Worn Out Shoes
The first anyone hears of it, there are just vague rumors and speculation. Rumors about people getting sick and not getting better. Whispers on the internet about mutant viruses and germ warfare. Little stories from one corner of the world or the other. Stories about this person’s first cousin’s aunt getting sick and attacking the family. That person, who heard it from this guy, who swears he saw a dude bite a guy. All taken with a grain of salt because it’s the internet.
Then the stories grow in frequency; and the news stations start reporting about the strangely virulent strain of flu going around this year.
And then the video gets uploaded to youtube.
Stiles is taking a current affairs class at Berkeley, and they’re discussing the impact the internet has had on the way news reaches the public in the last decade the first time he sees it. One of the other students provides evidence to the kind of change being discussed by asking the professor if he’s seen the video about the police shooting in Phoenix yet. The professor has him put it up on the projector.
The picture is grainy. As awesome as cell phone cameras have become, they are still limited in their capacity. Nothing can make up for distance and bad lighting from the sun setting and turning everything gray. As it is, the video has good sound quality and decent picture, considering.
There’s a man walking across an intersection in what looks like downtown somewhere. He’s… shambling, shuffling along at a pace that isn’t quite a stumble and isn’t quite a walk. There are several cop cars, lights flashing, at the edges of the intersection. There are at least fifteen cops, and plenty of bystanders. There’s a stadium in the background, Stiles can’t tell which sport everyone is on their way to see.
One of the cops is yelling at the man to get out of the intersection.
The two girls sitting behind Stiles scream in shock when the man in the intersection attacks the cop that approaches him to get him out of the street. The guy just, lurches forward. With his whole body. He’s on the uniform in a flash, dragging him screaming to the ground until he’s silenced with a gurgle. Stiles’ stomach clenches.
The whole class seems to be holding their collective breath when four cops run out into the intersection to try and save their comrade. The man lurches to his feet, leaving the officer behind in a growing puddle of blood to shamble toward the other police officers. It makes them pause.
There’s shouting. Calls of ‘Stop!’ and ‘Don’t move!’. Then the first gunshot rings out. The crack of the shot makes the guy next to Stiles jolt in his seat. Stiles feels his lungs seize. He’s been around cops (and therefore guns) his entire life. He knows a good shoot when he sees one.
Center mass. Left side of the chest. That man should have dropped like a puppet with its strings cut.
But he doesn’t. The man remains standing, and several seconds go by where no one moves or says anything. Then the man shuffles forward. And another cop fires his weapon. Stiles counts the shots, ears ringing a little as he watches the guy jolt with every hit, still moving forward.
Sixteen bullets. Sixteen good shots.
The last one hits the guy in the head. Only then does he stop moving and drop, finally dead.
The video ends. The class is silent.
Stiles swallows around the lump in his throat. He’s never encountered one, but he’s read enough in his research and training to recognize one when he sees one. Zombies. If that wasn’t a zombie he’ll eat his hat. He doesn’t remember the rest of the class.
He doubts anyone else does either.
It grows from there. After the video goes viral, it’s like someone left the washroom sink on. Stories flood in from all corners, inundating the world with this attack or that attack. Suddenly it’s not the flu anymore. It’s just the Virus. After the first few attacks, people stop getting sick randomly. A representative of the CDC calls it a natural progression.
The virus goes from randomly transmittable through contact to bloodborne, and in the blink of an eye the world goes to hell.
At the first sign of a real attack in California (and at the Sheriff’s urging because he’s been looped in) Scott puts out the call. By order of the Alpha, all pack members are to return to Beacon Hills until the crisis is over. Stiles picks up Isaac on his way back. They roll into town right as the National Guard is called in, and a national state of emergency is declared.
They’re under Martial Law. Zombies are everywhere.
“Did you hear?” Scott demands. Stiles hasn’t even gotten out of the jeep before Scott is just, there. Eyes wide and worried. Most of his pack has been away for college. They’re scattered and the world is going to hell.
“Hear what? I’ve been driving all day, dude,” Stiles reminds the Alpha.
“L.A.’s being evacuated,” Scott says. He pulls Isaac into a crushing hug. “I haven’t heard from Danny.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Stiles reassures. “He’s Danny. He’s got the twins with him.”
“Right. Right.” Scott sounds like he’s trying to convince himself.
“You seen my dad?” Stiles asks.
