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Dead Cinch

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3:47 PM, 150 miles outside of Beacon Hills

 

 

Water makes a lot of noise hitting the tiles and the glass of the shower. Head bent over the spray of water, Derek can still hear the outcries of the protestants marching two streets away. 'Umbrella supports terrorists!' they are yelling, and 'Disclose information! No secrets!' and also, weirdly, 'Save humans!'

Laura would be all over this.

His phone, when he returns to the tiny living room wrapped in a towel, is blinking. He's got a day off – despite all the time he's taken off in the last year – so five missed calls from Erica can't mean anything good.

“Derek, for fuck's sake,” Erica answers on the first ring, annoyed and upset.

“I was in the shower.”

But she's past that. “Do you even have your TV on? EPA is evacuating Beacon Hills as we speak, due to, and I quote, 'a sudden and potentially lethal rise in thermal pollution'. Deaton's sources say there's been a leak in the Umbrella's facilities and that they're launching a low-yield nuke to sanitize the area. Come midnight, there'll be nothing left of Beacon Hills.”

Derek's mouth forms a 'What?' but it stays frozen in his chest. It's been a possibility for a while. Two nuclear missiles have already been launched in the last six months, and both incidents – albeit unofficially – have been closely related to the Umbrella Corporation.

Beacon Hills is definitely connected, as Umbrella's main medical products research laboratory is stationed there.

“Laura,” Derek says finally.

Erica on the other side sounds distracted, mumbles a 'mmhm?' as her fingers type aggressively on her keyboard. “Well, I mean, you went there twice already and couldn't find her. She's probably not there,” she says finally.

Laura has been missing for almost a year. She went to Beacon Hills, to 'rest and maybe do some research for an article she'd considered writing' and Derek never asked for details. In Beacon Hills is where she was seen last.

“She's not dead,” Derek tells her. He knows this, without a shadow of a doubt.

“I know,” Erica says, because she can feel it, too. “But we're sending a team in, in one hour.”

“Why?” An undisclosed Umbrella leak probably means that there's an artificially constructed virus making people sick throughout Beacon Hills. “We're a security agency, Erica. Not... CDC.”

“Right,” Erica says in that flat tone that means she thinks he's being especially slow. “But we are sending a team in. A team you can be on, if you call Deaton and volunteer right now. And you're thinking NASAR, by the way, not CDC.”

“The mission is search and rescue?”

“Which we definitely do, for a bunch of money.”

“Talk to you later,” Derek says and hangs up on her. Deaton picks up his phone, not surprised at all to hear why Derek is calling. He's familiar with the situation – he's had to review and approve Derek's leave of absence requests.

Deaton doesn't seem to mind that there's personal motivation for Derek's volunteering. It's an important job and he needs the very best, he says, so he's glad Derek's willing to come back in on his day off.

Chances to actually find Laura or anything about her before midnight are practically nonexistent. She's Derek's sister, though, his Alpha. He has to try, one last time.

 

 

***

 

 

 

6:38 PM, Beacon Hills

 

The air smells like burnt meat and gasoline. Stiles and Scott have been helping drag bodies into the piles to later be set on fire, but there's just been too many infected people to shoot and too many dead to drag to the burning area. The soldiers have given up hours ago, focusing only on the still healthy people and getting them out of Beacon Hills.

The air still smells like burnt meat.

There is only one bus left. Everyone's gone already, even most of the soldiers. It's been a peaceful evacuation, at least on this exit point. They are lucky, supposedly, that Beacon Hills had low population density and that the eight evacuation points the army has opened have been enough to hold off panic long enough.

Everything is so quiet now when there are only a few people left in the parking lot behind the Beacon Hills Memorial. But Stiles, he is waiting. He's been waiting for a while, and it's becoming clear that he's waiting in vein.

Even Scott is starting to look desperate.

“Maybe we've missed him, Stiles.” he says, again. “Maybe he was on one of the early buses out, when there was still so many people. Or maybe he had to use another evacuation point – at least three are closer to the police station than this one.”

Melissa is standing next to Scott, though, anxious and scared as he is. Easy for Scott to sprout theories about other people's parents. Like anyone would buy that Sheriff Stilinski has left Beacon Hills without his son. And he knows Stiles has spent most of his day at the hospital, because he's been the one to send him there and help Melissa, so it's not like he'd look elsewhere.

Anyway, these are all scenarios Stiles has considered already, many times in the last few hours. They're not impossible, just – hard for him to believe.

Still, he says, “I know,” because it's Scott.

“We have to leave,” Melissa yells over the roar of the helicopter flying over their heads. Into Beacon Hills – what's that about, who'd go in there now? They're probably not going to land, just make sure there are no people left from above because no one's crazy enough to do something so stupid. Right?

Melissa waves to get back his attention, '“Now, Stiles.”

He follows after them, toward the bus. She's right. His father would want him to get out, will probably be mad he's waited this long. It doesn't make a difference, thinking that. His feet are still heavy with dread and worry.

Scott waits for him to go in first, standing next to the door like a guard. All the soldiers that are left are already on the bus and waiting impatiently to leave. One of them asks Scott something, and Scott leans in to hear better.

Stiles realizes he's not moving any longer when Melissa turns to him, steps back, freeze. Her eyes are getting large and filled with panic.

“You're not coming, are you? Stiles, Scott is – Scott will – I can't let...”

“Look, you just distract him for a minute, ok? I won't let him follow me. I swear, if he finds a way to get off the bus, I won't stay.” He's not sure he's telling the truth. Having Scott with him would be... right. It would feel right. But having Scott safe would be perfect, so really, he will try his best to leave him behind.

Melissa looks back at her son, who's still talking to the soldier.

“You shouldn't have to feel like you have to do this,” she says. Stiles opens his mouth to say something, but she's not trying to talk him out of it. Maybe she's imagining what she'd do if it was her only family out there. So he doesn't say anything.

Melissa takes a chain of keys off her neck and presses it into his hands. “Take this. There's a revolver Ralf got me years ago in my bedroom closet. Get it if you don't find anything sooner. You saw what the infected are like, too far gone to reason with. Go!”

She says go, but he can't, not like that. Scott is looking at them. So Stiles hisses, “Distract him before you get on,” and passes Scott to get on the bus.

He hears Melissa say something to Scott, still outside. The soldiers look tired and freaked out in their seats, and there's barely any curiosity as he continues straight on to the still open front door. There, he stands on the last step and waits for Melissa and Scott to finish talking.

“Kid, what are you doing?” asks an older soldier from the seat behind the driver's.

Stiles wets his lips nervously. He somehow hasn't anticipated anyone but Melissa and Scott trying to stop him.

“Um.” What is he supposed to say? The truth? “I gotta wait for my dad, okay?”

The driver frowns, “If your dad isn't out there already...”

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says before someone dares to say 'dead' aloud. “Still, I'm not leaving without him. You just make sure Scott doesn't follow me, okay? There's no need for him to stay.”

“You shouldn't e...”

Stiles doesn't hear what else he says, because the only way to get away with this is if Scott thinks he's sitting down. He steps out as Scott steps in and lowers himself into the shadows immediately.

The doors close behind him. The driver, apparently, has decided to let him go. If there's no argument, they can finally leave.

Stiles moves quickly toward the broken Beacon Hills Memorial sign and ducks behind it as the bus gets out of the parking lot. He can see Scott trying frantically to find him and Melissa trying to talk him down and it makes him feel bone-deep relief that they are going to be behind the walls in no time. They'll be outside, safe.

He's just about to turn away when he sees that older soldier in the front of the bus move. The window opens and something heavy drops on the concrete. The soldier nods, looking into the shadows like he can actually see Stiles standing there and looking at them.

Stiles waves at him, just in case he can. The bus disappears down the road, toward the bridge separating Beacon Hills from the next town over. That's where the checkout is, the guarded fence. It's close. It won't take more than five minutes.

Without the low rumble of the bus and the murmur of conversation, the parking lot is eerily quiet. The evening is a cold one, the wind is slow but icy. To shake off the chill, Stiles goes to check what that soldier hurled out of the window. It's one of those military knifes, huge and black, sheathed. It looks dangerous.

It's a weapon and although the very idea of having to cut into someone with it makes Stiles' stomach twist, he needs it.

The back parking of the hospital is only connected to the road leaving town. Around him, there's nothing but the preserve behind a tall fence. It's dark and scary, with its huge, ancient trees. Stiles will get lost in minutes if he tries to go back to town through it, and probably break both legs on his way – and that's if there are no zombies lost in there, waiting for their next meal to stumble through.

No, he has to go through the hospital. It's been cleared out by the soldiers and if there's anything left... well, at least he will see them. The generator is still on. He will make a plan and try to find a more efficient – and preferably ranged - weapon.

Gripping the knife in his right hand until he can feel every edge of it, Stiles walks to the double back entrance door on unsteady legs.

 

 

 

7:16 PM, Beacon Hills

Derek is running. No one is after him, he's left them long behind. Shock and fear have made him shift and when he started running, there's been no way anyone could catch up. He just doesn't want to stop.

His team is dead, he saw most of them grabbed and eaten alive. The High School seemed to be the right place to land, almost in the middle of the sealed off ground. The team was to split into pairs and each pair was supposed to take a predesignated area to go over. Between the eight of them, the mission would be over in a few hours, at the most. But now...

This isn't the first time Derek's had to watch his teammates die, but it is the most disturbing, violent time. He couldn't do anything to help them. He is lucky to be alive.

He can't call it in, because his comm isn't working. Broken in the crowd, probably.

The brief said they were free to shoot at anything that still moved on the streets of Beacon Hills. It sounded strange then. Officially, they've been sent on a search and rescue mission, but... No one down here needs help. Not any help Derek can give them, anyway. They're mindless, savage. Like they are in the final stages of a particularly violent rabies strain. He's shot them, while his teammates were still alive, and clawed them desperately later, when the bullets were gone from the chamber. They do not go down easily.

In the distance, Derek can see the rooftop of the hospital, the highest and most modern building in this part of town. In his terror, he's instinctively started running in the direction of the area he was supposed to search.

The mission directive is simple – find and retrieve one Jordan Parrish, dead or alive. Why the company that's hired them wants a Beacon Hills deputy so badly, no one's asked. All Derek knows is that the guy checked in this afternoon, before the lines went down, and that they are certain he isn't among the evacuees. He'll first go over the records of people who were admitted to hospital that day – through it's likely the medical workers stopped bothering with paperwork at some point. There's probably a lot of them, yes, but it is a place to start.

Ideally, if he had time to think, he'd have changed his route and went directly to Jordan Parrish's house and office. As it is, he's trying to get the most out of the situation.

There's a small group of... the infected, gathered at the entrance of the hospital. Emergency generators are still keeping the lights on. Derek barely even slows down to make sure there's enough space before he's gathering speed. The bulletproof vest and the weapons he's obligated to wear on missions is fettering him somewhat, but he still manages to run between the staggering infected, get a hold of and lift himself up on the overhang.

He looks back down. Hissing and staggering forward into the growing group just bellow his feet, they don't look quite as terrifying as they did before. Just... dead and hungry. It's easy to imagine them with mouth full of human flesh, though, and Derek turns from them to get inside the building through a window.

The room he lends in is empty. The beds are unmade, left in a hurry. The door is closed. Derek focuses on his hearing. Everything seems dead, at least in this wing. The air is too thick with scents of medicine, smoke and many, many people to try and rely on it. He reloads his handgun and keeps it on ready as he goes out in the hallway. The reception desk is his first goal, and that is on the ground floor.

He catches a sound when he starts descending the stairs. It's a frantic heartbeat, shrouded in uneven breathing. Derek isn't sure if and in what measure the infected sound different, he hasn't had time to take notice. But this sounds like a scared person to him, so he follows the sounds.

