It's the worst Monday in existence, one hour to waste until lunch. Stiles is calculating how much soda he needs to pour on his control panel in order to short-circuit his floor's entire system network when his computer shows an incoming comm. He flips on his headset.
"Hello," says Stiles.
"Stiles," says his father's voice.
Stiles hangs up.
Three seconds later, the call comes again. Stiles reroutes it to voicemail.
"Hey, you've reached the desk of the one and only, Stiles Stilinski. If this is Scott, just come find me, it's faster. If this is about the Craigslist ad, that was a poorly executed prank made by an asshole named Jackson Whittemore and I have the records to show I'm not a child molester. Please don't call me again. Anything else, leave your message after the beep, and I'll get back to you later. Thanks!" Beep.
"Stiles," says his father. "Thank you for being ridiculously immature. Ignoring me isn't going to accomplish anything. Pick up the comm. I'll wait."
Stiles takes out a box of paper clips and starts unbending them into straight wires. He's on his third when his dad heaves a labored sigh and says, "Stiles. Right now." Two more paper clips are geometrically deconstructed under Stiles' awesome might, and finally his dad says, "Aw, hell, come on, kiddo. You know I'm sorry about this. But it's out of my hands and there's nothing I can d—"
Stiles picks up the line. "Bullshit! I'm calling bullshit."
The screen in the center of Stiles' dashboard flickers on and his dad's face appears, looking by far too pale, which Stiles hopes is due more to a bad graphic link than because his dad hasn't had a good night's sleep in over two weeks. Or maybe he's just fed up trying to deal with Stiles' distinct lack of sympathy for the situation; he does sound rather harried when he replies, "So let's get something straight. This caught all of us unaware. Seriously, Stiles, do you think I can control the weather around here?"
"Someone up there is supposed to," Stiles mutters, snidely.
His dad plows on, ignoring him. "—and that I specifically arranged for a lunar storm to blow in a new strain of eco-virus in time to hinder the once-a-year visit from my only son?"
"No," admits Stiles, "but you could let me come anyway."
"Out of the question. You haven't even gotten your basic shots this year."
"I'm getting them! I have an appointment with Deaton tomorrow! I'll be ready for next week!"
"It's a new strain, Stiles. There is no vaccine yet."
"When are you going to get one, then?"
Another long sigh. His dad shuffles through some notes on his desk, which is less of a desk than a communal attempt of loose, stacked papers to return to their natural pre-processed state of forest trees. "Well, that new scientist, Morrell, who got sent up here last quarter, she said something about the earliest anti-v test results in three weeks. So, we're talking one month from now, earliest."
"A whole month?" Stiles explodes. "How long do you expect this storm to last?"
From the other end of the room, Greenberg makes a loud shushing sound. Stiles flips him off and turns back to his vid-screen, where his dad's frowning at a fully loaded clipboard.
"Meteorology reports are saying at least six weeks. It's a heck of a storm, Stiles."
"Yeah, I know," Stiles says, mulishly. "I saw the news bulletin."
"Ah, so you are just projecting your frustration onto me."
Stiles pulls a face. "Don't make it sound like you're some martyr here."
"I'm working ten hour shifts. I'm on three separate committees. I'm in charge of making daily perimeter sweeps to all our air tanks since Charlie hasn't come back from his vacation yet. The greenies are still on my back about our waste disposal procedures. Journalists and kooks keep on nagging for progress reports for things that don't exist yet and don't give up their hounding until I talk them down, which can take hours. The Copernicus terraforming team is due to arrive in as little as a week, and I just got a notice telling me that they can't reschedule. The one thing I was truly looking forward to this year, a visit from my son, now can't happen because a strange alien germ can infect the entire compound at a moment's notice, and it's either deal with it or abort this entire year's atmosphere development project. And you're saying I don't deserve a little slack?"
"I refuse to feel guilty about this," says Stiles, even though now he totally is.
His dad's expression turns chagrined and he shakes his head. "I'm not asking you to feel guilty. I just want you to understand that you staying safe on Earth would lessen one huge thing on my ever-growing list of worries. Got me, kid?"
"Gotcha," mutters Stiles. He swipes the paperclips off his desk blindly. The way that his dad's headset is sitting slightly crooked over his head, as if he put in on too haphazardly and couldn't be bitched to fix it, is making Stiles' hands itch to straighten it out for him. "Hey dad," Stiles says. "You're doing good work up there. I—I should tell you that more often."
A few of the wrinkles that line his father's face soften. His shoulders slump as he leans back in his chair. "Thanks, Stiles. That's—nice to hear. Thanks. I know it's tough, but—" Something beeps from his desk and he swears, sitting back up and slapping at random piles of desk litter to locate the perpetrator. "Sorry, I think I'm needed somewhere. Let's talk tomorrow. Since you can't come this quarter, we'll see if we can arrange something for early next year. That okay with you?"
"Sure dad," says Stiles.
"Oh, and one last thing," his dad adds, wincing. "We're stocking up on our general supplies in case this storm really hits us hard, so we need to send an emergency convoy. Can you send us an extra food shipment by 1700 today?"
"Today? You're ruining my vacation and giving me more work?! You know that stuff's not in my job description, right?"
The beeping is becoming frantic; his dad looks two seconds from brandishing his lasergun to shoot up his entire office. Stiles really does not envy the man.
"Fine, god. I'll get it done. But don't send—"
"Great, I'll let Derek know. Take care of yourself, kiddo. See you, love you." His dad logs off and the vid screen goes black.
Stiles starts at the blank abyss; his own tumultuous reflection glares back at him.
"I hate everything," he says.
When foul mood strikes, find Scott.
As his cursed luck would have it, the search takes Stiles longer than usual because Scott isn't in any of his usual lurking spots. There are no exaggerated war cries from the hologram room on level five, no mop of black hair bent over a plate of food in the cafeteria on level four, no bouncing laughter from the trampolines in the gymnasium on level three. Stiles is near the end of his rope when he practically barrels into Scott, who's rounding a corner from the hallway leading up to administration on level two.
"Scott, holy fuck, where have you been all morning? I called you a billion times and—"
"Yeah, I know, I kept feeling my phone buzzing. Sorry, I got called into this meeting and couldn't pick up—"
Stiles grabs Scott's shoulders. "Do you know what happened? I got this email from my dad this morning, and there's this charged moondust storm about to hit the compound; it's going to take over a huge blotch of the near-side and is supposed to last for weeks. My dad said I'm not allowed to go on the trip! Forbade me, Scott. Grounded me. Can you even believe this shit? I'm not sixteen anymore. I'm qualified, I'm trained, I'm going to get my stupid shots, and he's still like, no, Stiles, you can't—I'm so pissed off. The universe totally hates me because today has just been one bad thing to worse and—wait, you're smiling. What's—why are you smiling?"
Scott is beyond smiling. He's full out beaming. Stiles is squinting just from looking at him.
"Dude," says Scott. "You'll never guess! I got picked for the new terraforming squad they want to send up next week! I'm going lunar! Awesome or what?"
Stiles stares. "Oh my god, I hate everything."
"Aw, come on, man," says Scott, patting Stiles on the back with one hand while his other concentrates on shovelling food into his mouth. Stiles lets out an agonized sound to let Scott know just how unhelpful he's being on the let's-comfort-Stiles-and-his-shitty-life front, but it's mostly muffled by his hoodie. His own lunch sits in front of him on the cafeteria table, untouched.
"You planning to suffocate yourself?" asks Scott.
Stiles peels the hood away from his face. "It wouldn't even make a difference. I'm already suffocating here on Earth anyway."
Scott laughs. "But the Moon's where there's no oxygen, dummy."
"It's a metaphor, Jesus. A metaphor for my extreme distress at being stranded here in Beacon fucking Hills, alone, while you get to rocket up to MS3 and bounce around in your spacesuit and plant awesome bioforms in fucking Moon rock. Scott," Stiles pleads, "you've got to sneak me onto your ship. Please, dude. I can squeeze into your suitcase or something."
"No way, your dad would shoot me into the sun. Look, it sucks, I know, but just wait till next quarter, I'm sure he'll make it up to you."
Stiles pulls his hoodie back over his head and into the fabric, groaning the groan of the truly affronted. "Four months?!"
"What's the big deal, anyway? It's not like you haven't been up there before. You've gone literally every year since your dad got posted."
"That's the point. I go every year and it's, like, the only exciting thing that happens to me all year. It’s Christmas and Halloween and Thanksgiving and my birthday all rolled into one. It's what makes all this dead time here on Earth bearable. It's like, it's like—what if I told you that you were only allowed to play in zero-G once a year, and the rest of the time you have to wear these weights on your ankles. And you count down the days until you can take off your weights and go into zero-G, and the week before you can, some douche screws up the simulator by spilling a bag of chips in the aircraft engines."
Scott scratches his chin and his eyebrows furrow. "Yeah, pretty shitty."
"Okay, come over to my dorm later. We'll see if you can fit in my suitcase. I'll tuck socks around your head so you won't break your face during the trip."
Scott punches his arm. "What do you want me to do? I'm under contract to go wherever the bosses send me, whether it's Mount Everest or the Mariana Trench or outer space. You're technically under contract to stay at your desk and mess with numbers and wires. Just because your dad's sheriff of the biggest compound on the Moon doesn't mean that you get freebie trips up there whenever you want."
"By all means, rub it in."
"If it makes you feel better, I've got to get, like, a zillion shots every day for a week starting this afternoon, just to protect against this dumb virus thing. I have to be put to sleep during some of them." Scott shudders. "It's totally lame. Everyone knows there's only a one in some whatever-thousand chance that people can get sick from it."
Stiles perks up. "Hey, yes, you're right. It's probably just going to decimate another crop field or something and then drift off into space." He jumps out of his seat and tugs at Scott's arm. "Scott, you need to call up my dad. Say to him what you just said to me."
"That's not going to work," says Scott. "It could be a one-in-a-million chance and he still won't go for it, since it's you. Also, I've got training, in—" he glances at his watch, "shit, right now. I'm out of here." He stuffs the rest of his apple into his mouth and gathers his tray. "Try to at least eat half of that," he says, nodding at Stiles' pristine meal. "Think of your poor dad, who hasn't eaten a real burger in who knows how long."
