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Amor Fati

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When Stiles gets thrown into the bank vault about twenty minutes after him, Derek isn’t even surprised.

As it turns out, neither is Stiles.

“Oh, of course,” Stiles groans when he sees him. “Because all this kidnapping was really missing was your ugly mug.”

Derek doesn’t bother responding to that. “I take it no one knows where you are right now?” he asks instead, already resigned to what he’s certain the answer will be. “Or that you’re in trouble?”

“Not even a little bit. You?”

Derek shakes his head and fights back a low growl of frustration. He’s spent the last several minutes sitting on the floor, back against the far wall, eyeing the sealed door with a conviction he hopes will manifest into some sort of miraculous rescue, but he’s not very optimistic. He’d tried howling, but the sound hadn’t carried through the thick walls, nevermind cell phone reception.

Stiles pulls out his own phone to test this, and Derek doesn’t stop him. Just watches as Stiles paces the length of the small room, stopping to try for reception every couple steps, his free hand trailing along the walls like he’s testing for weak points. In a bank vault. Derek would fault him for it, but he’d done the exact same thing.

Derek sighs at the lost cause and returns to glaring at the door, silently cursing his existence. The alpha pack has been circling town for the last week, biding their time, waiting for Derek has no idea what. And in the meantime apparently witches are now a thing. Which has been exactly as much fun as it sounds. Possibly less.

Derek didn't even see the guy coming. The coven, or whatever the hell they want to call themselves, has been employing some sort of cloaking spell since they got into town that masks their scents and dampens whatever noises they make to near-silence. One minute Derek was filling up his gas tank and the next he was waking up in this old bank vault, a relic, he’s assuming, from the now mostly abandoned Beacon Hills financial district.

He should really stop being surprised whenever a new threat pops up. A small town in the middle of the woods with a bevy of abandoned buildings and an underfunded police force? No wonder it keeps attracting the supernatural.

Stiles finally gives up on his cell phone and turns back to Derek. “I don’t suppose your mighty morphin alpha powers can somehow dig through all the solid metal we’re currently trapped in, can they?”

“Even if they could...” Derek gestures vaguely at the walls. “Magic.”

Fucking witches,” Stiles mutters, shaking his head. “And judging by the stale air in here, I’m guessing this vault is old enough to not be all that well-ventilated, so...” He sighs and runs a hand over his face. “Asphyxiation? Really? That’s really how we’re gonna go out?”

Derek shrugs. “With two of us in here, I’m guessing we’ve got about an hour of oxygen left.”

“Awesome.” Stiles makes his way to the wall that Derek is leaning against and slides down into a sitting position on the floor beside him. They both stare at the sealed door in silence for several minutes before Stiles speaks up again. “So. You’re being pretty blasé about all this.”

“Not a lot I can do other than stay calm to conserve air.”

Stiles frowns like he wants to argue this, like he wants to point out that the Derek he knows would probably still be pounding the walls fruitlessly right now. But he seems to think better of it suddenly and sighs. “This is kind of getting to be a pattern with us.”

“Waiting to die?”

“Waiting to die together. I swear to god if I end up paralyzed and on top of you again, I am officially out. I quit. Fate can bite me.”

Derek quirks an eyebrow at him. “You think fate wants you on top of me.”

Stiles blushes, but covers with a roll of his eyes. “I think that at a certain point you gotta wonder why The Powers That Be find it so freaking hilarious to constantly throw us at each other. It’s starting to get annoying.”

“I just assumed I was being punished for something.”

Stiles gives him a sarcastic fake laugh followed by a glare. “Whatever, dude. Hey, maybe we actually will die this time and then we’ll never have to find out what it all means. So, you know, silver lining I guess. On the one hand: death. But at least we get to avoid all those pesky emotions that go along with being alive.”

Derek purses his lips into a thin line and studies Stiles for a long moment. His words are light, turning the situation into a joke, something safe, but there’s an undercurrent of resignation to his tone. As if Stiles has accepted that even if they get out of this latest mess, it’s only a matter of time before they do both end up dead.

Despite all the near-misses of late, Derek hasn’t heard that tone from Stiles before, and he suspects it might have something to do with the fading bruise on his cheek. Stiles has lost some weight over the last couple months and there are bags under his eyes from lack of sleep. He looks marginally better than he did that night a week ago when everything came to a head with Gerard and the Kanima, but still not entirely whole.

But then, neither is Derek.

“I’m fairly certain I’m going to regret this,” Derek starts, and has no idea why he’s continuing the conversation except that it’s too late to go back now, “but what ‘emotions,’ exactly, are we talking about in this instance?”

“Oh, you know,” Stiles waves a hand about in front of them, gesturing at absolutely nothing. “Gut-wrenching fear. Overwhelming and unending anxiety. Mild to extreme annoyance, depending on the day.”

“So, the usual.”

“To be fair, it might have more to do with how we keep almost dying whenever we see one another. Maybe we’re each other’s bad luck charms. Except that we do always manage to survive somehow, so maybe good luck charms? I’m honestly still kind of fuzzy on whether our little bromance is responsible for the ‘violence and mayhem’ part or the ‘narrowly escaping certain doom’ part.”

Derek blinks at him. “I’m sorry, did you just call this a ‘bromance?’”

“Would you prefer begrudging acquaintanceship? Reluctant allies? Since we’re sort of breathing our last breaths here, I’d rather just skip ahead and go with ‘friends.’ Small comforts and all.”

After a moment, Derek nods and looks away toward the door again. “’Friends’ is fine.”

Stiles turns his head sharply to stare at Derek with wide eyes. “Crap. That was you being nice, wasn’t it? We really are screwed this time.”

“So it would seem.”

“Crap.”

“Yep.”

Stiles takes a couple of deep breaths, and on the second exhale he shakes his head as if to dispel whatever emotion was about to overtake him. His facial features go slack and vulnerable for a split second, and then immediately contort back into his usual mask. “Well, in that case, I’m totally going with ‘bromance’ again. At least that way I can die pretending there was the possibility of getting lucky in my future.”

Derek makes a pained expression. “If your idea of being ‘bros’ includes the potential for sex, I’m going to have to start viewing your relationship with Scott in an entirely new light.”

“Okay, first of all: gross. Let’s just scrub that mental image from our brains right the hell now. Secondly, you and me? Completely different beast. Our imaginary bromance is more of a love-hate thing. One of those epic, sexual-tension-filled stories that eventually explodes in some cataclysmic horror show of rage and hormones. We’d be a ticking time bomb of lust and aggravation.”

Derek levels a look at him. “Our ‘imaginary bromance’ sounds terrifying. You’d rather go with that over ‘friends?’”

Stiles shrugs one shoulder half-heartedly. “At least this way I can die pretending there was some hope of getting laid eventually. Things have been pretty dire on that front for awhile now.”

Derek huffs, leans his head back against the wall and closes his eyes. “Pretend whatever you want, Stiles, just quit talking. We’re wasting oxygen.”

This manages to shut Stiles up for about twenty minutes.

But then the air starts to noticeably thin and Stiles begins to sink down the wall, like just sitting up is too much effort. Eventually he’s lying sprawled across the floor, head near Derek’s knee, which he studies with the kind of vague fascination that comes from being not entirely lucid.

“You really don’t think it means anything?” Stiles asks out of nowhere.

“What?”

“That it’s always us. You and me. Every damn time. Imminent danger? Lets put Stiles and Derek in the middle of it, they’re always good for a laugh.”

Derek sighs and tries to sound more annoyed than exhausted. “I think that we’re both just very good at getting ourselves into situations that we can’t get out of.”

“So it’s just that we both happen to be idiots.”

“Basically.”

“Oh, well, that’s a relief. And here I thought the universe was trying to tell me something.”

Derek snorts derisively. “What the hell would it be trying to tell you?”

Stiles turns his head to look away from Derek’s leg. “I don’t know. Invest in Mountain Ash? Obviously I’m some sort of werewolf magnet. Or Derek Hale magnet. Do you find yourself mysteriously attracted to me? Wait, don’t answer that. That didn’t come out the way it was supposed to.”

Derek eyes the side of Stiles’ face for a while, frowning. He wishes he knew what to do here beyond wait for help that probably won’t come. He wishes he knew what to say beyond some variation of, shut up, dumbass, and try to conserve a few more minutes of air.

After a long enough pause that Stiles appears to have given up on him and is now extremely focused on making intermittent clicking sounds with his tongue, Derek swallows and decides, fuck it. “...I don’t think we’d be a time bomb.”

Stiles rolls his head back to look up at him, brow furrowed. “Huh?”

“Our ‘imaginary bromance.’ It wouldn’t end in cataclysm.”

A small smile crosses Stiles’ face. “Oh yeah? How would it end then?”

“It wouldn’t. It would just... evolve. Slowly. It would sneak up on us. And one day, far, far,” he gives Stiles a pointed look at the emphasis, “into the future, we’d ‘narrowly escape certain doom’ for the millionth time, and everything would just-- I don't know. Click into place. Like puzzle pieces.”

Stiles stares up at him for a long time, that small, tired smile still frozen on his face. At last he says, quietly, “I think I like your version better than mine.”

“I think my version might have more to do with oxygen deprivation than reality.”

Stiles barks out a loud, honest laugh at that, and Derek has to put a fair amount of energy into holding back an answering smile.

A few minutes of silence pass. Eventually Stiles closes his eyes and his head lulls a little too far to the side, cheek smashed awkwardly into the floor.

Derek nudges Stiles’ shoulder with his knee. “Hey, come on. Stay with me here.”

Stiles groans and doesn’t open his eyes. “Nah, I think I’ll just pass out now, thanks. This is good. More air for you.”

“You’re not thinking clearly.”

“I am very... clearly,” he slurs. “Super clearly in the thinking. I stop breathing, you keep breathing. See? Logic.”

“That’s not logic, that’s giving up.”

“Dude. Just...” Stiles lifts one arm and waves it about limply, before letting it fall down onto his stomach. “Don’t die first. I am very much against watching anyone else die. So just... don’t. Me first. Then you. Non-negotiable.”

Something in Derek’s chest breaks a little at that, but he refuses to define it. He reaches a hand out carefully and rests it on Stiles’ forearm. He closes his eyes as well and he makes sure not to let himself pass out until well after Stiles stops breathing.

He wakes moments later to the feeling of strong hands with a tight grip on his shoulders. Before his eyes are even open he’s shaking his head on instinct and choking out, “I’m fine. Him.”

Derek blinks a few times and when his vision clears he sees Scott desperately trying to resuscitate a Stiles whose lips have gone blue, while Isaac kneels beside him and looks on with a panicked, haunted expression.

But Derek can still hear Stiles’ heartbeat, even if it’s faint, so he doesn’t allow himself to worry. He focuses on healing his own body. And if his gaze doesn’t actually ever leave Stiles’ prone form until Stiles is finally gasping for air and moving again, then... so be it. It is what it is. Derek’s just very much against watching anyone else die, too.

“We should probably get you to the hospital. Let my mom check you out,” Scott says, his voice still wrecked with fear.

“Yeah, okay,” Stiles rasps as he tries to sit up, but only manages to fall against Scott and cough some more.

When Stiles is finally able to lift his head, he catches Derek’s gaze over Scott’s shoulder and grins at him. “So I guess that’s one more tally mark in the ‘narrowly escaping certain doom’ column, huh? At this rate we’re gonna hit that millionth one before I’m even out of high school.” He wags his eyebrows a few times, mock-suggestively.

Derek rolls his eyes and stands up. “Yeah, I’m definitely being punished for something.”

Stiles snorts in amusement and lets Scott and Isaac pull him up off the floor and half-carry him out.

Derek trails after them, forcing himself to focus on his anger rather than his relief. Anger is easier. Familiar. Relief is still a confusing unknown, not experienced often enough for him to know what to do with it.

“How did you find us?” he asks as they make their way outside. Scott’s mom’s car is parked a few yards down the road, but otherwise the area looks like a ghost town.

“Honestly?” Isaac says. “Dumb luck. Peter finally picked up the scent of one of the witches, but he didn’t want to go after it himself.”

Of course he didn’t. Derek grits his teeth.

Scott nods and adds, “When he couldn’t get a hold of you, he called Isaac, who called me. The scent led us here.”

“So the first time anyone’s actually able to get a lock on one of these guys just happens to be the same time they decide to jump me and Derek?” Stiles raises a skeptical eyebrow. “Can anyone else say ‘trap’?”

Derek would normally agree with him on that, but... “No, this makes sense. All of their energy and focus was probably being used to keep us imprisoned, leaving them vulnerable elsewhere. Not enough power to keep masking their scents at the same time.” He stops the boys with a hand on Isaac’s arm. “Does the trail end here?”

Isaac shakes his head. “No. We think it heads out the back way and down the alley.”

“Alright, Isaac you’re with me. Scott...” Derek hesitates over the order he’s about to give, the words “you may be an alpha, but you’re not mine” still ringing fresh in his ears.

Thankfully, Scott jumps in before it gets too awkward. “I’ll take Stiles to the hospital and then meet up with you guys to help.”

Derek nods once in agreement and Scott starts dragging Stiles in the opposite direction, towards the car.

Stiles, however, groans loudly and calls back over Scott’s shoulder, “You guys are gonna feel like real idiots when it turns out this was a trap!”

Derek ignores him and follows Isaac to the alley. The risk of a trap is worth the shot at finding these fuckers and eliminating the threat before the alpha pack descends on them. Dealing with both Gerard and the Kanima at the same time was hellish enough. If this coven is still out to get them by the time the alphas make their move, Derek doubts any of them will survive it.

***

Scott doesn’t stick around the hospital long enough to have to suffer through Melissa McCall’s death glare alongside Stiles. Which, out of everything that’s happened today, for some reason feels like the most unfair part. Stiles can (sort of) deal with staring death in the face for a couple hours, but frustrated parental units are another matter.

They commandeer an empty break room so that no one catches them and forces Melissa to fill out any paperwork. She checks him out, muttering the entire time about what kind of insane deity thought it was a good idea to leave the fate of this town in the hands of teenagers.

Stiles agrees with her wholeheartedly on that one, but is smart enough to keep his mouth shut until she stops fuming.

She gives him a clean bill of health a few minutes later, but remains firm on the fact that he needs to find a ride home before she’ll leave his side. She’s not letting him walk six miles after a near-death.

The fact that Stiles has no one to call shouldn’t hurt as much as it does. He’s always only had Scott and his dad really, but still... Even if Erica and Boyd weren’t gone to parts unknown, he doubts one of them would drop everything to give him a lift. He knows for a fact that Jackson wouldn’t. And Allison and her dad left town not twelve hours after the whole epic showdown with Gerard and the Kanima.

For a split second he considers calling Lydia, thinks she might actually help him out if he asked her, but he still has trouble being around her ever since that night true love managed to somehow save Jackson’s life. It’s only been a week, he’s allowed to still be nursing his wounds. Just going to school with the happy couple burns uncomfortably in his gut through every shared class. He’s never been so ready for summer vacation to finally start.

So Stiles sighs, mans up, and calls his dad. He claims he was hanging out with Scott in the lobby, but Scott got called into work at the last minute and left him in a lurch.

Melissa stares at Stiles through the entire phone call, eyebrows going all furrowed and judgmental on him. Which is awesome. Obviously further parental judgment is exactly what he needs right now.

“You guys were hanging out at the hospital?” His dad asks, skeptical.

“Yeah, we were gonna take his mom to lunch. Guess she’s stuck with cafeteria food today.” It should bother Stiles how easily the lies have been coming lately. It does bother him. But not enough to pierce through his current exhaustion.

“Alright, let me just finish up this paperwork and I’ll be there in fifteen.”

As soon as Stiles hangs up the phone, Melissa smacks him upside the head.

“Hey! Ow!”

She puts her hands on her hips and glares at him. “Either you tell him or I will.”

“What? No!” he sputters. “Look, I... It’s complicated, okay?”

“Then un-complicate it, Stiles. Because I swear to god the next time you show up here with so much as a scraped knee, that’s it. I’m letting the wolf out of the bag. I will blackmail Scott into shifting in front of him if I have to. You get me?”

Stiles scowls down at the tiled floor and grumbles, “Yeah, I get you.”

“Good. Now go home, get some rest, and...” she trails off and heaves a heavy sigh. “Jesus, kid, for the love of God stop getting yourself into these situations. I know werewolves aren’t the safest playdates, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t actually Scott’s doing this time. And if it wasn’t his wolfy butt you were chasing after, then whose the hell was it?”

Stiles swallows, not knowing what to say to that. Melissa knows about the looming alpha pack, but not about the witches, and Scott’s been pretty adamant that they try to keep as few supernatural baddies on her plate as possible.

Melissa crosses her arms over her chest, cocks her hip to the side, and raises an eyebrow expectantly. “Were you with Isaac? Jackson? Because I was under the impression you guys weren’t all that close.”

“No, I wasn’t with Isaac. Or Jackson.”

Melissa nods, contemplative. “Right. So. Derek Hale then. Fantastic. If you were my kid, this is the part where I’d be figuring out how to lace his Cheerios with wolfsbane, so watch out for that when your dad finally catches wind. But, since you’re not my kid,” she pats his arm encouragingly and smirks, “nice job. I think he’s got more abs than Thor.”

Stiles gapes at her for a second. “Wait. That’s not--“

She points a stern finger in his face and interrupts, “But if you end up hurt again because of him, I’ll kill the bastard.”

Stiles has no idea what part of all this to argue with first. “Uh. This wasn’t Derek’s fault?”

Melissa moves in close, apparently just as much an expert on the ‘intimidating invasion of personal space’ tactic as Derek is. “So help me, Stiles, if you dare give me the ‘I walked into a door’ speech...”

Stiles flails his arms, completely lost as to how this conversation spiraled so out of control so quickly. “Okay, first of all, nearly died about fifteen minutes ago. A little sympathy here? Your bedside manner could use some work, just saying. And secondly, Derek got it just as bad as I did, alright? It only looks suspicious because he heals faster. Werewolf, remember?”

Melissa backs up a step, looking half placated by this, but also half like she’s going to be keeping a closer eye on him from now on.

Stiles will take what he can get right now. He just really wants to go lie down and hide from the world until every single witch that ever so much as glanced at Beacon Hills on a map has been banished to another dimension.

He runs a hand over his face, weary. “And, side note? The only relationship I have with Derek Hale is the one where we take turns threatening the other’s life, and then for some inexplicable reason keep saving each other’s asses anyway. So I’d appreciate if you kept the rumors to yourself. There’s no need to go poisoning anyone’s breakfast foods.”

Melissa doesn’t seem entirely convinced, but she doesn’t make anymore threats either, so Stiles is just gonna count this one as a win.

The car ride home is less than fun.

His dad’s been a lot more lenient with him ever since Stiles went missing for several hours and got the crap kicked out of him. But there’s still that look in his eyes, behind the concerned parent routine, that Stiles knows is the same look he has when he’s in an interrogation room and knows the suspect is guilty.

When Stiles gets into the passenger seat of the squad car, the sheriff eyes him up and down for several long moments, like he’s trying to find whatever injury Stiles is hiding that would explain why he’s really at the hospital. Luckily, lack of oxygen doesn’t leave any visible marks, so his dad finally just sighs and starts the car. “So. Scott really just left you there, huh?”

“Uh, yeah. Vet emergency. He said he’d make it up to me.”

“Right. And he couldn’t have taken you to the clinic with him? That would have at least put you within walking distance of the station.”

Shit. Stiles probably should have thought that lie through a little better. “I guess neither of us was really thinking. You know how Scott gets in a crisis. A dog was dying, Dad. Can’t expect us to think straight when the lives of puppies are on the line.”

His dad purses his lips thoughtfully, looking like he’s got a dozen follow up questions just dying to be let out. But Stiles’ cell phone beeps with the arrival of a text message, and he quickly grabs for it, grateful for the excuse to stall.

The text is from Derek. A simple: “trail went cold.”

Not ten seconds later a text from Scott shows up just repeating the information, because apparently all werewolves are completely immune to communication amongst themselves: “scent was a dead end :(“

Before Stiles can respond to either, another from Derek appears, and he can totally just see the “told you so” smirk behind the words: “wasn’t a trap.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and types back: “Congrats on not dying due to your own idiocy. I’m so proud.”

He doesn’t get a response, but he wasn’t expecting one. He sends a frowny face back to Scott, and then looks up at his dad again.

His dad gestures at the phone. “Was that Scott?”

“Yeah. Um. The dog survived.”

The sheriff nods his head, eyes on the road. Stiles can tell he’s not buying any of it, but he also doesn’t push it.

Not that long ago, he would have pushed. He would have kept asking questions until he got at least something out of Stiles. But now...

Stiles turns to stare out the window and tries not to feel crushed under the weight of his dad’s silence. He breathes in deep and does some multiplication tables in his head just so that he isn’t thinking about it, or about anything that happened in the bank vault earlier. The shock from the experience hasn’t set in yet, but maybe this time he’ll somehow manage to skip that part. Maybe he’s starting to get better at all this ‘certain doom’ bullshit.

A piece of a slurred sentence comes back to him anyway. Something about asking Derek not to die first, but honestly everything starts to get pretty fuzzy in his head after Derek’s little speech about ‘evolving.’ And the sudden thought of that particular moment makes Stiles squirm in his seat in embarrassment. Which is stupid because he wasn’t the one who said it, Derek was. Derek’s the one who should feel embarrassed.

But all Derek probably feels about it is annoyed. If he feels anything at all, that is. Stiles wouldn’t put it past Derek to have shoved every single interaction between the two of them into some dark, recessed corner of his mind labeled “reason number 437 why I hate my life.”

Though maybe that’s not giving himself enough credit. 437 is pretty low down on the list. Stiles probably rates at least in the top 250.

His dad drops him off at the house, waves a terse goodbye, and heads back into work.

Stiles stands in the driveway, watching the squad car until it turns a corner and disappears. He’s not sure what he was expecting barely an hour after being kidnapped and then held prisoner in an underground room that was slowly killing him. But standing alone outside his empty house, his father upset with him, Scott’s mom upset with him, and Derek Hale’s placating acknowledgement that they could maybe possibly one day be friends (so long as it’s only while they’re right at death’s door) being the only highlight, is definitely not it.

Stiles shakes it off and heads inside. He turns off his phone and resolves to sleep through the rest of the weekend, witches and alphas be damned.

***

The next time it happens, not even a full week has passed.

“Okay, seriously? Seriously.” Stiles gapes down at the shackles that bind his wrist to Derek’s and that have somehow been magically enchanted or cursed or whatever the hell it is witches do to shackles that make them werewolf-proof.

Stiles raises their linked arms up and waves them in front of Derek’s face as if to drive home the point. “Derek, I hate to break it to you, but we are officially fate’s bitch. And for some reason fate thinks we make a cute couple.”

“Less talking, more getting the hell out of here,” Derek orders. The woods around them are dark and silent, but it’s possible the coven is still masking themselves. He and Stiles barely managed to make it out of the witch’s clutches before she could magic them into any other kind of binds or shove them into another airtight vault, and he suspects they were only able to do that much because the rest of the coven hadn’t yet arrived to provide reinforcements.

Derek has no idea what the hell he did to piss these people off, but they are obviously extremely pissed. And powerful. And potentially lurking behind any given tree.

When Stiles doesn’t immediately start moving, Derek gives a tug on their restraints. “I am not above throwing you over my shoulder.”

Stiles makes a face and starts walking.

They make decent progress, considering one of them can barely see a foot in front of his face through the darkness and their bindings keep them awkwardly close so that their shoulders knock together with each step. It would probably be easier if they held hands, but Derek would like to maintain at least the illusion of dignity until the last possible second.

“What do these people want with me anyway?” Stiles grumbles, tripping over an exposed tree root. “Or is it a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ deal? Because I really don’t think it’s fair to punish me for showing up at the grocery store just because you happen to be there too. Maybe we should coordinate our schedules or something. Start texting each other warnings whenever we leave the house to get milk so the other one knows to start heading in the opposite direction.”

Derek hazards a sidelong glance at Stiles to see if he’s being serious or not, but Stiles is too focused on not falling flat on his face to reveal anything other than frustration.

“That seems a little extreme,” Derek says, dry.

Stiles shakes their shackled arms again pointedly. “We are literally chained to each other right now, dude. How is that not cause for extreme action?”

Derek just grunts and walks a little faster, making Stiles stumble over his feet to catch up.

They manage to make it to the main road unscathed, then spend a good ten minutes arguing over which direction to go before settling on the vet’s office. Derek would rather try Deaton’s knowledge on getting them unbound before he resorts to Peter’s, especially since Peter’s will likely come complete with pithy commentary and possibly an uncomfortable innuendo or two.

Stiles calls Scott for the dozenth time since the night took an unexpectedly supernatural turn, but again just gets his voicemail. He mutters a few choice words under his breath about Scott probably hanging out with his new best friend, freaking Isaac.

Derek rolls his eyes, but finds himself offering up the closest thing to comforting words he’s got anyway. “At least this time neither of us is paralyzed.” At Stiles’ are you kidding me right now? look, he adds, “Or dying.”

Stiles scowls. “I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that that’s what counts as a good day for us.”

