If asked, Derek would be able to provide a number of solid reasons as to why he took the job as Head of Security at Global Dynamics.
Comprehensive health care plan.
Included housing in Beacon Hills, the undisputed smartest town in America among those who knew it existed.
A job description that essentially boiled down to babysitting top scientists and occasionally breaking up intellectual pissing contests.
Free coffee and food at the local five star restaurant, Café Diem.
No IEDs on Main St.
It had sounded exactly like the kind of thing he needed after three tours in active war zones to get his life back in order as a civilian, and to recover from the six months living with his sister while his leg healed.
(He loved his sister, he really did, but she was unbearable in close quarters for longer than a week and also a slob.)
Two years in and he could now, at the drop of a hat, list in descending order every reason he hated his job and why he kept his letter of resignation updated and printed out next to the phone in his office.
Far too many explosions.
Tiny, the not at all tiny Titan Rover that tried to destroy Main St.
Constant pressure from the Department of Defense.
Breaking up intellectual pissing contests.
Chasing down rogue experiments and prototypes that escaped through the building and into the town with alarming frequency.
Isaac Lahey, the insufferable molecular gastronomist who ran Café Diem and judged everything Derek ever ordered for being “basic” and “lacking creativity”.
Too many people with too many PhDs at too young an age.
Alright, the residents and employees of Global Dynamics weren’t all terrible. There were tons of older, actual real adults working there; at the top of their field for years, won multiple awards for their contributions to science, had theorems named after them—genuinely lovely people when egos didn’t flare, but they weren’t the people GD Security had to deal with. They understood the concept of caution, minimizing damage, starting at 1% power and working up from there. Yeah, there was the occasional accident or security breach, but they learned from them quickly and they generally didn’t keep happening over and over and over.
The newer, younger employees with too many PhDs at too young an age, however…
“I said to wait!”
“You should’ve said it before I hit enter!”
"You really didn't!"
Derek couldn't see them through the thick clouds of smoke and dust filling the AI lab, but he was more than familiar with the voices of Danny Mahealani and Stiles Stilinski, yelling at each other over the blaring klaxons of the emergency alarm. They both held doctorates, but he refused to use the title for them given how often he was called to their lab for reckless and frankly juvenile mistakes.
Actually, Danny got his earned title. Stiles was an idiot.
A genius who had a PhD in mechanical engineering by his 23rd birthday, but an idiot.
Purely by muscle memory, Derek reached out to the right of the doorway, flipped up the plastic cover, and punched the button to activate the emergency environment scrubbers for the lab. The hum of fans kicked on above and the thick smoke started to clear, sucked up through vents in the ceiling, and the most infuriating pair of roboticists blew into view.
Stiles and Danny’s argument stopped abruptly when they realized they weren’t alone anymore and they turned to Derek with guilty and more than a little shell shocked expressions. They both had white dust caked through their hair and piled onto their shoulders, and Stiles was holding half a tablet that was quietly sparking. The right lens of his glasses was cracked. Danny was faring only marginally better.
With the smoke and dust cleared, the real security situation was revealed: a sizable hole in the opposite wall, punched straight through the reinforced cement, obviously made by something incredibly big and incredibly strong. Strong enough to not only break through one reinforced concrete wall, but it looked like every wall between them and the bank of freight elevators three labs over, as well as the bulkhead doors of the elevator shaft itself. The occupants of the violently punctured labs cautiously came out of hiding, their heads peeking out from behind their now-ruined walls to see where whatever had just crashed through their work came from.
None of them looked remotely surprised by the source.
Stiles and Danny’s lab, deservedly, bore the brunt of the damage. Concrete rubble covered the floor, the desks, bookshelves, Stiles, Danny, and the raised dais that had probably once held whatever had just made a quick and destructive exit. Wires and diagnostic equipment trailed towards the hole, dragged after it, and what looked like a very important console was on fire. A knee-high droid rolled out from under a desk and put out the flames, bleeped and whirred happily at a job well done, and rolled off to the next piece of smoking equipment.
“What did you do.”
Derek was so far beyond being professionally polite with Stiles. Both his professionality and his patience had run out sometime between the Applied Robotics department’s drone holding the town hostage and one of Stiles' droids mistargeting every person it came across and dousing them in fire suppressant, Derek included.
“Derek.” Stiles greeted unhelpfully instead of answering.
“Stiles, I’m really not in the mood right now, so just tell me what happened so I can clean it up before someone ends up in the infirmary again.”
“Derek happened.” Danny told him like that actually told him anything, then he groaned, looking past Derek’s shoulder. “Oh fuck, the Director. You explain, I’ll keep us from getting redacted.” He slapped Stiles on the back, hard, then left to go deal with Director Victoria Argent, who looked like she was itching to tear someone a new one.
Derek turned back to Stiles and tried to look imposing, but it had long lost its effect on this particular pain in his ass. It still worked on almost everyone else, but it just made Stiles look a specific type of pleased with himself.
“You named something Derek.” It wasn’t even a question.
“He’s very scowly.”
“Stiles, just tell me what did this.” Derek growled in his most threatening and authoritative tone. Stiles waggled his eyebrows, a slightly manic light in his eyes, and pulled his phone out of his back pocket.
“Get ready to have your mind blown. We just activated him and you’re the first to see him totally complete outside of the people actually working on him, and I’ve gotta say, he is my Sistine Chapel. My David. My…” he waved one hand around while the other flicked around the phone screen, “...Mona Lisa, I don’t know, I’m out of art history references, but let’s just say that when I die, this is what I’ll be remembered for.”
He looked excited about it, but that was a horribly depressing thought in Derek’s mind.
Stiles found whatever he was looking for, beamed happily at the screen for a moment, and turned the phone around with a self-satisfied flourish to show...a wolf. A black wolf. A very big, black wolf.
Derek stared at the screen for a few seconds, looking for anything that could possibly explain how a wolf managed to make such a massive hole in two feet of reinforced concrete, multiple times. Stiles was still watching him with a wide grin, obviously waiting for a reaction of amazement or some variation.
“It’s a wolf.” Derek stated stupidly. Stiles’ grin dropped into an unimpressed, flat glare.