"This doesn't qualify as a real burger either," Stiles reminds him, then jolts: food. The supply shipment for this afternoon. Shit. He forgot. He drops his face into his hands and swallows a scream.
"What's wrong?" Scott asks, alarmed.
"I really, really hate my life right now."
"Hey, cheer up. I'll bring over some beer tonight. We can watch some horror films and you can give mean commentary."
Stiles drops his head onto the back of his chair and eyes Scott warily. "You won't tell me to shut up?"
"Done. Eight o'clock? I'll get the pizza."
Scott grins. "Got it. Okay, wish me luck! I'm not going to let Jackson hog the spotlight this time." He picks up his tray and bag and dashes off.
Stiles stares after him. "JACKSON'S GOING TOO?" he hollers, and Scott half-turns to give him a feeble shrug before running out of the caf.
His watch beeps 1330. Lunch time is officially over. Stiles takes a few bites of his burger and fries, but all he can taste is his own unsavory bitterness. He's not looking forward to the rest of the day.
His office is located on sub-level six of the National Terra-Caeli Colonization Organization's (or NTCCO, for short) Terra Nullius department, Aeronautics division, in Northern California, also affectionately referred to by Stiles as the sixth circle of hell. Growing up in Beacon Hills, he'd thought that going off to college would afford him a one-way ticket out of his boring and infuriatingly-familiar hometown forever, but evidently life was keen on having the last laugh. As soon as Stiles graduated from MIT, aerospace engineering diploma firmly stapled behind his name, he applied to NASA, the ISS, all the big English-speaking space corps, and got accepted immediately into NTCCO, partly due to his resume, and partly due to his last name. Stiles had been okay with that, because hey, when your dad was one of the top candidates for Community Sheriff on the newest and largest colony base to be built on the fucking Moon, he felt it was fair to preen a little at the recognition it afforded. Stiles was given a great starting salary, a cool beginner's project, and was posted all the way to glitzy... Beacon Hills. Turned out that the years Stiles had spent in college had been the perfect amount of time for NTCCO to build a fancy spaceport at the edge of what used to be Beacon Hills Preserve, where recent decades of pollution and lost groundwater had nullified all reforestation attempts. The empty and hardening fields couldn't support much vegetation anymore, but had been deemed ideal for a rocket landing site, where smaller space- or aircraft could dock, refuel, repair, and restock, before shooting back up to the skies. The main "building" was deep underneath the site itself, with Research and Development near the very bottom of the food chain, only one level higher than the dead end of Archives and Data Storage. Stiles had not only been sent back to the town he'd long since grown out of, he's now literally buried underneath it.
It does help, though, to have lots of old school people who are also in the same boat. Lydia’s with the rest of the astrophysicists in the linked astronomy building, and Stiles shares an office with Danny Mahealani, who was from Stiles' high school chemistry class, and Greenberg, from the year above. Scott and Jackson Whitte-douche-more, as well as a few other kids from Stiles' year, got recruited as habitators, trained to plunge, climb, and fly into the world's most dangerous environments to determine viability of terraforming. It's the one blessing of this place that Stiles can have his best friend within arm's reach whenever Scott's not on some life-threatening mission. (He's quite competent at them, despite his younger years as a bitch to asthma and allergies—but then, he's always had a gift with nurturing life. Some people just have a magic touch with handling living things; then there are people like Stiles, who can't even raise a cactus without it shriveling up into plant jerky, regardless of how accurately he sticks to the watering directions.) Stiles occasionally has moments of wistful fancy when he daydreams about having Scott's job, travelling up to dizzying heights and down to nauseating depths, exploring all the secret nooks and crannies of Mother Earth, never chained down to a desk and computer, having all of Earth and space right at your fingertips—as long as the coordinators and higher-ups allowed it. That's the kicker. Stiles has never really done well with authority, and Scott's job, while thrilling, does boil down to a lot of yes-sirs and no-sirs, going where the manager's finger points, planting seeds where told, laying soil where the landscapers say so; there's no room for imagination and improvisation when you're working in such inhospitable areas that even the slightest margin of error can prove fatally costly, or just plain fatal. At least with Stiles' engineering job, there's no team captain hovering over his shoulder all the time, making sure he's following instructions to a T, questioning him whenever he tries something new. Thank goodness for that, really, because otherwise Stiles wouldn't be able to make any of his cool inventions on company time.
Like his new radar. Technically, outside projects aren’t allowed without proper authorization, but his dad's endlessly complaining about how hard mining is on the Moon, so a few months ago Stiles thought it would be great to have a tool that could sniff out pure elements embedded in Moon rock, like a metal detector. His model's not quite capable of picking up on minerals underground yet, but he's working up to that. Right now, he's more occupied with trying to minimize space by using picochips, so the thing can be easily tucked into a pocket—considering the super heavy equipment that miners already have to lug around, he's certain that feature would be much appreciated. Also, come on, a handheld beeping device that sends out electromagnetic pulses? So James Bond. Wicked neat.
Stiles is on a roll, fingers skimming across his keyboards, nearing the end of the stage III calculations for the visualization algorithms, and is sightlessly reaching over to grab his coffee mug when a voice says, from right behind him, "There's no shipment."
Stiles jumps; coffee spills all over his lap.
"Fucking—!" He whips around to see—of course, who else could it be? Six foot one of black-clothed muscle and bad karma. He looks just how Stiles remembers him: menacing, grumpy, and smoulderingly good-looking. Gross. "Derek, oh my god. I'm going to kill you."
Derek's eyes flit down to Stiles' soaked crotch. "Shouldn't you be screaming in pain?" He sounds vaguely disappointed.
"It was cold. Hold on." Stiles can't believe this. "Did you wait until I was reaching for the coffee before you said anything?"
Derek's left eyebrow twitches.
Rage flares hot in Stiles' gut. It's like a chemical reaction, whenever Derek is even near. "When the hell did you come in here? How did you come in? You don't have a passcard."
"That kid with the ugly tie let me in."
Greenberg, Stiles curses. He should've known. Danny never would have betrayed him like this.
"What are you even doing?" Derek asks, stepping closer to Stiles' desk. Stiles yelps and flattens himself over his computer screens.
"Top secret! None of your business! For Earthling eyes only!" Stiles smashes at his control panel until he manages to set the system to Sleep. He catches the tail end of Derek's frown as he twists to grab some Kleenex from his drawer. Between fruitless dabbing at his stained pants, he asks, "What are you even doing here? Did you get lost on your way back from the washroom or something?"
"There was no shipment at the export dock, and no one there was in charge of the order," Derek says. "It took me almost twenty minutes to find your office. I kept on asking for a Stilinski in the shipping department. How the hell was I supposed to know that you're an engineer?"
"Do I look like I work in shipping?" Stiles says, holding out his arms. "Every time you see me, I'm in jeans and a t-shirt or whatever. People in shipping wear blue uniforms."
Derek scowls. "I don't pay attention to that sort of thing."
"I stick out like a sore thumb."
"I didn't come all this way to talk about your fashion sense. Where's the shipment?"
Now it's Stiles' turn to scowl. "It should be there. Are you sure you went to the right dock?" He looks at the back of his hand, where he scribbled the details of his order with Materials and Stock. "Dock 12. Did you go to dock 12?"
"Yes," says Derek. "It's empty except for a rack of solar cells."
"What? You must have missed it. I placed an express order at 1400. That's over four hours ago. It's there."
"How can I miss seeing over twenty lead-lined crates?"
"I have no idea," says Stiles, "but that's your problem, not mine."
Derek's arm shoots out and grabs a handful of Stiles' shirt. "I'm making it your problem." He starts yanking him towards the door.
"What the hell, asshole!" Stiles cries, trying to pull away, but Derek has the mass of a hunk of meteorite, so Stiles has no choice but to follow him or risk tearing of the Batman logo on his t-shirt. It's a collector's item—Stiles doesn't want it stretched. Derek manhandles Stiles down the hall and into an elevator; their ride up seven floors to ground level is extremely awkward. Stiles fiddles with his phone and Derek glares at the elevator numbers consecutively lighting up as if they're spelling out a complicated insult to his mother.
"And may I ask the goal of this little field trip?" asks Stiles, just to break the heavy silence.
"You're going to find me the shipment," says Derek flatly. "I can't do anything without clearance, and apparently I need authorization from you to get clearance. I don't even know your real first name. You realize how stupid you made me look?"
"Ah, yeah," Stiles rubs the back of his head. "Did my dad never explain it to you? He makes me do his dirty work because I can get all your orders arranged within 24 hours and the actual shipping people take at least three days—I'm pretty sure half of them are incompetent. It's because I hack into the system and move up the order priority. Also, I can order more goods without having to get admin signatures and stuff."
Derek doesn't look impressed. "You don't get in trouble for this?"
"Hey, I'm doing my part to keep the compounds running smoothly, okay," Stiles says. "And I'm pretty sure our director knows, but just doesn't care. It's less work for him in the long run."
"So if you're so good at it, why didn't our order show up?"
"Maybe someone magically did your job for you," Stiles says. Though now he's getting worried: the shipment should be there. If something went wrong, or Stiles screwed up the order somehow (unlikely, but not impossible), then Derek will be late for this return to the Moon base, and make things that much more complicated for his dad. Plus, then Derek won't be able to take off before sunset and if delayed, he'll have less of a window to make it back to MS3 before the first wave of the storm hits. "How are things up there, by the way?"
"Hectic," says Derek. And nothing else.
"...and?" Stiles prompts.
Derek shrugs. "It's a biomagnetic storm. We've had them before, we'll have them again. It's fine."