“Let’s just hope we can get these things off before either of us has to use the bathroom.”

Stiles slaps his free hand over his eyes and groans miserably. “Oh my god, how is this my life? We’re gonna end up having to share a bed and wake up to, like, accidental spooning and morning wood. We’ve become a bad romantic comedy. Only with bonus bloodshed.”

The way things have been going, this doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility. But Derek shakes his head at the thought, determined to only deal with one crisis at a time. “I wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t think either of us is lucky enough to be trapped in a romantic comedy.”

Stiles concedes with another scowl and a mumbled, “You’re not wrong there.”

It’s not until they’re sitting side by side in Deaton’s office, waiting for the vet to find whatever magical fairy dust he thinks will counteract this thing, that Stiles finally puts on his serious face and asks, point blank, “I’m not making this up, though, right? I mean, it really does feel like something’s conspiring to shove us together at every freaking turn, doesn’t it?”

Derek stares back at him for a quiet moment, debating internally about how to respond. What with the witches and the alphas and the lack of anything really resembling his own pack anymore, he hasn’t bothered thinking about it. In comparison to the rest of his problems, this barely even rates.

“I don’t know. Maybe. But even if that’s the case... it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”

Stiles nods, mulling this over. “Okay, still. Maybe we should start trying to counteract it? Not the whole texting when we leave the house thing, but I was thinking... It’s like you said about Matt and the Kanima. The universe always has to balance things out, right?”

“Right.”

“So maybe if we stop working so hard to avoid each other, the universe will stop working so hard to throw us together. Balance.”

Derek narrows his eyes at Stiles, because he thinks he sees where this is going and he’s not entirely certain he should allow it to get there. “So you’re proposing we... what? Hang out?”

Stiles shrugs. “Yeah, why not? We can take in a movie or something. Grab a bite to eat. Hit up a club. I don’t know, whatever it is you like to do for fun. Assuming you ever even have fun. You know what? New plan. From now on I decide all future fun-having activities. I don’t trust your abilities as cruise director as far as I can throw you.”

Derek starts to shake his head, “Stiles, I really don’t think--“

“Look,” Stiles interrupts, his tone suddenly taking on a rigid determination, “it’s not a bad theory. Admit it. And spending a couple hours of free time with me every once in awhile is not the worst fate in the world. Plus, if we keep ending up in life or death situations together, eventually one of us is going to finally succumb to the adrenaline rush or some twisted version of Stockholm Syndrome and try to get into the other one’s pants. At least this way we don’t have to do any awkward morning-afters.”

Derek gives him a pinched look. “I’m not going to try to get into your pants.”

“You realize now that you’ve said it you’ve pretty much doomed it to happen. Just wait, next week we’ll end up locked in an enchanted broom closet that forces occupants to make out with each other. You’ve basically just jinxed us into a love story.”

The only response Derek can think of to that is to glare. But Stiles looks genuinely unimpressed by this, which is worrying.

Stiles sighs and grabs the back of his neck with his free hand, not quite nervous but bordering on it. “Listen, man, I just... All these near-deaths are kinda starting to take their toll, you know? I don’t want us to always end up here. I don’t want there to be a millionth mark in the ‘narrowly escaped certain doom’ column. If you and I... If we’re gonna ‘evolve’ or whatever, I don’t want to have to do it because we were forced to by all this supernatural crap we keep unleashing. I want to do it because we chose to do it. I want to feel like I actually have a say here.”

Oh, Derek thinks belatedly, a little startled. So that’s what this is about. There’s not much in Stiles’ life right now that Stiles has control over, and he’s desperate to at least have control over this. Over them. Whatever the hell they are.

Derek understands that particular desperation a lot more than he’s willing to admit.

There’s a brief tension in the air as their eyes remain locked and Derek comes to yet another realization about what this conversation means. Because Stiles isn’t just saying that he wants a choice, he’s also implying that he’s already made that choice. And that choice is... Well. Apparently, it’s dinner and a movie. Possibly clubbing.

There’s not a lot Derek can do to make this situation better for either of them, and there especially isn’t anything he can do to try to give Stiles some control over his life back. But he can at least give him this, even if just for the moment, even if he doesn’t intend to follow through. He can at least help Stiles not feel completely powerless for one night. And since he’d kill for someone to give him the same thing...

Derek swallows and nods his head slowly. “Okay.”

Stiles breathes a small sigh of relief and nods back. “Okay.”

When Deaton finally gets the shackles off, Stiles calls Scott again, who miraculously answers this time, and asks for a ride. Derek starts to head out on foot, but pauses at the door and glances back. “If this doesn’t work, your theory about balance...”

“Then we throw in the towel and let fate do its thing, I guess. Either way, it looks like you’re stuck with me,” Stiles makes something like an apologetic grimace. Like he doesn’t know if he feels more sorry for Derek or for himself on this one.

“I can think of worse things," Derek says. "Not many. Maybe three.”

Stiles stares, dumbstruck for a moment, then shakes it off with a small laugh. “Yeah, this is gonna go great. I’m really feeling the love already.”

“Stiles, if your theory doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. Okay? The point is that you’ve made the choice now. After that, whatever happens, whatever fate decides to do, doesn’t matter.”

“See, you say that now, but if there really is an enchanted broom closet out there somewhere, you just know we’re going to be the two dumbasses who end up in it.”

“Like I said. I can think of worse things,” Derek smirks and winks and turns to leave before Stiles can respond.

Outside, he glances back briefly and can see through the glass door that Stiles is still gaping after him, mouth hanging open, looking like he doesn’t believe he heard Derek right.

Derek forces himself not to laugh, though he can’t help but be suddenly, keenly aware of his apparent ability to press Stiles’ buttons as easily as Stiles always presses his. The fact that he’s starting to enjoy the back and forth is a little concerning, but, again, one crisis at a time.

***

Stiles spends the entire wait for Scott at the vet’s office pointedly not thinking about the implications of Derek’s parting words.

It isn’t easy.

Especially with Deaton hovering in the background the entire time under the guise of cleaning up and organizing shit, though Stiles suspects he just likes the excuse to observe. Because that’s apparently what veterinarians with mysterious connections to the supernatural do in the off hours. They watch. It’s more than a little unnerving.

Eventually Stiles decides that Derek didn’t mean anything by it. That he was just trying to get a rise out of him. And Stiles will be damned if he gives the guy the satisfaction of it working. The bastard.

By the time Scott arrives, Stiles is starting to seriously reconsider this whole ‘hanging out’ scheme he’s concocted. Like the universe even cares if he and Derek Hale are friends or not, right?

Except it looks more and more like the universe kind of does.

Scott’s first words to him when he enters the vet’s pretty much seal the deal. “Why is it always you two?” he asks just inside the door.

Right?” Stiles flails his hands out for emphasis. “I think we’re cursed.”

Scott gives him a disbelieving look.

“Oh, come on. Like that would be the most unusual thing to happen to us.”

“No, it’s not that, it’s just... Why you guys? Why aren’t we the cursed ones?”

Stiles blinks at him, and he’s pretty sure he can hear Deaton quietly laughing at them in the background, but that might just be his imagination. “Are you seriously jealous that you don’t share my bad luck with me? Because that is a really strange thing to be jealous of.”

Scott huffs. “I’m not jealous, I just think it’s weird.”

“Well you and me both, buddy. But don’t worry, I’ve got a plan.”

“A plan?”

“To de-cursify us.”

Scott raises an eyebrow. “Do I even want to know?”

“Probably not.”

“Okay, well, just try not to kill anyone. Uh, including each other.”

That’s actually not bad advice, considering.

Stiles thanks Deaton again for his help, since Derek failed to do anything other than nod at the guy. There’s an amused little smirk on Deaton’s face that Stiles would rather not try to interpret, but all the man says is, “You’re welcome.”

That “you’re welcome” sounds suspiciously like “I’ll see your cursed asses again next time,” but Stiles decides not to comment.

Scott takes him back to the now mostly deserted grocery store parking lot where his Jeep still sits. Stiles wishes there was a spell or something to magically take his Jeep with him to wherever his newest kidnapping locale happens to be, because he really thought his days of begging rides off people were over when his dad gave him the thing. He’ll have to ask the witches about it the next time they, you know, kidnap him. It’ll be a great icebreaker.

Stiles thanks Scott for the ride and starts to get out, only to pause with one foot out the door. “Hey, do you think I’m attractive?”

Scott rolls his eyes. “Really? We’re back on this?”

“No, I just mean objectively. Like, in general, if you were some random guy or girl, how would you feel about being stuck in a closet and forced to make out with me?”

Scott makes a face like whatever mental image he’s just thought up has scarred him for life. “What do you mean by ‘forced’?” he finally asks, a note of suspicion in his tone.

“Oh my God, I’m not going to force anyone to-- You know what? Forget I asked.”

“Gladly.”

Stiles retreats to the safety of his Jeep, and Scott pulls away, shaking his head and looking like he wants to roll his eyes a few dozen more times.

Stiles sits in the driver’s seat, still parked, for several minutes after Scott has driven off, just staring at his keys. He tries to hold onto his resolve from earlier, but can feel it slipping through his fingers regardless. It was a whole hell of a lot easier to be decisive and indignant about this mess when he was still chained to Derek.

Which is kind of a sobering thought. Decision-making should not come more easily when handcuffed to an alpha werewolf.

Though the indignation part makes sense.

Stiles checks the time on his cell. Just after midnight. His dad isn’t going to be happy, and Stiles hasn’t even come up with a halfway decent excuse yet. He sighs and considers calling Scott back, just to have someone to brainstorm with. Just to have... someone.

But he feels a little ridiculous since he just saw the guy ten minutes ago. Feels even more ridiculous when he realizes he’s spent that entire ten minutes sitting in his Jeep, alone, in the dark, essentially brooding. God, maybe Derek’s starting to rub off on him.

At the thought of Derek, Stiles’ brain veers off in a completely different direction. For a split second he tries to imagine what really would have happened if Deaton hadn’t been able to get the shackles off right away. If he and Derek had been forced to stay attached to each other through the night, maybe all through tomorrow as well.

There probably would have been a ton of awkward moments, and truckloads of frustration. They probably would have ended up trying to kill each other more than once.

But at least Stiles wouldn’t be sitting here alone right now.

He sighs and starts the car, resolve back, though a little shaky. Because he can’t help but wonder if choices made out of desperation are really choices at all. And he also can’t help but wonder if this current desperation is really about wanting to not keep ending up in these situations with Derek, or if it’s about wanting to not keep ending up alone once they’re over.

Chapter Text

It’s not twelve hours later, while Derek is grilling Peter for information on what exactly a coven of witches would have against him, and Peter is being unsurprisingly illusive and aggravating, that he gets a call from Stiles.

Derek pinches the bridge of his nose and considers not answering. He’s already seen way too much of Stiles over the last couple weeks. Hell, over the last couple months. But if he doesn’t walk away from Peter for a few minutes he might actually try to kill the man again and this is as good an excuse to do that as any.

So Derek escapes outside, a few paces into the woods, far enough from the house that Peter might still be able to overhear his end of the phone call but at least not Stiles’ end, and answers. “Yeah?”

Stiles doesn’t offer so much as a “hey” in greeting. “Scifi or western?”

“Excuse me?”

“We’re going to the movies. And since I refuse to sit alone with you in the dark while watching anything with Sandra Bullock or cartoon elephants in it, your options are scifi or western.”

Derek groans. Not for the first time he is regretting every decision he’s ever made in his life up to this point. “I’m not going to the movies with you, Stiles.”

“Uh, yes you are. And you wanna know why you are? Because Derek and Stiles Happy Fun Movie Time is infinitely more bearable than Derek and Stiles Wait For A Messy Death Together, The Sequel.”

Derek massages his temple gingerly. “You don’t know that. Right now a messy death sounds preferable actually.”

“Yes, ha ha, you’re hilarious. You’re still coming. You already agreed to this, remember?”

“And remember what I said about choice? You made yours, Stiles, the rest doesn’t matter. I don’t have to go see a movie with you just to validate that choice.”

Stiles starts to reply indignantly, but then stops himself and goes quiet for so long that if it weren’t for the distant, soft sound of his breathing Derek would have thought he’d ended the call. He wishes they were face to face so that he could try to decipher this silence, but as it is all he can tell is that it’s uncomfortable and a little tense and he has no idea why.

It’s a good full minute before, finally, Stiles says, “Just meet me at the AMC at seven. And you’re buying your own ticket.” And then he hangs up on him.

Derek heads back to the house with a scowl on his face that only worsens when he spots Peter waiting for him, his arms crossed over his chest, leaning to one side in the front doorway with a look on his face like he knows something Derek doesn’t. To be fair, that seems to be his default expression lately.

“Hot date tonight?” Peter asks.

“Will you answer my questions if I answer yours?”

Peter smiles a little, wicked and calculating. “Oh, I like this game. But you first.”

Derek grits his teeth. He hates playing games of any kind, but so far the only way he’s found of getting anything out of Peter is by at least pretending to indulge him. “Fine. Ask me something valid then.”

“Did you just agree to take a teenage boy out on a date?”

Derek bites his tongue on his initial response, something half threat and half fuck you, and forces out, “No. Now my turn. What do you know about witches?”

“Nothing. Never had the occasion.”

“You’re lying,” Derek growls.

Peter shrugs easily. “So are you. Fair’s fair.”

This is ridiculous. Derek would have better luck just waiting to get kidnapped again and then asking the witches his questions directly. “If you want me to continue allowing you to stick around here, you need to at least be somewhat useful.”

Peter remains unperturbed. “If I thought there was a legitimate threat, I’d offer my assistance.”

“They’ve tried to kill me twice now!”

“They’ve tried to capture you twice now. That begs further investigation. What do they want with an alpha werewolf? I’m inclined to try the ‘wait and see’ method on this one. My base knowledge of general witchcraft won’t tell us anything other than the obvious, which is that they need you for some reason.”

Or they just hate him. Based on all of Derek’s previous experiences with people trying to kill him, this seems more likely than not.

Derek gives up getting anything else from Peter after that, and spends the rest of the day alternating between angry pushups and running circles around the town hoping he catches a break and the coven lets their scent-masking slip again. Or that one of the alphas will finally leave a clue as to what they’re up to and why they’ve been biding their time. Or that Erica and Boyd will miraculously show up safe and sound somehow.

Obviously, he doesn’t catch a break.

He showers and changes and tries to think of an excuse not to go to the movies tonight. He comes up with about twenty, just off the top of his head.

But the alternative is sitting alone and worrying over all the things he can’t do anything about. Or, worse, sitting with Peter and having the man taunt him about all of the things he can’t do anything about.

Eventually, Derek finds himself pulling into a spot at the far end of the movie theater parking lot and then sitting there in the driver's seat, engine idle, wondering if he’s gone insane. Why is he humoring Stiles on this? Why does he care enough to help Stiles feel like he’s taking back a little control over his life? Is Derek just that desperate for control over his own that he can’t tell anymore where one man’s desperation ends and the other’s begins?

He doesn’t get to wonder long, though, because suddenly Stiles is there, rapping loudly on the window. “You’re late,” he says, muffled through the glass, and then starts walking toward the theater without looking back.

Derek sighs, turns off the engine, and gets out of the car.

He chooses the western. Stiles snorts and mutters something about brooding antiheros and clichés.

Derek tosses him a smirk. “Well you took the cartoon elephants off the table.”

Stiles laughs out loud at that, and then points a finger at Derek, smile large. “Just for that, I’m getting you popcorn. “

“For cracking a half-assed joke?”

“For interacting like an actual, well-adjusted member of society. I’m instigating a reward system. Positive reinforcement.”

“That was maybe the most back-handed compliment I’ve ever heard.”

“But hey, free food.”

So Stiles buys them popcorn and a couple of drinks, and for the next two hours neither of them say a single word to the other, but somehow end up interacting regularly throughout the movie anyway. Derek snorts loudly in derision whenever the hero makes a completely unrealistic escape, and Stiles throws popcorn at his head in response. Derek props his feet up on the empty seats in front of them and keeps purposefully angling them so they block Stiles’ view. Stiles retaliates by slurping extremely loudly from the straw of his now empty cup every time a scene turns dialogue-heavy.

Outside afterwards, Derek spots the Jeep on the opposite end of the lot, but for some reason Stiles stays in step with him all the way to the Camaro.

Hand on the door handle, Derek turns around and quirks an eyebrow. “Was there more? Or do you think the movie alone will be enough to satisfy fate this week?”

Stiles doesn’t bother responding to that. “Can I ask you something?”

Derek crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the car. “Since I doubt anything I say will prevent you from asking anyway, go ahead.”

“Are we friends now?”

Derek’s eyebrows furrow inward and he frowns, but Stiles plows on before he can come up with an answer. “I mean, I know we’ve sort of had this conversation before, but we were both dying at the time so it was all pretty hypothetical and non-binding. But now we’re here, together, in a totally less-than-lethal setting, so...”

Derek purses his lips. “Listen, Stiles... I don’t really have friends. That’s not how I... I have enemies and I have pack. That’s it. That’s how my life works. And if you’re not either of those things, then--”

“Then you’re not anything,” Stiles finishes for him, monotone, and his words are perhaps harsher than Derek would have gone with, but the point stands.

Stiles draws in a deep breath and lets it out, running a hand across the short hairs on his head a few times. “Alright. Well. I’m not your enemy, obviously. I think we both know that by now. And I’m not your pack either, not if Scott’s not. But you can’t tell me I’m nothing. Seriously, Derek. This,” he waves a hand towards the movie theater as if it somehow embodies everything they’ve been through together, “is not nothing.”

Derek looks down at the asphalt and tries to put into words something comforting that isn’t also a lie. He doesn’t want to lie, but he doesn’t want to end this night on a bad note either.

“No,” Derek finally says, staring at a spot somewhere near Stiles’ left shoe, “it’s not nothing.”

It’s all he’s got, and judging by the frustrated noise Stiles makes, it’s not nearly enough. But for reasons that Derek can’t even begin to fathom, Stiles lets it slide. “Okay, fine. A for effort, dude. Just be glad I’m grading on a curve.”

Derek doesn’t look up again until Stiles is across the lot and unlocking his Jeep. And then he continues to stand there, frowning, until Stiles pulls out of the lot and drives away.

Something in his gut twists with uncertainty the whole time. He doesn’t think he’s admitted to or agreed to anything earth-shattering here, but it feels like he has anyway. Like Stiles somehow managed to draw more out of him than Derek thought. It’s unsettling in a way that Derek only ever really feels around Peter anymore, when his uncle is at his most calculating.

For the first time, he wonders if Stiles might prove to be the more dangerous of the two. Because, while Peter is very well aware of his influence over others, his influence over Derek in particular, it doesn’t seem as though Stiles is.

***

Stiles is actually pretty damn pleased with himself as he pulls out of the movie theater parking lot. An entire three hours with Derek and not a single drop of blood was spilled. No one was injured or kidnapped during the course of the evening. Hell, there wasn’t even any yelling.

He would even go so far as to say that he had fun.

Or, you know, some strange, inbred cousin of fun.

Which is, of course, why the moment that Stiles gets home, everything goes to shit.

His father is seated at the dining table, glass of something that smells like Jack in one hand, staring at his cell phone like it’s evidence at a crime scene. He looks up at Stiles’ entrance, then gestures with his glass at the empty chair across the table from him. “Sit.”

Stiles sits.

“So. You have fun with Scott tonight?”

“I, uh...” This is obviously a trap. Stiles snaps his mouth shut and tries to figure out which part of this conversation is going to be the most damning and how to avoid said part. If he admits to a small offense, it’s possible all the bigger ones will get overlooked. The professional liar’s slight-of-hand. “Okay, I actually wasn’t with Scott.”

His dad takes a drink and then levels his gaze at Stiles. “I know.”

“Right. Um. Is that a problem? I do have other friends.” Stiles makes a show of seeming offended.

The sheriff isn’t buying it. “Other friends your own age?”

Ah. Yes. There it is. Stiles rolls his head back and glares at the ceiling. “You saw us, huh?”

“Deputy Michelson did. And I don’t think she would have bothered to call me about it, except that apparently it looked a whole hell of a lot like a date.”

Stiles chokes and snaps his head forward. “Oh my god, why does everybody in this town think that Derek Hale and I are an item?”

“Funny, that was actually my question.”

“Dad, I really, really don’t know. We’re friends. Well, sort of friends. For a given value of friendship. We are on friendly terms. And that’s being charitable. Though, I gotta say, the fact that you all seem to think I could land a guy who looks like Derek is both flattering and worryingly delusional. Seriously, you should all get your heads examined.”

Sheriff Stilinski nods, considering, eyes down on his cell phone again. He sighs softly. “Stiles, I... I honestly can’t tell if this is just one more lie or not. So on the one hand I have your rather dubious word, and on the other hand I have a trusted eyewitness who claims she saw you and Derek Hale walk out of a movie theater together half an hour ago.”

Stiles tries not to flinch and instead nods his head with as much conviction as he can muster. “Yes, Derek Hale and I went to the movies. That is true. But only in a friends-like capacity.”

“She said you walked him to his car.”

Stiles makes a face. “Was she following us?”

“She was concerned.”

“Dad, I swear to you it wasn’t a date. And also, for the record, Derek’s really not a bad guy.”

“He was a murder suspect, Stiles. Twice.”

“He’s been exonerated!”

“But he’s still a person of interest!”

Stiles groans. This conversation is starting to sound way too familiar, and he’s not sure how he feels about the fact that he’s now on the other side of the argument. How the hell did that happen?

“Look, all that aside,” the sheriff says, “and disregarding why you would even want to be there tonight with him, why exactly would Derek agree to be there?”

“Okay, ouch. I know I just called you delusional for suggesting someone like him would like me, but you don’t have to rub it in my face.”

“The guy’s been through a lot, son. I’m just trying to figure out if you’re the one instigating things or if he is. Are you terrorizing him just for kicks? Blackmailing him? What is it?”

“Oh my god, I’m not blackmailing anyone. What the hell, Dad?”

“So he’s the one getting you into trouble then?”

“He’s not-- What are you talking about?”

“Stiles,” his dad grows suddenly quiet. Serious. His tone is no longer interrogative, it’s... pleading. Stiles swallows and hates himself even more than he already did. “Is this what you’ve been hiding from me these past few months?”

Stiles swallows. In a sense, yes, this is exactly what he’s been hiding. Derek Hale and the entire supernatural shit storm that follows the guy around. Melissa McCall’s demand that Stiles finally come clean ring loudly in his ears, and this would be the perfect opening, the perfect opportunity to break down this fucking wall that’s come up between him and his dad.

But then...

But then his dad pulls up from off the floor a large file box that Stiles hadn’t noticed was there, the kind that the department uses to store case records. The sheriff takes off the lid and starts pulling out the contents at random--file folders, photos, evidence bags--until they cover the entire table.

Stiles can only stare, a pit in his stomach. Because the items don’t belong to one, single case; they belong to several. There are probably a dozen different cases here, no immediately obvious connection between them, until it all suddenly, horrifyingly clicks.

There are photos of Lydia’s injuries from the night Peter attacked her, graphic close-ups like TV show cops pull out when they’re interrogating abusers. There’s surveillance footage from outside the rave that’s not nearly so gruesome but just as stomach-churning because there’s Stiles’ Jeep right beside Harris’ car. There’s a copy of Jackson’s restraining order. There’s the official report on what happened at Jungle when Jackson paralyzed all those guys.

Stiles doesn’t even need to open the files on Laura Hale’s murder and the mechanic’s murder and Peter Hale’s disappearance to know how damning the contents of them probably are. Doesn’t need to remove the label on the evidence bag obscuring its contents to know that it’s bullet shells and that they could be from literally any one of half a dozen crime scenes that he’s been spotted at. Hell, they might even have his prints on them.

His dad isn’t looking at him when he speaks. “I’ve been trying my damndest for the last several months not to put two and two together to get four. But, Stiles... Best case scenario, you at least look like you’re in over your head and covering for someone. Worst case scenario...” He trails off with a sad little sigh and a vague motion at all the evidence between them.

And Stiles thinks, numb, that that’s probably a fairly apt phrasing actually. All the evidence between them. He’s looking across a sea of case files and accusations and secrets and his dad is on the other side of it.

So, yeah, this would probably be a good time to come clean about werewolves. If only so his dad doesn’t keep thinking he’s some sort of serial killer or something. Fuck.

But before Stiles can finish fully processing and try to find the words that will fix everything, his dad finally catches his eye again and says, sincerely, “Stiles, if there’s something going on here that’s forced you into these situations, you can tell me, and I swear to you that I will do everything in my power to get you out of it.”

So that settles that.

Because Stiles knows with a heavy certainty now that if his father found out that Stiles is getting kidnapped by witches on a regular basis, that Stiles may have to face down a pack of evil alpha werewolves shortly, that Stiles has been paralyzed and held at gunpoint more often than a damned action hero over the last few months... his dad is going to lock him up and throw away the key so that it never happens again.

And that can’t happen. Stiles can’t just leave all of this unfinished. But his father will make him leave it unfinished if he knows.

And then people will die.

And Stiles will never get any answers.

And the next time Derek Hale gets chained up or stuffed in a vault or paralyzed from the neck down, there won’t be anyone around to hold his head above water.