“He’s not just a wolf, he’s a robot. He’s biomimetic, and he is awesome, I mean,” he flicked through a few photos of the wolf curled up under a desk, sitting with its head cocked, sitting on Danny, scowling, scowling, scowling—pretty standard, non-robotic dog behavior for a particularly scowly dog. Derek wasn’t quite convinced that he was looking at a robot, biomimetic or not, and it seemed like the total awe and adoration on Stiles’ face was misplaced on an admittedly impressive Tekno toy dog.
“I thought you said you just activated it a few minutes ago.” Derek questioned, taking in the evidence of apparently weeks of a fully functioning and activated robot wolf.
“Fully, yeah, but we’ve had him wandering around the lab for weeks to test his mobility and basic systems. He was pretty much your average golden retriever or DARPA’s shitty luggage cart that was the LS3, but then we brought him completely online and he just...ran off. We don’t know why and we can’t even run a full diagnostic at the moment because…” He gestured grandly to the chaos of smashed equipment around them and the hole in the wall. A chunk of concrete chose that exact moment to fall, as if to demonstrate.
"So you have no idea why this happened?"
"We won't know for sure until Danny can get the backups loaded and go through his processes from right before he lost it.” Hearing his name, Danny excused himself from his conversation with Director Argent and came over, looking relieved to be away from her. Her eyebrows were looking particularly sharp that morning. “We'll also be able to track him down once we get connected."
"Alright, get started on that,” Derek ordered, “but in the meantime just shut it down before someone gets hurt. Let me know once you've found it and I'll go pick it up." Because he was apparently a glorified delivery service these days.
He turned to leave, feeling satisfied with the brevity and general painlessness of that conversation, but Stiles' hesitant “Ahh…” made him look back. Stiles looked like he was bracing to get punched once he said whatever had made his face pinch up like that.
"What is it."
Stiles paused, obviously trying to come up with a positive way to spin it. Derek shifted his focus to Danny and fixed him with his best glare instead. Danny was smarter and he knew damn well it was in his best interest to give a straight answer.
"We can't remotely shut him down." Danny admitted with the exact amount of shame that news warranted. Derek took a few seconds to count down from five.
"Of course not. There’s a kill switch, right?”
When Danny averted his eyes to a cracked tablet he was holding and started poking around the glitching screen and Stiles’ mouth started trying to pull together silent excuses, Derek wasn’t ashamed to admit that he huffed. “Please tell me you installed a kill switch.”
“We definitely installed a kill switch.” Stiles complied with a few nods, but neither of them were making any moves to actually shut down the wolf.
“But…” Derek prompted when he realized no elaboration was forthcoming.
“But, our side of the switch kind of got destroyed when he ran through all of our equipment and smashed it into pieces.”
“So, we have to either shut him down manually, like actually catch him, or have him link with someone to control him from a sort of safe distance away.”
Derek hated his job more and more each day.
“What do you mean link?”
He should never have left the Marines.
“Why on earth does a giant, robotic wolf need a neural link?” He didn’t want to know—he really didn’t want to know, but asking questions he really didn’t want the answers to was pretty much the entirety of his job. It was all but guaranteed that at GD, no matter how bad a situation seemed at first glance, it got infinitely worse as more information came out about it. The fact that Stiles’ eyes lit up at the question just confirmed that and made a solid dread settle in Derek’s stomach like a brick. A superdense brick. Essentially a black hole of dread.
“It’s for an experimental robotic K9 unit, tracking down and chasing perps, finding drugs, protection, scouting—basically everything a military dog does, but without putting a dog’s life at risk by sending it into a warzone.”
“Can’t most of that be done with drones?”
“Yeah, but what’s really cool about Derek,” he squinted at Derek for a second, “Wolf Derek, is the neural link. It simulates the bond that an actual military dog has with it’s handler, but it’s also how the wolf is controlled, meaning it’s a lot easier and you won’t have anyone running around with like a Playstation controller while they’re under fire. And drone programs are effective, but things look a lot different from the air than on the ground, which isn’t always a good thing, and in some cases a drone might just be shot out of the sky.”
“And what’s to keep the wolf from just getting taken out on the ground?”
“Besides the ballistic shielding and the fact that he’s practically built out of real world vibranium?” Stiles asked rhetorically, an ugly condescension slipping into his tone.
Derek made sure his face reflected just how much he didn’t appreciate it. “So we can’t just shoot it.”
Stiles looked horrified at the very idea, exaggerating a shocked step back, and even Danny looked a little sick.
“Okay, even if that would do anything, that wolf is my baby. My baby, Derek. You might as well just shoot me in the chest, alright, it would be less painful.”
“I doubt that. Is it EMP-shielded, too?”
"Why build a giant robot if it could easily be taken down by an EMP gun or a surprise coronal-mass ejection?"
"Of course." Derek deadpanned, his worn patience thinning further. "Silly me. What a stupid question." Stiles had no idea how close he was to getting punched. “Would you care to tell me any way that you didn’t make it an indestructable tank so I can possibly do my job?”
Danny stepped in while also clapping a large hand over Stiles’ mouth.
“He’s built for combat, we didn’t give him a whole lot of weaknesses.” Derek was fast remembering why he liked Danny so much more than anyone else. “Really, the only way to stop him is to get him under control with the link, because he’s on the defensive. He’ll attack anyone who comes near him. I’ll get things back up and running in another lab, you two go try and track Derek down. Wolf Derek.”
“What?” Stiles pried the hand down away from his mouth. “Why me? Why can’t I stay here in a nice temperature controlled lab? I’m not built for the outdoors like you are Danny, and especially not for tracking wolves, which your very well-defined muscles clearly are.”
“Yeah,” Danny took the compliment, smiling pleasantly with an edge to his voice, “but you’re the one who hit enter when I told you to wait.” He slapped him on the back again, even harder this time, and Stiles’ mouth fell open in silent pain. “Try not to get sunburned.”
“Oh come on, that’s not even—”
Stiles trailed off and froze at the loud clicks of furious high heels, and Derek looked over to see Dr. Lydia Martin storming through the gaping holes in the former walls. She was short enough that she didn’t have to duck to fit, and she was only gaining momentum, completely undeterred by the large chunks of cement littering the way. She no doubt had just returned to her lab from lunch to find it covered in debris and with two more doors than it should have.
“Stiles, I will end you!”
Stiles flinched and scrambled behind Danny, who casually stepped out of the way looking amused.
