If there’s one thing that Stiles knows for sure, it’s that most careers that seem exciting are actually quite boring and commonplace for the most part. As the only son of a workaholic sheriff turned politician turned Fed, Stiles can definitely attest to the ratio of high speed chases to impassioned arguments with important people to…paperwork. And sitting around and waiting for stuff. And coffee breaks.
Like, John McClane probably only spends about ten percent of his life fighting terrorists. The shooting and the bloody feet and the explosions are the highlight reel, is the point.
Stiles himself, as a linguist slash historian slash sort of anthropologist slash space explorer, also encounters a disgusting amount of paperwork. Like, technically, his entire career is based on paperwork. But there’s interesting paperwork about alien languages, and then there’s awful paperwork where he has to record the number of pencils he goes through each month, and basically he’s pretty sure he’s in line for carpal tunnel, at this point. He’s come to terms with it, much in the same way that one comes to terms with a chronic acne problem or an uncomfortably critical mother-in-law who visits a lot. As in, he certainly doesn’t enjoy it but he’s powerless to stop it so whining about it definitely isn’t going to change anything, boo hoo, tiny violin music, et cetera. Stiles gets to visit other planets periodically, even if they are the boring safe ones, so he’s not complaining or anything.
Officially, Stiles works under Dr. “Call me by my first name and die” Martin, who runs her lab with steel fists of terror and a rotating color-coded schedule written in the blood and tears of her former PhD candidates (Stiles assumes). But unofficially, Stiles actually spends most of his time in Dr. Jackson’s realm, better known around the base as “that creepy row of offices on sub-level eight that smell like eggs.”
They don’t smell like eggs, they smell like sulfur. And that is entirely Isaac’s fault, because he insists on playing with the Go’auld staff weapons like every single day.
“They’re experiments,” Isaac always insists, as if that legitimizes his giant oh let’s play tic tac toe on the wall! games or something, “it’s for science, Stiles.”
There are a lot of things Stiles will excuse for science but seriously fire those suckers off enough in an enclosed space and you start thinking you’ll never have fresh air again. No thank you.
But since it’s either that or the Wrath of Dr. Martin, Stiles cuts his losses. He gets used to smelling like the depths of Hell eventually. Mostly. Kind of.
Because the eighth circle is relatively out of the way from the normal, everyday flow of the base, Stiles and Isaac miss out on a lot of the highlight reel-worthy things that occur on any given day at Stargate Command, up to and including invasions, security breaches, attempted invasions or security breaches, Presidential visits, and/or super computers that infect the SGC mainframe and attempt hostile takeovers. Stiles would say he’s exaggerating, but he really isn’t, because most of the DEFCON 1 situations happen within the span of like, an hour, and are largely confined to more important, dramatic places (the gate room, the General’s private office, other planets) and so it’s not entirely unrealistic for Stiles to run out for Starbucks and return to find that he’s totally missed an attempt to bomb the crap out of the entire planet by megalomaniacal alien religious extremists. (It’s a trend, at this point.)
So all in all: a relatively stress-low workplace. Stiles translates things, and Isaac shoots things at walls, and sometimes they get to go to planets with interesting temple ruins and take pictures. A pretty nice gig, he has to say.
That is, barring the days Derek is there. Because Derek brings the violence-party, wherever he goes, hoo-rah. Or something.
“I would just like to be clear about this,” Stiles says indignantly, which is telling in and of itself since he is now capable of being indignant while hiding behind an overturned table and being shot at by Replicators which never would have been possible a year ago because a year ago he didn’t know Derek and thus was in mortal peril like, way less often and this is Stiles’s exact point, “clear about how you are a total jinx. Only not a bad luck jinx, a danger jinx. I had like a two-month streak going here man, and you’re ruining it. Ruining. With your jinx.”
Derek doesn’t reply, in words at least, but he does peek up over the table and shoot two killer robots in the face all while glaring at Stiles, which is enough of a reply for Stiles to get the picture.
“Don’t give me that look,” Stiles bitches, attempting to do a little peeking himself. This turns out to be a bad idea as the general area around his face is quickly deluged with bullets.
Stiles doesn’t register the clawed hand on his collar yanking him back until afterwards, too preoccupied with his heart trying to beat itself out of his chest and his eyes to pop out of their sockets. It’s probably like the hundredth time Derek has saved his face from mutilation though; at this point he almost thinks he should get the guy a card or something.
“Stop that,” Derek orders in a low, unamused voice. “Just sit and don’t move.” Idiot, comes the silent, judgy amendment to that sentence. Derek has a lot of those – silent, judgmental amendments.
“Got it,” Stiles says breathlessly, “sitting, not moving.”
Derek eyes him suspiciously and leans up to fire off a few more shots. Stiles isn’t going to risk his face again by looking, but he’s pretty sure that at least two of the three connected, because there are some distinctive robot-dying sounds happening from behind the table. Like Stiles is ever going to forget what it sounds like when a life-sized, man-shaped glob of nanites is dissolved into a giant pile of scrap metal. Talk about creepy.
“We’re going to have to run for the doorway,” Derek says in a low voice, one hand still on Stiles’s shoulder, the other taking careful aim around the corner of the table. “They’re advancing, and I can’t hold them off on my own.”
“So give me a freaking ARG,” Stiles hisses, “I took weapons training! I can hit moving targets!”
Derek looks more than a little skeptical at this suggestion. “Just where would I be hiding an extra weapon, Stiles?” he asks irritably.
Stiles glances at his attire, which is more action movie star who has just escaped a mob of sex-crazed fans than capable diplomat/soldier who is always prepared for any contingency. Stiles finds that on most days Derek splits the difference between the two.
“It’s only about four feet,” Derek says, the words jumbling a little as he dives back down behind the table to avoid a fresh wave of bullets. Thank God for trinium alloy lab tables, that’s all Stiles is saying. It’s like they expected them to be used as bullet-shields or something. Which isn’t that radical of a hypothesis, honestly. “I’ll lay down cover fire, then follow you. You won’t be harmed.”
“Really? I won’t be harmed? Because you’re asking me to run in front of a bunch of angry robots with guns who really, really want to harm me, so I don’t think you should be making any promises.”
Derek clenches his jaw, his hands twitching on his gun restlessly. Stiles feels a minute stab of regret because that honestly wasn’t fair; Derek is in just as much peril as Stiles is and it’s not like this is his fault – but it’s a faint regret that is mostly buried in debilitating terror.
“I wouldn’t let anything happen to you,” he says, sounding disgruntled and a little petulant, like he’s pissed off that he has to even say this out loud. Or that might be because of the robots. Either one.
“I know,” Stiles says helplessly, because seriously what are his options here, “I trust you. Mostly. Honest.”
Derek shoots him a withering look. “Just be ready to run on my mark.”
“Like are we talking a hand signal or like a code word or are you – “
“Let’s try, when I push you out from behind this table with my fist,” Derek says through clenched teeth, craning his neck around the left edge and firing off two clean shots. Stiles flinches as a fresh wave of bullets pummel the table in response, the heat and sound of it almost overwhelming.
“Seems counterproductive,” Stiles manages, ducking down as something large and heavy dents the tabletop, right next to his right ear.
“Are you ever quiet?”
“Not as such, no,” Stiles replies, watching in awe as Derek takes a deep breath, then surges upwards, letting loose a barrage of shots in a move that John McClane could only dream of. “Is that the mark? Is this – should I be running?”
Derek kicks his thigh sharply in response, and Stiles decides to take that one on faith.
Technically Derek is not Derek, as in that is not his actual name, his actual name being a string of syllables that humans cannot actually pronounce, no matter how hard they try. Being the dopey, somewhat culturally insensitive type, Isaac had dubbed him ‘Derek’ upon their first meeting since the first few letters of his name in Stiles’s closest English translation kind of sounded like “Dareek,” which was close enough, apparently. And since Isaac is everybody on base’s favorite, cute grandchild, the name kind of stuck.
Derek seems somewhat blasé about it, at any rate. Of course he’s usually too preoccupied being angry about other things, whenever Stiles is around him, so that might be why.
Officially, Derek is the liaison between the Luceren people and SGC, aka the wolfman the wolf planet sends to growl at the humans periodically for not understanding the wolves. Relations with Luceres are frosty at best, considering that first contact occurred when one of the SG teams shot at and almost killed a few young Luceren traders on PX8-47T accidentally. In their defense, it was dark and the Luceren in their natural forms resemble – well, giant, terrifying wolves – but that’s not much of a defense, honestly. It is this aspect of space exploration that most cultures fail at the hardest, Stiles has learned – expecting the entire universe to think the same way they do.
It is because of this that Stiles doesn’t actually blame Derek for being a big grumpy downer most of the time, since whenever he’s on base he’s usually there to argue and frown and threaten General Landry about various things regarding the trade accord or the heightened aggression from the Replicators or the looming threat of the Wraith from the Pegasus galaxy or sometimes, just for being a bit of a pig-headed jerk (again, Stiles assumes). There are a lot of things to be grumpy about on Earth, generally, especially for someone like Derek, who has to deal with all the suspicion and politics and bullshit involved with dealing with the combined clusterfuck that is SGC and the IOA. Being an alien would earn Derek a heaping pile of suspicion right away, but being a politically powerful alien who could slice and dice a human in three seconds flat using nothing but his hands? ‘Suspicion’ hardly even covers it.
Not that Stiles likes him or anything. He just…empathizes. That’s all.
(“I dunno, it kinda sounds like you like him,” is Scott’s opinion on the situation.
But Scott thinks that Stiles translates emails for the Defense Department and also that Derek is a soldier from Canada, not a wolf alien from another planet, so whatever. Scott’s opinion doesn’t count.)
They met, officially, during Derek’s first “visit” to SGC, which is a polite way of saying that he and three other Luceren dialed their gate, destroyed their shield and took over the entire gate room. Stiles had happened to be in the control room that day helping Sergeant Matheson draft a response to the Unas Alpha Council and thank his luck for that, since he was the only translator in the room and thus, the only one with enough wits about them to notice that the strange gestures the wolves were making were actually attempts to communicate, not just random twitches and wiggles. One of his finer moments, if he doesn’t say so himself.
(“Congratulations on doing your job,” Derek told him once, when Stiles attempted to tease him about it. Stiles sometimes wonders if sarcasm, not mathematics, is the key to a universal form of communication between all known cultures.)
So the long and short of it is, for the first few months of Derek’s appearances, Stiles was called in to sit in on meetings and translate and generally be present since he was the only one who could begin to decipher anything the Luceren were saying. That is, until they saw fit to show their humanoid forms, which allowed the language translation matrix on the stargate to kick in, but at that point Stiles was already invested so it was kind of a lost cause.