Stiles swallows back every single emotion currently at war inside him for a chance to break free of his strained hold on them, and he says, carefully, “I know what this looks like, but I promise you that I wasn’t involved in any of it. I swear, Dad, it’s mostly just a lot of ‘wrong place, wrong time.’ It’s a small town and I can’t keep my nose out of things, you know me.” He swallows again. “But,” he says with a deep breath, “if it’ll make you feel better, I can stop hanging around Derek.”

The fact that his dad actually looks a little relieved at that, like he still doesn’t believe a single word out of Stiles’ mouth but this small concession about Derek Hale is way more than he was expecting to get out of this conversation, just twists the knife all the deeper. “You’ll cut all ties with him?”

“If you want me to. I stand by the fact that he’s not a bad guy, but I get where you’re coming from, and if it’ll help, then... I’ll avoid him.”

His dad downs the rest of his Jack, and then nods once, sharply. “Okay then. Thank you.”

Stiles hesitates a moment, because his dad may be giving him a small, semi-relieved smile now, but he hasn’t made any move to start packing away all this evidence. Which means he’s probably going to spend the night going over it all again, and that won’t end well for anyone. In particular, for Stiles.

But there’s not much he can do about it, is there? So Stiles gives his dad a strained smile back and heads upstairs.

In his room, Stiles takes a deep breath and pulls out his phone, noticing absently that his hands are trembling a bit. He hits Scott’s name first, but then immediately backtracks and texts Derek instead: “Thanks for humoring me tonight. But I think we should go back to avoiding each other.”

He doesn’t want to send it, but it’s a small price to pay if it means he can offer some peace of mind to his dad, however meager.

Stiles is undressed and in bed before his phone lights up with a response. He holds it close in the dark to read Derek’s answering text. “I'll try to contain my disappointment.”

Stiles bites down against an amused smile, and tries to remember what hating Derek felt like. It wasn’t that long ago. He really doesn’t think it should suddenly be this hard.

***

A week later they are literally locked in a broom closet together.

The moment the door shuts, Stiles starts laughing so hard there are actual tears in his eyes.

Derek fruitlessly tries to break the lock, but he can sense the Mountain Ash before he even touches the thing and knows there’s no way he can bypass the barrier. He’d suspected they might have tripped some sort of magical alarm on their way into the warehouse and this pretty much confirms it. Though he doesn’t know why the spell decided to wait until he had crowded into this closet after Stiles to get a look at whatever had him so fascinated (turns out it was just a shadow) before kicking into effect.

“On the bright side, I don’t suddenly feel magically compelled to make out with you,” Stiles manages to say while trying to catch his breath around his fading laughter.

Derek rolls his eyes, but it’s dark enough in here that Stiles probably doesn’t see it.

The space is cramped, a small closet made even smaller by the addition of shelves on two opposing walls, their contents jutting out where they don’t entirely fit so that he feels like a piece in a game of Tetris. The smell of bleach and ammonia and old dishwater is so strong that Derek has to actively focus on Stiles’ scent in order not to feel sick to his stomach.

It’s tight enough in here that there isn’t room to turn, let alone sit down, so they remain standing, facing each other awkwardly, not even a centimeter between them.

Stiles moves his arms up to try to get them away from Derek’s, only to find them now smashed against Derek’s chest between them. Stiles cringes and moves them a little farther out, and ends up with his hands on the shelf behind Derek, bracketing Derek in. Since both of these options are a little too close to the beginnings of a Harlequin cover, Stiles sighs and pulls his arms back down to just let them hang against Derek’s again. It’s still intimate, but at least it doesn’t feel like it’s the start of anything.

Derek calls Isaac, then Scott, but both just go to voicemail and he knows that calling Peter would likely result in Isaac and Scott never seeing their cell phones ever again so that Peter could force his ‘wait and see’ strategy to play out, Stiles and Derek’s safety be damned.

Stiles mutters under his breath a few choice words about needing to start a more reliable supernatural phone tree and then sends a long series of text messages that will hopefully get checked sooner rather than later.

“Scott will get here eventually,” Derek offers in reassurance, more to himself honestly than to Stiles.

Stiles scoffs. “Okay, I have just as much faith in Scott’s ability to save the day at the last possible second as you do, but it is three in the morning on a school night and neither of us had the good sense to warn people we’d be sneaking around this place tonight. So odds are any ‘day saving’ won’t actually happen until sun up.”

He’s not wrong, but Derek doesn’t think admitting it is going to help things.

The fact that they both noticed this particular warehouse had suddenly disappeared from every database (even Google maps now just had a blurry, unlabeled blob of grey and green in its place) and they had both decided to investigate on the same night, at roughly the same time, and without asking anyone for backup, seems to make just as much of a case for Stiles’ “fate’s bitch” theory as it does for Derek’s “we’re both just idiots” hypothesis.

Stiles shakes his head. “Seriously, how are we not both dead by now? We should be dead. We are both complete and total morons. If nothing else, we at least need to make a pact right here and now that neither of us will ever procreate so that these monumentally horrible gene lines will end with us.”

Derek grunts in something like agreement, because, really, Stiles has a point, and then he shifts to try and find a more comfortable position. Stiles awkwardly follows his movements in an attempt to help and not brain himself on the stack of jagged sheet metal sticking out off the shelf behind him, but just ends up making it worse when one arm accidentally goes between them again and presses a little too close to Derek’s fly for comfort.

Derek finally stills and huffs. “So I guess your theory about balance didn’t quite pan out.”

Stiles squirms some more, their chests knocking together. “If I said further testing was needed, would you hold it against me?”

Derek turns his head sharply, his nose sweeping along the side of Stiles’ jaw before Stiles is able to lean his head slightly away. “I thought we were done with that. You said we should go back to avoiding each other.”

“Yeah, and look what happened.”

Derek frowns and doesn’t know how to argue that. After a long moment, he asks, cautiously, “What exactly did you have in mind?”

Stiles shrugs. “I don’t know. Dinner? We didn’t really talk during the movie. Maybe this is less about proximity and more about communication.”

Derek pointedly brushes their forearms together. “I get the impression proximity still has something to do with it.”

“Well I wasn’t suggesting dinner at opposite ends of the restaurant. We could even play footsie under the table if you think it’ll help.”

Derek sighs. “Why do I have the sinking feeling that this is all building up to you asking me to junior prom?”

“Alright, yes, I can see how, on the outside, this could all be mistaken for some sort of weird courting ritual.”

“You mean dating.”

“It’s for science!”

Derek hangs his head and groans, though this means his forehead is now resting on Stiles’ shoulder. Neither bother acknowledging this fact. It’s as if they’ve come to an unspoken agreement to just pretend that none of this is as intimate as it is in the hopes that it will eventually stop feeling that way.

“I am not going out to dinner with a sixteen-year-old, Stiles, I don’t care how amusing fate thinks it’ll be.”

“I knew it. You’re ashamed to be seen with me, aren’t you?” Stiles fakes a pout.

Derek looks up and says with conviction, “Yes.

Stiles’ fake pout turns into a real glower. “Douche. Fine, we won’t go out. Just come over to my place and I’ll make Easy Mac or something.”

Derek eyes him critically, almost positive he heard that wrong. “You’re going to cook for me.”

“You make it sound like I’m trying to woo you by way of your stomach. It’s Easy Mac, dude. It is the least impressive meal I could possibly come up with.”

Derek just groans again and lets his head fall forward once more, thunking his forehead against Stiles’ collar bone hard enough that Stiles hisses but doesn’t comment.

“Look at it this way,” Stiles tries, each word a breath of warm air in Derek’s hair. “You’re stuck with me in here for at least another couple hours. Which is going to seem like a whole hell of a lot longer if I spend the entire time pestering you about this. Agree now and save yourself some pain.”

Derek grits his teeth. “Fine. But I’m not eating your shitty macaroni.”

Stiles manages to pull his head away enough to catch Derek’s gaze and raise his eyebrows at him. “Are you saying that you wanna cook for me?”

“God no. I’ll pick up Thai food.”

Stiles looks vaguely impressed by this suggestion, and Derek is pretty sure he should be insulted by that.

“This dinner is conditional on you being silent for the rest of the night, by the way,” he adds.

Stiles snorts. “Hey, I agreed to be silent about the dinner, not silent in general. Read the fine print before you sign, buddy.”

“I could always just knock you out.”

“And then hold up my dead weight until Scott finally wakes up and checks his messages? It’s not like there’s enough room to even sit down in here. You really want to have an unconscious Stiles hanging all over you?”

“Better then a conscious one hanging all over me,” Derek retorts, gesturing with a nod down at all the places where their bodies are currently in contact. Which is a lot.

Stiles starts to fidget in response, and Derek immediately regrets his words. This whole dynamic they’ve got going during situations like these--and Derek can’t even begin to comment on how fucked it is that it’s ‘situations’ plural--is contingent upon neither of them actually spelling out how awkward it is while in the moment. They can joke all they want about being pressed up together in a swimming pool or on the floor of a police station after the fact, but if either had brought it up during, things would have gotten very uncomfortable very quickly.

Stiles tries fruitlessly to back away, put a couple inches between them, but there honestly aren’t a couple inches to spare without being a contortionist and so their limbs just tangle and press together even more. He tries to lean his head over and to the side, at the very least, but somehow ends up mashing their cheeks together along the way, the edge of Derek’s mouth brushing against Stiles’ ear.

Stiles jerks at that, startled by the sensation, the back of his head hitting something behind him hard. And then he goes abruptly still and closes his eyes shut tightly, his face bright red. “Okay, I take it back. Knock me out. The concussion will totally be worth it.”

Derek purses his lips and attempts to tamp down his own embarrassment. It’s been a long time since he’s allowed someone into his personal space without it just being a means to an end. “Scott will be here soon,” he says softly.

Stiles swallows and nods his head, eyes still closed.

They’re both entirely too tense, though, and if they stay this way for the whole wait even werewolf muscles will be sore as hell tomorrow. So Derek brings one arm up and places his hand on Stiles’ collar. “Lean back.”

Stiles gives him a confused look, but does it without question. Derek’s hold on him supports his weight and allows Stiles to get away from the rest of Derek’s body about a centimeter or so that he wouldn’t have been able to attempt otherwise while still maintaining his center of balance.

Stiles takes in this fact with surprise, squinting down through the darkness at how the only parts of them now touching are their shoes and where Derek’s hand grips him, steady and solid in the groove between his shoulder and neck. He catches Derek’s eyes and doesn’t quite smile but looks more relaxed than Derek has seen him look in a very long time. “Thanks.”

Derek just nods. His thumb is close enough to Stiles’ pulse point that it mindlessly brushes closer, seeking the heartbeat out on instinct. The rhythm is comforting in its familiarity, and Derek has to try very hard not to think about the fact that the last time he had been close enough to anyone often enough for a heartbeat to be ‘familiar’ was with Laura.

***

Scott saves them in the end.

Scott always saves them in the end. Stiles just wishes ‘the end’ would start happening a little closer to the beginning portion of the needing to be rescued, because he and Derek spend three hours in that closet together and he’s pretty sure his cheeks are now permanently red from blushing for two and half of them.

Upon release, Derek immediately takes off running, presumably to continue trying to track down the witches since the warehouse was a bust. It’s obviously being used by them, but doesn’t actually contain anything helpful.

The sun is up by the time Scott pulls his mom’s car around to give Stiles a lift home. Stiles changes into something a little less rumpled, grabs his backpack and quickly makes a mess of his bed so that it looks like he slept in it. His dad was at work all night--has been staying there more and more lately, but Stiles doesn’t have it in him to fully consider the implications of that right now--but he’ll notice when he gets home if the place looks like it’s been suspiciously empty the whole time.

Scott waits for him outside and then drives them both to school, because Stiles may make poor life decisions when it comes to werewolves, but he knows better than to get behind the wheel of his Jeep when he hasn’t slept in 48 hours.

Stiles tries to catch a quick nap in the car on the way, but it’s only a ten minute drive and before he knows it he’s blinking blearily up at the school building and Scott’s giving him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

“By the way, my mom told me that I’m supposed to remind you that your dad is not an idiot. I got the impression you’d know what that meant.”

Stiles groans and puts his face in his hands. He does not have the energy to deal with this. “It means she wants me to tell him about werewolves,” he mumbles into his palms miserably.

“Oh,” Scott sounds more thoughtful than surprised. “But that would be a good thing, right? I know you don’t like lying to him.”

Stiles looks back up at Scott, whose face is open and earnest and so freaking supportive that it makes Stiles feel like an asshole for not confiding in him very much lately. It wasn’t a conscious decision, really, it just sort of... happened. He doesn’t feel like they’re growing apart, necessarily, but for some reason all of his most meaningful conversations keep end up happening when Scott isn’t there.

“I can’t tell him,” Stiles says.

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not like you, Scott.”

Scott frowns. “Stiles...”

“No, listen, this isn’t me just feeling sorry for myself, okay? If I were a werewolf than there’d be nothing he could do about it. That’d just be what I was and he’d have to deal. But I’m not a werewolf, which means that he doesn’t have to do anything. The moment he finds out about this stuff he’s going to ship me off to live with my grandmother in Colorado or something. He’s not going to let me be involved anymore.”

Scott considers this for a moment, still frowning, before asking quietly, “Would that be such a bad thing?”

Stiles sighs. No, it probably wouldn’t be. At least as far as his general health and safety is concerned. But Stiles has made his choice. He made it that night he drove Lydia into the warehouse and hit Jackson with his Jeep. He could hide in his room, nursing his emotional wounds forever, or he could man up and try to help save a few lives.

Even if those lives only ever turn out to be Scott, his dad and Derek.

“I can’t jump ship now. There’s too much going on. Maybe after... I don’t know. If we all manage to live through the coven from hell and the freaking alpha pack and whatever else is out there that wants to eventually ambush us, then I’ll consider telling him everything and letting him do whatever he thinks is necessary. But until then, I’m all in with this. I’m not backing out.”

“You don’t think he’s going to start figuring things out on his own soon, though? He must already be suspicious.”

“Understatement, dude. But for the time being he seems somewhat placated by me promising to stop hanging around Derek. Like he’s hoping the less leather in my life the more likely I’ll be to stick to the straight and narrow.” Stiles snorts. “It’s a promise which I will apparently be repeatedly breaking, but what’s one more lie at this point, right?” Stiles forces a smile for Scott’s sake, just to try to prove that not only has he made his choice but he’s happy about it.

Scott can probably see right through him, but he smiles back anyway and they head into school.

The day goes by agonizingly slowly. Stiles has to pinch himself repeatedly in Harris’ class in order to stay awake.

He blames the exhaustion for his lack of response to seeing Jackson and Lydia making out in the hallway between fourth and fifth period, except that it feels like a half-truth at best. He watches them from a distance for a moment, brow furrowed in confusion at the fact that the dull ache in his chest that’s been there every other time he’s seen them together is mostly absent. It’s not gone entirely, but it feels muffled and faint, like the memory of an emotion instead of the actual emotion.

Stiles decides to test this new development in his next class by taking the seat next to Lydia.

She eyes him, surprised.

“Hi,” he says.

Lydia raises one, delicate eyebrow. “Hi,” she repeats, wary.

“I can’t say for certain, but I think I just, like, leveled up in the maturity department.”

Her other eyebrow goes up to join its partner. “Fascinating,” she says with a biting sarcasm, but there’s a humoring warmth in her eyes.

“What I mean is that I’m really happy for you and Jackson. I think. It’s a new sensation, so I’m still feeling it out.”

Lydia hesitates a second, but then a small smile crosses her face. “Thank you,” she says. And then promptly rolls her eyes and turns to face forward and ignore him.

But Stiles feels like he just won something that was extremely hard-earned. He doesn’t know what that something is, but he thinks it might be important.

Chapter Text

They don’t get to have dinner. Derek wishes he was surprised by this fact, but he really isn’t.

Three days after the broom closet, Derek gets jumped again. He manages to take a swipe at the woman on his way down, but whatever spell she uses has him unconscious before he can do more.

He wakes up slower this time, his senses returning to him through a fog as he’s hauled through the forest by a couple of burly men following the woman who got him. None of the three seem to know he’s aware again, however, because they continue talking as if he can’t hear them, and the things they’re saying...

Shit. Looks like Peter was right. These people don’t just want to kill Derek for the sake of killing him; they actually have a reason for all this.

Derek falls back into unconsciousness for who knows how long, and when he wakes again, Stiles is sitting on the ground beside his prone form.

They’re in a cave this time. As if the witches have decided to cycle through every possible enclosure Beacon Hills has to offer. Maybe next it’ll be a meat locker.

“Oh good, you’re awake. I was running out of ways to distract myself,” Stiles says easily, entirely too comfortable with having been kidnapped. But then, they’ve both had enough practice with it by now.

Derek rises a little unsteadily to his feet and promptly starts looking around for possible escape routes. “We have to get out of here.”

Stiles snorts. “No shit. But judging by the magical barrier at the cave’s entrance, and the fact that they remembered to take my cell phone from me this time, this is kinda looking like another one of those ‘sit back and wait for the cavalry to finally ride in’ moments.”

But Derek keeps pacing the perimeter, searching for weak points that he knows he won’t find. He’s desperate enough to keep going regardless. “We can’t afford to wait, Stiles. We need to get out of here now.”

Stiles seems to recognize Derek’s tone and starts to get nervous. “Why? What’s the rush?”

“I overheard a couple of them talking, and us being here? This isn’t just our bad luck. They need us for some sort of spell. I have no idea what the end result is supposed to be, but the spell itself requires the simultaneous sacrifice of a human virgin and an alpha werewolf. The witch that chained us together that night managed to start the spell with us, but not finish it, which is why they couldn’t just go out and find someone else to play the roles. It had to be us specifically.”

“Oh my god, that’s why we keep ending up together? Because some stupid spell needed a damn alpha and a-- Oh.” He stops short abruptly. “Fuck.” Stiles’ eyes go impossibly wide, bugging out of his head as something huge and horrifying seems to occur to him. He drops his head into his hands and groans loudly. “Oh fucking fuck, I don’t believe this. I bet we are literally the first two people in the entire history of the world who’ve managed to get themselves into an actual fuck-or-die situation outside of a fanfic.”

Derek pauses his third sweep of the cave and raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t understand what even half of those words meant.”

Stiles looks back up at him sharply, exasperation written clearly across his features. “Think about it, Derek. They have to kill us both at the same time. And how do we keep them from killing us? How do we stall their little ritual? We can’t exactly turn you into not an alpha. But we can turn me into not a virgin.”

...Oh.

Fuck.

Derek pales. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”

Stiles waves his arms out wide. “I am totally open to other suggestions here, dude.”

But Derek’s got nothing. “We’ll... think of something,” he says lamely.

Stiles frowns. “If that’s your way of telling me that dying is preferable to sleeping with me, then I really don’t think we can be friends anymore.”

“We aren’t friends now.”

“And the hits just keep on coming. I think if you can get in one more good shot about my general lack of desirability you will have successfully beaten my self-esteem into total nonexistence. Congrats.”

Derek sighs, giving up on his fruitless probing of the rock walls around them, and goes to sit down beside Stiles.

Stiles tenses visibly, like he wants to flinch away. The idea hurts a little, and Derek hates himself for that. He’s spent a lot of time over the years making sure that people always do flinch from him; it shouldn’t hurt when someone does.

“We don’t have time to soothe your fragile ego right now, Stiles. Let’s just figure a way out of this, and you can whine about the rest of it later.”

“I already did figure a way out of this. You’re the one being difficult.”

Stiles,” Derek practically shouts, angry that they’re even debating this. “You honestly want your first time to be in a cave, with a man you can barely tolerate, in circumstances that essentially amount to someone holding a gun to your head?”

Stiles swallows heavily and looks away. “No. Of course not. But it’s an out, and it looks like our only out, and so I kinda need you to give me a better reason than ‘I don’t want to.’”

Derek huffs and turns to stare at the rocks in front of them. Silence reigns for a few, tense seconds, because there’s no answer Derek can think of that will both relieve Stiles’ doubts and stop this argument for good. If they live through this, he thinks he might regret being mean right now. But he knows for certain that he’ll regret even more so having sex with someone who doesn’t feel like they have a choice in the matter. He’ll take being a complete asshole over that any day of the week. He can’t even contemplate... Just, no.

Stiles finally seems to have given up on getting anything out of Derek, though, and he leans his head back against the rock wall behind them so that he’s staring up at the ceiling. His tone of voice is defeated in a way that Derek doesn’t like. “At least we know now that it wasn’t fate. Just insane witches and the fact that I’m the only human virgin you associate with.”

For one strange, split second, Derek is willing to do just about anything to make that ugly tone of voice change. To chase the defeat off of Stiles by any means necessary. And he has no idea why. “You’re the only human I associate with, period,” he says honestly.

“Oh, well, that’s something, I guess. I may not be your friend, but I am your... human. God, that makes it sound like I’m some sort of pet,” Stiles grimaces.

But his words startle Derek, his mind flashing back to Peter’s speech about how to stop Jackson, and then forward to the actual event, when human love saved the abomination. Derek still doesn’t know how to feel about any of it, has been carefully avoiding thinking about it ever since, but something in him suddenly wants to tell Stiles that, given what they witnessed that night, being a monster’s “human” is probably the most important thing anyone could be.

Derek turns his head to look at Stiles again, wondering how to phrase this, wondering if he even should. But then Stiles is rolling his head to the side to look back at him, and when their eyes meet even the inadequate phrasings slip through Derek’s grasp. They’re close enough that Stiles’ breath is warm on Derek’s cheeks and his thick eyelashes seem almost magnified as he blinks.

Damn it, why the hell did Derek sit this close to him? And, more importantly, how did Derek not even notice until right now that he did?

Derek has always been so very aware and so very guarded when it comes to his personal space. He knows how to use physical intimacy as a weapon; he knows how to use it as a tactic or as a currency; he knows how to instigate it when he needs to, and how to avoid it at all costs whenever he doesn’t. So how exactly has he gotten to a place where he doesn’t even remember to think about what his body is doing in relation to Stiles? A place where his physical self suddenly isn’t at the forefront of every fear, every battle plan, every fucking thought in his head?

Stiles’ lips are parted, slack, like they practically always are, and his tongue darts out to wet them in a move that can’t possibly be conscious.

Derek mimics the action before he even knows that he’s doing it.

Shit. This isn’t... This can’t happen.

Derek forces his eyes away, back towards the opposing wall, and says exactly the opposite of what he’s been thinking. “You being ‘my human’ is what got us into this mess. Maybe I should give you the bite. They can’t do the spell if you’re a werewolf.”

He feels Stiles go tense beside him. “You’re an asshole.”

“I’m also right.”

“You really think turning me is a better option than fucking me?” Stiles’ tone is dark, his words measured through a calm fury.

Derek throws his own steady rage right back at him. “What I think is that neither of those options are ones we should even be considering. I won’t force anything like that onto you, onto anyone, and no matter what words you use to make it sound defensible in this situation, it wouldn’t be. It would be a violation.”

The wind seems to go out of Stiles’ sails at that. He looks a little startled, and a little resigned, but mostly just tired. He scrubs a hand over his face. “Yeah, okay. I’m sorry. But for the record, I think this might be the one time your morals are what’s gonna get us killed.”

“We’ll figure something else out,” Derek says again, as reassuring as he can manage, even though he doesn’t believe it himself. But he puts a hand on Stiles shoulder briefly in solidarity, and when Stiles does the same back to him, Derek doesn’t make him remove it like he’s certain he would have just a couple weeks prior.

In the end, they don’t have to figure something else out. Scott shows up, Isaac and Jackson in tow, manages to magically banish every single member of the coven through some elaborate process Deaton taught him, and then break the barrier at the cave’s entrance, all with this goofy sort of triumphant look on his face that Derek can’t quite parse the details of.

Stiles apparently can, however, because, once rescued, he immediately points a finger at Scott and says, accusingly, “You knew! Oh my god, this entire time you knew that they needed both of us for something. We were bait, weren’t we?”

Scott has the good sense to look mildly sheepish. “Not ‘bait’ exactly, just...” he trails off, uncertain.

“Oh, I’m sorry, would you like a thesaurus so you can look up some synonyms for the word ‘bait?’ Not cool, Scott.”

Scott hangs his head a little. Isaac mimics him. Jackson rolls his eyes and examines his nails.

“I would never have let anything happen to you,” Scott half mumbles, though the sincerity in his voice is clear.

Stiles sighs and puts his arm around Scott’s shoulders. “It’s fine. But from now on we communicate elaborate plans to take down the enemy to all parties involved. This is the second time you’ve pulled this shit on us, and whether you’re in Derek’s pack or not, the guy still deserves some warning when he’s being used.”

Scott stares at Stiles with a questioning look. The two seem to have an entire conversation just by moving their eyebrows and pursing their lips, until reaching an agreement that has Scott turning to look straight into Derek’s eyes and saying seriously, “It won’t happen again, Derek.”

Derek swallows and nods once. It’s not exactly an apology, or even a pledge of loyalty, but it’s more than he’s ever gotten from Scott before and so he decides to be grateful for it.

