It's the worst Monday in existence, one hour to waste until lunch. Stiles is calculating how much soda he needs to pour on his control panel in order to short-circuit his floor's entire system network when his computer shows an incoming comm. He flips on his headset.
"Hello," says Stiles.
"Stiles," says his father's voice.
Stiles hangs up.
Three seconds later, the call comes again. Stiles reroutes it to voicemail.
"Hey, you've reached the desk of the one and only, Stiles Stilinski. If this is Scott, just come find me, it's faster. If this is about the Craigslist ad, that was a poorly executed prank made by an asshole named Jackson Whittemore and I have the records to show I'm not a child molester. Please don't call me again. Anything else, leave your message after the beep, and I'll get back to you later. Thanks!" Beep.
"Stiles," says his father. "Thank you for being ridiculously immature. Ignoring me isn't going to accomplish anything. Pick up the comm. I'll wait."
Stiles takes out a box of paper clips and starts unbending them into straight wires. He's on his third when his dad heaves a labored sigh and says, "Stiles. Right now." Two more paper clips are geometrically deconstructed under Stiles' awesome might, and finally his dad says, "Aw, hell, come on, kiddo. You know I'm sorry about this. But it's out of my hands and there's nothing I can d—"
Stiles picks up the line. "Bullshit! I'm calling bullshit."
The screen in the center of Stiles' dashboard flickers on and his dad's face appears, looking by far too pale, which Stiles hopes is due more to a bad graphic link than because his dad hasn't had a good night's sleep in over two weeks. Or maybe he's just fed up trying to deal with Stiles' distinct lack of sympathy for the situation; he does sound rather harried when he replies, "So let's get something straight. This caught all of us unaware. Seriously, Stiles, do you think I can control the weather around here?"
"Someone up there is supposed to," Stiles mutters, snidely.
His dad plows on, ignoring him. "—and that I specifically arranged for a lunar storm to blow in a new strain of eco-virus in time to hinder the once-a-year visit from my only son?"
"No," admits Stiles, "but you could let me come anyway."
"Out of the question. You haven't even gotten your basic shots this year."
"I'm getting them! I have an appointment with Deaton tomorrow! I'll be ready for next week!"
"It's a new strain, Stiles. There is no vaccine yet."
"When are you going to get one, then?"
Another long sigh. His dad shuffles through some notes on his desk, which is less of a desk than a communal attempt of loose, stacked papers to return to their natural pre-processed state of forest trees. "Well, that new scientist, Morrell, who got sent up here last quarter, she said something about the earliest anti-v test results in three weeks. So, we're talking one month from now, earliest."
"A whole month?" Stiles explodes. "How long do you expect this storm to last?"
From the other end of the room, Greenberg makes a loud shushing sound. Stiles flips him off and turns back to his vid-screen, where his dad's frowning at a fully loaded clipboard.
"Meteorology reports are saying at least six weeks. It's a heck of a storm, Stiles."
"Yeah, I know," Stiles says, mulishly. "I saw the news bulletin."
"Ah, so you are just projecting your frustration onto me."
Stiles pulls a face. "Don't make it sound like you're some martyr here."
"I'm working ten hour shifts. I'm on three separate committees. I'm in charge of making daily perimeter sweeps to all our air tanks since Charlie hasn't come back from his vacation yet. The greenies are still on my back about our waste disposal procedures. Journalists and kooks keep on nagging for progress reports for things that don't exist yet and don't give up their hounding until I talk them down, which can take hours. The Copernicus terraforming team is due to arrive in as little as a week, and I just got a notice telling me that they can't reschedule. The one thing I was truly looking forward to this year, a visit from my son, now can't happen because a strange alien germ can infect the entire compound at a moment's notice, and it's either deal with it or abort this entire year's atmosphere development project. And you're saying I don't deserve a little slack?"
"I refuse to feel guilty about this," says Stiles, even though now he totally is.
His dad's expression turns chagrined and he shakes his head. "I'm not asking you to feel guilty. I just want you to understand that you staying safe on Earth would lessen one huge thing on my ever-growing list of worries. Got me, kid?"
"Gotcha," mutters Stiles. He swipes the paperclips off his desk blindly. The way that his dad's headset is sitting slightly crooked over his head, as if he put in on too haphazardly and couldn't be bitched to fix it, is making Stiles' hands itch to straighten it out for him. "Hey dad," Stiles says. "You're doing good work up there. I—I should tell you that more often."
A few of the wrinkles that line his father's face soften. His shoulders slump as he leans back in his chair. "Thanks, Stiles. That's—nice to hear. Thanks. I know it's tough, but—" Something beeps from his desk and he swears, sitting back up and slapping at random piles of desk litter to locate the perpetrator. "Sorry, I think I'm needed somewhere. Let's talk tomorrow. Since you can't come this quarter, we'll see if we can arrange something for early next year. That okay with you?"
"Sure dad," says Stiles.
"Oh, and one last thing," his dad adds, wincing. "We're stocking up on our general supplies in case this storm really hits us hard, so we need to send an emergency convoy. Can you send us an extra food shipment by 1700 today?"
"Today? You're ruining my vacation and giving me more work?! You know that stuff's not in my job description, right?"
The beeping is becoming frantic; his dad looks two seconds from brandishing his lasergun to shoot up his entire office. Stiles really does not envy the man.
"Fine, god. I'll get it done. But don't send—"
"Great, I'll let Derek know. Take care of yourself, kiddo. See you, love you." His dad logs off and the vid screen goes black.
Stiles starts at the blank abyss; his own tumultuous reflection glares back at him.
"I hate everything," he says.
When foul mood strikes, find Scott.
As his cursed luck would have it, the search takes Stiles longer than usual because Scott isn't in any of his usual lurking spots. There are no exaggerated war cries from the hologram room on level five, no mop of black hair bent over a plate of food in the cafeteria on level four, no bouncing laughter from the trampolines in the gymnasium on level three. Stiles is near the end of his rope when he practically barrels into Scott, who's rounding a corner from the hallway leading up to administration on level two.
"Scott, holy fuck, where have you been all morning? I called you a billion times and—"
"Yeah, I know, I kept feeling my phone buzzing. Sorry, I got called into this meeting and couldn't pick up—"
Stiles grabs Scott's shoulders. "Do you know what happened? I got this email from my dad this morning, and there's this charged moondust storm about to hit the compound; it's going to take over a huge blotch of the near-side and is supposed to last for weeks. My dad said I'm not allowed to go on the trip! Forbade me, Scott. Grounded me. Can you even believe this shit? I'm not sixteen anymore. I'm qualified, I'm trained, I'm going to get my stupid shots, and he's still like, no, Stiles, you can't—I'm so pissed off. The universe totally hates me because today has just been one bad thing to worse and—wait, you're smiling. What's—why are you smiling?"
Scott is beyond smiling. He's full out beaming. Stiles is squinting just from looking at him.
"Dude," says Scott. "You'll never guess! I got picked for the new terraforming squad they want to send up next week! I'm going lunar! Awesome or what?"
Stiles stares. "Oh my god, I hate everything."
"Aw, come on, man," says Scott, patting Stiles on the back with one hand while his other concentrates on shovelling food into his mouth. Stiles lets out an agonized sound to let Scott know just how unhelpful he's being on the let's-comfort-Stiles-and-his-shitty-life front, but it's mostly muffled by his hoodie. His own lunch sits in front of him on the cafeteria table, untouched.
"You planning to suffocate yourself?" asks Scott.
Stiles peels the hood away from his face. "It wouldn't even make a difference. I'm already suffocating here on Earth anyway."
Scott laughs. "But the Moon's where there's no oxygen, dummy."
"It's a metaphor, Jesus. A metaphor for my extreme distress at being stranded here in Beacon fucking Hills, alone, while you get to rocket up to MS3 and bounce around in your spacesuit and plant awesome bioforms in fucking Moon rock. Scott," Stiles pleads, "you've got to sneak me onto your ship. Please, dude. I can squeeze into your suitcase or something."
"No way, your dad would shoot me into the sun. Look, it sucks, I know, but just wait till next quarter, I'm sure he'll make it up to you."
Stiles pulls his hoodie back over his head and into the fabric, groaning the groan of the truly affronted. "Four months?!"
"What's the big deal, anyway? It's not like you haven't been up there before. You've gone literally every year since your dad got posted."
"That's the point. I go every year and it's, like, the only exciting thing that happens to me all year. It’s Christmas and Halloween and Thanksgiving and my birthday all rolled into one. It's what makes all this dead time here on Earth bearable. It's like, it's like—what if I told you that you were only allowed to play in zero-G once a year, and the rest of the time you have to wear these weights on your ankles. And you count down the days until you can take off your weights and go into zero-G, and the week before you can, some douche screws up the simulator by spilling a bag of chips in the aircraft engines."
Scott scratches his chin and his eyebrows furrow. "Yeah, pretty shitty."
"Okay, come over to my dorm later. We'll see if you can fit in my suitcase. I'll tuck socks around your head so you won't break your face during the trip."
Scott punches his arm. "What do you want me to do? I'm under contract to go wherever the bosses send me, whether it's Mount Everest or the Mariana Trench or outer space. You're technically under contract to stay at your desk and mess with numbers and wires. Just because your dad's sheriff of the biggest compound on the Moon doesn't mean that you get freebie trips up there whenever you want."
"By all means, rub it in."
"If it makes you feel better, I've got to get, like, a zillion shots every day for a week starting this afternoon, just to protect against this dumb virus thing. I have to be put to sleep during some of them." Scott shudders. "It's totally lame. Everyone knows there's only a one in some whatever-thousand chance that people can get sick from it."
Stiles perks up. "Hey, yes, you're right. It's probably just going to decimate another crop field or something and then drift off into space." He jumps out of his seat and tugs at Scott's arm. "Scott, you need to call up my dad. Say to him what you just said to me."
"That's not going to work," says Scott. "It could be a one-in-a-million chance and he still won't go for it, since it's you. Also, I've got training, in—" he glances at his watch, "shit, right now. I'm out of here." He stuffs the rest of his apple into his mouth and gathers his tray. "Try to at least eat half of that," he says, nodding at Stiles' pristine meal. "Think of your poor dad, who hasn't eaten a real burger in who knows how long."
"This doesn't qualify as a real burger either," Stiles reminds him, then jolts: food. The supply shipment for this afternoon. Shit. He forgot. He drops his face into his hands and swallows a scream.
"What's wrong?" Scott asks, alarmed.
"I really, really hate my life right now."
"Hey, cheer up. I'll bring over some beer tonight. We can watch some horror films and you can give mean commentary."
Stiles drops his head onto the back of his chair and eyes Scott warily. "You won't tell me to shut up?"
"Done. Eight o'clock? I'll get the pizza."
Scott grins. "Got it. Okay, wish me luck! I'm not going to let Jackson hog the spotlight this time." He picks up his tray and bag and dashes off.
Stiles stares after him. "JACKSON'S GOING TOO?" he hollers, and Scott half-turns to give him a feeble shrug before running out of the caf.
His watch beeps 1330. Lunch time is officially over. Stiles takes a few bites of his burger and fries, but all he can taste is his own unsavory bitterness. He's not looking forward to the rest of the day.
His office is located on sub-level six of the National Terra-Caeli Colonization Organization's (or NTCCO, for short) Terra Nullius department, Aeronautics division, in Northern California, also affectionately referred to by Stiles as the sixth circle of hell. Growing up in Beacon Hills, he'd thought that going off to college would afford him a one-way ticket out of his boring and infuriatingly-familiar hometown forever, but evidently life was keen on having the last laugh. As soon as Stiles graduated from MIT, aerospace engineering diploma firmly stapled behind his name, he applied to NASA, the ISS, all the big English-speaking space corps, and got accepted immediately into NTCCO, partly due to his resume, and partly due to his last name. Stiles had been okay with that, because hey, when your dad was one of the top candidates for Community Sheriff on the newest and largest colony base to be built on the fucking Moon, he felt it was fair to preen a little at the recognition it afforded. Stiles was given a great starting salary, a cool beginner's project, and was posted all the way to glitzy... Beacon Hills. Turned out that the years Stiles had spent in college had been the perfect amount of time for NTCCO to build a fancy spaceport at the edge of what used to be Beacon Hills Preserve, where recent decades of pollution and lost groundwater had nullified all reforestation attempts. The empty and hardening fields couldn't support much vegetation anymore, but had been deemed ideal for a rocket landing site, where smaller space- or aircraft could dock, refuel, repair, and restock, before shooting back up to the skies. The main "building" was deep underneath the site itself, with Research and Development near the very bottom of the food chain, only one level higher than the dead end of Archives and Data Storage. Stiles had not only been sent back to the town he'd long since grown out of, he's now literally buried underneath it.
It does help, though, to have lots of old school people who are also in the same boat. Lydia’s with the rest of the astrophysicists in the linked astronomy building, and Stiles shares an office with Danny Mahealani, who was from Stiles' high school chemistry class, and Greenberg, from the year above. Scott and Jackson Whitte-douche-more, as well as a few other kids from Stiles' year, got recruited as habitators, trained to plunge, climb, and fly into the world's most dangerous environments to determine viability of terraforming. It's the one blessing of this place that Stiles can have his best friend within arm's reach whenever Scott's not on some life-threatening mission. (He's quite competent at them, despite his younger years as a bitch to asthma and allergies—but then, he's always had a gift with nurturing life. Some people just have a magic touch with handling living things; then there are people like Stiles, who can't even raise a cactus without it shriveling up into plant jerky, regardless of how accurately he sticks to the watering directions.) Stiles occasionally has moments of wistful fancy when he daydreams about having Scott's job, travelling up to dizzying heights and down to nauseating depths, exploring all the secret nooks and crannies of Mother Earth, never chained down to a desk and computer, having all of Earth and space right at your fingertips—as long as the coordinators and higher-ups allowed it. That's the kicker. Stiles has never really done well with authority, and Scott's job, while thrilling, does boil down to a lot of yes-sirs and no-sirs, going where the manager's finger points, planting seeds where told, laying soil where the landscapers say so; there's no room for imagination and improvisation when you're working in such inhospitable areas that even the slightest margin of error can prove fatally costly, or just plain fatal. At least with Stiles' engineering job, there's no team captain hovering over his shoulder all the time, making sure he's following instructions to a T, questioning him whenever he tries something new. Thank goodness for that, really, because otherwise Stiles wouldn't be able to make any of his cool inventions on company time.
Like his new radar. Technically, outside projects aren’t allowed without proper authorization, but his dad's endlessly complaining about how hard mining is on the Moon, so a few months ago Stiles thought it would be great to have a tool that could sniff out pure elements embedded in Moon rock, like a metal detector. His model's not quite capable of picking up on minerals underground yet, but he's working up to that. Right now, he's more occupied with trying to minimize space by using picochips, so the thing can be easily tucked into a pocket—considering the super heavy equipment that miners already have to lug around, he's certain that feature would be much appreciated. Also, come on, a handheld beeping device that sends out electromagnetic pulses? So James Bond. Wicked neat.
Stiles is on a roll, fingers skimming across his keyboards, nearing the end of the stage III calculations for the visualization algorithms, and is sightlessly reaching over to grab his coffee mug when a voice says, from right behind him, "There's no shipment."
Stiles jumps; coffee spills all over his lap.
"Fucking—!" He whips around to see—of course, who else could it be? Six foot one of black-clothed muscle and bad karma. He looks just how Stiles remembers him: menacing, grumpy, and smoulderingly good-looking. Gross. "Derek, oh my god. I'm going to kill you."
Derek's eyes flit down to Stiles' soaked crotch. "Shouldn't you be screaming in pain?" He sounds vaguely disappointed.
"It was cold. Hold on." Stiles can't believe this. "Did you wait until I was reaching for the coffee before you said anything?"
Derek's left eyebrow twitches.
Rage flares hot in Stiles' gut. It's like a chemical reaction, whenever Derek is even near. "When the hell did you come in here? How did you come in? You don't have a passcard."
"That kid with the ugly tie let me in."
Greenberg, Stiles curses. He should've known. Danny never would have betrayed him like this.
"What are you even doing?" Derek asks, stepping closer to Stiles' desk. Stiles yelps and flattens himself over his computer screens.
"Top secret! None of your business! For Earthling eyes only!" Stiles smashes at his control panel until he manages to set the system to Sleep. He catches the tail end of Derek's frown as he twists to grab some Kleenex from his drawer. Between fruitless dabbing at his stained pants, he asks, "What are you even doing here? Did you get lost on your way back from the washroom or something?"
"There was no shipment at the export dock, and no one there was in charge of the order," Derek says. "It took me almost twenty minutes to find your office. I kept on asking for a Stilinski in the shipping department. How the hell was I supposed to know that you're an engineer?"
"Do I look like I work in shipping?" Stiles says, holding out his arms. "Every time you see me, I'm in jeans and a t-shirt or whatever. People in shipping wear blue uniforms."
Derek scowls. "I don't pay attention to that sort of thing."
"I stick out like a sore thumb."
"I didn't come all this way to talk about your fashion sense. Where's the shipment?"
Now it's Stiles' turn to scowl. "It should be there. Are you sure you went to the right dock?" He looks at the back of his hand, where he scribbled the details of his order with Materials and Stock. "Dock 12. Did you go to dock 12?"
"Yes," says Derek. "It's empty except for a rack of solar cells."
"What? You must have missed it. I placed an express order at 1400. That's over four hours ago. It's there."
"How can I miss seeing over twenty lead-lined crates?"
"I have no idea," says Stiles, "but that's your problem, not mine."
Derek's arm shoots out and grabs a handful of Stiles' shirt. "I'm making it your problem." He starts yanking him towards the door.
"What the hell, asshole!" Stiles cries, trying to pull away, but Derek has the mass of a hunk of meteorite, so Stiles has no choice but to follow him or risk tearing of the Batman logo on his t-shirt. It's a collector's item—Stiles doesn't want it stretched. Derek manhandles Stiles down the hall and into an elevator; their ride up seven floors to ground level is extremely awkward. Stiles fiddles with his phone and Derek glares at the elevator numbers consecutively lighting up as if they're spelling out a complicated insult to his mother.
"And may I ask the goal of this little field trip?" asks Stiles, just to break the heavy silence.
"You're going to find me the shipment," says Derek flatly. "I can't do anything without clearance, and apparently I need authorization from you to get clearance. I don't even know your real first name. You realize how stupid you made me look?"
"Ah, yeah," Stiles rubs the back of his head. "Did my dad never explain it to you? He makes me do his dirty work because I can get all your orders arranged within 24 hours and the actual shipping people take at least three days—I'm pretty sure half of them are incompetent. It's because I hack into the system and move up the order priority. Also, I can order more goods without having to get admin signatures and stuff."
Derek doesn't look impressed. "You don't get in trouble for this?"
"Hey, I'm doing my part to keep the compounds running smoothly, okay," Stiles says. "And I'm pretty sure our director knows, but just doesn't care. It's less work for him in the long run."
"So if you're so good at it, why didn't our order show up?"
"Maybe someone magically did your job for you," Stiles says. Though now he's getting worried: the shipment should be there. If something went wrong, or Stiles screwed up the order somehow (unlikely, but not impossible), then Derek will be late for this return to the Moon base, and make things that much more complicated for his dad. Plus, then Derek won't be able to take off before sunset and if delayed, he'll have less of a window to make it back to MS3 before the first wave of the storm hits. "How are things up there, by the way?"
"Hectic," says Derek. And nothing else.
"...and?" Stiles prompts.
Derek shrugs. "It's a biomagnetic storm. We've had them before, we'll have them again. It's fine."
The elevator pings. They step out and Stiles leads the way to the main docks, with Derek keeping pace beside him. Stiles' gaze slides left, watching Derek take near-noiseless, measured steps forward. You’d think Derek of all people would be stomping around like Godzilla on caffeine, but no, Derek treads on clouds. Not for the first time, Stiles has to wonder what being on Earth feels like for him, as someone who was born and raised on a place with 17% of the Earth's gravity. Derek walks like he's aware of it, his paces completely even, heel landing first, toe following in a fast sweep—it's almost like he's on a catwalk, where every stride is judged and practised. It doesn’t take much to deduce that he doesn’t belong—it's like watching a goldfish swim in an ocean. He has to feel so much heavier here, but if it discomforts him, he doesn't let it show. Or at least, he doesn't make it obvious it's the gravity that's bothering him; annoyed-pissed-constipated is kind of his default expression. Around Stiles, anyway.
"My dad made it sound like sort of a big deal," Stiles says. "So it's not so bad?"
"I didn't say that," Derek says stiffly. "The storm is one thing. Your dad's more worried about the new virus. They think it mutated from the biomagnetic grain pesticides that survived in the ionosphere. Extraneous facilities have been put on lockdown because we don't want people to spend more time outside than they have to."
"Wait, then, but who's going to take care of the air tanks?" Stiles asks. "My dad—" he pauses, swallowing.
"Yeah," says Derek. His lips flatten, and he says, haltingly. "He'll be okay. There's not much chance for someone who's been up there as long as he has to contract anything new."
"He complains about them every morning, so I assume he's taking them."
"Good," says Stiles.
A moment passes and Derek mentions, "He was looking forward to you coming. His face when Morrell advised against it—" one shoulder rises and lowers in a careless gesture. "Huge disappointment. He cares about you a lot."
Stiles' heart gives a little sputter, as if it'd been given a tiny electrical shock. It always does that whenever Derek alludes to caring and love, two emotions that hold such contrast to Derek's personality, or even the sharp planes of Derek's face and equally sharp intensity of his eyes, that Stiles is constantly shocked that Derek can even express them. It's not that he forgets, exactly, that most of Derek's family is dead. But the first time Stiles had met Derek, in his dad's office in the unofficial "town hall" of Moon Station III Selene, Derek had glared Stiles into cowering when Stiles had offered his condolences (obviously it was years too late, but an accident like that never fades entirely out of talk). Since then, Stiles has never brought them up. In fact he tries not even to think about it in Derek's presence, in case maybe Derek could smell pity coming from him or something.
Although pity would be the last thing Stiles would feel for Derek, now that he has plenty of experience with what a jackass Derek is.
It's why Stiles hadn't bothered waiting at dock 12 around 1700, when Derek's ship was due to touch down. Why make an already terrible day worse by getting threatened, insulted, and his very presence disdained by the almighty Derek Hale of the Moon's Territory Alpha?
It has nothing to do with the fact that being around Derek also stirs up in Stiles' gut a swarm of other stuff, both good and bad, feelings Stiles has never let himself properly qualify or label.
"Yeah, I know. Thanks," is what Stiles replies, and Derek's eyes flit to him briefly, unreadable.
The Shipping and Receiving Shuttle and Craft launch facility is a basically a roofless, aluminum-colored warehouse about the size of twenty football fields, located at the west end of Beacon Hills' NTCCO campus. It has 12 docks laid out in clockwise order, the first and twelfth dock closest to the ground-floor headquarters that tops the institute's subterranean levels. The glass-windowed hallway that leads out from that building to the facility's central gates is stripped with zooming conveyer belts, and Stiles cranes his neck to peek around Derek's shoulder as he follows Derek onto Carrier Line 12.
"What did I fucking tell you," Derek says, when their dock comes into view at the front of the loading terminal, as desolately empty as Stiles' fridge at home—even the solar cell rack Derek mentioned is gone. The Gray Wolf, Derek's X-25 model spaceplane, is parked neatly at the end of the asphalt track, its dark finish gleaming molten orange under the waning sunlight. Derek raises his eyebrows at Stiles and spreads his arms to indicate the tarmac. "Do you see any supplies here? Is it under some cloaking gear?"
"Damn, what's going on," murmurs Stiles. He steps off the conveyer belt and weaves through the churning lines of shipping employees until he finds a communications port under an overarching fluorescent lamppost. He picks up a phone receiver, swipes his ID card, punches in a long stream of numbers, and waits.
"Materials and Stock, this is Matt Daehler speaking."
"Matt, you jerk, where the hell is my order?"
"This is Stilinski?" Matt asks, and damn him, the fucker sounds amused. Next time Stiles sees him in the cafeteria, he's going to dump orange juice all over that expensive camera Matt lugs everywhere like it's his own child.
"Dude, you said you took down my express order for an extra set of MS3's monthly rations! It's almost seven, but it's not here yet."
"Ohh yeaaah," drawls Matt. "That. Gosh, Stiles. It was such a tall order, and on such short notice. Usually processing takes one day, plus another two days for packing. I ran your request, but we couldn't fit it into the schedule today. Really sorry."
"That's crazy, I've done this before and never had any problems. Where's Shantal, anyway? She's usually the one to arrange my dad's stuff."
"She's out sick. I'm subbing for her assignments."
"Well, you are a piss poor substitute. I needed that shipment by five, and instead I have nada. Zilch. Cero cajas. The dock is so vacant it's like Omega Territory over here."
"Cry me a river," says Matt lightly. "Look, I'll pull some strings. It'll be there by tomorrow at 1600, fair?"
Stiles sputters. "1600? That's almost 24 hours away! Do you not understand the meaning of 'rush speed'?"
"Of course I do. But that is rush speed. You were asking for warp speed."
"Oh my god," says Stiles. He puts a palm to his forehead. "What is going on with today? It's the worst day ever. Matt, this is your doing, isn't it? Don't you have voodoo dolls of a bunch of people hidden in your desk somewhere?"
"Get a grip, Stilinski. One day late isn't going to cause the end of the world. I've got no idea how Shantal managed to get your orders so fast, because that's literally the best I can do."
"Do you know, the reason we can't be friends is because I can never tell when you're lying," Stiles says.
"Iiiinteresting," says Matt.
Holy fuck, Stiles could punch him. But Matt's on sub-level two and that's over ten minutes away. Stiles punches the air anyway, picturing Matt's smarmy, roguishly-handsome face hovering there. Before he can let loose a ruthless force of expletives, Derek plucks the receiver out of Stiles' hand and sticks it under his mouth.
"This is Derek Hale, Deputy and Junior Flight Commander of Moon Station Selene, authority level 1C, Lunar Resident Code 076. I'm on a time limited pick-up because of a class 2 lunar storm due to hit the 40% of the lower western hemisphere of the lunar near-side within the next 48 hours, and I need this shipment as soon as possible—tonight, if it can still make it. Do you copy?"
Derek doesn't look at him. "Thank you," he replies after a beat, and slams the phone back on the receiver.
"What, you," says Stiles. "You can't just—" Except, yeah, Derek can, and yeah, Derek just did.
And it was more than a little hot.
"He said most workers have gone home for the day. It'll come at 0900 sharp tomorrow."
"All that and you couldn't even get it to arrive today?" Stiles says weakly, because if he doesn't rag on Derek, he'll end up doing something utterly humiliating, like joke about pulling rank for his own gain or something, which could be taken in a very—oh god, stop.
Derek sends him a peeved look. "Shut up. I didn't hear you doing any better."
"No, dude," Stiles rushes to say, "Tomorrow's fine, tomorrow's good. Uh, so. Let's head back to my office? We should send a comm to my dad. And find you a hotel or something."
The silence that follows is almost choking.
"Oh, unless...?" Stiles starts, trailing off because he has no idea how to respond to that uncomfortable twist of Derek's mouth.
"I didn't bring any money," Derek says. Then he shoots eye-daggers at the floor by Stiles' feet.
"Wow, why is this happening to me," Stiles breathes, and resigns himself to his fate. "What is wrong with today?"
"You're serious," Derek says, when they reach Stiles' car in the parking lot.
"Why, what's wrong?" says Stiles suspiciously.
Derek nods at Stiles' jeep. "You're telling me this piece of scrap metal actually moves?"
"Scrap metal? This is a piece of history, okay. Do you know how much this model is worth?"
"Priceless, I'll bet."
"Darn tootin'," says Stiles.
"Because no one else wants to buy it."
"Wow, so funny. You looking to sleep on a park bench tonight?"
Derek grunts and tosses himself into the passenger seat.
The commute to Stiles' apartment is about twenty-five minutes with traffic; tonight the streets are clear and brushed orange with early lamplight as they make their way down Brookehouse Crescent, Charing Street, Reeds Drive, but they unluckily seem to hit every red light possible on the route over. Stiles is grumbling by the third stop, but Derek says nothing, head turned to watch the scenery mutely passing by outside. Stiles has no idea how a man born on the Moon views life on Earth. How many pine trees has Derek seen in his lifetime? How many fast food restaurants? Does Derek get spooked by the sound of owls hooting and dogs barking in a darkened park? Does Derek find their small town architecture fascinatingly beautiful or obscenely excessive? If he and Stiles each had to paint a picture of what they see, would their paintings look at all the same? Stiles has driven these roads a million times and could probably walk them back and forth in his sleep; Beacon Hills is boring beyond boring for him, but the way that Derek tracks things as they glide past the window makes Stiles look around more intently too, with renewed interest, registering little details about his town that he'd never bothered to before. The flickering neon R above the local Techs-R-Us (pronounced "techsaurus" by Stiles until third grade), the limestone water fountain in Bailey's Park that spits out water in ten rotating patterns, children running after their parents on a stroll around the block, the old man smoking a cigarette at the street corner and the teenager with the bright pink mohawk bumming a light off him; little snapshots of life in every direction: normal, unhampered, still trudging on despite the planet's worsening environmental concerns and depleting natural resources. This is nothing like the Moon, which, by and large, is a giant sanitized bubble of people working towards an end goal. There are few positions on the Moon that aren't related to some kind of job; it's a project first, a village second. Except for the few residents who were born on it, Stiles doubts many people would call the Moon a home.
Stiles wonders what Derek does for fun.
From the corner of his eye, he can see Derek barely blinking as they navigate the streets, his reflection in the mirror showing a solemn, eerily captivated expression. Then he notices that Derek's left hand is clenched in a death grip on Derek's knee.
"How about some music?" Stiles asks loudly, flipping the radio from AM to FM. Immediately, hard rock starts to scream from the speakers, and Stiles flinches, quickly switching the station. "Any preference?"
"No," says Derek, sounding annoyed.
Stiles toggles through station after station, stopping on each only briefly. "Pop? Country? Rap? Oh, more pop. Can't see you exactly being a fan of pop, no offense. What about metal?"
"Just pick one," Derek grits out.
Stiles hits the button one more time and a slow, graceful trombone melody drifts through the car. It twines together with tinkling piano and velvety clarinet, accompanied by a deep, raspy voice.
"—skies of blue, and clouds of white... the bright blessed days, the dark sacred nights... and I think to myself..."
Derek glances at the radio.
"Good?" asks Stiles.
"You know this song? You like Louis Armstrong?"
"Who doesn't," says Derek blandly, but Stiles laughs.
"Aw, man. My parents are huge fans, I can't even tell you. My dad loves jazz—he used to play tenor sax, did you know?—and my mom loved piano music. It's insane how many much Louis I listened to growing up. It's probably imprinted in my soul. My dad says my mom used to sing this song to me as a baby when I was crying. It’d calm me down right away. That—was probably oversharing. Sorry."
"It's fine," says Derek. Then, he adds, "Mine too, actually."
"My parents liked old jazz too."
"Oh," Stiles says, struck. "Right. Cool."
Derek gives Stiles a quick, darting smile, and then diverts his attention back to the world streaming by on their every side.
Stiles checks at the next red light, and yeah: Derek's fingers have loosened their terrible clench on his pants. Stiles doesn't say anything, but aims a victorious grin at the road.
"Stiles," greets Scott's voice, as soon as Stiles unlocks his front door. "You should really get rid of that cactus my mom gave you, dude. It's, like—growing spores or something. I read something about it; if they burst open and you inhale the—oh—is that. Derek Hale?"
"The fungus is proof that not everything I take care of is doomed to die on me," says Stiles, tossing his backpack on the ground and placing two pizza boxes onto the coffee table. "And, yes, Derek Hale. Derek, you remember Scott. He's a junior habitator. He's going lunar next week, unlike some unlucky people here."
Derek steps into the hallway behind Stiles and warily examines the apartment like he's encroaching on a hostile alien environment. As if he's afraid this new landscape is peppered with unknown hazards, but is unable to entirely quench his curiosity. He dips his head to Scott, who's sprawled on Stiles' couch with his lap full of laser-disc cases in various states of wear.
"Uh, hi," says Scott.
"Hey. What's the goal of your mission?" asks Derek, which is better manners than he's ever shown Stiles.
"Prelim terraforming of Copernicus crater," says Scott. "You ever been?"
"A few times," says Derek. "It's... big."
Stiles rolls his eyes so hard his face hurts.
But Scott agrees easily. "I'm really looking forward to it, even though my team's only going as backup to the main unit. Maybe I'll see you up there?" Derek nods.
"Derek's stranded here overnight because his shipment won't be packed and ready till tomorrow morning," Stiles explains. "In the meantime, he's going to be a polite and unassuming guest, aren't you, Derek."
Derek's glare could wilt flowers. Stiles does his best to not be fazed. "Welcome and all that, I guess?" he continues, waving Derek in and pointing in various directions from the living room. "Okay, so: kitchen, bathroom, my bedroom, balcony, closet, that's it. Do you, uh, want to sleep on the rug in my room or the couch here?" He points to where Scott's sitting.
Scott hastily stands up.
"I'll take the couch," says Derek. Then he adds, belatedly, "Thanks."
"Nooo problem," Stiles says. It's not like he has much of a choice, anyway. He might not be Derek's biggest fan, but his father had raised Stiles to be a decent person. And it's only for one night. Stiles can totally handle Derek I'm-so-hot-it's-actually-obscene Hale being in the same cramped quarters for one night. There's positively no need to panic, just because Derek will get to see (and judge) where Stiles lives, and will be sleeping down the hall from Stiles, and will clean himself in Stiles' shower—Christ.
At least Stiles has fresh pizza to numb the frustration. Scott, bless his one-track mind, is already appropriating a huge slice for himself, and Stiles flops onto the couch and reaches for his own. He stares at Derek, who's still standing by Stiles' doorway like he thinks the floor is hiding a minefield. "You can sit down, take a load off. Have some pizza. We're going to watch horror movies. I promise there's nothing more traumatizing in my apartment than my terrible taste in vintage films."
Scott adds helpfully, "It really is terrible. The worse the movie is, the more Stiles likes it, because he can totally tear them apart. Like, he dissects them, chews them up, and leaves them to rot."
Derek snorts, lowering himself down carefully beside Stiles with an acceptable amount of space between them. He asks, "Anything to drink?"
"There's beer and cranberry juice in the fridge," Scott says. He's holding up movies, one at a time, for Stiles' approval, while Stiles eschews one after another with a grimace. Stiles gestures absently in the direction of the kitchen.
"Help yourself," he says.
He feels Derek's weight lift off the couch, his leather jacket creaking, and hears deceptively light footsteps across the hardwood floor, then the snick of the fridge door opening. By the time Scott and Stiles decide on a movie (House of Wax, 2005), Derek comes back, three beers in one hand, their cool glass bottles already damp with condensation, and three small plates in other.
"Oh, great, thank you," Scott says as he's handed a beer and plate, because he's a nice person like that.
Stiles takes his without a word, narrowing his eyes at Derek in a way that hopefully conveys just how pleased he is that Derek went through his cupboards without asking. Derek doesn't notice and grabs two slices of pizza.
The laser-disc gets put in. The lights are dimmed, the movie is started. Stiles edges himself as close to Scott as possible without it being conspicuous and tries not to squirm too much. It's hard, though, because he can see from the corner of his eye that Derek isn't watching the movie at all, but instead is glancing cautiously around Stiles' living room.
Stiles' tension levels start to spike up like a volcano spewing lava. He's not ashamed of his place, but it's nothing special, just a regular one-bedroom apartment with a nice view over what remains of Beacon Hills' redwood forest. And Derek is from the fucking Moon. Derek's used to wide open spaces, huge domed rooms that shine like oil spills under solar radiation but from the bottom up allow a fathomless glimpse into the cosmos above, metallic walls that reflect your face back like mirrors while simultaneously insulating heat and shielding interiors against loose space debris. He's grown up with state-of-the-art technology, everything hooked to automatic sensors in order to cut down on space and improve efficiency, every item with a proper function and place. Stiles' home must be a garbage dump wrapped in a jail cell in comparison: low ceilings, walls dotted with photographs and baseball posters; his kitchen table cluttered with half-empty chip bags and various unassembled mechanical pieces, batteries, wires, a soldering gun; his bookshelf crammed full of comics, novels, textbooks, binders, action figures, LVDs, all in senseless order; his favorite pair of sneakers, scuffed and dirty with age, strewn by the balcony door. Tiny pockets of chaos within the solar system of Stiles.
He realizes that Derek's staring at his window. The blinds are pulled down and it's past dusk, but the last vestiges of sunset still line the horizontal plastic bars like frames of gold, tilting away as if being pushed back by the white electronic light emitting from Stiles' plasma television screen. At the edge of the windowsill sits Stiles' decrepit cactus slash fungal mold collection, the worst way possible to punctuate the slipshod methodology of Stiles' life. God, Scott is right, that thing's a time bomb, and Stiles needs to get rid of it before it poisons him in his sleep.
"You can stop," whispers Derek, turning back to the TV.
"Stop what," Stiles hisses back.
"Freaking out. It's fine."
"What? Who's freaking out?"
Derek huffs out something that might be a laugh, and reaches for another slice of pizza. Stiles takes a deep breath and finally has a sip of his beer.
