"Dude, where have you been? You've gotta see what Erica's team brought back through the gate."
Stiles looked up from his desk and squinted at Scott bouncing from one foot to the other like an excited puppy in his doorway. Stiles took the interruption as an excuse to check his watch which, damn, he'd been at this for eight hours? He hadn't realized it had been so long. His stomach let out a loud protest right at that moment, as if breaking out of his research trance meant that all the rest of his bodily functions started rebooting and making themselves known.
Food. Stiles needed food. Stiles needed food now.
Stiles got up, stretched until his back popped before patting his stomach and skirting around Scott and out the door.
"Hey, did you hear me? You-" Scott started to protest, at his heels and Stiles waved a dismissive hand over his shoulder.
"Erica's team brought something amazing back through the gate. Yada, rinse, repeat," Stiles said, not really impressed. Erica's team was always bringing something fantastic through the gate because Erica scoured the mission proposals before anyone else had a chance to see them and picked the most interesting ones, leaving the milk runs and boring diplomacy stuff to the rest of the teams. Stiles respected his own CO, Bexley who was full of competence and forthrightness, but the guy couldn't stand up to Erica to save his life and Stiles thought it was only partly because Erica outranked him. They'd been meant to go to P3M-736 that day but Erica's team had swept into the gate room when they were already suited up and had taken over.
Bexley didn't exactly blame Stiles when they got bumped on the mission roster, but he knew that the rest of the team were thinking it when they looked at him, that if they had an engineer like Erica had on her team instead of a botanist then they wouldn't keep losing the interesting missions.
This was mostly why Stiles had gone back to his lab to work while the rest of the team had headed to the mainland for some R&R.
"No, but-" Scott tried again.
"Seriously, I'm sure I'll know about it if there's any kind of moss on whatever they brought back but until then, I don't care," Stiles said, using air quotes around the word moss because that's what Erica called absolutely everything he'd ever brought back. She'd even called the large sentient trees of P4J-622 moss and they'd been able to be offended by it.
He only forgave her because she didn't rat him out about sneaking a clipping back to Atlantis that had basically become an adorable talking Bonsai-version of those trees that he'd named Willis.
"Seriously." There was a bit of a whine in Scott's voice now, like it was physically paining him not to be able to impart this bit of news. Stiles thought it was mostly because Scott didn't know what it was like to have his whole team mad at him. Scott's team leader was Allison and Allison was one of the few people who could and did stand up to Erica when she tried to snake a mission from under her. Allison was on a level playing field with Erica bad-assery wise and Stiles was man enough to admit he was jealous.
He'd filled in on Allison's team once and it had been like coming off the bench for the big game for how cool it was. He'd had a taste and didn't want to give it up but Doctor Lahey had only had a mild sprain and had been ready and raring to go the next time they headed out.
Stupid Lahey. He was new, just came in with the last Daedalus supply drop-off and he'd replaced Doctor Jannings on Allison's team when Scott had sworn Stiles was up for the slot.
"You can tell me over lunch," Stiles offered, although he wasn't really certain if he could call a meal lunch when he could see the Pegasus sky had slipped from a happy blue to an inky black while he'd been absorbed.
"I've got a briefing in the South tower in five minutes," Scott said, still dogging Stiles' footsteps, but now angling his body like he was ready to run for it at any second. He'd have to run because the South tower was a good ten minutes from where they were with no convenient transporter bays in between. There was a collapsed section of the city in the middle that meant you had to go around the long way and apparently Ancient transporters didn't work if there was structural damage in the way.
It kind of made Stiles mildly curious as to how the transporters worked if structural damage could stop them zapping you places but not nearly enough to listen to Greenburg's six hour power-point presentation that might actually have told him.
"Find me after. I'm sure the fuss will have died down by then and we can go see whatever shiny new thing it is without so much of a crowd," Stiles offered and Scott gave him another desperately longing look before he huffed in surrender and scampered away, throwing an, "I hate you!" over his shoulder as he went.
"Liar!" Stiles called back jovially and then he was rounding the corner of the commissary and it was blessedly quiet.
Stiles had only managed to take a single bite of his sandwich when a shadow fell across him. Stiles looked up and then blinked, because standing in front of him was a man he'd never seen before. It wasn't as unusual as one would believe living in a place with a controlled population. Last time Stiles saw a breakdown, there was about a thousand people inside the city made up of scientists, military and civilian support staff along with the few Athosians that had elected to stay instead of migrating to the mainland.
The guy didn't look like any Athosian male Stiles had seen before. They tended, unlike their women who were built compact and strong, to run lean and wispy, whereas this guy was big and powerful-looking. Stiles figured he could be military, but the haircut he was sporting didn't fit, not to mention the leather-like vest and patched suede pants he had on.
Stiles decided the guy must be from the Anthro department, they were always dressing up zany. Considering the head of the department, Finstock, only two days ago had been wearing a six-foot headdress made of bones and feathers while calmly eating a bowl of Cheerios, this guy's ensemble wasn't even the weirdest thing Stiles had seen in the commissary that week.
"Hi?" Stiles said when the guy continued to just loom over him, silently. "Uh, what can I do-?"
Stiles wasn't even finished speaking when the guy suddenly snapped out a hand, almost quicker than Stiles could follow, and snatched his pudding off his tray. Stiles watched, gaping like a startled fish, as the guy kicked the chair out opposite him, slouched down into it and then peeled off the pudding lid and dug two fingers into it. He brought them out coated in chocolate and stuck them in his mouth, all the while staring straight into Stiles' eyes.
Stiles hadn't noticed the way the entire commissary had gone silent when the guy had approached his table, or the two military escorts that had been flanking him, looking at each other like maybe they should be intervening but weren't sure how. All he saw was someone stealing the last dessert from him and Stiles didn't think about it, he just reached across the table and snatched it back with a, "What the hell, dude?"