(“So the whole time,” Stiles had said, kind of angry and sort of academically disappointed and in spite of himself super amused, “you had the ability to imitate us and speak our language and you didn’t? You just let us run around waving flash cards and making faces at you for three months?”
“We weren’t sure we could trust you,” Derek replied uncaringly. “We can only transform on Luceren, so we couldn’t change back to defend ourselves if we were threatened on your base.”
“That is incredibly sneaky and underhanded of you and congratulations,” Stiles said, “but don’t think this gets you out of helping me with my dictionary.”
“I don’t see why you need a dictionary for a language you are incapable of speaking.”
“I don’t see why you’re such a party pooper but there you go.”)
Frequent mortal peril aside, meeting Derek and the Luceren is probably the most exciting thing to happen to Stiles since a two star General knocked on his door and thrust a nondisclosure agreement in his face. On an academic level, they’re a fascinating culture – much like the Unas, they operate in tribal, family units governed by an “Alpha” figure, recognizable by their advanced strength and abilities. They look like wolves in their natural forms but are capable of shifting their shape to look like virtually any other species – although humanoid seems to be the easiest for them, probably because of the abundance of humans in Milky Way.
It’s incredible, amazing, wonderful, the kind of opportunity Stiles dreamed about in college, a whole new culture with vast, unexplored depths to dig into. But there’s a marked difference between sitting in an office studying the Ancients, the Nox, parsing out syllables in Ancient Egyptian and Furlingscript – and Derek, who is breathing, living, grumpy, high maintenance, pragmatic. Who is utterly unimpressed with most of what Earth has to offer, who seeks Stiles out specifically because he’s the only one “who doesn’t ask stupid questions, don’t read into it.”
He also saves Stiles’s life a lot and looks like a male model and is actually way smarter than he seems and kind of stupidly heroic and can speak like ten different languages, not that Stiles is keeping track of all this or anything.
(“Dude, I’m telling you, it really seems like you like him,” Scott says. “Even Allison thinks so!”)
Whatever. Stiles is officially turning over a new leaf, a no-infatuations-with-people-who-can-kill-you leaf, because that time on PN5-223 with that altar attendant with the daggers, and the other time at the bar with Dr. Martin that They Don’t Talk About. Because if Stiles is going to lead the kind of life where killer robots and evil alien overlords are actual threats to his life and well-being, then the least he can do for himself is try to keep his personal life free of violence in contrast.
Well, he’s working on it.
“Never doing that again,” Stiles wheezes, collapsing to the ground with no shame whatsoever, “ever. Ever ever.”
Derek just exhales harshly, stepping over Stiles’s heaving chest and heading straight for the red emergency telephone on the wall. “Good luck with that.”
Stiles settles for glaring, not having the energy to do anything else but that and also keep all his organs inside of his body at the same time.
“It’s out.” Derek mutters something under his breath, in some language that Stiles doesn’t recognize, and drops the telephone carelessly, leaving it to dangle by its cord.
“The network,” Stiles manages. “Phones, door locks, wireless signals. It’s probably the first thing they infiltrated. They’re probably trying to get to the stargate.”
“Can they?” Derek demands.
Stiles pulls himself into a sitting position with no small amount of difficulty; he’s not out of shape by any means, but sprinting down a hallway beneath a rain of bullets is decidedly different than his usual cardio routine. His knees are still shaking. “Gate functions are isolated from everything else – more security. There are probably only two humans in the entire universe that could hack into it without the passcodes, and one of them lives in the Pegasus galaxy.”
“These things are not human,” Derek reminds him pointedly.
“Aware of that, thanks,” Stiles snaps. “But these aren’t normal Replicators, this is a freaking lab experiment from hell. Their capabilities are limited to what we gave them.”
Derek mutters something in the other language again, this time sounding ten times more exasperated than before, if that’s even possible.
Stiles takes a deep breath, allowing himself one last moment of panic, before pushing it all down and wrenching his mind to the present, to the problem. “Okay. Okay, so. We know they’ve cut off all access to the upper levels, so we’re dealing with just the ten floors down here. The gate is on sublevel ten and we’re still on eight, elevators are out so we’ll have to get down through the access shafts – “
“Which are being guarded,” Derek cuts in. “Most likely.”
“Right. But they’re weaker. They don’t have that uplink to the – their mainframe, or whatever, that connection that the normal ones share. And they’re still vulnerable to the ARGs, too.” Stiles shoots Derek a critical look. “I mean, not to throw shade or anything but you just took out, what, twenty of them all by yourself? If they were going at full strength we’d both be dead and junked for parts by now.”
“There must be hundreds of them,” Derek says darkly. “There’s no other way they’d be able to scale an attack like this if there aren’t.”
“Rebellion,” Stiles says. “Technically, it’s a rebellion. Since they were created in our labs and they’re using our guns and – “ Derek glowers at him. “Right. Never mind.”
“Whose idea was this, anyway?” Derek mutters. “You humans realize that we’re fighting the Replicators, right? And that the goal is to get rid of them, not make more?”
“They’re not normal Replicators! They’re – like, neutered Replicators. They shouldn’t even have the ability to replicate at all, let alone take humanoid form. Something must have gone wrong,” Stiles argues. “Which is a severe understatement I know but can I just say that this is kind of an inconvenient time to be discussing this?”
“Fine,” Derek mutters, “we can’t go for the gate. I was in General Landry’s office when this all started; I saw all of it. They’ve got both the gate room and the control room secured. There’s no way I can take it back by myself.”
“What am I, chopped liver?” Stiles asks indignantly.
“When it comes to shooting things, yes,” Derek says, unrepentant.
Stiles attempts a glower of his own; he’s not entirely sure if he succeeds. Judging by Derek’s absolutely unmoved expression, he didn’t. “Dr. Martin’s lab is on sublevel nine. She’s our best shot at getting this under control, what with Dr. Carter in Washington and Dr. McKay in Pegasus.”
“I thought Dr. Martin was a physicist,” Derek comments.
“Yeah, it’s – have I explained the science words to you yet? – just trust me, she can help.”
Derek huffs a little, opening the door a crack to peer cautiously into the hallway. “Access shafts it is,” he says. “I’ll go first. You count to ten, then follow.”
“Wait, wait, no,” Stiles yelps, clambering to his feet. “We can’t split up. That’s how we die!”
“That’s how we die,” Stiles repeats. “It’s a classic horror movie staple, okay, and I always told myself if I was ever – okay, obviously, you don’t know what I’m talking about but trust me this is very important and I – “
“You’re not coming,” Derek says flatly. “We have one gun and you can’t fight. So I’m going to go first, and kill the robots, and then you follow. Okay? That’s what’s happening.”
“I’m not okay with this plan,” Stiles replies staunchly, but Derek is already opening the door, peering outside carefully and making a shushing motion with his left hand.
“Count to ten, then follow,” Derek orders, and slips out into the hallway before Stiles can protest or scowl or latch onto his arm like an octopus or anything.
“Damn it,” Stiles mutters, flattening himself against the wall next to the door, wincing at the unmistakable sounds of gunfire from down the hallway – the harsh explosions from the projectile weapons the Replicators are using, and the softer, more electrical sounds from Derek’s ARG.
Screw the highlight reel, this has gotta be the – the trailer shot, running unarmed into a hallway full of bullets after a werewolf alien fighting murderous robots that were probably created by that idiot Whittemore in medical that keeps asking to use nanite technology as performance enhancers for the Marines because he thinks it’ll turn them into dispensable RoboCops or something, like, honestly. It’s probably all his fault. Stiles is comfortable with that assumption, really.
“Stiles!” comes the roar from down the hallway. “Stiles, now!”
Stiles takes a deep breath, sends out a quick mental prayer to the spirit of action heroes, ducks his head and runs.
Despite somewhat-accidental gate room invasions and long, squabbling bitchfights between Derek and the IOA, the shakiest period in the journey toward a solid relationship with Luceren was actually the aftermath of the Wraith attack on Earth.
Stiles actually was on base for that one, in the upper levels along with all the rest of the nonessential personnel, huddled in frozen, deathly silent groups, listening to the radio chatter of the battle like it was some horrifying, nightmarish sporting event. It all worked out in the end, of course, the Hive ship was destroyed, casualties were pretty minimal and Earth was safe for another day, but in the hectic chaos following the battle, some things sort of…slipped to the wayside. Specifically, uh, telling everyone what had happened.
Even more specifically, telling the Luceren. Turns out that there’d been a few things left out of Earth’s part in the “exchange of intelligence” clause of their accord, including not just the details of the ongoing struggle against the Wraith in the Pegasus galaxy, but the very existence of the Wraith at all, and the Atlantis base in Pegasus, and the Wraith’s attempts to find the Milky Way, and one Hive’s success at doing just that, and…yeah.
Derek was furious. For the first time since Derek became Derek, Stiles was actually afraid of him. He cut a terrifying figure, that’s for sure, his eyes alight with an unnatural red glow, his fingers tapering down into talons by his sides, his teeth elongated slightly, all signs that he hadn’t bothered to transform completely before he left Luceres, a deliberate show of aggression that absolutely nobody missed.
There was a lot of yelling on Derek’s part, and a lot of placating condescension from the IOA, and it all went back and forth like this for several weeks until one damning meeting between Derek, his lieutenant (a sullen, icy Luceren with long blonde hair and a wicked smirk; nobody had even dared trying to even ask her name, let alone give her a human-ized version), General Landry and the IOA’s attack dog, some cue ball named James Coolidge.
Stiles wasn’t actually in the meeting, of course, but it didn’t really matter since everybody knew what happened anyway. Derek outlined the bottom line, once and for all: if Stargate Command isn’t interested in treating the Luceren as equals, then the Luceren aren’t interested, period.
And probably there was a lot more posturing and condescension and growling and possibly some physical violence, considering the shell-shocked look on Coolidge’s face as he walked out of the conference room, but essentially that was it. All or nothing, full partnership or none at all.
(Privately, Stiles thinks it was rather telling that the Luceren weren’t told, whereas their other allies – the ones who had more advanced technology than Earth, that is – were all briefed from the very beginning. But nobody really asks Stiles about these things. Well, Isaac does, but that’s mostly because he always skips staff meetings and ends up asking Stiles to just explain everything he missed, so that doesn’t count.)
It was a very tense few days until word came down that the IOA had officially decided to apologize, sending a carefully worded mea culpa to Luceres, along with a full dossier on everything they had and currently knew about the Wraith, a rather impressive peace offering considering the IOA’s general reticence to share anything more than the very essential. Derek returned the very next day, immediately disappearing into a series of briefings with Carter, Landry, Dr. Woolsey and Colonel Sheppard, offering Luceres’s not inconsiderable assistance in any further dealings with the Wraith, and the entire base breathed a collective sigh of relief.