“He’s at the station. The National Guard’s been called up, and he’s coordinating with them. My Dad got a team from the FBI to help secure the hospital. It’s where they’ve been taking the sick.” Scott breathes in heavily through his nostrils. His lips thin. He’s in veterinary school, but probably wishes he’d been fast tracking medical school instead.
At least then he’d be able to volunteer at the hospital. Where his mother has been spending all of her time trying to help the sick and dying. Risking her life.
Stiles claps a hand down on Scott’s shoulder, knowing what he’s thinking. “She’s going to be fine,” he tells his best friend. “She’s Melissa, she’s too badass to let something like this get her.”
“Right,” Scott says again. This time his voice sounds like he believes it, at least a little.
“I’m going to check on Dad, then hit the clinic, see where Deaton needs me on the research front.”
Scott nods absently. It’s zombies, and on a scale of one to world ending, Deaton has thrown his policy of noninterference out the window.
“Have you heard from Lydia?” Isaac asks Scott as he follows his Alpha toward the warehouse. Derek might not live there anymore, but the Hales still own the building full of converted lofts. They’ve reinforced it over the years, making it nigh on impenetrable.
“Her flight left three hours ago,” Scott tells him. “It comes into Oakland this afternoon. She said she was going to rent a car. She’ll call.”
Stiles climbs back into the jeep and heads for the station. They’ve got people scattered across the country. Allison is in Chicago somewhere, Derek and Cora are who knows where on one of their sibling-bonding road trips. Peter travels all over, trading in rare texts. Chris probably left to get Allison as soon as things started getting bad.
Stiles has the horrible feeling that things are going to get worse. Much, much worse.
“Hey, kid,” John Stilinski claps his son on the back, settling his hand on the back of his neck and drawing him into a hug. Stiles returns the hug, feeling better just for the embrace.
“What’s going on?” Stiles asks, drawing away to watch the rapid action of the station. There’s a unit of national guardsmen helping out. He should probably get used to seeing camo among the tan of the sheriff’s department uniforms.
“The rioting hit Oakland this morning. We’re expecting it to start around here any time now. We’re increasing patrols to try and get in front of it.”
Right. Of course, that makes sense. Stiles nods. “Good idea. What’s the plan?”
“Hit the house, we’re all going to be staying at the lofts. This is going to get worse before it gets better.”
“Will do,” Stiles says. He doesn’t say that he doesn’t think anything is ever going to be the same again. Not after this. It can’t be.
Father and son look at each other for a long time. They don’t say what either of them is thinking, but they know. Stiles isn’t going to tell John to be careful. John isn’t going to tell Stiles the same. They already know they can’t promise to do that.
“See you soon,” Stiles says finally.
Then he turns and leaves the station.
Stiles kills his first zombie that night. Deaton sends him home after a long day of researching when they hit a dead end. There’s nothing they can do until they’ve got a sample. Which means they need a zombie. Stiles stumbles tiredly out into the parking lot and directly into what used to be a human being.
The bites all over her arms are still oozing fresh blood. Her hair is matted with it, like she had struggled. Her eyes are blank and cold. It sends a shiver down Stiles’ spine. She shuffles toward him with a wheezing groaning noise as if the air is just passing through her. She reaches for him.
He bashes her skull into smithereens between the footboard and the door of the jeep. Red splashes up across the door of the vehicle and Stiles sags against the hood, breathing heavily. He registers vaguely that he’s shaking as he stares at the corpse lying on the ground at his feet.
He registers the voice. Looks up at Deaton who has come out of the clinic on his own way home. They stare at each other. Deaton takes in the body, the blood and the look on Stiles’ face and knows what happened. His lips thin.
“They’ve reached us.”
“I’m gonna need more training, Doc,” Stiles replies. He’s been slowly learning to be an Emissary. Everything he’s learned so far is mystic aid-the-pack type stuff with quite a bit of warding and protection stuff mixed in. Hardly any of it is combat related. He’s going to need battle magic in the near future.
“We’ll start tomorrow,” Deaton tells him. The time for neutrality is over.
Stiles opens the door of the jeep with a creak and the pulped mess of skull and brain splatter out onto the pavement. Stiles heaves but manages to contain himself. This isn’t the worst thing he’s ever experienced, but it’s definitely up there.
“Looks like you’ve got your sample, doc,” Stiles says, aiming for sarcastic humor, but falling flat. “Want some help getting it inside?”