Muttered swearwords help him relax, and he can tell that the person behind the door at the end of the hallway is young and male. He's doing something – there's a clang of metal, clatter of wood. Springs on a bed, right in the middle of the room, give into a weight. Derek decides it's definitely a non-infected – or newly infected, at the very least - person in there and allows his feet to make noise in warning. The heartbeat in the room trips and triples in speed. Before he can work what's possibly the only survivor in Beacon Hills into a heart attack, Derek opens the door.

Well, sort of. It only moves a little, not even enough to push his head through.

Taken aback, Derek blinks at the jumble of furniture pushed against the door and almost misses something speeding towards his face.

“Okay, that didn't work, oh fuck,” says the guy on the other side of the door. He leaves his makeshift weapon in Dereks' hand, where he's automatically caught it, to stumble further back in the room. It's two knives, basically, fixed at the end of a mop handle. Derek pushes at the barricaded door again, this time with deliberate strength, until there's enough space for him to slide inside.

“Um, okay, it took me, like, twenty minutes to do that, but okay. Hi.”

Derek ignores him in favor of pressing at the base of the bigger of the two knives at, the military bayonet. It falls right off of the makeshift... two-pronged spear. What the hell?

Eyebrows high and hopefully oozing the disapproval he's trying to convey, Derek takes a good look at the guy skulking near the window, as far away as possible. He's – a kid. Eighteen, maybe nineteen. His heartbeat is slowly calming down. He doesn't smell hurt, so he's not infected. There's no reason to have any expectations at all, yet Derek still sort of expected a soldier. Wishful thinking, likely. This kid – well, he might be old enough to enlist. Maybe. But he's not a soldier.

“What are you doing here?” Derek demands.

The kid straightens his shoulders and narrows his eyes. “Knitting a sweater. You know, like people do in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.”

His voice is all exaggerated sarcasm, but with those words, the heavy scent of terror finally eases some. Derek says, “It's not a zombie apocalypse.”

A snort. “Right. Well, I don't know how closely you looked at the 'infected' people, but I promise you, they're zombies. You won't find a better word for it.”

Derek had a chance to see actual zombies. Two of them. These people aren't it. It's not worth the discussion at the moment. “It's not the apocalypse until it spreads all over the world,” he says instead and before another smartass comment, demands, “What the hell is this?”

The mop handle looks even more pathetic with only one knife attached to it. The kid spreads his hands like the movement's an argument in its own right. “It wasn't finished, okay, you just came barging in, I had no time to tighten it!”

“Keep your voice down,” Derek orders, but the kid is not even listening, he's staring at the pile of furniture behind the door.

“You just came barging in. Like – I know how heavy these are, okay, I had to roll them using a lever and a pivot, so how did you...?” Sharp eyes scan Derek up and down. “How strong, exactly, are you?”

Eventually, every person Derek meets starts asking awkward questions, but this is a definite record. “Well, you certainly would not have taken me out with this thing. Even if it wasn't falling apart.”

“Lucky it wasn't meant for you, huh?” the kid says, but his eyes are still narrowed and calculating, like Derek is a particularly interesting science experiment. “It's for the zombies.”

Derek has to blink away a flashback of an empty-eyed, middle-aged woman back outside the High school, her arm snapping clear off under his claws as she keeps going at him without so much as a flinch. “They don't really feel pain. Not even an expert on close combat would go against them with just knifes.”

“Yeah, no one sane would. Unless, perhaps, you know - when they don't have anything else to fight with.”

That's a good point. Derek cocks his head a little in acknowledgment.

“You missed the evacuation?”

His heartbeat still isn't steady enough for Derek to pick out a lie from listening to it, but it's clear one is going to come out before the kid even opens his mouth. He's just that obvious. “Yeah. Yes. I – had to make a detour. Through the Preserve. To avoid zombies. And by the time I arrived, they were all gone.”

The only stains on his sneakers are some dried blood; there's barely a hint of forest soil. There's no way he's been through the woods in those.

Derek hums thoughtfully, “Even your family?”

“Yes.” This time, the kid feels about the lie so strongly it clearly blips in his heartbeat. “Yes. My dad – he's out.”

“So you stayed to find him,” Derek concludes.

The kid frowns at him. “No. I was on my way to the bridge, to beg soldiers to let me out. If the zombies don't eat me on the way. To join my dad on the other side. Where's, like, safe. No zombies.”

Derek wishes he'd stop saying that word and suspects that's precisely why he keeps using it while trying to sell that story. He concludes, “So your father missed the evacuation and you stayed here to, what, try and find him? You you crazy? He's probably dead and you'll be dead soon enough, too.”

That is probably a little pot-kettle of him, seeing he's volunteered to come to Beacon Hills to find his sister. Who's been missing for over a year now.

The kid huffs his indignation over the unsuccessful lie. “Look, it's not any of your business. You're not responsible for me. Just go do your, I don't know, super soldier stuff, and let me be.”

Derek focuses again on his hearing, on his sense of smell. No, there's no one alive inside the hospital. Not as far as he can reach, which is a lot, really. He shrugs, “Fine. Good luck to you.”

He'll come back and drag him along if he doesn't follow. It's not his responsibility, it's not what he signed up for and it's definitely not his mission. But his entire team is dead, he's got no way of communicating with his boss. He's all alone and therefore has only his own life to risk if he decides to make detours for the sake of this.

He's not even at the end of the hallway when the running steps catch up with him. “So why didn't you evacuate then?”

“I will.”

“No more buses, if you haven't noticed. There's no one left.”

It's another unwelcome reminder of his splattered team, the wording of that statement.

“My company will send a chopper for me,” Derek says and, just because something might happen to him, he takes out the transmitter and turns it so the kid can see it well. “This is...”

“PLB, wow, I've never seen one of these in person. Can I touch it? You press that button and it sends out a distress signal, right? And, what, you go to the meeting spot you set? Or they'll come get you wherever you are?”

Derek puts the transmitter away, just a tiniest bit impressed. “Where I am. The nearest possible spot.”

“Wait, your company? So, you're, what, a mercenary? Why are you...?”

The questions stop. As all the possible reasons to send mercenaries into a town such as Beacon Hills on this day go through the kid's head, they also show on his face. It goes through several different levels and kinds of disgust and terror. Derek has to roll his eyes. The things movies do to a young mind.

“What's your name, kid?”

“Stiles. What's your name, old man?”

Derek ignores the very pointed 'I'm not a kid' hint. He'd usually give his last name, but he grew up in Beacon Hills. His family was huge and their name is probably still well known around here. Not many tragedies of that caliber happen in towns such as this. So instead, he offers his first name, “Derek. Look. We are hired to find and get a person out of Beacon Hills before midnight. That's all. But I can't just leave you here, so I will escort you to the bridge. It's not far and it won't take too much of my time.”

“I'm not going.”

“Stiles,” Derek sighs. “I can carry you there without breaking a sweat, and I am willing to do it if you make me.”

“Kinky,” Stiles ridicules, but he sounds distracted.

“But before that, since the hospital is clear and you're already here, help me look through the documents and see if anything mentions the guy I'm looking for. I have to start somewhere, and there are only a few hours till midnight.”

“You're not gonna kill him or anything?”

Anything, like what? Dear God. “No.”

“Okay.”

Derek nods and turns toward the main staircase.

“We're going for the reception? Because it's quicker this way.” Derek lets Stiles leads him down a narrower hallway on the right. No one's there, still, the only thing that breaks the quiet are the sounds of their quick steps and the inhuman moaning from all the way outside.

“How do you know this guy hasn't been evacuated? The last bus left, like, half an hour ago.'

“I didn't ask. But they probably have a good reason to think so. We're not cheap.”

“Okay, but what if he's dead? He's probably dead, you know.”

Derek shrugs. “I still have to try and find him.”

“Fine.” They reach the reception desk in minutes. The computer there isn't on, but it's hooked to the emergency generator. Stiles presses the button. “So what do you know about him? I'm local, I might know him personally.”

Derek is looking through a stack of papers left laying around. They're supply order forms, though, not even filled in.

“Not much. I know what he looks like. He's twenty-four - twenty-five at most.”

“And...?”

“His name is Jordan Parrish.”

Stiles turns from the computer to look at Derek with wide, gleeful eyes. “Deputy Jordan Parrish?”

“Yes. You know him?”

“Yeah,” Stiles breathes, like it's a miracle. “Yeah, I know him. I even saw him today. This morning, when I went to see my dad at work.”

“Your dad?” Derek asks sceptically, because it's starting to feel like Stiles wants him to think his dad is somehow related to Derek's mission.

“Yeah. My dad. His boss. The Sheriff?”

Oh, hell.

 

 

***

 

 

 

7:32 PM, Beacon Hills

 

For the first time since the slight elation of getting away with sneaking off without Scott has worn off, Stiles feels that there's an actual hope his dad might be alive. He's not lying. He has seen Parrish that day, with his dad. They were on their way to check a possible lead on a case – this was before the outbreak, or at least before anyone knew about the outbreak.

So if they were together, and whoever wants Parrish so badly to send mercenaries for him – and what the heck is that about, anyway? - is so sure he's been alive this afternoon and is still in Beacon Hills... Yeah, it doesn't necessarily mean anything, but it's so much more than he's had so far.

“We can find out at least the starting point of their movement today if we stop by the police station.”

“We?” Derek asks dryly, his dark and impressive eyebrows raising.

“Oh, come on! If Parrish is alive, my dad could be alive, too! And I know how that force works, trust me, okay, I spent like half of my childhood in there! I know where Parrish lives, too – and where he goes in his free time. And also, if you do throw me over the fence, I will just climb back in.”

Derek has this way of rolling his eyes without actually moving them much, Stiles has noticed, and he's doing it now. “It's a guarded, ten feet tall, electrically charged fence.”

“So I'll die trying, then.”

“Is there anything on that?” Derek says, nodding at the computer like it's the 1990's and he's not quite sure what one can do.

“Nah, Melissa would have told me if Parrish has been admitted today.” Because Lydia would want to know. Parrish and her, well, they aren't dating, she insists they're not, but they are a little more than just friends, that much is obvious.

“But you know where he lives?”

“Yeah, but the police station is a better bet right now.”

Derek raises his eyebrows again, with a sigh, “Because you might find your dad there?”

Well, that too. “Because it's closer, Derek. Much closer.”

Derek looks at his wrist watch – who even has one of those anymore, God – and frowns. “We'd better move. A large group of the infected is gathered at the entrance door of the hospital. Are there any other exits on the side toward the street?”

“Only through the kitchens, but that's probably locked. How did you get in?”

“Through a window. But I was alone then.”

That's a great idea, actually.

“Well, there is a window facing the road to Beacon Hills I've used before. Come on.”

When Scott was younger, just after her husband left, Melissa sometimes couldn't afford a babysitter for him. Her colleagues liked her, though, so she could get away with bringing her son into work with her – as long as he stayed in the nurses' locker room. It was sad to keep him locked up all shift long, so Stiles quickly learned how to bypass his own babysitter, take his bike to the hospital and sneak into the locker room to keep Scott company. Or, on one memorable occasion, help him escape.

Melissa and his dad quickly learned they were better off pooling funds and getting them the same babysitter. They thought it was the awesomest thing in the world. Only brothers shared a babysitter!

“Stiles? You need a moment there to gather your thoughts?”

Stiles shoots Derek a sarcastic smile, to show how amused he is with all the deadpan. Though, it might be fair to warn him... “Yeah, I get easily distracted.”

Which is an understatement, but if there's ever been a time to test the limits of possible, it's in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. What is there to focus on, anyway? Find dad and don't get eaten by zombies. Only two things. Ha.

He uses one of the keys from the chain Melissa's left him to open the locker room. It takes some fumbling. Derek jumps out through the window first. It's not very high, but he still makes it seem easier than it is, with an effortless grace. Stiles manages to hit the back of his hand while trying to find leverage, loud enough that Derek gives up on waiting for him to find the perfect way to lower himself, grabs him and puts him down on the ground like a real life sized doll.

