Derek first met Captain Stiles Stilinski on an Imperial space station, in the middle of a barrage of blaster fire. Stiles was dressed up like a Stormtrooper, Derek had just been tortured and it was three hours after Alderaan had been destroyed. Their first conversation took place in a garbage compacter.
Things went rather downhill from there.
“Are you sure you weren’t imagining things?” Stiles asks skeptically. His voice sounds odd filtered through the intercom on the suits, mechanical almost, lacking the dynamic warmth it usually holds.
“I know what I saw,” Derek tells him. “There’s something out here.”
“Yeah, space,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “And…mist. Space mist. Is that a thing?”
The best method to deal with comments like this, Derek has found, is pretending they didn’t happen. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what, Your Worship? The space mist?”
“Don’t call me that,” Derek snaps, turning on his heel sharply. “I told you.”
“Sorry,” Stiles says. “Derek.”
Derek clenches his jaw and looks away. “I would’ve thought you’d be more concerned, Captain, considering how attached you are to this rust bucket.”
“Eugenia is not a rust bucket,” Stiles says indignantly, “Eugenia is a CJ-500 Corellian freighter and it is much prettier than you are.”
“I can’t take you seriously when you insist on calling your ship Eugenia.”
“It means ‘noble,’” Stiles says haughtily. “What does your name mean? ‘Pissy rebel prince with intimacy issues?’”
“‘Ruler,’” Derek replies flatly.
“Well that’s a load of bantha poodoo,” Stiles says. Derek just rolls his eyes. “Wait, are you serious? Of course you are. You were born serious. Your name means ‘ruler’ because you are a prince and that is ridiculous.”
“My full name means ‘ruler of peace,’” Derek informs him.
“Peace?” Stiles asks incredulously. “Whose bright idea was that? You’re about as peaceful as a lylek.”
Derek feels oddly proud about that estimation. “It’s a family name,” he says.
“Right, your family who secretly financed and organized an entire Rebellion army beneath the Emperor’s nose – super peaceful.”
Derek’s mood gets even sourer, if at all possible.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I tangled with a lylek? This one gullipud I used to run freight for kept them as pets, can you believe that? Because giant ugly monsters with poison tails are real cuddly – ”
“Come on,” Derek interrupts, “enough of this. We’re being careless.”
“Oh, right,” Stiles replies, seemingly not noticing Derek’s change in demeanor – although Derek would be willing to bet that that’s an act. “Yes, let’s walk around pointing blasters at nothing in this big empty cave, very productive.”
“Wait.” Derek freezes, a flash of movement catching his eye. “Did you see that?”
“See what?” No sooner than the words leave his mouth does a large, winged creature swoop down over Stiles’ head. “Drok it! Mynocks!”
Derek takes aim and blasts the leathery creature, watching as it screeches and falls to the ground. “We must’ve picked them up in the battle.”
“If those things are chewing on the power cables, it could be what’s causing our trouble getting the hyperdrive back online,” Stiles says irritably, reaching for his comm link. “We’ll have to do a full sweep of the ship.”
The ground rumbles beneath their feet again, the same strange vibration they’ve been feeling since they landed. It feels decidedly stranger while standing on it than it had from inside the Eugenia.
“What kind of asteroid is this?” Derek asks. Stiles ignores him, peering carefully at the underside of his ship. “Wait a minute.”
Bending down, Derek presses the palm of his hand against the ground of the cave. It’s wet to the touch, he can tell even through the glove of his suit, and it almost seems to be…moving.
“Stiles,” he says, standing up. “I don’t think this is a cave.”
“What?” Stiles asks, distracted.
Derek shoots the ground with his blaster in response, and the entire cave starts to roar.
“What in the name of the Core!” Stiles exclaims, lurching over and grabbing Derek’s arm. “Come on. We’ve gotta haul jets.”
