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Friends in High Places

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Stiles doesn’t belong to a particular gate team, mostly because most of the Marines find him “difficult” or “hard to work with” or “super annoying.” This doesn’t bother Stiles, particularly, because he’s of the opinion that the whole team thing is kind of like joining a gang, complete with irrational loyalty and bothersome feelings and frequent incidents of totally preventable violence. Also, they tend to end up married to each other a lot, for increasingly bizarre reasons. That whole ‘what happens off world stays off world’ thing is bullshit, in Stiles’ highly judgmental, unwarranted opinion.

So when Stiles does need to go off world for something, he usually is able to tag along on somebody else’s mission, especially since he is really not above using bribery and Colonel Mitchell’s weakness for Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Lately he’s been accompanying SG-4 a lot, which is Major Finstock’s team, but then there was that thing on PY6-R6B at the place with the guy and the – yeah – Stiles doesn’t want to talk about it but basically he’s never going to look at Greenberg the same way ever again.

This is why Stiles is left at a loose end when he discovers that most of his film from YN7-PP2 is overexposed and he now has exactly eight usable photographs of the carvings he was sent to study. Out of about two hundred shots. Great.

“No,” Mitchell says, before Stiles can even step fully into his office, “no, no, no. No more. I’ve been weak, Stilinski, but it stops today. I’m not going to let you take advantage of me anymore.”

“Oh, come on,” Stiles complains, “we’re friends, aren’t we? Friends give each other gifts.”

“I had a physical last week,” Mitchell says staunchly, “you don’t know my pain. Take your devil candy and get the hell out of my office.”

So that’s a bummer.

“What’s wrong?” Derek asks him, later that afternoon. They’ve taken to eating together in the mess at odd times, to accommodate Derek’s weird schedule and desire to not be gawked at by the majority of the base. It’s one of the nicer parts of their tentative pre-dating, technically dating but not officially, whatever let’s play it by ear relationship. “You look shitty.”

Stiles huffs a little, slightly resentful of that assessment but not feeling quite pithy enough to make it an issue. “Is Isaac still teaching you profanity?”

“Lots of useful words,” Derek says, nodding. “What happened?”

“I have no friends,” Stiles moans.

Derek ponders this for a second, lightly tossing an orange from hand to hand in the air. “That doesn’t surprise me very much.”

Stiles scowls at him. “Well, that’s very comforting Derek, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Derek says, effortlessly deadpan.

“I meant,” Stiles says, still glaring as sharply as he can, which has all the effect on Derek of a kitten glaring at a locked door, “that I refuse to call anyone on this base my friend anymore because everybody sucks and I hate them.”

Derek nods. “That seems very logical.”

“Thank you.” Stiles reaches out and yanks Derek’s tray across the table. Derek frowns a bit, but doesn’t stop him, probably because Jell-O weirds him out anyway and why he continues to pick it up in the cafeteria line, Stiles has no idea. “Like, objectively the whole ‘no one goes off world by themselves, everybody needs back up at all times’ rule makes sense. Has probably saved a lot of people from becoming Go’auld chow, very useful. But subjectively, if it weren’t a stupid rule I could just jump back to YN7 myself, chop chop, two hours max, get the photos I need and be back in time for dinner. It’s freakin’ uninhabited anyway, and I wouldn’t have to wait for stupid SG-9 to get through their ridiculously long mission roster – and who knows, somebody stupid might die before they even get to it, it’s totally possible – and I wouldn’t have to spend the mean time assisting stupid Dr. Jackson with his stupid Ancient research. Stupid.”

Derek purses his lips slightly, a sure sign that he would be laughing at Stiles if he were the type of person who actually laughed in front of people. “YN7-PP2? You need to go back?”

Stiles nods, too busy sucking down green Jell-O to reply verbally.

“I’ll take you.”

Stiles chokes a little. “What?”

Derek gives a Luceren shrug. “I’ll take you. If it’s uninhabited, Landry probably won’t have a problem with us going alone.”

“You want to take me to an empty planet and watch me take pictures of rocks?” Stiles asks skeptically. “Really?”

Derek shoots him a look so utterly bitchy that Stiles feels the skin of his face shrivel up just a little bit. “No. All of this is a lie and I actually hate your company.”

Stiles snorts a laugh into the remnants of the Jell-O. “Okay.” Then, after a beat, “so would this count as our first date?”

“I don’t know what ‘date’ means,” Derek replies, “but I’m gonna go with ‘no’ anyway.”

“Now you’re definitely lying,” Stiles replies happily.

 

Isaac is rather sulky about the whole thing, which probably shouldn’t be surprising.

