“You ready for this?”
They’re laid out on their backs atop the Corvette’s cooling hood like school boys, legs too long and booted feet dangling down across the grill. Derek drags his attention from the diamond-encrusted night sky and fixes Stiles in a look both worried and deeply contemplative as he considers the question. The canned PR line about never having been more ready for anything in his life apparently doesn’t apply here.
“Yeah,” he finally says, soft but steady. His gaze wanders down to the pillow of Stiles’ lower lip and then bounces back up again, dark eyebrows drawing together. “Are you?”
“Not even remotely,” Stiles ejects on a laugh, but he must look as unconvincing as he feels, because the furrow in Derek’s brow deepens.
“It’ll be okay, you know.”
“I know, Derek- I- I know better than anyone. It’s just. Different.” Stiles looks away, up to the mantle of cobalt sky, the engine ticking to sleep beneath them. “Being the one left behind is hard, that’s all. It’ll be fine.”
Derek shifts closer, bouncing the car gently beneath them, and fits his nose into the notch behind Stiles’ closest earlobe. “I’ll be thinking about you the entire time I’m gone,” he says.
Stiles laughs, a hand instinctively at the downy nape of Derek’s neck. “I really fucking hope not, that’s some incredibly complicated machinery you’re in charge of.”
Derek’s smile whispers over the sensitive skin of Stiles’ throat. “I can multitask,” he murmurs, and presses the last syllable into the sweet, tender spot just under Stiles’ chin.
“Well, when NASA wants to know why there’s jizz in the control panel, I’m not taking the blame,” says Stiles, eyes still on the heavens.
“Of all the things the U.S. military taught me, knowing how to discreetly ejaculate may turn out to be the most useful.”
“Just make sure you turn off the com first, Major.”
The Corvette sways on its shocks again and Derek swims into view, propped on one muscled forearm. He’s so fucking apple pie American that it pisses Stiles off sometimes just to look at him. It would seem unfair for any one person to be so perfect if that perfection wasn’t completely and inexplicably enraptured by a skinny, freckled engineer he just happened to meet at a mixer two years ago. Everyone has their blind spots.
“I’ll be back,” Derek says, all earnest jadeite eyes, but Stiles can read secret anxiety in the poised slope of Derek’s shoulder, in the taut line of tendon linking collarbone and jaw. Derek looked exactly the same the first time he met Stiles’ dad, summer before last.
“You fucking better be,” Stiles replies, and leans up to crush a furious, possessive kiss against Derek’s mouth. They’ve been working toward this dream as long as they’ve known each other, and it’s stupid, completely irrational, but Stiles can’t seem to rid himself of the apprehension rattling around in his chest, the manic bird fluttering behind his ribcage that wants to plead for Derek not to go.
Derek draws back, kiss-dumb and breathless, and Stiles presses both hands against the stubbled line of his jaw. “You promise me,” Stiles demands, fierce, despite that Derek has no say in the thread of fate.
But Derek promises anyway, as solemn as a prayer, and then proceeds to baptize Stiles with kisses that travel from lips to abdomen and down into the humid warmth of Stiles’ blue jeans. He wrings Stiles dry and then spits onto the cool Florida sand.
After, they’re both draped back across the hood, Stiles all rounded at the edges but Derek gone bright and sharp. The hard arc of his dick is visible beneath the starched front of his khakis and it’s nearly an hour back to their bed, no motels between.
“Look,” Derek says with sudden and childlike urgency, and Stiles follows the quick upward jab of his finger just in time to see the last hot flash of a shooting star.
“They’re not actually stars,” Stiles muses, and reaches for the big silver buckle of Derek’s belt. “They’re meteoroids, burning up in the atmosphere. But you should already know that, Mr. Astronaut.”
Derek hums in reply and leans in to pepper kisses over Stiles’ mouth, his chin, his drowsy eyelids. “That one was my promise,” he murmurs, hips already sketching out a rhythm against Stiles’ hands. “Written across the sky. I’m coming home.”
The next morning, there’s a note on the Formica table in the kitchen, held down at one corner by a ceramic salt shaker in the shape of an orange. Sleep-flushed and boxers sagging, Stiles stares dumbly at the missive but doesn’t approach. He scuffs to the bathroom, pisses, stares at himself in the mirror. He gives the table a wide berth when he returns to the kitchen and then paces the length of the Linoleum as he waits for the coffee to brew. They’re both awful at goodbyes, they’ve talked about it before. But just looking at that piece of paper is like the stirring of a ghost limb, amputated while he slept.