The elevator pings. They step out and Stiles leads the way to the main docks, with Derek keeping pace beside him. Stiles' gaze slides left, watching Derek take near-noiseless, measured steps forward. You’d think Derek of all people would be stomping around like Godzilla on caffeine, but no, Derek treads on clouds. Not for the first time, Stiles has to wonder what being on Earth feels like for him, as someone who was born and raised on a place with 17% of the Earth's gravity. Derek walks like he's aware of it, his paces completely even, heel landing first, toe following in a fast sweep—it's almost like he's on a catwalk, where every stride is judged and practised. It doesn’t take much to deduce that he doesn’t belong—it's like watching a goldfish swim in an ocean. He has to feel so much heavier here, but if it discomforts him, he doesn't let it show. Or at least, he doesn't make it obvious it's the gravity that's bothering him; annoyed-pissed-constipated is kind of his default expression. Around Stiles, anyway.
"My dad made it sound like sort of a big deal," Stiles says. "So it's not so bad?"
"I didn't say that," Derek says stiffly. "The storm is one thing. Your dad's more worried about the new virus. They think it mutated from the biomagnetic grain pesticides that survived in the ionosphere. Extraneous facilities have been put on lockdown because we don't want people to spend more time outside than they have to."
"Wait, then, but who's going to take care of the air tanks?" Stiles asks. "My dad—" he pauses, swallowing.
"Yeah," says Derek. His lips flatten, and he says, haltingly. "He'll be okay. There's not much chance for someone who's been up there as long as he has to contract anything new."
"He complains about them every morning, so I assume he's taking them."
"Good," says Stiles.
A moment passes and Derek mentions, "He was looking forward to you coming. His face when Morrell advised against it—" one shoulder rises and lowers in a careless gesture. "Huge disappointment. He cares about you a lot."
Stiles' heart gives a little sputter, as if it'd been given a tiny electrical shock. It always does that whenever Derek alludes to caring and love, two emotions that hold such contrast to Derek's personality, or even the sharp planes of Derek's face and equally sharp intensity of his eyes, that Stiles is constantly shocked that Derek can even express them. It's not that he forgets, exactly, that most of Derek's family is dead. But the first time Stiles had met Derek, in his dad's office in the unofficial "town hall" of Moon Station III Selene, Derek had glared Stiles into cowering when Stiles had offered his condolences (obviously it was years too late, but an accident like that never fades entirely out of talk). Since then, Stiles has never brought them up. In fact he tries not even to think about it in Derek's presence, in case maybe Derek could smell pity coming from him or something.
Although pity would be the last thing Stiles would feel for Derek, now that he has plenty of experience with what a jackass Derek is.
It's why Stiles hadn't bothered waiting at dock 12 around 1700, when Derek's ship was due to touch down. Why make an already terrible day worse by getting threatened, insulted, and his very presence disdained by the almighty Derek Hale of the Moon's Territory Alpha?
It has nothing to do with the fact that being around Derek also stirs up in Stiles' gut a swarm of other stuff, both good and bad, feelings Stiles has never let himself properly qualify or label.
"Yeah, I know. Thanks," is what Stiles replies, and Derek's eyes flit to him briefly, unreadable.
The Shipping and Receiving Shuttle and Craft launch facility is a basically a roofless, aluminum-colored warehouse about the size of twenty football fields, located at the west end of Beacon Hills' NTCCO campus. It has 12 docks laid out in clockwise order, the first and twelfth dock closest to the ground-floor headquarters that tops the institute's subterranean levels. The glass-windowed hallway that leads out from that building to the facility's central gates is stripped with zooming conveyer belts, and Stiles cranes his neck to peek around Derek's shoulder as he follows Derek onto Carrier Line 12.
"What did I fucking tell you," Derek says, when their dock comes into view at the front of the loading terminal, as desolately empty as Stiles' fridge at home—even the solar cell rack Derek mentioned is gone. The Gray Wolf, Derek's X-25 model spaceplane, is parked neatly at the end of the asphalt track, its dark finish gleaming molten orange under the waning sunlight. Derek raises his eyebrows at Stiles and spreads his arms to indicate the tarmac. "Do you see any supplies here? Is it under some cloaking gear?"
"Damn, what's going on," murmurs Stiles. He steps off the conveyer belt and weaves through the churning lines of shipping employees until he finds a communications port under an overarching fluorescent lamppost. He picks up a phone receiver, swipes his ID card, punches in a long stream of numbers, and waits.
"Materials and Stock, this is Matt Daehler speaking."
"Matt, you jerk, where the hell is my order?"
"This is Stilinski?" Matt asks, and damn him, the fucker sounds amused. Next time Stiles sees him in the cafeteria, he's going to dump orange juice all over that expensive camera Matt lugs everywhere like it's his own child.
"Dude, you said you took down my express order for an extra set of MS3's monthly rations! It's almost seven, but it's not here yet."
"Ohh yeaaah," drawls Matt. "That. Gosh, Stiles. It was such a tall order, and on such short notice. Usually processing takes one day, plus another two days for packing. I ran your request, but we couldn't fit it into the schedule today. Really sorry."
"That's crazy, I've done this before and never had any problems. Where's Shantal, anyway? She's usually the one to arrange my dad's stuff."
"She's out sick. I'm subbing for her assignments."
"Well, you are a piss poor substitute. I needed that shipment by five, and instead I have nada. Zilch. Cero cajas. The dock is so vacant it's like Omega Territory over here."
"Cry me a river," says Matt lightly. "Look, I'll pull some strings. It'll be there by tomorrow at 1600, fair?"
Stiles sputters. "1600? That's almost 24 hours away! Do you not understand the meaning of 'rush speed'?"
"Of course I do. But that is rush speed. You were asking for warp speed."
"Oh my god," says Stiles. He puts a palm to his forehead. "What is going on with today? It's the worst day ever. Matt, this is your doing, isn't it? Don't you have voodoo dolls of a bunch of people hidden in your desk somewhere?"
"Get a grip, Stilinski. One day late isn't going to cause the end of the world. I've got no idea how Shantal managed to get your orders so fast, because that's literally the best I can do."
"Do you know, the reason we can't be friends is because I can never tell when you're lying," Stiles says.
"Iiiinteresting," says Matt.
Holy fuck, Stiles could punch him. But Matt's on sub-level two and that's over ten minutes away. Stiles punches the air anyway, picturing Matt's smarmy, roguishly-handsome face hovering there. Before he can let loose a ruthless force of expletives, Derek plucks the receiver out of Stiles' hand and sticks it under his mouth.
"This is Derek Hale, Deputy and Junior Flight Commander of Moon Station Selene, authority level 1C, Lunar Resident Code 076. I'm on a time limited pick-up because of a class 2 lunar storm due to hit the 40% of the lower western hemisphere of the lunar near-side within the next 48 hours, and I need this shipment as soon as possible—tonight, if it can still make it. Do you copy?"
Derek doesn't look at him. "Thank you," he replies after a beat, and slams the phone back on the receiver.
"What, you," says Stiles. "You can't just—" Except, yeah, Derek can, and yeah, Derek just did.
And it was more than a little hot.
"He said most workers have gone home for the day. It'll come at 0900 sharp tomorrow."
"All that and you couldn't even get it to arrive today?" Stiles says weakly, because if he doesn't rag on Derek, he'll end up doing something utterly humiliating, like joke about pulling rank for his own gain or something, which could be taken in a very—oh god, stop.
Derek sends him a peeved look. "Shut up. I didn't hear you doing any better."
"No, dude," Stiles rushes to say, "Tomorrow's fine, tomorrow's good. Uh, so. Let's head back to my office? We should send a comm to my dad. And find you a hotel or something."
The silence that follows is almost choking.
"Oh, unless...?" Stiles starts, trailing off because he has no idea how to respond to that uncomfortable twist of Derek's mouth.
"I didn't bring any money," Derek says. Then he shoots eye-daggers at the floor by Stiles' feet.
"Wow, why is this happening to me," Stiles breathes, and resigns himself to his fate. "What is wrong with today?"
"You're serious," Derek says, when they reach Stiles' car in the parking lot.
"Why, what's wrong?" says Stiles suspiciously.
Derek nods at Stiles' jeep. "You're telling me this piece of scrap metal actually moves?"
"Scrap metal? This is a piece of history, okay. Do you know how much this model is worth?"
"Priceless, I'll bet."
"Darn tootin'," says Stiles.
"Because no one else wants to buy it."
"Wow, so funny. You looking to sleep on a park bench tonight?"
Derek grunts and tosses himself into the passenger seat.
The commute to Stiles' apartment is about twenty-five minutes with traffic; tonight the streets are clear and brushed orange with early lamplight as they make their way down Brookehouse Crescent, Charing Street, Reeds Drive, but they unluckily seem to hit every red light possible on the route over. Stiles is grumbling by the third stop, but Derek says nothing, head turned to watch the scenery mutely passing by outside. Stiles has no idea how a man born on the Moon views life on Earth. How many pine trees has Derek seen in his lifetime? How many fast food restaurants? Does Derek get spooked by the sound of owls hooting and dogs barking in a darkened park? Does Derek find their small town architecture fascinatingly beautiful or obscenely excessive? If he and Stiles each had to paint a picture of what they see, would their paintings look at all the same? Stiles has driven these roads a million times and could probably walk them back and forth in his sleep; Beacon Hills is boring beyond boring for him, but the way that Derek tracks things as they glide past the window makes Stiles look around more intently too, with renewed interest, registering little details about his town that he'd never bothered to before. The flickering neon R above the local Techs-R-Us (pronounced "techsaurus" by Stiles until third grade), the limestone water fountain in Bailey's Park that spits out water in ten rotating patterns, children running after their parents on a stroll around the block, the old man smoking a cigarette at the street corner and the teenager with the bright pink mohawk bumming a light off him; little snapshots of life in every direction: normal, unhampered, still trudging on despite the planet's worsening environmental concerns and depleting natural resources. This is nothing like the Moon, which, by and large, is a giant sanitized bubble of people working towards an end goal. There are few positions on the Moon that aren't related to some kind of job; it's a project first, a village second. Except for the few residents who were born on it, Stiles doubts many people would call the Moon a home.
Stiles wonders what Derek does for fun.
From the corner of his eye, he can see Derek barely blinking as they navigate the streets, his reflection in the mirror showing a solemn, eerily captivated expression. Then he notices that Derek's left hand is clenched in a death grip on Derek's knee.