Derek staggers to his feet, another lurch of the ground nearly sending them both flying into the side of the ship. Only Stiles’ firm grip on Derek’s arm keeps them both upright. “Are we – is this actually – ”
“Yes,” Stiles exclaims, frantically dragging Derek up the boarding ramp, “yes, and you can say ‘I told you so’ later but now we’ve got to get the kriff out of here.”
Derek slams his hand down on the control to bring up the ramp and collapses against the wall, tearing his breath mask off and throwing it aside. “I told you so,” he calls after Stiles anyway, who’s rather busy running towards the cockpit and shedding pieces of his evac suit along the way.
Stiles makes a rather rude gesture over his shoulder. “Are you coming or not?”
Derek rolls his eyes and pushes off the wall to follow. He can catch his breath later.
It got to be the worst after they’d moved to Hoth, the isolation forcing them all to live practically on top of each other. Derek didn’t mind it, actually felt more at home living in the trooper barracks than he ever did in the palace, surrounded by chafing opulence. As far as Stiles went, though – well.
“Well hey there, your highnessness,” Stiles would say cheerily, chomping on something with his mouth wide open or fiddling with some piece of machinery and getting grease everywhere, or just generally being a nuisance in Derek’s general vicinity, but never in any truly damaging ways so Derek could have him thrown in an airlock and have the entire problem taken care of already, of course. “What’s happenin’?”
(“Go stuff yourself,” Derek would usually reply, or some variation thereof. It was very often ineffective.)
“He is a good pilot,” Rieekan said to Derek once, just weeks after they’d set up the base on Hoth, watching Stiles hold court with the troopers in the cafeteria, “a natural leader, very charming. Everyone seems to be drawn to him. So naturally, you hate him. I knew you would.”
Derek scowled. “He’s not as smart as he thinks he is,” he said, “and neither are you, Carlist.”
Rieekan just shook his head, chuckling to himself like the cheerful old man he secretly was. “I’ll just leave you to that, won’t I. Your highness?”
Derek scowled again. It was a common occurrence when Stiles, or the topic thereof, came around.
Derek was the last surviving member of the Royal family of Alderaan, official figurehead of the Rebel Alliance and he didn’t have time to not get over himself and admit that he needed Stiles around, needed his ship and his charisma, his charm and his jokes and the way he had of making everyone love him, want to be around him, listen to him without protest. The Alliance couldn’t afford to lose him and as for Derek, well. He could afford it. He just didn’t want to. Not that he would admit it, because princes aren’t supposed to admit things, not like that, and not Derek, especially.
(Sometimes Derek wonders, because princes do wonder, what it would be like to stop Stiles’ movement for once, to say just the right thing or reach out the right way to make him just still. What his face would look like, maybe his hands would stop moving for the first time, he’d stop talking and just listen. What Derek would say, and how that would all…work.
But princes don’t…anyway.)
It’s a quirk of the Eugenia’s design (‘quirk’ meaning ‘something Stiles probably did on purpose for nefarious reasons,’ more likely) that while sitting in the cockpit, one can turn on the comm system and hear practically anything going on in any part of the ship. Derek has always been acutely aware of this and for the first several trips back and forth between various potential bases in various dead end systems, Derek engaged in a complex game of chicken with Stiles, the comm, and several unsuspecting innocent bystanders.
(The trip back from Ord Mantell, in particular, was pretty frosty. Stiles was injured, withdrawn, stewing with righteous anger and kept himself shut up in the cockpit almost the entire way. Derek, being not without some righteous anger himself, kept an almost constant running commentary on all of Stiles’ worst qualities for both their benefit, the highlight of which was an epic diatribe to the empty engineering bay on why Stiles was a selfish, reckless idiot and Derek regretted his entire existence with every ounce of his royal self.
In retrospect, maybe Stiles’ sudden decision to leave hadn’t been all that sudden.)
“I know you can hear me,” Stiles says. Derek crosses his arms and stares at the display, the lights and numbers of the read out blurring under his hard focus. “Derek, man. You’re ridiculous. I know you’re just sitting up there on your regal hiney being all pissy because you’re still mad about the – you metal head, get your gold-plated ass away from my tools! – Derek!”
