“I’m just going to pretend this isn’t happening. I’m going to close my eyes, and when I open them again, I’ll be back on Atlantis, sleeping in my tiny bunk, eating reconstituted potatoes and putting googly eyes on rocks to freak out Jared.”
Stiles takes a deep breath, tries to relax his bound arms, tries to visualize the eerily beautiful setting suns against spiky mainland trees, the spires of the east pier—and then he growls under his breath and freaks out, struggling to yank his wrists apart. There’s dull throbbing pain, and the slick feeling of blood, and he can’t believe they’re going to lose again.
“Why do we have to have Jackson?” Stiles says, knocking his forehead against his raised knees.
“Shut the fuck up, Stilinski,” Jackson says.
But seriously, if they didn’t have Jackson on their team, Stiles is sure they’d have an eighty percent less chance of getting tied up and tortured. Jackson is an ass. “You shut up,” Stiles says. “This is all your fault.”
Through gritted teeth, Jackson says, “I wasn’t the one who draped himself all over the ZPM and practically made out with it.”
Scott, silent until now in his I’m-assessing-the-situation way, says, apologetically, “He’s not wrong.”
So Stiles sweet-talked their ZPM a little, so what? Jackson was the one who karate chopped the handsy dude with the straggly beard when he tried to separate Stiles and his new fully-charged-up bouncing baby battery. That ZPM was—is—going to be Stiles’s greatest achievement. He’s going to get out of this, and then he’s going to carry it around on his chest in a Bjorn until the day he dies.
Which, okay, could be any time now, considering the fact that a galaxy filled with space vampires apparently fosters more intergalactic meanies than friends.
Wraith, Genii, Replicators, throwback farmers with especially sharp hoes. Dinosaurs.
The greater tragedy here, though, is that Captain Hale is going to rescue them. It’s not even a question; it’s always Captain Hale and his team that swoops in and gets them out of these jams. Smirky, asshole bastards who think they’re better than them at the whole exploratory team thing.
Granted, Stiles has been on the rescuing side a time or two, but Captain Hale keeps on edging ahead, and it drives Stiles crazy.
Maybe if they weren’t so damn smug about it, Stiles wouldn’t care so much. Reyes, with her snug fitting BDUs and abnormally strong arm muscles. The way Boyd can crush people with a manly hug. Isaac and his… scarves. The better to strangle with, Stiles guesses.
And Hale. Derek. He just has to look at a bad guy and they’re all pissing in their pants.
Stiles is about as intimidating as a wet noodle, but hey, he was really helpful that time Team Hale got stuck in that hole, and, you know, sometimes the stupid rescues are the ones that count the most. How the hell did all four of them get stuck in a motherfucking hole? Afterwards, no one would even tell him.
Kira, across the tent in the ‘woman’ section—they’d been scandalized by her pants—says, “We’ll be fine. We’ve missed at least two check-ins.”
The implication being that Captain Hale never lets them miss two check-ins anymore, ever since that time when they hiked that mountain and had all fallen asleep. Derek had been so mad, and, okay, maybe the whole field of drugging pollen had been alarming, but Stiles still doesn’t think it warranted a full-scale hazardous suit rescue with two weeks of infirmary quarantine—asshole.
Stiles can’t get his hands out of the ropes, though, so he just slumps back against stake he’s tied against and says, “Yeah.”
The fully-charged ZPM, which Stiles had been so excited about, is proving problematic. Stiles figures that’s the only reason they’re still there, three days later.
When they throw Jackson back into the tent for the second time that day, Stiles hisses at him, “Can’t you just keep your fucking mouth shut?” Everyone thinks Stiles’s loose lips are the problem, when really Jackson’s insults and jabs mean he’s taking the brunt of basically everything. “Don’t make me feel bad for you.”
Jackson’s left eye is swollen shut, there’s blood smeared along his jaw—he’s curled into himself, arm held at an awkward angle.
“Jackson,” Scott says softly. “Are you all right?”
Stiles looks over at Scott incredulously, because really? Really? “Does he look all right to you, Scotty?”
Jackson laughs, pained, and rasps out, “Better me than you losers.”
Jackson is a fucking asshole, Stiles has fantasized about shooting him no less than a hundred times since they met, and at some point, when Stiles finally gets a hang of fighting sticks, he’s going to beat the crap out of him in the guise of practice—but no one else gets to touch Jackson and live to brag about it. Stiles is going to burn this motherfucking planet to the ground. Lydia would never forgive him if he didn’t.
He says, “They’re using the ZPM as a shield. I bet Atlantis can’t get a read on us.”
“They know where we were going, though,” Kira says. “They have to be on-planet by now.” She’s looking worriedly at Jackson as he spits up blood all over the dirt floor. “We just have to hold on.”
Jackson shoots them a thumbs-up, two broken fingers already black and blue. He says, “I’m fine.”
Jackson’s the first to complain about a boot blister and the last to say anything about internal bleeding and broken ribs—it’s happened before.
The planet’s only so big, Kira’s right, but Stiles just doesn’t think they have the luxury of time.
They were bound to start in on Stiles eventually, since Jackson can barely move. Jackson makes a valiant effort, but his, “Hey, shitheads,” is barely a coherent sound from his puddle of person on the ground.
Stiles spits at the guard and calls him Wraith cattle to get his attention on him instead.
Scott struggles by his side, shoulder knocking his, says, “Stiles, no, what are you—” But by then Stiles is already being dragged, kicking and yelling, out through the tent flap.
It’s a lovely day.
Dry, just warm enough to feel like early fall, and Stiles answers all their questions about his interest in the ZPM with the names of Muppets. The angry-baffled look on their faces at Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem almost makes it all worth it, in the end. The last thing he sees before he blacks out is the pretty, cornflower blue sky.
Stiles wakes up and says, “Are my hands still tied?” because he honestly cannot feel any of his limbs.
Scott says, “Stiles, oh my god.”