Stiles preemptively clatters two Alka-Seltzer into a glass when he finally sits down at the table to read the familiar scrawl.
Deaton wanted me in for the physical at 0700. I didn’t want to wake you.
Will call tonight, probably after 2100.
See you in 2 days.
At the sight of that single unfettered initial, Stiles pitches forward in his little vinyl-covered chair and lays his forehead against the tabletop. He lets go a heavy, wavering sigh against the Formica. One word, massively absent, opens the valve on his anxiety and bleeds it out until the crush of his lungs abates. They never say the L-word, have an agreement to show-not-tell.
It’s an odd sort of balm, to be glad for something like that, but Stiles will take it.
Lahey has EECOM. This is his first time in the trench and, for reasons mostly to do with his Botticelli angel face, Stiles doesn’t trust him. As FDO, Stiles can technically claim consumables under his purview, but Harris has already told him once to lay off the kid and let him do his damn job.
They’re at T-minus 18 hours when Stiles comes flapping into the Flight Director’s office.
“You need to look at the reading for the backup O2,” he says, fingers braced against door and frame as his upper body sways imploringly into the cinder block room. His tie, a Christmas gift from his father two years ago, swings from his neck like a brown pendulum.
Harris lifts cool gray eyes from the report he’d been reading and affords Stiles a solitary sardonic blink over the tidy landscape of his desk. “Or you could simply tell me what it says.”
Stiles grinds his irritation down between his back molars and steps fully into the room. “Tank 2 is down 15.3 capacity since this morning. The thing’s only been on the pad half a day.”
“Why do I get the feeling you haven’t talked to Lahey about this yet? No-” Harris lifts a thin-fingered hand and Stiles clamps his mouth shut, nostrils flaring. “I know the answer, and quite honestly, I don’t care about the reason. Work on it with Lahey and bring me a status report by the end of the day.” He flicks his fingers dismissively toward the open door. “You can go.”
Irritation bubbles up from Stiles’ stomach, hot and acidic. He swallows it down, narrows his eyes at Harris. “With pleasure.”
Lahey’s staring in deep consternation at the EECOM readouts when Stiles drapes his forearms across the back of the console two minutes later.
“The secondary oxygen supply is down more than fifteen percent,” Lahey absently says, and when he flicks his gaze up to Stiles after, he looks genuinely concerned. It’s more credit than Stiles would have given him.
“Oh good, you noticed,” Stiles chirps, fingers clamping over the top edge of the console as he levers himself against it, feet kicking up with nervous energy. “It’s up to us to resolve this before the end of the day.”
Lahey’s altar boy face goes slack with artless confusion. “Us?”
“Yeah, us. You and me. I am engaging you in conversation, the use of the word ‘us’ would imply the two of us, together. Call the McDonnell rep.”
“Vámonos, Troy Donohue,” Stiles ejects with a quick clap of his hands. “The clock’s ticking.”
The flush of color across Lahey’s perfectly-chiseled cheekbones looks almost orange in the dingy industrial lighting. “He was just here,” he says.
“The McDonnell rep. He just went to call for the specs.”
Mouth working, Stiles falters, and then nods deeply as if he suspected this all along. “That’s… good, then. Did he have an opinion?”
“No,” Lahey replies with a quick shake of his head. “I asked whether he thought a sensor malfunction was more likely than an actual leak, but he didn’t want to commit to anything.”
“Imagine that,” Stiles says with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “A government contractor who doesn’t want to go on record about his failure.”
“Yeah,” Lahey agrees on a soft puff of laughter. His smile is crooked and disarming in a way Stiles doesn’t allow himself time to examine.
“Let’s go find that asshole,” Stiles says, decisive as he steps away from the console and jerks a thumb toward the door. “If he doesn’t find an easy answer, he’ll be ducking you until final countdown.”
“How many times do I have to explain this to you, Stilinski? It’s non-critical. Do I need to spell it out in pictographs for you to absorb it in that brain of yours? NON-CRITICAL.”
