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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.