Title: Far and Away
Warnings: Alternate Universe - Apocalypse, Plague, Presumed Dead, Feral Behavior, Psychosis, Gore, Dark Humor
Summary: Ironically, Stiles misses most of the apocalypse because he has the flu.
Far and Away - Part One (Stiles)
Ironically, Stiles misses most of the apocalypse because he has the flu.
It's ironic, because as far as he can tell it's some kind of superbug that killed everybody. There are all these flyers, anyway, and contagion symbols pasted over doorways like it's a modern remake of the fourteenth century and Y. pestis all over again.
It's funny, is what he's trying to say.
Sort of funny.
A little funny?
He can laugh if he wants to. It's not like anyone's going to hear him.
Somewhere on the hazy third (fourth?) day of being sick, when his temperature has spiked to 104 and he's pretty sure he's just hallucinating the screams outside, he remembers his dad calling, voice short and clipped with tension. "Listen to me, Stiles. You need to listen to me, do exactly what I say—"
He can't remember the rest of what his dad says after that, but he does remember saying, "God, 'm sick. Think I'm puking blood here." At that point Stiles hasn't been able to keep anything down in twenty-four hours, and he's hanging over the toilet bowl he shares with three other guys. It's disgusting.
He does remember the sudden silence on the other end of the line. He remembers the shake in his dad's voice when it came back.
"Stiles, I'm— I'm here, okay?"
Stiles squints down into the bowl and tries not to imagine who'd last used it for what. Not while his face was this close. "Where would you go?"
"I'm not going anywhere," and oh God, is his dad crying? Holy shit, his dad is crying.
"S' just the flu," Stiles tries to reassure him, but it comes out slurred and nonsensical. "Don't worry, 'm fine."
"Okay," his dad says, gently, so gently. "Okay. I love you. I love you, Stiles."
"Yeah, I love you too," Stiles says, confused. "Why—"
The world is graying out around Stiles, and he slumps heavily to the side, against the porcelain tub wall. "Call you back, 'kay?" he whispers, exhausted.
"No! Stay with me. C'mon, stay on, stay—"
When Stiles wakes up hours later, his phone is dead, and so is the majority of the human race. Probably. He really has no way of knowing, seeing as his sample is limited to his campus, a bunch of Champaign grocery stores, and the hellacious tangle of back roads he's been navigating through the Midwest for the last two, two and a half months. Hell, everyone east of the Mississippi could be alive and thriving and he'd never know.
He kind of doubts it, though.
Everyone in his dorm is certainly dead, slumped in the hallways, over chairs and half-in, half-out of elevators. It doesn't look like they suffered, at least. It looks like they all just sort of... dropped where they stood.
The electricity is off. The radio does have some stations still playing, but it's all prerecorded junk. Stiles steals a sorority girl's fancy iPhone from her cold, clawlike hand and is halfway through Derek's number before he stops, breathes. Backspaces. Dials his dad instead.
The cell towers are just as dead as the people.
It takes Stiles several increasingly panic-filled hours of combing through the campus, trying every phone and lightswtich he comes across, seeing the barricades and the evacuation notices posted on every flat surface and the bodies, bodies heaped on bodies, slowly bloating in the hot summer sun before it occurs to him that his dad thought he was listening to Stiles die.
That is not okay. That is not okay, and if there is the slightest, slimmest chance his dad is still alive, Stiles needs to find him.
It becomes Reason Number One for Stiles' decision to take the Jeep and get the hell out of there. There are other reasons, ones he develops as he slowly navigates his way out of town, doubling back to avoid blocked roads and police barriers, finally just going off-road and rolling through the cornfields. He stops at the Walmart and wastes twenty minutes hyperventilating in the frozen foods section, because he doesn't know what he needs and he doesn't know what's happening or how he can possibly survive by himself when everyone else is gone and there is a dead woman clutching a melting carton of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food four feet away.
Reason Number Two: If it's the end of the world, he wants to die at home, not at college, not in a city he's only lived in for a year, and not in a fucking Walmart. Christ.
The trip from Champaign, Illinois to Beacon Hills, California, is about thirty-two hours of total travel time, three or four days, depending on how wired Stiles is. He thinks, three days. He can do three days. He can eat tepid canned spaghettios and drink bottled water for three days. Three days is nothing.