By the time Paris Hilton's character gets murdered ("I don't understand the blood splatters from this," Stiles whines. "Like, her brain gets impaled with a spear, but blood leaks out of her ears? And where is the blood dripping around her nose coming from if she's facing the ground? Her blood doesn't obey gravity. Did they just randomly drip red over her face and then glue the spear on afterwards?" "Dude, she's a minor character, let it go," says Scott tiredly. "You promised you wouldn't complain," says Stiles. "That's not complaining, that's appeasing," returns Scott. "Shut up, both of you," snaps Derek, ending that conversation) all of the food has been consumed (mostly thanks to Derek, who Stiles is forced to assume has never eaten pizza before, if the way he was swallowing it down is any indication), Scott is yawning (because he's weak), and Stiles is fast losing focus on the film, constantly distracted by the dip of couch cushion under Derek, the pattern of Derek's breathing, the faint scent of Derek's aftershave, which, yeah, Stiles didn't think he could pick up, but apparently he can.
How much of that can Stiles blame on his ADHD? Probably not as much as he wants.
The movie finishes without anyone really taking notice. Scott and Stiles have dissolved into a conversation chiefly about how much of a pain in the ass Jackson is and whether Isaac Lahey secretly hates Stiles or not (Scott maintains his conviction that Isaac likes Stiles, but Stiles thinks "like" is the wrong word since Isaac looks like he wants to maul him sometimes—and not in a good way), and Derek is flipping through some of Stiles' comic books, his fingers delicate around the pages like they're the Dead Sea Scrolls.
"Are you sleeping here?" Stiles asks, when Scott gives another jaw-popping yawn.
Scott motions to Derek with a quirk of his shoulder. "Probably not the best idea. Also, I've got to get to work at 0600 tomorrow for more training. I won't have time to go home and change if I stay here." He gets up and flips on the lights. Stiles blinks away the spots that blot his vision. The clock on the wall ticks past 10:56 and the stress from the day altogether spills out from within him; he sways a bit as he stands up to walk Scott to the door.
"You look way pooped," Scott says, reeling Stiles in for a quick hug. He ducks close to Stiles' ear and says quietly, "You going to be okay with him? If you really want me to stay, I can."
"Nah," Stiles says, thumping Scott's back. "It's cool. You go home, get a good night's sleep. I'm already painfully jealous that you get to go lunar next week; if you screw up during training and botch your mission I'm going to be furious. I'll torch your entire vid-porn collection."
Scott grins. "I'm so scared."
"You should be."
"You wouldn't melt them. You'd just steal them."
"The point is you'll never see them again."
"Whatever, su casa es mi casa."
"And when I get my cottage on the Moon?"
"Get used to overnight guests," says Scott teasingly. He wags his eyebrows at Stiles, then pointedly looks back to the living room where Derek is still earnestly working his way though Stiles' Superman & Batman comic. "Bro, speaking of which—"
"Oh my god, leave now, please," Stiles says, pushing Scott out. He closes the door to the sound of Scott's shameless giggling, that dick. The last time Derek had come to Earth for a pick-up just happened to land on Scott and Stiles' monthly Bro-Night, which differed from their regular bro nights because they always completely cleared the following day's schedule to sleep off their hangovers. That night, Scott had brought the whiskey, Stiles had brought the embarrassment—Derek had gotten a new haircut and had been sporting fucking aviators under his pilot's helmet. Impractical and so stupid, but nonetheless it had made an... impact on Stiles. And Scott still hasn't gotten bored of teasing him about just how much of an impression it'd left. If Stiles were a planet, he'd have a Derek Hale-dependent weather system in his southerly regions.
"Do you have extra blankets?" Derek asks, when Stiles walks back in after sneaking in a few calming breaths by the coat closet.
"Hold your horses, cowboy," Stiles gripes, heading towards his bedroom. He emerges back out with an armful of sheets and blanket and nearly trips over his own feet: Derek's shirtless. In the middle of his living room. And has loosened his belt.
"I—um," Stiles squeaks, drops the blankets on the couch like they're radioactive, then dashes towards the washroom. "You need a toothbrush," he hears himself stutter, which is frankly a miracle in itself, considering Stiles' brain might be melting in his skull—just. Derek's chest.
In the washroom, he studies his reflection in the mirror: expired-milk white and skinny like stretched plasticine, brown eyes deep like someone punched his face in twice, buzzed hair, too-pointy-uppy nose. Stiles' self-esteem is only slightly below healthy level, but he's never been around Derek for so long before. There's relative revaluation going on here.
"Get a grip, Stilinski," Stiles mutters. "Astronomical odds. Astronomical." He splashes water on his face and grabs a new toothbrush from the medicine cabinet.
On the couch, Derek's laid out the blankets and has stuffed his leather jacket in a ball for a makeshift pillow. Stiles hands him the toothbrush. "Ta-dah," he says, and is about to turn away when Derek grabs his wrist. Stiles freezes. Derek's bare chest is right there, calling to his attention like a fucking fog light, but through a Herculean act of will, Stile keeps his eyes trained on Derek's face. Lucky for him it's equally as admirable, despite how uncomfortable Stiles feels staring at it. Such close proximity. They could be asteroids on a collision course—one of them would splinter from the hit.
"I'm not trying to make this weird," Derek says.
Thumpity-thump-thump, warns Stiles' heart. His voice says, "I—it's not weird."
"Okay, it's a little weird," Stiles allows. "It's not you—I mean, yeah it's you, but I know it's not on purpose. We've just never really interacted outside of work. We're not—friends."
Derek's lips thin. "You're doing me a favor," he says. "I appreciate it."
Stiles shrugs, feeling helpless and itchy all over. "Dude, I wouldn’t just leave you there. My fault you're stranded here at all. I shouldn't have made the order with Matt. He used to have this weird obsession with Jackson. A sure sign of untrustworthiness right there."
Stiles involuntarily flexes his wrist. Derek lets go. "Really," Stiles says clumsily. "It's okay. You—my dad always says good things about you. You're very commendable. I know you're not going to, like, stab me in my sleep or something."
The edges of Derek's mouth twitch upwards. "Well. Try not to push me too far."
"I got you a new toothbrush, didn't I? What else do you want from me? Maybe a nice foot rub?"
"If you're offering," says Derek, and maybe something explodes within Stiles' gut at that.
"Okay! You have everything you need? Great. Good night, holler if you need anything, but not too loudly because I want to be able to ignore you," Stiles says quickly, and promptly barricades himself in his room.
His phone is waiting for him on his bed, flashing a notice of a text from Scott.
btw whatever happens tonite, no deets tmr promise me
Stiles types back, jerking off picturing you xoxoxo and flops onto his comforter, burying his face in his pillows. It's going to be a long night.
Turns out, he's wrong about that. He's pretty much dead to the world as soon as he climbs fully into bed, because when he blinks awake again, his alarm clock reads a cool 3:12 am in bright blue light.
The apartment is completely silent. Stiles counts minutes in his head, measured by the paces between his breaths. Even the distant roar of rockets, which usually provide an erratic but dependable signal of time passing in Beacon Hills, is missing, creating a lull in the air that's almost like cotton settling over the world, muffling all life and evidence thereof. It's different from the silence of space, which is the absence of all sound. Here on Earth, there should be noise: car horns and owls hooting and the gusts of passing wind against windows; when there's nothing, it feels eerie. Off.
But Stiles feels fine. Still tired, but fine. He doesn't know what woke him up.
He hauls himself out of bed.
The couch in the living room is empty, blankets mussed and in disarray, Superman & Batman: The Complete Collector's Edition closed neatly on the armrest. Stiles turns. Derek is on the balcony, arms leaning on the railing, head tilted up at the Moon. It's a waxing crescent, a curved slice hanging bright in the blackened sky, like a sideways Cheshire smile. He hasn't fully closed the balcony door, and cool April air wafts in from the gap, sending the half-empty chip bags left on Stiles' coffee table rustling like old papyrus. Derek's naked back is daubed in blues and white, the slope of his muscles and spine gently highlighted like the Moon had painted them there herself with loving strokes of a silver brush. Maybe he's how the ancient Greeks and Romans pictured their celestial deities. Stiles would believe that in an instant.
He wonders, fleetingly, if he should go back to bed, and let Derek work off his sleeplessness alone, but before he can make a conscious decision, his feet are carrying him to the sliding door, and he's stepping out, and he's there, beside Derek, surrounded by the night.
Derek glances at him, his green eyes shadowed nearly as dark as the sky.
"Insomnia?" Stiles asks.
"Close enough," says Derek. "Don't sleep well on Earth."
"Oh yeah. The gravity's kind of a bitch, isn't it? Plus the unfiltered air."
"Yeah, but. Not that," says Derek. "It's," he lets out a long breath through his nose. "I don't know. Too many things to keep track of. Everything is so full. Even though there’s space everywhere. It's suffocating. No offense."
Stiles scoffs. "Actually, I totally get you. I get that way too sometimes. And I've grown up on this clusterfuck of a planet, so I can only imagine how sucky it is for you to handle being here. Must be like wearing a suit made of nails or something."
"Or something," says Derek, almost sounding amused.
Below them, a group of cackling teenagers drift down the sidewalk bordering Stiles' building, shoving at each other like bumper cars, following some unknown call down the street. One of them crashes into a trash can standing by the curb of a road, and the other three muffle their snickers into their fists before disappearing around the bend.
"The drunken walk home. Not nearly as elegant as moonwalking, obviously," Stiles muses.
"It has its own appeal," says Derek. His hands clasp and unclasp against Stiles' balcony railing. "I—it's different. On the Moon. Just because that's how things work. Things aren't as—frayed, up there. Here everything is bursting with energy. Everyone's carrying a sun's worth to just burn through, and they don't even give a shit. On the Moon, everything is about being careful and conserving resources. Everything's about the next stage, more development, moving on. We don't have the luxury of just—being there."
This is the most Stiles has ever heard Derek reveal about himself in one go, aside from his authoritative spiel to Matt earlier today. Strange that it makes Stiles' throat go dry.
"I think being on the Moon is beautiful because the Moon is beautiful," he says, which is a shitty offering compared to what Derek just shared, but it's one of the deepest, most fundamental truths about himself: how much he loves the Moon. When he was little, his mother would sing him to sleep, him tucked into her arms, her tucked into a rocking chair, and the soft moonlight washing through the window would make another world out of Stiles' ordinary, unexciting bedroom. He'd grown up hearing stories from his dad about the grandeur of MS1 and MS2, of how the Moon was fated to shape how the Earth was to survive in the coming centuries. His father taught him science; his mother taught him mythology. Satellite, impact debris, goddess personified, home to a lady and a rabbit, watcher of the supernatural, lord of werewolves: the Moon was Stiles' nursery rhyme and fairy tale, something to aspire to and to depend on, a bidirectional connection to his past and to his future. Even now, though MS3 is too small, too far, to see with the naked eye, Stiles is comforted just by the knowledge that it's there; that in a way, even though he's over 233,812 miles away, the farthest from Earth that anyone can live, his dad is still within arm's reach, so long as the Moon hangs proud up in the night sky, and Stiles can hold up his hand and pinch it between the safe cage of his fingers. Miles and miles in the distance, and yet it never leaves Earth's circling embrace. There's an amazing poetry in that, even if Stiles can't express it properly.
"You know, the first time I was up there—I'd just gotten off the civilian craft and my dad was talking with the pilots—I walked out of the hangar and the Earth was right there, and we were at new moon so it was at full Earth. I must have just stood there, looking around and around, at space, at Earth, at the compound, and just at everything, for, I don't know, hours. My dad apparently had to go do something and came up to tell me to stay put, and I didn't even register it. He came back and I was still standing there. Actually I was lying on the ground. Looking up. It was—I was so blown away. It was crazy."
Derek's looking at him strangely now, like Stiles might start spouting off verses of Shakespeare or something, and before Stiles can get defensive or regret bringing up his trip because Derek's memory of Stiles from that time probably leaves a lot to be desired, Derek says, "You can't compare the Moon with Earth. You know that, right? The Moon is just a hunk of rock."
Stiles bristles. "Are you kidding me? The Earth's a rock too. One covered with garbage and smog and decomposition and plenty of other gross stuff?"
"And mountains and ponds. Waterfalls. Canyons and caves. Jungles."
"Hey. The Moon's got some mountains and valleys and plenty of neat stuff."
But Derek shakes his head. "Same color, same matter composition, no delineation from one landscape to the next aside from elevation. There's no variety. No color. Nothing like here."
"You're just biased because you grew up there!" Stiles argues.
"And you're not biased because you grew up here?"
Stiles frowns. "Okay, so I am, and I'm not saying the Earth is a complete hole or anything. But it doesn't mean the Moon isn't fucking awesome."
"Eye of the beholder, and all that," says Derek negligently.
Stiles scoffs. “If you hate it so much, then why don’t you move off it?”
“It’s not that easy.” Derek’s tone is rougher now. “There’s more tying me to the Moon than pulling me to Earth. I don’t like it much, but it’s me dealing with the life I have.”
Baffling. "Whatever you say, dude, but you're the one out on my balcony pining away your homesickness."
"I'm not homesick. I'm just. Adjusting."
"Adjusting to what? You come back aaallll the time," Stiles reminds him.
Derek's eyelids dip. "Never go very far from a ship base. My uncle's care facility is on site here, so I never had reason to. This is probably the longest I've stayed since I was a kid."
"Wait, huh?" Stiles boggles. "Are you serious? You've never actually hung around, in all your trips down here?"
Derek's expression twists. "Didn't really have the time, or inclination."
"Dude, we gotta—" Stiles' vision clouds over with all the "got to" possibilities bursting out of his brain. "Like, the forest! Dinky, but right there! The coast! Have you seen the ocean up close? Sand everywhere! Ice cream under the sun! Palm trees down south! Oh my god, Derek, you've never seen any of that?"
"I'm not an alien; I've done stuff. Just not a lot. From my understanding of it, a lot of sightseeing activities are best done with family," Derek says, and boy, does that shut Stiles up fast.
The official news bulletin said that there had been a leak in the atmospheric membrane. In the initial days of Selene’s construction on Alpha Territory, the 100-foot high impermeable synthetic dome covering the still-small base had been as fragile as butterfly wings, never mind that it was all composed of the best nanotechnology the Earth had to offer. There had been a huge magnetic storm one day, hurtling furious winds full of space debris and lunar rock; from outside their atmospheric bubble, a large, jagged chunk of meteorite had struck the translucent barrier, broke through, and emptied out the air in the compound's entire five-mile radius. For some reason, the emergency oxygen tank inside the Hale house had malfunctioned, and the entire family suffocated, save for Derek, his sister Laura, and their uncle Peter. They'd been on a day trip to MS2 to pick up new supplies and rushed back upon receiving the radio distress call, but they were too far away and returned to a dead house.
Stiles heard that in grief, Peter Hale had unplugged his own oxygen supply. By the time Laura and Derek managed to replace his air tank, he'd had a stroke, and had to be shipped down to NTCCO's long-term medical care house permanently. Laura got sick a few years later due to a weakened immune system—the doctors ruled it as fatigue from overworking, made worse by post-traumatic stress. Her death left her comatose uncle as the only remaining family member for twenty-three-year-old Derek, now the only Hale remaining on the Moon.
How does a guy comfort someone who's lost everything? Stiles hadn't known at age sixteen, and he still doesn't know now. Except he feels compelled to do something—Derek's on his turf now, and Stiles can't help but think that he has some degree of responsibility in Derek's well-being, be it insomnia or uneasiness or—or heartbreak.
"Hey—" he starts to say, immediately contrite, his hand automatically rising to Derek's shoulder in apology. And then he abruptly realizes what he's doing—cupping Derek Hale's naked shoulder—because Derek shivers and—and doesn't pull away.
"Uh, I," says Stiles.
Derek turns to face him fully. Mouth closed, jaw tense, eyebrows low. Green eyes lit like he's some kind of being sent from above, and Stiles has to stifle a laugh, because Derek kind of is. One plane of his cheek is so sharp under the moonlight that Stiles can't resist the impulse to rub his thumb down the smooth rise of skin. Derek's eyes never leave his.
"How long have you been standing out here?" Stiles asks, when Derek shivers again—but there are no goosebumps on his arms.
"And—are you, uh. Feeling better?"
Derek pauses; light years pass. Stiles' lungs go on extended recess. He doesn't blink, can't even drag his gaze away from Derek's, as if Derek has pinned him down with some kind of magic spell—lunacy is the only explanation. The night is suddenly unbearably silent and the only sound in the world, for all Stiles knows, is the muddled pace of his own skipping heartbeat. Twelve hours ago, this wasn't anywhere near where he'd thought the day would lead him. He must have missed a calculation somewhere. Sometime between hearing Derek talk down Matt and seeing the way Derek wiped tomato sauce off his mouth with the edge of his thumb, a trajectory was bent, swung around by the force of Derek's gravitational pull.
"Worse, actually," Derek says finally, just looking at Stiles.
So Stiles closes his eyes and leans in.
It's just a quick press of lips—hardly anything. Derek's lips are dry and smooth and Stiles is barely registering the pressure before Derek is jerking back.
"What are you doing?" he asks.
Stiles' blood chills to ice. "Oh. I thought—oh my god. Sorry. I thought—" Holy fuck. What was he doing?
"I don't need your pity," says Derek furiously.
"Shit, no, Derek. It's not pity," Stiles says, trying not to freak out. He desperately needs for an asteroid to collide into his building. Wipe out his entire existence. "It's—look, you're sad and moping and I don't want that. I—I want you to be able to sleep, and I thought—like, if you could take a load off and relax a bit, uh. I'm sorry about your fam—" He stops, restarts. "It wasn't pity." Then, before his brain can think the better of it, he adds quickly, "Plus you're really attractive, okay? I'm putting that out there. You're really attractive. So if there's any pity going around, it's for me."
Derek's nostrils flare as he takes a deep breath.
"Holy god, are you going to kill me?" Stiles says. "We're only on the fifth floor; if you toss me off the balcony I might not die, just get a broken spine and end up as a quadriplegic—"
"Stiles," Derek says. "Shut up."
And he leans in to capture Stiles' mouth in a bruising kiss.
Stiles' brain blips out.
Then comes roaring back online seconds later with the fusion energy of a thousand suns. Fucking fuck. He tangles his arms around Derek's back to push himself closer, crushing himself to the unyielding heat of Derek's chest. And maybe he's a bit too clumsy with his eagerness because Derek lets out a quick breath, not quite an exclamation, and it almost makes Stiles reel backwards, fear lobbing thoughts through him (sudden doubt, second thoughts, regret for life choices)—but then Derek's broad hands rise to the back of Stiles' head and Derek makes another sound, a low one, from the back of his throat, one that not even a deaf person could mistake for hesitation.
The sound shoots through Stiles' mouth, speeds down his stomach, pools in the rising heat of Stiles' groin, and stays there.
Derek tastes like citrus toothpaste. When Stiles registers that, he has a fierce, instinctual reaction of, Oh my god what a coincidence that we like the same flavor of dental hygiene products, before he remembers that of course Derek tastes like citrus toothpaste—he'd borrowed Stiles'. It's still jarring though, because in all the daydreams (and, to be honest, night dreams) that Stiles has had of Derek, Derek has always tasted like a mix between metal and dark chocolate—anger and passion, two huge components of Derek's emotional makeup. But Derek brushes his teeth just like any other person and it makes his mouth taste like orange-mint and it's kind of blowing Stiles' mind.
Less jarring but equally mind-blowing is how aggressively Derek kisses. It's not even a good kiss, really. It's almost painful, the way Derek is going at it. His stubble burns. His canine teeth are sharp. His nose keeps bumping into Stiles'. Except, oh man, the heat of this. His hands are framed around Stiles' face now, thumbs cupping Stiles' jaw, allowing him the liberty of tilting Stiles' mouth whichever damn way he pleases in order to delve deeper into Stiles' mouth, tongue pushing forward like a pioneer with no way home, incisors grazing mercilessly on Stiles' lower lip like he's one minute away from eating Stiles from the inside out. Stiles is okay with this plan. He wants to tell Derek this, because suddenly it seems vital that Derek know just how okay Stiles is with this, despite such violent beginnings. But he doesn't have much extra brainpower to devote, his cognitive resources being all taken up by breathing, stifling his whimpers, and not internally combusting on the spot. All of the words and moans gurgling up his throat are viciously converted to heavy exhales of air because no way in hell is Stiles breaking away first.
"Don't hurt yourself—you can make noise," Derek says, pulling back only far enough to get the words out, then diving right back in. Open mouth and firebrand tongue, and there's no way Stiles is going to survive this unscathed.
"I," Stiles gulps out in between kisses. "We're out in the—"
"Make noise," Derek says, more firmly this time, and streaks one hand down Stiles' neck and spine to splay across his ass. He squeezes.
Stiles makes noise.
"Okay, we're going in—inside," he gasps, hand grappling for the balcony door. He shoves it wide and stumbles backwards, dragging Derek in with him. Derek loosens his grip on Stiles as soon as they're inside the dark of the apartment, and Stiles sees him purposely relax his shoulders, taking in two long, measured breaths.
"If you don't—" Derek starts, but Stiles interrupts by slamming the balcony door closed and practically marching Derek into his bedroom.
"I very much do, actually," says Stiles, throwing himself onto the bed and reaching into his nightstand for his lube and a condom. He glances over his shoulder, abruptly caught by dread. "Wait, do you—"
Derek actually laughs. It's such a rare sound that Stiles' neck cranes forward automatically as if he could catch more of it. Even with the diminished sight his bedroom affords them, the only illumination coming from the Moon shining through half-open blinds of his window, Stiles can see how the laughter transforms Derek's entire face into something heartbreakingly new.
"Yeah," says Derek and lowers himself onto the bed. He curls his fingers around Stiles' wrist and tugs Stiles up for a long, slow kiss. "You're too warm," Derek murmurs against his lips.
"Says the human inferno."
"Even your room is stifling."
"Oh," says Stiles. "I can open the window if you want some air—"
"No. I—keep it shut."
"You like it hot, huh," teases Stiles, running his palms down Derek's sides, fingers hooking onto the loops of Derek's jeans.
Derek grunts, hips jutting forward once like he can't help himself. "The Moon's cold. I like the contrast."
"I don't get you, dude. You can't sleep on Earth but you like all the shit that's probably causing that?"
Derek shakes his head, lips quirking. He lifts the edges Stiles' worn t-shirt and Stiles obligingly raises his arms so they can get skin-to-skin, sweat both the barrier and the glue between them.
"It's about—being taken out of yourself. Feeling alive. That's it."
"Oh. I get that," says Stiles, looking up at Derek. Sculpted body, eyes glowing hazel-green like burning phosphorus, lips swollen red from Stiles' teeth, all on display and within Stiles' reach—yeah, Stiles gets it, deeply. He grabs Derek's fly and jerks it down. "When I'm up in space, it's like, uh," god, he's so distracted, his brain is stuttering around the sight of Derek's black boxer briefs, tight against the outline of his hard cock. "Like, on Earth, the atmosphere causes scintillation when we look at stars, but up there, there's none of that. So it really hits you—all the stars are suns. And you're seeing that. It's like, the expansiveness of the universe, and the silence of space, plus your, uh, heartbeat—"
Distracting and irresistible. Stiles cups Derek's cock. Derek groans. Wow, and that's—awesome.
"I'm just," Stiles stammers, "I'm going to—I can't think right now. Okay?"
"Fine," Derek grits out, and grinds into Stiles' palm. "Stop talking. Take off your pants."
Stiles does. His pajama bottoms fly to some corner of his room, already forgotten. But then he remembers belatedly—
"Nice underwear," says Derek, raising an eyebrow.
"The logo matched my t-shirt, all right?" Stiles says, flushing pink. "And they're one hundred percent cotton. Comfort and style."
"How fantastic for you. Get them off."
Stiles does; swallowing hard at the way Derek's eyes rake down his body as he kicks off his briefs and spreads his legs.
"And mine," says Derek, more softly, and Stiles follows through with trembling fingers.
He doesn't realize his mouth is hanging open until Derek traces his bottom lip with a thumb. It dips briefly in to swipe against Stiles' tongue and Stiles just barely manages to keep himself from biting down.
"How many times have you insulted me with this mouth of yours?" Derek asks roughly.
"Fewer times than you deserve," Stiles shoots back automatically. Oh god, his brain, why.
But Derek only grins, and it's nothing but a dark promise. "I'll have to try harder, then."
"To be more of an ass? Good luck."
"I'm sure you'll inspire me," Derek deadpans. Then he hesitates a moment, as if backtracking in his head. "You don't take it personally, do you? Some of the stuff I say isn't—" his expression contorts.
Stiles jumps in, "Are you nuts? Like the stuff I say to you is any better. Also, are you really going to start this conversation when we're both naked in my bed? I took off my Batman undies for you."
Derek answers by raising himself to his knees, keeping one hand cupped around Stiles' head. Oh my god, Stiles thinks. He's full on panting now, and they haven't even done anything yet. His jaw is still loose and mindless, and when Derek lifts his cock with one hand, looking at Stiles with a question in his eyes, Stiles nods frantically, his voice lost. Derek directs his cock to Stiles' lips—"I'm clean," he breathes—Stiles doesn't doubt, doesn't waste a second, tongue hungry as he licks at the head, sucking it wetly into his mouth.
"Got to make it so your mouth is always on me," grunts Derek, petting Stiles' face. His calloused thumb on Stiles' cheek, absurdly, feels even hotter than his cock in Stiles' mouth. "Either on me, or nagging on me, or, fuck—Sti—"
Stiles hums his full agreement.
"—take your goddamn mouth back to the Moon with me, use it every fucking night, until it molds to the shape of my cock," says Derek. Stiles pulls off to muffle his groan into the unfairly chiseled dip of Derek's groin. He keeps his fingers wrapped tightly around Derek's dick and Derek sags forward into his grip, impatient.
"Never knew there was this side of you," Stiles says breathlessly. "Kind of impressed and disgusted at the same time." Derek's eyes flash; then suddenly Stiles is being pushed onto his back, with Derek looming over him and pushing their cocks together in one smooth slide. Stiles' arm go around Derek's shoulders and they start to move together. "You're—Derek." His voice has gone reedy and airless. "Fuck you, fuck this, don't stop, I wanna—"
He reaches down for their cocks but Derek's evidently had the same thought and gets there first; their wrists bang as Derek grabs both their cocks in his right hand. Stiles' own hand ends up on Derek's arm, palming the corded muscle covered by surprisingly thin skin. He can feel the tension as Derek clenches his grip rhythmically, while his hips still rock in and in and in. Derek's thumb—the same one that had just caressed Stiles' cheek—drifts spastically across the heads of Stiles' cock, smearing precum over his glans.
"Ah—" Stiles gasps.
"Breathe," Derek smirks, and it makes Stiles wants to snarl—Stiles can breathe fine, he doesn't need Derek's help for that—fuck—
"You arrogant jackass," he hisses, hurriedly adding his grip over their sliding cocks too, hand matching over Derek's.
Derek's eyes widen at that, and he says, "You—" and his fingers under Stiles' loosen, and his hips gradually roll to a stop.
Something's wrong. "What, oh my god, what's going on," Stiles babbles, levering himself up on his elbows. Derek moves off of Stiles entirely, the lines of his body taut, and sits back on his haunches. Stiles is left cold, grasping at nothing.
"I can't do this," says Derek. Stiles turns to glass.
"No—what? Why? Why not?"
"I mean, we shouldn't do this," Derek reiterates. He starts to get off the bed. Impulsively, Stiles' darts out his hand and grabs Derek's. Derek freezes, staring down at where Stiles is holding him in place. Stiles immediately lets go.
"It's okay, whatever," Stiles says, haltingly. His gut lurches; he has no idea what he's talking about. But it's something to say. "I mean. It's okay to change your mind."
"No, that's not—" Derek looks away, frustration lining his mouth. "It's not... you," he says lamely.
Oh god, so it totally is. "Dude," Stiles says. "I get it. It's—we don't get along. But it was just going to be a one-time thing. I'm not—I'm not going to ask anything from you."
Derek lets out a derisive chuckle. "Yeah. That." He sits on the edge of the bed and rakes a hand through his hair.
Stiles just stares at him, wondering what he did wrong, wondering what he should do now. The sloping curl of Derek's back, pitched halfway forwards as if he's two seconds away from bolting, is making Stiles' stomach twist painfully. Derek's cock is going soft. What did Stiles say? It couldn't have been the jackass comment; Stiles has said much worse—Derek has said much worse. Unless Derek just stopped feeling it? Like he realized what he was doing, who he was doing it with, and thought maybe it wasn't worth it. That's—not ideal, but plausible.
Stiles' own cock is fast losing interest in the proceedings. The heat from before has dissipated entirely; the moment has passed. Stiles is disappointed, but more in himself. He feels like he's missed something big: a huge neon warning sign that he barreled past at light speed, and now is madly trying to backtrack, find where he made a wrong turn, so he can get back on the right path.
"Hey," he says. He slides up to Derek and seats himself carefully beside him, blanket caught in his lap. His words taste bitter on his tongue. "We can forget it happened."
Derek frowns. "I don't—that's not what I want."
Stiles inhales. "Oh. Then what do you want?"
He gets the impression that there's a war going on behind Derek's eyes—whole nebulas of creation and deconstruction happening like the rise and fall of a tidal wave—because when Derek looks at him, it feels like Derek is bursting with something inside. Stiles doesn't know how to react to that look, other than to wait it out. His leg twitches. His skin crawls.
He says, "Never min—"
This is when Derek pushes in for a kiss.
It's not gentle, but it's slow, deep. Punishing. If there's a message that Derek is trying to get through to him—and there has to be, right? Derek's an action man, not particularly verbose; Stiles doesn't know what stopped their momentum earlier, but if Derek wants to kiss again, then Stiles can happily provide. Whatever Derek is trying to tell him, Stiles tries to kiss back his acceptance, as well as he can—it's okay; yes, this is odd, but good too; I like it; I like—anchoring a hand on Derek's neck. "I—" Stiles murmurs, between bites of Derek's mouth, "you—"
"Just this," breathes Derek, his voice almost a tangible quality against Stiles' lips. He pulls Stiles closer; Stiles goes easily. They kiss for long, syrupy minutes until Stiles can't remember who he is outside of what Derek is sharing with him.
Eventually they slow down. Derek places one last lingering kiss on Stiles' lips before leaning back. "Thanks," he says.
"For what?" Stiles says, flabbergasted.
Derek shrugs. He turns to reach for his underwear.
"Oh no, no, no," Stiles says, slapping Derek's hands away. "All that kissing and then you're just going to up and leave? No way, José. The least you can do is give me a cuddle."
"Stiles," says Derek.
"Derek," parrots Stiles sarcastically. He grabs Derek's shoulders—god, they're so tense—and hauls him into his bed. "We don't have to have sex, all right? I'm down with just kissing. You need to relax so you can sleep. Here. Get under the blanket, and we can kiss until you get too tired to put up with me."
"Stiles," Derek says again, as Stiles arranges his blanket over them. "I'm not going to—"
Stiles pecks him and laughs when Derek instantly reacts, kissing back. Derek's only language tonight seems to be kissing; Stiles can work with that. Actually he's kind of exhilarated—he's never seen Derek like this before, so willing to be pushed around by Stiles. Maybe his fatigue is at last getting the better of him, because no matter the protests he abortively tries to give, he doesn't pull away from Stiles, so they all evaporate in Stiles' mouth. He can't really be fooled by Stiles' obvious ploy, but there's a concession in the way that Derek's arm comes to wrap around Stiles' back, his hand weaving into Stiles' short hair. When Stiles finally breaks for air, Derek is looking just as dazed as Stiles feels.
"You're a strange one, dude," Stiles says.
"Pot, kettle," Derek says, leaning back in.
Late moonlight slits through Stiles' blinds and claims territory across the dips and bumps of their bodies on Stiles' bed. Everything is dark and quiet save for Derek's slow breaths and the light scratching sounds of Stiles rubbing his blanket absently as he lets his mind drift. They're shoulder to shoulder, an inch of space between them, and there's a layer of awkwardness keeping Stiles from truly relaxing like he should at this hour of night, but it's far from unbearable. He knows Derek is still awake, so he's doing his best to stay awake too. Like this, sprawled side by side, Derek's entire back is on display for Stiles like an art piece, triskele tattoo starkly black; if Derek can feel Stiles' attention caught on it helplessly, he doesn't complain. Stiles doesn't know how much time passes with them just lying here, only exchanging a few occasional soft-voiced words, but the moonlight has drifted a quarter of the distance across Stiles' room since they stopped kissing. Stiles in that nebulous space past consciousness where the world is blurry like an unfocused camera. He feels—he's not sure. He feels good, despite the surrealism of the situation. He likes that he convinced Derek not to escape back to the living room couch. This is the longest time he and Derek have spent in each other's company without it degenerating into hostility, and Stiles is kind of loving it. Even though they didn't actually have sex, the kissing had been really nice while it lasted—and it succeeded in getting Derek to unwind: Stiles can tell from the softness of the muscles in Derek's back.
Stiles isn't confident that this isn't a dream. Derek, warm and pliant in his bed? It's like he's been dunked into The Twilight Zone. Maybe he's is hallucinating from sleep deprivation.
"Has anyone ever written poetry about you?" Stiles asks, gently breaking the silence. He feels blissful and hazy as unconsciousness drifts and ebbs from him, so of course his brain has abandoned sense and is running as free as a horse on an open ranch.
"What?" Derek says, and Stiles is so gratified to hear how faint his voice is.
"Like, body of marble, eyebrows of sin, all that jazz."
"Eyebrows of sin," Derek repeats. He turns onto his back and turns to look fully at Stiles with heavy-lidded eyes. Stiles pinches his bicep just to be annoying.
Derek's lip twitches left but he doesn't wince. "No one," he says. "Sorry to break it to you."
"Don't look at me like I'm going to do it. I was just curious."
"There aren't exactly a lot of poets on the Moon."
"Gee, the way you go on about it, you'd think there's nothing at all on the Moon."
Derek hums. "It's the most hostile living conditions known to man. Not much to brag about."
"Dude. Are you fishing for compliments?"
"Like, how I think it's amazing that you were born there and have spend so much of your life there that it's ludicrous how desensitized you are to everything. Space isn't normal life, you know! Ninety percent of the world's population probably wouldn't even dream of going up there, much less actually get to go up there! But it's like this—everything to do with space is impressive. You're not on Earth anymore. Derek, it's everything to brag about."
Derek says, almost musingly, "You're really proud of your dad, aren't you?"
"Of course I am," says Stiles, blinking.
Derek reaches over and rubs a thumb across Stiles' cheekbone. "We're lucky to have him on Selene. If you ever get sad that he's so far away—or for whatever reason—you should keep that in mind."
"I know," says Stiles. "I know that."
All of the sudden he feels shockingly sober. He's letting too much of himself out. Tomorrow—no, today—Derek will be leaving to go back to the Moon. Stiles probably won't get to see him again for months. And then what—are they going to return to their old bickering ways? What's going to happen the next time they see each other? If they even do get to see each other, assuming the storm doesn't—
"Promise you'll be okay up there," says Stiles, in a rush. "Promise you'll take care of my dad, and keep an eye on Scott, because he's not as clumsy as he was when we were kids, but he still has this nasty tendency to charge in without thinking like the dumbass he is."
Derek's chin tilts upwards and Stiles stares at him, trying to understand the unblinking expression painting Derek's face. Is it indifferent? Sincere? Stoically offended?
"You don't think much of me, but you can trust me to do my job," is what Derek says.
Sincerity, then. Stiles tucks that information into the back of his mind for keepsies.
"I think stuff of you," says Stiles.
Derek shrugs, gaze askance, and he lets out a long sigh. "You said it yourself. We aren't friends."
Well, now Stiles feels like a jerk. "Don't make it sound so severe! I didn't mean it, like, harshly or anything. We totally have had entire conversations before. Remember that argument about eggplants? You had no idea what they were. That was enlightening for both of us, I'm sure. We were—I mean. It's not like I hated you. I never, uh. I don't hate you."
"Thanks," says Derek, smirking.
"At least I know now that you're easily won over by pizza and bad movies."
"It was mostly the stellar commentary," Derek says, and Stiles can't resist that; Derek's smirk melts into something softer when Stiles indulges in a quick peck to the patch of Derek's shoulder within his reach.
"Are you going to sleep? You have to sleep," Stiles says.
"Yeah," says Derek, eyes drifting shut.
Underneath the blanket, their arms are almost touching, so Stiles shimmies a little closer until they are. Derek has to feel it too, but he stays put.
Derek loads the last hovercart's worth of supply crates into the back of his ship and lets it glide back to Stiles' waiting hands. He closes the hatch, keys the lock in place, and looks around for one final survey of the now-empty dock.
"Yep," Stiles says. He feels uneasily dry inside. A hardened peach pit is lodged in his esophagus somewhere because now comes the awkward part: goodbyes, well wishes, see you agains. He wants this not to feel so finite; it's not like he can't hook up a comm with Derek or his dad and check in on the station, but there's something about seeing someone jet off into the stratosphere to land on another celestial body hundreds of miles away, the day when he can return to Earth hovering at an ominous To Be Determined, that can instill a sense of desolation in a guy. Since Stiles' dad is pretty much permanently tied to his post, and Derek's the one in charge of picking up shipments and dropping off new lunar specimens for NTCCO's researchers, Derek is actually the most constant link that Stiles has with the Moon. Stiles must have seen Derek off from this platform over fifty times by now, but it's never felt strained like this before. Whatever inexplicable truce that had fallen over them last night and carried through in ungainly bursts this morning, when they'd woken up with Stiles heaped over Derek like a rag doll—Stiles doesn't know how to ask for a repeat performance, sex or no sex. Derek last night had been weighed down by gravity, a flightless bird in a strange environment—there could have been any number of reasons why he decided to turn to Stiles for comfort. Stiles can think of them all, and none of them include, "Because I've magically turned over a new leaf." He's known Derek for eight years, has worked closely with him for two, and Stiles isn't so naive as to think that one soft night between them has washed clean all the water under the bridge. They’re not a couple; no one's made any insinuations of that. They're still Derek and Stiles, two vastly different physical entities, no matter that they’ve now seen (and touched!) each other’s wieners. Except—
Something about the significance of this storm, and the jumbled way Derek had shown new sides of himself to Stiles, it's throwing Stiles off balance. "See you later" seems dismissive. A kiss seems overkill. He could work up his nerve and go for a hug, maybe, or something more professional like a handshake.