Deaton graciously accepts. After the get the body inside and onto Deaton’s table, the druid kindly offers the hose attached to the side of the building to get the majority of the blood off Stiles’ car. Stiles hoses the jeep off, then does his legs and feet to get most of the blood off. He’s starting to feel kind of numb, but knows that’s the shock setting in.
He calls his father to let him know that zombies are in Beacon Hills after he climbs behind the wheel. After reassuring John that he’s okay and that he wasn’t bitten, he starts the engine. Roscoe rumbles under him for a moment as he rests his forehead on the steering wheel. When he finally feels well enough to drive, he presses his foot to the gas and goes.
He goes to the only place he knows that seems logical in an illogical moment.
Peter takes one look at his face and lets him into the loft he’d taken up residence in just before they’d all graduated from high school. He lets Stiles pace back and forth. He can smell the blood and disease on the boy, but he knows that none of it belongs to Stiles, so he says nothing.
“I need you to give me everything you’ve got on combat magic,” Stiles finally says.
Stiles stops pacing to stare at him. He’s seated on his sofa, eyes calm as he watches the younger man. Peter has always been willing to let Stiles dig into his collection of mystic tomes. He’s always held an interest in the guy who told an Alpha Wolf no and in the process lied to his face .
Peter respects Stiles in a capacity he doesn’t anyone else. Stiles has earned it.
“Okay?” Stiles feels the need to clarify.
“The world is going to hell, Stiles,” Peter says cordially. “And somehow I don’t think we can stop this one. We’re in it for the long haul. Adapt or die.”
“Right,” Stiles says. Of course. Peter’s survival is Peter’s first priority. While everyone else in the pack has been working to get home or lay in supplies, Peter’s been preparing in his own way. Ways that are probably multifaceted and deadly. “Right.”
“You’re an asset,” Peter tells him.
He’s an asset. He’s useful. He’s not just a hundred and forty-seven pounds of fragile bone and sarcasm. He’s twenty years old and a fully fledged spark. What he lacks in training he makes up for in sheer power. In spades. Having Stiles on his side, in Peter’s mind, is a tactically sound decision.
Getting Stiles the training he needs to be a true powerhouse is the best thing for them all.
Stiles collapses on the sofa next to the werewolf. The tension and stress bleed out of him enough for him to slump over into Peter’s side. Peter accepts his weight. Inhales the scent of the wild storm and ozone that has become Stiles as he’s grown into his Spark. They’ve put a lot of things behind them since the Nogitsune.
Since Stiles nearly killed Allison.
“We’re going to be okay, right?” Stiles asks, reminding Peter that while Stiles is a grown man with enough experience for two lifetimes, he’s still so very young.
“Even if we aren’t,” Peter tells him with the wisdom of a man fifteen years older, “we’ll manage. It’s what we do.”
It is what they do. They get by.
Stiles settles into Peter’s side. Takes the comfort the solidness of the murderous werewolf provides. If there’s anyone you want at your side, it’s a guy who is capable of (and has no qualms about) ripping people to shreds. A guys who holds little to no loyalty to anyone.
But Stiles has Peter’s respect. And Stiles respects Peter.
Peter is loyal to one.
It’s the small hours of the morning when the call comes in. There are roadblocks up all over Oakland. No one is going in or out. Lydia managed to get through before they closed the roads, but it looks like she’s going to need to stick to the back roads and off the interstate if she wants to make it back to Beacon Hills.
Scott pounds on Peter’s door, weirdly relieved that he knows where to find him. Even if that place is with a wolf he only reluctantly calls pack. Scott throws open the door and shoves his phone into Stiles’ hand.
“H’lo?” he mutters into it groggily.
“Stiles?” Lydia’s voice is shaking and higher than usual. It puts Stiles on alert, waking him instantly.
“What’s up?” he asks her, concerned.
“I can feel them dying, Stiles,” she says. Stiles can picture her now, face pale and knuckles white as she drives down some forgotten back highway. “I can feel them dying.”
“Okay, okay, we can deal with that,” Stiles says, scrambling up off the couch and heading for the stocked cabinet of spell ingredients that Peter keeps. His own personal supply is a floor down, and too far away for his liking at the moment. “We’ll make a blocking spell, it’ll be okay -”
“No, Stiles.” Lydia’s voice is stronger now. Certain. “Stiles, I can feel them coming back .”