“Silence,” he hisses, staring over at the entrance. The group of zombies wandering aimlessly in the light of the reflector don't react, and after a few seconds, Derek eases his grip.

They keep to the edge of the road. Derek lets Stiles lead the way, but he's keeping close behind and firmly discourage any and all attempts at conversation.

Melissa's two-story house is one of the first ones as soon as you come into the residential area – the back yard opens directly into the Preserve. Stiles isn't sure how that reflects on prices of property in general, but in Beacon Hills – where death-by-mountain-lion is a common thing - it means a good deal for the buyer.

There's no zombies anywhere in sight, but the front door is wide open and Stiles doesn't really want to go inside.

“We need to stop here real quick.”

He thinks he might have been too quiet in his effort not to piss Derek off - and attract zombies, right - but Derek picks up his pace and demands, “What for?”

“It's Scott's house. His mom has a gun and I need one. Do you think anyone's inside?”

Derek looks at the house like he's on House Hunters International, all judgment and narrow eyes. But he moves to follow when Stiles changes direction.

The house is dark and cold. Stiles smiles at the framed pictured of Melissa and Scott, happy they aren't home. Derek doesn't even take his gun out, just pushes Stiles further inside.

“Aren't you gonna, like, check for possible enemies?”

“There's no one in the house.”

“You don't know that,” Stiles says, because Melissa's bedroom is on the second floor and he'd rather Derek finds out for him. “You didn't check.”

“If you're afraid, don't wander on your own. But there's no one in the house, except for us.”

Oh, wow, what's the use of having a super soldier with you if the guy won't do his job? “Ok, upstairs. You go first.”

Derek leads the way with a sure, easy step. Stiles tries to keep up, vaguely wondering how many layers a mercenary's uniform consists of and how quickly can Derek draw his gun out if something jumps in front of him. He'd sort of like to find out, just for future reference, but the idea of a zombie lurking in Scott's house - maybe stumbling over the old lacrosse sticks or that guitar Scott almost killed himself saving money for that one summer and never actually learned to play all that well – makes him sick.

Derek leads them into Melissa's room without a pause. Which is weird, Stiles realizes, blinking through his confusion. All the doors are closed down the hallway. There's no way Derek could have known which room is the right one.

“How do you...?” He doesn't get to finish the question. Derek twists his arm so Stiles has a good view on his wristwatch. It's nearing 8pm. “Right.”

It takes a little of digging through Melissa's closet. The first box Stiles opens is full of old photos, the second one seems to be holding keepsakes from Melissa's time with Scott's dad. It's a little puzzling that cool, determent Melissa would hold onto her history with the guy who's caused her a lot of grief. But it's not really important right now, so Stiles pushes the box away to finally grab a smaller, wooden one with a little lock.

Derek looks over his shoulder as one of the tiniest keys clicks in the lock. It's a small revolver, which Stiles pulls open to see the chamber, even though he's pretty sure it has to be empty. The bullets are neatly packed in the box, too.

“So you've handled a handgun before,” Derek says. His tone is neutral, yet Stiles can't help a little swell of pride. “How about a semi-automatic?”

Smugness increases. “My dad carries the Beretta.”

“Stand up,” Derek instructs him. He takes his heavy duty military belt off. It's a little like the one Stiles' dad wears, but newer. With less pouches and hooks, just the opposite from what he would expect. To allow for more movement and speed, perhaps?

Derek adjusts the belt to fit Stiles' somewhat narrower hips and buckles it. He removes the grenades, puts them both in a pocket on his vest.

“Try to unclasp the holster a few times, get used to the feeling of the buckle and how it opens.” Stiles is in some sort of awed haze, even as the solid weight of the belt pulls on his hips, so he doesn't answer right away. It must look ridiculous, he thinks, but it's making him feel safer, somehow. Like a shield. A thin, heavy shield. Derek makes an impatient noise. “Stiles. The clasp.”

“Right.” The clasp feels stiff under his thumb, unused. He works it open a few times, touches around. His fingers find a flashlight, extra ammo, radio and a smallish knife - and also some things he isn't sure about. “Why are you letting me wear this?”

Derek shrugs, tucks Melissa's revolver into the belt on his pants. The handle sticks kind of awkwardly over the bulletproof vest, but it doesn't make him look any less formidable than he did back at the hospital, when he pulled apart Stiles' genius contraption with one hand and barely paying attention. “It's just slowing me down. Is it too heavy?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I have textbooks twice as massive as this. It's fine.”

Derek seems satisfied. “We're leaving, then.”

There's nothing else in the house Stiles needs. He's spent half his life, it feels like, in here. A memory's ready to surface with everything that catches his eye. And at midnight, it's all going to disappear like it's never existed in the first place, all because... Well, the Umbrella, if the Internet theories are anything to go by.

He clenches his hands, swallows thickly and nods. “Let's go.”

 

***

 

8:07 PM, Beacon Hills

 

The streets are empty, mostly. They quietly pass a group of the infected gathered near the broken faucet at the edge of the Greenvale Park. It's one of the brightest spots in town, because the reflectors are still on. Derek puts himself firmly between the group and Stiles, who attempts to twist in just about every direction to take a better look, and they stick to the shadows.

Two streets later, Stiles turns to take a road that does not lead downtown.

“That's the wrong way,” Derek says.

Stiles turns to glare at him, annoyed and suspicious. “What, did they make you memorize the map before sending you here?”

“Something like that. We're going left.”

“This is a shortcut.”

“And that is the most obvious lie you've tried to feed me yet.”

Stiles cocks his head and gives Derek another one of those very invasive, very penetrating looks. “My dad's the Sheriff. It's his job to detect lies.”

“So you never bothered to learn how to do it?” Derek mocks and thinks about how to distract him.

“So I had to learn to be better at it than everyone else. I excel at lying, Derek. But you're the one who's hiding something.”

“A few somethings, actually. What's that way?”

“My house,” Stiles admits after a few seconds of hesitation. Derek looks at the time. “Look, it's not far at all and I just wanna check if my dad's there or if he's left a note or something. And I do know a shortcut to the police station from my house, I promise – I used it a million times – come on, use that lie detecting juju and...”

“Stop talking,” Derek interrupts him, because his voice is gaining momentum and becoming louder with every word. “We'll stop by for a very, very short visit. Got it?”

Stiles quickly nods, eyes bright and mouth pressed into a white line, like he has to stop words to spring out with physical pain. He doesn't need more encouragement to turn back down the road, and Derek follows him closely. He doesn't have to ask, he can hear Stiles' heart pick up its pace as they get near. He's walking faster, too, and when he stumbles and his heart suddenly quickens and builds up to a thunderclap, Derek knows they're almost there.

Most houses they've pass have obviously been empty. Sometimes, Derek catches a scent – now that he's not overwhelmed, he thinks it's decay and gangrene, tissue falling apart at a great speed, and unfamiliar chemicals – and he knows someone's in there, dead or alive.

The house Stiles is rushing forward - like he's forgotten all about being careful and in the middle of a zombie apocalypse - stinks with it. It's sharp and thick, feels like it's clogging all of Derek's airways now that he's getting closer and focusing on it.

“Get your gun out,” he hisses, grabbing Stiles by the arm.

“W- what?” Stiles stammers, as if surprised, but his fingers are already unclasping the holster.

“Stay close, but don't get in my way. I'm going in first, do you understand me? No matter what you see, you do not put yourself between it and me, under any circumstances.”

Derek waits Stiles to nod before he goes inside. The smell isn't scattered all over the house, fortunately, it's coming from a single place. No sounds of moving. He follows his nose, but it doesn't take him far. There's a body, laying down in the space between the living room and the dining room. Half of the face is missing, shot off.

But it's not a man. It's not Stiles' dad. Thank God for that.

The scent is thicker than ever and there's the now familiar hint of chemicals mixed in it. “She's been dead for hours,” Derek says, puts his gun away.

“Yeah, I can smell it,” Stiles murmurs, close by, as instructed. “Do you think there's someone else in the house?”

“No. We're alone. There's no one else here.”

“Right. Well, okay. The kitchen,” Stiles points at the hallway behind him with a jerky thumb. “If there's anything, a message...”

The kitchen window overseas a lovely little garden, which is just one more beautiful thing that won't exist after midnight. There's no message on the table or on the fridge, the first places Derek's looked at - but Stiles goes directly for a spot in the corner, next to a well-used microwave oven.

“You leave each other massages on the coffee container?”

“It's the only way to be sure it will be received,” Stiles says with a small upturn of his mouth, but his eyes are glued to the paper he's holding. “Derek, this – I'm not sure if this is good.”

Derek takes a look over his arm.

 

 

4,30pm

I'll kill you of you're reading this, son. You were supposed to stay with melissa!

Grab all the money from the drawer in my b-room and get out of here! I'll be fine.

p.s. we're going to try and get to L, she's the key

 

 

“Who's L?” asks Derek, irrationally hopeful it's Laura. “What's she the key to?”

“Lydia, I guess, if he hasn't bothered to write the whole name but thought important enough to mention. I'm not sure what's she's supposed to be the key to, though. Come on.”

Derek follows him up the stairs, nods approval and encouragement when Stiles hesitates before opening the door at the end of the hallway long enough to raise eyebrows in question.

Inside the room, Stiles goes for the night table at the side of a large bed. “The bad news is, Lydia is an intern at Umbrella. The whole summer, she's barely left premises at all and my dad knows this, because I've been complaining about it. So if he went after Lydia – possibly with Parrish, since he said 'we' - he went there. The facilities are all the way on the other side of the town, through. You even have to take a road through the preserve – but you know that, don't you?”

“I do?” Derek says, watching Stiles divide the money to several hiding spots on his clothes – pockets, socks – underwear? - with sure, agile hands. “What are you doing?”

Stiles glances up at him with distracted eyes. “Well, if I get out of here, I gotta at least be able to buy a pizza, right? Or possibly a used car in a fairly good condition to live in; I had no idea my dad had this much money stored in the house.”

Derek shakes his head, mostly so he wouldn't think about how underwear can possibly seem like a good hiding place. “Ready to leave?”

“Just one more thing.” Stiles walks around him and unlocks the closet. “Here, you take this.”

This is a well-cared for hunting rifle and two boxes of ammunition. Derek stores it, balances the firearm by the strap on his shoulder. “I thought hunting here is illegal.”

Considering the good portion of the preserve around Beacon Hills is private property and still, legally, owned by Laura, he actually knows this for a fact.

“We had a few maulings over the years,” Stiles pants, pulling a fully packed backpack out. “Mountain lions. So, sometimes, people go hunting, legally. They get a permit and everything. More often, through,” he shakes the backpack for show. “Hikers get lost and my dad has to organizes a search party. You never know when it can happen, or how long it might last, so he keeps a backpack ready. Dry socks, fire starters, first aid - the works.”

“Saucier pan?"

Stiles grins at him, sudden and blind. “Quite possibly. We can go now.”

He doesn't throw any longing looks at the house around him. Derek feels the urge to do it himself, possibly because the house he grew up in isn't standing any longer and he knows how it feels.

“Your dad didn't tell you to take these things,” he decides to distract himself noting. Asking.

“He only told me about the money because I didn't know we had any in the house. This, I knew about. I put it together for him, after all.”

Stiles stops behind the front door to grab a set of keys and a bright red hoodie off the hook.

“You can't wear that,” Derek tells him.

“The hell I can't.”

“It's too bright. Leave it, take something else if you're cold.”

Zipping the thing over now even larger jumble of keys around his neck, Stiles says flatly, not looking at Derek, “It's the last thing my mom bought. Ever. I'm not taking it off.”

“I'll take it off for you,” Derek threatens, thought he's lost his urge to make him leave the fucking thing behind.

“There you go again with the awkward, cavern man flirting. I'm so easy, Derek, I promise, you don't have to work that hard.”

Derek ignores him and his mocking tone to take off the bulletproof vest. “Turn that thing inside out, you're not playing the missile beacon tonight. Put this over it, it'll help."