Derek smiles to himself. He can do that, he’s alone. It doesn’t count when he’s alone.
“I need my spanner,” Stiles says. The comm is a little crackly with static, but Derek can hear the tone loud and clear. “And since I’m currently holding the hyperdrive together with my bare hands, literally, I need you to get over yourself and come help me.” A beat. “Now, would be great.”
Derek leans back in the co-pilot’s seat, deliberately grinding his boot heels into the seat of Stiles’ precious pilot chair as he reaches over and flips the comm switch.
“Do you or do you not have a droid down there helping you?” he asks, using the same deadpan Pooja had taught him all those years ago on Coruscant, his first and best defense against the battalion of Imperial Senators. “If I recall, Laura gave him to you for this exact purpose.”
“I don’t trust droids,” Stiles says irritably, “and this one is like. Super useless. Extra super useless. And it’s gold. Really?”
Derek sighs. “Yet I’m the ridiculous one.”
“This is my ship, I decide who’s ridiculous.”
“Do we need to have the conversation again about false structures of authority – “
“You’re such a – ow!” There’s a suspicious sounding crash, followed by a string of Huttese curses that would make a slave trader blush. “Derek!”
“Ask nicely,” Derek commands.
“Are you kidding me?” Stiles replies. “Not on your life, Prince Grumpy.”
“Okay,” Derek replies easily, “suit yourself.”
“Sithspit,” Stiles mutters. “You’re such a son of a – “
“Really?” Derek interrupts. “You’re going there?”
Stiles does some more grumbling, before sighing so loudly it actually causes a flurry of static over the comm, not an insignificant accomplishment. “Please?”
Derek raises his eyebrows at the ceiling, considers employing some royal grace and poise, then just as quickly decides to be an edwhulb instead. “Please what?”
Stiles mutters something in Corellian under his breath. Derek is fairly sure that whatever it means is grounds for imprisonment, at least. “Please come help me, your royal highnessness, I am but a lowly pilot and I require your noble assistance.”
Derek smiles again, in satisfaction this time. Two in one conversation; it’s a good day. “I’ll be right down.”
“Thank you ever so kindly, your majesty,” Stiles says, twisting it sharply. “Try not to trip and fall into deep space on your way down here. The corridor by the quad-laser tubes is particularly slippery.”
“Your concern is touching, Captain,” Derek replies.
“Go frink yourself,” Stiles says.
When Derek was young, he became enamored of a woman who worked at the palace where he grew up. She was his father’s personal bodyguard and Derek’s main tutor in diplomacy and etiquette, and her name was Sabé. She had long dark hair and a lovely smile, and she taught Derek how to play sabacc and how to curse in several different languages, gave him his first sip of ruge and taught him the difference between real, authentic l’lahsh and the rip-off they sell for half price in markets. She was kind, she treated Derek like a person instead of a royal chess piece, she had mysteries and secrets for every day of the year, and she could shoot a target with deadly accuracy blindfolded and one hand tied behind her back. She was everything Derek thought he always wanted.
“Oh, youngling, I’m not, I’m not,” Sabé said, on the eve of his eighteenth birthday. It was his last night on Alderaan; he was headed for Coruscant and a posting at the Imperial Senate, to learn how to be a politician and to help cover for his father’s involvement with the Rebellion. “I’m just familiar to you, that’s all.”
“Don’t tell me how I feel,” Derek had replied, obstinate and with the hot, vicious anger of youth.
“I wouldn’t dare,” Sabé replied, “but I daresay I know you better than you realize, your majesty, and I’m not nearly enough for you, my friend.”
Derek had just scoffed, embarrassed and angry that he was, listening but refusing to hear.
“You’re meant for adventures,” Sabé told him, fond and sad at the same time. “You’re going to leave tomorrow and become someone they’ll speak about for generations to come, and one day you’ll meet someone else who’s meant for the same, and you’ll be legends together and forget about little Sabé, growing old in a dusty palace on a quiet, boring planet.”