“Scotty. Scott.” Stiles blinks up at the tent ceiling and hopes to god his hands aren’t tied anymore, because then all of this shit would have been for nothing. Getting beat up is always his least favorite rescue plan ever.
“No,” Scott says, and sniffles.
“Okay.” Stiles takes a deep breath, wincing at the pinch of pain in his chest. Cracked ribs, probably. They hadn’t worked him over as bad as Jackson, though, so chances are he can make himself move. Hopefully. “How long was I out?”
“A few hours,” Scott says softly. “Stiles, I don’t think Jackson’s—”
“We’re all going to be fine,” Stiles says over him. He doesn’t want to hear about Jackson’s anything, what he needs to do is drag himself up and sneak out and disable the ZPM. That’s a thing that he is doing. For definite.
Groaning, he rolls onto his side. His head throbs, there’s something dripping down the back of his neck, and one of his legs doesn’t want to work, but he slowly pushes himself up onto his hands and knees. It must be getting dark out by now, he thinks. The sides of their tent are thick, though, and a single glowing ember in the middle of it has been casting shadows all day—it’s hard to know for sure. He inches toward the back, away from the front flap. His ribs protest when he presses at the canvas for a weak spot, and it takes him far longer than it probably should to find a place where it’s loose enough for him to wriggle under.
Night is well on the rise, and his hands under the flap cast no shadow.
Scott and Kira keep thankfully quiet. Jackson’s breaths are worryingly uneven, and Stiles grits his teeth against the pain, lies down on his belly and… escapes.
The dark is both an advantage and a hindrance, given that he can’t use a flashlight and has to feel his way around the ZPM encasement. There’s a humming pulse under his hands, though, the structure it’s fit into glowing a cold blue—he’s under no illusion that they’re not going to catch him. He knows that he’ll only have a few minutes, at most, where the ZPM will be offline.
He can only hope Team Hale are still scanning for them, that they’ll be able to find their signatures in however short a window they’ll have. That these batshit crazy people won’t assume Stiles is on his way to flat-out steal their ZPM and just kill him, right then and there.
A boy can dream.
When the light clicks off, Stiles breathes a sigh of relief. He slumps down on the ground, back to the console, and waits.
He doesn’t actually know how much time passes before they find him, but it’s longer than he could have hoped for.
They don’t actually kill him, but it’s a close thing. By sheer force of will he manages to stay conscious through getting the shit kicked out of him, through vicious rabbit punches and what he’s pretty sure is a stick big enough to be considered a fucking log, and then he pulls himself over to curl around Scott when they toss him back into the tent.
Scott says, voice cracking, “Shhh, shhhh,” and lets him bury his face in his flak vest to hide his tears.
At first, Stiles thinks he’s hallucinating the gunfire. The terrified screams.
But then Scott goes tense underneath him. He murmurs, “Thank god, oh, thank you, Jesus,” and Stiles hears, faintly, a roar.
That… definitely isn’t right.
He’s in and out for the rest of it—Scott’s arms getting freed so he can clutch at Stiles’s shirt, Kira weeping over Jackson, Erica, a P-90 in each of her arms, standing framed by the giant, torn rip in the side of the tent. There’s smoke everywhere, and Stiles idly thinks thank god they did that for me. He doesn’t think he’d have the limb movement required to light a match.
Everything is hazy and tinged with red, and he’s gloriously close to losing it, letting all his pain-filled limbs relax into unconsciousness.
“Stilinski,” Derek says, rough. He crouches down in front of him, gently cradles his upper body to his chest. “Hey, Stiles, stay with me.”
“Took you too long,” Stiles mumbles into Derek’s shoulder. “Don’t you think this counts.”
Derek carefully hefts Stiles up into his arms as he gets to his feet. “Counts for what?” he asks, but by then Stiles has blissfully passed out.
Stiles wakes up in the infirmary, hooked up to an IV, in somewhat manageable pain, sharing a curtained-off section with a still-asleep Jackson—he refuses to feel relieved about that—and has several questions in his brain-hole.
Number one: how the fuck did Derek carry his grown-ass sack of potatoes all the way from their prison camp to the gate?
Two: did he actually see Isaac cut Kira’s bound hands apart with claws?
Three: was there a point, at any time, that Captain Derek Hale did not have his motherfucking angry caterpillar eyebrows?
Scott is asleep by his bedside, slumped in an uncomfortable looking chair, head tipped back and snoring.
Stiles presses the button to raise the head end of his bed, and the gently whirring noise rouses Scott into a flailing wakefulness.
He nearly falls off the end of his chair, catching himself at the last second to rock up onto his feet. He leans forward and says, “Dude, be careful,” trying to tug the blankets all the way back up under Stiles’s chin.
Stiles bats his hands away weakly and asks, “Jackson?”
Scott shakes his head. “He’s under an induced healing coma,” he says quietly, flicking a guilty glance across the room. Jackson’s flat and still, but the monitors are beeping steadily, and Stiles can see the faint rise and fall of his chest.
“Lydia’s never going to forgive me,” Stiles says, heart in his throat. It’s not that he cares about Jackson.
“Lydia’s pissed your plan was to get beaten so bad they didn’t bother to tie you back up. Derek’s pissed about that, too, just so you know.” Scott frowns at him. “I’m pissed.”
“Well, Jackson wasn’t going to be able to do it,” Stiles says mulishly, ignoring the fact that he probably could have done it, if any one of them bothered to come up with that plan while Jackson was still sort of mobile. Stiles blames himself, but he also figures he’s already paid for it.
Scott curls his hand around Stiles’s fingers and squeezes lightly, eyes wide and worried. “How are you feeling?” he asks.
Stiles feels crappy. He feels like he got run over by a puddlejumper and then kicked apart by those tiny, vicious mainland deer, and then maybe fed on by a rat. The skin on the back of his head feels tight and hot and his ribs are so sore it hurts when he breathes. He swallows back a hiss as he shrugs and picks at the blanket with his free hand. He says, “Fine.”
