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Sweet Tooth

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“Derek Hale’s back in town,” Stiles said animatedly as he slid into the booth across from Scott at the Beacon Hills’ Diner.

Without looking away from the flyer he was reading, Scott made a noncommital sound that meant he’d heard what Stiles said, but didn’t care all that much about the content.

“Dude,” Stiles said. “Derek Hale.”

“I heard,” Scott said distractedly.

“Then why are you not as interested in this bit of news as I am?”

“Because I’m not the one who had a crush on him in grade school?” Scott guessed.

“I did not have a . . . okay, fine,” Stiles amended at Scott’s look. “But it was a very manly crush.”

“You wrote his name in your notebook and drew hearts around it.”

“Are you calling me a girl?”

“If the pink glitter pen fits . . . ,” Scott said, grinning.

“I hate you. But, for your information, I was jealous of his muscles. And I was right to be, because he has filled out quite nicely. And besides, the glitter pen was purple.”

Scott’s face did this weird thing that meant he really didn’t want to know about Derek’s muscles.

Stiles continued despite Scott’s grimace. Or maybe because of it. “He was out running this morning. I drove past him, and when I realized who it was I may have stared in the rearview mirror. A little too long and nearly hit a tree.”

Scott laughed. “That sounds about right. Now, if you’re done waxing your legs over Derek Hale, I have some news, too.”

“I think you mean . . . never mind. What’s your news? Though I doubt it could be anywhere near as good as seeing Derek’s abs. What?” Stiles said at Scott’s look. “He had his shirt off. It was an invitation to look. Which I did. Long and hard, let me tell you.”

“Please don’t.”

Stiles grinned. “Fine, tell me your news.”

Scott pushed the flyer across the table to Stiles. “The ice cream place is reopening.”

“No way!” Stiles said, snatching up the flyer to see for himself.

The Beacon Hills Ice Cream Parlor, a fixture in Beacon Hills for as long as Stiles could remember, had closed when the owner passed away and none of his children or grandchildren wanted to keep it running. Stiles had been a junior in high school and had mourned its loss for months.

Derek Hale had returned to Beacon Hills and the ice cream place was reopening. “Best. Day. Ever,” Stiles told Scott.

~*~

Two days later Stiles walked past the old ice cream parlor on the way to the Sheriff’s Station. His dad had forgotten the lunch of leftovers Stiles had put together for him and Stiles knew he’d use the not-altogether-accidental oversight as an excuse to hit the drive-thru. Stiles wasn’t going to give his dad that opportunity.

The weatherbeaten sign that had hung above the door had been removed along with the rusting wrought iron arm it had swung from, and the peeling logo on the windows scraped off. The plate glass windows and the window in the top half of the front door were covered with brown paper that had COMING SOON! written large in bright red marker. The urge to reach out and try the door handle was too much for Stiles to resist. It was locked.

Saturday, one week exactly after Stiles had spotted Derek Hale jogging and learned that the ice cream parlor was reopening, he was headed to his part-time job at the local book store. He opened on Saturdays, which was fine with Stiles because that meant he had a few hours alone (or mostly alone), without any other employees or customers to break the silence. Sometimes there were boxes to unpack or window displays to set up, and other times he only had to take a duster around the shelves and make sure any books that had been left out the night before were reshelved. Occasionally he even had time to do some reading for one of his classes.

As was his new habit, when Stiles passed the ice cream parlor he tried the handle. This morning it turned in his hand. Stiles froze, hand still on the handle. He’d never really thought about what he would do if the door was ever unlocked. Stiles told himself that he should pull the door firmly shut and continue on to Cat Nap Books. But who was he kidding? Like he could ever pass up the opportunity to get a peek inside and maybe see who the new owner was?

(Stiles had quizzed his dad, but come up empty. He’d even taken to asking their regulars at the bookstore if they knew anything about the new owner or when the place was expected to open. Disappointingly, no one seemed to know. Or care as much as Stiles did about the fact that they didn’t know.)

Stiles slowly pushed the door open and poked his head inside. Lights were on and he heard someone working in the back, but there was no one out front. Stiles stepped all the way inside and closed the door behind him. There was no bell to announce his presence so he took the few seconds before he was discovered to look around. Drop cloths covered the counters and the floor. Ladders, paint cans and pieces of plywood sat around.

When Stiles’ gaze returned to the counter he jumped in surprise. A man stood there looking at him. “You . . . ,” Stiles said, pointing.

“We’re closed,” Derek Hale said.

“No. Yeah. I mean, I know. I read the sign.”

Derek’s eyebrows went up, clearly asking Stiles what he was doing there if he knew they were closed.

“I just wanted to, you know, say hi. To the new owner. So, hi. Welcome to Beacon Hills, and all that. Or, welcome back, in your case. Because you’re Derek Hale. Which you already know, of course.” Stiles knew he was babbling, but he couldn’t stop. “You probably don’t remember me. I was several years behind you in school. Stiles. Stilinski. Is my name. So.”

Stiles wiped his palms on the seat of his jeans. He didn’t know if Derek wasn’t much of a talker or if he’d been silenced by the sheer amount of words coming out of Stiles’ mouth.

“Any idea when you’re gonna open?” Stiles asked. No sense coming in if he wasn’t going to get the answer to his burning question.

Derek looked around them at the signs of on-going renovation work. “When we’re ready,” he said.

“Right,” Stiles said. “Of course. Well. I should let you get back to it, then.” Stiles took a step back towards the door. “Bye.”

Stiles turned, opened the door, and practically threw himself out of it. He pulled the door shut behind him and leaned back against it as his legs trembled and threatened to dump him on the sidewalk. Stiles jumped when the door shook with the force of the lock being thrown on the other side.

~*~

“I hate you,” Stiles said when Scott finally showed up at the diner.

Now that they were both in college (Scott by the skin of his teeth) and working part-time jobs, it was one of the few times they both had free to get together.

Scott paused as he slid into the booth, then continued the motion until he was sitting across from Stiles. “What did I do?” he asked, sounding less concerned than Stiles thought the situation warranted.

That’s what came from being best friends for, like, ever. Scott was more than used to Stiles’ melodramatics and was now more likely to roll his eyes than get caught up in them.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Derek Hale was the person reopening the ice cream parlor?” Stiles hissed across the table.

“Because I didn’t know,” Scott said reasonably. “Wait, how do you know?”

“Um,” Stiles said. “The door may have been unlocked this morning.”

“And you went inside,” Scott said, not sounding the slightest bit surprised.

“I was curious,” Stiles said.

“Of course you were. So what did you find out?”

“That Derek Hale looks good in a wife-beater.”

Scott’s face did that thing that meant he really didn’t want to know. Stiles allowed himself a quick second to enjoy it, then hurried on.

“They’re still in the middle of renovating, no idea when they’ll open.”

“Bummer,” Scott said.

Stiles wasn’t the only one who’d mourned the closing of the Beacon Hills Ice Cream Parlor.

“I’d say, keep me informed,” Scott said, “but I’m afraid that you will.”

~*~*~*~

Despite the awkward encounter with Derek on Saturday, and the fact that brown paper continued to cover the windows and hide whatever progress was going on inside (or maybe because of that last one), Stiles couldn’t help himself trying out the handle each time he walked past the old ice cream shop. (Sometimes he even took the long way to his destination just so he could walk past.)

Stiles did a double take on Wednesday. The front door was open and someone was carrying boxes inside from the back of a pick-up truck parked at the curb. Stiles slowed his footsteps so he could assess the situation. It wasn’t Derek, because the figure had a slighter build. (Given Stiles’ near perfect memory he remembered exactly what Derek Hale looked like, even from a distance as he was forced to veer back onto the road or hit a tree.)

As he drew closer Stiles realized that he knew the guy. He recognized him from school. More specifically, from lacrosse. “Isaac, right?” Stiles said when he got close enough to speak to the guy without yelling. “Isaac Lahey?”

Isaac’s head came up in surprise that anyone had spoken to him. “Yeah,” he said, sounding kind of suspicious. Maybe Derek had warned Isaac about him. “You need something?”

“Information,” Stiles said. He indicated the shop. “I have a vested interest in knowing when this place is going to open.”

Isaac held the box of . . . floor tiles, Stiles read upside down . . . as if it weighed nothing. “What’s your vested interest?” he asked skeptically.

Stiles leaned in close, as if sharing a secret with Isaac. “Ice cream.”

“Ice cream is your vested interest,” Isaac said, looking as if he might want to smile, but wasn’t sure if he should.”

“Ice cream is everyone’s vested interest,” Stiles claimed.

“Unless you’re lactose intolerant,” Isaac rebutted.

“Wow, yeah, except for them. That would suck on an epic scale. I’m Stiles, by the way.”

“Yeah,” Isaac said, blushing for no reason that Stiles could determine. “I remember you. Scott McCall’s friend.”

Before Stiles could answer they both heard someone calling Isaac’s name from inside the shop. Derek Hale appeared in the doorway, still speaking.

“Isaac, what’s taking you so long to . . . ?” Derek’s gaze fell on Stiles. “Oh. You. I should’ve known.”

Stiles smiled and waved at Derek. Isaac looked between the two of them as if he might be considering hiding behind the pick-up.

“What are you doing here?”

“Hoping for ice cream.”

“It’s nine o’clock in the morning,” Derek pointed out. “Besides, we’re still not open yet.”

“I can see that. I’m trying to hurry things along.”

“By interrupting us while we’re trying to work.”

Hmm, point to Derek. Still, he hadn’t exactly told Stiles to get lost. Yet. Stiles winked at Isaac. “I think he likes me.”

Isaac’s eyebrows went up. Derek snorted.

“Well, I’d love to stay and chat,” Stiles said. He held up the brown bag he carried. “But I’ve got to deliver a healthy lunch to my dad so he doesn’t curly fry his way to a heart attack. I’ll stop by tomorrow to check on your progress.”

“We’ll still be closed,” Derek growled.

“When has that ever stopped me?” Stiles threw back over his shoulder.

~*~

On Friday the door opened, jerking the handle out of Stiles’ hand. Isaac smiled at the expression of surprise on Stiles’ face.

“Hi,” Isaac said, whispering.

“Hi,” Stiles whispered back.

“I’d have opened the door yesterday, but Derek was right here.”

Heat flared in Stiles’ cheeks. “You knew that was me?”

“Yeah,” Isaac said, looking a little bit twitchy. “Who else would it be?”

True. “You mean everyone else doesn’t walk by and try the handle?”

“Oddly enough, no. So, wanna come in?”

“Where’s Derek?”

“On his cell phone in the back, yelling at people who were supposed to deliver the refrigerated display case today.”

“Can I peek inside?”