***

The thing about Scott and his day-saving abilities is that killing the dragon and rescuing the princess are basically the extent of them. Trying to figure out where the dragon came from, why it was there in the first place, and what the hell use the thing had for a damn princess doesn’t really occur to him. Or, if it does, doesn’t seem all that important in the celebratory aftermath. If the day is saved, the day is saved. And they all lived happily ever after.

Which, bully for him and all, and Stiles will forever be grateful for Scott’s sudden hero complex because it continues to save innocent lives on practically a weekly basis, but someone should probably figure out what that fucking dragon was up to so that it doesn’t happen again.

That someone is now, and will probably forever be, Stiles.

Unfortunately, no one writes epic poems or throws parades for that guy. That guy will never get the girl, will never get the glory, and is going to be knee-deep in Archaic Latin for the foreseeable future.

Stiles sighs, exhausted, and texts Lydia for the billionth time that night to ask for help translating one more indecipherable bit out of this stupid bestiary that continues to be the bane of his existence. The fact that the thing is in a language that he can’t read and that babelfish refuses to even acknowledge exists has not been helping his headache. Nor has the fact that the only pieces of information he has to work with are that witches were involved and a ritual sacrifice of an alpha werewolf and a human virgin. That’s it. That is literally all he has to go on, because Scott didn’t bother to interrogate anyone before he sent them packing.

Stiles heads downstairs to make himself a sandwich while he waits for Lydia to get back to him, and tries desperately not to think about the fact that just yesterday he was trapped in a cave with Derek Hale and was seriously considering having sex with the guy.

The subject continues to harass him anyway, and is a good part of the reason why he only got three hours of sleep the previous night. On the one hand, yeah, it would have been a particularly shitty way to lose his V card, so he’s grateful it didn’t end up being necessary. On the other hand, he really was prepared to go through with it, and at the time that idea hadn’t felt nearly as awful as it should have.

As if Stiles has somehow summoned him by the mere thought, there’s a knock at his back door just as he gets downstairs, and then Derek is standing there in his kitchen with him. “You can’t seriously tell me you missed me already.”

Derek’s bitchface is a wonder to behold. “I wanted to get a look at the Argent bestiary. Peter’s resources are as frustrating and unhelpful as he is, and I’d feel better about the coven being gone if I knew what they were up to in the first place.”

Stiles can’t help the grin that spreads across his face at that, because fuck yeah. Finally. Someone as paranoid as he is. Enough so not to take victories at face value.

Derek’s brow furrows in confusion at Stiles’ happiness. “What?”

“Nothing, man. It’s just comforting to know my hyper-vigilance is shared. I’ve been poring over the bestiary all day looking for clues, but so far I’ve got bubkis. You can help if you want, but unless you speak Archaic Latin it probably won’t do any good.”

“Since I imagine you’ll just find an excuse for me to stay and continue balancing out the universe with you anyway, I might as well lend a hand.”

Stiles snorts a laugh. “Dude, consider yourself off the hook on that one. Turns out my ideas about the universe’s grand design for us were way off. You got it right in one with the ‘us being idiots’ theory. Plus, witches. But hey, don’t fret, I’m sure whenever that stupid alpha pack finally decides to make their move they’ll be just as eager to lock us up together as every other super villain we’ve faced.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “So fate’s given up on our ‘bromance,’ huh?”

“I have come to the not entirely unreasonable conclusion that fate probably has better things to do than mess with us.”

“But ‘super villains’ don’t.”

“Evil gets bored easily. Also it’s possible that whenever you and I are within five feet of each other we become some sort of black hole for nefariousness. We just suck in all of this town’s horrible without even trying.”

Derek eyes Stiles for a moment, appraising, but whatever conclusions he draws, Stiles can’t tell. “So it’s back to avoidance then?”

That would be the reasonable thing to do. They’re not friends after all. Derek made that abundantly clear, yet again, yesterday in the cave. But the idea of going back to how it was before doesn’t sit well with Stiles, and since he’d rather not think about why that is, he forces an ever-so-casual shrug and jokes, “Or we could play it safe and keep up the ruse. You know, in case the alpha pack really does have a vested interest in our budding relationship. Pretend friends! They’ll never see it coming.”

Derek almost looks amused by that, the edges of his mouth slanting upward. “Whatever the alpha pack is planning, Stiles, I doubt it has anything to do with our--”

“Oh fuck me, wait a second,” Stiles interrupts, because of course his break-through realizations like to happen right when things seem to be going well between them. “Derek. It’s the alpha pack.”

Derek looks legitimately concerned at this, glancing around the kitchen like one of the alphas might pop out of a cupboard at him. “What about them?”

“They are invested in our relationship. Or, well, in us. What if it’s not a coincidence that those douchebag witches arrived just a few days after they did?”

“You think they were working for the alphas? Why? What would the alpha pack need from them that they couldn’t just take themselves?”

“Well, obviously they needed them for that spell. And if that’s the case, I think I might have an idea where to figure out what the spell does.” There had been a ton of stuff about werewolves, particularly alphas, in the bestiary, but Stiles had been focusing all day on the stuff about witches. And if the witches weren’t in this for themselves, it stands to reason the spell has nothing to do with them.

Stiles scrambles back upstairs before he loses his train of thought, not bothering to wait for Derek. At his desk, he pulls up the notes he’s been typing on his laptop, searching back through... And yep, there it is, just waiting for him to have caught a clue and come looking for it. He hasn’t translated the entire passage yet, but there’s enough to make an educated guess about a few things.

When Stiles looks up, Derek’s looming over him, waiting for a verdict. The looming part isn’t unusual, but the proximity... Is he standing closer than usual? Or is Stiles just imagining things, slowly going nuts due to his brain’s inability to process that sex with Derek can’t be viewed as just a joke anymore, but as something they’ve actually had a serious discussion about?

Stiles swallows and tries to focus. “How do alphas go about getting new betas? The bite alone doesn’t do the trick, right?”

Derek frowns at Stiles like he’s being an idiot, but humors him with a response. “Right,” he says slowly, eyebrows narrowed in suspicion at where Stiles is going with this. “Remember when Peter tried to get Scott to kill with him? It wasn’t about the killing, it was about the submission. A beta has to symbolically submit in order to be a part of the alpha’s pack, whether that alpha was the one that bit him or not.”

“And that submission has to be willing. Otherwise Scott and Jackson would both be in your pack right now.”

“Yes.”

“I think what this spell does is make it so that all the betas in the area wherever it’s performed don’t have to be willing. Like, they just automatically belong to whatever alpha the spell dictates. They have no choice.”

The expression on Derek’s face at this is one Stiles only saw for the first time back in the cave, and the only word for it is appalled. Like Derek’s offended to his very core. Stiles had thought yesterday that it was in response to the idea of having sex with Stiles specifically, but he’s starting to suspect that Derek’s got some serious baggage in regards to the issue of consent. Which is just not a thought Stiles knows how to entertain. It feels heavy in his gut, and all of their recent conversations about choice and free will are starting to take on some new undertones.

Stiles looks away, back at his laptop, just so that he isn’t looking at that expression on Derek’s face anymore.

“Are you sure?” Derek finally asks, his voice a little hoarse with emotion. Which would be weird, Derek Hale jarred into not being able to completely reign in his emotional response to something, if it weren’t so painful sounding.

“I’ll have to finish translating this page in order to be a hundred percent. But... yeah. I think this is it.”

Stiles braces himself and swivels in his chair to face Derek again, because it’ll start to look weird if he continues the conversation while avoiding eye-contact. Luckily, Derek’s schooled his features enough that he only looks mildly irritated now. So, the usual. “Why would they be doing this?”

“Power,” Derek says without hesitation. Ugh. It’s always about power, isn’t it?

“And I bet we’re not even the first or the last stop on their little power and bloodshed tour.” Stiles starts to fidget in his seat, thinking out loud. “I mean, if I were them... Think about it. They go around in search of other packs, get their witchy friends to perform this ritual so that they can take over all the betas and gain the power-up, and then they force those betas to hang around and keep hold of the territory in their name, while they move onto the next one. Essentially they’re taking over the world, one werewolf-infested town at a time. And oh my god, I can’t believe we are actually dealing with a villain that is literally set on world domination. Our lives are ridiculous, you realize this, right?”

Derek just scowls down at Stiles’ bouncing knee until Stiles stills it. “If that’s the case, just because the coven has been banished doesn’t mean this is over. The spell is still a threat. The alphas won’t give up that easily; they’ll just find someone else to perform the ritual.”

“And since we never actually broke the spell they started on us, we’ve both still got giant targets on our backs, don’t we? Fantastic.”

Stiles sinks back into his desk chair, the momentary excitement of finally solving this mystery fading quickly back into exhaustion. He wants to nap for the next several years. He wants Scott to give up the superhero business and come play video games with him all afternoon like they used to. He wants to stop coming home to find his dad fiddling with the edges of what Stiles has secretly dubbed ‘The Box Of Shame’ while Stiles hides in his room and wonders just how long it’ll take for the sheriff to put all the evidence that box contains together in a way he won’t be able to ignore. And he wants Derek to stop looking at him like Stiles is the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.

Kind of like how Derek is looking at him right now actually. All trace of the tentative, forged-in-the-trenches brotherhood Stiles was feeling just moments ago is gone, and in its place are all new barricades.

“God damn it, Stiles,” Derek seethes, but he seems angrier at himself more than the situation. “You understand that this only happened because at some point we were seen together. They must have assumed it would be easier to capture both of us at the same time if we were--“ But Derek’s head jerks up, some noise that Stiles can’t hear interrupting him. “Your dad’s home. I should go.”

“Whoa whoa whoa, hold up.” Stiles flails up out of his desk chair and grabs Derek’s arm in a firm grip before Derek’s made it two steps.

Derek doesn’t try to brush him off, though.

The fact makes Stiles hesitate, because he really wasn’t expecting to get away with this gesture in the face of Derek’s sudden foul mood. He probably wouldn’t have expected to if Derek had been in a good mood either. It happened back in the cave yesterday as well, Derek letting Stiles put his hand on his shoulder and leave it there without so much as a warning glance, and Stiles feels like this is significant, but he’s not sure how or why. He doesn’t know how to put into words that a typically platonic and meaningless touch somehow feels like the Big Bang of emotional breakthroughs.

So Stiles keeps his hand where it is, just to see how long he can get away with it. Just for curiosity’s sake, he tells himself. “Uh. You think you could book it out the window instead?”

“Does your front door not work anymore?” Derek deadpans.

“Not for stealthy escape routes it doesn’t. My dad can’t see you here, dude. I promised him we’d stop hanging out.”

Derek stares at Stiles for a very long while before he says, blandly, “And you didn’t think this was something I should know until now?”

“I honestly did not think it would be an issue. I hide so much other shit from him, our pseudo friendship seemed like it would be the easiest secret out of all of them to keep.”

The front door downstairs opens and closes, loud enough that Stiles can hear it too. “Damn it. Would you just, I don’t know, hide in my closet or something?”

“I’m not hiding in your closet, Stiles. It’s not my fault you lied to your father about me.”

“Why are you being such a dick about this? You really want to have to suffer through his disappointed face along with me?”

Derek pinches the bridge of his nose with the hand not attached to the arm that Stiles has somehow gotten away with still holding onto. “It wouldn’t matter anyway, Stiles. I’m pretty sure he already knows I’m here.”

“What? How?”

“Because he probably saw my car parked outside.”

Stiles chokes. “You parked your car outside?

“Where the hell else was I supposed to park it? If I had known that we are apparently sneaking around I might have used a little more discretion.”

There are the clear sounds of his father coming up the stairs then. Stiles puts a hand over his eyes and groans. “Oh god. This is gonna be rough, I’m warning you now.”

Rough doesn’t even begin to describe it. The Sheriff’s glare is lethal when he enters Stiles’ bedroom, immediately zeroing in on where Stiles still has his hand on Derek’s arm.

“He was just leaving!” is the first thing Stiles blurts out, letting go of Derek like he’s been burned, and both Derek and his dad level extremely unimpressed looks at him. The effect is a little terrifying and makes Stiles hope to god the two of them never have an excuse to team up against him.

“I was just returning a book Stiles lent me,” Derek supplies, turning back to the sheriff. “I didn’t realize I was unwelcome, I’m sorry.”

“A book,” the sheriff repeats, skeptical enough that he doesn’t bother making it a question.

Stiles helpfully grabs the first book his hands can find from off his desk as proof, except he’s not sure why Derek would have borrowed his American History textbook, so his dad just looks all the more disbelieving.

Stiles slumps and drops the textbook back down. He sighs, and the sincerity in his voice now is real. He doesn’t have the energy for anything else. He just wants it to be over with already. He’s so fucking tired of lying, of hiding, of pretending that the way he sees the world matches up to the way everyone else seems to see it. “He’s my friend, Dad. We weren’t doing anything wrong, I swear.”

Derek stares at Stiles and somehow clearly manages to communicate solely with his eyebrows that we are not friends. Stiles glares back defiantly, because to hell with it, they are too friends, whether Derek’s emotional constipation likes it or not.

“So nothing even slightly illegal was happening in this room before I got here?” the sheriff asks.

Derek opens his mouth to answer, then pauses and actually flushes at the implication. He squares his shoulders and looks as tense and guarded as Stiles has ever seen him, which is saying something. “No, Sir.”

The sheriff purses his lips into a thin line, his arms crossed over his chest. Crap, Stiles knows that look. That’s the look that begins with “stolen prison transport” and ends with “restraining order.”

But all his dad does is shift slightly so that he’s no longer blocking the exit. “Alright then. I’ll see you around, Derek.”

Derek hides his surprise far quicker than Stiles does--who pretty much openly gapes--and heads out the door without a second glance.

Stiles scrambles after him, “Sorry, I just, I need to tell him-- It’ll just take a second.” He’s racing down the stairs before his dad has a chance to protest, studiously avoiding whatever horrible look is in his dad’s eyes right now.

He catches Derek with the front door already open. “Wait, we still have no idea how to defeat these guys. What’s our battle plan?”

But Derek doesn’t seem up for strategizing when he turns to glower at Stiles coldly. In fact, he looks just as angry as he did before Stiles’ dad got home. “I’ll discuss it with Scott and Deaton. You are going to stay out of it. It’s important that we not be seen together anymore. If the alphas need both of us together, we can’t make it easy for them.”

Stiles blinks, a little shocked by the vitriol. “But--“

“Stiles, this isn’t a fucking game,” Derek surges forward, close enough that their chests knock together before Stiles has a chance to stumble back. “Don’t contact me, don’t try to see me. We can communicate through Scott and Isaac if absolutely necessary, but otherwise you stay as far the hell away from all of this as possible. Your insufferable need to make our relationship out to be more than it is isn’t worth the risk to all our lives. Do you hear me?”

Stiles glares for all he’s worth. “Yeah, I hear you,” he says, but it sounds a whole hell of lot more like fuck off, asshole.

Either Derek doesn’t catch this, or he just doesn’t care, because all he does is fist his hands at his sides, like he wants to punch something, and then turns to stalk out of the house.

Stiles is pretty eager to punch something right now as well. But he grits his teeth instead and stomps back upstairs, ignoring the significant glance his father gives him in the hallway as they pass. Stiles doesn’t know what that glance means, can’t possibly even begin to interpret it when his emotions are as all over the place as they are right now, but he knows it isn’t good.

Of course it isn’t good. When is it ever good? He slams his bedroom door closed and curses his own brain for starting all of this in the first place. Curses how stupid he was to ever come up with this ridiculous scheme to balance out the universe’s supposed plan for his and Derek’s personal lives.

If fate ever did have a hand in any of this, obviously its endgame was less about him and Derek saving each other and more about them tearing each other apart.

Chapter Text

Derek knows better. He fucking knows better and yet he still keeps making the same fucking mistakes over and over again. Keeps putting himself in a position to get others hurt just by being near them.

And that’s exactly what’s happened here. Stiles is hurt, and it’s because Derek let his guard down. It’s because Derek didn’t push him away fast enough or hard enough, and simply by being seen with Derek, Stiles is going to die before he even reaches eighteen.

Stiles falls to the ground, clutching his gut where the witch’s bullet-shaped burst of blue light struck him. The Hale house is a dark, looming presence behind him.

Scott and Isaac immediately descend on the man who attacked, and Derek doesn’t even think before he’s rushing towards Stiles’ body, cursing at him the whole way. “You fucking moron. Why the hell did you come out here tonight?” But was he expecting any less? Did he honestly believe that he could ask Scott and Isaac to meet with him to discuss what he and Stiles had learned the day before without Stiles stupidly tagging along after them despite Derek’s warnings?

Scott goes for the witch’s throat, his eyes glowing bright with his anger, because as good and kind a soul as Scott is, you do not mess with Stiles.

But the man ducks out of the way in the nick of time and takes off at a run, just as two more piercing blue lights shine menacingly from deeper in the woods.

Isaac bounds off after one. Scott hesitates between going after the other and going back towards Stiles, then seems to steel himself and yells back at Derek in a commanding tone that only solidifies Derek’s certainty that he’s as much an alpha now as he’d be if he had the requisite red tinge to his eyes. “Move him somewhere safe and then come cover Isaac!”

Derek is not in the habit of following other’s orders anymore, but there’s not really time to argue. Who knows how many more witches are out there, or if the alpha pack finally decided to come in and offer their new minions some assistance in getting the job done.

He lifts Stiles up by his armpits and starts dragging him toward the house. Stiles whimpers in pain the entire way and doesn’t even attempt to put any of his weight onto his own feet.

The basement is dark and chilly around them when Derek pulls Stiles into it and lays him gently on the stone floor. The manacles from when Kate tortured him still hang from the wall because he hasn’t bothered to come back down here since.

“I can’t find the wound,” Derek says, and is aware of how desperate he sounds as his eyes and hands roam over Stiles’ limp body, searching for the injury.

Stiles’ breaths are shallow, his skin pale and clammy. He’s showing all the symptoms of rapid, significant blood loss, but Derek can’t find any blood.

“There is no wound,” Stiles rasps.

“Don’t be an idiot, of course there is. I saw that thing hit you and now you can barely sit up.”

“No, it’s a spell. It’s... The way the light was shaped, like a bullet, I remember it from when I was researching witches in the bestiary. The wound isn’t on my body, it’s, like, on my soul or whatever. I’m not losing blood, I’m losing life force.”

Derek swallows. “Okay, how do I stop it? How do I close this invisible, magic wound?”

Stiles shakes his head. “You can’t. It’s not like you can wrap a tourniquet around my freaking soul, dude. It’s just gonna keep draining me, and then, well. Goodnight Stiles. We hardly knew ye.” He makes a vague, aborted hand gesture that Derek thinks is supposed to punctuate his flippancy, but the fear in Stiles’ eyes is real enough to be concerning.

“There has to be a way,” Derek argues. “You obviously missed something in the translation.”

Stiles laughs, which turns into a cough, but he smiles wanly through it. “Oh, yeah, obviously. You know, you’re pretty crap at this 'consoling the dying' thing. Try calling me an idiot again, I bet that’ll help.”

“You are an idiot,” Derek says through clenched teeth, but it just sounds lost, even to his own ears. He is lost. He needs to go join Scott and Isaac, but getting Stiles to any kind of help would mean leaving them to their fates.

“Look on the bright side. If I die that should break the spell they started up with us and they’ll have to begin all over again with someone new in my place. Might buy you guys enough time to take them out first.”

“You’re not going to die, Stiles. We’ll figure something out.”

Stiles laughs again, weakly. He’s looking worse by the second. “You always say that.”

“And it’s always true.”

“What’s ‘always true’ is that our good buddy Scott is extremely adept in his role as our own, personal deus ex machina. Not gonna happen this time. I’ve got minutes at best.”

The room feels colder suddenly, its drabness more pronounced. This is no kind of place to die, and Derek knows that for certain because when it had looked like Kate was going to kill him down here just a few months prior, he’d thought it appropriate. Deserved. And what Derek deserves is nothing close to what Stiles does, is it?

“What are you doing still sitting here?” Stiles frowns up at him. “You heard Scott. Get out there and bring our troops home safe. America needs you.”

“I’m not going to just leave you here to die, Stiles. Maybe if I get you to Deaton before--”

“Listen, dickbag,” Stiles interrupts, whatever fear he’s feeling channeled into anger now. “There isn’t time for that. And I’m not letting you stick around here with me while Scott and Isaac are potentially out there getting their asses handed to them.”

Stiles attempts to push himself up onto his elbows so that he can properly glare Derek into submission, but he’s too weak to manage it and ends up thunking his head hard on the floor as he collapses back down.

“Doesn’t look like you’ve got much of a say in the matter,” Derek says, meaner than he intends.

“I swear to god, Derek, if you let anything happen to Scott...”

“You’ll what? Die on me a little quicker?”

Stiles closes his eyes and heaves a painful looking breath, his entire body quaking with it. “God, I hate you.”

Derek sighs. “No, you don’t,” he says softly, because he’s beginning to get that much at least. Stiles doesn’t hate him, hasn’t for a little while now. The only one who truly hates Derek anymore is Derek.

Stiles’ responding silence speaks volumes. Any other day of the week and he’d at least argue the point, if only for the sake of arguing. And this is what finally drives it all home for Derek. Stiles is going to die, just a few feet from where Derek’s family burned alive, and once again it’s all his fault.

“Make sure Scott looks after my dad,” Stiles whispers, his eyes still closed. He’s too calm, too resigned. It eats away at Derek’s ribcage, threatening to get in and demolish a vital organ or two. “And if you could check in on him every once in awhile too, that would be... good. Because I know my dad and I know he’s not going to survive this, so you have to make him survive it. You understand? Promise me.”

Derek refuses, the words stuck in his throat. Saying them out loud would make the reality of the situation too heavy to bear.

Stiles seems to understand. Or else is too far gone to push Derek on the matter. He starts to shiver. “Shit, it’s cold. Is body heat the first thing to go? Right along with fine motor functions, I guess.”

Derek blames instinct for the fact that he immediately grabs hold of Stiles and pulls the upper half of his body into his lap, arms wrapped tightly around him, Stiles’ face pressed into Derek’s abdomen. But it’s not an instinct he’s ever felt before, and he immediately starts to second guess himself. More likely it’s the guilt. If he’d just kept the kid at arm’s length...

Stiles huffs a shaky breath into Derek’s shirt. “Oh my god, you choose now to finally hug it out? Do we actually get to be bros for all of the five seconds before I kick the bucket?”

“You’re cold,” Derek says stiffly, like that’s any sort of excuse. But it’s not, it’s really not, and he knows it. And maybe the guilt isn’t either. Maybe it’s something else entirely.

Something that doesn’t do any of them any good now.

One of Stiles' hands tugs on the hem of Derek’s shirt, over his hip, like he wants to grab hold of it in a desperate fist but doesn’t have the strength.

“I really don’t have a say in the matter, do I?” Stiles asks, but it doesn’t sound like he’s speaking to Derek anymore, or like he’s entirely aware of his own words. “It was always going to end up like this. You and me... All those other times were just rehearsal. And neither of us get a choice. Not us. Free will is for other people, right? Better people. We... we don’t get a say in any of it...”

Stiles’ hand releases Derek’s shirt, and his head falls further against Derek’s midsection, his nose brushing the top of Derek’s jeans.

Derek quickly shoves Stiles onto his back and grabs hold of his face in both hands, shaking it gently. “Stay awake, Stiles. Keep talking to me.”

“Don’t wanna,” Stiles says, slurred, his eyes closed. “No point.”

And then he’s out cold. And Derek fucking loses it.

Fuck this, he thinks. Fuck all of it. Because he’s not going to be the cause of one more innocent death. Not again. He can’t.

Derek scoops Stiles up in his arms and is out the door at a run. To hell with whatever enemy might still be out there. Scott and Isaac can take care of themselves, and he’d be able to feel it if they were seriously injured. Stiles can be as mad at Derek about this as he likes, so long as he’s alive to do it.

***

The only thing that keeps Stiles from not being monumentally enraged at coming back to consciousness instead of to pearly gates or fire and brimstone like he expected to, is that the first words he hears are Deaton’s. “Just to be safe, I’ll call Scott back and ask him to come watch over him.”

Which means Scott’s alive. Thank fuck. So Stiles doesn’t have to murder Derek after all. Even if the bastard obviously ignored every word out of Stiles’ mouth and brought him to the vet’s anyway.

“No, I’ll do it. I’ll watch him.” Speak of the devil. “He’s only here because of me.”

Stiles wishes he could roll his eyes. Derek Perpetual Martyr Hale, ladies and gentlemen.

But... Wait. Why can’t he roll his eyes?

Stiles struggles for several, frantic seconds to make a sound, to move a limb, anything, to no avail. He’s just beginning to go into full panic mode when he hears Derek’s voice again, asking, “Are you sure he’s alright?”

“He’ll be fine. Think of it as a kind of suspended animation while his body heals itself. It isn’t permanent. He’ll be good as new by morning at the latest. Just monitor his breathing and his heart rate until then. If anything changes, come get me and I’ll adjust the dosage.”

Despite the reassurance, it still takes a couple minutes for Stiles to calm down as he listens to the sounds of Deaton leaving the room and Derek shuffling nearby but not sitting down.