“You’re the worst liar,” Scott says, mouth pulled up in a wavering smile.
“Bite your tongue, I’m the best.” Stiles still has his dad convinced he’s doing the Life Aquatic somewhere in the Mediterranean instead of homesteading another galaxy, how’s that for lying?
He lets out an involuntary giant yawn and Scott pats the back of his hand as he lets him go.
“Where’s Hale?” Stiles says, eyelids drooping.
“Creeping on you while you sleep,” Scott says. “You can use that for when he yells at you for almost getting yourself killed.”
“Cool, cool,” Stiles says, then closes his eyes.
Stiles has a lot of downtime to think about it. About how Captain Hale and his team used excessive force to rescue them, and how his broken head might or might not have been working against him. He’s not allowed to do much of anything that doesn’t involve watching or reading something on his tablet, and he gets bored—fast.
He comes up with two possible explanations: they’re either all furries on steroids, or they’re real live werewolves.
To be honest, he’s on some heavy-duty painkillers.
The chair next to Stiles’s bed has a permanent Hale ass indent, but every time Stiles gets coherent enough to ask questions, Derek books it.
Stiles will say, “Why are you preternaturally strong?” and, “Erica’s eyes reflect light like a cat in the dark, that’s weird, right?” and, “Boyd?” Right? Because Boyd.
And Derek will say, “Isaac needs me to help fold his scarves,” or, “It’s my turn to let Erica beat me with sticks at the gym,” or, “Boyd’s saving me a seat at the mess,” and don’t think Stiles hasn’t noticed the telltale pink at the top of Derek’s ears, there is something big that he isn’t telling him.
And then Stiles becomes reasonably mobile—he gets to visit Jackson’s bedside, and he really hopes Jackson can hear and absorb everything Stiles says to him, because he’s going to wake up livid—and the next time Derek makes a move to leave Stiles sits on him.
It’s a slow, painful sitting, but the good news is that Derek is so afraid of hurting him he actually just lets him do it. Stiles has the pace of a wounded sloth and in the end Derek kind of just gently picks him up and places him sideways on his lap, and it’s not as awkward as it could be.
Stiles nearly touches their noses together and says, “Tell me.”
Derek sighs. And then he… shifts.
Stiles jerks back, yelps in startled pain, and the only thing keeping him perched on Derek’s thighs are the freaking claws at the end of Derek’s hands.
“You’re all werewolves?” Stiles yells, because it’s one thing to suspect something that crazy and another to witness it for truth first hand. “That’s cheating!”
“Cheating at what, Stiles?” Derek seamlessly melts back to full human, face impassive as he lets Stiles rubs his hands all over his cheeks and forehead, his eyebrows—where do they go?
Stiles pauses, presses Derek’s cheeks between his palms. “Our thing,” he says. “Our competitive rescue thing.”
Derek’s expression doesn’t change, but his eyes get weird. “Our…competitive what?” he says, slow and careful.
Stiles swallows hard, suddenly unsure, like he’s somehow said the wrong thing. His hands drop limply to his lap. “You know. How you guys can’t wait to, uh… and then you’re all…”
Derek’s eyebrows furrow up to become just one angry eyebrow, singular, set down low on his face. “We can’t wait to what, Stiles?” he says dangerously.
“To watch us fuck up?” Stiles says, voice small.
Derek doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t say anything at all, he just moves Stiles delicately back to his infirmary bed, methodically and neatly tucks the covers over his legs, makes sure his glass of water is within reach, and then leaves the room.
“Well,” Stiles says to Jackson. “Fuck.”
It takes two full weeks for Jackson to wake up. And then he’s bitching and moaning so much Stiles wishes they would just put him under again.
Luckily, Stiles is released at just about the same time, so he can escape to his quarters and wallow in the misery that is his Hale-free existence from underneath his own bed covers.
“I’m so stupid,” he says to Scott, comforter wrapped around his body and head stuffed under his pillow.
“I’m gonna need to hear you say it.”
Scott’s grinning when Stiles pops out his face to glare at him.
“No.” Stiles isn’t going to say it. Saying it would make everything ten times worse.
“I will if you won’t,” Scott says, and then, at Stiles repeated, adamant, “No,” Scott says, “Face it, Derek saves you because he lo—”
Stiles dives across the bed to slap a hand over Scott’s mouth and immediately regrets it. He can practically hear his ribs creak in protest, spangles of pain radiating out from the middle of his chest.
If nobody says it, though, then it’s not real. And if it’s not real, Derek Hale isn’t really a werewolf, and he hasn’t really spent two years saving his ass because he’s been… pining. Things like that don’t happen to Stiles in real life.
Scott says something like, “You are really stupid,” under Stiles’s hand, but Stiles chooses to ignore it.
His resolve lasts until the claxons sound and word gets all the way back to the biology lab that half of Team Hale has come in wounded, and nobody knows where Derek is.
“Crap,” Stiles says as makes his way down to the locker rooms.
“Shit, fuck, goddamn it,” he mutters as he straps on his flak vest and his thigh holster and scowls a cowering Greenburg into letting him check out a Glock.
“Dr. Stilinski,” Dr. Weir says when he reaches the ‘gate room. “I don’t believe you’re cleared for duty.”
Stiles feels like his glare should set her on fire, but all it does is make her give him an absent, concerned smile.
She says, “Colonel Sheppard has asked for able volunteers only, Dr.—”
“I’ll go with him, Ma’am,” Scott says, walking in already suited up identical to Stiles.
She arches an eyebrow at him. “As capable as I’m sure you are, McCall, I don’t—”
“I’m going,” Stiles says. He tightens his vest, clenches his cheek against the twinge of pain at the pressure.
“Me too,” says Kira, and then Reyes, the only able-bodied member left of Team Hale—even if she’s still covered in a horrifying amount of blood—gives him a nod from behind her.