The guy looked from his empty hand to Stiles and back again about five times, his impressive eyebrows inching further up his forehead each time his eyes snapped back and forth, like he couldn't believe what had just happened. Stiles couldn't either. He'd figured he'd left bullying behind with high school and while he heard that it did happen in Atlantis once in a while because there was always going to be friction between the scientists and the military when they disagreed, he hadn't thought he would be the victim of such a petty example.
He'd been bullied in high school because until he hit a late growth spurt when he was sixteen, he would've been charitably called scrawny. The instinct to defend himself and others was deeply ingrained by then and Stiles had spent a lot of time in high school in fights, not necessarily his own.
Stiles smacked the pudding cup back down on his own tray. He couldn't very well eat it now because the guy had had his dirty digits all inside it and god knew where they'd been, but he wasn't going to give it back either now he'd gone to the trouble of retrieving it. He would make the guy watch as he threw it out-
"Uh, Doctor Stilinski?" Stiles grudgingly broke the angry glare-off he was having with the guy to look up and sideways and see that one of the younger marines, Dunbar, was at his elbow.
"Can you give Derek back his pudding?" Dunbar asked slowly.
"His pudding? His pudding?" Stiles spluttered, enraged, but then Erica was also there and lifting him by the back of his jacket out of his chair. Stiles felt a mean little sense of satisfaction that he'd been able to grab the pudding cup when he'd been lifted and pitch it into the nearest trash can.
Stiles craned back over his shoulder in triumph as Erica marched him away from the table to see Derek reach casually across the table and pick up Stiles' sandwich, the half he'd started and not even the half that was untouched. He had challenge in his eyes as he very deliberately stuffed the entire thing in his mouth.
Stiles hoped he choked on his own self-satisfaction.
Erica and their expedition leader, Lydia Martin, had just gotten done explaining who Derek was, that he'd been found on P3M-736, or more accurately he had found them and had promptly taken Jackson hostage. Jackson was a complete dillbag but no one deserved that kind of trauma, because apparently Derek had asked Jackson to cut off his arm to get rid of a subcutaneous tracking device the Wraith had embedded in him.
He still had his arm because they'd been able to talk him down and also get Doctor Yukimura through the gate to perform a little jungle surgery. She'd gotten Derek to trust her enough to administer a light sedative and he'd ended up passing out when she was done digging through the meat of his bicep looking for the tracker.
Stiles felt a little light-headed himself just listening to the story so he didn't blame the guy.
Stiles now stared at the veritable sword sitting on Lydia's desk that was, according to Erica, made from a Wraith mandible and humerus wrapped in Wraith hair. He continued to stare at it as he listened to Erica talk about how her team had had to wrangle Derek back through the gate at the insistence of Kira to watch for infection. Apparently he hadn't been exactly thrilled with his change in circumstance when he'd woken up.
He was a lean, mean, Wraith killing machine, half-starved and mostly feral and Stiles had basically smacked his nose for stealing a dessert.
"I thought McCall would have already told you about our guest," Lydia said wryly, sitting back and waiting for Stiles' reaction, obviously surprised that he hadn't been aware of every detail already.
"I thought Erica'd brought back some shiny new piece of tech to lord over us all," Stiles said in a small voice. "Not a wants-to-kill-me-now person."
"Bexley keeps saying you're a magnet for trouble offworld. Apparently the same is true here," Erica said with a raised eyebrow and Stiles huffed and slumped down in his chair.
"How did you not know he was on P3M-736 anyway?" Lydia asked, her attention switching to Erica. "Surely on the life-signs detector-"
Erica opened her mouth to answer but Stiles interrupted with, "Probably because the indigenous plant life retains enough residual radioactivity absorbed during the daylight to screw up those sensors."
"What?" Lydia said, blinking at him.
"It's the reason my team was supposed to go to that planet. The plant life is persisting despite what should be extremely destructive ionizing radiation. I know you people think it's boring and my work is useless, that just because some Ancient doohickey was also spotted on the M.A.L.P feeds you get to..." Stiles sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. This was an argument he'd had over and over again and he was pretty tired of it. "Oh forget it."
"Is there a way our guest could have known that sensors wouldn't work on the planet? Was that why he was there?" Lydia asked.
"I don't see how. Apart from the giant knife and the energy weapon we found on him, he didn't have anything that could be, what you'd call, technological enough to give him that kind of intel," Erica dismissed.
"Maybe he just noticed the lack of people and decided it was as safe a spot as any to hide for a while," Stiles said.
"Probably," Erica allowed grudgingly.
"Stiles is the first person he's approached in any way?" Lydia asked, giving Stiles a contemplative look.
"He hasn't said a word to anyone else since he got here," Erica confirmed.
"He didn't say anything to me, either, just stole my food. I'm pretty sure that was a smaller animal, bigger animal thing," Stiles said because he didn't like the way Lydia was still looking at him.
"Still-" Lydia started to say and Stiles knew he would have to head whatever idea Lydia was having at the pass or something terrible was going to happen.
"So, stay completely away from him, is what you're saying," Stiles said, getting up from his seat and offering a little salute. "Can do."
"That's not-" Lydia started to protest but Stiles dodged around Erica and was out the door of Lydia's office before she could grab him again.
"Totally the sane, normal thing to do," Stiles said, nodding in an over-exaggerated way.
"Doctor Stilinski-" Lydia tried again, now at her doorway but Stiles had made it to the end of the corridor by that time. He sped down the steps to operations and then cut left, heading for the isolated arm of the city he called his own.
He tried not to let it bother him that none of his team seemed inclined to hunt him up. They'd contact him when they had a mission, if Bexley hadn't managed to figure out a way to trade him to another team of course. Stiles was expecting that to happen any day now, or for Lydia to inform him that he'd be moving to the mainland to help the Athosians with their crops which seemed to be what everyone wished he would do.
Stiles figured it was safe enough to head back to his rooms on the third day but stumbled to a stop when he was close enough to see there was two familiar marines standing either side of his door, lying in wait for him.
"What did I miss?" Stiles asked tentatively, chewing on his thumbnail.
"Oh, hey Stiles," Dunbar said jovially. "Nothing, just-" He gave a helpless little shrug and shuffled aside enough that Stiles could palm his door open.