I’m awake! some primal part of him wants to scream or sob or a broken combination of the two. But he focuses on the fact that Deaton said it would only be a couple more hours. He can lie still for a couple more hours. It won’t kill him; he’s been paralyzed before. He’ll be okay. And apparently Derek will be watching over him, so... Yeah. He’ll be okay.

It shouldn’t hit him as such a surprise that this is how he feels about being looked over by Derek Hale, but it does. How did he not notice this before? Or maybe he did, but he just never put it into words. If Derek is there, standing guard, then Stiles knows he’ll be safe.

Weird.

Or... not so weird. Not after everything. The feeling of Derek holding onto him for warmth in that basement is still fresh in his mind, and he can still feel the ghost of Derek’s body heat where his arms had wrapped around him and where Stiles face had been pressed into Derek’s stomach.

At the time, Stiles was having a fairly significant internal freakout, half over his own impending death, and half over Scott’s possible one if Derek didn’t get his ass out there to help. But then Derek pulled him half onto his lap, and for a moment the only thing in the world was the earthy, bittersweet scent of the man, and the slight give of his abdominal muscles beneath his shirt where Stiles’ cheek and nose were buried.

That moment steadied Stiles. Made him remember that some part of him had always known that this was how the two of them would end up. Pressed up against each other for whatever supernatural reason it was that day, waiting for ‘certain doom’ to arrive.

But then certain doom never came. Once again they chalked up another tally mark in the ‘narrowly escaping’ column. And Stiles just really wants to know why. What’s the point? How many more times are he and Derek going to be forced to play out these scenes, only for those scenes to quickly be proven irrelevant?

There’s a rustling beside Stiles as Derek fidgets. He sounds close enough to touch and he still hasn’t taken a seat.

“I’m sorry this happened,” Derek says, his brutally honest tone jarring in the relative quiet.

Oh god, he doesn’t know Stiles can hear him. This is going to get awkward, isn’t it? More than awkward. If Derek admits anything now and then finds out... he’s going to take it as a betrayal, an invasion of privacy. And it is one, but there’s not a damn thing Stiles can do about it.

Derek just breathes softly for a while after that. Stiles gets the impression he’s organizing his thoughts before going any further, because even when talking to someone who he thinks is comatose, Derek Hale still needs to have complete control over how he presents himself to the world.

Stiles feels like he’s always known this about Derek. It’s so very obvious in every detail, from the clothes he wears to the car he drives to the calculated way he moves himself in relation to other bodies. But thinking about it now makes Stiles wonder for the first time if there haven’t been moments--tiny, fragile moments--when Derek let his guard down a bit, possibly without even realizing it.

Stiles wonders if a hand on an arm that doesn’t get glared at or shrugged off might be one of those moments. Or if getting pulled into a lap for warmth might be.

When Derek starts up again, his voice is hardened with his determination to get through whatever it is he feels he has to get through.

“There’s a reason I don’t have friends, Stiles. Enemies I can fight against, pack I can fight alongside, but friends... They end up here, where you are. Lying on a table.” Derek makes a noise like a strangled laugh, and it’s not a happy sound. It’s horrible and sad and like it only exists because it’s the last option he thinks he has left. “So I guess that makes us friends now, doesn’t it? And you’ll know you’ve become more than that when you end up dead."

Derek sighs, long and weary. “Obviously, I won’t let it get that far. I shouldn’t have even... Fuck.” Stiles can hear him take a step forward, close enough now that Stiles can feel the warmth radiating off his body. Though he can’t hear it, he feels the air just over his chest disturb with what he thinks is Derek’s hand, hovering maybe a millimeter away from his chest, but not quite touching.

Then, abruptly, the hand disappears. “This won’t happen again. I don’t have friends, Stiles. I don’t have ‘more than that’ either.” Derek makes a cut-off sound as if he was about to elaborate, then thought better of it. “This won’t happen again,” he repeats, like it’s a promise that needs reiterating.

There is a long, pregnant pause, before Derek says, monotone, “I’m sorry. I’ll have Deaton call Scott.” And then he’s gone.

Holy. Shit.

Even if Stiles had control of his body right now, he wouldn’t be able to move.

He can hear the sound of Scott’s voice talking to Deaton a few minutes later. He listens intently as Scott enters the room and falls down, heavy, into a nearby chair.

But Scott doesn’t speak, which sucks because Stiles really wishes he could get some updates on what went down tonight. Were the alphas out in the woods as well? What happened to the witches? Is Isaac okay? And, oh yeah, by the way, is it weird that Derek just confessed friendship to what he thought was my unconscious body and it kind of made me lose my breath? That’s normal, right?

No, not just friendship. Friendship with the potential for more. That’s definitely what Derek implied, Stiles is at least eighty percent certain. Okay, maybe seventy. He really wishes he could talk to Scott about this instead of being forced to lie here with his thoughts in silence for who knows how long. It’s like his own private hell. Silence, stillness and feelings.

Why does half of him feel like that little speech was practically the Derek Hale equivalent of proposing marriage, and the other half of him feel like he just got dumped?

Thankfully he only gets halfway through round four of the ‘how many pop songs can I cycle through before 99 bottles of beer starts to look tempting’ game when his limbs start to spasm and his whole body is suddenly covered in sharp pinpricks, as if every single part of him had fallen asleep. Two minutes later he’s blinking his eyes open with what is most definitely not a whimper.

Scott immediately rises to hover over him. “Are you okay? Can you sit up?”

“Yeah. I just... Water?” Stiles’ voice is hoarse, like he hasn’t spoken in days.

Scott scrambles over to a minifridge in the corner and comes back with a water bottle as Stiles hoists himself into a sitting position on the metal table. He’s not in pain exactly, or even all that weak, but everything feels kind of... delicate. Like he has to be careful with himself or risk scratching the new paintjob.

Stiles gulps down the water too fast, chokes, then has to concentrate on catching his breath while Scott watches him with obvious concern from barely an inch away.

“I’m okay,” Stiles assures, shoving Scott back a step with a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Though I’m really freaking curious how the hell it is you’re okay.”

Scott shakes his head ruefully. “I told Allison’s dad that we were meeting with Derek tonight and that I’d let him know afterwards what was going on. Apparently he decided to bring a few guys to spy on us anyway since he still doesn’t trust me. But I guess that was a good thing because we would’ve been dead without their help.”

“So Isaac’s okay too?”

“Yeah, everyone’s good.”

“And did the alphas show up this time?”

“No, but we might have a lead on how to defeat them. Mr. Argent and his guys killed all the witches except for one, who’s now chained up in his basement. Deaton’s working on some sort of truth serum type of thing to make the guy talk. Hopefully we’ll get something useful out of him.”

This is all good news, relatively speaking. Bad guys being the only causalities of the evening is always a plus. But Stiles still feels off, and he knows it isn’t just the leftover nerves from his latest near-death experience. It’s Derek.

“Hey, so I just ran straight here when Deaton called,” Scott says, his hands hovering uselessly within Stiles’ personal bubble like he want to help somehow but doesn’t want to risk further injury by touching. “You wanna hang out for a minute while I go run back and pick up your Jeep?”

Stiles nods. “Yeah, thanks man.”

Scott takes off and Stiles shuffles his way into the next room, where Deaton is, and collapses into one of the hard, plastic chairs facing him.

Stiles watches Deaton quietly work on what he’s assuming is the truth serum thing Scott mentioned, though it looks and smells more like a mixture of bad weed and pixie stix. He doesn’t know why it takes as long as it does to work up the courage to finally ask the man what he wants to ask.

“Do you think Derek and I are cursed?”

Deaton, the asshole, doesn’t even bother looking up. He just smiles conspiratorially down at his bowl full of magic crap and says, “Do you think you are?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “My opinion on the matter changes hourly. But you always seem to know way more than you ever let on about things like this, so I’m asking. I realize how ridiculous this sounds, but I’ve had a long night and I would love an answer that doesn’t include you laughing at me.”

Deaton does look up then, pausing in his work to cross his arms over his chest. Stiles can never decide if the guy looks more like someone his dad would play golf with on the weekends, or like the guy is two seconds from becoming the crazy hermit in the woods that all the local kids are too afraid to approach. His expression is always just that kind of calm: either disconcerting because of its unwavering truth, or disconcerting because it’s not true at all. Stiles isn’t sure which.

“What exactly are you asking me, Stiles?”

Stiles throws his hands up in the air helplessly. “It’s just frustrating, okay? Because half the time I’m convinced that this is all some grand design to force me and Derek to... I don’t even know what. To watch each other die? To not be able to escape each other? And the other half of the time, it’s like it’s just some big cosmic joke, because nothing ever actually happens.

“Is that what you want? For something to happen? For the burden of choice to be placed on some outside force, so that it doesn’t fall onto you and Derek?”

“I-- What? No. I...“

Deaton smirks. “I think this may be a case of missing the forest for the trees.”

“...How so?” Stiles asks, wary. There’s something about Deaton’s somewhat-mocking tone that puts him immediately on edge.

“Well, as you just pointed out, every situation you and Derek end up in, something always intervenes before you’re forced to do anything you don’t want to do, correct? Your shackles get removed not two hours after you find yourselves in them. Scott gets to you before you have to take drastic measures in the cave...”

“Right, but--” Stiles shakes his head, lost. “What exactly are you getting at?”

“Perhaps, Stiles, the hand of fate isn’t taking away your choice. Perhaps it just keeps trying to give you one.”

Stiles starts in his seat. Oh.

***

Scott appears back at the Hale house just as the sun’s beginning to rise, and Derek surges forward to pin him against the side of Stiles’ Jeep and roar in his face. “What were you thinking?

Scott doesn’t even flinch. Or, for that matter, bother trying to escape from out of the barrier of Derek’s arms closing in on either side of his head.

But Derek’s too wound up to wonder about Scott’s lack of response. It’s been a long fucking night and he can barely see straight he’s so tense. He’s been pacing outside the house in front of the Jeep for the last couple hours, waiting for Deaton to text him about any change in Stiles’ condition, unable to remain still but unable to venture too far away from this place for whatever reason. Comfort? Punishment? Probably both. It would be fitting that all the things that offer any sort of relief in Derek’s life are the exact same things that cause him the most pain.

He shakes Scott and keeps shouting. “Why the hell did you let Stiles come here tonight? I specifically told you-- He could have died, you idiot!”

Rather than fight back, Scott just raises one hand and calmly places it on Derek’s shoulder.

The action startles Derek out of his rage for a moment. He stares down at Scott’s hand, then back up into Scott’s eyes, bewildered.

“Thanks for not listening to me,” Scott says evenly, “and taking him to Deaton instead. You’re right. He could’ve died. So thank you.”

Scott squeezes Derek’s shoulder once and then lets go and slips easily out of Derek’s loosening hold.

Derek’s shoulders slump and he takes a step back, watching, dumbfounded and drained, as Scott gets into the Jeep and drives away. He feels like all the fight has just been violently ripped out of him. After so many months of trying to convince Scott that Derek is worth aligning himself with, somehow he’s managed to prove himself to the kid completely by accident.

Turns out all he had to do was care about the people that Scott cares about. It was always that easy, wasn’t it?

Except that caring about Stiles means putting Stiles’ life at risk. And it hits Derek like a blade through his sternum--sharp, hard, fatal--that keeping Stiles safe is more important to him than keeping Scott’s allegiance. Derek has to push Stiles away for his own good, he has to, and if that means losing any favor he’s suddenly gained with Scott then so be it.

Derek can hardly breathe with the realization, sinking slowly to his knees on the cold, hard-packed dirt that’s still, years later, black in places from the fire. Keeping Stiles alive is more important than literally anything else. He runs his hands over his face and up through his hair, tugging at it desperately. Because fuck. How the hell did that happen?

Maintaining his distance from Stiles goes about as well as it always has, though. Derek’s starting to wonder if Stiles might’ve had a point about fate and balance. Or else maybe the entire town is in on some sort of elaborate conspiracy to ruin Derek’s life in as many ways as possible--this actually seems plausible, considering--because that very afternoon Melissa McCall corners him in the frozen foods section at Ralph’s. “You have to fix it,” she orders him, and for a split second she seems absolutely fearless.

Derek gapes as Scott’s mom jabs a finger into his chest with the most parental scowl he’s seen on anyone’s face since his own mother. He wonders how she could possibly not be afraid of him, given everything that’s happened, given Scott and Peter and Jackson.

Derek drops the prime rib he was eyeing and glares back at her. Says in that tone that he knows makes most people cross the street to avoid him, “Excuse me?” and watches her hesitate briefly. She pulls her finger back after a beat, because she’s not stupid and she knows about wild animals. Thinks he’s a wild animal. And it’s best he lets that ruse continue, for all their sakes.

But she still looks like such a mom, and she hasn’t backed away yet, so Derek closes his eyes for a moment and sighs. “Fix what?”

“Stiles,” Melissa tells him, crossing her arms over her chest and cocking her hip to the side. She’s smart. This gets the point across as well as a finger in his face, but also keeps all of her limbs safely guarded.

“What about Stiles?”

“His father...” She goes suddenly uncomfortable, but Derek can’t make out the cause. Perhaps it’s that she used the words ‘his father’ in a way that makes it sound like she’s speaking about her own delinquent kid in relation to her own bumbling husband, and the thought has caught her off guard. But that’s all just guesswork on his part.

“The Sheriff,” she amends, and Derek thinks maybe his guesswork isn’t so bad after all. “He’s been putting the pieces together, all of the lies and secrets and they all add up to-- To nothing good. He called me last night, half drunk, and...” She swallows thickly. “Derek. He thinks Stiles is a murderer.”

Derek blinks once, dumbly. “He what.”

“You have to fix it,” Melissa repeats. “Because Stiles is a stubborn little shit about some things and he won’t do it himself. This is your fault and you have to fix it.”

But... No. Damn it, no. Whatever else Derek blames himself for in relation to Stiles, he doesn’t blame himself for this. He isn’t the reason Stiles tags along to every battle. He isn’t the reason Stiles researched werewolves six ways to Sunday when Scott got bit. Stiles has a vested interest in the supernatural and it isn’t because Derek is a creature of the night, it’s because Scott is. “You mean it’s Scott’s fault,” he argues before he has time to think better of it.

Melissa takes a step forward, and for the first time in a long time Derek contemplates giving up ground to someone, because she’s kind of fucking intimidating up close. “You’re the adult. It’s your fault.”

She stares him down a moment longer, then steps back. “Fix it,” she says one last time, grabs a half-priced log of the cheapest ground beef Derek has ever seen, and then heads down aisle five.

Derek debates over what to do for the rest of the day. This isn’t his problem, he tells himself. This shouldn’t be his problem. Also he really doesn’t want to get shot again any time soon.

But then he thinks, maybe this is the answer to his most immediate problem. He’s still waiting for Scott to update him on Argent’s progress with the witch they have captive, but in the meantime he’d feel a lot better about Stiles’ relative safety if he was as far away from all this as possible. As far away from Derek as possible. And, if Derek plays this right, maybe the Sheriff will take care of that for him.

Maybe he won’t have to stay away from Stiles, because maybe he can get the Sheriff to make Stiles stay away from him instead.

The station is quiet when he arrives there that evening around dinnertime. Derek is just about to paste on a winning smile for the guy behind the front desk when Sheriff Stilinski saves him the trouble and appears from out of the hallway.

“Hey, Mark, have you seen the files on--” The sheriff pulls up short at the sight of Derek, his expression carefully blank.

For all his enhanced senses, Derek can’t read the man at all. His heart rate is steady, his stance relaxed and easy. But Derek remembers sitting in an interrogation room with him a few months ago and he’d been the same then as well. Calm, solid... trustworthy. Derek can’t tell if it’s just who he is, or if it’s the result of him being a little too good at his job, and it’s unsettling.

“Derek. What can I do for you?”

Derek shifts minutely and tries not to announce with the movement just exactly how uncomfortable he suddenly is. This day has already included one encounter with a disapproving parent too many. “I want to talk to you about Stiles.”

The guy behind the desk perks up at that. Potential fodder for gossip is like god damned catnip in this town.

The sheriff clears his throat and ushers Derek forward. “Why don’t we move this to my office then.”

Once seated behind closed doors, they stare at each other over the sheriff’s desk and Derek has to swallow back something that feels suspiciously like the precursor to outright terror. This is a huge risk he’s taking here. But, then again, the bigger risk might end up being whatever the sheriff finally decides all the puzzle pieces look like put together. 'Werewolves' probably isn’t the easiest conclusion to draw, and whatever else he comes up with will most likely include jail time for a few people. At the least.

Derek opens his mouth to speak, not sure where to begin or how to avoid having a gun in his face during this conversation, but the sheriff speaks first. “He was out all night again.”

Derek raises his eyebrows, questioning.

“Stiles,” the sheriff says. “He snuck back home at around five this morning. Was he with you?”

“Yes. Uh, sir. That’s actually what I came here to talk to you about.”

The sheriff nods thoughtfully. He’s still so damn casual, friendly even, but Derek can see that one of his hands is resting comfortably on his holstered service weapon. “Appropriate that we’re doing this here then. Since I suspect you’re about to confess to a crime.”

“I...” Derek frowns. “I’d prefer to think of it as setting the record straight.”

The sheriff sighs and leans forward, elbows resting on the desk. “Listen, Derek, normally I’d be inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt here. You’ve had a rough go of things, and despite every reason for me to believe otherwise you seem like a good kid. But I’ve got a mountain of evidence implicating my son in over a dozen different crimes, he’s been lying to me for months, and this all conveniently started when you showed up back in town.”

Derek purses his lips into a tight line. “I know. And there’s a reason for that.”

Stilinski sits back in his chair and pinches the bridge of his nose for a long moment. “I don’t know if you’re trying to be comforting right now, Derek, but suggesting that you’ve dragged my son down into your criminal record with you is not the way to do it.”

“This isn’t about my record. Not really.”

“Oh it’s not, is it?” he asks, disbelieving. “So it’s about the other thing?”

“The other...“ Derek starts, shaking his head in confusion.

“Because I’ll be honest, there’s a small part of me that’s actually hoping you’re here to tell me that the two of you were just screwing around in the backseat of your car all last night, since no matter how illegal that would still be, it’s starting to seem infinitely better than whatever the hell the truth probably is.”

Derek stills, his muscles flexing so hard it’s painful. This is the second time the man has accused him to his face of being in a sexual relationship with Stiles and Derek doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. How far from the truth the assumption is, and yet how close to it...

Has Derek been walking around this whole time advertising emotions that he himself didn’t even recognize until last night?

Derek steels himself, gripping the arms of his chair with fists so tight he can hear the wood creak. Stilinski’s eyebrows raise high enough that it’s clear he can hear it too. “I’m not romantically involved with Stiles. In fact, I’d prefer to have nothing to do with him from here on out, and I’m hoping you can help me with that.”

The sheriff frowns. But before he can speak up on his son’s behalf, which it looks like he’s instinctively poised to do, despite everything, Derek flashes his eyes red, shows a hint of fang, and then tells the man everything.

Chapter Text

Derek has apparently now forgone even communication with Stiles by cell phone, if the dozen or so unanswered texts and voicemails are any indication. Stiles isn’t sure exactly what he even wants to say to the guy, but he feels like he has to say something.

Or, well, he doesn’t have to do anything. It’s his choice to say something. Ugh. Fucking Deaton. Like one more near-death experience wasn’t enough to keep Stiles on edge all day, the vet had to go and add a freaking crisis of faith on top of it.

The moment Stiles gets home from his soul bullet recovery, he has no idea what to do with himself. Between Derek’s confession of friendship that he doesn’t know Stiles heard and Deaton’s implication that Stiles has been looking at his interactions with Derek in entirely the wrong light... It’s a wonder Stiles doesn’t crawl right out of his skin.

And that’s not even counting the strange hum of electricity he swears he can still feel emanating out from his gut where the magical glowing soul bullet hit him, a constant reminder that yet again he was at death’s door and at the last possible second, Death, yet again, said thanks but no thanks.

Stiles tosses and turns in bed for a few hours, trying to catch up on all the sleep he didn’t get that night, but to no avail. He texts Derek. He calls Derek. He paces around his room like a caged animal while bemoaning the fact that it’s a Saturday and he doesn’t even have school to distract him.

Finally, he trudges over to Scott’s house, quietly lets himself in and climbs the stairs up to find Scott passed out in bed. Stiles stares jealously at Scott’s sleeping form for a few minutes before jumping onto the mattress beside him and kneeing him in the side.

Scott sputters awake, then groans when he realizes what’s happening and buries his head, face first, into his pillow.

“Come on, dude, it’s four in the afternoon. Rise and shine.”

Scott mutters something unintelligible into the pillow, but then turns his head to the side to blink up at Stiles with bleary eyes, “How are you feeling?”

“Like I’m going insane.”

Scott nods. Yawns. Pats Stiles’ thigh a few times with a limp hand. “It’s okay if you are. I’ll still love you.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Thanks.”

It takes a few more minutes of poking Scott incessantly in his ribs before he finally huffs and sits up, fully awake.

“There’s no such thing as fate, right?” Stiles blurts out, before he can think better of it.

Scott smirks a little, like Stiles has inadvertently hit upon some private joke without knowing it, and then shrugs. “There’s no such thing as werewolves.”

Stiles groans loudly and puts his head in his hands, muttering through his fingers, “I was afraid you’d say something like that.”

“It’s what I told Allison when she broke up with me. She didn’t think we’d end up back together after everything, but,” Scott shakes his head, a small smile on his face. “I don’t know. I have faith. We’re meant to be. Soulmates, you know?" His smile disappears abruptly. "Why? Is that what you were talking to Deaton about last night?”

“Er. Sort of.”

“What did he say?”

“It’s more what he implied? I got the impression it was less of a soulmates deal in the traditional sense, and more of a, um, I don’t know. A Choose Your Own Adventure? Like, the ending may already be written, but there are plenty of endings to choose from, and we get to pick the page number.”

Scott frowns thoughtfully. “I’m not sure I totally understood that metaphor.”

“Okay, so basically there are all these ‘what ifs’ floating around, and there are only so many outcomes to them. But sometimes, if there’s one really good outcome, one outcome that might be, like, freaking epic compared to all the rest of them, then fate kind of just keeps giving you the chance to choose that one, no matter how many times you pass it up.”

Scott raises an eyebrow high enough that it disappears beneath his in-dire-need-of-a-cut hair. “Is this about you and Derek?”

Well crap. Stiles’ least favorite Scott setting is the ‘suddenly and horrifically way too wise and observant’ one. It always manages to catch him off guard. “Uh, yeah? Sort of. Yes.”

“And you think that you and Derek have one of those ‘freaking epic’ endings that fate keeps trying to get you to choose.”

Stiles swallows and feels the need to reiterate, “Maybe? But the point is that it’s your choice. You still get to say no.”

Scott gives him that squinty, all-knowing look he sometimes gets lately. “Which means you also still get to say yes.”

Stiles nods stiffly and turns away to stare at the opposing wall. “Yeah. You also still get to say yes,” he repeats dumbly, because this is the part he’s been having the most trouble with. Not the choice, but the fact that one of those choices could be... yes. He could say yes. And not just in the way that means, hey let’s try hanging out once in awhile and hope it gets the universe off our backs, but in a way that might really mean something. Might be fucking life changing. Because it would be a very big yes.

And, oh god, none of this is even taking into account what Derek’s choice would be. Yeah, the guy said some things while he thought Stiles was unconscious, but those things never explicitly went beyond extremely reluctant friendship and they ended with Derek pretty much never wanting to see Stiles again.

“Are you silently freaking out right now?” Scott asks with no small amount of concern.

“I could do it not-so-silently if you’d be more comfortable with that.”

Scott sighs. “Do you even like him?”

Stiles opens his mouth to respond, realizes he has no idea how to respond, and shuts it abruptly. Then shrugs. “I don’t know, man. He’s... he’s Derek.”

“Yeah. But I get the feeling that means something different for you than it does for me.”

This is true, of course. Has always been true in one sense or another. But it’s still strange somehow to think that not everyone else in the world hears the name Derek Hale and feels... safe. Strange to think that even Stiles didn’t feel that way just a few short months ago.

Stiles makes a frustrated sound in the back of his throat and tries to shake off the last twenty-four hours with a full body spasm. “Okay, I’m done talking about this. Do we know anything about taking down the alphas yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Then I’m going to need you to distract me for at least the next several hours.”

Scott nods seriously, like this is the most important mission he’s ever been assigned. And then for the rest of the evening, on into the night, they play video games and eat junk food with the kind of intensity neither of them have had a chance to put into these things in a very long time.

But eventually Scott has to go pick up his mom from work, and Stiles has to head home to an empty house where he’s left alone with his thoughts again. He tries to force himself to sleep--god knows he needs it--but just when he thinks he might finally be on the edge of unconsciousness, the front door opens and shuts loudly downstairs, and he hears his dad’s voice call out, “Stiles?”

Stiles groans and throws an arm over his eyes as he calls back, “Yeah?”

He hears his dad’s quick, heavy steps up the stairs, and then the sheriff is standing in the bedroom doorway, rigid shoulders silhouetted by the light from the hall. His eyes are glassy as he stares at Stiles for long enough that Stiles knows something’s not right and jerks up in bed. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

His dad just shakes his head, surges forward to the bed and pulls him into a bear hug.