“Alderaan is neither quiet,” Derek had replied, “nor boring. And you could never be little.”
“I am little, I feel little and that is quite alright with me,” Sabé said with a laugh, “but you, Prince Derek, couldn’t be little if you tried.”
Derek had capitulated then, had let her take his hand and lead him to the seat by her window, and they’d sat there to watch the sun set. He’d noticed in that moment the grey along her temples, the soft wrinkles in her hands, and it’d seemed to him to make her all that much more beautiful.
“I like being little,” she mused. “It’s a nice ending to a very big, rough life.”
“If I’m to have a big, rough life too,” Derek told her, “then you should have a significantly small and nice one, to balance it out.”
“Sounds good to me,” she replied, laughing.
Sabé of Naboo, bodyguard, spy, handmaiden, soldier, died with Alderaan. This fact has nothing to do with this memory, nor does it shed any particular light on its significance in Derek’s life, just that sometimes he remembers that it happened, and the cruelty of it takes his breath away.
(Derek was indeed meant for adventure both big and rough. And unfair, is the word she forgot. Always unfair, and nonsensical, and sad, all at once.
He’s still not used to it.)
“So this is our problem,” Stiles says, tossing a grease-stained rag in Derek’s face and smirking as Derek tosses it away in disgust. “Hyperdrive’s farkled. Can’t fix it up here, I’m gonna need new parts, a nice cozy place to park, and a whole lotta time and credits, preferably.”
Derek rubs his forehead. “We have absolutely none of those things.”
Stiles shrugs, collapsing on the couch next to Derek, propping his feet up on the small holographic chess table set up in the curve of the seat. “Well, we’ll have to figure it out.” He pauses, peering at Derek’s face thoughtfully. “Look, I’ll get you back to the Alliance, I swear. We’ve still got the RV coordinates, we can make it. It might take us awhile, but even if they have to move again before we find ‘em, they’ll leave bread crumbs for their fearless leader, for sure.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” Derek says, because it isn’t. “More like being stuck for the next Force knows how long with you and a rusty droid that only speaks Twi’leki.”
“I knew you hated that bucket of bolts as much as I do,” Stiles says triumphantly. “Annoying, right? With the squawking and so-not-helpful sputtering – “
“Stiles,” Derek says.
“Right,” Stiles replies, business-like. “So we’ve got four options, right.” He pulls a slim datapad out of his vest, doubtlessly lifted from one of the command centers back on Hoth. On the screen is a list of coordinates, with scrawled notes in Corellian beside each one. “There’s an outpost about twenty klicks away, but it’s gonna be crawling with Imps, so that’s out. There’s another system a little further, same story. The other two are more doable, but it’ll take us much longer to get there.”
“So actually,” Derek says, just to clarify, “what you’re saying is we have two options.”
Stiles scowls. “You’re very smart,” he says. “There’s Bespin, or Elsco. Both are…well, there might be an Imperial presence, but it’s less likely. Bespin’s pretty empty aside from Cloud City, which is a mining op run by this girl I used to run with back in the day – the Empire pretty much leaves her to it, long as she pays her taxes on time. Elsco’s pretty much the same thing, it’s pretty much a rock, aside from the capital, Elsca’rha, which is – well, not fit for a royal like yourself, your majesticness. Not a whole lot different from the hole I found Laura in, now that I think about it.”
“You know someone in the first one?” Derek asks sharply. “Cloud City?”
Stiles sighs. “Erica Reyes,” he says heavily. “There’s…history.”
“History,” Derek says flatly.
“Yes, I had a whole life before I accidentally joined the Rebellion, you know,” Stiles says hotly.
“Right, it sounded like such a fulfilling one, too,” Derek says with a frown, “what with the bounty on your head and everything. Stellar job on that.”
Stiles narrows his eyes. “This argument is about to get pretty circular so let me just reiterate that you’re ridiculous and move on,” he says. “Okay. Pro for Elsco, it’s only a couple weeks away. Bespin will take us about a month, but it does have Erica.”