"Oh, c'mon," Stiles groaned when he looked inside and saw Derek sprawled across his bed, head thrown back and snoring loudly.
"Sorry. Doctor Martin's orders were to make him as comfortable as possible and let him do what he liked, within reason."
"It's within reason to let him take over my room?" Stiles asked, glaring at Dunbar who ducked his head. Stiles then tried narrowing his eyes at Hewitt standing on the other side who looked like he was trying not to laugh.
"We tried to give him his own room but he... liked this one," Dunbar said, shrugging a little helplessly.
"Can I at least get my stuff if I'm being evicted?" Stiles asked, waving a hand at the open doorway. Derek rolled over and Stiles let out a little grunt of enraged dismay to see that Derek was wearing his favorite shirt; I wet my plants was currently being stretched out across Derek's unreasonably broad chest in a way it was never designed to.
"Maybe, uh, later?" Dunbar said, looking genuinely apologetic.
"Just radio me when sleeping beauty arises," Stiles snapped and stalked off back towards his lab. He desperately needed a change of clothes and a shower though, so he changed direction and headed towards the arm of the city that housed most of the marines. Stiles had started out in a room just down from Scott but living that close to the marines had been too loud. Stiles had found a small room in between two storage bays that had it's own bathroom and a balcony that he'd promptly moved into, after bribing Erica with his portable DVD player to sign off on it as safe and allocate it to him.
He'd been expecting to be ousted some day because it really was ridiculously perfect and there weren't many rooms with a balcony and a bathroom, but not like this.
Scott wasn't in his room when Stiles got there, but Scott had given him access months ago so Stiles palmed open the door and then pretty much face-planted on top of Scott's bed, deciding the shower and the change of clothes could wait for him to get a couple more hours sleep.
He heard the door open a while after he'd collapsed in an undignified heap but dismissed it when he felt the bed dip behind him. He and Scott had shared more times than he could count and apparently he was so uninteresting to everyone that no one even bothered to speculate as to whether they were actually sleeping together in the more adult way. That, plus everyone knew Scott had an epic crush on Allison that was made awkward and dramatic because she was his commanding officer.
"Sorry for crashing. Stupid alien guy stole my room," Stiles grumbled into the pillow, not even bothering to turn over.
He got nothing but an acknowledging grunt in return and figured Scott must have been exhausted too.
He grinned and picked it up, debated internally for a second about the merits of having chocolate pudding for breakfast and then shrugged and peeled back the lid. Scott hadn't left him a spoon but it only took a few moments of digging around to unearth one that didn't look used (he hoped) and Stiles ate happily as he pushed his feet into his boots and hunted about for his jacket.
He was in a much better mood than the night before when he hit the hallway and probably should have known not to answer when his radio clicked and Lydia said, "Stilinski?"
"Present," Stiles answered, wondering if maybe his team had been moved up again in the mission roster or he was missing a meeting he'd forgotten about.
"I have a delicate favor to ask," Lydia said and Stiles felt his good mood quickly evaporate because he just knew where this was going.
"What," he said flatly.
"I was hoping you would talk to our new guest about staying with us."
"Why me?" Stiles whined, smacking a hand to his face.
"You're the only person he's approached on his own."
"Technically, he approached my dessert," Stiles griped.
"He hasn't talked to anyone but I get the very strong impression that his patience is wearing thin with both his escort and our insistence that he stays here. Major Reyes thinks it's only a matter of time before he attempts to leave on his own and we don't want to either hurt him, or risk our people being hurt. The secrecy of our location is one of our biggest advantages and we can't risk someone we still don't know well enough to trust leaving like this."
"Why do you think me talking to him would make any difference?" Stiles asked.
"Frankly, I've run out of ideas and it's either have you talk to him, or put him back in the brig."
"That's really the only two options you have left?" Stiles asked incredulously.
"He's currently in the commissary-" Lydia ignored Stiles' heartfelt groan to continue with, "Be, y'know, nice?"
"Fine," Stiles huffed and clicked off, backtracking so he could use the transporter closer to Scott's room that let out just down the hall from the commissary.
The commissary was a lot more crowded that morning with most people getting breakfast before they started their days and a few bleary-eyed individuals who looked to be devouring dinner before they crashed after a night shift. Derek was sitting at a table on his own in the very center of the commissary with his usual escorts in attendance, eating what looked like a mountain of mashed potato with his hands and little regard for any kind of table manners.
Stiles swallowed, girded himself and then approached, pulling out the chair opposite much like Derek had the first time and sat carefully, wary of making any sudden, threatening movements. Derek watched him, pretty eyes tracking his slow descent until his butt touched chair before his attention switched back to his food.
"Not a cereal and toast man, huh?" Stiles asked, risking a glance at Dunbar who was giving Stiles a strange look. He supposed it wasn't the greatest conversational gambit and Derek pointedly ignored him to prove it.
"I think potatoes may be the most perfect food. You can have them so many ways," Stiles tried again. Derek had mashed potatoes between his fingers and a smear of it across one cheekbone and it should have been disgusting but apparently Stiles had some kind of previously unknown caveman kink or something because he didn't find it disgusting at all. "How are they?"
"Enjoy my room last night?" Stiles can't help but ask, narrowing his eyes. Hewitt made a weird, choked chuffing noise behind him and Stiles threw him a glare over his shoulder. Apparently Hewitt thought it was funny that Stiles had been ousted and he made a mental note to gift Hewitt with the plant that looked like a harmless Lily but gave off an itchy pollen when there was a loud noise they'd found on P4M-080.
"S'fine," Derek said. He gave Stiles a level look as he scraped extra mash from his fingers back onto his plate.
"Ugh, just," Stiles leaned back in his chair to snag a spoon off the table behind him and then held it out. "Use this would you?"