Stiles freezes, arms out wide at his sides, uncertain what to do. He’s never felt this caught off guard by one of his father’s hugs before. And it’s only right in this moment, as he’s suddenly given back what he’s been missing, that he lets himself realize that the last time they embraced was weeks ago, that night he came home bruised after winning the lacrosse game.

“Damn it, Stiles,” his father breathes in this desperate, broken way that has Stiles immediately gripping his shirt to hug back for all he’s worth. What the hell is going on?

“Dad?” he whispers tentatively.

“Derek Hale came to see me today.”

Stiles gulps. There is no possible way that went well. “Oh?”

His dad slowly pulls back, but keeps a hand on Stiles’ shoulder in a tight, steadying grip. Though which one of them he’s trying to steady is up for debate. “If you ever, ever keep something this big a secret from me again, I will ground you until you’re thirty.”

Oh no. No no no. Stiles has a moment of numb, blind disbelief before it clicks into place what this means, and the only thing he can feel is rage. “That asshole.” The force of his anger sends him flying from the bed, then back towards it to grab his cell phone from off the nightstand. “I cannot believe that bastard. Oh my god, I’m going to kill him.”

He scrolls through his contacts until he gets to Derek, intent on giving the son of a bitch a piece of his mind. Or at least giving Derek's voicemail a piece of his mind. But just as he’s putting the phone to his ear, he glances back up and remembers, oh yeah. More important things right now, huh?

His dad’s face is somewhere between amused and exasperated.

“Sorry. Uh.” Stiles ends the call before the first ring. His shoulders slump and he looks down at the floor. “Sorry.”

“I wish you had told me,” his father says, quiet and even.

“I was trying to protect you.”

“Not your job, son.”

Stiles snaps his head up. “Screw that, it’s totally my job.”

“Stiles--”

“No don’t, Dad. Just-- We take care of each other, right? That’s how it works. I’m not going to stop worrying about you just because you say so.”

His dad purses his lips, studying Stiles for a long moment. Then he nods his head. “Alright. I get that. But this is a two-way street, Stiles. You have to let me take care of you, too, and I can’t do that if I don’t know what the hell is going on.”

“Okay, yes, you’re right. I’m sorry.” Stiles frowns. “You know, you’re not nearly as angry about all this as I’d imagined you’d be.”

“Trust me, I got plenty angry when Derek broke out the glowing eyes and the story about how you nearly drowned saving his ass. I’ve been nothing but angry for the last three hours. Right now, frankly, I’m just relieved you’re still in one piece and actually talking to me for once.”

Guilt wells up in Stiles at that, but he has to ask anyway; he has to know how bad this is going to get. Whether this conversation is the eye of the storm or the end of it. “Are you going to send me away?”

His dad looks stricken. “What?”

“Like, for my own good or whatever. Now that you know everything, are you gonna lock me up and throw away the key?”

His father’s response is not at all what Stiles was expecting. The sheriff rolls his eyes and snorts in amusement. “Son, if you think I’m under the illusion that throwing you in a holding cell for the rest of your natural life would actually keep you from getting into trouble then you haven’t been paying attention. I’m not grateful that I know the big secret because I think it means I’ll have any shot at keeping you out of this mess. I’m grateful because it means I can dive into this mess with you and hopefully prevent either of us from becoming werewolf kibble.”

Stiles thinks he might cry. And yep, his eyes are definitely watery now. He’s just going to blame that on the lack of sleep. He collapses back onto the bed beside his dad and hugs him again.

When he pulls back, he schools his features and says seriously, “I’m still going to kill Derek for this, though. That’s allowed, right?”

The sheriff rolls his eyes again. “If anything, you should probably be thanking him.”

“For going behind my back and involving you without my permission? Fat chance.”

“Look, telling me everything, that puts him at risk, doesn’t it? But he did it anyway. Why?”

“Because he’s an idiot?”

“Because he was trying to protect you. He seemed fairly certain that my knowing the truth was going to keep you out of harm’s way, and I wasn’t about to correct him if it meant getting more information out of him.”

Stiles shakes his head in exasperation. Of course Derek would pull something like this. Of course. At this point Stiles doesn’t know if he’s angry or oddly flattered. There’s not a lot of people Derek would be willing to go to these sort of lengths for, even if these particular lengths are completely infuriating.

The cell phone still in his hand rings then and Stiles flails, startled. It’s Scott. “I’m sorry, Dad, I gotta take this.”

His dad waves his hand, as if to say, oh by all means, and somehow manages to make the single gesture come off as equal parts sarcastic and long-suffering.

“Hey man, what’s the news?”

“We have a plan,” Scott says, sounding just as exhausted as Stiles feels. “But you guys are gonna have to play bait again.”

Stiles groans. “Well at least you’re warning us this time. You are warning Derek, too, right?”

“Yeah, don’t worry, he’s my next call. But... there’s more.”

“When isn’t there?”

“We kinda have to complete the ritual.”

Stiles sputters. “What? Dude, you said ‘bait’ not ‘sacrifice.’”

“No one’s getting sacrificed. But Deaton said if we break the spell they started on you guys then the alpha pack can just go and perform it on someone else. If we finish the spell but change it-- like, reverse it halfway in? Then it should take from them all the power they’ve gained from whenever they’ve performed it in the past.”

“Leaving them vulnerable enough for you guys to attack.” Stiles nods, impressed. “Alright, awesome. Just to be clear, though, absolutely zero virgin sacrifices required, right?”

He can almost hear Scott roll his eyes. “Deaton said reversing it would require the opposite of death.”

“What, like, birth?” Stiles asks, confused as to how they’re going to work that one in.

“Well, uh, sort of? I mean, not like actual...“ Scott hedges. Never a good sign. “Look, it’s not really important. Deaton will take care of everything. All you guys have to do is sit around in a room together for a little while and look like you don’t want to be there.”

“Luckily, Derek and I happen to be pros at exactly that.”

“So, tomorrow night? Try to get some sleep before then. And, just...” Scott goes quiet for a long moment, but before Stiles can try to fill the silence, he continues with a steely determination. “I promise I won’t let anything happen to you, alright?”

“I know you won’t, man. I trust you.” Which seems to satisfy Scott.

Stiles hangs up and turns to see his dad, arms crossed over his chest, that ‘about to open up a new investigation,’ all-business expression on his face. “Well?”

“Did Derek tell you anything about witches?”

“And alphas and whatever hoodoo has all these people after you two right now, yeah.”

“Well, you won’t have to worry about it for much longer. We have a plan. And all I have to do--“

“No,” his father interrupts.

“What?” Stiles balks.

You are not doing anything. We are. Whatever you kids have cooked up, I’m going to be there with you. We’re either in this together or we’re not in it at all, Stiles. You understand? That’s the deal.”

Stiles swallows. Something in his gut aches, like that magical soul wound from last night suddenly got reopened, a physical manifestation of his terror at what this all means for the relative safety of his only parent. But something in his chest, something he’s been trying to ignore recently, finally unclenches just a little at the knowledge that for the first time in a long time, his dad will have his back. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. Deal.”

“Good. Now. What’s the plan? Is it dangerous?”

“Well,” Stiles tries for a smirk, but it feels a little hollow, “Derek’s definitely not gonna like it.”

This turns out to be an understatement.

The next night all the key players gather in the ruins of the old bank where the witches first stashed Derek and Stiles what feels like years ago now. Derek looks absolutely murderous from the moment Stiles arrives and he doesn’t say a single word to any of them the entire time.

Stiles avoids looking directly at him while Chris Argent and Dr. Deaton go over the plan and then haul out their hostage witch--Alfie, of all things--to begin to setup. But Stiles can totally sense Derek shooting death glares his way throughout, and even sending a few over towards Stiles' dad for good measure. Stiles almost wants to laugh when he realizes. Here Derek thought he’d be getting rid of Stiles permanently by telling the sheriff all their secrets, and instead he got exactly the opposite.

“I think Derek’s pissed at you,” Stiles leans to the side to whisper at his dad, even though he knows Derek will be able to hear him anyway.

His dad leans to the side to whisper back, “I think Derek’s probably a little bit pissed at just about everyone he meets.”

Fair point.

Everything about the plan sounds simple enough. Alfie, under penalty of something worse than death (no one’s actually told Stiles what that might be, but the guy looks freaking terrified every time Deaton so much as glances at him), is going to pretend he’s captured Derek and Stiles to finish the spell. When the alphas arrive for their part in the ritual, Deaton will take over for Alfie and reverse the thing. Then Scott, Isaac, Argent and all of Argent’s hunter pals will descend on the place to take the alphas out when in their weakened state. Easy.

Except for the part where Stiles’ dad is going to be there as well, watching over everything. He promises to remain well out of the fray, just a lookout, and only stepping in if it looks like Stiles is in serious danger, but Stiles is worried anyway. It’s his dad, he’s allowed. Especially when the only other thing to occupy his mind with at the moment is that he’s once again being trapped in an enclosed space with Derek Hale.

It’s sort of like the worst joke Stiles could’ve ever thought of to wrap this whole nightmare up with. Him and Derek inside the same bank vault where the witches first shoved them, where discussions of fate and epic bromances all started, and this time they’re here willingly.

Okay, semi-willingly. Stiles thinks Scott might have somehow threatened or blackmailed Derek into showing up.

Thankfully, the place has at least been ventilated since their last visit, Argent’s guys unblocking whatever had been in the way of the original, antiquated system and pumping in fresh air through it. Everything still smells stale and eerily tomb-like, but Stiles suspects that’s mostly his imagination coupled with some mild PTSD.

Derek looks cagey, like he wants to start pacing but is afraid it will accidentally put him within Stiles’ reach, so he’s taken to leaning back rigidly against one wall. Stiles--because he’s not a complete jackass, okay?--has settled in to lean on the wall opposite, giving the guy as much space as the small room will allow.

The hunters have got eyes on this place, as do Scott, Isaac and the sheriff. They’re as safe as they can possibly be, given the circumstances. But it still must itch at Derek, not just having to sit on the sidelines for this fight, but being trapped. Again. They couldn’t just fake the Mountain Ash barrier, they had to make it real. So even if Derek changed his mind right now and wanted out, he wouldn’t be able to leave this vault.

Which makes this the perfect opportunity to confront the guy about things he’d otherwise runaway from.

And yeah okay, so maybe Stiles is a complete jackass. He at least feels a little guilty about it.

“Just so you know, I would normally be plotting your imminent demise right now for going behind my back and involving my dad in all this,” Stiles says, conversationally. “But since it all worked out in the end, more or less, and since I’m pretty sure you thought you were doing a good deed, I’m going to give you a pass. Just this once, though. You do it again, and I’ll be borrowing a few wolfsbane bullets from the Argent’s arsenal.”

Derek doesn’t so much as twitch in acknowledgement that Stiles has spoken. Doesn’t even look at him.

Which, fine. Whatever. Stiles is more than happy to keep poking him until he does.

“I know you’ve been avoiding me,” Stiles continues, as casual as he can manage. “Which is stupid because you know what happens when we try to avoid each other. We end up paralyzed in a swimming pool together.”

“Stiles...” Derek finally says, the first word he’s said all night, but it’s a bit strangled and mostly directed at the floor. “Would you quit it with the fate crap already? Let’s just get through tonight and then we won’t have to see each other again for what will hopefully be a very long time.”

Fuck. Derek’s really not going to make this easy, is he?

Stiles bites his lip, watching Derek for a few moments. The tense line of muscles across his broad shoulders, the rigid set to his jaw, the way his legs seem always poised to crouch into a fighting stance... Stiles has noticed all these things before, but right now they all suddenly seem like the least important parts. It’s like the Derek Hale sketch that Stiles is familiar with has suddenly gotten colored in.

First of all, the guy’s eyes are ridiculous. They’re just... ridiculous. What the hell even is that color? Is that all the colors? What a dick, of course he’d have to one-up everyone else by literally having every single color in the fucking rainbow as his eye color. Stiles bets on his driver’s license it just says, “asjkdhksdgfajks.”

And then there’s Derek's waist. Stiles has never actually paid attention to his waist before. Sure, there’s the abs, there’s the chest that goes down to become the abs, there’s the thighs and hips that meet up to said abs, and yeah. Abs. But there’s also, apparently, the way Derek’s waist is somehow both sturdy and delicate at the exact same time. The way that the grooves above his hips are carved out of god damn marble or something and are visible even through the loosest shirts. The way Stiles feels like if he were to reach out with both hands and grab hold of that waist, it would feel like he was grabbing hold of something real. Something hard and yet welcoming. Something powerful and yet completely at his mercy.

And don’t even get him started on Derek’s hands. Fuck. Where the hell has Derek been hiding them this whole time?

Stiles understands in that moment--not that he didn’t already have an inkling of it before--that he is well and truly fucked and didn’t even know it until after the fact. He was fucked ages ago, and had absolutely no idea until now.

He’s kind of in love with Derek, isn’t he?

God damn it.

The realization leaves Stiles fumbling for more words. There is no way he’s leaving this room without getting as much off his chest as he’s able, because he’s pretty sure it’s his last chance to do it. Derek’s not going to let this happen again.

“Are you seriously mad at me for almost dying? Is that what this is?” Stiles blurts out, and he feels desperate but the words come out irritated and sharp. Because apparently Stiles tends to deal with his more vulnerable emotions the same way Derek does. By trying to pick fights. “Or are you just mad at yourself because you think it was your fault?”

He’s expecting to get equally sharp words thrown right back at him, for this to devolve into some yelling, maybe an aborted shove or two. But, instead, Derek just shakes his head a little and says, ruefully, so quiet he probably doesn’t mean for it to be heard, “It was my fault.”

And Stiles knows then that he’s going to have to man up and deal with this like an adult. Ugh.

“Look, the other night, when I was recovering from that spell, I...” Stiles shuffles his feet, then steels himself and raises his chin. “I didn’t end up on that table because we’re friends.”

Derek’s whole body freezes. “You were conscious,” he says slowly, not making it a question.

“Yeah.” Stiles swallows. “And we are friends now. I heard you admit it. So, you know, no take-backs."

“But you did end up there because of me, Stiles.”

“I ended up there because of those freaking witches, you idiot. And knowing myself as I do, I can basically swear to you that even if you weren’t hanging around all the time, I’d still manage to get myself into just as many dire situations as I do now. Probably even more. And they’d all be a hundred times worse, because I’d be without my little Traumatic Experience Buddy to keep me company. Ending up on the bad side of an alpha pack wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if I didn’t have someone to banter with about it.”

Derek shakes his head and clenches his teeth, jaw twitching, still glaring at the floor.

Stiles sighs, crosses to the other side of the room and leans against the wall beside Derek. He’s careful to leave a couple inches between them, but can still almost feel even the air around Derek tense at the proximity. “I know I wasn’t supposed to hear what you said that night. I’m sorry about that. But... Look, I’m probably gonna end up on that table a lot, who are we kidding here? But it won’t be because we’re friends. And I might honestly end up dead eventually. But it won’t be because we’re... more.”

Derek startles at that, finally looking up to meet Stiles’ eyes for a long moment.

The silence draws out. Stiles feels like he’s going out of his mind with Derek’s eyes locked on his for this long, but he refuses to look away first. He can feel the flush slowly creeping up the back of his neck and splotch his cheeks. He fidgets, struggles to keep from breaking the stare, his nerves finally escaping the only other way they can, through his words. “Come on, man, I’m terrible at this. Help me out here.”

“I’m really not any better at it,” Derek breathes softly, his eyes flickering down, but then not flickering back up, and oh wow, Derek’s staring at his mouth. Stiles isn’t imagining it, Derek is definitely staring at his mouth, holy shit.

Stiles slides slowly closer, letting the wall at his back support most of his weight so that he doesn’t trip all over himself and plow right into Derek. The moment feels like a living thing, like a wild animal, and any movement too sudden might spook it back into hiding.

Derek turns his body ever so slightly towards Stiles and one hand raises up, hesitates in mid air for a moment, almost shaking, and then continues up. Derek’s fingertips brush, slow and tentative, along the line of Stiles’ jaw, all the way back, beneath his ear, through his hair until they’re resting gently on the back of his neck, the barest whisper of a touch.

This is actually happening and Stiles suddenly doesn’t know what to do with his hands. He’s only just realized that he might want this from Derek, hasn’t even had a chance yet to imagine it, and oh god, what if he’s horrible at it?

All thoughts leave his mind when he feels Derek’s warm breath against his nose and cheeks, his lips so close Stiles thinks he can feel their gravity.

His first kiss is going to be in an abandoned bank vault while playing bait for a pack of evil, alpha werewolves.

In all honesty, he’d expected worse.

And then Derek collapses onto the floor, writhing in pain.

Right. That’s more like it.

“Oh my god.” Stiles jumps back, startled, before his higher brain functions kick in and he drops to his knees beside Derek, and grips uselessly at Derek’s shirt with two fists. “Derek, what’s happening? What’s wrong?”

“It’s fine,” Derek grits out through tightly clenched teeth, in obvious pain and trembling violently with it. His muscles are so taught it looks like they’re just making it worse. “I’ll be fine. This is supposed to happen.”

“Supposed to happen? Why the hell would-- Wait.“ Stiles releases his grip on Derek’s shirt. “Shit. What did Scott tell you that he didn’t tell me? What’s the spell doing to you? That’s what this is, isn’t it? Damn it, Derek, what the hell did you agree to?”

“I’ll be fine,” Derek hisses. But he is just so obviously the opposite of fine right now that Stiles panics all the more.

“Are you dying? You look like you’re dying.”

Derek curls in on himself, his claws extending and retracting intermittently, as though he’s lost control of them. “It’s just the spell. It’ll stop when Deaton’s done.”

“Then why is it only happening to you and not to me too?”

“It’s... complicated.”

And Stiles wants desperately to berate him with a thousand more questions about what the god damned hell is going on, but Derek jerks so hard he bites down on his lip and draws a fair amount of blood, and Stiles doesn’t think he’s going to get any straight answers from the guy in this state.

“If I pass out, don’t... Don’t panic,” Derek says, each word looking like it’s costing him a year of his life to get out. “I’ll wake up. I’m not dying. It just... it just fucking feels like I am.”

Oh god. Stiles tries to say something comforting, but his mind goes blank under the pressure. So he does the first thing instinct tells him to, and reaches down to rest a hand on either side of Derek’s face, cradling Derek’s jaw in his palms, swiping his thumbs softly against the skin and stubble of Derek’s cheeks. It’s a little awkward, but he just really wants to somehow wipe away Derek’s pained expression with his hands, soften his features back into their usual state, for all the good that might do.

For a fraction of a second, though, Derek seems to relax, his head turning into Stiles’ right hand so that the edge of his mouth touches Stiles’ wrist.

But then he jerks again, out of Stiles’ grip, his head hitting the wall behind him, and goes unconscious.

For the next ten minutes, Stiles just sits there in the dimly lit vault beside Derek’s unconscious body, fingers pressed firmly into the pulse point of Derek’s neck the entire time to make sure he’s not dead, and tries to stave off a panic attack.

Then the door to the vault opens, Scott comes rushing in with a grin on his face even though his shirt is covered in what looks like intestines, and Derek wakes up with a gasp, perfectly fine. Stiles is too relieved to even question it.

In the chaos of the battle’s aftermath, Stiles doesn’t see Derek at all. Just hears the occasional shout of his voice as Derek argues with Deaton or Argent or Scott about every little thing that went down. Stiles suspects he’s just upset that he’s the only one who’s not covered in blood.

Scott is limping, and Isaac’s right arm is at an angle that will probably feature in Stiles’ next nightmare, but otherwise everyone’s okay. The good guys saved the day. The alpha’s are dead. It feels... kind of anticlimactic actually. But maybe that’s just because, yet again, Stiles and Derek were forced into a prolonged intimate situation together and, yet again, nothing fucking happened. No kiss. No overt declaration. Stiles wants to hit someone.

Or maybe he finally just wants to make a choice.

His dad sidles up to him and claps a hand on Stiles’ shoulder before Stiles can pursue that train of thought to it’s inevitable conclusion. Stiles is ready to preen a bit, thinking this is going to be a nice, fatherly, ‘ya done good, kid,’ moment, but instead what he gets is: “You realize Argent had a camera in that vault, right?”

Stiles freezes. “I, uh, did not know that, no. That is not a fact of which I was aware.”

“I figured.”

“Did you, um-- Was anyone watching that camera?”

“Well you know, funny enough, someone made me promise to stay off the frontlines as much as possible tonight. Which I was okay with so long as I was able to keep an eye on things. Turns out those 'things' weren’t exactly of the nature I’d anticipated.”

“Right.”

“Do we need to have a conversation, son?”

“If I say ‘no’ do I have any chance of avoiding one?”

“Nope.”

Stiles groans and hangs his head. “We really don’t need to have a conversation, Dad.”

“Yeah, you really don’t have a say on this one. We are going to sit down and talk about this like adults. Seeing as you appear to be dating an adult, I expect you to be able to talk about it like one.”

“We’re not--“

“You’re actually going to try to tell me that it wasn’t what it looked like in there?”

“But it wasn’t! Nothing’s happened, I swear. That was the first time we even almost...” Stiles waves his hands awkwardly; can’t bring himself to say the words.

His dad eyes him for a long moment, before thankfully changing tacks. “Okay, I have to head into the station for a bit. Shots were fired, and if anyone passing by reported it, I’ve got to make sure no one comes to investigate until Argent and his men are finished cleaning up.”

“Wow, that is... really good thinking. Huh.”

His dad rolls his eyes. “I didn’t get elected Sheriff because of my rugged good looks. I do occasionally know what I’m doing.”

“I’ll never doubt you again,” Stiles solemnly swears, one hand on his heart.

His father manfully resists rolling his eyes a second time and gives Stiles a brief, one-armed hug. “Get home safe, alright? And if-- Christ, I’m actually saying this. If you’d feel safer having someone with you at the house until I can get back... I’d understand.”

Stiles’ eyes widen. Wait, is his dad actually--

“For the sake of my sanity,” his father continues, “I’m going to assume your first call will be Scott. But just-- as long as someone’s got your back, I don’t care who it is. Be safe, be smart, and don’t make me whip out the handcuffs. Yeah?”

Stiles nods dumbly. “Y-yeah. Yes. Gotcha. 10-4, Pops.”

The sheriff sighs, as long suffering as ever, but it’s... it’s not desperate anymore. It’s not sad. And Stiles wants to cry at the sound of it.

He watches his dad confer one last time with Deaton and Chris Argent, then make his way back to his patrol car. Stiles would like to do some fucking conferring of his own right now--find out exactly what the hell happened to Derek in the vault and why no one bothered to warn him about it--but when he turns away from watching his dad’s patrol car disappear around the block, the first person he spots is Derek.

Stiles approaches, hands stuffed deep in his pockets, and clears his throat awkwardly. “Hey. You okay?”

Derek doesn’t look at him, eyes trained on the group of hunters conversing in hushed tones a few yards away. “I’m fine. A little stiff. It’ll pass.”

“Good. I, uh, I was kinda worried back there.”

Derek glances at him for a long moment, studying him out of the corner of his eye, then returns to watching the hunters. “I’m fine,” he says again. “You should get home.” And then he’s walking away and Stiles kind of wants to punch him in his stupid fucking face.

“Wait.” Derek stops and turns around, for the first time meeting Stiles’ gaze head on. Stiles swallows back his fear, though he can still taste it thick on his tongue as he declares, “I don’t want to go home alone.”

Derek glances around, as if he really doesn’t get what Stiles is implying, “I think Scott already--”

Stiles shakes his head to interrupt. “No, I mean... I mean I don’t want to go home without you. Maybe Deaton was right. Maybe fate keeps giving me a choice, and I keep saying ‘no thanks,’ but because apparently the gods aren’t the vicious bastards I’d always assumed, they keep giving me another chance. But what if this is the last chance? What if I said ‘no thanks’ and it turned out it was the final no? When I think of it like that, I... I really don’t want to fuck it up. I don’t want to say no this time. I want to say yes. I want to choose you this time, because I don’t know how many more chances I’m going to get to be able to and the thought of that kind of terrifies me.”

Derek is staring hard at the ground by the time Stiles finishes speaking. Derek's shoulders are tight and the muscles in his legs are flexing like he’s about to spring into an attack. ”Stiles, I...” He shakes his head a little. “I can’t.”

“You can. You just won’t.” Derek doesn’t deny it. “So that’s your choice? You’re choosing to say 'no' again? The final no.”

Derek is silent for an impossibly long time. Or maybe it’s just a second. But it feels like a long enough second that Stiles has time to be hopeful and then devastated and then hopeful again. Finally, Derek looks back up and meets Stiles’ gaze with a hardness in his eyes. A decisiveness that leaves no room for argument. “That’s my choice.”

Stiles nods, feeling suddenly numb. It doesn’t even hurt. Doesn’t feel like... anything. Just a sort of emptiness that maybe was always there, maybe he always had this big, gaping hole in him, and this moment right here is nothing more than a reminder of his constant inability to fill it.

“Alright then,” Stiles says, and then turns and heads toward the Jeep.

Nothing happens for the next two weeks.