Apparently Stiles takes too long deciding on what to do, because Derek clicks his tongue and reaches for him, dragging Stiles over by the sleeve of his sweatshirt. He tucks his face beside Stiles', and his lips graze Stiles' ear as he mutters lowly, "Come visit when you can."
Stiles tries not to shiver. "Yeah. Of course. Duh. Definitely. Just, uh," his voice cracks, "make sure you and my dad are there to meet me?"
Derek nods. "I did say something about that. You forgot?"
He did, and Stiles didn’t. "I know, but. Bad things can happen, you know? If you guys got into trouble, or got sick, or—" His tongue darts out nervously to wet his dry lips.
"Hey," Derek says quietly. "Look at me."
Stiles looks at him.
"We'll be fine," says Derek. "Breathe. Don't panic like you sometimes do."
Stiles' temper flares. "Screw you, why'd you have to bring that up? It's been ages since you last saw me—"
"Stiles," Derek says, more firmly. He pins down Stiles' wrists with his hands.
And Stiles' body obeys despite himself—he takes a slow breath. Some of his anxiety bleeds away, to be replaced by irritation—stupid Derek, always telling Stiles what to do, even when Stiles obviously isn't hyperventilating.
"Good," says Derek, smiling slightly, and the irritation dissolves completely.
"Huh, who knew that flipping through a few old comic books would inspire you to be some noble hero," Stiles grins back, fighting his impulse to turn his hand around to link their fingers. "I have to say, I really like this side of you. I might swoon." His fingers are twitching. He hastily shoves his hands into his pockets.
"Don't romanticise it," says Derek. "I grew up on the Moon. Things come easily for me up there." He shifts, squeezing Stiles' wrists one last time. "You'll be okay?"
"Hey, I'm not the one with some mega virus to deal with."
"There's suffering in being alone, though," Derek says, pointedly not looking away from Stiles' startled gaze. "It can be hard."
Thumpitty-thump-thump!! blares Stiles' heart. Warning, warning! Hull breeched, caution lights flashing. You are not properly prepared for emotions of this magnitude!
"You should probably leave right now," Stiles croaks. "Or something really embarrassing might happen to you in the next ten seconds."
Derek's mouth twists and he lets go of Stiles. He climbs into the cockpit of his spaceplane and is about to slide on his helmet, when he turns, leaning one arm over the edge of the ship and peering down at Stiles. "When you fly up next, you should come see me."
Derek says, "Yeah, really."
"Why not," says Stiles, and hopes that the sweat on his forehead isn’t too obvious. Because—what, okay. "Now go and kick some mutant space virus ass."
"We'll do our best," Derek says wryly, clicking his helmet into place. The glass dome of his cockpit lowers with the hiss of a hydraulic and Stiles runs back from the dock so he won't be burnt to a crisp during take-off. The landing strip lights up in a go-ahead from the control tower and Derek's plane cranes itself up to a 45-degree angle. Derek's too distant for Stiles to see much more than the top half of his helmet through the cockpit window, but Stiles raises a hand in the air anyway, and he thinks he sees Derek nod his acknowledgement before the engine bellows its ignition, fire flashing electric blue with heat. Stiles covers his ears and squints as the Gray Wolf shoots down the track and up into open blue, breaking the sound barrier with a huge ripple of pressured air and an explosive crack, disappearing fast into the clouds, until Stiles is staring at a perfectly pleasant Tuesday morning on Earth, the seamless sky betraying no hint of the immense universe beyond.
Stiles heads back inside.
"Okay, you look kind of exhausted, but not totally disgusted with yourself?" Scott says, when Stiles drops next to him at their regular lunch table.
"I'm multilayered like that," says Stiles, and grabs the blueberry muffin off Scott's tray. Stiles sprung for the dry-ass banana bread as the dessert choice in his lunch set and had regretted it immediately.
"How much sleep did you even get last night?" Scott asks.
"Less than you, I'm betting," Stiles says, grinning widely, and Scott holds up arms into an X-shape.
"Ix-nay any ore-may."
"Relax, Gertrude McPrude. Nothing happened."
"Really?" Scott asks, surprised.
"We actually ended up talking. It was the weirdest thing."
"You and Derek? About what?"
"Oh, just classical literature and the Spice Girls."
"Derek's favorite is Ginger Spice."
"So no orgasms," Scott says dubiously.
"Well, I didn't say that. Those pictures of you at our last Halloween party really got me revved up."
"You're a sick person. Give me back my muffin."
Stiles crams the remaining half of it into his mouth. "What muffin," he mumbles around the crumbs. "How was training this morning?"
"Good, I guess," Scott says, sighing. "I got promoted to co-captain for the mission."
"Oh! Dude!" Stiles holds up his hand for a high-five. "That's awesome, great job!" Some crumbs spray onto Scott's desolate face. "Whoops, sorry."
Scott wipes away the crumbs as he stares forlornly at Stiles' open palm. "Jackson's still the other captain, though."
"Yeah, but now you can veto his orders. And you don't have to listen to what he tells you to do!"
"No, dude, he is going to make my life a living hell for this, I know it." Scott's voice grows in volume as he panics. "Stiles, what if he kills me out there? If he pushes me out of the atmospheric barrier without my helmet or something—out the hatch—I'll be a floating speck and they'll never find my body. Stiles, what do I do?!"
"Woah, no, calm down, buddy." Stiles puts his hands on Scott's shoulders and gives him a little shake. Scott blinks wildly. "Hey, you're good, you're good. Not even Jackson is that much of a douchebag. The mission depends on you and he's not going to screw up a mission."
"Okay, yeah. Okay."
"And if you see him charging for you, try to knock him out first."
"Keep your head low and go for his oxygen tube."
"Chill out, I'm just joking," says Stiles. "You'll be fine. I made Derek swear to look after you, too, so. He hates Jackson."
"Did you?" Scott asks, and though he sounds skeptical, there's a trace of relief in his tone. "Why does Derek hate Jackson? They've never met."
"Derek hates Jackson because he only knows as much as I tell him, and I've only ever told him about the worst parts of Jackson, which are, let's face it, pretty much all the parts of Jackson except his physical features."
Now Scott is starting to look confused. "This is weird. You're talking about Derek as if you're friends now? Just yesterday you sent me a text complaining that his presence was a curse sent from above."
"That was mainly an excuse to use that pun," Stiles deflects.
"Uh huh," Scott says slowly, eyebrows scrunching inwards.
"And I'm not calling Derek a friend," Stiles say, feeling slightly cagey, like maybe if Scott stares hard enough, he'll see marks on Stiles that have been left from Derek's mouth, Derek's words. And Stiles doesn't think there are any. He doesn't feel that different about Derek. And what he does feel about Derek is mostly confusion. He should probably be dismal and bitter because Derek didn't want to have sex with him, but he can't muster up any anger about it. Just as he hadn't been able to muster up the guts to ask Derek about it outright this morning. What Derek had revealed about himself on the balcony had been a miracle in itself.
Stiles hadn't known how to word it properly anyway: "So, Derek, you're not into me for sex but you seem to like kissing me, what's up with that? Does it even mean anything or am I getting my panties in a bunch for nothing?" Getting Derek pissed was easy; opening him up wasn't in Stiles' repertoire.
Also, if he really thinks about it, there's an obvious answer, isn't there? The simplest one: Stiles wasn't worth the trouble. For whatever reason, Stiles hadn't been worth it.
Except, something about the way Derek kissed him afterwards—like Derek was ashamed of wanting it, then ashamed of being ashamed, sorry and not sorry at the same time, resenting Stiles and yet not pushing him away, then staying in Stiles' bed—
"Wow, your face right now,” Scott says, which snaps Stiles out of his daze.
“What the hell went on last night? I thought you'd have, like, I-hate-that-I'm-attracted-to-you angry-tension sex, and you'd get him out of your system, but it wasn't that at all, was it?"
"We only made out. A bit."
Scott makes an expression like that's even more horrific than getting into Derek's pants.
Stiles goes on, "And, I don't know, it was okay. Pretty good. He didn't want to take it any further, so—we didn't."
"Oh," says Scott, sounding apprehensive. "Does... he want to take it further at some point in the, uh, future?"
"Beats me. Maybe?"
Stiles says, haltingly, "I kind of—wouldn't, mind, I guess."
This may be an understatement. But Stiles hasn't let himself examine that too much yet. He's only on his third cup of coffee of the day.
Scott shakes his head, marvelling. "Stiles, don't you remember all the shit this guy has given you? Remember that time he slammed you up against the wall because you spilt motor oil on his jacket?"
"In his defense, I did do that on purpose."
"Because he was being a jerk to you!"
"Yeah, but." Stiles' mouth works fruitlessly for a moment. "He's just—always been like that? Wait, not always. Maybe 75 percent of the time. He was pretty okay last night during the movie, wasn't he?"
"I guess..." Scott trails off.
Stiles tries to go for reassurance. In all honesty, he can't explain it well to himself either. "I don't get off on him being mean or anything, god, but, uh. I'm used to it? It's normal for us."
Scott’s lips flatten out unhappily. "He likes you though?"
"Dude, I don't know, we didn't hash out our feelings with color-coded diagrams or anything. We just—made out. And before that we talked. And there was very little insulting going on. He actually has a sense of humor, shockingly. Either that or he was laughing at me the entire time, which," he amends hastily, catching the spark of anger flickering across Scott's face, "was definitely not happening!"
"Then—what about Lydia?"
"What about Lydia? This has nothing to do with—" Stiles says, aghast. "Wait, did she say something about me?"
"No," Scott says sullenly.
"You nearly gave me a heart attack. Look, Lydia rammed her point home ages ago. With formulaic proofs and everything. She's—yeah. I think Derek finds me attractive, at least." To some extent.
"And you're sure you don't have an alien spore infecting your brain?" Scott insists.
Stiles rolls his eyes. "That must be it."
"Well, I don't know! How would you react if your best friend was suddenly head over heels for this dude who he's never managed to interact with without it turning into some kind of teeth-baring cage match? It would be as if I suddenly got together with Jackson."
"You're exaggerating," Stiles says firmly. "Okay, one, Jackson is scum personified and the fact that I now have the mental image of you two together is going to put me back into therapy, so muchas gracias for that. Second, Derek and I have never gone mano-a-mano, cage match style, because I would be pulverized dust in the ground had that happened; and lastly, I'm not head over heels for Derek Hale. Dude, no. Gross."
"Why do you trust him to watch my back then?"
"Because he actually can!" Stiles explodes, arms shooting out wide and nearly losing his balance on the bench. "He's the most capable lunar officer ever; my dad says all the time that the only reason he still has his job is because Derek has zip desire to be sheriff. The guy dedicates his entire life to improving living conditions up there for us and goes home to no one at the end of the work day. So he's a fucking grouchy asshole. He's—my dad's always said that Derek's a good man. And I never not believed that. Not even when I was ready to tear my hair out of frustration of dealing with him."
"Yeah, no, I knew that," Scott says, his eyebrows furrowing with guilt. "I didn't mean to say that he's a bad person—he's mostly cold to me, but not like, a total ass like Jackson is. But, I don't know, he's a lot more aggressive with you than he is with me, so I was worried. Sorry, I'm not trying to be all creepily overprotective about it."
"Hey, no biggie," Stiles says hastily, cuffing Scott around the neck. "You were looking out for my best interests, and I love you for that. But I really don't think last night is the start of any type of pattern, so don't worry your pretty little head about it. Derek and I are on better terms now, but we're still basically living on different planets."
"And when you get your cottage on the Moon?" Scott says. He's smiling crookedly, traces of anger and doubt vanished. Sometimes Stiles adores Scott so much it's painful.
"Well, then I'll have to rely on my permanent houseguest to be my knight in shining armor," says Stiles, and drops a kiss onto Scott's temple, just to hear Scott make fake gagging sounds.
Scott doesn't. Scott grins back and says, "Anytime, anywhere."
Scratch everything that Stiles thought was bad about yesterday. It all pales in comparison to this. This, Stiles would gladly jump into the fusion furnaces to avoid. This is hell on Earth.
The blinding fluorescent lights of the medical office overexposes the color of everything, turning sterility into sharpness, ambient noise into whispers of paranoia, amplifying each clink of Deaton's instruments on his preparation trays to as loud as the clanging of sword on shield. Stiles hates hospitals and clinics. He knows objectively that this is a safe house of healing, but every time he's here, an acidic taste rises at the back of his throat and threads a basal level of nausea through him. He knows that it's all in his head, but he can't help it: Stiles has got too many bad memories associated with places like this.
"It's just a few shots, Stiles," says Dr. Deaton, patting Stiles on the forearm. He must mean to make it a gesture of comfort, but all Stiles can interpret it as is, Aaah, fresh meat.
"It's eight shots," Stiles says. "Technically, that's more than a few." He feels faint. He's sweating. He's only been here for ten minutes.
"Yes, because you asked to get the comprehensive set. You do want these shots, yes?" Deaton asks.
"Um. Yeah. In theory. If you had any alternative forms of vaccine—pills, patches? Nasty tasting medicine? Whatever you've got, I'm game."
"You ask that every year, and the answer remains negative, I'm afraid. It's got to go straight into your bloodstream to take."
"What the hell are our chemists wasting their time doing if they're not making all injections into chewable tablet form?"
Deaton ignores that. "Your friend Scott handled twenty shots very well, you know."
"He was drugged up! Wait, can I get that too? Knock me out."
"I wouldn't suggest it," Deaton says patiently. "Some of Mr. McCall's vaccines had to be infused slowly into his system via intravenous. He'll be lunar for many weeks, so he needs the preventative benefits of long-lasting treatment. You, on the other hand—remind me again: are you even going up there within the next two weeks?"
"I might be," Stiles hedges. Truthfully, he doesn't even know why he's putting himself through his torture, since his dad, that meddling tyrant, had called administration specifically to cancel Stiles' flight booking on the civilian craft flying up next week; Stiles got the notice not two hours ago. By then, he'd managed to convince himself it would be useful to get the shots anyway. Not that he's really planning on sneaking about Scott's ship, but he'd already gone through the trouble of booking an appointment with Deaton, and then hyping himself up for the shots for the past weeks—he felt silly backing out at the last minute after the fuss he'd made to schedule the appointment. If a miracle happens and the storm ends early, then Stiles can to be first in line for the flight over. Admittedly, stuff that serendipitous occurs mostly in movies, but Stiles' imagination is just as healthy as it's stubborn.
Also, he's not turning down an excuse to avoid the existential limbo his desk has become. Stiles hasn't been able to get any real work done all morning. This will help keep his mind off Derek for at least a little while.
"You are aware of the class 2 storm warning in place?" Deaton asks.
"Just checking," says Deaton, smiling placidly. He swipes a cotton ball of cold alcohol down Stiles' bared arm. "Let's get started then." He picks up the first syringe and taps out the air bubbles. "You can look away if you like."
"I know," says Stiles, but he doesn't. He's always been fascinated by things that could hurt him, regardless of risk, danger, or his own palpitating heart rate, and there's a kind of masochistic satisfaction he gets from watching himself get injected. He loathes needles. Truly and utterly loathes them. He thinks he would rather take a bullet than a needle. Unfortunately for him, they're mandatory for all Earth-residents flying to the Moon. The extreme conditions of outer space causes health problems over time—blindness, bone density loss, bodily fluid redistribution... the list is long. Because the man-made atmosphere domed inside the Moon stations is still largely unstable, people who are physically used to the muddled-potpourri air on Earth get sick too easily there. The synthetic air composition, the arid climate, traces of biochemicals sprayed on crops to boost their resilience and longevity, all together churned up with strong radiation from the sun, create volatile free-floating compounds that so-called Earthling immune systems can't handle. The vaccination shots help prevent lunar illnesses with general success, especially for newcomers, but the best antidote still stands as long-term exposure: the longer a person stays on the Moon, the better his or her body can adapt to its environment.
The fact that Stiles still has to get shots, each and every year, is just another reminder that he doesn't belong there. Not yet.
"So tell me," Deaton says, finishing with the first syringe, "how is your project going? It's sensible of you to make a new type of detection radar."
Stiles nearly flails. Thank goodness the needle was out, holy damn. "What are you talking about?" he laughs nervously. "I don't have a new project. I'm working on those Navigator-II engine specs like everyone else in my department."
"Oh? Because I heard that you came up with a pretty neat idea to track pure elements while—"
"Who told you that!"
Deaton smiles. "No one in particular."
"Oh my god, it was Scott, wasn't it," Stiles hisses.
"I guess it wouldn't be prudent of me to reveal my sources."
"I'm going to kill him. Don't ask me how, but I'm going to do it."
"He's very talkative when he's on morphine, did you know?" Deaton says, chuckling lightly. .
"Boy, do I," says Stiles. He'd been there to pick up Scott after Scott had appendix surgery, then another time when Scott needed his wisdom teeth removed—it's like being high disconnects Scott's mouth directly to his brain; the guy completely loses all his filters, even the one controlling grammar ("Stiles! Squirrel outside window in the hospital so it was the first thing I saw, and you!"). Stiles sighs, looking up at Deaton beseechingly. "Don't tell anyone? Finstock will come for my blood if he knew I was working on stuff other than my assigned projects. I got my ass whupped last time I got caught."
"Your secret's safe with me, Stiles. Doctor-patient confidentiality."
That doesn't even make sense because he let out Scott's secret that he let out Stiles' secret. Well, anyway. Deaton's cool. "I guess the blueprints are going all right," Stiles admits. "I should be able to make a prototype by the end of the week. If it works, it'll make mining sooo much easier up there."
Deaton raises his eyebrows. "Your dedication's very admirable."
Stiles kicks his heels against the side of the exam table, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “I mean, I'm invested in it, you know? I want to live up there. But new applicants are only allowed to apply to one company position at a time, and back then, I had this massive crush on this girl who was working in the astrophysics department here. So, yeah, I wanted to stay close to her. But that fell through, and by then the jobs on the Moon were all filled. I try again every year though, but—the waiting list is really long, and there are actually, believe it or not, tons of people more qualified than I am. I've only been working here a few years. They want people so experienced they eat newbies like me for breakfast. And it's no biggie, I get it. Just—I wish they made it easier to get up there.”
“Well, it’s not a light matter, living up there. The risks associated with it are rather... shall we say, substantial. I imagine you're well informed with them.”
“Pfft. Yeah, I am. But the awesomeness of everything else is so worth it.”
"You wouldn't miss Earth?"
Stiles gnaws absently on string of his hoodie. "No, of course I would! Earth is—Earth. It's pretty and has cute animals and baseball and stuff. But the Moon is—you know how sometimes you see a gorgeous photograph of this city on the other side of the world, and you're just like, wow, I really want to go there. For a vacation or something. So you research it and daydream about it and how great it'll be, and you're convinced you're getting your hopes up, but when you finally manage to go, the place actually exceeds your expectations. You're just like, I love it here. And there's lots of reasons why you love it, but mostly it's just a feeling deep in your gut: you love it. And when you go back home, because trips are temporary, you keep thinking back to that place and how awesome it is and even though you like being home, after going to your favorite place everything from home just seems a little less exciting, a little dimmer. You get restless. You start counting down the days till you can revisit that place, maybe spend your retirement there." He pauses. "It's never stopped being like that for me. And maybe after living there for a few years, I'll get sick of it and want to come back to Earth, I don't know, but right now, I just really, really want to—like, it's the fucking Moon, you know?"
Deaton nods in understanding. "You left your heart there, it seems." He presses a new cotton ball to Stiles' arm and says, "Hold that please."
"Oh," Stiles says, surprised. He hadn't kept count. "We're done?" He eyes the medical tray on the desk, where eight empty syringes lie, innocent and harmless.
"All done," says Deaton, sticking a band-aid over the cotton. "The key with patients who hate needles is to distract them with something that makes them happy. Not exactly rocket science," he adds, giving a small smile.
"My arm's sore," Stiles says, rubbing it.
"That should fade in a few hours, but come back to see me tomorrow if it doesn't. Now, the most important question of the day: would you like a lollipop?"
Stiles stares, then spits out the string hanging from his mouth. "Why would you ask me that?"
He convinces Deaton to give him four.
Around five o'clock that afternoon, Stiles gets a comm from his father. Derek's made it back to the base in one piece, and everyone is heralding the double shipment by cracking open the new crate of alcohol. Everyone's been working extended shifts in order to harvest as many crop fields as possible and to put up additional protection for their air and water tanks, and the break couldn't come at a better time.
"Thanks for arranging everything so quickly, Stiles. I know it was a lot to ask." His dad sits back in his plush leather chair (one of the few luxuries he'd asked to be shipped from Earth) and sips contently from his tumbler of scotch. Even the wavering video feed isn't enough to hide the signs of fatigue that mar his father's face, glaring out at Stiles as proof of his dad's mortality. Stiles chews on a fingernail and reinforces his resolution to get to the Moon as quickly as possible. His dad promises him weekly that he’s eating well up there, but—most of the food up there comes dehydrated, in vacuum-sealed packages, which Stiles knows lacks sorely in both visuals and taste. Just a few Stilinksi-grade home-cooked meals would do wonders to get the spring back in his dad’s step.
“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles waves it off. “Though I expect my Christmas present this year to be extraordinary. Just putting that out there.”
“Out of this world.”
“I got it, Stiles.”
“That’s enough, thanks.”
Stiles coughs. “You should give Derek a raise too. He’s the one doing all your grunt work.”
“Well, I would, if I had any say in the matter. Unfortunately, money is a mythical creature to me nowadays. I hear stories of its whereabouts, of its passing through the accounts, but never see or touch the stuff myself. Chris Argent is the one you should be petitioning.”
“Then why not give Derek a bottle of that Old English you’re cradling there," Stiles deadpans.
His dad makes a pained face. “And you call yourself my son? Where do your loyalties lie?”
“You’re the one who made me share my crayons with Scott when I was three. Now look where that lesson’s led.”
“I talk the talk, kiddo. Derek’s gone home, anyway. Can’t convince that man to relax for the life of me.”
They should put on a bad-movie marathon, Derek might go for that. Hah. Stiles says, “Maybe it’s because, I don’t know, you’re his boss?”
“Sure, there’s that,” admits his dad. “But I suppose he’s just the introverted type. Eight years I’ve worked here, two with him as my deputy, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him attend any social function willingly. He’s always dragged over by someone, and he stays long enough for it not to be rude, and then makes a quiet exit. He doesn’t have many friends on the compound.”
Stiles frowns. “But don’t people throw themselves at him? Last time I visited there was that receptionist lady—I forget her name, but Derek was smiling at her and she was, like, two seconds from erupting in flames, I swear to God.”
“True,” his dad says wryly, “there is a bit of that, especially since pickings on the compounds are… a bit slim, you could say. But everyone here’s a professional, so the advances never last very long. Maybe she was caught off guard that day. Derek’s not exactly a big smiler, if you haven’t noticed.”
“Huh,” says Stiles, because yeah, he’d be a dumbass not to have noticed, but he always attributed it to Derek being a grump, not withdrawn and shy. Holy fuck, is Derek shy? Is he only mean to Stiles because he’s so socially awkward he can’t handle normal human interaction?
“Is Derek shy?” Stiles practically shouts, leaning closer to the computer screen.
“Derek Hale?” His dad nearly spits out the alcohol in his mouth. “No, no, he’s not shy, good grief. He just—keeps to himself. Damn it, you know about his family, Stiles. Can’t blame a guy for being a little reserved after living through something like that. Truth be told, I’m amazed he’s still up on the Moon at all—I honestly thought he’d book it to Earth the first chance he got so he'd never have to think about the accident again.”
“Sure, me too, but—” Stiles pauses. Derek had grown up on the Moon. That’s where all of his happiest memories were too. Maybe he stayed because it reminded him of his family. Even though it hurt.
Derek's the last Hale standing. He's surviving—carrying his losses, moving on. The Moon doesn't stop its rotation for anyone. But it couldn't have been easy to get past. The year Derek's sister Laura had died had been the year Stiles’ dad was instated on Selene; when Stiles had visited, he'd extended a hand and condolences for Derek’s loss but in return all Stiles got was sneered at for existing. Stiles had been having an overwhelming first trip on the Moon and Derek’s vehement rejection of Stiles’ offered hand had been a huge black hole in an otherwise ethereal experience. For that dismissive attitude to last through even to when Derek had caught Stiles having a panic attack—these memories always lie at the back of Stiles' mind like spinning satellites, sometimes shadowing themselves from view, only to orbit back when Stiles wants them least.
It had bugged him for a long time, why Derek had reacted with so much disdain to some dumb kid he had never met before, but now things are starting to make a little more sense. Stiles still carries the weight of his mother's death. As a child, he'd hated himself for missing her so much, but also had been greedy with the pain, because what he hated more was to lose any more of her. Derek probably hates the Moon too, for what it’s done to him and his family, but can’t bear to leave it, because it’s the only connection he has left to them.
What was it that Derek had said last night? There’s more tying him to the Moon than there was pulling him to the Earth. Even if that tie is broken and frayed. Connection’s important, Stiles knows. He takes in another sweep of his dad’s face, every line and wrinkle, both familiar and not. It’s important to know where you belong.
And some sixteen-year-old punk shows up from Earth, riding the high of his dad’s big promotion, expecting some sort of thank you or acquiescence for what he thought was a Very Nice Thing To Say To The Poor Orphan Hale Guy—this snot-nosed teenager who knew nothing about living on the Moon and still spouted off sympathies like he could possibly understand—god, Stiles must have sounded like such a presumptuous dickwad.
“Hey, he wasn’t in any danger flying back today, was he?” Stiles asks. “The storm hasn’t really hit yet.”
“He was fine,” Stiles’ dad says, looking a bit surprised at Stiles’ concern, which—rude, hello, Stiles is a totally caring individual. “It’s three weeks until the storm will reach its peak magnitude. By the way, don’t expect many comms around then, all right?”
“You should get one of those tracking microchips like I’ve been telling you. I can keep up to date about your current vital status whenever I want.”
“Except that I’m not a pet, Stiles.”
“Hey, hey, I’m just saying that if the technology is there, it’s pointless not to use it to its full capacity.”
“Don’t you have some work to do?” gripes his dad.
“You’re the one who called me!”
“Then it’s me who has work to do. Goodbye, Stiles.”
“Fine, vamoose. And take care of yourself, okay?”
“Don’t have to tell me twice.” His dad raises his glass in a toast to the screen, and Stiles gropes around his desk for his energy drink so he can reciprocate the motion. The smile drops off of Stiles’ dad’s face as soon as he sees the bottle. Oh, whoops. Stiles had forgotten—his dad is illogically intolerant of Stiles drinking these things because of Stiles’ ADHD.
“Nope! Talk to you later, love you!” Stiles logs off, sighing. Sometimes being able to literally cut his dad off comes in handy.
He catches Danny’s amused expression from the next desk over. “I can never tell if you’re a really good son, or a really bad one,” says Danny.
“I’m the best of the best, baby,” says Stiles, and toasts Danny too before downing the rest of his drink.
All this recent thinking about Derek in a new (distressingly positive) perspective leaves Stiles feeling confused and guilty and irritable and slightly horny, so during his next coffee break he takes the elevator up to ground level and heads to the astronomy building on the east side of the campus. It's the realm of PhD candidate Miss Lydia Martin, on whom Stiles can always depend on to slap some sense into him, whether he asked for it or not. For a long time, she’d had the exact opposite effect—one whiff of her perfume and it’d send Stiles’ brain dribbling out of his ears like pea soup—but once Lydia had gotten fed up with having him strung to her little finger like a mindless puppet, she’d pulled a triple-whammy, true to her overachieving nature: over the course of one traumatizing conversation, she had systematically destroyed every hope that Stiles had harbored of ever getting together with her, injected him with a huge dose of reality check, and then uplifted his spirits by taking him out to his favorite restaurant—an act of kindness which she’d never done while he was pursuing her. By the end of the night, Stiles had re-fallen in love with her as a friend—the kind of friend who you felt justified in despising because they were so fucking right all the time, but who you were simultaneously so fucking grateful to have in your life because they were so right all the time. Lydia knew things, and she didn’t deal with bullshit. Unless it was her own particular brand of bullshit which she wielded with machete-like precision to get Jackson to do whatever the hell she wanted.
“Please state purpose and duration of visit,” Lydia snaps as soon as Stiles pokes his head into her lab. She’s got her eyes glued to a huge telescope that extends through the retractable roof and is fiddling with its knobs in one hand while the other is diligently taking immaculate notes on a pad of paper.
“How are you writing without seeing what you’re writing?” Stiles asks.
“It’s not hard,” says Lydia, which means it totally is. She doesn’t once halt her jotting. “What do you want, Stiles?”
“Just a chat. Chatty chat chat.”
“I have a lollipop. Two, actually. I was going to save one for Scott, but you can have it.”
“Hm. What flavor?”
“Uh, I’ve got,” Stiles digs into his pocket, “cherry and purple.”
Lydia finally extracts herself from her telescope to glare at him for nomenclature inaccuracies. “Purple’s not a flavor.”
“I don’t agree that it tastes like grape.”
“As if the cherry tastes like cherry either. But fine, give.” Lydia holds out her hands and toes out the swiveling chair beside hers, which Stiles drops into gratefully. “Is this about you being stranded here next week when Jackson’s team is going lunar?” she asks, popping the red lollipop into her mouth.
“It’s Jackson's and Scott’s team now, all right?” Stiles scowls. “And no. But yeah. But... not really?”
“This chat is off to a very promising start,” Lydia says, sliding a calculator seemingly out of mid-air. “Can I work while you talk?”
“No. Eyes on me! I might need your sympathy and fiery morale boosting!”
“I can multitask.” Lydia pulls her notebook into her lap and starts tapping in numbers with her perfectly manicured fingers.
“I slept with Derek Hale last night,” Stiles blurts, and then is promptly horrified at himself.
Lydia stills. She closes her notebook and puts her calculator away. “Go on,” she says.
"Not like that!!"
"You mean actual sleeping?"
"And this has creeped you out, evidently."
Curse her intelligence. Nine times out of ten, Lydia Martin is too perceptive for her own damn good. And even though Stiles always mentally prepares himself for her insightfulness—in fact is seeking it out—to be seen through so quickly and easily, as if Stiles were a nearby star system and Lydia were the Hubble Telescope, is still unnerving and vaguely humiliating.
“I'm not creeped out, all right, it’s just—I’m not sure what’s going on. Derek stayed over last night and I sort of made a move on him, and he responded! We were going to have sex until Derek backed off and said he just wanted to kiss. I was—"
"Wait. Why did he stop?"
"He—didn't want to have sex?"
Lydia narrows her eyes. "Yes, but why?"
The excuses barrel through Stiles' head, already smooth with rehearsal: Stiles did something wrong, Derek had a bad past experience, Derek had wanted to prevent something, Derek realized the same thing that had prompted Stiles to clarify there were no obligations between them—that the two of them are non-sustainable. Too much distance between them, both metaphorical and physical. It's nothing too personal. They're just not a viable couple. It's simple cost-benefit analysis; Derek's probably used to that.
But then why did he invite Stiles to visit him on the Moon?
He's not sure. The signals are too scrambled. And Stiles isn't exactly a flawless signal converter.
Lydia's crossed her arms in impatience, so: "Erectile dysfunction?" Stiles tries.
She sighs. "Did you ask him why he backed off?"
"I kind of—no."
"Because! He seemed so uncomfortable about it. I didn't want to make it worse. It was—I didn't want to push him away or anything."
"I see," says Lydia. Stiles bristles. So what if he didn't ask. If he did, Derek probably wouldn't have answered. Derek's a grown man who has his own mind. And Stiles is an adult too. He doesn't need to ask for more than Derek's willing to give.
"So you just kissed?"
"Yeah, we kissed. And then went to bed. To sleep! I mean, okay, I was a bit confused but he seemed to prefer it. So, fine. And this morning I thought it must have not been anything serious or whatever and I didn't have to worry about it. But then I was talking to Scott and Scott was like, Derek’s been such an ass to you, why do you sound so Team Hale all of the sudden, and I didn't even realize it! I was getting weirdly defensive, you know? And then I had a comm with my dad and he said that Derek was a loner with no friends and never smiled and it made me feel sorry for the guy, but also kind of—empathetic? Not that I’m a loner with no friends. I just—could sort of see where he could be coming from, if I decided to be that person. It’s all—weird. Right?” Stiles wipes his palms on his knees in agitation.
“Actually, I think it’s very mature of you,” Lydia smiles serenely, “viewing Derek in a positive light with respect to more than just his body. You’ve been doing that for so long, no wonder you have cognitive dissonance.”
What? “What the, no I don’t!” Stiles protests. “I wouldn't do that.”
“You once called him a 'beefcake wearing blinders.'"
“No, I’m pretty sure that was about Jackson,” Stiles says, and Lydia cracks her hand across his thigh. “God—ow! Sorry, geez.”
“Focus. You’re freaking out because you think you might like Derek?”
Stiles pales. “I don’t like Derek. I’m only—I don’t know, revaluating my dislike for him. In a way. You can be empathetic to someone you dislike, right?”
“Sure, if you hate yourself too,” Lydia says, tone flat. “Why in the world are you so opposed to liking Derek anyway?”
“Oh my god, why do you have to make it sound like I’m holding some sort of internal conspiracy to hate everything about Derek? It’s not like—it's not that. I am not super fond of Derek, but it’s always been cool because he’s never been fond of me either, so we're even. Last night, though, he had these moments where he was almost,” Stiles struggles for a proper descriptor, “pleasant? Like, less hostile, for sure. And it’s not like he’s always been some wild animal, ready to attack me for just looking at him wrong. We’ve had conversations before that might score on the threshold of normal people interactions. But he's so harsh and stony most of the time, so it’s—like, all of the sudden! How do I deal with this other side of this guy! If he’s actually been nice all along, he’s really been great at keeping it a secret from me. And it completely messes up that easy thing we had going on!” Stiles scrubs his face with his palms. “Okay, you know what, I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore. I don’t even know why I came here to bug you.”
Lydia twirls her lollipop stick. “Come on, don’t chicken out just because you have to deal with strange, new emotions like an actual adult. What did you want to hear from me? That it is weird that you’re thinking of Derek as a real person and not as a piece of meat? That it’s Derek’s fault you’re wracked with guilt over how you’ve treated him the past few years or so you’ve known him? That you shouldn’t worry about it and you’ll wake up tomorrow, everything back to the way it was before you spent a night together?”
“Hey, I’m just confused, all right?” Stiles says. “It’s not like he’s made my life a walk in the park up till now. The first time we had to work together, the only thing he said to me was," he puts on his best Derek voice and steels his shoulders, "‘This job isn’t fun for me, so if you make it even less fun on any level, I’m going to make you regret it.’ How would you have taken that?”
“Whatever, so you both play bully and victim. You work well together. Everyone can see that. Why do you think Finstock lets you deal with MS3’s orders?” Lydia doesn't wait for Stiles to think of a reply. “It’s the same reason your dad keeps on sending Derek down to Earth, even though a deputy should technically stay on location, and even though there are plenty of other qualified people to do pick-up and drop-off. It’s because you two, despite your shared antagonism, always miraculously manage to get the job done. And that’s valuable to everyone who needs you.”
This throws Stiles for a loop. Yes, he’s aware that he and Derek have a certain... solidarity is the wrong word, but so is professionalism, but so is compatibility, but so is basically any other descriptive noun about cooperation that holds a inherently positive connotation. Derek and Stiles don't cooperate, they aggravate. They aggravate themselves sometimes, each other mostly, and everyone else who has to deal with them too by default, until the two of them get done what they need to get done. They're like a tank on the warpath—not the most elegant of artillery, but heavy duty, and when it comes at you, you get the fuck out of the way. It's because they, for different reasons, coincidentally can pull up the exact same level of disparagement towards other people to reach their own needs—which they apply doubly to each other. The first time they had to work together, Derek threatened Stiles no less than five times, with increasingly bloody imagery; Stiles was convinced he wasn't going to make it out alive by the end of the day, and yet no matter how balefully Derek glared at him, Stiles didn't back down. Several occasions Stiles had thought he'd piss his pants in fear, but it didn't stop him from lashing back, insulting Derek and his skill and the ship he'd rode in on. And that just got Derek angrier. Theirs was a stressful relationship.
Stiles has just always assumed that he's been wired wrong as a human being from day one. And Derek Hale just happened to have completely mismatched circuitry, so whenever they got too close, heat charged, sparks of fury flew, and they both got burned.
They're a good team. Stiles can accept that. But up till now, he's thought their measure of success came well-deserved despite their clashing personalities. Not—because of them?
"Do you think I'm out of touch with reality?" Stiles has to ask. He's feeling kind of loose at the hinges.