Derek eyed the spoon for a moment like he wasn't even sure what it was, but then reached out and took it. Stiles wasn't sure if him ending up with mashed potato all over the back of his hand was deliberate, but he figured the way their relationship was going so far it totally was. Derek held the spoon in his fist like a kid and recommenced shoveling potato into his face until he was finished with the impressive pile he'd been working on.
"So-" Stiles started again but paused when Derek got up and stalked over to the buffet line, cutting in between a group of scientists who very prudently didn't complain about it to snag one of the small, hard fruits the Athosians had been growing on the mainland that tasted like an apple.
Derek returned to the table and pulled out a large bowie knife from somewhere to start cutting the not-apple into neat slices. Apparently spoons were beyond him but knives weren't a problem.
"You let him just walk around with that?" Stiles asked Dunbar, surprised. Dunbar shook his head quickly and Stiles swiveled in time to see Hewitt check the knife holster on his hip and then pale when he found it empty. "Ha!" Stiles let out, before clapping a hand over his mouth.
"I didn't... he wasn't..." Hewitt spluttered, looking more and more panicked. Stiles took pity on him, turning back around to Derek and holding out a hand.
"Give it," he said, waggling his fingers. Derek just raised an eyebrow at him and Stiles thought he was going to be ignored, but then Derek did a weird hybrid of an unbothered shrug and handed the knife over without further protest. Stiles held it out behind him and Hewitt darted forward and grabbed it, looking relieved.
Derek shoved the rest of the not-apple, core and all, into his mouth and chewed slowly, twirling his spoon in his fingers. Stiles couldn't shake the feeling that it was supposed to illustrate that Derek could kill someone just as easy with it as the knife.
"So, how do you like Atlantis?" Stiles asked, figuring he should probably get to the point.
"S'fine," Derek said for the third frustrating time and Stiles sat back, throwing his hands up.
"Okay, I'm supposed to convince you to stay here, but if the only word you know is s'fine which, to be fair, might be the way you say screw you in your language-"
"S'not," Derek interrupted to say and then surprised Stiles by giving him a pleased grin, like he was chuffed he'd managed to land such a zinger. Stiles looked back at Dunbar and Hewitt who looked equally amazed and when Stiles returned his gaze to Derek, his expression was neutral again, like the smile had never happened.
Stiles wasn't a hundred percent sure he hadn't just imagined it.
"Okay, good?" Stiles said tentatively. When Derek didn't offer anything further, he took a deep breath and launched into his spiel. "Apparently we could use a guy like you around here and you need a place to stay. Win-win for everyone."
As far as pitches went, it was probably terrible but Stiles hadn't really had time to prepare. He could just sense the eyeroll he would be getting from Lydia later when he told her about his disastrous meeting and how Derek had laughed in his face and then backflipped out of the commissary and kept going until he was through the gate. Stiles was so involved in this particular little fantasy that he almost missed it when Derek said, "Okay."
"Okay?" Stiles spluttered, disbelieving. "Just, okay?"
"They burned my city to the ground. It's not like I have anywhere else to go and it... would be kind of nice to stay in one place for a while," Derek said. From the halting way he spoke, Stiles suspected it was probably the most words he'd said in one go in years.
"You know, it always amazes me how everyone speaks English in the Pegasus galaxy," Stiles mused, still trying to unpack the very idea of what might have happened to Derek, what he'd been through.
"Maybe you all speak Atterian," Derek said with another unbothered shrug.
"That's where you're from?" Stiles asked.
"Atteria," Derek confirmed with a nod, his tone now a little wistful.
"Don't bite my face off for asking," Stiles said and when Derek just blinked mildly at him he continued, "But why wouldn't the Wraith have just...?" Stiles held up a hand and made a mouth with it, fingers curled in like jaws. Stiles still couldn't really believe some days that he was living in a different galaxy where the biggest concern was space vampires that sucked out your life-force with their gross hand-mouths.
His life was a trashy science fiction story.
"They couldn't feed on us," Derek said, his eyes back on his empty plate. "They used us for training instead."
Stiles didn't know what to say to that. He didn't want to offer any kind of gross platitude and there was no way he could understand. They'd been living under the threat of the Wraith since they'd gated through to the Pegasus Galaxy, but that was vastly different from what Derek had gone through. Hell, Stiles personally had only ever seen an actual Wraith the once and not what you would call up close.
He still wanted to be moved to Allison's team, but he knew that would change when or if he did.
Derek snagged a water jug off the table and proceeded to drink straight from it before Stiles could slide a cup over to him. Stiles swallowed reflexively. His caveman kink might have been getting a little out of control.
Lydia looked at Doctor Deaton then and he cleared his throat and nodded. "We know the Wraith evolved from the Ancients seeding a planet with humans that already had a native predator, the Iratus bug. We think the same might be true of the Atterians. However, instead of a predatory bug, they have a creature not unlike Earth's wolf as an ancestor. We think this may be why the Wraith cannot feed off them, that there is something in this ancestral line. I'm hoping our guest will allow some tests so I might isolate this inhibitor. The Wraith can't draw energy from the Atterians as they normally do with us."
Stiles had been doodling on the pad of paper in front of him while Deaton was speaking but glanced up when the room fell silent. Everyone was looking at him and Stiles frowned back, before it clicked what their expectant faces meant.
"Oh, no way," Stiles said with vehemence, flailing his hands and pushing back from the table. He'd been tricked into thinking he was starting to be respected by being invited senior staff, like he was important enough to be kept in the loop, but that wasn't the case at all.
"Stiles-" Deaton started but now Stiles was on his feet.
"No! There is a huge difference between asking someone to stay in a place when they don't have anywhere else to go, and getting them to agree to be, what, dissected?"
"No one's getting dissected, Stiles," Erica said, rolling her eyes.
"Okay, so, poked and prodded and zapped and... whatever else Deaton here thinks he needs then," Stiles said, crossing his arms over his chest and lifting his chin. "Ask him yourself."
"He's still fairly uncommunicative with anyone but you," Lydia said, her expression clearly broadcasting that she didn't understand it either.
"Just some blood, a little hair," Deaton said. "Maybe a stool sample." Deaton's expression went worryingly dreamy at the prospect.
