had earplugs, if only to keep the sounds from boring into his head, derailing him too.

He'd been good at keeping his emotions in check, his nerves at bay. It was part of what made him so good at bomb disposal in the military. Anger, well that was hard to reign in, but the others he could push aside until the right moment arose to deal with them. Never ignoring them completely, they were there below the surface begging for attention. He was simply too overwhelmed to process losing Stiles at the moment.

Hell, he'd known him better than he had come to know anyone else. The kid saved his life. Jordan only wished he could have returned the favor.

I wish I could have helped you.

Scott sat, sandwiched between his mother and step-father while he cried. Melissa cried. John just looked...stunned? Resigned? Relieved. Jordan couldn't say; he simply ate his dinner in silence.

Yet, when he looked over at Maria, he could see the gears turning in her brain, like she didn't buy the story she'd been told. He shuffled over to her. "Hey."

She nodded, acknowledging his presence. "I...don't think it was an accident."

"I don't know what you're trying to say, but Scott and I did not kill him."

Maria shook her head, some of her blonde hair falling into her face. "That's not what I meant." She brushed the hair from her forehead. "I think he did it purpose."

"What makes you say that? He seemed fine."

"To you. This morning, he was just...off. Said he was fine, when I could see in his eyes, he was anything but. He blanked out on me and disappeared for half an hour. Too quiet. And then he volunteered to help you guys. I thought it would do him good, you know, make him feel useful. Take his mind off whatever was eating at him. It might not be the way he wanted, but it definitely feels like he got himself killed on purpose."

Jordan sat almost shell shocked at her explanation. The kid definitely didn't seem suicidal that day, but sometimes, people appeared completely fine, and then...WHAM. "Don't tell his dad."

"Yeah."

He finished his food and wiped out his bowl and cleaned his spoon. The contents of his pack got separated into the appropriate boxes, and he couldn't even bring himself to talk to Melissa about the medical supplies they'd found. It was neither the time nor the place for it. She was a smart woman; she'd figure out what they found in time.

After he toed off his boots, he dressed for bed and flopped onto the mattress next to Tara. "You doin' okay?"

"I knew that kid since he was eight years old. Tutored him in math. No, I'm not okay."

"You need to talk about it?"

She shook her head and patted his knee. "Thanks though."

Minutes ticked by as he lay there staring up at the ceiling. He wanted to sleep; his exhausted body told him he needed sleep. It just wasn't happening. A couple hours later, the door opened, and he'd be the first to say it felt like he was looking at a ghost when Stiles walked in, pulling a shopping cart behind him.

John, Melissa and Scott rushed at him as though they were going to hug him, but stopped. In an action, which probably surprised everyone in the room, Stiles opened his arms and wrapped them around his family. "Hey, I'm okay."

Scott was bawling, big fat tears like a child. "You're alive... I saw that body with your shirt. How?" he cried into his step-brother's shoulder

Stiles took a step back. "So... do you want the brutally honest answer or the beautiful lie I concocted to make things easier?"

At this point, most of the rest of the group had walked over.

"What?"

"Fine brutal honesty it is, Scott," he sighed. "As soon as that horde hit, and I could see that the two of you had it under control, I left."

Scott's brows furrowed in confusion. "What? Why would you do that?"

Stiles licked his lips. "To find a quiet place to be alone so I could put a bullet in my brain." He watched his father's face fall in front of him.

"No, that's not... Stiles you wouldn't kill yourself."

"No? Well then someone can offer a secondary explanation for the note I stuck in dad's pillowcase this morning before we left. I thought the words 'I tried, but I can't take it anymore. Sorry.' Were really quite explanitory."

Scott looked at him like he'd been burned. "How could you be so selfish? What about us?"

"You think I don't know that? How selfish it was? I just didn't care. I mean, I invite any of you to talk a walk around up here," he pointed to his head, "see how it feels being me lately. Tell me then it was selfish. Especially, when someone decided to ignore me and keep that fucking bottle of Cherry Blossom shampoo. Do you know what happens to me when I smell that? Because I sure don't. All I know is that I blackout and come-to in a place I wasn't before, shaking and terrified because my brain doesn't feel like my own anymore, like there was someone moving me around the game board while I was out." He laughed, "But I don't want to talk about that anymore, because a series of amazing and unbelievable things happened from the moment I put that barrel against my temple until now." He let his gaze drift over the faces of the group. "I don't want to kill myself anymore, Scott. My head feels clearer than it has in months, and in case it escaped you, I'm talking. Actually talking, to all of you for the first time in months. That is a breakthrough guys." He gestured emphatically, trying to get them to understand him.

"This morning I hit bottom. When I walked into that Goodwill, I wanted to die. I intended to die. When I walked out, I didn't want that anymore. I hit bottom, and I survived. So instead of being mad at me, maybe you all should just be happy I'm still alive, because you were literally seconds, seconds from the alternative." He chuckled, "That's the thing though. You dump enough pain and trauma on a person, and you will break them. You shouldn't be surprised then, when that broken spirit becomes too much to handle. When that happens, you didn't fail them; it's just a tragedy."

Just then, Miguel stirred from the basket of the cart where he'd been sleeping nestled as comfortably as Stiles could make him for their journey back.

Chris' ears perked up at the noise. "Stiles, what is that?"

"It's a baby." He pulled the drowsy but away infant from the cart. "This is Miguel. I call him Mikey."

"Stiles, where did you get a baby?" John pinched the bridge of his nose. He knew, just knew this would become an arguement with Chris, and he was just too tired, too emotionally drained to deal with that tonight.

Stiles found the doll in the cart and handed it to Miguel in an attempt to soothe him until he could determine which of his needs had to be met. "After I decided you know, not to, I heard banging on the doors. By the time I got over there, this woman, Mikey's mother was trying to open the doors. She was bleeding and terrified. There were Ragers coming at her, but she had no weapon. I pulled her into the store, and killed the bastards. Well, she didn't make it. Hence, Mikey."

Argent nodded, weighing his words carefully. "We can't keep a baby. It's hard enough to travel with Anthony. A baby is only going to hinder us, put us all at risk. I don't like it, but it's the truth."

"What was I supposed to do? Leave him there? To die?" He backed away from the group, one hand protectively over the back of Mikey's head. "No, I'm not a monster." Pulling the cart, he retreated to a corner in the room and sat down with the junction of two walls at his back. Unsurprisingly, Argent followed him. John and Melissa had also come too, but Stiles suspected it had more to do with breaking up a fight than convincing Stiles that Chris was right.

"We don't have any milk for him."

Stiles pointed to the cart. "Mikey's mother died trying to find him food. There are six big cans of formula in that cart. I figure, and I'm no expert, but that's like six weeks, right? Plus there is some baby food, and I found a couple cans of fruit. There are diapers in the bag. I found some dishtowels at the store and ugly brooches to use for diaper pins when the disposibles run out."

"You can't keep him."

"Excuse me? Who put you in charge of who we let in this group?" He glared at Chris.

"He puts us all at risk. That's an extra mouth to feed."

Stiles held Miguel even tighter. "He can have some of my food. You're not touching him!"

"His crying would attract Ragers."

He felt tears welling up in his eyes. "So what? You're going to stick him outside as Rager bait?" he yelled.

"No. It will be quick. We have sedative. Think about this logically."

"He's not a stray dog, Chris! You are not euthanizing him!"

Chris took a step closer. "Just give us the baby."

"No." His eyes bored holes into the man's skull. "If Mikey was Allison's child would you still be insisting we put him down?"

"Of course not."

Stiles swallowed hard. "So then, what's the fucking difference?"

Isaac tried to reason with him. Chris had a bit of a point, even if it was horrific to consider. "When did you even decide you wanted children? You're not exactly paternal."

"Well then you don't know me very well, Isaac. What? You thought only women dreamed about having children? Besides, whatever happened to that 'It takes a village' statement? Or does that only apply when it's convenient?"

Stiles could see by the look on his face that Chris believed in his gut that his plan was the correct course of action. "We barely have enough water for ourselves. Do you know how miserable it is to die of dehydration?"

"Do you? You seem pretty alive to me."

"We can't keep him."

"What's the point in surviving if there is no future to humanity!" Tears welled up in his eyes. "To live out what little lives we have left, and leave nothing?" he cried. "No! You.will.not.lay.a.finger.on.him," he spit out every word with venom through his clenched teeth.

Even John had begun to get behind Chris' plan. "We're not trying to being cruel, only pragmatic. Try to see this from our perspective."

Through tear blurred vision, Stiles kissed the top of the baby's head. "You can't, Dad. Don't do this to me. Please."

"Stiles-"

"Don't do that. You don't..." He choked back his tears. "He looks a little like Derek, okay? Don't take him away." Stiles shuddered. "I needed a reason to keep going, and...Dad...I'm begging you. I was about to kill myself, and I admit I am not the most fit person to care for a child right now, but I'll do whatever it takes. I feel useful again. I have something to focus my energy and efforts on, to keep myself out of that crippling headspace, and you want to take that away? You do this, and you will leave me with nothing!" He took a calming breath. "You won't have just his blood on your hands; you'll have mine." With a quick swip of his hand, he dried his eyes. Then, he pulled the pistol from his holster and pointed it at Chris. "You take one step closer, Chris, and I will shoot you." That seemed to do the trick, and he backed off.

Stiles lay Miguel down on the floor, his blanket spreadout underneath him. Then he dug through the bag until he found one of the two bottles inside. When he opened one of the canisters of formula, he coughed. "Wow, you drink this stuff? It smells terrible. Probably tastes as bad too." Following the directions on the container, he mixed up a small bottle with the remaining water in his own water bottle. As he cradled the infant in his arms, Stiles felt right for the first time in a while. "Somebody is a greedy baby" he said, watching Miguel hungrily slurp down his bottle.

"You should take the bottle out of his mouth for a bit. Give his tummy a break."

He looked up to see Melissa sit down next to him. "What?"

"If he drinks too fast, he'll get a tummy ache. Or he'll be gassy... or spit up all over you. Here let me show you." She placed the towel in her hands over Stiles' shoulder, and shifted the baby so that her step-son cradled him against his chest. "I always found with Scott, that if I burped him a couple times during the feeding, he was less fussy. This little guy is probably past needing to be burped, but try rubbing his back. It will get him comfortable with you, the way you smell." She smiled at Stiles.

"Thanks, Mom."

"I'm going to be honest, I still tear up a little when I hear you call me that."

Stiles blushed.

"You can give him the rest of the bottle now. I also brought over some of the applesauce. We need to finish it up, and it's a good first food for babies. I mixed a little of the Malt-O-Meal with it. How'd you come up with the name?" She watched Stiles fish something out of his pocket.

"That was in his mother's pocket. I couldn't think of any other name that started with those letters." He set the empty bottle down and adjusted Miguel on his lap so that he sat up a little.

"That's too much on the spoon. Try a little bite," Melissa said. "Yeah, that's good. Don't be surprised if he spits it out. Babies do that. Just keep trying." She watched her step-son carefully scrape the baby's chin with the spoon to collect what had been spit out. "You got this. I'm proud of you, by the way."

Stiles gave her a soft smile. "Which part?"

"All of it. The strength it must have taken to not go through with it-"

He laughed, "You want to know what it really was?"

"Of course. Here, let's check this guy's diaper and get him dressed for bed," she said, digging through the cart.

"For my wedding present to him, I gave Derek this little house statue. I said since we weren't going to get our own, that it would be our house. The rubber duckie I gave him would be our dog. Then I said the first two troll dolls I come across will be the kids we'd never get otherwise. I was sitting there, gun to my head when I saw those toys alone on that shelf. I don't believe in signs, but I believe the universe was trying to tell me something, because if I'd squeezed the trigger, Mikey would be dead too."

She sat down next to him and took Miguel from Stiles' lap. "Even still. I'm proud of you for standing up for yourself and him. We'll be all right. You'll see. Do I need to show you how to change a diaper?"

"I think I can manage. Didn't find baby wipes though. So I hope he doesn't mind toilet paper." He looked down at the baby. "Hear that, Buddy? You have to suffer like the rest of us. None of those luxury butt wipes for you."

Melissa laughed. "Oh, I have an idea. I'll be right back."

Stiles watched her walk over to the cruiser and shuffle around in the back of the truck before returning with a laundry basket and a blanket. She folded the blanket and placed it in the bottom and picked the baby blanket Stiles found off the floor. Once it had been draped inside, to cover the plastic and tied securely in place, she lay the newly dressed child in the basket.

"There. You have a bed for him."

Stiles hugged her tightly. "Thank you."

"For what it's worth, even with your bad days and flashbacks, I still think you're going to be good at this." She kissed his head and left them alone in the corner.

Stiles looked down at the baby, and wow, he could actually start referring to Miguel as his son, his son. He felt a lump rise in his throat. I wish you were here to see this, Derek. He sighed and picked up the cradle, carrying it like it was made of glass back to the office he'd been calling his bedroom for the past days. Just to be safe, he locked the door. The last thing he wanted was for Chris to come in while he slept.

He shed his clothes and donned his pajamas. "Well Mikey, I can't promise I'll be perfect," he said as he lay down next to the basket and reached in to rub the baby's belly. "But, I'm gonna be honest with you here. I have thought a lot about what it would be like to be in this position. I mean without the Ragers. How I'd feel to have a child I could call mine, that Derek and I could call ours, that we could raise. I've thought about it probably more than a twenty-two year old guy should, but I am going to do my absolute best."

When Miguel's little hand wrapped around his finger, he felt happy again. You can do this Stiles. You were looking for a reason to keep going. You have one now.

Yes, he certainly did.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Derek sat in the bed of the pick-up truck with everyone but Jackson, Lydia and Danny. They'd been taking turns as to who got to ride in the cab. Kira was next to him cuddled into his side. The blanket they shared was not quite big enough to cover both of them.

No one in the bed had spoken for hours, but that didn't surprise him. They weren't exactly moving fast, but quickly enough that the noise of the air rushing past was too loud to really say anything. He cast his gaze over to where  Natalie and Liam sat huddled together to see them sleeping under a bigger blanket; he smiled.

Losing both parents while so young was clearly eating away at the kid. Anyone could see it. Derek understood that feeling completely, and it didn't surprise him one bit that Liam had clung to Ms. Martin like a lifeline. She was a mother; Liam had lost a mother. It made sense.

Their stockpile of supplies, if they could really call it that, was embarassingly small. Sure, they had enough water, but none of them had eaten well in days. It was a damn shame, because as Danny put it, the weather was unseasonably cold. Great. The first half of his trip was a heat wave and now... well he'd seen flurries earlier in the day. Beside him, Kira shivered, and he lifted his arm to drape it around her shoulders, pulling her tightly against his body.

"You don't have to do that."

"Benefits us both." His stomach growled. "I am starving. What I wouldn't give for an entire pizza."

She chuckled, "Too cold to be hungry."

Quickly, he did the math in his head. Yeah, the meager calorie intake was way too little for him. He'd spent the last week with a constant and dull hunger headache. "Not for me." He stared out at the fading light on the horizon. They would need to stop soon and either switch things up for warmth or call it a night.

The tips of his ears stung from the cold. It wasn't like he'd never been in the cold before. Beacon Hills had seen snow a few times when he was a kid, and measurable snow the year before. New York saw more than its share of the stuff in the years he lived there. Just, he was used to the sun.

Behind him, the window to the cab slid opened. "So you guys human Popsicles yet?"

Derek did not care for Jackson and kind of wished they'd left him behind to fend for himself. He opened his mouth to speak, but Kira got there first.

"I can't feel my toes. Can you find somewhere for us to sleep tonight? And soon?"

Derek voiced his assent and continued his blank stare the scenery as it flew past, letting his mind wander to warmer places...

...The warm July sun beat down on the bare skin of Derek's back from where he relaxed on the blanket. The sound of the waves rushing in was almost enough to lull him into a sleep, almost. Off to his right, Melissa sat under an umbrella devouring a summer read, while John fiddled with his new portable grill.

Somewhere out in the water, he could hear Stiles and Scott splashing, probably trying to "drown" the other. He'd be out there joining them, but he'd sprained his knee in the charity basketball game between the Sheriff's Department and Beacon Hills Fire Department two days earlier. He was under doctor's orders not to over-use it. It really put a damper on the amount of fun he could have on this vacation.

All thing's considered, he'd much rather be surfing.

He finally gave in to the surf's lullaby, awaking some time later to a damp weight on his arm, which he quickly discovered to be Stiles.

"Hey there, Sleeping Beauty."

His eyes fluttered open, and he found himself face-to-face with Stiles, staring into those beautiful eyes in which he could lose himself for hours (and had on many occasions). His lips drew back into a sleepy smile. "Hi. Your nose is burnt."

"Story of my life. How ya feeling?"

"Aside from bored and my knee hurts, great, better now that you decided to visit me."

Stiles kissed his nose. "Never would have thought someone with resting wounded puppy face could be so sappy." He threw an arm across Derek's back

"That's me, the closet romantic."

Stiles leaned in so that his face was inches away from Derek's. "Yeah, and I love you for it." He adjusted his head's position on Derek's arm and closed his eyes. "A nap...nap sounds nice."

"Lunch should be ready soon."

"No. Dad gave up on the grill. Something about missing some hardware. He went to buy us stuff instead. We have at least half an hour."...

...The truck screeching to a bumpy stop broke him from his thoughts. And he'd been so happy there.

"What the hell?"

The window slid open again, this time Danny poking his head through. "Pack what you can carry, and do it fast. Truck overheated, engine's on fire. Plus there's a mass of Ragers ahead about half a mile."

Shit. Well that's just great. Who the hell didn't think to monitor the engine temperature?

Stiff from hours sitting in the cold in the same position, Derek rolled up their blanket, clipping it under his backpack. Then, he began shoving whatever food he could into the bag. Every empty bottle he could find, he filled with water, passing them to the other three in the bed. The last thing he grabbed on his way out the back was his spiked club. What? He was proud of that thing. It was going with him to the end.

It was a frantic dash as the three of them in the cab came running around to arm themselves and take whatever they could grab. Everything took less than three minutes, and they had to leave so much stuff behind. Too much stuff. Such a waste.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

They'd taken refuge the night before in the first house they could find after a couple miles of walking. Unfortunately, with as little as they could grab, none of them could enjoy the comfort of the house for more than a night. There was only one can of peas in the cupboards. Gee, I wonder why they left those behind. Canned peas tasted like crap, but Derek was hungry enough to not give two fucks about taste.

On the bright side though, there had been more blankets and some clothes. Lydia and Kira were now in possession of coats. Danny found a pair of work gloves, and while they weren't all that warm, they provided some defense against the chill. Jackson fit into the men's shirts they found, so at least he had layers.

The other three of them? Not so much.

Still, with quick work, they'd been able to make ponchos out of the blankets. It helped a little, because it felt barely above freezing when they stepped outside the next morning. None of them looked even remotely excited about walking.

The town they'd been stranded in seemed to have been evacuated when the outbreak hit. They'd seen few vehicles, and the ones they had come across were small or out of gas. In fact, now that he thought about it, every car seemed to have been sucked dry.

So there they were, walking, hungry and cold along the shoulder of Interstate 35. Look, Derek knew this was a major highway, and still-- well it was a mess. The more they walked, the less they saw. It was almost as if they were the last seven people on the planet. Even Ragers were starting to become scarce.

He wondered if perhaps, the virus had a half life so to speak, and all Ragers would eventually die out regardless of survivor intervention. God, he hoped so. He knew life would never go back to the way it had been, but it would be nice to have hope for the future.

They'd been walking for hours, searching what cars they could for anything to eat or drink. In one, Liam had found three bottles of protein shake, and Derek almost cried. Hunger was never something Derek tolerated well. Before the outbreak, he'd never gone hungry a day in his life. He'd grown up privileged; he knew that. So he was unprepared for how hard it was to sleep on a completely empty stomach, for how it felt to feel the pounds slip away. He was lucky, he had more mass than most, so it wasn't as though he was emaciated. Sure felt like it though. No matter what he tried, he just couldn't warm up. Hooray for iron deficiency.

His portion of that shake tasted like ambrosia on his tongue.

The only thing any of them had heard for miles was the howling wind, which bit at Derek's exposed skin, so much so that he resorted once again to the t-shirt tied around his head like he'd used in Colorado, this time fashioning into a very crude cheche. It probably looked like crap, but at least his ears and nose were covered.

Sometimes, when the arctic air whooshed past his ears, he swore he could hear Stiles' voice on the wind, like a beacon, calling him home. He sighed. If only.

"Arm up. Looks like a horde," Jackson called back.

When Derek looked down the road, he thanked his lucky stars that they still had a bit of remaining light, because with the clouds overhead, he didn't think they'd survive fighting that many Ragers at night in pitch black darkness. The closer they got to the mob, the more they could see that the Ragers, all of them, were circling a delivery truck, atop which stood what appeared to be three people. It was like finding Kira and Liam all over again.

They ran up and started attacking the Ragers on the outside of the circle first. There were too many to use a split up tactic. Instead, they stuck close together so every angle was covered; everyone had a point-man. Out of the corner of his eye, Derek saw one of the men atop the truck, and oldest of all of them, swinging a grass stitcher like a mace while he yelled at the horde below. "We are in hell right now, gentlemen believe me!" He swung again, knocking off half a Rager's head. "We can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us."

The man next to him jabbed at the undead with a rake, unsuccessfully Derek might add. "You tell 'em, Coach."

"Or we can fight our way back into the light!"

Derek had to admit the speech was rousing...and really familiar. There was no time to dwell on it at the moment, though, as all Derek's attention needed to be focused on keeping their group safe. He kicked a particularly zealous Rager in the knees, sending it stumbling back just in time for him to spear it through the head with his pike.

"One inch at a time!"

Since he'd been traveling with them, Liam had turned out to be quite effective with the sharpened lacrosse stick. Still, Derek would like to get the kid something sturdier, because he always looked a little dazed when they had to take care of the infected, like he was just waiting for that pole to snap in half leaving him screwed.

Around them, the corpses piled up, and yet, there were still more, and Derek wished he had the high ground too. Or maybe not, he thought, as he remembered how long Kira and Liam were stuck in the tree. Yeah, maybe not. Definitely not. Holding his pike like a baseball bat, he cracked a Rager in the head, hard enough to actually decapitate the thing.

"We tear ourselves and everyone around us to pieces for that inch!"

Where in the hell had he heard this speech before?

Fatigue from battle began to creep into Derek's limbs. He hadn't consumed enough calories for this much work, and honestly, none of them had. If they didn't kill the last of these Ragers soon, he felt he would collapse from exhaustion. However, when he looked up to the truck once more, he noticed that the third person was standing in the middle of the roof, not engaging in the melee at all. It was too dark for him to figure out why, but it intrigued him nonetheless. Overhead, the twilight sky turned a ominous shade of purple as the sun disappeared on the horizon.