Stiles stops moving. Scott and Peter stop pretending that they can’t hear both sides of the conversation. Stiles turns slowly. The three of them look at each other. When he speaks next, Stiles makes sure to enunciate clearly: “What do you need?”
“Aside from it to stop?” Lydia asks, voice acidic for a moment. “I don’t know.”
“Can you make it here? Should Scott come meet you on the road and drive you in?”
What Stiles needs to know is how close Lydia is to collapsing due to the trauma of what she must be hearing. He can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to feel someone die and then come back as an empty shell of what they used to be.
“I don’t know.”
Stiles digs in his pocket and tosses the jeep keys to Scott, who nods and heads for the door. “Okay, Scott’s on his way. He’ll be in the jeep. You know that rest stop just off highway fifty-seven? Can you make it there?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Get there, Scott will be there when you get there. He’s going to bring you home.”
“It doesn’t stop,” Lydia says, and now they can hear the tremor in it. “It never stops.”
“Yes it will,” Stiles says ferociously. “We’ll get you behind wards. I’ve got Peter with me, and I’ll call Deaton and we will make it stop .”
“Okay,” Lydia whispers, then hangs up.
Peter is already pulling books off the shelves. Stiles sets the phone down and then joins him.
He doesn’t want to do it, but the last six weeks since the video have taught Scott one thing: he has to kill. Wanting to or not, if he wants to live, if he wants his pack to live, he has to kill. There’s no choice now. Not in this world that is becoming right before their eyes.
When he gets to the rest stop he unearths the tire iron, and then he executes the small family of five that pulled over and turned. He doesn’t think about it. Lydia needs him. He does it quickly, efficiently. A single blow to the skull backed with werewolf strength. He drags the bodies behind the little blue Toyota, and moves the jeep to block the signs of carnage.
Then he waits.
It’s late. Or early, depending on how you look at it. After two in the morning, but not quite three yet. The night is clear, the stars shining in multitudes this far out from town. He gazes up at them while he waits.
He hears the sound of the engine and the tires on the road before the headlights come around the bend in the road. The car slows as it coasts off the exit toward the rest stop parking lot. Scott stops leaning on the jeep. The generic white Lexus rolls to a stop a few feet away. Lydia peers out into the night from behind the steering wheel. She’s pale, hair tousled and wild-looking. Scott moves out into the beam of the headlights, red Alpha eyes showing as he rounds the car.
The door opens.
Lydia pours herself out of the vehicle and into Scott’s arms.
She’s trembling, and so he holds her close and drains as much of the pain as he can.
“We should ward the entire building,” Stiles decides. He’s halfway through a book written in archaic Norse runes. He blinks owlishly to reorient himself when he looks up at the two men in the room with him. “I mean, warding is awesome, but we don’t know how long it will take to figure out a more portable, permanent solution.”
Comprehension dawns at the same time. Deaton voices it: “Why trap her in one of the lofts when we can at least give her the entire building?”
Outside the windows, the sun is beginning to rise. The edge of the sky is just starting to turn pale gray. There are stacks of books everywhere. Peter’s sitting at his laptop, going through the Hale digital archive. Each of them has their own notebook. Deaton looks like he’s about to fall asleep where he’s sitting.
“Think we’ve got enough to get started?” Stiles wonders, contemplating his notes.
“Probably,” Deaton replies, rising and stretching. He sighs heavily and rubs at the bridge of his nose, “It’s a start anyway. I know the building is already warded-” this is directed to Peter “-but it probably wouldn’t hurt to beef up the security. Especially if this is going to be home base for the foreseeable future.”
Peter nods. The suggestion is reasonable and sound. “I’ll get the rest ready if you guys want to get started. These things are best done in layers anyway.”
Stiles and Deaton gaze at each other for a few drawn out seconds before they snap out of their stupor and start gathering what they need. The wards they can lay down now aren’t all-encompassing, and they’ll need to be tweaked, but it should be enough to dampen the psychic echoes Lydia’s been getting.
It’s a start; and a start is better than nothing.
Stiles takes the bag of supplies that Peter offers him and slings it over his shoulder. When Peter offers him a baseball bat and a significant look, Stiles can’t help the tiny smile that crosses his face. “Thanks,” he says softly.
“Be careful,” Peter tells him.
He doesn't tell Stiles to watch out for the dead. He doesn’t need to.
