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living on borrowed time (but we live it so well)

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The creepiest thing about zombies, Stiles decides, is the uncanny way they track those that they were closest to when they were still alive.

Two weeks after Scott let Gerard go and convinced Chris Argent to put him in a nursing home instead of putting him down, Stiles woke up to his mother’s rotting corpse feasting on his father downstairs.  He barely got out alive after killing – re-killing? – them both.

Under the crush of his bat, the sundress she was buried in was dirty and torn, her face – once beautiful even as her cheeks turned gaunt and her eyes lost their luster - was lifeless but disturbingly hungry, and she stunk of death and decay and the faintest traces of her favourite perfume that she insisted on wearing even after she fell sick.

It wasn’t that hard to notice the pattern.  Oh, the zombies go after any living, breathing body they come across.  But they also tend to gravitate toward the people that they once had close ties to.  That’s when Derek fled, faced with the undead majority of the family he indirectly killed once upon a time.  Stiles has no idea whether he’s alive or dead.  He doubts he’ll ever find out.

The rest of Beacon Hills followed, dying or running or cowering in fear or going insane as their world was reduced to a wasteland filled with the walking dead.  Not that it matters much.  The plague’s spread all across the Americas.  Possibly overseas too but Stiles wouldn’t know.  Communications and media coverage collapsed completely two months in.  Pockets of electricity still exist but they’re getting rarer by the day.

Twenty-seven months later, Stiles is still around.  Still rocking the end of the world survival gig.  He hasn’t a clue where Scott is, hasn’t seen him since that showdown with Gerard a lifetime ago.  Mostly, he hopes his best friend got out with Melissa.  Maybe Agent Asshole came through for once and flew them out to somewhere safe in time.  At the very least, he hasn’t seen any loved ones following him across state borders, and he’s pretty sure someone would come after him if the people he once knew became animated corpses.

His car is his most faithful sidekick these days, more than ever in this day and age.  His jeep – despite puttering on doggedly for over four months – finally died in the middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma, after a near miss with half an army of zombies.  Stiles might have shed a few genuine tears.  He hijacked a new car, and now it’s tricked out with as many different kinds of magic as Stiles could plausibly slap on it.  Just because the world’s gone to shit doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to sleep anymore, and even though the snapping of a twig can wake him these days, he still feels better napping in a place he knows is safe.  Or at least as safe as anything can be on a zombie-infested planet.

He’s parked outside a deserted rundown gas station at the moment.  Fiddling with his phone.  He’s weaved magic into it, so calls and texts get through to the only two other phones connected to it, and it pays to keep it charged. Besides, Candy Crush still works.

There’s a thin layer of snow covering everything outside.  More drifts down from the sky, the world eerily silent.

Stiles doesn’t look up when the passenger door opens, letting the cold air in.  A bag full of bottled drinks sail past his head into the backseat, and a muttered curse answers it.

“Damn it, Peter,” Chris hisses, sitting up from where he was previously sprawled along the backseat and dozing.  He fishes the bag up from where it toppled onto the floor after bouncing off of him.

Peter flashes a brief glimpse of fangs as he slides back into the passenger seat, shutting the door behind him before shrugging off his coat.

“Store’s been ransacked, unsurprisingly,” Peter reports, sticking a second bag of canned beverages in the footwell.  “No zombies though.  This was all that was left.”

Stiles hums, finally lifting his head as he tucks his phone away.  He glances at Peter, who wordlessly hands him a coffee, then flicks a look at the rear-view mirror, momentarily catching Chris’ eye.

To this day, Stiles doesn’t really know why he hightailed straight for the dilapidated Hale house once he finished throwing up beside his parents’ mutilated – and permanently dead – corpses.  Of course, he swung by Scott’s house first, but he already knew Melissa was working a shift at the hospital, and Scott was probably stalking Allison outside her window again.

The Argents’ house was across town.  The Preserve was closer, so Stiles went.  It just made sense to him at the time.  Werewolves, zombies, both supernatural-related – he supposes he just thought everyone would gather and make a plan and go from there.  Strength in numbers and all, right?  Especially when those numbers included werewolf strength and speed for protection.

But in the end, only he showed up.  He thought Lydia might be smart enough to come, but, no.  He didn’t give a damn about Jackson.  Boyd and Erica were already missing before the outbreak.  Derek growled and threatened him of course, and Isaac was there only because he was living there, but Peter took one look at him and dragged him inside, plying him with a bottle of water and a bag of chips.

It wasn’t long after that before the rest of the Hales came home.

Derek ran.  Stiles was even expecting it.  The dude’s been running from his ghosts since Stiles met him, presumably running since the fire.  With those ghosts taking on physical manifestations, well, if nothing else, his wolfy instincts probably told him to get the hell out of there, Alpha or no.  Derek never really considered any of them Pack anyway.

Isaac went with him.  Hopefully.  Last Stiles saw of him, he was running after Derek.

Peter was a different matter.  Maybe he was buying time for his nephew, some tiny part of him still feeling responsible enough to fulfill his duty as Derek’s uncle, even if any love he ever felt for his older sister’s son was long burned out of him.  Or maybe he calculated the odds of survival if he got himself stuck babysitting Derek in a zombie-plagued world, came up in the negatives, and decided to cut his losses while he still could.  Either way, the former Alpha didn’t follow Derek.  He stayed and had absolutely no reservations about ripping into his undead sister; almost seemed to relish it, in fact.  He never faltered with Laura either, or any other family member shuffling through the Preserve that night, right up until he was left with the children.  The nieces and nephews who died mere toddlers.  Faced with them, Peter Hale fell back, wolfed out and snarling but also like he was backsliding into a cross between a flashback and a panic attack.

Stiles could’ve left him.  Every zombie on the front lawn that night was too busy either converging on Peter or chasing after Derek.  Stiles could’ve snuck out the back and gotten away, easily.  He had a clear line straight to his jeep, and he could’ve escaped the Preserve without a single zombie on his ass.  He almost did.

More than going to the Hale house to begin with, going back for Peter is what he doesn’t understand most.  Maybe it was instinct for him too.  As resourceful as Stiles can be, even he didn’t want to live the apocalypse on his own, and apparently, his mind decided that a resurrected omega werewolf would be better company than no company at all.

So he went back.  Compartmentalized the hell out of the situation, bashed about five little kid corpses to fleshy pieces, and then grabbed Peter and ran for it, with half a dozen more zombies on their tail.

Zombies can be fucking fast when they want to be.  Stiles didn’t know back then, but the things adapt, the longer they’ve been reanimated, and even in a vehicle, the two of them only just got out of there with their lives intact.

They met up with Chris when they pulled up in front of the Argent house to the sight of the hunter using a flamethrower on his zombified daughter.  Scott was nowhere to be found.  And blood and body parts were scattered all around the house, along the sidewalk, up and down the street, just, everywhere.  Screams and sobs echoed in the distance.

Peter didn’t say a thing when Stiles dragged a near catatonic Chris into the jeep, stuffing him into the back and then confiscating all his weapons in case he decided to do something drastic.  Stiles made one last desperate stop at the empty McCall house.  They couldn’t even get close to the hospital because it was literally crammed full of the living dead, patients and staff and visitors all roaming the halls and spilling out onto the streets.  If Melissa was still in there, there was no way she was still alive in the truest sense of the word.

They left Beacon Hills that very same night.

And now here they are, over two years later, survivors on a dying planet.  Stiles knows the army or navy or whatever has their largest vessels anchored out in the middle of the Pacific and Atlantic, and helicopters have been regularly flown back to land to rescue what they could of the remaining population.  Smaller ships docking temporarily on the coast too perhaps, to pick up passengers, though Stiles wasn’t as sure about those.  But he also knows that there’s limited space on those ships, and if you’re a nobody civilian – as opposed to scientists or doctors or university professors who can arguably help find a cure, or even family related to those kinds of people – then you don’t get a spot.  Stiles figured a long time ago that the three of them would be better off travelling around on their own rather than wasting time making their way to a city where a helicopter might fly over and spot them, the noise of which would draw every zombie within a five-mile radius when it lands, only to be refused passage and left to fend for themselves against the inevitable horde of starving undead bearing down on all sides.  It just wasn’t worth it.

Peter agreed because there was no way he wouldn’t resort to murder within a week if he was stuck in a limited amount of space, jam-packed with people who would be reeking of sweat and fear and anxiety, all of them more or less trapped in the middle of the ocean no matter how safe it made them.  And Chris agreed because he didn’t much care about anything for a good long while after he killed Allison.

“Beer’s not cold,” Chris grumbles even as he cracks one open.

Peter rolls his eyes, some cheap brand of tea cradled in his own hands.  “Does this place look like it still has a single working fridge, Argent?”

Chris just scowls.  The messy scruff that passes for his beard these days whenever he runs out of shaving cream makes him look more dangerous.  Peter isn’t intimidated in the least.

“Settle down, kids,” Stiles deadpans, leaning back in his seat.  “I made a fridge, Chris.  It’s just in the trunk.”

Chris grunts, which is his way of saying he doesn’t want to leave the cozy heat of the car.  He could always sleep in the trunk, which is just as warm and far bigger because it’s like the Doctor’s Tardis back there – Stiles’ new baby is his best and proudest handiwork, a portable house within a car – but both Chris and Peter insist on sitting up front with him whenever he’s driving.  They’re probably afraid Stiles will stumble on a zombie or ten and try to handle them all on his own.  To be fair, he only did that once, and he came out of that fight just fine.  So okay, he was almost bitten, and one zombie even took a chunk out of his jacket, narrowly missing the vulnerable flesh of Stiles’ stomach, but you know, all’s well that ends well.

Peter and Chris didn’t agree.  And they so rarely agree with each other.  It was a memorable day.

For a while, the three of them sip at their drinks, watching the snowfall outside, each keeping an eye out for any unnatural movement.  A companionable hush settles between them, something Stiles didn’t think would be possible once upon a time.

A lot of things these days were once impossible in Stiles’ books.  Now it’s just the norm.  Admittedly, Peter and Chris could still go at it like cats and dogs but, well, they’ve learned to play nice and share, most of the time.

“Where should we go next?”  Peter breaks the silence first but pitches his voice to a low murmur even as he stares disdainfully at his tea.

In reply, Stiles pulls out a map and spreads it across the dash.  Red ink marks the places they’ve travelled through.  Black ink marks the cities that they’ve spotted helicopters land in from a distance.

Los Angeles was one.  The outraged screaming and wretched begging by those left behind as the helicopter took off with a dozen or so passengers only courted death faster.  Stiles, Peter, and Chris got the hell out of there without a backwards glance, and they’ve stayed away from large cities as much as possible from then on.

“Keep north?”  Stiles suggests after a minute.  “We’ve been heading vaguely in that direction anyway, and it’s not like we need passports to cross the border anymore.  We’re just outside Duluth.  We could be in Thunder Bay in four hours, give or take.”

Peter shrugs elegantly, setting aside his drink.  “One place is as good as another.  And I’ve never been to Canada before.”  A sardonic smile tilts his lips.  “We could do some sightseeing.”

Stiles snorts, and even Chris looks grimly amused from where he’s leaned forward between them to peer at the map.

“Alright then,” Stiles folded up the map and stowed it away again.  He sits up, ready to get back on the road again.  “Keep calm and carry on, as the British like to say.”

Peter rolls his eyes, retrieving his tea.  Chris huffs a faint sound of laughter, and Stiles feels a nose and hot breath graze the side of his neck for a moment.  Peter’s head snaps around, a brief growl pulling his lips back before he leans over and possessively scents Stiles too, nuzzling at his jaw.

Stiles heaves a sigh but doesn’t bother scolding either of them, simply reaching back to run a hand through Chris’ hair before moving to curl a hand around Peter’s nape and giving it a light squeeze.  As if he didn’t smell way too much like them already.

He starts the car without further comment, and Peter settles properly back in his seat, evidently pleased with himself.  Chris mutters something – no doubt not very nice – in the back.  Peter sniffs indignantly in response.

Idiots.

The engine comes to life without a sound, and Stiles pulls away from the gas station, wipers already clearing the windshield of snow.

Around them, winter continues closing in, blanketing the world in white.

If nothing else, it conceals the rust-red stains splattered brutally along the concrete.  Eternal reminders of the world they now live in, no matter how hidden from view they are.

 


 

Canada isn’t any better than the States, from what Stiles has seen so far.  They reach Thunder Bay by nightfall, and while it isn’t the largest city in Ontario, they still proceed cautiously, drifting around the edges, taking in the crumbling buildings and overturned cars and deserted streets.

“Think there’s anything left to scavenge?”  Stiles asks, warily eyeing a small cluster of zombies on their very far left, ten staggering figures shambling alongside the wreckage of what seems to have been a coffee shop once.

“Probably,” Peter’s rolled down the window, head cocked even as his mouth thins to a line of disgust, no doubt picking up the smell of rot lingering in every nook and cranny.  “There might be a few groups of people still living here.  I can’t hear any heartbeats but they could be further in, and maybe hiding in basements or something similar.  But even if that’s true, they can’t have ransacked every store.”

“Stiles,” Chris interjects, voice gone terse and flat.  The window on his left’s been rolled down as well.  “Three crawlers coming up from behind.”

Crawlers – aptly named – simply have no working legs, corpses that were already decomposed to the point of not being able to walk, or zombies that were cut in half at some point, but are still animated, still hungry, and for something with only two arms to drag themselves along, they’re nearly as fast as fully functioning zombies once they’ve locked on to their next meal.

“Can we lose them?”  Stiles asks briskly.  He can’t see the crawlers from where he’s sitting but Chris will warn him if he needs to step on it stat.

Short of bludgeoning them into little more than dead pulp with something like Stiles’ bat, or complete evisceration at the end of a werewolf’s claws or maybe a machine gun, fire’s the only other thing that can permanently put a zombie down.  Stiles has personally seen a handful with no arms, no legs, and no head yet still half-wriggling, half-twitching forward inch by inch.  Without a mouth, they couldn’t actually do much but it was still a rather unsettling sight.