"Add up all those inches, that's going to make the fucking difference between winning and losing, between living and dying!" The man, the motivational speaker of the group, yelled as his grass stitcher came down onto the head of the last Rager near their truck. He hopped down to help. "No Greenberg, you stay the hell up there. You'd probably break your leg trying to climb down!"

Within a few minutes, the horde lay dead at their feet. Finally, now that he had a moment to catch his breath, Derek remembered where he'd heard those words.

Danny scratched his head. "Dude, was that-"

"Any Given Sunday." Both Derek and Jackson said in unison.

"I like to channel my inner warrior through film speeches," the man said, holding out his gore covered hand. "Name's Coach Finstock. You can call me Coach, Finstock, hell I even like to be called Cupcake when the situation fits." He looked over his shoulder to see his fellow survivors sliding down the windshield of the truck, and just like he said, the other man, Greenberg, tripped as soon as his feet hit the ground.

Greenberg winced as he stood up. "Ouch."

"How did you even make it this far, Greenberg?" Coach shook his head and helped the third person off the truck.

Derek could see now why the mystery soldier hadn't been fighting. The child, a girl, he thought though in the low light, was younger than Anthony.

"This is Addy."

Addy pushed away from him.

Lydia took charge of the conversation. "How did you end up on the truck?"

Coach laughed. "We've been holed up in the back of the thing for a few days. No, don't ask us where we're going. I have no fucking idea. Haven't since I left Memphis in March bound for my sister's house in Tulsa. Picked up a little group along the way. Made it to Tulsa only to find my sister a walking corpse in her house. Been a bit of a hobo since then. Found Greenberg in Arkansas, should have left him there. He's not what you call, particularly skilled. The rest of the group, including Addy's grandmother, we lost in Joplin. Yeah, the girl doesn't like us much. Can't say I blame her. I don't even like kids, and I used to teach high school economics. To be honest, I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing with her. Greenberg's been less than useful, as usual."

"On top of the truck, how'd you get there?" Lydia restated.

"Well I thought it was obvious. We climbed there when the Ragers surprised us. Must have come from the farm down across the highway. We'd been sleeping, minding our own business. Turns out Greenberg forgot to close the door all the way last night. Brilliant Greenberg, you jackass. Those fuckers saw our lantern and started attacking the back door Climbed into the cab, out the window and onto the roof. Been there since two this morning, fucking miserable."

Derek quit listening for a while and turned his attention to the girl, pulling his face shield down so he could talk to her. "Are you okay? Would you like some water?"

"No thank you."

"Sure? I have extra."

"Not thirsty. Just cold."

Derek slipped his pack off his shoulders and shed his poncho before slipping it over her head. It was far too big, so he dug through the bag for the bungee cord he'd found along the way. It made a decent belt, and he was able to flounce the blanket a little to keep her from tripping on the material. "How's that?" He removed the blanket roll clipped to the bottom of his bag, tying around his shoulders like a cape. Not nearly as warm.

"Better thank you."

"You're welcome. How old are you?"

"Five."

"Nice to meet you, Addy. I'm Derek. Can I ask you a question?"

"I guess so."

"Why don't you like Coach?"

She cupped her hand and pressed it to Derek's ear, her icy fingers frigid against his skin. "He says lots of bad words, and he thinks he's funny, but he's not. He doesn't know any bedtime stories either. Greenberg always laughs at his jokes. He's a suck-up."

"Ah. Yeah that doesn't sound like fun. Your hands are cold. Do you have an extra pair of socks?"

She led him to the truck and plucked a little pink backpack from the back. "Will these work?" She handed him the mismatched pair of socks.

"Perfect. Stick out your arms." Derek pulled the socks over her hands and as far up her arms as they would go. "Pretend they're mittens, okay?" Then he started introducing their group. "The lady talking, that's Lydia. She thinks she's the boss, and she kind of is, but don't tell her I told you that. The woman next to her is her mom, Natalie. Then over there, that's Jackson. He's kind of a jerk. The man next to him is Danny. He's okay." Derek pointed over his shoulder. "That young guy is Liam, and the woman with the dark hair is Kira. She's really nice. She teaches karate."

Addy's eyes lit up. "She's like a ninja?"

"Kind of," he laughed.

"Derek, are you done?"

"I'm sorry, what?"

Lydia put her hands on her hips. "We're going, now. Are you coming with, Coach?"

"Seeing as we have absolutely no idea where we're going and my remaining testicle feels like it's about to freeze off, why not."

This Coach guy is weird as fuck.

They started walking in search of shelter, and Addy hurried over to walk next to Kira. "Are you really a ninja?"

"Who told you that?"

Addy pointed to Derek. "He said so."

"Oh really, Derek. I'm a ninja now?" she feigned mock insult.

Derek moved to walk beside her. "Spur of the moment decision." He leaned in near her ear. "I was trying to make her comfortable in our group."

"Why Grumpy Cat, being nice to children. I didn't think you had it in you."

"Hey! I had younger siblings, and I was a big hit at career day, I'll have you know. I mean, I'm no ninja." He focused on warm thoughts as they walked, Addy asking Kira a million questions about ninjas, and most of them Kira seemed to make up on the fly. The girl was talkative, sociable in a way that Anthony wasn't. He'd been with their group for six months and still hadn't said more than a paragraph to Derek, though he supposed being stranded on the roof of a truck for a week, alone would do that to a kid.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Derek's feet throbbed with each additional step. When they'd found their three new group members, they'd been miles away from another town. Of course they had. The smart thing to do, would have been to sleep the night out in that delivery truck sheltered from the wind, but Derek's mind was too foggy to think on the fly enough for him to tell Lydia it was a bad idea. The more they walked, the more his head filled with thoughts of popcorn, chili dogs, macaroni and cheese-- hell anything. That protein shake did not go as far as he'd hoped. He would make the worst hunger strike candidate ever. In fact, he was fairly certain he would snap at anyone who asked him a question by now.

He shifted Addy in his arms as he carried her. She'd tugged on Kira's sleeve a couple hours ago and said she was too tired to walk. Kira managed to carry her for all of ten minutes before her arms strained with the weight of a five year old. So he'd been carrying her since then. It wasn't bad at first; piggyback was an easy way to carry someone. However, now she was asleep, and though holding her against him probably made both of them warmer, she was heavy.

Up ahead, about a quarter of a mile, the sparse moonlight came through and cast a beam of blue light on a familiar set of yellow arches.

"Hey, Lydia. There's a McDonald's ahead."

"What? Have a craving for McNuggets?"

"No, I mean, it's a damn building, and we need to get out of this cold." Seriously, the woman could out-sass Stiles, which was really saying something, because until he met Lydia, Derek was sure he'd married the King of Sass.

They trudged on until they met the slightly damaged doors of the restaurant. Though, one of them hung off its hinges, the glass remained intact. It would do. The group sent Danny, Jackson, Coach and Kira in to scout the place while the rest of them waited outside.

Derek leaned against the façade of the building. Maybe there would be some ketchup packets inside, and holy hell, he was hungry enough to willingly eat ketchup as a meal. Stop complaining, Derek. Nobody likes a whiner. Thankfully, they received the all clear a few minutes later and walked inside out of the cold, not that the interior of the building was much warmer. I wonder if Ragers can freeze to death...for real. "Hey, Addy. I need to put you down for a minute, okay?"

"Grandma?" She asked as she woke up, her face falling as she recognized Derek. "Oh. Right. Sorry.."

He set her down on one of the tables. "Sit tight." While everyone else basically collapsed in the chairs to rest, he sought out the kitchen. Please let there be food. Please let there be food. Well, he found a large bag of croutons, sunflower seeds, some bacon bits, dried cranberries and raisins, and enough oatmeal to sufficiently feed three people for one meal. They'd have to make it work. Heat, heat, heat.

Curious, he checked the fryers, finding them filled with a decent amount of oil. Just for kicks, he turned a dial on the flat top. When he heard the familiar hiss of gas, but no flame emerged, he pulled the lighter from his pocket to light the pilot manually. The burner came to life. He didn't see any pots or pans around, but did find a couple metal bowls and sat them on top to warm while he checked the water heater.

No matter how many places they stopped at, he always felt such relief when he found the things full. An empty bucket filled quickly. It didn't take long for him to get the oatmeal cooking. For a minute, he thought about throwing the dried fruit in with the oatmeal but decided to reconstitute it in water by itself for a warm and slightly sweet drink for everyone. Couldn't taste that bad.

Then he checked the loading area for a wooden pallet or pieces of one. When he carried the small armload through the dining area, Lydia looked at him funny. "What are you doing, building a log cabin to go with your beard? Quite the mountain man, Derek."

"Everybody move your blankets and stuff into the kitchen. I'm making a fire in the sink. I also found some oatmeal with some other stuff for food. Okay?" He didn't let her get a word in edgewise and continued on his mission. Since he was short on kindling, he dipped the wood into the cooking oil, making sure to coat it thoroughly. The sink would have to work for a firepit. Hell, stainless steel grills exisited. Tomato, tomah-to. A crumpled piece of paper served as the wick, and he dropped it into the sink. The oil worked perfectly to get the fire going quickly.

Open the flue, you dummy. Trying to choke everyone on Carbon Monoxide?

The oatmeal was just about ready as everyone filtered into the kitchen. He served everyone a portion of oats with some fruit. Little souffle cups on the side were filled with bacon bits and sunflower seeds. The croutons would be saved for road food. To his surprise, the warm drink tasted pretty nice, and everyone seemed grateful to have something to warm them from the inside out.

They didn't have nearly enough blankets between them to sleep comfortably, but opening up the ponchos gave a little padding. Their sleeping arrangements as of late had consisted of Jackson and Danny sharing a blanket. Lydia, her mother, and Liam took the largest blanket between them, and Kira and himself shared.

When Coach noticed everyone pairing off to sleep, he groaned, "You keep your hands to yourself, Greenberg. Don't think for a minute that I'm not aware you think the sun shines out of my ass."

Derek chuckled at their exchange. He had just pulled the fire extinguisher from nearby, setting it near their blanket, just in case, when he saw Addy shuffling over to him and Kira.

"Can I sleep by you guys? Coach talks in his sleep."

Kira scooted over so Addy could crawl in between them. "Sure, Sweetie."

With food in his stomach, even if it wasn't enough, Derek felt a little less like he wanted to kill everyone, which was a good thing. So, he didn't really mind that he wound up with barely enough blanket to cover half of him while both Kira and Addy were shrouded in fleece warmth. He lied, he thought it sucked, but at least he wasn't starving anymore.

 

Chapter Text

Once a week, the group allowed themselves to eat a little better than they had every other day before. The going reason was that it kept up morale, but since they would be leaving in the morning for their mad dash to Iowa, Stiles suspected it had more to do with filling themselves so less stopping would be needed. So here they were, still in Omaha for almost a month now, where they'd moved camp three times. For the last week, they'd taken refuge in a US Bank branch, which worked out well, because for security purposes, both the walls and windows were thicker.

They'd filled the tanks on both vehicles and siphoned enough gasoline from abandoned cars and gas stations to fill the tanks four times.

Just like his father had thought they might, they'd found a small trailer at a U-Haul location in town, and everyone (except the three on the last supply run) spent the afternoon loading it up with as much as they could. Moving the supplies from the back of the trucks to the trailer freed up quite a bit of space in the cargo area. Instead of everyone being crammed into the seats, smashed together, a couple people could each fit in the back now. Was it the safest way to travel? Absolutely not, but given the current state of things, no one cared much, even though the circumstances surrounding the loss of Erica nagged at them from the corners of their minds.

Besides, it wasn't like Stiles had located a child safety seat anywhere that wasn't mangled with straps which had been sliced through, crushed from a collision, or covered in gore. Every time he had come across a new one, he shuddered when they were bloodstained. He knew what that meant; it broke his heart.

Three weeks had passed since he'd found Miguel, well inherited him to be more precise, and Stiles had actually begun to heal a little. It was amazing what baby giggles and having someone who depended on him for everything could do for recovery. Don't get him wrong, he was still a mess, just less of one. Yet, he was talking again, even if he wasn't quite back to the loquacious guy he was before.

He still didn't trust Chris enough to go on a supply run and leave Miguel in the care of anyone but Maria or Melissa. Part of him knew he needed to work with his family, get them to understand just how badly their actions hurt him, but for the time being he couldn't bring himself to do it. However, Melissa was the only one who seemed to have any advice whatsoever on caring for an infant. So, Stiles grew to trust her again (a little). After all, she hadn't been clamoring to euthanize Miguel the moment Stiles revealed the child to the group. Though admittedly, the first five days after were rough as the boy felt the separation anxiety over his mother. Melissa sat with Stiles and taught ways to soothe him. That counted for quite a bit in his book.

With the hard work everyone accomplished that afternoon, everybody was famished. Isaac went out of his way to come up with balanced meal from their rations. Over the last hour, Stiles had sat reading while Miguel napped, with the smell of simmering food filling his nostrils. For the first time in weeks, months even, the food actually smelled appetizing.

Now that the baby was awake, Stiles picked him up and slipped him into the carrier, which he figured out after a few days to be Miguel's favorite way to be held or carried. Stiles suspected it had something to do with how many hours a day he'd probably been carried in it since he was born. As it stood, Stiles wore the thing around most of the day.

He couldn't complain though. Something he thought, thanks to the outbreak, he'd never get to experience had literally been thrust into his hands. He fully intended to embrace fatherhood with as much zeal as possible... even on the bad days.

It seemed, just as Miguel was comfortable, Isaac called for dinner.

"Well, Little Man. I hope you're hungry, because I sure am." Stiles took his place in line behind Scott and surveyed the spread. He could see rice with mixed vegetables, and yeah he was not a fan of the canned greenbeans. The main dish looked like canned chicken with some red seasoning.

They'd practically given up hope finding anything worthwhile at any grocery store they ventured into a while ago, but they still spent time scouring every one they found on blind hope. Solid idea. People missed things when they were in a rush. Hell, that's how Stiles found The Head Lopper (what? So he'd named his machete.) Where was he going with this? Oh yeah. So last week, Maria returned with a bag filled to the brim with dried herbs, spices and seasoning packets. Their days of bland and flavorless food were over, and there had been much rejoicing! Isaac actually cried and didn't not care one iota when Scott burst out laughing at his cries of, "Garlic powder, coriander, and smoked paprika! I never thought I'd see you again!"

Stiles held out his plate where he received a scoop each of the rice and chicken, the portion of rice significantly larger than the protein. "Smells good, Isaac."

"Thanks. I've been doing my best to make sure it doesn't get boring, but I do-"

"It's appreciated." Stiles turned to leave, but Isaac stopped him.

"Wait. You forgot some stuff. Here you are." He set a couple pills, both cut in half, on his plate. "Don't want anyone to become anemic or get scurvy."

Stiles chuckled, "Thanks, Man."

Isaac handed him a small bowl. "I talked to Melissa, and she said this is a better option for the little guy. These are lentils that I smashed up with plain rice as best I could with a spoon. It's been cooking quite a while. So it's really soft. I warmed up some water for you make formula too. It's been off the heat for a while. Feels tepid."

Stiles smiled.

"Least I could do. Can I be honest with you?" Isaac asked, serving Tara her dinner portion. "I mean, I know we've always had this weird relationship, where we were acquaintances but not actually friends, and neither one of us has ever been particularly friendly to the other. It's not like we dislike each other. I'm not saying that. It's just...I get it." He swallowed hard, "How you felt after you lost Derek. You were right there. You saw it, and there was nothing you could do, and um..." He finished serving the last of their group and gestured with his head to an area away from everyone.

"What is it?"

Isaac's eyes were pools of conflicting emotions. "About the other thing that happened."

Stiles shook his head. "You don't need to say anything about that."

"But, but I do. See, it might not have dealt with  exactly the same type, but I, I have experience in abuse and...I...I said nothing. Had you actually not come back, and I could have said something...It's just..." He winced and took a deep breath, "Talking about the emotions you feel and the negativity, how you feel so small and broken-- like you think things are never going to get better, so you might as well just become numb or die...all that still bothers me. You know? And I'd be a wreck for days. I wouldn't be helpful. I don't think you understand," Isaac's eyes darted around the room, as though he was seeing who was in earshot, "I need to be useful to the group, and two of us not being able to function would be worse. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say other than I'm sorry you were alone."

Stiles licked his lips and patted Isaac on the shoulder, nodding slightly. "Thanks...for saying all that. And you're right, two basketcases would have been a lot worse." Isaac breathed a sigh of relief, and Stiles left him to grab some of the water, which he carried to the Tahoe where he mixed Miguel up a bottle. Then, he sat down at one of the tables in the middle of the bank. In order to keep the carrier clean, he freed his son (he still was not used to the amazing sound of that) from the contraption and sat him on his knee. Stiles learned a couple weeks ago that Miguel could sit up by himself for a minute or two. So sitting on Stiles' lap, with a protective arm around his back was easy for him. "I hope you're hungry, Buddy." Stiles loaded the spoon up with food only to have the food fall off before he made it to Miguel's mouth. "Whoops. Silly Daddy." Miguel giggled, in a way that only a baby could, the sound of which made Stiles' heart swell. "What's that, Mister? You think I'm funny?" He tapped him on the nose. "Well I am. I am very funny, the funniest person you will probably ever meet, and don't you forget it." He swooped a spoonful into the baby's open mouth and waited for him to spit it back out. Miguel moved the mashed lentil and rice mixture around in his mouth as though he were considering not only its taste but also its texture. When Stiles saw him swallow, he continued.

Surprisingly, Miguel finished the meal in its entirety and drank about half the bottle. Stiles set the rest of the bottle aside. Per Melissa's instructions, he had to throw out whatever was left in about an hour or so, otherwise it would spoil. "Somebody was a hungry little man. Wasn't he?" The only thing Stiles received in response was a belch. "Excuse you. Where are your manners, Buddy?" He stood, holding Miguel against his chest while he went to rinse and clean their dishes. On his way back to the Tahoe, where he had the baby blanket laid out, Chris stopped him. On instinct, Stiles shifted Miguel to his hip, to put as much space between him and Chris as possible without moving.

"Still playing at being a parent?"

Stiles tightened his jaw and glared at him. "Still pretending to be a robot?" He took a step back. "Look, I have no idea what your problem is, and has always been with me, but it's getting pretty fucking old. I mean, given your stance on keeping members around only if they're productive, I'm surprised you didn't stab me in my sleep during that time when I wasn't...when I wasn't here. I mean, your stance extends to everyone but Isaac and Anthony I guess. I'm just curious. Why didn't you take Isaac out back and shoot him after he got injured? Is it because of Allison?"

"He cooks for us in case you had forgotten, and he can hold and fire a weapon."

"Funny how his ability to hold a weapon while cooking didn't help Allison. Oh that's right, you didn't give him a gun. Or is that what you're doing now? Taking out your guilt on me?"

"So you're advocating for me to put Isaac out of his misery?"

"Absolutely not. I'm just trying to find your logic in determining which one of us has worth. You don't get it. Regardless of what they can contribute, every person has value. Who are you to decide who is most important? This isn't Eugenics, Chris."

"According to your logic then, those three men in Denver had value."

"Maybe they did at one point, but when someone crosses that line and thinks that fear, coercion, and violence are acceptable ways to get supplies they stop being valuable in a survival situation. You don't want someone like that in your group. They'd put a knife in your back the first chance they got. Example, when I found Jordan, he was unconscious. I could have left him there and stolen his car and supplies. I didn't, even though until he came too, he contributed nothing to our survival."

Chris pointed to Miguel. "So what is his value then?"

Stiles wanted nothing more than to clock Chris in the jaw. "He has a name."

"What does Mikey bring to the group?" The condescension in his voice was almost palpable.

"Hope."

Chris scoffed.

Stiles reversed his step back and got right in Chris' face. "What? Do you honestly think we will be able to function and prosper in Iowa without it? We can't just become stone, hardened to the world, making decisions based on survival. What is the point in surviving at all, if we don't remember to live? No, let's just eliminate people you don't think are important. The test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members, Chris! Or are we just going to continue operating like fucking savages?" He turned and walked away.

"Very poetic, Mother Teresa!" Chris called after him.

"Try Pearl S. Buck!"

"Who-"

Stiles flipped him off and continued walking. "Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author, you ignorant caveman!" The volume of his voice startled Miguel, who began whimpering. Stiles cradled the back of his head, enjoying the feel of his dark curls against his fingers. "I'm sorry. Shh, shh, shh. It's okay." He rubbed his back. "Sorry I scared you." Once they were comfortably in the Tahoe, he placed his son on the blanket, grabbing the doll he'd found at the Goodwill. He shook it in the air above Miguel's face. "Oh Dolly's gonna get you. Here she comes." He made the doll kiss him on the nose. "Oh no! She got you! She's gonna get your nose again." Stiles repeated the action a few more times until he had him almost cackling. "That's better. Do you need a new diaper?" He slid off the little sweatpants he'd dressed him in and unsnapped his onesie, only to find his diaper dry. "Look at that baby belly. I think it needs some kisses." Stiles blew a raspberry on Miguel's stomach. "Such a good baby." He was about to blow another one, when out of the corner of his eye, he noticed someone approach the Tahoe. He looked up to see his father standing at the hatch. "If you've come to tell me not to antagonize Chris, he started it."

"You...your mom loved Pearl S. Buck. She was her favorite author."

"I know she did."

John pointed to the floor of the car, as if he were asking permission to sit. When Stiles nodded, he sat. "Your conversation with Chris is not why I came over. I came to talk to you if that's okay."

Stiles finished redressing his son and handed him his doll. "I guess so." What was this, bizarro world? Did everyone miss the sound of Stiles' voice so much that they all had been clamoring to be the first to have a lengthy conversation with him? What. the. ever. loving. hell?

John pulled his legs up into the car, stretching them out across the floor. He looked down at his hands. "I screwed up. I spent so much time as a cop, became desensitized to this kind of thing, that I couldn't figure out what to do when it hit home. Hell, I could only remember the basic rule to not blame the victim. I forgot that sometimes, victims of...that type of trauma-"

Stiles huffed, "Dad, it's not leprosy. Call it what it is: rape. Maybe then you'll all stop being such asshats about it, pretending I'm invisible."

"I..." John looked like he'd been punched. "Anyway, I forgot sometimes rape survivors don't want to be touched."

From across the cab, Stiles shot him a death glare. "Figured that out did you? Only took you six weeks."

"I was so caught up in the parental response to comfort my child."

Stiles folded his arms across his chest. "That's just it though, you all kept trying to do that."