“I wish I had an alien boyfriend,” he says, “so I could go off world whenever I wanted.

“You’re straight,” Stiles says.

“How do you know?” Isaac replies challengingly. “You don’t know me.”

Stiles takes a moment to press his face into the wall and smoosh the grin off his face before he turns around. “You’re right, Isaac. I’m sorry. I’ll bring you back a present.”

Isaac scowls. He’s sitting cross-legged in a desk chair, the innards of an Asgard plasma pistol spread out on the table in front of him. “Don’t patronize me,” he says, “and quit being smug.”

“How am I smug? I’m not smug!”

“You’re so smug I can practically smell it.” Isaac makes a comically-exaggerated disgusted face, shuddering dramatically. “Like victory and Axe body spray.”

Stiles breaks at that one, laughing out loud and bracing himself against his desk. “You’re the one who wears Axe, you freak.”

If Stiles weren’t so very good at paying attention to Isaac’s minute facial expressions (the primary way Isaac expresses his feelings, really, he and Derek have that in common), he’d have missed the barely-there grin that flits across his mouth. “Whatever. Still doesn’t change that I’ve been on the waiting list to get to YNG-88S for two months, and you get a mission cleared with Derek in two days. Dude.”

Stiles shakes his head, sliding the last of his camera equipment into his backpack and zipping it up as non-smugly as he can manage. “Helps to know people, broheim. Also helps to have saved the entire world – “

“Base,” Isaac interjects.

“ – in a supremely heroic and manly fashion. Just saying.”

“I really wish you wouldn’t use the word ‘broheim,’” Isaac replies, pained.

“‘Broheim’ is an excellent word,” Stiles argues. “And ‘rad,’ too – no, shut up, I’m totally right.”

Isaac rolls his eyes and pushes away from the table, sending his chair flying across the floor to the mini fridge he’d smuggled in with Corporal Henderson last month. “Can we not? I’d really like to forget that entire period of my life when you were finishing that California paper, because that was awful.”

Stiles’ California paper was actually a paper about Californian slang and colloquialisms as linguistic performance, which is a fancy way of saying he’d followed all his friends around for six months writing down everything they said. He maintains that it was only slightly irritating and because it was for science, didn’t count.

“Well, as fun as this is, and let me say, super fun,” Stiles says, swinging his pack onto his shoulder, “I’ve got a hot date at a temple ruin.”

“He’s not that hot!” Isaac calls after him. Totally jealous.

 

Derek is there to meet him in the locker rooms and rushes him through the pre-gate travel checklist with a sense of insistent urgency that Stiles finds a little alarming. Stiles is building up a list of possible reasons that Derek looks about five seconds away from first degree murder (starts with “IOA” and ends with “Landry”) when Dr. Carter walks into the locker room and all becomes clear.

(Back story: Derek hates Dr. Carter with an unmitigated passion that Stiles finds hilarious, because he’d be hard pressed to find anyone else in existence that isn’t either in love with her – personally, professionally, both – or who at least thought she was kind of smart and cool and one time she punched them in the face and it was awesome.

Stiles can admit he falls into the second camp just a tiny bit, because honestly, Dr. Carter, but that’s neither here nor there.)

“Hey,” Carter says, with a sunny smile, “Stiles, right?”

The fact that she has remembered Stiles’ name is clearly making this harder for Derek. Stiles takes control quickly.

“Yup, that’s me – oh hey look, we’re late, sorry to run,” he says, and pulls Derek by his sleeve with the sort of panic he usually reserves for situations that involve violence. Or robots. He gets a glimpse of Carter’s slightly bewildered face before the door swings shut behind them and Derek shakes off his hand, huffing in irritation. “Seriously?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Derek says. Stiles feels very justified in laughing at him.

“It’s sort of fitting that our first date would start off with a hissy fit,” Stiles says thoughtfully.

Derek obviously doesn’t know what that means exactly, but knowing the exact meaning of things has never stopped him from figuring out when Stiles is making fun of him before. “It could end with something very different,” he threatens.

“Weak,” Stiles pronounces. “Also, you totally just admitted that this is a date.”

“No, I didn’t,” Derek says.

“If you two are done,” comes Chuck’s voice from the loudspeaker. Stiles looks up and sees him tapping his watch.

“That guy is so bitchy when none of his bosses are around,” Stiles mutters. Derek rolls his eyes again and pulls him up the ramp.

The thing about gate travel itself is that it’s fucking awful - everybody pukes and/or faints the first time, but it’s kind of a rite of passage and there’s a big flowchart on the server where you can look up first-hand accounts of everybody’s first time through (Stiles particularly likes reading Jackson Whittemore’s whenever he’s having a bad day - he’d puked and fainted, and it was written by Lydia, it’s pure gold).