“Sure.” Isaac pulled the door open and Stiles stepped past him.

Stiles froze when he got a look at the floor. They’d redone it in the same black and white squares that had been there before, though those had been yellow, scuffed, and peeling with age. Stiles blinked his eyes at the unexpected burn of tears.

“What’s wrong?” Isaac said worriedly.

“Nothing,” Stiles said. “We used to come in here when my mom was alive.” Just seeing the newly tiled floor had brought the memories flooding back.

“Yeah, me, too,” Isaac said, pulling Stiles out of his thoughts.

Stiles smiled at Isaac, and then looked around the shop. The ladder and drop cloths were gone. The walls had been covered with a fresh coat of paint, a light gray that seemed to change color depending on how Stiles looked at it. Now that the drop cloths were gone Stiles could see that a new counter had been built. There were gaps in it for the display cases Derek was reaming someone out about right that second, Stiles guessed.

“It looks good in here,” Stiles said, admiringly.

“I’m glad you approve,” Derek said wryly.

Stiles jumped. “Oh my god, don’t do that! And you!” Stiles gave Isaac a light punch to the shoulder. “You totally knew he was there, you could’ve warned me!”

“Could’ve,” Isaac agreed. He grinned. “More fun this way.”

“I don’t know why I come here,” Stiles grumbled.

“Neither do I,” Derek said pointedly.

“Ice cream,” Isaac reminded both of them.

“Which we’re not serving yet,” Derek said.

“But one day you will be, and I will be the first in line,” Stiles said.

~*~

Stiles was at the grocery store on Sunday when he ran into Derek again. Literally. It wasn’t his job to do the grocery shopping, but he’d seen what the cupboards looked like when his dad did the shopping, so Stiles took over the chore whenever he could. As he was perusing the fresh vegetables, slowly pushing his cart down the line, he bumped someone else’s cart.

Stiles jerked his head up, an apology on the tip of his tongue, to see Derek Hale glaring at him. The glare should’ve made Stiles take a step back in self-preservation, but instead it brought forth a smile.

“Hey,” Stiles said.

Derek’s eyebrows drew down. Stiles pondered how unfair it was that Derek could even look good when he was glaring so fiercely at him.

“You’re not stalking me, are you?” Stiles said. “‘Cause that would just be creepy.” And watched Derek’s expression go even more glower-y, which he hadn’t thought possible.

“Just joking,” Stiles said. “I know you’re not stalking me. That was, you know, a joke.”

Derek’s eyebrows very clearly said, ‘It wasn’t funny.’

Stiles had thought it was funny, but what did he know? He sought something else to talk about. “So, vegetables,” Stiles said. “I wouldn’t have picked you for a fresh vegetable kind of guy.” For some odd reason the image of Derek tearing into a slab of raw steak came to mind.

“Everyone eats vegetables,” Derek said, and then looked surprised that he’d spoken.

Stiles snorted. “Unless you believe that curly fries are a food group and think the fact that you’re the Sheriff means you get to outlaw vegetables in your own home.”

The corners of Derek’s mouth almost twitched. “Your dad?”

“According to my dad, the only good vegetable is the vegetable that’s on someone else’s plate. Sometimes I cover them with cheese to get him to eat them, which kind of defeats the purpose. It’s like living with a finicky five year old.”

Before Derek could answer, if he’d been going to, another voice reached Stiles’ ears.

“Derek, what is taking you so long to get vegetables?”

A tall blonde wearing leather and . . . more leather came around the end of the aisle. Her entire posture screamed out her annoyance. Her eyes were on Derek, but when she saw Stiles her expression changed.

“Ahhh, I see,” she said knowingly.

“No, you don’t,” Derek snarled.

Stiles wondered what she thought she knew. She looked at Stiles like she wanted to eat him up, but she appeared unfazed by the glare Derek shot her, so Stiles decided that he liked her. Though it might’ve been safer had he decided that ignoring Derek made her even more scary.

“Hi,” Stiles said, offering an awkward wave. “I’m Stiles.”

“I know,” she said. She waited, then gave up on whatever she’d been waiting for. “You really don’t remember me, do you?”

“Um, no?” Stiles patted himself on the back when he successfully kept his eyes above her neck and didn’t say anything trite (and possibly life-ending), such as, ‘I’d remember someone who looked like you.’ He did have a survival instinct, even if he sometimes ignored it.

“Erica,” the blonde (Erica, apparently) finally said. “We went to school together.”

“We did?” Stiles said. Because, really, he was pretty sure that he would remember someone who looked like Erica did going to Beacon Hills High. If only to stay out of her way. She looked like she liked to play rough with her toys. Stiles shook his head. “Sorry.”

“That’s alright,” Erica said. “I’ve changed a bit since graduation.”

Stiles thought he heard Derek snort at that, but his expression didn’t change so it was tough to tell.

“So,” Stiles said, gesturing between Erica and Derek. “Are you two, uh . . . .”

The words were spoken with only a small pang of regret. It wasn’t as if he was under any illusion that he and Derek were in the same league.

Erica laughed. “Us?” she said, making her own gesture between herself and Derek. “No.” Her gaze raked Stiles from head to toe. It was so heated that he had to glance down to make sure his clothes hadn’t spontaneously combusted.

“He’s not my type,” Erica drawled.

Stiles didn’t think fear was the correct response to a beautiful woman implying that you were her type. Though probably the smart one in this case.

“Erica,” Derek growled.

Derek looked annoyed. Stiles wasn’t sure if it was because Erica had said he wasn’t her type, or implied that Stiles was. Erica didn’t look the slightest bit apologetic. Her grin got even more feral when Stiles nervously cleared his throat.

“Well, um, this has been fun, but I should . . . .” Stiles flailed his hand about.

“Yes,” Derek said. “Let’s go,” he told Erica.

Derek steered his cart around Stiles without saying goodbye.

“Rude much?” Stiles said to Derek’s back, then ‘eep’d when Erica glanced back over her shoulder and waved at him.

“See you later, Stiles,” Erica called back.

Stiles wasn’t sure if it was a promise or a threat. Maybe a little bit of both.

~*~*~*~

Monday morning, before Stiles realized what a bad idea it might be, he reached out to try the door at the old ice cream place. The door was yanked open before Stiles’ fingers touched the handle and he was dragged inside. Stiles had his mouth open to, well, probably scream, but before he could get a word out he’d been shoved back against the closed door and Erica had draped herself over him.

“Stiles,” Erica purred. She curled her fingers in his t-shirt. Her knuckles were hot where they brushed his sternum. “I’m so glad you stopped in this morning.”

“Um,” Stiles said.

“Erica, leave him alone,” Derek growled.

Erica pouted. “Do I have to?”

There was no response from Derek, at least not one that Stiles heard, but Erica gave Stiles a satisfied smile before she released him and stepped back.

“Go with Isaac,” Derek told her.

“I’d rather stay here and talk with Stiles.”

The way Erica said ‘talk’ made Stiles think ‘eat’.

Derek sighed. “Erica,” he said resignedly.

As if that was all she’d been waiting for, Erica winked at Stiles and gave Derek a jaunty, “Sure thing, boss,” before practically skipping to the back of the shop.

“Breathe,” Derek told Stiles.

Stiles let out an explosive breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding and sucked air into his lungs. “Thank you,” Stiles said as soon as he could speak. “She scares me.”

Derek’s eyebrows went up. “She scares you?”

“Oh yeah!” Stiles said emphatically. “Rabbit frozen in its tracks, deer in the headlights, the whole nine yards.” Stiles caught Derek’s disbelieving look and realized what he’d meant by the question. “Oh, uh, you’re plenty scary, too,” he assured Derek.

Derek snorted, then said, “What are you doing here?”

“You need to put a little more growl into it,” Stiles said. “What are you doing here?” At Derek’s look Stiles said, “Okay, well, that works, too. Insatiable curiosity?”

“I hear that killed the cat,” Derek said dryly.

“Was that a joke?”

Derek gave Stiles another look.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.” Stiles grinned. “So, how’s it going? Here, I mean, how’s it coming? Your progress.”

“I’d be making more progress if someone didn’t keep showing up and interrupting me.”

“You’d miss me,”

Derek huffed. “You keep telling yourself that.” (But he didn’t deny it, Stiles noted.)

Derek nodded at the brown bag in Stiles’ hand. “You’d better get going if you’re going to drop that off before your class. Don’t worry about the door,” he said over his shoulder as he walked towards the back of the shop. “It’ll lock behind you.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow!” Stiles called.

Derek didn’t answer. Stiles hadn’t expected one.

Stiles left and pulled the door shut behind him. He tried the door handle out of habit. Locked.

It wasn’t until much later that Stiles thought to wonder how Derek knew what his class schedule was.

~*~

“How’s the ice cream place coming?” Stiles’ dad said as Stiles stepped into his office.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Stiles said loftily as he dropped into the chair across the desk from his dad. As an afterthought Stiles dropped the bagged lunch on the desk. “I brought your lunch.”

Stiles’ dad leaned back in his chair and linked his fingers behind his head. He gave Stiles a speculative look.

“What?” Stiles said, not sure he wanted to know.

“How’s Derek Hale?”

“Derek Hale is just fine, I’m sure,” Stiles said, trying to sound as if he hadn’t just seen him. Oh, how he wished he hadn’t mentioned Derek Hale’s return to Beacon Hills to his dad. Or, at least, had only mentioned it once.

Stiles’ dad snorted. “He’s not going to call and report you for trespassing or just being a general nuisance, is he?”

“No?” Stiles said.

“Somehow that doesn’t reassure me,” his dad said. “Alright.” He brought his arms down and leaned forward in the chair. “Thanks for bringing my lunch. Even if you did have an ulterior motive.”

“You’re welcome. And I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Stiles said. “Oh, and don’t think I won’t find out if you trade that turkey sandwich for a raspberry turnover,” he warned.

A guilty expression crossed his dad’s face. “That was one time.”

“Uh huh.”

“Don’t you have class?”

“Oh, crap!” Stiles said, jumping out of the chair. “I gotta get going! I’ll see you later,” he called back as he hurried out the door.

~*~

On Tuesday the door was locked. No one opened the door when he tried the handle, so Stiles continued on. (If he lingered a few seconds to give anyone who might be at the back of the shop time to get to the door, no one had to know.)

Wednesday morning the door was blocked open. Stiles stood on the sidewalk, staring at it, wondering if he was seeing things. Isaac poked his head out.

“Are you coming in?”

“Is it safe?” Stiles asked, even as he took a step forward.