Lydia laughs: a sharp, short peal. "Sure, but that's got nothing to do with this. I'm telling you the truth. Ask Scott if you don't believe me. Just mentioning Derek gets him all protective of you but even he'll admit that you two do good work together. Don't you remember last year, first quarter, when there was that air tank emergency? You complained about Derek for weeks afterwards. When he touched down here, you'd already prepared the replacement valve system, and Derek didn't say anything to you, just took them out to check their calibrations, and you swore at him for not thanking you for doing all this extra work, and threatened to never help out again; then he said—"
"'You'd do it anyway. That's the way you are,'" Stiles repeats. He remembers. It had been such an infuriating conversation that it'd scored itself onto Stiles' memory, word for word. "So what? So I can do my job even if it's hard. Do you know the shit that Derek has to put up with sometimes? And he probably hates half of the work he has to do, but he does it anyway."
"The point is," Lydia juts in, pursing her lips in exasperation, like she can't believe Stiles is this dense, "you two understand each other. You behave like Neanderthals and are constantly baiting each other, but whenever Derek's got a problem, he knows he can depend on you to help him, just like you know you will help him. Do you think Derek Hale makes it a habit to depend on a lot of people?"
"...No," admits Stiles.
Lydia examines him silently, from scuffed sneaker toe to jostling knee to whatever the expression is showing on Stiles' face. Her eyes soften for a moment. But just for a moment.
"You know, it's about time you two started getting along outside of work. I can’t believe that it took until you saw Derek’s dick to make it this far. Are we still fifteen?"
Damn, Stiles hates it when she breaks out the collective pronouns.
Lydia bites into what's left of her lollipop, the candy crunching loudly under her back teeth. "Was it actually sexual tension the whole time?" she asks, her smile as quick as a blade.
"No!" Stiles shouts, appalled.
"Calm down, I'm just teasing," Lydia laughs. "Okay, tell me: did he take off his shirt?"
Lydia claps her hands. "Great! Describe it. Spare no details."
Ah, now this is a topic Stiles can handle. "Where do I even start—wait. Is Jackson going to hurt me for telling you this?"
Lydia props her feet into his lap and unwraps the purple lollipop. "I'm mad at him anyway."
"It's not his fault he's a giant tool. Oh wait, it is. What did he do?"
"He's losing sanity over Scott's promotion. He spent the night in the hologram room doing who knows what. Trying to increase his testosterone levels or something like that. We were supposed to watch The Notebook." Lydia pouts.
"Okay, well, that I don't blame him for avoiding," says Stiles. "You're obsessed with that old movie. Like, frighteningly so."
Lydia narrows her eyes. "Plebe. How dare you."
"You once quoted an entire scene to me. Backwards. While drunk."
"Is it my fault I have such a good memory and Ryan Gosling's acting is so moving?" Lydia snaps. "Now regale me about your sex life or get out of my lab."
Despite Lydia's grudging approval of his romantic liaisons, Stiles leaves the astronomy building feeling oddly wrung out, as if he were a t-shirt that spent too long tumbling in the dryer. Not exactly uncomfortable, just—slightly off-kilter. Stretched, in new and unfamiliar ways. "There's my emotional development quota for the year," Stiles mutters to himself as he heads back below to R&D, and decides, as a reward, to skive off the rest of the day's work and build cool shit. The remaining afternoon hours slip by smoothly with Stiles holed up in his office, headphones blasting a playlist of hard rock, smooth jazz, and classic pop standards, as he works double-time on his radar. Unlike facing uncomfortable truths about his whatever-it-is with Derek, building comes easy to Stiles. He's in his element here. It's like a puzzle, connecting the pieces in a certain structure to get the end product to perform a certain way. If it doesn't, go back and troubleshoot. When Stiles was young his mother got him hooked on children's mystery novels and whodunit shows, and Stiles likes to think that his aptitude for engineering, his tendency to stick his nose in other people's business, and inability to let things go (equal parts determination and stubbornness) stemmed from his long-standing love of solving problems—well, that, and a healthy dose of superhero worship. Stiles' ADHD hasn't always been his best friend over the years, but when Stiles is working on a project he really enjoys, no one would ever mistake him for someone who suffered from attention problems—that's how focused he could get. Today it's not until he feels Scott tap him on the shoulder that Stiles bothers to look up from his desk for the first time in what feels like ages.
"I knew you'd still be here," says Scott. "Want to get dinner with the team? Erica wants to try that new Korean fusion place on Rochester."
Stiles looks at his watch: it's almost eight. He hadn't even noticed. He stands up, stretching his back and hearing a succession of popping bones. "Korean sounds good. Is Jackson going?"
"Erica invited him, but he glared at me and stomped off somewhere—"
"—but he said he might show up later."
"Not so great."
"We can eat fast and leave before he comes?" Scott suggests.
Stiles' stomach takes the moment to let out a truly terrifying gurgle—the warning sound of a state of emergency. "Screw that. If he comes, then he can deal. I'm going to stuff my stomach until my belt hurts."
"I don't know why you're avoiding him anyway. The jello prank was ages ago."
"That's the point! It's his turn now! I have to be vigilant at all times." Stiles levers himself out of his chair and carefully returns his radar to his locked drawer. He's almost done—two more assembly parts and he can begin testing with real material, rather than just running simulations on his computer. "Anyway. A man has to take risks. Dinner awaits! Go forth, Captain McCall."
"Aye aye," says Scott, and leads the way out.
The junior habitor team BH-PAC is composed of a group of ten plucky young adults who all seem to have impaired the part of the brain that modulates a person's sense of self-preservation. Of the ten, Stiles knows Scott the best (duh), Jackson second best (the sadness of this fact makes it no less true), but hangs out with three others by association through Scott. Back when they were all in the same high school, Stiles never would have thought the troubling trifecta of Isaac, Erica, and Vernon "Don't call me Vernon" Boyd would end up having the same terrifying job that Stiles hadn't even considered Scott would have, but he can appreciate why they do it. They'd all come from difficult family lives, and maybe there was something in the adrenaline-packed, all-for-one-and-one-for-all, the-only-way-we-can-make-it-out-alive-is-as-a-team nature of their job that made them feel like they belonged, and were needed, irreplaceable. If they make it past another four years as junior habitors, they'll be eligible for promotion to a senior title, which would allow them to choose their own missions and assemble their own teams. The mental image of herds of mini-Ericas and mini-Isaacs running around prodding at the bowels of the Earth, sticking their aggressive hands in the volatile crevices that could possibly trigger a continent-wide natural disaster or planetary apocalypse sometimes keeps Stiles awake at night in fear, but oh well. Someone has to do their job, it might as well be the devils Stiles knew.
And it's not like they're bad people. They are all just much stronger, much more intimidating, are arguably better-looking than Stiles, and have no qualms employing those skills to their advantage.
To think that Erica used to secretly like him in freshman year. It still boggles Stiles' mind sometimes.
"You're going to regret putting so much hot sauce on that," Erica scolds him, pointing at the barbecued meat on Stiles' plate, which he's currently slathering in red, tangy syrup.
"No way, I can totally take it," says Stiles. He gnaws into a piece and gets sauce all over his upper lip. Swallowing it down makes him wince. "Oh my god, that is so unbearably hot. But it's sooo gooood." Erica makes a disgusted sound, turning back to her conversation with Scott.
Isaac is staring at Stiles' mouth in a way that would probably have Stiles calling 911 if he wasn't already used to the intensity of Isaac's stares.
"What?" Stiles asks him, trying not to pant from the fire lacing his throat.
"I want to try too," says Isaac.
"Not a good idea," says Boyd, cutting his own meat into even, bite-sized chunks. "You don't have a death wish like Stilinski does."
"Hey! You're the one who's going to be rolling around fucking Copernicus crater while the biggest lunar storm in five years is raging through. I'm not taking your judgement." Stiles spears another piece of spicy beef onto his fork and offers it up to Isaac. "Yes or no, dude?"
Isaac opens his mouth for Stiles to drop in the meat.
Thirty seconds later, he's dashing to the bathroom, coughing into his fist, eyes streaming. Boyd sighs and follows him with a glass of water.
Stiles turns to Scott, sitting on his left. "Yo, how high is Jackson's tolerance to spice?"
"No clue," says Scott. "I've only ever seen him eat unseasoned chicken breast, fish, fruit, and these gross health slushies."
"I know," says Erica, grabbing another piece of meat from the tabletop grill. "The answer might surprise you."
"Oh my god, tell me," says Stiles.
"Mmm," Erica hums. She spoons out an ice cube from her cup and sucks it in her mouth with an obscenely loud slurp. Her lips curve high. "This is for your stupid prank war with each other, right? And you're asking me to betray my co-captain for a few cheap laughs. ...What's in it for me?"
"I'll let you borrow my vintage Catwoman comics."
"I've read them all."
"Batman Immortal comics."
"I own them all."
"Damn. Never mind then," says Stiles. "I'll figure out something else. It was just a thought, I don't think I'd actually—"
"How about a trade," Erica interrupts. "Information for information."
Stiles pushes out his lips in concern. Erica is doing her leaning thing that really emphasizes her amazing rack, which means she's trying to lower Stiles' brain cell capacity. How suspicious. Stiles asks, "What kind of information could you want from me? Blueprints of the new fusion engine design?"
"As if. I'm not that much of a nerd. I—" her voice lowers, becomes huskier, "want information about Derek Hale."
That's a nasty surprise.
“Don’t tell me,” says Stiles, covering his face in his hands.
“He’s really hot,” says Erica, like that explains everything. Except in this case, it kind of does. “And I know he’s single. I want an in.”
“Why ask me?” Stiles asks, pained.
“Because you’re literally, like, the only person he interacts with when he comes to Earth. Well, you and Scott, but when he talks to Scott he’s always with you, anyway. Even if you guys aren’t close, you know the most about him out of anyone. On the entire planet. Think about that.”
Stiles does. It’s very scary and also quite agreeable.
“What if—what if Derek’s already interested in someone else?” Scott pipes up. Stiles jabs an elbow into his side. "Ow."
“Who?” Erica demands.
Scott says, “Um, uh,” but he’s a terrible staller and his eyes dart towards Stiles in a desperate plea for help. Unfortunately Erica takes his glances in the wrong (and, ironically, the right) way—her expression sharpens.
“You can’t mean… Stiles?” she asks, incredulous.
“What, why can't he mean Stiles? What's wrong with Stiles?” says Stiles.
“It’s just,” Erica’s eyebrows are edging upwards to her hairline. “There’s nothing wrong with you. But I never would have thought that you were Derek’s ty—” Abruptly, she stops, something dawning through her. “Oh my god.”
Under her wide-eyed stare, Stiles feels like he’s being flayed under a microscope. His skin starts itching with trepidation. “I’m not—”
“But it’s been over two years since you guys have started working together!” Erica continues, incredulous, as if she didn’t hear him. “If he were interested in you, he would’ve made a move a long time ago!” And right when Stiles is about to rebut with the fact that she really shouldn’t assume she knows Derek, because not even Stiles is that arrogant, Erica slaps her palm onto their table and says, firmly, “I don’t believe it.”
“Wait," Stiles backtracks. "You don’t believe it as in you’re way shocked, or you don’t believe it as in you think I’m lying?”
"He asked you out?" Erica asks.
“He explicitly said he liked you?”
“Not… exactly,” says Stiles.
“Then how do you know for sure?”
“You said it yourself! I’m like his go-to guy on Earth! Familiarity breeds affection! Who else does he hang around?”
“Yeah, but that could be mostly out of obligation.”
“He likes my taste in movies,” Stiles mentions awkwardly. He doesn’t want to tell Erica that he and Derek spent a night together. Erica is shrewd and loves bursting Stiles' bubble; Stiles doesn't trust her not to take an idea and run it completely the opposite way Stiles knows how to deal with. He's thought about Derek so much today it's almost sickening, and still there are things he hadn't considered, hadn't realized he hadn't considered. About himself, too, apparently: here he is readily defending himself as being a person Derek might actually like, when Stiles isn't sure of that at all.
Stiles has admitted that he doesn't hate Derek, and today Stiles may have had a paradigm shift about the way he views Derek, but it doesn’t mean there’s a corresponding shift from Derek’s end. Scott's worry is that Stiles can't just write off all the yelling, threatening, shoving, snarling, mocking that Derek's inflicted on Stiles just because Derek's bark is apparently worse than his bite, but that's not what's bothering Stiles and keeping him from putting a red conclusive stamp on what he makes of Derek's motivations. It's that, from Stiles' point of view, Derek had been so out of character last night, it had made him realize just how little he knew about Derek at all. It hadn't felt abnormal, just—revelatory. Like Stiles had stepped foot on the far side of a planet, only to discover that the assumptions he'd held all along were wrong, that they were in no way adequate to describe this new territory; in fact he hadn't had any idea that territory existed at all, maybe from his own blindness. It's a crash course in perception, just like Lydia had said, and it only makes Stiles more curious about Derek. Stiles wants to find out what else he's missed during these years between them.
There's no chance of that happening, though, not in the near future. He's got the worst timing in the world. It's like his Moon cottage: whatever aspirations Stiles has of Derek, formulation is a long way off.
And in the meantime, Derek hasn't promised Stiles anything but look after Stiles' family.
“Even if he hangs out with you the most, you’re not together, are you?” Erica asks him. “You and Derek?”
“No! No,” says Stiles.
“Good,” Erica leans back in her seat, satisfied. “Because otherwise I’d say he has Moon Madness or something.”
“Oh!” says Scott, nodding at Erica. “Maybe!”
“Right?” she replies.
“What the hell is Moon Madness?” Stiles asks.
“We had an orientation session about it today,” Erica says, clearly pleased with her newly acquired knowledge. “It’s just a slang term for any type of psychological disorder caused by prolonged stay on the Moon. Being in such an isolated environment can lead to irregular behavior—like, you know how some of the first terraformers on MS1 started having hallucinations and whatever because they were so starved for real human contact? It’s almost like solitary confinement, right? It was because they wouldn’t see other people for, like, weeks on end, and it drove them nuts. So maybe Derek, growing up on the Moon, has this really narrow world view or something, and is messed up in the head so he thinks the best he can do is you, Stiles.”
Stiles doesn’t even know what to say to that. “You used to have a crush on me!”
Erica scoffs. “That was a century ago! God, I play one game of drunk truth-or-dare with you and you never let it go.”
“Hey, I’m a fucking great catch! Tell her, Scott.”
“Stiles is a pretty awesome catch, except when he eats all the fries first.”
Scott raises a hand in thought. “But maybe Derek has Moon Madness anyway. He’s so grouchy. Like, all the time.”
“Which says nothing about my appeal as a boyfriend, right,” insists Stiles, because honestly. He knows he's never going to win any partner-of-the-year awards, but he's by far from a complete schmuck. As if it's even under debate! This is definitely going on his list of Top Ten Worst Conversations of His Life, somewhere in between the all-encompassing terror of, "Stiles, your mother is dying," and the blood-curdling mortification of, "Stiles, this is the tent in which we conceived you."
“Right, yeah," Scott amends hastily. "Of course.”
“I’m not blind,” Erica says to Stiles, “I know that you and Derek get along in that love-to-hate-you kind of way. I’m not saying you’re not a good match for him. I’m just sayinggg,” she sing-songs, “that there might be a better one, if he opened up his options a bit more.” She grins unrepentantly. "Get my drift?"
Stiles’ mouth opens. This bitch. "Oh, noo. No no noooo, no. You did not just—you can't just walk up to him and think—I mean, Derek is—" Unexpectedly, Stiles' throat catches, malfunctions.
"...Derek is?" Erica prompts.
—Derek is a jerk whose personality's attractiveness is inversely proportional to his physical attractiveness; is a short-tempered, too-serious workaholic; is an angst-ridden tough guy bad boy who thinks too highly of his own abilities and gives himself too much responsibility and feels too much guilt; Derek is a wet blanket stitched with tragedy and soaked in sarcasm; Derek doesn't care about very many things, but he doesn't mind devoting everything he has to those few things he does; Derek is a capable, confident deputy and cosmonaut (although does it count if you didn't come from Earth in the first place?) and though Stiles has his disagreements with a lot of what Derek does, he would still trust Derek to take care of Stiles' dad and his best friend. Derek is so warped in a lot of ways, but he's still a good person; Derek had no idea what an eggplant was until a few months ago; when Derek smiles, his dimples come out; Derek is a dork who doesn't read comic books and doesn't give a shit about pop culture and can only understand a few high-school-level linear algebra equations but he once fixed a Model MAO-100-OH hydrolysis-condensation unit with just an Allen wrench and a screwdriver. Derek prefers being alone but wishes he could travel with his family; Derek hates the Moon but stays anyway because there's no other place for him to be; Derek is the type of person who always tries to do the right thing but maybe goes about it the wrong way because of the stick up his ass, but the fact that he tries so hard and does so much and his heart is in the right place, that means a hell of a lot to Stiles; it does, it always has. Derek is—
"He's whatever," says Stiles, and then coughs over the phlegm of his own cowardice.
"Uh huh," Erica says, her fingernails tapping a calm rhythm on the table. "So if I were to ask him out..."
"Then—good luck with that," Stiles manages, grabbing for his glass of water like a lifesaver. Erica looks like she's about to probe more into Stiles' rapidly deteriorating psyche and Scott is staring at Stiles like he's grown a second head, but then Isaac and Boyd are sliding back into their booth, Isaac with red-rimmed eyes and Boyd wearing a smirk.
“You tried to kill me,” Isaac accuses Stiles. His voice is a rasp.
“What? You asked for it!”
"You didn't warn me enough."
"Were you not watching me when I painted that baby in so much hot sauce the ratio of meat to hot sauce was like, one to five?"
"To be fair, I warned you too," Boyd says mildly. "And at least you didn't choke and end up suffocating."
"Weak," says Jackson—Jackson? Stiles jerks away and collides into Scott, barely catching himself from sliding off the chair.
"Oh, yay, you came!" Erica says, waving at Stiles and Scott to move over so Jackson can squeeze in. Scott reluctantly shifts closer to the wall; Stiles is less accommodating.
"If you're here, where's Lydia?" Stiles asks, craning his head to look behind Jackson.
"PMSing, reading, working, I don't know, she didn't want to come. Move over, Stilinski. Someone call for a menu. I've been training for the past three hours and I'm fucking starving."
Stiles considers this. "Hey, Jackson. You like hot sauce?"
"Dude, what the hell were you thinking?!" are the first words out of Scott's mouth as soon as they leave the restaurant.
"Wait, wait, wait," Stiles mutters, dragging Scott by the arm until they're out of earshot of Jackson's and Boyd's cars in the parking lot. Then he turns around and answers, "Okay, what I was thinking was: I have absolutely no idea."
"You're such a dumbass! You realize that now she's going to think Derek's up for grabs?"
"Well, uh," Stiles says, tasting unformed words rise and fall back through his throat. "—isn't he?"
For a moment, Scott just looks at him. Then he explodes, throwing his arms out in frustration, "I don't know, you tell me! He slept with you! You slept with him! It was a thing that happened!"
"Scott, oh my god. We didn't actually sleep together."
"I know that, but you said—"
"And even if we did! We're not boyfriends just because we slept together. Derek lives on the Moon and I very much don't. I live off the Moon. The only way I could be further from Derek would be to dig a six-foot hole and bury myself in it."
Scott's frown is lop-sided, tilted left, which means he's confused more than angry. "I don't get this. I thought you liked him. And you told me that he seems to like you too. So—so what does distance matter?"
Oh, Scott, Stiles thinks. Oh sweet, naive, pure-hearted Scott, who believes anything can come true by the power of love. Who thinks that because Derek and Stiles have some sort of thing between them, sleeping together somehow validates Derek as Stiles'.
It doesn't work like that.
In the several hours between Stiles' talk with Lydia and going for dinner with Scott's team, Stiles finally put thought to pencil to paper and compiled a list of over fifty very good, sane, rational reasons why he and Derek could not, should not, and therefore would not make a happy couple. It began with Number 1: they don't live on the same planet, meandered through Number 24: they would spend more time sniping at each other than actually having pleasant conversation, touched base on Number 39: what the hell does Derek even think of Stiles anyway, before culminating in Number 53: Stiles is scared to death of Derek.
Not like, scared for his life scared—that's uncomplicated. Closer to a he'd-ruin-me type scared. The type that hooks in slowly but roots in deep, that leaves a person thinking, "Oh no, I'm really doomed." Stiles has never backed down a single inch from anything Derek has thrown at him, ever, but any bravado or stupid recklessness on Stiles' part has always, always been preceded by a sharp twang in his gut: the strumming chord of that particular strain of fear—fear of Derek's strength and of Derek's reactions, and of how he really, despite Stiles' best attempts to guard against it, has managed to worm a hole inside Stiles' chest all for himself. It's because of this aching little hole that Derek has sway over Stiles, that Stiles values Derek's opinions, that Stiles is now curious about every aspect of Derek's life, that sometimes pulls thoughts about Derek out of Stiles, like the moon pulls the tides.
It’s left a mark on him: that sneer that Derek had given to Stiles at their first meeting. A sixteen-year-old on his dream trip to the Moon, and that’s what had sent the ground beneath Stiles’ feet rocking.
Derek doesn’t deserve to know this about Stiles. Where’s the fairness in that?
The last line of their problem, no matter how Stiles computes the equations, always comes down to this: Derek Hale GREATER THAN Stiles Stilinski. They'd be doomed from the start.
So by the time their kimchi side dishes had arrived on the table at Seoul Mate, Stiles' mind was made up: whatever this thing is he's started with Derek, he's not going to ask for anything more.
"Look, what was I supposed to say?" Stiles asks. "Yes, Erica, actually, Derek and I almost boned once and he gave me backhanded compliments about my mouth—"
"—but we stopped and then played tonsil hockey for a while before going to sleep, and that means we're now madly in love and are meant to be with each other. So you can keep your skanky, sexy paws off him."
"Dude," says Scott.
"Best case scenario: she talks to Derek, finds out I'm bullshitting, and holds it over me for the rest of my natural life. Worst case scenario: she talks to Derek, finds out I'm bullshitting, Derek gets pissed and hates me forever, then Erica squirms her way into Derek's good graces for revealing my duplicitous nature, and they get married and have ten disgustingly beautiful children together and I die alone on Earth."
"That's kind of—dramatic."
"It could happen!"
"I—" Scott says, "really don't think so?"
Stiles scruffs his hands through his hair. "Well what are your bright ideas, then? What do you think I should have said?"
"Just tell Erica to back off because you want to ask Derek out! And then ask Derek out!"
"Scott, come on. Think about it. I'm on Earth fifty weeks of the year. If we can only have annual dates, when are we ever going to be able to pull off a real relationship?"
"When you get your cottage on the Moon! Or new job, or whatever! You've always wanted to move up there! So I don't get why it would be a bad thing to have someone—" Scott groans, fed up. "I just want you to be happy, dude. And maybe you weren't happy when Derek followed you home last night, but I could tell you were excited, and by this morning you were. Happy, I mean. You—I've thought about it. And I think you and Derek would be good for each other."
Stiles tenses at that. "I—hypothetically," he says, "if you were about to have sex with someone, and you were really into it, or at least seemed to be, and the other person was really into it too, then you suddenly stopped—what do you think that means?"
Scott frowns. "Is this about last night with Derek?"
"Is this about—of course it's about last night with Derek!"
"Then I don't know what it means! He wasn't drunk, he wasn't high, he wasn't having some sort of psychotic episode, and if he wasn't attracted to you, would he have made out with you until he fell asleep?"
"Oh my god, maybe he was having a psychotic episode," Stiles bleats.
"Holy crap, he was not."
"Scott," says Stiles urgently. "Don't you get it? How can you think we'd be good together? I don't fucking get Derek at all."
Scott shrugs, hands spreading helplessly. "Sometimes you do," he says. "Really, you do. Erica's right; you're the only one he goes to when he comes here. Yeah, it's his job, but that doesn't make it not true. So—I mean, if anyone could get him. It'd be you, wouldn't it?"
Stiles' mouth drops open.
"It doesn't mean—" he starts, but then falls silent, his throat constricting, choking off emotions that Stiles doesn't know how to articulate properly without a lot more time, and a lot more alcohol. Instead, he says, "Scott. Thank you. Really. For looking out for me. But it's cool. Everything's cool. I'm good with—whatever happens."
Scott still seems unsure, but eventually he tips his head back, sighing loudly, and drops the tension in his shoulders. "Okay, fine. Then I'll just keep my mouth zipped while Erica tries to climb Derek like a tree."
"If you happen to have a camera handy," starts Stiles.
"Dude. No," says Scott.
"Uh huh, and how many pairs of underwear has he packed?" asks Mrs. McCall.
It's five days later. BH-PAC is due for take-off tomorrow morning at 0700 and junior habitor, team co-captain Scott McCall is still not cleared for flight—by his mom. Stiles shifts his cell phone higher on his shoulder so he has both hands free to rifle through Scott's open suitcase. He counts the pairs of half-folded boxers tucked into its top-right corner. "Seven." Adorable, predictable Scott. One for each day of the week.
"Get him two more, for emergencies. He keeps them in the plastic shelves in his closet—"
"Third one down, yeah, I know," says Stiles, dutifully heading over to pull out a pair of worn flannels and a vintage pair dotted with faces of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (a Christmas gift from Stiles).
"I JUST WANT TO REPEAT AGAIN HOW EMBARRASSING YOU GUYS ARE BEING," Scott shouts from his living room, where he's trying to drown out the sound of Stiles on the phone with his mom by blaring his video game on full volume. It must not be really working because he still sounds upset. Stiles doesn't care. If Scott hadn't wanted Stiles to churn through his packing to make sure Scott has everything he needs for his mission, then he shouldn't have let Stiles into his apartment in the first place.
"Ask him about his neck pillow," says Mrs. McCall.
"Scott, you want to bring your neck pillow?" Stiles yells back.
"He does," answers Mrs. McCall, right before Scott shouts, "NO."
"You heard him, Mrs. McCall, no pillow—"
"NO WAIT, I WANT IT. PUT IT IN."
Stiles gets it and crams it in the last remaining empty space between Scott's Beacon Hills High School sweatshirt and his running shoes.
Scott appears in the doorway of his bedroom, glowering down at the suitcase open on the floor as if it once stabbed him and left him for dead. "Are you guys done treating me like a baby?"
"One last thing," Mrs. McCall says from the phone eagerly. "Pack him his abuelita's lucky charm, just in case."
"Grandma's necklace, Scott?" Stiles asks, holding out his hand.
"I'm not bringing that!" Scott cries. "It's just a tacky amulet. It doesn't do anything."
"Tell him that's why I said just in case," says Mrs. McCall.
"Just in case, bro," relays Stiles, while arranging his eyebrows in a pattern to communicate that he agrees one hundred percent that the necklace is a worthless piece of crap. "Come on, it weighs, like, nothing. And it would decrease your mom's stress levels hugely."
"Ugh, okay, fine." Scott opens up a drawer in his desk, overflowing with random junk, and digs through it until he pulls out a dark chain, from the end of which hands a gaudy pewter figurine with an enlarged head and two black-dotted eyes. In another lifetime, it was supposed to be a tiny model of Jesus, but time and poor manufacturing quality had worn down most of its facial features to a gross caricature; it looks like a naked scarecrow with the face of a melting snowman. Truly an ugly piece of work.
Stiles takes it and tucks it away safely.
"Okay, I think that's it! Did we forget anything?"
There's a rustle of paper on the other side of the phone line. "We're good," says Mrs. McCall.
"You forgot the fact that I'm an adult and can pack my own stuff!" says Scott.
"Great, we're all set then." Stiles flips up the top—but it's slightly too full to close. "Scott, sit on this so I can pull the zipper."
"No, holy shit. Go away, Stiles," says Scott, whirling out of the room. "I can do it myself later!"
"I guess that's my cue to exit," sighs Stiles to the phone. "I've done all I can. If he unpacks all my hard work as soon as I leave, it's not on me."
"Don't worry, he won't. I appreciate you helping out, Stiles," says Mrs. McCall.
"De nada. If it weren't for us, he'd have to ask to borrow other people's toothpaste and nail clippers, and you know how strongly I feel about that."
"I do indeed. Hey, Stiles?"
"You're going to be okay, right?"
"Me? 'Course," Stiles laughs. "Why wouldn't I? I'm staying here on Earth, safe and sound, where I can peacefully go out of my mind with boredom."
"Yeah, I know. I mean, I'm sure you'll be all right, you've been taking care of yourself since you were a child, but," Mrs. McCall makes a worried sound, "I don't like you getting lonely. I know you boys have been separated before when you go to the Moon to visit your father, but—"
"Don't sweat it, Mrs. McCall," Stiles reassures her. "I've got pleeeeenty of things to keep me occupied. I swear. Scott's just a few electromagnetic waves away, right? And honestly, between you and me, it'll be nice to get him out of my hair for a few weeks. I'm in desperate need of some me time."
"I HEARD THAT AND YOU SUCK," yells Scott.
"Love you too, buddy!" Stiles hollers.
Mrs. McCall lets out a surprised shriek. "I forgot! Give him a big kiss and hug from me!"
"Augh, do I have to?" Stiles says, pulling a face. "Aren't you guys going to video chat later or something?"
"It's not the same going through the internet, Stiles. Do it! Right now!"
"Okay, okay, geez. SCOTT! Get over here and close your eyes!"
"OH MY GOD," Scott screams. Something in the living room crashes to the ground, and Scott curses.
Scott takes off with habitor specialists BH-LAC and junior team BH-PAC precisely at 0701 the next day. Stiles is there at the launch, and waves enthusiastically at the Octavian-I spacecraft as it’s propelled vertically upwards by its dual rockets, leaving an upside down mushroom cloud of water vapour and two twin trails of swirling hot air behind it like a comet tail. If the flight remains on schedule, after travelling at a speed of 60,000 km/hr for approximately six and a half hours, it should land on the MS3 carrier base, where it will be greeted by a small welcome and debriefing committee, including MS3's sheriff and deputies. If they do the professional thing (and they probably wouldn't—seven hours spent cramped inside a floating metal tube and Stiles is betting they'll play some sort of gladiator game to determine who'd get to first step onto solid ground), then Scott will be the twelfth person to emerge from their ship (following the ten-unit senior team and co-captain Jackson Whittemore), but he'll be the first to get a clap on the shoulder from Sheriff Stilinski in addition to the usual handshake.
"Stiles wanted me to spy on your eating habits and draft him a report," Scott will say, smiling ruefully, even though he had promised Stiles he wouldn't give himself away.
"And are you going to?" Stiles' dad will ask.
"Probably not," Scott will admit.
"Good," Stiles' dad will joke. "Then I won't have to prohibit you from entering the mess hall while I'm there."
Later on, when everyone is settled in and a dinner of rehydrated steak and mashed potatoes has been served, Scott will seek out the sheriff and hand him a medium-sized box wrapped in garish, neon pink wrapping paper. Underneath, the Sheriff will find a complete LVD set of the classic 1950's sitcom I Love Lucy, a show which Stiles' mom used to adore and made her husband watch all the time despite his (apparent) disinterest. Stiles, even at age six, had known better: his dad gave himself away with how relaxed his shoulders were, and the stiff left-side quirk of his mouth, trying to hold back laughter. It's only been recently that Stiles had managed to get his hands on a LVD collection available for purchase; they'd stopped making them years ago and were rare treasures of TV memorabilia.
Stiles' dad will stare at the present and then say, voice gravelly, "Scott. Thanks for this," and Scott will grin, happy to serve, and reply, "No problem, Mr. S."
And maybe, maybe, Derek Hale would be somewhere nearby, and he'd see the gift Stiles had bought for his dad, and maybe he would inadvertently catch Scott's eye, and Scott would say, "Hey, Derek. I have something for you too."
And Derek would be caught off guard, of course. Probably a little pissed, a little perplexed, because gifts signify affection, and affection signifies more. But Scott would hurry to say, "There isn’t an occasion for this, honestly. He made me promise to make sure you understand that, or you won't get the present."
And Derek would grunt, "Fine. I get it," because how many years has it been since he got a pointless gift from a friend ("A friend?" Derek would think; "Yeah, why not," he'd decide) or any gift at all, really? Stiles doesn't know, but he's not optimistic.
So Derek would grunt, "Fine, I get it," and Scott would nod and take out a tiny USB key from his bag, and drop it in Derek's open palm. Later, much later, in the privacy of Derek's depressing apartment (Stiles obviously has never been, but that doesn't deter him from assuming what it looks like), Derek would plug the key into his laptop, download the files, and the rich strains of Louis Armstrong's iconic, immortal voice would sing from the computer speakers, trumpet buzzing through the filtered, stale air of the room, filling up all its empty spaces.
Or maybe Derek wouldn't. Maybe Derek would go home as soon as Octavian-I landed safely, or maybe he wouldn't accept the gift, or maybe he'd throw out the USB key before he got home, or maybe he'd play the music until the end of the mix, until he heard the last song—an old ballad of Elvis Presley's about fools rushing in and rivers flowing to the sea—and then laugh at Stiles' precarious sentimentality.
Stiles will never know. He didn't have the guts to give Scott the flash drive. At 0731, Stiles is sneaking a nap on his desk before the work day officially begins, and the key sits, innocuous and feather-light, in Stiles' back pocket.
It's the worst Thursday in existence, one hour to suffer through until lunch, which Stiles will also have to suffer through, it being rendered completely Scott-less for today and tomorrow and forever for the next eight weeks. It's too far from Saturday for Stiles to start looking forward to the weekend, but it's far enough through the week that Stiles is mired in hatred for how the overbearing social system forces people to have jobs. Scott's team has been gone for three days and it's not that Stiles is so dependent on Scott's company that he starts to lose his mind with him gone, but it's—a little of that. There's plenty of other people to bother if Stiles feels like it, but no one tolerates Stiles' shit quite like Scott does. Hell, Stiles would go for Jackson's company now; Jackson's awful personality is at least awfully familiar, and Stiles is desperate. Lydia, inexplicably, has put a limit on Stiles in her lab: one visit a day only, or else he's banned for the rest of the week—Stiles has already expended his one daily visit an hour ago. And Lydia had cruelly kicked him out after only fifteen minutes, citing lies like, "You breathe too loudly, Stiles," and, "I have to papers to write, Stiles."
"You know, if you're that bored, you could actually do work," says Danny, after Stiles' crumpled aluminum ball hits him in the back of the head (50 points: Stilinski). "Since you were hired here to do that. In case you forgot."
"What if I told you I was done all my work for today," Stiles says.
"Then I'd call you a liar."
"Okay, what if I told you that I can't do anything else until Greenberg gets back to me with the compiled data sets?"
"Then I'd call you a lucky bastard, and bribe you to do half of my workload for me."
"Danny, we've already had this talk. Sexual advances in the workplace are very inappropriate. But, if you insist—"
Danny snorts. "Shut up." Twenty seconds later, a new folder labelled NAVIG2 ENGINE PROTO v4_DM has magically transferred itself onto Stiles' computer desktop. Stiles sees it and groans.
"I'll buy you dinner," says Danny.
Danny hums noncommittally, returning to furiously typing away at his own keyboard. Stiles blows a raspberry and opens up the first file in the folder.
He's almost getting into it (not) when his monitor flashes white with an incoming comm from MS3. Stiles picks up his headset so quickly he almost gives himself whiplash.
"Hey dude!" A grainy image of Scott's grinning, uneven-jawed face pops onto Stiles' monitor. "Sup? Lunch time for you, yet?"
"Not soon enough," says Stiles. "Distract me, please, distract me. Where are you right now?"
"I'm at the res! We got back last night from planting an air tank out on the crater—dude, it's friggin' awesome. Huge! Walls like, miles high. And it stretches on and on! Makes me want to play lacrosse in it—it'd be so cool!"
”Did you take pictures?" Stiles asks, unable to mask his excitement.
"Yeah. I'm emailing you now."
"Nice. The storm's been okay to deal with so far?"
"Not great, honestly. You get too far away from the high beams of the terrain vehicles, and you can't see anything. Too much debris hurtling through the air. Dust and tiny pellets of rock flying everywhere. You feel like any second you can get swept up in it. Plus it's loud! Like you're being rattled around in a maraca. We have these cables attached to our suits that lead us back to the cars, so we're fine, but it's still dangerous. Erica almost got carried away once, but Boyd grabbed her in time."
"Oh my god. Strap a magnet to her back. You could fly her like a kite!"
"No way. She'd crack open my helmet like an egg."
"Keep her up there forever, then. Won't be able to touch you."
Scott laughs. "Can't, sometimes the winds die down. And then it's, like, eerily quiet, and you suddenly can see for miles and miles. Crazy stuff. And! The electromagnetic fields makes my hair really staticky. It's mega annoying."
It's even pretty messy right now, though Stiles can tell from the curls that Scott just took a shower. "You could buzz it, like mine."
"Uh, no thanks."
Of course. "So what'd your supervisor decide about the mission?" Stiles asks. "Are you guys still planning to plant stuff even with the storm?"
"Not sure yet. It's a tough situation," Scott says, scratching his neck. "Anything we try to plant right now isn't going to take. But we can do some excavating into the bedrock, dig for softer sediment, things like that. Apparently NASA's still really pushing for underground bunkers, and now that MS1's got the ball rolling, they want us to go for it too. The planting will have to wait until the winds die down."
"Wait wait, so are you staying up there longer then?"
"Maybe? It's all kind of up in the air right now. It depends on the storm. Like, tomorrow the winds are supposed to be really bad so your dad ordered us to stay put at the compound. It's kind of boring here when you don't have a job to do, so I might ask around, see if I can volunteer anywhere."
"Ooh! Tag after Derek. He'll hate it."