After a while your body gets used to it and it barely feels like anything - something about metabolism or brain juice or whatever - not that Stiles knows for sure since he goes off world maybe three or four times a year, tops. Which is why he immediately faceplants upon stepping through to YN7-PP2.

“Stiles,” Derek says, sounding kind of alarmed.

“Unrghf,” Stiles replies.

Derek leans over him, placing a bracing hand on his shoulder and squeezing once. “Are you alright?”

Stiles sits up with no small amount of effort and attempts a smile; judging by the look on Derek’s face, it’s not all that successful. “Peachy. The - I tripped. On the - rocks.”

Derek looks at the grassy ground, then back up at Stiles. “Right.”

“Help me up,” Stiles commands, refusing to be embarrassed about this. “Be a gentleman, c’mon.”

“Gate sickness?” Derek asks, keeping ahold of Stiles’ wrist until he’s solidly on his feet, all limbs and appendages in their proper positions.

“No, that’s just how I walk,” Stiles says.

Derek’s mouth twitches.

“Are you calling me clumsy?” Stiles asks.

Derek turns his face away, a sly movement of his head that says, yes, he really was. “Come on, we should start walking. It’s a half-mile hike to your temple.”

“Ruins, technically,” Stiles says, unhooking one arm from his pack and swinging it around to check on the camera equipment. “And I’ve been here before, bossy - if anything, I’m the one who should be leading.”

Derek fondles the handle of his P-90 in a pointed, and somewhat erotic, way.

“...or you can lead,” Stiles replies. “Lead on, Macduff.” He pauses. “That’s a reference, by the way.”

“That’s a misquote, by the way,” Derek says. Stiles narrows his eyes at him. “‘Lay on, Macduff, and damned be him who first cries ‘hold, enough.’ Is the actual line.”

“You are an endless source of bizarre and surprising knowledge,” Stiles says.

“I had to learn English somehow,” Derek says. There’s a tiny tic in his cheekbone that might be the beginning of a smirk, if Stiles isn’t mistaken.

“Show off,” Stiles accuses.

The temple, or what used to be the temple, is a circle of faded rock and tile at the bottom of a shallow valley. The planet itself is one of those rare ones in Milky Way in that it’s lush and green instead of barren and sandy and full of Go’auld-ravaged, empty villages. It’s uninhabited, but not for long - there are at least four different groups of refugees preparing to move in the next few months. Which is why Stiles was maybe a little panicked about getting back here to get his pictures.

“As weird as it sounds, we don’t actually get a lot of unknown languages anymore,” Stiles explains to Derek, who strolls casually a few paces behind Stiles, craning his head to look at the marooned, fragmented walls of the temple. If he’s bothered by Stiles throwing his geek up all over the place, he doesn’t show it. “The gate system has been established for long enough that there are very few cultures that have been isolated from everyone else, so you get this kind of communal Milky Way culture, really, sort of like the United States in the 20th century, with all these different languages and traditions that sort of bleed into each other. And writing, and language, is what gets affected the most - if you really lay them out side by side and compare, you see all these similarities and common words, and since so many of these worlds lived in slavery under the Go’auld for so long, there’s rarely any consistent recorded history to figure out what’s original and what was adopted from other places and societies.”

“And this is one of them,” Derek says. “A language you’ve never seen before.”

“Yeah. Dead language, from a culture that went extinct at least a thousand years ago, but still new. And new is always fun.” Stiles can’t help but be excited, sliding his camera out of the pack, along with the notebook he uses to record the shots. “Usually this kind of thing wouldn’t go to me - not high enough on the totem pole - but Dr. Jackson’s in Atlantis and Machiko’s at Area 51 for the next month.”

Derek leans against what was probably an altar or pedestal at some point, keeping his gaze on the horizon and his hand on his gun - but when he speaks, it’s with that easy, relaxed way he has when he and Stiles are alone, or on Luceres. “You talk a lot about how you default into things,” he says. “Like no one respects you.”

Stiles looks up from the pillar he’s examining. “I do? I mean. It’s not that.”

Derek turns and raises an eyebrow. He’s slipped sunglasses on at some point and they make him look wildly different, more human that Stiles has ever seen him look before.

“I know they respect me,” Stiles clarifies, “I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t. I’m just...young. Need to pay my dues.”

“You don’t seem very young to me.”