It’s T-minus 14 hours, and Stiles is standing in Harris’ office with Lahey, wondering whether a temporary insanity plea could be applied to a situation that’s permanently fucked. If he wrung Harris’ pencil neck right now, he could probably get Lahey to testify on his behalf, put that angel face to good use.
“With all due respect, sir, the secondary supply becomes critical should there be a delay in reentry,” Stiles says with an angry little outward thrust of his chin. “We are taking about a process we have never completed before, there are contingencies we can’t possibly plan for-”
“The primary tank has enough O2 for a day and a half, Stilinski. Hale will only be up there four hours. I assumed that, as an engineer, you knew how to do basic math.”
Stiles is approximately 2.3 seconds from slapping the smug off Harris’ face when Lahey speaks up.
“The only conscientious way to account for the loss is to cut the length of the mission in proportion with the O2,” he says, looking like he’s fighting hard against the urge to go cower in the corner. Stiles is almost proud.
“Science,” Stiles announces as he swings an impatient hand from Lahey to Harris. “Crazy how it works!”
Harris sucks in a slow breath through grit teeth, stares at them hard. “We’re not cutting the mission for a non-critical-”
“We’re not talking about scrubbing the whole damned thing, here!” Stiles ejects with a flap of his arms.
“We could alternately have another short delay, just long enough to correct the issue,” Lahey suggests, and then takes half a startled step back when Harris rises abruptly from his seat.
“Look,” Harris begins, tone measured and dripping condescension as he rounds the desk and steps into Stiles’ personal space. “I know that you have a…” He pulls a sour little face as he casts for the appropriate words. “Personal investment in Derek Hale. If it was up to me, I’d have you removed from this team for your total lack of objectivity. This launch has been delayed four times already, Stilinski. We’re playing catch-up with the Russians and the Vice President is breathing down our neck. If we cut the number of orbits, Russia’s still ahead. If we delay again, Russia might pull further ahead. The secondary O2 is non-critical, and Hale will be on that rocket tomorrow morning. Period. If you want to keep your precious Major safe, I suggest you do the job you’re assigned to. Now get out of my office.”
Stiles can feel the sharp bite of ragged fingernails against his palms, but he doesn’t realize he’s shaking until he feels the cool, tentative weight of Lahey’s hand against his arm.
“Come on,” Lahey whispers, but Stiles remains, furious eyes narrowed and fixed on Harris, who lifts an insouciant chin but doesn’t look away.
“If anything happens to him up there, I will ruin you,” Stiles says. His fists are still quaking at his sides, but his voice is low and terribly, terribly calm. “You’ll be lucky to get a job flipping burgers.”
“Dare to dream, Mr. Stilinski,” Harris blithely replies. Lahey’s grip firms on Stiles’ arm.
“Come on,” Lahey repeats, and begins gently tugging Stiles out the door. This time Stiles lets him, but he holds Harris’ gaze until the heavy door slides shut between them.
“He really hates you,” Lahey remarks with reverent wonder once they’re in the safety of the corridor. He hasn’t removed his hand, and Stiles wrenches his arm away more sharply than intended.
“He hates that he can’t fire me, among other things,” Stiles mutters, and pushes out a long, shuddering sigh. When he sees that Lahey’s expression has once again gone vulnerable with confusion, he clarifies. “I was personally recruited from Grumman, and not by that dick. It isn’t his call.”
“That’s why you’re Fido at twenty-six.”
“That’s why I’m Fido at twenty-six,” Stiles confirms, and rubs a hand across his short-cropped hair. Anger and frustration are still jolting through him, little electric pulses trying to work their way out his fingertips.
“He’s your best friend, isn’t he?” Lahey quietly asks, and Stiles rears his head abruptly back.
Stiles draws an instinctive breath but holds it, mouth open, because he’s never quite thought of it that way before. Had someone asked him who his best friend was, he would have automatically said Scott McCall, who came up through CalTech with him and has had CAPCOM for the last two launches.
“Yeah,” Stiles finally admits with a slow nod. “One of them, anyway.”
Lahey looks at his watch, glances back up to Stiles, falters, and pushes his gaze self-consciously away. “You want to go grab a drink?” he asks, and peers shyly back. “No offense, but you look like you need one.”
Stiles laughs, high and slightly manic. “I do,” he admits, and Lahey grins, all straight white teeth in that endearingly crooked mouth. “I don’t think I’m fit for public consumption right now, though.”