“…Yes,” Chris decides, tense but with that calm composure that’s been trained into him since birth.  “If we fight, who knows how many others the noise will attract out of the woodwork.  At the very least, we’ll end up having to deal with ten more of these things.”

Stiles nods, pursing his lips at the sound of crunching debris under the wheels as he speeds up, but Chris doesn’t raise the alarm, and when he relaxes once Stiles has turned onto an empty street, Stiles takes his cue and slows down again.

“Well, whether or not there’s anything here to take with us, we’ve been on the road all day,” Stiles concludes, scanning both sides of the street for a practical spot to park.  “I could use some dinner, and then maybe we can turn in for the night.”

Peter immediately brightens, and even Chris looks eager to stop for the night.  Sitting cooped up in a car for hours on end isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time.

They’re still near the edge of the city.  Stiles pulls into a mostly deserted parking lot, one that has multiple exits and no zombies in sight.  They even have a clear view of the highway should they need to make a quick getaway, although short of every rune on the car failing at the same time, and then maybe a flare going up to signal the zombies, Stiles is confident that they’ll be perfectly safe.

Even after almost two years, ever since he figured out how to enlarge internal dimensions without changing external dimensions, Stiles still finds the picture of three men literally climbing into the trunk of the car both strange and hilarious.  But inside consists of everything they need and then some, weapons and tools from the secret caches that Chris directed them to because his family was a paranoid bunch, books – both magical and normal texts, fiction and non-fiction – that they’ve stumbled across on their random road trip, necessities like clothes and food and toiletries, and – perhaps best of all in their situation – a bed, a kitchen, a small sitting room, and even a bathroom.  The space is fully equipped, and all they really have to do is make sure to keep up with their supplies.

It took some trial and error at the beginning.  Stiles almost blew himself up more than once, and then the noise would lure in zombies, and then they’d all be fighting for their lives yet again.  But he managed it, after a solid two months of experimenting and working out how to anchor the space so things wouldn’t be sliding around inside, how to wire the plumbing into non-space so they wouldn’t be swimming in their own shit, even how to preserve the perishables.

They still have to take out the trash every few days though.

But Stiles is willing to bet that they have a better setup than a lot of people out there do, which is just fine with him.  Every man for himself now, right?  Back before he ever figured out how to draw on his Spark, all three of them would sleep in the cramped confines of the jeep, and then their current car.  Chris didn’t really care, mostly just sitting and staring at nothing.  Stiles had his hands full practically force-feeding him and shoving him into a shower stall whenever they came across an abandoned apartment or poolside changing rooms.  He made the mistake of letting Chris take on a couple zombies by himself once while Stiles was busy with another handful, and he never did it again, at least not until the hunter snapped out of his depressed funk.

Peter – in some ways – was even worse.  Werewolves aren’t meant to sit for hours on end in a metal box, hunted no matter where they went, and short on food and clothes and other basic essentials that the werewolf has arguably always had plenty of.  The Hales were never poor, never even middle class, and even when Peter was fresh out of his coma, and then technically dead later on, he still had his millions to fall back on.

Money means nothing when the world’s gone to hell.

So Peter took his frustrations out on the zombies, and when those weren’t available, he’d pick fights with Chris.  Not that it worked; Chris was all but comatose in those days, which only pissed Peter off more.  He’d storm off sometimes, to who knows where, and if he didn’t come back within a couple hours, Stiles would have to go after him, locking Chris in the car, just in case, and even then, well, zombies could break windows, and Stiles didn’t know how to ward things yet back then.

He can admit that he was barely holding himself together in those first several months, much less two other people, one a high-maintenance werewolf and another in the throes of depression.  More than once, he debated leaving them behind.  He could do it too.  Leaving Chris would be easy, and a bit of mountain ash would ensure that Peter couldn’t follow.  And at the beginning, it’s not like he cared about either of them all that much.  He set Peter on fire for fuck’s sake, and Chris almost killed Scott because the man was a prejudiced asshole.

But he took both men with him, saved both their lives, which made them Stiles’, and in a world where he didn’t really have much of anything anymore, no friends, no family, no safe destination at the end of the road, he wasn’t willing to give up what he did still have.

If nothing else, making sure Chris didn’t put a bullet in his own brain, and keeping a sharp eye on Peter to make sure he didn’t take on one too many zombies and get himself eaten all because he hated his circumstances, kept Stiles busy enough to not spiral into hopeless despair himself.

Most of the time anyway.  In the dead of night, when even Peter was sleeping, Stiles would think about his dad, think about Scott, about Melissa, even about Lydia, and he’d wonder if it wouldn’t be easier if he just gave up and put himself out of his misery.

But then the sun would rise, or a throng of zombies would find them, or other survivors would bump into them and try to kill them for their supplies or because they’ve turned to cannibalism or just because, as quite a few crazies liked to say, because the world’s ended so who cares about laws and what’s right or wrong?  They can all do whatever they want now, just because.

And life would continue, and Stiles would dig out their rations – almost all non-perishables – and make sure Chris ate at least a granola bar, and then – inevitably – he’d go toe to toe with Peter, trying to make him stay close, or try and shut him up when he spat one too many over-the-line insults at Chris, or just trying to make the werewolf not act like an out-of-control wild thing in general.  Stiles’ life did not have room for feral and unhinged.

Of course, sooner or later, Stiles was going to snap.  It wasn’t exactly a surprise – at least not to him – when, one day, after a kill-or-die brawl against a plague of zombies that managed to bottle-neck them between two buildings because Stiles was exhausted after a night of no sleep in favour of tracking Peter down yet again and shooting a wild-eyed survivor in the head, but not before the whackjob set half their surroundings on fire, and Stiles was just so goddamn tired, and Peter was bitching bitterly because his arm was burned, and then the zombies got too close to the car, to Chris, who didn’t give a damn about his own life and almost got chomped on, and then-

Stiles didn’t usually care when Peter turned his verbal abuse on him.  People have been insulting Stiles almost his whole life; perks of being an unrepentant little shit since elementary school.  But then, well, Stiles didn’t even know what brought it on, only that one moment Peter was tearing into a zombie that Stiles didn’t quite finish off for good because he was busy dragging Chris out of the fray, and the next, Peter was rounding on him and sniping derisively about how Stiles couldn’t even kill a single zombie properly and no wonder your father bit the dust-

Stiles didn’t even know what he did until half an hour later when he came back to himself, half an hour away from Roscoe in the middle of nowhere.  The memories came trickling back in a haze of red, and he remembered how Peter didn’t even get to finish – wasn’t allowed to finish – before Stiles blew both his kneecaps out, regular bullets by sheer luck, and then he dropped the gun, dropped Chris onto the blood-drenched grass, and walked away.  Just walked away, didn’t even consciously pick a direction, just turned and walked away, heedless of Chris stirring on the ground or Peter howling in pain behind him.

He had no idea where he was, half an hour later, only that it was starting to rain and rain hard, he was in nothing but sneakers, jeans, and a grungy sweater thrown over a thin shirt, he was hungry, he was exhausted, and he was pretty much defenceless.  Why he dropped that gun, he still doesn’t know to this day.

He was still with it enough to find cover – a small apartment unit on the third floor with most of the ceiling missing, but the walls held well, even the door was still intact, lock and all, and Stiles didn’t notice any zombies.  And then, because he just really didn’t care anymore, not right then, not about anything, he curled up on the driest part of the queen-sized bed, pulled his hood up over his head, and fell asleep.

He wasn’t thinking clearly, clearly, or he would’ve realized how dangerous it was to go to sleep in the middle of a rainstorm, wet and cold and on the verge of hypothermia, with an immune system that wasn’t anywhere near up to par.

Peter mentioned later – in stilted tones – that he tracked Stiles down after his knees put themselves back together and Stiles still didn’t return.  The rain washed away most of the trail but Peter knew the scent of burnt flesh like he knew his own scent so he could still smell Stiles’ injuries from the night before, and that was what he followed.  Found the apartment, busted down the door, found Stiles.

And Stiles wouldn’t wake, no matter how hard Peter shook him.  He was burning up with fever, a fever that Stiles already had for a few days by then, and he avoided hypothermia but came down with pneumonia instead.

Peter rushed him back to the car idling outside the building.  Chris didn’t say, and Stiles never asked even after he woke up, but somehow, the hunter was occupying his present headspace again, and while his eyes were bloodshot and his hands shook, he was well enough to drive, and well enough to apply better first-aid than the sloppy bandages that Stiles slapped carelessly over his own burns earlier.

Then they waited out his pneumonia.  Forget zombies and lawless survivors; the pneumonia was what came closest to killing Stiles.

Peter raided three pharmacies.  Or at least raided what was left in them.  Chris found them some shelter, another apartment, dry this time if not exactly warm, and then stripped both of them out of their clothes before clambering into bed with him, bundling them up under a pile of blankets.  Peter joined once he got back, plastering himself against Stiles’ other side.  It was probably the only reason Stiles didn’t come down with hypothermia too.

He nearly died.  The infection in his lungs made him cough and wheeze, and the fever gripped him to the point of hallucination.  Peter told him he kept calling for his mother.

Chris kept forcing water down his throat, lukewarm soup when Stiles could finally manage it, and it helped the hunter stay in the here and now, no longer slipping back into his own head.  Peter gave him sponge baths and did the patrols, decimating any zombie that came within fifty feet of them but he kept it quiet.  Kept himself quiet, quiet and controlled and together, no longer letting his wolf run wild.  It was a bit of a struggle at first, but then he turned his focus on Stiles, let himself latch onto Stiles the way he hadn’t dared up until then, and he found himself concentrating better, more human than animal again, and far less prone to wanting – needing – to run.

It was stupid, how they needed Stiles to almost die before the two men finally decided to get it together enough that they weren’t heaping the burden of survival entirely onto the shoulders of a sixteen-year-old who just killed his parents not four months ago and never even had time to grieve.  Even after Stiles’ fever broke and he was on the mend, he woke up more than once in bewilderment to Peter and Chris practically waiting on him hand and foot.

They walked on eggshells around him for a while once Stiles was back on his feet and they were on the move again.  They stuck close most of the time, and they insisted on running into stores to search for supplies instead of having Stiles do it every time as he always had since they left Beacon Hills.

It was weird, right up until Stiles figured out why.  Well, it was still weird even then, but at least he knew the reason – they thought he was going to leave them behind.

Frankly, he didn’t understand what the big fuss was about.  If anything, a werewolf and a hunter would be better equipped without the human teenager tagging along, especially once they were… well, not stable exactly but at least more stable than before.

But they didn’t let up, and Stiles couldn’t complain when they were finally willing to pull their own weight.  Or in Chris’ case, capable of pulling their own weight.

Peter never really apologized, at least not in so many words, but he started watching Stiles’ back, even started watching Chris’ back, however grudgingly, always brought enough food back for all three of them when it was his turn to do a supplies run, always took his turn on night shift seriously, and it took an embarrassing amount of time for Stiles to realize how pack-oriented Peter was slowly becoming.  With Stiles and Chris as Pack.

By the time they got a new vehicle and Stiles made it into their own home-on-the-road, the three of them were more or less comfortable in each other’s presence.  Chris and Peter may have even learned to trust each other.  To a certain extent.

They carved out a niche for themselves, kept saving each other’s lives, kept moving forward together, and Peter and Chris haven’t given Stiles a reason to regret sticking with them since.

“Stiles, are you coming in?”

The disappearing act into the trunk is still weird though.

He slides inside, swinging the boot shut behind him before drawing the curtain.  The metal’s been adjusted so that it acts as something of a one-way mirror.  They can look out, to check for threats, but nothing can see inside.

“Pasta tonight?”  Chris offers, glancing over his shoulder from where he’s rifling through the fridge.

“Sounds good,” Stiles agrees, kicking off his shoes and shedding his sweater before flopping down on the couch, slinging an arm over his eyes.  Not a minute later, a shadow falls over him, followed by a rustle of clothing, and then a warm weight settles on top of him.

Stiles shifts his arm, just enough to peer down at the dark curly hair tickling his chin.  Peter can fall asleep this way, face half-buried in Stiles’ chest, legs tangled with Stiles’.

He sighs, resigned to sound more affectionate than annoyed, and absently begins dragging fingers though the werewolf’s hair.  It makes Peter purr sometimes, or at least gets him to lose all the tension accumulated that day.  When he cups a hand around the back of Peter’s neck, a relatively gentle but firm grip, the werewolf goes limp and- yeah, there’s the purr.

Peter kissed him on a Tuesday, ten months after zombies became a way of life, in the early morning hours in bed, as unpredictable as Peter’s always been.  They were already sharing sleeping space by then, all three of them.  Stiles didn’t see the point of three separate beds when they’d been sleeping in close quarters for months by that point.  Nobody complained so whatever.

Chris was still conked out on his side of the bed.  Stiles couldn’t sleep, head too full of memories.  He thought Peter was in dreamland too but then the werewolf moved with the intent of someone fully awake, and the arm already draped over Stiles’ waist tightened.

Peter was never clingy, isn’t really clingy now, just touch-starved and, you know, werewolf, but he liked pushing boundaries and testing how far Stiles would let him go.  He was probably the sort of kid who touched a hot stove just to see what it was like for himself even after being told not to, just to be contrary because he was told not to.  Stiles certainly did.

So he tended to sleep snuggled up to Stiles, and when Stiles didn’t kick him out of bed, it was – to Peter – permission to continue.

He never went quite so far as to sneak a few fingers under Stiles’ shirt though.

“What’re you doing?”  Stiles grumbled, staring blankly up at the nondescript ceiling.

Peter just whuffed a breath into the crook of his neck, but then he pulled back, and Stiles could feel his gaze on him.  He sighed and turned his head.  “What- mmp-

It wasn’t a particularly deep or dirty kiss, but it was a press of lips on lips that somehow conveyed a hell of a lot more intimacy than Stiles thought possible.

It took a good fifteen seconds before Stiles responded, a bit stunned, and more than a bit out of his depth, if only because he’d never been kissed before in his entire life.