“Lydia, Lydia,” Stiles backed away quickly, moving toward Derek as his next human shield, “I swear this wasn’t my fault!” He tripped back over the still-smoking ruins of a computer
“Not your fault?” Dr. Martin continued her advance, right up into Stiles’ space, somehow towering over him while still a good six inches shorter. “How exactly is your robot that you brought online today rampaging out of your control not your fault?”
Stiles’ head bobbed back and forth, conceding to her logic, hands out between them like they would actually stop her.
“Okay, fair point, but—” he continued loudly and took another quick step back when she advanced further, “in the spirit of fairness, we totally thought the lab would hold him!”
"You should've taken him down to your lab in AR for full trials, Stiles, you know that! AI labs just aren’t made to contain something like this!” She looked like she was just getting ramped up.
“Lydia, as project head I would like to formally apologize for Stiles’ oversight.” Danny stepped in, and Stiles’ mouth dropped open in complete betrayal as he was, admittedly, thrown under the bus. “We’ll do everything we can to help you get your lab back in order once we take care of this.”
Lydia looked between the two roboticists for a long and tense moment, considering.
“Apology accepted. Thank you, Danny.” She flashed him a genuine smile, then dropped it clear off her face when she turned back to Stiles and growled, “You still owe me. Fix this.”
She gave Derek an appraising look, cast a judgmental glance around the destroyed lab, then flounced back the way she had come, leaving them standing in a chastised silence. It took a moment, but Stiles came back to life and leveled a flat look at his partner.
“Wow, Danny, think you could get R2 over here? I need him to pull this knife out of my back.” The little droid whooped from the corner at hearing Stiles say its name and rolled into view. “I’d ask you to, but you really jammed it in pretty far, it’s gonna take a little more than even your muscles can handle.”
Danny just rolled his eyes through a hint of a smile.
“Stiles, you’re not the one who has to work a few labs over from her. You’ll have two solid levels of security clearance to protect you once you start your next project, so get this done if you want to live.” He paused and grinned fully. “Besides, that was payback for March 3rd.” Then he winked and turned to leave the lab.
“Oh my god, are you seriously still mad about that? It’s been like two years!” Stiles shouted after him. Danny just kept walking. “Unbelieveable.” Stiles muttered, “I’d retaliate if he wasn’t about to get reamed for extensive property damage. Now I’ll probably have to buy him a present for taking this one." He turned to Derek. "What’s a good thanks for saving my ass from getting fired but you still put me on Lydia Martin’s shit list gift? It has to be good but not that good.”
“You can figure it out later," Derek snapped impatiently, "we need to find your robot.”
“Right, I just need to grab my spare shirt and then we can go.”
“We don’t have time, just come on.”
“Are you kidding me?" Derek really hated when Stiles’ eyebrows got all condescending like that. "I’ve already inhaled so much cement dust I’m going to be sneezing concrete for a week, do you really want me breathing in more? Getting this all over your precious car?” He brushed a layer of dust off of his shoulder right at Derek, who could feel an ulcer forming just at the thought of that getting anywhere near his SUV’s interior.
“Fine.” Derek’s phone chirped in his pocket. “Hurry up.”
He pulled the stupid phone out as Stiles moved behind one of the desks that was still mostly intact and began to rummage around, and frowned when he saw it was the sheriff’s official photo ID glaring up at him from the screen.
“Sheriff,” he greeted, trying to act natural while Stiles winced with his entire body, unbuttoning his shirt as he tried to hide behind the remains of a large computer monitor, “what can I do for you?”
“You can tell me why exactly I have a giant robot wolf prowling through my town! And it better be a robot because if I find out I’ve got to worry about giant mutant wolves attacking people in the streets, then I quit, and I mean it this time.”
Sheriff Stilinski had been significantly less understanding after he found his jeep floating fifty feet over Lake Archimedes with Beacon Hills First National Bank.
* * *
It wasn’t hard to follow the wolf’s trail, even before Danny got the backups loaded and running. If the stream of mild destruction and felled trees wasn’t enough, the constant calls from citizens reporting a massive black wolf barging through town and the neighborhoods traced a pretty clear path heading north. The Sheriff was already in pursuit, tailing it in his jeep and making sure everyone left in its wake was alright, while his deputy Allison Argent and Boyd from Derek’s team did damage control in town. Derek didn’t know how much damage there was, exactly, but Boyd had sounded mildly irritated on the phone last time they spoke.
If Boyd showed any discernable irritation, the situation was approaching a clusterfuck.
The aggressively soothing ping of an incoming call sounded through the car and Stiles forwarded it to the dashboard screen from his phone. Danny’s face appeared, in a different, non-destroyed lab, with people hurrying around behind him. Reyes was just behind him, overseeing it all as Derek’s third in command.
“He just hit the northeast corner of the preserve.” Danny greeted, now in a clean shirt and looking significantly more put together than both Stiles and Derek combined. It wasn’t fair that he’d managed to get a shower in somewhere. “It looks like he’s taking the southern trail around the lake to get to Deaton’s.”
Derek wasn’t sure of the significance, but Stiles groaned, throwing his head back against the headrest.
“Yeah.” Danny agreed. “I called ahead to let him know. He’s going to get the wolves to a safe place in case Derek—Wolf Derek tries to assert his dominance by taking out Ajax.”
“You think that’s something he’s likely to do?” Stiles tipped his head towards Derek and added, “Ajax is the actual alpha wolf in the preserve.” Derek nodded once to show he’d heard, and turned his attention back to Danny’s voice.
“It’s a definite possibility. I’ve been looking through his systems and it’s looks like without the link to balance him out, he’s falling back on his lupine instincts, but times ten, thus smashing through GD and going to the preserve. We’ve been trying to connect to him remotely, but we haven’t had any luck.”
“Crap, okay, we’re about ten minutes out. Let us know if anything changes.”
Danny nodded and hung up, and the screen switched back to a map of the area.
“Why is the wolf going to the preserve?” Derek asked when Stiles just continued to sit in a stressed silence instead of elaborating at all.
“You know Dr. Deaton? He runs the wolf preserve to the north of town?” Derek nodded, vaguely remembering hearing about it at some point. “Well we were up there all the time observing the wolves and he was working with us on simulating behavior and movement. When Danny programmed Wolf Derek, we set the preserve as his territory to keep it simple and a lot of the wolves’ actual landmarks as his own. Without an active neural link controlling him, he’s falling back on those instincts like he’s alpha of the pack.” He ran a hand through his still-dusty hair and tugged in frustration, tapping his phone against his thigh with his other hand. Derek kept focused on the problem at hand and tried to ignore the concrete dust raining down on the seat around Stiles. When all this was done with, he was going to spend a nice relaxing weekend cleaning every inch of his car.