“We could go back to my place,” Lahey hastily counters, uncertainty wobbling the corners of his smile. Stiles genuinely cannot tell whether the guy is trying to get in his pants or just wants a friend, but either way, he’s got righteously poor timing.
“Man, I can’t,” Stiles says, fanning both hands helplessly out in front of him. “I know this sounds pretty square, but my Dad’s supposed to call tonight, and he gets kind of freaked out if I don’t pick up. He’s the sheriff of my home town, you know how it is, he gets paranoid. Thanks for the offer, though.”
The lie comes easily, feels natural, and Lahey looks convinced but briefly crestfallen before he shrugs it off. “Another time, maybe?” he tries, brittle hope in his pale blue eyes.
“Definitely,” Stiles agrees with a nod, and claps the guy on the shoulder for good measure. “We’ll go out for a victory drink after splashdown, my treat.”
“There might be a leak in the secondary O2 tank. And I think Lahey tried to pick me up.”
“Well hello to you, too,” Derek says on the other end of the line. He’s barely twenty minutes away, but it feels like half the world is sitting between them. “Sounds like you had an eventful day.”
“I nearly committed homicide.” Stiles sinks down into his La-Z-Boy and toes off his loafers.
“What if I hadn’t been the person on the other end of the line when you’d answered?”
“But you were.”
“But what if I hadn’t been?”
“But you were- Derek, did you hear me? There might be a leak in the backup oxygen.”
“Are they delaying again?”
“No, Harris refuses. He says Johnson’s giving him shit about the Russians and it isn’t a critical consumable. They’d have to roll the Tomorrow off the pad just to get at the tank. It would take at least three days, and that’s assuming a quick turnaround.”
“What about the primary tank?”
“It’s fine, but that’s not the point.”
“How much is in the primary?”
Stiles pauses, frowning against the receiver. “Derek, I fucking swear to god, if you agree with Harris on this I am never touching your dick again.”
“It’s a day and a half, isn’t it? I’m not agreeing with Harris, I’m simply pointing out that it isn’t exactly a worst case scenario.”
“That’s it, I’m hanging up now.” Slumped petulantly down in his recliner, Stiles doesn’t even remove the receiver from his ear, and he can hear Derek attempting to muffle a laugh on his end.
“Stiles,” he says, and then lowers his voice. “Baby-”
“Oh fuck you, Derek,” Stiles bites out. “I’m trying to keep you safe up there. Don’t patronize me.”
“I’m not,” Derek replies, voice gone immediately flat with irritation. “You have a tendency to overreact to fucking everything, Stiles.”
“And you have a tendency to throw yourself blindly into danger without giving a shit about anyone else!” Stiles blurts. All of a sudden he’s shaking again, propelled immediately up and out of the chair by the knot of frustration he’s been carrying around in his chest all afternoon. “You never stop to fucking think, Derek, you just do whatever you feel like! Your whole family dying doesn’t mean you’re in a race to join them!”
A breath catches, and Stiles doesn’t know if it was Derek’s or his own.
Shit. Stiles’ eyes slide closed and he sucks in an unsteady, regretful breath. Shit, shit, shit. There’s stone silence on the other end of the line.
“Don’t,” Derek replies, voice cold with restrained anger. “I’ll see you after splashdown.” Then there’s nothing but dial tone.
Stiles doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t even bother with a half-hearted attempt, but rather simply brews coffee at regular intervals until it’s late enough in the morning that it won’t look suspicious when he shows up to work much earlier than required. Concern over the O2 leak is a good excuse if anyone ventures to ask.
He wants, desperately, to lay eyes on Derek one last time before liftoff, to apologize and grovel if need be, but it’s an early launch and Major Hale has been in pre-flight prep since 0430.
When Stiles steps into the canteen a little after five, he’s surprised to find Scott there pouring himself a cup of coffee.
“A little early for you, isn’t it?” Stiles asks as he steps over, his mouth instinctively hitched up in a grateful smile.
“Mostly I was surprised to get here before you.” Scott automatically lifts the mug from Stiles’ hand and doles out the last of the pot. “Allison wouldn’t stop talking about how she bet you didn’t get any sleep last night, so I didn’t get any sleep last night.” He hands the cup back with one of his trademark sloppy grins. “Thanks for that, by the way.”