But Peter didn’t let up, brushing kiss after sweetly slow kiss over Stiles’ mouth, eyes a half-mast ocean that did nothing to hide his relief when Stiles finally kissed him back, tentative at first, and then with more conviction.  They didn’t get much further than that, quiet minutes spent making out like stupid teenagers, and then Peter pulled him close, and Stiles nodded off on his chest like they’d done it a thousand times before.

It wasn’t love, back then, not yet.  It was more comfort and desire and probably an unhealthy amount of codependency.  Pack too because Pack shares.  Love didn’t quite matter as much in the face of all that, of not being alone in a dying world, of knowing you can trust this person because they didn’t leave you behind when they could’ve and probably should’ve, of wanting that for yourself in any and every way possible.

Seventeen months later, well, love’s definitely tangled up in there somewhere.  Not that Stiles minds.  It’s not even like anything has changed all that drastically.  Peter already liked cuddling before; now he’s just even freer with curling up beside or on top of Stiles.

It helps that – at eighteen – Stiles is taller than Peter now, by at least an inch or so, and he may not be werewolf strong but he does have muscle on him.

It’s peaceful, with Peter’s familiar weight on top of him, and the muted clank of kitchen utensils over where Chris is preparing dinner.  The hunter’s not as good at cooking as Peter and Stiles are but – after a few lessons – he picked up a few recipes easily enough.

“I was thinking,” Peter speaks up lazily, words a little muffled against Stiles’ chest.  “After we finish gathering what supplies we can find, perhaps we could go shopping.  For winter clothes.”

“Shopping,” Stiles snickers, and then yelps when Peter lips at his closest nipple in reproach.  “Alright, alright.  Shopping, for winter outfits.  Wait, why?  My winter clothes are fine from last year.”

“But Christopher’s aren’t,” Peter reminds him.  “At the very least, he’s going to have to replace that jacket.  It was ripped up in a skirmish last year, remember?  A few extra sweaters won’t hurt either, especially if we’ll be trekking across Canada.  I hear it can get rather cold, and we wouldn’t our darling hunter to freeze, would we?”

“How thoughtful of you,” Chris mutters dryly from the stove.

Stiles rolls his eyes before tugging Peter up until they’re face to face.  “And new clothes for you too, right?”

“Well, if we’re already-” Peter mumbles, arching when Stiles gives his nape a light scratch.  “-already there, I… I might as well- hmm…”

He trails off, too busy purring and happily tucking his face into Stiles’ neck when Stiles lets him.

“I swear you’re more cat than wolf sometimes,” Stiles mutters, amused and fond anyway because Peter is so very unashamed about it.

“I guess we could all use some new clothes,” He muses.  “Snow boots too maybe.  None of us have those.”

“Boots would be more convenient in the snow,” Chris approves.  “And we’re in Ontario; weather’s only gonna get worse.  Not to mention…” The hunter glances over and rakes an eye over what’s visible of Stiles’ body.  “-you’ve grown, Stiles.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your clothes don’t fit you anymore.”

Stiles catches his gaze and arches an eyebrow.  Pale grey darkens, and Chris does another sweep of his body, playful but intent, with a subtle heat in his eyes.  Stiles just offers a wicked grin, one that prompts a faintly exasperated half-smile in return.

“Stop flirting over my head,” Peter growls, only to melt again when Stiles slides his hand down to clasp the side of his neck, thumbing the fluttering pulse there, callused palm wrapped neatly over the arteries.

“Shopping tomorrow then,” Stiles concludes, letting his head fall back to rest on the arm of the sofa.  “Fingers crossed nobody gatecrashes our party.”

 


 

Stiles kissed Chris on a Saturday afternoon, three strained months after the hunter woke up and found Peter and Stiles curled up more intimately than ever before.  He didn’t say anything, and at that point, nobody really thought of Stiles as a mere teenager, at least not with the maturity of one, so the issue of being too young or too old was never brought up, but it seemed as if Chris wasn’t okay with it either.

Because things got… tense.  Peter had no problem with displays of affection at any time, day or night, which meant Chris would avert his eyes or go for a walk (not far, thankfully, he was a whole better about that than Peter used to be) to give them some privacy.  But they also slept in one bed, and Stiles was not relegating the hunter to the couch for fuck’s sake, and adding furniture would mean hitting up another IKEA as well as redoing all the anchor points in their home, so in the end, Chris would end up on the very far left of the bed while Peter and Stiles would arrange themselves on the right.

On hindsight, it was ridiculous really, considering where they are now.

The man even scrounged up a set of noise-cancelling headphones one day because even Peter wasn’t so crass as to fuck in plain view of someone else in the bed they all slept in – and Stiles wouldn’t have let him anyway – so they’d have sex in the shower most of the time, and Chris would fetch his headphones.

Mutual blowjobs were awesome.  Chris refusing to look either of them in the eye for hours afterwards, not so much.

It was Peter who – laughing with just the slightest hint of a nasty edge – murmured to him one evening when Chris was in the shower, “Sexual frustration, my dear.  It’s not that he disapproves; it’s that he’s jealous.”

Stiles stared.  Peter just shook his head almost ruefully.  “What did you expect?  You saved his life.  Carried his worthless ass-” Stiles pinched his side.  Peter didn’t even have the decency to flinch.  “-across the country for four months even after he’d all but given up on himself.  You take care of him even now.  Some feelings were bound to grow there.”

So, there was that.  It was a level of awkward Stiles didn’t need, but once he knew, he couldn’t really un-know anymore, so he resorted to doing his best to not flaunt his thing with Peter too much.

The thing was though, it felt… wrong, leaving Chris out.  They’d been a three for so long that somehow, even for something like sex, it seemed stranger keeping him out than… inviting him in.  And it wasn’t like he was hard on the eyes either.

But he was more or less in a relationship with Peter, had gotten to know the werewolf to the point where he didn’t want to lose what they had because Peter made him laugh, and Stiles could be himself around him.  Cheating on him was the last thing he wanted to do.  It was an absurd idea anyway – Peter would sniff it out within seconds, and Stiles knew full well it would hurt the werewolf too, even if he never showed it.  Besides, it wasn’t like Stiles was in love with Chris; his feelings veered more towards attraction and Pack familiarity, so basically what he felt for Peter before that first kiss.

Peter solved the whole issue for him in one conversation.  Or maybe two because Peter probably talked to Chris as well.

“I wouldn’t mind,” Peter remarked one day out of the blue, Stiles lounging in his lap, Peter’s arms wrapped around him.  Chris was in the bathroom again.  It was pretty much one of the only ways two can talk without the third overhearing.

Stiles made an enquiring noise.

Peter’s head dips until his lips buzz against Stiles’ ear.  “If you wanted to fuck him.”  He paused.  Stiles went motionless.  “I might even watch.”

Stiles didn’t speak for a good two minutes before his head lolled back so that he could look at Peter.  “Are you joking?  You’re one of the most possessive people I have ever met.  I always thought you’d probably rip someone’s throat out if they so much as breathed on me wrong.”

Peter shrugged a little, a largely nonchalant conceding gesture more than anything else.  “I probably would.  But…” He sighed, and his expression was a bizarre mix of resignation, curiosity, and the tattered remains of an old, weary hatred.  “I probably would, if it were anyone else, but you can’t spend so much time with someone and still hate them.  Hatred requires a lack of understanding.  And… it rots you, from the inside out.”  A quick, wry smirk.  “Like turning into a zombie.  It’s just not as ugly to look at.”  He sobered again, meeting Stiles’ gaze evenly.  “I don’t know if you know this but… you saved me too.  I don’t mean that time in the Preserve, or any of the other numbers of times ever since, although they certainly helped.  I mean you…” He pauses once more, a frown creasing his brow.  “You reached inside me and somehow managed to claw out all the dead parts.  You made me live- made me want to live again, not just survive.  I don’t think you realize how much that means to me, Stiles.”

Stiles’ response wasn’t exactly verbal, choosing instead to reach up and sling an arm around Peter’s neck.  The position wasn’t ideal but it worked well enough, a lengthy kiss that made Stiles’ lips tingle.

“But you know it’s not some sort of either/or situation, right?”  He said after they part for breath.  “I don’t want to mess up what we have, and I don’t want you to think that I’d- I dunno, drop you if I don’t get to screw around with Chris too.”

Peter chuckled, eyes going soft in a way he only ever let himself be around Stiles.  “I’m aware, Stiles.  But for one thing, Christopher wouldn’t be looking to ‘screw around’ if you two do start something, and I doubt you would either.  And for another, well,” He smirked again, and this time it was distinctly smug, with a side of pure mischief.  “I’ve had my fun rubbing us in his face over the past few months.  I’m satisfied.  Besides, no matter what you do with him, I’ll always have been first.”

Stiles rolled his eyes at that because that was just like Peter.  He pondered the situation for a moment longer before tilting his head back again.  “Just watch?”

Peter laughed, the sound accompanied by a quiet rumbling growl rolling up from his chest, akin to distant thunder.  “I suppose I could join in.  But you’ll have to persuade me, dear boy.”

Stiles grinned right back, and when he wriggled a bit, he could feel the half-hard line of Peter’s cock against the small of his back.  “I think I can manage that.”

Of course, just because Peter gave the okay didn’t mean Stiles was jumping Chris right away or vice versa.  But whatever chat Peter had with Chris meant the hunter was suddenly watching Stiles with a lot more purpose.  He probably was even before Peter pulled each of them aside; he was just less obvious about it.

The thing with Chris was that he was patientToo patient, honestly.  He was different from Peter like that, the complete opposite. Maybe the habit stemmed from having to obey his psychotic father all his life, or the fact that Argents were simply raised that way – women as leaders, men as soldiers, Gerard being the one exception – or maybe it was both.  Either way, he could lead a hunt no problem but when it came to things that Chris wanted for himself, he held back.  Didn’t pursue it, like he thought he didn’t deserve it, or like it just never occurred to him to just go for it.

So Stiles did it for him.  He kissed him on a Saturday, under a sun that probably had no business shining so brightly over a world that was anything but bright.  But it was summer, and the day was nice, breezy without overtly carrying the scent of decay.  Peter went to hunt down a few rabbits because none of them ate nearly enough meat these days so they tried to get some whenever they could, and when Stiles caught Chris looking at him again, he tossed up his hands in exasperation before abruptly backing the hunter up against the hood of the car and kissing him hard on the mouth.

To Chris’ credit, he didn’t hesitate in kissing back, groaning and clutching Stiles to him as they rutted against each other.  Peter came back in time to watch Chris break apart and shake himself into an orgasm, Stiles following mere seconds later.

Peter huffed, rabbits swinging irreverently from one hand.  “If he gets first outdoor sex, I get first actual bed sex.”

Chris sort of growled at him but it was half-hearted at best in the afterglow, and he couldn’t keep it up anyway when Stiles distracted him with another kiss, one hand snaking up to rest against the hunter’s throat just to feel the rough yielding whimper vibrate against his palm.

It probably said something about all three of them, that they got along better after that.

 


 

They find a ransacked Sport Chek in the morning.  Peter makes disparaging clucking noises about the quality of clothing.  Chris ignores him and starts rifling through what’s left in the store.  Stiles wanders off to look for anything else that might be useful to them in the future.

He’s examining an empty water bottle for dents when he senses it.  It’s nothing he can really put a finger on, what he feels, but he puts down the uneasy chill trickling along his spine as some kind of sixth sense, heightened by his Spark.

He only ever feels this way when faced with one thing.

All zombies make noise – that’s a fact.  None of them are too fussed about tiptoeing around when looking for their next meal after all.  None, except one.  The one that started it all.

Carefully, Stiles sets the bottle back down, doing his level best not to let his heartbeat give him away even as he takes out his phone and hurriedly shoots out a text.

:gsos car:

He doesn’t wait for a reply, heading for the nearest exit instead.  He can’t feel eyes on him but the chill is still there, hovering at the edge of his senses, tracking him, tracking them, because it’s what it does best.

He makes it back to the car in a little over five minutes.  Peter rushes out to meet him, eyes glowing Beta blue.  Chris is a statue next to the car, gun at the ready, features tight with ominous anticipation as his gaze repeatedly scans the parking lot.

“We left the jackets,” Peter whispers, hustling Stiles back to the car.

“Forget the jackets,” Stiles hisses back, rounding the car to the driver’s side.  “We need to get outta he-”

His Spark shrieks a warning.  Stiles’ head whips around.  Peter roars and hurls himself over the car in one giant leap.  And Chris opens fire just as a dark shape lunges out at them from behind a pile of debris.

Even twenty-seven months in, Stiles doesn’t really know exactly how every dead body in the ground gained the ability to claw their way back into the world of the living, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter.  What he does know is that it originated in Beacon Hills, if only because one Gerard Argent hasn’t stopped dogging them step for step since the three of them left town.

As a general rule, zombies can’t affect shifters.  They found that out the hard way after the first – perhaps inevitable – time Peter was bitten.  The transition usually took anywhere from between eight to twenty seconds but they waited an entire hour, Stiles’ gun trained on the werewolf’s heart the entire time, and a ring of mountain ash between them.  When Peter didn’t turn, Stiles wasn’t the only one shaking with the adrenaline drop in the aftermath.

So zombies could not turn shifters, and aside from the werewolves that were already dead before they came back to life, there were no new zombie werewolves.

Except one.

Stiles doesn’t know what the fuck the old geriatric did but he has to think that Gerard screwed up along the way.  Even that psychopath wouldn’t want to bring about Armageddon just to avoid death, would he?  Then again, it did make him all but immortal, hardier and faster and smarter than any other zombie Stiles has come across so far, a zombie, most definitely, his rotting flesh is testament of that, but also a werewolf, also an Alpha, with all the abilities of one, and also tracking them – or maybe tracking his son – like he has goddamn GPS focused specifically on them.  Every few months, he catches up, and every few months, they have to deal with it.

It almost gave everyone a heart attack when it appeared out of nowhere that very first time, when Stiles didn’t have Roscoe anymore but didn’t have his expanded trunk space yet either.  One minute they were taking a break, the next Gerard was practically on top of them.

