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Stiles and Derek

--

“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” Stiles mumbles, face pressed into the sleep-warm skin of Derek’s neck.

“Nothing,” Derek smooths a hand over Stiles’s mussed hair and presses a kiss to his forehead. He’s only half-lying. In that warm, safe space between sleep and waking, Derek let his mind wander.

Derek started out as a security consultant and rotating SG-team member when General Carter stole him from the Beacon Hills Sheriff's Department. That was before Dr. Jackson walked in on him muttering curses to whoever had mounted a laser sight on his P90. Derek has superhuman eyesight, so all the sight managed to do was throw the balance slightly off. Unfortunately--or fortunately, depending on who’s asking--Daniel caught him switching from Spanish to Russian and immediately appropriated him. Members of SG-1 had a tendency to do that.

Derek’s official title is Civilian Security and Linguistic Consultant to the Atlantis Expedition. He's formally addressed as ‘Specialist Hale,’ but Ford has never stopped calling him Deputy Derek. Cadman’s nicknames aren’t repeatable in polite society. Or what passes for polite society in Pegasus. Stiles calls him Pennyworth; he’s loyal to a fault and does whatever needs doing.

Since joining the Atlantis Expedition, Derek has: participated in scientific and diplomatic missions to more than forty planets; led security at interplanetary treaty negotiations; translated, collated, and notarized official documents; made a few dozen awkwardly time lagging Skype calls to California during the bi-monthly dials to Earth; performed seven marriages and a coronation; delivered three babies and a foal; built a few dozen barns and two orphanages; baked fifteen batches of Talia's Famous Brownies; trained over 300 civilians in self defense; retooled the patrols of security personnel in the science wings; and built a chuppah. He feels accepted and appreciated and loved in ways he thought were impossible after the fire.

Life in an Ancient floating city (which doubles as a spaceship) in a galaxy far, far away is never going to seem exactly normal, but Derek never expected normalcy. Hell, he never anticipated happy would be on the table.

“Lies, damned lies, and--” Stiles breaks Derek’s reverie with a wide yawn. He wrinkles his nose and wriggles until his chin rests on Derek’s chest. He frowns and asks, “Seriously, what’s up?”

“I’m just happy,” Derek shrugs, jostling Stiles with the motion. He sweeps his thumb over the unhappy wrinkle between Stiles’s brows until the furrow smooths. Derek takes a moment to luxuriate in his growing familiarity with contentment.

“Yeah?” Stiles face splits into a broad, sleepy grin.

“Yeah,” Derek nods, thumb tracing the line of Stiles’s freckled cheekbone.

“Me, too,” Stiles presses a slow kiss to the sweet curve of Derek’s smile. “I promised Kavya we could spar before breakfast,” he groans, pulling away with obvious reluctance. “Did you know the style she’s teaching me is a hybrid of Athosian Bantos fighting and silambattam?”

“Nope,” Derek grins and pets the shaggy hair at the nape of Stiles’s neck. Cadman attacks the less kempt scientists with her Flowbee once every month or so, but Stiles was off-world during her last round-up. They don't mind that it’s just starting to curl at the ends and has grown long enough for easy gripping. Their grins turn sharp when Derek tugs, just firm enough to pull Stiles’s chin up and off of Derek’s shoulder.

“Yeah, it’s uh,” Stiles voice sounds slightly strangled as Derek’s hold tightens infinitesimally, “sort of like the Eskrima that Cora teaches, but with fewer bladed weapons and more staff work.”

“Staff work, hm?” Derek drags his nose along the rabbit-quick pulse beneath pale, freckled skin. Ignoring the hint of a whimper at the back of Stiles's throat, he says, “If you’re done before eight, I’ll be here when you get back.”

“You’re killing me, Derek,” Stiles whines when Derek releases him, flailing away and rolling out of bed. “How am I supposed to get up the energy to improve my mad Bantos skills when I know you’re going to be in here looking all, all, you know. All like you, with bonus freakish happiness. You’re borderline cheerful and if it wasn’t so hot I’d be freaking out a little.” 

Derek doesn’t bother to suppress a smug grin when he rolls onto his stomach, letting the sheets dip down to expose the tanned expanse of his back. There’s a distinct shuffle and a muted thud in the direction of their en suite. Stiles swears and Derek bites back a laugh. “You poor man,” he calls in the direction of the bathroom. “However will you survive?”

“You just--just stay there, exactly like that,” Stiles yells back before Derek hears the tap turning on. Derek grins at the sound of Stiles humming around a mouthful of toothpaste. When Stiles stumbles out a few minutes later he’s dressed in jogging pants and a snug Stanford tshirt, worn thin with years of wear. Derek eyes his sloppily double knotted trainers and wonders how many times Stiles will have to fall on his face before Kavya gives in and ties them properly. “Seriously, just exactly like that,” Stiles ducks down to kiss Derek’s stubbled cheek, giving his ear a quick nuzzle.

“Try not to let her beat your ass too badly,” Derek says, voice a low rumble against his pillow. “I’d like it returned in roughly the same condition it’s leaving in.”

“Love you too, jackass,” Stiles snorts, heading for the door. “Oh, hey, what happens at eight?”

“What?”

“You said you’d be here if I was back before eight.”

“Gotta see a man about a dog,” Derek rolls onto his side, propping himself up on one elbow. He rolls his eyes when Stiles's face contorts into an impatient pout. “Appointment with Carolyn for the gene therapy.”

“Right, yeah, yes. Say hi for me. And hey, if it takes I can give you flying lessons!” Stiles swipes a hand to open the door. “It’ll be awesome!” he adds before the door slides shut.

 

--

 

Derek doesn’t like MDs.

The health care professionals at the SGC are universally brilliant and unflappable. The usual response to a first reading of Derek’s medical file is a few dozen rapt questions and then disappointment that Dr. Keller’s already mapped his genes. She concluded he’s the distant descendant of an Ancient genetic experiment and pretty much left it at that. Experiments on people--for the relative value of 'people,' since there's some debate where the line is with genetic variation and manipulation and he's technically not a fully human Tau'ri--are a pretty big no-no with the Stargate program these days.

Anyway. Derek likes Carolyn as a person even if he’s not crazy about the doctor thing. She’s efficient, sharp, and takes no shit. Plus she makes Kavya stupidly happy.

“The therapy is worth a try, considering you possess the dormant gene,” Carolyn informs him, giving his arm a perfunctory swipe with an alcohol wipe, “but I’m warning you that this is going to sting like a son of a bitch because of your healing factor.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ll live,” Derek deadpans.