"No way!" Scott says. "He's already giving me the evil eye because—oh, dude!" Scott's face lights up. "That's what I wanted to tell you, oh wow, it's so awesome—so, like, the day we came, remember how I told you there were people to welcome us and say hi and stuff, and the Argents were there?"
"Yeah, I remember," says Stiles tiredly. Of course Chris Argent and his wife would be there. They're the wealthiest family on the Moon and are one of the biggest private investors of the lunar development projects. Along with being filthy rich, Chris Argent's repertoire includes expertise in handling heavy machinery, mining regulation, and piloting aircraft. Mrs. Argent, Victoria, conveniently happens to be a geologist with a minor in biochemistry; she wrote her thesis on the composition of alien minerals found in meteorites. In terms of reputation and affluence, the Argents are, ironically, the gold standard that hapless mortals like Stiles and Scott can only dream of reaching.
It's said that nothing happens on MS3 without the Argent's approval.
Stiles can't say he's their biggest fan.
"—she was standing next to her! And she's the greatest, Stiles, she's funny and beautiful, and her laugh—"
"Woah, slow down! Who is this? What are you talking about?"
"Allison!" Scott shouts. "Allison Argent!"
"Oh," Stiles says, then, "Oh!" He smirks. "You getting a little crush there, Scotty?"
"Stiles, you don't understand. She's, like, perfect, why didn't you warn me? When I see her, it's like—it's like I've suddenly been dunked into a vacuum. Yesterday when we got back to base, I saw her in the mechanics shop while I was heading to the mess hall, and she waved. She waved at me, Stiles. Stiles—"
"I get it, I get it. She waved."
"Yeah." Scott sighs wistfully.
Stiles peers more carefully at his computer screen. He's not sure if the stars he's seeing in Scott's eyes are due to malfunctioning video feed or—nope, it's just Scott. "Are you going to ask her out?"
Scott's back snaps straight and he stares wide-eyed at Stiles. "You think I should?"
"Yeah, why not! Her pedigree might be a bit out of your league, but I don't think living on the Moon brings a girl many chances to date."
"Was she born here?" Scott asks.
Stiles thinks back. The few times he's hung out with Allison were relatively fleeting encounters—Chris Argent's meetings with Stiles' dad tended to be brief and to the point. Stiles never sat in on them (his dad always booted him out whenever he tried) but sometimes he and Allison loitered in the hallways outside, Allison leafing through the new shipment of fashion magazines (her mom ordered them specially for her, but Allison would always bring them back to the main station for others to read) and Stiles trying to sneak glances at the papers filed in the inbox by Stiles' dad's office door. They'd make small talk, but Stiles quickly got the impression that she thought he was a bit of a dork, which was a fair enough assessment. She was always nice though, and laughed easily. Stiles remembers long brown hair done up in messily elaborate styles, dimples, and long legs underneath her form-fitting spacesuit. His general impression of her is that she's a very pretty girl who grew up to be a much more normal person than her super-serious dad and borderline-psychotic mom genetically should be able to make. She and Scott would be—cute.
"No, she was born in France," Stiles answers. "Her aunt's living there now with her grandfather. On her dad's side. But Allison moved to the Moon when she was... sixteen? Or seventeen? I think? Seventeen. A few months after my dad was posted."
"Do you," Scott says sheepishly, "um, think I have a chance with her?"
"Dude, come on!" Stiles says. "She'd be lucky to have you."
Scott smiles, relieved. "Thanks Stiles." He glances at his watch. "I should probably head out or else there won't be any food left. You're doing okay where you are?"
Other than suffering from soul-crushing boredom during the day and the guilt every night for jacking off while picturing Derek, then yeah, Stiles is just peachy. "No problems at this end. Talk to you later."
"Bye." Scott logs off. Stiles plucks off his headset. The call was barely over ten minutes. Brain, Stiles pleads, have mercy on his aimless spirit.
"Danny," he says, rolling his chair closer to Danny's desk. "Danny, Danny."
"What," Danny hisses. He doesn't turn around.
"Want to get lunch early?"
"No. I want you to double-check my propellant calculations for me."
Stiles slinks back. "Nuts."
Encouraging Scott To Do Things being one of Stiles' main duties in life, it doesn't hit Stiles until a week later that maybe he had been a bit hasty when he told Scott that he should ask out Allison Argent. In a fortunate turn of events, Allison does indeed say yes, and she and Scott start doing couple-y things during Scott's downtime, inasmuch as a couple can do in a romantically-unsupportive environment such as the Moon: taking walks, watching the sun set over the curve of the Earth, taking more walks, going for drives, having high jump contests (Stiles thought Scott had been joking, but apparently Allison had been big into gymnastics as a kid and is "incredible" at it). It puts a permanent grin on Scott's face, goofy with besottedness, but it brings forth in Stiles an equal yet opposing reaction—resentment.
"—and I gave her a piggyback all the way back to her house. Which is huge, compared to all the other residences, have I told you? Two floors—"
"Yes, you've told me. And I've seen it before. You've seen it before too, the first time you went to the Moon."
"Oh yeah. But it was only half-built back then. Now it's got two floors and huge windows and even a front porch. If I give Allison a boost, she can do a running jump and can almost reach the window ledge of her bedroom. She's amazing."
"Uh huh," says Stiles. He knows Allison is amazing. The past three comms with Scott have basically done nothing but pound that point into Stiles' head, like a hammer to an already-flattened nail. Updates about the storm, gossip around the compound, even the newly developing story of Erica's as-of-yet unsuccessful attempts to get into Derek's pants, have all fallen to the wayside to make more room in Scott's head for Allison-centered thoughts. Scott has become one of those boyfriends, the ones who get so consumed by his crush that he can barely concentrate on anything else besides the girl. Scott has become Aladdin, sans genie, magic carpet, and awesome hat-wearing monkey.
Stiles should play his role as best friend and stay considerate of Scott's needs. Be a vessel in which Scott can entrust all his most intimate and well-deserved feelings for his newfound love.
Then again, if Stiles has to listen one more time to Scott sighing about how the sunlight reflects off of Allison's eyelashes...
"So, how about that weather, huh," Stiles interrupts, when Scott's taking a breather from talking about what Allison fixed at the shop today. "Still terrible?"
"Oh, uh—oh yeah," says Scott. "Man, it's awful." He sounds minimally upset. "Someone actually got sick from the virus yesterday."
Stiles bolts up from his slouch. "What the hell!"
"Yeah, the medics have her in quarantine, and she has a high fever and tremors. And when the doctor took some of her blood, her wound didn't heal for hours."
"Lowered immune system," Stiles mutters. "Do they have an antivirus ready yet?"
"They did have one, but when this lady got sick, they did some tests with her infected blood and nothing happened. So they have to try again. The weirdest part is that she's been on the Moon for, like, over a year, but she still got sick. Everyone thought that it'd be us habitors who'd get it first, if anyone. Allison's mom won't let her eat from the mess hall anymore; they make their own lunches. I'm pretty sure she's grinding supplements into Allison's water bottle."
"How's my dad?" Stiles asks. The two of them still have comms occasionally, but they don't talk for long. With all there is to take care of, the sheriff's bombarded schedule relegates them to quick "Yes, I'm still alive"s and "Don't push yourself too hard"s. It makes Stiles worry. His dad, like him, is the bull-headed type, who won't admit to any illness unless forced to, and Stiles doesn't hold much hope that his dad will acknowledge when he needs proper rest.
"Still surviving, from the last I saw," Scott says. "But really busy. The lady who got sick, her name's Carey, did a lot of administrative work for him and it's not like we've got a temp agency available to fill in extra job positions."
"Busy too. Don't see much of him. You could ask Isaac or Boyd if you want. They've been picking up a lot of the slack for the stuff Derek can't finish alone. Erica too, actually. They're like some gang; it's so weird."
"Erica hasn't—I don't think it's like that," Scott says, a bit awkwardly.
Stiles wrinkles his nose. "I didn't say anything."
"Dude, you didn't have to," says Scott. "But, uh. I'll let you know if anything major changes, okay?"
"Whatever, it's all good. Isn't it almost time for you to meet Allison?"
Scott shoots to his feet. "Oh yeah! Shit, I've got to run. Talk to you later, bye!"
"See you," Stiles mutters to a blank screen.
Days pass; things don't improve much.
"Oh my god," Stiles mutters, "pick up. Pick up the damn comm."
It's 5:30 pm, Friday. Stiles has been online for the past thirty minutes, waiting for a response from Scott. Maybe a sane person would have given up by now, but Stiles has always been the worst kind of tenacious.
Truthfully, he'd been expecting this as soon as his dad first mentioned the storm taking up a good chunk of their human resources during its reign, but the inevitability doesn't make it any less sucky that communications have tapered off within the past week.
Stiles gets that they're busy. He's not expecting hour long conversations. Just a quick, "Hey, here's what's been going on lately." And for starters, it'd just be cool of them to call back. Some satellite signals must still be making it through. Maybe the connection is a bit shakier than normal, but come on. Stiles calls every other hour. Which is—annoying? Sure. Necessary? Absolutely.
"Come oooooon," Stiles yells into his headset. "Pick up!"
Stiles likes to think that he grew out of his pity pajamas around age eleven, about a year after his mother died. His dad had coped with the death by drowning himself in alcohol and work; Stiles never blamed him, but after the fifth consecutive morning Stiles came downstairs to be greeted by a father asleep on a mountain of paperwork instead of breakfast on the kitchen table, Stiles had made the practical decision to start making his own meals, instead of waiting for someone else to. As he aged, he's tried to avoid thinking himself into corners and becoming a prisoner of his own mental chains: doing anything was better than doing nothing. Whether he changed the situation for better or worse, the point was that something changed—opening up new opportunities. Stiles hated standing still.
It's hard to think of something to change the situation, though, when the problem is over two hundred thousand miles away, and Stiles' reach is limited by satellite communication and dependent on someone being on the other side to pick up his fucking call.
Stiles slams a fist down on his switchboard, ending another series of unanswered beeps.
Where the fuck is Scott? Is he with Allison? Or is he stuck in some forsaken crater somewhere? Or is he purposely ignoring Stiles? It's been almost three days since they last interacted—a shred of an email noting that more people had gotten sick, no cure yet, the PAC team being lassoed into doing jobs on the compound for the indefinite future, ending with a ps allison says hi—practically abhorrent in its lack of detail. And Scott knows that Stiles is cursed with a weak constitution and overactive imagination. Stiles needs to stay informed or else he'll go crazy thinking about what-ifs and maybes. Last night in bed he'd tossed and turned for what felt like years, barely getting a full, continuous hour of sleep. The thin wisps of unconsciousness he had managed to catch had been disruptive too, plagued with visions of exploding engines, people falling dead from an invisible poison, the Earth hurtling itself away from the Moon in a mad spiral while the apocalypse rained down on its citizens—god. The sole reason Stiles dragged himself to work today was to try to get into contact with Scott or his dad. He'd even phoned around the other offices in the main hub where his dad worked, but he'd either been met with a voicemail machine or a lower-tier employee who unreassuringly reassured Stiles that his dad had stepped out, was occupied until further notice, and had no absolutely idea about Sheriff Stilinski's blood pressure levels.
Maybe they're delaying telling Stiles the bad news, that his dad has somehow gotten sucked out of the atmosphere hatch, and Scott has been shot by Allison's dad, and Derek—
Wait. Stiles could call Derek. All compound supervisors have their home comm numbers listed along with their office numbers, and Stiles had hacked that database years ago. He hurriedly pulls up the file from his computer, and there it is, Derek's code.
"Hold up, Stilinski," Stiles whispers to himself, fingers hovering over his keyboard. "Think this one through. Good idea? Bad idea? Good idea? Bad idea?"
Bad idea—Derek isn't there. Or Derek is there, and gets mad at Stiles for calling him at home, but he still tells Stiles to stop worrying because his dad and Scott are fine. Stiles says something inappropriate. Derek never speaks to Stiles again.
Good idea—Derek is there. He is not mad at Stiles for calling him at home. He understands Stiles' plight and reassures him that his dad and Scott are fine. He explains that the storm is being handled, the best it can, and the new antiviral drug is almost complete. He says, "Erica who?" and then changes the topic to Stiles' day. He says, "I've been thinking about you," and licks his lips and reaches a hand down to the fly of his pants and—
Abort! Holy fuck, abort!
Stiles' mind is growing more fragile by the day, it seems. By the night, too: deep in yesterday's wee hours, while Stiles wormed around under his blankets restlessly, his idiot brain had involuntarily flashed with visions of Derek, back within Stiles' grasp. The gentle slope of Derek's back half-covered by Stiles' sheet, Derek's Stiles-tousled hair stark black against Stiles' white pillows, the tilted curve of Derek's smile trying to hide itself in the crook of Derek's arm: lucid dreams, all of it. Those thoughts had made Stiles' chest tighten in the worst way. Bouncing between Scott-and-dad-anxiety or Derek-distress like a pinball in a machine, nothing had resulted in any sleep. No wonder Danny had wordlessly tossed a bottle of eyedrops at Stiles' head this morning—which was, admittedly, more helpful than Greenberg's shriek of fear at the sight of him.
Ugh, screw this. Stiles takes a deep breath and dials Derek's home vidcom code.
And when the line is finally picked up, it's not Derek who answers.
"Oh! Stiles!" says Erica, leaning close to the camera. Even the choppy video feed is unable to distort her beaming grin. "It feels like forever since I've talked to you! What's up?"
"I, uh," Stiles stammers, blinking fast. "Hey. Uh, where's Derek? Did I connect to the wrong—"
"No, this is his place. Derek's in the shower."
"Right," says Stiles dumbly, a heavy anchor thudding into his stomach. "I," he winces, "kind of wanted to ask him about my dad. Sheriff and deputy stuff, you know. But I can call back later."
"I can help!" says Erica. "Derek has really taken me and Boyd and Isaac under his wing since we got grounded to the base. I'm actually really pulling my weight around the compound. And honestly, they need the help, now that five more people have gotten sick from the virus."
Stiles reels. "What? Five? I thought—the last Scott said about it, there was that first person, whose blood sample nixed the first round of anti-v, and then someone else from Biology got it a day later. But five more?"
"Yeah, the whole place is turning into a very repressed panic zone," Erica says, momentarily agitated. "Thank god for all those shots we got back on Earth. I swear they're the only thing keeping our team from being virus mush."
"Have you seen my dad lately? How's he doing?"
"Running himself ragged, the last I saw. Are you surprised?"
"No," Stiles sighs. "This blows. Everything blows. Where's Scott? Find Scott and tell him to pick up his comms from me."
"Ugh, Scott," Erica says, rolling her eyes. "Give up on him. He's off the deep end, Stiles. Completely gone on Little Miss Perfect, Allison Argent. When he's not working, he spends all his free time with her. It's nauseating, the way he follows her around like a puppy. She's pretty gone on him too, by the way, which is kind of shocker, but it's annoying when that's your team co-captain acting like a hormonal teenager, you know? You should see Isaac moping. It's like he's lost his best friend."
"But Scott's my best friend!" Stiles yells, jabbing his own chest.
"Best friend on the Moon," Erica clarifies, which only makes Stiles feel worse. His life is deteriorating and there's nothing he can do about it. What's the score right now? Overworked father, absent bestie, and—wandering boyfr—love intres—not-yet-a-fuck-buddy?
And, wow: as if pulled in by Stiles' insecurities, Derek strolls into view in the background, facing away from the camera. His form is blurry from the distance, but the swath of pale skin framed between Derek's dark hair and dark jeans is evidence enough that Derek is shirtless. Stiles feels his neck flare up with a noxious concoction of embarrassment, desire, and alarm. He quickly clears his throat. "Hey, listen. Thanks for picking up. I'm sure you guys are, uh, busy, so I'll just let you get back to it—"
"Who is that?" Derek snaps. Just his voice nearly makes Stiles jump.
Erica turns around, causing her long blonde hair to momentarily obscure the video camera. "It's Stiles. He called to talk to you about the sheriff—"
"Stiles?" says Derek's voice, louder now, nearer. "When did he—"
"It's okay!" Stiles yelps at the curtain of Erica's hair. "I'm good! Nice to see you're both alive! I'll call back another time! Bye!" He can't disconnect the comm fast enough. The screen goes black and Stiles lets out a long breath.
It's 5:42 pm. He slides down in his seat until the crook of his neck is hooked on the backrest of the chair. Then he crosses his arms over his chest, stretches out his legs, and fixates rigidly at the joyless, bare, white ceiling of his office until his eyes hurt from staring, his jaw hurts from clenching, and his fists hurt from gripping too tightly onto nothing.
When his watch beeps 1800, Stiles sighs, rubs his cheeks, and rifles through his desk drawer for Danny's eyedrops.
He stops calling so much. He works out a system with his dad: every evening, or at least after every worrying spike in electromagnetic field strength (which, yes, of course Stiles is tracking like an overzealous nutcase), Stiles' dad will send him an email to let Stiles knows he's still among the realm of the living. It doesn't even have to contain a message, but Stiles' dad always slips in a "hi son" or "doing ok" just to fill up the empty text box (once the message said, "man pipe broke" and Stiles had panicked for hours before realizing his dad had meant, “main pipe broke”).
And Scott, Stiles lets be. Far be it for Stiles to tell Scott how to spend his time when he’s living through the lunar equivalent of a typhoon and is in constant danger of contracting an as-of-yet incurable sickness, and even farther be it for Stiles to lecture Scott how to handle himself around girls, so Stiles eats his humble pie with morose acceptance, and tries not to let the bitter taste pollute too much of his consciousness. It’s not like Scott goes completely MIA; he, too, sends Stiles the odd email here and there, talking about his amazing time on the Moon, his amazing time with Allison, and oh yeah, this thing happened around the compound which is kinda bad but hey, hope ur doing good down there ok peace!!!
The same with Derek. Stiles tries to stop thinking about Derek because, well, what’s the use? They are not star cross'd lovers. They are coworkers who kissed on a night that somehow nurtured a setting to allow kissing, and technically nothing more than that. For now, he's out of Stiles' reach, so Stiles thinks it's best to put the perplexing, troubling case of Derek's affections on hiatus.
Not that he's is very successful with any of this. Derek's still his go-to wank fodder, regardless of how ashamed he feels after the fact (not very).
He fills in his days with a little work of the paid kind but mostly work of the secret kind. In a blitz of productivity, Stiles ends up finishing everything he needs for his element radar over one caffeine-soaked weekend, on a total of five hours of sleep. Not the healthiest schedule, but it was only in such deep immersion of his project that Stiles could fully wipe all other stray, niggling thoughts from his itching brain. It was when he had to surface for a breath of reality that Stiles remembered he was as helpless as a child waiting for news of a war.
He'd felt slightly bad thinking of Allison as an instrument of that war, but whatever, like Scott was ever going to know.
When the new work week unfurls, gray and humorless clouds mucking through the skies like diseased slugs, Stiles’ mood has become so foul from the accumulated stress of the past few days that he calls in sick so he can avoid having to act like a functional human being for a little longer. This, predictably, backfires inordinately on him because he runs out of extra material for his radar halfway through the morning, and so to fill his mind up with a tolerable amount of blankness, he spends the rest of the day marathoning Golden Girls and thinking about what Blanche would do were she in Stiles’ position. She wouldn’t be moping at home in her boxers while stuffing her face with dry cereal, that’s for sure.
This verdict is not enough to make Stiles change into real clothes, or put down his box of O-Choco-Poco’s.
His dad’s email doesn’t come that night, but, like other instances when his dad’s email hasn’t come on time, Stiles attributes it to the signals being blocked by the storm. In lieu of ruminating on possibilities and impossibilities, he watches all four Alien movies in a row and falls asleep on his couch around two am, during the opening sequence of Alien vs. Predator. He dreams of a dark figure bending over his prostrate form: Derek, smiling slowly, and just when Stiles is about to reach out to touch him, Derek opens his mouth and his tongue is a shrieking, eyeless, fanged monster, ejecting out to tear open Stiles’ chest. Then the world darkens, and Stiles is getting sucked through a black hole, his body being compressed and stretched until it’s a thin noodle of spaghetti, spanning through infinity, and him being able to see the beginning and end of his meager little life where he never gets his Moon cottage, Scott marries Allison and they abandon Stiles to rot on Earth, and Derek forever refers to the night he nearly slept with Stiles as, “Thank god I stopped before I made a huge mistake.” All of space and time reduced to a singularity of loneliness.
Tuesday morning he wakes up with flakes of brown cereal stuck to his forehead and the LVD looping the main menu scene of an Alien and Predator leaping on each other amidst human gunfire and heavy rainfall. His eyes feel swollen, not like he’s been crying, but like he’s had them smashed against something uncomfortable for a long time, which turns out to be true: he’d used his cereal box as a pillow, and in the bathroom mirror, Stiles finds a backwards imprint of the O-Choco-Poco logo on his forehead.
He decides to go to work. He’s afraid of how low he’ll stoop if he stays at home for another day, wallowing in misery.
“You look like shit,” says Danny, when Stiles trudges in the office. “Like, you look like your whole life needs a do-over.”
“Still better than Greenberg’s,” says Stiles.
“Die in a fire, Stilinski. Oh, and Finstock wants to see you,” says Greenberg. “We had a progress meeting yesterday and you missed it.”
“Dammit, Greenberg! At least wait until I’m sitting down before trying to ruin my day, will you?”
Greenberg flips his middle finger.
“Your shirt is on backwards,” notes Danny, raising an eyebrow. “Just how hung over are you?”
“Not at all! Shut up,” Stiles says, and is it his fault that his t-shirt is nearly identical whether viewed from back or front? He plops down at his desk and logs into his email.
Still no message from his dad. Fantastic. Stiles buries his head in his arms.
He’s actually behind on his project; this is what Stiles realizes by noon. His motivation having suffered from a sharp decline lately, he’d forgotten all about the monthly progress meeting his department has with Director Finstock. And, yes, guilty: he’s been spending more time on his radar than strictly is wise. Now he has to neaten up his mess of a hard drive into a coherent set of files for Finstock to peruse (not that he’d understand much of it). Stiles opens up folders he doesn’t remember making and instead of engine blueprints, he finds sheets of radar calibration coding and notes about streamlining functions, as well as a few .txts about miscellaneous topics—an essay about eggplants dissolving into a debate of fruit versus vegetable classification (oh god, what is the matter with him) and, for reasons that escape Stiles now, the entire history of male circumcision.
Why couldn’t he have kept more organized files? Or at least make self-explanatory file names? Like, secondpart_redwire_v2_NEW? What the hell is that?
He has to skip lunch; Greenberg, Danny and the two other drones in their office trundle off to the cafeteria as usual, leaving Stiles alone in the room and an unsupervised opportunity to clean up his digitized chaos. He unzips his backpack, takes out his radar, disassembles it, and starts matching piece to program, dragging files for his radar onto a second hard drive, and separating all the engine files onto his desktop to reorder into some measure of sensibility.
The door bangs open. “Stilinski!”
“Coach!” Stiles jerks straight to his feet in fright. “Uh, fancy seeing you here. What’s up?”
Finstock marches in with a purpose and without a smile. “What the hell is that garbage on your desk?”
Stiles quickly leans over, propping his head onto his hand, so his arm sort of covers the view of his radar and its accompanying parts. “Uh, what garbage?”
Finstock starts, “Don’t you sass me; I’m the only sasser allowed here—” but he pauses right in front of Stiles. He dips low to stare his crazily intense eyes right in Stiles’ own. “Stilinski. You look awful.”
“Thanks, Coach. I know.”
“You’re not dying, are you? Because you’ve got to inform me when you’re dying.”
“I’m not dying. I’m just not feeling so hot.”
“You weren’t at the meeting yesterday.”
“Yep. I was having a bad day. Can you—like, lean back a bit? Please? I can smell your breath.”
“Don’t like the smell of coffee and nicotine gum, kid?” Finstock says, but pulls out the chair from Danny’s desk to sit in. “Now. This is a shitty part of my job, but here we are. Bad news, Biles.”
A serrated barb of dread lances through Stiles’ stomach lining; he starts sweating humiliation.
“Look, Coach, I can explain,” he says. “I know we’re not supposed to work on our own stuff here, and I know we’ve had this talk before but I swear, this radar is going to make everyone’s lives up on the Moon a zillion times easier. I’ll reimburse the costs for all the parts I used, I promise. I’ll let you put NTCCO on the patent—okay, no, well, we can discuss that at a later date—the point is that I am doing good work, and even though I’m behind on the engine specs, I swear I can get that all done by the end of the week. No, Wednesday. Or tomorrow! How about tomorrow? I can—or, whatever, it’s your call, just don’t fire me, please.” Stiles stops to catch his breath, wringing his hands beseechingly.
“Fire you?” Finstock repeats, looking even more shocked then he does by default. Then he glances at the pile of rubble and wires Stiles has only managed to thinly hide. “Stilinski!” he roars. “Did you start another pet project on company time, on company property?!”
“Uh,” Stiles says. “Wait. I thought you knew.”
“How the hell would I know that? You swore to me that you’d never do it again!”
“Yeah, but this one works—or, it should work. I’ve only tested it once, but I don’t really have a supply closet of pure elements at home or anything, so I was planning to head over to the Minerals Lab later this afternoon and—I’m just digging a bigger hole for myself, aren’t I?”
His boss smiles unpleasantly. “It’s your call, but you might want to save some for the lawyers to tweeze out of you. Look, kid. You’re talented and have a few good ideas, I’ll give you that. But you know that anything you make under our roof is legally classified as the company’s property. You’ll have no say in whatever you complete. Plus we become liable for it, whether we want to or not! We’ve gone through this! Your last godforsaken hobby, those, those,” he snaps his fingers, “those—”
“UV energy gloves.”
“—dumb sunshine mittens. If you’d gotten that off the ground, the company would have been accountable for any burn injuries, which, let me tell you, would have cost a pretty penny—”
“I know, I know,” Stiles says, resigned.
“And then you put me in a shitty position for trying to defend you when you know you’re not allowed to do this in the first place!”
“I know, I know. Sorry, I can—”
“Is this payback for how easy you make my job when you handle shipping to MS3?” Finstock’s mouth slackens. “Bilinski!” he yells. “You distracted me! The news I had for you—we’ll have to deal with your shit later, and mark my words, we will, but this takes precedent.” His tone sobers, and he clears his throat. “What I meant to say... the sheriff’s contracted the virus. The news just came through; no one else knows yet.
“Your dad’s sick, Stiles.”
“Scott, if you don’t get back to me in the next five minutes, I’m going to kill you. I’m going to teleport myself to the fucking Moon, I’m going to search you out, and I’m going to slit your throat. Don’t make me do this, you fucking bastard. I hate your guts. My dad was working himself sick and you didn’t even tell me, did you even know, oh my god, you’re probably sucking face with Allison fucking Argent right now. When I slit your throat, I’m going to do it in front of her, okay? See how you like it when your best friend lets you the fuck down like a stab in the back! That didn't make sense but—augh! Pick up your comms.”
Stiles slams down on the button to end the call and wrenches off his headset.
Scott isn’t going to get back to him. There’s barely any signal at all getting through to the Moon in the first place. The missive about Stiles’ dad had been sent almost three hours ago and then every half hour since, and it’s only by a stroke of luck that one finally reached the communications satellite dish in Beacon Hills. The storm is going through one of its roughest stages yet, making MS3 a literal island in the middle of an impenetrable ocean of hurtling, splintering, magnetized space debris. With contact on standby, the chances of Stiles being able to catch a flight there are lower than nil; he’d have better luck trying to grow a pair of wings to fly up there himself.
And to top it all off, Finstock had come with a double-dose of bad news: the prognosis for the first victim of the virus has reached critical levels—if a viable anti is not made within the next 24 hours, she's expected to go into kidney failure. If she dies, her role as patient zero will define the life expectancy of those suffering from the virus, now retroactively nicknamed MUN-flu, as approximately nineteen days.
Depending on how long the storm stays at dangerous levels, the earliest Stiles can get to the Moon might be—he doesn’t know—and it’ll leave him with a total of—he doesn’t know—days to be with his dad before—Stiles doesn’t know.
Stiles covers his face with his hands, trying to wrack his brain for any possible solution. His fingers are trembling, and he curls and uncurls them to regain some control. His heart feels like it’s malfunctioning, knocking around his ribcage like those ancient car mufflers he’s seen on his oldie shows. He has to get to MS3 somehow, the sooner the better. Everything will be better once he sees his dad.
He turns back to his computer and opens up the employee directory.
Number one on the agenda: a pilot. There has to be someone in this branch suicidal enough to risk landing through a biomagnetic storm, right?
The problem isn’t just the storm itself. The storm obscures sight of the base so a safe landing is next to impossible, but more critically, the storm’s wild electromagnetic fluctuations are muffling out communication wavelengths. How can anyone land without knowing where they’re landing, without direction from the base, and—the icing on the cake—when all organization-owned lunar spacecraft have been ordered to avoid MS3 until the storm settles down? People would lose their jobs if they attempted to head there, and everyone Stiles talks to knows it. After over two hours of emailing, phoning, wild goose chasing, and several failed attempts at bribery and blackmail, Stiles’ voice is hoarse, his ego is bruised, his head is aching, and he's no better off than he was when he’d first heard the words out of Finstock’s mouth: Your dad’s sick, Stiles. Your only remaining flesh and blood family is sick, Stiles, and you can’t help him. Your father might die, Stiles, just like your mom, and you are on another planet and are in a communications blackout and under a travelling ban and what if you don’t even get to say goodbye?
Stiles’ mother had gone out of the world with a flutter. Her cancer, for all the haste it took to sap her energy, lash her appetite, sallow her skin, darken her eyes, weaken her laughter, steal her weight, loosen her hair, and make her body so fragile Stiles had to be careful when he gave her hugs, was a sluggish beast to cage when she’d finally been admitted to the hospital for good. This hadn’t surprised anyone, least of all Stiles; no matter how bleak the outlook seemed, her mother was determined to fight until the bitter end. And it had been a bitter end to cap a long, long fight. Stiles and his dad had taken shifts at her bedside, never letting her hands be without one of theirs to hold, and besides the terribleness of everything in that extremely terrible experience, Stiles particularly remembers the waiting. It’s not that he gave up on her, and it’s not that he took the time to make peace with her death (he still struggles with this, wondering if he ever really achieved it, or ever will), but as a ten-year-old kid, sitting by his sick mom’s bedside, counting the minutes by the pace of her heartbeat monitor, he had a hard time labelling what he was doing if not waiting. Waiting for her to get better or worse, but dreading any type of change with a feverish passion. He knew what he hoped from the future (his mom better, her smile wide and unclouded, her kiss on his forehead every morning), but didn’t know what his second best choice was. He thought of a lot of scenarios, of course, but couldn’t reconcile any of them to something that he wanted to happen. He’d only wanted the one thing: for the cancer to go away. That hadn't happened. She'd made it long past the date that the doctors had given her, but in the end it hadn't been enough. By her last month, Stiles was aching with another thing he wanted to go away: her pain. That wish, he'd been granted.
But what he was thankful for, even if he hadn’t realized it at the time, was that throughout all that terrible waiting, Stiles had been with his mom every step of the way. Her hospital room became his new home: it was where she was. Stiles had fought the act of saying goodbye to her with every atom of his being, but he at least had the chance to say it. Plenty of chances. And he hadn’t been so great with the goodbye part, but he had told his mom everything else he could think to say, as a little kid scared about how to live without her in his life, unburdening every secret and aspiration and nightmare grown from his young, trembling heart, and she’d been there to listen, and to answer, and to say her version of goodbye to him too, even though she never used the words either.
(“Love you, love you, my baby boy, love you, forever and ever, the universe isn’t big enough to contain my love for you, Stiles—”)
And when the heartbeat monitor stayed quiet long enough that not even Stiles could ignore the silence, his dad had been there, right there, to pull Stiles towards him and hold him, and say nothing at all while Stiles sobbed.
Fuck. Stiles needs to get to his dad. But he’s out of options.
Wait—can he call NASA? Or Roscosmos? Or China’s CNSA? There’s got to be someone who’s willing to take pity on him. Send him up in a one-man capsule, wish him Godspeed, and let fate take him where it points its enigmatic finger? Or—are there private companies that own spacecraft? Stiles remembers reading about an oil tycoon in Dubai who was building one last year. Maybe Stiles can pay him to take Stiles to the Moon, with a grand whopping total of two grand and fifty-six bucks and some miscellaneous cents in his bank account. Fat chance.
…should he check Craigslist? He's still slightly traumatized from Jackson's prank, but if needs must...
No, that’s an awful idea. Everything is awful. Stiles hates everything. Stiles hates how powerless he is. All the technology in the world right at his fingertips and he can't move a single inch.
His best option is to get passage to MS1 or MS2 and drive to MS3 by Moon rover, which would take, by his best guess, at least thirty hours. And that's if he can even get there. MS1 and MS2 are small enough that their spacecraft landing bases are held under strict regulation and tight scheduling; how could Stiles bully his way in?
The next thirty minutes pass with Stiles’ head on his desk, eyes screwed tight, willing with all the strength of his nonexistent ESP to let the storm end, let an anti-v be made, get Stiles passage to outer space. His breaths come at fastidiously paced intervals. His stomach feels mangled, as if it’s been razed by a farm plow. He pictures his dad, confined to a hospital bed, delirious with fever, reaching out with empty hands and touching nothing but cold air—and it turns the saliva in Stiles' mouth to acid.
He doesn’t even realize he’s clutching his radar in his lap—all assembled again in a fit of idle hands and overflowing anxiety—until his computer beeps with a comm and he has to pry his white-knuckled fingers off of it in order to grab for his headset.
“Hello?” he shouts, but even as his words crack with hope, his body’s already sinking with disappointment: the flashing blue alert on the screen tells him that the call is coming from inside the organization, somewhere on Level One.
“Is this Stilinski in Engineering?” the person asks. A male voice, unfamiliar.
“Guy, this is the most insane thing ever, but you’ve got to get your ass down to the S&P launch pad, pronto. Dock three. Derek Hale is here, asking for you.”
It’s the most glorious, most miraculous, most knee-weakening sight Stiles has ever seen in his life: Derek, in full flying gear, leaning against his freshly docked spaceplane, visibly tired, with head full of helmet-hair, sweaty temples, and smudges under his eyes so dark that it’s like they’ve been lined with kohl. He looks like he’s gone through hell and back and wants nothing more than to boot Stiles there too, but all Stiles can think is how much he wants to kiss Derek right now.
“Oh my god oh my god Derek,” Stiles says, running over and nearly barreling into the workers swarming around Derek’s plane, hosing sanitizer and spraying pressurized air. He skids to a stop in front of Derek, hands twitching to touch, to pat Derek down, prove this isn't a dream. “What the fuck is wrong with you, you asshole! You could have died getting here!”
“I didn't. You want to see your dad or not?” Derek says flatly.
Stiles is overwhelmed. “I do,” he says, swallowing. “I—fuck, I really, really do.”
The edges of Derek's mouth tighten. “Good.”
“And I’m not going to smother you out of gratitude or anything, but I kind of want to. Sorry—that's oversharing again, but. Just—oh man, Derek. I’m really happy to see you.” Stiles' right arm rises halfway, fingers spreading, as if reaching out—then turns back, clenching inwards as he stuffs his hand into his pocket. "I'm, I can't believe that you—" Stiles exhales. "I can't believe you."
Derek shifts his weight, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Do you need to pack anything?” he asks stiffly. “Go home and get it. We’ll take off as soon as you’re back.”
“Yeah, okay, but—no wait—I have some extra clothes in my desk for when I go to the gym and stuff—but I’ll need a spacesuit, and a toothbrush, and—”
“Get the clothes, and some ID. Everything else we’ll round up when we’re on base. Toothbrush you can get from me; I owe you. And I’ll prep a spacesuit for you. Hurry up, go.”
Stiles stares, mouth agape. All he can think beyond the wordless, screaming exuberance exploding through his head is: “You know my size?”
Derek gives him an obvious once-over and Stiles balks. “Oh,” he squeaks.
“Stiles,” Derek says firmly. “Go. The sooner we leave, the sooner we get there.”
Stiles half-turns to run off, then turns back. “I just—Derek,” he gets out, forcing his tongue to work. “Thanks. For coming.”
Derek holds his gaze and nods once. “You’d do the same for me.”
Clothes, check. Wallet, check. All of the candy and granola bars that Stiles had stocked in his emergency snack food drawer, check. Cell phone—even though his carrier won’t work on the Moon but whatever, it has Scott’s contact information and shit in its address book—check.
Also—Stiles opens another drawer and considers his radar, lying peacefully on a stack of old notebooks. Stiles had stuffed it there before dashing towards Shipping and Receiving earlier.
Finstock had warned him: “You don’t have permission to make this. Either you destroy it and then submit a proposal to the New Tech department, or I’ll destroy it and we pretend it never existed in the first place. Your call, but this thing can’t stay like it is, not without getting us in a stew of legal jambalaya. Capisce?”
Capisce. If Stiles leaves it here, it’s as good as giving Finstock the go-ahead to get rid of it.
He quickly stuffs it into his bag. He’ll figure out what he’ll do with it later.
When he gets back to dock three, Stiles can see Derek shadowed underneath the belly of his spacecraft, running hands up and down the flank of its hull. Stiles hadn’t registered it before, but the Gray Wolf is really banged up. Usually Derek keeps his plane in pristine condition, as shiny as a newly waxed car, its black coat glistening like an oil slick under the sunlight. But now it’s covered in scuffs and marks, as if it’s been through a wash where the sponges and towels were coated with sandpaper and gravel. Stiles' feet skid to a stop, his brain finally catching up with the immensity of what Derek’s done.