For all that they didn’t have heartbeats, zombies at least didn’t bother with silence.  Peter could always forewarn them, and even your average human would be able to tell when any undead is nearby.

Not Gerard.  And they didn’t even know it was Gerard until Chris got a good look at the zombie werewolf’s withered features.  It shocked him badly enough that he faltered, just for a moment, something like terror mingling with the disbelief and realization, and Gerard had zero qualms taking advantage of the lapse.

That was how Chris was bitten and turned, but not into a zombie, which was – Stiles supposes – a small mercy.  Werewolf was infinitely better than an animated bag of dead flesh.

He and Peter managed to escape with their lives that day, and that was only because Stiles got his hands on a couple flares a while back.  The thing about smart zombies instead of just adaptable but still largely mindless ones is that they know when it’s time to run away.

Gerard ran.  So did they.

When Chris woke up with fur and fangs and claws, Stiles already had every last one of his weapons and wolfsbane concoctions confiscated.  It took two weeks for the man to really convince Stiles that no, he wasn’t going to commit suicide so could he please have his guns back, and it would be even better if Stiles would stop locking him in mountain ash when he slept.

“You held me back from that cliff edge after- after Allison,” Chris told him in a moment of calm, when it was just the two of them.  He swallowed like the name still physically killed him a little but the grief at least wasn’t overwhelming anymore.  “Being a werewolf hardly compares.”  He paused and then deliberately flashed throat, at Stiles of all people.  “I have no plans to leave this godforsaken planet before you, Stiles.  Okay?  Can you… believe that?”

Can you believe me?  Can you trust me?

And yeah, after that, Stiles sort of had to let up.  He just… really didn’t want to have to deal with any backsliding, didn’t want Chris going through the motions each day like he wanted it to be his last, but, well, trust had to start somewhere, and Chris had been better lately, much better than before.

But true to his word, Chris didn’t go doing a swan dive off a building or something while Stiles and Peter were asleep, didn’t throw himself into battle like he didn’t want to survive it, and Stiles learned to trust that.  The hunter didn’t make a half-bad werewolf either.  He wasn’t as fast or wily in a fight as Peter, didn’t know as many tricks, but he was willing, he learned fast, and he was arguably better at tracking, or at the very least just as good.

His eyes were as blue as Peter’s.  Nobody said anything about it.

Five more times after that, Gerard caught up with them.  No matter where they went, how far they drove, he always popped up again like a bad penny with a penchant for death, and they just couldn’t kill the bastard.

Today is the sixth time, seventh overall.  Half a dozen bullets don’t do shit; it barely slows Gerard down.  But it gives Peter enough time to get into position, and the moment Chris stops firing, Peter slams into Gerard in a vicious throwdown of fangs and claws.  He gets flung off five seconds later, only for Chris to take his place, going for the throat, missing, getting tossed off too, and then Peter’s back for round two.

Stiles, meanwhile, is digging under his seat for the flares.  He retrieves three, along with a grenade – thank you Chris – before scrambling out again and barking, “Move!”, just as the flares spark to life in his hands.

Peter is currently gouging trenches into Gerard’s mouldered abdomen while Chris is tangling with Gerard’s clawed hands.  One set is embedded in his shoulder but the hunter’s attempting to sink his fangs into his undead father’s neck anyway.

But at Stiles’ command, they both let go and shove themselves away, just as Stiles launches himself forward and thrusts all three flares home.

The first two sear off Gerard’s entire left arm and part of his shoulder.  The third misses when the zombie twists out of the way even as it screams into Stiles’ face.

It lashes out, claws only missing Stiles’ eye because he jerks back just in time, but it still nicks a thin line of blood across his forehead.

The parking lot trembles with the force of Peter’s enraged roar, and a split second later, the Beta werewolf’s back, angrier than ever as he collides with Gerard with enough force to send them both bowling across the cement.

One of the flares swipe a livid line through Peter’s shirt – he’s lost his coat somewhere – but the werewolf doesn’t even seem to notice, too busy trying to tear off Gerard’s other arm and probably beat him to a second death with it.

“Jesus, Chris-” Stiles bites out, staggering upright, and he doesn’t have to say anything else because Chris is already diving forward and dragging Peter out of the fray, leaving Stiles free to pitch the grenade straight at the zombie werewolf.

The explosion knocks him back on his ass, and it takes him several seconds to figure out which way is up and which way is down.  He’s already searching for Peter and Chris by the time he’s pulled himself to his feet again, touching the pack bonds inside him, making sure they were still glowing strong.

“Peter?  Chris?  Are you two okay?”

“Fine,” Peter coughs out first, and a moment later, shirt torn, wet from the snow, and grimacing at the dust and slush staining his clothes, the werewolf emerges from behind an overturned car.  “Did we get him?”

Chris crawls out too, waving a hand to clear some of the smoke.  He’s bleeding from the shoulder wound but even from where Stiles is standing, he can see that it’s already knitting itself back together.

They creep closer, cautious of any glimpse of movement.  Stiles sighs when both werewolves position themselves in front of him.

“Goddamn it,” Peter snarls when all they find are tiny bits of dead flesh scattered here and there and a clawed hand that was somehow not caught in the blast.  Of course, Gerard could’ve entirely disintegrated but… well.  They’ve never been that lucky.

They set fire to the hand – it’s still twitching for god’s sakes; Thing in the Addams Family wasn’t as creepy – and whatever remains they can find.  No way are they leaving even half a percentage of a chance for any of Gerard’s genes to magically grow back or something.

“We should get outta here,” Stiles says once the fire’s finished doing its job.  “That explosion will have drawn every zombie within half a mile.”

He rubs the back of his neck, suddenly feeling like he could sleep for a decade or two.

“I could drive,” Peter offers, carelessly picking pieces of his shirt off his torso.

“Not in that, you won’t,” Stiles retorts, cracking a yawn.  “Get in the trunk and change, both of you.  I’ll get us outta here.”

He can feel the two werewolves exchanging a meaningful look behind him.

“I have clean shirts in the front,” Chris announces.  Code for no, Stiles, we’re not hiding in the trunk while you stay out in the open.

Stiles rolls his eyes because seriously, their car’s been warded to the nines, but they already know that so he doesn’t waste his breath arguing.  He knows that, partly, their overprotectiveness comes from the fact that Stiles is the only one of them who’s still essentially human.  He has magic, yes, but odds are, that won’t protect him from the zombie virus.  His two werewolves live in fear that a walker might get a lucky bite in one day, or Stiles might be a second too slow at dodging an attack.  And since neither Peter nor Chris are Alphas, there’s no going back if Stiles is ever infected.

Maybe they should track one down sometime.  Alpha werewolves have actually been remarkably scarce since the apocalypse descended, Gerard notwithstanding.  They’ve met all of two so far – the first was, along with his pack, gunned down by some gung-ho hunters, which meant that Stiles, Peter, and Chris avoided that area like the plague, and the other was too feral to reason with and too crazed to really pin down long enough for either Chris or Peter to kill, and in the end, Stiles was the one who put it down.

The other issue of course is that both werewolves don’t seem to be in any hurry to upgrade, not even Peter.  They’ve accepted an eighteen-year-old human Alpha – probably as far back as a sixteen-year-old Alpha – and Stiles has allowed it and has tried to live up to it as best as he can every day.  It’s not as if he can just stop anymore even if he doesn’t want it, and being Alpha isn’t actually that different from what he was already doing since leaving Beacon Hills.

But one of them will do it, take on the whole Alpha gig if it means Stiles won’t have to worry about getting bitten.  Probably Peter, who nudged a book into his lap one night, and apparently, being an Alpha doesn’t mean one can’t still acknowledge another Alpha as Alpha.

Or maybe they can just get some random Alpha to bite him before Stiles kills him.  Although even Chris seems somewhat miffed by the very idea of anyone other than him and Peter getting their teeth into Stiles.

Werewolves.  Seriously.

For now, they leg it out of Thunder Bay.  Zombies are already pouring into the derelict mall by the time they pull out onto a street that leads straight out of the city, a writhing dark mass of bodies craving living flesh. Gerard, no doubt, will show up again sooner or later, but for now…

“Outlet mall?”  Stiles suggests.

Peter heaves a mournful sigh.  It’s his turn in the back today.  Chris just shrugs, mirth playing around the corners of his mouth.

“Don’t be such a diva, Peter,” The hunter says dryly.  “It’s an outlet mall, not a hovel.  And we’re preparing for another winter, not a fashion show.”

Peter sneers and very maturely crosses his arms.

Stiles rolls his eyes at both of them but he finds himself smiling anyway, helplessly in love with their quirks and temperaments.  Chris looks sidelong at him, the last of the tension draining from his shoulders when he catches Stiles’ expression, and behind them, Peter sighs again but goes languid with contentment, leaning forward to hook his chin over the shoulder of Stiles’ seat, nosing behind Stiles’ ear.

Stiles turns onto the highway, an endless expanse of snow-furnished road that stretches towards the distant sunset.

 


 

It’s a tough life.  A tougher way of living.  Short of time travel, they’ll probably never regain what they’ve lost.

But Stiles isn’t alone, isn’t unhappy either most days, and he knows Peter and Chris are the same.

And maybe, in the world they live in now, that's enough.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chris wakes as he always does these days, in swift increments, but without half as much paranoia as one might expect to have when living at the end of the world.  Foolish perhaps, but Stiles has long since ensured their safety as much as possible, and Chris has been thoroughly spoiled by it.

Also too, he wakes to a warm body and a soft bed.  He never wanted this, never even considered that it might be something he would want, and now he can’t even imagine living without it.  Certainly wouldn’t want to, and possibly wouldn’t even know how.  Not anymore.

He opens his eyes, gaze immediately drawn to the young man curled against his chest, breaths coming evenly in his sleep.  Stiles looks older than his eighteen years, but then, if anything can age someone fast, apocalypses would probably be at the top of the list.  It probably didn’t help that he had two grown-ass men depending on him for survival since he was sixteen.

Chris still feels a deep sense of shame every time he thinks about that.  Stiles has never really gone into detail about it, and Chris has never asked, but it isn’t exactly rocket science to realize that Stiles had done the majority of the killing and looting necessary to keep three people relatively fed and clothed and alive, and all of that after he had to put down his own parents and might as well have lost his only childhood friend.  With Chris stuck in his head ninety-five percent of the time and Peter halfway feral, Stiles would’ve been better off leaving them for dead.  Chris probably would have.  Peter definitely would have.  It wasn’t as if – back then – any of them meant all that much to each other.  And you don’t need deadweight when you’re trying to outrun zombies and other survivors all out to get you.

But Stiles didn’t, for whatever reason, and Chris will forever be grateful for that.  He didn’t think he would be, after Allison, but he’s pretty sure – if any kind of afterlife exists – both his wife and daughter would kick his ass if he just rolled over and died, and these days, he’s found new reasons to live.  Peter too, even if he never says, if only because Chris gets the impression that absolutely nothing and no one has ever shown as much bullheaded, heels-in-the-ground loyalty to the werewolf as Stiles has, and Peter’s a lot of things but you can’t say he doesn’t know devotion once he decides you’ve earned it.

And quite possibly, Stiles is the only who’s ever had that honour.  Who ever will.

As if hearing his early morning musings, Peter – plastered along Stiles’ back – stirs, arm tightening around Stiles’ waist under the blankets even as blue eyes blink open and automatically scan their surroundings.  He doesn’t tense though, as spoiled as Chris is after months – years actually, going on two and a half, three since the world more or less ended – of being able to live behind the relative safety of Stiles’ magic, which is probably a lot more than most people still alive in this day and age can say.

Peter stretches, a languid flex of limbs and muscle before snuggling further into Stiles and peering at Chris over the younger man’s shoulder.  Between them, Stiles’ nose twitches, and a frown creases his brow for a second as he snuffles into Chris’ chest before settling again into full slumber.

They’re both momentarily distracted by this – Chris feels a fond smile tug at his lips as he watches Stiles sleep, and Peter presses a kiss to the back of Stiles’ neck.  Then he meets Chris’ gaze again and a lazy eyebrow is cocked his way.  “Isn’t it a bit too early for the resident senior folk to be awake, Christopher?”

Chris rolls his eyes and doesn’t bother rising to the bait.  They’re a mere six years apart, certainly closer in age to each other than either of them are to Stiles, and yet Peter won’t ever let him forget that one time – back before Chris was turned – when he woke up from a nap in the car in the dead of winter grimacing over achy knee joints and back pain.

So sue him, the car was cramped.

Peter smirks back, but it lacks its usual cutting edge, and the sneering derision is absent altogether, something that hasn’t really made a reappearance ever since… sometime between Peter falling into a relationship with Stiles and Chris doing the same.  They still argue and mock each other, but it’s no longer loaded with the lethal weight of their pasts, and that’s something to be thankful for too.

The three of them are more than likely to spend the rest of their lives with each other, and there’s no sense in making that more difficult than it needs to be.  Chris and Peter learned that the hard way when they almost lost Stiles.

Which Stiles has forgiven them for, so Chris tries not to think about it too much, those two weeks when he was absolutely certain Stiles was going to die, when oxygen rattled wetly in struggling lungs and a too-thin body trembled nonstop with uncontrollable shivers even as delirium simmered under sickly hot skin.

Chris was still shaky from spending months in his mind, and even now, he only remembers flashes of that time, of someone force-feeding him and dunking him in a shower stall or bathtub, of hungry shrieks and rotted faces and an iron grip on his arm or shoulder or the back of his shirt, hauling him out of the way of whatever latest monster tried to take a chunk out of him.  When he finally woke up and realized what was going on, realized who had been protecting him since the world went to hell and he had to put down his own daughter (like he had to put down his wife because ultimately her prejudices were more important to her than family), he lived every day until Stiles’ fever finally broke praying to every god he didn’t believe in for a miracle.