“Hey, I didn’t make you marry her,” Stiles replies, and blows across the top of the cup.
“No, you just told me that I’d be the world’s biggest idiot to not propose.”
“That’s still true.”
Scott takes a test sip from his own cup and then fixes Stiles in an intent stare. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” Stiles is quick to answer, and then rolls his eyes when Scott lifts an eyebrow. “What? I am, I’m fine.”
“Pre-lauch jitters,” Scott supplies, but doesn’t sound very convinced.
“Bingo,” Stiles says, and motions Scott’s way. “You’d probably be more worried if I didn’t seem a little weird, am I right?”
“That’s true enough,” Scott agrees with a nod. “We don’t exactly know what’s normal in this situation.”
“Exactly! Exactly,” says Stiles. “But seriously, I’m fine. I can do my job.”
“I wasn’t suggesting you couldn’t,” Scott mildly replies.
“Yeah, well. Harris doesn’t think so.”
“Harris is a jackass.”
“Also true. I think Lahey tried to hit on me yesterday.”
Scott chokes on his sip of coffee and has to spit it into the sink to avoid spraying it all over Stiles. “What? Lahey who is on EECOM?”
“What other Lahey do we know?”
“That…” Scott begins, trailing off as he blinks away his shock. “Isn’t all that surprising, actually. Does he know about—?” He flicks a wary gaze over Stiles’ shoulder to the door, and then back again.
“I don’t know,” Stiles replies, guilt sloshing sickly in the pit of his stomach at even the silent suggestion of Derek. “I don’t think so. It’s not like it matters- Look, I’ve got to piss like a racehorse, I drank four pots of coffee last night.” He begins backing toward the door. “I’ll see you out there.”
“Yeah, sure,” Scott says. There’s a twinge of suspicion in his voice, but he doesn’t follow.
Stiles clatters hastily into the mens room and heaves up everything in his stomach. Arms shaky, he plunks down hard on the tile floor, squeezes his eyes closed and sucks in an acidic breath as he waits for the roil of his stomach to abate.
Final prep for liftoff occupies the rest of Stiles’ morning. Controllers and other engineers trickle in until the trench degrades into a distracting buzz of voices, and when Vernon Boyd quietly takes his place at the retrofire console, Stiles couldn’t be more grateful to have a stoic occupying the seat beside his own. Stiles sinks himself deep into the flight documents for the hundredth time and doesn’t resurface until he hears Derek’s voice.
The shift of focus feels like waking from a vivid dream, and Stiles blinks, dazed, until Derek speaks again. Stiles swivels abruptly around in his seat to stare across the room at Scott, who looks so fucking casual standing there at CAPCOM that for one hot moment Stiles wants to punch him.
“How you doing up there, Major Hale?” Scott asks. He catches Stiles’ eye and, oblivious, gives him a wink.
“You think you could send me up a drink?” Derek jokes. Laughter rolls through the room. Stiles feels like he’s been stabbed in the gut.
“We’ll see what we can do after splashdown, how about that?” Scott replies.
The world begins to spin a little faster.
Harris takes his place at the FD console at T-minus three minutes. Stiles confirms he’s go for launch with all the rest of them, but he doesn’t remember anything in that final build but the deafening beat of his heart in his ears. He checks and double-checks the numbers, growing increasingly manic until he happens to glance up and notice Boyd’s wary expression.
“You’re good, man,” Boyd says, and the way his eyes go all soft and reassuring makes Stiles want to burst into tears.
T-minus sixty seconds.
Guidance is go for launch. Launch control is go for launch. Scott’s voice echoes loud and sharp through the compound and out across the pad.
“Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, we have ignition—”
Stiles’ throat closes up and he fumbles out of his seat.
“—four, three, two, one. Liftoff.”
“Go, baby,” Stiles grits out, white-knuckled fists shivering at his sides. “Go, baby, GO!”
Launch control pipes up. “Flight, we have cleared the tower at 1014.”
Amidst the triumphant cheers, Stiles discovers he’s clamped hold of Boyd and is shaking him, which is made doubly awkward by the fact that Boyd is still seated. Muttering hasty apologies, Stiles extracts his arms from Boyd’s head and immediately sits back down to monitor trajectory.
Everything is right down the line after that: Velocity and altitude stay well in the white until the booster drop, and the Tomorrow achieves orbit smooth as silk. Stiles slides down in his seat until his head is propped up by the back of the chair. He feels like he just ran a marathon. Boyd claps him on the shoulder with a smile.