“Okay, tough guy,” Carolyn rolls her eyes and sticks him none too gently with the needle. “So what’ll you do first if it takes?”

Derek narrows his eyes at the amused quirk of her lips. Ignoring the irritating prickle of skin trying to heal around the metal still embedded in his arm, he asks, “What did you do?”

“Oh, I’ve got natural expression,” Carolyn’s brown eyes flick up to meet his. “There was this whole kidnapping and Time Jumper incident when I found out. Apparently I have an innate talent for drone targeting," she shrugs off Derek's raised brows. "Anyway, I’ve heard a veritable plethora of horror stories about the idiot plans people concoct for their first go at Ancient technology. Legend has it that when McKay got the therapy he tested a personal shield device by having Sheppard shoot him and toss him over the balcony in the gate room.”

“That should sound less believable than it does,” Derek glances down as she pulls the needle away, depositing it in a sharps bin before snapping off her gloves. “It probably counted as their first date.”

“Death defying displays of idiocy as foreplay? I buy that." Carolyn’s lips curve into a full blown smile. "Not quite your idea of a good time?”

“Stiles was saying something about flying lessons. That could be fun.”

“The jumpers are pretty awesome,” Carolyn agrees, conducting a quick visual inspection of the injection site.

“How long?” Derek asks, rubbing absently at his arm. He doesn’t feel any different.

Carolyn shrugs, removing the ponytailer holding her hair and shaking out the long brown strands. “It varies. You’ll know by the end of the day. Come see me if anything unusual happens,” she adds, tucking the pink band into the breast pocket of her lab coat.

“Unusual how?” Derek narrows his eyes.

“Oh, you’ll know,” Carolyn smiles mischievously. “Sudden urge to conduct unethical scientific experiments, homicidal rage, urgent cravings for cheese.” She cackles at his outraged expression before wandering back towards her office, whistling a jaunty tune.

She maybe reminds him of his sisters. Just a little.

 

--

 

“Whose idea was this?” Madison snaps, dropping her tray onto their table with a clatter. “Team breakfast is the worst.”

“Not so much with feeling the love, here, Madittude,” Stiles chucks one of his grapes at Maddie. She glares balefully when it bounces off her nose and rolls back across the table.

“Are you feeling okay?” Derek asks, nudging her foot under the table. The circles of mild sleep deprivation under Maddie's blue eyes are a few shades darker than normal. Beneath her usual scent of whiteboard markers, hospital grade soap, and contraband Kona Derek can pick up the barest hints of sour milk and the acidic tang of bile.

“Yeah, just feeling a little under the weather,” she sighs, and Derek hears the faintest skip in her heartbeat. Not exactly a lie, but not the full truth, either. Madison turns faintly green when Kavya sets down a steaming plate of pepper-studded Athosian scramble.

“Bummer,” Kavya laments around a mouthful of eggs. She swallows and turns to Stiles with a smug grin. “Hey, how’s your ass?”

Derek chokes on his tea.

“We sparred this morning, remember?” Stiles pounds Derek on the back until he stops coughing. “And it’s fine. How’s your elbow?”

“Well, Carolyn says I won’t be playing at Wimbledon any time soon,” Kavya pushes up the sleeve of her blue uniform shirt and displays a purpling bruise. “You’re getting better. Next thing you know you’ll be sparring with Torren.”

“Incredibly unlikely,” Stiles takes a bite of oatmeal. He makes a face and grabs the salt and cinnamon shakers.

“That’s so gross,” Madison winces, pushing her tray toward the middle of the table, untouched.

“Have you been to the infirmary?” Derek asks, listening for irregular heart or breath sounds. “If you’re throwing up you should probably check with one of the docs to make sure everything’s alright.”

“I have and it is,” Madison sighs and sips delicately at a mug of--and that really should’ve tipped Derek off faster--chamomile. “I was going to wait until Callie got here--”

“You were waiting till I got here for what?” Calliope drops into the vacant seat at the head of the table.

“Coffee and an apple isn’t breakfast,” Stiles admonishes her. “Where’s your tray?”

“Calm down, Stilinski, I ate before my run,” Callie rolls her eyes and bites into her apple with a loud crunch.

“What’d you have?” Stiles asks, eyes narrowing.

“Yeah, listen to the team nutritionist,” Kavya snorts. She pours ketchup and chili pepper water onto her eggs, mixing the mess with her hashbrowns as Maddie grows progressively paler.

“I’m pregnant!” Maddie says, raising her voice over Stiles’s retort. Everyone in the mess turns to look at her. “What, like you’ve never seen a pregnant woman shouting before?” she asks, crossing her arms over her chest. The other tables’ occupants hurriedly return to their food. “That was the news I was waiting on Callie for. And also why I’ve been throwing up. So.”

“Congratulations,” Derek offers. “Not on the throwing up, on the baby.”

“Thank you,” Maddie grumbles into her tea, but her cheeks are flushed a pleased pink.

The others chime in with their congratulations before Maddie’s radio shrieks loudly enough for all of them to hear.

Jesus,” Maddie taps her earpiece and answers with a snarl. “Miller speaking, and take it easy on the goddamn comms, Corporal Dex. Uhuh. Yeah. Well, if your idiot brother was going to blow that up I certainly hope he’s got the burns to show for it. There in five. Duty calls,” she frowns down at her full tray. “Can somebody bus this for me?”

“Would you get out of here already?” Kavya laughs. She slides the tray over and helps herself to Maddie’s toast, scooping the egg mixture she’d already mashed together onto the rye bread for a monstrous sandwich.

“Yes, fine,” Maddie rolls her eyes. “I’ll see you all at the mission briefing later.”

They call their goodbyes to her retreating back before tucking into their breakfasts.

“I call godfather!” Stiles says, raising his right arm.

“Asshole,” Derek elbows him in the side.

 

--

 

“Come, one and all, to the beautiful planet P5X-992,” Stiles grins widely and steps backwards through the gate.

Derek hurries after him, sidearm at the ready. He flinches at the never-quite-familiar cold, yanking sensation of wormhole travel. Someday maybe it'll stop making him feel like someone shoved a handful of icicles under his skin, but the day hasn't come, yet. On the other side of the gate Stiles is still walking and talking, waving his arms enthusiastically at the Ancient installation a few hundred yards down the wending pathway.