Isaac’s grin was not comforting, but he disappeared back into the shop without offering any other response. Stiles took a cautious step over the threshold, then stopped, his path blocked by the furniture all shoved into the middle of the room. The lighting had been finished since he was last inside. There was recessed lights in the ceiling and pendant lights hung over the empty spaces along the side walls that would soon be filled with the booths blocking Stiles’ way.

“It looks great in here,” Stiles said, his gaze shifting from the ceiling to where he’d last seen Isaac standing. Derek stood there now.

“Um, hi,” Stiles said. “Isaac, uh . . . why does everyone move so quietly around here?”

“Hi, Stiles,” Erica said into Stiles’ right ear.

Stiles squawked and jerked like he’d received an electric shock. The corners of Derek’s lips twitched.

“Case in point,” Stiles said, attempting to elude Erica’s hands.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Derek said, and then turned on his heels and disappeared into the back of the shop. Without making a sound.

As soon as Derek was gone, Erica stopped pawing at Stiles. “Why do you do that?” he said.

“Because it drives him nuts,” Erica said.

Erica’s smile widened as if she’d heard something that Stiles couldn’t.

“Drives who nuts?” Stiles said. At Erica’s look of ‘don’t act dumb’, he said, “Derek?” when what he really wanted to say was, ‘I’m not acting.’

Erica patted Stiles on the shoulder, as if proud that he’d figured it out.

“But, why?”

Instead of answering, Erica said, “Unless you want to get roped into helping install these booths, though it does offer the benefit of seeing Derek in a wife beater,” she added in a conspiratorial whisper. “You’d better get to the library.”

Brain stalled on the image of Derek in a wife beater, it took Stiles a minute to realize what Erica had said.

“Why does everyone know my schedule better than I do?” Stiles had to look around to find Erica because she’d silently slipped away while he’d been lost in porny thoughts about her boss.

“It’s really not that difficult to memorize,” Erica said.

“But why would you want to?”

No one answered – Stiles was speaking to an empty room.

~*~*~*~

The door was open Thursday morning, as well. Stiles took it as an invitation to enter. He stepped inside and it was as if he’d stepped back in time. The bench seats of the booths were padded and covered in a red material that could have been vinyl or leather, though he couldn’t tell from where he stood. The tables had chrome legs and aluminum trim surrounding a Formica top in buffed aluminum.

“You must be Stiles.”

Stiles did not jump when the man spoke. Much.

“Does Derek test your ability to sneak up on people before he hires you?” Stiles asked.

The man just smiled at that. “I’m Boyd,” he said. “Erica told me you might be stopping by.”

“Did she,” Stiles said, looking over his shoulder. “She, uh, she’s not here, is she?”

Boyd’s smile widened. “She and Isaac made a trip to the recycling center with all the cardboard we had stacked in the back. She’ll be back soon if you want to wait.”

“No!” Stiles said. “I mean, uh, I’d love to, but, you know . . . .” He made a vague gesture with his hand.

“You’ve gotta get to class,” Boyd finished for him.

“Yeah,” Stiles said, frowning. “Is memorizing my class schedule a requirement for working here, too?”

“Yes,” Boyd said.

Stiles couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.

“Okay. Well. Tell Derek that I approve of what he’s doing with the place. There’s only one thing missing.”

Boyd raised his eyebrows in a ‘what would that be’ gesture.

“The actual ice cream,” Stiles said. “Tell him to get on that, would you?”

“I keep telling you that we’re not open yet,” Derek growled.

This time Stiles really didn’t jump because he’d been expecting Derek’s sudden appearance.

“I know,” Stiles said. “I was just trying to lure you out of the back where I figured you were lurking.”

“I wasn’t lurking,” Derek said. “I was working.”

“Sure you were, big guy.”

Boyd ducked his head to the box he was cutting open. Probably to hide his grin because Stiles’ comedy was pure gold.

“What are you doing next?” Stiles indicated the boxes.

Derek looked like he was contemplating not answering, but then he said, “Stools. For the counter.”

“Cool,” Stiles said. And then, because he really didn’t know what else to say to Derek, he said, “Well, I should probably get going.”

Derek nodded. “Class.”

“No, before Erica gets back,” Stiles said.

Derek smiled. Almost. But it totally counted. Grenades, horseshoes, and Derek Hale.

~*~

Stiles was running late Friday so he didn’t have time to stop at the shop to see Derek before class. Er, to see how Derek was coming with the renovations. Yeah. It felt like something was missing from his day until Stiles stopped in after his classes.

“Stiles is here!” Erica called.

Erica sat on the floor, her back to the open door, a screwdriver in one hand, the chrome legs of a chair in the other.

“How did you know it was me? How did you even know anyone was here at all?”

“I have eyes in the back of my head,” Erica said.

Isaac, who was putting together his own chair, snorted. Stiles, however, wasn’t prepared to dismiss the claim out of hand. He would’ve commented on it, but Stiles’ attention was captured by how much more put together the place looked with the stools in place and tables and chairs filling the empty spaces. Well, aside from the ones placed in front of the plate glass windows they were all shoved to one side so Erica and Isaac had room to work, but once they were finished the tables and chairs would fill up the empty space.

“Can I sit on a stool?” Stiles said.

“Sure,” Isaac said without raising his head from his task.

Stiles took a wide berth around Erica and the possible eyes in the back of her head and headed for the nearest stool. Stiles sat and leaned his elbows on the counter as if he was going to order. He twirled around on the stool a couple of times until he faced Isaac and Erica.

“It’s looking great in here,” Stiles said. “Very retro.”

Erica gave Stiles a look like she knew something he didn’t, and then her gaze moved past Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles turned on the stool to find Derek standing right beside him, and nearly got an ice cream cone shoved up his nose.

“Here,” Derek said, almost angrily.

“What is it?” Stiles said, reflexively reaching out to take it.

“Ice cream,” Derek growled.

“Yeah, I can see that, I . . . .” Stiles had to stick out his tongue to gather up a bit of ice cream that had broken free of the scoop and was sliding down the cone towards his fingers. By the time he looked back up Derek was gone.

“. . . meant, why,” Stiles finished. He looked to Isaac and Erica for help. Isaac was studiously ignoring Stiles. Erica was grinning openly at him.

“Test batch,” Erica said.

Stiles stopped mid-lick. “You mean I’m the guinea pig?”

“You could give it back, if you’d rather.”

“No way.” Stiles curled himself over the cone to protect it. It was plain vanilla, but it was the best tasting vanilla he’d ever had, so rich, and creamy, and . . . vanilla-y.

“Well?” Erica said.

“Oh, it’s very good,” Stiles said. “Who made it?”

“Derek,” Isaac said.

“Really? Well, uh, my compliments to the chef. Or whatever you call someone who makes ice cream.”

Isaac and Erica stared at Stiles.

“Why are you both looking at me like that?”

They immediately looked away.

“No, seriously, why?” Neither of them answered. “You guys are so weird.”

~*~

“What’s wrong?” Scott said.

That morning Stiles had by-passed the ice cream shop Derek was in the process of renovating without trying the door. He been as much afraid it would be locked as that it wouldn’t be. He’d spent the night pondering Isaac’s and Erica’s strange reactions to Derek giving him an ice cream cone. When morning came Stiles still didn’t have an answer. At least, not one that he was prepared to voice out loud. So he did what any self-respecting male would do in the same circumstances – he avoided the cause of his confusion.

Not that putting off seeing Derek had helped. Stiles didn’t think Scott would have the answer any more than he did, but he could at least trust him to tell him the truth. “What does it mean if someone gives you something?”

Scott frowned. “You mean, like, a present?”

“No,” Stiles said. “Not exactly. What if you like something, say, french fries, and you tell someone that you like french fries. You tell them how much you like french fries. Over and over again. And then one day this person gives you french fries. Like that.”

Scott’s eyes were wide. Not from Stiles’ rambling, he was used to that, but because, “Someone gave you french fries? Wait, who gave you french fries?”

“No one gave me french fries,” Stiles said. “That was just an example.” He quickly caved under the weight of Scott’s puppy eyes. “It was ice cream.”

“Ice cream,” Scott repeated.

“An ice cream cone. To be precise.”

“Yes,” Scott said wryly, “we must be precise.”

“Look, are you gonna help me out here, or not?”

“Of course I’m going to help you,” Scott said, as if he couldn’t believe that Stiles had doubted him. “Right after I’m done mocking you.”

“Awesome. Can we get the mocking over with, then, so we can get on with the helping?”

“Nah,” Scott said, leaning back in the booth and crossing his arms over his chest as he stretched his legs out under the table. “I want to savor this moment.”

“I’m in need, here, man,” Stiles said. “Desperate need.”

“You’re right,” Scott said. “I mean, it’s not like you ever mocked my relationship with Allison. Oh, wait . . . .”

All hope of cutting the period of mocking short flew out the window. “Would it help if I say I’m sorry?”

“Let me think about that,” Scott said. He made a show of thinking about it. “No.”

“Didn’t think so,” Stiles said resignedly.

Scott picked up his drink and loudly slurped the remainder of it up through the straw as he watched Stiles over the rim of the cup.

“Okay, look,” Stiles said, leaning forward over the table. “Derek Hale gave me an ice cream cone, and then Isaac and Erica gave me weird looks, but it was just an ice cream cone, right?”

When Stiles mentioned Derek’s name, Scott had given up all pretense of disinterest. He’d leaned forward over the table until his head nearly touched Stiles’. Now he gave what Stiles thought might be the most unhelpful advice ever.

“Sure. Unless it wasn’t.”

Stiles heaved a sigh and leaned back in the booth. “How do I figure that out?”

“Don’t worry,” Scott said. “I’ll help.”

Stiles thought he probably should’ve seen that coming.

~*~*~*~

Stiles still wasn’t ready to face Derek with his suspicions (hopes?), but Scott had made it clear that he was going in with or without Stiles, so Stiles trudged along in his wake. Despite Stiles’ prayers that the shop would be locked up tight and the lights off, the door stood open in welcome. Scott grinned over his shoulder at Stiles and then stepped inside. Stiles quickly followed, not altogether sure what Scott’s definition of ‘help’ was, and wanting to be there to run interference.

“Hi, Isaac,” Stiles said. “This is my friend Scott.”

“Scott McCall,” Isaac said. “I remember.”

“Isaac Lahey, right?” Scott said. “From lacrosse.”

Isaac smiled shyly, as if he hadn’t expected Scott to remember him. Stiles wondered how Scott had remembered, since he could barely remember to put gas in his mom’s car when he borrowed it, but Isaac looked pleased to be remembered so Stiles didn’t say anything that might ruin the moment.