He went through the storm for Stiles. Under a flight ban. To bring Stiles back to the Moon so Stiles could see his dad. And all of his own volition—Stiles’ dad would have died before asking Derek to pull a stunt like that.
So now, impossibly and unbelievably, Derek is here, and he’s waiting for Stiles, and he’s stepping away from his plane as Stiles jogs towards him, and he’s bending down to pick up a regulation spacesuit, which, even without trying it on, Stiles can tell is exactly the right size.
“We’re all set?” Stiles asks, breathless and heart pounding for more than one reason. “Did you refuel?”
“I’m not a dumbass. Everything’s clear.”
“And the organization’s going to just let us fly out? Even though travelling to MS3 is barred?”
“I’m here off duty and it’s my own plane. I do what I want with it.” Derek tosses Stiles the spacesuit. “If you’ve got complaints, I’ve got a boot that would go well with your ass.”
“You’re such a sweet-talker, Derek,” Stiles says, laughing with giddiness, and Derek can’t duck away quickly enough to hide a hint of a smile.
“Ready?” Derek asks, his voice a thin crackle in Stiles’ earpiece as well as a muffled echo from behind Stiles.
“Um,” says Stiles. “Yes.” His voice breaks; he tries again. “Yes. Totally, totally ready.” As ready as he’ll ever be, strapped tight to the tiny secondary seat on Derek’s plane, which sort of feels like it was added as an afterthought just to take up some lingering space in the cockpit. He’s facing the tail of the plane; Derek’s in the front, presumably flipping switches and pushing buttons in the correct order so they don’t burn up during take-off. Noooo big. “Are you ready?”
“You’re as white as a sheet.”
“Lies and slander. How can you even see me? We’re sitting back to back.”
“I’ve got a mirror. How the hell would I be able to pilot if I couldn’t see behind me?”
“I don’t know! I’m not a pilot! And I’m not a sheet. It’s the glare from the helmet.”
“No it’s not.”
“I’m cool, I swear.”
“Fuck, Stiles, if you don’t want to go, you have to tell me now, before I shoot us up into space!”
“No! I completely, one hundred and ten percent, want to do this. Go. I can do the countdown. T-MINUS TEN! NINE! EIGHT!”
“Stiles!” Derek shouts. He turns around, arm reaching behind his seat to clamp on Stiles' elbow. “Take a deep breath. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Stiles sucks on his bottom lip, breathing hard through his nose. “It's—I’m not a great flier, okay?”
Silence. Then, “What?”
“I’m not a great flier! I have bad nerves; I can’t help it! Don’t worry, I’m not going to puke or anything—I haven’t done that for years—but you might not want to talk to me for the next half hour or so, or at least not until we’re mostly out of Earth’s orbit.”
“Stiles, I swear to god, I’ll tear your throat out. All this shit about loving the Moon and you don’t like flying?”
Stiles frowns—that was uncalled for. He glares at Derek through his helmet. “I do love the Moon! And I like flying fine, I just feel shitty during it. Haven’t you ever dealt with something you weren’t great at for something you loved, because the good totally overweighs the bad? It doesn’t matter how sick I feel during the journey. The point is that I get to the Moon in the end!”
Derek’s jaw tenses; his eyes search Stiles for an unquantifiable moment. “All right,” he says at last, letting go of Stiles’ arm. “Fine.”
Stiles is surprised. “Okay? We’re good?”
“Okay. Just—no vomit.”
“I will do my utmost.”
Derek turns back to his control board; Stiles hears the flip of a switch. “Beacon Hills Command, this is Derek Hale in Gray Wolf. We’re ready to go, waiting for your mark, copy?”
Another voice, female, severe and reedy in quality, answers: “Loud and clear, Gray Wolf. Command Tower feels obligated to, once again, inform you that you are planning to fly through a class 2 lunar storm, which is currently an officially designated no-travel zone. We, again, advise you to delay your mission.”
“Advice noted,” Derek says dryly. “But I’m not taking it.”
“Then please understand that whatever actions you take from here on in are your sole responsibility, including the safety of your passenger. Do you copy?”
“Copy that. Count me in.”
“Ten seconds, Gray Wolf. Good luck. Over and out.”
She clicks off. A computerized beeping starts to count down. "Ten. Nine. Eight."
“Stiles,” Derek says. “We'll be okay. We won’t—if you can trust me with—”
"Five. Four. Three." Stiles swallows hard. His lungs feel airless and his chest feels too tight, but—and he’s amazed to find this true, too—Stiles knows they'll make it safely. Of that, he isn’t afraid at all.
“Don’t be stupid. Of course I do.”
"One. Blast off. Blast off."
Stiles closes his eyes as the engines burst into life with reverberating bellows. He clutches his seat belts and grits his teeth. Underneath his body, the world starts to shake; his body vibrates with it as tons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen molecules mix and come alive in explosive reactions, creating a contained inferno strong enough to make or break them, strong enough to thrust their plane off the ground, shoot them through the sky at supersonic speeds, until they reach past the thermosphere, to outer space, to the edge of their corner of the galaxy; the summed energy of all of mankind’s hopes and dreams, coalescing under Derek’s capable hands, pushing Stiles to his final frontier, bringing him that much closer to where he needs to be.
He maybe gives off the wrong impression about himself with his enthusiasm for all things outer space. Stiles loves the Moon, yes, but it doesn’t mean he hates Earth. Stiles loves Earth. How can he not love the planet on which he grew up, that gave birth to his parents, that nurtured Stiles’ growth from baby to man, that has given Stiles gifts like flowers and baseball and jeeps and snow? There’s beauty all over the Earth, even in Stiles’ boring, mundane life: wet dew on freshly mowed grass, squeaking his footsteps during an early morning lacrosse game; the whirling patterns of smoke rising from a cup of hot latte into the brisk winter air; sunlight shining down through the pine trees, turning the road ahead into a golden pathway; the glow of the Moon reflecting over the gently rippling ocean, reminding Stiles of the sound of his mother’s voice. No matter how much Stiles may love the Moon, Earth is Earth, and there’s no substitute for it.
And you’d think that Stiles would be used to seeing it from space, after all the times he’s been up here, but there are just some things that a person can’t get tired of.
The Earth stretches before him now, rising from underneath them like an approaching dawn, a vast crescent of blue and green and brown that slices through the uniform black fabric of empty space. The flattened curve of the planet’s northwestern hemisphere arcs through Stiles’ field of view, swelling rounder by the second as they make their way farther, farther; Stiles can see the dips of mountain ridges, the crests of waves in large bodies of water, the spidery veins of roads spread out from their city centers, all melting together as the plane pulls up and up and their distance from them increases; soon he’s presented with all of the US, then all of North America, the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, the leftmost edges of Europe. It's first quarter on Earth, so for now, Africa and the great expanse of Asia are hidden under a melting cloak of sunless dark, but Stiles can still see hints of them there from their electrical grids: hundreds of miles of land and water and people, all living their lives, unknowing just how beautiful this studded rock they call home really is.
The white clouds floating high in the atmosphere mimic a snowy wonderland, casting weightless patches of shade onto the now glassy world below, like intangible petals sent from the heavens—reminders of how high the skies really stretch and giving those bound by gravity something to yearn for. What they have is nothing, really. They're so small. The entirety of life's history and known civilization can be encompassed in this floating speck in the middle of a stretching galaxy. There’s not many reasons to classify them as anything special, not in comparison to the rest of the universe, and yet—and yet, their insignificant size makes it all the more undeniable how extraordinary this planet is. The Earth is a majestic jewel, spinning, rising, glowing pale blue and warm yellow with purpose and life; amid the cold mystery of space, they're a brightly burning candle despite the extent of things they don't understand—a place still dazzling with youth and change, but they have come so far, and done so much.
Stiles doesn’t realize he’s having problems breathing until Derek turns off the thruster engines and says, “We’re past orbit. You okay?” Stiles’ head swims with the aftershock of going so high so fast, but Derek's voice is a familiar and comforting sound in Stiles’ ears amid the sudden thick, enveloping silence.
“I’m okay,” Stiles says, pushing a palm to his chest, urging his heartbeat to calm down. It’s so loud; Derek must be able to hear it too, but Stiles still doesn't feel scared, exactly. It's more like the anxiety from the day has come to a head now, swarming and drowning his senses with belated panic. Now that Stiles is in space, is on his way to see his dad, he finally has the time to let everything sink in. He’d processed everything logically before, now he just has to deal with the churning cauldron of feelings he’d been keeping on the backburner as he focused solely on getting passage to MS3. He's dizzy from all that's happened: virus, dad, sick, Derek, storm, Derek, flight, Moon, Derek.
God. How will Stiles ever be able to make it up to Derek for doing this?
Simple. He won’t. There’s no way.
“Derek,” Stiles slurs. “You—”
“No,” says Derek. “Save it for later. Let your body adjust first. We’ve got time.”
There’s a few clicking buttons, and then a whirring sound. Stiles keeps his eyes trained on the world falling away behind them, concentrating on steadying his breaths and not on the nauseating lightness of his limbs. He doesn’t expect to hear the song.
“I see trees of green, red roses too… I see them bloom, for me and you… And I think to myself…”
Stiles can’t help his shocked laugh. “Oh,” he says weakly. “Nice.”
“Seemed fitting,” says Derek. "Breathe now."
This is the fifth time he's said that to Stiles. Stiles has been keeping count.
Derek has stumbled upon him having a panic attack twice before. The earliest instance was during Stiles' first trip to the Moon; he'd been overstimulated with so many things had happened that day that when he'd gotten lost in a claustrophobic hallway, it'd pushed him over the edge. He was crouched on the ground with his hands cupped over his face when Derek came across him by chance and knelt down in front of him. The second time came six years later, while waiting for Derek to take off from the shipping docks. Stiles was freaking out because it was the anniversary of that day and his dad was caught in a storm on the Moon (not close to the scale of the current one, but enough to worry about). He knew his level of anxiety was irrational but it didn't stop Stiles' insides from quaking like mixed baking soda and vinegar. The world was buzzing in and out of focus when Derek dismounted from his plane to walk up to Stiles.
He'd grabbed Stiles' hands in a painful, crushing grip and had ordered: "Breathe with me."
Stiles had stared at Derek, seemingly the only concrete thing that existed, and had helplessly obeyed, syncing up his breathing pattern to the steady up-down of Derek's chest.
And after Stiles had calmed down, Derek just turned away and walked off as if nothing had happened. It was startling invalidating. Because to Stiles, it was a big fucking deal that Derek had helped calm him down. It was a big deal then, and it's a big deal now, when again, Derek is taking the lead in bringing Stiles' body back under his own control, sounding as if there's nothing to it, as if it's as simple as counting to two.
What Stiles hates even more is how, with Derek, it can be that easy.
Stiles keeps pace silently: in, out, in, out. It doesn't take long—Derek's breathing is just loud enough for Stiles to match his rhythm, and yeah, he knows Derek's doing that on purpose, but it's exactly the guidance that Stiles needs.
This time, his indignation crumbles fast, as if it'd never been there at all. There's no room inside him for it—not right now.
Below the plane, the full third of the entire planet shrinks into view, a lit semi-sphere of white-swirled blue marble, standing out like a beacon against the limitless universe behind it, beside it, all around it: trillions and trillions of stars peeking out like distant sequins in the darkness, revealing a secret language of constellations, beckoning for discovery.
Stiles reaches up a hand to the glass of the windshield, framing his planet in the center of his palm.
“…what a wonderful world…”
Then he spends the next six hours stuck on a plane with Derek Hale.
This starts off as well as can be expected.
“How about I Spy?” Stiles asks. “You have to know that game, right?” Derek has vetoed every other way to pass the time—Stiles is running out of ideas.
Derek sighs. “I spy, with my fed up eye, something that is black.”
“Good job,” says Derek.
Stiles twists to thwack Derek’s chest. He has more movement now that he loosened his seat belts, leaving him to bob slightly above his seat like one of the loading dock hovercarts. “Then you make a better suggestion, hotshot!”
Derek says nothing. Stiles peers at him—he’s not looking much better than he had when he landed on Earth. Actually, he looks like he’ll topple right over if Stiles gives him even the slightest push.
“Hey, can you take a nap?” Stiles asks. “Like, we won’t veer off course or anything if you sleep for a bit, right? We won’t fly into some wormhole? Crash into an asteroid?”
Derek glares at him. “I don’t want a nap.”
“I didn’t say you wanted one. I think you need one.”
“Dude, you do. When’s the last time you had a full night’s sleep?”
Derek’s jaw tightens. “A few days ago. I don’t keep count. It’s fine. Once the storm dies down—”
“Dude! Stop. I know what it looks like when someone’s overworking himself to the point of fainting, okay! My dad used to do that all the time after my mom died. He was probably doing that on the Moon, too; that’s why he got sick! So—I don’t know, put the plane on cruise control or something, and grab a few Z’s. I’ll keep a watch out for aliens.”
“Still not smart. I’m good until we land.”
“Agh!” Stiles moans. “Why are you so frustrating? You’re just sitting there! You’re not doing anything! We’re going to be floating for another five hours minimum before we even reach the edge of the Moon’s orbit, and I know that you can put the plane on autopilot for at least an hour of that time. So why can’t you just take it easy for a bit?”
“Because!” Derek bursts out. “I’m not risking anything happening to you!”
Stiles lets out a short breath, dazed into silence. Derek looks like he’s swallowing cyanide, but he continues, “It would be bad if something happened, and you got hurt. It was me who brought you up here, and if you were to—I don’t want to deal with that.” He frowns. “I didn’t know you weren’t a good flier.”
Stiles pushes himself out of his seat, laying a hand on Derek’s forearm. “Derek, come on. Look at me. I’m balling! It’s just during take-off and landing when I have the most issues. But I’m great right now! And look around, there’s nothing in our way for hundreds and hundreds of miles! The storm can’t reach this far. So—you can—I mean, no pressure or anything. But it’s cool.”
Derek glances down at Stiles' hand touching him. Just as Stiles is about to yank it away, Derek turns his arm over and grabs the hand with his own.
“One hour,” he says firmly, staring at their gloved fingers, not entwined, just holding each other.
“One hour, got it,” Stiles repeats. Maybe his voice is a bit fainter than normal, who’s to say.
Derek sits back more comfortably in his seat; he drops his right arm over the armrest while still keeping a loose grip on Stiles’ left hand.
“Talk,” he grunts, shutting his eyes.
“What?” Stiles asks, attention wired to their joined hands.
“Talk. It—pushes the thoughts out of my head.”
Soft music is still being played from the control panel’s speakers, although after the Louis Armstrong song it’s segued into instrumental jazz. What a surreal situation to be in: up in outer space, hovering between the Earth and Moon, listening to scatting saxophone and smooth piano melodies, holding Derek Hale’s hand, about to tell him a bedtime story.
Thump, thump, thump, booms Stiles’ heart. Don’t ever forget this moment.
He licks his lips nervously, letting his memories pull him back into his childhood and his incurably embarrassing adolescence. “Did I ever tell you why Jackson Whittemore and I are in prank war? It’s lasted for years, though we did take a break during college. Actually, it was meant to be a permanent break. We didn’t know we’d both be hired by NTCCO afterwards, so. Yeah. It started in high school. One day—it was near the end of sophomore year—Scott and I decided that it would be funny to steal one of my dad’s police vehicles and kidnap Jackson from the gym locker room. His father ended up putting a restraining order on us, but at the time it seemed like a great idea. I have nooo clue what we were thinking. Well, no, I sort of do—basically Jackson was being a bigger douche than normal, which—how is that even possible?—so we were convinced he’d gotten his soul sucked out of him or something and had become this huge douche monster…”
After Derek’s hand goes limp against Stiles’, long after Derek’s breathing goes slow and steady, Stiles’ voice fades out like a dying ember. He wants to share one last story while he knows Derek can’t hear: about that first meeting with Derek, years ago, and how pissed off he’d been about Derek’s attitude, and how he’s glad that they haven't been like that recently. Stiles is really fucking happy, actually, that they were forced together like they were by work circumstance, and got to know each other at least a little better. It took them a while, but Stiles thinks he likes where they’re heading.
But Derek is asleep, so Stiles forces himself to stay quiet. Like this is the only time when that minute, constant furrow between Derek’s eyebrows completely smoothens out. It brings a serenity to his face that makes him look years younger, as if untouched by the experiences that hardened his waking hours. Stiles allows himself a little time to stare.
Then he digs his phone out from his bag and snaps a quick picture. Let it not be said that Stiles isn’t a resourceful fucker.
In the end, he lets Derek nap for two hours. Derek yells at him for a long time after he wakes up, but Stiles just shrugs, unrepentant. “Do you feel better or not?” he says, and Derek only scowls.
“Right,” says Stiles finally. “What—is that.”
Derek snorts. “Three guesses.”
“That? That’s the storm?”
“No, it’s a new atmospheric layer we designed to block out sixty percent of sunlight. It’s the storm! What else could it be?”
“Oh god,” whispers Stiles. “It’s huge.”
Here’s the thing with seeing 2D color-mapped satellite images and columns of numbers rather than real life: it’s hard to grasp the true immensity of something. Stiles has read descriptions of the Sun's solar wind radiation, the storm’s lunar wind speeds, the Moon's changing electromagnetic field levels, disturbances in the pseudo-ionosphere, presence of geomagnetically induced currents, spectrometry analysis of the charged dust particles—he’d gathered a lot of information about the storm. He knew what it looked like. But it’s like trying to describe an ocean to someone who has never seen water—imagination is all well and good, but some things can only be understood by living it. Theory is no substitute for reality with something of this magnitude.
The storm is a huge, domed blotch of black, protruding from the chalk-white carpet of the Moon like a bulging tumor. Just like northern hemisphere hurricanes on Earth, the form is of a supermassive counterclockwise spiral, except not of water and wind but of lunar debris. Rock fragments ranging in size from tiny pebbles to jagged, head-sized boulders are all being tossed around like cows in a twister by the magnetic waves of the storm. From their lookout point two hundred miles above the near-side surface, the churning, pulsing mass of gray and black resembles an impenetrable concrete shell; it’s only as they gradually near that Stiles notices thin cracks between separate currents of wind that reveal the overshadowed Moon station below, shifting in and out of view like a desert mirage.
“And you flew through that thing to get to Earth?” Stiles says faintly.
Derek says, “It was touch and go for a while.”
“Jesus," Stiles says, awed. "How are the atmospheric layers around the compound holding up? They couldn’t possibly withstand pummeling of this magnitude, could they?”
“They're decent, but the magnetic influence still gets through. And as a safety precaution, everyone has to be in a suit at all times when outside.”
“Are in the medical ward of the main hub. They’re safe.”
“And the other workers—”
“We buried some polarized repulsors around the border of the compounds and it keeps the worst of the rocks away, up to a ceiling of a hundred feet. Once you get to ground level, there’s no sand in the air. Just the winds you have to watch out for.”
“Sporadic. Everyone has grown used to carrying LEDs. It’s too risky otherwise.”
Stiles grimaces. “Sounds like a whale of a time you guys are having down there.”
“Better down there than up here,” Derek says. “How's your stomach?"
"I'll get back to you on that," Stiles laughs nervously.
"I'm going to look for an opening," says Derek. "Tighten your straps. And hang on." Stiles nods, pulling his buckles tight enough to hurt.
"Don't hate me if I end up puking," he blurts out at the last second.
"I won't," says Derek. And he begins to lower them over the storm.
Stiles has flown before. He doesn't get along well with turbulence, but he can handle it okay when it comes in short, intense spurts. Mostly he deals with it by squeezing his eyes shut and thinking happy thoughts. This, though. This is—harrowing. Stiles is too scared to even scream. The plane is being tossed around like a rag doll—up, down, sideways, backwards—and Stiles can hear the exterior of the plane being banged up remorselessly as Derek struggles to keep them afloat through this crazy tornado.
It suddenly occurs to Stiles that due to the electromagnetic interference, Derek is basically piloting blind.
The sudden jolt of hysteria from this realization that causes Stiles to open his eyes, just in time to see Derek's grin mirrored back in the glass of the cockpit. Lit from underneath by the light array on his control panel, Derek's helmeted reflection stands out ghost-like in front of the dark background of the storm—and there's no denying the smugness in the curve of Derek's mouth.
"Are you enjoying this?" Stiles shrieks.
"We're going to make it!" Derek shouts. He sounds as delighted as Stiles has ever heard him—which isn't saying much, but it's enough to send Stiles into a conniption fit.
"We're goi—of course we're going to make it!" Stiles hollers back. "Was this even under debate?!"
Derek makes a noise between a scoff and a laugh. "Home stretch. One more rough patch," he warns. "Don't crap out on me just yet, Stilinski."
"Fuck you, shut the fuck up and fly this goddamn thing!"
They plunge downwards—Stiles' stomach drops; he heaves. Derek barks his name. "Stiles! Are—"
"Go!" Stiles shouts. "I'm okay!"
Through the deafening clashes of rock on metal, the creaking whines of plane against wind force, Stiles forces himself to breathe in time with a steady voice in his head, counting the seconds. It sounds like Derek.
Stiles is dead. He’s sure he’s dead. If he’s not dead, he’s dying. There’s no way he lived through that landing. Out of empathy for things that perish from being whipped back and forth, Stiles will never use blenders again. He will never shake a carton of juice again. Every time he makes a bag of popcorn, he will have traumatic déjà vu about this day, the day when his body was reduced to a single grain of salt in a salt shaker.
“Stop babbling. You’re fine,” grunts Derek. “Check if you’re bleeding from anywhere.”
“It would be internal bleeding if anything!” Stiles yells. “That was the worst experience ever! Oh my god! How the hell do you deal with that all the time? I think my life flashed before my eyes at one point. Several points!”
“I don’t deal with it all the time.” Derek opens the hood of their cockpit, unstraps himself from his seat, and kneels awkwardly in front of Stiles' seat to pat his hands over Stiles’ body.
“Are you some kind of flying prodigy?” Stiles demands. He's still trembling with leftover adrenaline from their landing. His entire insides feel like they've been knotted and shredded. “That shit was intense! It was like we were in Tron or Top Gun or something, doing all those mad twists! I can’t believe we’re alive!” A hysterical bubble of laughter makes its way out of him. “Derek, oh my God. We’re alive. You kept us alive! And I didn't even puke! Dude, you’re fucking awesome, have I ever told you that? You're Starbuck!"
“I don't know what that is,” Derek deadpans. “Now get up.” He unfastens Stiles’ seat belts and Stiles practically topples over onto him.
“Sorry, sorry! Pins and needles, aahhhh—”
Stiles freezes. Derek’s arms are around him. Stiles' hands are braced on Derek’s chest. Their faces, though inside space helmets, are very close. Stiles looks up and Derek’s right there, staring back at him with too-wide eyes. Stiles' gaze slips to Derek's mouth, half-open on a—on a breath? A word? His name?
After riding through that cacophonous storm, the faintly buzzing din of the spacecraft hanger is startling and disorienting. Stile can hear how fast he’s breathing—which means Derek can too.
Stiles fights for nonchalance. “I, um—”
There's a set of beeps in Stiles' earpiece. “HOLY COW, YOU GUYS ACTUALLY MADE IT!” screams Erica’s voice, a second later. Stiles whips around—a slight figure in a tan spacesuit at the door to the hangar, she’s waving madly at him, Boyd and Isaac clustered behind her. “I MUST HAVE LOST TEN YEARS OFF MY LIFE WATCHING YOU LAND.”
“Volume control,” Derek snaps, hauling Stiles to his feet—Stiles tries his best not to wobble. “We’re on the same radio frequency; we can hear you fine.”
“Your Wolf’s majorly beat up, Derek,” drawls Isaac, hopping over to help them climb off the plane.
“I’ll fix it.”
“How are your oxygen levels?” Boyd asks. “Need a refill?”
“We’ll get new tanks from the clinic. Did you bring the rover like I said?”
“It’s waiting right outside,” says Boyd, jerking his thumb backwards towards the door. “Stilinski, you need to take a piss or anything before we go?”
“No, I'm good,” says Stiles. He’s in a hurry; now that he's gone over the tallest hurdle, he can remember the reason he's here. “I want to see my dad.”
Hospitals again. Although does this count?
The room his dad is sequestered in is small—smaller than Stiles had envisioned. The windows have been faded shut and the fluorescent bulbs overhead cast a sickly glow on everything inside, which isn't much to boast about. The minimalistic interior design of Moon living pervades strongest here, in their sick chambers: there's only a bedside table, a vital stats machine hooked up with wires and tubes, a digital clock on the opposite wall next to the dimmed flatscreen. And a bed, of course, with boring grey covers and boring off-white pillows and his dad in the middle of them, his coloring practically matching his linens. He's asleep when Stiles tiptoes in, hazmat suit crinkling slightly as he makes his way to the solitary chair beside the bed, positioned underneath the medical tray—thankfully clean—that's attached to the bed frame. Stiles sits down carefully and watches his dad's chest rise and fall for a lengthy, hushed moment. The man has aged decades in these past few weeks. Stiles aches seeing him like this. The part of his brain reserved for his mom is throbbing too. He can almost sense an inherent time limit deadening the recycled air of the room, painful in its familiarity.
Well, if nothing else, Stiles made it lunar. He's here.
And now he has to face the music.
“Hey. Old man.”
His dad groans slightly, and slits open his eyes to look at Stiles. There’s a pause; Stiles tries for a smile. His dad huffs out a sharp breath. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Nope! Surpriiiise,” Stiles says weakly, doing jazz hands. “Guess who?”
His dad has closed his eyes again. “It’s the drugs they have me on,” he mutters. “I’m hallucinating. There’s no way that that idiot kid of mine is thoughtless enough to put his life in danger by flying here, especially after I explicitly forbade him from doing so. Ridiculous. It’s the drugs. This is a fever dream.”
“No, Dad, come on! It’s your one and only son! The fruit of your loins! The Stilinski legacy!”
“Where’s my laser?” his dad says, pushing a hand underneath his pillow.
“They let you keep your gun in here?” Stiles yelps.
The hand rifling under the pillow emerges out again, blessedly empty. “No,” his dad says sadly. “They don’t.”
“You can’t kill me! I almost died coming up here to see you!”
“That’s exactly why I should kill you, Stiles! You can’t just waltz up here and exp—” His dad shoves himself upright, pointing an accusing finger at Stiles—then flinches bodily, falling back onto his hospital bed. “Ugh...”
“Hey!” Stiles says. “Easy, easy. You’ve got to calm down.”
“Calm down?” his dad shouts. His voice is scratchy, frail, but there’s no hiding that temper. “How can I calm down when I have such a disrespectful, disobedient, good-for-nothing moron for a son? The number of gray hairs you give me, Stiles! How the hell did you even get up here? Someone must have dropped you off. Find them for me; tell them they’re fired. Tell them they're under arrest.”
“Uh…it wasn’t anyone.”
“It was Derek, wasn’t it?”
Stiles fakes a laugh. “No! No, not Derek. Well, I mean. Maybe? It wasn’t—not Derek.”
His dad sighs; his forehead wrinkles like crumpled paper. In contrast, his whole body seems to thaw in resignation. “Ah, crap. I knew it. That guy—”
“Don’t punish him!” Stiles blurts. “He wanted to help. If it wasn’t for him, I would have just found another way up here. And who knows what kind of sketchy pilot I could’ve been stuck with then. Derek—I didn’t even ask him, and he just showed up and said he was going to take me to you, and I—Dad, I—” Stiles’ words dry up, get rougher. “I was really worried about you, okay?”
His hands reach out to grip his father’s arm. “The doctor said that you were pushing yourself too hard, and that’s why you got sick. Didn’t you promise me that you wouldn’t do that anymore? Maybe you had to do it, and I get that, but then you can't get mad at me for coming up to see you, okay? That’s not fair. I—Dad,” Stiles' voice is a croak. “If you leave, where am I supposed to go?”
His dad is the sheriff of MS3 and although there aren’t many privileges associated with that title, it does afford Stiles this reprieve now: there’s no one else in this tiny, private sick room to see the infamous Stilinski shields being lowered as Stiles dips his torso down onto his dad’s bed, crossing his arms and resting his forehead on them, just like he used to do with his mom.
A minute passes. His dad starts to sigh again, but is interrupted by a series of wheezing coughs. He muffles the worst of them into his elbow, and Stiles hastily sits up, grabbing for the cup of water on the aluminum tray attached to the left side of the bed. His dad takes a few large swallows and hands back the cup; his eyes have gentled when he looks at Stiles again. He looks like he wants to say something big—his jaw is steeled in that way that it always is when he thinks what he has to talk about will upset Stiles—but Stiles overrides him.
“You’re going to be okay, Dad,” Stiles says. “I’ll make sure of it. I'm going to take care of everything.”
His dad’s brows furrow. “Stiles, listen: I know this will be tough for you—”
“For me? How can you even think about me right now? You’re the one practically wasting away due to this virus—”
“—but I don’t want you to put too much stock in an anti-v. We have to be realistic. I’m not saying that they won’t be able to find a cure, but by the time they do, there’s a very good chance that I’ll—”
“Oh, no no no, we’re not being pessimistic about this," Stiles insists angrily. "We’re going to be optimistic. Pessimism is for chumps and optimism is for healthy people. We’re going to get through this, and you’re going to be fine, and—”
“I just want you to know that even though you’re a hundred times more troublesome than I ever envisioned a child of mine would be—”
“—why are you talking like this? Can’t we talk about your diet or something? You must be full of complaints about that, hey?”
“—that I am very proud of you, and I’m happy to see you, son.” His dad’s lips abruptly stretch into a trembling, crooked smile. “Goddammit, Stiles, I’m so happy to see you.” His hand on Stiles’ shoulder slips to Stiles’ back, and then Stiles is being pulled in for a hug.
Stiles grabs onto his dad; holds tight. There it goes—a tightly wound coil loosens somewhat in his chest cavity, and he finally feels like he’s able to breathe normally again.
“Do you remember what you told me, when we got the first prognosis for Mom?” Stiles asks quietly, letting himself lean just a bit of his weight onto his dad.
His father is silent for a long time. But Stiles knows he remembers.
The sheriff clears his throat. “Yeah. I said, 'Don't worry. Stilinskis don’t go down so easy.’”
Derek and his three musketeers are still in the clinic foyer when Stiles emerges out of the quarantine ward, zipping his spacesuit back on. Boyd is clicking away on a handheld game console, Erica is asleep on Boyd’s shoulder, and Isaac is enamoured with a specialty pet magazine. Derek is sitting a bit apart from them, eyes closed, chin practically touching his chest, but he lifts his head as soon as he hears Stiles approach.
“Well, good news,” announces Stiles. “I’m not disowned, and you’re fired.”
Derek doesn't take the bait. “We’re leaving.” He nods to the other three; Boyd jostles Erica awake.
“What, no indignation? No cries of ‘but why’?” Stiles asks.
“If I’m fired, then I’m not obligated to find quarters for you tonight, am I?” Derek returns mildly, catching the helmet Isaac tosses to him and clicking it onto his suit.
“Oh, you know what, I misheard,” revises Stiles. “You’re not fired at all. You’re promoted. You’re sheriff now.”
“I basically am anyway,” says Derek, and Stiles realizes that with his dad out of commission, this is true.
“Is he going to be staying with us?” Erica asks, eyeing Stiles speculatively. She sidles up to him, tongue just peeking out from her teeth. “How about it, Stiles? Want to bunk in my room?”
“What are you talking about?” Stiles had thought—Derek had offered, before—well, never mind what Stiles had thought. Clearly he was wrong.
“We’re staying at the old Hale house in Alpha Territory,” explains Boyd. “Since all the habitors got grounded until further notice, there weren’t enough dorms available for everyone. Derek opened up his old house and is lending us space there.”
“Oh, really?” Stiles asks. “How—nice of you, Derek.” That explains Erica picking up his call to Derek a few days ago. Stiles is relieved, then immediately feels annoyed about being relieved.
Derek doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. “It’s a big house. Living space is a commodity.”
“His place even has a creepy underground bunker,” Isaac adds, holding up Stiles’ helmet for him. Stiles ducks underneath and Isaac helps click it on. “Good?” He slaps on the clear polymer a few times like an overeager child would to an aquarium. Stiles whines from the resounding clangs it creates. “And you don’t have to stay with Erica, all right? There’s a living room, and it’s got this ugly inflatable couch—”
“Stiles will be staying with me,” Derek says, in a tone that brooks no nonsense. “Any complaints?” He glances around, as if daring anyone to challenge him, including Stiles. Erica’s mouth opens slightly, but no sound comes out.
“That’s—cool,” manages Stiles, but Derek is already striding away. Stiles hurries to keep pace with him; now that they're on the Moon, Derek walks with casual assurance again, with smooth, even glides, and it makes Stiles' hopping look like some sort of drunk frog in comparison.
On the way out of the main hub's offices, Stiles bumps his shoulder into Derek’s. “Hey. I know you’re busy and stuff, but is it okay if we come back here tomorrow?”
Derek says, “Dumbass,” and knocks an elbow into Stiles’ side.
It’s getting late. Although there’s not much sunlight to speak of in the first place, the majority of it being shrouded out by the layers of debris in the air, Stiles knows it must be nearing ten at night back in Beacon Hills. Has it only been seven, seven and a half hours since he was there? Eight hours since he'd been a crusty barnacle of despair, attached to his desk, cursing the existence of everything he could think of because he'd reached a dead end and had no place to turn.
But of course there had been Derek. Stiles just hadn't realized. He's a realist by nature, so even his vivid imagination hadn't stretched that far.
There's no time for it now, but later, when Stiles is alone and not in such close proximity to the object of his bias, Stiles will give himself another life reevaluation. He'll start from today and work backwards, examining every syllable of speech and shadow of movement of Derek's that he's been privy to over the years, find out where he could have made such a gross oversight that he miscalculated how much Derek cared about him. Whole parsecs of inaccuracy.
Stiles can't say he's exactly upset about it.
And now Derek is offering Stiles a place to sleep, even though—even though!—they're heading to the dorm where Scott's staying (so Stiles can say hi! and surprise, it’s me! and thanks for nothing, loser, but it's okay, I'm not mad anymore), and Stiles' default state has always been "buddy up with Scott."
"All of you stay here," Derek orders the Three Amigos, "we'll be back soon." Erica pops her gum and waves them away. Boyd, in the driver's seat of the rover, takes out his handheld again.
Isaac blinks widely at them and says, "Hey, invite Scott over for dinner tomorrow."
"No," says Derek, at the same time Stiles says, "Duh."
Derek's lip curls threateningly. "We'll see," he says, and shoves Stiles out of the vehicle.
Technically, Stiles isn't sure that Derek's presence is required for what he knows will be a sappy and possibly soppy reunion between him and Scott, but he doesn't have it in him to refuse anything from Derek now, so as they make their way to Scott's dorm he warns, "You can't judge me if I yell at Scott one second and then weep in his arms in another," just in the interest of being up front about it all.
"Do whatever, just don't take too long," says Derek. “I want to get home.”
Stiles freezes in the middle of the hallway. He's going to be staying with Derek—in Derek's room—and they had unfinished business, sort of, and—Stiles' ears go hot. “You mean—?” he says, trailing off awkwardly.
Derek is without reaction for a brief second, then he says, exasperated, “I mean I want to go home and sleep, Stiles. I’m exhausted.” He shakes his head, rounding the corner to Scott's room.
“Oh, right, yeah." Stiles says unconvincingly. "That—is totally what I was getting at.” He pushes the lingering thoughts away before following Derek down the hall.
Scott's temporary apartment is in Housing Complex A, marked by a neat 203 written with thin strips of blue neon light. Stiles knocks on the door, mentally preparing his greeting. He wants it to be a dramatic representation of Stiles' last few hours. He's not above making Scott eat a little crow. "—so, yeah, we totally almost died flying through that life-threatening shitfest to get here to see my dad, but I feel like trauma really helps consolidate a good experience, don't you? So, what have you been up to today?" Something like that.
The door opens.
"Scott! You'll never gue—" Stiles stops short.
"Stiles?" asks Allison, wiping at her red-stained eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"Uh," says Stiles, wheeling his head around. "Hiya. I didn't expect to see you here—not that it's a bad surprise, and not that I am surprised, but, um. Where's Scott?"
Allison's mouth stretches low and her bottom lip quivers.
"Oh—no no no, why are you crying?" Stiles says quickly. "Don't cry, what's wrong, what's wrong?"
"It's Scott," Allison sniffs. "It's been hours, and he hasn't come back yet."
Scott McCall, regurgitating his teenage habit of jumping into trouble without fully considering the consequences, has toppled over his ways of old to set a new record of stupidity for himself. And it's all Stiles' fault.
The last message that Stiles had sent up here, with him cursing Scott's existence and promising to slice his neck with Allison watching—it had beaten the odds, just like Stiles and Derek, and made it safely to its destination after all: Scott's vidcom-patched laptop in his dorm. Scott, of course, knowing Stiles too well, had understood that Stiles wasn't serious serious about the death threats, but had also gleaned that Stiles was, in fact, quite disappointed in him. And Scott, true to the nature of his golden, caring heart, had felt like dirt. Like dirt's shit and the shit of dirt's shit. He'd felt so bad about not only failing to deliver the news that the sheriff had been hit with the virus, but not even knowing about it in the first place, that he had immediately run over to the town hall to help whatever way he could in the dispersion of the sheriff's duties. And, just because his guilt had willed it so, he'd been the eager volunteer to fill in for the most dangerous job of the lot: checking the air tanks around the perimeter of the compound. There were an even dozen of them, located in a radius of close to 50 miles from the center of the compound, and their placement outside the magnetic repulsor border made inspection a risky business. Their distance from the residences were specifically calculated to be enough to keep inhabitants out of range in case the supplies of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen kept in huge, compressed tanks were ever to explode. Each air tank fed to the compound with pipes laid deep under the lunar crust and was enclosed in their own lead-lined shelter, so they were safe from the storm, but still needed to be calibrated daily to ensure the air composition inside the habitats were kept balanced and safe to breathe.