“Can you trust her?” Derek asks.
“Nope,” Stiles says, “not even a little. But she’ll hide us. That’s for sure.”
“You go back a long way?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says fondly. “Won my bird offa her, if you can believe it. We used to do runs together, back when me and Scott were still in business on Corellia.” He shakes his head slightly, a strange expression on his face. “She’s got no love for the Empire. And she loved this ship. She’ll help fix it.”
Derek grimaces. “So we take our chances on a backwater pit, or we shack up with your old connect-disconnect. Great.”
“Hey,” Stiles says sharply, “it wasn’t even like that with me and Erica.”
“Is somebody jealous?” Stiles says gleefully. “Don’t worry Prince, you’re the only girl for me, I promise.”
Derek stands abruptly, taking a sharp breath and grappling for the ragged edges of his temper. “Dream harder, Captain,” he says coldly. “Your ship, your decision. I’ll be in my quarters.”
“Aw, please,” Stiles says derisively, his voice grating at Derek’s back as he walks away. “Like you’ve got room to talk. All those late nights with young Jedi Skywalker? How’re you handling this long distance apart – space is pretty cold without a little something sweet to warm you up, isn’t it?”
“Shut up,” Derek snaps, turning on his heel to aim the words directly at Stiles’ sneer. “Don’t talk about Laura like that.”
“My ship, my decision,” Stiles parrots back at him.
“Our friend, our respect,” Derek emphasizes. “She deserves that much.”
“It’s a rough universe, friend,” Stiles says, leaning back in the seat with his body loose-limbed and deceptively casual, a surer sign that he’s angry than anything Derek can read on his face. “Nobody gets what they deserve. Not me, not Laura, not anybody and definitely not you. Right?”
Derek blinks, taken aback. That was much further below the belt than Stiles usually ventured. “I don’t have time for this.”
Stiles scoops up his pad, shrugging and turning his face away. He’s all angles beneath the console lights, untouchable as the faint starlight shining in through the cockpit viewshield. “We’ve got a whole month of time, your highness. And there’s only so many places you can go on a starship.”
Derek doesn’t quite know how to respond to that, couldn’t even if he tried anyway, and instead watches as Stiles brushes past him into the port-side corridor.
“I’ll be in the cockpit,” he says, “in case you were wondering, majesty.”
“I told you not to call me that,” Derek says to his back. Stiles doesn’t even stop.
Laura of Tatooine, Laura Skywalker, daughter of moisture farmers, Jedi apprentice, Laura with her lovely smile and naïve exuberance and ancient light saber. Derek knows the rumors, what the entire base thought about their “late nights,” but those assumptions don’t even come close to the strange draw he feels around her, the urge to be close, to listen to her speak and hold her hand and protect her from all the harsh reality the galaxy has to offer.
“Tell me about Alderaan,” she will say and Derek will oblige, because the only time that question doesn’t hurt is when it comes from Laura, for some reason. And Derek likes to talk about his home, it’s not that he doesn’t want to remember. He does want to remember – his parents, the palace he grew up in. The t’iil flowers his mother grew and brewed into tea, and the summer festivals that raged for weeks in Aldera, always, even in the height of the Clone Wars, even after the Empire rose and with it, any hope of peace. His father’s wisdom, Sabé’s mysteries. Winter’s unflappable stoicism, his mother’s generosity and grace. The details that he doesn’t want to forget, for fear of forgetting everything else.
Alderaan is a monstrous wound that will never heal, this Derek knows. Just like Laura’s aunt and uncle – it won’t ever not be true. The sheer magnitude of it is too much to handle most days, so Derek just - doesn’t. He pretends it’s still there, that it’s out there waiting for him to return, for the war to end, for Derek to be finished. And when he talks about it with Laura it gets easier to do this. Like anything is possible, like someday it could stop hurting, maybe. Like someday it will make sense.