“I gotta say, the planetary designations are entirely unromantic,” Stiles sighs, tucking away his standard issue sunglasses and pulling a cap from his pack. “This lovely little paradise is less formally known by its McKaysian moniker ‘that one planet with the useless Ancient temple that smells like ass.’ I know,” Stiles nods at the unimpressed expression on Madison’s face, “we should let him name everything.”

“Your crush on my uncle is both disturbing and--no. No, it’s mostly just disturbing,” Madison decides, punching Stiles in the shoulder without looking up from her modified handheld. “I’m picking up some minor energy fluctuations from the temple--as predicted--and no large life signs.”

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person stationed on Atlantis must eventually develop a painfully embarrassing crush on one of your uncles,” Stiles starts searching his tac vest for his video camera.

“Truth,” Callie nods in agreement. She’s still holding her P90 at the ready, eyes scanning the treeline for signs of movement as they move steadily towards the temple.

“I hate everyone,” Madison sighs, tucking the scanner away. She swipes at a lock of hair that’s escaped the confines of her bandana, braided curls already frizzing in the damp heat. “And I hate jungle planets.”

“Not a jungle,” Derek and Callie correct in unison. Stiles, who has finally located his video camera, snorts and begins taking a series of panoramic establishing shots.

“Okay, nerds,” Stiles turns to Callie and Derek, who both have their sidearms trained on the edges of the clearing. He narrowly avoids tripping over a tree root when he zooms in on Callie’s face.

“Yeah, we’re the nerds, here, Stilinski,” Callie’s tone implies she’d roll her eyes if she wasn’t busy doing real work.

“It’s a subtropical semi-evergreen seasonal forest,” Derek mutters. At that even Madison raises amused brows. “What? I read the briefing memos!”

“Oh, he read the memos!” Madison snickers, unstrapping the tablet attached to her pack. “Will wonders never cease.”

“Now I hate everyone,” Derek grumbles to a chorus of laughter.

Over the next few hours, Derek and Callie patrol the perimeter of the Ancient temple. Around hour four, Callie enters to check on the scientists’ progress. When she doesn’t return, Derek double taps his comm. When there’s no reply he sighs and scans the treeline before entering the temple. The rest of AR-4 is seated on the steps of a dais.

“It's SOP to respond to radio hails,” Derek frowns at the lot of them.

“Oh,” Callie frowns, double tapping her comm, sending quick bursts of static over their private channel. “I didn’t hear you, but it seems like they’re working. Some sort of interference from the energy sources?”

Madison shrugs, glaring at a baggie of raw veggie sticks.

“We’re fine,” Stiles rolls his eyes. “Come join us for snack time. It barely even smells in here.”

Stiles is right. The air is faintly stale, like the same canned oxygen was cycled for a few too many eons. It could be any one of the countless structures the Ancients left scattered uselessly across the galaxy.

“Find anything interesting?” Derek sits next to Stiles. He accepts the proffered egg salad sandwich from Callie and carroty-parsnips from Madison.

“Not really,” Madison says at the same time Stiles says, “Of course!”

They glare at each other for a moment. “Oh, come on, you read Ancient. The inscriptions are fascinating,” Stiles kicks lightly at Madison’s calf before digging a PowerBar out of his vest. “It’s cookie dough flavor.”

Madison pulls a skeptical face, but opens the wrapper for a tentative bite. She shrugs, chewing as she looks around the interior of the temple. “The inscriptions read like all the other crap the Ancients wrote on buildings they never intended to be used by the natives of Pegasus. Vaguely deistic claptrap, possibly malevolently designed, to keep them foolishly believing that some benevolent overlord was looking out for them. Which, hey, they should have been, but the Ancients had already said their not-so-fond farewells and packed it in for the Milky Way like the cowards they were.”

“The Ancients were assholes,” Callie nods, resealing her plastic bag with her sandwich crusts inside.

“Well, yeah, no arguments here,” Stiles concedes, screwing the top back onto his canteen. “But they were the Gate Builders; anybody with capabilities that far beyond our understanding isn’t going to think like us.” Maddie makes an indignant huffing sound, which Stiles ignores. “And anyway, there really is some interesting stuff here. It’s a little worn so I’m not positive on the translation, but the writing you pass over to enter is cool.”

“What’s it say?” Derek asks, gnawing absently at his parsnips. He grins when he catches Stiles staring at his mouth.

“God, you guys are so gross,” Callie mock gags, neatly tucking away the remnants of her lunch.

“You wish you were as gross as us,” Stiles laughs.

“No one wishes that,” Madison rolls her eyes. She polishes off her PowerBar and shoves the wrapper into one of her vest pockets. “Literally no one.”

“I’m really feeling the team love today,” Derek smirks. “The inscription?”

“Huh?” Stiles blinks, meeting Derek’s eyes with a blush. “Oh, right. The best I could figure is it says ‘All who enter this place will see their nightmares made manifest.’”

“Cheerful.” Callie checks the safety on her P90 and stands. “The Ancients must’ve been a real hit at weddings and quinces.”

“You’re all killjoys,” Stiles says, letting Derek pull him up off the stone steps. “I think I’ve got footage of everything, so we can head out if you’re ready, Mads.”

“Yeah, I still have no idea where the signatures are originating from,” Madison frowns at her tablet. “I'll have to send an engineering team through with more comprehensive scanning equipment. See if we can get a better look.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Callie leads the way out of the temple, whistling a familiar tune.

They’re halfway down the pathway to the gate when Derek finally registers why the hairs at the back of his neck are standing up. “Is no one else bothered by how quiet it is?" he asks, brows furrowing. "The xeno guys’ notes said this planet had a large population of small mammals and birds. What scared them off?”

Callie stops whistling and frowns. “Probably us,” she answers, though Derek watches as she adjusts her grip on her P90 and tilts her head to listen for signs of wildlife.

“I don’t think so,” Derek shakes his head. “I think we should go back through the gate ASAP and send a recon team back through to check the area for hostiles.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Stiles laughs, adjusting the bill of his faded Mets cap to better block the sun streaming through the gaps in the cloud cover. He turns his camera lens on Derek, who looks away from the treeline to scowl, “They’ve been sending teams here for ages and nobody’s ever found something more exciting than a new variant of, I dunno, space ivy or something, so would you just--”

That’s when the arrows start flying. Everything after is a bit fuzzy.

 

--

 

“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” Stiles mumbles, face pressed into the curve of Derek’s neck.

“Nothing,” he lies as the rapid beating of his heart begins to slow. Derek smooths a hand over the dark halo of Stiles’s unkempt hair and presses a kiss to the crown of his head.