Dr. Weir sighs. She says, “It’s like John’s giving a course on how to disobey orders,” but turns and waves at Chuck to open the ‘gate.
The world is wet. It’s cold and rainy, bordering on sleet, and Stiles says to Erica, “Couldn’t you have warned us?”
Everyone is soaked through within minutes, Stiles feels the frigid air all the way down to his bones.
“It wasn’t raining when we left.” She looks miserable, so Stiles cuts her a break. At least the rain has made her look less like a corpse dummy from the Chainsaw Massacre.
Isaac and Boyd are both laid up in the infirmary, and Derek is lost, and Stiles pushes all the unresolved feelings he has for him deep down in inside, because this is no time for crying.
“All right, Corporal,” he says Erica. “Show us where you last saw him.”
She spins in place, eyes narrowed, then points to a ridge in the far distance, a dip in between a forest of spiny trees. “There,” she says. And then, slightly softer and hesitant, “It was other wolves.”
“Wolves,” Stiles echoes. “Real wolves or,” he makes a sweeping motion toward her.
“Real wolves. A wolf-thing. A large,” she holds up her hands, fingers curled, but leaves her claws sheathed, “strong, demon thing. A whole pack of them.”
Scott squares his jaw and says, “How do we fight them?”
Stiles unsnaps his holster. “We bring big-ass guns to a knife fight.”
The hard part isn’t fighting off the not-wolves. They’ve got lizard hides instead of fur, bodies wide as cars and mouths full of rows and rows of sharp teeth, but they startle at the gunfire, and bleed out just as fast as anything else. They shoot the ones that go on attack and leave the rest to scatter.
No, the hard part isn’t the pack of beasts—it’s what they leave behind.
Stiles doesn’t have time to wonder how much Scott and Kira know about Team Hale, how they don’t even blink when Erica wolfs out and howls mournfully when they finally find Derek; the bloody heap of what’s left.
“Oh shit,” Stiles says, dropping down beside Derek’s mangled body. “You fucking bastard. You’re not going to win by dying, you—asshole.”
Derek coughs up blood when he laughs. “I’m not going to die,” he says between wheezes, letting Stiles clasp his hand. His chest is split open, Stiles can see bone. If he wasn’t a hardened adventurer, he’d probably throw up.
He blinks tears out of his eyes and says, thickly, “Sure,” knowing that was an absolute fucking lie. Christ. He has no idea how Derek is even still conscious.
Erica grips Stiles shoulder and says, “We have to get him out of here.”
Stiles tightens his hand around Derek’s. “I don’t think we can move him.” Honestly, he doesn’t think it’ll make much difference.
Derek says, “I’ll be fine,” and Stiles tries not to get hysterical and lose it completely. Fine. Right.
Stiles says, “I know, big guy,” and stares helplessly up at Scott as Scott just stares helplessly back.
“Stiles,” Erica says, shaking him a little too forcefully. “We have to get out of here in case those things come back.”
Right. Stiles nods. That makes more sense. And they definitely aren’t leaving Derek there for them to eat him.
Kira somberly unfolds a tarp and then they maneuver Derek onto it as gently as possible. Stiles pretends that every time he has to swipe his face it’s because of the steadily falling rain. By the time they’re moving back toward the ‘gate, Derek’s lost all color, eyes closed, and Stiles is too scared to look too close and see that he’s already gone.
“Well,” Dr. Biro says, pushing aside the curtain and wiping at her hands, “it’s actually not that bad.”
Stiles mouth drops open. “Not that bad?” How can entrails and protruding ribs be not that bad?
Beside him, Erica slumps in relief, but not, he suspects, any surprise.
Biro says, “He’s lost a lot of blood, but his breathing’s already better. No internal bleeding. I had to reset his left leg, stitch up a gash on his stomach. Give him a couple weeks, a month maybe, and he’ll be ready for duty.” This, she says to Dr. Weir, and Stiles just bounces his gaze around the room like everyone is insane.
“You,” he says, pointing at Erica. “You will tell me what the fuck is going on.”
Dr. Weir says, dryly, “I suggest you all get some well-needed rest.” She places a hand on Erica’s arm as she turns to leave. “Good job everyone.”
Stiles rounds on Erica the second Dr. Weir disappears and says, “Erica McDaniel Reyes—”
“That has never been my name.”
“—I saw Derek’s intestines on the wrong side of his body!” He’s pretty sure parts of him had been chewed.
Erica huffs and says, “I really thought you’d be happier about this.”
“I—” Stiles pauses, takes stock of all the heaviness in his limbs, the way his throat is closing up, how the room looks like it’s under water and he thinks shock and panic attack and lets Scott ease him down onto the floor in a full body hug. “Fuck.”
He fights to sync his breath up with Scott’s, concentrates on the steady heartbeat under his hands, and says, choked up, “I really thought—“
“I know,” Scott says.
Scott nods against his throat, and Stiles swallows down ugly tears.
In the aftermath, Stiles gets a miserable cold.
Stress, alien germs, bacteria filled rain—he’s been practically drinking down diseases since he got to Atlantis, it was bound to catch up to him eventually. He suffers through three days of fevers in his own sweatbox of a room, accumulates mountains of snotty tissues, towers of half-eaten bowls of soup. Scotty stops by to pour medicine down his throat a couple times a day, but mainly everyone just leaves him alone.
Alone with the terrible realization that he’s in love with Captain Derek Hale, asshole werewolf. God, it’s the worst.
He snuffles into his comforter and tries to ignore the fact that after a week of sickness he’s actually feeling much better. He’s dreading getting a shower and going back to being a functional human being, but at some point Scott’s gonna want their team back on off-world rotation.
He’s managed to change into a clean pair of sweatpants and move from his bed to his tiny, regulation loveseat when there’s a knock at the door.
Scott usually just sweet-talks Atlantis into letting him inside, so Stiles sits there and stares at it, wondering who it could be. Kira? He narrows his eyes, like he can see through the metal if he tries hard enough.