“Okay, why would you give a military dog such strong animal instincts? Shouldn’t it be more domesticated and controlled?”
Stiles let go of his hair to answer; he rarely explained anything without moving his hands. Derek often wondered if he was even capable of speaking independent of gestures.
“Well that’s where the neural link comes in. The link balances out those instincts with the human mind and commands. It’s kind of like…” he waved his hands around while he thought, visibly trying to pull the words together “okay, it’s kind of like a werewolf—stop giving me that look. A werewolf is man and beast in one body, right? Managing the balance? Well the link is like that, but man and beast have their own bodies with one mind.”
“Again, why did you give it such strong canine instincts?”
“It makes the bond between the wolf and handler more authentic, it gives the handler long-established cues on how to interact with Wolf Derek. I mean, it would be really weird to be seeing a wolf and it’s running around acting like a cat or a horse.”
Derek just raised his eyebrows at him in a long, solid look, letting the car’s sensors steer until Stiles relented and blurted out,
“Because it was fun, okay? Besides, there wasn’t any real reason to dial them back while he was still being tested in the lab. The most he would’ve done there is like, piss a circle around the room to mark his territory.”
Derek turned back to the road, taking back control of the wheel. “Please tell me he can’t do that.”
“Of course not, there’s no liquid in him. Although,” his gaze when a little distant, flicking back and forth behind his glasses like he was staring at his computer screen back in his lab, “the effect of him marking his territory could be useful for protection against other animals in the wilderness, create a perimeter in case his team has to sleep out in the woods or the desert or something. Maybe a sonic emitter that only animals can hear, just to keep them away temporarily so their migration or territories wouldn’t be disrupted by leaving anything physical.”
He sat for a moment, frozen like he would lose the idea if he so much as twitched a finger, then he fumbled for his phone and started to type with inhuman speed. It was a jarring switch.
“Okay, so,” he started, his fingers slowing as he finished getting down whatever he’d been thinking, “I’ll call Scott, he’s down in BCI—Brain-Computer Interface—and he’s been working on the actual interface itself. Anyway, I’ll get him out here, and then we’ll get you linked in and save the day, and get this fixed in time to pick up a six pack before the game—”
Derek braked abruptly and Stiles made a satisfying hurnk sound as his seatbelt locked across his chest. Derek didn’t even bother to check if the road was clear—the car wouldn’t have allowed him to stop so suddenly if there was anyone behind in danger of hitting them—he just twisted around in his seat to make sure Stiles really understood his next words.
“I am not linking with your robot.”
“You have to.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Oh my god, come on, Derek!” Stiles scoffed, like he was the one being unreasonable there, “it’s the only way to get him under control!”
“So you make the link. You literally built it, you know how it works better than anyone.”
“Yeah, no. I built the actual wolf, not the AI or the interface, there’s a huge difference, and maintaining that link takes a lot of control and focus, especially while it’s still new. You don’t want a brain like mine linking with him, and you have some serious mental control.”
Derek didn’t even want to know how Stiles knew anything about his mental control.
“Please Derek?” He pouted, jutting out his bottom lip and making a pitiful face that Derek would deny to his deathbed did anything whatsoever to his resolve. “Do it for all the poor innocent wolves that are in legitimate danger of being ruled by a robot overlord.”
The way things were going, his deathbed wasn’t all that far off, so at least he wouldn’t have to deny it for long.
“Fine. But just for now.” He emphasized with a point, holding until Stiles nodded eagerly, then started driving again while ignoring Stiles’ fist pump.
“You’re not going to regret this, I promise. This is going to be so awesome.” Stiles’ phone bleeped to prompt a voice command. “Call Scott McCall, BCI Labs.” It bleeped again in confirmation. “Okay, we’re going to have to get pretty close for this to work, we’re keeping the range short since it’s still being tested.” Derek already regretted his decision. “Don’t make that face. Trust me, this’ll work—Scott, buddy! I need you to meet me at Deaton’s with Derek’s interface.”
Derek heard the loud response without even trying.
“No, I’m not going to link with Derek, Derek is.” Derek glanced over to see Stiles roll his eyes. “No, Derek Hale.” Impatient pause, then, “Yes, Derek and Derek, now get out here!”
* * *
The wolf preserve was already teeming with people when they pulled into the parking lot just a few minutes later. The sheriff’s jeep was parked in the space next to them (another new one after the last model ended up in orbit), GD vehicles, security teams that must’ve taken a few shortcuts to beat them there; it was chaos. Organized, with everyone knowing exactly where they needed to be, but chaos all the same.
“Stiles,” the sheriff called with more than a little frustration and restrained anger, starting over from talking to Dr. Deaton the second he saw his son get out of the car. A lot of people seemed to be having that reaction today.
“Hey dad,” Stiles wasn’t put off in the slightest, barreling on like his father wasn’t coming at him with the most exasperated and frustrated look Derek had ever seen on a parent’s face, “you know that really important and totally awesome project I’ve been working on for the last two years? Surprise!”
The sheriff stopped in front of Stiles, paused to give his dusty hair a long look, then gave him a solid slap upside the head. A cloud of white swirled into the air and Stiles just nodded like that was exactly what he’d been expecting.
“Deaton’s waiting to talk to you, so get over there and fix this.” The sheriff jerked his thumb back over his shoulder and Stiles scrambled off in the direction indicated, leaving his father and Derek behind. “Hale.” The man nodded in greeting.
“Sheriff. Everything under control here?” He followed at his side as the man started to turn back towards the main building and the flurry of activity around it.
“As much as can be expected. The wolves have all been moved until we get this under control, and Stiles’ robot parked itself on top of the hill about a mile in. It’ll let us get about two hundred yards away until it starts getting mean, then it tries to defend.”
Derek sighed. Of course. There was no way the robot could’ve magically just lain down and waited for them to come turn it off.
They took four wheelers out into the woods to where a few GD security teams were already gathered and prepared, weapons trained on the hill. The black wolf sat at the crest, sniffing the air occasionally and looking pretty pleased with itself. It didn’t look defensive in the least—until someone put a foot past the two hundred yard line while arranging portable equipment. Then the wolf snapped to attention, fangs bared and growls that carried all the way to Derek’s ears at the back of the group.