“Welcome to orbit, Tomorrow,” Scott says. “How’s it look up there?”
“I just want to confirm that secondary O2 is still down but holding steady,” Derek replies. Stiles’ stomach jolts abruptly up to his throat and he spins around again to look at Scott. “But to answer your question, Control, it’s the second most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on. I wish you could see it.”
“Roger, Tomorrow. Take lots of pictures for us,” Scott says, his smile gentle. Stiles fumbles off his headset and sprints back to the mens room, where he locks himself in the last stall and covers his nose and mouth with both hands to muffle his relieved sobs.
Derek’s still in the dark over Australia when Scott motions Stiles over to CAPCOM and holds out his headset.
“But-” Stiles balks, but Scott immediately shakes his head.
“Look, he’ll be hitting sunrise in two minutes and off the relay from Australia in five. You know the procedures better than anyone. I think you should be the one to welcome him back the first time around.” Scott’s mouth has developed the familiar stubborn set that Stiles instinctively knows better than to argue against.
This, Stiles thinks, has Allison McCall written all over it.
“Thanks,” he says, and offers an unsteady smile as he accepts the headset and settles into Scott’s chair. As he watches the seconds tick by, the fluttering in his stomach intensifies until he feels almost exactly the way he did the night he and Derek first met, all nervous energy and fear of rejection.
“Tomorrow, this is Mission Control, do you read?” he asks into the headset the moment Derek crosses back into range. There’s no immediate answer, so he tries again. “Tomorrow, this is Mission Control. Do you copy?”
“I know that can’t be Stiles Stilinski I’m hearing on Capcom,” comes the warm crackle of Derek’s voice across the ether. “I thought he was pissed at me for being reckless.”
“Yeah, well,” Stiles begins, smiling with a duck of his head. “McCall had burritos for lunch, somebody had to step in.”
“You still breathing okay down there?”
“Roger, Tomorrow. I haven’t hyperventilated yet.”
“Neither have I.” There’s a smile in Derek’s voice that warms Stiles all the way down to his toes, and he huffs out a laugh.
“Touché, Tomorrow. Touché. How’s that sunrise?”
“I wish I was there to see it.”
“Me too, Control. Don’t you worry, we’ll get you up here someday.”
“Roger that, Tomorrow. I’m handing you back off to McCall, now. Remember to not breathe too deeply up there.”
“Roger, Control. Ask Scott for a paper bag if you need one. I need you on reentry.”
“I wouldn’t trust it to anyone else, Derek.” Stiles doesn’t intend for his voice to go so suddenly raw and open, and he jerks the headset off and hands it back to Scott before he can say anything else. From behind the Flight desk, Harris fixes him in a look of pure disgust.
If possible, reentry is an even more precarious process than liftoff. With launch, there’s at least a short window to abort should something malfunction. With reentry, if any one detail isn’t precisely correct, it can mean the difference between Derek safely splashing down in the Pacific and the Tomorrow ricocheting off the atmosphere and out into space.
They’ve run the basic checks, confirmed the readings. Stiles has gone over the math three more times and Boyd has checked it. Everything is on target when Stiles calls the command to test the inboard rockets. There’s no response.
Stiles frowns down at the readout, but he doesn’t panic. Not yet.
“Capcom, have him do a manual burn, would you please,” he calls across to Scott. “About three seconds should do it.”
“Tomorrow, this is Control,” Scott calmly begins. “We need you do a manual burn of thrusters one through five to confirm everything is a-okay for reentry. Over.”
Silence. Stiles leans forward in his seat, gaze fixed on Scott.
“Tomorrow, this is Mission Control, do you read?”
Slowly, everyone in the room draws to a standstill, all eyes on CAPCOM.
“Tomorrow, this is Control. If you’re asleep up there, Derek, we really need you to wake up and test your thrusters for us so we can get you back home, over.”
“Is it the coms?” Harris asks.
“Everything’s reading normal,” Scott replies, and flicks a nervous glance Stiles’ way.
“Anyone reading anything out of the ordinary?” Harris asks the room at large. There’s a chorus of no’s, heads shaking behind the long rows of consoles.