Peter was equally frantic.  It took a good hour and a half – possibly more – before his knees finally managed to put themselves back together, and then another half hour of waiting and pacing and snarling at each other before they finally admitted that Stiles wasn’t coming back.  Peter took off on whatever scent he could still pick up, and Chris followed in the car.  They didn’t need to speak to know that they were both dreading what they might find at the end of the trail.

Fortunately, Stiles was still alive and not a zombie.  Not so fortunately, the boy almost died anyway.

A heel digs into his calf, and Chris pulls away with a hiss, pinning Peter with a glower.  Peter just rolls his eyes and hooks his foot back around Stiles’ ankle.  “I refuse to lie here and suffer through the smell of you angsting to yourself.  If you must do that, there’s a perfectly empty car outside that you can do it in.”

Chris narrows his eyes but doesn’t protest.  Peter is right, in his own, irritatingly roundabout way.  Thinking about it isn’t going to change anything, and all three of them are still alive today.  That’s what matters most.

“Where are we going today?”  He asks instead, pitching his voice down to a low murmur.  Stiles needs the sleep.  He’s healthy enough for a human living on a zombie-infested planet but there are days when he seems more drained than usual, and Chris knows that’s because of all the magic that he’s constantly using to ensure their home-on-wheels – as Stiles likes to call it – stays as safe as it possibly can be.  Stiles has told them that once the runes were anchored, it only takes a very small percentage of his magic to sustain them, but once in a while, mostly when they’ve spent the whole day fighting the undead or other survivors, Stiles’ face gets tight and drawn, he goes quiet, shoulders sagging, eyelids drooping, as if he only has energy enough for breathing, and he ends up more exhausted than even just several hours of fighting should warrant by the time they stop for the night.  Yesterday was exactly like that, and so they had an early night in.  Chris cooked, Peter bundled Stiles into the shower, and then into bed, and Stiles was out like a light a minute after his head hit the pillow.

It’s worrying sometimes.  Chris barely knows the basics of magic – you take, you must give back – and he knows nothing about Sparks.  Peter knows a little more, but it isn’t as if he can perform any magic either, and Stiles himself is never going to complain, not when it means keeping them safe, even if that means expending his magical reserves or whatever it is that fuels a Spark more than he should.  So even now, they depend on Stiles more than they should, and all they can do in return is take care of him as best they can.

“We need more food and supplies,” Peter replies, just as softly.  “We’re also down to the last of our eggs and milk, cheese and butter too, dairy in general, but I figure there’s no point keeping what we have left for much longer.  We probably won’t be able to find any chickens or cows until at least spring.”

Chris grimaces at the reminder.  Dairy products are probably the hardest to come by when it comes to food these days.  Zombies or no, there’s still plenty of wildlife out there for them to hunt down.  For whatever reason, the undead far prefer human flesh.  They still go after animals if there aren’t any humans around, but animals don’t turn, so there’s no risk of animals going after each other.  And plants still flourish, although not as much right now since it’s winter again, but Stiles has actually managed to dedicate a corner of their makeshift house to growing things like herbs, strawberries, and other foods.  So they’re fine in terms of meat, fruits, and vegetables.  And they have more cereal than they know what to do with.  Stiles was smart enough to grab as many non-perishables as possible back at the beginning, and there are still boxes of the stuff left on shelves in abandoned malls and supermarkets.

But dairy is harder.  Stiles’ stasis runes help tremendously of course, but only when they can find the food first.  And sure, Chris and Peter could probably go without, being werewolves, but Stiles still has to watch his diet, especially since he’s bearing the brunt of the work these days, no matter how much he tries to play it down, and ever since Peter got his hands on a wrinkled copy of the Food Guide Pyramid, he’s been watching what Stiles eats like a hawk.  It would be hilarious if Chris wasn’t worried about the exact same thing.

(Stiles did laugh, he laughed until he almost cried, and then he actually cried for a solid ten minutes like someone had ripped his heart out, and Peter took Chris aside later and told him that Stiles used to watch the Sheriff’s diet the same way.)

Stiles is still young, not even twenty yet, and Chris has it on good authority that college students can apparently subsist on pop-tarts, instant noodles, and procrastination, but that was Before, when there was medicine for when you got sick, clean air to breathe no matter what pollution vehicles and factories spat out, police and hospitals just a 9-1-1 away, life that could be lived without the threat of literal death – or undeath – hanging over your head every day.

It isn’t like that anymore.  Water is another major concern they have to watch out for.  They don’t drink from rivers or other bodies of water anymore, not since they stumbled across a stream polluted with the dead, and an entire town nearby, successfully barricaded from more zombies wandering in, but every last man, woman, and child inside still turned because their drinking water had been contaminated.  It had been sheer luck that the three of them had avoided that fate up until that point, and now they wait for rain before collecting any water.  Stiles has managed to rig filter and plumbing into their home – his explanation of how was long and complicated and Chris wasn’t sure he understood half of it, although Peter was certainly fascinated – but they’re not about to risk consuming just any water, even if it’s been boiled first.

“We’ll head into town later,” Chris mentally calculates the distance.  They’ve parked at the base of the Rocky Mountains.  It would only be a twenty-minute walk to the closest town, but while the snow is good for slowing the zombies down, it also slows them down.

“We’ll take the car,” Peter decides pre-emptively.  “Stiles will want to come with us, and we’re not walking him through knee-high snowdrifts.  Especially not today.”

Chris grunts an agreement.  They could always suggest Stiles stay in the car, but ninety-nine percent of the time, that’s a waste of breath.  Stiles likes being apart from them about as much as they like being apart from Stiles.

“It’s been two weeks since we last ate any eggs so we can eat some for today’s breakfast,” Chris says before raising his eyebrows at Peter.  “Which, by the way, is your turn to make.”

Peter sniffs and checks the clock on the far wall.  “Not for at least another hour, it’s not.”  He snuggles back down, burying his nose in the crook of Stiles’ neck.  “Go back to bed, Christopher.  It’s too early.”

Chris snorts but refrains from pointing out that they technically haven’t left the bed at all.  Even now, he’s used to rising early.  But Peter likes sleeping in when he can, while Stiles has bouts of insomnia that tend to make his sleeping patterns erratic, when he isn’t so tired that it knocks him out for a whole night.

Stiles’ brow furrows, and he makes a restless noise that has Peter flashing his eyes at Chris.  Chris sighs but settles down, if not to sleep then at least to relax in bed a little longer.  He catches a wayward limb when Stiles flails a little, tucking the younger man’s arm back under the blankets before reaching up to comb fingers through sleep-tousled hair to soothe him.  Stiles’ brow smooths out, and Chris can’t help leaning close to scent him too.  Peter watches him from over Stiles’ shoulder through half-lidded eyes but doesn’t otherwise react.

They’ve learned to share.  Mostly.  Before he knew he was allowed to have this, Chris didn’t think he’d have a problem with it, Peter was with Stiles first, attracted to Stiles quite possibly since the two of them met, inappropriate as that would’ve been, and Chris never even thought of Stiles that way until months into the apocalypse when he looked at Stiles one day and no longer saw just a boy or someone he was indebted to or even that kid who didn’t seem very much a kid at all when Chris threatened him at the hospital way back when and Stiles never once broke eye-contact, never once looked away first, never once stopped challenging him even as he put ice in Chris’ veins with a mere handful of scathing words about what his sister did to the Hales.

And – mostly – he doesn’t, mind that is, but animal instincts aren’t ruled by logic, and sometimes, it’s a little difficult to sort out mate and Pack and Alpha, and then stick Peter into the equation as well, especially when Chris was first turned.  They’re packmates now, and Chris has killed plenty for the other beta, just as Peter’s killed plenty for him, but Peter’s possessive by nature, man and wolf both, and Chris is apparently that way too, even if it’s to a lesser degree, so – sometimes, even now – there can be a bit of tension between them when it comes to Stiles, and not the sexual kind.  Not enough to split their pack of course, if for no other reason than because they won’t do that to Stiles, who holds them together and is pretty much one of the only reasons they even want to live in the hell-on-earth that is today’s world.  So they’ll butt heads and snap at each other, but ultimately, it won’t tear them apart.

Besides, Chris has never hated Peter, and most days, he doesn’t even dislike him anymore, no matter how frustrating Peter can be, and he’s mostly sure Peter feels the same.  There’s a grudging sort of affection that’s managed to grow between them, and considering the family and history they each hail from, they’ve honestly come a very long way from where they first started.

He makes himself comfortable and finally closes his eyes again.  There’s a rustle of sheets as Peter does the same.  Stiles slumbers on peacefully between them.

Chris might as well rest his eyes a little.  He’ll probably need the rest later.

 


 

“These are pretty well-preserved,” Stiles mutters as he picks up a stack of towels, still neatly folded like a frozen snapshot of their old world.  They haven’t even been chewed on by bugs, and the dust can be easily washed away.  He dumps them in the basket by his feet and continues to scan the shelves.

From the a few aisles over, Peter ambles back with an armful of batteries and cellphones.

“You said you’re still experimenting with combining your magic with technology, so I thought we could take a few phones for you to play with,” Peter explains as he puts those in the basket as well.  “And we can always use batteries.”

Stiles nods in agreement and, after a scan of the aisle they’re in, bends down to pick up the basket.  Peter swoops in before he can.  Stiles blinks before rolling his eyes at the innocent look Peter is attempting.  But he lets it go, heading further into the store instead with Peter trailing a step behind him.

At the far end, Chris rounds a corner, glances briefly their way before disappearing again down another aisle, gun held at the ready.  This is almost always how they do their shopping – two of them browse while the third circle around them as a guard, and they rotate regularly.  Or at least Chris and Peter do; the werewolves get antsy whenever Stiles volunteers to guard them, and those shopping trips always end up short and rushed, with both older men insisting that there’s honestly nothing else they want to grab from the shops.

It’s a bit irritating at times but Stiles has learned to live with it.  He can understand why they’re like that – even with his magic and proficiency with both his bat and a firearm, he’s still very much human and therefore susceptible to a zombie’s bite.  The consequences aren’t something any of them cares to think about, which is why it plagues them all the more.  It doesn’t help that the two werewolves are always more protective the few days after a particularly difficult run-in with zombies or survivors or both.

They make their way to the tableware section where most of the plates and bowls are still intact.  Three years and they actually haven’t built up much of a collection since all the breakables they come across have more often than not been smashed to pieces.  So most of their tableware tend to be plastic, which offends Peter something terrible even now, which also explains the way his eyes are lighting up when he sees the undamaged dinnerware.

Stiles snickers and gestures in front of him.  “Why don’t you pick stuff out for us?  I’m gonna go see if there’s any toiletries left that we can use.”

Peter nods distractedly, although he does spare a pointed look Stiles’ way that says he expects Stiles to stay within hearing range.  Stiles rolls his eyes, but he also reels Peter in by the arm to press their cheeks together for a moment, long enough for Peter to rumble out a throaty purr, before letting go again.

It doesn’t take too long for them to comb the rest of the store.  They explore the rest of the mall, joining up with Chris whenever they move on to the next shop.  The place is as preserved as it can be, in the center of a ghost town long abandoned by its people.  They’ve come across pockets of zombies on their way here, but their movements were sluggish and clumsy, starved to the point where even hunger can no longer drive them on, even when they see prey, so it was easy enough to slip past them to get to the mall.

The mall itself makes Stiles feel nostalgic, in a way.  If he ignores the eerie silence, the way their footsteps echo, the sheer emptiness of the building, and the lack of artificial lights, he can almost remember what it felt like to go shopping, back before everything went to hell.  He never thought he would miss the bustle and hassle of something as simple as a shopping trip, but then, he never thought he’d survive high school, fall in love with two men twice his age, or be fighting real-life zombies for a living either.  Although he supposes he didn’t so much survive high school as he never actually finished.  But the other two are true enough.

“Look,” Peter speaks up, pointing at a movie theatre coming up on their right, doors left ajar, ticket booth empty.  He smirks.  “We could go for a proper date.  Movie and a dinner.”

Chris snorts, and Stiles has to grin too, although he can’t help wondering what that would be like.

“I’ve never been on a date,” He admits with a hint of embarrassment when he notices both werewolves’ sudden attention on him.

Chris and Peter share a glance, one that’s almost as startled as it is sad, like they forget sometimes, how young Stiles still was when zombies became a way of life, how many things he had yet to experience – graduation, college, living in a dorm, a job, his first drink at a bar, the right to vote, and so on.

Stiles doesn’t really miss any of that.  Sure, he wonders what it would’ve been like, on occasion, but he’s been to school, he was already earning money by writing essays for college students, and if there’s one thing the Sheriff taught him, it was how to drink his problems away before it was even legal for him to do so.  That, and every law in the book and how to break all of them without getting caught.  Not that that means much anymore of course.

But he doesn’t truly miss it.  He misses shopping for groceries like a normal person, misses playing Dragon Age and marathoning Marvel movies and digging through the internet on one of his research binges.  He misses what he once had, and even those things only creep up on him once in a while, less and less as the years go by.  Nowadays, he has Peter, he has Chris, he has his car, he has his magic, and he has a decent amount of creature comforts to keep them from re-enacting The Walking Dead.  It isn’t how he’d choose to live if there were other – better – options, but it’s an option he didn’t think he’d have when he first fled Beacon Hills with a catatonic hunter and a half-feral werewolf in tow.

“It doesn’t matter,” Stiles says as they walk past the theatre.  After a moment, he reaches out to thread his fingers with Peter’s, and Peter immediately pulls him close.  Chris closes in on his other side until his arm brushes Stiles’.

“I think I’m close to figuring out how to rig my laptop up so we can play movies on it,” He tells them.  “Then you can wine and dine me after watching Pirates of the Caribbean in bed.”

“Sounds like a date,” Peter agrees, and his signature smirk is softer this time despite the teasing edge to it.  “I even grabbed wineglasses today.”

Chris shoots Peter a terribly dry look before glancing at Stiles.  “I saw an HMV on the map when we came in.  We can go pick up some movies before we leave.”

Stiles brightens at this idea.  They don’t actually have any DVDs yet, and if there’s a store that used to sell them in this mall, chances are good that they’ll still be intact.  Most of the merchandise here are.