Stiles jumped right in the center of the activity, moving between monitors set up and scrolling through tablets, directing other people, shooing them out of the way, and coordinating with Boyd—Derek’s second who had just come in from town with the latest pair of four wheelers to take over security duties since Derek was about to be linked to a robotic wolf.
Derek had never seen Stiles so in his element before; the very nature of his job as head of security meant that when he saw Stiles, something was wrong, and Stiles was scrambling to fix it or explain, but now... Now Derek could see the why Director Argent gave Stiles a fair bit of leeway despite the accidents and mishaps. He was good. He was a natural in a crisis, collected and efficient, easily working with others when they approached him with something to look over or discuss.
It was... Well, it was incredibly attractive, if Derek was being honest with himself. Not that he was, of course.
He was saved from his own wandering thoughts when a guy with a crooked jaw and a friendly and easy smile appeared from the crowd and introduced himself as Dr. Scott McCall, BCI, but just call me Scott. He led Derek over to his equipment arranged on travel crates and folding tables, and sat him down on a short stool that made him feel like a child again. He starting explaining a few basics of how it would all work, probably important to listen to, but Derek found himself weirdly fixated on the tables themselves. They all had GD stamped on them, a sure sign of scientific advancement, so they must’ve been special folding tables in some way; maybe a stabilizing system, or a rocket strapped underneath, anti-gravity—it was Global Dynamics, it could literally be anything.
“Got it?” Scott asked, and Derek realized that, no he didn’t, but he nodded anyway.
“So since this is still new, we’re going with the non-invasive interface, just to be safe,” Scott held up what looked like a large behind-the-ear hearing aid, “it’s not as strong a signal as the partially-invasive, but hopefully we can get this done quickly and it’ll only be temporary.”
Derek sat up a little straighter.
“Is there a risk of it becoming not temporary?”
Scott’s expression got tight, glancing down at the interface in his hand before looking back up a little sheepishly. “Stiles didn’t tell you.”
Derek glanced to Stiles, standing a ways behind Scott and deep in discussion with Dr. Deaton over a tablet, gesturing over the screen with quick and imprecise movements. That little...
Just when he'd been starting to respect him.
“Tell me what.”
“Well, Derek—Wolf Derek, is designed to bond with one handler at a time. He’s AI, his programming actually adjusts to the signals being sent across the interface and adapts to how his handler thinks. It’s a two-way street between the wolf and the handler, they both adjust, actually, so switching one out is detrimental to both.”
“Are you saying this could give me brain damage?”
“No! No, nothing like that. As far as we can tell, it might leave you with something like a phantom limb feeling once you disconnect if you use it long enough, like over years. Wolf Derek, though, he would have to be completely wiped and loaded with fresh programming.”
That sounded very final.
“Would any of his current personality survive?”
“I don’t think so. AI isn’t my area so I don’t know one hundred percent, but that’s how it sounded when Danny explained it to me. Complete reset.”
That meant the wolf Stiles was so attached to would be gone, completely replaced by another AI program. The scowly wolf named Derek wouldn’t even be in there anymore, it would become a completely different animal with completely different experiences but with the same face. Derek’s eyes trailed back over to Stiles, now gnawing at the pad of his thumb listening to Dr. Deaton explain something, visibly concerned.
“And if I decide to keep it?”
Scott glanced over his shoulder to Stiles, following Derek’s embarrassingly obvious gaze, but thankfully he didn’t comment on it. He just continued on with his explanation in a refreshingly professional manner that Derek only wished Stiles could manage for maybe ten minutes.
“Then we’ll move up to the partially-invasive BCI so you’ll have better control and a stronger link. That one actually requires a minor surgery since it’s implanted inside your skull.”
Derek just raised his eyebrows at how casually Dr. McCall tossed around implanted inside your skull.
“I think we have very different definitions of what partially means.”
“Well my partially means it’s not actually in your brain, just on it, so I’d say that’s pretty partial.”
Scott chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, hesitating.
“Look, I know Stiles can be a little intense when he’s really passionate about something, and I’m not gonna lie, this wolf has been his life for two years, but don’t let your fear of hurting or disappointing him make this decision for you. Committing to this is a big deal, both for research and your own mind, so really think it over. We can always get someone over here from BCI with more experience, so take your time.” He paused. “Take five minutes maximum, we’re kind of in a rush.”
He jogged off to join Stiles and Dr. Deaton before Derek could ask why he assumed Stiles factored into this decision in any way, and left him there realizing that he’d already included Stiles as a pretty significant deciding factor without consciously doing so.
The wolf was Stiles’ baby, he’d said so himself, and taken enough pictures that it could very well be his first child. He’d been personally working on it for two years, built it from scratch with his bare hands and declared it his legacy, and he’d chosen to trust it to Derek. Derek, the guy he always argued with and constantly accused of standing in the way of both progress and fun. Lieutenant Colonel Killjoy. Sergeant Sourpuss. That was who he trusted his baby to.
It was both flattering and nerve wracking to think that on some level, he meant that much to Stiles and was trusted that much, and he found that he really didn’t want to betray that trust. He didn’t want Stiles to fail or lose this apparently incredible project he’d devoted two years of his life to. He was going to link with a robot wolf with his name whether he liked it or not. Damn it.
He rolled his eyes at himself and stood to follow Scott, moving to stand beside Stiles in his group of colleagues. Danny’s face was on one of the monitors, back at the lab and still going over data while reading through what was currently coming in from the robot now that the backups were connected and running.
“I’m ready.” He announced. “I’m sure.”
Stiles’ eyes lit up like Derek was his savior, and Derek’s chest did not react in anyway.
“Great!” Danny said on the screen, and Derek focused on him instead. “Okay, if we’re not going for a permanent link, we should keep this under ten minutes or so. That’s about the length of time it takes for Derek’s programming to map out his handler’s signals before he starts adjusting, and I’d really rather not have to completely wipe him it we can avoid it. Reloading everything is a little more complicated than a copy and paste and I’ve got new projects with deadlines lined up.”