(Or maybe that was just Stiles. Whatever.)
“I really thought you knew, actually,” Stiles told him once, the one conversation they had about it, one of the only conversations they’ve ever had about the ongoing political battle between Derek and the collective Earth bureaucracy. “I would’ve – well, maybe I wouldn’t have told you because that’s definitely something they could lock me up at Area 51 for – but I would’ve hinted. Or something.”
Derek just shook his head slightly, brusquely dismissive. He’d been in Luceren clothing that day, instead of the BDUs that he normally wore to the base, and Stiles hadn’t been able to stop staring at the camouflage-esque material, all deep swirls of green and blue and brown. It made Derek’s eyes stand out even more than normal, which was a thought that Stiles was ashamed to admit to, even to himself, it was so ridiculous.
“You’re just a linguist,” Derek had said.
Stiles squawked indignantly at him. “Excuse me? Just a - ”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Derek said impatiently. “I meant, you’re not involved with…all that.” He made some kind of vague gesture that Stiles assumed meant this epic bullshit, for serious. “That’s got nothing to do with you. This.”
“This?” Stiles repeated, somewhat blankly. There was some kind of significance, or hint maybe, in the look on Derek’s face, a significance that Stiles was definitely not catching onto. “You mean, our – thing? Friendship? We are friends, right?”
“‘Friends,’” Derek repeated, rolling the word around in his mouth like it was a piece of bad meat. “Is that what you call it?”
“Uh, yes?” Stiles guesses.
Derek makes a sharp gesture with his head, a quick, jerking motion, like he’s cutting the air in half with his chin. It’s the Luceren’s version of rolling their eyes, Stiles had been inordinately delighted to discover. “I think, sometimes, you are obtuse on purpose. Just to annoy people.”
“I’m not going to say I never do that,” Stiles said slowly, “but this time I am genuinely clueless, I promise.”
“Why don’t you think about it,” Derek said, “and when you figure it out, we will talk.”
That hadn’t been much clearer, and Stiles had grumped around about it for a few days until Isaac finally got fed up and threatened to tip Dr. Jackson off about Stiles’s incredibly priceless, very rare sample of Asgard script left behind from their first visit to Earth during the Early Middle Ages.
(“You wouldn’t,” Stiles had gasped, scandalized. That sample was Stiles’s baby, and Dr. Jackson was notorious for accidentally stealing people’s babies. Metaphorical babies, he means. Not real ones. As far as Stiles knows.
“I really would,” Isaac shot back, completely unsympathetically.)
This had continued for about a week, with Stiles feeling generally hapless and out of the loop and kind of depressed and confused also (and depressed about being confused, and et cetera, so on and so forth), and Derek being weird and not coming down to the eighth circle at all and instead having long, intimate conversations in the mess with Vala Mal Doran, of all people, and wasn’t that stressful for Stiles. Vala shouldn’t be talking to anybody. Vala gives people ideas.
This back and forth of confusion and not-speaking and stress came to a head when the Replicator samples in Dr. Lee’s lab suddenly started, you know, replicating and took over the base on an otherwise peaceful Thursday morning, of course. Stiles will say this: there’s nothing that will make you get over yourself quicker than an invasion of malicious robots.
There’s also the fact that Derek’s first action in response to this invasion was to head straight for the eighth circle, and for Stiles, saving him from what would’ve otherwise surely been a painful, agonizing death. So, you know, he appreciates that on several levels.
He can tell that Derek doesn’t think he’s noticed. But he’s not actually that oblivious.
There’s a conclusion hiding in all this somewhere, a logical one that takes all of this into account, the life-saving and the coded conversations they sometimes have, the hours Stiles spent with Derek in his natural form, watching every twitch and head tilt and blink to try and communicate with the personality that was so obvious in every movement, every deliberate action. The way Stiles will sometimes get caught off guard by the angular line of Derek’s body, leaning in the doorway of his office, or the first time Derek spoke in English with a perfect accent, then proceeded to repeat the same insult in Spanish, Go’auld and Latin with the same deadly precision and crippling disdain.
But this is the sort of thing that Stiles can’t afford to take lightly, couldn’t even if he tried, not when so much is at stake, when making the wrong move could mean losing afternoons arguing over Luceren standardized spelling and looking up in the middle of staff meetings and watching the steady progression of displeasure on Derek’s face and buying increasingly weird flavors of coffee for him to try and a million other things that are vital parts of his life now that he has them. He thinks he knows, but he might be wrong, because nothing in science is completely proven, after all, there’s always some slim margin of error, a tiny chance that there’s some piece of the puzzle they haven’t found yet that could blow the entire theory out of the water.
98% accuracy on a translation that could mean either a peaceful trade accord or the complete annihilation of Earth, whatever, but this? Nope. Stiles just isn’t willing to risk it.
(Who would risk it, he wonders. Who would risk losing Derek? Nobody Stiles wants to know. That’s for sure.)
Dr. Martin is there to greet them on sub-level nine with a P-90 pointed directly at Derek’s head and a defiant, “freeze, you son of a bitch.”
“Dr. Martin,” Stiles hastens to say, “it’s us. Friendlies. Not robots. Uh. You can lower your weapon?” Martin doesn’t move. “…Lydia?”
Martin swings her gun to point at Stiles instead, prompting a twitch from Derek and an aborted growl, low in his throat. “I thought I told you never to call me that,” she says slyly, then lowers her giant machine gun like it’s no big deal. “Sorry, thought you were Replicators. Whatever. Come on in.”
She turns on her heel and disappears into the depths of the lab, conveniently allowing Stiles and Derek a few seconds to pick their brains up from off the floor.
“Physicist?” Derek asks, a world of skepticism in his tone.
“It’s kind of a catch-all term,” Stiles offers weakly. Derek gives a dismissive scoff and makes a sort of circular jerk with his head, the Luceren expression for bitch, please. (That’s the approximate translation, anyway.)
There are three scientists in the lab, not including Lydia, and Stiles only recognizes one of them, a biologist he took out for coffee once last fall under duress from one of Isaac’s intense mothering phases. He thinks her name is Elise, or maybe Joan, but considering how bedraggled and generally beat-up she (they all) look, he’s thinking that she’s not exactly going to take grievous offense or anything.
They all look up at Stiles and Derek’s entrance with varying levels of weariness before turning back to their respective tasks, seemingly not giving much thought to them. The biologist (Yolanda? Karen?) is busy bandaging the arm of a man in a tattered lab coat, and the third one, a dark-haired woman in BDUs, buzzes around Dr. Martin like an overanxious worker bee.
“I thought you might be dead,” Martin comments, waving the woman away and plopping back down in a computer chair. There’s an array of four computer monitors on her desk, all displaying long, scrolling lines of code, and she starts typing rapidly without even sparing them a second glance.
Stiles shoots a glance at Derek, who sweeps the room with an unimpressed look before stationing himself at the door, his gun ready at his side.
“Nope,” he says, “not so much. How about you guys, are you…doing okay?” he asks, looking with concern at a worryingly large stain of blood on the floor beneath one of the lab tables.
“Peachy,” the biologist says, looking up at him, then away in lazy dismissal. Maybe that coffee date had been even worse than he remembers.
“Uh, awesome,” Stiles replies, glancing warily at the man’s arm. It looks like a gunshot wound to Stiles, not that he has a whole bunch of expertise in such matters. “Care to fill us in? Because we just fought our way through like fifty of those things to get down here and I’m really hoping you guys have a plan. Or some information. Anything at all.”
Martin’s steady pulse of typing doesn’t even falter. “All of the above,” she says. Turning and glancing at Stiles over her shoulder, she gestures slightly with her eyes, motioning for him to move away from the biologist (…Sarah?) and her patient. Stiles joins her at her desk obligingly.
“We lost Thomas and Yusef about an hour ago,” Martin says quietly and Stiles winces, swiveling his head to look over at the two scientists huddled together grimly, the third still moving restlessly around the lab, not meeting anyone’s eyes. He makes brief eye contact with Derek, who still stands silently by the door with his ARG, like a bizarre Secret Service detail. “We don’t know if they’re dead or not, because the Replicators are taking everyone alive. We think they’re trying to gather us all up somewhere. Security feeds are out of course, but there’s a lot of power being drained on sub-level six, in Conference Room E12, we think that’s where they’ve got the majority of our personnel.”
“Oh,” Stiles says in sudden realization. “They didn’t fire until Derek did, when they came to my lab!”
Martin rolls her eyes. “Stellar deduction, Watson,” she says derisively.
“Well, that tone is a little unnecessary,” Stiles says, just to be an ass.
She rewards him with a snort. “I’ve got a plan, if you and Cujo over there are down.”
“Do tell, Watchtower.”
“I prefer Oracle,” Martin replies, not missing a beat. “You know that virus Zelenka and McKay developed for the self-destruct on Atlantis? I’ve been modifying it for Landry, he wants to put a similar sort of thing in place on the General Hammond. But I think I can use it to get these things under control.”
Stiles takes a steady breath. “You want to – just to clarify – use the virus that we created to obliterate ourselves to take back the base?”
Martin looks irritated. “Everyone is so uptight about that part,” she snaps. “It’s more selective then than – look. The original virus locks the command in place and locks out everything else, and without command passwords there’s absolutely no way to counteract it, that’s what makes it so airtight. That’s the part I’m using to – hopefully – lock them out and lock us in. Not the – ‘blow everybody up’ part.”
“Okay, good, that’s good.” Stiles shoots a look over at Derek, who is watching them both intently. “Can you do it from here?”
“No.” Martin looks regretful for a moment, tossing her long mane of hair over her shoulder with a sigh. “I’m almost finished here, but I need to get to the control room to upload it. I had to isolate this lab from the network to keep us off the grid, that’s the only reason they haven’t found us yet.”
“They haven’t found you?” Stiles asks, surprised. “I thought – Thomas and – “
“They went to look for more ARGs,” Martin replies, looking grim.
“Oh.” Stiles swallows. “You mean they’re relying completely on the system? They’re not even sending sweeps through the hallways?”
“They’re robots,” Martin replies dryly. “Kind of stupid ones at that. Of course they’re relying on the system.”
“Do we know what they’re doing with them?” Stiles asks hesitantly. “The ones they’re taking?”
Martin shakes her head once, turning back to her computer screens, expression stony.
“Right.” Stiles clears his throat, turning to look at Derek, who has no doubt been following their entire conversation with his freaky super hearing. And sure enough, as soon as he catches Stiles’s eye, Derek shrugs twice with his left shoulder, the Luceren gesture for yes. “Okay, whatever you need, we’ll help. We’ve got one ARG that still works, at least.”