While Scott and Isaac spoke, Stiles noted the changes in the shop since he’d been there yesterday – pictures had been hung on the walls. Stiles stepped closer to check them out. Photographs and paintings by local artists (marked by the discreet business card tucked into the corner of the frame) were interspersed with what Stiles could only determine were old Hale family photos. They looked grainy, as if they were very old or had been scanned from another source, like a newspaper article.

Hale’s Diner, with what Stiles could only presume was the Hale family standing outside the building. Hale’s Coffee Shop. Hale’s Bakery and Café. Stiles went back to the photo of Hale’s Diner, which he could remember from, well, from before. Before the fire that had taken most of Derek’s family. Before Derek and his sister Laura, the only living members of the Hale family (not counting their insane Uncle Peter who’d been in a coma for six years before going on a killing spree that ended when he killed Kate Argent and was in turn killed by her brother Chris) had left Beacon Hills.

He’d forgotten that the Hales used to own the diner. Stiles studied the photograph and picked out Derek. A younger, happier Derek. Slimmer than the buffed specimen with which Stiles was familiar, with actual pimples (Stiles hadn’t thought pimples would dare), and a smile that Stiles had yet to see on the face of the current version.

When Stiles stepped away from the photograph, Scott and Isaac were still talking. They both seemed to have forgotten about him, so Stiles headed into the back to look for Derek. He had no proof that Derek was still in the shop, except he didn’t think he’d have left Isaac there alone.

Derek wasn’t behind the counter, obviously, so Stiles took his time checking out the display case and ice cream freezer before heading into the kitchen. He’d never been back this far before so Stiles was understandably distracted by all the shiny new stainless steel. Cooler and grill, industrial sized mixer and oven. Stiles was running his hand along the edge of the sink when Derek spoke.

“Should I leave you two alone?”

Stiles’ head jerked around. Derek leaned casually against the doorframe of what Stiles presumed was the office, arms crossed over his chest, legs crossed at the ankle.

“Geeze!” Stiles said. “Stop that!”

Derek’s smirk said, ‘when pigs fly.’

“So, um.” Stiles stepped away from the sink, and then didn’t know what to do with his hands. They flailed around a bit before he shoved them into the pocket of his hoodie. “I was looking for you.”

Derek raised a skeptical eyebrow and glanced at the sink Stiles had been fondling, but all he said was, “Well, you’ve found me.”

“Yeah. I just, I wanted to thank you for the ice cream cone yesterday.”

Derek’s face did something strange and he said, “It was just ice cream.”

Stiles was inclined to take Derek’s words at face value. They backed up his own thoughts, after all. But there was something about the way Derek was holding himself – stiff now, when he’d been at ease when Stiles had first spotted him – that made Stiles second guess himself.

“You put the scoop in a cone,” Stiles said.

Derek’s growled, “I didn’t want to dirty any dishes,” made Stiles smile.

“It was really good.”

Derek just glowered at him as if he thought Stiles might be pulling his leg.

“Scout’s honor,” Stiles said, holding up what he thought was the right number of fingers. “Best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever tasted.”

Derek smiled as he reached out and raised another of Stiles’ fingers. “It was my mom’s recipe,” he said.

“Sweet,” Erica said, gagging.

“Oh my god!” Stiles said as he clutched at his heart. “How long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough to get a cavity,” Erica said. “If you two are finished with your tender moment, I could use some help carrying in boxes.” She hefted the box she carried and then set it on the counter.

She actually didn’t need help because she and Boyd had it covered, but between the six of them the back of the pick-up truck was soon emptied. As soon as all the boxes were stacked on the counters and floor, they all started unpacking. Stiles made happy sounds when he opened a box and found a set of old fashioned sundae dishes.

“Where do they go?” Stiles asked.

“We wash them, then they go on the shelves,” Derek said.

“I’ll help,” Stiles said.

“Of course you will,” Isaac said, but when Stiles looked at him he just looked back innocently.

“I’ll help, too,” Scott said with a glance at Isaac.

“Huh,” Stiles said as Scott and Isaac washed their hands at Derek’s insistence and were set the task of filling napkin dispensers and setting them out.

That you see?” Erica snorted.

Erica refused to stick her hands in the dishwater because it would ruin the manicure she’d just gotten, so Stiles and Derek washed and rinsed while Erica and Boyd dried and put away. Stiles took off his hoodie and rolled up his sleeves while Derek filled the sinks. Sundae dishes were hung in racks over the ice cream freezer, cups stacked on shelves by the soda machine, coffee mugs by the coffee maker, and plates on shelves above the grill.

“I thought I’d find you here,” Stiles’ dad said as Stiles rinsed the last mug and handed it to Boyd.

“Dad!” Stiles said. “What are you doing here?”

“Just making sure you’re not making a nuisance of yourself. Hi, Derek,” Stiles’ dad said, extending a hand to Derek.

Derek dried his hands on a towel and took the proffered hand. “Sheriff.”

“How’d you get him to do dishes?” Stiles’ dad asked with no little amount of wonder in his voice.

“You don’t want to know, Mr. Stilinski,” Scott said.

“Oh no,” Stiles’ dad said. “You’re letting both of them in here now? I’m not sure you know what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

It might’ve been the lighting, but Stiles thought Derek blushed. “I’ve got some idea,” he said.

“So,” Erica said, drawing everyone’s attention. “You’re Stiles’ dad. Now I know where he got his good looks from,” she purred.

“Um, thank you?”

“Oh my god, Erica, that’s my dad!”

Still, it was good to know that even his dad got as flustered by Erica as Stiles did.

~*~

“Don’t you have to work?” Derek said when Stiles showed up Sunday morning.

“No,” Stiles said.

“Homework?” Derek asked as he led the way back to the kitchen.

“No.” Stiles forced his eyes to the back of Derek’s head so they weren’t tempted to stray down to his ass. “If I didn’t know better I’d think you were trying to get rid of me.”

Derek looked at Stiles over his shoulder, eyebrows raised. “Can’t imagine where you’d get that idea.”

“And yet you’re the one who let me in,” Stiles said.

“I thought you were someone else,” Derek said.

“Got a lot of people stopping by to bug you?”

“No, just the one.”

“Funny,” Stiles said. He didn’t take the comment seriously because he was starting to figure out the way Derek thought, and besides, he’d gotten another almost smile out of him. At this rate he’d get an actual smile in, oh, about a year, give or take.

“So, what are you doing?” Stiles asked as Derek returned to whatever it was he’d been doing before Stiles had interrupted him.

“Testing the equipment some more by trying out some recipes,” Derek said.

“Recipes?” Stiles said. “Recipes for what?”

Derek slid a well-used notebook across the counter and continued assembling a piece of equipment. With a glance at Derek, who was studiously ignoring him, Stiles opened the notebook. The first recipe was for the vanilla ice cream Stiles had sampled a couple days ago. He turned the pages slowly, reading the flavors printed at the top of each page, noting when the handwriting changed.

“What kind are you making?” Stiles asked, watching Derek’s fingers as he fitted together the pieces of what Stiles now realized was the ice cream maker.

“What kind do you want to make?”

It took Stiles a second to realize that Derek was going to let him choose. “Really?” Derek didn’t say anything, and Stiles took that as an affirmation. “Oh, man, now the pressure’s on. What kind do you like?”

“I’m not fussy,” Derek said.

Which Stiles took to mean that he’d gotten used to accepting the crappy hand life dealt him.

Stiles closed the book. “Let’s make up our own.”

Derek just raised his eyebrows.

“Seriously,” Stiles said. “What’s your favorite nut?”

Derek just looked at him.

“Oh, haha!” Stiles punched Derek in the arm. “I left myself open for that one. But I’m serious. Cashew? Pecan? Pistachio? Almond? Walnut? Aha! We have a winner. Now, favorite fruit. Strawberry? Raspb–, wait, strawberry? And chocolate something, like a swirl of fudge,” Stiles said, swirling imaginary fudge with his finger. “Can we even do that?”

Derek sat down on one of the metal stools and pulled over a pad of paper. He started making notes.

“What are you doing?” Stiles said, looking over Derek’s shoulder.

“I don’t want to make a full batch, so I’m adjusting the measurements. If you’re going to help you need to wash your hands.”

Stiles hurried over to the sink and washed his hands. Derek got two aprons out of a drawer and handed one to Stiles. He watched Derek place the apron against his front, wrap the string around his waist, and tie it in the front, and then Stiles did the same while Derek washed his own hands. Derek showed Stiles where they stored the dry ingredients while he got the strawberries and cream out of the cooler.

Derek got out measuring cups and they washed their hands again before measuring out the amounts Derek had calculated they’d need. Derek oversaw while Stiles slowly added the ingredients to the ice cream maker to create the vanilla base. Derek rinsed the strawberries and cut off the tops, then used a food processor to slice them.

Once the base was a creamy consistency that met Derek’s approval they added the walnuts and strawberries. Last was the fudge swirl. They poured the ice cream into a plastic tub and Derek put it in the freezer.

“How long will it take?”

“About half an hour to set up good,” Derek said.

“What do we do while we wait?” Stiles said, and then blushed when he realized what that might sound like.

Derek didn’t follow up on it, to Stiles’ great relief. He just looked at the equipment and dishes they’d dirtied.

“Oh,” Stiles said. Clean up. “Right.”

~*~

They made three batches of ice cream that morning. Stiles didn’t think it was the fact that they’d created it together that made their strawberry-walnut-fudge swirl concoction his favorite of the bunch. Though he had to admit that the chocolate marshmallow and mint chip were good, too.

Despite his protests, Derek filled pint containers with each of the flavors to send home with Stiles. How could he keep his dad on his diet if he was the one bringing the bad-for-him foods into the house? But Derek had distracted him by saying that he needed more than one taste tester to make sure they were good before he opened and served them to the public.

“Wait,” Stiles said. “I’m a taste tester?”

“Among other things,” Derek said. His tone implying that being a pain in his ass was one of those things.

After the ice cream Derek made two different kinds of cupcakes – vanilla with a raspberry center and chocolate. Stiles helped with the mixer and with pouring the mixture into the paper cups. While the cupcakes baked Derek got out the fixings for salads. They each made one for themselves, and Derek told Stiles to make one to take home for his dad to offset the ice cream. They ate at the counter, with Derek getting up once or twice to check the oven.

While the cupcakes cooled Derek mixed up frosting – vanilla and chocolate.

“How did you learn to do all this?” Stiles asked.

Derek didn’t answer right away. The silence went on long enough that Stiles thought he might not answer at all, but eventually Derek said, “My mom taught me some. And I worked in a bakery when Laura and I lived in New York.”

Stiles wanted to kick himself for bringing up Derek’s past. Even though Stiles’ mom had been gone for several years, sometimes it still hurt to talk about her.