"How about some music?" Stiles asks loudly, flipping the radio from AM to FM. Immediately, hard rock starts to scream from the speakers, and Stiles flinches, quickly switching the station. "Any preference?"
"No," says Derek, sounding annoyed.
Stiles toggles through station after station, stopping on each only briefly. "Pop? Country? Rap? Oh, more pop. Can't see you exactly being a fan of pop, no offense. What about metal?"
"Just pick one," Derek grits out.
Stiles hits the button one more time and a slow, graceful trombone melody drifts through the car. It twines together with tinkling piano and velvety clarinet, accompanied by a deep, raspy voice.
"—skies of blue, and clouds of white... the bright blessed days, the dark sacred nights... and I think to myself..."
Derek glances at the radio.
"Good?" asks Stiles.
"You know this song? You like Louis Armstrong?"
"Who doesn't," says Derek blandly, but Stiles laughs.
"Aw, man. My parents are huge fans, I can't even tell you. My dad loves jazz—he used to play tenor sax, did you know?—and my mom loved piano music. It's insane how many much Louis I listened to growing up. It's probably imprinted in my soul. My dad says my mom used to sing this song to me as a baby when I was crying. It’d calm me down right away. That—was probably oversharing. Sorry."
"It's fine," says Derek. Then, he adds, "Mine too, actually."
"My parents liked old jazz too."
"Oh," Stiles says, struck. "Right. Cool."
Derek gives Stiles a quick, darting smile, and then diverts his attention back to the world streaming by on their every side.
Stiles checks at the next red light, and yeah: Derek's fingers have loosened their terrible clench on his pants. Stiles doesn't say anything, but aims a victorious grin at the road.
"Stiles," greets Scott's voice, as soon as Stiles unlocks his front door. "You should really get rid of that cactus my mom gave you, dude. It's, like—growing spores or something. I read something about it; if they burst open and you inhale the—oh—is that. Derek Hale?"
"The fungus is proof that not everything I take care of is doomed to die on me," says Stiles, tossing his backpack on the ground and placing two pizza boxes onto the coffee table. "And, yes, Derek Hale. Derek, you remember Scott. He's a junior habitator. He's going lunar next week, unlike some unlucky people here."
Derek steps into the hallway behind Stiles and warily examines the apartment like he's encroaching on a hostile alien environment. As if he's afraid this new landscape is peppered with unknown hazards, but is unable to entirely quench his curiosity. He dips his head to Scott, who's sprawled on Stiles' couch with his lap full of laser-disc cases in various states of wear.
"Uh, hi," says Scott.
"Hey. What's the goal of your mission?" asks Derek, which is better manners than he's ever shown Stiles.
"Prelim terraforming of Copernicus crater," says Scott. "You ever been?"
"A few times," says Derek. "It's... big."
Stiles rolls his eyes so hard his face hurts.
But Scott agrees easily. "I'm really looking forward to it, even though my team's only going as backup to the main unit. Maybe I'll see you up there?" Derek nods.
"Derek's stranded here overnight because his shipment won't be packed and ready till tomorrow morning," Stiles explains. "In the meantime, he's going to be a polite and unassuming guest, aren't you, Derek."
Derek's glare could wilt flowers. Stiles does his best to not be fazed. "Welcome and all that, I guess?" he continues, waving Derek in and pointing in various directions from the living room. "Okay, so: kitchen, bathroom, my bedroom, balcony, closet, that's it. Do you, uh, want to sleep on the rug in my room or the couch here?" He points to where Scott's sitting.
Scott hastily stands up.
"I'll take the couch," says Derek. Then he adds, belatedly, "Thanks."
"Nooo problem," Stiles says. It's not like he has much of a choice, anyway. He might not be Derek's biggest fan, but his father had raised Stiles to be a decent person. And it's only for one night. Stiles can totally handle Derek I'm-so-hot-it's-actually-obscene Hale being in the same cramped quarters for one night. There's positively no need to panic, just because Derek will get to see (and judge) where Stiles lives, and will be sleeping down the hall from Stiles, and will clean himself in Stiles' shower—Christ.
At least Stiles has fresh pizza to numb the frustration. Scott, bless his one-track mind, is already appropriating a huge slice for himself, and Stiles flops onto the couch and reaches for his own. He stares at Derek, who's still standing by Stiles' doorway like he thinks the floor is hiding a minefield. "You can sit down, take a load off. Have some pizza. We're going to watch horror movies. I promise there's nothing more traumatizing in my apartment than my terrible taste in vintage films."
Scott adds helpfully, "It really is terrible. The worse the movie is, the more Stiles likes it, because he can totally tear them apart. Like, he dissects them, chews them up, and leaves them to rot."
Derek snorts, lowering himself down carefully beside Stiles with an acceptable amount of space between them. He asks, "Anything to drink?"
"There's beer and cranberry juice in the fridge," Scott says. He's holding up movies, one at a time, for Stiles' approval, while Stiles eschews one after another with a grimace. Stiles gestures absently in the direction of the kitchen.
"Help yourself," he says.
He feels Derek's weight lift off the couch, his leather jacket creaking, and hears deceptively light footsteps across the hardwood floor, then the snick of the fridge door opening. By the time Scott and Stiles decide on a movie (House of Wax, 2005), Derek comes back, three beers in one hand, their cool glass bottles already damp with condensation, and three small plates in other.
"Oh, great, thank you," Scott says as he's handed a beer and plate, because he's a nice person like that.
Stiles takes his without a word, narrowing his eyes at Derek in a way that hopefully conveys just how pleased he is that Derek went through his cupboards without asking. Derek doesn't notice and grabs two slices of pizza.
The laser-disc gets put in. The lights are dimmed, the movie is started. Stiles edges himself as close to Scott as possible without it being conspicuous and tries not to squirm too much. It's hard, though, because he can see from the corner of his eye that Derek isn't watching the movie at all, but instead is glancing cautiously around Stiles' living room.
Stiles' tension levels start to spike up like a volcano spewing lava. He's not ashamed of his place, but it's nothing special, just a regular one-bedroom apartment with a nice view over what remains of Beacon Hills' redwood forest. And Derek is from the fucking Moon. Derek's used to wide open spaces, huge domed rooms that shine like oil spills under solar radiation but from the bottom up allow a fathomless glimpse into the cosmos above, metallic walls that reflect your face back like mirrors while simultaneously insulating heat and shielding interiors against loose space debris. He's grown up with state-of-the-art technology, everything hooked to automatic sensors in order to cut down on space and improve efficiency, every item with a proper function and place. Stiles' home must be a garbage dump wrapped in a jail cell in comparison: low ceilings, walls dotted with photographs and baseball posters; his kitchen table cluttered with half-empty chip bags and various unassembled mechanical pieces, batteries, wires, a soldering gun; his bookshelf crammed full of comics, novels, textbooks, binders, action figures, LVDs, all in senseless order; his favorite pair of sneakers, scuffed and dirty with age, strewn by the balcony door. Tiny pockets of chaos within the solar system of Stiles.
He realizes that Derek's staring at his window. The blinds are pulled down and it's past dusk, but the last vestiges of sunset still line the horizontal plastic bars like frames of gold, tilting away as if being pushed back by the white electronic light emitting from Stiles' plasma television screen. At the edge of the windowsill sits Stiles' decrepit cactus slash fungal mold collection, the worst way possible to punctuate the slipshod methodology of Stiles' life. God, Scott is right, that thing's a time bomb, and Stiles needs to get rid of it before it poisons him in his sleep.
"You can stop," whispers Derek, turning back to the TV.
"Stop what," Stiles hisses back.
"Freaking out. It's fine."
"What? Who's freaking out?"
Derek huffs out something that might be a laugh, and reaches for another slice of pizza. Stiles takes a deep breath and finally has a sip of his beer.
By the time Paris Hilton's character gets murdered ("I don't understand the blood splatters from this," Stiles whines. "Like, her brain gets impaled with a spear, but blood leaks out of her ears? And where is the blood dripping around her nose coming from if she's facing the ground? Her blood doesn't obey gravity. Did they just randomly drip red over her face and then glue the spear on afterwards?" "Dude, she's a minor character, let it go," says Scott tiredly. "You promised you wouldn't complain," says Stiles. "That's not complaining, that's appeasing," returns Scott. "Shut up, both of you," snaps Derek, ending that conversation) all of the food has been consumed (mostly thanks to Derek, who Stiles is forced to assume has never eaten pizza before, if the way he was swallowing it down is any indication), Scott is yawning (because he's weak), and Stiles is fast losing focus on the film, constantly distracted by the dip of couch cushion under Derek, the pattern of Derek's breathing, the faint scent of Derek's aftershave, which, yeah, Stiles didn't think he could pick up, but apparently he can.
How much of that can Stiles blame on his ADHD? Probably not as much as he wants.
The movie finishes without anyone really taking notice. Scott and Stiles have dissolved into a conversation chiefly about how much of a pain in the ass Jackson is and whether Isaac Lahey secretly hates Stiles or not (Scott maintains his conviction that Isaac likes Stiles, but Stiles thinks "like" is the wrong word since Isaac looks like he wants to maul him sometimes—and not in a good way), and Derek is flipping through some of Stiles' comic books, his fingers delicate around the pages like they're the Dead Sea Scrolls.
"Are you sleeping here?" Stiles asks, when Scott gives another jaw-popping yawn.
Scott motions to Derek with a quirk of his shoulder. "Probably not the best idea. Also, I've got to get to work at 0600 tomorrow for more training. I won't have time to go home and change if I stay here." He gets up and flips on the lights. Stiles blinks away the spots that blot his vision. The clock on the wall ticks past 10:56 and the stress from the day altogether spills out from within him; he sways a bit as he stands up to walk Scott to the door.
"You look way pooped," Scott says, reeling Stiles in for a quick hug. He ducks close to Stiles' ear and says quietly, "You going to be okay with him? If you really want me to stay, I can."
"Nah," Stiles says, thumping Scott's back. "It's cool. You go home, get a good night's sleep. I'm already painfully jealous that you get to go lunar next week; if you screw up during training and botch your mission I'm going to be furious. I'll torch your entire vid-porn collection."