A long, sharp finger pokes him just an inch above heart. “Just how many layers are you wearing, big guy?”

“Stiles!” Derek snaps through gritted teeth.

Stiles snatches his hand back, mutters something that's not really words but sounds like a complaint. But he's moving again, following Derek's instructions. The hoodie is slightly less offensively red inside out. The vest needs a bit of adjusting, but it goes fast between the two of them. When the backpack settles on his shoulders, Stiles makes a face.

“I feel like a giant turtle.” He touches the sheathed knife on the belt. “Ninja turtle.”

Teenage ninja turtle?” Derek asks patiently, pushing him toward the door. Stiles isn't moving with difficulty, despite all the extra equipment.

“Not for a while now, you lucky bastard.”

Stiles' tone is light, like his smile, like Derek is with all that equipment off of him - light enough to jump a mile. They leave the silent house behind them, just one in a long line of doomed homes.

 

 

***

 

 

 

8:52 PM, Beacon Hills

 

There's something off about super-soldier Derek. Not necessarily disturbingly off, like it was with Matt Daehler. Stiles doesn't think Derek is about to start mutilating any classroom pets. His gut tells him so, and also the fact that this stranger has dumped all of his professional, very expensive equipment on Stiles – including his handgun.

But there's something off just the same, and it's simpler to think about that than anything else that looms close to the surface of his whirlwind mind.

Good genes, extreme exercise and amazing diet can explain the agility that shouldn't really be possible with all the bulk. It can't explain how Derek knows exactly where the zombies are long before they are in sight, even when they're not moving any longer. It's like he can hear them or smell them or something from a mile away. There's also the way his eyes look a little weird in low light. They get this, well, it's not a glow, really. It's more like, they get brighter. They stand out in a way Stiles has never seen anyone else's eyes do.

It's important that he doesn't feel freaked out. Just curious. A little safer, even.

Stiles leads them, taking the shortcut, as he's promised. It's a route he discovered that summer he'd first found out about his dad's cholesterol problem and decided that healthy, home made food is the solution. Back then, the biggest problem were neighbors who hated kids sneaking through their back yards.

It's scarier now, slower. About half way through, in Mr Greenberg's back yard, they come across a cluster of three zombies. They're wandering the bottom of the pool, apparently without the mental capacity needed to climb out of it. Stiles has no idea how they got down there, but he can see the really familiar purple shirt on one of them, and his throat constructs. “Fuck,” he breathes, and it's more a croak than anything.

Derek's fingers clasp around his upper arm, “What?”

Stiles has to attempt twice before his voice will come out clear enough to say, “Just, I know that guy. I went to school with that guy. It's okay. Let's go.”

He tries to move but Derek's grip is holding him effortlessly in place. “Which one?”

“What?”

“Which one is your friend, Stiles?”

Stiles takes another quick look at the pool. It's still Greenberg, with his horrid purple shirt. “The... male one?” The other two people are both unfamiliar women. “He's not really a friend.”

He's watching Derek draw Melissa's revolver, check the chamber, point it. The loud gunshot still makes him jump in place. The sound echoes in the distance.

“Hurry up now,” Derek says calmly, “before we get swarmed.”

There's another wall to jump over, higher than the last two ones. Stiles miraculously doesn't need help to take all the weight over it, but his hands are shaking when he reaches the asphalt on the other side.

“You didn't have to do that.” His voice is shaking, too. “And no one will come running this way, I mean, if they weren't already close by. There's so much echo, you can't tell where that kind of sound comes from.”

“I could.”

Stiles snorts, moistens his lips, “Performance enhancers improve hearing now?”

“Good hearing can enhance performance, I know that much,” Derek says.

They make it half a block or so before Stiles can't handle the silence. Quietly, he says, “You know why I made that thing with the knives and the mop stick?”

For a minute, he thinks Derek won't engage. “Because it's safer than to wait for them to come closer?”

“No. Well, yes. But no. I know I can't do anything with a knife, they have no pain receptors any longer, it'd be a useless effort because the chances I'd go deep enough every time... No. It was meant for their eyes. I wasn't going for the kill, just a chance to run away.”

“Clever,” Derek says, squinting through the fence they're passing by.

“Don't patronize me. I would have gotten killed the first time I got across more than one of them. I'm just saying, it only occurred to me because the infected or zombies or whatever, they're still basically human. Maybe they are completely, I don't know, crazy or brain-sick or even actually dead – but they're still human and have human senses. And humans rely mostly on their sight. So I thought I'd go after that. That's why.”

“Lucky I found you before you had to test it out. Next street over, right?”

Stiles nods. Derek is familiar with Beacon Hills. More than memorized-the-map kind of familiar. Unless he's spent about a week remembering every building and street by heart off some sort of 3D map, but... occam's razor says he's been here before, even lived here.

The main street is too well lit for them to get by some zombies lurking around unnoticed. There are no shadows to stick to.

“Get the gun out and don't let me leave you behind,” Derek says, grabbing at the belt around Stiles' waist to take out the knife.

It sounds like maybe he's planning to try and leave him behind and Stiles can hardly breathe at the thought of it. Derek is indeed moving faster, moving away. He only gets as far as the first zombie trying to reach them before he stops just long enough to stick the sharp end of the knife into the thing's neck, sideways. The noise is sickening.

Stiles catches up with the program, unclasps the handgun. He moves into the cleared space Derek's left behind him with the gun pointed at the fallen zombie, making sure it's dead and not moving as he passes it. He also makes sure there's nothing coming at them from behind as Derek meets another zombie and takes it out. Stiles doesn't have to really do anything but make sure nothing surprises Derek from behind, but he feels accomplished when the two of them are the only moving things left on the street.

Derek is trying to shake off bloody goo off his hands when Stiles reaches him. “Not even an expert on close combat fighting would take them on with just a knife, huh?”

“I did okay,” Derek says, lips tightening in a smug little smirk.

“You did more than okay, Raph.” Oh. His voice isn't very steady. Why is his voice quivering like that?

“Who?”

“You know, the grumpy ninja turtle. With the sai knives and...”

“Move,” Derek interrupts when he's finally clean enough and pushes him toward the police station entrance. “Does that make you Michelangelo?”

“The amount of pizza I'm capable of inhaling cer- certainly indicates so.” Stiles' voice is not evening out. If anything, it's getting more breathy, like he can't quite get enough air.

Derek turns to him fully, looking worried. “That was good, Stiles. You making sure I didn't leave any alive, that's always a possibility with how hard they go down. It was good. We did good. Calm down.” Stiles watches in detached sort of fascination as Derek takes his hands into his own and squeezes like he's hoping that'll make them stop shaking. Huh. Is he really that upset? He doesn't feel particularly upset. “Please,” Derek adds a little desperately, and Stiles takes in a huge, shaking breath.

“Sorry,” he says once Derek is convinced he's well enough to let go of him. He's wrong, through. Stiles isn't upset about what's happened, he's terrified of what's coming next. There's a real possibility he'll freak out worse than he just has, so he says, “It's just, my dad could be in there.”

Dead. Zombified.

Derek nods seriously, cocks his head a little in a peculiar way. “There are only two people in the building. We'll know soon enough. Hold on.”

“You can't know that,” Stiles protest as Derek pulls him again toward the entrance, but the thing is, he believes it. Derek's yet to be wrong, there's no reason not to believe him.

There are two people – zombies – in the reception area and only one of them is in uniform – Tara. Derek takes them both out with minimum fuss and noise. There's a horrible mixture of sadness for Tara and bone-deep relief it's not his dad that makes Stiles gag. He swallows heavily against it.

But what if Derek meant there's only two out here and there could be more in the back? No. Derek is wiping the knife and putting it back into the belt on Stiles, he's relaxing.

“Stiles? You okay?”

For now, Stiles thinks and nods. “You're sure there's no one else in here?”

“Yes.”

How?”

“Performance enhancers,” Derek says easily. He's moving a bench to block the door. “Any other exits?”

There is one. It's locked, it turns out. Stiles is starting to feel a little more like himself. He can feel his hands shaking, now.

“Which one is Parrish's desk?”

Stiles points at the right one, but says, “How come you can't tell? You knew which room was Melissa's when we were at Scott's.”

“Only two people lived in there. This place has dozens of people go through every day.”

Stiles waits for a bit, expecting more. Nothing comes, so he lets out a frustrated sound. “That doesn't make any sense. That explanation doesn't mean anything. Just tell me already! Is it drugs? Are you a cyborg?”

Derek is barely even listening to him, absorbed in looking through Parrish's things. “Stop demanding explanations like a spoiled child. I don't owe you anything just because you want to know things.”

“I'd rather figure it out on my own, anyway,” Stiles says, more curious than ever as he turns toward the Sheriff's office.

Ten minutes later or so, Derek comes inside to find him. “Anything?”

“Yeah, I see why he'd go to see Lydia today of all days – there's a traffic light camera...” Stiles trails off at the sight on Derek's face. It's just so full of sadness, and loss. His eyes are on the evidence board of Laura Hale's case behind Stiles, on the wall. The dots in Stiles' mind connect at the speed of light. “Oh my God, I'm such a moron. You're Derek Hale. You're Laura's brother. Jesus. No wonder you know your way around Beacon Hills.”

It doesn't explain other things, but okay. It's one mystery solved. His dad and him went over Laura's case together so many times. He remembers that she's got a younger brother who's working 'security', dad has contact information in his phone because Derek came more than once to Beacon Hills, looking for his sister. And the both of them grew up here in town, but left after what happened to their family.

“Your dad is still looking for her,” Derek says, eyes still on the board.

“Well, yeah. Beacon Hills isn't exactly the capitol of crime. It's the biggest case in a long time and definitely the biggest mystery in the resent past. Of course he's still looking into it. He can't help himself, unresolved cases literally keep him awake at night. He can't even put down a cozy before he gets to the end and find out who the murderer is.”

Derek nods stiffly.

“Is this entire Parrish thing bullshit, then? Are you here looking for Laura?”

“No. The mission is real. But I've volunteered hoping that maybe...”

“You're in luck, then. Or I am, actually. My dad went to see Lydia about Laura's case.” That finally snapped Derek's attention from the evidence board back to Stiles. “You probably know this, but they were friends.” Or something. Stiles isn't sure, Lydia is extremely closed-mouthed about the nature of their relationship. Close, though. Stiles is sure their relationship can at least be described as close.

Surprisingly, Derek shakes his head. “I only talked to Laura a few times while she was in Beacon Hills. She hasn't mentioned anyone. She didn't even talk about the article she was researching for.”

“Well, Lydia is the one who originally reported her missing. Anyway. She swore that she hasn't seen Laura on the night she was last seen in town. She said she spent the night at home, not even going out to the store. But now,” Stiles waves the print out from the traffic camera footage at Derek, “it turns out she was lying.”

He feels like maybe he should be mad at Lydia for lying to his dad, but it's Lydia. She's probably got a reason.

“So you're saying that because Lydia was lying, she probably had something to do with Laura missing.”

Or that. That is also a way you can look at the situation.

Stiles sighs, “She knows something, at the very least. She wouldn't bother lying otherwise.” Derek looks ready to strangle Lydia from where he's standing, telepathically. “Anyways, if you're still looking for Parrish then, we'll stop by his house, but if we don't find him, there's a good chance he's gone to see Lydia, too, with my dad.”

Derek raises his eyebrows. “All roads lead to your father and friend, then?”

“Aren't I lucky, huh?”

Derek doesn't look like he thinks Stiles is particularity lucky. Or funny. “Where does Lydia live?”

“Not very far from Parrish, actually. But she's not there, I know that for sure. She hasn't been home in days. Actually, she's barely left the Umbrella facilities from the moment she started her internship two months ago.”

“So you think,” Derek says, rubbing his head in a way that suggests a developing headache - if Stiles' dad's mannerism is anything to go by, “that all of them – Parrish, your father, and the only person who might know something about what happened to my sister, they're all inside the company that made and leaked the virus that makes humans into flesh eating monsters?”