Stiles, Derek knows, is no stranger to the kind of loss that he and Laura carry with them, Derek can tell. The way he reacts so strongly to the stories of the atrocities of the Imperial soldiers on the border planets – especially the ones about children. How he is so defensive, so prickly, around General Rieekan. Some of the things he says, sometimes, that are more revealing than he thinks they are.
(Not that Derek knows for sure, because for all that Stiles talks, he never actually says anything. Thinking back on things, maybe it’s not so surprising it took so long to trust him.)
“He’s from Corellia, obviously,” Laura said once, perched on the edge of Derek’s bunk, still looking around with wide eyes and that look on her face like, I’m sitting on a Prince’s bed. At least she wasn’t calling him your majesty anymore, it was a start. “And have you seen him at hand to hand? That’s military training for sure. CorSec, or the Imperial Army, maybe.”
“A lot of defectors start smuggling for lack of other options,” Derek replied. “It’s possible.”
“You know,” Laura said slyly, “you could ask him.”
“So could you,” Derek said neutrally.
“I have,” Laura said indignantly. “You think Deaton and I would’ve gone with any old mug with a ship and a death wish? Nah, we asked. I think Deaton might’ve used his Force senses, even, figured out what the story was. He definitely seemed like he knew more than I did, though that was like always, I guess.”
Laura sounded wistful, as she always did when the subject of her fallen mentor was brought up. “So what does Stiles say? When you ask?”
“Nothing. Just waves me off and says something mean to get my blood up. Then we fight and I never notice ‘til after that he never answered my question.”
“Then what makes you think he’s going to give me a straight answer?” Derek asked incredulously. “He doesn’t even like me.”
“Oh, that’s not even true,” Laura protested, “and you know it.”
“It’s not like I care, anyway,” Derek said. “He can keep his secrets. He’s entitled to them like everyone else.”
“I’d be willing to bet that Stiles’ secrets are a little better than the average spacer’s,” Laura said. “Play it right and I bet you can hear ‘em.”
“Or become one,” Derek said derisively.
“Probably both,” Laura replied, with a mysterious smile.
(Laura was often right about pretty much everything, and often before anyone knew it. This, Derek would come to realize, was the first of many examples.)
Stiles is not always right, is often wrong actually, by virtue of his own bluster rather than any incompetence (not that Derek would’ve allowed him any responsibility within the Alliance if that hadn’t been the case) but if there’s anything he does know, better than Derek, it’s space. Space, and its coldness and vastness, how to navigate and use it, how it tears at you, not satisfied until it’s burrowed down inside and changed the very core of you into something unrecognizable.
It’s not that Derek’s never been on long trips before – he was a Senator, for Edge’s sake. Not a very good one, and it was more for appearances than anything else, but he still made the long trip from Alderaan to Coruscant and back over and over, still ran missions nearly constantly in his father’s Corellian corvette before Alderaan was destroyed and his cover was blown.
The difference, however, is both time and activity – as in too much of the former and far too little of the latter. The first part of their trek to Bespin is busy with all the minor repairs that come with a narrow escape and tangle with an Imperial fleet, and there’s enough that Derek can do to help. Stiles insists that they slow their pace to a fraction of their capability (“You’ll thank me. Trust me.”) so they do manage to stretch it out, but it still runs out with weeks left to go.
“Tried to warn you,” Stiles says, not without some sympathy. He’s been rather withdrawn since their almost-fight in the Hold, but it certainly hasn’t stopped him from bossing Derek around at every turn. “You could always grab a rag and start dusting.”
“Kiss my choobies,” Derek says. “It’s your ship. You dust it.”
Stiles just smirks. The autopilot’s been on for almost a week now, and Stiles has taken to dismantling Laura’s poor protocol droid, trying to see if he can’t tweak it to speak Basic, at the very least. The parts are spread out all over the deck in the Main Hold, pitiful-looking gold-plated sheets of metal and dingy circuitry. “You could help me out with old rust buckets, here,” he says. “Know anything about engineering?”
Derek does, in fact, know quite a bit, but nothing that applies to messing around with droid innards. “I’ll leave that one to you.”