“Give me ten minutes,” Martin says brusquely and doubles over the keyboard, clacking away with an increased ferocity. Stiles leaves her to it.
“You’re staying here,” is the first thing Derek says. Stiles sputters a little, but Derek just shakes his head once. That gesture is apparently universal on both Luceres and Earth. “No. I will not argue with you about this.”
Stiles deflates, not even trying to come up with some reason why he should go on the dangerous suicide mission because honestly? He’s got nothing.
“I will take her to where she needs to go,” Derek says with calm certainty. “You will stay here where it’s safe, with these others. I’ll send anyone else I find to you.”
Isaac, Stiles thinks, with sudden, desperate worry that he’d been successful at keeping in check, until now. He’d left for a briefing with Landry twenty minutes before the Replicators showed up at the eighth circle.
“If you find – “
“Isaac,” Derek finishes for him, nodding, “yes. I’ll look out for him.”
Stiles feels a little light-headed at that, but that could also be blood loss.
“You don’t have to do this,” he says suddenly, struck by the mental images his brain is conjuring up against his will, pictures of Derek shot, mangled, crumpled on the ground in a bloody heap. “This isn’t your fight, it isn’t even your planet.”
Derek looks at him oddly. “You’d rather I didn’t?” he asks.
“No, no, it’s just.” Stiles swallows convulsively, with no small amount of difficulty. “You’re – you don’t even like us.”
Derek is silent for a moment, staring at Stiles’s face, which feels heated beneath the laser sharp gaze. “I’m the Alpha,” he finally replies. “It’s my responsibility.”
It’s your responsibility to save a bunch of humans that distrust and annoy you, really Derek, Stiles thinks, but doesn’t say, because maybe arguing with the guy that will probably save all their asses isn’t a great idea, and also that look on his face is giving him a complex.
“If you get killed,” Stiles stops, swallows, tries again, “if you get killed I’m gonna be pissed.”
“‘Pissed’?” Derek repeats skeptically.
“Mad. Angry. I will kick your ass from beyond the grave.”
Derek makes the face he has whenever he doesn’t understand what the fuck Stiles is talking about but doesn’t care enough to ask him to explain. “Right.”
“Just be careful,” Stiles blurts, not particularly caring if he’s revealing anything, too preoccupied with the chorus of blood/death/pain in high definition inside his head.
“You too,” Derek replies, and Stiles finds himself caught by the intensity of his stare, like a heavy lead weight pinning him in place.
“Are you serious?” Dr. Martin interrupts, appearing at Derek’s elbow with a laptop beneath her arm and her gun under the other. “Because I thought we’d go save everybody’s lives but if you two wanna make out first I’m sure we can ask the Replicators to wait.”
“You are incredibly rude and nobody really likes you,” Stiles snaps at her.
“Well, that’s just a lie,” she replies. Stiles snorts, but secretly she’s totally right. “We going or staying?”
“I’m going, he’s staying. It will be easier with just two,” Derek says. Martin nods like she already knew this, which is probably true. “Leave your gun with him.”
“What?” Martin exclaims, gripping the P-90 tighter. “This one is my favorite!”
“I’ll make sure you won’t be harmed, but we can’t leave them here defenseless.”
Martin looks as if she’s about to argue some more, but in the interest of expediency (or the menace in Derek’s expression) she deflates and hands the weapon over to Stiles with a grumble.
“You know how to handle one of these, cupcake?” she asks.
“Why does nobody believe me when I tell them I’ve had weapons training?” Stiles asks, slipping the strap over his arm easily and clicking the safety off pointedly. “My dad’s a cop, people. And I was an only child left at home alone a lot. Do the math.”
Martin and Derek both adopt identical expressions of exasperation in perfect unison, which is simultaneously creepy and incredibly hot and Stiles almost can’t even handle it.
“Shoot anything that moves,” Derek orders.
Stiles looks at him levelly. “What if it’s you?”
“Shoot anyway,” he replies, and with that particular parting gift, slips out the door.
Martin glances back at her three scientists briefly, huddled in the back watching the proceedings with keen, terrified interest, then gives Stiles a look that says in no uncertain terms what she will do to him if they’re not whole and hearty when she returns, and before Stiles can even blink, she’s gone too.
“Yippie-kai-yay,” Stiles says, because it seems appropriate.
It doesn’t really help.
Stiles has been to Luceres exactly once.
It was during their New Moon Festival, which isn’t even close to what they actually call it in their language, but the more Stiles studies the Luceren (language, culture, everything) the more he’s convinced that most everything they do is too unique, too meaningful, too much to be translated properly into something humans can grasp.
Stiles was the only member of SGC to be formally invited (read: Derek came to the eighth circle one morning and said, “where are your shoes? Why would you take off your shoes? Well, find them, we have to go.”) which was a source of tension between him and the rest of the anthropology team for a while (ugh, Dr. Jackson) but well worth it because holy, holy shit. Holy shit on a holy cracker.
The first thing Stiles registered after stepping through the gate was the heat, which was heavy and dense and full of moisture, like the hottest day of summer at his aunt’s house in southern Georgia, right before a thunderstorm. Luceres is a deciduous planet that orbits a pair of binary stars and the canopy of trees and plants do little to shield the surface from the suns’ powerful rays. So the Luceren, and their gate, live underground, in a complex network of natural caverns and passageways formed by ancient rivers and streams. The result is that they basically live in giant ovens – not hot enough to endanger Stiles, or any other human that happens to get a golden ticket to visit, but still hotter than anywhere Stiles had ever been before, hands down.
Derek led Stiles through the crawling, winding hallways to what he called the den (again, the closest approximation he could think of) where there was water and weird little fans powered by some kind of glowy rocks (scientific term) and some not-grapes and not-strawberries that tasted like Vitamin Water (the yellow kind, not that gross pale pink kind).
He wasn’t allowed to see much (read: much of anything at all), because he was still a human and a SGC representative, under contract even (“Sorry,” Derek had said, not sounding all that sorry) so he spent the majority of the festival (“Stop calling it that.”) in the den with Derek, listening to the eerie sounds of the Luceren running through the tunnels around and beneath and above them and watching the dancing shadows of the torches on the walls.
“It’s a…celebration,” Derek said haltingly. “But not – there’s not a word.”
“Renewal?” Stiles suggested. “Or, anniversary?”
“Maybe.” Derek bared his teeth slightly, a dismissal. “The suns are very powerful here, but the moons are even stronger. Most nights, you can see at least four or five of them. There’s always at least one in the sky.” He looked up at the ceiling, one eyebrow raised. Stiles thought he looked a little wistful. “When you can see the sky, that is.”
“Moons are important,” Stiles concluded.
“Yes.” Derek paused. “Our names…you call me Derek. That’s fine, but my true name has more to it. Means – more.”
“I can call you something else if you want,” Stiles offered, still kind of uncomfortable and guilty about the whole naming debacle.
“No. It’s fine. You can’t pronounce it anyway. I can’t even pronounce it when I’m like this.” Derek made a gesture with his hand that Stiles didn’t recognize, something related to hot/angry/tired/affection, maybe, it had the same sort of lifting motion to it – “My real name has my family name in it, and the moon I was born under.”
“They have names?” Stiles asked, excited. “Of course they do. Tell me.”
Derek smiled at that. Small, but there. “Ice Moon,” he said, “that one was mine. Dirt, Red and Flesh, those all go together. The three that stay up the longest. Yelling Moon and Hope Moon go together, too.” Derek paused again, this time to search for words. “And…Heaven Moon? That’s the closest word, I think. That one has the longest orbit, it only appears twice, three times a year.”
“So this…” Stiles trailed off, gesturing vaguely, “is held when there are no moons in the sky at all?”
Derek nodded. “One night every five years,” he said, “or just about. It means refreshment, and birth. Growth, advancement – progress? Lots of things. Good things.”
Stiles smiled. “Like our New Year’s,” he commented. “Only probably less…tacky.”
Derek inclined his head in agreement. He seemed more relaxed than usual, that constant cape of tension and resentment having vanished into thin air. Stiles was struck by the change, much more than he’d expected to be. “It’s a good night.”
Stiles grinned at him, enchanted by his expression, the easy sprawl of his body on the ground, the heat, the sounds of distant growling and claws skittering on rock, everything, all of it. “What do you actually do though?”
“Lots. Everything.” Derek shrugged, the human way this time. Stiles bit back an irrational laugh of triumph at it. “Run. Go up to the surface. Play games and eat…desserts.” Derek made a face like the word itself offended him. “Treats?”
Stiles laughed. “Rewards?”
Derek shook his head in frustration. “English is so…simple.” He rolled his shoulders restlessly, like he thought his human form was pretty damn simple too, which it probably was, for him.
“It’s one of the more complicated ones we’ve got,” Stiles said with a smile. “Well. Maybe not complicated. Haphazard, more like.”
Stiles made the gesture in Luceren, the one they use to indicate a mess or mistake due to laziness. He figured it conveyed his point as accurately as was possible.
Derek’s mouth quirked upwards. “Ah. Makes sense.”
“What,” Stiles waved his hands at the expansive cavern vaguely, “is this, exactly, do you live here? How – how does this work?”
Derek furrowed his brow, like the question itself was confusing, but he answered without much hesitation nonetheless. “This…space, we call them…” he closed his eyes and bowed his head to the right, his cheek almost touching his shoulder, “this one is mine. Like a bedroom.”
“You sleep here? Live here?” Stiles asked, surprised. It was hardly the kind of place he’d imagined, were he to imagine Derek’s bedroom, which he…did not. Ever. Just to clarify. Except for sometimes.
It was large, huge actually, with walls that didn’t quite meet the ceiling in places, and Stiles could see the torchlight from similar caverns through the long, oddly shaped gaps.
The walls themselves were smooth at the top, turning rough as they met the floor, with huge, menacing scratches from claws overlaying each other until the rock itself looked like shredded clay. Up higher were markings, not words exactly, but symbols of a sort that Stiles was practically salivating to examine, but since that was presumably part of the no pictures, recordings or transcriptions caveat of his visit, he stayed put.
They sat on the bare rock ground since it actually helped to cool them down, and the food and drink were in smooth wooden bowls the color of wet sand. There was a larger basin made from some sort of metal in the corner that was full of more water, and a pile of fabric that Stiles presumed was a bed. Other than that, there was nothing – no personal effects, possessions, posters of rock stars, nothing.
“We don’t,” Derek said, frowning, when Stiles brought this up, “rock stars?”
“I just mean, personality,” Stiles insisted. “This is your room, man, it’s got…nothing of you in here.”
“I don’t own things for pleasure,” Derek said. “We don’t…own. There are just…things. There are toys for the young. And we have – not books exactly, but records, stories, things we read – those are kept in a different place. I have clothes, for when I look like this, in a different place, too.”