It sounded doable, so he fingerprinted the necessary forms and let himself be led around by scientists like a toddler, back to his stool by Scott’s equipment where he sat and quickly lost patience with the technobabble firing back and forth over his head. But he sat quietly all the same, keeping perfectly still as Scott fitted the interface behind his ear and got everything connected. Stiles was moving more than enough for the both of them, pacing back and forth and gnawing at his thumb again.
“Okay, we’re all set.” Scott finally announced, picking up his tablet and scrolling through the data that appeared—Derek’s data, he realized. That was all of his vitals and brain activity in Scott’s hands.
“Alright!” Stiles clapped his hands once and rubbed them together in a slightly frantic manner, “just remember to be aware of any subconscious desires to maim or kill anyone for the next ten minutes. Wolf Derek might actually act on them.”
“You might want to steer clear of me for a while, then.” Derek deadpanned, and Stiles just sneered briefly before continuing.
“Okay, we just need him to stay still and stand down so I can get to his manual shut off.”
That didn’t sound too difficult, he just needed to not command the wolf to attack anyone.
“Here we go.” Scott breathed. He glanced at Derek, at Stiles back to anxiously gnawing at the pad of his thumb, then tapped his tablet with his thumb anticlimactically.
It was like his brain glitched, hit a speed bump a little too hard, and when it righted itself there was a new presence prowling at the back of his mind. He nudged at it cautiously, the wolf snapped to attention, and then his senses exploded with foreign sensations.
He could smell the trees, the dirt, that the other wolves had been there recently, and hear a small animal running past, scientists talking amongst themselves back at the parking lot, the river over a mile away and a lone car on the highway beyond that. He could feel the long grass brushing against his spacial awareness, the trees surrounding them.
“And, they’re connected.” Scott announced like that was in anyway necessary, his voice booming suddenly in the constant sea of noise. Derek couldn’t help jerk away from the sound, covering his ears, but the volume didn’t change. The noise was coming from the wolf’s senses, not Derek’s.
Stiles ducked down into his sight, visibly worried, eyes wide and frantically roaming over Derek’s face and looking for a way to help.
“Derek?” His hand came up to Derek’s neck, hovering just below the interface like he was preparing to rip it off. Part of Derek wanted him to, but most of him wanted to make this work. “Fuck, Derek, are you okay?”
His voice was too loud, everything was too loud.
“Derek,” he tried again, quieter, and this time his lips barely moved but it still felt like he was yelling, “you’ve got to give me some kind of sign that you’re okay or I’m taking it off.”
“No,” Derek managed to get out. He reached up to move Stiles’ hand away from the interface but never seemed to get beyond just holding on, needing something to ground him and feel solid in the overwhelming mess of new heightened senses crashing over his head like stormy waves at sea.
“Scott, do something.” Stiles’ voice cut through, and Derek latched onto it, focusing on the sound of his breathing, the sound of his heartbeat, dear god, he could hear Stiles’ heart beating in his chest.
“I think I can dampen it a little, hang on.”
“Do it now.”
And suddenly Derek could breathe again, and the world wasn’t so loud.
Stiles’ fingers twitched against his jaw, and Derek realized he was still squeezing his hand in a crushing grip. He forced himself to let go, his muscles tense and reluctant to move, and Stiles pulled his hand away slowly. He flexed a few times and shook it out gently—his fingers were purple from how hard Derek had been squeezing.
Stiles ducked back down to get his attention, non-crushed hand at the nape of Derek’s shoulder and eyebrows raised.
Derek nodded when his voice didn’t cut through his ears like a megaphone.
“Okay, we’ll do this quickly and get you disconnected again.” He squeezed Derek’s shoulder comfortingly and brushed his thumb against his neck briefly before pulling away.
Scott wandered over, head in his tablet, making adjustments, and the volume and strength of the feedback fluctuated in Derek’s head. Scott grabbed his bicep gently and started dragging him closer to the hill, and Derek just let him be the guide because all he could focus on was all the new sounds and scents clamoring for attention. Watching where he was going was the lowest priority at the moment. Stiles was walking next to them, he could tell that much, might've had a hand on his other arm, but beyond that was just too loud and demanding.
“So this is about as weak as I can make it while still actually working,” Scott’s voice was loud again, but not as overwhelming as it had been before. “Remember that the range is only about ten yards right now so you can’t back away. We don’t want it to get too intense by widening it.”
“This isn’t intense?” Derek ground out, and Wolf Derek mirrored his growl, its head whipping around to snap at Stiles, who had continued forward after Derek and Scott stopped. Synthetic muscles pulled the wolf’s lips back into a snarl and his ears flattened dangerously. Derek could feel its defensiveness rear up in his mind, its hackles rising like they were his own.
“Oh my god!” Stiles tripped back down to the base of the hill, freezing until the wolf settled again.
“Don’t rush it.” Scott warned, his attention mostly focused on his tablet. After a tense moment, during which Derek could feel things calming down over the link, Scott waved a hand towards Stiles, and he took a cautious step forward again.
The wolf’s head snapped around to watch him and a warning shot through Derek’s mind.
“Derek,” Stiles stage whispered out of the corner of his mouth, eyes fixed on the wolf and not moving a muscle, “that’s not standing down.”
“I’m trying.” Derek growled, trying to shift all of his focus to keeping the wolf from moving. It just wasn’t working; he could access the wolf, could feel and sense everything it could, but every time he tried to command it to stand down, it just surged forward, directly towards Stiles
“Give it time, the connection is stabilizing.” Scott said somewhere off to his right, and Derek really didn’t think this was what stabilizing felt like. This felt like the wolf was tearing further away from him and it hurt, spiking across his temples like the worst migraine.
“Okay,” Stiles was mumbling to himself as he inched forward while the wolf watched his progress warily. Derek could hear him even from this distance. “Nice Derek, nice not killing Stiles Derek.”
His babbling was distracting, it kept pulling Derek out of his focus, and every time he did the wolf tensed to attack before he managed to get it under control again. He couldn’t get silence out in the woods, there was too much constant movement crushing in on him—security teams talking, radio chatter, Danny’s voice from the monitor—but he needed white noise, something constant and steady so he could just focus.
Stiles’ heartbeat tripped as the wolf lunged again, and Derek’s ears caught onto it, grabbed onto the steadying beats, and he could finally breathe again as the increasing pressure subsided and faded from the front of his mind. There was only him and the wolf, and the comforting if heightened pulse of Stiles’ heart in the background, nothing else vying for his attention anymore.