“Stiles,” a muffled voice says through the door. “Open up.”
“Oh no.” He’s not ready to see Derek yet. He’s certainly not ready to see Derek while smelling this rank.
“Stiles,” Derek says again, and then Stiles grimaces and thinks whatever, it’s not like Derek hasn’t already seen him at his worst, right? It pretty much goes both ways.
There’s a residual dull ache in his bones as he gets up, stretching his arms above his head before shuffling over to the door and pressing it open.
He can’t help but snort lightly at the sight of Derek, disgruntled scowl on his face, grasping a useless crutch, with his left leg in a full cast that he probably doesn’t even need anymore.
Stiles gestures at it. “Bet that itches like hell,” he says, mouth quirked up in a half smile. More bravado than anything; his heart is pounding so hard he can feel it in his throat. Derek looks… gorgeously whole.
“I can explain,” Derek says.
“You don’t really need to?” Stiles forces a shrug. He got the gist of it from Erica: super werewolf healing, nearly invincible, occasional bondage gear on full moons. He probably could have figured it out for himself if he hadn’t been panicking about the love of his life bleeding out in his arms.
Jesus Christ, just…put him out of his misery.
He says, “Uh, come in?” waving a hand over the truly disgusting dump his quarters has become, because why not?
Derek stays put in the doorway, though, ducking his head. “Look,” he says, “I’m sorry for—”
“Being alive?” Stiles says. “Because, you know, that part is actually pretty cool.”
Derek says, slow, “You were upset.”
“I was.” Upset is kind of an understatement, but if Derek’s not going to mention his undignified breakdown over his not-really-dying body, Stiles certainly isn’t going to bring up.
“I thought maybe you’d be happy about, uh, pulling ahead.”
Stiles watches the tops of Derek’s cheeks flush—he’s just so goddamn handsome, even with the way his ears stick out a little bit—and absently says, “Pulling ahead?”
“In the life saving…” the words actually look painful, almost bitter, coming out of Derek’s mouth, “thing.”
“Oh. Oh,” Stiles says, and then he shakes his head and says, “Not even a little bit, dude.”
A slow grin blooms across Derek’s face, all the tension in his body bleeding out, ridiculous bunny teeth flashing. “Okay,” he says. “Good.”
“So are we going to talk about it?” Scott says, shoving a meatball in his mouth.
Stiles points his fork at him. “Absolutely not.” He doesn’t know if Scott’s referring to the giant piece of chocolate cake he’s having for dinner or how he’s head over heels in love with Captain Derek Hale, but either way the answer is emphatically no.
Scott bobs his head, “Okay.” He eats another meatball and Stiles scrapes all the icing off his cake and licks the tines clean. Finally, Scott says, “Are you going to talk to you-know-who about it?”
Scott gives him a look.
Stiles sighs and slumps low down in his seat. “I probably should.” He doesn’t want to, but now that it’s been kind of alluded to that neither of them like either of them almost dying, and that rescue missions are actually pretty terrible—Stiles knows what that means for him, but Derek has never exactly acknowledged that it means the same for him, too.
Isaac’s tray clatters onto the table next to Scott and he pulls out the mess chair with a screech. “You guys are idiots.”
“Me?” Scott says, all bewildered puppy eyes.
Isaac knocks their shoulders together as he sits. “Nah. Our esteemed captain and Dr. Stupid over there.” He nods toward Stiles.
“I have three PhDs,” Stiles says, but it’s a weak defense.
“You should probably be able to figure this out then,” Isaac says, shaking up his pint of chocolate milk.
“Yeah,” Stiles says, defeated, “I know.”
The easiest thing to do would to just be to ask Derek out on a date. Take a romantic walk on a pier, watch the sunset, share pudding cups up on the tallest tower’s balcony with weird, Athosian lute music playing in the background.
But Stiles dithers about it, predictably—even though he hasn’t been purposely procrastinating, Scott—and ends up waiting too long to do anything at all. Derek gets his cast cut off, officially fit as a fiddle for duty. And then either Stiles’s team is out on a mission or Team Hale is, and by the time nearly a month has gone by, Stiles has lost all his momentum.
Stiles practically minored in pining and rejection in college. He’d hung onto the fantasy of Lydia for years before deciding they made much better friends and allies. But he’s never been able to handle it when they really matter—Danny, in graduate school; Malia.
It’s probably better this way. Dating in a closed society like Atlantis is absurd, everyone knows all your business, and breaking up is the worst. The only way to get rid of your ex completely is if one or both of you are shipped home. Sometimes, depressingly, in a box.
Which is why the mission they’re all going on to broker an alliance and help with the harvest on PX-322 is going to be so much fun.
In the ‘gate room, Stiles tells Scott, “Are you sure we have to go with Team Hale? It’s kind of like putting all our eggs in one basket, right? Think about it, Scotty. Who’s gonna save us when Jackson fucks up or all of Team Hale gets treed or turned into rabbits or something, right?” It’s happened; Stiles doesn’t know how it messed with their werewolf mojo, but they were all tiny fuzzy bunnies minutes away from getting prepped for a feast that one time, it was both gross and fascinating.
Jackson says, “Anything I fuck up is a direct result of you fucking up, Stilinski.” Stiles notices that he’s armed to the teeth, though, so like: Stiles isn’t the only one being paranoid here.
Scott says, “The goal is to not fuck up at all, guys, let’s be optimistic!”
“We have a long record of fucking up, though,” Kira says worriedly—see? She gets it.
And then Colonel Sheppard’s voice comes through the loudspeaker, echoing throughout the chamber: “I think we can handle it if you fuck up, kids.”
Stiles would like to protest that Sheppard never saw fit to rescue them before, but then the doors slide open and Team Hale swaggers in, all artfully strategic v formation with Derek striding out in front in black BDUs that, god, have got to be too tight for practical function, how does that even work? How do his seams hold up to those magnificent thighs?