"The LAC team installed a new mini-tank in Copernicus crater recently," says Allison, sitting stiffly on Scott's bed with her hands held very rigidly in her lap. "Around five o'clock, the skies had cleared a lot. The storm looked like it was finally going down. So Scott went to check it out because he didn't want all the work his team's been doing to be for nothing. He was just going to go and come right back. But then the magnetic winds surged up again, just like that, and—" Allison's lips twist, her shoulders slump. "And I've been waiting. Kind of going out of my mind."
"Oh my god," Stiles groans, slapping his hands over his face. He collapses back on the bed. "When I see that idiot, I'm going to yell at him until he goes deaf. Allison, we need to have an intervention. He's really into you; maybe he'll listen to you more than he does me."
Allison's smile is as weak as her voice. "I'm all for that."
Stiles sits back up. "Hey, no, he's definitely coming back. He will. How long did you say it's been? Four hours?"
"He finished checking the compound's air tanks about four hours ago, yeah. I lost signal with him around 5:30. It takes about an hour and a half to drive to Copernicus, but in this storm—I mean," Allison's knuckles whiten against each other, "if he was close enough to the compound, I'm sure he would have turned back by now. You guys were really lucky to get in when you did. The storm's been having these insane ups and downs all day."
"We were actually hovering over the storm for hours before Derek thought it was okay to break through."
"Twenty minutes," Derek says, crossing his arms. He's sitting in the one chair of the room, elbows on his knees. "But she's right. It's not weather to be driving in—not all the way to Copernicus. If he's not back yet, there's a good chance he's stuck somewhere."
Stiles' leg jiggles nervously. "But—once the storm dies down..."
"He's off radar, contact is unreliable, and his air supply is limited. He probably brought a back-up oxygen tank with him, but even then, he has—"
"Twelve hours, maximum," finishes Allison.
"So, eight hours left, about?" Stiles asks.
"If he's lucky," says Derek. "If he made it all the way to the crater, getting back to base will take up to two hours, so he has a window of around six hours for the storm to lessen enough for him to reposition himself."
"Possible?" Stiles asks, looking down at Allison.
She swallows. "I think so. But—" she stops and doesn't say anything more.
"Yeah," Stiles murmurs. Six hours is a long time, but he's not comfortable with leaving it up to chance like that either. Scott's alone and there are too many variables in the situation, too many things left uncertain: if Scott doesn't get hurt, if Scott's air tanks are not malfunctioning, if Scott's rover isn't jammed, if Scott doesn't get lost and go too far off course, if, if—a mountain of ifs. All topped by a blazing red flag: the longer Scott stays out there, the more likely he is to contract the MUN-flu virus.
"How would we even begin to look for him?" Allison asks quietly, voicing the exact question raging through Stiles' head.
Stiles scrubs his hair in frustration. There's no way he's going to leave Scott out there by himself, but it'd be futile to pursue him blindly with this hell storm going on. If there was a way of pinpointing Scott's exact location—but Allison has already tried radio, which is useless. The magnetic field of the storm makes sending out signals like threading a string through a sponge.
Allison bends over a little to lower her forehead onto the palm of a hand, and Stiles catches a flash of a very familiar gray chain, peeking out from under her shirt collar.
He narrows his eyes. "What's that?" he says, pointing to her neck.
"What? Oh," Allison says, reaching into her blouse. Her smile is a smidge bashful, but pleased in that way that only good memories can bring out in people. "Scott gave it to me as a present. I wasn't a big fan of the design, but it's like a little piece of him I can always keep with me, so I—" She giggles, embarrassed.
In her hand is Scott's grandmother's lucky Jesus.
Stiles stares at it. He hadn't realized that Scott had fallen for her that hard—Scott didn't like that thing, but he sure loved his grandmother a hell of a lot. To give it Allison is a revealing gesture, sweet like Scott is apt to be, and Stiles can't help but be proud of his bravery. Except at the same time he's fucking frustrated because Scott deliberately put himself in the path of so much danger despite knowing how much it would worry Allison. And for what? To make it up to Stiles? Of course Stiles would have forgiven Scott—there was no need for Scott to—
"—way too sentimental," Allison is saying, still smiling at the amulet in her hand, "but it was like a trade. He has my silver necklace, and I have this pewter one, and—"
"Wait!" Stiles says, holding up his hands. "Go back. Silver what?"
"Silver necklace," repeats Allison. "It's a family heirloom; I gave it to Scott. It's got a wolf and some arrows on it, which I guess makes it just as gaudy as this old—"
"It's pure silver?" Stiles says, grabbing her shoulders.
Allison looks at him strangely. "Um, yeah."
"And Scott wears it?"
She nods slowly. "He said it was cool, but maybe that was for my sake?"
Stiles surges to his feet. Derek, taking that as a signal, gets up as well.
"Where are you guys going?" Allison asks. "Stiles?"
"Wait, wait, wait, let me think," Stiles says, pushing his palms onto his ears. Calculations flow through his head like bars of music streaming out on ticker-tape. Communications use high frequency radio waves, but his radar operates on the lower frequencies, via ground waves—that's what makes it unique from regular detection technology; there's no current involved—but would they be able to propagate better through the storm? If Allison's necklace is within its range, theoretically the silver should be able to transmit back something—taking into consideration the purity of the mineral, the sensitivity of the detector, the noise versus signal ratio...
"Yeah," Stiles says, mostly to himself, then repeats it, louder. "Yeah!" He bounces on his toes. "It should work."
"What?" Allison asks. "What's going on?"
"This radar I made," says Stiles. "I think I can use it to trace your necklace. We can find Scott."
"I'm going too," says Allison, as soon as Erica steps out of the rover and Stiles raises himself in.
"Thaaat is absolutely a terrible idea," says Stiles, trying to bar her from getting on. "Not that your enthusiasm is not appreciated, Allison, and if it were any other situation I'd think—"
"No," says Allison. "Move over. I want to go."
"Come on, stay here, please. You know Scott would kill me if I put you in danger. Your dad will kill me. Your dad would yell at my dad and I'm really trying to reduce my dad's stress levels, if that isn't already appare—"
"Stiles!" Allison snaps, out of patience. Her jaw ticks with determination. "I'm coming along."
"What exactly are you planning to contribute?" Derek asks, clicking buttons on the dashboard of the rover. "Stiles is reading the radar. I'm driving. You'd be dead weight."
Allison's expression burns in anger. "But I wouldn't slow you down."
"You'd be a distraction."
"How would I be a distraction?"
"It's you versus empty air. There's exactly a zero possibility of distraction without you there."
"Shut up, Derek. That's ridiculous. Let me in, Stiles."
"If she's going, then we all are," proclaims Erica, hands on her hips. "I'm not letting Princess Argent hog all the fun."
"Yeah, why the hell are you kicking us out? We're on your team," says Isaac. He's wearing that confused, kicked puppy face that Stiles really can't deal with on any level. Stiles is glad to see that at least Boyd looks his usual amount of stoic; it's a comforting view in these troubling times.
Allison grimaces. "Fine, then we'll all go."
"You're all staying here!" Derek explodes. "Erica, Isaac, Boyd: you three take over my duties. Don't fuck up. Allison, go to the hangar and start repairs on my plane. Once I drag Scott's ass back here we can call it even."
"Derek Hale, if you think you can just order me around—"
"Allison!" Stiles says. "Please! Just—we'll let you know as soon as we get back, okay? I know you'd feel better if you went along, but Scott will destroy me if he thinks I put you at risk in any way. Derek's right, there's really nothing you can do if you come with us, and you worrying is just going to make me worry more, like some anxiety reinforcing mechanism, so—oh my god please don't hurt me."
"Oh, for fuck's sake, just let them go," says Erica, turning on her heel. "They'll get the job done. You don't have to like it. I sure as hell don't." She heads off towards the mess hall by the town hall hub, her hops coming in jerky little spurts.
After combing an assessing glare over Stiles, Isaac also turns and follows Erica at a more leisurely pace, then Boyd does too. "See you guys later, then," he says, tossing Derek a quick salute over his shoulder.
Allison still lingers, her hands fisted unhappily at her sides. She sways. "As soon as you get back?" she insists. There's steel in her words, bleeding into the cut of her jaw line.
She's scarier than Erica. "As soon as we find him," Stiles vows. "Even if the storm breaks up the signal, I'll keep sending the message. You'll be the first to know."
"Fine," she agrees, obviously still reluctant. "But Stiles," her tone flattens, "be careful, please." She takes his wrist and gives it a firm squeeze. "Don't you dare get caught out there."
Stiles tries to laugh. "No way. Who do you take me for, Scott?"
"Come on, baby. Come on, baby, baby. Work your magic, sweetheart. You gorgeous specimen you, I know you can do it. We've made it all this way together, so don't let me down now."
"Is this really necessary?" Derek asks tersely.
Stiles ignores him and continues stroking his radar. "Aren't I just the most genius man alive for having made you and brought you up here to the Moon with me, hmm?" he coos. "Yes I am! Yes I am! You're going to help us find Scott! Yes you are!"
"I'm going to break that thing if you keep that up," warns Derek.
"Hey, it needs love and encouragement, okay!" says Stiles. "It's operating for the first time in a scary new environment! Anyone would need some help getting his bearings!"
"It's a bunch of wires in a tin box."
"Take your surliness and shove it. Do you even know how useful this thing is?" Stiles blinks, caught by a thought. "Ohhh. I get it. You're jealous."
Derek, for an instant, looks like he wants to rip Stiles apart.
"Relax, I'm kidding."
"Just tell me if it's actually going to work or not."
"It'll work," Stiles says. "We just have to get within range. It's supposed to be good for a radius of ten kilometers and a maximum depth of three depending on the terrain density, but because of this storm..." Stiles pushes his tongue into a cheek, mulling over his previous calculations. "Maybe around three to four kilometres of ground level detection. That's around two miles. How far away are we from Copernicus?"
"Around fifty miles."
"That's...not very comforting."
Derek tilts his head. "Just keep your radar running."
They make their way slowly down the designated compound pathways for vehicles, long, narrow roads of highly compressed sediment that run through the base like the veins of a leaf, studded with blue LED markers to show the way. Branches of road lead towards the large, elliptical domes and short, smooth-walled buildings that make up the austere architecture of MS3: the residences, the labs, the mechanic warehouse, the hangar for smaller spacecrafts like Derek's plane. They again roll by the main hub, where all the most important offices needed to keep the compound running are located: the medical clinic, the supply store, the administration offices, the back-up communications board, the meeting hall... Usually the entire area is flurried with people walking in and out, going about their business, meeting deadlines of research and field work, but the storm has sequestered the majority of activities indoors, and now the place seems deserted. Lights are on inside, but the street bordering it is dark and empty, lifeless except for the odd cloud of gray dust blowing through, barely noticeable under the white LEDs projecting from the sides of the buildings. Outside the compound, the storm rages on like the world is being run through a turbine, but here, still within the magnetic barrier, everything is as still as a captured black and white photograph.
As if in sympathy to the scene, Stiles quiets too. He strokes the sides of his radar almost reverently; its green-lit screen shines passively back at him, waiting for his order. Stiles pushes in the code for element 47, silver. The machine hums and starts pinging. Stiles watches as the screen beams ripples of light from the center source, the front seats of the rover. Large and small green dots start to show up at their periphery, lighting up all around their middle dot like an army ambush. It's the silver used in various quantities around the compound, in tools and tech and whatever else. None of them Scott. But at least Stiles knows the radar works.
One of the larger, more nebulously-shaped green dots, one they just passed, is probably indicating the health clinic, where a lot of apparatus are made with silver or silver alloy. That's where Stiles' dad is.
Life is so strange sometimes.
"Morrell has high hopes for the next batch of anti-v," Derek says, out of the blue.
"Oh," says Stiles. "That's good. That's great."
"She's not in the habit of using those words lightly," Derek adds. "So there's that."
Stiles stares at him. "Dude. You're trying to cheer me up."
Derek frowns. "I'm being truthful."
"I—" Stiles laughs. "Yeah, I know. Thanks. I—it's nice of you. And, and this too, all of it. You really didn't have to drive me, you know. I could have gotten one of the Three Stooges to come along."
"They don't know the route as well as I do," says Derek. "It's safer this way."
"What about Allison? She's probably been to Copernicus loads of times."
Derek's jaw stiffens. "Are you trying to say I'm not good enough?"
"No! Oh my god, no. That's the furthest thing from what I—it's just that you said you were exhausted. Wouldn't it be better for you to go home and get some rest?"
There isn't an immediate answer to that.
"I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway," Derek says at last, and casts a subdued look over at Stiles.
Something in Stiles' chest leaps like popping oil. He feels himself smile, and reaches over to tap his fist over Derek's hand, just for a second. "Cool with me," he says.
The storm is howling louder now as they approach the border of the magnetic shield around the compound. Before them lies a huge, formless wall of flying rubble and dust, spinning together wildly, random pieces of black rock hurtling towards them only to be buffered back by the invisible force of the charged repulsors in the ground. As they get closer, the lights from the compound grow dimmer, until the majority of their scope is taken up by the edge of the storm, bearing down on them like the gates to—Stiles doesn't want to say hell, but the gates to something bad. Something dark, and dangerous, and not at all welcoming.
Somewhere in the depths of that minefield is his best friend.
"All right," Stiles whispers. "Let's do this thang."
Derek slowly drives their rover over the invisible repulsor line in the ground, and in unison with the hairs rising on the back of Stiles' neck, the thick-plated, armored sides of the vehicle start to crack and whine with battering by the wind and stones. It's like being submerged in louder and louder missile fire, until they're sunk in it; and it's really just as Scott said, like they're beads being shaken around in a maraca, the sound amplified until it's like you're being throttled by the racket. It's not as nauseating as their turbulent-filled adventure in Derek's spaceplane, but the lack of furious careening makes this experience much eerier, almost smothering. Their vehicle rocks back and forth and side to side with inconstant lurches, as if they were sitting precariously on those coin-operated mechanical kiddie rides at the mall. The fading reach of the electricity from base makes it seem like they're venturing to the dark side of the Moon, except here there's an abrupt delineation between where there's light, and where there is not. Stiles can feel his skin prickle with something intangible in the air.
The green lights shining on the radar move farther and farther away from their position, until they disappear entirely off the screen, every last one.
Compass navigation and GPS aren't reliable in this mad weather, so to find their direction they have to rely on the red flag markers permanently embedded in the lunar rock, some of which have been bent or blown away by the churning wind. The landscape itself doesn't provide much information about where they're going; aside from the storm making it difficult to see even one hundred feet in front of them, every slope or incline seems identical to the one next to it. If Stiles were a little more paranoid, he'd be suspicious that they were going in circles. But Derek seems to have no problem differentiating the nuances of the unchanging scenery, and directs the rover—apparently—southwest towards Copernicus. Even though the speedometer reads differently, Stiles feels like they're moving at a snail's crawl, and his stomach tightens as the minutes pile up behind them. It's very claustrophobic. Sometimes the shift of the magnetic fluctuations will cause the storm's barrage to lighten up and show a fleeting reminder of what they should be seeing instead of gritty darkness—the pale white ground of the lunar surface and the pitch black comfort of space, speckled by stars, featuring the blue and white and green slanting hill of Earth—only to have the scene haze out of view again, usurped by the bleak, cloistering danger of reality.
"Does this thing have radio?" Stiles asks, pushing at random buttons on the dashboard in front of him until Derek slaps down his hand. "Guess not."
"We can't get radio signal. There's this storm," says Derek.
"Oh yeah. Right. Well, soul-shredding ambience isn't half bad once you get used to it. That's a joke. It's about as oppressive as being in a coffin. While getting buried. By an avalanche—of rocks."
"If we'd have more time, I would have gotten my data key from the plane," says Derek flatly.
Oh god, the one with the jazz. Stiles has to suppress an absurd whimper of embarrassment from his throat—because that reminds him—
"What," says Derek, annoyed. "You liked the music."
And now Stiles really does give a little squeak. "No, no, it's not—I totally did like the music! It was awesome. I was just. You said 'data key', and I remembered that I have a flash drive at home too, with Louis Armstrong on it." He rubs his nose, trying to hide his blush. "And there was some Smokey Robinson, and Miles Davis, and Elvis Presley—also I think I put in some Aretha Franklin? And there was one song from Amy Winehouse. Have you ever heard of her? She's not from the 60s, but her voice is amazing."
"I haven't," says Derek.
"I should have brought it along," sighs Stiles. "I—kind of made it as a mix to bring up here. I didn't know that you—well. If I'd known, I would have given it to you sooner."
"The USB drive. With the songs."
"No," says Derek. "After that. If you'd known what?"
Stiles' lips part. "Ah. If I'd known..." he swallows, "that, uh." He waves a finger between the two of them helplessly. "Um. This thing."
Derek's expression turns a bit pained.
"I just mean I wasn't sure what was going on!" Stiles says. "Like, the kissing was really nice, but I did think it was sort of weird for you to pull back suddenly when we were about to—oh my god, are we really going to talk about this right now? Now now?"
Derek's mouth flattens to a white line. "I wasn't trying to—fuck." He expels a frustrated breath. "I've been busy," he says.
"Uh," says Stiles. "Okay."
"No, I mean, I've been busy. I haven't called, or emailed, or anything—"
"It's cool!" Stiles says, alarmed. "I didn't expect you to."
Derek takes his eyes off the non-road for a moment to glare at him. "You weren't? You called me."
Stiles can't help his wince. "But to... ask about my dad?"
"Nothing else," Derek says, doubtfully.
"Uh. I don't know," Stiles admits. "I was kind of acting spur of the moment."
Derek turns back to face the storm.
Stiles' stomach goes tight. "Wait, are you pissed?"
"No," says Derek, even though he sounds pissed. "You shouldn't have hung up."
"I thought you were doing things with Erica! Not those things," Stiles amends hastily, flushing. "But, uh. Actually, at the time, I did kind of think those things. Because Erica was, like—okay, before she came up here, Erica said that she made herself captain of the mission to explore your—"
"Erica hasn't touched me since her first day here," snaps Derek.
"Her first day? So she has—"
"Stiles," Derek says, overriding him. "I told her I wasn't interested."
Stiles wilts. "Oh."
"You shouldn't have disconnected the comm. We could have—talked."
"You... could have called me back?"
Silence. Stiles holds his breath.
"I'm not good at this kind of thing," Derek says eventually. "At your place, too. I got caught up. I was feeling shitty and disoriented, and then you were being weirdly nice—"
"Me?" squawks Stiles.
"—and you offered, so I—" Derek's shoulders straighten, "I thought I could go for it. I told you. On the Moon, it's different. Everything has a method, a purpose. There's not much time to stand around twiddling our thumbs. Doing that with you—I thought that was something I'd only get a chance to do on Earth."
"Oh," says Stiles. Then, "You don't have to make it to be some huge deal. We barely made it to third base."
He can see Derek's grip on the steering wheel tighten and loosen, tighten again. "I didn't know you were an engineer," says Derek finally, sounding as if he were laying out one of his worst insecurities. "We've worked together for two years and I had no idea you were an engineer. I didn't know your real name wasn't Stiles, and I didn't even know you were a bad flier." His voice grows increasingly frustrated. "You said it could be an one-off thing, but that just made me feel—you thought it was perfect that we barely knew anything about each other, because we weren't going to take it further anyway. But you're the onl—" Derek pauses, struggling. "It wasn't about me not wanting it. I just didn't want that."
"Oh," says Stiles again, struck anew like a violin string plucked by a finger for the first time. "Then what did you want?" he asks, just like he had that night. Back then, Derek had replied by kissing Stiles, and Stiles had thought that had been Derek's answer. So wrong. Not an answer—it'd been a question, too. One that Derek hadn't (couldn't?) put into words, so Stiles had missed it entirely. But he's starting to get it now.
"I thought it should be different from what it's like on the Moon," says Derek. "Here we work as quickly and efficiently as we can to get to an endpoint. I'm used to that. But I thought normal people usually tried to get to know each other first. But I wasn't sure that—I didn't want you to think that I—" he cuts himself off, quiets.
"You're saying the journey's worthwhile too," Stiles finishes for him.
Derek breathes out. "Yeah."
"Yeah," Stiles repeats dumbly.
Derek says, "On Earth, I realized I barely knew who you were. I don't have the right to ask anything from you."
Something in Stiles' chest makes a sharp twist. He treads carefully. He feels like he's got one foot at the precipice of a cliff here. Or in his own grave. "Hey. You're welcome to learn," he says, as softly as he can.
Derek peeks at him, as if he wants to make sure Stiles isn't teasing.
"You can," says Stiles, heart hammering strong enough to hurt. "I want to get to know you too. I guess we weren't on the same page before, and—wow, sorry about—all of that, but," he shrugs, feeling completely out of his depth. "If you want to try that—and with me, it's totally—I mean, I'd like it too. I'm into it. If that's good with you."
It's quite possibly the worst come on speech in the history of ever and Stiles is already composing his obituary by the end of it, but, amazingly, miraculously, maybe it's what Derek wanted to hear, because he nods jerkily, and when Stiles blinks—is it his imagination?—Derek seems to be sitting easier in his seat.
Stiles wonders if he ought to go for a pinky swear to seal the deal, because there's a twenty percent chance that Stiles has died on the way to Copernicus and his dreaming up all of this on his way to heav—hell, probably hell. Although he supposes if he's already dead, a pinky swear to a hallucination would be moot.
Regardless, he feels a little giddy, like he's just accomplished something huge.
He has, though. And to reaffirm it to himself, Stiles leans over and knocks his helmet to Derek's, as if he were kissing Derek's cheek via transparent polymer casing. "There. That's an affectionate head butt." It's nothing much, but it's what Stiles can manage right now.
Derek's lips twitch upwards. "This won't be like Scott and Allison."
Stiles shakes his head. "Oh god, no! No. Please, anything but that. Nooo thank you. Also, I'd like to think that my dad is a bit more level-headed than crazy psychopants Chris Argent."
"Chris isn't the crazy one in his family."
"This is true," Stiles agrees. "Mrs. Argent's eyes are the scariest things, damn." He shudders just at the memory of their last meeting a year ago. Stiles had had to bear a conversation with her for a whole fifteen minutes while his dad talked shop with Chris, and that night Stiles had been cursed with nightmares. He couldn't remember about what come morning, but he's sure it had to have been related to Victoria Argent's death laser eyes.
"Her, yeah," Derek says. "But also Chris' sister. Kate."
"Allison's aunt from France?"
"She used to live up here before your dad got stationed. She was around during the first year MS3 was being built. But that's—we're not going to talk about her." Abruptly, he's frowning, and his brows are hooded low over his eyes, but it's not an angry face of his that Stiles is acquainted with. And Stiles is acquainted with a lot. This one is darker. It cuts Derek's face like jagged stone.
There's a line in the sand here, Stiles can feel it. And he can also feel that he's pressed against Derek's walls enough for today; he's already gotten what he wants. It's enough to know that if Derek has other stories to tell, then Stiles will one day be allowed to listen. So Stiles tucks away that morsel of information to the bulging Derek folder in his mind, and changes the subject.
"Hey, so what I was saying before. That USB key, with the mix. I made it for you."
Derek whips to him, startled. "You did," he says hesitantly.
"Yep. And I even pictured you listening it. Like, certain songs I'd imagine you playing while you were in bed, and whoops, that sounds bad, but—not like, uh—" Stiles loses his words. Derek's stare darkens until it's almost palpable in its intensity. As Stiles watches, Derek's lashes lower and his gaze lands quite pointedly on Stiles' open mouth.
It's as if someone jacked up the heat to the highest setting, Stiles' skin boils so fast. Suddenly he's all too aware of how closely they're sitting despite the extra space in the rear of the vehicle, of the proximity between his left elbow and Derek's right, of his left leg and Derek's right, and oh god, it's like those torturous hours aboard the Gray Wolf all over again, when Derek had been close enough for Stiles to see the texture of his stubble, but still untouchable because, well, no room, they were in spacesuits, it wasn't the time, Stiles was embarrassed, he didn't know how to bring it up, Derek was clearly still tired, Stiles didn't want to risk their lives just to have an orgasm, Stiles was still feeling awful about his dad, etcetera, etcetera. Even now the same excuses apply, reluctance keeping his body chained down, propriety keeping his crotch hesitant. Stiles isn't so hormonal that he's going to jeopardize their mission just because he wants Derek's penis in his mouth, but—yeah, he wants that, soon. After they find Scott. After Derek gets some fucking rest. After Stiles sees his dad again tomorrow, and maybe sneaks in an impromptu grilling with this Dr. Morrell. After all that, Stiles is going to steal Derek away and fuck him until they both pass out.
"I hope you're not thinking about sex right now," says Derek.
"I'm not!" Stiles yelps. "Are you?"
Derek's silence is sandpaper on Stiles' skin. Then he says lowly, "What if I am?"
Stiles chokes on a glob of spit. Holy fuck.
"Then—then we should find Scott fast," he says. "So we can deal with—uh, that stuff."
Derek's gaze darts back up to Stiles' eyes, strangely open. Almost like Stiles has given him a pleasant surprise.
"Roger that," he says wryly, and a dimple peeks out of his left cheek—just for an instant—causing a tiny crater to impact somewhere deep within Stiles' chest. Boom. Stiles laughs: it feels good.
"SCOOOTTTTT!!" Stiles bellows. He takes a deep breath, and tries again. "SCOOOOTTTTT MCCAAAAAALLLLLLL!!"
"Shut up!" Derek shouts back. "If voice signal is getting through, he'll hear you whether you blow your lungs out or not! Yelling isn't going to do anything!"
"I know, I know," Stiles says, feeling a little frantic. "But I'm not picking him up on the radar. We didn't see him all the way here and now we're at the crater; shouldn't he be here? He should be here! If he's not here, where the hell could he be?"
"We're at the edge of the crater," corrects Derek, pointing to their flickering GPS navigator, covered in squiggles that Stiles can't really parse out. "He's probably inside it."
"He is? Then what are we waiting for? Let's go down!"
"Stiles, we're not driving the rover down there. It'll never be able to get us back up. We need specially modified rovers to reach the pit."
"What? Why the hell didn't we get one from the lot, then?"
"I didn't think we'd need one! Allison said Scott borrowed a normal rover. I thought he'd be at the edge of the crater. He'd have to be an idiot to drive down it."
"Fuck me," Stiles groans, slapping his helmet. "That's exactly what he did, didn't he? That's why he hasn't made it back yet. His car is stuck down there."
Derek grunts. "Guess so. He's a moron."
Stiles swears, punching the edge of his seat. "Fuck! How are we going to get him, then? Should we turn back and get a modded rover? But that'll take forever!"
"There are the cables," says Derek.
"The spacewalk cables. We have them hooked up to the back of the rover." Derek leans over his seat and points to four huge coils of thin, black rope attached to the sides of the rover's back. "You click one end to the belt of your suit and it keeps you anchored in case you're not used to the lighter gravity."
"Oh, oh yeah," Stiles says excitedly, remember Scott's anecdote about Erica nearly getting carried away by the winds. "We can use those? How long do they extend?"
"It's elastic nanofiber, so they can extend to one kilometre each. The crater's 2.4 miles deep. If we hook up all four in a line, it'll be about 2.5 miles, which should be able to reach the bottom of the crater. But not much more than that."
"Meaning," Stiles says, "if I can't find Scott from there, then—" he stops.
Derek's expression is blank. "It means we can't go any farther."
"Oh," says Stiles.
"If you're at the same level as him, there's a better chance for your radar to pick him up, right?"
"We'll figure something out once we find out how far he is," says Derek. Like it's something that's definitely going to happen.
"Okay," says Stiles. It helps to believe him.
They have another fight, a short one, about who'll be lowered down the steep wall of the crater. Each man casts a vote for himself, but of course it has to be Stiles in the end. It's his radar. If anything goes wrong with it, he can troubleshoot on the spot, whereas Derek will have to climb all the way up the cliff again to get it fixed, which would take ages. But Derek frowns like Stiles is suggesting suicide and—okay, Stiles gets that it's risky, especially since it's his first time, but how hard can it be? The crater is already prepared with a path, courtesy of the habitor teams here in the last few weeks, so as long as Stiles slides down it carefully, he should manage okay. And there's the cable line, tethering him back to the rover, that'll keep him from going too fast. He'll be fine. He'll find Scott, wave Scott over, and he'll give three tugs on the cable, just like Derek said, and Derek will reel them back up to ground level. Everything will be fine.
As soon as they jump out of the rover though, it's a different story. The storm is worse here than anywhere else they've travelled so far. It's not like the wind on Earth—this is propelled by electromagnetism, not air currents, and it pulls at Stiles' gut in a strange way. The wind is practically crackling with static charge, and Stiles' body rocks back and forth by a soft-edged but irrefutable force. Every forward step threatens to upset Stiles' entire balance and send him hurtling into the wiles of the storm, like he's walking on ice during a blizzard. The lunar dust spits across the face of his helmet, as if warning him to go back, stay in the car, lock the door and don't play hero. Larger rocks slam into him like paintballs, but Stiles is just thankful they're not so big that they'll rip his suit open or smash his helmet in. Those sizes of rock exist too, and he can see them fly around at higher altitudes, coalescing at the outer regions of the storm. He reasons that they must be somewhere near the center of the storm, where magnetic wind speeds are highest, and the debris is more coarse, less grainy.
Stiles squints, trying to gauge how far he can see. If he tries hard enough, he can just barely make out the limit of the ground and the edge of the cliff, but it's a blurry guess. The only definitive indication that they're at the right place at all is the red flags nailed into the ground by the habitor teams. The one in front of Stiles reads 50m/54.7y to Copernicus.
Derek gives a strong tug on the lock of the cable he's hooked onto the metal eyelet in the back of Stiles' suit, located right between his shoulder blades.
"Okay," he says. "That should hold." The noisy signal disturbance from the storm makes his voice coming through Stiles' earpiece sound broken, distant, as if it's being transmitted from a million miles away, when he's standing right in front of Stiles with barely an arm's length of space between them.
It's so dark outside that most of the illumination on Derek's face comes from the high beams of their rover; it casts Derek in half-shadow, but there's no mistaking the heavy furrow between his brows, the downturned set of his mouth.
"I'm going to be okay," Stiles tells him. Saying it aloud makes him feel more confident about it too. "Dude, I am."
"I know you are," Derek says, words clipped. The tension in his shoulders says otherwise. "Just don't do anything stupid."
"I don't think I can mess up if there's only one way to go," jokes Stiles, pointing to the flag, its cloth whipping around as if in hysterics. "And it's not like I can get lost."
Derek doesn't smile. "Keep talking to me. I want to be updated about how far down you are, what you're seeing. Watch out for big rocks, sharp rocks. Don't drop your LED. Slide down the wall quickly, but carefully; don't lose your footing and don't get swept away. The second you start to feel any kind of distress, tell me and—"
Stiles grabs Derek's arms. "Derek! Trust me. I'll be okay!"
Derek blinks at him. Stiles can see his throat working. If they weren't wearing their helmets, Stiles would probably do something royally cheesy, like give a reassuring kiss or something, even though he doesn't think it'll do much to calm down Derek's nerves. As it is, there are layers of life-sustaining equipment covering them, so the best Stiles can do is squeeze Derek's forearms, solidifying his message with the pressure of his hands.
And yeah, all right, maybe Stiles is scared too, but that's natural. It's exciting, it's invigorating, it's a reminder that he's here now, alive. Stiles would be worried if he weren't a little scared, if he weren't going half out of his mind picturing Scott alone in the crater, being crushed down by the storm, tuning and retuning a distress signal that wasn't getting through. The stress about Scott is legitimate, but Stiles doesn't need to stress out about himself. No matter how far he goes, Derek will be at the other end of the rope, giving Stiles a point to return to.
Derek will keep Stiles safe.
"When we get back to base," Stiles starts, trying not to let his voice shake, "I'm going to put my mouth on every inch of your body until you understand just how much you've been rocking my world lately."
That does it; that gets Stiles a smile. A soft, hopeful little thing, brightening up Derek's face like a sunrise peeking out over the horizon.
A gust of wind roars through. Stiles feels his skin quiver but doesn't register the growing dark shadow reflected in the polymer of Derek's helmet until too late—he sees the smile drop off Derek's face, sees Derek's eyes widen, sees Derek reach out for him, start to say his name, "Sti—"
And then Stiles is being slammed against the side of the rover, the breath knocked out of him, and there's a huge crunching sound, and Derek grunting in pain. Stiles' eyelids jolt open and he sees Derek gasp, lose his footing, rise higher—?
Stiles grabs onto Derek's wrists just as Derek careens up into the sky, following a misshapen black boulder that goes hurtling like a ricocheted bullet back into the fray of the storm.
Derek's feet fly upwards, his whole body pivoting around where Stiles has a grip on his arms. Derek's eyes fly around in panic, his head swivels around to check behind him.
"Hold onto me!" Stiles shouts. His boots scrabble on the ground, toes dragging on the hard bedrock, trying not to get blown away too by the force of the gale. He hovers like that, a few inches off the ground, like a scene in pause. It's only by the tethered length of the cable, still locked tight, that keeps Stiles from getting swept up as well.
"It cracked my air tank!" Derek says.
"That rock, it hit me, it cracked my tank. The system just told me I have three minutes of air left." Derek meets Stiles' horrified eyes.
Fuck. That rock had been meant for Stiles. And Derek had flipped him out of the way.
"Oh god," Stiles breathes.
Derek's face is ashen. "Stiles, let me go!"
What? No! "What the hell," Stiles yells, "Are you nuts? You don't know where you'll land! The wind could blow you over the ridge of the crater!"
"The magnetism's too strong for you to pull me down! Let go or I'm going to run out of air!"
"It'll die down! Three minutes, right? The wind will die down!"
"I won't land far!"
"No! The ridge is right there! Just hold on!"
"STILES," Derek shouts, his voice high and brittle with fear, "I don't want to suffocate."
Shit. Shit shit shit.
A year passes by in the space of a second. The hammering sounds of the storm matter and the howling of the winds dim until all Stiles can hear is the frenzied in and out of Derek's strained breathing, Stiles' own following half a beat behind. His stomach roils, his chest lurches in syncopation, and for a single, frozen, unblinking moment, Stiles is certain that he's going to lose Derek.
"What?!" Derek says.
"I said NO!" Stiles hollers. "There's no way I'm letting you go!! Stay here! Breathe with me!"
Derek's mouth parts in surprise, whether to argue or to agree, Stiles can't tell—but then he gives a quick, abortive nod: Derek's saying yes.
"Ready?" says Stiles. "On three. One, two, three—"
The two times Derek had helped Stiles out of a panic attack, he hadn't accepted thanks for it. That first time on the Moon and the second time at the loading dock, he'd just grunted a don't-let-it-happen-again grunt, a who-cares grunt, a shut-up-and-go-now grunt, and strode away without looking back. It left Stiles feeling newly sick, despite how his breathing had evened out, for accidentally revealing such a huge weakness to Derek the Strong, who clearly had other, real work to take care of. While he was thankful Derek hadn't made fun of him, Derek barely acknowledging the significance of what he'd done had cut deeply in another way. It was like Stiles was just a chore to be gotten over with. Like Stiles was on a whole other plane of existence from him.
It's only recently that Stiles has started to understand that he'd been reading Derek all wrong: from the back cover to the front, and upside down, and skipping every other page. Derek hadn't expected thanks from Stiles because he hadn't thought there was anything worth thanking him for. He did what had to be done to calm Stiles down, and that was it. He couldn't have possibly known what it meant to Stiles because to him, it was like—of course, what else could he have done, it wasn't even a matter of choice. Whatever his feelings were for Stiles, they were irrelevant—he wouldn't leave Stiles to suffer alone.
Isn't that how Derek's been all along?
They breathe together for a tiny eternity, until Derek says hoarsely, "A minute and a half left." He's still terrified. Stiles is too. But Derek's fingers are clasped around Stiles' wrists now, and though the wind is pulling at them with all its might, the weight of the rover is keeping them rooted, and Stiles is doing his best to be Derek's anchor.
They notice at the same time when the magnetic force lessens, and Derek's feet start to drop.
Stiles yells with effort as he drags Derek closer to him, until Derek can grab onto the front of the rover. As soon as Derek's feet touch the rubbled ground, Stiles is pouncing inside the trunk of the vehicle, pulling out an extra air tank; he hurries back to Derek, orders something about holding your breath as he switches the broken tank with the new one, and refits the oxygen and carbon dioxide tubes. The backlight flips from red to green: all systems are go.
Stiles doesn't know how long it took. He'd barely registered the actions of his own body. Thirty seconds? Forty-five? How close of a call was it?
Derek turns and stares at Stiles. His skin is tinged gray, shiny with sweat.
"Holy fuck, that was—so, so not-fun." Stiles pants, hands on his knees. "You okay?"
"Yeah," says Derek softly, patting himself down. He takes several large breaths. "Tank's working."
"Then why do you look confused and not as relieved as I am that you're still alive?"
"I—" Derek looks around. "I thought I died, because everything went bright suddenly." He pauses. "Listen. The wind stopped."