Yeah, that doesn't sound good at all.

“The good news is,” Stiles says after a beat. “They have their own evacuation protocol, highly advanced. It's quite possible all of them are alive, if not in Beacon Hills any longer.”

Derek looks at his wrist watch. “There's only about two hours left. We should still cover our basis and check Parrish and Lydia's houses before we stir up the wasp's nest.”

It sounds like a plan.

Chapter Text

 

9:36 PM, Beacon Hills

 

It all sounds a little too convenient, so much that Derek wonders for a brief minute if he should trust Stiles' word. There are no signs of lying that he can detect, through. And he's seen a picture on Parrish's desk of the beautiful, redhaired girl that's been in pictures at both Stiles' and his friend's house.

There's an outdated paper map of Beacon Hills attached to the wall just outside of the Sheriff's office. Derek locates the High School first, because that's the point he's started from tonight. Stiles quickly points at a few other places. “The hospital. Scott's house – my house. And we're here.” Then he moves his finger to tap along the edge on the opposite side of Beacon Hills. It's a little redundant, as he knows Derek is a familiar with the town, but at least he's quick about it. “This is the neighborhood of the successful and the wealthy – it's not very big, as you can see. Parrish has a small apartment at the very edge of it, here. This is Lydia's house.”

A little further into the preserve, almost directly behind Lydia's house, is the clearing on which the Hale house used to stand. There's nothing there now, only a list of names and a small triskelion etched into a small memorial stone. Laura wanted it that way.

“And here,” Stiles shows at an unmarked spot on the left, all the way into the preserve. “Here's the Umbrella building. It's an old map, so it's not marked but I promise, it's there.”

Derek trusts him. After all, it's the same spot Deaton pointed on their newer map at the HQ before they've started the mission.

“And also, because the streets are much clearer than I expected, I think we should take this,” Stiles opens his hand to show a set of car keys in it, “and see how far it gets us. It's for the prisoner transporter van, I saw it, it's still in the parking lot. It's bulky, good for running over zombies.”

“Vans aren't very stable, so perhaps we should avoid running over things,” Derek suggests. Vans had a tendency to roll over easily.

“Well, it's the only car in the parking lot, so... We'll take it?”

They will.

There's nothing left to do at the station, so Stiles unlocks the back door with one of the many keys he's wearing around his neck. There are only two zombies stumbling around in the closed off parking lot in the back. Both turn when the light from the hall spills into the night and over them. Their telltale uniforms are bloody and ripped and Derek... gets an idea.

“Let that backpack down. It's your turn.”

Stiles looks at him with mouth wide open in shock. “Wh – what?”

Derek takes the backpack off him. “Come on. We need you to be able to do this, if you hesitate at the crucial moment later on, it'll kill us both.”

Stiles fumbles with his belt as the zombies get closer. “But with the gun, right?”

“Yes, Stiles, take out the gun,” Derek says with a quick eye roll. Because it would make sense to send out an untrained kid against a flesh-eating monster with a knife. “Are you a good shot?”

Stiles snorts, “From this distance?” and he's right, they're so close now only a blind person would miss them, but his hands are unstable again. There's no time to talk him down. Derek takes out the small revolver, just in case it goes wrong.

“Shoot,” he orders. The gunshot goes off without hesitation. The zombie slumps to the ground, a gaping hole in its head. “Now the other one.”

Stiles blinks a few times like he hasn't dared to do it before, then aims for the other zombie. This time the distance is longer, but the thing also neatly falls down, a matching hole in its head. Derek can't say for sure that Stiles has good aim just from that, but it's not bad. He really does know how to handle a gun, he hasn't panicked. He's even checking how many bullets he's got left.

It's better than Derek has dared to hope.

“You drive,” he says when Stiles holsters the weapon. “I want my hands free, just in case.”

They have to drive through a wired fence with the van. Stiles manages to hit his head against the window as the van shakes and sways, but he's grinning a little crazily as he steps on the gas once they get to the street.

Taking the van is the best idea they've had. The streets are mostly empty, so it's not even two minutes later that Stiles says, “There it is, the yellow building.”

When they stop, the few zombies turn and head towards them. Derek says, “I'll go in on my own. You drive around the block, so they wouldn't swarm us.”

“Heh.” Stiles restarts the engine. “You trust me not to leave you here.”

“Only because sooner or later you'll have to get out of the van.”

“Very funny,” Stiles says, narrows his eyes. “How will you know which apartment is Parrish's?”

Derek has hoped that finding out about Laura and his connection to Beacon Hills will hold Stiles and his questions off a little longer. No such luck. He rolls his eyes, “The mailboxes?”

“Hmm,” Stiles answers, eyes still squinting in mock suspicion. He shoos Derek away with his hand.

When the van starts moving again, now with lights on, the zombies stagger after it.

Inside the building, Derek stops to look at the row of mailboxes, but mostly it's enough to let his nose guide him. He's picked up Parrish's scent at the station. The building isn't empty - the now familiar stink of decay and illness taints the air in the hallways, but it's faint.

When an empty-eyed old lady in a floral nightgown stumbles toward him on the stairway, he doesn't bother with any weapons. Claws sinking into the rotting flesh isn't the best feeling, but this way he can be sure he's snapped the spinal cord.

Parish's apartment is empty. Derek's been pretty sure it would be, but he's broken the lock to check. There is no body or the zombie version of Parrish inside, either. Ideally, Derek would go through the building, floor by floor, make absolutely sure – but the time is running out. He'll have to go on hoping that Parrish locked the door behind him on his way to somewhere away from there.

Stiles isn't back yet. Derek can hear the motor of the van two streets over. There are no zombies anywhere on the street, they've all followed the van they couldn't keep up with, but a few are stumbling out from the building after him. Derek doesn't want to kill them if he doesn't have to. It's a useless endeavor, they'll all be dead in a few hours anyway and he hates the noises they make, the way their bodies sound when they're breaking.

Derek adjusts the rifle he's wearing and climbs onto one of the stone gate pillars. It's pretty tall. The sound of the approaching van is getting louder, but he still takes a moment to breathe in deeply, settled against the lamp attached to the top, and reach out for his Alpha. She's near, it feels like, but he can't find her. It's like something heavy stomped on their connection and he can't see what's on the other side of it.

But the connection is still there. She's alive.

Stiles arrives, peering anxiously at the building behind Derek. He's stopped in the middle of the street, and the window Derek has opened earlier is still rolled down. Smiling a little to himself, Derek leaps easily to the top of the van and slides down and through the open window into the passenger seat, holding the rifle in one hand.

Stiles is staring with mouth open and heart thundering and okay, Derek can admit it. He's curious to see what Stiles will come up with in the end. Whether he'll get it right or wrong, and once he gets it right, will he freak out and run.

Derek could get very invested in making sure he doesn't.

“You almost gave me a heart attack,” Stiles says, and then, once he figures out that his tone is not nearly enough to get his point across, he raises it to a shrill, “I thought I'm done in, I thought you'll eat me!”

“Not right now,” Derek says without thinking. To distract Stiles from that god-awful line, he orders, “Lydia's.”

“That's... I can't even think – I didn't even see you – and the jumping and – and... Was there...”

“Drive, Stiles.”

Stiles' hand goes for the transmission, but he's still staring. “But...”

Derek points at the street stretching empty in front of them, “Drive!” Once the van is moving, he decides to put Stiles out of his misery by picking a question to answer himself. “Parrish isn't up there. In any form. The door was locked, so I'm thinking he's probably left while it still didn't look quite so bad.”

“That's good, I guess. Batman.” Just for the record, Derek has expected more and he turns toward Stiles with raised eyebrows to communicate that. “Don't even give me the eyebrows, man, that was a very Batman entrance and you know it. I think I literally saw him do that exact move in a movie. Like, you only needed the cape. That's Lydia's house.”

That's a sudden change of direction of that babble. “What?”

“Told you they lived close by. And you're not leaving me behind this time.”

Lydia's house is barely even visible from where they've stopped. It's nestled deep into the shadows of the forest almost surrounding it, without a light on. The iron gate is closed and no movement or sound in the huge landscaped yard tugs on Derek's senses.

While he's observing, Stiles is already out of the van. “I'm gonna assume you can just jump over it, but it'll take me a minute with all this on me, okay? I know a good spot, though.”

Derek inspects the gate. There's a padlock keeping it securely closed. It's old fashioned, sturdy. He pulls his hand through the bars and presses into the padlock with his palm until it bands out of shape and gives in. The gate opens and Derek walks inside.

“Oh my God,” Stiles says behind him, somewhat weakly. He takes a deep breath, closes the gate behind him as well as it's possible and continues, “So is there anyone in the house?”

“No zombies, at any rate.”

“How do you know that?” Stiles says, mostly to himself. They are quickly advancing toward the house.

Derek decides to indulge him, a little. “Because they stink to high heaven, Stiles.”

“Well, yeah, when they're zombies for hours and you come nearby, but I can't smell the entirety of Lydia's house – or the police station, at that – from the street. I'm not a dog.”

“I'm not a dog, either,” Derek says. “In case that was your next brilliant theory.”

“You're something, though.”

Derek smiles a little, not allowing Stiles to see. “There are no people inside, either.”

“Yeah, I thought there might not be. Lydia's dad doesn't live here at all, and her mom is in – somewhere in Europe, I'm pretty sure. Since Lydia left for college, they're so rarely home, they're not even paying that woman to come and dust occasionally.”

Stiles gestures toward Derek and then toward the locked front door to the house. Derek takes it as 'break the lock, Derek' and does just that. “Why do you still want inside? I'm telling you, there's no one in there.”

“Ah, but this is my one chance to go through Lydia's things guilt-free.” He winks, but when Derek stops with his hand on the door, waiting for the real answer, he adds, “It's for you, actually. She's probably out of Beacon Hills already, this is our best chance to find out what happened and why she'd lie about seeing Laura on the night she disappeared.”

He's got a point. Derek's been so focused on getting to Umbrella and Lydia in person, it hasn't occurred to him that Lydia's house might contain a clue of some sort.

Stiles goes for the stairs immediately. He only reaches for the lights once they're inside a green and white room at the end of a long hallway. Derek inhales slowly, allowing his nose to linger on the scents, but if his sister has ever been here at all, it hasn't been recently. Even though there's only one stack of books visible on the desk, the room smells more like a library than anything else.

They go through Lydia's desk together, more or less. They don't talk about it, but Derek checks some of the things Stiles has already looked over, because they're probably not searching for the same things. Stiles does it with things Derek's already been through, too. There's nothing, though. Not even a picture of Laura, which he has been half expecting since Stiles thinks they knew - know - each other well.

“What's that?”

Derek looks at the notebook in his hands, unsure of what Stiles means. “I don't know. It was among the books on the desk.”

“Yeah, I know, just – turn back...” Stiles takes the notebook from Derek and leafs through it. A series of mathematical formulas written in a neat, large handwriting, decorate the last page. “This doesn't make any sense.”

Derek looks at them closer. He's not an expert on the subject or anything, but he's familiar with a few of the formulas listed. They make perfect sense.

But Stiles goes through the notebook again. There are only about three pages of unsolved problems at the beginning of it. The rest is all empty pages.

“No, really, it doesn't make any sense at all,” Stiles says, taking Derek's silence for disagreement. “Lydia, she's a math genius. Eons in front of everyone else you've ever met. This is ridiculously below her level.” He bites his lip, bending even closer over the writing. “Even I can solve these, easily. Why would she make this?”

Derek is losing his patience with the conversation. “I don't know. Maybe she's tutoring someone? Let's go, the time is ticking.”

Stiles looks at him, glances again at the disrupted desk. “Yeah, there's nothing here. I should have known she's too smart to leave evidence laying around.”

Before he follows Derek out, though, he takes one of the scattered pens and brings it along with the notebook.