The wolf stilled and calmed, and lowered his head to signal Stiles to come closer.
“Oh, thank fuck.” Stiles muttered, sagging a little in relief before walking over. He tapped the wolf’s shoulder cautiously a few times, like he was expecting his arm to be ripped off, but Derek felt like he had stable control now. The wolf had slipped into his mind and settled there, curled up along his consciousness now that he wasn’t being pulled in ten different directions.
Stiles kneeled down next to the wolf and pressed his thumb to the collar. A panel hissed open at the back of the animal’s neck and when he ran his fingertips over it, a keypad materialized out of the metal interior, glowing the same blue as Wolf Derek’s eyes.
“See ya, buddy.” Stiles muttered quietly, running a hand down the wolf’s neck. It was so quiet that Derek could barely hear it through the link, and his voice cracked a little despite his collected exterior. He pressed a few glowing numbers and paused, thumb hovering over the print reader that would shut down the robot, effectively killing the wolf he created with his own two hands.
Derek’s voice cut through the nervously still clearing, everyone else holding their breaths to see what would happen.
The wolf stepped away from Stiles’ hands, but he was calm and nonthreatening, his head still down and submissive.
Derek had already been connected to him past the ten minute limit; the AI program had started to change and adapt, he could actually feel things starting to mesh a little better in his mind. The wolf’s programming would have to be wiped to be usable again. Derek—Wolf Derek—wouldn’t exist as Stiles knew him anymore. The new yet comforting prowl at the back of his mind wouldn’t exist anymore.
“Don’t disconnect him, I can handle this.”
Scott blinked. “You mean you want to keep him? Keep the interface?”
Derek glanced over to Stiles, who was watching him carefully, looking hopeful and stressed and wrecked all at once. Derek gave him a small grin as he nodded.
Stiles sat down hard in the grass, and Derek heard him take a shaky deep breath as he leaned forward and just sat there for a little while.
The wolf took a few steps forward and rested his muzzle on his shoulder.
* * *
Derek spent the next four hours back in Scott’s BCI lab at GD, proving he had enough control to get approval to essentially be a test subject; making the wolf sit and follow his commands, checking his brain activity and vitals, just generally being poked and prodded by a number of scientists until his patience reached its limit and the wolf growled and snapped at Scott.
Scott just looked incredibly pleased about almost losing a hand because that meant the AI and interface were fully linked and communicating as they should be.
Stiles, on the other hand, was handling the process like a new parent taking their infant in for their first shots. They knew the mechanics of the wolf worked, that part had been thoroughly tested and checked already, so he didn’t have anything to keep him busy. He just hovered around nervously, eyes constantly moving between his tablet, his wolf, and Derek like he was just waiting for it all to go horribly wrong. He was making everyone else nervous, but when Scott finally just took away his tablet, he resorted to fidgeting and pacing around, which was even worse.
“Stiles, how about you go see the director and get those release forms?” Scott suggested in a tone that wasn’t a suggestion at all. Stiles stared at him, there was a brief eyebrow conversation, then Stiles flushed a little and practically ran out of the lab.
“He’s nervous.” Scott explained unnecessarily.
“I hadn’t noticed.” Derek deadpanned from back on his stool, waiting for Scott to finish up with whatever he was doing at his computer with a small handheld scanner that he’d been waving over Derek’s head occasionally for the last hour.
“Wolf Derek is his baby, he’s sending him off to college.” He finally set down the damn scanner. “He’ll calm down in a couple days.”
Derek wasn’t so sure about that.
“We’re not calling the wolf Derek.”
Scott laughed. “I’m not getting involved there.”
Stiles returned shortly after, jogging through the automatic doors with another tablet. He waved it around a little like that made it enticing in any way.
“A few more forms and you’re all set.” He announced, and held it out. “Thumbprint here,” Derek complied, Stiles swiped to the next page, “and here,” again, “here,” again, “initial and thumbprint here,”
“Just one more and a retinal scan! Then you two can head home.”
Derek’s head snapped up, and Wolf Derek mimicked him where he was lying on the floor at his feet.
“What? I can’t take him home with me! I’ll probably accidentally make him rip apart my TV watching football!”
“You have to, you have to stay connected while you both adjust. He’s still reconfiguring his system around you and you have to get used to essentially having an extension of your body. It’ll be easier without an audience, you can experiment.” The wolf growled Derek’s unease with that idea. “Relax, you live in a repurposed bunker, and Danny and I are just a phone call away.”
“He ran through six cement walls and broke out of GD! Nothing in my house will be able to stop him!” The wolf was advancing on Stiles now, backing him into a console.
“Um, you will, Derek, that’s kind of the point of Wolf Derek being created, and you should be doing that right now so I don’t lose a fucking leg!” His voice skyrocketed as the wolf closed its massive jaw around his thigh. He stilled, not biting down but just holding him there. Derek was starting to see the upsides of having a wolf plugged into his mind.
“You’re spending the night on my couch.” He stated with no room to refuse. “If I get torn apart by your creation, I’m taking you with me.” The wolf released his hold and took a step back, but stayed right up in Stiles’ space in case he tried to run.
“Oh my god.” Stiles breathed, sagging back against the console in relief. Something beeped in warning.
“Dude, don’t touch that!” Scott called from his computer.
* * *
Wolf woke him at six in the morning, sharp. Derek tried to make him leave and let him sleep longer, but apparently the strong mental control and focus Stiles had praised wasn’t available that early, because the wolf just laid down on top of him instead. Whatever he was made out of, it was lighter than he expected from a robot, but it was still essentially a large chunk of metal on Derek’s chest, which turned out to be a pretty effective motivator to get up.
He stumbled into the darkened living room and paused, waiting for the lights to come up as they usually did, but they stayed almost completely off. Wolf trotted forward with his tail wagging happily, the darkness no problem, and Derek remembered belatedly that Stiles was still sleeping on the couch. So he fumbled along the wall into the kitchen, and the lights came on in there, though dimmer than usual.
As per his set preferences, his black cup of coffee was just finished pouring into its mug, and when he grabbed it the next clean mug was lowered into place by a delicate robotic arm. Sometimes the smart house unnerved him and made him want to move out to a cabin in dense forest with no electricity or outside contact, but then it had his coffee ready and waiting for him in the morning and Derek wanted to shake the little arm’s hand for a job well done. It whirred quietly as it moved back into resting position, a sound he’d never been able to hear before.