“But you don’t have…like, what do you do for fun? Recreation?” Derek looked at him blankly. “What do you do for yourself, Derek.”
“I,” Derek paused, “I rest.”
“You rest? That’s it?”
Derek turned his head away, didn’t answer, which was an answer in itself.
Feeling brave, Stiles decided to push. “So, okay, you rest. You – can I ask you a question? Without getting kicked back to Earth on my ass? A personal one.”
Derek gave the Luceren yes, his expression still impassive.
“Why are you the Alpha? You’re young, aren’t you, I’m not wrong about that. It’s not…not a position for the young.” Stiles paused, watching the side of Derek’s face cautiously. “I’m right about that too, aren’t I.”
Derek was silent for so long that Stiles started to think he would ignore the question, was prepared to change the subject and let it be forgotten. But Derek did speak, and when he did, it was steady and calm, no outward sign of emotion at all.
“My grandmother’s mother was Alpha, the,” he stopped, the familiar expression of frustration with the words he was using flitting across his face. “The first. Queen? No. She started our pack.”
“Okay,” Stiles said, nodding, making the Luceren gesture for go on/grow/continue.
“She died before I was born. My grandmother was Alpha then, while I was young. My mother was supposed to be next, when she was…elderly. That’s not the best word. When her – other duties were finished.
“Our pack was bigger by then, the biggest. The other ones – they’re still there, but they keep to themselves. Don’t go off-world. They leave it to us to travel and communicate with others. Like you.”
Stiles nodded. “By default.”
“Ten years ago, when I was…a teenager, you would call it, my grandmother and mother were killed. Assassinated. My older sister became Alpha then, but she died six years later by the same hand. Now I’m the Alpha. And that’s why.”
Stiles gaped at him. “Derek,” he said, not sure where he was going with that, but just wanting to go somewhere.
Derek made the Luceren gesture for no. “It happened. You wanted to know, now you know.”
Stiles thought about saying I’m sorry, but he remembered how he felt when people said that to him, how it made him want to punch things in their faces. So he didn’t. “My mother died too,” he said instead, “when I was eleven. It sucked.”
Derek frowned. “Yes,” he said slowly. “It does.”
Stiles looked down at his hands then, a little overwhelmed and a lot of sad, and Derek offered him more not-strawberries, and that was the end of that conversation.
Later, once the suns had set, Derek took him up to the surface to see the sky, a brilliant array of stars that were almost as bright as Earth’s moon. Stiles could even see streaks of color smeared between them on the vast palate of sky – whether that was a far off nebula or pollution in the atmosphere or something completely different, he didn’t know. Maybe it was magic, he thought hysterically. The thought somehow didn’t seem all that implausible.
“It’s brighter when we’re human,” Derek explained. He was the only one not in natural form, the rest of his pack floating around them, long, dark shapes that melted in and out from between the trees. A few even approached, nuzzling their great noses against Derek’s palm, left open in invitation. “When we’re normal, we can…filter out the light. In our eyes.”
Stiles had just nodded, sort of speechless for a change.
Derek led him to a place to sit, a rock that’d been carved into a sort of platform, and then they watched, the colors in the sky and the Luceren, both of them moving in strange, inexplicable patterns, sweeping movements that seemed nonsensical on the surface but had an underlying logic that appeared beneath close attention.
Whether the Luceren were following the sky, or the sky was following the Luceren, Stiles couldn’t tell. It all blurred together after a while, Technicolor swirls of shapes and Derek next to him, breathing in tandem with him, his skin too cool for a human’s but strangely comforting at the same time. Kind of like the sky, in the end. Strange, new, but also wonderful.
He fell asleep eventually, the line between awake and not blurring into nothing, and when he woke up he was back on the base on Earth, in one of the temporary bunks people used during all-nighters, like none of it had happened at all, like it’d all been a dream.
But the next time he saw Derek he had not-strawberries with him, and let Stiles munch on the extras, which ended up being all of them, which he suspects was the intention all along, if he’s reading it right. Not that he’s complaining.
It’s not a memory that means much, overall. He didn’t learn much of anything else they didn’t already know, at least not from a scientific perspective, and he’s sure that Carter and her team got more from their quick two-hour jaunt then he did spending the entire night. But science isn’t really the point, for Stiles.
It was a good night, is the point.
The biologist’s name is actually Kara (he was way off) and the man with the arm wound is Danny. The hyperactive one is actually a hyperactive chemist named Inez. For the first twenty minutes or so nobody speaks, too busy being worried and staring at the door to the hallway and straining their ears for any distant sounds of gunfire. But then Inez knocks over a lab stool in her pacing and it skitters across the floor loudly, which is enough to at least break the spell of tension.
“Sorry,” she says sheepishly. Stiles smiles at her kindly, and she smiles back. She’s very pretty, he notices, beneath the curtain of her messy black bangs.
“This is stupid,” Kara says sourly. She keeps checking on Danny’s arm – a bullet graze, actually, not all that serious – obsessively, until he’d finally gotten fed up and told her to fuck off about ten minutes ago. “We’re all highly educated, trained and qualified professionals, we should be doing something.”
“Like what?” Danny asks dryly. “We have no guns.”
Kara just shakes her head, looking resentful.
“We’re safe here,” Stiles reminds her. “We’re not going to do anybody any good by making ourselves dead.”
“I just,” she starts, pressing one hand to her mouth. “All those people.”
A heavy weight drapes itself over the room.
“Okay,” Danny says briskly. “Okay.” He stands, moving swiftly over to Dr. Martin’s abandoned computer chair. “If you tell anyone I did this, I’ll kill all of you.”
“You’re touching Dr. Martin’s computer, you can’t touch Dr. Martin’s computer!” Inez says, panicky. “She said she’d perform unspeakable horrors if anyone touched her computer!”
“Hence the threat of murder,” Danny says, reaching out and tapping out a few keystrokes, wincing slightly and adjusting the sleeve of his coat around his wound gingerly.
“Can you type with…” Stiles trails off as Danny turns in his chair to glare venomously. “Right. Whatcha doin’?”
“Lydia isolated us from the server and wiped this lab’s location from all the blueprints and security grids,” Danny explains, furrowing his brow as he clicks through several different screens of code. “That’s how she was able to hide us from the Replicators. But in order to do that, she had to get around all the security measures and firewalls the programmers had in place.”
“So?” Kara asks, still sounding sullen. But she’s sitting up in her chair, watching Danny’s hands move over the keyboard with interest.
“So I can use the back door she created to get into the security feed on E12, where all that power is being drained,” Danny says. “So we can see what’s going on, at least.”
Inez makes a distressed sounding noise, sinking down into a chair next to Kara’s, but Stiles barely registers it. “You can do that without tipping them off that we’re here?” he asks.
“Yes,” Danny says slowly, like it’s a stupid question. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Stiles ignores the insinuation and grabs a chair to pull it up, watching the screens carefully. “Uh huh,” he replies, “because it’s just so believable that you could hack into the feed that gazillions of microscopic robots are constantly monitoring.”
Danny falters a little. “All right,” he admits, “maybe I have my own back door already. Or two.”
“You didn’t mention this earlier?” Stiles asks incredulously. “When Martin was writing a program to do the same exact thing you’ve already done?”
“I did actually, and it didn’t help,” Danny says calmly, seemingly unbothered by Stiles’s accusation. “It’s not that kind of back door.”
“…right,” Stiles says blankly. The image of a grainy security camera popping up on the screen belays anything else he might have to say.
“There,” Danny says in satisfaction. Inez and Kara gasp audibly behind him, but Stiles just frowns. “They can’t see us. And neither can the Replicators,” he adds, this time with a touch of defensiveness to his tone.
“Oh thank God,” Kara says loudly, crowding over Stiles’s shoulder. “They’re alive.”
Stiles gives Danny one more side eye before letting it go in favor of studying the feed. There’s the majority of SGC, all right, all crowded into one conference room, in various shades of tired, injured and incredibly pissed off. Stiles instantly spots Isaac, sitting in one of the chairs talking to Lindsay Novak, and feels an immense weight fall from his shoulders.
“There’s General Landry,” Inez says, scurrying up to Danny’s shoulder and reaching out to point at the corner of the far left screen. Danny’s got all four camera feeds pulled up, one to each screen, and it really does look like pretty much everybody is locked in there, judging by the sheer number of people in the crowd. “And Major Finstock and Colonel Everett.”
“Yusef! I see Yusef!” Kara exclaims. Her face lights up, and Stiles has a sudden idea as to why she’d been so resentful of their inaction before. “And Thomas, too.”
Inez and Kara beam at each other, and even Danny looks a little relieved, but all Stiles can think is why.
“Wait a minute. Do you see any injuries?” he asks, scanning the black and white footage carefully. There are a few with obvious cuts and bruises, and a blurred figure that looks vaguely like that tall bodybuilder dude from SG-3 who’s holding his arm close in to his torso like it’s broken, but other than that, Stiles can’t see anyone else who’s visibly hurt. Most of them don’t even look ruffled; it’s like they all stepped in for a base-wide conference call or something.
“That’s a good thing, right?” Inez asks, her voice trailing off at the end like she’s not sure of the question.
“Yes,” Danny says firmly.
“Right, yeah, of course it’s good, it’s just weird, I mean.” Stiles frowns, staring at the footage like the answer’s going to jump out at him any second. “Why? I mean, Martin said Thomas and Yusef were going to get guns, if they were caught there’s no reason why they’re still alive. They should be dead.”
Kara turns her face away sharply, and Danny glares at him reproachfully. “Dude.”
“No offense, I mean obviously it’s awesome they’re not,” Stiles says quickly, “it’s just strange – the Replicators are trying to keep control over the base, they should be eliminating threats, not herding them into a waiting room.”
“Maybe they didn’t make it to the armory,” Inez offers. “Maybe they got caught in the hallways or something and the Replicators just took them straight to E12.”
“Right, but why,” Stiles pushes. “They’ve got the entire SGC chain of command in one room, what’s stopping them from opening fire? That’d be a gigantic blow to Earth and leave the stargate wide open. They could dial the Replicator homeworld and bump this invasion up to a global scale in like, twenty minutes flat.”
Stiles sees Inez frown, and below her Danny nods, almost to himself. “Right,” he says, “that is…strange.”
“And for that matter,” Stiles says, his heart suddenly pounding very fast, “if their goal is to gain control over the base and the stargate, why did they lock everything down before they took the control and gate rooms? Derek said he was there when it happened – the Replicators started storming the Marines before they took control of secondary systems, which gave Landry a chance to lock the stargate down and raise the shield.”
“Maybe they’re stupid,” Kara mutters.