“Lies, damned lies, and--” Stiles starts before breaking into a wide yawn. He wrinkles his nose and wriggles until he’s got his chin resting on Derek’s chest. He frowns at Derek’s carefully blank expression. “Seriously, D, what’s up?”

“Bad dream,” Derek shrugs, jostling Stiles with the motion. He smooths a steadying hand down Stiles’s back. It’s immeasurably comforting to see him safe and whole, to feel the solidity of his warm body held close.

“Yeah?” Stiles snuggles closer, tucking his face back against the side of Derek’s neck. His nose brushes against the pulse point and he asks, “You want me to cancel sparring with Kavya? We can skip team breakfast this morning and lounge in bed until the mission briefing later.”

“I--you shouldn’t. She’s been so busy, and I don’t want you to feel like--” but Stiles is already reaching for the side table.

“Stilinski to Patankar,” he says after slipping on his radio.

Kavya’s voice sounds tinny and sleepy over the comm. “Ho, California Boy. Ready to get your ass beat?”

“Can I get a rain check, Kavya? Derek was sort of hoping for a late morning,” Stiles strokes a hand along Derek’s side. Stiles’s fingers mold to the outline of Derek’s ribs as his chest slowly rises and falls.

“Say no more.” There’s a rustling sound, like Kavya’s climbing out of bed or slipping into her clothes. “Carolyn already went in for the day, so I’ll see if Shep’s up for some pre-breakfast Go, instead. You guys skipping team breakfast?”

“Maybe,” Stiles glances at Derek, who nods. “Probably. Don’t worry if we don’t show, yeah?”

There’s a dull thud and soft swearing before the sound of bare feet hopping across the floor. “Shit, shit, that hurts. And yeah, no problem, Stiles. Well, if Mads gives you shit that is your problem, but--”

“Yeah, yeah, love you too,” Stiles chuckles.

“Tell Derek I say hi,” Kavya snorts.

“He heard you,” Stiles smiles, long fingers tapping a gentle tattoo against Derek’s side. “If you see Lam first, tell her she’s a lucky woman to have such an understanding wife. Stilinski out.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Derek says, threading his fingers through Stiles’s hair.

“Nope,” Stiles agrees, tossing his earpiece back onto the side table.

“Thank you.”

Stiles smiles and settles back into the protective circle of Derek’s arms. “Go back to sleep. The best days start late, I always say.”

 

--

 

Derek has never been fond of arrows. The sedatives they dose him with when they drag his ass back through the wormhole? Those he could get used to.

 

--

 

Derek’s up and out of bed before dawn. He slips on his sneakers and is running out to the West Pier and back before the sun rises. Losing himself in the steady rhythm of shoes pounding the ground, lungs rising and falling, he startles and stutter steps. He's managed to wend his way to the Kid Wing. That’s not the official title, but it’s where most of the family suites are located. Unofficial Expedition shorthand was one of the first lessons Derek had on Atlantis. You learn the slang or you're perpetually lost.

Derek blinks and slows to a walk, momentarily disoriented as he takes stock of his surroundings. The rapid fire prattle of Radek and Ronon arguing in low tones over Mother’s Day presents for Amelia drifts through the first door to his left. He keeps walking, coming to a stop outside of Torren and Maddie’s suite.

Derek’s fist is half-raised when the door opens with a soft whoosh. A wild haired Torren in cheerily colored Captain Marvel pajamas stands yawning on the other side. He blinks tiredly for a moment before his eyes focus. “Derek Hale. Good morning.”

“I...good morning.” Derek blinks back, dropping his hand to his side. “Sorry, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m a mess and it’s early, I should--”

“We have already risen for the day,” Torren shrugs and steps back to usher Derek inside with a broad sweep of his arm. “Madison’s proximity alarm merely woke us more fully. Would you care for some tea?”

“Yes, thank you.” Derek deposits his trainers on the pile of shoes in the entryway. The hallway walls are covered in Meredith’s sketches and her parents’ diplomas--Torren’s proudly bear the seals of UCCS and UToronto while Madison’s are from UdeM, MIT, and Cambridge--and the floor is padded with overlapping Athosian rugs. Derek trails after Torren, narrowly avoiding a pile of college physics texts stacked next to the living room coffee table. Meredith is seated on one of the driftwood stools Kanaan crafted to match the kitchen table. She’s absently stirring a bowlful of porridge with her right hand while her left scribbles red-inked notes in the margins of the previous quarter’s Reviews of Modern Physics. “Hi, Mer.”

“Hi, Derek,” Meredith replies, crossing out half of a page with an emphatic slash. She pauses, hand poised over the paper. “Oh. Hi, Derek,” she looks up from the journal, smiling broadly. Meredith has her father’s warm brown eyes and her mother’s riotous curls. It makes for an affecting picture in a nine-year-old.

“Some light reading to start the day?” he settles into the stool on her left and breathes in the scent of the twiggy tea Torren favors.

“Well, it’s Peter Kavanagh’s latest work, so I suppose it would make for a compelling fairy story,” she replies primly. She pushes the pages aside and tucks into her porridge with relish.

Torren smiles at his daughter and deposits an earthenware mug on the table in front of Derek. “Were you here merely for the early company?”

“I was hoping to speak to Mads for a moment, but.” He taps at his ear and shrugs. It’s hard to tune out the sound of Madison retching in the washroom down the hall.

Torren grimaces and nods. “She’s usually done just about now,” he says, glancing at the wall clock.

“Congratulations, by the way,” Derek says, sipping his tea. It burns and he grimaces slightly as his tongue tingles and the roof of his mouth itches as it heals. “I was waiting for her to say something before I mentioned it.”

Torren nods. “Thank you. We’re all quite excited, but we wanted to wait until she was past her first third to make any sort of announcement.”

“I’m going to be a big sister,” Meredith informs Derek, thwacking his arm with her spoon for emphasis.

“You’ll be very good at it,” Derek nudges her with his elbow.

“I know,” she replies, with the heady confidence of youth. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I--yeah. I have a little sister named Cora,” Derek looks down at Meredith’s eager, upturned face and his chest only aches a little. “She’s a martial arts instructor, back on Earth.”

“Like Grandma Teyla?” Meredith turns to Torren, who shrugs.

“A different kind, but yes, like your grandmother,” Derek nods, tilting his head at the noise of Madison brushing her teeth. “I think she’s done.”

“Mads, we’ve got company!” Torren yells down the hallway.