It was Wolf’s ears picking up on it, he realized after a beat of staring groggily, and once he focused on it, more new senses came to the forefront.
Wolf’s sensory feedback from the living room wandered through Derek’s mind as he moved around the kitchen; the scent of Stiles and his morning breath, the heavy breathing of sleep. It was weird and a little disorienting, having those impressions from across the room overlaid on his immediate surroundings. He gave a mental tug and Wolf padded back over to him, and the feedback faded as he got closer and their environment became one. Everything around him seemed louder and brighter now, even when he wasn’t focused on it. That was going to take a lot of getting used to.
Stiles slept straight through Derek banging around making breakfast and didn’t stumble back to consciousness until it was nearing eight and his phone pinged loudly for the third time. The lights in the living room brightened gradually as he started to move clumsily, slapping around the coffee table for the device and muttering something under his breath, and his bare foot kicked out from under the twisted up blanket hanging half off the couch.
Derek glanced up from the local paper on his tablet (he’d had to get used to it, all of Beacon Hills has gone paperless years ago), watching Stiles drag the phone back over to him and groan at whatever it said before throwing his limbs around in the process of getting up. It was unbelievable that someone with so little control over their own body could create something so detailed and refined as Wolf.
He pretended not to be paying attention as Stiles shuffled over without his glasses, tripped on the transition between carpet and tile, and dropped onto the stool across from Derek before collapsing on the counter in a heap.
“If you ever expect me to spend the night here again, you’re getting a new couch.” He declared from his arms.
Derek held back an instinctive crack about him definitely not sleeping on the couch if there should be a next time, and took a long second to have a stern chat with his mind for even going there. Wolf didn’t have the same problem at all and immediately trotted over to rest his muzzle on Stiles’ thigh.
Derek tried to ignore that Wolf was essentially an extension of his mind, and that it meant that he wanted to do the same on some level. That was a problem for another day, a day when Stiles wasn’t in his kitchen looking soft and sleep rumpled and appealing in a way he never had before while being a little shit in his lab.
The coffee machine behind him started up again, quietly grinding fresh beans, and Derek turned around in confusion to see the light blue display greeting Dr. Stilinski with a fresh americano.
The house seriously creeped him out sometimes. It was bad enough that his car greeted him by name in its annoyingly soothing voice every time he got inside, as well as any passengers he had.
Still, coffee was coffee, so he moved the full mug over to Stiles and nudged his elbow to make him look up. He had dark circles under his eyes and they weren’t quite open all the way, even getting as much sleep as he had, but his face still lit up at the sight of caffeine.
“Oh my god, you’re amazing.” He moaned, grabbing the mug and pulling it into his looped arms like an octopus dragging food into its cave. Derek wasn’t sure if he was talking to him or the coffee.
“Danny’s smart house is, at least.” Derek corrected, glancing back at the coffee maker warily, half expecting it to produce something else he didn’t expect. How did it even know how Stiles liked his coffee?
Stiles cracked an eye open and looked up at him from around the mug.
“I’m still asleep and there’s coffee in my hands. You made it happen. You’re amazing.”
“Like I said, I’m still asleep.” He took a long pull of his coffee and let his head drop down onto the counter again. “I don’t know why I’m so tired, I didn’t even do anything.”
“You had a stressful day yesterday, it’s understandable.” It didn’t take a PhD to recognize that Stiles had been on an emotional roller coaster through everything that happened. He really needed to learn to put some distance between him and his projects.
“It’s not like I’m the one who mind melded with a robot.” He grumbled into the countertop, then raised his head after a pause, looking uncomfortable. “Look, I know it was shitty the way I pretty much forced you to link with Derek,” he grinned at Derek’s reflex scowl in reaction to the name, “and I want to apologize and say thanks for keeping him from getting wiped or scrapped as a failure. That probably would've gotten me redacted after all the shit I've caused over the years. You saved my ass, and it means a lot.”
Derek just nodded. He wasn’t going to say it was nothing, this was a major life adjustment for however long this ended up lasting, and he was still a little miffed at being strong armed into the link, but he couldn’t say he regretted it. It would take some getting used to, that was certain, but it wasn't bad. It was oddly comforting having another presence curled up around his mind; it felt like always having backup.
“Why did you pick me, anyway?” He’d been wondering that for a while now, mulling it over as he fell asleep the night before, and still couldn’t come up with a reason. “And don’t just say it was because I was there, you could’ve called in anyone from GD who would’ve been more qualified.”
“Yeah, I could’ve.” Stiles agreed lightly, “but I knew you’d take care of him and give him the attention he needs beyond just being an experiment. Anyone else in GD would just see him as a robot, and he is a robot, but for all intents and purposes, he’s a wolf and needs to be treated like one. He needs social interaction and patience while he adapts and learns.”
Derek snorted. “I think we both know I’m anything but patient.”
“The fact that you haven’t had me redacted or shot by now says otherwise. I know I’m not easy to deal with but,” he shrugged one shoulder, focusing on his thumb running up and down the handle on his mug, “you’ve put up with me this far. So thanks.”
“I’ve saved you from your own projects too many times to let you get away with something as simple as redaction. I’m invested, I can’t help it.”
Stiles smirked. “Let’s hope you still feel that way when you save me from my next project.”
A brick of dread settled in Derek’s stomach, and he narrowed his eyes. Wolf made a growl-like noise in the back of his throat, nudging at Stiles’ thigh.
“What is your next project? Yesterday Danny said you’re moving up two levels of security for it.”
“Oh,” Stiles drew it out knowingly, a worrying gleam in his eye. “Section Five. Sorry, Derek, that’s above even your pay grade.”
Derek just shrugged, playing unconcerned even though Wolf whined with his worry. “Just until you blow something up and I have to come fix it.”
“Do you have that little faith in me?” Stiles slapped a hand over his heart. His other hand moved to Wolf’s head, and Derek could feel the touch of feedback in his own hair. “I’m hurt, Derek, I thought we had something special.”
“I can recognize basic patterns and draw conclusions.” Derek corrected, ignoring Stiles’ dramatics. “I’ve had to step in on every one of your projects at some point since I’ve been here. You’ll be seeing me again before long.”
Stiles flashed him a devastating and flirty grin before it disappeared behind his mug.
“Not too long, I hope.”