“A bakery, huh?” Stiles said, ignoring the pink elephant in the kitchen. “Why didn’t you open a bakery here?” he asked, thinking about the photo he’d seen hanging on the wall out front.

“People need more than sweets,” Derek said as he tested the cupcakes for coolness.

“More, like burgers and salads?” Stiles said.

Derek gave him a look, but didn’t rise to the bait. “Yes.”

Stiles just grinned at him. He watched as Derek expertly frosted the cupcakes, vanilla on the vanilla-raspberry cupcakes and on half of the chocolate, and chocolate frosting on the remaining chocolate cupcakes.

“What are you going to do with all of these?” Stiles asked, suddenly suspicious that Derek was going to send them home with Stiles, too.

“I’m going to donate them to the senior center. Once we make sure they taste alright, of course. And I thought I might drop a box off at the Sheriff’s Station. It doesn’t hurt to be on the good side of local law enforcement.”

“My dad’s working today,” Stiles said.

“Really. I didn’t know that,” Derek said dryly.

“Tell me the truth. Is my dad bribing you for treats?”

Derek actually laughed. “I’ll wait until his shift is over to drop them off if it makes you feel any better.”

“Yeah, alright,” Stiles said.

Stiles tried a chocolate cupcake while Derek boxed up the cupcakes for delivery. Derek gave him a look.

“What?”

“You’ve got frosting right here.” Derek pointed at his own lips.

Stiles tried to get it with his tongue, then gave up and used his thumb. Derek looked away, suddenly very interested in making sure the lids on the boxes were secure.

~*~*~*~

On Monday the lettering was placed on the windows. It wasn’t there when Stiles stopped by that morning, but when he returned after class (yes, okay, he was apparently stopping by twice a day now, which was in no way pathetic) the windows showed off the new name of the establishment alongside a logo of an old fashioned milkshake and a burger. When Stiles saw it he couldn’t help reaching out to touch the raised lettering.

HALE’S was spelled out in letters a size larger than the rest and sat above the curved line that said Main Street Malt Shoppe which in turn had & and then Restaurant nestled inside the arc. The name and logo were repeated on both plate glass windows and the door. It had also been reproduced on the wooden sign that now hung on the refurbished wrought iron brace that swung out over the sidewalk so you could see it from both directions. The brown paper had been removed from the windows and you could see the interior from the street. It looked like an actual restaurant now.

On Tuesday Derek posed in front of the Malt Shoppe for a photograph that appeared alongside the writeup in Wednesday’s local weekly newspaper. After he laughed (and laughed some more – Derek scowled at the camera like a serial killer) Stiles cut out the writeup (which was very nice and only mentioned that the Hale’s used to run the diner before Derek spent time in New York City working in a bakery without reminding everyone of the fire that had been the reason he and Laura had left Beacon Hills in the first place), and framed it for him.

Stiles gave the framed writeup to Derek that evening when he and his dad, along with Scott and his mom, and a bunch of other people who must have received similar invitations, attended a trial run at the Malt Shoppe. They all ordered burgers, despite the warning glare Stiles shot in his dad’s direction. Isaac was their waiter, and both he and Scott blushed when Scott introduced Isaac to his mom. Stiles and his dad shared a look.

The burgers were great and Stiles made sure to tell Boyd that before they left. Derek wouldn’t take money for the meal, and even provided them free milkshakes for dessert, but Mrs. McCall tucked a generous tip into Isaac’s hand. Derek thanked them all for coming when they got up to leave, but merely glowered at Stiles.

“Why do I get the glower of death instead of thanks?”

“You’re here everyday,” Derek said. “And you called me a serial killer.”

“I . . . not to your face! Who told! Besides, I only said you looked like a serial killer, not that you were a serial killer.”

Derek’s eyebrows did not seem to appreciate that fine distinction.

On Thursday Derek held an open house, inviting everyone from the community to come in between 4 and 7pm to look around, check out the menu, and get a free hotdog and one scoop cone with any of the five different homemade flavors they had on hand. Even after just three hours on her feet, Erica complained bitterly.

There had been a lot of people stopping by (for free ice cream and to get a look at the elusive Derek Hale, if nothing else), and even Stiles had gotten roped into helping scoop ice cream into cones alongside Isaac while Erica and Boyd served hotdogs and cleaned up after everyone. Derek tried to help, but as much as he hated it, nearly everyone who came in wanted to speak with him.

After, Derek thanked them for their help and then disappeared into the office to crunch more numbers. The closer they drew to opening day, the more anal he got about his orders. Stiles helped Isaac wipe down the tables and chairs, while Erica and Boyd cleaned up the kitchen. Derek came out and caught Stiles with a mop in his hand.

“You don’t have to do that,” Derek said.

“I don’t mind. Besides, everyone else is busy, too.”

“I can finish up.”

There ensued a brief tussle over possession of the mop, which ended when Stiles gave up. It was clear he was going to lose anyway, and he decided he wanted to see Derek wield a mop. He already found Derek with his hands in sudsy water to be unbearably sexy, Stiles was kind of hoping that image would be canceled out by an image of Derek with the mop. Of course he hoped in vain. How could anyone look sexy mopping a floor? Stiles sighed.

“What’s wrong?” Derek asked.

Stiles blushed. “Nothing.”

~*~

Friday was the Grand Opening. Stiles stopped in before class to wish Derek luck (Derek glared his thanks at him), and then stopped in after the extra shift he’d picked up at the bookstore to see how it was going. The Shoppe was packed! Erica grabbed Stiles the moment she saw him.

“Wash your hands and grab an apron. I need to help Boyd in the kitchen.”

Stiles didn’t even think of refusing her not-really-a-request. Once he had the apron tied on he asked Erica what she wanted him to do.

“Wait tables,” she practically growled as she put together a salad.

“You want me to carry plates? Full of food?” Stiles squeaked.

Erica gave him a brief rundown of the section he’d be working and then dropped him into the deep end. Full of sharks. Hungry sharks. Stiles only spilled one drink (and luckily that wasn’t on anyone), and eventually he found his groove.

Derek was busy serving up the desserts people ordered (he’d made blueberry cobbler for the special. Stiles saw him go through two pans of it and he wasn’t even paying attention), but he found time to give Stiles a crash course on the register. Stiles couldn’t lie, he found it difficult to concentrate with Derek standing so close to his back, but he finally figured out how to enter the orders, if only so he wouldn’t do anything inappropriate the next time Derek leaned into him.

The crowd finally thinned out so they weren’t all being run ragged. Which was almost worse, because Stiles started noticing the aches and pains in his back and feet. Stiles took advantage of one lull to lean against Derek.

“You’re going to need to put on more people if this keeps up.”

Derek adjusted his stance when Stiles began to slip. “If this keeps up,” he repeated.

“It will,” Stiles said before Erica kicked him in the back of the leg to tell him that his order was up.

As soon as the last person left the Shoppe and Isaac locked the door behind them and turned the closed sign around, Stiles dropped into the nearest chair and whimpered.

“Everything hurts! How do people do this?”

“Not done yet,” Isaac said much too cheerfully as he loaded the last of the dirty dishes onto a tray.

“How can you possibly have any energy left?” Stiles asked.

Isaac shrugged. “After living with my dad, this is a piece of cake.”

“Shit,” Stiles swore softly after Isaac’s disappearing back. He remembered the bruises that had decorated Isaac’s skin during high school, though he’d tried to hide them beneath his clothes, and the gossip churned out by the rumor mill about Isaac’s father. Erica actually gave Stiles a sympathetic look.

When Isaac returned from dumping off the tray of dirty dishes, Stiles forced himself up. He hobbled over and draped himself over Isaac.

“I don’t need a hug,” Isaac said stiffly.

“I know,” Stiles said. “But I need you to hold me up so I don’t fall.”

Isaac snorted, but he did raise one arm in case Stiles really did start to topple.

“If you help me over there . . . .” Stiles indicated the counter where Erica had set a bucket of disinfecting solution. “I’ll wash the tables while you sweep up after me.”

Isaac helped Stiles over to the counter. “How are you going to wash the tables if you can’t even stand?”

“I can lean on them.”

Stiles managed to get all the tables and chairs (and even the counter) wiped down before he once again collapsed. This time on a stool because he was already standing at the counter. He happily watched Isaac mop, because Isaac seemed to have enough energy for both of them. Stiles turned the stool around and folded his arms on the counter. He dropped his head on his arms and closed his eyes. Stiles listened to the sounds of everyone cleaning up around him. When Erica told Boyd that she needed a foot rub, Stiles thought that sounded like a great idea.

“Me, too,” Stiles said, the words muffled into his shirt.

“Boyd’ll be busy,” Erica said. “Find your own masseur.”

“Me, too,” Isaac said. “Busy, I mean. Doing something. Anything else.”

“Derek?” Stiles called.

“What?” Derek said from right above him.

Stiles’ entire body jerked and he nearly slid off the stool. Derek caught him.

“Don’t do that,” Stiles complained, too weary to even lift his head to back that up with an ineffectual glare of his own.

“Are you going to be able to drive home?” Derek asked.

“Yes.”

“Uh huh,” Derek said after a few seconds of Stiles not making any move to, well, move. “Come on, I’ll drive you.”

“Betty . . . .” Stiles said as Derek effortlessly helped him up.

“You can get her in the morning.”

“I have to work in the morning. Oh, god, I have to get up in . . . .” Stiles tried to count the hours on his fingers. “Very soon.”

“Isaac’ll pick you up.”

“Serve him right,” Stiles said. “Way too cheerful for someone who’s put in this many hours. And he wouldn’t give me a foot rub.”

“Do I even want to know?”

“No!” Isaac yelled after them.

Derek led Stiles out the back entrance and over to a black Camaro. “Ohhh,” Stiles breathed, running his hand over the hood reverently. “This is nice.”

Derek helped him into the car and Stiles settled into the passenger seat as Derek walked around to the driver’s side. “You’ll have to take me for a ride when I’m awake and can appreciate it more.”

“We’ll see,” Derek said. But to Stiles’ ears it sounded like ‘yes’.

Though that could’ve been the exhaustion talking.

~*~*~*~

Stiles got no argument from Scott when he texted him from the bookstore to suggest they meet that afternoon at Derek’s place rather than at the diner. Not that Stiles had expected one. They met on the sidewalk, and when they stepped inside Isaac waved to them and indicated one of the small round tables in front of one of the plate glass windows. Stiles would like to think that the handmade reserved sign was for his benefit, but he had a feeling it (and the reason they were seated in Isaac’s section) had more to do with Scott.