“You drive this time, okay?” Stiles says before getting into the passenger's seat. The street is empty, no zombies have been close enough to be attracted by the sound of the van when they've arrived. Derek takes the driver's place. Stiles' backpack is pressing against his knee, so he moves it. It ends up a makeshift desk for Stiles to do the problems in Lydia's notebook on.

Derek doesn't think it means anything, but he's not complaining. It's keeping Stiles busy, calmer than he's been at any point thus far.

There's a good stretch of the preserve they have to drive through to reach Umbrella. That will be forever lost after tonight, too. Derek learned to follow the moon among these trees, and how to hold onto humanity. Lost his virginity just off the road, in his car. His family was protected by and protected this land for generations. It's bad enough most of them are gone, everything they stood for will soon be gone, too.

“Weird or not? The solution to each of these problems is a single digit.”

“I don't know,” Derek says, grateful for the distraction.

“Yeah, me neither. It's probably nothing.”

The gates of the Umbrella complex aren't like those to Lydia's house. It's a wide and tall plane of heavy steel, blended into an even taller wall. There's no way to get Stiles over it.

“There, just a little further.” At Derek's questioning look, Stiles shrugs, “It's worth a try.”

Derek isn't sure what he's up to, but he can see what he's pointing. It's a control panel. He stops the van so he can reach that thing without getting out. Before he can even try, Stiles leans over Derek and the dark screens come to life under his fingers.

“I knew it! What are the odds Lydia's notebook has eight problems with a single digit solution and that the password has eight spaces?” Stiles turns his blinding, smug smile on Derek. He's a little distracting this close up.

But okay, maybe he's onto something.

“The order, though...” Stiles murmurs, looking back at the notebook. He puts in a series of numbers into the empty spaces. The panel blinks red at him. “That'd have been too easy, right.”

A few attempts later, the panel flashes blue and Stiles doesn't even try to contain his shout of triumph. Underneath his voice, the computerized voice announces:

system override sequence activated. identify yourself.

“Stiles Stilinski,” Stiles manages, eyes wide and awed.

The panel blinks again, rotates something too quick to follow and shows them a digital file. There's Stiles' picture and the name Stilinski with a first name that Derek's not completely sure how you'd pronounce.

What's going on? Why is he in the system?

voice identification confirmed

Stiles chokes down a gleeful laugh to say, “Open the main gate.”

The gate makes little sound sliding sideways, even to a werewolf's ears. As they drive themselves inside, Stiles is laughing freely. “I can't believe she did that. Why did she do that? How did she... No, I won't go there. Being inexplicably better and smarter than anyone else is a part of her charm.”

Derek considers his question carefully. “You didn't know she put your name into the security system?”

“No.” Not a lie. “God, she didn't just put my name in there. That was a picture of me she took a few weeks ago with her phone, when I came to visit her here. She must have – she needed a sample of my voice – probably recorded that with her phone or something – and I don't know, maybe she put in my fingerprints, too. But why? Why do that? It'd cost her much more than her internship if anyone found out and I have no business here.”

The building in front of them is a huge windowless mass, impersonal as only these modern constructions can be. Even the entrance is a barely recognizable shape on the exterior.

“Maybe she was afraid something like this would happen,” Derek says, because Stiles is right. You don't do things like that for no reason. “It has happened before, with Umbrella.”

“But what she's expecting me to do? I'm only here because you found me before I managed to get myself eaten.”

Derek isn't too sure about that. The misguided attempt at forging a two-pronged spear from two mismatched knifes and a mop handle to the side, Stiles has proven himself resourceful and fairly competent.

But Derek doesn't know what Lydia's expecting of him, so he shrugs. If they find Lydia in here, they'll ask.

Stiles activates a panel similar to the first one, located on the wall next to the entrance. It reacts to him without requiring the code again. He opens the door.

Derek doesn't even have to walk through them for the familiar, overwhelming presence to flow into his head, into his very bones. He's so lightheaded with comfort and warmth that comes from the undisturbed connection to his Alpha, he stumbles forward. Stiles' hand fearfully wraps around his arm, but he's not going to fall.

“Derek? What's wrong?”

He shakes his head clear, swallows. “Laura. It's Laura. She's inside.”

 

 

 

10:32 PM, Beacon Hills

 

 

“How... do you know that?”

There'll be no answer, Stiles can tell. Derek is wide-eyed, hopeful. He's leading the way through the well-illuminated hallway. The pace he's setting is almost too much for Stiles to follow and he's getting  out of breath quickly.

The place is empty. Hallways are eerily quiet, so his and Derek's footsteps come back in an echo, and are loud enough to make Stiles cringe.

On the wall to their right, a long smudge of red is spoiling the pristine environment. It looks like someone's kept to the wall, holding themselves up with bloody hands.

Derek tilts his head a little, observing the trail. He says, “Blood.”

“Oh, you think?” Stiles snaps at him, rattled.

“Human blood,” Derek adds. “Clean. No trace of disease.”

Stiles follows when he starts walking again, thinking about how Derek's given up on pretending he's normal. Stiles hasn't done anything to earn trust like that. He's sort of dependent on Derek, yes, but that's not loyalty. And Derek doesn't have to drag him along any longer. So why this change? Does Derek expect him not to survive after all? Maybe he means to leave Stiles behind soon, leave him to die in Beacon Hills? That's why he's not bothering to hide. The blown-apart-by-a-nuclear-bomb can tell no secrets.

Stiles shakes his head, tries to clear it out of the ugly thoughts. Derek has done nothing but help him. It's not fair to think that.

The hallway splits in two and Derek stops, frowning.

“Where is she?”

“I can't... There are dogs in here. Monkeys? Chemicals. I can't tell. We'll go down here, first.”

 “Derek?” Stiles calls to stop him. It doesn't work, so he raises his voice, “Derek!”

“What?” Are his eyes glowing? Shit, they are. Somehow, they... okay, maybe not. Stiles swallows to clear his throat.

“Look, Laura's been missing for a year now...”

She's here.” Derek's voice is tighter than a growl.

“I believe you! I do! But, we're assuming she's here against her will, right?” This is hard to say, but he has to. Just in case Derek's on some level refusing to think about it. “In that case, she's probably on one of the underground levels. One of quite a few underground levels. Where the labs are.”

“You're trying to tell me, what? They're using her for experiments?”

No, they're using her to cook them lunch. “What else? Why else would she be here at all, alive? She is a journalist, right? She came to Beacon Hills to write a story. As exciting as this little place in the middle of nowhere is, what would there be for an affirmed, big-town journalist to want to write about here?”

“Umbrella.”

“Yeah, politically and financially most influential corporation in the world, the one everyone knows actually profits the most from, among other things, genetic experimentation and viral weaponry. Tell me honestly, is your sister, you know? Like you?” Derek nods without hesitation. “Tell me a corporation like this one wouldn't drag her into the lowest basement and perform the most painful of experiments on someone like her? Someone like you?”

The thought is chilling. Stiles can think all the nasty thoughts, but the truth is, he's gotten attached to Derek. He doesn't want him cut apart, body parts preserved in jars.

“You think they knew,” Derek concludes slowly.

“Maybe. Or maybe she just got in too deep snooping, they grabbed her before she could tell anyone what she found out and the, um, the special abilities were like a big fat bonus for these guys. My point is, if she's here, she's somewhere downstairs, hidden away where only the chosen employees have access. So before we go to look, can we first go to Lydia's office?” Derek seems to be thinking about it, and Stiles presses. “There's a computer there I may be able to use with this access code to find out exactly where Laura is, so we don't wander.”

“You don't know that,” Derk says tightly. “And why does Lydia have an office? I thought she was an intern?”

“She doesn't, really. But I know in which one she's been spending most of her time.”

“Fine,” Derek decades with a reluctant scowl. “But we have to hurry.”

Relieved, Stiles starts running instantly, “Over here.”

They have to climb two sets of stairs, because where would Lydia Martin settle but at the top? Derek lets Stiles lead, just a step or two, which means that the coast is clear, as far as he can sense. The lines of offices they pass on their way are closed shut. Some are still lit, but not many.

Out of breath, Stiles stops in front of R&D Director's, Harris', office. It's lit, but he doesn't see anyone inside for a second. Then from behind the huge desk in the back of the room, a familiar head peeks out. Stiles wonders if it's unmanly if he cries out of sheer relief and feels his face do something that's probably manic grinning.

Lydia climbs to her feet with some difficulty. Her face is twisted in a smile, but it looks pained. On her side, there's a bloodstain – an angry red smear on the pale blue fabric.

“Fuck,” Stiles hisses, the relief gone before the wave of a new fear.

“She's okay,” Derek says, close by. “You see how she's holding herself? She wouldn't be able to stand like that is it was anything more than a flesh wound. Calm down.”

Lydia frowns at him, just on the other side of the glass now. The makeup she's been wearing is smeared, making her sharp green eyes stand out. She gestures at something to her left, mouth forming words.

“Can you hear her?” Stiles asks Derek.

“Soundproofed. Quality work. But I don't have to hear her. She wants you to open the door.”

Stiles blinks, looks around. There's no doorknob, but there's a panel where Lydia gestured at. He touches the screen, and it lights up, ready to listen to the command. He orders the computer to open the door and pushes through as soon as there's enough space for him.

Lydia's warm and familiar in his arms and she's squeezing him back with one arm.

“Who else is here?”

Stiles looks back at Derek, started. “What?”

“There is someone else in here,” Derek says, Melissa's revolver ready in hand.

Stiles looks down at Lydia. She sniffs, like she's fighting off a cold, and retreats. “It's just Jordan and me. We got in a little – brawl – with Harris and his security and lost. He's behind the desk.”

Derek and Stiles both move to check. Jordan Parrish really is there. He looks up at them, but his eyes are a little glassy and absent.

“Well, congratulations, Derek,” Stiles says, looking at all the blood with an unsettled stomach. “You found your guy.”

Derek gets on his knees next to Parrish. “Give me my first aid kit.”

Your first...?” Stiles touches around the belt. It takes a few seconds until he manages to find the right one. Derek in the meantime pushes away Jordan's clothes. The wound in his shoulder is wrapped, but it looks like a hasty, sloppy job.

“I didn't have much to work with,” Lydia says in a small voice.

Derek glances at her over Stiles' shoulder. “You stopped the bleeding.”

She nods, and Derek starts unwrapping Jordan's wound.

Stiles turns away from the sight of it, to Lydia. “Have you seen my father tonight, by any chance?”

She looks at him with a disapproving twist of her lips. “Why am I not surprised? Yes, Stiles, your dad came to see me and I sent him out in a chopper.”

She says it so plainly, but it's hard to trust her. “And he went? Willingly?”

“Willingly might be an overstatement, but I made sure he did. I like your dad quite a lot, Stiles, you know this. I wouldn't let him roam Beacon Hill on a night like this if I could do anything to prevent it. He is going to be mad at me, but I lied to him. I told him I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that you got out of town."

“But you knew I wasn't.”

“I heard from Scott, before this fiasco with Harris. He is so angry with you, you have no idea, and worried out of his mind. I told the Sheriff you were with him and Mellisa. He got a little suspicious, so I made a comment or two on how good it would look on National television if Umbrella could claim they saved the head of the local police force. Harris had him practically dragged away up to the helipad after that - fortunately, he confronted me and Parrish afterward, so your dad didn't see this happen.”

Stiles wants to believe her, but she's just admitted lying to his dad in a very similar situation to this one. Like he could hear what was going on in his head, Derek looks up at them, “She's telling the truth.”

Even as the tight belt squeezing Stiles' chest eases, Lydia's eyebrows raise. She cocks her head toward Derek, looking at Stiles.

“Lydia, that's Derek Hale. Laura's brother.” Her face doesn't change, but her hand spasms. Maybe she never got to see his picture, no matter how close she was with Laura. Stiles keeps talking, since no one is joining in, “His company sent him to Beacon Hills to retrieve Parrish, actually, so I convinced him to let me tag along. He's a very, uh, efficient bodyguard.”