“If it’s Radek tell him flowers are a terrible idea for a woman with severe pollen allergies!” Madison shouts back. “Nobody cares about his experimental antihistamines.”

Derek snorts and steals Meredith’s spoon. He helps himself to a bite of her porridge, ignoring her cries of protest. “Delicious,” he says around his lukewarm mouthful.

“Hale, are you stealing my child’s food?” Madison asks, shuffling down the hall in an oversized Vancouver Canucks shirt.

“Yes.”

“Good,” Madison whacks him on the back of the head before accepting a quick kiss from her husband. “She needs to learn to stay sharp in the mornings.”

“You’re all terrible people,” Meredith declares, scrambling down from her stool in a flail of coltish limbs. “Ronon and Grandma Teyla said if I was up early enough I could come to the intermediate class today.”

“Hurry up and get changed, then,” Torren gently nudges her down the hall. "If you're quick about it I can do your hair."

“Awesome!” Meredith skips off, whistling an oddly familiar tune.

“That’s too much energy this early,” Madison takes her daughter’s stool, eyeing the last of the porridge skeptically. “Why are you in my home?”

“Torren let me in.”

“Betrayed by my own spouse. How will I ever recover?” Madison turns to Derek with narrowed eyes. “Seriously, what’s up, wolfman?”

“We can’t go on that mission today,” Derek sets down his mug.

“Why?” Madison picks up his mug, sniffs at it, then shoves it into Derek’s hands. “Ugh, sorry, that smells like gym socks.”

Torren immediately makes for the door. “I’ll run over to Amelia’s to borrow some chamomile.” He steps into a pair of sandals from the teetering shoe pile and slips out before Madison rallies the energy to protest.

“He’s really the best,” she smiles, staring after him with a sappy fondness she'd deny to the grave. “Right. Anyway,” Madison visibly shakes herself and returns her attention to Derek. “So why can’t we go on our mission today?”

“Because every time we do, Stiles dies. And yes, I know I sound really crazy, but I’ve already lived through it four or five times and I’d really like it to stop.”

Madison stares at him for a long moment before reaching over to gently pat him on the knee.

“See, this is why I should still be allowed to have coffee.”

 

--

 

Madison doesn’t precisely believe him, but she’s in the middle of a set of delicate simulations she wouldn’t mind babysitting. She sweet talks--i.e. lectures--Callie into delaying the mission for a day and Derek breathes a sigh of relief when he radios Stiles to meet them for team breakfast.

It doesn’t make a difference.

Derek slumps against the wall across the corridor, tears streaming down his face. It’s the first fatal transporter malfunction the expedition has suffered since Year 2. Carolyn doesn’t need any sedatives to convince Derek to lie down this time. He curls up on his side, ignoring the worried noises his team are making on the opposite side of the infirmary curtains.

He waits for the day to begin.

 

--

 

Derek in Corridor

 

--

 

Never let it be said that Derek hasn’t learned how to cope after a few decades of trauma. He’s seen the shrinks, he's still in the support groups (there are a number of options on Atlantis--shocker), and he has far more good days than bad. But there are bad days and there are bad days and this endless torment qualifies for the latter.

“Are you high?” Stiles asks when he stumbles back from his sparring session with Kavya.

He’s sweaty and red faced and perfect. Stiles is uncoordinated and loud and his hair is maybe starting to go gray at the temples just a little and Derek wants to wake up next to him every day for the rest of his life. He just wishes this day in particular would end.

“I might’ve gotten into my emergency stash of wolfsbane,” Derek admits, flopping back on their stupidly small bed. After he’d watched Stiles die for the twelfth time--tripped down the stairs in the gate room--it hadn’t seemed entirely unreasonable to get high first thing in the morning.

“Is today an anniversary I forgot?” Stiles gingerly settles on the edge of the bed, tone gentle and eyes searching. Derek just wants to pet his hair and hold him and smell that spot behind his ear that’s like a distillation of all the scents that scream Stiles.

“Stiles--” he reaches out and pulls Stiles down by his shoulders. Derek rolls over to settle his weight along the lean length of Stiles's frame and he’ll never, not in a million lifetimes, have enough of this. If he has to cling to this perfect body as it lies broken and bleeding or just unnaturally still one more time he’ll lose it. “Stiles, I love you.”

“I love you too, buddy,” Stiles smiles reflexively, hands coming up to cup Derek’s face. Spindly fingers flutter over sharp cheekbones, stubbled jaw, carefully trace over brows and lashes and lips. “But you’re sort of freaking me out with the early morning Cheech impression, here, and I need you to talk to me.”

“Let’s play hooky today,” Derek suggests, aiming for nonchalant and missing by a mile. “We can spend the day in bed. We could marathon that dumb Australian scifi show you think is so awesome, the one with the ship that’s alive and everyone wears too much leather and has a weird accent.”

“You’re seriously suggesting we spend the day in bed and then following up with bribes of Farscape? I am such a lucky guy,” Stiles laughs. “We’re going through the gate this afternoon, Derek.” Derek can feel the vibration of Stiles’s precious laughter from his toes all the way up through his chest and his heart might be in danger of exploding.

“Yeah, but we shouldn’t go,” Derek shakes his head, raising up on his elbows so he can fix Stiles with wide eyes.

“Because?” Stiles crooked smile tugs at Derek’s heartstrings.

“Because it’s not safe,” Derek insists. “Why can’t we ever go somewhere safe?”

“P5X-992 is perfectly safe,” Stiles frowns.

“It’s not, though,” Derek can feel his chest constricting and he has to convince Stiles not to go, he has to. “Let’s go somewhere else. I just--I just want to have a good day. I want to experience the universe and I want to eat pie.”

“Who doesn’t?” Stiles laughs. “But seriously, Derek, the mission’s going to be fine. Unless you took enough that you aren’t gonna be good to go this afternoon.”

“I’m always good to go for you,” Derek replies before his wolfsbane addled mind catches up with his mouth.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Derek blushes.

“We’ve maybe got a little time before we have to be at Callie’s briefing.”

“Shower sex?”

“Shower sex.”

It’s another four hours before Stiles is electrocuted in a freak accident in one of the secondary engineering labs. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. He’d dropped by to bring Callie a surprise cup of coffee.

Callie pries Derek's hands off of the portable defibrillator. He weeps into the gentle curve of her shoulder while a pair of babyfaced Marines wheel the gurney away.