"You want me to ask for his poop?" Stiles spluttered.
"What adult still says poop?" Erica snorted.
"I do. I can call it whatever the hell I want when you want me to ask a guy I barely know for his," Stiles snapped.
"Stiles, this is important," Lydia said, using her not messing around voice that usually had Stiles' blood run cold. He must have been too angry for it to affect him though but he also knew it wasn't an unreasonable request. If Derek giving a few samples was something that could help in the fight against the Wraith then it was important, but Stiles couldn't help the irrational protective outrage he felt on behalf of the guy.
"What do you think the Wraith would've been doing with him while they had him? I can't imagine they'd been giving him soup and backrubs. I'm sure they took some blood, a little hair, whatever the hell else they damn well pleased."
Stiles wanted to be gratified by the way nearly every person sitting around the table paled at that, but instead he just felt tired. In only a few short days it felt like he'd lost his grip and the few shreds of dignity he'd been clinging to.
"Maybe we can give it a few days, let Derek settle in," Erica suggested, surprising Stiles.
"I don't see the harm in that," Deaton allowed.
Stiles sighed heavily. "I do."
If even one more person died in the interim when Stiles was sitting on his hands and the scraps of his pride then yeah, Stiles saw the harm.
"You were the one that didn't want to ask him," Lydia countered, but her tone was gentle instead of being the reprimand Stiles expected.
"I just needed to... vent a little," Stiles said, flipping his pen in his fingers agitatedly.
"You'll ask him?" Deaton prompted, obviously trying to reign in his enthusiasm.
"I'll ask him, but only if we'll take no for an answer, if that's what he says."
"Of course," Lydia agreed without hesitation.
"I don't want to find out he was tasered in a hallway if the conversation doesn't go the way you want it to."
"Stiles, we wouldn't do that."
"Or!" Stiles said, holding up a hand. "Someone else tells him he needs to do it to stay here."
"You ask him, he says no, that'll be the end of it," Lydia reassured, heading off any further stipulations and scenarios Stiles might have thought of.
"Fine," Stiles grunted in assent.
Derek popped to his feet immediately, cracking his neck and swinging his arms. Scott pushed himself to sitting position a little more slowly, blinking and rubbing at his neck but also grinning which didn't really make any sense until he said, "Okay, yeah. You totally have to show me how to do that."
"What's going on?" Stiles asked warily.
"Apparently the Atterians are known for their hand to hand combat. I wanted Derek to show me some take-downs," Scott said.
"Wraith are bigger and stronger than you. The only way to beat them is to use that against them," Derek said. To Stiles' horror, yes horror was totally the right word, Derek stripped off his shirt and wiped over his face with it, leaving him only in his leather pants. Derek was making it difficult not to stare by spreading his arms and stretching, a half-smirk on his face like he knew what he was doing to Stiles.
"You wanna try?" Scott said, angling his head at Stiles.
"No, nononono," Stiles said with an indelicate snort and a wave of his arms.
"Scott said you want to move teams. You should learn to defend yourself if your missions are going to be more dangerous," Derek said and Stiles frowned at him.
"I know how to-" Stiles started to say, but the sentence was cut-off as Derek lunged at him. Stiles was on the floor before he knew what was happening, one of Derek's large hands pressing down against his collarbone and the other snugged in against his hip, pinning him in place. "Okay, ow," Stiles grunted.
"Classic," a voice said from the doorway and Stiles looked up to see Lieutenant Daehler from his team with his arms crossed grinning down at them.
"Matt-" Scott started to say but Daehler snorted as Derek moved off Stiles and he pushed to his feet slowly, embarrassed.
"Look, buddy, it's not going to be much of a fight. Stilinski here is basically a glorified florist," Daehler said, socking Stiles in the arm when he was fully upright. The arm punch sent Stiles stumbling sideways into Scott.
From one second to the next, Daehler who had been standing and sneering at them was also on the floor, but chest-down and with Derek snarling into the back of his neck so loudly it made gooseflesh break out on Stiles' skin. A lot happened after that, shouting from Hewitt and Dunbar who'd been just outside and obviously hadn't been expecting trouble, Scott trying to stop them from shooting Derek and Daehler bleating about his nose being broken. Derek was ignoring them all, pressing a knee harder into the middle of Daehler's back, lips pulled away from his teeth and eyes blazing a dark red.
Stiles pushed himself to his feet, stepped around Scott who had put himself in between Derek's nervous escorts with their guns out and Derek, and put a hand to Derek's shoulder. It was hot to the touch, hotter than Stiles was expecting and he tugged, not knowing what he was expecting exactly, but glad when Derek immediately backed off, shuffling still curled over and bristling until he was pressed against Stiles but no longer touching Daehler.
Daehler flipped over, eyes wide and cradling his nose. He was abrasive and a bit of a bully but his was also gushing blood and while Stiles had never really liked the guy and was sure that the feeling was well and truly mutual, he also wasn't keen to see him suffer.
"Take the Lieutenant to the med bay," Stiles said, hand still resting lightly on Derek's shoulder. He knew that if Derek wanted to do anything, his restraining hand would be about as useful as if he were trying to hold back a hurricane, but he felt better for the touch and the way Derek was relaxing by increments, it seemed Derek didn't mind it either.
Dunbar was the first to tuck his gun away and dart forward, getting a hand under Daehler's arm and hoisting him up. Daehler only had time to throw them a truly poisonous look before he was hustled out and they were left with Hewitt looking faintly embarrassed that he'd pulled his weapon, Scott looking confused and Derek...
Stiles wasn't sure what was going through Derek's head right at that moment because his face had returned to that same old calm neutrality Stiles had started getting used to as his default expression, although he hadn't shrugged off Stiles' hand yet.
"I'll need to... uh," Hewitt said, gesturing vaguely. Stiles wasn't sure what he was getting at but Scott seemed to, pulling a face.
"I don't think we need to do that," he said. "Matt was being a dick."
"He attacked someone," Hewitt said, chin jerking in Derek's direction. "I don't have a choice."