Danny shrugs. “She’s got a point,” he says. “They were created by Lee, right? He was trying to study them, so he had to modify them so they wouldn’t become dangerous or get out of control. That’s why the ARGs still work on them and they don’t on the normal Replicators.”
“Right, no, but that still doesn’t make sense,” Stiles pushes, “if they were able to advance themselves to the point where they can take human form, then they have to be able to adapt to the ARGs. And they’re working together, collectively, as a group, otherwise none of this would’ve happened. It’s been what, seven hours since this started? With how often Derek’s been shooting them, that’s plenty of time for them to adapt and make themselves immune.”
“He’s right,” Inez says suddenly, chewing on the edge of her fingernail. “That’s what makes Replicators so dangerous – they can adapt to any weapon we can develop to fight them. Right? The more we use something, the more they learn about it and figure out a way to counteract it.”
“And if these Replicators are actually replicating, and they have to be, to take human form,” Stiles says, emboldened by the support, “then they have to have that same ability. I mean, there’s just – there’s no such thing as a stupid Replicator, think about it. That’s what a Replicator is – a self-aware collective of robots with the ability to grow. Otherwise we’d just be dealing with a bunch of microscopic machines that don’t do anything. There’s no selectivity here, either they’re smart or they’re not.”
Danny looks over at him with dawning realization. “Oh, shit,” he says, “shit. Then what the hell is going on?”
“They have to be under control,” Stiles concludes. “Whether they’re on their own or taking orders from somebody or something else, this isn’t a case of a lab experiment gone wild, this is – this is deliberate. Whoever’s controlling them wanted us to lock down the stargate, they wanted them to be vulnerable to ARGs, and they don’t want to kill anybody. They’re defending themselves, but nothing more.”
“Who would do that?” Kara asks, sounding stricken. “What could they possibly have to gain?”
“If you lock down the stargate,” Danny says slowly, with dawning horror, “other planets can’t dial in. They wouldn’t even be able to establish a wormhole.”
And that’s when it hits, like a block of concrete.
“Oh fuck,” Stiles breathes, “we have to get up there. Now.”
That morning, before the evil robots and the shooting and the mind-numbing terror, had been mild, pleasant and rather boring. Stiles woke up on the couch after a late night Call of Duty session with Scott, smacked his face into the row of Allison’s bras hanging to dry over the shower rod, brushed his teeth twice and drove to work singing along to the radio at the top of his lungs.
Isaac was an hour late and bitched the entire morning about his briefing with Landry, which he’d been assuming was going to be another round of “and what is it exactly that you do here?” and Stiles had spent about twenty minutes giving him a pep talk before getting a text message from Lance Corporal Henderson, tipping him off that Derek had just entered the mess.
So Stiles had ambled (ran) down to get a cup of coffee and sit with his face behind some lab reports and spy (was Derek still eating with Vala? Why was he eating with Vala in the first place? Were they dating? Or just talking, as in not regular talking but precursor to dating talking? He supposed she was pretty, a little out of Stiles’s age range, but pretty, but whatever, she spent most of her time flirting with Dr. Jackson and Colonel Mitchell so Derek probably didn’t want to get in the middle of that weirdness but also she wasn’t from Earth and so he could probably relate to her more and he might’ve been overthinking this).
He’d been discovered right away of course because he’d just barely sat down with his reports before Derek bent down kind of obscenely to pick up somebody’s eyeglass case for them and Stiles spilled his coffee and squawked loud enough to raise the dead, and Derek instantly looked over and did this thing with his face where he visibly despaired of Stiles’s existence.
“Sometimes I think you need caution rope,” Derek commented, sitting down across from Stiles and doing absolutely nothing to help clean up the mess all over the table.
“Caution tape,” Stiles corrected, glaring the best he could while mopping up a still steaming puddle of coffee with recyclable paper napkins.
“That’s what I said,” Derek replied, and watched in outright amusement as Stiles generally flailed and made a spectacle of himself.
“What are you doing here today anyway,” Stiles said grumpily, after the longsuffering Private Johnson had appeared and zapped the spill away with his magic Marine cleaning powers. “I thought you weren’t due back until next week.”
“I wasn’t,” Derek said, his previous good mood – well, schadenfreude was about as close to a good mood that he ever got, but anyway – seeming to vanish. “There was some mistake.”
“Our gate was dialed around five o’clock this morning, Earth time,” Derek said, frowning, “with an urgent-coded message from General Landry requesting my presence on base today. But when I arrived, he said there was no such message, and they say nobody dialed my planet.”
Stiles winced on his behalf; five AM Earth time is the middle of the night on Luceres. “Sorry. Did they figure out what happened?”
Derek gave a Luceren shrug, a slight inward dip of his arms that Stiles had always found weirdly charming. “Not yet. They think it is some sort of malfunction.”
“Hell of a malfunction,” Stiles commented.
After that they’d been distracted by Major Finstock, yelling at Corporal Greenberg in the mess line, and Stiles had forgotten the entire exchange for the most part, dismissed it as unimportant and trivial. He and Derek had left, Derek for the control room and Stiles for his lab, and an hour later they were in the middle of a shoot-out with robots.
Hindsight, and all that.
“It’s got something to do with Luceres,” Stiles whispers breathlessly, trying to split his attention between not falling on top of Inez, on the ladder right below him, and keeping his sweaty palms from slipping on the rungs. “Derek was called here this morning by some bullshit message. There’s gotta be a reason behind it.”
“Okay, okay,” Inez says, just as breathlessly. “And this somehow means that we won’t get shot to death when we just waltz right up to the control room?”
“They haven’t killed anybody in cold blood yet,” Stiles reminds her, but the sound of his own voice is uncertain. “Worst case scenario, they take us to E12 with the others. No harm, no foul, we wait this out with everyone else. Besides, Danny’s got our backs. Remember?”
Inez hums uncertainly, but keeps picking her way down the ladder nonetheless. Stiles pushes down the wave of guilty relief and keeps going.
This is crazy, Stiles is aware it’s crazy. He’s a linguist, not a Marine, and a pretty low-rung one at that, regardless of the notoriety he’d gained through his work with the Luceren and his connection with Derek. He’s not one of the heavy-hitters, not the one they call when the shit’s at the fan and they’re out of options and there’s an hour left before catastrophe. He’s the one they call when they need a memo translated, okay. That’s Stiles’s job. Not this.
But the certainty he feels is rock solid and bone deep, the creeping, awful dread that they’ve actually been playing right into the bad guys’ hands from the very beginning. He’s been over and over it in his head from the moment he and Inez left the lab, leaving a nearly distraught Kara and a stonily determined Danny behind. It just makes sense. There’s no other explanation.
If the Replicators wanted the stargate to be functional, it’d be functional. If they wanted everyone dead, they’d be dead. If they wanted to dial the Replicator homeworld and open the gate for a free-for-all human buffet, they’d all be singing binary code by now. It’s just that simple. The quick, efficient way they’d effectively conquered the base, taken all systems under their control and neutralized all personnel…it was flawless. Mechanical. Effortless.
So there has to be some other motive, something else going on that they’re not seeing. And the only loose end is Derek – that fake message from Landry. It had to have been from the Replicators, which meant two things: that they’d had control of gate systems already, and thus the entire “invasion” had been for fucking show, and for whatever reason, they also wanted Derek present for whatever warped stage play was happening here. So.
They reach sub-level ten with virtually no resistance; there are no Replicators anywhere, guarding the shafts or even milling about in the hallways, which only increases Stiles’s determination that he’s right. Inez is a silent, solid presence behind him, and when he glances back at her, her expression is surprisingly calm, determined and set with purpose.
(“I’m the only one with combat training,” she’d said firmly, speaking over Kara’s increasingly hysterical protests to Stiles’s master plan, “Danny has to stay here to monitor the security feeds, plus he’s injured, and Kara’s in no shape – no offense sweetie – you’ve got no other choice.”
“Inez,” Stiles had replied helplessly, “I’m not asking you to come, I’m not asking anybody. I might be wrong, and this is dangerous.”
“I was on Atlantis for two different Wraith sieges, brother,” Inez had said, still chewing on her nails restlessly, her legs jiggling beneath her, but her expression was set. “You feel me?” Stiles had to say he did.)
Ready? Inez mouths silently. Waltzing into a room that might be full of hostiles unarmed with a flimsy plan that could absolutely be totally wrong? Sure. Stiles nods.
The control room is set behind the main conference room that they use for the most important briefings, and it’s all set up in a straight, interconnected line of rooms – Landry’s office, the conference room, control room, like a natural bottleneck, the military’s preferred strategic floor plan. Stiles and Inez manage to make it into the small corridor between the conference and control rooms with no trouble, and they pause right at the door, straining their ears for any sound from inside.
Stiles can’t hear anything but the steady hum of the servers on the opposite side of the wall, and Inez shakes her head at him silently, indicating the same. So Stiles takes a deep breath, one last glance at Inez, another prayer to John McClane, and eases the door open.
The sound of the computer servers are almost overwhelming. There are at least ten rows of them between Stiles and Inez and the gate functions, and if Derek and Lydia are here, they could be anywhere in the room, which is much bigger than Stiles had ever realized before. He isn’t sure what Lydia would need to connect to to upload her program, but he’s assuming it’d be the main computer up front by the window that overlooks the gate room. The terminal that controls the stargate.
Inez cuts in front of Stiles silently, wrapping one hand around his wrist and pulling him forward tentatively. She stops short after about three feet and pulls him quickly behind a large row of circuitry, pressing her free hand to her mouth and swiveling her head to shoot him an intense look.
Stiles stays frozen, listening intently, and that’s when he hears it – voices. Low ones, speaking intensely and quietly, but there.
He exchanges a cautious look with Inez, and wordlessly, they start to creep forward, staying back between the stacks and keeping as quiet as they can. They make it up to the last row, in-between the giant, humming server and the wall, and Stiles can just barely peek his head through the gap to get a look. What he sees makes his blood turn to ice.
Derek and Lydia are there, all right, but they’re on the ground, eyes closed and blood smeared across both their temples. Lydia is up against the wall, her limbs in an odd, twisted position, like a rag doll that’d been thrown away carelessly. Derek is in front of her, face down on the cement floor, and Stiles can see that his hands are bloody too, knuckles ripped open and mangled grotesquely.
Stiles has to rear back and clap his hand over his mouth to stave back the sudden panic. Inez grabs his wrist again and clamps down viciously, leaning across him to look herself. When she pulls back her face is paler than before.
“Acknowledged,” a voice says, and they both jump. “Protocol eight seven two, dialing planet designation P7T-441.”