It takes him three days just to leave the county, because there are traffic jams full of corpses and wildfires spreading in from the east, throwing up huge veiling curtains of smoke and ash that he's too afraid to drive through, and Stiles adjusts his travel time up to a week.
It takes him a week just to get out of Illinois.
Reason Number Three is Jerry, a tired old fart in a beaten-up Toyota pickup hanging out on the side of I-80, out in the open, plain as day. Reason Number Three is really just Reason Number One given new life, because Jerry Bronson is alive, and he doesn't even seem to mind when Stiles hugs him two minutes after skidding to a stop in the gravel beside his truck.
Jerry lives in a farmhouse in Mingo, Iowa, with two fresh-dug graves in the back yard. Stiles doesn't ask and Jerry doesn't volunteer any information. Stiles asks him how to make a fire, boy scout style. Jerry says, "How the hell would I know?" and hands him a pack of matches.
Jerry does teach him how to siphon gas out of the tanks at the gas station, which Stiles is pathetically grateful for. Sucking the gas out of the tanks of stranded cars is horrible, especially because to open most of the gas caps he has to break open the driver's side window and reach inside, breathe past the heavy sick smell of rot and trying not to touch the ruin of what had once been a human being. The smell clings like a thick perfume for hours after, and it's not like he can just sluice off somewhere. Stiles left most of his clothes, all his books and electronics behind in Champaign.
Jerry's makeshift outdoor shower is the best thing he's ever felt.
Jerry is the first, but he isn't the last. There's a plump-faced woman and a happy dog who wave Stiles down outside North Platte, Nebraska. Her name is Bunny— "It's Bertha, really, but I've been Bunny since I was in grade school!"— and she and her dog Tagger are all that's left of the town. She gives him a haircut and some tomatoes, in exchange for some household chores she's a little too old to do herself and conversation. It's a long, lazy evening, sitting on her porch, sipping tepid lemonade and listening to her talk.
"Me, I've lived alone all my life, no husband, no children. My sisters and brothers have all passed— oh, well before this all happened," she assures him, patting his arm. "I haven't got anyone, is what I suppose I'm trying to say, but I didn't before, either!"
Tagger sleeps curled into Stiles' side that night. Stiles lets his hand rest on the dog's side to feel the reassuring rise of his chest, the slow, steady beat of his heart, and thinks.
Reason Number Four: if anyone survived this, it will be the werewolves. They aren't susceptible to most human diseases, right? And Tagger's hardly the first animal Stiles has seen, although he is the best-behaved. Stiles has been chased by feral dogs and seen cats with collars vanishing into the bushes when he gets too close, and there are the rats and other pests that have slunk into the towns and houses to fill the void humans have left.
So, the werewolves are alive. And if they're alive, even if— even if his dad isn't (he is, he has to be), well, Stiles still has friends, then. He has Scott. He has— had— Derek. Has?
Stiles mulls the present verses past tense. It got confusing at the end, just before he left. Derek said things like, "I don't need you," and "If you go it's over," because Derek always says stupid shit like that in the heat of the moment and a few months into what was honestly a complete travesty of a relationship Stiles had just stopped listening to what came out of Derek's mouth when he was angry.
He has Derek. He thinks. If he wants him.
If he's alive at all.
Stiles wakes up spooning the dog and absolutely refuses to draw any connections between that and the dream he's been having about the one time Derek crawled through his window halfway to alphaform and— no.
It's September now; he only knows because of his watch, a fancy one he stole from a Dick's Sporting Goods he looted in Omaha. Charlie and his six-year-old daughter Tiffany teach Stiles how to shoot with an antique pistol in Cheyenne. Stiles gives them five gallons of gas and passes on Jerry's secret to working the pumps, because what else can the leftover dregs of humanity do except teach each other how to live, post-Homo sapiens?
There's a long stretch after Charlie and Tiffany where Stiles has just his ever-growing CD collection and his own voice for company. It gets bad, fast, because there are only a few safe roads through the mountains and as far as he can tell, all of them are blocked, and the fear and frustration mount until they're choking him, until he can't see around them at all.