“The last Harry Potter movie came out right before zombies became a thing,” He informs the other two men gleefully.  “And I didn’t have time to watch it, so we have to get that one.  “Oh, and they made a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie that came out that year, though I heard Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley wouldn’t be in it so I dunno how good it’ll be.  Johnny Depp’s always awesome but my favourite thing was how those three played off each other.  Hell, I wonder if they’re still alive.  But anyway, we can watch it and be judgey about it afterwards.  And then there’s…”

Stiles rambles on, movie after movie that he’d wanted to watch but never had the time to ever since he and Scott stumbled on a dead body in the woods.  And he likes the way Peter and Chris listen to him, maybe not as interested in the topic but listening all the same.  Scott would’ve zoned out by now, Dad too, and nobody else ever listened to Stiles, not really.  Not since Mom got sick.

Stiles can admit – at least to himself – that he likes how attentive his lovers are, how possessively tactile Peter is with his affections as if he’s worried Stiles might stop loving him one day if he does something wrong, how careful Chris is with his as if he still can’t Stiles loves him in the first place, and Stiles doesn’t know if it’s because that’s just the way they treat anyone they love (which would be really fucking sad) or if it’s because they consider him their Alpha, or some other reason entirely, but neither of them seems to notice that Stiles has those exact same dark moments when he’s certain they’ll both leave him behind one day, when he gets too much and they get tired of him, the way everyone in Stiles’ life always does eventually.

It’s probably not healthy, how much they depend on each other, but it’s not like they have anybody else out there in the whole wide world, and anyone who might judge them for their very gay, very polyamorous, and very codependent relationship can fuck right off.  They’ve bumped into other survivors before, ones that don’t try to kill them right away, and if they happen to pick up on what Stiles and Peter and Chris are to each other, there are always plenty of wrinkled noses to go around.  For the most part, the three of them just ignore it.  It’s nobody’s business what they do.  The one time some homophobic asshole actually had the balls to try and shoot them for it, Peter ripped his face clean off.

By the time they leave the mall, shopping baskets filled to the brim, what little sunlight winter allows in post-apocalypse Alberta is already fading with the late afternoon, and it’s started snowing again.  They make their way to their car, Chris and Stiles standing guard this time while Peter takes their newly liberated goods into the trunk.

A few zombies stagger by in the far distance, obscured by the falling snow.  Slumped against the side of the car, Stiles stays alert for any closer threats but he doubts there’ll be any.  It’s a calm, quiet day today.

He reaches out and snags Chris by his belt loops before reeling him in.  Chris moves easily with the motion, something faintly amused in his features even as he settles comfortably into Stiles’ side.

Peter’s head pops back out of the trunk.  “Are you snuggling without me?”

Stiles rolls his eyes, and he doesn’t see it, but he’s willing to bet his left arm that Chris does too.  He turns and presses a swift kiss to Chris’ lips before stepping over to where Peter is climbing back out, kissing him too and then dancing back with a grin before Peter can grab him and turn this into a full-on make-out session.

“Come on,” Stiles produces his keys with a flourish.  “Time to go.  The zombies here seem more or less inactive but I don’t wanna push our luck.”

He slides into the driver’s seat, the back opens for Chris to climb in, and Peter claims the passenger’s side.

“Tease,” Peter growls, and before Stiles can do more than grin again, the werewolf is leaning over to kiss it off him, hot and fervent like he wants to devour him.

So much for no make-out sessions.

Stiles pushes back soon enough, one hand coming up to curl into Peter’s hair, pulling firmly until a whine slips from the werewolf’s throat.  He slides his other hand around the curve of Peter’s neck, scratching lightly over the drum of a racing heartbeat just to feel it jump.  He licks his way out of Peter’s mouth, teeth grazing the man’s bottom lip before finally pulling away.

He hums with pleased satisfaction as he takes in Peter’s blown pupils and swollen lips, all messy-haired and contentedly dazed with lust.  He hasn’t forgotten about Chris though, and when he glances back, it’s to meet Chris’ avid gaze, eyes so dark they’ve swallowed the usual green, so of course Stiles has to reach back there too, and Chris is already moving before Stiles gets a hand around the back of his neck to drag him forward.

This kiss is slower, less frantic, but just as thorough.  Chris shudders when Stiles runs a thumb along the line of his throat, and he makes a protesting noise when Stiles makes to let go so Stiles leaves his hand there, palm flat over the arch of Chris’ neck.  He’s wearing a coat, as is Peter, but the upside of being werewolves is that they can stand colder temperatures without zipping the collar up.

They sit there for a few minutes, just enjoying the companionable silence.  Peter’s twisted around so that he can rest his head on Stiles’ shoulder without too much discomfort while Chris just props an elbow on the shoulder of Peter’s seat and leans into Stiles’ hand.

“We really should go,” Stiles finally breaks the silence, giving Chris’ nape a light squeeze before letting go.  Chris blinks hard but bobs his head in agreement even if he does look furtively disappointed.  Peter on the hand, when Stiles gently shrugs him off, outright pouts.  Which still doesn’t get him his way of course.  Stiles is far too used to the werewolf’s antics to feel anything more than an exasperated sort of fondness.

“We can fuck later,” Stiles promises, eyes lingering on the way Chris’ eyes flare bright blue in the rear-view mirror while Peter inhales deeply and smirks, no doubt picking up their combined arousal but also zeroing in on Stiles’.

Terrible influences, Stiles thinks when Peter makes no move to hide the hard-on underneath his pants, and Chris doesn’t stop staring at him through the mirror, heat lingering in his eyes.

Still.  Stiles wouldn’t want them any other way.  He’ll just have to drive a little faster.

 


 

They don’t really have anything planned today – perk of the apocalypse: you can basically do whatever you want so long as you’re on top of survival – so, much later, after they’ve unpacked what they took from the mall, and after several very kinky, very satisfying rounds of sex, Stiles is lazing in bed again, naked and reading a book while Chris bustles around in the kitchen and Peter dozes on and off, head pillowed on Stiles’ thigh.

“Here,” Chris comes back with three plates of pasta, passing the biggest portion to Stiles.  “Eat all of it, Stiles.”

Stiles huffs somewhat indignantly.  “You know I do have the stamina to keep up with a couple rounds of sex.”

Chris hands him a fork coupled with a stern frown.  “Yesterday was hard though.”  He looks almost rueful.  “We probably shouldn’t have-”

“Oh drop it, Christopher, he doesn’t need you nagging,” Peter grumbles, pushing himself up into a sitting position and grabbing one of the other plates.  Then he nudges Stiles’ arm.  “You do need to eat though, Stiles.”

Stiles rolls his eyes but doesn’t protest.  His two werewolves are as bad as each other.  Still.  Chris has gotten very good at the pasta recipes they have so it isn’t like it’s a hardship to let the man feed him.

“So I was thinking,” Stiles says after swallowing a mouthful of creamy parmesan fettucine.  “We could look for more food tomorrow and maybe the day after too, stock up, then try making it over the mountains?  I know the roads won’t be shovelled but our car can make it through almost anything, and I don’t think there’ll be that many zombies wandering through the mountains either.”

Peter hums thoughtfully, and Chris reaches into their bedside table for a map.

“So British Columbia would be our next stop then,” Chris taps the coastline.  “You want to check out the ocean?”

Stiles absently twirls his fork through his noodles.  In the past three years, they’ve never approached the coast, on either side, having had no reason to.  Only people desperate enough to try and beg for a spot on one of the military’s ships out in the middle of the ocean go there.  But…

“I want to see what the ocean’s like,” Stiles explains.  “If it’s been clogged up and contaminated by zombies like some of the rivers and lakes have been.  We already know water doesn’t kill them.  They just hit bottom and keep walking.  So does that mean… do they just walk out into the sea and sink and keep on walking when they can?  Or is the ocean too deep for them?  What if their bodies start buoying at certain levels?  Dead corpses float after all.  Do they… I dunno, stack up?”

Neither Peter nor Chris are eating anymore.

“You have a terrifying imagination, Stiles,” Peter speaks first, something haunted and grim in his expression.  “You mean to say they might… if enough of them fall into the ocean, more zombies could potentially walk over the ones underneath?”

“The water pressure would probably crush them before that happens,” Chris interjects, although he too looks like he’s reluctantly imagining the worst-case scenario.  “Ocean’s different from inland bodies of water.  Stronger currents, far deeper depths, and killer wildlife, to name a few.  Nature adapts.  We’ve seen dead fish in contaminated waters, but we’ve also seen some that were still swimming even with undead corpses stumbling through.  Some even fed on them and showed no signs of dying or even turning into the swimming dead themselves.  Nature always adapts.  That’s why it always wins.  World’s gone to shit and plants are still growing, animals are still breeding.  It’ll take more than zombies to conquer the oceans.”

“He’s right,” Peter says without even a stab at the usual look of distaste he likes to wear whenever he and Chris agree on the same thing.  “The ocean is just… too big.  Even humans haven’t seen everything that’s down there.”  A half-hearted smirk pulls at his lips.  “Of course, they haven’t seen everything up here either.  At least not until the dead started walking.”

Stiles has to concede that point.  He doesn’t know exactly when, but sometime into the apocalypse, the existence of creatures like werewolves and vampires and other things that go bump in the night pretty much became common knowledge.  The creatures that used to have to hide from human eyes no longer had to, when zombies started attacking, and now, well, some humans have learned to cohabit with the supernatural, and they’re that much safer for it; others attack first and ask questions never.  And most people – supernatural or otherwise, when they see Stiles with two werewolves – automatically think he’s their plaything or sex slave or just general human toy.  They underestimate him, but then, people always have, and Stiles is not above using that to his advantage, even if the lack of respect others show him always makes both his werewolves seethe in their own way.

“I still want to see it,” Stiles decides.  “At the very least, we can check if the military’s still making trips back to the mainland.  I know they’ve probably run out of room on their ships but are they still coming back to kill zombies or whatever?  Or have they totally given up?”

“We can check,” Chris agrees.

“From a distance,” Peter tacks on.

Stiles nods and goes back to his pasta.  “It’s a plan then.”

 


 

They make it over the Rockies and into British Columbia in about a week.  Another couple days after that sees them driving along the coast, the ocean on their right.  The water looks as flat and grey as the skies above, and even from this distance, they can see tiny figures stumbling along the shoreline.  They drive the length of the province and see no ships, even at the harbours.

“Maybe they only drop anchor down in the States,” Stiles suggests doubtfully.  He eyes a huddle of zombies coming up in front of them, the way their rotted heads swing around, mouths gaping, hands grasping at air.  He swerves around them at the last second, and Chris – through the open window – fires off three perfect headshots that put them down for good.

“Or maybe it’s not a pick-up day, or maybe the military just doesn’t do that anymore,” Peter shrugs, adjusting a pair of binoculars.  “I’m more interested in whether or not the zombies are still moving underwater.  I still can’t see from here.”

Stiles makes a face but turns off at the next exit.  “Then I guess we’ll have to get closer.”

They end up actually having to leave the car for a close enough look.  Stiles and Peter both carry firearms these days but Chris is the only one who regularly uses them.  Peter prefers fangs and claws now that they know zombies can’t infect werewolves, although when they’re facing zombies, he does try not to bite them.  The taste is apparently awful, and there’s just something really wrong about getting a mouthful of the undead.  Stiles on the other hand prefers his metal bat even now, long since imbued with magic to strengthen it.  He likes the heft and the way it swings when he bashes in skulls.

They fight their way down to a wet beach stained with blood and partially decomposed corpses, and they leave a trail of twitching bodies behind them.  Fortunately, there aren’t too many zombies so they handle the ones that come at them without any trouble.  They’ve faced worse odds.

“Well,” Stiles says as he stares intently into the waves and icy seawater laps at his boots.  “They don’t seem to be walking underwater or anything.  Most of them get washed back to shore.”

As if to punctuate his point, a breaker dumps a zombie with only one arm back on the beach, and before it can so much as snarl at Stiles, the thing is meeting its end at the end of a bat.

Chris steps up beside him, squinting at the water as well.  There are thin chunks of ice floating in it, although they break apart as soon as they crash against the rocks.

“There are bodies, but they’re not moving,” The hunter mutters.  “And there’s no actual prey within sight so there’s no reason for a zombie to actively wade in.  Any out there were probably just caught by the tide.”

Stiles kicks a severed hand out of the way as he wanders up the beach.  “Good news then.  I was totally expecting the worst.  Maybe zombie rafts or something.”

He catches Chris’ sardonically amused expression and knows the older man was too no matter how logical his earlier argument was.

“Stiles, Chris, come here,” Peter calls from up ahead where he’s climbed up to crouch on a low cliff jutting out into the ocean.  There’s a note of urgency in his voice that has Stiles and Chris both quickening their stride.  Peter gives Stiles a hand up when they reach the cliff, then graciously extends the same to Chris, although most of his attention remains on the ocean.

“Is it just me,” He continues tersely, pointing at a shape in the water.  “Or is that one… trying to swim?”

Stiles stares for a long moment at Peter’s hand, and then mans up and follows the werewolf’s line of sight.  He sure as hell doesn’t want to look but he does.  And… yeah.  Yeah, that’s definitely an animated corpse flailing at water levels that’s too far out for its feet to be able to touch the bottom.  Every once in a while, it sinks out of sight when a wave washes over it, but it resurfaces again and again and again, and every time, the jerky arm motions look less like something being buffeted by the undercurrents with no idea what it’s doing and more like someone dumped in the deep end of a pool with no way out and so is desperate to learn how to swim.

Unlike that someone however, zombies aren’t at risk of drowning when it fails.

None of them say anything.  But Peter’s eyes have chilled to something feral, and Chris looks even paler than Stiles.

Stiles swallows hard, then scoffs out his next breath on a mirthless laugh.  “Looks like I spoke too fucking soon.”  He eyes the zombie for a moment longer.  It isn’t really getting anywhere but, well.  It’s not as if zombies don’t have all the time in the world to learn, right?  “Chris, take the shot.”