Scott grins. "I'm so scared."
"You should be."
"You wouldn't melt them. You'd just steal them."
"The point is you'll never see them again."
"Whatever, su casa es mi casa."
"And when I get my cottage on the Moon?"
"Get used to overnight guests," says Scott teasingly. He wags his eyebrows at Stiles, then pointedly looks back to the living room where Derek is still earnestly working his way though Stiles' Superman & Batman comic. "Bro, speaking of which—"
"Oh my god, leave now, please," Stiles says, pushing Scott out. He closes the door to the sound of Scott's shameless giggling, that dick. The last time Derek had come to Earth for a pick-up just happened to land on Scott and Stiles' monthly Bro-Night, which differed from their regular bro nights because they always completely cleared the following day's schedule to sleep off their hangovers. That night, Scott had brought the whiskey, Stiles had brought the embarrassment—Derek had gotten a new haircut and had been sporting fucking aviators under his pilot's helmet. Impractical and so stupid, but nonetheless it had made an... impact on Stiles. And Scott still hasn't gotten bored of teasing him about just how much of an impression it'd left. If Stiles were a planet, he'd have a Derek Hale-dependent weather system in his southerly regions.
"Do you have extra blankets?" Derek asks, when Stiles walks back in after sneaking in a few calming breaths by the coat closet.
"Hold your horses, cowboy," Stiles gripes, heading towards his bedroom. He emerges back out with an armful of sheets and blanket and nearly trips over his own feet: Derek's shirtless. In the middle of his living room. And has loosened his belt.
"I—um," Stiles squeaks, drops the blankets on the couch like they're radioactive, then dashes towards the washroom. "You need a toothbrush," he hears himself stutter, which is frankly a miracle in itself, considering Stiles' brain might be melting in his skull—just. Derek's chest.
In the washroom, he studies his reflection in the mirror: expired-milk white and skinny like stretched plasticine, brown eyes deep like someone punched his face in twice, buzzed hair, too-pointy-uppy nose. Stiles' self-esteem is only slightly below healthy level, but he's never been around Derek for so long before. There's relative revaluation going on here.
"Get a grip, Stilinski," Stiles mutters. "Astronomical odds. Astronomical." He splashes water on his face and grabs a new toothbrush from the medicine cabinet.
On the couch, Derek's laid out the blankets and has stuffed his leather jacket in a ball for a makeshift pillow. Stiles hands him the toothbrush. "Ta-dah," he says, and is about to turn away when Derek grabs his wrist. Stiles freezes. Derek's bare chest is right there, calling to his attention like a fucking fog light, but through a Herculean act of will, Stile keeps his eyes trained on Derek's face. Lucky for him it's equally as admirable, despite how uncomfortable Stiles feels staring at it. Such close proximity. They could be asteroids on a collision course—one of them would splinter from the hit.
"I'm not trying to make this weird," Derek says.
Thumpity-thump-thump, warns Stiles' heart. His voice says, "I—it's not weird."
"Okay, it's a little weird," Stiles allows. "It's not you—I mean, yeah it's you, but I know it's not on purpose. We've just never really interacted outside of work. We're not—friends."
Derek's lips thin. "You're doing me a favor," he says. "I appreciate it."
Stiles shrugs, feeling helpless and itchy all over. "Dude, I wouldn’t just leave you there. My fault you're stranded here at all. I shouldn't have made the order with Matt. He used to have this weird obsession with Jackson. A sure sign of untrustworthiness right there."
Stiles involuntarily flexes his wrist. Derek lets go. "Really," Stiles says clumsily. "It's okay. You—my dad always says good things about you. You're very commendable. I know you're not going to, like, stab me in my sleep or something."
The edges of Derek's mouth twitch upwards. "Well. Try not to push me too far."
"I got you a new toothbrush, didn't I? What else do you want from me? Maybe a nice foot rub?"
"If you're offering," says Derek, and maybe something explodes within Stiles' gut at that.
"Okay! You have everything you need? Great. Good night, holler if you need anything, but not too loudly because I want to be able to ignore you," Stiles says quickly, and promptly barricades himself in his room.
His phone is waiting for him on his bed, flashing a notice of a text from Scott.
btw whatever happens tonite, no deets tmr promise me
Stiles types back, jerking off picturing you xoxoxo and flops onto his comforter, burying his face in his pillows. It's going to be a long night.
Turns out, he's wrong about that. He's pretty much dead to the world as soon as he climbs fully into bed, because when he blinks awake again, his alarm clock reads a cool 3:12 am in bright blue light.
The apartment is completely silent. Stiles counts minutes in his head, measured by the paces between his breaths. Even the distant roar of rockets, which usually provide an erratic but dependable signal of time passing in Beacon Hills, is missing, creating a lull in the air that's almost like cotton settling over the world, muffling all life and evidence thereof. It's different from the silence of space, which is the absence of all sound. Here on Earth, there should be noise: car horns and owls hooting and the gusts of passing wind against windows; when there's nothing, it feels eerie. Off.
But Stiles feels fine. Still tired, but fine. He doesn't know what woke him up.
He hauls himself out of bed.
The couch in the living room is empty, blankets mussed and in disarray, Superman & Batman: The Complete Collector's Edition closed neatly on the armrest. Stiles turns. Derek is on the balcony, arms leaning on the railing, head tilted up at the Moon. It's a waxing crescent, a curved slice hanging bright in the blackened sky, like a sideways Cheshire smile. He hasn't fully closed the balcony door, and cool April air wafts in from the gap, sending the half-empty chip bags left on Stiles' coffee table rustling like old papyrus. Derek's naked back is daubed in blues and white, the slope of his muscles and spine gently highlighted like the Moon had painted them there herself with loving strokes of a silver brush. Maybe he's how the ancient Greeks and Romans pictured their celestial deities. Stiles would believe that in an instant.
He wonders, fleetingly, if he should go back to bed, and let Derek work off his sleeplessness alone, but before he can make a conscious decision, his feet are carrying him to the sliding door, and he's stepping out, and he's there, beside Derek, surrounded by the night.
Derek glances at him, his green eyes shadowed nearly as dark as the sky.
"Insomnia?" Stiles asks.
"Close enough," says Derek. "Don't sleep well on Earth."
"Oh yeah. The gravity's kind of a bitch, isn't it? Plus the unfiltered air."
"Yeah, but. Not that," says Derek. "It's," he lets out a long breath through his nose. "I don't know. Too many things to keep track of. Everything is so full. Even though there’s space everywhere. It's suffocating. No offense."
Stiles scoffs. "Actually, I totally get you. I get that way too sometimes. And I've grown up on this clusterfuck of a planet, so I can only imagine how sucky it is for you to handle being here. Must be like wearing a suit made of nails or something."
"Or something," says Derek, almost sounding amused.
Below them, a group of cackling teenagers drift down the sidewalk bordering Stiles' building, shoving at each other like bumper cars, following some unknown call down the street. One of them crashes into a trash can standing by the curb of a road, and the other three muffle their snickers into their fists before disappearing around the bend.
"The drunken walk home. Not nearly as elegant as moonwalking, obviously," Stiles muses.
"It has its own appeal," says Derek. His hands clasp and unclasp against Stiles' balcony railing. "I—it's different. On the Moon. Just because that's how things work. Things aren't as—frayed, up there. Here everything is bursting with energy. Everyone's carrying a sun's worth to just burn through, and they don't even give a shit. On the Moon, everything is about being careful and conserving resources. Everything's about the next stage, more development, moving on. We don't have the luxury of just—being there."
This is the most Stiles has ever heard Derek reveal about himself in one go, aside from his authoritative spiel to Matt earlier today. Strange that it makes Stiles' throat go dry.
"I think being on the Moon is beautiful because the Moon is beautiful," he says, which is a shitty offering compared to what Derek just shared, but it's one of the deepest, most fundamental truths about himself: how much he loves the Moon. When he was little, his mother would sing him to sleep, him tucked into her arms, her tucked into a rocking chair, and the soft moonlight washing through the window would make another world out of Stiles' ordinary, unexciting bedroom. He'd grown up hearing stories from his dad about the grandeur of MS1 and MS2, of how the Moon was fated to shape how the Earth was to survive in the coming centuries. His father taught him science; his mother taught him mythology. Satellite, impact debris, goddess personified, home to a lady and a rabbit, watcher of the supernatural, lord of werewolves: the Moon was Stiles' nursery rhyme and fairy tale, something to aspire to and to depend on, a bidirectional connection to his past and to his future. Even now, though MS3 is too small, too far, to see with the naked eye, Stiles is comforted just by the knowledge that it's there; that in a way, even though he's over 233,812 miles away, the farthest from Earth that anyone can live, his dad is still within arm's reach, so long as the Moon hangs proud up in the night sky, and Stiles can hold up his hand and pinch it between the safe cage of his fingers. Miles and miles in the distance, and yet it never leaves Earth's circling embrace. There's an amazing poetry in that, even if Stiles can't express it properly.
"You know, the first time I was up there—I'd just gotten off the civilian craft and my dad was talking with the pilots—I walked out of the hangar and the Earth was right there, and we were at new moon so it was at full Earth. I must have just stood there, looking around and around, at space, at Earth, at the compound, and just at everything, for, I don't know, hours. My dad apparently had to go do something and came up to tell me to stay put, and I didn't even register it. He came back and I was still standing there. Actually I was lying on the ground. Looking up. It was—I was so blown away. It was crazy."
Derek's looking at him strangely now, like Stiles might start spouting off verses of Shakespeare or something, and before Stiles can get defensive or regret bringing up his trip because Derek's memory of Stiles from that time probably leaves a lot to be desired, Derek says, "You can't compare the Moon with Earth. You know that, right? The Moon is just a hunk of rock."
Stiles bristles. "Are you kidding me? The Earth's a rock too. One covered with garbage and smog and decomposition and plenty of other gross stuff?"
"And mountains and ponds. Waterfalls. Canyons and caves. Jungles."
"Hey. The Moon's got some mountains and valleys and plenty of neat stuff."