"I don't understand where-"

"None of you asked!" He winced. Keep your voice down. You don't want to scare Mikey again. "You didn't ask if I needed a hug, or if it was okay to touch me before you did. After what I'd been through, where I had my agency stripped away, been assaulted, how the hell do you think that made me feel to have people I trusted thinking they could just touch me whenever they wanted? Just because it was with honorable intentions didn't make it right."

The raw anger in his son's eyes made John avert his own. "You're right. Absolutely right, I just-- You know what? I'm just going to leave it at that. I don't want to make excuses. That's not what I'm trying to do here. I'm not having this conversation to make myself feel better. I'm talking to you because I need to." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Look you might never forgive me, or any of us, and that's okay. I don't expect you-"

"You never know, Dad. I might." When Miguel rolled over and reached for him, Stiles picked him up and cradled him in his arms. "You getting tired, Mikey?" Nope. Miguel had other ideas and took Stiles' index finger into his mouth to gnaw on.

John smiled at his son, as if he was seeing him as a man and not just his child for the first time. "Are you willing to give us a chance to try and make up for it, for the way we failed you?"

"We'll see," Stiles sighed. He needed a nap. The heavy conversations were fucking exhausting. "Why now?"

"Why now, what?"

"Why are all of you suddenly so willing to apologize, and I swear to...I don't know, Werewolf Jesus, if you say it's because I tried to kill myself, I will throw you out of this car."

"Want me to be honest with you?"

Stiles pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yes, Dad. I want you to be honest with me. I'm not fragile; I don't need to be handled with kid's gloves."

John nodded, as though weighing his words carefully. "Well honestly, knowing what you almost did, made us really think about how we'd been treating each other."

"Yeah, and what glorious conclusion did you come to?" Fuck, Stiles needed a drink like he could not believe.

"We have to do better."

"Novel concept." Stiles sighed. "Is that all? Because I can't take anymore of these deep conversations today."

"Well no, I mean yes to that conversation, but I wanted to talk about some other stuff."

"No, Dad, I'm not eating enough. I haven't been showering regularly, and apparently have decided grow my hair out to try my hand at growing facial hair. I thought the surfer look was worth a go. Not sure I like it."

John chuckled and slid out the back of the car where he stooped to pick something up off the ground, before climbing back in. He passed a decent sized bag to his son.

"What's this?" Stiles asked, more than a little wary.

"We made a detour today. I found you some things for Mikey."

Stiles opened the bag to see a winter coat and hat, some shoes that were too big right now (but would come in handy later), and an unopened package of infant socks. Also in the bag was a canister of formula and several pouches of baby food. He also found what looked like three pairs of little kid underwear, but when he pulled them out, he noticed they looked more like diapers. "What are these?"

"Mel said they were cloth diaper covers. They help with keeping babies' clothes dry when you use cloth diapers. She said these are adjustable and should fit him a while, said they'd be good for overnight use. There should be some actual safety pins in there too."

Stiles smiled and kept digging, eventually finding a Fisher Price telephone like the one he'd had when he was a kid, and a ring stacker. He felt tears well up in his eyes. "Why did you...you didn't think I should keep...you wanted to put him out-"

John held up a hand. "Stop. I know what I said. I was wrong."

Stiles wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "I don't understand."

"After a few days, after watching you with him, seeing how your whole demeanor changed-- I had forgotten our conversation after Derek died, how you said you dreamed about being old with Derek watching your children and grandchildren. I just never realized that having kids was something you'd already given a lot of thought to."

Stiles laughed despite his tears, "More than I think anyone would believe. I thought about it more than a twenty-two year old kid probably should. It's not... I didn't want them right away or anything. I wanted to finish my master's first, be married a couple years before bringing kids into the mix. But I thought about it a lot; I wanted them badly. I knew it wouldn't be easy for us, so I researched."

"You always were an obsessive researcher when something caught your interest."

"I wanted to know the hurdles, the costs, what agencies wouldn't adopt to same-sex couples, how surrogacy worked. Dad, I'd be lying if I said it didn't discourage me. It did, and I didn't really bring it up with Derek until the outbreak, when the idea of having kids was something we'd never have to worry about. And then...Mikey happened. I just wish..." His lip quivered, and a small sob broke from his throat. "Derek should be here."

"It will get better. I know it doesn't feel like it will, and I am the worst role model for handling grief, but it won't always hurt this much. It will just slip into a dull ache that you notice only when it's quiet."

"Yeah." Stiles looked down at Mikey, nodding off in his arms, that little hand wrapped around the drawstring of Stiles' hoodie. With his head, he beckoned his dad over. "I don't want you to think this counts as me forgiving you, but you...you should know him either way. Do you want to hold him?" When John nodded, he set the infant in his father's arms. "He likes it if you keep your hand under his butt." John smiled, and went to pat his son's shoulder but stopped, hesitating. "It's okay."

John gave Stiles' shoulder a little squeeze. "You're good at this, not that I thought you wouldn't be. It's just amazing how fiercely you threw yourself into this role, and how quickly you have picked up on everything. You're doing much better than I did."

"Well, he's not a newborn. Probably makes a difference."

"Even still. I'm proud of you."

Stiles nodded in thanks and watched as his father held his grandson for the first time. Despite the happy moment, he couldn't help feel the bittersweet ache of it all. Derek was never going to have this experience, and damn, if that didn't still feel like a knife in Stiles' chest. With every day that passed, he felt the cruel sting irony of the situation more and more, and it sucked. Fuck, Irony. Irony was a rotten bastard who should have perished with the first infected.

Chapter Text

The snow had begun falling four hours ago, starting off as small flakes, softly falling from the autumn sky. Now, could snow fall in sheets the way rain did? Derek wouldn't have thought so, but yet here they were. He thought, and he was fairly certain, they crossed into the Kansas City limits an hour ago.

As it stood, he could hardly make out the shape of anyone in their group. Visibility had become that poor. If they couldn't see each other, how could they keep an eye out for Ragers? The simple answer was: They couldn't.

Lydia, the terrifying genius that she was, came up with the brilliant idea that they should tie themselves to one another. So, the coil of rope Derek had been lugging around in his backpack became a guideline hooked to their belt loops through various odds and ends: Carabiners, a spare bit of string that could be untied, a hook from a luggage strap. Every so often, the line would shift, and they'd all move forward as someone new took over the lead.

It took them a while, but several productive searches outfitted each of them with a winter coat. A few found hats; others fashioned headgear out of things like scarves, towels and blankets. Those that came across boots looked much happier than he felt. Derek had not been so lucky yet, but he found the pants from a tracksuit, and they fit over his pants. At least his legs were shielded a little from biting wind that nipped at their skin.

Behind him, Addy's fingers gripped tightly onto his coat. The group made sure she was always in between two others to offer her as much protection as possible from not just the Ragers but also the elements. The girl had stuck to both him and Kira like glue since that first night, choosing to sleep curled up next to him or on his chest every night. He didn't know what it was about him that made her so trusting. Compared to everyone else, he probably looked the most menacing to a small child. His beard had hit mountain man stage a month ago, and with the winter weather, hell if he planned on shaving it anytime soon. To be honest, the thought of using his knife as a straight razor scared him a little. The last thing he needed was to slice open his carotid trying to rid himself of the unsightly facial hair. After everything, to have that  be what did him in just seemed ridiculous.

With all his layers, he still felt frozen down to his bones with a chill that never seemed to go away, probably never would. Even when they found decent shelter, he couldn't get warm. He knew why, but it wasn't like they were rolling around in sufficient food sources.

They'd taken shelter in a home the week before, and he'd found a scale. The last time he'd weighed a buck seventy, he was eighteen. In less than a year, he'd lost forty pounds. He'd eaten a high protein diet filled with good fats and veggies for so long, that being without made his insides ache. It was only by some small miracle that they'd found a big can of Tang. Otherwise, they'd probably all look like pirates by now, with teeth missing. He was at the point where, if he came across any, he was eating vegetable shortening right out of the can. With all the walking they did, he figured his heart could take the saturated fats.

A violent gust of wind whipped across the road, and the line went taut. The group worked out a plan for what to do in that scenario. Pull into a circle as best as they could. So, Derek prepared himself and Addy to move closer to the rest of the group. Instead, he made it three feet before his foot collided with the fallen body of Natalie. The wind had been so strong, it had actually blown a couple of them over. He helped the woman to her feet.

"We can't see anything in this snow!" Danny yelled. "We need to get off the streets before we get stranded in the road!"

Derek could only just make out his words with the way the snow and wind howled around them. When everyone had been righted to standing, they moved as a condensed whole, holding onto each other's hands for defense against the blizzard. As they turned down a residential street, they moved into yard after yard to inspect the house. Any house with damaged windows or doors was excluded from being a refuge from the storm. They checked dozens of homes. Clearly, they picked the wrong neighborhood to try and seek shelter.

At the end of the third block they searched, they stopped. The last house on the street stood fairly intact except for the large red lettering on the side of the house.

"STAY OUT! RAGERS INSIDE!"

Derek pulled everyone into a huddle. "This one. We should stay here."

"Um, Derek, lose the ability to read?" Jackson asked, and Derek still wanted to punch the guy, even if he had come to terms with himself and realized that he and Danny were absolutely a couple by this point. It didn't change the fact that every time Derek looked at him, all he could think was , 'Hooray, you've decided you're bisexual. You're still a douchenozzle.'

"No, you asshole. If everyone else listened to those words and stayed away, maybe there is food inside! Did you consider that?"

The group looked back and forth at one another considering his words, before realizing that yeah, he probably had a point.

Once on the porch, they ran a quick perimeter check. Clearly, the warning had been enough of a deterrent, because every window and every door was intact. They left Natalie and Greenberg on the porch with Addy as they readied themselves to search inside.

Derek wrapped his spare blanket around Addy before they opened the door.

"Don't leave me out here," she begged. "It's cold and scary,  and I'm tired."

"I know that, but we need to check for Ragers, and it's not safe for you to go in with us if there are."

"But...but...."

"Sit here with Natalie, okay? I will be back to get you; I promise." He winced, because he knew it was an empty promise. There was no way of knowing how many Ragers were inside. It could be an ambush for all they knew, but he did know that the longer they remained outside in the elements, the likelihood that they all froze to death increased. He patted Natalie's shoulder as Danny and Coach tried the knob.

Of course it was locked. Derek pushed them out of the way. He slid his knife into the space between the frame and lock until he could pop the door open. One by one, they stepped with great caution, into the house.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Derek's heart raced in his chest. Hell, his palms even sweated, if that was actually possible in the cold. The bitter taste of adrenaline filled his mouth. Was he scared? Absolutely, without a doubt. The only light came from the two flashlights between them. It made spotting Ragers hard to see.

As they searched, he took in what he could about the interior. For one? There was a fireplace in the living room, and from what he could see, it was a wood burning one. Thank God. The furniture sat upright; nothing looked out of place. It just didn't seem like the kind of place to be housing a bunch of infected. It struck him as odd and got him thinking.

What if the warning had been a ruse?

The downstairs uncovered zero Ragers. So down to the basement they went. Beneath their anxious footsteps, the stairs creaked, almost saying, 'No, turn back.' The basement was silent. Dead silent, and in his head, Derek could practically hear Stiles congratulating him on his terrible pun.

Well, the place was silent for a reason. No Ragers.

That left only the second story for them to discover the infected. He counted three doors besides the two closets. They paired off and took a door each. Derek looked at Kira before he tried the door handle. What he found was something he did not expect.

It was the master bedroom and devoid of any Ragers. One down, two to go. Kira pointed to another door in the room. Most likely a bathroom, he figured. They saved it for last, checking the closets and under the bed first.

With shaky fingers, he tried the handle to the door, which swung open with a creak. Inside, sprawled on the floor, was a corpse. Definitely dead, and definitely not a Rager. The chilly weather had preserved the body fairly well, to be honest, and he could see a bottle clutched in the man's hand (he was pretty sure it had once been a man anyway). A few pills lay scattered on the tile by a small piece of paper.

"Jenny was attacked by Ragers three weeks ago when she went to check the perimeter. I couldn't save her, and now I've lost everyone. There is no hope."

He'd killed himself. That much was plain to see.

Derek understood the loneliness and desolation the man must have felt. The life they all lived now had this way of eating away at a person, knocking them down, breaking them from the inside out, starting with the body and then the spirit. This man had just reached the end of his rope. "Help me find a sheet or something."

Kira dug through the closet until she found one, and being as respectful as they could, lifted the man onto the sheet, folding the linen over him.

"On three, ready?" When she nodded, he counted them off. They lifted him up and carried him out of the house to the back yard. "The ground is too hard to bury him." Instead, they placed him by the back fence, securing the corners of the sheet with rocks. He'd come up with a better solution when the storm passed.

In the blinding snow, he looked around the yard as best as he could. There was a large detached garage. Maybe it might have useful things in it. On the other side of the yard, there appeared to be a crudely built small shed. He hurried over to it, and yep, the man had built an outhouse, probably dug the hole in the summer and built the shack around it. At least the thing had a toilet seat.

They reentered the house to find that, indeed, there had been no Ragers in the home whatsoever. Huh, Derek had been right. The man used a ploy to keep people out, perhaps because he didn't trust them not to kill him, which was understandable, but in the end, it was that tactic that probably pushed him over the edge. Being alone for too long had dangerous consequences.

He retrieved the other three from the front porch. Once inside, they not only locked both doors, but pushed furniture in front of it and all windows. They repeated this in every room on the first floor. The cabinet under the kitchen sink held some candles, which Lydia was quick to light. They were big enough to flood the room with enough light to see each other.

"There's an outhouse in the back yard. Looks drafty, but better than going in a bucket."

"So, I counted four bedrooms and an office. This is the only fireplace," Lydia said. "But there are eight of us, and if we doubled up in the beds, we could stay warm that way. Um," she scratched her brow, "the rooms upstairs both had at least a full size bed. Liam, what about the downstairs rooms?"

"The room just off the living room has a twin bed. Looks like it was a child's room."

"Does anyone have an issue with sharing, and by anyone, I mean Coach."

"What? Can you all blame me for not wanting to share a bed with Greenberg? You heard him. He snores like a god damned freight train. I get very cranky when I don't get enough sleep."

"So you're good then?"

He grumbled, muttering under his breath about how fifteen years sober and they were all going to drive him to drink if he could find any booze.

"The twin bed complic-"

"I can take it. She doesn't take up much space," Derek said pointing to Addy. "We can share that one."

"Look at you, being Mr. Hero."

He rolled his eyes at Lydia and grabbed the bigger flashlight of the two they had so he could venture down to the basement. He was curious how the man managed to survive in the house by himself, because venturing out to search for supplies did not seem all that wise of a thing to do alone. Now that he knew he would not be mauled to death by a Rager down in the cellar, he didn't feel as nervous.

The first thing he found in the basement was that underneath those tarps in the corner, sat wood, a lot of wood. Estimating for dimensions, he did the math and figured there were two and a half cords of wood there. That would be much appreciated. Along the wall, there were a few large, plastic trashcans. Leading into one of them, was a drainpipe that came in through a cut hole in the wall. He lifted the lids to find one filled with water. Rain barrel. Clever. 

Then his eyes fell on the shelving units lining the wall with others set up like library stacks, and they were all filled with food, bottled juices, water, medical and hygiene supplies. Holy shit-- food. They would go to sleep with full stomachs.

Either the man had been paranoid about disasters (the present one included) or just kept a well stocked pantry on principle. It didn't matter the reason; that lonely man had just saved all their lives.

With tears in his eyes, he grabbed an empty laundry basket from near the dryer and loaded it up with a large can of V8, a gallon jug of water, several cans of tuna, pasta and sauce, and one of the many packages of Oreos. After the weeks they'd had, they deserved some luxury. The space he didn't fill with food, he loaded with firewood and a couple kerosene lanterns.

"Find anything useful? Like wood to burn?" Jackson asked, shivering.

"That basement is like the Holy Grail." He handed the logs to Danny at the fireplace, who quickly set them up, using a couple pieces of crumpled up paper for tinder. Then, he set the basket on the counter.

"Oh my God. Food!" Kira squealed in delight. "How long do we have to ration this?"

"No, you don't understand. There are at least a dozen sets of shelves down there. We have food, drink, health stuff. I say, we eat like kings and queens tonight. Tomorrow we can work out a rationing schedule." He ducked behind them, looking for a cooking vessel. A man this prepared would have to have one. "Ah ha!" Derek pulled the Dutch oven from the back of the cabinet. He put everything to make a meal in the pot at once, adding the jar of sauce and some extra water to cook the noodles. He took the oven mitts and carried the pot over to Danny. "When you get some embers, let me know. I need to set this in the fire directly."

As dinner cooked, a few of them grabbed a couple buckets of water from the basement to heat at the hearth, one camping tea kettle at a time. After so many weeks of using cold water to bathe, washing up with warm water was going to feel fantastic.

They all piled around the table to eat their first decent meal in, well Derek couldn't remember how long. V8 had never tasted so good in his life. Those Oreos? He felt like he'd died and gone to heaven. They were glorious.

"So," Danny said between bites, "I've been thinking, and Derek please don't lash out at me here. This place has more than enough wood, food, and water if we plan this right, to last the winter. With no car, and scavenging for gas will be dangerous in the cold, I think we should stay here until it warms up. I know you're anxious to get to Iowa. I understand. Really, I do, but we have to think practically. The Upper Midwest gets really cold in the winter, like fatally so. We get stuck walking when the temps dip below zero, and we're all dead. I just...we should wait out the winter here."

Derek looked down at his plate. Danny made a sound point. None of them were in the shape to survive the bitter cold for long. Hell, half of them had barely an ounce of fat on their bodies anymore. But damn, did he want to get to Stiles as soon as possible. He nodded slightly; as soon as possible might just have to be a few months from now.

"We don't have to make up our minds tonight. Obviously, we're going nowhere in this blizzard, and depending on how much snow it drops, we might not even be able to leave for several days anyway. Just think about it guys. I'm only trying to make sure we all get there alive."

The group voiced their assent, agreeing to sleep on his words, to discuss it further in the morning.

Later, when they were all fed and clean, they sat around the fire letting it warm their tired bones. Derek sat at one end of the couch with Addy curled into his side as they shared a blanket. In the bedroom on the other side of the wall, where they'd be sleeping, he'd found her some too-large fleece pajamas. The dresser contained a lot of clothes that would fit her in less than a year, even if they were boy's clothes. He felt better about everything knowing that. In the back of his mind, he wondered if maybe the reason she'd latched onto him was that he reminded her of someone from before the outbreak. Still, he knew it was too early to hope that maybe she wanted someone to be her new family in the whole mess, and wouldn't that be something? They would finally make it to Iowa, where Derek would be able to say to Stiles, 'Look, this is Addy. I sort of adopted her.' Stop that, Derek. She's just traumatized, and you were nice to her and have tried to take care of her. In crisis situations, children need people like that. It doesn't mean she wants to call you Dad.

Kira moved onto the floor to sit closer to the flames. "So, I have a story I could tell, if anyone wants to hear it. It's just a folk tale my mother used to tell me." Seeing as they had no other form of entertainment, no one complained. "This story is called Kaguya Hime or The Bamboo Cutter. Either one." She looked around at everyone. "Long, long ago in Japan, there lived a poor woodsman. One day, as he was cutting bamboo in a grove, he came upon one stalk of bamboo glowing a bright, golden color. He found this mysterious and approached it for a closer look. To his surprise, inside the bamboo sat an adorable, tiny little girl" Her eyes lit up, trying to make the story more entertaining for the adults.

"Now, the old man and his wife had no children of their own, so he decided to bring the child home with him, where he and his wife raised her with love and care. They named her Kaguya Hime. Every day, he went back to work in the grove, and every day he found gold coins pouring out of the bamboo he cut. The old couple became wealthy.
"Amazingly, within just three months, Kaguya Hime grew into a beautiful maiden. Her beauty soon became known throughout the country, and one young man after another asked to marry her. She refused all of them, but there were five young men who refused to give up. In order to change their minds, Kaguya Hime asked for a gift from each and promised to marry the first one to bring her the gift she asked for. But these items were not things that could be found anywhere on this earth, and so the five men soon lost heart and gave up." She frowned, and Addy laughed. "I know; it's very sad."

"Why did she tell them no, Kira?"

"Well Addy, she told them no because she didn't love them, and you shouldn't marry someone you don't love."

"Oh." She shifted against Derek, elbowing him in the side more than once. "Sorry."

Kira continued her story. "While they searched, the Emperor, who heard of Kaguya Hime's beauty, also wanted the girl to become his wife and Empress. Kaguya Hime refused him too. When he tried to force Kaguya Hime to come to the palace, she disappeared right before his eyes."

Addy gasped, "She was magic!"

Kira smiled. "He then realized that there was something unusual about Kaguya Hime, and so he too gave up. Three years passed, and Kaguya Hime became even more beautiful. Then, one spring, she grew sad on moonlit nights. She would stare at the moon with tears running down her face. The old woodsman was worried about her and asked what was wrong. Gazing up at the sky, Kaguya Hime replied, 'Actually, I come from the moon. I was sent to live on the earth by my King, but now I have been told that I must go home. I will miss everyone here on earth, and that is why I am sad.' The old man was shocked and didn't want to let his beloved daughter go. So he talked to the Emperor to come up with a plan."

Addy tensed. Clearly, she was engrossed in the story. Her little hands balled in the blanket as she waited for Kira to finish.

"On the night of the full moon, the Emperor's guards hid Kaguya Hime deep inside the woodsman's house and surrounded it. Suddenly, the night sky became bright. Messengers from the moon dressed in brilliant clothes came down from the sky to the earth. They rode on a cloud. At this sight, the guards grew scared. The messengers placed her onto a special table and dressed her in a feathered robe. Leaving the heartbroken old couple behind, Kaguya Hime took off to the moon."

"But...but...why? Why would they take her away? Her mommy and daddy were very sad. Why didn't they let her stay?" Addy said with tears in her eyes. "That's not fair. They left her, and the, the woodsman and his wife loved her. The moon people didn't deserve her." She curled her face into Derek's chest and cried.

When Kira opened her mouth to say something to calm Addy, Derek waved her off. Instead, he rose off the couch, and carried Addy into the other room. He sat her on the bed and kneeled on the floor in front of her. "Hey, it's okay. It's just a story." He smoothed her blonde hair, moving it out of her face.

"No...it's sad. I don't like that story."

"I know. It was sad."

"But some mommies and daddies do that. They don't love their babies so they leave them with other people who do love them. They shouldn't get to take them back just because."

As he wiped the tears off her face, he sensed that maybe the story hit a little too close to home for her. "Is that why you lived with your grandmother?"