It’s John that brings in the news. He’s the sheriff of an entire county, so he gets the information before it breaks on what is now intermittent news. He wanders into the loft he’s sharing with son to find him sitting on the couch with Lydia cradled in his arms. Neither of them is asleep, but they’re both too exhausted to be truly awake.
John blinks at them, in much the same state as they are, then says, “They’re bombing Oakland.”
The announcement sucks the oxygen from the room. They stare at him.
“They’re also bombing San Francisco and L.A.”
John toes himself out of his boots, and sets his gun belt on the table with a heavy thunk. He sits on the couch heavily and rubs a hand down his face. Lydia, surprisingly, is the one that moves first. She pulls herself away from Stiles’ side and crosses the scant space between herself and the man most of the Pack considers Father. He lets her tuck herself under his arm. She pulls Stiles after her so that she’s sandwiched between the two Stilinski men.
“My mother is dead,” she says into the silence.
Stiles and John both reflexively tighten their grips. Lydia, for the first time since the dead began to walk, feels a margin of safety. It’s enough for all three of them to fall asleep.
By the time morning comes, John is gone again. He’s recharged on three hours of sleep and a cup of coffee so strong a horseshoe would have stood up on its own in the pot. Stiles lays in a couple of extra wards on the loft and settles Lydia into the second bedroom. He leaves her to sleep and makes his way upstairs to the loft that Peter is occupying. It only makes sense for it to become central command for now. It’s where all the books and supplies are.
Derek’s is being used as an armory for now, at least, until he gets back with Cora.
Scott is on the phone when Stiles gets there. Deaton is nowhere to be seen, so Stiles assumes he’s gone back to the clinic and his dead zombie. He wanders across the room to the kitchen where Isaac is sleepily spooning cereal into his mouth. He grunts a hello at Stiles, who grunts back. Isaac spent most of the night gathering and taking inventory of all their supplies.
They’re going to need them.
Stiles fixes himself a bowl and sits down at the counter next to Isaac, “Where’s Peter?”
“Scott sent him to get some sleep,” Isaac tells him.
Scott chooses that moment to hang up the phone. He’s frowning in concern, but has enough energy to quirk a smile at Stiles. “How’s Lydia?” he asks.
“Sleeping. I put an extra layer of wards on the loft this morning; it should help.” Stiles pushes his bowl toward Scott, who takes it and begins to eat the rest of the cereal. “The whole building has basic wards now, but I’m going to recommend another layer, and proximity wards set for zombies and hostiles at least a mile in all directions.”
“Sounds like a good idea. Have you got the juice for that?”
Stiles shakes his head, “It’s not the juice. I’ve got plenty of power, it’s that I’m still in training. And we’ve got to tweak the wards for the situation. There isn’t a book called The Zombie Apocalypse Book of Wards .”
“Your sarcasm gets meaner when you’re tired.”
‘You knew that already.”
“Who was on the phone?” Isaac asks, cutting off the argument before it starts.
“Danny finally got through. They got out of LA just in time to watch the army napalm it. He’s got the twins with him, but traffic is so bad it might be tomorrow or the next day before they get here.”
All three of them are relieved. No one had heard from Danny since Scott had recalled everyone. As far as they could tell, the rioting in LA had been worse than almost anywhere else. It was good to know that they were okay and on their way.
“Jackson called,” Stiles says. “Lydia was out, so I answered it. They’re grounding flights all over the country. His plane got diverted to Boston.”
“Is he going to be able to get out of the city?” Scott asks in concern. The cities are so much closer together on the east coast. It means a denser population, which means more zombies, which means more opportunity to die.
“He’s going to rent a car,” Stiles says. “Somehow I don’t think Jackson has any qualms about stealing a car if he has to.”
The trio exchange amused expressions. Jackson is hilarious in his ability to be a douche when that ability isn’t pointed at them. He’s mellowed a lot since becoming a wolf. The move to London had helped too, though he’s remained a member of the McCall pack despite the distance.
“I’m going to check on Deaton and then head to the hospital and see Mom, you guys okay to keep going on the inventory?”
“Yeah,” Isaac says. “Chris told me where to find the spare key. He and Allison hired a small airplane, but if they’re grounding flights they might have to come by car. I’m gonna get the Argent armory moved over here before things get really bad.”
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? It is going to get bad, and they all know it.