There are no new threats. No near-deaths. No 'hand of fate.'

The school year ends. Stiles starts working at the station part time, helping the desk clerk out and organizing his dad’s complete joke of a filing system, as well as inventing an entirely new system, with code words for anything potentially supernatural-related.

Stiles does not, no matter what his father or Scott seem to think, spend his days moping. Nothing even happened. Nothing happened before he made a choice and nothing happened after he made a choice, and so it would be completely ridiculous for him to mope about it.

And so he doesn’t. Really.

Chapter Text

Peter is insufferable after that night. He wasn’t even there, as far as Derek knows, but he seems to know every detail of the events that unfolded regardless, and has made it his mission to torment Derek at every opportunity with the fact that Derek let himself once again be used by the Argents. Nevermind that it was for the greater good this time.

“Not like I had much of a choice,” Derek grouses.

Peter smirks back wickedly, looking for all the world like the villain in a cartoon. Derek thinks he might be taking his moral ambiguity shtick a little too far of late. But then again, the line for histrionics probably shifts a bit after you’ve been raised from the dead.

“Oh, Derek,” Peter says, taunting as usual, and as usual with just enough truth in his words to sting. “You always have a choice.”

Which hits a little too close to home on multiple levels.

There’s still no sign of Erica and Boyd. Now that the alpha pack is gone, Derek spends his days circling the town, fanning out in a spiral pattern past city limits and into the surrounding woods and hills of Beacon County looking for signs of the betas. Gets as far as the next towns over and still there’s nothing. He’s positive he would feel it if either of them were dead or in serious trouble, but the fact doesn’t comfort him as much as it should.

Or else maybe it’s just easier to worry over two former pack members who all his senses tell him are perfectly fine--even if as far away from him as they could get--than it is to think about the people who stuck around despite everything. The people-- the person-- who is the only one in years who’s chosen Derek, even with full knowledge of all that choosing Derek entails.

Two weeks after the alpha pack gets taken out, Derek does his usual daily scouting. Turns it into a workout, tries not to wonder what the hell he’ll do to occupy his time once he’s finally given up this fruitless search. He almost misses the busywork of having an enemy looming in the shadows, a defensive or an offensive to strategize.

He immediately regrets that thought when he finds Scott waiting for him on the Hale house porch steps when he gets back. This should be fun.

Derek stands in his own overgrown yard, arms crossed over his chest, and stares up at Scott expectantly. Scott stares back down at him, jaw clenched, eyes narrowed, shoulders back. If Derek has learned anything about Scott over the last few months, it’s that this is his ‘I’m about to lecture the shit out of your ignorant ass’ face. As much as Derek went into their relationship assuming an older brother role, he’s finding more and more lately that in the most difficult situations Scott almost seems more of a parental figure than a younger sibling, regardless of the age difference.

So maybe Derek’s been going about this all wrong from the start. Maybe Scott doesn’t want or need a new authority figure in his life; maybe he needs someone who will finally let him become that authority figure himself.

“Deaton’s reversal spell shouldn’t have worked,” Scott says without preamble. “But it did.”

Derek swallows back any vulnerability. “Lucky us then.”

Scott’s narrowed eyes turn into a full on glower. From his position still on the porch he’s got a couple feet on Derek, but with the way he holds himself he doesn’t really need it right now. “Stiles deserves better than you, ya know.”

Derek breathes in deep through his nose, trying to restrain the flight or fight instinct. He both wants to rip a hole in Scott and he wants to run as far away from this conversation as his legs will take him. But all he does is clench his hands into fists and nod tightly. “He does. And someday he’ll get it. I won’t be around to stand in the way.”

“But you’re around now.”

“I’m really not.”

“No, you are. In Stiles’ eyes, you still are. And you have to get him to stop thinking of you like that.”

“I already--”

“Not good enough,” Scott interrupts, and he hops down from the porch so that he’s at eye level with Derek. The whole thing feels eerily familiar, but with their positions reversed; the power dynamic completely overhauled and shredded and recreated anew so that Derek can’t even tell what it is anymore. Certainly not as black and white as he’d once thought.

“You have to go break his heart,” Scott continues firmly. “You have to make it final and you have to do it now, Derek. Because Stiles is smart and he’s going to figure out that that reversal spell shouldn’t have worked, and then he’s going to figure out why it did. And he’s going to think that it means something. He’s going to think it means that you want him. You have to make him understand that it isn’t true, and you have to do it before this gets out of hand.”

It’s already out of hand, Derek thinks ruefully. But he keeps up his stony silence in the hopes that this last intimidation tactic he has left will miraculously work.

It doesn’t. Scott seems content to wait him out, until finally Derek closes his eyes with a sigh.

“Fine. I’ll talk to him,” Derek says, and he tells himself it’s because Scott isn’t leaving him much room to disagree.

But you always have a choice, Derek.

It’s nightfall before he finally manages to gear himself up for how badly this is likely to go. His overall strategy is to just be as much of an asshole as he can, but he has his doubts as to how well that’ll work, considering being an asshole is more or less what drew Stiles to him in the first place. Plus, Stiles is kind of an asshole, too.

The sheriff isn’t home, so Derek heads to the front door and rings the bell like this is a perfectly normal social call and like there’s absolutely zero precedent for him to B and E his way in through the back.

Stiles opens the door while simultaneously skidding to a halt like he just threw himself at the thing. He goes abruptly still at the sight of Derek, and gapes for a second. “Uh. Hi.”

“Can I come in?”

Stiles makes an aborted move to usher him past with a flourish, only to stop short and sort of curl into himself instead, stepping to the side to let Derek by.

They end up standing in the living room beside the couch, a good couple feet of distance between them, facing each other but not quite looking at each other. Derek hasn’t even started and this is already one of the most uncomfortable conversations he’s ever had. “I wanted to make sure we were on the same page. About the other night.”

Stiles pales. “I think you made yourself pretty clear already, Derek. We really don’t need to talk about this anymore.”

“Well obviously I didn’t make myself clear enough, otherwise you wouldn’t still be suffering from the delusion that you have feelings for me.”

Stiles sucks in a sharp breath like he’s been punched in the gut. “Excuse me?”

Derek steels himself. “You’re in love with Lydia.”

Stiles does a double take. “I’m what?”

“You’ve been in love with her for years. That sort of thing doesn’t just go away over night.”

“Yeah, and it didn’t.”

Right. Derek tries not to flinch. He thinks he succeeds. This is good. This is what he was hoping Stiles would say.

Stiles frowns. “What I mean is that it, I don’t know, faded? Over time? I still love her, I’m just not in love with her. I think maybe it’s been that way for awhile, but, you know, I’m kind of stubborn, so.”

Derek huffs, but he’s more annoyed at himself than the fact that this isn’t working. Because something in him is decidedly relieved at Stiles’ words. Obviously that something needs to meet with a swift death. “Look, I just need you to admit that this was all some ludicrously misguided flare up of hormones, and get Scott off my back about cutting the cord.”

“What? What do you mean, get Scott--”

“He told me I needed to make a cleaner break with you, so that’s what I’m doing. That’s the only reason I’m here.”

Stiles’ eyes go comically wide. “Oh my god, you got played by Scott.”

Derek blinks. Opens his mouth to respond, then snaps it shut without sound before finally furrowing his brow and frowning. “What are you talking about? He didn’t play me.”

Stiles gives Derek a severely unimpressed look. “Dude, Scott would root for Stalin to find true love, you get me? It doesn’t matter how he feels about you personally, the guy loves love. If he thinks there’s even a remote chance that we... Well. He’ll go out of his way to make it happen. He played you. He reverse psychology-d your ass so that you’d come see me.”

“So you haven’t been... pining?”

“I’m fine. I’m... the same as I ever was.” Stiles shrugs. “Which, granted, sets the bar pretty low. But this is just Scott being Scott about it, okay? He wants me to be happy and he thinks you’re what’ll do it.”

Derek practically swallows his tongue. Chokes out a raspy, “And am I?”

“Are you what?”

“Am I what’ll make you happy?”

Stiles swallows thickly. “I, um... Honestly, man? I don’t fucking know. But I feel like maybe. I feel like yes.”

There’s a long, awkward silence. Derek’s eyes track the tip of Stiles’ tongue as it darts out to lick a quick line across his bottom lip. Fuck, this is going all wrong.

Stiles clears his throat and shuffles his feet. “So, uh, what the hell did Scott say that got you to come over here?”

“He implied that you were getting suspicious about what happened with the spell reversal and that you might... jump to certain conclusions about it. And I know that you can never leave well enough alone. Even if he was playing me, I know you probably started investigating this as soon as you were able.”

“Well I didn’t. I’ve kinda been trying not to think about it actually.”

Derek doesn’t know how to take that. It’s so unlike Stiles that it hints at something being really off with him. Did Derek’s rejection of his offer that night affect him to such an extent that not even his naturally rampant and completely insatiable curiosity could soothe the wound?

But then Stiles’ eyes light up and Derek can practically see the wheels in his head spinning. “Wait. What conclusions did you think I’d jump to? What did that spell--” His gaze goes distant as he works through the problem, looking like he can’t help himself. He probably can’t. It’s probably as reflexive as breathing; once his brain has locked onto its course it has to keep going until it arrives at a destination.

“Okay, so it was the reversal of a spell that required us to die, I got that,” Stiles thinks aloud. “And Deaton said he’d need the opposite of that, but...” Something seems to click and he meets Derek’s gaze with a sharp, knowing look. “But he didn’t mean the opposite of death, he meant the opposite of taking life. Which is different. Death is natural, but forcing it means-- It means taking something precious from someone without their consent. So the opposite would be someone giving something precious, and with full consent.”

Derek wants to look away but can’t seem to break their locked gaze.

“I’m right, aren’t I? But it would have to involve both of us, and I don’t remember giving anyone anything, so...” He exhales slowly, and then asks, quiet, reverent, “What did you give me that was so precious, Derek?”

Derek’s muscles are so tense there’s a tremor in his arms. “...Don’t make me say it.”

“I think I kinda need you to say it. I think you need you to say it. It’s like you’ve got all these words inside you under house arrest, and I think they’ve served their time already, dude. I think the ankle monitors need to come off now.”

Derek braces himself. He grits his teeth, raises his chin and meets Stiles gaze head on. “I gave you my anger.”

Stiles blinks. “Wait, what?”

“It... On full moons, a werewolf needs an anchor to his humanity.”

“Yeah, I know. Scott’s is Allison. Jackson’s is Lydia.”

“And mine was anger. But... I gave it to you.”

“You gave me your anger. You gave me... Oh shit. You gave me your fucking anchor.”

Derek swallows back what tastes suspiciously like terror. “I knew I could trust you with it.”

Stiles startles at the magnitude of that statement. His heartbeat stutters and his breathing turns shallow. “How is that even possible, Derek? That’s your humanity. It’s practically a physical part of you. More than physical. Even with a spell, you can’t just give--”

“You had to give it back to me,” Derek interrupts. Better to rip the bandaid off quick. Or so he’s heard. “That’s why it worked. Because you gave me my humanity right back to me.”

“But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even feel anything.”

“You didn’t need to. You already-- When I think of you, when I’m near you, when I hear your voice or your heartbeat, when I catch a whiff of your scent... it becomes my humanity. It draws me back. It becomes my hold on the world. So you were already giving it back to me. This just made it official in a sense.”

Stiles takes a step forward and shudders out a breath around a soft, “Derek...”

Derek shakes his head sharply and looks at the wall beneath the mounted flatscreen so as not to give into whatever he knows he’ll give into the moment he locks eyes with Stiles again. “This doesn’t concern you. You shouldn’t even have to know about it. I’m only telling you so that you don’t think it means something that it doesn’t.”

“Oh really? So you’re telling me it doesn’t mean the same thing that it means for Scott and Allison? Or for Jackson and Lydia?”

“No, it doesn’t. It’s not-- It’s a proximity thing. It’s about familiarity, that’s all.”

“I’m not your friend, I’m your human. Right? Just like Lydia is Jackson’s human. Which means something, Derek. Because she said ‘I still love you’ that night and poof, the spell was broken. Just like that. It was a god damned Disney movie come to life. You can’t tell me that doesn’t mean something.”

Derek startles slightly to realize that Stiles has been inching slowly forward. He didn’t even notice, too wrapped up in their words, but Stiles is barely a couple inches from him now. And once again Derek’s reminded of how little he thinks about his physical self in relation to Stiles anymore, how easy and comfortable their bodies move with each other without any of Derek’s usual ruthless control.

And he’s also reminded of when he first took notice of that fact, back in the cave, when conversations about humanity in this context were first brought up. He almost can’t help the whispered admission as he remembers what he’d almost told Stiles back then, even though he didn’t even fully comprehend what it might mean for either of them. “You're right. Being a monster’s human is important.”

Stiles goes very still for a long, drawn out moment, then fluidly moves forward again, so close they’re nearly touching. “Okay, the way I see it, I’ve put myself out there twice now, and got shot down both times. I wanna believe that the third time’s the charm, but I think I’d prefer it if you were the one to take the leap first for once.”

Derek exhales softly, holds it, shudders as he drinks it back in and everything tastes like Stiles.

It must be instinct, or something like it, because Derek doesn’t even realize he’s moving until his hand settles into the crook of Stiles’ neck, thumb brushing back and forth over the underside of Stiles' jaw. Stiles' pulse is a steady rhythm against Derek's palm, and much like when trapped in that damn broom closet, the familiar heartbeat is comforting, and it settles Derek in a way nothing else has in a very long time. Only now he has a word for the feeling. A word bigger than “anchor” or “fate.” A word he doesn’t dare utter, but knows deserves more from him than all this fear and misdirection.

So Derek looks up from his hand to catch Stiles’ gaze. Despite Stiles’ brave face, his eyes are large and terrified. “I-- Yes, it means something. It's important. It's... You’re important.”

Stiles draws in a shaky breath, like he’s trying to steel himself for the “but” he thinks is coming. Only Derek can’t do it. Now that the words are out there, he can’t take them back, can’t invalidate them. So instead he goes all in. “That night, after the bank vault, you said you’d made a choice. Is that still... Have you changed your mind since then?”

“No.” Stiles shakes his head minutely, and then pauses, eyes bouncing around Derek’s face, trying to read him, before he asks cautiously, a whisper, “Have you?”

A sharp breath escapes Derek, “yes,” and he pushes forward just as Stiles does.

They meet each other halfway.

The kiss is brief, and close-mouthed, and somehow perfect. It’s warm and steady and... safe. Derek has never had a kiss be that before. It’s always been a means to an end, at times pleasant maybe, but always heated, always aggressive and leading.

Rather than pull out of it, Stiles drags his mouth up, letting it fall open as his bottom lip catches between Derek’s. He presses their foreheads together, pushes noses into cheeks, his hands gripping Derek’s biceps tight enough to bruise, like he can’t pull himself nearly close enough. “Don’t go, alright? Just... I mean, whatever you want to do is fine. We can do nothing or we can do everything, but just don’t leave, okay?”

Derek clings to him, buries his face in Stiles’ neck and breathes him in, lets himself finally drown in the lazy, rumpled warmth of him. “Okay.”

Stiles digs his fingers into the hair on the back of Derek’s head, kneading his scalp in a way that’s just this side of too hard. It’s grounding like nothing else Derek’s experienced. He pulls back enough so that they’re facing each other, and Derek doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, but it’s as though now that he can touch, now that Stiles has given permission and he’s given himself permission, he honestly can’t stop. He raises one hand up and gently traces the contours of Stiles’ face with his knuckles, swipes down over his jaw to his chin, and then up to touch the dip of his parted lips, feel his breath soft across Derek’s hand.

“I was just about to head to bed,” Stiles says, and surprisingly doesn’t make it a line or an innuendo. The offer is straightforward and plain.

Derek nods, disentangles himself, and follows Stiles upstairs. It seems so easy suddenly. So simple.

They undress in the near-dark, facing away from each other, the only sound the soft rustling of fabric. When they turn back around, they stand there in their underwear and t-shirts just staring. Derek wonders if this should be uncomfortable. Wonders why it isn’t. But it’s just them. In the dark. Together. How it’s supposed to be, he thinks, and then wonders if he’s gone insane.

They crawl into bed, lie down facing each other without touching, and stare some more. Like they’re afraid the moment they aren’t looking at the other, the moment they so much as blink, this will all disappear.

Derek really doesn’t want it to disappear. Now that he has it, he doesn’t want to lose it the way he seems to lose everything else in his life that's good.

Confessions come easier in the darkness, their voices automatically low even though there’s no one around to overhear them.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Derek whispers.

“Neither do I, dude. I’m just better at faking it than you are.” Stiles smirks, but it’s a gentle thing, no real mirth behind it.

Derek flicks him lightly on the shoulder, but can feel his mouth form a small, answering smile.

Stiles pushes forward so that their lips are touching, not quite a kiss. Everything feels so tentative, like they’re each afraid to press too hard but can’t help but touch anyway. “I like you like this.”

“What, in your bed?”

Stiles grins. “Well yeah, that. But more just... here. With me. Because you want to be. It feels different from all those other times, you know? Like we were never quite there before, never real. But now it’s almost so real it hurts.” Stiles pulls back slightly, and the absence of his mouth brushing against Derek’s as it moves is missed more than Derek knows how to admit. “Is that stupid? Sorry. That probably doesn’t even make sense, does it?”

Derek wraps his arms around Stiles and pulls him in tight. Pushes his nose into Stiles’ cheek and mouths gently at his jaw. Stiles hums in contentment. “It’s not stupid,” Derek whispers into skin. “I like you like this, too. Here, with me. Because you want to be. It does feel different.”

They fall asleep like that, in slow starts and stops, dropping off gently only to come back to consciousness for a few minutes more, like they hate to be dragged away from this, even by sleep.

Stiles fully succumbs first, and Derek is just about to follow him, when he hears the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Shit. He has his reluctant escape plan already worked out before he remembers he parked the Camaro on the street out front, because he didn’t expect to stay here more than a few minutes.

He’s still debating the merits of sliding off onto the floor and pretending he’s been sleeping there the whole time like some parody of the gentleman he definitely isn’t, when he hears the sheriff’s footsteps pause just at the top of the staircase.

“I’m betting alpha werewolves are light sleepers,” the sheriff whispers into the quiet, obviously not talking to himself. “And I’ve been reliably informed that you can hear me at this volume from an even greater distance than this, so I’m going to assume this is sufficient for what I have to say.”

Derek holds his breath. He has no idea what to expect here, but feels it’s ominous that the man chose to talk to him in a way that prevents Derek from responding.

“So here goes nothing. Derek? You hurt him, I’ll kill you. You let anyone else, werewolf or otherwise, hurt him, and I don’t think I’ll have to kill you, will I? Because you’ll probably do the job for me. If I ever suspect Stiles has started lying to me again, about anything, I will make your life more hell than it probably already is. And if I ever catch either of you less than fully clothed together, I will arrest you. I'm going to say that again. If I ever catch either of you less than fully clothed together, because I didn't avert my eyes in time, or you stupidly left the door open, I will arrest you. Just so we’re clear." There's the hint of a smirk in his tone. Derek can't even begin to believe he's actually implying what he's implying. "Also. Breakfast is at nine and you’re staying for it.”

The sheriff starts to move again, two steps toward his own bedroom, then stops and sighs. Waits several beats in the dark before running a weary hand over his presumably weary face and saying, “Please be kind to him. I know it’s not... I know neither of you exactly specialize in that, and maybe that’s part of the appeal. I couldn’t say. But please. Try to learn to be kind to each other. I’ve seen the potential for it in both of you. And if you could maybe foster that a bit, the effort would not go amiss.”

He stands there a moment longer, and then quietly makes his way to his room.

Derek lets out a held breath and pulls Stiles a little closer.

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes up with the sun rise, and for a long stretch of seconds he can’t figure out why. The only reason to ever wake up this early is if someone is in mortal peril and last time he checked they’d defeated the latest big bad two weeks ago.

But then, slowly, he becomes aware of the pressure and heat along his side, of the gentle snuffling of someone else breathing while asleep, and he almost laughs out loud in some punch-drunk combination of disbelief and happiness. He doesn’t know what else to do. This is insane. Derek Hale is asleep in his bed, half on top of Stiles, stubble prickling at Stiles collar bone where the stretched neckline of his T-shirt reveals it.

Stiles turns his head a little and just stares. This is probably creepy, but it doesn’t quite feel real enough for him to care. It’s way too early and this is all way too unbelievable.

Derek is startlingly beautiful up close. The man is gorgeous no matter what way you cut it, but up close he’s ethereal. Long, dark eyelashes splayed across sharp cheekbones. Broad shoulders giving way to taught muscles that from this angle look like they were carved into some priceless stone, the lines of them clear and hard. Stiles wants to runs his fingers along them, but is uncertain about what exactly is allowed. He wants everything, but the potential consequences of being presumptuous when it comes to Derek's body keep him frozen.

Derek wakes in shifts, blinking blearily at Stiles until he’s fully conscious, and then a small smile forms on his lips.

Stiles’ answering grin is maybe a little over the top, but never let it be said that Stiles Stilinski does anything halfway. And, damn it, he’s happy right now. And Derek is smiling. And Stiles really wants to kiss him, but can’t decide if it’s the wanting to that’s more surprising or the knowledge that, based on Derek's current expression, he can act on that want without risking evisceration.

“Your dad knows I’m here,” Derek says softly, voice rough with sleep. It feels like the entire world has been narrowed down to just: the space between them in this bed, the sheets wrapped around them, warmed by their body heat, the soft words. It feels like they could just stay lying here indefinitely, Derek’s hand on Stiles’ stomach where his thumb absently strokes circles across Stiles’ shirt.

“He does?”

“He told me to be ‘kind’ to you.”

Stiles pulls a face and Derek huffs a quiet laugh. “He also said I have to stay for breakfast.”

“Well then I hope you like cold cereal and pop tarts because that’s pretty much what counts for breakfast around here. Dad doesn’t trust me with the stove and I don’t trust him with food that’s not prepackaged. We end up eating out a lot. If you’re lucky there’ll be coffee, but it’s the same crap they have down at the station and we’re out of sugar, so.”

“Sounds like the breakfast invite was more of a punishment than an olive branch.”

Stiles smirks. “Welcome to the family.”

Derek seems to hesitate for a split second, before steeling himself like what he’s about to say requires his entire reserve of courage. “I could make eggs, if you have them.”

Whoa. Derek’s offering to cook for him.

“We do.” Stiles grins. “I could maybe burn some toast to go with.”

It’s a pretty half-assed contribution to the breakfast making team, but Derek smiles in understanding at the gesture. They’ll do it together. They’ll share the weight between them.

Ugh, they haven’t even had sex yet and Stiles is already becoming a sap about this.

They take turns showering, and then pad downstairs in sleep-rumpled t-shirts, yesterday’s jeans and bare feet. Despite the domesticity of it, or maybe because of it, breakfast turns out to be the most fun Stiles has ever had before 8 AM that didn’t involve jerking off. Derek scrambles eggs, while Stiles burns toast and manages to create something like coffee out of the dregs in the bottom of the bag his dad stole from work.

But the toast is fine with enough jelly on it, and the coffee is palatable if it’s more milk than not. Derek covers the eggs in cheese and diced onions. And somehow it’s just... It’s good. Stiles hasn’t had a hot breakfast since his mom was alive. Hasn’t helped someone prepare a meal in just as long. It makes him want to hug Derek, or maybe blow him, he’s not sure.

They’re just sitting down when his dad appears, standing in the doorway and blinking dumbly at the sight of actual food on the table. “Huh,” he says. Which might as well be a standing ovation for all Stiles is concerned.

Watching his dad not-so-subtly interrogate and threaten Derek while they all eat is possibly even more fun than cooking was, but this is only because Stiles is a little shit who enjoys poking grumpy predators with sticks. Whatever. Derek knew what he was getting into.

His dad leaves for work afterwards with a warning to Stiles not to spend the whole day in front of the TV. “Or lying around in bed,” he adds casually enough, but with a pointed side-glance at Derek. Stiles can't find it in himself to flush at that, because he's too busy being floored by the implied permission. By the ease with which his father is acknowledging this and allowing it.

“That was the most uncomfortable hour of your entire life, wasn’t it?” Stiles smirks the moment the patrol car has pulled out of the drive.

Derek shrugs. “There were a couple hours locked in a bank vault that might have it beat.”

“I resent that. I was awesome company.”

“You nearly died.”

One side of Stiles’ mouth quirks up, but he bites down on his bottom lip before the grin that wants to break free can. “I nearly die a lot. Are you going to get all huffy about it every time?”

Derek rolls his eyes, but steps forward, into Stiles’ space. “You’re fishing.”

“Damn straight I’m fishing. Come on, make me blush. Tell me how heartbroken you’d be if anything ever happened to me.” Stiles steps forward as well and suddenly there’s barely a couple inches between them. He spares a side-glance down at the couch beside them. “You know, this is almost the exact same spot where feelings were confessed to last night.”

Derek snorts. “You’re ridiculous.”

“And you are taking your sweet time getting this repeat performance started already.”

Just like that, Derek’s on him. They fall back onto the couch, a mess of limbs and quiet laughter that’s possibly an even bigger turn on than the full body contact is. They’re having fun. And for some reason that’s kind of insanely hot.