 

--

 

Callie is having a good day. She woke up just before her alarm was set to go off. There weren’t any arguments at weekly team breakfast. General Sheppard complimented her form at the shooting range. Her mother sent a care package stuffed full of letters and junk food on the Daedalus. If she can control her cravings, the alfajores and Inca Kola will be good to trade on the Lantean black market for the next month.

Flicking through reports from the day’s mission briefing, Callie’s mind wanders to what pie they’re serving in the mess. It’s Colonel Sobel's leave week, so she’s volunteered for pastry duty. That’s usually a guarantee that dessert will be moderately edible. It might even contain something vaguely resembling sugar, which is a far cry from when PFC Tompkins is on pastry duty. It won’t be mazamorra morada, but even Atlantis can’t be perfect all the time.

“It’s those weird kiwi-apples today,” Derek says, appearing outside the conference room doorway when exits.

“Jesus, lurk much?” Callie startles and clutches her tablet to her chest, heart beating wildly. “You scared the shit out of me, Hale,” she chuckles, loosening her grip enough so she doesn’t look like a crazy person. “What were you saying?”

“The pie today is kiwi-apples,” Derek repeats, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his black BDU pants. “Those fruit things from P4J-338.”

Callie blinks up at him in surprise. “Wait, but how did you--”

“Major Taylor, we need to scrap this mission,” Derek cuts her off.

When it’s just team, none of the members of AR-4 use Calliope’s title. Callie stops to really look at Derek.

Callie has known and watched Derek carefully for years. Callie’s seen him comfort grieving widows and cheer up terrified orphans before ripping out the throats of enemy combatants with his bare hands. He let her dig fingernails into his arm until her quicks were crusted with his blood. All the while he murmured comforting nothings while Madison reduced Callie’s dislocated shoulder on M4L-881. Calliope’s trust is not easily earned and is easily lost. She trusts Derek Hale.

This is the first time she’s seen him look truly afraid.

“Derek, this is a milk run,” Callie smiles, shifting her tablet to the crook of her left arm. “It’s just you and me babysitting Mads and Stiles while they geek out over atypical Ancient power sources and temple inscriptions. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

“You said that yesterday,” Derek’s voice is a harsh whisper in the quiet of the corridor.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Callie tilts her head to the side. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m really, really not,” Derek laughs, looking pale and wild about the eyes.

She knows better than to reach out to him or move closer when he gets like this. It’s a Herculean effort to stop herself from immediately calling Stiles on the comm. “How about we take you down to the infirmary and see what’s going on, okay?”

“No, I--I’m gonna go find Stiles,” Derek shakes his head. He backs away from her with his hands stuffed deep into his pockets like he might fly apart if he relaxes. He hurries off down the corridor, posture proclaiming his unease with every long stride.

“Right. There goes my restful morning,” Callie mutters, heading for the mess and a piece of pie a la mode.

Six hours later she follows Madison through the gate to P5X-992. Stiles is shot by a Genii soldier who’d been lying in wait. When they drag his body back through the still-active wormhole, Derek is standing perfectly still, his face already damp with tears.

“I told you it wasn’t safe.”

 

--

 

“Meredith Tagan, did you know that Derek met you when you were a week old?” Torren used the tail of his comb to section Meredith’s hair.

“Really?” Meredith tilts her head back, ignoring her father’s tutting. He gently nudges her until she’s looking at Derek’s downturned face. “Was that when you broke into the mountain?”

“I didn’t--Madison isn’t supposed to repeat that story,” Derek refrains from scowling with Herculean effort. “It’s not really a kid story. Also, it's classified.” It becomes slightly easier to smile gently at Meredith when he hears Maddie’s muffled heaving from down the hall. “But yes."

“Why isn’t it a kid story?” Mer blinks at Derek with wide brown eyes, head bobbing slightly as her father secures curls into a braid that circles her head. Derek’s sure there’s a name for it, but all he remembers is Cora scowling and informing him it was ideal for training. She said it made it harder to get a grip and decreased the number of pins necessary to secure long hair. Cora proceeded to kick his ass around the training hall for emphasis.

Torren has almost as many facial expressions as Ronon, so Derek isn’t positive, but he thinks he’s being laughed at. “Because adults are supposed to set a good example and at the time I wasn’t thinking like a responsible adult,” Derek answers, carefully. And he is definitely being laughed at. The corner of Torren’s mouth twitched and everything.

“Auntie Amelia says that it’s okay for adults to set a bad example,” Mer pats Derek on the knee with one of her terrifyingly tiny hands. He's unsure what it says that all the women in his life feel the need to comfort him with that particular gesture. “It’s just as easy to learn from an adult doing a stupid thing as it is to learn from an adult doing a smart thing.”

“Well, Specialist Banks is very smart. And her kids all turned out okay, so I guess she would know,” Derek nods, glancing down the hallway when Madison steps out of the bathroom.

“Why are you in my home?” she asks, sitting on the floor beside Meredith, Canucks shirt pooling around her crossed legs.

“Torren let me in.”

Madison’s head drops to the side, resting on her husband’s thigh. “Betrayed by my own spouse. How will I ever recover?”

“You’re done,” Torren presses a kiss to the crown of his daughter’s head. “No kicking Alžběta Zelenka between bouts, I don't care if her mother taught you how to hook kick. There is no honor in striking out of turn.”

“Yes, Father,” Meredith stands, her cheeks darkening slightly. “No kicking Eliška.”

“Not between bouts,” Torren nods. “Say hi to Grandma Teyla for me.”

Meredith rolls her eyes, but nods back. “Yeah, whatever, Dad.” She kisses her mother on the cheek when prompted with a light tap on the shoulder. “Bye, Derek!”

“By, Mer,” Derek waves as she darts out the door.

“Too much energy for this early,” Madison scoots sideways until she’s settled between Torren’s parted legs. "Now mine, TJ." He begins to gently finger comb her curls and Derek suddenly feels like he’s intruding on a private moment.

“I can come back later--”

“You look like you’re gonna be sick, Ginger,” Madison crosses her arms over her chest and raises one brow. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious her mother was a McKay.

“That’s a terrible werewolf movie.”

“It’s Canadian,” Madison shrugs, as if that’s answer enough. Derek’s worked for the Stargate Program long enough to know it is.

“I need you to come up with a reason why Stiles needs to be put in isolation for twenty-four hours.”

Torren’s hands pause, buried in the hair at the nape of Madison’s neck.

“I knew it,” Madison says. “I knew that the extra moons would eventually do a number on your wolfy brain.” She’s aiming for lighthearted, but she’s undermined by the concern in those unfairly sharp baby blues.