Stiles moves quickly to the opposite end of the server row and peeks out, catching sight of two men he doesn’t recognize – Replicators, they have to be – standing at the gate function controls. They’re both in BDUs and one is sitting in the gate technician’s chair, the familiar dialing program up on the screen. Stiles feels a chill race down his spine.
“Dialing,” comes the eerily blank voice from the seated Replicator, and he hits a few, even keystrokes. Stiles sees the lights of the gate flash from down in the gate room, reflected on the ceiling through the window, and the familiar, metallic sound of the chevrons sliding into place. “Chevron one encoded.”
Inez slides up behind him and reaches out for Stiles’s hand, grabbing his attention and pointing frantically at something on the floor, between the Replicators and the end of the server row, where they’re hiding. Stiles follows the line of her gesture and sees Derek’s ARG laying abandoned on the ground, and feels a stab of relief that seems incongruous to the situation.
We have to stop them, Inez mouths. Stiles can barely make out the movement of her lips in the dim light, but he nods anyway. She nods back, then gestures to herself, then to the gun. Me, she says silently. I will.
Stiles makes a face, squeezing her hand instinctively, but there really isn’t any other choice. He squeezes her hand again, hoping that conveys what he wants to convey, and she smiles again, her shoulders straightening.
Crouching down on his knees, he holds his breath and watches as she cautiously emerges from the safety of the servers, stepping as lightly as she possibly can on the cement. Her face is a frozen mask of tension, eyes darting between both Replicators as she slowly moves toward the ARG, crouched down with her hands extended.
“Chevron two locked,” the Replicator says, just as her hands graze the grip. But the sudden sound startles her slightly and she slips, scraping the side of the muzzle against the floor as she picks it up, and Stiles freezes, his heart sinking.
The Replicators whirl around in tandem, and Stiles almost doesn’t even see it happen it goes so quick. In a matter of seconds, Inez brings the gun up, rises to her feet and shoots point blank at the closest one in an impressive flash of light. It dissolves into a useless pile of scrap at her feet, and its arm already extended to strike, arrested in its motion.
“Yes,” Inez says in triumph, stepping backward to regard the other. But it’s too quick for her, and before Stiles can blink it’s right there, ripping the gun out of her hand and hurling it against the wall, where it smashes into pieces.
“Shi – “ she starts to say, the word cut off by the Replicator’s hand around her throat, and to Stiles’s horror, she’s lifted up off the ground by its grip, choking and clawing at the hand, gasping for air.
Stiles doesn’t think, doesn’t plan, doesn’t do anything but react. It’s almost as if his body makes the decision for him, and he darts forward, slamming his body into the Replicator and using his body weight to dislodge it. All three of them go down in a heap, collapsing on the floor in a tangle.
“Run,” Stiles says frantically to Inez, who’s scrambling away from the Replicator, her face bright red and gasping for breath. “Run, Inez – “
The Replicator interrupts his plea with a deadly right hook, a dizzying impact that sends Stiles to the ground. It’s like being hit in the face with a car, and he lies there groaning, his head spinning painfully and the ground tilting beneath him.
“Stiles!” he hears Inez call out, loud with terror, and then she screams. There’s a crash, and the sound of a body falling to the floor, and Stiles forces his eyes open to see her crumpled on the ground against the server they’d just been hiding behind, out cold.
Rolling himself over with another groan, Stiles looks up into the impassive face of the Replicator, who stands there staring down at him blankly. His heart is pounding, his entire face feels like it’s just been scraped off, and he’s pretty sure his brain is doing cartwheels inside his skull, and there’s a long, endless moment where Stiles is sure that he’s about to die.
But all it does is stare, and keep staring, and then it turns back around and sits back down at the computer.
“Chevron three locked,” it says.
“Fuck,” Stiles says, in relief and pain and a thousand other things, “shit. What the hell. What.”
Lights flash on the ceiling again, sending sparks of pain dancing through Stiles’s skull, and the scraping sounds of the chevrons sound louder than they’ve ever been before.
“Chevron four locked,” the Replicator says.
“Dude,” Stiles calls out, “you know you don’t have to say that every time. Right?”
The Replicator ignores him. Well, not like Stiles expected a monologue.
He’s not a threat, got it, and if this isn’t confirmation of his theory then he’ll eat his socks. Turning again with no small amount of difficulty, Stiles manages to drag himself up enough to check on Inez, who’s still breathing thank God, then starts to drag himself in the direction of Derek and Lydia, his eyes on the Replicator the whole time.
“Chevron five locked,” it says, still ignoring Stiles.
“So hey, now’s about the time for the supervillain monologue,” Stiles calls out, unable to help himself. “You wanna fill me in before my painful, horrible death? What’s on P7T-441?”
“Invalid command,” the Replicator responds, almost casually. The fact that Stiles is effectively conversing with billions of nanobots in the form of a thirtysomething blonde dude is really not helping Stiles’s headache at all. “Please do not resist. Resume program.”
“What,” Stiles says, because even he knows Replicators don’t talk like self-aware supercomputer aliens of the week from Star Trek. “What kind of Replicator are you?”
“Chevron six locked,” it replies.
Stiles officially gives up, dragging himself to Derek’s side and pressing one of his palms to the side of his face. He’s breathing, which is always a good sign, but the blood on his skin is tacky and cold to the touch. Who even knows how long he’s been unconscious.
“Derek,” he says, eyes still on the Replicator, who seems utterly unconcerned with Stiles’s existence. “Derek, c’mon man, you’ve gotta wake up. Like, now.” He jostles Derek’s shoulder, the movement of his own body setting his head to spinning again. Derek gives a low groan, hands twitching. “That’s it, buddy. Come on. Up and at ‘em, time to fight.”
“Stiles,” Derek murmurs, eyelids fluttering.
“Yeah,” Stiles whispers, leaning his forehead down against Derek’s shoulder, panic and pain and exhaustion bringing his shoulders down to a defeated slump. “Yeah. Come on.”
He can literally feel the moment Derek wakes up, his body snapping into place, tension returning to his muscles beneath Stiles’s hands.
“Stiles,” Derek says again lowly, beneath the sounds of the last chevron sliding into place.
“Chevron seven encoded,” the Replicator says, and then there’s the loud ‘whoosh’ and bright light of the wormhole’s vortex down in the gate room. Stiles flinches, ducking his face away. “Wormhole established.”
“What,” Derek says, eyes still closed.
“One Replicator left,” Stiles whispers frantically, face still buried in his shoulder. “Dialed some planet. They’re being controlled by someone, they faked Landry’s message to you this morning. Already had gate functions, it was all for show.”
Stiles hears the sounds of the Replicator rising to its feet – the scrape of the chair being pushed back, the rustle of its clothes. “Acknowledged. Protocol eight seven three, hostage transportation.”
Well, that doesn’t sound great, Stiles has time to think before being unceremoniously shoved to the floor. Crying out, he clutches at his head, lights dancing behind his eyelids, distantly registering sounds of fighting, far away beneath the wave of intense pain.
When he’s reasonably sure he’s not going to puke his intestines up all over the ground, he opens his eyes, just in time to frantically push himself backwards before he’s crushed by Derek’s body, flung backwards against the wall.
“Robots,” Derek spits, groaning in pain as he picks himself back up.
“I know, I know,” Stiles says frantically, gritting his teeth and crawling over to Lydia to drag her out of the line of fire. “I wish I could help right now but I think my brains are about to fall out of my ears and – “
“Stay down,” Derek orders, rushing back to charge the Replicator, who braces himself against for the impact. Stiles watches them both go flying, and sees Derek get in a powerful hit to the thing’s stomach before they hit the ground.
It would be cool, Stiles thinks foggily, if he were watching this in a movie or reading a comic book or something, because a super strong werewolf-esque alien versus a human-shaped glob of malicious microscopic robots sounds totally kick ass. But actually it’s not cool at all, it’s horrifying, because Derek is bleeding a lot, and yeah that thing is terrifying, and maybe trying to kidnap all of them, and Stiles can’t do anything but watch, and fuck this noise. This sucks.
“What,” Lydia says groggily, groaning loudly and bringing one hand to her head. “Stilinski? What – oh motherfucker.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says weakly, wincing as the Replicator lands another hit, sending Derek stumbling back into the desk, knocking somebody’s poor laptop and a row of files off onto the floor.
Lydia struggles to a sitting position next to Stiles, clamping down on his arm with a death grip, watching the fight through wide eyes. Her face is pale beneath the layer of concealer, and the blood on her forehead looks neon bright against her skin.
“Should we be cheerleading or something?” she asks, hushed, and Stiles snorts. Derek’s response is to pick the Replicator up and hurl him against the opposite wall with a brutal roar. It hits the brick with a sickening, metallic crunch.
“Shit,” Stiles says. Lydia makes an agreeable sound.
Derek stands there tensely, breathing heavily, eyes trained on the Replicator. All three of them watch as it twitches abortively, smoking eerily from the joints, before it finally stops moving completely.
“Did you just,” Lydia says, pausing slightly to swallow and wince, “beat a Replicator to death?”
“Yes,” Derek says shortly, “thanks for the help, guys.”
“Hey,” Stiles squawks, offended, “concussed! Also, ow.”
Lydia scoffs, making an attempt to stand before giving up and slumping back down against the wall, and Stiles, consequently.
“Well,” she says briskly. “Good work, team.”
After that it’s all rather anticlimactic. Derek shuts the gate down and collapses on the floor in an exhausted heap, and Stiles manages to drag himself over to make sure Inez is okay. Lydia does something fancy with the gate computer and gets the systems back online, and within the hour the giant ARG bomb-thing they have in the in-case-of-emergencies closet in Landry’s office is switched on and the rest of the Replicators are toast.
All four of them get rushed to the infirmary and Stiles gets some kind of shot that knocks him out for like twelve hours, which he assumes would be a hell of a lot nicer if he weren’t being woken up with penlights in his eyes periodically, not to mention the whole…snuggling situation with Lydia and that douche Whittemore in the bed next to him. Gross.
He loses track of Derek in the melee, but the next morning after a parade of congratulations and well done sons and “aren’t you that guy who spills coffee all the time?” he gets a visit from Isaac.
“Dude!” he says, practically jumping on Stiles’s bed. Stiles barely manages not to cry out in pain, because son of a bitch. “You’re a hero! Holy shit, are you okay? Did that hurt?”
“Yes, it hurt, you idiot,” Stiles yelps, “off, off of me, right now.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Isaac says, scrambling off the bed and back to his own personal space. “Man, your face looks like it’s been chewed on by a zombie.”
“Oh, thanks,” Stiles says sardonically, “I’m really glad you pointed that out.” He’s been a little afraid to ask for a mirror so he hasn’t actually seen it yet, but judging by the general stabbing pain every time he blinks or moves anything, he’s guessing it’s not pretty.