Stiles doesn’t know what he was expecting. Or maybe it’s just that he never had the chance to expect anything. Everything about this, even the idea of it, still feels so new that every single detail ends up being a surprise.

One of those surprises is how Derek kisses, soft and dragging. His fingers trail up and down Stiles’ ribs, over his shirt, until on one uptick he drags the shirt along with his hands so that it bunches up around Stiles’ chest.

And then the kiss turns deeper, slower, full of the kind of intent that has Stiles panting wetly against Derek's lips. Derek pulls away to trail down with soft nuzzles of his nose and mouth and breathy kisses along Stiles' sternum, down his stomach, to the fly of Stiles' jeans where Derek presses in with his lips and the tip of his tongue, like he wants to get inside without bothering to take them off first.

He stays there a long moment, just breathing against Stiles’ skin, before looking up. “I should--“ Derek clears his throat gruffly, looking dazed. “I should go.”

“Uh, no you shouldn’t.”

Derek shakes his head a little as if to clear it, but his pupils are still blown and he hasn’t actually pulled away from Stiles yet, the stubble along his jaw tickling lightly over Stiles’ abdomen every time Stiles inhales.

“I don’t want you to feel like you have to-- You shouldn’t just jump into this because you think I won’t stick around if you don’t.”

“I-- really?” Stiles gawks at him. “You think I’m honestly worried that you’ll, what, leave if I don’t put out? I do know you a little better than that, Derek.”

“Look, I know that I’ve largely been the reluctant party here. That I’ve gone back and forth on you a lot. And I don’t want you to do anything just because you think I’ll change my mind again if you don’t. If you feel like there’ll be repercussions or-- Just. That’s not how consent works.”

God, Derek’s trying so hard it looks like it physically hurts him. Like he’s straining every single supernaturally enhanced muscle in his body towards attempting to not fuck this up. Stiles doesn’t know whether to smack him or kiss him.

“This is me consenting, okay? This is me giving all of the consent. So much consent over here, oh my god you would not believe. There is nothing about going into this that I don’t whole-heartedly approve of and endorse, and I’ll freaking go get that statement drawn up and notarized if you want.”

Derek’s expression is more constipated than convinced, though, so Stiles takes a deep, steadying breath, and says as seriously as he’s able to when most of his blood supply is still headed down instead of up, “I trust you. And I know you wouldn’t be here at all if you didn’t mean it. So if there’s something you don’t want to do, then that’s fine, no pressure. But you don’t have to worry about me, because I wouldn’t be here either if I didn’t mean it.”

“I always worry about you,” Derek whispers, but Stiles’ words must have done the trick because it seems almost perfunctory as Derek shifts back up and catches Stiles’ lips in a biting kiss.

Derek leans back just enough to strip Stiles of his shirt and toss it over the side of the couch, followed quickly by his own, and then, wow, that’s a lot of skin. This is really happening. Derek’s hands go to Stiles’ fly, but he hesitates again. Stiles groans and kicks him in the shin. “Dude, we are all systems go for launch, okay? Lift off already. Christ.”

Derek gives him a withering look, and then, as if just to spite him, undoes Stiles’ jeans and pulls them all the way off with more force than strictly necessary. Like he just wants to prove Stiles wrong about his hesitancy, and yep, that definitely answers that question. Their sex life is going to be just like everything else between them, isn’t it? Stiles surprises himself by grinning at the thought. He suspects the sex equivalent of competitive banter is going to be awesome.

Derek hooks his thumbs into Stiles’ underwear and pulls them down to mid-thigh, the backs of them dragging roughly between Stiles’ ass and the couch cushions along the way. Stiles’ erection strains up towards his stomach, red and leaking, and without any further warning, Derek takes him in his mouth.

Stiles groans loudly as the head of his dick hits the warm, wet inside of Derek’s cheek. Derek sucks him in even further, and Stiles practically bucks his hips up at the pulling sensation, at the way it feels like Derek is literally going to suck his orgasm out of him, tongue pressed tight against the underside of Stiles’ cock.

Then Derek’s tongue starts to move, laving at the underside, swirling up over the head in tight circles, then back down as Derek starts to bob up and down. One of Derek’s hands holds Stiles steady at his abdomen, thumb trailing teasingly along the line of hair there, while the other cups his balls, slides back to brush two dry fingers briefly across Stiles’ hole.

It’s embarrassingly quick.

“I’m gonna-- Derek, I--“ Stiles’ hands scrabble at Derek’s shoulders. But Derek just bobs his head up and down, quick and hot, before pushing down almost all the way to the root and swallowing just as Stiles comes down his throat with a sharp gasp.

The sound of Derek pulling off his softening dick is obscene. Even more so when Derek just sits back on his haunches, swipes a thumb across his spit and come slicked lips, then sucks his thumb into his mouth and swallows around it, his eyes never leaving Stiles, his own dick straining against his jeans.

“Holy shit, dude,” Stiles breathes. He feels like he could get hard again right now, just from the view. His cock certainly wants to, oversensitive and spent as it is. “I’m never looking at this couch the same way again.”

Derek rolls his eyes, but he’s smirking now, small and amused and fuck if his gaze hasn’t gone from lusting to fond. Stiles is so screwed. In more ways than one, clearly.

“Come here,” Stiles says, beckoning with a limp hand. His voice has gone suspiciously rough with an emotion he knows better than to try and label while post-coital.

Derek leans over him, bracing himself on his elbows. Stiles eyes Derek’s flexed biceps as they bracket him in, and he lightly kisses a tendon. Immediately feels like an idiot for it, but when he glances back up, Derek’s still got this look on his face like Stiles hung the freaking moon, so he figures it’s okay.

Stiles kisses him sloppily, tasting himself on Derek’s tongue. He still feels boneless and raw from basically the best, if quickest, orgasm of his entire life, but there is no way this going to be over already. Not on his watch.

Stiles fumbles his fingers at the hem of Derek’s jeans. “Off, off,” he mutters into Derek’s mouth. Derek has to sit back to comply, but then he’s on Stiles again with werewolf speed, licking into his mouth like he’ll drown without it.

Stiles snakes a hand between them and into Derek’s boxer briefs, and takes hold of Derek’s cock, jerking it casually up and down a few times. The weight and thickness of it are different from his own. Heavier, slightly broader, and uncut, which is... Stiles thinks he might like that a little more than is relatively normal. Or is everyone just as turned on and fascinated by the feel of another man’s foreskin in his hand, pulling back and forth over the head? He wants to see it. Wants to taste it maybe. Wants... Fuck, he wants everything and he doesn’t even know where to start.

Derek keens. Like just a handjob would be enough for him to become thoroughly undone. It’s a heady thought. But Stiles wants this to be good. He wants Derek to only ever associate this with good things, with amazing things. He wants Derek to think of sex with Stiles as nothing like what he’s so obviously associated with sex in the past.

And so Stiles thinks, let’s go for broke. He’s loose and still impossibly aroused and some nonsensical part of his brain wants desperately to just pull Derek into him, to make their bodies even closer than they already are.

“So I think you should put your dick in me.”

Derek chokes. Then groans, and not in the good way, dropping his head onto Stiles’ shoulder. “You wanna try that sentence again? Maybe in a way that doesn’t kill my erection on contact?”

Stiles smacks him on one of his perfectly chiseled pecs. “My sincerest freaking apologies that my brain-to-mouth filter just got shot out through my dick a minute ago. If you were expecting poetry, you came to the wrong guy. Now do you wanna fuck me or not?”

Derek is quiet for a long moment. Stiles can’t see his expression and starts to fidget, nervous that maybe he crossed a line. Maybe he should have just stuck with the handjob and worked his way up to actual penetration. In hindsight that seems like the smarter play.

Then Derek lifts his head and stares down at him, all serious and meaningful. “Do you want me to?”

Stiles licks his lips. “I, uh. Well, I want to make you feel good? Shit, that sounds so cheesy. But I just, I want to make you feel as good as I do--hell, better if possible, though I don’t think it is--and if fucking me is something that you’d like, I think I’d enjoy it too.” Stiles scrubs a hand over his face. “I’ve totally killed the mood now, haven’t I? Fuck. I’m going to reiterate now the fact that I’ve never done this before and that comment cards are conveniently located at all exits.”

Derek shakes his head and sits back, pulling Stiles up with him so that they're sitting in each other’s laps. “Let’s go upstairs. I’m not defiling your dad’s son and his sofa on the same day.”

Stiles pulls his underwear back up as he stands, though his eyes remain trained on Derek’s cock, still impressively hard inside his boxer briefs. His erection doesn't appear to have diminished much during the conversation. So either Stiles isn’t as embarrassing verbally as he feared, or, more likely, Derek’s just that into him. Which is kind of a mind blowing thought.

Once in the bedroom, Stiles doesn’t even bother with the door, just shoves at Derek, hands on every inch of him, until Derek finally gets the point and lets himself be manhandled onto the bed.

A decent orgasm usually calms Stiles, sets him on a peaceful setting that he rarely ever hits otherwise. But that setting seems broken today, because Stiles feels energized again, propelled by happiness and inquisitiveness and desire. He clambers on top of Derek, breathless and grinning. “I just. I want to kiss you again.”

Derek bites back an answering grin. “Feel free.”

“Anywhere?”

Derek chuckles. Stiles ducks his head and places his parted lips over Derek’s heart. Doesn’t even know why he does it exactly, except that he wants to taste more skin, and he wants to feel something new against his tongue, and he has this vague half-formed thought in the back of his mind that he would like to swallow up Derek’s heart beat, feel the rhythm slide down his throat and settle warm in his gut. It’s silly and ridiculously poetic for a guy who just claimed he wasn’t the one to go to for poetry, but he keeps his mouth pressed there for a moment anyway. Then licks up to Derek’s collarbone and kisses it lightly.

Derek sighs a soft, contented sound, and then abruptly rolls them until he’s hovering over Stiles, straddling him, with a smirk. He shifts backwards, moving his legs in and gently pushing Stiles’ thighs to either side so that he can rest between them. He loops one arm under Stiles’ knees and lifts up until Stiles' ass and legs are in the air and he's practically sitting on his own shoulders. Stiles doesn’t have time to feel ridiculous by the position before Derek’s using his other hand to spread Stiles’ ass cheeks and licks a stripe from his hole to his balls. It sends a shiver like a rocket down Stiles’ spine. Derek does it again, then kisses, open-mouthed and wet, right over Stiles’ entrance. He works his tongue methodically against the rim, just managing to slip the tip inside.

“Holy G-- Oh fuck.” Stiles makes a noise that might be classified as a whine, high-pitched and trapped in the back of his throat. His dick makes a valiant effort to rejoin the party, and Stiles suspects at this rate in another few minutes it’ll actually succeed.

Derek lowers him back down onto the mattress and leans diagonally across him to reach for the lube and condoms. Stiles is just going to ignore how the hell Derek knows where they are without having to ask.

“I’ve actually never done this before,” Derek says while he's still leaning away, face hidden, with a forced casual tone that Stiles learned to see through a while ago.

When Derek is sitting back with supplies in hand, Stiles gapes at him for a split second. Then grins. "Cool. I kinda like that I get to be your first too.”

Derek smiles back at him, and his tense shoulders relax marginally, but he still looks down at the lube in his hand like it might eat him. So Stiles takes it from him and opens it up. “Well I’ve definitely at least done this much before, so I’ll start, okay?”

Stiles has two fingers knuckle-deep in himself--Derek watching with shallow breaths and blown pupils from his front row seat--when he feels a third digit that isn’t his own start to probe around the area.

Derek teases there for a moment, and then slowly starts to slip in one slick finger in the same rhythm as Stiles’ two, Derek’s knuckle sliding against Stiles’ rim in a way that makes Stiles’ toes curl slightly because that is someone else’s finger inside of him.

Stiles is about to slip in another one, but Derek beats him to it, and now there are four fingers in him and only half of them are his own and Derek looks like he’s about to pass out from arousal. Like he could come, untouched, just from watching this.

Stiles is panting now, feeling like he’s just run a marathon. And they haven’t even gotten to the actual screwing yet, dear god. “I want-- Oh God, I-- Seriously, man, I need you inside of me like yesterday.”

Derek huffs a quiet laughs and mutters, “We’re gonna have to work on your dirty talk.”

“Or you could just make me shut up and--“ But then Derek’s slipping his fingers out, taking Stiles’ with him, and lining up the head of his cock, somehow already in the condom and slick--when the hell did he do that--and it’s-- oh wow, that is... Fuck.

They set the pace together, slow at first, Derek pushing in as Stiles arches up to meet him and bottom out. Then back down and away, Derek almost pulling out completely before they come together again at the last possible moment. The intrusion aches at first, the stretch still a bit of a burn even after prep, but he gets used to it quickly and is too turned on to pay much attention to it anyway.

Sex is nothing at all how Stiles imagined it. He always thought he’d have to play sexy and suave. Would have to be some version of himself that he’s never actually met before. But it turns out he’s just him, and Derek is just Derek, and they’re more or less having a conversation with their bodies. It feels like the most enjoyable argument he’s ever had. It feels fun and hot and the kind of meaningful that no one needs to address out loud to know is there, just beneath the surface of the circumstances, a pleasant weight, a kind of gentle anchor.

Stiles is fully hard again now, just from this, but needs more, needs to be touched. “Derek...” His gasps swallow up the rest of his plea, but Derek understands. He wraps one hand around Stiles’ cock and starts jerking in time to his thrusts. Stiles’ legs start to give out--he really should have taken cross-country more seriously, apparently--but Derek’s other arm wraps around him and holds him up, basically doing all of the work at this point, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He seems to love it, and Stiles goes a little more boneless just to watch Derek take up all his weight on one arm while still both thrusting and jerking him off. Stiles goes completely limp at the sight, and then he’s coming all over himself and Derek’s hand.

A second later Derek’s rhythm stutters, and then he’s slamming into Stiles once, twice, hard enough to bruise, and then slumping over with a moan as he comes as well.

It takes a moment of heavy breathing, neither of them moving, before Derek slowly pulls out and falls over to the side. The loss feels strange, almost distracting, like it’s wrong to be this empty, but Stiles is too sex-happy to dwell on it. Derek ties off the condom and tosses it in the nearby wastebasket, and then settles into the mattress like he refuses to ever leave it again.

“I’m really glad no one’s trying to kill us right now,” Stiles says, lazily rolling into Derek and throwing an arm across his chest.

Derek starts to smile back, then turns his head and buries it in Stiles’ neck. “Me too,” he mumbles into the skin, and the vibration tickles.

“And I’m really glad you finally got your head out of your ass about everything.”

Derek’s muffled groan is eternally long-suffering. “Stiles.”

“And also I think we might be soulmates maybe.”

Derek raises his head to prop his chin on Stiles’ chest, and he narrows his eyes. “What,” he says, flat.

“It’s just a theory I’m kicking around. You know, fate and whatnot. Balance. All that good stuff.”

“There’s no such thing as soulmates, Stiles.”

Stiles smirks. “There’s no such thing as werewolves.”

Derek rolls his eyes and falls over onto his side. “I regret ever meeting you.”

Stiles turns over so that they’re facing each other and schools his features into something a little more serious. He places a tentative hand on Derek’s chest, fingers tapping out some improvised pattern that he keeps his gaze focused on, too nervous suddenly to see Derek’s response to his words. “Look, I’m just saying that I... that this is important. That’s all. I just wanted to say that. To make sure you knew that I don’t take any of this lightly and that there are feelings here. Like, significant feelings, that I don’t feel comfortable naming yet because we haven’t even technically been out on a date or anything, but they’re there. And I wanted to make sure you knew that.”

“Stiles,” Derek cups his jaw and lifts it up, forcing Stiles to meet his gaze. “I don’t make these kinds of choices lightly, you know. I... I don’t have friends, remember?”

Stiles nods, recalling this particular conversation a little too well, a sinking feeling in his gut as to where Derek might possibly be going with this. “And you don’t have anything more than that either.”

“Right. I have enemies and I have pack. That’s it. That’s how my life works. And if you’re not either of those things--”

“Then you’re not anything,” Stiles interrupts, and the words feel like cement blocks on his ribcage.

“No,” Derek says. “Then you’re you.” And Derek kisses him, so sweet and gentle it feels like more of a confession than his words did. When Derek breaks it he doesn’t pull away, but nuzzles in close and sighs with his whole body. “That’s how my life works now. I have enemies and I have pack and I have you. And only one of those things feels like something I chose because I wanted to.”

Stiles swallows roughly and wraps both arms around Derek, lightly trailing his fingertips up and down Derek’s back. He wants to say something more, to tell Derek that he understands, that he feels the same, and that this moment right here is literally the only place he wants to occupy in the entire history of the world.

But Stiles doesn’t know what those words would look like. And doesn’t know how to turn them into something that Derek would accept and understand. Instead, he laughs softly against Derek’s temple.

“What?” Derek asks.

“Nothing. I just... You were right. That first time we were stuck in that stupid bank vault. We aren’t a timebomb, are we? We didn’t end in cataclysm or whatever.”

Derek hums sleepily, and asks as if he’s only half aware that he’s even speaking anymore, “So what did we end in then, Stiles?”

Stiles breathes in deep the smells of sex, of Derek, of cotton sheets in afternoon sunlight. He notes every point of contact between their two bodies, the feel of skin on skin on skin, the course hair around Derek’s dick scratchy against his thigh, the soft hair at Derek’s nape gentle against his palm.

“We didn’t,” Stiles answers him softly. “We didn’t end in anything. You and I don’t do endings. We do near-deaths. We do ‘surviving by the skin of our teeth.’ Another tally mark in the ‘narrowly escaping certain doom’ column, right? And there’s always gonna be more certain doom, Derek. Always. And you and I are always going to have another mark to make when it’s all over.”

Chapter Text

As it happens, Deaton’s threats of something worse than death are only able to keep Alfie the witch in line for about a month. The Argents keep an eye on him during that time, but the moment they let their guard down he disappears, only to reappear briefly, two days later, for the express purpose of kidnapping Derek. Because of course he does.

Derek doesn’t know if this has to do with the spell they reversed, or some different spell entirely, or just your standard run-of-the-mill revenge play, but regardless, it still isn’t that much of a surprise when Stiles gets shoved into his cell with him about six hours later.

“Fancy meeting you here.” Stiles leers.

Derek huffs an unamused laugh. “You’ve been a bad influence on me. I was actually starting to believe our relationship would somehow keep us from ending up in situations like this again.”

“Shut up, I still stand by my theory.”

“Really?” Derek raises an eyebrow and glances around pointedly at their surroundings.

“Yes, really. This wasn’t an accident. We’re here together for a reason.”

Derek nods, mock-serious. “Of course. It’s fate. We’re meant to be.”

Stiles scowls and smacks him upside the head. “No, you douche. When I found out that Little Alfie Fuckface had nabbed you, I let myself get captured too.”

“You what?” Derek roars.

“Jesus, calm down. I’m not an idiot, I didn’t just do it to be with you in your final hours. Deaton put a tracking spell thingamajig on me. The cavalry should be here any minute now.”

Derek forces a calming breath and rolls his shoulders back to release the sudden tension. The both of them are still being held prisoner by a psychopath wielding dark magic, but at least Stiles isn’t as much of a moron as he sometimes acts. Small favors, right?

“Sorry,” Derek sighs. “That was good thinking.”

Stiles gapes at him and then clutches one hand over his heart. “Did you just apologize and compliment me? I think I might faint.”

“Shut up.”

“You shut up.”

“Mature, Stiles.”

“Your face is mature.”

Derek bangs his head back against the brick wall he’s leaning against, and bemoans to whoever might be listening--Fate or God or Little Alfie Fuckface, whoever--that this is the person he’s fallen in love with.

“Whoa, hold on, back up,” Stiles says, wide-eyed. “I need an instant replay on that last part please.”

Derek grits his teeth and silently reminds himself of what really matters here. Because the loving Stiles? Yeah, that’s important, that’s more important than anyone could ever know. But the letting himself love Stiles kind of feels like the bigger leap. And the final leg of that journey is admitting to it.

“I’m in love with you,” Derek repeats, like it’s a chore. Then sighs heavily. “Obviously.”

“Oh, well, yeah. Obviously,” Stiles says, sarcastic and biting. “It’s a good thing neither of us was the ‘dream wedding scrapbook’ type, otherwise this moment would be a major letdown.”

Derek scowls. “Could we maybe wait for this supposed cavalry of yours to show up before we try to hash out the details of our epic love story? I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Stiles hangs his head and presses his palms into his temples. “Derek,” he says, staring at the floor, sounding like he’s willing himself to be more patient than they both know he really is. “Let’s just pretend for a second that this is the last time we’ll ever be locked up together by the monster of the week. Farfetched, I know, but just go with me on this. Let’s pretend that this is the last time either of us will ever be forced into confined quarters with the other. Now. Is there anything you would want to tell me, if that were the case?”

Derek purses his lips. “No,” he grits out.

And Stiles... He smiles? “Okay. And is there anything you would want to tell me if we were here of our own free will?”

Derek sighs again, but it’s not quite so heavy. “In that case, I would tell you I’m in love with you. Which I literally just said. Stop being a dick about it.”

Stiles grins, wide and beautiful. “Alright, sorry. And I’m in love with you too, ass-hat. By the way.”

“Good to know,” Derek tells him, dry, but he suspects the fact that his heart is bursting at the seams might not be as well hidden as he’d like.

There are the muffled noises of fighting from somewhere above, and what sounds a lot like laser beam sound effects from out of a scifi film that must be Alfie's magical defenses.

“Oh hey, the cavalry,” Stiles says, casual as can be. Like he’s just checking ‘imminent rescue’ off his grocery list. “You know, sometimes I wonder what it means that Scott’s constantly playing the role of our knight in shining armor. That we’re so bad at saving ourselves.”

“I imagine it just means that Scott’s the real hero around here.” Which Derek isn’t bitter about. Not exactly. Not anymore.

“And we’re the two bumbling sidekicks? Yeah, that sounds about right. Honestly, I’m just grateful you get to play damsel in distress with me. Feels a lot less emasculating when a two hundred pound alpha werewolf can’t seem to get his shit together either.”

Derek shakes his head. “I sincerely don’t know why I like you.”

“You don’t. You love me.”

“I’m considering punching you in the throat.”

“Aw. You should definitely include that one in your wedding vows.” Stiles sidles up to him then, grinning like a lunatic. But Derek, god help him, finds it so ridiculously endearing he kind of wants to put his fist through the wall just to feel like himself again.

“I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not,” Stiles says, all mock innocence and Bambi eyes, “but in all of our many adventures in getting our asses handed to us while we wait for Scott to show up, we’ve not once capitalized on the opportunity to suck face.”

“You consider sitting in a damp cell in a witch’s basement an opportunity for romantic overtures?”

“Hell yeah. Enclosed spaces are, like, our thing. It’s perfect.” He darts his face in close, so that his slightly parted lips brush teasingly over Derek’s, and he looks up at Derek through his eyelashes.

“I don’t know,” Derek breathes. “This place is pretty spacious compared to what we usually deal with.”

Stiles shrugs a little. “Can’t win ‘em all. Next time around I’ll be sure to request another broom closet. Or, ooh, how about those shackles again? That could be fun.”

Derek manfully resists rolling his eyes, and just concentrates on kissing the hell out of Stiles.

“Ugh, seriously?” Scott’s voice from the now open doorway has them jumping away from each other. Stiles looks pretty thoroughly debauched, and even though Derek’s certain he looks the same, he can’t help his satisfied smile at being responsible for it.

Stiles grins. “Sorry, man, you took too long. Had to stay entertained somehow.”

“I was five minutes behind you!” Scott shakes his head. “Whatever. You two are gross and there’s a body upstairs that I could use some help with.”

“Ten-four, Scotty. We’ll be right with you.”

Scott doesn’t look like he believes Stiles for a second. “You know what, I think me and Deaton got this one. You guys just... do your thing.” He turns and heads back up the stairs, pausing briefly to call back down, “And try not to kill each other!”

Stiles turns to Derek with a frown. “It’s worrying that that advice is just as relevant now as it was before we started boning.”

“It’s worrying that I’m in love with someone who uses words like ‘boning’ in casual conversation.”

Stiles smiles again, but it’s no longer leering or mischievous. It’s small and private and makes Derek’s chest ache. “Look, I know we’ve only been doing this, whatever this is, for a couple of weeks now, but... I just wanted to say, for the record, that I wasn’t kidding before. I really am in love with you.”

Derek places his hand on the side of Stiles’ neck. “I know. Me too.” He leans in until they’re not quite touching, just content to hover there for a moment, breathing each other’s air, being close.

“We should get a move on, though,” Stiles says as he disentangles himself. “I have it on good authority that fate seems to want me on top of you.” He winks.

Derek groans. “I am ignoring every word that comes out of your mouth for the rest of the day.”

Stiles just scoffs and leads the way out of their prison. Derek follows closely behind, one hand reaching out towards Stiles as if magnetized. As if they really are drawn to each other by mysterious forces out of their control.

Derek doesn’t mind it now, if he ever really did. He’d choose to reach for Stiles anyway.