Stiles is done, man. This is going to be the worst.
The first thing Stiles notices when he steps through to the other side of the ‘gate is that it’s fucking freezing. A blast of biting wind cuts through his jacket, light flurries spinning along the hard ground in tiny whirls. He shivers and says, “What possible harvest could we be helping with?”
Erica dumps the hood of a parka on top of his head. “Fun stuff,” she says. “Like beans. Apparently it gets even colder.”
Stiles shrugs on the coat gratefully, idly watching as Derek and Scott greet the village elders; three of them, with long beads in their hair and thick, fur-edged skins wrapped around their bodies. They don’t look like they’re going to freak out and shank them, but who the fuck knows for sure. He scans their surroundings, the thin, wiry stands of trees and massive outcroppings of rock. It isn’t much of a planet, really, mostly bare and windswept. Everything is tinted blue, from the light of its biggest star, and it makes Stiles brain feel wonky—he blinks, stares out at the horizon until his eyes adjust.
And then Scott shouts across the clearing, “We need to get a move on if we want to get started before dark.”
The harvest of bean-things is not actually that hard. They snap off easily in the cold, and the eight of them fill up basket after basket, in between drinking the hot, sweet cider the little village kids constantly run in and out of the fields with all day. No one shoots at Jackson when he accidentally trips one of them; the villagers seem genuinely grateful and happy for their help. It’s almost like putting their teams together has had the reverse effect on their luck.
They stop when the planet’s three moons become visible high in the sky, and Stiles scarfs down spicy cubes of steaming soft, dark and delicious mystery meat with his fingers by the harvest feast bonfire without even bothering to sit down. He knows if his exhausted ass hits the ground, he’s not going to get up again, and they haven’t had time to set up camp yet.
After they’ve piled all their bowls on the long tables and thanked their gracious hosts, Erica says, “We’ve got four tents, ladies and gentlemen, everybody grab a buddy.” She leaps on Boyd’s back when he bends down to place his pack on the ground. “Dibs on Boyd.”
Isaac swings an arm around Scott’s shoulders and says, “You and me, McCall.”
Jackson sneers at Stiles and says, “I’m not sharing with Stilinski,” at practically the same time Stiles says, “I’m not sharing with Jackson.”
He’s shared with Jackson before; they just end up screaming at each other until one of them throws a punch and they inevitably get kicked off the entire planet. Look, Jackson and him temper each other, most of the time, which is the only reason they’re still on a team together, but many a mission has failed because of their inability to get along in enclosed spaces. This one has been going so good so far, Stiles doesn’t want to tempt fate.
Kira rolls her eyes and says, “I’ll share with Jackson.”
And that would be fine and dandy, Stiles thinks, except the only one left for Stiles to buddy up with is Derek, and Derek hasn’t looked directly at him all day. Stiles has noticed; all his longing stares at the artwork that is Derek In The Field, wind-tousled hair, the ass of a man who excels at squats, eschewing the parka in favor of rolling his sleeves up his forearms like a crazy person. Derek never once acknowledged Stiles being kind of a creeper.
“Guess it’s, uh, you and me, big guy,” Stiles says. Honestly, despite everything, Stiles just wants to wrap himself up in five thousand blankets and go to sleep. He can totally handle Derek pretending he’s not actually there. Right.
Derek looks up at the sky and shrugs.
Stiles sighs heavily. He’s not exactly sure how they’ve gotten so awkward with each other, so fast, but he’s almost entirely certain it’s his own damn fault.
Stiles can’t keep his legs still. Without the meager heat of the planet’s blue sun, it’s even more frigid, and his feet feel like blocks of ice; shoving them on top of one another is doing less than nothing, but he can’t stop rubbing them together anyhow. Even fully dressed, with three pairs of wooly socks on, Stiles feels like he’s dying. Like every bit of water in his body is slowly freezing up, bringing him closer and closer to being just one giant Stiles-shaped icicle.
“Stiles,” Derek says from across the small space, his voice a sleepy growl, and it’s only a tiny bit thrilling that Derek is finally acknowledging his current existence.
“I can’t help it!” Stiles says, defensive. He’s curled up in a ball in his sleeping bag, knees tucked as tight as possible into his belly. He stares at the side of Derek’s face, wondering how he can stand it, how it’s possible that Derek is warm. It’s dark, even with the three moons, and he can’t tell if Derek has his eyes open or not. Every molecule in Stiles body is screaming out to cuddle and share body heat, but Stiles isn’t feeling brave enough to ask if he can scoot closer. He says, “I think I need to pee.”
“You don’t need to pee,” Derek says tiredly.
Stiles frowns, tucks the end of his bag up over his mouth so he can’t see his breath. His brain hurts, and he’s starting to feel sluggish. That’s bad, right? “How do you know?” Cold air always makes him want to pee.
He can’t stop the little shivers, either, making his teeth chatter and his hands clench spasmodically on the fleecy lining of his sleeping bag. He’s not sure how much time passes, hours or minutes, but he doesn’t think he’s ever going to be able to actually sleep, despite how tired he is. His thighs and arms are sore from picking beans all day, blisters lurking just under the skin of his fingers, and now his muscles are seizing up in protest of the cold.
And then he hears the sound of a zipper and Derek says, terse, “Just get over here,” with his sleeping bag open and inviting.
“Uh. What?” Stiles wants to move toward Derek so bad. With the flap of his bag up, a waft of impossibly warm air is drifting off Derek and falling lightly over Stiles, humid and glorious. He wants to be right there, under Derek’s arm and pressed all up against his…everything. That sounds like just about the most amazing thing in the whole galaxy.
“Get over here,” Derek says again, and, okay, things may be super weird between them, but Stiles isn’t made of stone—he’s practically a popsicle, and Derek’s wolf blood is apparently like a brick oven fire, he’s gonna go over there and get thawed out. Right. “Stiles,” Derek growls when Stiles still hesitates.