“Well, I am,” Stiles says wryly. He’s spent a lot of his life being defensive about this very topic, always wanting to prove himself capable and independent, bristling at any perceived insinuation of immaturity. It’s taken him a long time and several life threatening situations to realize that inexperience is only a bad thing when you don’t admit to it. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or anything. It’s just - people at my level at the SGC don’t normally get to do important things like solo mission trips with foreign heads of state or translating for said foreign head of state at first contact meetings...I kind of trip and fall into things, is all.”

Derek nods, that little half-smile flitting across his face. “You’re very good at that,” he says, “tripping.”

“Ha ha,” Stiles says, making a face. “Are you too busy watching out for killer trees to come help me? Because you should totally come help me.”

Derek rolls his shoulders, a sort of inversion of the Luceren shrug that means the equivalent to whatever. “I guess.”

“Don’t sound too excited,” Stiles says, but he’s grinning pretty wide, which kind of ruins it. “Come on, you can hold my notebook. Very special privilege.”

They make quick work of the photographs, the thrill of being alone with Derek enough to keep Stiles from falling head first into a language coma. Derek, for his part, spends most of it following Stiles around without complaint, dutifully writing down the notes for each shot in his blocky handwriting.

“So you learned English from Shakespeare,” Stiles comments, clearing some grass away from the edge of a pillar to get a clearer shot, “where did you learn the others?”

“Everyone speaks Go’auld,” Derek says, which is true, because if there’s any way to learn a language quickly it’s fighting a war to keep your planet from being enslaved, “and the others I learned on my own. From books from Earth.”

“Just - “ Stiles swallows, his hands faltering in their movement. “On your own?” Derek nods. “Oh God, that’s incredibly hot.”

Derek tilts his head slightly. “I’m glad you think so.”

Stiles nods enthusiastically. “Yes, I do think so, and approve, uh, generally, of all - that - “ he waves his hand vaguely, thinking why am I saying this what is going on with my mouth I should stop. He doesn’t. “Very good. You’re good. Not that you need my approval, but uh, you’ve got it, in case you were wondering...yeah.”

Derek, crouching next to him, sits back on his haunches with a peculiar look on his face, somewhere between bemused and there’s something weird-looking stuck to my shoe. “‘That’?” he asks. “By which you mean, me?”

Stiles has a horrible feeling that he might be blushing. "I'm going to shut up now."

Derek huffs out a laugh, a low, rumbly sound that Stiles has never heard before, something he most definitely would never do on Earth. It makes something burn bright and protective in his chest. "You don't have to."

"I might say something I'll regret," Stiles says, "I tend to do that."

"What could you possibly say to me," Derek asks, "that would be regretful?"

So, so many things, Stiles thinks. "Isaac and I used to call you Moony behind your back," he blurts.

Derek blinks at him.

"It's a Harry Potter reference," Stiles says. "It means - "

"I don't care," Derek says, and takes a step forward.

"It was sort of mean, in a dorky, harmless way," Stiles says weakly. His throat is kind of dry.

"Stiles," Derek says, "I'm going to kiss you now."

"By all means," Stiles says, and drops his camera.

He doesn't know how long they stand there but it feels like forever, the sun beating hot on the back of Stiles' neck, the awkward press of Derek's P-90 between their chests, Derek's hand holding a little too tight to Stiles' shoulder. Stiles keeps shifting his weight nervously and Derek accidentally bites Stiles' lip, and Stiles doesn't know what to do with his hands so he just kind of leaves them suspended in mid-air like he's flailing or something, and they both smile when they pull away.

"Oh," Stiles says.

Derek makes some sort of Luceren gesture that Stiles doesn't recognize, but it looks kind of smug. "Yes," he replies.

"This is so a date," Stiles says, with a little giddy smile of triumph.

"Whatever you say, I guess," Derek says indulgently.

 

Stiles returns with over two hundred shots of crystal clear, perfectly catalogued images and only barely manages to not rub it in anyone's face. He still feels vaguely guilty, though, but in a really vindictive, satisfied sort of way, kind of like when he was sixteen and he and Scott keyed their science teacher's car after they overheard him calling his wife a 'bitch' on the phone. Like yeah, he's totally got a hot boyfriend with connections, so what, but also, sorry it's unfair, sucks to be anyone else.

"I'm going to write a new paper," Stiles announces to Isaac, the next morning while they're waiting in line at the security checkpoint. "About nonverbal languages in the Milky Way."

"Of course you are," Isaac grumbles. "Let me guess, you'll need to do lots of hands-on research."

"Probably," Stiles says.

"You're going to be a total pill about it too," Isaac guesses.

"Most def."

"I'm totally happy for you and everything," Isaac continues. Then he scowls again. "But seriously, shut up."

"Jealous," Stiles accuses cheerfully.