“Carolyn said that was speciesist and stupid,” Derek replies on automatic. “And Keller said that the tech the Ancients installed on Earth’s moon was the only reason any of us--you know what, I’m not letting you distract me. I’m not Stiles.”

Torren begins braiding Madison’s hair. Derek watches the hypnotic motion of his long fingers, the smooth brown skin contrasting sharply with the cascade of blonde curls.

“It’s good that one of you is not prone to rambling,” Torren says mildly, adjusting his grip on the end of the braid. “Do you have--” Madison passes him the tie around her wrist. “Thank you,” he nods, securing the braid. “Otherwise,” Torren continues addressing Derek, “I fear the two of you would forget to eat amongst your talk. It would be a great tragedy to lose you for foolish reasons.”

Derek isn’t sure he’s heard Torren talk that much at once in his presence. He’s not sure Torren’s talked that much in the presence of anyone aside from Teyla, Madison, and Meredith.

“Thanks?”

Torren nods. “I must get to the greenhouse before Junior Specialist Banks destroys any more Tava bean plants.” He helps Madison off the floor and onto the couch. “Will you be alright?”

“I’m fine,” Madison smiles, leaning into the gentle hand he’s placed on her cheek. “Get to work.”

Torren presses a gentle kiss to her temple before pressing their foreheads together in an Athosian farewell. “If you need anything, Radek is taking the day off, so--”

“Would you go, already?” Madison laughs.

“Going. Good day, Derek,” Torren slips his socked feet into a worn pair of pink polka dotted rubber boots by the door.

“Good day, Torren,” Derek nods as Torren heads out the door.

“Okay, what’s wrong with you?” Madison snaps. “I had four hours of sleep and no coffee, so make it fast.”

Derek takes a deep breath and runs Madison through everything he can remember. She waits and listens with far more patience than he’s used to. She doesn’t even snap or insist that he ‘get on with it, already.’

“Well.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re kinda screwed, so far, huh?” Maddie frowns, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees.

Derek barks out a startled laugh. “Yeah, so far.”

“As much as I hate to admit I’m not at my best at the moment, I’m not at my best at the moment,” Maddie says, resting her chin on her hands. “But I know who can help.”

He waits, but she chews on her lip and remains silent and that’s when he realizes. “No.” 

“Yes,” Maddie nods, mouth twisting into a crooked grin.

“No, Mads.”

“Yes, Derbear.”

“I--no, that’s a terrible idea.”

“How many times have you lived this day, Hale?” she asks, voice flat and eyes narrowed.

Derek closes his eyes with a pained expression. “Where would he be right now?”

 

--

 

John Sheppard is just tucking into a bowl of almost-oatmeal when Derek Hale approaches his table.

“Opting out of team breakfast?” John asks, looking from his niece’s table and back to Derek’s stony expression.

“Yes. So hypothetically--” Derek turns to Rodney, looking like it’s physically painful to talk to McKay.

“Oh, good, my day’s starting with a hypothetical from a werewolf,” Rodney mumbles into his coffee. John kicks him under the table and returns to his breakfast.

“So hypothetically,” Derek grinds his teeth, and he’ll never understand Stiles’s crush on this insufferable man, “if someone found themselves stuck in some sort of...Groundhog’s Day, would that be something you could fix?”

“Time loop?” John raises interested brows. “Is this actually a hypothetical, or--”

“No,” Derek looks incredibly relieved that no one’s immediately called for Marines to subdue him and cart him off to the infirmary. John wonders if he’s had this conversation before.

“Did I read this in a mission report?” John frowns, tapping a rhythm against his bowl with the side of his spoon.

“SG-1,” Rodney nods. “O’Neill and Teal’c had to repeat the same ten hours for...a long time.”

“How long?” Derek asks.

“Command was never precisely sure, and I was heading up the science divisions at Area 51 back then,” Rodney’s mouth twists grimly. “Three months at minimum. Long enough for O’Neill to learn Latin.”

“I don’t want to live this day long enough to learn Latin,” Derek says. “I can’t imagine why I’d need to learn Latin,” he adds.

“Well, in that case they--”

“Rodney,” John interrupts. “Actually important?”

Rodney considers for a moment. “No. So, when did this start?”

“I’m not precisely sure,” Derek admits. “But every day it’s the same thing and no matter what happens, whether we still go on our mission to P5X-992 or not, Stiles dies and--”

“Which one is P5X-992? The planet with the freakishly large owl things or the planet with the useless Ancient temple that smells like ass?” Rodney asks.

Derek makes a face like he’s being force fed a lemon. “Temple.”

“Well, it’s not the same issue that affected SG-1; there’s been no unusual geomagnetic activity in that system. We keep an eye on that, now. Purely precautionary, obviously,” Rodney sips his coffee while John taps his spoon against the rim of his bowl of oatmeal, a vaguely familiar rhythm in the dull ring of metal on plastic. “When does the day reset?”

“I--at midnight, if I don’t fall asleep sooner. I wake up in bed with--” Derek takes a steadying breath, eyes fixed on the trembling hands he’s pressed to the table.  “And then I know it restarted, because he’s alive.”

John winces, dropping his spoon into the remnants of his breakfast. “Sucks.”

“Yeah,” Derek nods.

“As touched as I am by your laconic bromance,” Rodney snaps, “we’ve got bigger problems. Hale, you’re the only one aware of the time loop?” Derek nods. “Then you’re the focus of the event. Did you do anything out of the ordinary the first time through?”

“No, just team breakfast and a briefing before the mission,” Derek slumps in his chair.

“Are you positive?” Rodney frowns. “The tiniest thing could be responsible.”

“No, it’s just a normal--well. But that’s, there’s no reason--”

“What?” Rodney snaps his fingers. “You’ve thought of something.”

“I had an appointment with Dr. Lam. I was due for my ATA-gene therapy, but I’ve skipped it all the other days.”

“Did it take?” Rodney asks.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t exactly thinking about taking a jumper out for a joyride while I tried to keep my partner from dying,” Derek snaps.

John clears his throat loudly, giving them both an unimpressed look over the rim of his coffee mug.

“I ask because it is entirely possible that you inadvertently activated some sort of Ancient device if the therapy was successful,” Rodney leans back in his chair, crossing his arms over his broad chest.

“Like what?” Derek frowns.

“Not a clue,” Rodney shrugs.

“Are you sure you’re a genius?”