"Uh huh," she sobbed. "My papa didn't want me, and my mama was too young to take care of me. She got in trouble a lot and they said she couldn't take care of me because they had to lock her up. So Grandma took care of me. I miss her. Why did she have to die?" Addy pitched forward and wrapped her arms around him.

"Can I tell you something?" He waited for her to nod into his chest. "My mommy and daddy died when I was a kid too. So did my little sister and little brother. My older sister died about five years ago. Sometimes, people just die. It's never fair, and it's always sad when you lose someone you love."

"But why does anyone have to die?"

He wanted to say that life was a cruel mistress, very cruel with a morbid sense of humor, but he held his tongue. "If we lived forever, our lives wouldn't be as special. We'd waste days and years because we would never die." He rubbed soothing circles into her back. "You want to tell me about your grandma? Maybe it will make you feel better."

"Uh huh."

Derek pulled back the covers so she could climb into bed. It was quite a bit cooler in this room, even with the door open. He thought for a moment, that if they moved the bed to the other wall, there might be some residual heat from the fireplace. Better save that for the morning. He sat down on the edge of the bed.

"You're not sleepy, Derek?"

"No."

"Okay," she said with a small voice.

"Why?"

"When I was sad, Grandma would snuggle with me."

Oh. Well now Derek felt like a jerk. "Would that help you feel better?"

"Uh huh."

He crawled in beside her, and yeah the bed was going to be a tight fit for both of them. Whatever, he could deal. "So," he said pulling the blanket back up over them, "what was your grandma's name?"

"Nancy. She liked to make blankets. On Tuesdays, her and her friends sat around a table and made little squares for blankets."

"Your grandma liked to make quilts."

She nodded against Derek's chest. "Yeah, that's what she called them. I guess I forgot. She made me one with pandas on it. It was my favorite, but I...I lost it when the monsters came."

When he curled an arm around her shoulders to drag his fingers through her hair, he chalked it up to reflexes. His little brother, Noah, used to love having his hair played with when he was upset. He'd been eight when the fire happened. Derek squeezed his eyes shut. Taking a trip down memory lane would definitely not make him feel better. "What else did she like to do?"

Addy sniffled, "We went for walks when it was nice out. We lived by a park, and sometimes we would stop at the playground to swing. Even Grandma would swing. We'd have races to see who could swing higher, and she always let me win. She liked strawberry ice cream, just like me. Do you like ice cream?"

"Yeah. My favorite is chocolate chip though. What happened to your grandpa?"

"I never met him. He died when my mommy was little. Grandma said she was all alone until I came to live with her. She said I made her happy again." She curled her hand in his shirt.

He winced when she accidentally pulled his chest hair. "I bet you did."

"Are you alone?"

"What?"

She grabbed his left hand from where it rested on his stomach. "You wear a ring like Grandma did. She said Grandpa gave it to her when they got married."

"You're right, I do."

"So are you alone like Grandma because your wife died too?"

He chuckled, "No. He's not dead." Derek prayed silently that those words were still true. He couldn't imagine what he'd do if they made it to Iowa only to find out Stiles had been killed along the way.

"A boy? You married a boy?"

"Yeah. So?"

"But...boys are stinky and gross."

"Well, when you love someone, you don't care if they're stinky or gross." He couldn't talk about Stiles right then. It hurt too much. So, he steered the conversation back to her grandmother. "Did your grandma have any special names for you? Like a nickname?"

"She called me Ladybug, cept when I was in trouble. Then it was Adelina Elizabeth Duschenne."

Derek laughed, "Okay, now tell me about you. What are some of your favorite things?"

"What does it matter? Never gonna have any of them again." She sniffled again.

"Probably not, but it's nice to dream sometimes."

That seemed to work, and she started telling him about her favorites. Everything from favorite movie (Brave) and favorite Disney princess (Merida) to her favorite color (orange) and favorite food (Rice Krispy treats). In turn he told her about some of his favorite things. When she yawned, he found that he was now sleepy too, and soon they were both asleep.

In the morning, they all discussed at length, weighing the pros and cons of staying versus leaving. Even though he said he agreed when they decided to stay until it warmed up, he knew he was the only one who actually wanted to leave. Then again, he was the only one who had a reason to leave: he had people waiting for him in Iowa, and they didn't.

Chapter Text

The group loaded back up after their hour long stop for lunch, and Stiles climbed into his usual, preferred spot in the back of the Tahoe, where he removed Miguel from his carrier. He lay him down in the laundry basket basinette hoping he would go down for a nap soon. Jordan took his usual place behind the wheel; the man really did enjoy driving.

This time, instead of Isaac joining them, Scott and Anthony climbed into the car. Whatever, they were free to switch things up. Stiles, however, would continue to pick whichever car Chris did not ride in. Thank you very much.

In less than five minutes, they were on the road, Tara and Jordan chatting away in the two front seats. They were never able to drive fast, too many hazards in the road for that, but it sure beat walking. Before long, Stiles found himself dozing off to the lull of the road.

He awoke some time later to see Anthony staring at him from over the top of the back seat. "Something the matter?"

"No."

Before Stiles could ask if maybe he'd been drooling, Anthony unfastened his seatbelt and climbed over the seat. He plopped down next to the basket to look at the sleeping infant. "He sleeps a lot."

"Well babies need a lot of sleep so they can grow."

"When he wakes up...can I hold him?"

Stiles smiled. "Sure." He expected the boy to look happy about it, but instead, he looked like something had been weighing on his mind. "Are you sure there's nothing the matter?"

Anthony stared at him for a moment before shaking his head. "Hey Stiles, can I...tell you something, and you promise you won't be mad at me?"

"If you ate my last piece of chocolate, I make no promises."

"No, it's not that." He looked down at his fingers and the way they'd tied themselves together in his lap. "Is it true?"

"Is what true?"

"What you said about that shampoo? It makes you sick."

"Why..."

"I didn't mean to. After those men tried to hurt you guys, Melissa told me to come back inside and start picking up the mess we'd made when we took everything outside." Tears started running down his face. "I didn't see the table, and I bumped into it. It fell over. I thought the bottle had just fallen out of one of the boxes. So... So I... I just put it back. I didn't see the note on it. I'm sorry. I'm sorry it made you sad. I... didn't mean to make you sick. Please don't be mad at me. I was just doing the job she gave me to clean things up. I'm sor-" He could even finish, because he was crying too hard.

Stiles wasn't sure what to do. On the one hand, he felt such relief that his request had not been purposely ignored. Knowing that someone in the group chose to keep something that caused that reaction, would be just too much to deal with. Anthony had made an honest mistake, and Stiles couldn't be mad at him for that. He was a child for crying out loud. On the other hand though, he had a sobbing nine year old to console. "Hey, I'm not mad." To his surprise, Anthony surged forward and hugged him, tightly at that. "Were you really that worried about it?" Stiles asked, wrapping his arms around him.

"I thought you'd be angry with me, and then be all sad again. I didn't want that to be my fault."

"No. It's okay. You didn't do it on purpose. Thank you for telling me though. It means a lot to me." And just like that, Anthony climbed back over the seat.

When Stiles heard the click of the boy's seatbelt, be dug through his box of books for something to read. The problem with his selections was that he'd read almost all of them, and he was in the mood for something he hadn't read yet. He knew others in the group had been picking up a book here or there to add to the collection. So there had to be something in there that would be brand new to him. Why hello there! I haven't read you before. From the box, he plucked One Hundred Years of Solitude, and within no time found himself engrossed in the fantastical prose and story of the Buendías family. Plus, he had to admit Melquíades was a pretty awesome character, and he loved the way the history was mixed with prophecies. What? The bit with the flying carpet was amusing, okay? Also, as the book went on, Stiles felt pretty certain Melquíades was actually the narrator of the book, which he found intriguing.

When it became a little too dark to read, the twilight hours approaching fast, Stiles closed the book and looked up. When had Scott climbed into the back with him? Wow, he really must have been into the novel.

"Finally." Scott said. "I thought you were never going to notice me here."

Correction, when Stiles said Scott climbed into the back, he'd neglected to mention that Scott decided to sit right next to him, and had, apparently, also changed Miguel's diaper. What the hell? Stiles didn't even hear his son cry. "Something I can help you with, Scott?" Stiles knew just from the look on Scott's face, exactly what his step-brother would say, and frankly Stiles was getting a little sick of all these apologies. Where were they before he tried to commit suicide? They could have prevented a lot of misery on Stiles' part. He took Miguel back from Scott and cradled him in his arms. "Spit it out."

"Have you ever seen something so shocking or so scary, where you know you should do something? You should either help or fight back, run away even. But you can't, because what is happening in front of your eyes is so horrific that you just...freeze?"

Stiles arched an eyebrow at him.

"I...saw everything. Hell, I couldn't look away, but I opened my mouth and nothing came out. Nothing, not a sound. I wanted to run and help you, but I. couldn't. move. It was so unreal, what was happening, and it's like I blew a fuse."

"And...what you said to me afterwards? What about that?" Stiles swallowed hard, "You wanted me to have remorse for killing the man who raped me, for killing his two friends who wanted to do the same to Allison and Maria. I don't understand your sense of morality, Scott. How you think, everyone can be saved."

Scott closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the glass. "I'm not like you."

"You mean, you're not a killer." Stiles' jaw tightened.

"That's not...that's not it at all. I wouldn't have been able to do the things you did, that you had to do to save the three of you. When I could finally move, speak, I looked up to see you covered in blood, doing brutal things to people who before were survivors. I looked at you, and I didn't see the guy I'd grown up with. I didn't see my best friend and brother, because he couldn't be capable of that sort of thing."

"This sounds like excuses."

Scott sighed, "It's...what I said to you. That was wrong. I realize that, okay?" He licked his lips. "But just because it happened to you...doesn't mean it wasn't traumatic for any of the rest of us to witness."

"Excuse me?" Stiles tried not to start blowing smoke out his ears, though he supposed Scott had a point about being a witness to a gruesome event.

"You didn't see your face, Stiles. Didn't see...the moment when the Stiles I knew and loved...died. You may be talking to us now, but you're not the same."

From where he held onto Miguel, he balled his hands into fists, releasing them and repeating the action several times. "Of course I'm not fucking the same."

"That's...I mean, even looking at you now, it's like a piece of you broke and there is nothing that will ever fix it. Sort of like Humpty Dumpty. Do you think it's easy to see you like that, like this and know there is nothing that I can do to help? To know that no matter what I do, it still happened, that when you sleep it's still happening."

Stiles wanted to throttle him, but remained calm. In some bizarre, warped way this was Scott apologizing. The guy was a bit sensitive, always had been. "And afterwards? How are you going to explain away that? You left me alone. You all did. Dad, Mom, you, everyone. Look Dad has talked to me already. Mom, well I get the impression, she has no idea what to say to me, but is trying to make amends through actions to make up for not having the words. She's been very helpful with Mikey. But you? Everything you said about your reaction when it happened, sounds like a perfectly justified reaction. Why wouldn't you say anything? We've always had each other's backs. How could you leave me to the wolves in my head?" Stiles actually felt like crying. This was going spectacularly bad, and he needed to get out of the car, like right now.

"Would you have let me? I tried to hug you once, and you shrugged me off. You actively avoided me for days after that."

Stiles looked over at, and Scott actually was crying.

Scott wiped his face. "You blame me for Derek's death."

"No, I-"

"Yes, you do. I saw it in your eyes as soon as we got back to camp that day. That look hasn't left them since. Hell, I blame myself for his death, Stiles! I didn't know the grenade would cause that much damage. I was just trying to help, and I ruined your life. Derek's dead, and it's my fault. So when Denver happened, how could I come over to tell you that I'm sorry? Being an idiot killed Derek, and being a coward killed you. Is that-- That is as simple as I can put it, and nothing about that is comforting or helpful. So I left you alone, because then I couldn't hurt you worse, which was stupid, because even that backfired." Now, with tears pouring down his face, he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "What do you want me to say, Stiles? I'm a shitty friend, a worse brother, but I didn't do it on purpose. I swear to God, Stiles, I didn't do it on purpose, and although I look like I'm keeping it together, it's killing me. When I thought Ragers had killed you, I wanted to die. I'm the one who suggested we check out the mall, even though you said it was a bad idea. Stiles, I-" He couldn't even finish a thought, just pulled his knees to his chest, and broke down in heaving sobs.

Stiles stared at Scott. For the way the conversation started, it had turned into the only apology that actually affected him, that felt entirely genuine (not that his father's felt forced or faked, it just didn't...Stiles didn't know). To see the weight of someone's actions actually eating at them the way Stiles had felt since that day, to know they felt absolutely wrecked because of those actions-- It worked. Stiles lay Miguel in the basket, placing Dolly in there with him to keep him occupied, and pulled Scott into a crushing hug. Part of him had blamed Scott for Derek, and he knew that wasn't fair.

Fuck Ragers. They had turned everyone into heartless, hardened people. That...had to change. They all couldn't live like this and expect to ever be a functional group again.

"I'm sorry. So, sorry, Stiles," Scott sobbed into his shoulder.

"Hey," he felt tears in his own eyes now, "stop. I think I forgive you, Scott."

Scott picked up his head and stared at him. "You...you do?"

"Think so, and you're right. I did blame you. Shouldn't have done that. We're not-- we're not okay, but I think we have a chance to be."

When Scott dropped his head back onto his shoulder, Stiles couldn't help but hug back, and the two of them sobbed like children in the back of the Tahoe for at least thirty miles.

Chapter Text

As the day broke over the horizon, its rays hit the right side of the Tahoe, warming Stiles' face while they drove, this time with his father behind the wheel. Against his chest, Miguel slept soundly, having fallen back asleep after the group stopped for breakfast at some ridiculous hour of the morning. Four thirty, he thought. The breakfast of champions on today's menu: Powdered scrambled eggs with some canned tomatoes. The highlight of the meal was the coffee. He'd savored it, even drinking Maria's that she didn't want, the remainder of which sat in the plastic cup his right hand.

He'd become used to black coffee since the outbreak, something he never thought would happen. Hell, he'd begun to tolerate a lot of things since then.

They were close to their destination; he knew that. They all did. Chris made sure of it, made sure everyone poured over those maps as much as he did, memorizing them, letting the route become part of them. No more accidents, he'd said. They would lose no more people.

Four was four people too many.

Though he couldn't stand the man, Stiles could see the little cracks in his tough guy façade starting to form. He'd break, Stiles was sure of it. Then, maybe then, the man would realize what a colossal asshat he'd been to just about everyone. Would do him good, Stiles thought. He took a sip of his now cold coffee and watched the sun creep up the sky.

Surrounding them on all sides, were miles and miles of rolling farmland, the ground dusted with a light layer of snow. Never in a million years, did he think this would be the type of place he'd call home. Funny how things changed. Everything had changed.

Miguel squirmed in his blanket, and Stiles kissed the top of his head before tightening the blanket around them. It wasn't cold in the car, but damn did it feel cozy like this. They were almost home, almost somewhere safe, someplace where he could make sure his son could have the best childhood possible given the current state of the world. He could do that; he would do that. Even if he never could put his head back together completely, he would make sure Miguel felt like the most important person in the world to him.

He closed his eyes, trying to get just a little more sleep. Though he couldn't see many Ragers dotting the hills, and in the snow, they were easy to spot, who knew how many would be at there destination. He'd need his strength.

The car eventually jolted to a stop, snapping him out of his short nap. The sun, now fully over the horizon, illuminated the field before them, and holy shit. This was going to be a nightmare.

Stiles tried to count how many there were, but gave up after two-hundred. What hope could ten people have against two-hundred? They'd come so close, and this was how they were all going to out? Talk about irony.

Both vehicles had stopped far enough back so as not to be noticed, which was a good thing, because everyone rushed into action. Stiles had only just secured the bulletproof vest around Miguel (not that it fit well, but it was better than nothing), when the back hatch opened and Isaac pushed Anthony into the Tahoe with him, climbing in after the boy. "Wha-"

"Chris says we have to stay in here."

Stiles scoffed. Great, Chris was setting him up to fail, just like he'd done with Allison. He barely had time to form a response when his dad ducked his head inside. Stiles' words died on his lips.

"You're staying back too, Stiles."

"Why? I'm not useless."

 

 

 

John looked at him in earnest. "I know that." He handed him the keys. "I failed you before, and I'm not doing it again. If we get overwhelmed, you drive, and you keep on driving. You forget about us. You survive."

"You can't just expect me to stay here and watch you all die!"

His father shook his shoulders. "You can, and you will."

"What about Scott? Why isn't he in here too?"

"Mel, is talking to him. Something tells me he's not going to listen."

Stiles took a deep shuddering breath. "Then why do I have to?"

"Because of Mikey. He needs you. Don't worry; I'm not leaving you two defenseless in here. I won't make his mistake." He handed Stiles his hunting rifle and the remaining seventy rounds. Then, he gave him two other rifles. One for Isaac and another one for Stiles. "Make these count," he said, tapping the boxes of ammunition.

When he went to hug Stiles, he found himself surprised that his son actually welcomed the affection.

"Give this to Scott." Stiles passed the weapon to his father, who ruffled Miguel's hair, hugged Anthony, and clapped Isaac on the back.

 

 

 

Just like that, Stiles watched the hatch slam shut as his father walked away. A large lump formed in his throat, but he forced it down and dug around in the back of the car until he found the box with the improvised explosives Jordan had assembled along the way.

Stiles, rolled down the driver's side window and set the box on the roof, along with a blanket, the two rifles and ammunition. He layered himself up in as much clothing as he could and still move, opting for the fingerless gloves he'd found instead of others. "You can take your shots from this window, yeah?" he asked Isaac.

"You know I'm not a very good shot."

Stiles nodded, "I know. So just concentrate on the clusters of Ragers. You're bound to hit one of the bastards. Anthony, you are in charge of making sure Isaac has a new magazine loaded each time he runs out, just like Scott showed you. Okay?"

"Okay."

"And if Mikey gets scared, you keep him calm. Do you think you can do that?"

"Yes."

"Good job, Buddy." Stiles clamped Jordan's police issued ear protection headset down over Miguel's ears and handed Anthony a pair of soft earplugs. "You roll these up like this and put them in your ears. See? It's going to be loud in here, and I want you to protect your ears. Yours too, Isaac."

Isaac took the bright orange pieces of foam from him and helped Anthony put them in before protecting his own ears. Stiles kissed Miguel on the forehead and climbed onto the roof. Once his own ears had been protected, he lay the blanket down over the roof and made himself as comfortable as possible in the prone position. He'd found himself to be a frighteningly good shot this way, and his dad told him that prone position was the steadiest position from which to shoot. So it all worked out well. He trained his scope down field at the mass of Ragers standing between them and the promised land.

He took several deep breaths to calm his nerves and waited. The last thing he wanted was to alert the infected of their presence sooner than the rest of the group was ready for. When he saw Jordan and Chris make first contact, their melee weapons striking down a couple of Ragers, he took his first shot.

A hit, clean hit, and down goes Rager! Stiles 1- Ragers 0.

He aimed away from their group far enough so that he couldn't accidently hit any of them (that would be bad on epic proportions. Chris would probably have his head on a pike should that happen), but not so far that he ignored the group completely.

Stiles 5- Ragers...still 0. Though he supposed the Ragers being unarmed hurt their odds a little.

Inside the truck, Isaac aimed on the other side of the field where there was absolutely no chance of an errant bullet hitting anyone with a fully functioning limbic system. His confidence seemed to grow with every shot that made impact, and for the first time in a while, Stiles imagined that he felt actually useful for something other than cooking. It was a relief, frankly.

From atop the Tahoe, Stiles saw a large mob of Ragers converging on their group. Not today. Not today. He paid careful attention to his footing and grabbed one of the pipe bombs from the box and lit it, chucking it towards them. It landed with a beeping thud right behind the mass of infected and distracted a few of them enough for the mob to stop and look at the device like it was the tastiest piece of Rager Chow they'd ever seen. They inched closer. Bad idea, Bastards.

He watched with glee as the mass, all of them, exploded into a flying detonation of diseased body parts. Stiles 32- Ragers HA.

 

 

 

Down field, the rest of the group, already weary from battle, pressed on. Tara and Scott fought side by side, or more accurately, fought with their backs to each other. It was important to defend all angles. She swung the axe at Rager after Rager, wincing as her ribs still giving her problems as they finished healing. She panted, "Scott, this... isn't going to end well. Or is that just me?"

"Can't afford to think that way." He swung The Head Lopper at the nearest Rager, the thing living up to its name. When John had pressed the machete into his hand, Scott understood finally, what Stiles meant that they would be okay in time. In fact, Scott felt honored to be given the thing to fight with. As far as machetes go, it was nothing fancy, but Stiles swore it was good luck. He hacked at a couple Ragers, before knocking them down. There was no way he was joining them on the ground to finish them off, and fired a round into each of their heads with his pistol. He secured the gun back in the holster on his hip. Conserve your bullets, Scott. You only have forty-five of them. Well forty-three.

Tara's axe head became stuck in a Rager. "Scott, I need your help, here," she called, and they switched positions. Scott pulled with all his might, but the weapon was stuck tight. He looked around them. There were too many Ragers for them to try a push-pull technique to dislodge the blade. What the hell were they going to do? Just as he pulled one more time, a gunshot whizzed by his ear, striking the Rager in the chest. The force of the bullet was enough to push the corpse off the axe blade. He turned around to see his mother aiming her rifle in his direction. They shared a little nod, and then both resumed their killing spree, Melissa joining the pair of them.

 

 

 

Maria and Jordan found themselves separated from the group a ways, and that wasn't to say they were in deep trouble. Jordan had combat experience; to him, killing Ragers was no different than enemy combatants. Despite her young age, Maria was one of the most proficient Rager killers they had. In Lincoln, she'd found a six foot pole saw, and switched out the serrated blade for a blade from a Bowie knife. She looked a bit like a Roman Legionnaire wielding her homemade hasta.

Better than a spear, she could also slash with it, not just stab. So while Jordan attacked with his tactical tomahawk, she made Rager shish kebabs. Hell, Jordan had to admit the way she growled as she offed another Rager, was absolutely terrifying. Then again, Erica had been fierce as well. He supposed it ran in the family.

The two of them managed to clear their zone of the infected. Listen to him. Zone? There were no zones; there were no rules, and they rushed over to help the nearest survivors.

 

 

 

The more the Iowan version of "The Battle of Helms Deep" went on, Stiles and Isaac turned out to be indispensable to the group. Stiles stood and launched another homemade grenade towards the horde. That was four now he'd sent down range, and each one excited him more than the last, sort of taking out his frustration at the whole damn outbreak on the field of Ragers before them. His initial estimate of two-hundred had not been close.