But Derek shakes his head. "Same color, same matter composition, no delineation from one landscape to the next aside from elevation. There's no variety. No color. Nothing like here."
"You're just biased because you grew up there!" Stiles argues.
"And you're not biased because you grew up here?"
Stiles frowns. "Okay, so I am, and I'm not saying the Earth is a complete hole or anything. But it doesn't mean the Moon isn't fucking awesome."
"Eye of the beholder, and all that," says Derek negligently.
Stiles scoffs. “If you hate it so much, then why don’t you move off it?”
“It’s not that easy.” Derek’s tone is rougher now. “There’s more tying me to the Moon than pulling me to Earth. I don’t like it much, but it’s me dealing with the life I have.”
Baffling. "Whatever you say, dude, but you're the one out on my balcony pining away your homesickness."
"I'm not homesick. I'm just. Adjusting."
"Adjusting to what? You come back aaallll the time," Stiles reminds him.
Derek's eyelids dip. "Never go very far from a ship base. My uncle's care facility is on site here, so I never had reason to. This is probably the longest I've stayed since I was a kid."
"Wait, huh?" Stiles boggles. "Are you serious? You've never actually hung around, in all your trips down here?"
Derek's expression twists. "Didn't really have the time, or inclination."
"Dude, we gotta—" Stiles' vision clouds over with all the "got to" possibilities bursting out of his brain. "Like, the forest! Dinky, but right there! The coast! Have you seen the ocean up close? Sand everywhere! Ice cream under the sun! Palm trees down south! Oh my god, Derek, you've never seen any of that?"
"I'm not an alien; I've done stuff. Just not a lot. From my understanding of it, a lot of sightseeing activities are best done with family," Derek says, and boy, does that shut Stiles up fast.
The official news bulletin said that there had been a leak in the atmospheric membrane. In the initial days of Selene’s construction on Alpha Territory, the 100-foot high impermeable synthetic dome covering the still-small base had been as fragile as butterfly wings, never mind that it was all composed of the best nanotechnology the Earth had to offer. There had been a huge magnetic storm one day, hurtling furious winds full of space debris and lunar rock; from outside their atmospheric bubble, a large, jagged chunk of meteorite had struck the translucent barrier, broke through, and emptied out the air in the compound's entire five-mile radius. For some reason, the emergency oxygen tank inside the Hale house had malfunctioned, and the entire family suffocated, save for Derek, his sister Laura, and their uncle Peter. They'd been on a day trip to MS2 to pick up new supplies and rushed back upon receiving the radio distress call, but they were too far away and returned to a dead house.
Stiles heard that in grief, Peter Hale had unplugged his own oxygen supply. By the time Laura and Derek managed to replace his air tank, he'd had a stroke, and had to be shipped down to NTCCO's long-term medical care house permanently. Laura got sick a few years later due to a weakened immune system—the doctors ruled it as fatigue from overworking, made worse by post-traumatic stress. Her death left her comatose uncle as the only remaining family member for twenty-three-year-old Derek, now the only Hale remaining on the Moon.
How does a guy comfort someone who's lost everything? Stiles hadn't known at age sixteen, and he still doesn't know now. Except he feels compelled to do something—Derek's on his turf now, and Stiles can't help but think that he has some degree of responsibility in Derek's well-being, be it insomnia or uneasiness or—or heartbreak.
"Hey—" he starts to say, immediately contrite, his hand automatically rising to Derek's shoulder in apology. And then he abruptly realizes what he's doing—cupping Derek Hale's naked shoulder—because Derek shivers and—and doesn't pull away.
"Uh, I," says Stiles.
Derek turns to face him fully. Mouth closed, jaw tense, eyebrows low. Green eyes lit like he's some kind of being sent from above, and Stiles has to stifle a laugh, because Derek kind of is. One plane of his cheek is so sharp under the moonlight that Stiles can't resist the impulse to rub his thumb down the smooth rise of skin. Derek's eyes never leave his.
"How long have you been standing out here?" Stiles asks, when Derek shivers again—but there are no goosebumps on his arms.
"And—are you, uh. Feeling better?"
Derek pauses; light years pass. Stiles' lungs go on extended recess. He doesn't blink, can't even drag his gaze away from Derek's, as if Derek has pinned him down with some kind of magic spell—lunacy is the only explanation. The night is suddenly unbearably silent and the only sound in the world, for all Stiles knows, is the muddled pace of his own skipping heartbeat. Twelve hours ago, this wasn't anywhere near where he'd thought the day would lead him. He must have missed a calculation somewhere. Sometime between hearing Derek talk down Matt and seeing the way Derek wiped tomato sauce off his mouth with the edge of his thumb, a trajectory was bent, swung around by the force of Derek's gravitational pull.
"Worse, actually," Derek says finally, just looking at Stiles.
So Stiles closes his eyes and leans in.
It's just a quick press of lips—hardly anything. Derek's lips are dry and smooth and Stiles is barely registering the pressure before Derek is jerking back.
"What are you doing?" he asks.
Stiles' blood chills to ice. "Oh. I thought—oh my god. Sorry. I thought—" Holy fuck. What was he doing?
"I don't need your pity," says Derek furiously.
"Shit, no, Derek. It's not pity," Stiles says, trying not to freak out. He desperately needs for an asteroid to collide into his building. Wipe out his entire existence. "It's—look, you're sad and moping and I don't want that. I—I want you to be able to sleep, and I thought—like, if you could take a load off and relax a bit, uh. I'm sorry about your fam—" He stops, restarts. "It wasn't pity." Then, before his brain can think the better of it, he adds quickly, "Plus you're really attractive, okay? I'm putting that out there. You're really attractive. So if there's any pity going around, it's for me."
Derek's nostrils flare as he takes a deep breath.
"Holy god, are you going to kill me?" Stiles says. "We're only on the fifth floor; if you toss me off the balcony I might not die, just get a broken spine and end up as a quadriplegic—"
"Stiles," Derek says. "Shut up."
And he leans in to capture Stiles' mouth in a bruising kiss.
Stiles' brain blips out.
Then comes roaring back online seconds later with the fusion energy of a thousand suns. Fucking fuck. He tangles his arms around Derek's back to push himself closer, crushing himself to the unyielding heat of Derek's chest. And maybe he's a bit too clumsy with his eagerness because Derek lets out a quick breath, not quite an exclamation, and it almost makes Stiles reel backwards, fear lobbing thoughts through him (sudden doubt, second thoughts, regret for life choices)—but then Derek's broad hands rise to the back of Stiles' head and Derek makes another sound, a low one, from the back of his throat, one that not even a deaf person could mistake for hesitation.
The sound shoots through Stiles' mouth, speeds down his stomach, pools in the rising heat of Stiles' groin, and stays there.
Derek tastes like citrus toothpaste. When Stiles registers that, he has a fierce, instinctual reaction of, Oh my god what a coincidence that we like the same flavor of dental hygiene products, before he remembers that of course Derek tastes like citrus toothpaste—he'd borrowed Stiles'. It's still jarring though, because in all the daydreams (and, to be honest, night dreams) that Stiles has had of Derek, Derek has always tasted like a mix between metal and dark chocolate—anger and passion, two huge components of Derek's emotional makeup. But Derek brushes his teeth just like any other person and it makes his mouth taste like orange-mint and it's kind of blowing Stiles' mind.
Less jarring but equally mind-blowing is how aggressively Derek kisses. It's not even a good kiss, really. It's almost painful, the way Derek is going at it. His stubble burns. His canine teeth are sharp. His nose keeps bumping into Stiles'. Except, oh man, the heat of this. His hands are framed around Stiles' face now, thumbs cupping Stiles' jaw, allowing him the liberty of tilting Stiles' mouth whichever damn way he pleases in order to delve deeper into Stiles' mouth, tongue pushing forward like a pioneer with no way home, incisors grazing mercilessly on Stiles' lower lip like he's one minute away from eating Stiles from the inside out. Stiles is okay with this plan. He wants to tell Derek this, because suddenly it seems vital that Derek know just how okay Stiles is with this, despite such violent beginnings. But he doesn't have much extra brainpower to devote, his cognitive resources being all taken up by breathing, stifling his whimpers, and not internally combusting on the spot. All of the words and moans gurgling up his throat are viciously converted to heavy exhales of air because no way in hell is Stiles breaking away first.
"Don't hurt yourself—you can make noise," Derek says, pulling back only far enough to get the words out, then diving right back in. Open mouth and firebrand tongue, and there's no way Stiles is going to survive this unscathed.
"I," Stiles gulps out in between kisses. "We're out in the—"
"Make noise," Derek says, more firmly this time, and streaks one hand down Stiles' neck and spine to splay across his ass. He squeezes.
Stiles makes noise.
"Okay, we're going in—inside," he gasps, hand grappling for the balcony door. He shoves it wide and stumbles backwards, dragging Derek in with him. Derek loosens his grip on Stiles as soon as they're inside the dark of the apartment, and Stiles sees him purposely relax his shoulders, taking in two long, measured breaths.
"If you don't—" Derek starts, but Stiles interrupts by slamming the balcony door closed and practically marching Derek into his bedroom.
"I very much do, actually," says Stiles, throwing himself onto the bed and reaching into his nightstand for his lube and a condom. He glances over his shoulder, abruptly caught by dread. "Wait, do you—"
Derek actually laughs. It's such a rare sound that Stiles' neck cranes forward automatically as if he could catch more of it. Even with the diminished sight his bedroom affords them, the only illumination coming from the Moon shining through half-open blinds of his window, Stiles can see how the laughter transforms Derek's entire face into something heartbreakingly new.
"Yeah," says Derek and lowers himself onto the bed. He curls his fingers around Stiles' wrist and tugs Stiles up for a long, slow kiss. "You're too warm," Derek murmurs against his lips.
"Says the human inferno."
"Even your room is stifling."
"Oh," says Stiles. "I can open the window if you want some air—"
"No. I—keep it shut."
"You like it hot, huh," teases Stiles, running his palms down Derek's sides, fingers hooking onto the loops of Derek's jeans.
Derek grunts, hips jutting forward once like he can't help himself. "The Moon's cold. I like the contrast."