"Wait, what's going on?" Stiles demanded and Derek tensed up again.
"I'll have to take him back to the cells, just until we sort out what happened and Colonel Reyes and Doctor Martin can be notified."
"It's fine," Derek said, straightening up. "I'm sorry, I-" He flailed his hands in a helpless gesture and then took a step away from Stiles, enough that Stiles had to finally relinquish his hold.
"You don't have to do that," Stiles implored, turning stricken eyes on Hewitt, who looked supremely uncomfortable, but also resolute. He did Derek the courtesy of giving the option to follow along willingly rather than cuffing him and Derek did, flicking an unreadable glance over his shoulder at Stiles.
"I'll explain to Doctor Martin what happened. It'll be fine," Scott reassured, getting Stiles' attention back by tugging at his sleeve. "Everyone knows Matt's a douche."
"They're going to put Derek in the Wraith cell. That's just wrong on so many levels," Stiles grumbled.
"I'll go find Doctor Martin now and get Derek sprung. You head on back to your labs and I'll radio," Scott offered, probably sensing that Stiles wanted to follow after Derek, maybe kick up a fuss and it probably wasn't the best idea.
"Fine," Stiles sighed heavily. Scott was an expert at soothing ruffled feathers, whereas Stiles tended to make everything worse and he didn't want to make things worse for Derek. The guy had been through enough.
"I swear, he'll be back lurking around the halls and stealing your stuff in no time."
"Alright, alright," Stiles sighed and waved Scott off. Before his friend disappeared though, Stiles called after him to say, "Oh hey, I forgot to thank you for letting me crash in your room the other night."
"When were you in my room?" Scott asked, looking puzzled.
"Uh," Stiles said, frowning. "The other night? You came in late and you left me a pudding cup in the morning."
"Dude, I don't know what to tell you. That wasn't me," Scott said, holding up his hands and waggling them.
"Huh," Stiles said.
"Oh, hey!" Stiles squeaked, hotly embarrassed by the spectacle he'd made of himself. People rarely, if ever, came into his lab. Even Scott had only been by once, and that was because he'd been looking for a place to hide when Erica had decided to up his PT schedule to a crazy degree.
Derek released his arms very slowly and then reached up to carefully ease the headphones off Stiles' ears. He got then why Derek had winced when he'd said hello, Stiles had probably yelled it because he couldn't hear anything himself. That's when Stiles noticed the broken window behind Derek and darted towards it, dismayed. "Dude!"
"Sorry about that," Derek said, waving a dismissive hand.
"It's not like they just have Ancient stained glass windows lying around," Stiles lamented as Derek huffed at him, impatient. "I might have to move my lab now. Erica loves declaring areas of the city hazardous."
"I didn't have a choice. I didn't have a better way in here."
"Uh, the door maybe?" Stiles said, but now he had his headphones off he could hear the faint bleeping of Atlantis' alarms going and grimaced. To be sure, he darted over to the door leading into his lab and waved a hand over the access panel.
"Or not?" he allowed, grimacing. "What's happened?" The current klaxon wasn't anything Stiles had heard before. It wasn't the high-pitched wail of the unscheduled gate activation, the low-pitched internal conflict warning or the slow blare of the self-destruct. It should probably worry Stiles more that he'd heard all three enough to be able to differentiate.
This was a more plaintive whoop whoop that almost made the city sound like it was disgruntled with whatever had happened.
"From what I could figure out, one of your teams was forced through the gate with a bunch of Raelesh," Derek explained. At Stiles' blank look, Derek said, "The Raelesh are nomadic and raid other worlds, usually right after a Wraith attack when they're vulnerable. They're scavengers mostly, cowards certainly. They must have been pretty desperate to come through to the city of the ancestors, or they didn't know what they were getting into, which I think is more likely."
"What did they do?" Stiles demanded, feeling a cold shiver of fear.
"They set off some kind of biological weapon right after they cleared the ancestral ring. The city went into some kind of lock-down."
"You... came here? Wait, how did you get out of the cell?"
"I was... motivated," Derek said, not elaborating but looking around the botany lab in apparent interest. "All the other windows had some kind of metal shutter down but yours was still open."
"If it was some kind of biological weapon and the city went into a containment lock down my lab would still be open because I have my own filtration system and air conditioning. I think this was used in a similar way by the Ancients because it was the only space in the city that isn't connected to the internal air, or it's a part of the city that's supposed to break off when they fly this thing."
"Fly?" Derek asked faintly, momentarily derailed. "The city can fly?"
"Not all of it, but most of the main areas are connected and basically a giant honking space ship. The Ancients built onto it when they settled here."
Derek visibly shook that idea off for later scrutiny and said, "Anyway, the Raelesh are in your control room with your leader and a dozen other people. Everyone else is locked in whatever part of the city they found themselves in as far as I can gather. I'm getting you out of here."
"What? No!" Stiles spluttered.
"Don't make me pick you up like a sack of tadaako," Derek warned.
"What are...? You know, never mind. I'm not leaving my people to this radish."
"Raelesh," Derek corrected patiently, then cocked his head, studying Stiles closely. It reminded Stiles of what a curious dog would do so much that despite the situation, Stiles still felt the urge to smile at Derek. "Fine, what weapons do you have then?"
Stiles just gave him an impatient flip of his hands, indicating their surroundings. "This isn't the armory."
"You don't have anything for personal protection?"
"The personal protection I have usually is the guy standing next to me with a gun," Stiles said.
"I can possibly overpower all the Raelesh in the control room, but not without giving them opportunity to hurt some of your people," Derek said, matter-of-fact.
Stiles sighed, feeling helpless. Maybe he was just a glorified florist in Atlantis and about us useful. If only he had-
"Wait, how long can you hold your breath?" he asked.
"It worked?" Stiles croaked. He knew he should probably protest being carried away like some dime-store romance novel heroine, but Derek was warm and smelled nice and the growling meant his chest that Stiles was held against was vibrating in this deep, comforting way.