Chris doesn’t hesitate, nor does he miss.  For a few seconds, the slate grey of the water darkens with black blood before it too is swallowed by the next wave.

Stiles shuts his eyes for a moment.  Then he turns on his heel.  “We’re leaving.”

They’re back in the car before any of them says another word.

“We should’ve guessed,” Chris says at last, voicing what they’re all thinking.  He sounds wearier than he has in a while.  “There’s already a precedent for it.  They were pretty slow, back at the beginning, from what I remember.  They can keep up with cars now.  They can climb buildings.  Why can’t they swim too?  I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already.”

Peter makes a scathing sound, gaze focused on the window without really seeing the drab scenery on the other side.  “There was always more prey on land, but I think it’s safe to say the world population’s probably been cut by at least half.  And there was easier prey too.  There was no need for the zombies to spread.  But by now, even regular humans have found ways to fight them.  And they’re not even Gerard-levels of intelligent, but their senses have never been average.  Maybe they can sense the people anchored out there, or even hear them.”

“It doesn’t matter either way,” Stiles shakes his head and reaches for the car keys.  “We can’t stop them.  We’re just gonna have to hope it’ll take them a while to actually learn but we can’t stop them from learning.  Just…” He scrubs a hand over his face.  “At least we know now, right?  And it’s not like it changes anything all that much for us.”

And at the end of the day, it doesn’t.  Not really.  The three of them are as safe as they can be.  They have no one else in the world they want to protect except each other, and they can do that fine.

Peter glances over, and his eyes finally thaw to something softer, if also a little resigned.  But he reaches out to take Stiles’ hand, twining their fingers together the way he’s wont to do sometimes, and the tension eases out of his shoulders.

“True,” Peter agrees, hand tightening around Stiles’.  “We’re getting by pretty well.”  He pauses.  “Still have to watch your diet.”

Stiles rolls his eyes hard, especially when he sees Chris nodding along.  But he also reaches back there to take the hunter’s hand, and when he meets Chris’ eyes, it isn’t hard to spot the warm affection in them.

He takes a moment to imagine his life without them, without Peter and Chris at his side, two people he couldn’t give two shits about once upon a time, one he helped kill, the other he honestly considered killing, if only to protect Scott from the man.  He imagines, and he doesn’t think anything – not zombies, not other survivors, not crazy hunters or out-of-control Alphas, not even his own mother – has ever scared him as much as losing these two does.

“Stiles?”  Chris prompts, peering closely at him.  Peter’s doing the same from his seat.

“Nothing,” Stiles summons a smile, and it doesn’t feel fake.  “Nothing.  Just…”

He trails off without finishing, not knowing quite what to say, how to put it in words, how much he loves them and how grateful he is to have them here with him.  They must smell it on him though, because Peter’s whole face lights up with a quiet, surprised kind of joy, and Chris looks at him like the rest of the world could cease to exist and he’d be fine so long as Stiles remained.

“Right then,” He gives their hands one last squeeze before letting go and turning back to the wheel.  “Shall we head North?  We haven’t been up to the Territories yet.”

“Why not?”  Which is as good as agreement from Peter, who’s settling back in his seat and making himself comfortable.

“I’ve never seen the aurora borealis before,” Chris adds, stripping out of his coat as the car’s warming runes begin heating up the interior.

Stiles pulls away from the curb, casting one last glance in the direction of the ocean.  Then he turns his eyes back on the road stretching out before them.

“Neither have I.  But I'm open to new experiences.”

 

Chapter Text

 

1. pipe (preslash, touch-starved)

Stiles curses up a storm as he taps one of the pipes with a wrench.  How it's possible for a magical plumbing system to still have a leak is beyond him.  And he's the one who created the plumbing system in the first place.

With a huff, he squints down at the manual he managed to scrounge up at the last mall passed through.  Maybe it's because he's no engineer - his only experience is a few books and the occasional clogged sink and toilet that needed fixing back in the day, which is apparently not sufficient enough when attempting to magick up an entire bathroom in the trunk of his car - and so he probably missed at least a few important details in the process.  Apparently magic can only cover so much before his lack of knowledge carries over.

Which really sucks.  If a pipe bursts, the place will flood, and Stiles is going to be the unfortunate bastard who will have to fix that too.

With a sigh, he touches a finger to the pipe, and with a snap of his magic, all the screws tighten up a bit more.  The trickle of water ebbs to a drip, and he supposes that will have to be good enough for now.

He wriggles back out from underneath the maze of pipes and pointedly shuts the door behind him, making the executive decision to save this problem for another day.  If he can't see it, maybe it'll fix itself.

He walks back out to the trunk's main area, grimacing at the bare walls that greet him.  He's still trying to work out how to anchor furniture in here without the stuff either sliding around when they're driving or falling through the floor because the pocket dimension he's carved out isn't quite stable enough for physical objects to inhabit it long-term.

He pauses and eyes the walls again.  He's checked it religiously ever since he made it, and while parts of it tends to fold like a soggy tent, there's been no sign of it collapsing completely yet.

Here's to hoping it won't.  That would be embarrassing.  Survived the zombies but killed by his own trunk.

He makes his way over to the ladder and clambers up and out, shutting it behind him before stretching out the kinks in his muscles.

"Finished for now?"

Stiles glances to the right where Peter is approaching from the treeline behind him.  He has firewood with him, which he deposits next to the bed of dirt that will be their source of warmth for the night.  They've checked, and as far as they can see, there aren't any zombies nearby, so at least they'll be able to eat some freshly cooked meat tonight.

"For now," Stiles nods, rubbing the back of his neck to try and relieve the cramp there.  He's always tired after using a bit too much of his magic, and after today - first dealing with a group of humans demanding toll of all things on the highway, and then working on his car for the rest of the afternoon - he feels ready to sleep for the rest of the week.

Peter clicks his tongue and prods Stiles into one of the camping chairs they poached from SportChek just a week ago.  "You're working too hard."

Stiles shrugs even as he leans back and closes his eyes.  "It's better than sleeping in the car all the time.  Safer too.  Or it will be once I get it right."

Peter hums noncommittally, and then fingers brush the back of his hand.  Stiles' eyes slit open to look at the werewolf who's taken a seat beside him, a good half-foot between their chairs.

"May I?"  He offers, and after a moment of squinting, Stiles nods and shuts his eyes again, almost groaning out loud when the aches in his body is dulled and then leeched out entirely, leaving him limp and more relaxed than he's been all week.

A crunch of boot on dirt signals Chris' return, and Stiles blinks lazily at the man quietly taking a seat on a third chair opposite them before pulling out a knife to begin skinning the rabbits he brought back.  He's still a little gaunt from his months of near-comatose fugue state but his eyes are alert and his hands are steady as they work.

He doesn't say anything, even if he does meet Stiles' gaze briefly.  Peter is quiet too, and even now, their silence is odd.  Well, Peter's is, although Chris' silence is tenser now, and far less vacant.  Peter though, there was a time - less than three months ago really - when Peter couldn't go three hours without snarling at Chris, all angry insults and harsh mockery.  At Stiles too for that matter, and all the more of both the longer he received none of the fight he was looking for in return.  These days, well, there's still the occasional barb or sneer thrown in the hunter's direction, but it's more subdued than anything, while Chris - if still not particularly talkative - at least responds with an eyeroll or a dry retort, and Stiles would have to be a lot more oblivious than he is to not notice the way they check with him, always, as if worried they might have gone too far.  Peter does it more often than Chris, but Chris hovers more, practically living in Stiles' shadow whenever they have to leave the car.

It's gotten better, especially now that Stiles is no longer bedridden and shedding too much weight from sickness with no appetite to counter it, but it's still awkward, and a bit like walking on ice that you're not sure will take your weight.  He supposes it will just take time for all of them to relearn how they fit together.

The black veins in Peter's hand fade to grey before finally tapering off.  Stiles watches drowsily as the werewolf retracts his limb with a flex of his fingers, and for a moment, he misses the warmth.  If there was one good thing about near-death by pneumonia, it was probably… well, that he got cuddled a lot.  He's man enough to admit it.  He can't remember much during the worst of it, but near the end, when he still had a fever but it was mild enough to let him remain relatively lucid most of the time, he remembers being pampered, wet cloths on his forehead and being bundled in soft blankets and two warm bodies pressed against his when his lungs kept him up all night.

Nobody's really touched him in a long time, not with any amount of kindness.  Dragging Chris around and dunking him in showers when he was lost in his own head certainly didn't count.  So being fussed over when he was sick, even if it got a bit annoying from time to time once he really started getting better, was a novelty that he could've gotten used to.

But once he was back on his feet, Chris and Peter stopped, pulled back, began putting distance between them again.  Well, not physically; they follow him around something ridiculous these days, as if taking their eyes off Stiles might make him disappear into thin air.  But they only really touch him when Peter offers to take his pain or Chris hands him something and their fingers happen to brush.  Stiles thought Peter at least might be more tactile, being a werewolf and all, and no longer halfway feral and pissed off at the world, but even he hasn't tried anything of the sort.

Not because he doesn't want to though, Stiles thinks, catching - not for the first time - the surreptitious wistful glance that the werewolf is currently slanting at him even as he tucks back into himself, not taking up any more room than strictly necessary, their chairs still the same respectable distance from each other.

Chris is harder to read.  Even now, setting the rabbit meat aside and stooping to get the fire going, he's as impassive as stone.  Still…

Stiles shuts his eyes again.  A problem for another day.  Maybe he'll start letting Peter scent him.  Maybe he'll coax Chris into conversation more often, and about something other than how their next raid on a store will go.

Maybe.

 


 

2. tongue (nsfw, blowjobs, shower sex, steter, pre-stetopher)

Peter whimpers, claws slip-sliding against the cool tile at his back.  Down below, on his knees, Stiles flicks his tongue through the precome leaking steadily from Peter's cock, smiling slyly when he glances up and sees the gorgeous image Peter makes - the flush in his cheeks and the extra glow in his eyes, the shaky breath he draws and the flash of fangs in his mouth.

Peter catches his eye and huffs out something that's half-laugh, half aroused frustration.  "You terrible tease."

Stiles hums wordlessly, then abruptly wraps  his lips around the head of Peter's cock and sucks.  A strangled cry wrenches itself from Peter's throat, and his hips thrust forward again, but he doesn't get very far with that this time than he has any of the previous times, not when Stiles' hands are there, reinforced with magic and effortlessly pinning him against the shower wall.

For a few seconds, Stiles busies himself with suckling on Peter's dick, erratic pulses with the occasional graze of teeth against flesh, but never taking more than just the tip as he listens to the slightly frantic jumble of both swearwords and pleas that Peter is muttering with increasing fervency under his breath.  By the time Stiles pulls off, the werewolf's chest is heaving, and even half-lidded, there's a noticeable wildness in his eyes, their pupils blown wide and dark.

Stiles grins, feeling distinctly smug at being able to reduce Peter to this.  He laps at Peter's cock again and feels it jerk against his tongue.  It's such a pretty cock, thick and hard and so desperately red after all the time Stiles has spent playing with it.  It has to have been at least thirty minutes by now, and he's taken the werewolf to the edge at least three times but never quite far enough to let him come.  It's driving Peter mad, and Stiles loves it.

"Stiles," Peter growls around too-sharp teeth.  "If you don't get on with it-"

Stiles leans forward and slides Peter's dick into his mouth again, this time not stopping until he can feel it in his throat, edging on too much before he swallows the urge to choke and ends up swallowing around Peter as well.  Not surprisingly, Peter breaks off mid-sentence, voice cracking with a hoarse shout as claw-tipped fingers tangle in Stiles' hair.  At the same time, Stiles finally releases Peter's hips, and Peter wastes no time grinding forward and holding Stiles' head down as he comes, his cock twitching in Stiles' throat, his thighs trembling under Stiles' palms, and another far more animal snarl shakes the heat-damp air around them.

Stiles swallows most of it before easing off and licking his lips.  A last spurt of come splashes on his cheek, and when he looks up again, Peter's watching him with something very close to reverence.  Stiles grins cheekily up at him.  "Well you did say get on with it.  So impatient, Peter."

His voice comes out ruined in a way that makes Peter smirk, wolffish and satisfied.  The hand in Stiles' hair goes lax but Peter's other hand rises - clawless again - and thumbs away the come on Stiles' face, only to bring it to his lips.  Stiles sucks it into his mouth, gaze holding Peter's, and the werewolf's lips part again with a breathless moan.

A moment later, Stiles is being hauled to his feet and reeled in for a kiss, filthy and hungry, and he finds himself switching places, pressed against the wall this time as Peter breaks the kiss with a last flick of his tongue over Stiles' swollen bottom lip before dropping to his knees.

"Let's see if you won't be afflicted with the same impatience, darling," Peter purrs before diving in.

Stiles laughs, gives half a thought for both wasted water and Chris still waiting for his turn in the shower, and then he loses that too as Peter proceeds to deliver on his word with an enthusiastic blowjob.

 


 

3. tea (domestic fluff)

Chris has always been an early riser.  He's not sure if that stems from never being allowed to sleep in, always up early for training from the moment he could walk, or if it's something that would've been true even if he hadn't been born Gerard Argent's son, but he's long used to it by now, and he even enjoys it most days.  There's a quiet kind of peace that only exists when the first rays of dawn are just peaking over the horizon, even in the world they currently live in.

It's mid-February, or thereabouts.  They've parked in the middle of nowhere high in the Rocky Mountains, and - sitting on the makeshift seat at the top of the trunk's ladder - he gets a perfect view of the sunrise.  Fields of undisturbed snow pillow the ground and trees and sloping mountain ranges as far as the eye can see, and a crisp winter chill settles in his lungs with every breath he takes.

There's a rustle from somewhere down below, and then a sleep-thick voice makes grumbly noises at him until Chris quirks a fond smile and reaches down to take the tea tray held out for him.  A moment later, Stiles pops up beside him, hair sticking up in all directions and barefoot but at least wrapped in a blanket shawl.