Stiles 115- Ragers 3. What? He missed a few times. So sue him. He hadn't hit any of the friendlies, and that was what he considered to be an important distinction. Now onto the second rifle, all that was missing was the Apocalypse Now soundtrack blaring overhead. He settled for the Superman theme sounding in his head.

Slowly, but surely, the number of infected in the field dwindled.

 

 

 

In the thick of it all though, John and Chris still fought on. How they'd managed to get themselves surrounded like this, neither man would probably ever figure out. They fought on, both exhausted, but refusing to give in. John wondered, how the rest of his family was doing. The steady bullets from Stiles and Isaac's rifles served as a constant reminder that, for now at least, the Tahoe remained safe. But what about his wife and step-son?

Melissa had left them some time ago, rushing to help Scott and Tara from the bind they found themselves in. He prayed she'd made it and was still alive. Honestly, he didn't think he'd survive losing another wife. Claudia's death had damn near destroyed him.

Momentarily distracted by his thoughts, he didn't notice Chris struggling with three Ragers behind him. He sunk his tactical knife into a Rager's eye and turned, just in time to see a fourth Rager advance on Chris. Oh hell. He was just about to run over, when a crack, followed by another echoed across the field.

Two of the three Ragers fell dead at Chris's feet. Another gunshot took out the oncoming fourth. That left just one, which Chris disposed of quickly. Both men turned their attention towards the Tahoe and received a wave from Stiles.

 

 

 

Conflicted emotions crossed Chris' face as he realized that this kid, whom Chris admitted to himself he'd been far from kind to, had just saved his life, from across a field. He'd have to deal with that later.

 

 

 

Back at the truck Stiles couldn't help the smug grin spreading across his face. Chris now owed him, and Stiles knew the man would have trouble admitting it. The fact filled him with such an intense sense of glee, he could hardly contain himself.

Instead of holding back, he found himself singing "We Will Rock You" while he cleared the rest of the Ragers from the far right side of the field. Stiles, you are a Rager killing machine. You are an important member of this team. You Sir, are a marvel. Okay, so he might have been feeling a bit of a high from saving someone's life for once. He, admittedly, was a bit loopy.

In less than five minutes, the field lay riddled with the fully dead corpses of hundreds of Ragers, and miraculously six live survivors.

The tearful family reunion with his parents and Scott, felt like a million dollars. "What did I tell you, Scott? The Head Lopper is a lucky charm!" he said while Scott clung to him tightly.

Eventually, John, pulled his son away from Scott's embrace. "I had no idea you were that good a shot."

"What can I say, I'm filled with surprises?"

John ruffled his hair. "That you are. Leaving you at the Tahoe was the right call."

Chris shuffled over and cleared his throat, "Stiles."

"What can I do for you, Chris?" The man looked like he was about to puke, but extended a hand. Stiles looked down at his outstretched hand and up at Chris a few times before accepting the gesture. "Appreciate my fine shooting, did you?"

"You saved my life."

"That I did. Let's not make it a bigger deal than it is. Okay?" One awkward and stilted attempt at a thank you would not erase everything that man had done and said to Stiles. He figured he'd let Chris stew on that awhile.

After the group had cleared the field of bodies, piling them near the road where they'd burn them later, they piled back into the cars and drove towards their new home. Up a dirt path quite a ways, they stopped in front of what Stiles could only describe from the outside as resembling a federal penitentiary.

Stone walls, at least six feet high, topped with razor wire surrounded the entire property. Even the electrified steel gate barring entrance to the place led to the 'Oh Gee, we're going to prison' atmosphere of the place. Whatever. So long as it kept Ragers out, Stiles didn't care.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

To everyone's surprise, in front of the house, which was, quite frankly, massive (like old Hale House massive), sat a minivan. What in the hell? They proceeded with caution inside to see a family sitting at the table eating lunch. The four of them, two men who were obviously twins, a woman and young girl looked up at them in shock.

"I'm so sorry. We thought the property was abadoned. We just been here a week, only needed a place to stay for a little while." He had both hands in the air, presumably because the sight of the heavily armed group in front of them. "We can leave. Please don't shoot us."

Chris held up a hand to stop the man's pleas. "How did you get in?"

"There is a broken solar panel in the back. That part of the fence only had razor wire topping it. Threw a blanket over and climbed in. I opened the back gate from the inside."

Chris pinched the bridge of his nose. Great. Just what they needed to deal with first thing. A broken perimeter fence.

"But... I found spare cells in the basement. I, I was an electrician before the outbreak. I know how to repair them. I planned on doing that this afternoon."

At the words, 'I was an electrician,' the groups' ears perked up. They could use someone like that. Several of them exchanged glances, before Chris spoke up. "What's your name?"

"I'm Aiden. This is my wife Gina, my brother Ethan, and my daughter Sammi."

John looked at Ethan. "What did you do before?"

"Framing. My brother and I worked for a construction company." He tapped Gina on the shoulder. "Gina ran a salon. We have useful skills if you'd let us stay."

Chris ushered his group into the living room. "Well? What do you think?"

"We can't send them away; they have a kid with them," Melissa said, throwing a glance at her step-son, who looked grateful at her words.

"Having two people with construction experience would be really helpful."

"And I'd like a hair cut," Isaac said with his hand raised. The whole group turned and looked at him. "What? Look at my hair. Eventually I will start to resemble a blonde Bozo the Clown if I keep letting it grow."

"But it would be four more people to feed." Chris said, and why did he always come out looking like a heartless jackass?

"We started out with four more people than what we arrived with," Stiles said, not looking up. "That's three more sets of strong hands to help set up a garden, tend to the house, or help us turn this place into a working homestead."

Chris nodded as if Stiles words made a lot of sense to him for once. They discussed for about ten more minutes, before he walked back into the kitchen. "So you can stay, but everyone needs to pitch in. Obviously your electrical and carptentry skills will be greatly appreciated, and we have someone who would really like a haircut. If you're willing to help us keep this place running...you can stay. Though as far as bedrooms go, you may need to share."

Aiden looked at Anthony. "There is a bedroom upstairs with three sets of bunk beds. It's a pretty cheerful room. Sammi has been sleeping in there. She's almost four, and she'll have no problem sharing with that little guy. Would you Sammi?" The girl shook her head. "And Ethan here, well he snores, but yeah he'll share. Thank you so much for letting us stay."

From there, the group dispersed. Some hit the showers right away to wash the Rager guts from their bodies. Other's explored the house. Stiles though? He sought out a bedroom before all the others took the good ones.

The house was two and a half stories; he counted ten bedrooms, plus whatever was on the half story a the top of the house. Jesus Gerard, how many people were you planning on living here with? He shuddered at the man's name. Chris' father had been ailing for years, the dementia ravaging his brain. Everyone around town knew what to do if they spotted the guy roaming around Beacon Hills in a confused stupor talking about the end of days and his war proof home (well he'd been right about that). Mostly, he was harmless.

However, the last straw had come when a fifteen-year-old Stiles tried to help the man get home one day after school. Who would have thought the old guy could hit so hard? Chris put him in a care home after that.

Stiles winced at the memory of his nearly fractured jaw as he opened the door at the top of the stairs. The bedroom faced East and would get a lot of morning sun. He'd like waking up to that every day. "Well, Little Man. We made it." He took Miguel out of the baby carrier.

Not only would the room get a lot of sun, it was the only bedroom on the half floor, even had its own bathroom. It wasn't the largest bedroom in the house, so he knew he wasn't taking the master suite. That was on the second floor in the back of the house. He figured that room should go to Chris since technically, this was his house.

Stiles just loved the way the room sat nestled in the turret on the Southeast corner of the house. Nowhere else in the home had the room's shape. This one was special with lots of windows and charm.

With Miguel on his hip, they explored the rest of the floor. A small linen closet sat just outside the bedroom. It had been nicely stocked with spare bedding sets, towels, and extra blankets. At the end of the hall sat an open area next to a picture window that looked out at the rest of the property.

Along the security wall, every so often sat lookout posts. They'd make good vantage points for shooting any Ragers that approached. Even though Chris said the place ran on solar power, there were two windmills as well as a couple above ground gas storage tanks. A back-up to the back-up, wow Gerard really thought of everything.

He could see a greenhouse attached to the side of the home and wondered how quickly they could get plants going. The thought of eating a salad actually had his mouth watering. He'd helped his mother with her garden when he was little and had successfully grown an herb garden on the windowsill of his apartment since sophomore year. Thank you very much. There was a barn, though he supposed no livestock. Who would have been around to feed them?

He could also see a small pond, and part of him hoped they'd have ducks in the spring. Maybe they could capture a few of them and domesticate them for eggs or meat. Listen to him, he sounded like an animal and farm expert. Well, he could be. Who knows?

A small patch of trees grew in one corner; they'd been planted in even rows. Fruit trees? That would be nice. The last thing he noticed was a small shed with a chiminey. Yeah, he didn't know what the was. An adventure for another day.

The rest of the nook contained a small sofa and overstuffed chair which had been positioned around a fireplace. It seemed like a wonderful place to read, maybe even set up a blanket and what little toys Miguel had. Adjacent to the little nook was an additional staircase to downstairs, and he wondered for a moment, in which room he'd end up if he took it.

The only other door on the floor lie just off the landing for the extra staircase. Curious, he turned the doorknob and felt his heart tighten in his chest. In an instant, he felt like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Here he'd been struggling to collect books to set up a little library, and he now found himself face to face with a two story library. He'd only opened the door to the second floor.

Tears threatened to burst from his eyes, and he peered over the railing. "Hey, Scott," he said, waving at the man below him.

His step-brother looked up. "Can you believe this house? I mean...wow just. Look how cozy this fireplace is. I kind of just want to sleep in here. What's on that floor with you?"

"Just a bedroom in the turret I've called dibs on for Mikey and me. Isolated is probably better for me at night, you know? Less chance to disturb anyone else."

He nodded like he understood. "Yeah."

"There's a little reading nook though."

"Sounds nice. Isaac and I are going to room together. It's a decent sized room, shouldn't be too bad. There's a bathroom between our bedroom and Tara and Maria's room. I think Mom and Dad might be staying across the hall. As for everyone else, I mean other than Chris, I don't know. You been to see the rest of the house yet?"

"No, you?"

"Isaac is in the basement practically crying at all the food. There's a root cellar set up for future food storage, and he literally can't wait to fill it all. Mom found a little healing center."

"What?"

"You know, where they have all kinds of dark glass jars, and medicine droppers, little bottles of oils. Old school medicine."

"An apothecary?" Stiles arched an eyebrow.

"Yeah that's it!" Scott grinned. "I swear, it's the coolest thing. It's on the first floor and everything is white tile. There are medical supplies, you know the stuff that doesn't expire. All kinds of alcohols for I guess mixing with herbs or something. She's downstairs reading all these manuals and books about natural healing. Isaac found a book on old world breadmaking, and he's in heaven. I mean there are books in here, but so many others throughout the house. It's like Gerard wanted to make sure whoever ended up here, had every piece of reference necessary."

"I bet the greenhouse has master gardening books and farmer's almanacs too."

"There's a greenhouse too?"

"Yep." Stiles gave him a wave and walked back to his room. "Sure would be nice to have a bed for you, Buddy." He set Miguel down and changed him out of his pajamas finally. "Phew! Someone is a stinky baby. Should we take a shower? A real shower?" He'd seen toiletries stocked in the bathroom on first glance, and he walked in to enjoy the first shower he'd had since Tahoe.

When he returned downstairs half an hour later, both he and Miguel dressed in the cleanest clothes they had, it filled his heart with warmth to see most of the group getting settled in. Isaac stood at the stove preparing a meal from the ingredients he'd found downstairs, Maria offering assistance here and there. The guy looked like he could sing he was so happy, even if the happiness was bittersweet like Stiles'. His parents sat enjoying hot cups of coffee as they chatted with the new members of their group.

"Hey, you look like you feel better," his dad said.

"Well a hot shower can go a long way." He looked through the closets nearest the living room. Damn.

"Something I can help you find, Stiles?"

"That old bastard planned for just about everything except the possibility that someone would bring an infant to this place. No crib, no high chair. So far, no general baby products like diaper cream or infant shampoo. I got soap in Mikey's eyes while we were cleaning up. He cried for like five minutes; I felt terrible." He gave up on his search for the chair and handed Miguel to his dad. Then, he dug out the two bottles he had and scrubbed in the hottest water he could stand. It was a miracle his son hadn't gotten sick on the way here because he couldn't clean them properly. He let the bottles soak in the hot soapy water while he retrieved a container of formula. "So has anyone found a blender or anything?" He said as he rinsed a bottle and filled it with water, measuring out the powder that he still could not believe tasted palatable at all. "I'm down to like two containers of baby food. I'm pretty sure I can just pulverize dry oats for oatmeal, and use canned vegetables and fruit after that."

Melissa stood and pull a hand blender from the cabinet. "There isn't a full size one, but we have this. That should do it. You could wash the coffee grinder before using it on his oatmeal or rice."

"Thanks, Mom." He handed the bottle to his dad. "Do you want to feed him while I bring in the rest of our things to set up our room? I have to figure out what to do about sleeping arrangements for him. I don't want to keep him in the basket, but I don't trust myself enough not to hurt him while I'm sleeping if he's in the bed with me." When John nodded, Stiles pat him on the shoulder. "Thanks."

 

 

 

From the corner of the living room, Chris rose out of his chair, his face and clothes still smeared with gore. He walked quietly out of the room and up the far stairs to his room. They made it here, but it didn't feel satisfying in the least bit. He'd promised to get everyone to Iowa, and he'd failed. He'd lost everything, first his sister, then his wife, and father all before this mess. Allison was just the last person he had. This place would never feel like home without her here; he knew that.

In the master bath, he stared at his face in the mirror. Nothing about the face that stared back at him was familiar anymore. The lengths he had to go to in order to get them all here, the way he had to act--For fuck's sake, he actually advocated for the euthanization of an infant. What the hell was he thinking? No one does that. Never in a million years, before this shitstorm, would he have said that. He certainly wouldn't have been so callous to Stiles, practically telling him to suck it up and move on. Chris knew if the situation were reversed, he'd have had a hard time dealing and he could compartmentalize his emotions. He and Stiles were not alike in that respect.

He was an insensitive monster who almost drove a young man to suicide, his words and actions having caused the kid the most pain. The reflection in the mirror made him sick, and he stripped out of his clothes. As he stood under the overly hot water, the crushing weight of his grief over losing his daughter finally hit him full force. With great heaving sobs, he slid down the wall of the shower and collapsed in a heap on the floor, clutching his knees to his chest. 

He was alone, utterly alone. The feeling of that realization felt like knives in his chest.

 

The water had long run cold before the tears stopped falling.

 

 

Chapter Text

The UPS truck bounced North along US 71 as it drove. Two weeks ago, the temperature topped out at forty-seven degrees and stayed that way for four days, giving Derek's group enough time to venture out into the city and search for transportation. Exactly how they'd found the truck, shocked all of them.

It had just been sitting there at the UPS Customer Center along with dozens of others enclosed in an area with razor wire topped fencing. Perhaps this was enough to deter people, perhaps no one even thought to check. The why didn't matter. Five of the trucks had full tanks of fuel, and it didn't take long for them to transfer every bit of fuel they could fit into the two hundred gallon portable fuel tanks they found on site.

They'd been able to load food, what remained of the wood, bedding, clothes, even a full rain barrel of melted snow into the back of the truck and still fit everyone comfortably into the cargo area. Two people at a time would sit in front: One to drive and one to navigate. The rest sat just behind the cab with the door open to keep the back warm. The bedding came in handy for that, because, in a surprise to no one at all, there were no seats in the back.

Right now as they drove, Jackson sat behind the wheel with Danny relaying directions to him. They'd planned this route specifically to avoid the interstate, and for the most part, they had only needed to exit the truck a few times to clear the road of cars and debris. "How long am I on this highway?"

Danny looked at the map, measuring the distance with a small piece of string against the scale. "Eighty more miles. Then you'll take the exit for MO-148."

Jackson reached over and patted Danny on the knee. "Such a good co-pilot."

"Just be glad it's me and not Coach."

"Oh I'm very glad it's you and not Coach. For one, you're a much better conversationalist, and two, you're much nicer to look at." He pulled the truck to a stop, and they both stepped out to move tires and mangled motorcycle parts out of the way. "You know, I've never asked you, but...did you think we were in a relationship just because I was the only available option or..."

Danny grunted as he pushed the loose semi-truck wheel off the road. "Would you have even considered me if this," he spread his arms at the mess around them, "hadn't happened?"

"I might have, if you'd said anything," he said earning a scoff from his boyfriend. "What?" Jackson jabbed his knife into the eye socket of a Rager pinned under debris.

"I seem to remember a long line of conquests all of them women."

Jackson dusted off his hands. "Well I seem to remember you telling me multiple times that I wasn't your type."

"I lied. I didn't want you to feel uncomfortable around me, cause gay panic or whatever." A Rager, sluggish, well more sluggish than usual staggered out from behind an overturned school bus. He took Lydia's crowbar to its head, felling it in a single blow.

"Been friends since second grade. You really think I'd do that?"

Danny shook his head, as though he was trying to squash the feeling he was being placated. "And say I had said something. What would you have done? Taken me on a pity date, let me kiss you?"

"No, not a pity date. I would have listened and taken you seriously, Danny. Come on. You're my best friend. Besides, knowing what I know now, I would have liked it if you kissed me on that hypothetical date." He winked.

"Not that easy. It was easier to say you weren't my type than say, 'Hey Jackson, so um, I'm kinda in love with you.'"

Jackson crowded him against the front of the truck and kissed him. "How long?"

"Seventh grade."

He was taken aback. "Really, all the way back then?"

"You're how I realized I was gay."

He opened the truck door and sat down, turning the key to start the engine back up waiting for Danny to fasten his seat belt before continuing down the road. "Then it's a damn good thing we got here in the end."

Danny tossed an empty water bottle at him. "Shut up and drive."

 

 

 

Back in the truck, everyone sat in little groups. Lydia with her mother, Kira and Liam, even Coach and Greenberg, much to Coach's dismay. When they'd all climbed into the back, he'd protested asking if Greenberg had been a leech in a past life. On the pile of extra bedding and pillows in the corner, Derek and Addy had curled up, and from where she sat in his lap, she was almost asleep as he ran his hand through her hair.

As much as he'd wanted to get to Iowa right away, he had to admit that those two and a half months in Kansas City did them all a world of good. For one, even though there had been no scale in the house, he figured just being able to eat again had put back on at least ten pounds of the forty he'd lost, even if he wasn't as muscular as before. He tried to do what he could, but in the end gave up. Stiles wouldn't care if he was a bit squishy when they showed up. Springtime was for working out.

"Do you know any stories like Kira does?" she asked, yawning, her voice tiny.

"I don't think so."

"Could you make one up, please, Papa? Pretty please?"

He chuckled, though her words made him smile. One morning, two weeks ago, he'd awoken to her staring at him. It had been a little jarring. When he'd asked her what was up, she simply had asked, "Derek, can I call you Papa?" He told her if that's what she wanted, and her face lit up in the biggest grin he'd ever seen. She'd even taken to calling Kira, Auntie Kira since then, and honestly, he didn't think his heart had stopped smiling since then. Heart smiling, that was a thing right? "I'll see what I can do. Give me a minute." He leaned his head back against the wall, wracking his brain for inspiration. Storytelling was Stiles' thing, not his. Stiles. They'd be in Iowa soon, so soon he could practically taste it. "Okay, you promise not to make fun of me?"

"It's not nice to make fun of people. Grandma said so. She said, if you can't say something nice. Don't say nothing at all."

"That's good advice. Grandma Nancy was a smart lady."

"Yeah, and nice."

"That too. Let's see.  Once upon a time, there was a wolf. Everyone thought he was a grumpy wolf, but he was just sad and lonely."

"Why was he sad?"

"Well, because he lost his family, and he was all alone. Being alone can make you sad. So one day, he traveled a long way away to a land called Beacon Hills where he met a curious fox. Now all his life, the wolf had been told wolves and foxes couldn't be friends."

"Why can't wolves and foxes be friends?" she asked, looking up at him with her large brown eyes.

"Wolves and foxes hunt the same foods, and wolves are bigger, but foxes like mischief. So they fight."

"Oh."

"Still, the wolf thought the fox was the most beautiful animal he'd ever seen, with his orange fur and big, round eyes the color of warm honey. The wolf didn't like to talk much; he was a quiet wolf, but the fox just knew they would be friends. Then a funny thing happened, Addy. The wolf found that he could talk about anything with the fox, and one day they fell in love. Some wolves did not like the idea of a wolf loving a fox, and some foxes didn't like their little fox loving a wolf. Wolves should be with wolves, and foxes with foxes. That's how it always had been, and how it would always be, they said. They said they didn't belong together and tried to hurt their feelings, but the fox and the wolf didn't listen. They got married one night in forest filled with fallen trees and stones. It was beautiful, like magic. And then... and then..." Derek felt tears building in his eyes. He couldn't finish the story.

"What happened then?"

He took a deep breath, "They lived happily ever after, chasing after each other through the forests, covering great distances some days. At night, they would curl up under the moonlight and twinkling stars where they would sleep peacefully till morning."

Addy yawned again, "I like that story." She tapped him on the nose. "Don't forget it. Okay, Papa?"

"Okay, I won't, Ladybug. I won't." He worked hard to steel his emotions as she curled tighter into his chest. He looked over to see Kira and Liam passing a notebook back and forth, and he wondered what they were doing.

Liam looked at the paper. "Um, L, I guess."

Kira filled in a couple of the blanks on the paper.

He read what she wrote. "Oh, I don't know. P?"

Kira drew a leg on the paper. "One more, and you lose."

Liam stared at the puzzle for a long time. "Well..."

"How can you not know this one?"

"G?"

"You lose." She filled in the rest of the blanks.

"Who is Luke Skywalker?"

"Seriously? Star Wars?" She arched an eyebrow at him, and he shook his head. "You've never seen it? How is that even possible?"

Derek laughed silently. Oh that kid would get along well with Scott. Stiles had been trying for years to get the guy to watch it with him, and never had. Briefly, Derek wondered if the homestead had a television and DVD player of some sort. Sure would be nice to have movie nights on occasion. He watched Kira hand over the paper.

When she slept, Addy was like a little furnace and the extra warmth started to lull him to sleep.

 

 

 

"Would you get off me? Lean your head the other way!" Coach barked, shrugging Greenberg's head off his shoulder. "Do I have the words 'Greenberg's Personal Pillow' written on my forehead? No, I don't."