"It worked," Derek huffed, sparing a glance down at him without breaking stride. Stiles figured out after a few moments that Derek was taking him to the infirmary and was impressed by Derek's spatial awareness. Stiles had been constantly getting lost for the first two months he was in the city.
"Everyone's fine. Doctor Martin was able to override the lockdown when she woke and everyone else came to quickly after that. The Raelesh were still a little out of it by the time your soldiers arrived which made everything easier."
"Good," Stiles sighed, then thought now was the time to ask to be set down because while he was awake it was a little weird to still be carried like this but then he said, "Can I touch your face? It looks really touchable," and frowned, because he had not meant to say that. He opened his mouth to apologize and instead added, "Or your chest because your collarbones have been driving me crazy."
Derek did stop then but instead of setting Stiles down, he just adjusted his grip slightly so he had a more comfortable hold and then raised an eyebrow.
"Uh," Stiles said and then put a firm hand over his mouth, scared about what else he might say.
They weren't that far from the infirmary. Stiles could hear the familiar murmur of people and machines, the squeak from the comfortable sneakers most of the nurses wore. He wished desperately to be inside already, under the scrutiny of Doctor Deaton who would tut at Stiles proposing such a risky plan, instead of still being in the cradle of Derek's arms as Derek's brows furrowed further.
"You've been affected before," Derek said, more a statement than a question.
"Before what?" Stiles asked, the words muffled under his fingers.
"The Cold Thorn pollen gets more potent with continued exposure," Derek said, a note of disapproval in his voice.
"Cold Thorn? Oh, you mean the plant with the pollen bomb? I've been calling it Colocasia Latifolia but... Cold Thorn. I like it."
The little white bush with large, bulbous pods and bright red fruit had seemed harmless enough when brought back to Stiles' lab from PJ6-873. The team that had brought the small sample bush back had been told that the fruit was delicious by the locals, was extremely hardy and more importantly for their dwindling food supplies, grew quickly. Stiles knew that something like that would have some kind of inbuilt defense mechanism so as not to be harvested to the point of extinction. The cute little plant had obvious prickles, a first line defense, but Stiles found that it also had a secondary idioblast defense, known for good reason as the landmines of the plant defense system.
Unfortunately for them, this particular plant had evolved on a planet where it needed to encourage the small, indigenous birds to help with pollination but deter herbivores the size of some larger earth whales and so the pollen pods, triggered to basically detonate if touched just the right way, had enough power to drop a dozen people for a few minutes or Stiles, alone in his lab, for three hours.
Stiles did not improve his popularity by making everyone sit through a post-entry quarantine protocol presentation after he was cleared from the infirmary with a headache and an annoyed grumbling.
Stiles had tucked, very carefully, the Colocasia Latifolia away for further study. He had been hopeful that at some point he would be able to create a new hybrid plant that had the benefit of the delicious fruit without having to wear hazmat to harvest it but had never had the time. The little plant had quietly flourished in its quarantine box with a post-it note stuck to it that said, very dangerous, do not touch, I mean it Scott!
Stiles didn't know at the time that that decision to keep it instead of incinerating it would be critical, that it was destined to be used as a kind of stun grenade by an Aterrian that could hold his breath for the crucial fifteen minutes it took for the pollen to lose its potency outside of the pod.
"Cooooooooold Thooooooooorn," Stiles crooned, liking the way the words buzzed on his lips.
It seemed that getting knocked out by the Cold Thorn pollen twice meant the second time you came to a little high.
"You should have stayed in your lab like I wanted you to," Derek grumbled, resuming his stalk towards the infirmary.
"I had to help," Stiles protested.
"You drive me crazy," Derek said, voice pitched low so Stiles probably wasn't meant to hear it.
Stiles figured Derek would unceremoniously dump him on the nearest infirmary bed when they got inside and make himself very scarce, but instead he was lowered with great care and reverence and then Derek hovered like a helicopter parent, demanding someone see Stiles immediately.
"It's alright, Derek, I'm sure he'll be fine," Deaton said, voice warm and reassuring and somehow oozy in Stiles' current state. Words had flavor and texture and Stiles would be very worried about it, if he wasn't high as a kite.
"Please fix me before I tell Derek that I want to lick him and that I have a barbarian kink," Stiles pleaded and heard Derek take in a surprised gasp of air.
Had he said that out loud?
"What's a barbarian?" Derek asked after a moment, sounding a little choked.
"Kind of uncivilized and savage," Deaton explained absently, shining a light into Stiles' eyes. "Primitive."
"From what I've seen, Atteria was actually more advanced than your Earth," Derek protested, sounding hurt.
"You didn't know how spoons worked," Stiles pointed out, very reasonably he thought. Why are you saying these things a little voice inside Stiles screamed at him but he was feeling too floaty to pay it any attention.
"When did... wait, those first few days? Stiles, I hadn't eaten a full, sit-down meal in over three months and I'm sorry if table manners was something I didn't bother with while running from the Wraith."
"My god, you're adorable. Isn't he adorable, Deaton?" Stiles asked, swinging his feet as Deaton listened to his heart and then used something Atlantean to take a reading of some sort.
Stiles leaned into Deaton and said in a very loud whisper that the nurses on the other side of the infirmary could probably hear even over all the general hubbub of the infirmary, "I seem to have a bit of a mouth to brain filter problem at the moment. I'm worried I'll tell Derek that I want to touch him, like, all over."
"Maybe you should wait outside?" Deaton asked and before Stiles could protest that Deaton couldn't really examine him if he did that, he realized that Deaton was talking to Derek who had gone a bright, almost luminescent pink from the upper curve of his cheeks almost to his jaw line.
"I want to stay."
"In that case, I think some preventative measures are in order so that I don't give Stiles my usual excellent care, only to have him expire from embarrassment when he's more himself, hmm?" Deaton said and then there was a ripping noise and Stiles found himself with surgical tape over his mouth.
"Thank you," he said, relieved, although the words were muffled and unintelligible through the tape.