“Hi,” Isaac said almost shyly when he reached their table after dropping off drinks at another. He slid the napkin on which he’d handwritten ‘reserved’ off the table and shoved it into the pocket of his apron. “I saved you a table since you mentioned you were coming in.”

Stiles was not surprised to discover that Scott and Isaac had been in contact. Which didn’t mean he was going to let it go without teasing them. Stiles opened his mouth to say something that would make both of them blush and squirm. Before he could, though, Stiles saw Derek standing behind the counter. He’d like to say that he made a conscious decision to forgo best friend mocking duties, but the truth was that Stiles forgot what he’d been going to say.

Derek caught Stiles’ gaze and gave him a short nod in greeting, which broke whatever spell Stiles had been under. But by the time Stiles turned his attention back to Scott, Isaac was already gone. Stiles looked around for him.

“I ordered your drink for you,” Scott said, as if reading Stiles’ mind. He glanced towards the counter, then smirked at Stiles. “See something over there you like?”

And just like that, the tables were turned.

“Do you?” Stiles retorted.

Stiles and Scott stared each other down until Isaac returned with their drinks. He gave them a confused look and asked if they were ready to order. Stiles broke their staring contest to ask Isaac about the specials. He did it just to be contrary, but then ended up ordering a bowl of the broccoli cheddar soup and a chicken salad sandwich. Scott ordered the burger. Isaac told them their food would be right out and they both watched him walk away, though Stiles thought Scott’s eyes were aimed a tad lower than his were.

“I call this topic off limits,” Scott said when Isaac (and his ass) disappeared from view.

Stiles groaned. “You know I’ll fail!”

“Okay, but only with each other, not in front of other people.”

Stiles glanced over at Derek, who was giving him a strange look. No way did he want Scott to mention his crush in front of Isaac. Or Derek. Or, god forbid, Erica. “Deal.”

~*~

The Malt Shoppe became Stiles’ second home. If he wasn’t in class, working at Cat Nap, or sleeping, he could most likely be found sitting at the counter, slurping a milkshake or picking at fries while he bugged whoever was working the counter that day. When it wasn’t busy (for some reason Monday nights were pretty dead and between 2 and 4 in the afternoon during the week things slowed down enough for everyone to catch their breath), Stiles did his homework between taking breaks to chat.

“How can you do your homework sitting here?” Isaac asked one day. “I wouldn’t be able to concentrate.”

“ADHD,” Stiles said. “I actually can’t concentrate on anything for too long, so this is perfect for me.”

“Is that why you asked me what my sign was the other day when I thought you were reading? Here I thought you were hitting on me, and now I find out you were just bored?”

Erica leaned her elbows on the counter in front of Stiles. He made sure to keep his gaze on her face. He got enough of an eyeful when she wasn’t even trying to fluster him because of the tight, low-cut tops she swore got her better tips. (She’d even tried to get Isaac to wear tighter jeans and t-shirts that rode up. He’d just blushed and said he’d think about it.)

“No. Absolutely no hitting. On. Not that you’re not hit-able,” Stile said, trying to preserve his life from the death rays in her eyes. “It’s just, I have too much respect for Boyd to do anything like that.”

“And what about me? Don’t you respect me?”

“You do kind of scare me,” Stiles said, which earned him a pleased smile.

“He asked me my shoe size once,” Isaac contributed.

“Really?” Erica purred. “Stiles, now why would you be interested in the size of Isaac’s . . . feet?”

Stiles blushed, and he wasn’t even the one interested in the size of Isaac’s anything. “No! I mean, yes, but shoes! You were all complaining about your feet hurting one night, so I found this website that sells shoes for waitresses and nurses and stuff!”

Erica pouted. “You didn’t ask my shoe size.”

“Or mine,” Boyd rumbled.

“Isaac was right here!” Stiles said. “I meant to ask you guys, but I, um, clicked on a link, and one thing led to another . . . . But I bookmarked the site! We can look at it right now if you want.”

Erica wanted. Though Stiles thought it was just so she could continue picking on him. Turned out, though, that she found a couple pair of shoes she liked the look of for Boyd. (She made it clear that she wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair no matter how much her feet hurt.) Isaac picked out a pair, as well.

“Any idea what size shoe Derek wears?” Stiles asked as he peered at the screen of his laptop.

“Think the way to Derek’s heart lies through rubber soled shoes?” Erica said.

“Heart? What? No!”

“Just want to know his shoe size, then?” she said with a smirk.

“No. Of course not.”

Stiles knew that foot size wasn’t an accurate indicator of the size of other body parts. Like hands. Or ears.

~*~

“You’re closing?” Stiles gasped.

“Just for the day,” Erica said, unconcerned that Stiles was freaking out.

“But . . . why?”

“It’s a religious holiday,” Isaac said, though he didn’t sound too sure about it.

“Pretty sure it’s not,” Stiles said. (He’d been bored one day and memorized all the celebrations of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. He’d fallen asleep before he could get to Buddhism or Hinduism. Zoroastrianism had sounded interesting, too. Maybe he’d get back to that endeavor.)

“It’s the full moon,” Erica said.

“Since when is the full moon a religious holiday?”

“When you practice Wicca,” Erica said with a straight face. Too straight.

“You practice Wicca?” Stiles said skeptically.

“We all do,” Erica said.

Isaac nodded, but he had a tell when he was lying. Boyd nodded, as well. If he had a tell, Stiles had yet to discover it.

“All of you practice Wicca,” Stiles said, pointing to each of them.

“Yes. And Derek, of course.”

Stiles choked. “Derek practices Wicca?”

The corner of Erica’s lips twitched at Stiles’ reaction. “Yes.”

“Isaac and Boyd I can see. Isaac’s nice, and Boyd is, well, zen. But you and Derek . . . .”

“What about me and Derek?” Erica growled.

“That, right there,” Stiles said. “When I think Wicca, not that I’ve done much thinking about it, but if I were to think about it, I’d think more . . . peaceful and less ‘rip your head off’.”

“I’ve never ripped anyone’s head off,” Erica said. “Not that I haven’t wanted to.” She glared at Stiles. “Like that guy the other night, for instance.” (Though her tone made it clear Stiles wasn’t off the hook.)

They all made sounds of agreement. Stiles had thought the normally unflappable Boyd was going to rip that guy’s head off before Derek had thrown him out and told him not to come back.

That night, Stiles started researching Wicca as soon as he got home. He called Scott to see if Isaac had ever mentioned being part of Derek’s Wicca coven. He hadn’t, but Scott wasn’t really that interested in examining it from every angle like Stiles was. His loss.

Stiles still thought they were trying to pull one over on him, right up until he walked past the closed Malt Shoppe on Monday morning and read the sign they’d hung on the door: Main Street Malt Shoppe will be closed today for religious reasons. We apologize for any inconvenience, and appreciate your understanding as we celebrate the Goddess.

Stiles blinked and kicked at the pavement as he continued on to the Sheriff’s Station. Wicca!

That night Stiles was bored. Rather, he was curious. Bored and curious was a bad combination. He wondered what they were doing. He hated that whatever they were doing he wasn’t a part of. Not that he wanted to practice Wicca. Stiles called Scott. Scott threatened to hang up the phone if Stiles didn’t shut up about the Wicca thing.

“Do you think they dance naked in the moonlight?” Stiles asked.

“I hate you so much,” Scott said before he hung up.

At least Stiles wasn’t bored anymore. He opened up Google Maps and searched the area around Beacon Hills. He wondered if he could determine where Derek and the others ‘celebrated the Goddess’.

~*~

Stiles wrote furiously in his notebook, composing an essay response to a true or false question on the practice exam explaining in excruciating detail why the correct answer was neither true, nor false. He’d been so caught up on the argument he was making, Stiles hadn’t noticed that the restaurant was starting to fill up. He jerked up his head when Isaac tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.

“Derek says you can use his office.”

“What?” Stiles said, brain still engaged in the points he’d been making in his essay.

“We’re filling up, so . . . .”

Stiles looked around, noticing his surroundings for the first time since he’d started writing. “Oh. You need the space. You’re kicking me out.”

“We wouldn’t do that,” Isaac said, sounding scandalized. “Derek just thought it might be getting too loud out here, and that you’d be able to concentrate better in his office.”

That was the most Stiles had ever heard Isaac say in one go. Wait. “He did?”

“He did. Now get back there before I really do kick you out.” Isaac crossed his arms in a futile attempt to look intimidating.

“Yes, sir,” Stiles said. He shoved the practice exam into the textbook, piled the notebook on top, and slung the messenger bag over his shoulder. He’d seen the inside of Derek’s office, but he’d never actually been past the door of what he thought of as the inner sanctum. There was no way he was going to turn down the opportunity to see it now.

Derek was sitting at the desk when Stiles had run the gauntlet (aka Erica’s knowing look) and made it safely to the doorway.

“You’re busy,” Stiles said, standing awkwardly just inside the doorway.

“I’m done,” Derek said.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to . . . .”

“I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t sure,” Derek said. He stood and steered Stiles to the chair he’d just vacated.

“If you’re sure,” Stiles said as he allowed himself to be steered. He hoped he didn’t look too eager as he dropped into the seat that retained the warmth from Derek’s body.

“Just finish studying for your exam. I don’t want your father blaming me because you flunked out of college.”

“My dad wouldn’t blame you,” Stiles said. At Derek’s look he corrected himself. “I mean, I’m not going to flunk out so there’ll be nothing to blame you for.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Derek said dryly. He pointed at the textbook Stiles clutched to his chest. “Study.”

After Derek left the room Stiles did study. The desk. It was very well-organized, and not at all like Stiles’ desk at home. Order forms and invoices and bills and work schedules were tucked neatly in folders and stacked orderly in the wire file sorter. A closed laptop sat in front of the file rack. Nothing else was on top of the desk, which was an ancient metal one that someone had probably paid Derek to take off their hands. Even the pen Derek had been using had been put back in the drawer.

The space reminded Stiles a lot of Derek, actually, who kept most of himself hidden, rather than on display.

Stiles set his book on the desk and lowered the messenger bag to the floor by his feet. He re-read what he’d already written, and then continued laying out his thoughts. Once the essay was completed to his satisfaction, Stiles returned to the rest of the practice exam.

Stiles woke with a start when Derek touched his shoulder. He blinked blearily at the page where his pen had trailed off and where a wet spot testified to the fact that he’d drooled while he slept. Stiles self-consciously swiped his sleeve across his mouth to wipe away any evidence of it and looked at Derek.

“I fell asleep,” Stiles said.

“You did,” Derek agreed from where he squatted next to the chair.

“I didn’t mean to.”

“How’s your neck?”

Stiles rotated his neck and shoulders. “Okay,” he decided. Not too stiff, but they probably would’ve been if he’d been there much longer. “What time is it?”