“Oh shit,” Lahey exclaims, and even in the dim light, across the room, Stiles can see the wide-eyed panic on that angel face. “Flight, we’re losing O2 pressure and dropping fast.”
“Which tank?” Harris asks.
“Both of them.”
The entire room seems to pause, shivering with tension.
“We need to get him down NOW,” Stiles barks, and Harris casts a brief but throughly terrified glance his way.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Reyes abruptly calls from GNC. “I’ve got readings all over the place- This can’t be right, this has to be sensor failure. What the fuck just happened?”
“Incompetence,” Stiles bites out, and then points a finger Reyes’ way. “Troubleshoot. If it’s a sensor malfunction, we can work around it, but be quick.” Reyes nods, and Stiles shifts his finger to Scott. “Don’t stop trying to get him on com, try the alternate channels, it sounds like he might be bringing this thing down manually-”
“Excuse me,” Harris speaks up, and Stiles swings his arm around to jab his finger angrily toward Flight.
“You shut your fucking mouth and sit down.”
“Tomorrow, this is Mission Control, do you read?” Scott asks again, and in the customary pause, a deafening screech rattles across the com.
“Was that metal?” Boyd quietly asks.
“No,” Stiles says, shaking his head. “No, no, no, no, NO-”
“Control— is Tomorrow.”
Derek’s voice is punctuated by static and pops, but Stiles can hear the undercurrent of fear. What starts him shaking, though, is the clear and undeniable sound of resignation.
Derek Hale does not give up, not the man that Stiles knows. He does not walk away. He does not throw in the towel unless there is absolutely no other option.
“No,” Stiles whispers from his place in front of the FDO console. He knocked over his chair at some point and didn’t even realize it.
“—can’t—” comes Derek’s voice again, “—cracked—manual won’t—shield—”
There’s a long, tense silence with no further communication. All across the room and packed in the doorway, men stand poised and uncertain, waiting.
Scott clears his throat. “Say again, Tomorrow, we didn’t read that last.”
“Scott—” Derek says, before breaking up again.
“I read you, Derek, go ahead.”
“Tell Stiles—I love him.”
A broken, primal sound wrenches up from Stiles’ throat and he springs toward CAPCOM, only to find the strong band of Boyd’s arm across his chest, holding him back.
“I KNOW,” he screams, wide-eyed and wild, limbs flailing forward as if he might lessen the distance between them simply by being across the room. “DEREK, I KNOW, I KNOW—”
“Roger that, Tomorrow,” Scott quietly replies, tears magnifying his brown eyes. “He knows.”
“I want some music,” Stiles declares. They’re slouched down against the cushions of their new sofa, in their new house, in their new and impossible life. He casts an expectant glance Derek’s way.
“The hi-fi’s right over there,” Derek points out. When Stiles elbows him, he laughs and gets up.
“Not Roy Orbison,” Stiles declares. “If I hear that song one more time, I might stab myself in the eye.”
“Well, I happen to like your eyes,” Derek says as he rummages through their modest collection of records. “So I guess ol’ Roy will be getting a pass.” He slips another LP from its sleeve, places it gently on the turntable and then turns around just as the opening strains of ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ begin.
Stiles laughs when Derek crosses the room and holds out a hand.
“You’re kidding, right?” he says, eyes flicking from Derek’s outstretched palm to his face.
“Do I look like I’m kidding?” Derek asks, expression even and focus unmoving. “I want to dance with you.”
“Like straight people?”
“No. Like people. Come on. There’s nobody here but us.”
Stiles heaves a beleaguered sigh but then slips his hand into the proffered one, lets Derek lever him onto his feet.
“See now? That’s not so bad, is it?” Derek asks with a smirk as he tugs Stiles in close and begins a slow sway.
“Let’s just say you’re incredibly persuasive and leave it at that,” Stiles replies, and flicks a glance over only to be caught by Derek’s steady, green-eyed gaze.
They stay like that, Stiles gone breathless, until the song ends, the needle scratching softly against the LP’s inside edge.
“Stiles, I lo-” Derek begins, only to be cut off by the press of Stiles’ fingers against his lips.
“Don’t,” Stiles pleads around the lump in his throat. “I don’t need to hear it. I know it already.”
Derek studies him a long moment before pulling his hand away and threading their fingers together. “You sure?”
“Positive,” Stiles replies. “You’re here. That’s all I could possibly need.”