There are days when he can't get out of the Jeep. Physically cannot make himself grab the door handle and pull. It's safe in here. Everything he knows is in here. The world outside presses in against the windows like he's in a submersible, fathoms below the surface of the water, and one crack would flood the car and he'd sink to the bottom of the ocean. He pisses in bottles and tells himself in the next town, in the next town. He runs out of gas five miles away from anything and it's three days before the smell of his own waste drives him out.
After that, he starts hoarding things. First it's gas, because, yeah. Not doing that again. Then it's water, because Wyoming's open sky and empty prairies make him feel exposed and agoraphobic, like he's traversing the surface of Mars or the salt plains of Death Valley.
Now that he's officially in the Rockies it's sometimes entire days between sizable cities as he maneuvers the Jeep up and down tracks that would give goats trouble, trying to work his way through. He fills the Jeep's cargo space with oil, with tires, with wiper blades and, after he sees the first bear, with shotgun shells and road flares. The Jeep grumbles and struggles under the load, but he can't make himself stop.
A flurry of soft, light snow passes briefly overhead and Stiles breaks into a series of cabins and steals all the blankets he can find. The dead, at this point, are so much soup with bones mixed in, and Stiles barely notices the man-shaped puddle slumped over front counter until something brushes his ankle and he jumps back with a bitten-off scream.
The cat is tiny and white, pure white, long thick fur lying rank and knotted against her thin sides. She rubs against his ankles with loud, demanding meows, twining between his legs and purring loud enough to mimic the Jeep's engine.
"Hi, there," he croaks, and coughs, because it's been a few days—weeks?— since he's opened his mouth to do more than breathe. "What's wrong? You hungry?"
She leads him to a closed cupboard, full of hundreds of cans of cat food. Poor thing. Stiles opens one and watches her devour it, and while she does looks at the rows and rows of shiny tin, so much like his own stores it's not even funny. He tries to remember where he left the can opener. He realizes, uneasily, that he can't remember when he last ate something.
Stiles takes the cat with him, because she howls when he tries to go, clings like Velcro when he tries to pry her sharp little claws off his chest.
"I can't take a cat with me," he tells her, "That's stupid, I mean, I'm barely keeping myself together, I haven't even remembered to feed myself. You need food, you need— litter, and like those little scooper things, you need toys—"
Her food dishes say Mommy's Angel, so he calls her Angel. It's not because taking care of her, brushing out all the tangles and letting her lay across his shoulders when he's driving, wet little nose pressed into the side of his neck, makes him feel more sane than he has in five hundred miles. It's not because her hunger reminds him of him own, and the weird shakes and light-headedness he'd been noticing on and off go away again.
The first time he lets her out of the car, in Salt Lake City, Angel disappears for thirty minutes and Stiles has his first panic attack since Champaign. She comes back dragging the biggest damn rodent he's ever seen in his life and lays it at his feet, headbutting his ankle, and Stiles praises her through tears and huge gasping sobs.
He doesn't remember the last time he cried like this.
(Angel is his unwritten Reason Number Five. There's no way he should love that damn cat as much as he does. It's classic displacement.
He really couldn't give less of a shit.)
Stiles has seen a lot of things, done a lot of things in the past two months that he would never have predicted he would.
Most of high school was like that, too, but that was— that was magic, and Scott's sudden transformation, and werewolf politics, and, really, Derek being a massive ass about everything. Everything.
This has been a different kind of survival. Lonely, yeah. Stiles has had no help, no support, unless you count Bunny's tomatoes and Jerry's mechanical know-how. Stiles has run out of food, and water, and been chased by hungry packs of dogs. He's almost crashed into deer and roadblocks and other cars. There are bullet holes in the Jeep from three different sets of crazy rednecks. It's been terrifying, but it's all been within the realm of human-normal. As far as he can tell, there was nothing supernatural about this virus, or whatever it was. There weren't any zombies, although a few times Stiles could have sworn a corpse moved on him.
He feels capable, now, in a way he never did in Beacon Hills. He has a gun, and he knows how to use it. He'll never starve, even if he has to eat the mice Angel catches. He's survived with his own two hands, with his quick tongue and quicker wits.
It feels surprisingly good.
Redding, California is twenty minutes outside of Beacon Hills, and Stiles has to pull the Jeep over and before he hyperventilates and passes out. Angel looks on, concerned.