Stiles listens. Derek's right; it has. It's quiet now, like they're in a deep, hollow cave, empty of sound and unreachable by the outside world. And there's sunlight: they can see each other, unobscured.
They both raise their heads at the same time.
Miles and miles above them, a music-less spectacle is playing out. A curtain of green light, luminescent against the blackness of space, is shimmering through the sky, like a swaying, radioactive ribbon. It glows like it's emitting heat and moves like it's alive, streaking high across the Moon's circumference as if it's being painted there, a swirling trail of colored ink dispersing in water. It's trillions of particles being charged by the Moon's magnetic atmosphere and incoming solar winds; they shine a pale green light onto the world below them, beautiful and mystical. After the scattered darkness of the storm, it's amazing to see everything lit up this way, as if they were under a thin, waving spotlight, heralding the cracks of an entryway to another universe.
"We must be in the eye of the storm," Derek says, pointing to the churning wall of debris moving steadily farther from them, almost like a slowly retreating army.
"This is," Stiles starts, "fucking aweso—"
He's interrupted by a shrill, beeping sound, and then a steady series of pings. Stiles fumbles into his pocket and brandishes his radar.
Approximately 600 yards from their point source, north thirty-two degrees east: an unmistakeable green dot is shining, labelled Ag, 99.9% purity, 10gm. ELEMENT MATCH.
"Frig, Stiles, am I happy to see you," says Scott, as soon as they're within sight of each other. In this little pocket of space they're in, at the bottom of Copernicus, the storm has abated enough that when Stiles toggles to Scott's communications box, Scott's voice comes through loud and clear. He's a small figure standing out from the featureless expanse of the crater, and Stiles smiles in chagrin to see Scott's rover parked by his team's air tank shed—tilted left from a flat. Scott sounds tired, parched, but not much worse for wear. "You won't believe what happened."
"Preaching to the choir, dude," Stiles says, raising a hand in greeting.
Scott hurries closer, bounce by bounce, until he's right there, in the flesh, and Stiles can't resist tugging him in for a long, tight hug—or as much of one that their spacesuits will allow.
"Hi," Scott says morosely, collapsing heavily onto Stiles. "I think I fucked up."
Stiles pats Scott's back comfortingly. "I know, buddy. It's okay, you're good now. Let's go home."
He reaches behind himself and gives three sharp tugs to the cable tied to his back.
"Allison is going to kill me," Scott repeats for the umpteenth time. They're driving back to the compound and Stiles is sitting with Scott in the rear of the rover. With every mile they pass, Scott is getting increasingly anxious. "She's really going to do it. Stiles, tell my mom that I loved her and that I'm sorry I didn't call more often—"
"Will you relax? Allison is not going to kill you. This is far from the stupidest thing you've done or you will ever do. She should take this as an indicator of whether she wants to stay with your heroic, idiotic ass."
Scott turns to him, horror-stricken. "She'd break up with me?" he hisses. "That's even worse!"
"Well," Stiles says. "You can always try to win her back?" Then, at the distraught look on Scott's face, he adds, "Hey, if she's angry, that just means she cares, all right? I'm sure she understands why you felt like you needed to help. Like me. I'm angry too, but you don't see me abandoning you."
"Yeah, but. You're you," Scott says. "You'd never abandon me."
Stiles nods, appeased. "Damn right."
"That's why I felt so shitty about being so—"
"—unresponsive, useless, preoccupied—"
"Out of touch lately," Scott says. "So yeah. Sorry." He hangs his head.
Stiles blows out a long breath of air, then gives Scott's shoulder a light tap with his fist. "Hey. You were keeping busy. Allison Argent? Dude. You could do worse."
Scott's grin is sheepish but achingly bright. He thumbs the silver amulet he's been cradling in his hand the entire trip. "Yeah. I still can't believe it either. She's incredible."
Incredible is a good word. Certainly when they finally make their way back to the compound and Allison is there to meet them, hands on her hips, lips pressed thin, brown eyes flashing like lightning coming down, the aura she exudes is nothing less.
Scott says feebly, "Hey, Allison."
Allison says, "Scott."
Stiles takes back what he thought before. Allison's even scarier than Derek.
Sleep, oh the wonders of sleep.
It's pretty much all Stiles is thinking of as he follows Isaac up to Derek's room on the second floor of the Hale house. Derek lingers behind, sharing a few quiet words with Boyd and Erica, and how he's not collapsing on his knees with fatigue right now is beyond Stiles' comprehension. Stiles is so exhausted he can barely see straight. Derek's house, and bedroom especially, has been a source of endless curiosity to him for years, but Stiles doesn't give the white walls and sparse, monochromatic furniture a second glance as he makes a beeline straight for the modestly-sized bed, covered in a thick black blanket. It feels so good to be out of the spacesuit and regain full mobility of his head. He presses his face into Derek's pillows and squirms around like a cat. The air is permeated with the scent of Derek (his aftershave?) and it makes Stiles want to wallow in it.
"Stiles," says Isaac. Stiles flops onto his back to look at him. Isaac dumps a folded-up blanket on him. "Want anything else?"
"Hot towel and a blow job?" Stiles suggests.
"Do I look like I have a death wish to you?" Isaac says, leaving the room just as Derek enters. Stiles forgets about him instantly.
"Hey," Stiles says.
"Hey," Derek replies. The door slides shut behind him as Derek slowly approaches the bed, stopping at the side, right in front of Stiles. Stiles takes one of his hands. Something in Derek's expression, staring down at him, makes him shiver in the best way.
"You're too far up," Stiles murmurs. "Come down here." He scoots backwards on the bed and Derek lowers himself down, one knee at a time; his bones pop and his t-shirt shushes against the blankets as he flattens himself with a low, throaty groan. Stiles tucks himself beside him, not quite touching, but close enough to feel the heat radiating from Derek's body. For a long, long while, they just lie there, breathing together, Derek looking at the ceiling and Stiles at Derek's chest rising, falling, rising.
"Thanks for today. For everything," Stiles says eventually.
"Stop saying that," Derek says.
"Stop telling me not to say it."
"You don't need to say it."
"Oh ho ho, wrong. I really do. And I want to. So take the thanks, you ass. Say, 'you're welcome, Stiles'."
A little bit of a smile edges its way onto Derek's mouth. "And if I don't?"
"Punishment," says Stiles.
"The brutal kind. The no holds barred kind. The kind that'll make you scream like a—eek!"
In less than a second, Derek has flipped himself over Stiles and has him caged in between Derek's four long limbs. Derek's mouth is dangerously close to Stiles', and getting closer. Then, when he's only a hair's width away, Derek stops.
"If you're fucking with me, I'm going to kill you," breathes Stiles.
Derek smirks. "What about just plain fucking?"
"Hope you're good at it, 'cause you're not winning any awards for cheesy jokes."
"We'll have to put it to the audience," says Derek, and finally, finally, breaches that last, tiny, endless distance between them.
It's not like it was on Earth. On Earth Derek had been ferocious, bordering on overwhelming, consuming everything that Stiles had to give with the desperation of a man who wanted to drown himself. It had been strained and urgent and rough; they'd bumped elbows and knees messily, with the muggy intensity and greedy urgency of the moment overpowering any finesse they could've otherwise employed. Stiles had loved it; he'd loved it even in the morning when his back was sore enough to howl and his neck stung from marks left by Derek's teeth, when he couldn't meet Derek's eyes without flushing red as a beet; and he'd especially loved it when Derek had awkwardly touched the small of Stiles' back, brows bent in concern. Even the strange imbalance of that morning after, with Stiles' nerves fluttering with every move Derek made, as if Derek could spontaneously just press an undo button and erase their entire night together, Stiles had felt like a newly shone gemstone, raw from a fresh polish, like Derek had flayed him and turned him inside out in unexpected ways. It was as if Derek, uncalibrated and having shaky bearings on Earth, hadn't been able to control his own strength and had razed through Stiles like a tornado sweeping through a cornfield.
Here, though, Derek is more natural, more careless, holds himself with less tension and yet shows better command. He's more sure of himself, and evidently knows just what he wants from Stiles and how to get it. He kisses slowly, unhurriedly, parting Stiles' lips carefully like he's savoring a present, stroking Stiles' tongue with his in even, deliberate strokes as he frames one hand around Stiles' cheek and the presses the other to Stiles' hip. Stiles pushes himself closer, hands mindless with a need to touch Derek; he raises his hips slightly to test Derek's weight and smiles when he feels Derek's fingers clutch at his skin. It gets him lightheaded, fast, as if he was back up in microgravity, and he can't help letting out small pants as Derek trails gentle kisses down the side of his face and scrapes teeth against the line of Stiles' jaw. They move together, taking their time, like they're set in slo-mo, and Stiles can hear every breath of air Derek steals in between kisses, every whisper of their skin and clothes sliding over each other. He doesn't know how they got under the covers, but somehow they have, and it's like they're in their own little world: not Earth, not the Moon, just a secret planet tucked away in a warm corner, where the only thing to do is kiss Derek and try not to be completely decimated by it.
"Are we going to have sex?" Stiles asks quietly, his lips catching on Derek's on every word.
"What do you think?" Derek asks back, amused.
"I think you're going to pass out in about two minutes."
Derek closes his eyes and loosens his grip on Stiles. "I did have some vague plans about that." He's not pouting, but there's a hint of regret lacing his tone.
Stiles has to fight really, really hard not to kiss Derek at that. This is getting ridiculous—he can't start thinking of Derek as cute. "We need to sleep," he says apologetically.
Derek makes a low-pitched noise and turns on his side, hauling Stiles towards him, Stiles' back against Derek's chest, Derek's arms around Stiles' waist. Stiles spends a few seconds rationalizing with himself, then thinks, fuck it, and links their fingers together over his stomach, scooting in as close as he can.
"Did I make you fall for me because I let you camp out on my ugly couch and fed you cheap pizza?" Stiles marvels, incredulous, because how is it that he's where he is right now?
Derek doesn't reply. When Stiles braves a peek, Derek's face is lax in sleep and he looks more at ease than Stiles has ever seen him.
It's not much of an answer, but Stiles will take it for now.
He's awoken by stubble. It itches down his nape, followed by soothing touches of someone's mouth.
"What time is it?" Stiles mutters, blinking blearily against his pillow. "Where am I?"
"Don't know," Derek whispers against the back of his neck, scraping his chin down the slope of Stiles' shoulder. "And you're in my bed."
"And who might you be?"
Derek huffs a laugh. "Just some idiot."
"Who—doesn't have to be working right now?"
Lips press to Stiles' skin, not so much a kiss as sustained contact. "I arranged for a day off," Derek mumbles.
"You're allowed? Or are you just delegating to your minions?"
"Either way," says Derek. His hands on Stiles' chest begin to wander south. "You good?"
"I'm great," says Stiles, turning around in the circle of Derek's arms. "Are you good?" He narrows his eyes suspiciously. Derek should, by all rights, be looking as haggard as a wilted trash bag. And okay, yeah, there are still those dark circles under his eyes and his hair is looking way more lanky than usual, but by and large—he wears the worn out look well. And Derek's sort of smiling. That's just—abnormal.
Stiles has to lean in for a kiss just to make sure it really is Derek.
He tastes like morning breath, and Stiles makes a muffled groan into the kiss. He feels a short exhalation of air against his cheek and Derek pulls off.
"I was tired," Derek admits. "The break will be useful."
Stiles ruffles his hair so it's sticking up in even worse disarray. "Smart of you," he says simply. "When we go visit my dad later, you can teach him your ways."
Derek glances away. "Let's not mention that I took you out in that storm and nearly killed myself."
"Hey, stop it, we made it back in one piece. And you did save my neck out there, which, by the way—wow. Selfless enough?"
"You sound so grateful for things I do for you," Derek mulls, rubbing a thumb over Stiles' cheek.
"That's because I am."
Derek frowns at Stiles' shoulder. His fingers trail down it absently, tucking under the worn t-shirt Stiles had borrowed from Isaac, as if studying the cloth's composition.
"You give me too much credit," he says, quiet.
"Nah. You're okay in my books, Hale."
"And if I'd slept with you? On Earth? Would you still think so highly of me?"
Stiles pauses. "I—does it matter? You still would have—"
"I wasn't planning to stop, in the beginning," interrupts Derek. "I wanted to have you. You were willing, and I—I would've taken all of it. All of you. But then you called me a jackass, and I suddenly—" Derek's mouth flattens unhappily. "I had to stop."
Confused, Stiles says, "Uh, like I said before: it's okay. But, wait, you stopped just because I called you a jackass?"
Derek's eyes are so pale. "Do you remember what you said to me, the first time we met?" he asks, sounding strangely cautious.
A quicksand pit opens up in the middle of Stiles' chest and begins sucking down all his surrounding organs.
Shit. So it comes back to this. But why now? Why here? They'd been doing so well—
Briefly, Stiles debates lying about it. But as quickly as the idea comes, it's brushed away—Derek is serious about this. He's looking at Stiles like Stiles has all the answers he needs, which is so, so wrong. But Stiles can at least try. He owes Derek so much. Stiles can give up some of his own truths.
"Um," he says. "Uh, yeah. I think I do. I gave you condolences about your family."
"Yeah. I didn't take it well."
"You didn't," Stiles agrees. "But—you didn't have to. You shouldn't have to be polite about the loss of your own family."
Derek purses his lips. "Maybe, but. After that. When I was walking away. Do you remember what you said?"
"Crap..." Stiles scrubs his hair, wincing. The air is cool outside of the blankets and he hurriedly stuffs his arm back inside. He doesn't touch Derek. "Pretty sure I yelled something sarcastic like, 'Yeah, great to meet you too.'"
"...what? What after?"
Derek shakes his head. He smirks. "You called me an arrogant, sour-faced jackass."
Stiles freezes. "I did not say that. And if I did, you definitely weren't supposed to hear it."
"Oh, god, oh my god. Derek, I was upset with you because you were being super surly to me on what was pretty much the best day of my life. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." Then something clicks in his head; he stiffens. "Oh fuck, so when I said it again in bed, you must have thought—"
"No," Derek says. "I wasn't offended. I stopped that night because it reminded me of what you said back then, yeah, and how much you pissed me off. It caught me off guard. All the sudden I was thinking that we used to treat each other like shit, and there I was trying to fuck you. So I stopped."
"But—wait, what? You weren't upset?" says Stiles.
Derek pauses, then drops out halting sentences like a stalling vehicle. "Back then. I was going through a bad time. Everyone treated me like I was going to fall apart at any second. Or I was going to lash out if I got even a little angry. And maybe I was, I don't know. Then you just shot off your mouth, even though you'd literally just been talking about my family, and." He grimaces. "It was the first time in a long time that someone had said something harsh to me, without holding back. It was—I was pissed but it was something I could relate to. Anger comes easier to me, so people being sensitive for me, I didn't know how to deal well with that." His tone softens and he wraps sturdy fingers around Stiles' wrists. "You called me a jackass, though."
"But you are," Stiles says, hushed, brokenly; he feels like he's cracking in half and only Derek's hands are holding him together. "You really are kind of a jackass."
Derek scoffs. "I'm aware."
"You're also a pretty good person."
"...Thanks," says Derek.
"I mean it."
"I know. You mean everything you say to me. That's what caught my attention first. So when I remembered that you used to hate me—"
"I don't hate you! I told—"
"You did," says Derek.
Stiles falls quiet. "I didn't want to," he admits eventually.
Derek's smile is small and doesn't last long. "Couldn't blame you. I don't exactly give off good first impressions."
"I just—I didn't know you very well either. Okay? What we were talking about in the rover, it goes both ways. I thought—all these dumb things about you." Stiles blows out a breath. "You were so—" his hands gesture spastically, "you pissed me off so much, and I thought you couldn't stand me, and—we've know each other for yeaaars, but when you stayed over at my place, it felt like, I don't know, like I was actually learning about you for the first time? It was weird as hell. But, Derek," Stiles says urgently. "I do know you, okay? Even when I didn't know you, or you me, we still got each other, didn't we? Otherwise I'm pretty sure we would've killed each other years ago."
"Maybe," Derek says, smiling a bit wider now, as if he's imagining it himself.
"Scott even thinks we make a good team. And you know how big of a fan he is of you."
Derek blinks, sobering. "If you're still unsure about me," he says, pressingly, "I don't want this to be a one-time thing."
Stiles says, "Right, I—great! I didn't—I don't want this to be a one-time thing, too. I mean either." He must be grinning like a total sap now, but whatever, he doesn't care. He wants Derek to see.
Derek drifts his thumb across Stiles' lower lip, almost like he can't help it. "Good," he says. "That—good."
Stiles feels like laughing. "So all this wasn't because of the pizza?" he asks, just to be sure.
"I thought I won you over from the movie night."
Derek thinks about that for a second. "It helped. But what I thought of you, even back then..." He leans in for another kiss, a deeper one this time. "I liked that you weren't afraid of me."
"Oh," says Stiles, because oh no. His throat clogs. "And, uh. What if I was, though, sometimes? Hypothetically? Not, like, run for the hills scared, but, like—I don't know." He suddenly finds it very hard to meet Derek's eyes.
He feels a finger tip up his chin. Derek says, "But you trust me?"
"Of course! That's not even—of course I do. How could I not?"
"And you made me a mix-drive," Derek says, pulling Stiles in again.
A quirk about living on the Moon is that the sun takes approximately 29 days to complete one lunar cycle, and the sun doesn't so much set as it gradually, gradually sinks over the horizon over the course of two weeks. It's third quarter now, and they're waning towards a new moon, so the west side of the Moon is lit full on by the sun's rays. Not that it's easy to detect them through the storm, the furor of which returned to normal ball-busting levels as they had driven out of the eye, but it means that through Derek's circular window framed in the opposite wall, Stiles can't tell if it's day or night back on Earth, or how much time has passed as they'd slept. It sends an odd thrill up his spine, to think that they're cocooned inside their own personal bubble now, separated entirely from the rest of the world in more ways than one. If Stiles pretends, it's like nothing else exists except for the two of them here, in bed, hands on each other's skin. They could be the entire universe, their actions the movement of history. Derek's hand sliding down the length of Stiles' back, splaying warmly at his tailbone, Derek's nose bumping into Stiles' as they kiss and shift and kiss again, the twirl of his tongue in Stiles' mouth as they try to breathe each other's air, Derek's leg sliding in between the both of Stiles to hitch up against Stiles' rapidly growing erection, Derek's soft grunts reverberating in his throat as Stiles flips them over to pour himself over Derek's body—all of this is all there is and ever will be, and Stiles wants to take advantage. Stiles wants to experience and keep. Reacquaint his position in the world by pointing his compass at Derek.
He isn't exactly full up on energy right now, but still he can't keep eagerness out of his hands as they peel off extraneous shirts and shorts so he can map across the planes of Derek, using the language of touch to remind himself that this isn't a new dance, no matter how shaky Stiles feels. They've done this part before, but everything burns brighter here, fresh with rediscovery. It makes Stiles feel fucking amazing so the least he can do is reciprocate the best he can. When he strokes Derek's cock, he watches the sea changes of Derek's face for what kind of touch Derek likes most; Stiles holds tighter, strokes slower, and Derek sighs. It's a good sigh. Stiles will make sure that he hears more of it. In his bed last month, they hadn't made time for this, this cosy exploration of each other, figuring out each other's preferences and nuances, because they'd been so intent on gorging themselves on sensation, getting it all at once. Now there's no hurry and Derek is pliant under Stiles' hands, which is a treat and a blessing. Stiles almost doesn't know how to deal with it.
It's even too much to process when Derek takes Stiles' wrists and pulls them up over Derek's head.
"Kneel up here," Derek says, pointing his chin down at his chest. Stiles' pulse shoots up like a firecracker, and he hurries to comply: lowering himself onto Derek's chest, knees astride, cock red and leaking precum just inches from Derek's mouth—then in Derek's mouth.
Stiles groans, shuddering. "Derek, you—"
Derek hums around his dick as his answer and Stiles shivers harder. His hips itch to thrust but Derek has his hands gripped firmly around Stiles' waist, so all Stiles can do is sit and watch Derek suck at the head of his cock and try to keep his brain from combusting. One of Derek's hands rises high again and tucks into the dip between mattress and bedframe; he takes out a tube of lube and holds it out. Stiles takes it with trembling fingers and uncaps it, drizzles some over Derek's waiting hand, and as a reward Derek presses the tip of his tongue into Stiles' slit. It makes Stiles jerk, hard, groaning through pursed lips, and between this second and the next, Stiles feels a finger slide down his ass to gently caress his hole.
"Fuck," he hisses, lifting himself up slightly so the finger can crawl lower, push in, pull out, push in again. Stiles holds himself steady, palms flat on the bedspread bracketing each of Derek's ears—he wants to lean back against those slick fingers, two now, but he doesn't want to lose Derek's mouth. He moans because he's failing with words again; Derek's eyes flick up to him and maybe he likes what he sees because his lips open on a smile around Stiles' cock just as he pushes his fingers in Stiles' hole, all the way. Stiles keens, hips snapping, and Derek just follows the movement, tongue seeking and hungry, fingers strong and probing, just barely glancing against Stiles' prostate—
"I'm gonna," stutters Stiles, and that's all he can get out coherently. The rest of his sentence dissolves into nonsensical vowels as Derek sucks harder, presses in deeper with a third finger, and this time, yes, right there, there—
It's too much. Stiles comes with a choked shout, grabbing futilely at Derek's hair, watching, dazed, as he stripes Derek's face with white, as Derek laps up some of it and swallows, as Derek looks up at Stiles, like he didn't just suck out Stiles' brain through his cock.
Stiles has never felt this light-headed before. Is the Moon's low gravity, or is it Derek?
Derek's fingers carefully sliding out of his ass wakes him up. Stiles breathes, "Now you," and Derek's eyes darken in anticipation.
"I won't stop this time," Derek warns.
Stiles says, "You'd better not."
It feels like forever and no time at all for Derek to slick himself and for Stiles to shift backwards until his ass meets the hot length of Derek's cock. Derek's large hands cup Stiles' ass cheeks, molding them slightly, and they help pull Stiles open for Derek as Stiles lowers himself slowly onto Derek's cock, like a king savouring his throne. Derek's head tosses back, digging into his pillow, his neck bulging, and Stiles bends down to lick from clavicle to chin, just to taste Derek's moan on his tongue. And then he has to stay there, nosing across Derek's face, kissing away traces of his own mess left over, until Derek's mouth is open and gasping under his, capturing Stiles' lips whenever they're within reach.
"Stiles," Derek pants, when Stiles is fully seated on him.
"All right?" Stiles says, grinning, and raises himself up just far enough that Derek has to thrust or lose him. "Yeah," he sighs, hands anchoring themselves on Derek's abs. "Like that, okay?"
The thick slide of Derek's cock inside him is even better than he imagined.
God, how many times has Stiles jerked off to something just like this in the past few weeks? How many nights has he lain awake in bed, imagining Derek under him or over him, or even just Derek's voice in Stiles' ear, telling Stiles what to do, how to touch himself? Stiles has grown past a lot of pubescent hobbies, but he'd regressed to go all out in his daydreams of Derek. He envisioned so many situations and so many places, but for his own sanity he held them under the pretense of a fun romp, no-strings-attached, just two dudes having a good time. Stiles hadn't pictured this coming about after a pick-up, a rescue, and a morning wake-up kiss.
He's gone full Disney princess.
Except none of those animated girls were as lucky as Stiles is right now, because what's the parallel Disney prince to Derek? There's no adequate description for this man, whose hands are searing prints of heat up and down Stiles' thighs, who lets out muted grunts as he flicks his hips up into Stiles' welcoming body, with lush, dark eyelashes flickering against his cheeks, with a delicious sheen of sweat gleaming across his broad chest, who grips Stiles tight as he steadily rocks them together closer, closer.
It takes Stiles a little longer to get in the swing of things since he'd just come, but Derek keeps a brutally slow pace and holds one hand against Stiles' cock the entire time, thumbing at its head, and grins in triumph when Stiles starts growing harder in his palm.
"Fucker," Stiles breathes.
"You're just easy," Derek says, which Stiles has to concede as the truth.
"You're going to spoil me," says Stiles. He means, you're going to make me spoiled. And he means, you're going to spoil me for everyone else who I might ever take a romantic interest in for the rest of my life. And he means, this is going to ruin me, just like I knew it would.
Derek bares his teeth. "Good."
And then suddenly they're rocketing off into top speed; Derek hooks his arms around Stiles' back and flips them over so Stiles is under him. Their fingers link together and Derek pins them down by Stiles' shoulders—Stiles takes his cue and wraps his legs around Derek's back so Derek can thrust faster, deeper, harder. He worms one hand free to grab for a pillow to stuff under his hips and it makes the angle so much better. God. Stiles is biting down to keep his moans in check but it's not working, so he uses Derek's mouth as a muffler instead, pushing unfinished fragments of Derek's name there so Derek can feel how much Stiles is liking this. Stiles clenches his eyes shut to guard against the sparks of light flashing there, winding him up higher and higher. One of Derek's hands come down to wrap around Stiles' cock, pumping it with an irregular rhythm, as if Derek can barely handle doing it, because he's being wrecked by this too.
"I," says Stiles, feeling himself stretch thin.
"Yeah," says Derek, driving inwards, again, again. "Come on. With me."
Stiles comes. Tremors shoot through his body, and they don't let up even as Derek weighs him down with his final few thrusts before coming too, releasing a groan into Stiles' shoulder as he stills entirely.
Stiles sighs happily, letting himself drift.
"Warm," Derek mouths into Stiles' skin. It's barely audible but Stiles feels the words like he's been branded. "You're all over—it's—"
"Yeah," Stiles whispers back. "I get it."
In the moments afterwards, his arms slung loosely around Derek's back, his chin tucked into Derek's shoulder, Stiles breathes in deep and blinks against the sweat dotting his eyelashes. His mind unfurls with a T-minus countdown paced to his slowing heartbeat as Stiles thinks about distance equations: the impact of time, speed, position, and the resulting velocity.
Maybe Scott was right; Stiles can have this. The added factor of Derek wanting this too changes everything. Stiles has always thought of them as two poles, turned in opposite directions—but if it ever really was like that, it's definitely not the case anymore. They're still standing at two poles, but they're facing each other. If they move forward, they can meet halfway. So, cool, that's an extra incentive: when Stiles moves to the Moon, he'll not only be close to his dad, but to Derek as well. Maybe Scott can find a place here with Allison, fly up his mom for an early retirement—or even get her a position at the station's clinic. They can have weekly dinners and purposely not invite Allison's parents. He and Scott can play lacrosse in Copernicus—with the low gravity, it's bound to be amazing. He'll get to see MS3 grow under his dad's and Derek's guidance, become the place that little kids of the world will aspire to reach one day, just like Stiles did when he was young.
And every day Stiles will be greeted by the celestial view of Earth's blue, green, white patterned shell, making him simultaneously feel like the smallest being and the biggest man in the universe.
For now, he kisses Derek and focuses on right here.
Eight hours later finds Stiles hanging from the tips of his fingers from the first deck level of the satellite tower and cursing Jackson Whittemore with every ounce of strength he has. How the hell had they gone from hot sauce overdose to attempted murder? Granted the fall wouldn't kill Stiles, and due to the lowered gravity might not even hurt Stiles all that much, and it's not even that windy right now, but still, what the fuck! Jackson shoved Stiles off the railing of a two-story high deck. What if Stiles got a sprained ankle? Who's going to be accountable for that? And how was he supposed to know that Jackson would have a really bad reaction to all that hot sauce? If that was anyone's fault, it was Erica's.
"Just let go!" Scott says. He's on the ground, holding out his arms. "I'm right below you!"
"No! You come up here and pull me back up!"
"It's easier to catch you!"
"Easier for who?!" Stiles yells.
Two new people beep onto their audio channel. "What the hell is going on," Stiles hears in his ear. Shit, Derek. He glances down. Derek's pulling up in a mini-rover, Isaac in the passenger seat.
"Stiles pissed Jackson off and Jackson pushed Stiles off the ledge," says Scott.
"It was totally uncalled for!"
"And where is Jackson right now?" asks Derek.
"Reporting back to Satan, where else!"
"Stiles, stop whining and just let go of the edge. You're not that high up."
Everyone's heartless around here. "Ugh, screw it," mutters Stiles, and lets himself fall.
Scott catches him with an exaggerated grunt. "Oof," he grins. "You fatso."
"My hero," Stiles gushes, throwing his arms around Scott's helmet. He can see Derek standing behind Scott, chin set, not even trying to hide his exasperation. Scott beams.
"We're going to the med clinic," Derek says, as Scott sets Stiles back on his feet. "Morrell says she's got that new anti-v ready to test."
"How's Carey?" Stiles asks. Everyone was relieved when, against all odds, she passed her twenty-four hours without going into kidney failure, but she isn't anywhere close to being in the clear yet.
"She's hanging in there. We'll see how well these shots take."
"How is Dr. Morrell making these anti-v's so quickly?" Scott asks. "I mean, it's great, but I don't get it. Didn't she just come out with one a few days ago?"
"She has consultants helping her team from Earth," says Derek.
"Lydia's one of them," pipes up Isaac from the rover.
"What!" Stiles boggles. "I didn't know that."
"Yeah. Jackson got her onto it. Remember in high school when she was a chemistry whiz too?"
"Yeah, how could I forget, but—wait, what did you say? Jackson?"
Isaac shrugs. "There are worse people than Jackson."
"Blech," Stiles says, shoulders slumping. "Now I can't even get mad at him for shoving me."
"What did you say to him, anyway?" Scott asks, as they load into the rover.
"I was trying to apologize for that kidnapping stunt we pulled in high school," says Stiles. "I guess he thought I was being facetious?"
"Were you?" asks Isaac.
"You should get Derek to plead your case," suggests Scott. "Jackson's terrified of him."
Stiles whips to Derek, who stares resolutely at his steering wheel. "Is he now."
"It's not my job to play babysitter to you dicks," Derek says bluntly.
"We're a package deal, buddy," Stiles says, slapping a hand on Scott's shoulder. "You want me, you've got to suffer with all of us." And he grins, bright and unrepentant, because Derek curls a dour lip at him, but he doesn't argue.
The newest drug works. Patients' fevers go down, their white blood cell count starts rebounding, their blood pressure goes back to acceptable levels.
Stiles' dad regains his strength back over the course of the next few days, and by the week's end is cleared for discharge. Being a dedicated and valued sheriff, no one begrudges him for taking two full hours out of his once-again busy schedule to yell at his son for reckless behavior and disrespecting authority. Stiles hands his dad his radar in apology. It appeases him until Stiles mentions that his project director technically ordered to have it destroyed, and then Stiles has to withstand another lecture about proper work ethic.
Stiles deserves that. In fact, he's mostly just delighted by his dad's recovery, until he hears that his dad then took a half an hour aside with Derek to lecture him about things Stiles can only presume were not appreciated by Derek. Then Stiles is just plain embarrassed.
He hasn't even told his dad yet where he's taken to bunking overnight recently. He figures he'll wait for the storm to fully die down first; then if need be, he can grab Derek and the two of them can beat a hasty escape in the Gray Wolf to avoid death by parental humiliation. Jet off into the great yonder together, find their own adventure—there's an entire cosmos to explore, right at their front yard.
Derek wouldn't mind.
"Here," Stiles says, holding out the hot dog. "It cost, like, six bucks, so you better enjoy it. Everything's so overpriced at amusement parks."
Derek picks up his hot dog with complete indifference, but dutifully, he does take a bite.
Stiles waits for the verdict.
"I've had hot dogs before, you know," says Derek. He eyes the second one in Stiles' hand. "How come mine doesn't have minced onions?"
"It's sauerkraut. Sauerkraut to match my sour company." Stiles grins; Derek doesn't laugh. "It's actually cabbage," Stiles explains. "Here, let's switch. See if you like it."
Derek doesn't like sauerkraut. Stiles takes note of this, like he's taken note of everything else he's learned about Derek the past few days. One month after Stiles returned from the Moon and three weeks after MUN-flu's last victim was cured, Derek has come down to Earth for a vacation that's years overdue. They'd spent two nights at Stiles' apartment in Beacon Hills before loading up in the jeep and driving south to explore California. Stiles took him to San Francisco (he'd enjoyed Chinese food and had liked the Golden Gate, but mostly because he enjoyed being near water), Hollywood (he had hated the crushing numbers of people and still found pop culture useless, but held some strange fascination with the Hollywood Walk of Fame), Joshua Tree National Park (Derek had loved it there; he seemed to have a fondness for all parks in general), and now they're in Disneyland. If they have time later on, Stiles is going to drive them down to San Diego, too, to take Derek to the zoo. Derek hasn't explicitly said he wanted to go, but if the way he stares after people walking their dogs is any indication, he'd find plenty to entertain him there. It's fun, seeing California through Derek's Moon-raised eyes, to share Stiles' home and people with someone with so little experience in this world. It's also fun to see Derek in a summer environment. With all that pale, smooth skin no longer hidden under thick spacesuits, Stiles can admire the stretch of a Henley shirt over Derek's chest, the fit of a nice pair of jeans over Derek's ass—Derek's supposed to be getting some much needed R&R, but it's Stiles who's having the time of his life.
"How's your headache doing?" Stiles asks, riveted by the sight of Derek licking ketchup off his fingers.
"It's better," Derek says. "I think it was just the humidity."
"Want to try some more rollercoasters?" Stiles takes out his park map. "The Mark X Astro Orbitor is good at night. Interested?"
"They're not worth the long lines," admits Derek. Stiles supposes that makes sense. When you've grown up hopping to and fro on fucking rockets, what great attraction is careening down a few steep hills while strapped in to a tiny railcar?
"How about the petting zoo, then? We can feed the goats."
"Maybe tomorrow," Derek says.
Stiles leans back against the bench they're seated on and kicks out his legs. "Okay then, you make a suggestion. I'm up for anything, really. I've been here, like, three times."
"Let's just sit," says Derek.
"But the fireworks don't start for another half hour!"
Derek tilts his head. "Yeah."
"Okay, no, that's cool. Sitting's a good idea. I'm tired, too." This isn't a lie. Stiles loves Disneyland, but they've been here since early morning. And he doesn't want to push Derek. This is a vacation, yes, but it's also an introduction. What Goes On Earth, Really, with your host, Stiles Stilinski. Stiles wants to make sure Derek has a good time so Derek will feel inclined to return more often in the future. There are so many more places Stiles wants to take him, and it's more than a little selfish, but Stiles wants to see Derek under every type of light possible: blistering sun, overcast gray, polluted smog, unimpeded moonlight—Stiles wants to explore Derek everywhere.
There's no rush. They have time.
The minutes pass in silence, comfortable and unhurried. Derek watches the families passing through the park—fathers carrying children on their shoulders, mothers chatting with teenagers, grandmothers and grandfathers leading tiny toddlers by the hand—while Stiles resists the urge to watch him. Everyone's trying to find a decent resting spot so they can get a good view of the fireworks show. So smart of Derek to get their bench before the rush, so now they don't have to fumble around in the dark.
Stiles is sitting close enough to him that the sides of their hands touch, and Derek is not pulling away. Stiles decides to brave it and scoots even closer, so their forearms just about line up, and Derek tosses him a bemused smile.
"What," Stiles says.
Later, when they get back to their hotel suite, Stiles has plans to cajole Derek into a game of strip poker. Boyd had told him that Derek had an insanely good poker face, and Stiles wants to see. Stiles himself is terrible at poker, no surprise there, but he doesn't think he'll mind being the loser for this. They'll keep the windows open to let in the warm night breeze as they wrestle over cards in the middle of the living room, and maybe Stiles will put on a bit of Frank Sinatra—maybe Jackie DeShannon if he can get away with it. Fill the air with happy, mellow music to complement their laughter. Stiles will sing along and Derek will probably tell him to stop ruining the song with his caterwauling. Stiles won't; he wants to convince Derek to kiss him quiet. He fully expects Derek will try, but from that Stiles is bound to let out another type of noise, hum another type of song.
Tomorrow the forecast, amazingly, predicts thundershowers, and Stiles can't wait to see Derek's expression when they go outside and Stiles yanks away his umbrella. He wants to know what Derek feels like soaked in the weather, he wants to push Derek under the closest awning and lick the cool raindrops from Derek's collarbone.
And the day after, when they check out of their hotel, Stiles is going to press the GPS of his jeep in Derek's hand. See where Derek will take them.
In about year, Stiles will make good on his deal with Finstock: a three-month internship on the MS3 as an on-site engineer in exchange for the full blueprints and rights to the Radar-based Element Detector (RED, for short)—which he was all too happy to claim once it came with Chris Argent's impartial, written endorsement. Derek might still have the Hale house open—if not, he and Stiles can find a new place to share, that's cool too. They'll work together full-time then, and it makes Stiles giddy to think of it. He's expecting lots of arguing, lots of making up, and all the ups and downs of regular relationships, but Hale and Stilinski style, the way they've always done it. Stiles is already crossing out the days on his calendar.
Right now, the fireworks are starting, and Stiles raises his eyes to the sky to watch the cracking explosions of fluorescent color burst across the dark night.
"So, hey," Stiles says, leaning sideways so Derek can hear him above the booming, "now that you've gotten to know this place a little better, care to share your thoughts?" He peels his gaze away from the fireworks long enough to glance at Derek.
"I like it," Derek says. But he's looking at Stiles.
1. Thank you so much to my betas aeslis and elfiepike for being best. Yeah, I'm using that like an adjective. You guys are BEST.
3. The title is, of course, from Frank Sinatra's Fly Me to the Moon. :) Thank you for reading.