Lydia lifts her hand to pat the bulletproof vest Stiles has somehow forgotten he's wearing. She murmurs, “Generous, too.”

“He'll be fine, but we should get him to see a doctor soon,” Derek announces. He stands up, and props Jordan until he's on his feet, if not too stable.

“'M fine,” Parrish mumbles, leaning heavily on the desk. “Let's go.”

“Do you know a way out?” Lydia looks between Stiles and Derek. “Because everyone else evacuated already.”

It hasn't occurred to Stiles until that moment, but... “They left you here?”

“They found me out. I've been so careful, but once the virus leaked... Well, I had to try, even though I wasn't ready yet.”

Lydia's looking steadily at Derek as she's talking. “Try what?” Derek prompts her, but his voice is soft, like he knows the answer already.

Lydia smiles sadly, and Stiles answers for her, “You got in here looking for Laura, didn't you? You changed your major and took on twice as many classes this last year just so you could gather enough credit to get an internship at Umbrella so you'd be able to find Laura? How did you know she was here?”

“Because she told me she was planning to sneak in. I waited in her motel room for hours, and when it became clear she wouldn't be coming back...” Lydia gives sorrowful smile to Stiles. “Well, judging by some photos your dad had with him today, I was apparently too upset to drive carefully.”

“You never drive carefully,” he answers with a sad smile of his own.

“You know where she is, though?” Derek demands.

“Yes. But I was busted before I could go look. It's well above my clearance level.”

“Yeah, speaking of which... When did you put me into the system? And I almost didn't even go to your house, why would you leave me the code as a set of mathematical problems, God, Lydia, do you know how lucky we are I actually took it with me?”

She waves her hand dismissively, “Please, I left you that code in exactly fourteen different places and ways. Three of which are in your own house, actually, two at the station. You were bound to stumble across at least one. And anyway, I had Denny put Scott in, too. Just in case.”

“Wouldn't it have been easier to, you know, just tell me? Tell us.”

She twists her mouth again. “I didn't for the same reason I never told your dad I knew where Laura went that night – I didn't want any of you to have anything to do with this place. It's too dangerous. The code, well, the code was the last resort. I had hoped it would never come to that. And now that you used it here, this long after the evacuation, you won't be able to use it anywhere else.”

“Um, why would I want to?”

“She wasn't writing an article,” Derek cuts in, realization sharpening his voice. “And while you were here, looking for Laura, you meant to also finish what she'd started. She was trying to expose them.”

Lydia nods. Parrish snorts, like this is funny. He seems more awake, watching them. “Well, aren't we all. But see,” he points at Derek's insignia, but he's talking to Lydia, “told you my company won't leave me here. Especially when I told them I had evidence now.”

His company?

“You mean, I have the evidence,” Lydia says with a smile, palming a string around her neck.

Stiles looks at them, smiling at each other like old friends. He thinks he gets it. Lydia got the internship to find Laura, Parrish hit on Lydia so he'd have an excuse to visit her occasionally and snoop. She wasn't allowed to admit anyone in the labs, likely wasn't allowed very deep in herself, but Umbrella made sure they at least looked clean on the surface, so visits for lunch occasionally weren't strange. She probably figured out what he was up to and pretended to be just interested enough to let him near. It certainly explained their strange in-between relationship. He'll have to ask later if he's right, but for now...

“Well, you have the evidence, Derek has a way out...”

“Let's go get Laura and get out of here,” Derek finishes almost to the word what Stiles has meant to say, but with a lot more authority.

Parrish starts to move first, like he has to prove that he can. Lydia tosses her hair and leads the way out of the office.

Derek takes Stiles by the elbow to keep him from following after her, “I was serious. She was telling the truth about your father.”

Stiles sighs. “I think the question 'how do you know that?' should just go without me actually asking it by now, don't you agree?”

“Why do you think I ever trusted your very convenient story about how our paths just happen to overlap? I can hear a lie in a person's heartbeat. She was telling the truth.”

Derek leaves Stiles to gape after him. And wonder if there's anything Derek could say at this point that he won't just believe, no matter how fantastical it sounds.

Whatever clearance Lydia had has been revoked. She needs Stiles to open the doors for her, give orders to the computer. But she has a very clear vision of where they're going, so they smoothly send Parrish in one of the elevators to the roof, where the helipad is. They take the other elevator and descend into the depths of the building.

Lydia leads them down a hallway and into a room, through the heaviest set of double doors Stiles has seen in his life. It's dark inside, only the echo gives out a sense of how large the space is.

“We're getting close,” Derek breathes. Lydia doesn't look much steadier, herself.

Stiles orders the lights on. The room is huge, much bigger than he's been expecting. The celling to floor containers take up half of the space, and tangles of pipes and cables cover most of the floor and the walls.

“The number is 215,” Lydia says. “I guess the number of the container?”

Are they really keeping Laura in one of these? Stiles looks carefully at the closes one. It's black and large, made out of some sort of metal, but there are no windows. It's inhuman.

Derek's already walking between them, looking up where the numbers are clearly visible. Stiles and Lydia quickly follow his lead. There doesn't seem to be any order to how they've lined up the containers, there's one marked '7' right next to the one marked '83' – it's like it's deliberately random.

No, Stiles sees how Lydia is starting to move with purpose. There's a sequence, a pattern, he just can't figure it out. Lydia's got it, so he gives up on looking and just follows her. Twenty seconds later, she stops in front of the right container, pale and shaky in the radiant brightness of the artificial light.

Stiles calls, “Derek? We found it.”

Derek takes a shortcut over the pipes, straight to them. “Open it.”

Stiles looks at Lydia. The truth is, they have no idea what they'll find in there. Laura, sure, but is she still herself? Is she infected with the virus?

“Lydia...” Stiles says. She looks at her hands, nods. Derek doesn't even seem to notice her retreat all the way behind them.

Stiles finds the panel on Laura's container and it reacts to him. He's been half hoping already it wouldn't, but it swiftly obeys his order to open the container 215. A heavy metal door slides sideways. It's dark inside.

“Laura?” Derek calls, voice garbled and rough. Stiles unclasps the holster on his belt, takes out the gun. Just in case. “Laura!”

There's only silence. Derek moves forward, carefully, to check inside. Before he reaches the door, a sound comes from the container, like a roar – no, like a howl, but too piecing, and pained. It's terrible, but Derek reacts to it much worse than Stiles – he takes a quick, stumbling step backward and falls down on his ass. Dad's rifle clatters on the floor next to him.

Scared by that more than the sound itself, Stiles points the handgun at the gaping door.

It doesn't do him any good. It happens too quickly for him to take aim and shoot – one second, a dark shadow stirs inside the container, the next second it's jumping on Derek. He reacts faster than Stiles can even think right then, meets the figure with his feet and kicks it off over his head. It's powerful enough to throw it so far toward the opposite wall, Stiles can't even see where it landed.

But he's seen enough of it to know that it's not Derek's sister. It cannot possibly be.

Lydia grabs the rifle off the floor, says, “Derek, get up.” He looks like he's in shock, so she raises her voice, “Derek, we'll die if you don't get up right now.”

He finally does. Lydia and him are facing the side Derek has sent that creature to, and Stiles stands back to back with them so nothing would surprise them from behind. “That's not Laura, though.”

He doesn't mean it as a question, but it comes out as one. Derek answers, “It is.”

Fuck. It's – she's not even remotely human. There's something reptilian in the way she's moved, but her skin is covered in patches of fur. Stiles hasn't managed a good look, but he knows she's also almost twice Derek's size.

“Guys...”

“We know, Stiles,” Lydia cuts him off, her voice furious. He doesn't think it's with him.

He finishes anyway, “We have to get out of here.”

That terrible sound comes again, like Laura's heard him and is protesting. Derek makes a sound of his own, a terrible, broken whimper Stiles has never heard in his life anyone produce.

And neither one of them is moving, so he has to. He's the one with the least emotional attachment here, he should lead them out of here. He silently pulls on Derek's arm, Lydia's shoulder, directs them toward the door that's too fucking far away, just in case Laura is listening from her shadowed corner. They're following slowly, reluctantly. They'll never make it like this.

“Oh my God, guys, seriously,” Stiles hisses, frustrated beyond belief with their unwillingness to get out of there, “that's not Laura!”

“Yes, it is,” Derek says. Stiles thinks he's meant it to be menacing, but with the way his eyes jump over the room, the desperate sorrow - it's just broken. “I can see it – I can feel it. It's her.” He's formed a fist against his chest, like trying to grab the feeling inside of it.

“Not anymore,” Stiles whispers.

They're facing each other in the middle of the room like the argument is more important than the threat looming in shadows. Derek says, frowning, but with eyes finally meeting Stiles', “She's got to be somewhere in there.”

“If she is,” Stiles says, with more deliberation than he can afford, “then she'll let us go.”

“You want me to leave my sister behind.”

I want to live, Stiles thinks. He wants all three of them to live.

But he says, “I want to have this discussion on the other side of the door.” If they can get there.

Derek looks away from him for a moment, stares into a far away spot over Stiles' shoulder. He nods. “Okay. I'll make sure you're safe first.”

That is not what Stiles has wanted to hear, because it can mean just about anything and it doesn't sound good at all. First? Then what comes second? But it gets Derek to start moving toward the door, so he doesn't bring it up.

Laura doesn't let them go. She howls her disjoint, shrill howl again – and that's what it is, Stiles realizes. He has just enough time to have that thought, and to repeat it in his head - it's a howl - before Derek is stepping in front of the charging Laura. Something about him changes, Stiles can't see his face. He can see his hands, though, fingernails long and sharp all of the sudden and... Stiles is not surprised at all.

Lydia pulls him toward the door, and he moves backward with her, watching.

Laura's come down on Derek slashing at his throat, intent on the killing blow. Derek evades, but he can't seem to force himself to try and hit her. Instead, he rolls under her kicks and blows. His face has changed, too, his teeth look like a deadly weapon – but he's not using it. All he's doing is leading Laura away from Lydia and Stiles.

They're at the door when Laura's determination finally pays off. She's managed to get Derek on his back and it's just his desperate grip on her neck that's keeping her from killing him.

“Here,” Lydia says, pushing his dad's rifle into his hands. Stiles takes it, aims. He's a fairly good shot, as long as he doesn't have anything to distract him. It bites into his arms as he fires. The first bullet hits Laura's head squarely, so he shoots again, going for maximum damage.

She doesn't let go, but at least Derek is actually struggling against her now. His kicks don't seem to hurt her, she doesn't react to his claws sinking into her flesh.

Stiles shrugs off the backpack.

“What are you doing?” Lydia demands, even as he digs up the flare gun from it.

“Stay here,” Stiles tells her.

“And where are you going?” she's protesting, but the time is running out, he can't answer.

He's never shot from a flare gun, so has to get closer to be sure he'll hit his target. It seems like the rifle shots have given Derek an edge, because even though Laura is attacking even more viciously, she's too angered to be efficient. Finally close enough, Stiles fires the flare gun at her head, praying.

It's more blinding than he's expected it to be, because he's an idiot. Everything is red and white, he can't see – but it only takes a second before he feels hands grabbing him, pulling him along. He's running, Derek urging him, half blind and eyes burning, but toward safety.

“Close the door, Stiles,” Lydia orders him. He leans over the panel and repeats the command when Derek hisses and shifts again into that dangerous, clawed formed. The doors are closing fast but Laura is faster.

Stiles is staring at her, feeling helpless, as she reaches the door. A gunshot goes off at the last second. Laura flinches with one of her eyes now just a hole and it's enough for the door to slide shut between them. Stiles turns to see Lydia holding the rifle she's obviously recharged. Her whole body is shaking.

Derek takes the weapon away from her, gently.

Stiles wants to spit at him, demands if he still wants to have that discussion, take his sister along. But both Lydia and Derek look so heartbroken, with the rifle between them and Derek's clothes soaked in his sister's blood, he can't. He just can't. Not right now.