"Okay," he tells her, because they have long detailed conversations, this cat and he. "Okay. Showtime, right? Don't worry, my dad will love you. He's really allergic, but he loves animals. Cats especially. So, yeah. It's all good."
He changes, and shaves. In Cheyenne, Charlie had laughed at his pitiful facial hair, had given him a pack of razors and told him to just get rid of it, it wasn't doing him any favors.
It's been a long time since Bunny's haircut, too, and he uses the razor inexpertly on the hair falling over his ears and curling over his collar. It looks like his mom's hair, he realizes with a pang. Before she lost it.
Angel sits, prim as a duchess with her tail wrapped around her feet, watching him fuss from the open door of the Jeep.
"Okay," he says for the third time, taking a huge gulp of air and letting it out, slowly. "Just— straight down Placer Road, and we're there."
Stiles is used to the silence and stillness that's marked every town he's driven through since Champaign. He's used to catching glimpses of bone bleached by the sun, stringy tendons waving in the breeze. But he's on edge, now, as they creep into Beacon Hills just as the sun's going down. He's looking for familiar places, dreading the moment he'll see the inevitable smear on the sidewalk and know it was once someone he'd known, had spoken to.
The streets are clear and empty. Stiles drives on.
His house looks... completely normal. There aren't any contagion signs here— come to think of it, has he seen any in the city? He can't remember, if he has. He pulls into the driveway, turns off the engine, and sits there for a very long with his hands on the steering wheel.
Angel, lying across the dashboard, blinks lazily at him.
"Right," he says, and climbs out of the car.
The door is locked, and Stiles doesn't if that's good or bad. The key is under the mat where it always is, and Stiles takes another breath, and slides it into the lock. Turns it.
The house... the house is completely empty. More empty than the streets, even. Everything is tidied away. There isn't even any dirty laundry in his dad's hamper, or garbage in the garbage can. Stiles stands in the kitchen, looking at the clear counters and spotless interior of the fridge, and thinks, what?
What becomes what now, and it's such a paralyzing thought he sits down right there in the dark, flashlight pointed at the wall. He's home. He's home, and no one's here. No bodies. Nobody. This is supposed to be it. His dad's supposed to be here. Derek's suppo—
Stiles levers himself off the floor, feeling his bones shift and creak likes he's been sitting there a lot longer than he realized.
Angel scolds him, when he gets back to the Jeep, and Stiles curls up in the front seat with her and pulls his hoodie over his head, closes his eyes. He can't sleep in his childhood bedroom, with the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling and the dusty Star Trek DVDs stacked just where he left them, a lifetime ago.
Not for the first time, Stiles wonders if he's died somewhere along the way and just hasn't noticed yet.
"Maybe this is like that one episode of the Twilight Zone," he says to Angel, day two of their arrival in Beacon Hills. It's fairly warm, so he's sitting out on his driveway, warming up Chef Boyardee on the camp stove he's been using since Davenport.
"Maybe your name isn't a coincidence. Maybe my body is back in that dorm room and this has all been, like, purgatory or something."
Angel looks unimpressed with this theory, glancing up at him briefly before returning to her grooming.
He nods and stirs, warming to his topic. "And everybody I've met has been some kind of allegory about human existence. So, Jerry, he would be— uh. Generosity? The Good Samaritan? Does that make me a Gentile, because actually—"
There's a noise behind him and Stiles spins, knocking over the stove and pointing the shaking barrel of his gun at—
At a bush. It continues to rustle in a passing breeze, then goes still again.
"... sorry," he mumbles to Angel, who's hiding under the Jeep. "It's just—it's weird here."
It's so far beyond weird. He's starting to regret ever coming, because he's gone through towns where the dead were stacked along the road like firewood and it wasn't nearly as creepy as Beacon Hills feels.
The Boyardee is a lost cause. Stiles picks the lukewarm little meatballs off the asphalt and eats them anyway.
He thinks that if he is dead, this is more like hell than anything else.
Day four, Stiles finds Derek.
So, this sort of stemmed from the Stiles-Goes-Away-to-College genre of future!fic, only then everyone died. I'm still not sure how. It's a strange story. It was saved in my WIP folder as 'apocafic lite'.