“The Ancients were assholes,” John cuts Rodney off before he can bawl Derek out in the middle of the mess. “They left all sorts of dangerous tech lying around without instruction manuals. If you figure out what you touched, you might be able to stop the loop.”

“So you go and wrack your brains to figure out what you touched,” Rodney stands with a slight wince, rubbing his hip absently. “I’ll try searching the database for anything that might have this effect.” He drops a kiss to the crown of John’s head before exiting the mess.

“Your husband’s kind of a jackass,” Derek says, staring after Dr. McKay.

“Yeah,” John nods, the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Derek hasn’t used any of the transporters since the incident, but he runs fast enough that he’s already reached the far side of the city before his radio goes nuts. He ignores the frantic hails from the underwater jumper bay, falling to his knees on the pier. It’s mere moments to midnight when Dr. McKay hails him over the radio.

“McKay to Hale. If you can hear me, it’s the temple. The temple on the planet that smells like ass, there’s--”

“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” Stiles mumbles, face pressed into the sleep-warm skin of Derek’s neck.

“Nothing,” Derek assures him. Stiles is drowsy enough he doesn’t notice the way Derek’s hands tremble as they trace the precious, familiar planes of his face.

Derek thinks it’s a bit unfair that his voice doesn’t sound completely wrecked after hours of rough sobbing.

 

--

 

Accute allergic reaction. Loss of pressure in Jumper 5. Gas leak. Beam malfunction boarding the Daedalus. Explosives accident in the armory. Catastrophic systems failure at Power Station 13. Subarachnoid hemorrhage.

 

--

 

Derek spends an entire day hiding in the cactus and succulent section of the greenhouses. Torren spots him a little after lunchtime, but kindly refrains from commenting on the hole Derek's digging for his radio.

Kavya finds him around moonrise.

"My grandmother always said cacti were bad luck," she says, settling cross legged beside him in the loosely packed earth. Her eyeliner's smudged and her long hair's been freed from its customary bum. It falls in thick, shiny waves down her back and for a moment all Derek can see are his sister's shining curls. He blinks and they're gone, but the knot in his stomach lingers. "She called them harbingers of death."

"My grandmother wasn't big on gardening advice," Derek says, staring up at the waxing moons.

"No?" He hears the faintest hint of a waver in her voice.

"Nan could kill plastic plants. She had a really flawless roundhouse kick, though."

"Sounds like quite a lady," Kavya scoots closer, her leather sandals and linen trousers scraping across the ground forming a dull roar in Derek's ears. She settles her small left hand on his knee and her wedding ring almost glows in the moonlight.

"Yeah. She was something else," Derek loops an arm around Kavya's back when her head drops to his shoulder. He breathes slowly, calmed by the familiar scents of Shalimar, sawdust, and Carolyn's hand cream. "They always are."

 

--

 

“The first nine times you told me it was the temple,” Derek says, fists clenched at his sides, “but that’s all you ever get through before the day resets.”

Rodney is studying him with his slanted mouth twisted into a frown. His blunt-tipped fingers drum against the surface of the table. He stays silent, fingers tapping and tapping and--

“What is that?”

“What is what?” Rodney snaps, fingers pausing.

“That rhythm, that song. Where did you hear that?” Derek drops into the chair opposite Dr. McKay.

“I--don’t know.” Rodney frowns and glances down at his hands. “Huh.”

“You can’t--you couldn’t know that song,” Derek stares, heart racing. “My mother made up that lullaby. It’s a new melody for an old family poem. It’s...there isn’t any way you could know that.”

Suddenly it comes rushing back, the drumming and tapping of fingers and spoons and the whistling of mouths that couldn’t possibly--

“It’s not real?”

“What?” Rodney looks up from his hands, startled.

“Could it--none of you could know, but you do. Is it...is it possible that this isn’t real?” Derek asks.

Rodney frowns, opening his mouth for a moment and shutting it again. Eventually he says, “The Ancients developed virtual reality simulations by means of built-in neural interfaces secondary to their stasis technology.”

“Is that a yes?”

“It’s a maybe," Rodney prevaricates. "In most cases, you’re aware of entering the virtual reality, though we had a run-in with an Ancient warship where the crew were unaware the virtual reality wasn't...well, actual reality. But the time loop is abnormal and you being the only person aware of the time loop is also abnormal, but--” Rodney snaps his fingers. “Your ATA-gene!”

“The shot Carolyn gave me?” Derek glances at the healed-over skin of his arm.

“Yes! Well, no,” Rodney waves a dismissive hand. “When Jennifer mapped your genes, she concluded you were the descendant of an Ancient genetic experiment, yes?”

“Yeah. Nothing like learning you’re an alien scientist’s accident to make you feel special,” Derek scowls at Rodney’s pleased expression.

“What are you scowling at me for, I’m probably not even real,” Rodney smirks. “It’s likely a system malfunction in the VR as a result of your genetic variance.”

“That...sounds possible. Did I come up with that?”

“No idea,” Rodney shrugs, apparently unconcerned by the possibility of his nonexistence.

“So how do I get out of here?” Derek looks around the mess. It looks like any other day on Atlantis. John’s busying himself at the coffee station, refilling his and Rodney’s mugs. Laura and Aiden are sharing a platter of pastries and chatting with Radek, Amelia, and Ronon. Derek’s team is crowded around their usual table, casting Derek confused looks. “Click my heels three times?”

Rodney raises skeptical brows and shakes his head. “The usual way to leave a VR is to just...think about leaving.”

“Seriously?" Derek stares at Rodney--or his subconscious's version of Rodney, or the VR's version of Rodney--in disbelief. "You’re saying that if, at any point, I’d thought about not being here hard enough, I would’ve been free?”

“Of course not," Rodney huffs. "Well, not precisely. You have to be thinking about it really hard." He makes a pained expression, like explaining things to Derek is a chore of the worst sort. "And it might not even work, since this is all conjecture, anyway. But you could give it a try.”

“Right. Right, just think about leaving,” Derek nods, striding towards his team’s table.

“Why were you talking to Dr. McKay?” Stiles asks as Derek approaches.

“Not important,” Derek shakes his head, pulling Stiles out of his chair to wrap him in a fierce hug. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Stiles replies. His arms loop around Derek’s waist. "Whatcha thinkin’ about?” he asks, voice muffled by the fabric of Derek's shirt.

“Nothing,” he lies--one last time--and raises a hand to rest on the back of Stiles’s neck. Derek closes his eyes and thinks really, really hard.

There’s no place like home.

 

 --

 

Derek Hugging Stiles