Stiles turned his face back into the pillow and groaned heartily before saying, muffled, "I know you're here."
There was a quiet shuffling sound and then the bed dipped near Stiles' feet. He thought maybe he could stave off his mortification by not looking at Derek, but then he felt a gentle tap on his ankle and groaned again, unearthing his face to stare blearily at Derek who looked lovely and patient and not like he was about to laugh in Stiles' face, which was something at least.
Stiles was pretty sure he told everyone that would listen that he wanted to lick Derek like a Popsicle which, ugh.
"How are you feeling?" Derek asked gently, mindful of the headache Stiles had without having to be told.
"Like someone who is going to have to hide in his quarters for the rest of his life," Stiles said, flopping over like a landed fish. He ended up with a foot resting against Derek's thigh and when he went to move it, Derek caught his ankle and held it there.
"I'm embarrassed. All that stuff I said? Just, do me a favor and suffocate me with my pillow," Stiles said, making to roll over again but he couldn't with Derek trapping his foot unless he wanted to add a sprained ankle to his list of problems. "You know it's creepy to watch someone in their sleep, right?" he asked, humiliated enough to want to push Derek further away by being a surly douche.
"You saw me in sleep," Derek pointed out, tilting his head, unfazed.
"That's because you stole my room. I didn't mean to," Stiles sniped.
"I didn't mean to steal your room. I was so tired and it smelled of you."
"You needed to knock yourself out with my stank or something?" Stiles asked, raising an eyebrow. Derek huffed a laugh.
"No, I like the way you smell. It's comforting."
"Take my bodywash then if it'll help you sleep somewhere else."
"You, Stiles. I like the way you smell."
"Would you stop saying I smell?"
"It's good. Aterrians are very scent driven if you can't tell."
"Well, I suppose it'd be better than the overwhelming Axe body spray you'd get with the marines. I'm just praying for the day they run out of that stuff. I think maybe someone has found a way to make it or something because-"
"Stiles, from that first day I've been doing this wrong. I'm sorry," Derek said, derailing Stiles' words completely.
"Doing what wrong?"
"I saw you, I smelled you and I... Aterrians have a courting ritual and... you don't have the same kind of... " Derek made a helpless gesture with his hands.
"Courting?" Stiles said faintly, pushing up to his elbows. Derek's hand walked up to his shin, fingers drumming lightly.
"We take something from the one we intend to pursue. The intended takes something in return to show their reciprocation. It was a little unorthodox that you took back what I took from you and then you threw it away... I... there were mixed signals there."
Stiles cast a look at the pudding cup on his table again, reached across to pick it up and press it to his forehead for a moment, before holding it out. "Is this better?" he asked and watched Derek's face fall.
"You give back...?" Derek started to say and Stiles realized his mistake at once, curling the pudding back into his chest protectively before setting it aside.
"Wait, no! I have to keep this and you have to take something, right?" Stiles really wished he'd listened more to the anthropologists instead of making fun of them with Scott. He had a lot to learn about reading signals. Stiles pushed out of bed, accidentally kicking Derek in the ribs with his flailing and grimaced an apology before darting over to his desk and pawing over it.
"Stiles," Derek said from the bed, sounding fond. "I already..." Stiles turned to see Derek holding up the small, plastic cactus that would bop around if you played music that had been on his desk. It was completely ridiculous to see the toy in Derek's large, capable hands being held with such reverence. He'd gotten it at a flea market years ago and it had followed him wherever he went, always the first thing he'd pack when he moved. Derek couldn't have picked a more personal, more perfect item if he'd tried. "Unless you..."
Derek suddenly looked horribly unsure and Stiles shook his head when Derek went to set the cactus aside.
"No way, that's yours now, buddy. Not getting rid of the cactus that easily. Cacti tend to... get attached."
"Good to know," Derek said, setting the cactus on his knee carefully and tapping one of the arms so it swayed back and forth.
"What is he talking about?" Stiles heard Dunbar ask, leaning into Scott. For his part, Scott had been very obviously ignoring Stiles, too intent on scanning the horizon and also vibrating with glee. It wasn't everyday you got to go on your first offworld jaunt as the leader of your new team. Command suited Scott, more than Stiles could have believed.
What suited Stiles was his new team made up of Scott, First Lieutenant Dunbar and Derek.
It was awesome.
Not so awesome? Derek's giant Wraith mandible wrapped in Wraith hair knife that Derek hadn't let out of his sight ever since Lydia handed it back with great seriousness and a little overdone pomp and circumstance. Stiles was pretty sure it didn't like him, that it was evil, at least partially sentient and gross with a capital G.
"What I don't get is why Derek is smiling like that," Dunbar said, squinting in Derek's direction and when Stiles looked, Derek was smiling, this kind of fond, rapt, dopey thing that Stiles felt the urge to kiss forever.
"I think it's because Stiles keeps saying our," Scott mock-whispered conspiratorially.
Stiles looked at Derek, mouth hinging open when he saw Derek duck his face, smile turning embarrassed. "Oh my god, really? You mushball. You're supposed to be the badass contingent of this team."
"I thought that was me," Scott said, actually looking hurt.
"You're totally badass, just in a different way," Stiles soothed.
"What am I? Chopped Wraith bait?" Dunbar joined in.
"You're kind of... pocket-sized badass," Stiles said and Dunbar's eyes narrowed at him.
"Sir, what's the paperwork like for accidental mission shootings."
"Too horrendous to be worth it," Scott said in a tone that hinted that he'd checked.
"Hey! I'm not the team punching bag. I already did that once," Stiles complained.
"You're not the punching bag. You're the-" Scott started to say and that was when Stiles tripped over a rock, rolled down a hill and straight through a hatchway that was the entrance to an Ancient underground lab they wouldn't have seen otherwise.
"I'm awesome," Stiles grumbled, pushing to his hands and knees and shaking leaves and twigs out of his hair like a dog.
"That you are," Derek said, overly fond as he helped pick Stiles back up and brushed him off with lingering hands before pressing a smacking kiss to the side of his forehead.