The door bangs under the weight Laura throws at it from the inside. You can see a large dent from their side. Stiles starts moving first toward the elevators, without a word. Two sets of steps follow him, as the door give out another yielding sound under Laura's attacks.

The elevator doesn't seem to be moving fast enough. When they're finally up on the roof, in the crisp cold, Stiles feels like he hasn't been breathing up until then.

“I was starting to worry,” Parrish says when he sees them. Lydia turns to him, hides her face into his shoulder.

“The transmitter?” Derek asks him. His voice is unrecognizable, wavering.

Stiles takes it out, gives it over. Derek presses the button. The signal is sent.

Lydia is crying openly now, her whole figure shaking. Stiles wonders if he should offer condolences to Derek, say something comforting. His mouth usually gets him in trouble, though, he's not the best judge of when to say what.

Instead he leans on the door that lead back into the building, imitating Derek's position. The door is small, their shoulders are touching. Derek doesn't say anything and he doesn't move away.

Now all that's left is to wait for their way out.

***

 

 

 

11:05AM, 150 miles outside of Beacon Hills

two days later

 

 

Derek only bothers to read Erica's last message in which she tells him – apparently for the hundredth time – that he needs to come in to work. He gets out of his running clothes, showers, dresses and goes to the headquarters.

The first twenty-four hours after leaving Beacon Hills, he's spent alone. This previous night, though, Erica, Boyd and Issac came knocking, finally back in town. They needed to grieve, and to adapt to the shift in power. They lost Laura, this time completely. They lost their Alpha.

This morning, they've left Derek's apartment, feeling rebalanced, if not any happier.

And while the pack feels relief to be able to function in a proper hierarchy again, Derek can't help but despise the hot feeling of that extra spark that makes him the Alpha now. It's too restorative to allow him to mourn his sister properly, but he'll always associate the power it's got him with her death. It's a confusing mix of emotions.

He walks onto what appears to be a meeting, in the central room. It's only Deaton and Erica, sitting across from Lydia and Stiles, but they all look serious and determined.

Erica gets out of her chair to hug him quickly. It's more scent sharing than an offer of comfort, because they've only seen each other several hours ago, but he appreciates it anyway.

“Oh, that's not fair,” Stiles says loudly. “You should have told me you had a girlfriend before I got so attached, Derek, what were you thinking?”

Derek moves to stand behind him, and puts a hand on his and Lydia's shoulders. “She's not my girlfriend,” he says, though he knows Stiles hasn't been serious.

“I think she disagrees,” Stiles mutters. He can't possibly know that the reason Erica's frowning like that is because Derek is scenting two random humans now. Apparently, a dark, Alpha-ridden corner of his brain has decided to take them in as his own. The instinct to make the pack larger is harder to suppress than Laura made it look.

Lydia, at least, seems to understand what's going on, because she lifts her hand and gently rubs Derek's knuckles for a moment. It's an easy, natural acceptance. She's been Laura's, before, even if Derek never got to sense a glimpse of that bond.

His hand lingers a few moments longer on Stiles' shoulder before he takes the seat next to him.

“What's up?”

“Plotting against evil, monster-making intercontinental corporations,” Stiles says, voice lighter now. “Unfortunately, there's a difference in opinions. On everything. So we need you to be the tie-breaker.”

Derek doesn't feel particularly competent to make important decisions. Give him something to claw at, and he'll do his part gladly. But that's not an option any longer.

“Okay,” he agrees, waits for them to fill him in.

“We can't decide what to do with the info I've gathered,” Lydia says. She pushes a flash drive across the table toward him. “This one is yours – we all have one and a made a few extras, as well. Just in case.”

“I believe,” Deaton says, “that we should wait until we have more. Though what's on that drive is more than anyone else has ever gathered on Umbrella, I am not so sure it's something they are not capable of covering up.”

“It doesn't help they blew up Beacon Hills and all material evidence of what's on the drive,” Stiles adds. “If they do manage to cover it up, it might become completely unusable later on.”

“There won't be a later on to think about if we don't go public with it,” Erica argues. “There are hundreds of Umbrella or Umbrella-connected research facilities around the world and while we're talking about this, they'll blow up another town.”

“There's also the threat of a worldwide pandemic,” Lydia says. “This was incredibly hard to get. I don't see how we'll manage to get more quickly enough.”

Derek asks, “But you have an idea of how to get more?”

Everyone looks at her. They haven't addressed it before. Lydia glances quickly at Stiles before she pulls her face into a fake expression of indifference. “Yes. I do.”

“Why do I get the feeling I won't like this?” Stiles mutters.

She ignores him. “The clearance I had Denny give Stiles is gone now, since he used it after the evacuation and will be marked as a loss in their systems. It's a shame, since it was for all Umbrella facilities on the continent. But, luckily, it wasn't the only clearance we forged.”

“You want to send Scott in to infiltrate Umbrella,” Stiles says, voice tight with rage. “Lydia, he'll never get an internship there, less alone soon enough for it to be relevant to this discussion.”

“I was thinking a job in maintenance, actually,” Lydia says. “It could be more efficient, since people rarely pay attention to where a janitor is allowed to go – everything needs cleaning, even labs.”

Derek can hear his teeth grind when Stiles forces out, “I don't want him involved.”

“He's getting involved as we speak – he spent the whole day yesterday at the protests, and you know how he gets. He will be in the middle of the anti-Umbrella campaign in no time. He's drawing a target on his chest.”

“Instead he should walk around with the target we put there.”

“I think we should ask him. Give him a way to make an actual difference.”

“Is his mother alright, too?” Derek cuts into the argument that's getting too heated. They both nod. “When you ask him, make sure she's there, too. In case Scott wants to do it, she needs to be ready to run if things go bad.”

Stiles doesn't argue with this. “Either way, surely we won't put all our hopes into Scott.”

“No,” Deaton answers. “In fact, now that Derek is here, it's time to tell you. Two years ago, when I sent Parrish to infiltrate Umbrella in Beacon Hills, I sent someone else in as well. To the facilities station not too far outside Lyon, France.”

“Have they succeeded?” Lydia wants to know.

“Yes. Marin Morell is working as a psychologist for them at the moment.”

“God knows the employees there need some therapy,” Stiles mutters to himself again.

Deaton ignores him. “The communication I had with her was much more limited than the one I had with Agent Parrish.”

“Had?” Lydia sharply asks.

“Alas, I have been unable to make contact with her in the last two weeks. We have the appointed time set, a call once a week, and she's missed both. The situation isn't promising.”

“But we have to check, right?” Stiles demands. “You're not gonna leave this chick out there on her own, will you?”

“No, Mr Stilinski, I won't. I wouldn't even if she wasn't my own sister.”

“You sent your sister in?”

“And therefore I understand perfectly the conflict you're feeling about putting someone you care about in the same position. But I assure you, the situation is serious enough to require of us to make such decisions. Though I wish anything but harm to him, I do hope your friend agrees to work with us, since it is probably the best plan we've got.”

Stiffly, Stiles nods. Then he asks, “How come you're ready to put all the resources of your company into this? What did Umbrella do to you?”

“That's irrelevant. I formed this company solely for the purpose of fighting back against Umbrella, and all the resources of the company exist for that purpose alone.”

“And now we're also your little soldiers.”

Deaton says mildly, “As we agreed, in exchange for your help, I am willing to help look for your father, Mr. Stilinski. Using the resources of the company, of course.”

“Wait, your father is missing?” Derek demands.

“I know he's alive – or at least, I know he safely got out of Beacon Hills,” Stiles is rubbing his neck, worried frown looking uncharacteristically grim on him. “There's footage of Harris and him landing, talking briefly to the press. But he hasn't been seen since.”

“Lydia, will you contact your friend Scott, if Mr. Stilinski is done protesting?” Deaton asks. She nods, gets up to leave the room. Stiles doesn't say anything, but unhappiness radiates from him. “Once we set that in motion, we will start planning the best approach to locate your father and rescue him. In the meantime, Derek, I need you to organize and lead a mission to France.”

“When do I leave?”

“Today, if at all possible.”

 

*

Three hours later, Derek is changing in the locker room, getting ready to leave. The company's plane is set to take off in half an hour. They lost some of their best soldiers in Beacon Hills, so Derek's first mission when he gets to Europe is to hire help. Fortunately, Deaton hasn't been only using his business for mission directly connected to fighting Umbrella, he's been making money, too.

“A werewolf, heh.”

Hand still inside the locker, Derek smiles. “Took you long enough.”

“Honestly, it would have taken me longer,” Stiles admits, walking up closer, “if the sideburns didn't make an appearance. But between that, and the claws and the glowing eyes, well. Though I should have known, I guess. In some cultures, people leave just born children out in the woods when they're born with such imposing eyebrows. They think it'll grow up to be a werewolf.”

It's a not very widespread piece of werewolf lore, a practice long-forgotten even in the Slavic communities that used to do that, so Derek raises an eyebrow at him.

Stiles rubs his neck with an abashed smile, “Sorry. The internet. Anyway, you'll be gone for weeks, so I just wanted to...”

Derek zips the backpack he's taking along. They are not going to fly in full equipment across the ocean. When he straightens back up, the pack over his shoulder, Stiles still hasn't finished his thought, “Yes?”

“Um, I don't know. Thank you? Wish you luck?”

He stinks of nervousness like he thinks Derek may do something terrible to him if he actually tries. So Derek says, “Okay.”

Stiles immediately steps into his personal space. Derek lifts his hands until he can feel the threadbare fabric of Stiles' red hoodie under his palms, just in time to keep Stiles from retreating completely after a very quick, very light kiss.

“Luck?” Derek raises his eyebrows. “You're expecting that little peck to keep me alive throughout the zombie apocalypse?”

The nervousness lessens, and Stiles' scent swells with too many emotions to keep track of. “The next few weeks of it, anyway. Then you'll come back?”

There's a hot imprint of a palm on his hip that urges Derek to give all sorts of promises, but the truth is that all he can do is try. He wants to take with him that need to pull through for someone, though, so he stops waiting for Stiles to kiss him again and leans in himself.

There's no time to do this right now, the plane is leaving soon, yet Derek still takes a few minutes. He doesn't remember when was the last time he kissed someone who knew about him, or even just someone who hinted they'd be willing to wait for him to come back.

It's more sweet than heated, and it has to end. Stiles murmurs, hand on Derek's neck, “Well that's more than I thought you'd let me get away with.”

And that's just ridiculous, with all the things Derek is hoping Stiles will let him get away with when he comes back. He says quietly, “Stay safe,” and forces his hands to let go.

Erica is leaning on the lockers on the far end of the room, a smirk that says that she gets it now transforming her face.

“It's time?” Derek asks her.

“Hey, I wasn't gonna interrupt. It was a good show.”

“A show you didn't buy a ticket for,” Stiles says, narrowing eyes on her, shoulders defensive.

“I kind of feel like ruining all his fun, though, so yeah. It's time to go.”

Both of them seem to be joking, but it's just a little on the edge. Might be the remains of their disagreement about what to do with Lydia's info, or maybe Erica is feeling a little overprotective. Derek will have to talk to her about it and put a stop to it while it's early.

Lydia is waiting in the hallway, in front of the elevators. She allows Derek to put a hand on her shoulder again, says with a small smile, “Scott agreed. Deaton is preparing some basic training for him. Maybe you guys will even get a chance to meet him if you come back quickly.”

Derek nods, walks into the elevator behind Erica.

Only three days ago, Derek lived in such ignorance. He knew nothing about Laura, about Umbrella. Now he has to prevent more outbreaks like the one that caused the destruction of Beacon Hills. Has a pack to take care of. And there's Stiles, too - there's plenty to fight for.

So Derek smiles at Lydia and Stiles, back in the hallway, and says, “See you soon.”

The door closes to shield their answering smiles.

 

end