“Just after nine,” Derek said. “You should go home and get some rest.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agreed, but he didn’t really want to go home. He’d been finding it more and more difficult lately to leave. And Derek didn’t seem to mind having him around.

Stiles gazed at Derek’s face. Derek looked back at Stiles, but his eyes appeared to be focused on Stiles’ lips. Stiles reflexively licked them and Derek’s eyes darkened. He leaned forward, and for a beat of one, two, three, Stiles actually thought that Derek might be going to kiss him.

Derek caught himself and jerked back so hard Stiles thought he might end up on his butt. Derek quickly stood. “Well,” he said, and then noticed the hand still sitting on Stiles’ shoulder. He removed it quickly, as if he’d been burned.

“You should go home. Sleep,” Derek growled, glaring at Stiles as if he’d been the one about to kiss Derek. “I’ve got to get back to work.”

Derek left in a hurry and Stiles was left alone. He sat at the desk for a few seconds, contemplating the fact that Derek may have wanted to kiss him. Any sense of satisfaction he got from that thought was offset by the fact that Derek had chosen to run away, instead. Stiles packed everything into the messenger bag and poked his head out of the office. He heard Erica grumbling to someone up front. Since he’d never heard her speak to Isaac like that no matter her mood, Stiles figured she must be speaking with Derek.

Stiles snuck out the back entrance, glad that Boyd was the strong, silent type when he looked up from the grill and saw him, and instead of commenting on it, just gave him a nod.

~*~*~*~

Stiles spent the next two days studying in the library. It had nothing to do with being a coward and not wanting to face Derek. He had study groups and it was just easier for them to meet on campus. That was his story, and he was sticking to it.

When Stiles stepped outside the library with his group on the second afternoon, his gaze was immediately drawn to the big brooding hulk sitting on one of the benches. He almost wasn’t even surprised to see Derek there.

“Thanks,” Stiles said in response to Kelli’s offer to join the others for a burger at the student union. “But.” He gestured towards the bench where Derek sat, studiously ignoring them.

“Ooh,” Daniel said appreciatively. “Is he the reason you haven’t been around as much lately?”

“No,” Stiles said. Not very convincingly, if the looks he got in response were any indication.

“Okay, well, let us know how it goes,” Tina said, adding a wink that made Stiles blush.

“It’s not like that,” Stiles said. And tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

“Come on, you guys, I’m hungry,” Kelli said, taking pity on Stiles. “We’ll see you later, Stiles.”

Stiles waved them on their way and then turned to Derek. Who was glaring at him. It was such a familiar sight by now that it made Stiles feel almost warm and fuzzy inside. He smiled as he walked over to the bench.

“Miss me?” Stiles said.

“No,” Derek said.

“And yet, here you are.”

Without another word, Derek held out the paper cup he was carrying. Stiles took it. The outside of the cup was wet with condensation and it slipped in Stiles’ hand. He stared at it with suspicion.

“What is it?”

Derek’s only response was to deepen his glare.

“Wow, scary,” Stiles said, taking a sip through the straw. “Black raspberry milkshake. You did miss me.”

“No.”

Stiles sat beside Derek on the bench. “You brought me a milkshake,” he pointed out.

“Isaac was worried you’d starve to death if you weren’t coming in to eat.”

“So you could’ve sent Isaac.”

Derek made a face. “Erica said it was my job.”

“Your job to check up on me?” Stiles said skeptically.

Derek shrugged. Stiles took another sip.

“Well, it’s good,” Stiles said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Derek said in a tone others might use to say, “Get off of my lawn, you darn kids!”

“Want some?” Stiles held out the cup.

“No.”

Stiles waved the straw in front of Derek’s mouth. “You know you do.”

“Do you want me to break your wrist?” Derek asked pleasantly.

“No,” Stiles said, pulling his hand back. “I need that hand for . . . uh, writing.” Stiles ducked his head and drank some more of the shake. “This is really good. Who made it, Isaac?”

Derek didn’t answer.

“Really?” Stiles huffed a laugh. “You made me the shake and delivered it. Wanna know what I think?”

“No.”

“That was rhetorical. I think you did miss me.”

“I didn’t.”

“Did.”

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

Derek sighed. “I can’t imagine why.”

“Because I’m awesome,” Stiles said.

“That was rhetorical.”

~*~

Stiles passed all his exams with flying colors. Not that there had been any doubt in his mind that he would. Well, maybe a tiny bit of concern. Not even doubt, really. And not even tiny. More like minuscule. But it was nice to be able to see it in writing and have it confirmed.

Scott, who was determined to become a veterinarian even though he had more heart than brain (and Stiles said that as a best friend who loved Scott dearly), sweated out the results a little more than Stiles did. Stiles, who had figured out Scott’s password months ago, texted him as soon as he saw the results posted online.

Derek threw them a ‘Congratulations For Making It Thru Your 1st Year’ party at the Malt Shoppe (that’s actually what it said on the brown paper toweling Erica had stolen out of the restroom to use as the banner), though Stiles was pretty sure it had been Isaac’s idea. They held the party on Monday night, when they were pretty much assured of having the place almost to themselves. Stiles’ dad was there, as was Scott’s mom. Several deputies showed up for a free ice cream cone on the Sheriff to celebrate the occasion.

“One might think you lacked confidence in me,” Stiles commented after Deputy Carlson left with her cone and a shouted, “Congratulations!” in Stiles’ direction.

“I had every confidence,” Stiles’ dad said. “Though I will admit that I wondered if you were letting yourself get too distracted lately.”

“Distracted?” Stiles said. “By what?”

Stiles’ dad raised his eyebrows, and then he looked across the room. Stiles’ own eyes followed the direction of his dad’s gaze. Ah, not what, who. Derek.

“It’s not like that,” Stiles said for the second time in a week.

His dad gave him a look.

“What?”

His dad shook his head. “I think I’ll let you figure this one out on your own.”

“Figure what out?” Stiles asked as his dad moved away. “Dad!” Stiles glanced back over at Derek, who was looking back at him.

Stiles wished he could figure out what the look meant.

~*~

Stiles ran into Allison a couple days later. Well, more like she ran into him.

“Hi, Stiles,” Allison said as she slid onto the stool next to his.

“Allison! Hi! You’re here. I mean, home. From college.”

Stiles’ babble earned him a raised eyebrow, but all Allison said was, “Yep, home for the summer.”

Scott and Allison had broken up (for the dozenth and final time) just before their senior year, but she’d become very familiar with Stiles’ tendency to babble while they had been dating.

“So, what are you up to?”

“Looking for a job for the summer,” Allison said. “After spending nine months on my own, I think I’d scream if I had to spend the summer at home 24/7 under my parents’ watchful eyes.”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, remembering how scary Allison’s mom was. “But, uh, I don’t think they’re hiring here.”

Even after that first busy weekend Derek had refused to hire anyone else, though he did allow Stiles to help out when they got really busy, and he even insisted on paying him for his time. Stiles didn’t get the same kind of tips that Erica earned, but she was generous about splitting them.

“Oh, not here,” Allison said. “I just came in for an ice cream float. I hope you don’t mind that I joined you,” she said, as if just realizing that it might be awkward.

“No, that’s fine!” Stiles assured her. (Even though he had been feeling kind of awkward until he’d made her feel awkward. Then he’d just felt bad.)

Stiles looked up and called over the first person he saw. “Isaac! You remember Allison from school, right? Allison Argent, Isaac Lahey. Isaac was on the lacrosse team with me and Scott.”

“Oh,” Allison said, smiling sweetly even though she probably didn’t remember Isaac from Adam. “Hi, Isaac.”

“Hi,” Isaac said.

Suddenly Stiles realized how awkward it might be for Scott’s new crush to be meeting Scott’s ex. “Um, are you working the counter now?” Stiles asked Isaac.

Isaac glanced over his shoulder, to where Erica was conspicuous by her absence. “Yeah, I guess I am,” he said resignedly.

“Awesome,” Stiles said with more cheer than the comment deserved. “She’ll have an ice cream float and I’ll have a milkshake,” he said as he pushed back his empty plate. “Add it to my tab.”

“You don’t need to buy my ice cream float,” Allison said.

“I’ve got a job,” Stiles reminded her.

Allison laughed. “I’m sure my dad’ll front me an ice cream float.”

Something about that comment made Isaac’s shoulders stiffen. “What kind of float would you like?” he asked politely.

“Vanilla ice cream with cream soda, if you have it, please,” Allison said.

Isaac looked at Stiles. It took him a second to realize what he wanted.

“Oh, uh, strawberry please. The special kind?”

Isaac gave Stiles an almost indulgent smile before he moved off to make their drinks.

“What’s the special kind?” Allison asked.

“Isaac makes it for me with vanilla ice cream and real strawberries,” Stiles said.

“Sounds good.”

“It’s amazing,” Stiles confided. He didn’t think he’d said it loud enough for Isaac to hear, but Isaac glanced over at him and smiled.

Allison caught the exchange. “So, you and Isaac?” she asked.

“What?”

“I don’t mean to embarrass you,” Allison said. “It’s just kind of cute, is all.”

“No! I’m not . . . it’s not . . . I just, no, there is no me and Isaac.”

“That was convincing,” Allison said.

“I’m serious,” Stiles said. “I’m pretty sure Isaac’s affection lies elsewhere, and I, well, I’m not interested in anyone right now.”

“Uh huh,” Allison agreed with a heavy dose of skepticism.

Just then, Stiles glanced up when he heard Derek’s voice.

“Where’s Erica?” Derek asked Isaac.

“Out back, I think,” Isaac said.

Derek raised his hand and let it briefly brush Isaac’s shoulder. “I’ll get her back in here.”

“Okay.”

Derek glanced at Stiles before he left. Once Derek had disappeared back into the kitchen Stiles turned back to Allison. She was smiling at him.

“What?”

“No one, huh? You’ll have to introduce me to him sometime.”

Stiles sighed. “It’s really not like that.”

They were silent after that until Isaac set their drinks in front of them. They both sipped. Stiles watched as Erica gave them the side eye before going out to check on customers and clear tables.

“So,” Stiles said, searching for something to talk about. “Where did you apply? For a job, I mean.”

“Oh, the day care. And the summer theater program.”

Stiles had forgotten that Allison wanted to be a teacher.

“Unfortunately, neither place is sure if they’ll be hiring. Funding, you know. I didn’t tell them, but I might even be willing to volunteer if it’ll get me out of the house.”

They both shared a grin at that, though Stiles thought his own might be kind of sickly. He had to hold back a shudder at the thought of Allison’s mom. She was one scary woman. Even scarier than Erica, if that was possible. Yeah, he could totally understand why Allison would want to get out of the house.