And then he thinks fuck it and scrambles up and out of his bedroll as fast as he can and slips right into Derek’s arms, back snugged up to Derek’s front. He unabashedly shoves his frozen feet in between Derek’s calves and Derek drapes an arm over his side, splaying his hand flat over Stiles’s heart. In seconds Stiles is almost completely warmed through.
Stiles feels each of his muscles relax, one by one, melting into Derek’s heavenly cocoon. It’s better than amazing.
Stiles yawns into his hands and squirms even closer, shameless. There’s heat on all his sides, he wants to sleep like this for the rest of his days.
“Sorry,” Stiles says, soft.
Derek’s quiet for a so long Stiles thinks he’s already fallen asleep, the breath on the back of Stiles’s neck deep and even. Then he says, “For what?”
Stiles shrugs. What’s he really sorry for? Being too chickenshit to find out if Derek feels just as stupid about Stiles as Stiles feels about him? Making things weird? He says, “Man, I don’t even know.”
Derek grunts, tugs him closer and says, “Go to sleep, Stiles,” and Stiles is too tired and too comfortable to resist.
He’s burning hot. He’s sweating, there’s something heavy and warm on top of him, like Snuffleupagus or a giant cat or a wolf. He’s not even functionally awake, but he’s got swamp feet and his back is on fire and he elbows the living blanket into moving off of him so he can squirm out of his socks, his fleece pullover, until he’s down to his regulation sweatpants and an undershirt.
“Better?” somebody says, voice hoarse and dry, and Stiles starfishes out as much as he can in the tight space, knee jabbing into a soft part, and then instantly, bonelessly falls back asleep.
Somehow, someway, Stiles ended up sleeping next to a furnace, so he’s sticky damp and nearly naked when the morning light glows through the canvas of their tent.
Stiles sleepily says, “What the…?” around a yawn, and Derek says, “You punched me in the face wrestling your shirt off.”
“Uh.” Stiles is suddenly aware that the furnace he’s laying on top of is alive and also Derek. “Sorry?” His brain’s still not firing on all cylinders, though, and at this point sweating is preferable to the frigid air waiting for him outside of Derek’s sleeping bag—he can feel it on the back of his neck, lurking malevolently around the rest of the tent. He rolls his nose into Derek’s throat and takes a deep breath.
Derek says, “We should get up.”
“Too comfy,” Stiles says, and worries the collar of Derek’s t-shirt with his teeth. They’re going to need to move eventually, though, and Stiles will have to look Derek in the face after all this fantastic cuddling. He huffs and says, “Thanks for saving my life. Again.” Technically, this may not be considered a life saving event, but Stiles probably wouldn’t have woken up this morning with all his fingers and toes in working order.
Derek is quiet for a long moment. And then he says, “You know I don’t actually like saving you, right?”
Stiles heart clenches. “You don’t?” He figures—they already established that lifesaving can royally suck balls, but the way Derek just says it... On one level, he knows it probably doesn’t have anything to do with his worth as a person, right, but on another level, he can’t stop thinking about how much of a spazzy loser he was in high school, in college, and how guys like Derek would never give him the time of day.
Derek sighs, though, and rolls them over so he’s resting on top of Stiles, a firm weight nudging his legs apart so he can neatly fit his hips between them. He says, “I’d much rather have you in one piece,” hands slipping up Stiles’s bare chest to frame his face, thumbs on either side of his mouth. His eyes flash red and Stiles heart trips faster. “No rips, tears or kidnappings necessary.”
“No?” Stiles says faintly. Derek’s stubble is out in full force, and his hair is messy in ways that’s making it hard for Stiles to breathe. “That’s good.”
“Yeah.” Derek’s eyes flick down to look at Stiles’s mouth, and Stiles swallows hard.
“Well, you know,” Stiles says. “Me too. Even though apparently you can heal from fatal wounds.”
Derek’s eyes crinkle up at the edges, a soft smile on his lips. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“No way, dude. It’s—you’re pretty amazing,” Stiles says, face flushing at his bald words, and then he gathers up all his intrepid space explorer courage, reaches up and kisses him.
Derek tilts their heads and deepens the kiss, moves his hands up to grip at Stiles’s hair. Stiles arches up into the ping of pain at the roots, feels it zing down his body in unexpectedly pleasant ways. He bites at Derek’s lower lip, shivers into the growl he can feel all the way deep down in Derek’s chest.
And then Stiles says, suddenly frantic, “Off, off, get these off,” pushing at the waistband of Derek’s pants with one hand, slipping up the back of his shirt with the other, palm pressing flat along his spine. Derek’s muscles are insane, and Stiles wants to feel them all over him immediately, bare and hot.
He’s hard against Derek’s belly, rubs himself shamelessly against him until Derek finally gets with the program, lifts him up by the small of his back with one strong arm and shoves Stiles’s boxers down off his ass. It’s long minutes and almost no time at all until they’re both completely naked, and Stiles wants to die like this, wrapped up in all of Derek’s everything.
“I’m going to wreck you,” Stiles says, grinning into the underside of Derek’s jaw. He grips Derek’s biceps for leverage and climbs his legs up the outside of Derek’s thighs and says, “You better have lube.”
Stiles has witnessed many incarnations of Captain Derek Hale. Silent, pissy, overbearing, indignant, smug, ripped open and dying. He’s seen Derek furious, like with the drug pollen, and also that time Stiles and Jackson got drunk and accidentally married. He’s seen Derek red-faced, sheepishly trying to tell Colonel Sheppard how his whole team came back through the ‘gate stark naked, covered in mud and feathers.
He’s seen Derek act like a hot, inconsiderate asshole, back when the Daedalus first dropped him and his soon-to-be team off on Atlantis, staring Stiles down as he’d tried to explain—with great failure—how the seat in the mess he was currently occupying was actually Stiles’s seat, because it was equidistant from the pudding and potatoes stations, and blessedly downwind of the broccoli.