Lydia rolled her eyes and slumped back against the wall. "I swear that man has only one volume. Loud and angry."

Natalie looked at her daughter, studying her for quite some time. This woman sitting next to her was not the Lydia she remembered, not the girl she raised. Natalie wasn't naive; she knew they all had changed. Well, maybe not Coach. Something told her the man had always been high strung and prone to over-sharing. She worried the hem of her shirt between her fingers while she contemplated how to broach the difficult question.

Without looking over at her mother, Lydia sighed, "I can almost hear you thinking, Mom. Just...out with it."

Natalie swallowed hard, "What happened to you in Vegas?"

"Ragers," Lydia said, her voice devoid of any warmth.

"That's not what I meant. You're different. Colder. Not like the Lydia I saw at Christmas last year."

Lydia stretched her arms and flexed her neck. "You want the honest answer, mom?"

"Of course I do, Sweetie. I wouldn't have asked if I didn't." Natalie sighed, "I'm just worried about you."

Lydia stared ahead with a glassy eyed gaze. "I was alone for a long time after the hospital turned into a war zone. I escaped and ran to my house where I boarded it up. Then, I hid in there trying to figure out how I would make it to you."

Natalie wrapped an arm around her. "I wondered that too, if I'd ever see you again, if you were even alive, but Sweetheart, that doesn't seem enough to do this."

Lydia pulled her knees to her chest. "Ever have to kill a Rager you knew?" Her voice broke. "I mean the Rager version of someone you knew."

"No."

"There's something so soul fracturing about it, taking a gun to what is left of your friends, co-workers, patients. One of our doctors went on early maternity leave. I was filling in on the pediatric floor, Mom..." She stared blankly at the wall of the truck.

The open door to the cab did not let in much light, but Natalie could see tears streaming down her daughter's face. "Honey, they were Ragers, even though they'd been children before that." She rubbed Lydia's arm.

"That's just it. I was in the pediatric oncology ward, the doors weren't going to hold much longer, and there I was with twenty-seven terrified, sick kids, that I couldn't move. Twenty-seven kids who couldn't fight off Ragers and me. Some of them had been suffering for hours because the electricity went out, and their machines were off," she nodded, choking back a sob. "It...it was quicker--painless, better than being eaten alive or dying slowly in pain and fear." She wiped her eyes. "I just...I stayed with them all until the end. I moved them all into one of the larger patient rooms. I read them stories; we sang songs. I held-- I didn't have a choice, Mom. I was prepared to go out with them, but the doors held for about five minutes longer than it took for all the kids... I...I had a chance. So I took it, but sometimes I wish I hadn't. It's just easier now, to be cold, detached, callous even. It doesn't hurt then to lose someone."

Natalie pulled her daughter to her chest, rubbing her back to calm her down. "Oh Lydia. I'm so sorry you had to do that, but that doesn't mean you're a bad person. You didn't want them to suffer."

"Doesn't change things, Mom. Then being alone for months, made it so much worse. I'm just bitter now I guess."

This life turning someone bitter, yeah they all understood just how easily that could happen.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Stiles pulled his scarf down from around his face, his breath leaving little cold clouds of vapor in the air. "What's left?" He rubbed his gloved hands together, trying to warm them. What he wouldn't have given for a hot cup of coffee.

Jordan pulled a list from his pocket, studying it. "Bolts of fabric if we can find them, various other sewing supplies, canning lids, and stuff to do." He rubbed his forehead, "Stuff to do?"

Stiles swore that from under the brim of her hat, he could see Tara roll her eyes, and he fought back a smirk. "Yeah. Stuff to entertain us. I'm dying of boredom there." Their two decks of cards (Uno and regular playing cards) and a game of checkers hadn't gone far. There were no board games hiding in a closet somewhere, only two small puzzles. Gerard had been kind enough to have a TV, albeit small and nothing fancy other than it being a flat screen, but he'd only stocked the shelves with three DVD's. Don't get Stiles wrong, Casablanca, Roman Holiday, and A Christmas Story were good movies, but they'd watched them all at least four times already. Time for something new.

Though the room with the bunk beds' intended purpose was clearly to be used as a kids' room, it had a toy box with only a few toys: Some Lincoln Logs, a doll or two, and a few HotWheels. With its half painted walls and a closet nothing more than an alcove, it was obvious that Gerard couldn't finish the room before his mental faculties declined too much. In short, due to the lack of toys, Anthony and Sammi were bored. He also thought it would be nice to have a ball or two for spring and summer. Outdoor toys and games would certainly get used.

As it turned out, the two large fuel tanks held two thousand gallons each, which given how little they used gas, could last them thirty years if they played things right. A week or two after they arrived, several of them ventured into the nearest town, Guthrie Center, and raided the schools in town for supplies to homeschool Anthony and eventually the other two children. They now had in their possession about hundred and fifty text books spanning every grade from first to twelfth. Flashcards, workbooks, art supplies, sets or learning tools like counting toys, and phonics games all had been filed into the library, a special section cleared out and designated the school room. Since none of them were trained teachers, they took turns. Melissa and Scott alternated with Science and Math. Chris and John taught history. Stiles, naturally instructed Anthony for English, though with as much time as he spent in the greenhouse, usually everyone else filled in for him. They would make do with any other subjects the kids wished to learn. They wanted to learn the intricacies of cooking and baking? Well Isaac could show them, and Maria could help.

He smiled. Never would he have thought those two would eventually gravitate towards each other, but they did, had been dancing around each other for months now. There was a pool going for when and who would actually make the first move. Stiles lost the pool long ago. He thought surely, they would have kissed after finally making a successful batch of bread yeast last month. Nope. Though, he couldn't say he was surprised by Isaac's reticence. The guy was still grieving after all. Even if there was no one else for him, Stiles couldn't fault Isaac for trying to move forward. It wasn't just those two though.

Chris had been making a huge effort to make things up to Stiles: Helping him set up the classroom each morning before Stiles' allotted instruction time, washing a load of Miguel's soiled diapers, and partaking in a game or two of cards several times a week. Honestly, Stiles couldn't have made this stuff up if he tried. Hell, the man was treating him better than he had even before the damn outbreak. Stiles suspected Tara had something to do with that. Everyone pretended not to notice how close the two of them had grown, the perimeter checks they both volunteered for (which, by the way, Chris had been wrong about five acres. Apparently, five was actually fifteen. But more land was better. No one was complaining). Even with the thirteen year age difference between them, they were good for each other. When Tara started abandoning her room for Chris' some nights, no one batted an eye. Unlike with Isaac and Maria, there was no betting pool for the two of them.

Chris spent time in the apothecary with Melissa, both of them learning to make tinctures and and therapeutic oils from the medicinal herbs in the room. Stiles would be forever grateful for the Mullein tincture they'd made from one of the essential oils and alcohol. The stuff did wonders for those lingering migraines as a result of his concussion.

He helped Gina master the art of homemade soap. Seriously, it took the group five days to figure out what those massive blocks of white...something were in the basement. It turned out to be soap base.

It seemed that after Stiles saved his life, and that rough first week when the man hardly left his room, Chris decided to just...do better.

Trips that required at least ten precious gallons of gas, took as many days as possible before returning to the homestead, which everyone had agreed to name Beaconham. So having been in Des Moines now for three days, they turned down the next street and walked to the end of the block where it looked like a business sat. Said business turned out to be a day care. Excellent.

They wedged open the doors just enough to get inside, pulling the utility sleds behind them. Scott's sled was close to full, the canvas tarp tied down over the clothing requests they'd managed to fulfill. Kids grew quickly and always seemed to need new clothes. Socks wore out just as fast. Everyone, and he did mean everyone, had been eager to replace all the clothes they'd worn out on the trip to Beaconham, and on their monthly trips into Des Moines, more clothes were always sought out.

Stiles couldn't bring himself to throw out any of Derek's clothes. Hell, he couldn't even wash most of them, because his scent still lingered. No, they stayed in a box safely under the bed along with the rest of his things. Derek's BHPD t-shirt that he swiped from his husband's locker on the way out of the station, went into Stiles' rotation. Mostly, he slept it; it was too big, and it felt like a hug he'd never have again.

Scott switched on the two lanterns they brought along and set them on tables at opposite ends of the room as Stiles pulled out the map, circling their location for future reference. There were more things in the place than they could take back to the truck, but maybe next time they could park here, and load it up. He grabbed several stuffed animals, pushing them into a laundry sack; an age appropriate truck for toddlers went in as well. He could see a small dollhouse and a little plastic tote of furniture and dolls. Anthony was too old for it, but Sammi would probably like that. His sled was empty, so he had space for it.

As Stiles ventured into the infant room, he scoffed. Well now, it sure would have been nice to find this place before he'd built (with his father's and Ethan's help) Miguel a bed out of a couple pallets he'd found in the garage. A motorized circular saw would have made things much easier. At least they'd had a power hand drill and some wood stain. The bed was nothing fancy, just a square on the floor with the mattress sitting about a foot below the railings, just so the little guy didn't roll out. Even if the mattress consisted of a dog bed (yeah, he still felt a little bad about that, but supplies were limited), he was proud to have provided for his son. Now, however, he stared at professionally made infant beds, a dozen of them. Grumbling, he searched the room for other usable items.

A couple more bottles and a few sippy cups would come in handy. So would the two packages of cloth diapers, that he'd learned from Melissa, made great burp cloths. That must be why this place had them, not that he would be using them for that purpose. On a shelf he found three blankets, rolled up tight. They even smelled like fabric softener still. Next to them on the shelf was...oh thank God. He'd finally found baby shampoo and diaper rash cream. He'd never thrown something in a supply bag faster. Before leaving the room, he sized up the windows in the room. They were dressed in curtains decorated with vivid, bold horizontal stripes in several colors. He liked them so much better than the boring brown ones in his and Miguel's room. Every single one of them came along back to Beaconham. With that many panels, surely he'd have enough to dress the large windows in his little corner of the house.

Back in the main room, he saw Scott holding something that looked like a skinny suitcase.

"What do you think this is?" Scott asked.

"Why don't you open it?"

As he did, a pile of netting and metal bars dropped to the ground. "What in the-"

Stiles hurried over and rolled it all back up, securing the contents back in the bag in one swift motion, before depositing it onto his sled. "It's a pack and play. I've had it on my mental list for three months now, and never thought I was going to find one. Now Mikey can join in me in the greenhouse without me having to worry about my play space turning into a death trap."

It turned out that Stiles' herb garden and experience helping his mother had been just the beginning, because apparently, he had a bit of a green thumb. He smiled, recalling the countless hours he'd spent in the greenhouse so far...

...Stiles dusted the potting soil from his hands, looking around the room. The unique smell of fresh herbs, soil, and plant food filled his nostrils. It reminded him of his mom, and he felt a little nostalgic. "You'd be proud of me, Mom. I have so many plants ready to go in the ground as soon as it thaws."

Off to his right, one of the tomato plants, the black cherry tomatoes, had already started producing fruit. The fresh herbs, near the door to the house, had been lending flavor to their meals for weeks. He grabbed a wicker basket and walked around to his his bean plants. Most, especially the golden wax beans and purple pod bush beans had grown like crazy. That first salad made from the harvest of his mesclun, tomatoes, and arugula had been amazing. The mustard greens had earned him praises. He'd read, no devoured every book on gardening Gerard had provided in less than a week, planned out their gardens in great detail soon after that. The four compost bins he'd found around the greenhouse helped him get started, and he'd drawn up charts for the kitchen based on what he'd read, for what organic waste should be added.

Every time he plucked a piece of produce or handful of herbs from the plants, a giant sense of accomplishment washed over him. Even if Derek hadn't been around to see how well he'd picked up the skill, Stiles still felt like his memory gave him strength. He was proud of himself, enormously so, and the best part of the many hours he spent in the greenhouse every day was that being in there, in the quiet with the tasks requiring intense concentration, calmed his mind. It had been good therapy. He wasn't better, but it was a nice step forward.

He set down his basket on the table by the door before heading back into the greenhouse to turn off the drip system. Two hours of irrigation was enough for the day. The small sink in the corner made cleaning up easy, and once he'd hung up his apron, he collected Miguel from the corner he'd sectioned off. Using scraps of paneling, sanded down and waxed, he'd fashioned a little area in which Miguel could play and remain relatively safe. The blanket he'd lain down provided little in the way of padding. Springtime would give him the chance to come up with something better. "Hey, Little Sidekick. Look at the tasties Daddy grew." He shook a bundle of small, white turnips. "Egg turnips. Your favorite. Who's gonna mix them with applesauce and cinnamon?" he cooed in a cheerful voice, higher in register than he'd normally use. "That's right. Daddy is, and Mikey is going to eat them to grow big and strong. One day, he can take over for Batman or become Nightwing." Miguel giggled. "That's right. Laugh it up, Mikey. Daddy is hilarious, and don't let anyone tell you differently."

Stiles grabbed the basket and shut the door behind him...

...He noticed a rack of craft supplies in the corner. From one of the tubs, he grabbed all the Popsicle sticks. They'd be much better crop markers than the tiny plastic things he'd been using. And the construction paper? Well, someone would enjoy that.

"I think we have everything we need from here. Look what I found," Scott said holding up a little mesh bag filled with a baseball and a couple gloves, a football and a soccer ball. "Everyone can use these."

Jordan nodded. "If our hands fit in the gloves."

"They should. Might not fit everyone, but they fit me. That should be enough for quite a few of us. Maybe not puppy paws over there." He stuck his tongue out at Stiles.

"Yeah, yeah. Very funny, Scott."

They secured their finds, tarps tight over the supplies, and continued on their trip.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

"Derek, are you sure this is the place?" Kira said as she pulled the truck to a stop at a nondescript place in the road. "I mean, I know you said it was in the middle of nowhere, but there is nothing here."

Derek looked over his map. According to it, the final destination seemed to be in this area. Per Chris' instructions, the homestead had no address marker at the road, just that there would be a dirt road with a post. He zipped up his coat, map in hand, and exited the truck, swinging his spiked club at two nearly frozen Ragers in a ditch across the street. Wiping the club off in the snow, he walked up and down the road a few times before he saw them.

Tire tracks.

Hurrying over to them, he saw a little post, mostly covered by snow. Once he cleaned it off, he saw a little sign with longitude and latitude coordinates. He checked the map notations Chris made, and they matched exactly. Excited, he waved Kira over. "This is the place." He climbed back into the truck.

"But there's nothing here."

"The coordinates on the map match that post. The notes say, half a mile down the path or so, and past a line of trees, we should see a stone perimeter fence. There are tire tracks in the snow. Let's just check it out. Okay?" When she nodded, Derek sat back in his seat, waiting with bated breath. They were here.

He scratched his chin, glad to be rid of the mountain man beard. It kept his face warm, but itched like crazy. The eight days of stubble on his face was plenty. Now the hair? He'd come to appreciate his longer hair now that he could pull it back into a small ponytail. Okay, so ponytail was a bit of an overstatement, just teeny little bit of hair stuck out the bottom of the hair tie, curling a little on itself. Stiles probably would laugh at that; the idea filled Derek with warmth.

"I guess you were right." Kira parked the truck.

He chuckled at the hand painted sign sticking out of the ground. 'Beaconham: Trespassers may be shot.' In his peripherals, up and to the left, he noticed a watch tower, and he thought for a moment, he could see someone up there with a set of binoculars and a rifle. So as not to seem threatening, he walked around the front of the truck slowly, and with exaggerated motions, he entered the security code into the keypad exactly as it was written on the map, praying they hadn't changed it. He hoped that if he had been right, and there was someone there, if they saw him with the code, they'd not see him as a threat. To his relief, the gate creaked open, retreating back into the wall.

The house sat near the back of the land, but still far away from the rear and side walls. A decorative fence sectioned off the home from what he guessed would serve as farmland come springtime. Smoke curled up from the chimney, and a few lights were on inside, from which he could see the outlines of a few people moving inside. "Hey we're here." He gently shook Addy awake.

"What?" She rubbed her eyes.

"We're here. Time to get out."

"Can I have a piggyback ride?"

"Sure." He crouched down, allowing her to climb onto his back, and he approached the front door, his stomach tying itself into knots. Before he could even step onto the porch, the front door opened and two men, who were obviously twins, but whom he did not recognize pointed assault rifles in his face.

"Who are you?"

"I got separated from my group. We were supposed to meet here." He held up his hands, just like he'd told suspects to do on several occasions.

The other man stepped forward. "Put all your weapons on the ground in front of the car. Do it now!"

Derek nodded and motioned for everyone else in the car to comply. He looked down at their pathetic attempts at weapons; they had only a rifle with no bullets, and what they did have were unconventional at best. "Please, we are not a threat, I swear. You can check the back of our truck." He knew that Addy's head could be seen over his shoulder, and though he hoped if the man saw Derek had a kid with him, he'd see Derek as less of a threat, his first instinct was to turn his body so that her head was as far away from the gun as possible. As though that would save her if the man decided to shoot. He looked up in time to see John come through the front door, rifle ready. Before Derek could speak, John's voice rang out.

"Aiden, who is it?"

Slightly hidden behind Danny at that moment, Derek stepped out from behind him.  "John?"

This must have been enough to convince the man, Aiden, that Derek and his group not only meant them no harm, but were supposed to be there. As soon as he and his brother lowered their rifles, Derek hurried past them towards John, who stared him in shock for a moment or two before embracing him tightly. Neither man could get out at single word.

Instead the other man, the one whose name Derek had not learned, broke the silence. "Who is this?"

"My son-in-law, now get out of the way so we can get these people inside."

Once inside, Melissa who sat in a chair near the fire, practically jumped to her feet and hurried over to both of them, crushing Derek in a bear hug, the strength of which surprised him. "Oh my God, Derek. Sweetie, we-" Melissa couldn't talk through the tears.

Besides Stiles, Derek hadn't been hugged like this in years. He felt his heart tighten in his chest.

"How?"

Derek stepped back and looked at John, his eyes catching Chris in the corner. "I was trapped and unconscious, but not dead."

The commotion apparently had reached everywhere in the house, and Isaac came bounding down the stairs, his limp causing him to stumble once his feet hit even ground. "Derek! You're alive!"

Another hug, this one almost knocking him over. One by one, the rest of the group came over, including the three new people in the group. Several faces notably absent, one in particular had his pulse racing. "Where's...where's Stiles? Is he-- did he-" His face must have shown the panic he felt, because Melissa took his face in her hands.

"He's in Des Moines with Scott, Tara and Jordan. We don't have everything we could possibly need here. So we send a group out once a month to get what we can." Derek visibly relaxed in her hands. 

"I thought...I thought I'd come all this way and..."

"I know. He was fine when he left. They should be back tomorrow or the day after. But, not everyone made it."

"What? Who?" Given the four on a supply run, he could guess the answer to his question. Even though, he felt like throwing up at the loss of his best friend, his eyes sought out Maria who walked in the front door. She must have been the one in the lookout tower. "I'm so sorry. Are you hanging in there?"

Her bittersweet smile spoke volumes. "I'm getting there." The look on her face said she understood the conflicted emotions spreading across his. "You let me know if you need to talk about it."

"Yeah. And Alli- Oh Chris, I'm so sorry."

Chris nodded, "Me too, but we have you back. Small miracle right?"

"Pretty big miracle. Took a lot, a long detour, lots of walking...a blizzard, starving. You know, just another day in paradise right?"

Melissa looked over the rest of the new group. "You have a lot of people with you."

"We have space right? I told them if they helped me get here they could stay. Please tell me I didn't mislead them," he pleaded.

Chris stepped forward. "It will be a tight fit. Everyone will need to share a room, but if they all do their part, we will make it work. Introduce us, Derek."

Derek brought his new friends forward. "This is Lydia. She found me near Denver. Up until that point, I was alone, walking mostly or riding a bike. In exchange for a ride, she said she'd get me here if I helped her get to Wichita. She was a doctor before all this. Along the way we saved Kira and Liam. Kira was a history teacher and martial arts instructor. Her and Liam are from Kansas City, the Missouri side. Liam's fifteen. They were on a school trip when they faced the initial disaster. In Wichita, we found Lydia's mother, Natalie, Jackson and Danny. They were all middle school teachers. Natalie taught science, Danny math and computers, and Jackson was the gym teacher. We had to walk at some point and saved Coach and Greenberg. Coach was a cross country coach and economics teacher." Derek noticed the curious expressions of the group. "What? Oh yeah. I brought a lot of teachers. Greenberg...we don't actually- Hey what did you do before the outbreak?"

Chris took in the guy they called Greenberg. The man was the most nondescript person he'd ever seen. In fact, if he'd seen him in a crowd, he would not have remembered him even seconds later.

"I was a tailor."

"There you go. I brought you a bunch of really useful people. Plus we have a UPS truck filled with supplies. Quite a bit actually."

Light laughter broke out among the group, until Melissa peeked her head around Derek. "And who's this little monkey?"

He smiled, "This is Addy. She's uh..."

"Derek's my new Papa."

"Ladybug, this is Melissa and John. Remember what I told you about them?"

"New Grandma and Grandpa, but not to take Grandma Nancy's place? Like extras."

"Yeah."

She slid off Derek's back in record time so she could tentatively shuffle towards John and Melissa. "Hi. I'm Addy."

Melissa crouched down to meet Addy's eyes. "Nice to meet you, Addy. I'm Melissa. What do you have there?" she asked, pointing to the stuffed animal in her hands.

"S'my duck. We found him in the house we stayed in. Papa said I could keep him. See? He's really soft." She handed the plush duck to Melissa. "That's Daffy."

"Well now, he's a very nice duck."

"Thanks." After a moment, though she noticed Anthony and Sammi in the room. "More kids! I have someone to play with!"

"Hey Anthony. Can you go show Addy the bedroom?" John asked, ruffling the boy's hair on the way past.

"Come on, Addy. I'm Anthony. Up the stairs."

Derek watched both kids head for the stairs, another little girl running after them.

"Wait for me!"

John looked at the new house guests. "So bedrooms on this floor are all open. They have little signs on them you can decorate." He rolled his eyes at the snickers. "Yeah, don't let my son hear you make fun of them. Or any of the other little 'projects' he comes up with. In fact, I don't want to hear you make fun of them either. They make him happy." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Anyway, feel free to look around. If you want to shower, there are two bathrooms on this floor, one on the second, and if you ask the occupants of bedrooms 5,6,9 and 10 I'm sure they'd let you use the two Jack and Jill bathrooms those rooms share. Laundry is on this floor across from bedroom two."

"Signs?"

He clapped Derek on the back. "Stiles found little planks of wood in December when they went looking for Christmas decorations. He said we all needed addresses. He's Stiles. He's quirky like that. We also had to 'send' each other Christmas cards. He's...well they, the projects, that is, help." He motioned for Derek to follow him up the stairs.