Stiles shrugs. “Suit yourself. There’s always holo chess. You could play against the computer.”
“Ugh,” Derek says, thinking of Pooja and her blasted chess marathons, sitting in that stuffy room of hers and playing match after match until his bones vibrated with boredom. “No.”
“I could use a foot massage,” Stiles continues. “My quarters are a little messy…”
Derek snorts, amused despite himself. “Do you talk just to hear your own voice?”
“Sometimes.” Stiles laughs, neck craned over the open back of the droid’s torso, grotesquely flayed open in a parody of a dead body. “Like I said. Space is cold. And very, very quiet.”
Derek sits down at the engineering console, swiveling the chair around and leaning his forearms on his knees to peer at the mess of droid junk all over the floor. As with everything that Stiles does, there’s a pattern if Derek looks closely – messy, nonsensical, but there.
“You’ve done this before?”
“Built a droid?” Stiles shakes his head. “Nah. Modified plenty. Not so different from the Eugenia. I – “
“Modified it yourself, I’ve heard,” Derek drawls.
Stiles grins, a tinge of sheepishness to it that catches Derek by surprise. “Yeah, well.” He shrugs. “No such thing as too proud when what you’ve done is the best, in my opinion.”
Derek considers this, nods once, watches as Stiles turns back to the droid. There’s a confidence to his movements that Derek appreciates, recognizes from countless engineers and pilots he’s worked alongside his entire life. Like watching Laura on the shooting range, or his father at a state dinner. Completely in their element. Derek’s not sure if he has anything like that for himself.
“If I ask you a question,” he asks, noticing how Stiles’ shoulders stiffen up slightly in response, “would you tell me the truth?”
“Depends on the question, don’t you think,” Stiles replies, “but I could give it a shot.”
“I’d rather you not answer than lie,” Derek says honestly. “I’m sick of lies.”
“A politician sick of lies,” Stiles muses, lifting his head up and sliding the droid torso to the ground a bit carelessly. It rattles loudly against the serrated deck. “Yeah, alright. Hit me.”
“Why did you really try to leave,” Derek says, “why then. Why not after Yavin, or after we got settled on Hoth?”
Stiles blinks, the only sign that the question has affected him at all. “Why not?”
“What do you mean, why not,” Derek says irritably. “I didn’t ask so we could have the same argument for the hundredth time, Stiles.”
“Then why did you ask?” Stiles doesn’t let Derek have a chance to answer, shaking his head instead and grimacing. “Never mind. I left, or tried to leave, because I didn’t see much reason to stay. That’s the truth.”
“No reason?” Derek repeats. “Taking down the Empire isn’t enough of a reason?”
“Oh, please,” Stiles snaps. “Lose the self-righteousness for once, majesty. You know what I gave up to help your stupid rebellion, you know what I’m willing to do. Don’t act like I’m not one of you, because I am.”
Derek takes a breath, leaning backwards and forcibly ignoring the indignation rising at Stiles’ accusations. “Fine, yes. Okay.” He shakes his head. “You make it so hard on me sometimes.”
“I do,” Stiles replies, “but you could be a little nicer.”
Derek smirks. “I could.”
“I’d like you better if you were nicer.”
“I asked for truth, remember,” Derek replies. “No lies.”
“Okay.” Stiles nods, adjusting his position on the deck and brining his knees up to his chin, looping his arms around them loosely. He looks oddly young and for the first time, Derek wonders how old he is. “Why you askin’ this now?”
“I wanted to know.” Stiles snorts, shaking his head and rolling his gaze to the ceiling helplessly. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like that.”
“Princes don’t apologize,” Derek replies. Stiles laughs out loud. “At least not to smugglers.”
“Not a smuggler anymore,” Stiles says, with a touch of wistfulness. “Just a rebel and a criminal. Much like yourself, your highness.”
“Derek,” Derek corrects.
“Derek.” Stiles grins. “Guess there’s no one around to check our protocol, huh. Not when this guy’s out of commission.” He knocks once on the deactivated droid’s head, which is lying on its side by his knee, staring eerily at the ceiling.