"I don't get you, dude. You can't sleep on Earth but you like all the shit that's probably causing that?"
Derek shakes his head, lips quirking. He lifts the edges Stiles' worn t-shirt and Stiles obligingly raises his arms so they can get skin-to-skin, sweat both the barrier and the glue between them.
"It's about—being taken out of yourself. Feeling alive. That's it."
"Oh. I get that," says Stiles, looking up at Derek. Sculpted body, eyes glowing hazel-green like burning phosphorus, lips swollen red from Stiles' teeth, all on display and within Stiles' reach—yeah, Stiles gets it, deeply. He grabs Derek's fly and jerks it down. "When I'm up in space, it's like, uh," god, he's so distracted, his brain is stuttering around the sight of Derek's black boxer briefs, tight against the outline of his hard cock. "Like, on Earth, the atmosphere causes scintillation when we look at stars, but up there, there's none of that. So it really hits you—all the stars are suns. And you're seeing that. It's like, the expansiveness of the universe, and the silence of space, plus your, uh, heartbeat—"
Distracting and irresistible. Stiles cups Derek's cock. Derek groans. Wow, and that's—awesome.
"I'm just," Stiles stammers, "I'm going to—I can't think right now. Okay?"
"Fine," Derek grits out, and grinds into Stiles' palm. "Stop talking. Take off your pants."
Stiles does. His pajama bottoms fly to some corner of his room, already forgotten. But then he remembers belatedly—
"Nice underwear," says Derek, raising an eyebrow.
"The logo matched my t-shirt, all right?" Stiles says, flushing pink. "And they're one hundred percent cotton. Comfort and style."
"How fantastic for you. Get them off."
Stiles does; swallowing hard at the way Derek's eyes rake down his body as he kicks off his briefs and spreads his legs.
"And mine," says Derek, more softly, and Stiles follows through with trembling fingers.
He doesn't realize his mouth is hanging open until Derek traces his bottom lip with a thumb. It dips briefly in to swipe against Stiles' tongue and Stiles just barely manages to keep himself from biting down.
"How many times have you insulted me with this mouth of yours?" Derek asks roughly.
"Fewer times than you deserve," Stiles shoots back automatically. Oh god, his brain, why.
But Derek only grins, and it's nothing but a dark promise. "I'll have to try harder, then."
"To be more of an ass? Good luck."
"I'm sure you'll inspire me," Derek deadpans. Then he hesitates a moment, as if backtracking in his head. "You don't take it personally, do you? Some of the stuff I say isn't—" his expression contorts.
Stiles jumps in, "Are you nuts? Like the stuff I say to you is any better. Also, are you really going to start this conversation when we're both naked in my bed? I took off my Batman undies for you."
Derek answers by raising himself to his knees, keeping one hand cupped around Stiles' head. Oh my god, Stiles thinks. He's full on panting now, and they haven't even done anything yet. His jaw is still loose and mindless, and when Derek lifts his cock with one hand, looking at Stiles with a question in his eyes, Stiles nods frantically, his voice lost. Derek directs his cock to Stiles' lips—"I'm clean," he breathes—Stiles doesn't doubt, doesn't waste a second, tongue hungry as he licks at the head, sucking it wetly into his mouth.
"Got to make it so your mouth is always on me," grunts Derek, petting Stiles' face. His calloused thumb on Stiles' cheek, absurdly, feels even hotter than his cock in Stiles' mouth. "Either on me, or nagging on me, or, fuck—Sti—"
Stiles hums his full agreement.
"—take your goddamn mouth back to the Moon with me, use it every fucking night, until it molds to the shape of my cock," says Derek. Stiles pulls off to muffle his groan into the unfairly chiseled dip of Derek's groin. He keeps his fingers wrapped tightly around Derek's dick and Derek sags forward into his grip, impatient.
"Never knew there was this side of you," Stiles says breathlessly. "Kind of impressed and disgusted at the same time." Derek's eyes flash; then suddenly Stiles is being pushed onto his back, with Derek looming over him and pushing their cocks together in one smooth slide. Stiles' arm go around Derek's shoulders and they start to move together. "You're—Derek." His voice has gone reedy and airless. "Fuck you, fuck this, don't stop, I wanna—"
He reaches down for their cocks but Derek's evidently had the same thought and gets there first; their wrists bang as Derek grabs both their cocks in his right hand. Stiles' own hand ends up on Derek's arm, palming the corded muscle covered by surprisingly thin skin. He can feel the tension as Derek clenches his grip rhythmically, while his hips still rock in and in and in. Derek's thumb—the same one that had just caressed Stiles' cheek—drifts spastically across the heads of Stiles' cock, smearing precum over his glans.
"Ah—" Stiles gasps.
"Breathe," Derek smirks, and it makes Stiles wants to snarl—Stiles can breathe fine, he doesn't need Derek's help for that—fuck—
"You arrogant jackass," he hisses, hurriedly adding his grip over their sliding cocks too, hand matching over Derek's.
Derek's eyes widen at that, and he says, "You—" and his fingers under Stiles' loosen, and his hips gradually roll to a stop.
Something's wrong. "What, oh my god, what's going on," Stiles babbles, levering himself up on his elbows. Derek moves off of Stiles entirely, the lines of his body taut, and sits back on his haunches. Stiles is left cold, grasping at nothing.
"I can't do this," says Derek. Stiles turns to glass.
"No—what? Why? Why not?"
"I mean, we shouldn't do this," Derek reiterates. He starts to get off the bed. Impulsively, Stiles' darts out his hand and grabs Derek's. Derek freezes, staring down at where Stiles is holding him in place. Stiles immediately lets go.
"It's okay, whatever," Stiles says, haltingly. His gut lurches; he has no idea what he's talking about. But it's something to say. "I mean. It's okay to change your mind."
"No, that's not—" Derek looks away, frustration lining his mouth. "It's not... you," he says lamely.
Oh god, so it totally is. "Dude," Stiles says. "I get it. It's—we don't get along. But it was just going to be a one-time thing. I'm not—I'm not going to ask anything from you."
Derek lets out a derisive chuckle. "Yeah. That." He sits on the edge of the bed and rakes a hand through his hair.
Stiles just stares at him, wondering what he did wrong, wondering what he should do now. The sloping curl of Derek's back, pitched halfway forwards as if he's two seconds away from bolting, is making Stiles' stomach twist painfully. Derek's cock is going soft. What did Stiles say? It couldn't have been the jackass comment; Stiles has said much worse—Derek has said much worse. Unless Derek just stopped feeling it? Like he realized what he was doing, who he was doing it with, and thought maybe it wasn't worth it. That's—not ideal, but plausible.
Stiles' own cock is fast losing interest in the proceedings. The heat from before has dissipated entirely; the moment has passed. Stiles is disappointed, but more in himself. He feels like he's missed something big: a huge neon warning sign that he barreled past at light speed, and now is madly trying to backtrack, find where he made a wrong turn, so he can get back on the right path.
"Hey," he says. He slides up to Derek and seats himself carefully beside him, blanket caught in his lap. His words taste bitter on his tongue. "We can forget it happened."
Derek frowns. "I don't—that's not what I want."
Stiles inhales. "Oh. Then what do you want?"
He gets the impression that there's a war going on behind Derek's eyes—whole nebulas of creation and deconstruction happening like the rise and fall of a tidal wave—because when Derek looks at him, it feels like Derek is bursting with something inside. Stiles doesn't know how to react to that look, other than to wait it out. His leg twitches. His skin crawls.
He says, "Never min—"
This is when Derek pushes in for a kiss.
It's not gentle, but it's slow, deep. Punishing. If there's a message that Derek is trying to get through to him—and there has to be, right? Derek's an action man, not particularly verbose; Stiles doesn't know what stopped their momentum earlier, but if Derek wants to kiss again, then Stiles can happily provide. Whatever Derek is trying to tell him, Stiles tries to kiss back his acceptance, as well as he can—it's okay; yes, this is odd, but good too; I like it; I like—anchoring a hand on Derek's neck. "I—" Stiles murmurs, between bites of Derek's mouth, "you—"
"Just this," breathes Derek, his voice almost a tangible quality against Stiles' lips. He pulls Stiles closer; Stiles goes easily. They kiss for long, syrupy minutes until Stiles can't remember who he is outside of what Derek is sharing with him.
Eventually they slow down. Derek places one last lingering kiss on Stiles' lips before leaning back. "Thanks," he says.
"For what?" Stiles says, flabbergasted.
Derek shrugs. He turns to reach for his underwear.
"Oh no, no, no," Stiles says, slapping Derek's hands away. "All that kissing and then you're just going to up and leave? No way, José. The least you can do is give me a cuddle."
"Stiles," says Derek.
"Derek," parrots Stiles sarcastically. He grabs Derek's shoulders—god, they're so tense—and hauls him into his bed. "We don't have to have sex, all right? I'm down with just kissing. You need to relax so you can sleep. Here. Get under the blanket, and we can kiss until you get too tired to put up with me."
"Stiles," Derek says again, as Stiles arranges his blanket over them. "I'm not going to—"
Stiles pecks him and laughs when Derek instantly reacts, kissing back. Derek's only language tonight seems to be kissing; Stiles can work with that. Actually he's kind of exhilarated—he's never seen Derek like this before, so willing to be pushed around by Stiles. Maybe his fatigue is at last getting the better of him, because no matter the protests he abortively tries to give, he doesn't pull away from Stiles, so they all evaporate in Stiles' mouth. He can't really be fooled by Stiles' obvious ploy, but there's a concession in the way that Derek's arm comes to wrap around Stiles' back, his hand weaving into Stiles' short hair. When Stiles finally breaks for air, Derek is looking just as dazed as Stiles feels.
"You're a strange one, dude," Stiles says.
"Pot, kettle," Derek says, leaning back in.