“You’re still handsome underneath, though,” Isaac offers. “Plus it’s like, a war wound. Super bad ass, dude.”
“Yeah, okay,” Stiles says flatly.
Isaac grimaces sympathetically. “What’s the word?”
“Concussion, broken cheekbone,” Stiles says resignedly. “They’re not gonna let me leave for a couple days, at least. They want to make sure there’s no ‘lasting damage.’ Also it knocked out three of my molars, so. Awesome.”
“Them’s the breaks, I guess,” Isaac says, sitting on the edge of the bed, more gingerly this time. “At least when you get your face broken by a robot. Which, Jesus Christ, Stiles.”
“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says. “I know. Hey, can you call Scott for me? He and Allison are probably worried. And my dad.”
“I think they already did,” Isaac replies. “But I’ll call them myself, yeah.”
“Thanks,” Stiles says, breathing a sigh of relief, relaxing back into the pillows. “You got any news for me? They don’t tell me anything down here. And Dr. Martin got released this morning, the tyrant.”
Isaac chews on his lip contemplatively. “I don’t know where Derek is,” is the first thing he says, which, what the hell, Stiles totally thought he was being subtle, “but they briefed everyone on what happened. They said they don’t know who was behind it all, but apparently Dr. Lee identified a foreign virus in his programming that allowed an outside source to take control of his Replicator samples. It’s been there for weeks, he said, so it’s possible that they were self-aware for a while.”
Stiles sighs wearily. “Yeah, I figured that much out,” he says.
“Basically they think that somebody was trying to instigate war between Earth and Luceres,” Isaac continues with a shrug. “That planet, P7T-441? It’s a…um.”
“What,” Stiles prompts darkly. “Tell me.”
“It’s a known hostile planet,” Isaac admits with a wince. “I can’t remember the name of the species, but it’s one of the blacklisted ones. Apparently we lost six people there a couple years ago – the natives aren’t exactly the welcoming type.”
Stiles shudders. “So they were going to throw us in and let us get killed. Or Derek, at least – and since the gate was locked down, the Luceren would’ve assumed…”
“Yeah,” Isaac says heavily. “They found some foreign code in the gate program, too. If Lydia had uploaded her virus, it would’ve locked the Replicators out, but it would’ve shut the gate down too, and it would’ve taken us ages to fix it. So…yeah.”
Stiles exhales deeply, contemplating the scenario. Their Alpha disappearing on a late night call, mysteriously showing up dead on an unfamiliar planet, Earth not responding to calls until much later…yeah. Would’ve been more than enough for retaliation, on Luceres’ part. Stiles wouldn’t have even blamed them.
“Damn,” he says heavily.
“Yeah, no kidding,” Isaac replies. “Who would do that? Who could’ve done that?”
There’s a deep, burning anger in Stiles’s gut, something hot and intense and powerful that he doesn’t feel nearly ready enough to touch yet. “I don’t know,” he says, pushing the words out forcefully. They sound ragged to even his own ears.
Isaac leans in, frowning a little and studying Stiles’s face intently. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Stiles tries for a grin, but it hurts too much and he gives up. “Yeah. No. Maybe. Ask me tomorrow.”
Isaac pats his leg comfortingly. “I’ll sneak you some coffee in the morning, man.”
“You’re my favorite,” Stiles tells him emphatically.
“I know.” Isaac smiles, but it’s a little strained, and he hugs Stiles pretty hard before he leaves. Stiles hugs him back just as hard, just because.
He spends the majority of his time in the infirmary bugging Dr. Lam for a cell phone (“I really don’t see why I can’t even talk to people, I mean, I’m talking to you right now – “
“Because you will play games on it and strain your eyes and I will be forced to deal with you for even longer,” she says primly.) and arguing with Whittemore, whose sole job seems to be moving things around randomly and being a total prick.
Inez stops by and sneaks him some coffee and M&Ms (they’re totally bros now) and Lydia gives him permission to use her first name.
“Not at work, though,” she says quickly, which considering that he’s only ever seen her outside of work twice in the five years they’ve worked together, kind of takes most of the feeling out of it.
“I’m totally going to call you Lydia in my head,” Stiles tells her, which is technically what he’s been doing for a while, so.
Lydia just frowns. “Whatever,” she replies sourly.
Stiles offers her some of his M&Ms, and she snatches them away quickly. “It wasn’t your fault, you know,” he says hesitantly. “They were probably going to fuck the gate up anyway after they shoved Derek through. All you did was bring them an alternative way to do that.”
“I know that,” she snaps. “You think I don’t already know that?”
“I absolutely think you already know that,” Stiles replies, conciliatory. “But maybe it made me feel better to say it.”
“I know what you’re doing,” she says suspiciously, but she doesn’t leave, which is as much of a thank you that Stiles is going to get. “Anyway, don’t go start thinking we’re friends now just because we almost got killed together or anything.”
“I would not even dare to presume,” Stiles tells her, and Lydia nods in apparent satisfaction.
Yeah, they’re totally friends now.
Stiles slowly loses hope in seeing Derek, though, as despite his many not-so-subtle-apparently questions to Isaac and Dr. Lam and anyone else who happens through the door, he stays stubbornly absent. Yeah, probably dealing with the intensely politically charged situation between their two planets or whatever, but still. They saved the world together, the least he could do is stop by and say hey.
(“The base, you saved the base,” Isaac clarifies. “What? Just clarifying.”)
So when he finally does show up, on Stiles’s last day in the infirmary (thank baby Jesus), everything he’d been planning to say just flies out the window, of course, because that’s just how Stiles’s life usually goes.
“Dude,” he says, “wicked scars.”
Derek frowns down at his hands, now mottled and grazed with red, raised lines that are sure to fade eventually, but at the moment look angry and bright. He’d broken almost thirty bones from punching the Replicators, Stiles had heard. Eavesdropped on Dr. Lam. Whatever.
“Wicked?” he asks.
“It’s slang,” Stiles says. “…outdated slang. Uh, yeah, never mind. Come in, take a seat. Nice of you to show your face.”
“I was busy,” Derek says, a little defensively. “And you were asleep a lot.”
“Was not,” Stiles replies.
“You were asleep the last two times I came.”
“What?” he squawks. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? Was I drooling?” Derek blinks at him. “Don’t answer that.”
Derek’s mouth purses slightly, his version of a grin. “How do you feel?”
“Like a robot bitchslapped me in the face,” Stiles replies. “How do you feel?”
“Like I was almost assassinated,” Derek says.
They both regard each other for a moment, considering this.
“Great,” Stiles says dryly. Derek nods in return, and sinks down into a chair by the side of Stiles’s head, sitting stiffly on the edge of the seat.
“They told you everything?”
“Most of it. Isaac did, I mean, not the dictators they call doctors around here,” Stiles grumbles. “How’s things? No war yet?”
“No war yet,” Derek agrees. “My pack was…upset by what happened. But I explained that it was not Stargate Command’s fault. They understand.”
“Well, that’s good,” Stiles says dumbly.
“You may not understand this about my people,” Derek says haltingly, “but we are not like…the Go’auld, or the Ori, who chase after war and conflict. We want peace. But we also want respect.”
Stiles is silent for a moment, gathering his words. “I understand that,” he finally says, for lack of anything better. “Did you think I didn’t?”
“No, I knew you did.” Derek leans back in the chair, finally relaxing somewhat. As much as he ever relaxes. “Sometimes it just helps to say it, though.”
Stiles nods understandingly. “I get that. Believe me.”
“They were particularly upset to hear about your injury. They asked me to express their well wishes.”
“Me?” Stiles asks, mouth dropping open. “They…me?”
Derek makes the Luceren gesture for obvious/yes/dumb/slow. “They like you.”
“They like me?”
“That is what I just said.”
Stiles sinks back into his pillows, mentally rearranging his paradigm of the world. “Is that because of…”
Derek raises his eyebrows. “Of what?”
“Of our thing,” Stiles spits out, cheeks flushing. Ugh, he hates being pale. His face still probably looks like dog food, too.
“Have you figured it out?” Derek asks impassively.
“Maybe,” Stiles says cautiously.
Derek smiles, an actual smile, and even though it’s small, barely there really, it hits Stiles harder than the Replicator’s punch. “You are very slow.”
“I know,” Stiles says sheepishly. “It’s – I’m working on it.”
Derek nods silently, seemingly content just to sit and stare.
Stiles fidgets beneath the attention. “So,” he says boldly, “it’s – complicated, huh.”
“It always is,” Derek agrees.
“I’m not sure,” Stiles starts, faltering under his own embarrassment. “I – it just seems like a lot of trouble. For you.” Derek’s expression falters slightly, and Stiles rushes to explain. “I mean, I want it! I want it. I just – you’re the Alpha, you’re basically the most powerful person on your entire planet, and I’m, you know, from here, and I’m under contract and frankly, my bosses are kind of assholes and I’m not sure why you would want to…you know. Bother with all that.”
Derek is silent for a long moment before rising to his feet so suddenly that Stiles jumps, startles. Leaning in over the bed, he presses the side of his face to Stiles’s shoulder firmly, almost nuzzling, reaching out with his opposite hand and gripping Stiles’s knee over the blanket. Stiles shudders from the visceral assault on his senses – his skin, his hand, the way he smells, God, it’s almost too much.
They stay frozen like that for a moment that seems to stretch on forever, and Stiles closes his eyes, allowing himself, just this once, to let it happen.
“You are very slow,” Derek says again, his voice rumbling through his chest. Stiles takes a deep breath, and nods. “Okay?”
Derek squeezes his knee once and pulls back, something like satisfaction across his face. “Will you come to Luceres again?” he asks, looming over the bed, voice calm, as if the previous face nuzzling hadn’t just happened, and in a big freaking way. “There is an…event. Like the New Moon, but different. We’d like you to come.”
Stiles looks up at him, feeling a strange bloom of warmth in his chest. “Yeah, yes, of course I will, man. Yes.”
Derek nods once. “It’s in three Earth weeks. I will come get you.”
“Yeah. I’ll be here.”
Derek nods again, then turns towards the door. “I have to go. I’ll be back soon, though. Tomorrow, probably.”
“Okay,” Stiles says hoarsely, still a little shell-shocked. “I’ll see you.”
Derek makes a gesture, one that Stiles isn’t familiar with. It’s a graceful sort of motion, where he swings his head at a tilt, his eyes at half mast, with one palm outstretched in front of him. It’s weirdly human and Luceren at the same time, and unlike most Luceren gestures that seem awkward or bizarre when performed by human hands and heads instead of Luceren ones, it…fits.
“What does that one mean?” Stiles asks, his voice oddly hushed.
“You’re the linguist,” Derek replies, with another one of his not-smiles, “you figure it out.”