Derek picked up his duffel and started after his father-in-law, confused by the man's choice of words regarding Stiles. It felt as though some large mystery hung in the air between them. He'd ask about it later.

"So you are in bedroom eleven on the top floor."

"Banish Stiles upstairs for a reason?" Derek watched John's posture stiffen. "I was joking."

"He picked the room himself. After you..." John turned around, pausing on the landing between the first and second floor. "Something...he's different."

"We all are."

"That's not what I meant."

There it was again, the unspoken.

They continued up the stairs. "When he gets back, just talk to him. You'll understand."

John paused outside the room, and Derek took in the sign hanging on the wall:

Stilinski-Hale Institute FHL
1407 Graymalkin Lane, M.O.N., IA

He couldn't help laughing.

"What?"

Derek shook his head. "My husband is a giant dork."

John looked at the sign. "I don't see why it's funny."

"That's from XMen; it's the address of the Xavier Institute. I think M.O.N. stands for Middle of Nowhere." He laughed again, but then turned his attention to the little cardboard box, painted blue, hung outside the door. "What in the..."

"Mailboxes. We all have one, well each room does. He made them." John sighed, "He thought it would lend some normalcy to the place if we could send letters, little pick-me-ups, gifts to one another. Anthony has been designated honorary Mailman. To be honest, I think he was onto something, especially when your birthday rolled around. We made sure everything was delivered after he went to bed Christmas Eve, so he woke up knowing we remembered."

Derek swallowed hard, feeling like he'd been hit in the gut. "That bad?"

"It was hard to watch him go through, and then...that's for him to tell you," he said, pushing open the already ajar door. He held a finger to his lips.

When Derek first stepped into the room, he noticed that it was definitely Stiles' room. The room had a fireplace in the corner, which Derek assumed had something to do with the way the room jutted out away from the house. It was probably one of the colder rooms in the place. Shelves holding his little knick-knacks hung on the walls. One on the wall behind the bed held the wedding gifts Stiles' gave him: The house figurine and rubber duck, as well as the statue Melissa found for Stiles with the two parents holding a child. Joining it on the shelf, were two troll dolls. He managed to find them after all. The Christmas cards John mentioned hung on the back of the door along with any other cards or pieces of mail Stiles had received since they arrived.

Salvaged picture frames held colorful pieces of paper, and more than a few housed photos of the two of them, one he remembered as a picture of Stiles with his mother. Then, he saw a small frame with a torn picture inside. The photo looked only to be printed on cheap picture paper, the kind one might use in those portable printers that hooked up to a smart phone, drawing power from the phone battery. He didn't recognize the woman in the photo or the infant. Odd.

He stopped though when his eyes fell on the mantle. Stiles had framed the photo of Derek and him from the Christmas before; that was not surprising. Derek, himself, adored the photo. The pictures that flanked it, however, did surprise him. He found himself staring at Stiles holding an infant. The first photo was of his husband giving the boy a bath, and the second appeared to be the night they decorated the Christmas tree. Stiles looked beautiful, his eyes bright despite an obvious sadness behind them. Derek knew what had caused that; he'd believed him dead after all.

"There's a small computer, basic set up and printer in the office downstairs. Nothing fancy, but good for typing up things we need for the house. It works well for pictures though, once we found the right paper in town. We printed those out, put them in frames for his Christmas present. "

From the corner, he heard a coo. John walked over and pulled back a set of colorful curtains. "Hey, Buddy. Have a good nap?" He scooped up the child.

"Dada, ba ba ba."

"He's not back yet." John handed him to Derek who stared down at the baby in awe. "This is Miguel, well Mikey. We didn't pick the name, Stiles came across the boy's dying mother in Omaha. It was either he take him, or leave the boy to die. Well you know Stiles."

Derek couldn't speak, and only swallowed hard. Somehow, despite distance, they'd both managed to become parents on their own. Tears pricked his eyes.

"He said Mikey, reminded him of you."

Derek looked at the little room Stiles had fashioned for his, their son. Besides the bed, there was a little play mat and a few toys, a rocking horse even. "Did he-"

"Ethan helped us make the bed for Mikey. Stiles... he's good at this, a natural, better than I was when I first started out." John sensed his son-in-law wanted a moment alone. "I'll just give you a minute. Um, the bedroom the rest of the kids are in is on the second floor, bedroom four. Almost directly below this one."

With that, John was gone. Derek sat down on the bed, Miguel in his arms and learned every inch of the boy's face. "Hey there. I'm Papa."

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

The next morning, after everyone had eaten breakfast, Isaac and Maria worked at the stove an assortment of hardware sat around them. The month before, he discovered dried hops and brewers yeast in the cellar. Two failed attempts at beer making since then, and he'd figured out where they screwed up before. Today would be a successful day; he just knew it.

 

 

 

Derek sat on the rug by the hearth, trying to work a comb through the rat nest that had taken over Addy's hair.

"Ouchie, Papa. That hurts."

"I'm sorry, Ladybug. It's so tangled." He gave up when he managed to get the comb stuck in the tangles. "Next time you wash your hair, we'll braid it before bed. Okay?" He felt something poke him in the shoulder. Glancing behind him, he saw Gina with a small spray bottle. "What's this?"

"Homemade detangler. I use it on Sammi's hair. It's water, olive oil and a few drops of peppermint oil. Works great."

"Thanks." He took the bottle and sprayed the contents onto Addy's hair with a heavy hand. To his surprise, the comb now slid easily through her hair, and in no time, she had the ponytail she'd asked for. "There you go. Now go finish getting dressed." He sent her upstairs, thankful that over the last few months, the trips into town had procured clothes that, although were too big for Sammi right now and would fit her in a year or two, fit Addy perfectly. Her lack of clothing had been weighing on him, and it was nice to know he didn't have to scramble to find her things to wear. You are picking up this father thing pretty quick, Hale. As it did, every so often, nostalgia hit him, and he found himself wishing his family were here to see him now, to see his own family.

 

 

 

Outside, the Tahoe pulled into the garage, with Tara and Scott pulling the heavy door down and locking it in place after the car had been shut off. Then, they each loaded up their arms with as much as they could carry and walked into the house. Stiles, in the back, started handing items to Jordan. "Here." Jordan sat the items just inside the house before grabbing another load in his arms.

When Stiles slid out the back of the car, the only thing left for him to carry was an armful of board games. How nice of them to leave him with an easy trip. He had to latch the door over. Conservation of heat and energy were essential after all.

By the time he made it to the living room to tell everyone of his awesome finds, the first thing he noticed was the lack of any words. If the fire had not been crackling in the background, the room would have been absolutely silent. What the fuck? Still, he took a deep breath and groaned. "Oh my god! It smells like beer in here! Isaac tell me you figured out how to make beer this time! I can't deal with the disappointment again."

When everyone remained silent, Stiles looked over at Scott. "Dude, what the hell?" He followed Scott's gaze. Stiles couldn't breathe, and in that moment, everything in his arms crashed to the ground, a cascade of Monopoly money fluttering around him like birds. His limbs, his chest, even the breath he managed to take were shaking as he stared at a ghost.

Unable to remain standing, he collapsed to the floor. "Tell me I'm not seeing things. Dere-" He choked back a sob. "He's here right? He's real. You all can see him?" he wheezed as tears burst from his eyes. "Cause if not, I'm...seeing things, hallucinating. Pretty sure the deep end is behind me, and I've gone off of said deep end. Oh God! I'm dead. I'm dead, and Derek was right. There is an afterlife, and that is here, where I am is...I'm dead. I don't remember dying. Was it sudden cardiac arrest, pulmonary embolism, massive brain hemorrhage? Had to have been quick, because I don't remember being attacked, or shot, or actually following through this time." He was a blubbery mess. These weren't dignified tears. Oh God, no! Snot was involved, gross heaving sobs, red faced ugly crying. All he could do was form some flailing pantomime of a beckon to the man he, and their entire group assumed died in that hospital.

With tears in his eyes, Derek stared at him. "It's me. I made it."

Somehow, and don't ask him for specifics, Stiles managed to stand, tripping over the pile of things in front of him and crashed into Derek, almost knocking him on his back from where he sat. "You were dead. You..." Crawling into Derek's lap, Stiles sobbed into his husband's shoulder. "I...I..." The rest of his words were both muffled by the fabric of Derek's shirt and incoherent due to to Stiles' uncontrollable tears.

Derek folded him in his arms, holding him like he was a breath of life. "I know. I was unconscious and trapped. You were all gone when I came to." Derek smoothed Stiles' hair.

Stiles lifted his head, hands cupping Derek's face. His fingers shook as he touched him, as though he didn't believe Derek was real. "It rui- It destroyed me, thinking I watched you die. I...You don't-" Tears gushed from his eyes. "You, you..." He tried to take a deep breath, but found himself gasping for breath. "I...I"

Derek clutched him tighter, Stiles' whole body shaking in both shock and elation. "I'm here; I'm here. I'm real. Just breathe." He ran a thumb along Stiles' lower lip. "You kept me going."

Stiles pressed his lips to Derek's. "You...and...I... you-" Coherent sentence, absolutely not.

"I'm here."

Finally, he managed to pull in enough air. "I wanted to die."

Derek cried into Stiles' shoulder as well, his sobs muffled by the fabric of the bulky hoodie Stiles wore. "Overjoyed you didn't." He'd made it, just like Stiles had a year ago. "Would have killed me to come all this way to see you again, only for you to be gone.

As the pair clung to each other on the warm floor by the hearth, the rest of the group hung back and introductions were made; Scott fell on his face trying to talk to the pretty new girl with the raven hair. Metaphorically of course. If Stiles had been anything other than beside himself at holding his husband again, he would have jumped on the chance to make fun of his step-brother's blushing face and rambling words that sounded more like they came from Stiles' lips than Scott's.

How long they sat there, neither one could really say. "What took you so long?" Stiles, finally in control of his mental faculties, asked with a little chuckle.

"Spent a lot of time walking. Finally found a ride, but it required a detour to Kansas. Then...a lot more walking."

Stiles noticed Miguel on the floor, playing with blocks nearby. "Did you...did you..." He went and collected the boy, handing him to Derek. "Mikey, he's ou-"

 

 

 

"Yeah. Sang to him last night trying to get him to sleep. He likes my voice almost as much as you do." Derek, cheeks sore from smiling and face still tear stained, craned his neck towards the other side of room. "Ladybug, come here."

 

 

 

Stiles looked on as a girl a couple years older than Sammi walked over to them. She clutched to a stuffed duck, shuffling nervously towards Derek. The two men could only stare at each other, rememorizing the other's face, before Derek broke the silence.

"I found one too."

Stiles couldn't swallow for the lump in his throat.

"This is Addy."

"She's beautiful."

"Addy, it's okay. This is Stiles. Remember all the stories I told you about him?"

She nodded. "You love him like Grandma Nancy loved Grandpa Eddie."

"Yeah, I do."

"He found Mikey?"

"Yeah."

She leaned in close to Derek's ear. "Um....Is he Papa too?"

"If you want. Or you can call him something else."

"Like Daddy?" she whispered.

"Yeah like that."

Addy squeezed into Derek's lap. "Before, I had no papas, and now I have two."

Derek wrapped his arms around Stiles' waist. "I know it's not how you pictured it, but we have a family."

Stiles' heart felt like it could burst. Just hours ago, he was a single parent, resigned to never falling in love again, not that he'd want to. Derek was it for him. And now...words couldn't describe what he felt right then. He felt lightheaded. Everything that had been ripped away from him, had been thrust back into his life, and it was hard to process. Okay? Not only was Derek alive, but he was here, in his arms, and they had a family. "Yeah we do." He pressed his forehead against Derek's. "We do."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Everyone sat in the dining room. The table, built only to seat twelve, was crammed with an extra three people, and Miguel. The infant, happily sat in his high chair (that wonderful find from the month before), which was wedged in between Stiles and Scott, as he rolled peas around on his tray. In the attic, they'd found a couple card tables with extra chairs, and those lay in the corners of the dining room. One table had been designated the kid's table, and the other was for those who couldn't fit at the main table. In order to stay fair, the seats at the large table rotated. If someone had to sit at the 'leftover' table one day, they didn't the next. Just one of those things Stiles said would help keep things working smoothly.

Surprisingly, his 'little things' worked quite well. The new group, Coach and Jackson excepted, actually used the mailboxes. Kira and Scott, after their first awkward encounter, took to sending each other little notes in an attempt at dating. It seemed to work well for them. Stiles had the pleasure, if it could be called that, of helping Scott with one of them, only to have Scott totally ignore his advice and send the ridiculous 'Do you like me? Check yes or no' note. Flirting had never been Scott's strong suit to be honest. Nice, moral to a fault, yes? Blessed with good game? Hell no.

Instead of answering him, she offered to teach him some martial arts. Things had been going well, rather well, in fact, until Scott smacked himself in the face with nunchaku. So as far as first 'dates' go, certainly memorable, if the stitches his lip needed were any indication.

Lydia and Melissa bonded over the crazy emergency room stories they had experienced. In fact, Lydia was actually working to teach Melissa more advanced medical care techniques than she had used as a nurse. Having someone else with a doctor's knowledge would never go to waste. Somehow, poor Jordan got roped into being her guinea pig to theoretically practice on. Though in all honesty, the guy didn't look all that bothered by it, and Stiles was pretty sure he actually volunteered for the job. Those two seemed really into each other. So there was that.

Danny seemed like a nice guy. Jackson, well Stiles wanted to punch the guy in the face, but thought it best not to break the peace just because the guy was a major dickhole (seriously? Stiles dared him to mock Derek's choice in partners one more time, and he would show the man just how formidable one Stiles Stilinski-Hale could be). Greenberg, well he pretty much kept to himself, except when he was following Coach around like a lost puppy. Speaking of Coach, Stiles took great pleasure in playing little pranks on the man. His favorite so far had been moving the man's bed a foot to the right. The cursing Coach yelled when he missed the bed that night and crashed to the floor woke the whole house. Stiles had no regrets.

Anyway, they were all enjoying yet another delicious meal from the dynamic kitchen duo of Isaac and Maria. The fruits of their labor a week ago sat in glasses around the table, and by fruits, Stiles meant beer. Was it the best he'd ever tried? No, but it sure tasted like heaven. He figured the two would perfect a recipe with time, especially given the seed vaults contained all the necessary plants for brewing the stuff. He looked forward to growing hops, just so he could say he grew hops. What? It's crops like that which lend credence to the 'I garden' statement.

Although the meal, like most of their others, was meatless (canned meat was reserved for special occasions), no one seemed to care. Too many months with an inadequate food supply had a way of eradicating food aversions. The pan of vegetarian lasagna was empty, its contents sitting in various states of consumption on everyone's plates, which was surprising, because Stiles remembered just how badly processed-cheese actually tasted. Isaac could work magic that's for damn sure.

Stiles sat, quietly taking in the conversation as he ate. There was still a lot for everyone to learn about each other, and mealtime was perfect for that. After dinner was game night, which so far had been a hit.

Miguel threw his bottle on the floor and laughed until Stiles picked it up. "That's enough of that, Mister." He set it back on the tray. Next to him, Derek, probably without even realizing he'd done it, lay his hand high on Stiles' thigh under the table. Such a gesture was almost second nature to the man. Even before the outbreak, he'd had a hard time not touching Stiles every moment they spent together. Now however, Stiles froze. He took a few breaths, trying to calm himself, eyes screwed shut to keep the panic at bay while he pushed food around his plate. It's just Derek. He's safe; he'd never- Too late. His efforts were no use.

As calmly as he could, which in fairness probably was the opposite of calm, he lay down his fork and hurried away from the table, taking the far stairs up to the bathroom in-between Scott's and Maria's rooms. Not a moment too soon, he crashed through the door and emptied his stomach into the toilet. After several minutes and multiple glasses of water both to drink and to splash his face with, he regained some sense of normalcy.

His panic, he chalked up to being unprepared. Derek's action took him by surprise, so he didn't have a chance to reaffirm it was a safe action before spiraling into a panic attack. And, to think, he'd been doing so well. Looks like he another trigger to add to his list.

He knew he should talk to Derek about it all, but the whole ordeal and talking about it was so...dehumanizing. The last thing he wanted was for Derek to look at him and only see what happened to him. Stiles didn't think he could handle seeing that in Derek's eyes.

When he sat down at the table, he caught Maria's knowing glance and gave a small shrug.

"Hey, you okay?" Derek asked, taking his hand.

Thankfully, that gesture had no effect on him other than to warm his heart. "Yeah," he lied, "just, I ate too fast. Gonna have heartburn later. I can already tell." He smiled, thrilled his little lie had not been picked up on.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Two weeks went by, and running around after two kids had left Derek and Stiles exhausted to the point where they fell asleep almost instantly after their heads hit the pillows. The rest of the time, they just wanted to hold each other. It was as though they needed constant reassurance the other was in fact still there and they weren't dreaming. The comfort and familiarity of Derek's touch pushed that conversation they should have had right away to the back of Stiles mind. Things were going well like this, and just the innocent embrace and familiarizing themselves with the way the other felt wrapped in their arms was perfect.

Then, one night that wasn't enough for either of them.

 

 

 

Of the few that remained in the living room, only Derek and Stiles were awake. The kids had long been put to bed, several adults joining them, and Miguel slept soundly on his grandpa's chest. Grandpa was also asleep.

A particularly competitive game of Scrabble had devolved into dirty words and innuendo, flirting in board game form. By the time Stiles played 'upstairs,' Derek was half hard in his pants. After playing 'now,' he grabbed Stiles' hand and led him to the stairs.

 

 

 

They barely made it up one flight ofstairs before pausing on the landing. Stiles' brain flooded with too many emotions at once, and damn he'd missed the way this man could kiss. If they gave out medals for kissing, Derek would certainly win gold. He pushed Derek against the wall, fingers fumbling on his fly.

"Don't you think we should get to our room before you do that?" Derek asked, breathless, voice shaky.

Stiles took Derek's bottom lip between his teeth, biting down in a way that was just past gentle. He reveled in the hiss it drew out of his husband. "Yeah, probably good idea." He damn near pushed Derek up the rest of the stairs.

They crashed through their bedroom door, barely managing to close it before falling into bed, Stiles shucking Derek's shirt off in the process. He drew his tongue down Derek's chest, pressing a kiss over his heart. When he tried to once again deal with that pesky fly, Derek coaxed him back up his body.

 

 

 

Derek's fingers worked at the buttons on Stiles' shirt. At the last button, he groaned at another layer in his way. Stiles, straddling his hips, at least helped him with that, and once the t-shirt had been shed too, pulled Stiles to his chest. He reveled in the feeling of bare skin against his again. He cupped his hand behind Stiles' head. Too much space between them. He just needed to kiss, and Stiles seemed to be of the same sentiment too.

Derek's thumb ran across something he'd never felt before. A scar? That hadn't been there the last time he'd been with Stiles. He let his fingers trail south, and after about about four inches of feeling the healed wound, Stiles seemed to realize what was going on. In a hurried movement, he pushed Derek's hand away. "Wha-"

"Hazard of fighting Ragers."

"But-"

"I don't like it, and it makes me self-conscious," he panted against Derek's lips. "Just forget it." He rolled his hips down against Derek, making both men groan.

His head now clouded with emotion, Derek pushed the revelation of the scar oh his husband's neck to the back of his mind. He missed the feel of him in his hand and flipped them over. He kissed down his husband's neck, making sure to hit every mole he loved so much. He remembered them all, could paint them perfect from memory.

Unlike Stiles, he had no trouble with the buttons on his fly. The stupid pants, however, were too tight to pull down, and he settled instead for just freeing Stiles' erection from the confines of his boxers. Derek almost came the moment he wrapped his hand around his husband's dick. He took several shuddering breaths into Stiles' neck to calm himself before jumping over the edge before they did anything.

 

 

 

Already on edge from Derek finding the scar he'd worked so hard to keep hidden (sleeping in hoodies, wearing collared shirts), Stiles turned to stone in the bed. Worse than the feeling at dinner the other day, Stiles felt his stomach roll, the room closing in on him. No, no, no, no. This is Derek. You trust him, more than anyone in the world. His touch isn't suppo-

Tears forced themselves from his eyes. He needed to get out of there, but he couldn't move; his mouth couldn't even form words. The longer Derek's hand remained on his dick, the worse it got. He'd never felt panic this strong in his life. Not when he first heard about Ragers, not when he passed out on the roof of that restaurant, not when smelled that shampoo again and it sent him into a dissociated wreck. This...was unbearable. His brain would not go into fight or flight mode. It just kept him there like prey, while he fell to pieces at the fact that if Derek's touch...Derek's of all people could do this to him, then he'd never get over it. He'd never be a working human again.

Finally, his lungs remembered to work, and he was able to form words again. "Stop." And fucking hell, it had only come out in a raspy murmur. Derek's face was buried in his neck, sucking a mark into the crook. There was no way he'd even heard him.

He opened his mouth to try again with more volume, just in time for two fingers to slip into his mouth. No, Derek stop. You're ruining everything. I don't want to remember him when you do this. Stop. His tongue managed to push Derek's fingers from his mouth. If he got those anywhere near...Stiles would be done for. He'd be destroyed again.

The few tears, turned into full on floods pouring from his eyes. "Stop. Derek, stop. Please. You have to-."

 

 

 

Derek pulled his mouth away from Stiles' collarbone. Those had definitely been tears he'd heard in Stiles' voice. "Did I hurt you? I didn't think-"

 

 

 

"Just stop!" Stiles shoved at Derek shoulders, trying to get out from under him. "I...I-" He used all his might to push Derek off him. "Oh fuck-" He covered his mouth and rushed into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. Just like with the lasagna, his stomach decided to rid itself of everything in it. When his stomach was empty, and the dry heaving subsided, he flopped onto his ass, sobbing as he pawed at his chest as though he was trying to clutch his heart. He couldn't catch his breath through the panic and tears.

Derek knocked on the door. "Babe, what did I do?"

Each lungful of air was torture; Stiles couldn't breathe, much less speak. His body shook with sobs. It wasn't fair; this wasn't supposed to happen with Derek. He loved him. He was safe. The monster hadn't ruined Stiles for anyone else. No, he'd ruined everyone else for Stiles. This reaction should not-- and now...If it were even possible, Stiles began crying harder. Black tinged the edges of his vision, as it tunneled out on him.

 

 

 

"Stiles, talk to me. If I hurt you, I didn't realize it. I don't know--I don't understand, and I won't if you don't talk to me. What did I do?" He knew it was futile to try the knob, but did it anyway. "Please. I don't want you to feel like this because of something I did, especially if I don't know what it was. Please, open the door. Please." Derek felt his heart breaking a little listening to his husband's panic attack overwhelm him. "If you don't want me to come in, that's fine, but please unlock the door. I don't want to break it down if you pass out and we need to check on you."