Late moonlight slits through Stiles' blinds and claims territory across the dips and bumps of their bodies on Stiles' bed. Everything is dark and quiet save for Derek's slow breaths and the light scratching sounds of Stiles rubbing his blanket absently as he lets his mind drift. They're shoulder to shoulder, an inch of space between them, and there's a layer of awkwardness keeping Stiles from truly relaxing like he should at this hour of night, but it's far from unbearable. He knows Derek is still awake, so he's doing his best to stay awake too. Like this, sprawled side by side, Derek's entire back is on display for Stiles like an art piece, triskele tattoo starkly black; if Derek can feel Stiles' attention caught on it helplessly, he doesn't complain. Stiles doesn't know how much time passes with them just lying here, only exchanging a few occasional soft-voiced words, but the moonlight has drifted a quarter of the distance across Stiles' room since they stopped kissing. Stiles in that nebulous space past consciousness where the world is blurry like an unfocused camera. He feels—he's not sure. He feels good, despite the surrealism of the situation. He likes that he convinced Derek not to escape back to the living room couch. This is the longest time he and Derek have spent in each other's company without it degenerating into hostility, and Stiles is kind of loving it. Even though they didn't actually have sex, the kissing had been really nice while it lasted—and it succeeded in getting Derek to unwind: Stiles can tell from the softness of the muscles in Derek's back.
Stiles isn't confident that this isn't a dream. Derek, warm and pliant in his bed? It's like he's been dunked into The Twilight Zone. Maybe he's is hallucinating from sleep deprivation.
"Has anyone ever written poetry about you?" Stiles asks, gently breaking the silence. He feels blissful and hazy as unconsciousness drifts and ebbs from him, so of course his brain has abandoned sense and is running as free as a horse on an open ranch.
"What?" Derek says, and Stiles is so gratified to hear how faint his voice is.
"Like, body of marble, eyebrows of sin, all that jazz."
"Eyebrows of sin," Derek repeats. He turns onto his back and turns to look fully at Stiles with heavy-lidded eyes. Stiles pinches his bicep just to be annoying.
Derek's lip twitches left but he doesn't wince. "No one," he says. "Sorry to break it to you."
"Don't look at me like I'm going to do it. I was just curious."
"There aren't exactly a lot of poets on the Moon."
"Gee, the way you go on about it, you'd think there's nothing at all on the Moon."
Derek hums. "It's the most hostile living conditions known to man. Not much to brag about."
"Dude. Are you fishing for compliments?"
"Like, how I think it's amazing that you were born there and have spend so much of your life there that it's ludicrous how desensitized you are to everything. Space isn't normal life, you know! Ninety percent of the world's population probably wouldn't even dream of going up there, much less actually get to go up there! But it's like this—everything to do with space is impressive. You're not on Earth anymore. Derek, it's everything to brag about."
Derek says, almost musingly, "You're really proud of your dad, aren't you?"
"Of course I am," says Stiles, blinking.
Derek reaches over and rubs a thumb across Stiles' cheekbone. "We're lucky to have him on Selene. If you ever get sad that he's so far away—or for whatever reason—you should keep that in mind."
"I know," says Stiles. "I know that."
All of the sudden he feels shockingly sober. He's letting too much of himself out. Tomorrow—no, today—Derek will be leaving to go back to the Moon. Stiles probably won't get to see him again for months. And then what—are they going to return to their old bickering ways? What's going to happen the next time they see each other? If they even do get to see each other, assuming the storm doesn't—
"Promise you'll be okay up there," says Stiles, in a rush. "Promise you'll take care of my dad, and keep an eye on Scott, because he's not as clumsy as he was when we were kids, but he still has this nasty tendency to charge in without thinking like the dumbass he is."
Derek's chin tilts upwards and Stiles stares at him, trying to understand the unblinking expression painting Derek's face. Is it indifferent? Sincere? Stoically offended?
"You don't think much of me, but you can trust me to do my job," is what Derek says.
Sincerity, then. Stiles tucks that information into the back of his mind for keepsies.
"I think stuff of you," says Stiles.
Derek shrugs, gaze askance, and he lets out a long sigh. "You said it yourself. We aren't friends."
Well, now Stiles feels like a jerk. "Don't make it sound so severe! I didn't mean it, like, harshly or anything. We totally have had entire conversations before. Remember that argument about eggplants? You had no idea what they were. That was enlightening for both of us, I'm sure. We were—I mean. It's not like I hated you. I never, uh. I don't hate you."
"Thanks," says Derek, smirking.
"At least I know now that you're easily won over by pizza and bad movies."
"It was mostly the stellar commentary," Derek says, and Stiles can't resist that; Derek's smirk melts into something softer when Stiles indulges in a quick peck to the patch of Derek's shoulder within his reach.
"Are you going to sleep? You have to sleep," Stiles says.
"Yeah," says Derek, eyes drifting shut.
Underneath the blanket, their arms are almost touching, so Stiles shimmies a little closer until they are. Derek has to feel it too, but he stays put.
Derek loads the last hovercart's worth of supply crates into the back of his ship and lets it glide back to Stiles' waiting hands. He closes the hatch, keys the lock in place, and looks around for one final survey of the now-empty dock.
"Yep," Stiles says. He feels uneasily dry inside. A hardened peach pit is lodged in his esophagus somewhere because now comes the awkward part: goodbyes, well wishes, see you agains. He wants this not to feel so finite; it's not like he can't hook up a comm with Derek or his dad and check in on the station, but there's something about seeing someone jet off into the stratosphere to land on another celestial body hundreds of miles away, the day when he can return to Earth hovering at an ominous To Be Determined, that can instill a sense of desolation in a guy. Since Stiles' dad is pretty much permanently tied to his post, and Derek's the one in charge of picking up shipments and dropping off new lunar specimens for NTCCO's researchers, Derek is actually the most constant link that Stiles has with the Moon. Stiles must have seen Derek off from this platform over fifty times by now, but it's never felt strained like this before. Whatever inexplicable truce that had fallen over them last night and carried through in ungainly bursts this morning, when they'd woken up with Stiles heaped over Derek like a rag doll—Stiles doesn't know how to ask for a repeat performance, sex or no sex. Derek last night had been weighed down by gravity, a flightless bird in a strange environment—there could have been any number of reasons why he decided to turn to Stiles for comfort. Stiles can think of them all, and none of them include, "Because I've magically turned over a new leaf." He's known Derek for eight years, has worked closely with him for two, and Stiles isn't so naive as to think that one soft night between them has washed clean all the water under the bridge. They’re not a couple; no one's made any insinuations of that. They're still Derek and Stiles, two vastly different physical entities, no matter that they’ve now seen (and touched!) each other’s wieners. Except—
Something about the significance of this storm, and the jumbled way Derek had shown new sides of himself to Stiles, it's throwing Stiles off balance. "See you later" seems dismissive. A kiss seems overkill. He could work up his nerve and go for a hug, maybe, or something more professional like a handshake.
Apparently Stiles takes too long deciding on what to do, because Derek clicks his tongue and reaches for him, dragging Stiles over by the sleeve of his sweatshirt. He tucks his face beside Stiles', and his lips graze Stiles' ear as he mutters lowly, "Come visit when you can."
Stiles tries not to shiver. "Yeah. Of course. Duh. Definitely. Just, uh," his voice cracks, "make sure you and my dad are there to meet me?"
Derek nods. "I did say something about that. You forgot?"
He did, and Stiles didn’t. "I know, but. Bad things can happen, you know? If you guys got into trouble, or got sick, or—" His tongue darts out nervously to wet his dry lips.
"Hey," Derek says quietly. "Look at me."
Stiles looks at him.
"We'll be fine," says Derek. "Breathe. Don't panic like you sometimes do."
Stiles' temper flares. "Screw you, why'd you have to bring that up? It's been ages since you last saw me—"
"Stiles," Derek says, more firmly. He pins down Stiles' wrists with his hands.
And Stiles' body obeys despite himself—he takes a slow breath. Some of his anxiety bleeds away, to be replaced by irritation—stupid Derek, always telling Stiles what to do, even when Stiles obviously isn't hyperventilating.
"Good," says Derek, smiling slightly, and the irritation dissolves completely.
"Huh, who knew that flipping through a few old comic books would inspire you to be some noble hero," Stiles grins back, fighting his impulse to turn his hand around to link their fingers. "I have to say, I really like this side of you. I might swoon." His fingers are twitching. He hastily shoves his hands into his pockets.
"Don't romanticise it," says Derek. "I grew up on the Moon. Things come easily for me up there." He shifts, squeezing Stiles' wrists one last time. "You'll be okay?"
"Hey, I'm not the one with some mega virus to deal with."
"There's suffering in being alone, though," Derek says, pointedly not looking away from Stiles' startled gaze. "It can be hard."
Thumpitty-thump-thump!! blares Stiles' heart. Warning, warning! Hull breeched, caution lights flashing. You are not properly prepared for emotions of this magnitude!
"You should probably leave right now," Stiles croaks. "Or something really embarrassing might happen to you in the next ten seconds."
Derek's mouth twists and he lets go of Stiles. He climbs into the cockpit of his spaceplane and is about to slide on his helmet, when he turns, leaning one arm over the edge of the ship and peering down at Stiles. "When you fly up next, you should come see me."
Derek says, "Yeah, really."
"Why not," says Stiles, and hopes that the sweat on his forehead isn’t too obvious. Because—what, okay. "Now go and kick some mutant space virus ass."
"We'll do our best," Derek says wryly, clicking his helmet into place. The glass dome of his cockpit lowers with the hiss of a hydraulic and Stiles runs back from the dock so he won't be burnt to a crisp during take-off. The landing strip lights up in a go-ahead from the control tower and Derek's plane cranes itself up to a 45-degree angle. Derek's too distant for Stiles to see much more than the top half of his helmet through the cockpit window, but Stiles raises a hand in the air anyway, and he thinks he sees Derek nod his acknowledgement before the engine bellows its ignition, fire flashing electric blue with heat. Stiles covers his ears and squints as the Gray Wolf shoots down the track and up into open blue, breaking the sound barrier with a huge ripple of pressured air and an explosive crack, disappearing fast into the clouds, until Stiles is staring at a perfectly pleasant Tuesday morning on Earth, the seamless sky betraying no hint of the immense universe beyond.
Stiles heads back inside.