And now he’s seen Derek dazed, half-naked, clutching a boot to his chest, broad shoulders testing the limits of Stiles’s too-small t-shirt he’d unknowingly pulled on, after crawling out of their collapsed tent. Stiles runs his fingers through Derek’s hair, trying to tame the magnificent sex mess it’s become, and Derek doesn’t even bother slapping his hands away.
“So that was fun,” Stiles says. He’d managed to grab his own BDUs before fighting his way out of the canvas, but the underwear underneath them is definitely not the ones he took off.
Erica catcalls from somewhere behind them, and Stiles grins, extra-wide, and fights off a blush.
“I feel like we should be more prepared for these events,” Stiles says, thankful at least that this time his hands are tied in front of his body. The good news is he’s pretty sure he can wriggle his way out of these ropes.
The bad news is that Scott is bleeding out all over the floor, and Stiles is fighting off a debilitating panic attack.
Jackson says, “Fucking pull yourself together, Stilinski,” like he didn’t just try to kick one of the guards in the balls to get his attention away from Scott, and the way Scott is kind of not moving at all anymore. His face is swollen, head wound seeping grotesquely down over his eyes.
One or all of them have really got to learn not to play the martyr.
Kira grimaces around a pin she’s got clenched in her teeth, and Stiles knows she’s going to be the next one going down.
Seriously, they’re all a fucking mess, whatever happened to the easy missions where Scott and Kira wake up painted blue, covered in flowers, and they all eat too much corn?
This assignment had been fucked from the beginning, though, through absolutely no fault of their own. Paranoid, knuckle-dragging villagers, a pit of suspicious, eye-watering, smoke-charred, humanoid-shaped things… Stiles is labeling this planet a big fat baby kicker, Do Not Engage, worse than those fuckers who ate cats. If it was anywhere close to Atlantis he’d have Kira blow up the ‘gate and hail a puddlejumper to come pick them up instead.
“Okay,” Stiles says to himself, breathing nice and deep, concentrating on the ties around his wrists. “No apparent ancient tech, two hours overdue for a trip home.” Team Hale is bound to show up any second now, Scott just has to hold on.
Jackson’s head is drooping.
Stiles has some nasty rope burn, but he’s almost got his thumb free. He’s thinking about dislocating it, watching the too-shallow, too-slow rise and fall of Scott’s chest, and then he hears howls in the distance.
Jackson slurs, “What the fuck is that?” barely conscious, blinking blearily around the room.
It’s too soon to feel relief, Scott’s still lost too much blood, but he grins at Jackson and says, “Wolves.”
They didn’t have much time to think about it.
That’s what Stiles tells himself, later, when Scott crawls back into the land of the living, pale and shaky but with no visible scars. He flicks out and sheathes his claws, over and over again, holed up in Derek’s room, and Stiles noisily blows out a breath he’s been holding when all Scott says is, “Huh. Weird.”
Stiles falls onto him and says, “I’m sorry, Scotty,” into the side of his head.
Scott pats his back. “Hey, no.”
Stiles pulls away, looks him in the face. He says, “Derek’s going to tell you this is a gift,” Derek wouldn’t shut up about that, when Stiles was so worried Scott was going to hate him, “and he’s going to be super offended if you don’t accept his bond of brotherhood—”
“Pack,” Derek says sulkily from the loveseat.
“Also,” Stiles adds, “you must never let Jackson figure out what happened.” Jackson had been out for most of it, and thinks he hallucinated everything else. Their lives will be a living hell if Jackson ever finds out he can somehow be a supernatural superhero. Stiles shakes Scott a little. “Promise me.”
Scott just frowns and says, “As long as we can go eat now, sure,” as his stomach gives out a loud, hungry growl.
Stiles’s insides have been tied up in knots; he’s not going to argue about food.
Derek stops Stiles with a hand on his arm, though, when he goes to follow Scott out the door. He says, “You’re okay, right?”
“Peachy,” Stiles says, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Derek arches an eyebrow at him and Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m fine.” Stiles is the king of being ‘fine,’ but this time he really means it. He shrugs. “So my boyfriend and best friend can grow fangs and weird body hair, no big.” It’s actually kind of cool, you know, so long as Scott doesn’t become a mindless rage monster during the full moon. Grinning, he says, “Maybe next time we get captured, Scott can wolf out and kill everybody before you have time to charge in and save the day.”
“Wait,” Derek says flatly. “Boyfriend?”
“Uh.” Stiles scratches the back of his neck, expression frozen. Derek has his confused eyebrows on, but his face is just kind of… blank. “Are we not defining us? Because that’s—” Terrible. Disappointing. Going to really suck, eventually, since Stiles doesn’t want to go home anytime soon, and Derek is supernaturally resilient. “—okay.”
“You’re lying,” Derek says.
Stiles eyes go wide. “You can tell that?” he asks, mind racing ahead to his next joint poker night with the engineering lab; they could clean up. Which makes him think: tells, ticks, sweaty palms, heartrates. He takes a deep breath, relaxes his hands and says, “No, I’m not.”
Derek’s eyes narrow. “Lie.”
Stiles throws up his arms. “Jesus Christ, Derek, you’re not supposed to call people out on their emotional distress!”
“Your…” Derek moves in closer, sliding right up into Stiles’s personal space. “You want to be my boyfriend.” He looks half incredulous, half ridiculously smug, like the emotionally constipated asshole he apparently is.
“You’re something else, Hale,” Stiles says. He doesn’t exactly know in what context he means that—maybe all of them. And then, just in case Derek still doesn’t get it: “Yes, I want to be your boyfriend.” He wants to requisition new joint living quarters and go on leave earthside to the Bahamas together and he wants to bring him home to meet his dad. Maybe even get a cat.
“Truth,” Derek says, softly, crowding their faces together.
Stiles’s eyes nearly cross, looking into Derek’s weirdo hazel irises. He smiles and says, “Yeah. Duh.”