 

 

 

What if he could never be intimate again? Stiles, you're a mess. You're a broken mess. You might as well give up trying. Not trusting his feet to stand, he reached for the towels, still damp from Miguel's bathtime earlier, and covered himself with them. He curled his quaking body into the tightest ball he could, clutching his knees to his chest sobbing uncontrollably until eventually, he was too exhausted to stay awake any longer.

 

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Derek woke the next morning on the floor outside the bathroom with a crick in his neck and an ache in his heart. Long after he assumed Stiles had fallen asleep, and hopefully not passed out, he lie awake trying to piece together his actions in an attempt to puzzle out what he'd done to send Stiles running for the proverbial hills. For a long while, he came up empty, until he came to a conclusion that was just too disturbing to believe. It couldn't be true; that could not have happened. The group took care of each other. No way would any of them be so unalert, so unprepared as to let that happen to a member of their little family. It had to be something else. With everything in him, he begged for it to be something else, because if not, well then John surely would have mentioned it when he showed them around the house, prepared him.

He gave a soft knock to the bathroom door. "Are you okay in there, Babe? Just a yes or no so I at least know you're still breathing. Please."

"I'll be out later," Stiles' tiny voice barely carried through the door.

"I'm sorry for whatever I did." Derek placed his palm on the door. "I hope you'll talk to me so I don't do it again." He sighed, "I love you, and I hope you know I'd never hurt you on purpose." He rose slowly and tugged on a t-shirt and sweatpants.

When he arrived downstairs, he found Miguel and Addy sitting at the dining room table with John and Melissa. "Morning Sunshines." He kissed the tops of his children's heads.

"Rough night?" John asked, and Derek nodded. "I tried to bring Mikey upstairs to bed, but well, I heard."

"He locked himself in the bathroom. I don't know..."

"I put Mikey down in the kids' room. He seemed to do okay. You could probably move him in there soon if you two wanted."

"Thanks." Derek read the chalkboard on the cabinet next to the stove:

MENU:
3 pancakes (if extras, and you want more check with me)
Red scoop of fruit salsa
Glass of milk
Syrup is in the cabinet
Coffee is also ready
(If you empty the pot, please make more)

D&S- Maria pureed some fruit salsa for Mikey and made him tiny pancakes


Derek took his allotted pancakes and fruit. Though he never grew accustomed to the taste of the non-fat powdered milk after it was reconstituted, he knew it served as a good source of protein and calcium. He sat down next to Addy. "You like your pancakes, Ladybug?"

"They're yummy. Taste like apples. I got to pour in the applesauce and stir," she said, most proud of herself. "Isaac said I can help whenever I want."

"He did? Well," he took a bite, "they are delicious. Did you sleep well?"

"Uh huh. 'Cept Anthony kept telling funny stories last night. He's silly, Papa." She drank the rest of her milk. "Where's Daddy?"

Derek sighed, "Sleeping." His head hurt, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't shake the sound of Stiles falling apart in the bathroom out of his mind. He sat outside helplessly, and it broke his heart.

Several minutes later, Stiles shuffled into the kitchen, taking only one pancake and a cup of water. When he sat down across from his husband, Derek could see the dark circles under his puffy eyes. His skin looked pale, as if Stiles was fighting nausea this morning, his tiny portion of food served as further evidence of that. Derek reached out his hand to catch Stiles' but stopped when he saw his shoulders tense. Instead, he turned over his hand, lying his hand palm up on the table. After a beat, Stiles placed his hand in Derek's. "You feeling okay?"

Stiles rubbed his temples and simply shook his head.

"Aww, Daddy you don't feel good?" She handed him her duck. "You can hold Daffy if you want. He makes me feel better."

Stiles gave her a soft smile. "Thanks, Sweetie." He finished the rest of his meal in silence, before rising his plate, and heading out to the greenhouse.

Derek sat at the table for several minutes. Then, after dressing for the day, he headed outside to split logs in order to refill the racks in the living room. Despite having full heat thanks to solar power, they kept the thermostat fairly low to conserve energy. Winter gave little in the way of sun, so it was best to use as little electricity as possible. The fireplaces helped take the chill out of the rooms.

He attacked the wood like a man possessed, cutting enough to last for almost a week. Eventually, he took a few cautious steps into the greenhouse fully expecting to see Stiles looking just as miserable as he did earlier. Instead, Derek felt a weight drop off his shoulders. Stiles clearly felt better, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He beckoned Derek over to show him the plants he had been tending to.

"Look, these are almost ready to pick. Isaac said he can't wait to make pickles, and I can't wait to taste them." Stiles found a large enough cucumber (still small given the pickling variety of cucumber, but still) and plucked it off the stem. "Here, try it. Tell me how they taste. I had a little trouble getting these seeds to germinate."

Derek rinsed it off in the sink and took a bite, savoring the crunch and freshness. "They're good." He passed over what remained of the little cucumber for Stiles to sample. "I still can't believe you did all this by yourself." He gestured to the whole spread. "You are full of surprises." To his own surprise, Stiles wrapped his arms around him, embracing him in a tight hug. Derek kissed his forehead. "I'm sorry."

"No, don't. You did nothing-- that was me. None of that was your fault. It was all me. Trust me on this, please."

Derek stepped back to look at him. Stiles had shed his sweatshirt and now only wore a plain black t-shirt. Derek nodded. "Okay." He averted his gaze, his eyes taking in the plants behind Stiles. He didn't believe Stiles and his insistence that what happened last night had nothing to do with Derek. He sighed. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Stiles' neck, now on full display. He wasn't sure if Stiles noticed his glance, but Derek couldn't look away.

A long and still pink scar ran from the hinge of Stiles' jaw to his sternum, almost a foot in length. He understood why Stiles wouldn't like looking at it, but Derek also understood something else. There was no way a Rager made a gash that clean. What happened after Grand Junction? "Hey, can I ask you something?"

Stiles eyed him warily. "Okay." His voice held no conviction.

"Your dad told me I needed to ask you about what happened after we got separated."

"I fell apart."

That was it; Stiles offered no further explanation, instead pressing his lips together in a thin line, jaw clenched tight.

"It's just...he said you were different, and I'm only trying to understand what he meant."

Stiles stared at him. "Who among us isn't different?"

Sensing his husband to be evading the issue, Derek relented, even though he yearned, desperately at that, for Stiles to talk to him, confide in him. "I guess you're right. Do you need some help in here?"

Stiles smiled and showed Derek what he needed help with. All the while, Derek felt a sinister cloud of things unsaid hanging between them. It ate away at him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

For a week or so, things between them felt a little better, even if Derek found it odd the way Stiles would only sleep on his back now instead of on his side. Sleeping with Derek spooned around him, used to be one of Stiles' favorite things, and now...Derek pushed down his feelings and maintained the status quo. He didn't want to fight. However, he didn't like feeling left out of some big secret, especially when the more he paid attention, the more he began to feel that his horrible suspicion was right, as much as it hurt to believe that. To be fair, he didn't actually know how he'd handle knowing, if his theory proved correct.

In no way did he want to be right about this.

He finished switching over their laundry, folding both Addy's and Miguel's clothes and placing them in their respective baskets. Then, he sought out Stiles. Maybe he'd be up for a game of Trouble. Derek found his husband at the kitchen sink, cleaning up the rest of the lunch dishes.

He came up behind him and wrapped his arms around Stiles' waist, resting his chin on a shoulder. "Hey, how much do you have left?" He looked at the small pile of dirty plates. "Well, when you're finished, what do you say to a game? I'm bored, and it's snowing and colder than I've ever experienced in my life, so I can't do my jobs this afternoon. My native Californian blood can't take it."

Chuckling, Stiles leaned his body into Derek's. "Sounds good. I have like five minutes left here if that. If you want to set it up, we can play."

He kissed the back of Stiles' neck. "Or...maybe we skip the game, and find somewhere private." He turned his attention to the side of Stiles' neck, leaving small kisses on the skin, taking a bit of skin between his teeth gently, and Stiles let out a whimper. He knew they were alone in the kitchen, with most of the group engrossed in one of the few movies they had. What was a little making out in the kitchen?

 

 

 

When Derek dipped his hands below the waistband of his sweatpants, Stiles' whole body tensed up on him. His heart rate spiked; his breath turned shallow as he fought to stay in the moment and not give in to the panic knocking at the door. This time felt worse though. Everything about their current position reminded him of Denver. Derek whispered something in his ear, probably something sweet and romantic, but all Stiles heard was that voice, those words.

"Will be begging me."
"They don't want you back."

Derek ran a hand through his hair, and all bets were off.

"Smells real nice."
"Ruin you."

That monsters words echoed in his head, attacking him from every side. "Ruin you...ruin you...ruin you..." Stiles bucked his body out of Derek's grasp, and ripped himself away.

 

 

 

When Stiles spun around, Derek was met with a wide-eyed terror, the likes of which he'd never seen from Stiles. And in that moment, his suspicions were confirmed. He tamped down the bile rising in his throat and held up his hands in a submissive gesture. "Stiles? Are you okay?" As soon as the words left his lips, he watched Stiles clamp his hands down over his ears as he sank to the floor. He could see him fighting for every ragged breath he took, his eyes darting back and forth as if checking for an exit. "Stiles, Babe, can you try taking a deep breath for me? Just breathe."

Instead of taking Derek's advice, Stiles scrambled to his feet, and barreling past Derek, fled the room. Before Derek could even say a word, Stiles was out of sight. Derek stood, like a statue for several minutes, trying to make sense of what he'd just witnessed. The look in Stiles' eyes when he'd turned around held no recognition. It was as though he was staring at a stranger instead of Derek.

The more Derek thought about it, the more he was certain that a) Stiles was definitely not okay and b)he had just fled the room in the middle of a flashback completely dissociated from reality. He felt sick to his stomach.

Then, he grew angry. Not at Stiles, no. He could understand how his husband wouldn't want to talk about it, admit something like that. Everyone else though? Why wouldn't they say something to him?

He took a deep breath, steeling his resolve, and walked into the living room. "PTSD...you think that's something one of you might have mentioned at least once in the three weeks I've been here. Given me a list of triggers or something, instead of leaving me in the dark to set off a flashback in the kitchen?"

"It wasn't our place-"

"Fuck it being your place, John. I have made things worse because no one told me a damn thing!" He took a shuddering breath and lowered his voice. "Is that how he got the scar on his neck?"

"So he told you-"

"No. I figured it out on my own, given what we were doing the two times I've set him off." Derek closed his eyes and tried to control his seething anger. "Do you know what happened?"

"Yeah."

He ignored the worried faces on the rest of them in living room, some of which belonged to the group he arrived with. "Tell me you, someone gutted 'em like a pig, cut his balls off at least. Tell me you didn't let him go so he could become someone else's problem. Tell me you didn't let him get away with it, please."

Chris spoke up, "Stiles took care of that himself, pretty gruesomely at that."

Derek glared at him. "You saw this happen to him? And what-- did you all have guns to your heads?"

"No, there were only three of them. They-"

He felt tears well up in his eyes. "So, you all stood there and watched while this happened to him, and none of you tried to help him?" He choked back a sob, "What the hell is wrong with all of you? And you..." He pointed to John and Melissa. "You're his parents!" He took a shuddering breath and wiped his eyes. "Forget about that right now. Where would he go?"

"What do you mean?" Melissa asked.

"When he dissociates, where does he go?"

From above him, he heard Maria call down the stairs, "He hasn't had a flashback since we've been here. Before...we never could find him."

"And um, how long do they last?"

"A half an hour, sometimes more. He had one that was a couple hours."

Derek nodded. "We need to find him, because he left the kitchen with no coat and no shoes. It is twelve degrees outside and windy as hell; he's gonna freeze." Furious, Derek bounded up the stairs to don the rest of his winter clothes and grab the heavy blanket off their bed. He'd let someone else check inside the house.

 

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Stiles' mind came to in a pitch black room, except for a sliver of light under the door. He could hear the wind howling outside of...wherever he was. The darkness, he supposed, would bother somebody else, but he felt comforted by it. It was as if the lack of light made it impossible to find him, harder to make things worse.

The pounding inside his head was excruciating, and wasn't that just perfect? A migraine on top of the overall achiness he felt any time he came out of a flashback. Outside, wind-muffled shouts of his name rang out, and for a moment, he thought about answering them. But he couldn't. He was too ashamed. Twice now, he'd freaked out on Derek. The man had to think Stiles was broken. Who would want to stay with someone as fucked up as Stiles felt?

He took a deep breath. The faint hint of hickory remained in the air around him. The smokehouse? Well that was a bit morbid of a place for his confused brain to seek out. Though it shielded him from the wind, the shed was still frigid, and Stiles shivered.

He just wanted to be okay again. The sad part was, he thought he was getting better, but in the last ten days, he'd been more jumpy, exhausted, and more terrified than he'd been in a long time.

Just when he thought about going inside, someone knocked on the door to the smokehouse. "Hey, Babe? You in there?"

"Yeah."

 

 

 

"I brought you a blanket and your boots. You don't have to let me in, but please take these. I don't want you to freeze to death." Derek waved off the others as he waited outside. Finally, the door swung open, and instead of Stiles taking the items from him and shutting the door, his icy fingers wrapped around Derek's wrist and pulled him inside.

 

 

 

"Thanks," Stiles said as he sat down, tugging Derek down to the floor with him. "You don't need to stay by the door. I want...sit by me?" He pulled on his boots as Derek sat down next to him and wrapped the blanket around them both. Stiles could feel Derek's hesitation when he moved to throw an arm around his shoulders, but stopped. "It's okay." He remained silent for a few minutes before he found his nerve. "So...I need to tell you something, and it's going to hurt you to hear. Please don't be mad at me."

Derek set up his flashlight to brighten up the small room. "Stiles, it wasn't your fault."

"So you know? Who told you?"

"No one. I sort of figured it out. And yes, it did hurt. I'm not mad at you." He leaned his head against Stiles'. "I'm angry. So angry it happened to you, mad that I wasn't there to help you when no one else did, but you? I'm not mad at you at all. It has to be hard to talk about, and easier to pretend didn't happen, but if you need to or want to tell me about it, go ahead."

"Okay."

"Your hands cold?"

"Yeah." Derek took both of Stiles hands his own, warming them up beneath the blanket. Stiles took a deep breath and told him everything. When he'd finished, he was sobbing again. "So, when I panicked, it wasn't you. All I could see and think of was him, and I hate that I felt that way, because it's you...and..." He wiped his eyes. "I understand if you can't...with me because of what happened."

Derek held his hand in front of Stiles' face waiting for the okay before he wiped away the tears. "Don't think that for a second. I love you, and if takes a while for you to be ready again, or if you never want sex again, I'm not going anywhere."

Stiles sniffled, "That's the thing though, D. I do want it. You have no idea how badly I want to be all up on or in ... all of this." He pointed to Derek. "It's not like I haven't woken up several times with a serious case of blue balls. Hell this morning, I had to jack off in the shower."

"Did it work?"

He laughed, "What is there to not work? My dick got hard; he did his job, and I painted the tile with spunk."

Derek squeezed his shoulders. "I mean, did you start to panic at all?"

"Oh. No, my brain seems to do okay when it's me doing the touching." He rested his head on Derek's shoulder, and Derek kissed the top of his head.

"Well that's a start at least. Come on. Let's go inside, and I want you to go home, and take a nice hot shower or bath. Okay? I'll take care of the rest of your jobs today."

"Heh. You said go home."

"Well we do have such an esteemed address after all." Derek kissed his temple. "Look, I'm not an expert. I don't have all the magical answers, or any answers for that matter, but if we both think about it for a little while, maybe we can come up with something that will work."

"Are you sure you want that?"

"Babe," he kissed Stiles' knuckles, "I want whatever helps you heal. I want you to feel better, and I will do whatever I can to help that happen. Okay? But will you make me a list, please, of things that trigger you? I don't want to see you feel like that again if I can help it."

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Everyone sat in the living room; the only light came from the fireplace and the television. A group had come back from Des Moines the day before, and the most coveted of items, aside from the ten bolts of fabric with sewing notions and the spare crib mattress, had been the milk crate filled with DVD's. They all agreed that every Saturday should be movie night. So here they all sat engrossed in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The kids lounged on the oversized floor cushions Greenberg had made for them from the new supplies. Each child got their own, and Derek had to admit, he'd never seen their faces light up so fast. Even Miguel received one, just a thinner one so he didn't get stuck in the plush.

The nice thing about the room, was that its sectional sofa, although it took up a lot of space, provided quite a lot of seating area. They were able to comfortably fit ten people on the thing. The loveseat and two overstuffed chairs held another five. Others sat in kitchen chairs, while Scott and Kira squeezed together in the bean bag from the kids' room.

All in all, a cozy scene.

From where they sat, cuddled into the arm of one half of the sectional, Derek and Stiles couldn't see the screen, not really anyway. It didn't bother either of them, as they were too busy lost in their own bubble. Stiles tightened the arm around Derek's waist, skimming his fingers over the exposed strip of skin of Derek's stomach. He squirmed. "Hey, that tickles," he whispered, looking over at Stiles.

"Oh yeah?" Stiles repeated the action, earning the same response. "And what if I do this?" He kissed the skin just below Derek's ear.

"No, doesn't tickle."

"And this?" He nipped at Derek's earlobe, before dragging his tongue along the outer shell.

Derek shivered, "No, but don't stop."

"I don't know about you, but I can't see the movie at all," he whispered. "What do you say we go home?"

Derek nodded, swallowing hard. "I think that's a fantastic idea."

 

 

 

 

He kissed Derek's jaw."Good, because I am so damn horny I can barely stand it."

Stiles flailed trying get his father's attention. When John finally looked over, what followed was a series of odd hand gestures ending with Stiles pointing to Addy and Miguel then upstairs. He ended it all with his hands in praying position.

John seemed to understand, and though he rolled his eyes at his son, waved them both off. It wasn't like it was a surprise. Twenty-five people lived in the house, including eight couples. Sex was a thing that happened. 

Stiles shut the door to their room a little harder than he intended, the force of which, shook the wall. He was impatient to get Derek's shirt off, tugging and pulling in a less than elegant fashion. They'd been working at this, working on trust exercises where touch was concerned. He wanted Derek so badly, and he was desperate to get through the night without a panic attack.

Derek paused at the hem of Stiles' shirt.

"Go ahead." Within seconds, Stiles found himself equally shirtless. The frantic need to have his mouth on Derek was overwhelming. He hadn't felt so needy in years.

 

 

 

Though his hand wrapped around the back of Stiles' head, Derek took care to avoid Stiles' neck when he kissed him, not to touch and not to kiss. They'd figured that out the hard way, and it had been added to the list of triggers with the bold letters of: STILES' NECK IS OFF LIMITS. Derek would never make that mistake again.

In fact, it was rule number three on the sheet hanging on the fridge, right below 1) DO NOT TOUCH STILES WITHOUT ASKING (Children excluded from this) and 2) NO CHERRY BLOSSOM SHAMPOO.

Posting the list for everyone to see had been Stiles' idea, and no one, not even Jackson had anything snarky to say about it. The point was, the list helped.

 

 

 

Stiles dropped to his knees to take Derek in his mouth, and oh dear God, he'd missed this, the little sounds and shivers Derek made, the way he tugged on Stiles' hair. All of it--just did things to him. He swallowed him down, reveling in the way Derek's knees almost buckled, and if the man kept making those sounds, all of this would be over way too quickly for either of their satisfactions.

 

 

 

Stiles rose and pulled Derek onto the bed with him, the latter making sure not to land on his husband or pin him to the bed, also a no go (rule number 7 on the 'Just Between Us' list no one else got to see). Just like he had with Stiles' shirt, Derek stilled his hand at the buttons of Stiles' fly, knowing they were approaching the danger zone. Stiles nodded, but Derek only managed to open one button, before Stiles pushed his hand away to finish undressing himself.

"You still okay?" Derek asked.

"Yeah." Stiles crashed their lips together again. "This is going to work this time." He said against Derek's mouth. "It has to. I need it to."

"Even if it doesn't, we can keep up the baby steps." Derek wrapped his arms around his husband, holding him tightly to his chest. "I'll never give up on you, and you can't give up either."

 

 

 

Stiles nipped at his lower lip. "That's my line. You stole it." To get back at him, he rolled his hips against Derek's erection.

"Fffuck."

Stiles slid off him and fumbled in the nightstand for what remained in the bottle of olive oil they'd been using for lube. Honestly, he had no idea how most of the rest of the couples managed. Condoms had been hard to come by.

 

 

 

Derek watched hungrily as Stiles worked himself open, longing to be the one doing it, longing to just touch. When Stiles reached for his hand, he missed and accidentally knocked Derek's hand into his dick. Derek froze waiting to see any signs of panic that he could stop before the attack overwhelmed Stiles.

"Wait."

"You need to stop?"

Stiles shook his head as if he'd realized something. "Give me your hand." Derek obliged, and Stiles guided his husband's hand to his dick, closing the fingers around him. To test the waters, he pumped Derek's hand a few times. It seemed that as long as he kept his own hand over the top, his mind stayed in the moment.

 

 

 

Strange, he'd never equated tears with confidence before, but he felt emboldened by the discovery, even if Derek moved his hand away the moment he noticed Stiles' face. "No, no. Put it back."

"Are you su-"

Stiles shut him up with a searing kiss, the kind that could short circuit a brain. He rolled them over, and wrapping his hand around Derek's dick guided it past his rim. His mouth hung open when he sank down slowly. Beneath him, Derek looked like it was taking every ounce of control not to come.

"You...you..."

Stiles leaned down and kissed him as he began to move. "Yeah, yeah I am. I'm good."

Neither one of them lasted long. Stiles collapsed onto Derek's chest before he had a chance to wipe off his cum, and let the emotions swirling in his mind overtake him. He buried his face in Derek's neck where the tears flowed freely.

"Still okay?" Derek kissed the top of his head and rubbed soothing circles into Stiles' back.

All he could do was nod. He was too exhausted and too overwhelmed to come up with a single word. It had been clumsy and short, but that had been the most satisfying sex in his life.

It felt like a victory.

The Herculean effort of making it to Iowa through all the Ragers seemed of less importance. Nothing in life had made him feel as empowered as he did then, by what he'd reclaimed, even as he soaked the blanket beneath them with tears. He could do this; everything would be okay. The two of them had a family. His actions hadn't turned into a monster the way he feared they would have. 

Despite everything, he'd survived, and he definitely wasn't broken.