"You should at least put on some socks," Chris sighs, but he helps Stiles into the free space beside him and simply covers Stiles' feet with his own blanket as the younger man curls up and goes right back to sleep.

Chris rolls his eyes but says nothing as he tucks Stiles closer into his side, one arm resting around Stiles' waist underneath the shawl, his other nudging out the little table attached to the seat so that he can set the tray down.  Two steaming mugs of tea sit neatly on top of it, and Chris has never been much of a tea-drinker - it was mostly coffee for him - but they stumbled on an intact teashop with a large selection in stock a couple weeks back, and Peter insisted on cleaning the place out.  Apparently, the other werewolf is a tea-drinker.  Chris could go without, but he does find himself fairly partial to the various types of rooibos teas that somehow taste extra good in the morning.  It's what Stiles got him today, some blend Chris can't name but enjoys all the same as he takes slow sips from one of the mismatched mugs they've managed to collect over the years.

It's about twenty minutes before Stiles stirs again.  Unlike Chris, he isn't so much an early riser as he is an anytime riser, depending on how late he slept, how bad his nightmares and/or unpredictable bouts of insomnia are, and how tired he is in general.  There are days when he sleeps later than Peter, who is most definitely not a morning person.  And there are days when he doesn't sleep at all, reading in bed long after Chris and Peter have drifted off, and up and tending to the plants by the time Chris opens his eyes again.

It's not healthy, but so far, none of them have found a solution to the problem, so the best they can do is make sure Stiles at least rests when it looks like he needs it.

At the moment, Stiles cracks a yawn before peering at his surroundings with fuzzy eyes.  A pale hand appears from beneath the shawl, and with a flick of a wrist, gold runes flash into existence all around them, swirling in a circle before disappearing just as quickly and leaving the temperature a good twenty degrees higher.  Stiles shrugs out of the shawl, leaving him in pants and a shirt, perfectly content now that the wind can no longer reach them.

Chris shakes his head and does the same, shucking the blankets around his own shoulders before passing Stiles the other cup of tea.  Even after all this time, it still amazes him how easily magic comes to Stiles these days.

(Worries him too, because what if one day Stiles tries to do too much?)

"Awake?"  He enquires after Stiles downs half the tea in his mug.

"Mmm," Stiles grunts, rubbing a hand over his face.  "Kind of."

Chris chuckles.  "You could've stayed in bed with Peter."

Stiles shrugs and leans into him again, relaxing fully when Chris wraps an arm around his shoulders.  "Didn't wanna.  You weren't there."

Chris blinks and says nothing, wouldn't know what to say anyway, but sometimes, when Stiles tosses out things like that - "You weren't there." - offhand and certain, like it's a perfectly good reason to drag himself out of bed just to go find where Chris has wandered off to, it still sends a warm, quiet thrill through him.  There were times, at the beginning, even after they'd cleared up a few things, when Chris had wondered if maybe he was only invited into bed with Stiles because of pity or even awkwardness at the fact that Chris had been left out of this one aspect of their already ridiculously intertwined lives.  He was even older than Peter after all, a washed-out hunter and an Argent to boot; he could fight, yes, but so could Peter, and there was always a connection between Stiles and Peter that Chris could never slot himself into, built on a shared love of research and thirst for knowledge, on effortless banter and the same snarky wit, and even on an ambiguous moral code that mirrored each other's so well that at times it was like they were one person in two bodies.

Chris isn't like that.  He'll hit the books as hard as the next person, but only to the point of learning what he needs to in order to survive the next disaster.  He likes reading, but the research binges Stiles and Peter tend to get lost in for hours on end just make him restless.  He likes to think he shares their sense of humour, deadpan sarcasm comes easily to him, but more often than not, he also prefers saying nothing at all while listening to Stiles and Peter's easy verbal spars.  And moral code - well, alright, now that he's no longer deluding himself and Gerard isn't looming over his shoulder all the time, he can admit that he probably has as much qualms about killing as Stiles and Peter do, especially in the world they now live in.  He doesn't like killing, not the way Gerard and Kate did, but he'll do it when it's necessary, and he won't bat an eye over it.  But that stems from duty, from - again - doing what's necessary.  Putting a bullet in some gun-wielding maniac trying to ambush them for their own twisted pleasure isn't something he'll ever lose sleep over, because Chris doesn't believe people like that deserve to live.  Stiles and Peter are… similar, but where Chris will kill someone because what they're doing is wrong, Stiles and Peter will kill that same someone only if they commit that wrong against their pack.  It's a small difference, perhaps, but it's a significant one all the same, and it only serves to compound the fact that Stiles and Peter share something - a lot of things - that Chris just doesn't have in him.

But that kind of self-doubt was years ago, before Stiles coaxed him into a relationship with a single-minded determination to keep him, and before Chris realized that when Stiles decides to love someone, he loves with everything he has, all his cards on the table, all in, fearless like he doesn't know how easily the heart can shatter.  Chris doesn't react to things the way Peter does, but that - as he's come to find out - is fine because Stiles never treats him like he expects it.  For someone who's never been in a romantic relationship before the two of them, Stiles knows how to do it right.  There were - are - things he and Peter have that Chris isn't a part of, but likewise, Chris has found things to share with Stiles that Peter doesn't particularly care for either.

Like watching sunrises at the crack of dawn on early winter mornings.

A finger pokes him in the ribs, and he glances down to find Stiles squinting admonishingly at him.  "You're thinking too hard.  Stop that."

Chris snorts but obliges and focuses his mind on the present again instead.  He glances out at where the distant mountains are glowing faintly with winter sunlight, and then the skies above them, streaked pale blue and soft orange.  A flock of birds take flight from a nearby tree, and they both watch them spiral up into the air before winging their way north.

Chris leans back, tugging Stiles with him, a mug of tea in his lap.  Neither of them says anything else as they watch the sun come up.

 


 

4. ring (angst, emotional hurt/comfort)

"Christopher," comes Peter's voice, heavy with sarcasm and a terse sort of frustration.  When Chris looks up, he finds the werewolf already watching him, eyes cold, a derisive curl at his lip.

Chris bites back the burn of an insult.  He doesn't know what he's done this time to irritate Peter but he doesn't have the energy to figure it out today.  "Not now, Peter."

If anything, that just makes the sneer on Peter's face more pronounced, but before the werewolf can say anything else, a hand clasps his shoulder from behind, a brief touch that lingers only long enough for Stiles' lean frame to drop down beside him.  Peter remains standing for a moment longer before he scoffs and moves around them to take a seat on Stiles' other side, one arm already reaching out to wind around their Alpha's waist.

For a moment, nobody says anything else.  Peter seems content to lean into Stiles, Stiles is staring absently ahead, and Chris has to grit his teeth against the instinctive leave that's clogging his throat.  Peter is one thing; Stiles is quite another.

"It's okay, you know," Stiles says at last, and Chris goes still.  "I don't mind."

Chris' gaze falls to his hands again, and the glint of gold on his finger seems too bright all of a sudden.

"I-" Stiles starts, then stops, and then starts again, measured and strangely flat.  "My dad… never stopped wearing his either, you know.  And people… people cope with grief in different ways."  He slants a glance down at Chris' hands.  "Some people want reminders, some people don't.  My dad was sort of both.  He kept his wedding ring but he threw out pretty much everything else.  The only reason he didn't drive my jeep - my mom's jeep - to the salvage yard or something was cuz I locked myself inside and wouldn't come out for like five hours until his hangover got too much and he couldn't yell anymore."

Chris stares, not quite sure what to say.  Peter remains silent as well, features unmoving as if they've been carved from ice.

Stiles just shrugs.  "Like I said, different coping methods.  My dad drowned himself in alcohol and work, you disappeared into your head, Peter went nuts.  Both times."

Peter snorts but doesn't refute it.  There's something brittle and bitterly amused in the line of his mouth though, and when Stiles reaches over and twines their hands together, Peter presses in that much closer.

Chris… still isn't sure what to say.  If it was Allison, he could do comfort, but Stiles is very much not Allison, and thinking about his lover and Alpha in any kind of his child capacity is something he very much does not want to even consider.

He thumbs the band of his ring.  "…You cope fine."

And he thinks Stiles does, always has; Stiles is one of the strongest people Chris has ever met.  Somehow, the younger man always seems to find the strength to keep going no matter how hard things get.  He mourns, yes, and the grief ages him, but still he shoulders the weight and walks like he doesn't even feel it, and if there's one thing that Chris both respects and envies him for, it would be this.

But Stiles just huffs out a half-hearted laugh and shakes his head.  "I cope by looking after people, Chris, and yeah, that sounds all nice and selfless but not really.  My mom died, and I pretty much spent the next six years taking care of the house and obsessing over my dad's health.  I did the cooking, I did the cleaning, I made sure my dad didn't choke on his own vomit after he passed out drinking on the couch the few times he could bear to look at me long enough to come home, and I pretended everything was absolutely fine because I couldn't handle my family not being fine.  Then I had to kill him, and I had to kill my mom's undead corpse, and I spent the four months after that dragging you and Peter around and making sure none of us kicked the bucket because I needed you two to keep me sane.  And I suppressed everything else underneath that and just tried not to think about it until I couldn't not think about it anymore.  So you could actually say I didn't cope at all, and it wasn't any healthier than what you or Peter or even my dad did."

It's the most Stiles has ever said about his reasons for not ditching Chris and Peter during the early months of the apocalypse - Chris half-thinks Stiles doesn't even know all the reasons himself - and Chris is reminded all over again that Stiles is… still very young, for all that nobody who knows him would accuse him of being too young for anything.  The echo of Stiles' rambling words ring in his ears, and for a moment, all he can think of is a child clinging on to the only things he can in a world that's shown him one tragedy after another and very little else.

He doesn't offer apologies or useless assurances.  He doesn't even voice his opinion on the former sheriff of Beacon Hills, although he thinks he understands now the flicker of contempt that darkens Peter's expression whenever Stiles mentions his father, never where Stiles can see it but there all the same.  He thinks he understands too why Stiles has never seemed to blame him for mourning Allison for so long, why he even seems to almost approve at times, why he looks wistful on the few occasions Chris talks about his daughter - where Stilinski checked out after his wife died because apparently his kid wasn't enough to stick around for, Allison was all the reason Chris needed to keep going after Victoria.

He doesn't say any of that of course.  He understands love and all its complications, especially when it concerns family.  Peter probably understands too, and that's why he hasn't made his own opinion known, when normally, he wouldn't hesitate.  Besides, their families are all… mostly dead and… mostly buried.  No sense digging all the extra baggage up when they have enough issues between them as it is.

He looks down at his ring again.  "It's not… just that.  I was just thinking…" He trails off again, because he's never been as good with words as Stiles and Peter are, never been… brave enough perhaps to convey emotion out loud.

"Love isn't finite," Stiles says abruptly, and there's a slightly embarrassed flush to his cheeks, but at the same time, he sounds almost exasperated, like this should be obvious.  Chris blinks at him, startled.

"I don't think love is finite," Stiles repeats.  "I think every person has as much or as little love to give as they need.  Just because you still love your wife doesn't mean you have to forget about her to love someone else."  He bumps his shoulder against Chris'.  "If you don't want to take it off, then don't force yourself to take it off.  It's your way of remembering.  So long as you're not doing something stupid like using me as some kind of weird fill-in for your wife or something, it's fine."

Despite the topic of conversation, Chris does have to snort at that.  "I don't think that will be a problem," He says dryly.  "You're nothing like Victoria."

Stiles makes a face but doesn’t actually say anything.  He's never said a bad word about Victoria even though Chris knows he'd be fully in his rights considering she didn't make anywhere near a… decent impression on him.  Considering she nearly killed Scott, and was prejudiced against supernatural creatures in general and werewolves in particular, Chris can't exactly begrudge him for any negative feelings towards her.

"I'm just saying," Stiles says, bringing their conversation back around.  "You don't have to worry about stuff like that.  Just… take your time.  It's not like there's any rush."

Chris rubs at the warm metal, then straightens with a sigh, hand dropping away from the ring.  "I will, one day.  Take it off.  Just…"

Stiles rolls his eyes and jostles his shoulder again.  "Like I said, no rush.  So quit brooding about it, alright?"

Chris doesn't have to work to hear the worry there, and all he can do is nod.  Nod and curl a tight hand around Stiles' when the younger man reaches for him.  He doesn't have to wonder what would've happened to him without Stiles around; he'd be long dead, and maybe that's something he wanted once upon a time, but these days, he can't find it in himself to be anything but grateful.

He looks once, over Stiles' head, at Peter, who glances back coolly before ducking his head to scrape his beard along Stiles' cheek, scenting him and making Stiles grumble about beard burn even though he does nothing to push Peter away.

Chris thinks he might understand this too, Peter's annoyance with him when he gets like this.  Peter Hale is a lot of things, but top amongst them is that terrifying capacity for devotion once he deems someone worthy of it.  Peter has his own ties to the past, he's technically lost more people than Chris and Stiles combined, and considering the lengths he was willing to go to avenge them after saving them was no longer possible, it's probably safe to say he loved them just as fiercely too no matter the grudges and resentment Chris has gleaned from the way Peter talks about them sometimes.

But here and now, Stiles has earned everything Peter has to give, and so he devotes all of himself to Stiles, and nothing else is more important.  The way Chris gets mired in guilt and memories is probably something Peter doesn't even understand.  The past is the past and it'll always be there, but Peter is built in a way that lets him leave it there where it belongs.  In a way, the werewolf's laid all his ghosts to rest, if only because he has no use for their continued existence.

Stiles does understand though, despite the fact that he's probably more like Peter in this regard.  They compartmentalize the same way; Chris apparently doesn't.

"Come on," Stiles elbows both of them before rising to his feet and dragging them up after him.  "Let's get back inside.  Early night in sounds pretty good right now, doesn't it?"

He smiles at both of them, and he has yet to let go of either of their hands.  Chris lets himself focus on that, on their pack bond and the warmth of Stiles' palm pressed against his own.

The ring is still a weight on his finger, but at least for now, it doesn't feel as heavy.