“You don’t have to stand on protocol with me,” Derek tells him. “I’ve told you this before. Many times.”
“Thought you were just blusterin’, honestly,” Stiles says. Derek stares at him. “Right, okay. Gotcha. Real names only.”
“A month is long enough to be truthful,” Derek says, “is it not?”
Stiles laughs again, incredulously this time. “Is that what you want, high – Derek? Truth?”
“That’s what I want.”
“Alright.” Stiles leans back slightly, still holding onto his knees, leaving grease stains on his trousers. “I show you mine, you show me yours. I could use some truth.”
“What do you want to know?” Derek asks.
Stiles studies him and Derek braces himself for Alderaan questions, questions about his family or the Senate or Raal Panteer or his “love affair” with Laura or that Sith treasure nonsense on Dennogra or any number of other things that Derek would really rather never talk about ever again. But of course he should’ve expected Stiles to surprise him. Because princes do get surprised. Sometimes.
“What - exactly - do you know about engineering?” Stiles asks.
Derek blinks. “What?”
“So you can’t fix a droid,” Stiles says, “but I saw you kickin’ ass with those power couplings a few days back. And you can do most essential repairs on most any ship I’ve seen you fly, not to mention everything you been doin’ the past few weeks here. What kind of prince knows how to do that?”
“The kind of prince I am,” Derek says guilelessly. “I can do little things. Nothing major – enough to get by.”
“Could you get by with the laser cannons?” Stiles asks. “Because they won’t connect to the power grid for some reason – probably those kriffin’ mynocks – and I don’t have the first idea how to go about fixing it. Not without blowing up our reactor or something, and I’d rather not do that if at all possible.”
Derek stares at him for a second. Stiles raises his eyebrows, like, what?
“It’s probably the conduits,” Derek says after a beat, “ship like this, the tiniest mistake can blix up the whole system. Dangerous if you don’t pay attention.”
“Tell me about it,” Stiles says. “I was on Kashyyyk once and this Wookie gave me his wife’s TIE fighter, and it – well, it blew up, not my fault, it was this girl I knew who’d been on the spice a little too long, if you know what I mean – “
“It blew up,” Derek says slowly, raising one eyebrow.
“I was young and foolish!” Stiles replies. “Whatever. I was gonna leave it for Cloud City, but if you think you can do something with ‘em, go for it. It’s a project for a prince and nothing less, that’s for sure.”
Derek considers. “Alright.”
The smile that blooms across Stiles’ face is worth another month of boredom and bone-deep cold and dried up rations two years past their expiration date. “Good deal,” he says. “I’ll take you up.”
Stiles leaves the poor droid spread out across the deck, hopping over various parts and gesturing for Derek to follow.
“I thought you’d ask me something else,” Derek comments, frowning and stepping over a discarded, golden leg.
Stiles shrugs, loose and easy, in a different way this time. It’s the smile, Derek thinks. The smile makes all the difference. “Who needs to run over all of that again and again?” he asks. “It’s the important stuff that matters – laser cannons, power conduits. The vital parts of life, don’t you know.”
Derek pauses at the door hatch, lets Stiles brush past, feels the barely-there impression of a shoulder, a bicep of corded muscle, a flash of body heat that feels impossibly warm, even indirectly. “Right,” he says, “the important parts.”
Stiles angles his face down for a moment, and when he looks up again his expression is pleased, almost shy. It hits Derek somewhere that he didn’t think was capable of being hit, anymore.
“Follow me,” he says.
Why not, Derek thinks.
A month is a month is a month, and Derek’s known Stiles for almost three years now, it’s nothing, really. Nothing that turns into something, that turns into something important. Something big, and rough, and often nonsensical and eventually, yes, sad and unfair.
Like many important things, it only makes sense much after the fact, and the reality of it gets jumbled up and confused outside of how Derek actually remembers it. When he thinks about it, it’s clear. When it’s in his head, it makes sense.
(But maybe that’s the important part. Anyway.)