~*~*~*~

Cory, another Beacon Hills University student that had been working part-time at Cat Nap Books, went home for the summer so Stiles was able to work more hours. He still managed to spend more time at the Malt Shoppe since he didn’t have classes or homework, even though he took over the chore of mowing their lawn once exams were over. (As well as that of Mrs. Henry, which Stiles had been mowing for the past three years, ever since her husband died. Her lawn was small and she paid Stiles in chocolate chip cookies, so he didn’t mind.)

Sometimes Stiles had a book with him – he’d gotten the reading list for several of the classes he’d signed up for next semester so he could get ahead. Other times he helped clear and wipe down the tables when Erica and Isaac started looking frazzled. Those times were few and far between, however -- they moved faster than anyone else Stiles knew, and never dropped anything no matter how high they stacked the trays.

The point was, Stiles was there the day UPS delivered the t-shirts Derek had been convinced to order. Erica wasn’t thrilled that she’d have to give up her tank tops, but she agreed that the advertising would help the restaurant. And when she tried on the t-shirt Stiles had to avert his eyes and hide his blush because she must have told Derek a size (if not two) smaller than she normally wore.

Erica winked at Stiles, clearly enjoying his reaction. “Still need to earn those tips,” she said.

“Well, I’m sure you will,” Stiles said, still not looking at her. “So,” he said when Isaac and Boyd appeared, also wearing their t-shirts. “Do I get one?”

“You don’t work here,” Derek said.

“He does sometimes,” Erica interjected.

“And he is here all the time,” Boyd said.

“He’s sort of like our . . . mascot,” Isaac added, grinning.

“Mascot?” Stiles said, trying to sound insulted. Though it was difficult in the face of Isaac’s grin.

“Hmm,” Derek said. “You’re right.”

“Hey!” Stiles started, but broke off when Derek produced a t-shirt from behind his back. “Hey,” he said again, pleasure softening his voice.

Stiles held up the black t-shirt that had the name of the restaurant on the back. He turned it around. His name was on the left breast pocket. “Thanks,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” Derek growled. “Now get ready,” he told the others. “We open in five.”

They watched Derek stomp into the back, and then Isaac turned a contagious grin on Stiles. Isaac gave him a friendly punch in the shoulder that nearly knocked him off his feet. You wouldn’t think it from looking at him, but Isaac could pack quite a punch.

“Ow,” Stiles said, but it didn’t wipe the smile off his face, because nothing could ruin this moment.

~*~

Stiles still stopped by the Malt Shoppe in the morning on his way to work. The days Stiles opened the bookstore, it was early enough that Derek was usually the only one there doing prep. Stiles used the back entrance. He had a key that Derek had given to him once the restaurant was officially open so he didn’t have to keep letting Stiles in the front door. Stiles never had to use the key, though, because the door was never locked on the mornings he stopped by, almost as if Derek expected him.

Stiles usually poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot Derek started and sat on the stool to watch Derek mix up cupcakes or a salad for the day. This morning the kitchen smelled especially good from whatever Derek had baking in the oven, and he was chopping vegetables into smaller pieces for the food processor.

“What smells so good?” Stiles asked as he carefully sipped coffee liberally laced with milk and sugar.

(For someone who could bake like an angel, Derek made surprisingly bad coffee. Stiles had commented on it once and Derek had grouchily invited him to not stop by for coffee anymore if it was that bad.)

“Apple crisp,” Derek said.

“What are you making now?”

“Potato salad.”

“Can I help?”

Derek gave Stiles a look.

“What?”

“You think I’m going to voluntarily put a knife in your hand?”

“Funny,” Stiles said. “I do know how to chop a vegetable. I cook at home, you know.”

Derek raised an eyebrow at him. “You still eat at home?”

“Yes,” Stiles said. “I’m not here all the time.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Derek said as he loaded up the food processor.

“Haha,” Stiles said dryly. He tried to sound insulted, but really, he enjoyed it when Derek let down his walls enough to tease him.

“You’re gonna be late,” Derek said.

Stiles’ eyes shot to the clock. “How do you do that? Are you attuned to the sun, or something?” Stiles asked as he slipped off the stool.

“Something like that,” Derek said.

“Okay, well, I’ll see you later.”

“I look forward to it,” Derek drawled.

“I know,” Stiles said. “Highlight of your day.”

Derek grunted a response.

“Thanks for the coffee,” Stiles said as he set the cup in the sink. What he really meant was, thanks for the company.

“You’re welcome,” Derek said.

Stiles closed the door behind him with a smile.

~*~*~*~

Stiles was sitting on the stool at the counter that he’d come to think of as his own. When he was reading a book, the booths were more comfortable, but he liked sitting at the counter so he could chat with whoever was working back there and sneak surreptitious glimpses of Derek. Today Scott sat at his right, though he was turned around on the stool watching Isaac. Only Stiles’ promise to Scott kept him from saying anything, but he made a mental note to tease him later.

Just then Stiles heard the grating sound of a voice that made him shudder. It had been nearly a year since he’d heard it last, and Stiles hadn’t missed the voice, nor the stupidly handsome face that went with it. He spun around on the stool to confirm his ugly suspicions.

“Jackson,” Scott said in the tone someone might use when they’d just realized they’d stepped in dog crap.

“Yep,” Stiles said in agreement. On the other hand, “Lydia.” The goddess with whom Stiles had fallen in love in the third grade and worshiped from afar for the past ten years. Very far for the past year since she’d gone to college on the other side of the country. Though, to be honest, Stiles hadn’t really thought that much about her the last couple of months.

“Hey, Lydia,” Stiles said as she and Jackson walked past them on their way to an empty booth. “Long time, no see. You’re looking lovely, as always.”

Lydia, as usual, completely ignored Stiles. It wasn’t as if she thought he was beneath her notice, but more like he was completely invisible to her.

“Wow,” Stiles said. “And suddenly I feel like I’m back in high school.”

“What?” Scott said.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Never mind.”

Stiles turned back around to face the counter. Erica and Derek were both staring at him. “What?”

Derek’s face, never open at the best of times, closed up even more. He told Erica, “I’ll be in the office,” and turned his back on Stiles without another word.

“Nice move,” Erica hissed as she strode past Stiles.

Even Boyd gave him a disappointed look from the kitchen.

“What?” Stiles said. “What did I do?”

“I think you just gave Derek the impression that you’re interested in Lydia,” Scott said.

“Why would Derek even care?” Stiles said.

Scott took his gaze off Isaac long enough to give Stiles the side eye.

“And how would you even know?”

“Because I’m not blind.”

“But all you do is stare at Isaac all day,” Stiles said as Scott returned his gaze to Isaac.

As if he’d heard Stiles’ comment from across the room, Isaac glanced over and smiled shyly at Scott.

“He watches you all the time,” Scott said.

“Isaac?”

Scott sighed.

Oh. “No he doesn’t,” Stiles scoffed.

“Yes, he does,” Erica said.

Stiles did not scream like a little girl at the sound of her voice in his ear. But it was a near thing.

In lieu of answering, he thought about what they’d both said. Stiles couldn’t help stare at Derek because Derek was, well, Derek. Quite stare-able. Though he tried not to let Derek or any of the others catch him staring because the last thing he wanted was anyone twigging to his crush.

Stiles did realize that Derek had a soft spot for him. He continued to let him hang around, after all, and it wasn’t everyone who could put up with Stiles. And those that attempted it often grew tired of him sooner rather than later. College had been different than high school, but the truth was, he was an acquired taste, and better in small doses.

Except for his dad and Scott, only Derek, Isaac, Erica and Boyd put up with him for long periods of time. Especially Derek. Who let Stiles keep coming around. Who gave him a key. Who let Stiles’ words wrap around the silence that he surrounded himself with.

“He never said,” Stiles accused, mostly to himself.

Stiles didn’t need Erica’s raised eyebrow to know how ridiculous that statement was. Derek didn’t use his words. Not unless he had to. And the more important something was to him, the less inclined he’d be to speak of it.

But that meant that Stiles had to speak of it. He’d never had to tell anyone how he felt before. Except his mom, but Stiles didn’t think that counted. Or Lydia, because that had been like talking into a black hole. It had been safe. This, with Derek, would not be safe. Not at all.

Stiles’ heart started beating double time, and his belly filled with butterflies. How many times had he told people that it wasn’t like that between them? Had they seen something he didn’t. Could it be like that?

Stiles slipped off the stool without realizing what he’d done.

“Where are you going?” Scott said.

“To talk to Derek,” Stiles said. He could do this.

“Good luck,” Scott said skeptically.

“Go get him, tiger,” Erica said with a wink.

Couldn’t he?

~*~

Boyd gave Stiles a thumbs up when he passed him on the way to Derek’s office. He had no idea how Boyd knew what he was doing, but gave him a nod of thanks anyway. He needed all the support he could get.

Stiles knocked on the doorframe, but didn’t wait for Derek to invite him inside. By the stiff set of his shoulders, Stiles was pretty sure Derek was aware he was there even before the perfunctory knock.

“Hey,” Stiles said, shifting on his feet.

“I’m busy,” Derek said dismissively.

Derek clearly wasn’t busy, but more importantly, even if he was busy, he’d never before implied that Stiles’ presence wasn’t welcome. Not in such a manner that Stiles would take him seriously, anyway. Stiles tamped down on the hurt so he could say what he’d come back here to say.

“Yeah, well, I don’t expect this’ll take long,” Stiles said. “So,” he added after a moment. “Lydia.”

Stiles didn’t think he was seeing things when Derek’s jaw went even more tight.

“I’ve had a crush on Lydia since third grade. Unrequited, because that’s my thing. At least, it’s always been my thing before.” Stiles shook his head and forced himself to stop babbling. “Anyway, it sorta became a habit to try and get her to notice me. Today was a knee-jerk reaction. It didn’t mean anything.” Stiles waited for a second, but Derek didn’t say anything. Stiles hurried through the next bit, “Because I’ve come to realize that there’s someone else I want to notice me.”

Derek just stared at him, a silent block of stone that didn’t give Stiles much encouragement.

“Well,” Stiles said, discouraged. “I’ll just let you think about that.”

Stiles turned to leave, but a vein of steel he hadn’t even realized he possessed froze his feet and caused him to turn around and face Derek again. Who was looking at Stiles. He couldn’t turn his face away fast enough to hide the fact, and he looked surprised that Stiles hadn’t continued on his way. It gave Stiles the morale boost he needed. He strode across the office to where Derek sat behind the supposed safety of his desk, of the glare he fixed upon Stiles.

But Stiles was used to that. The glare he could deal with, because it meant that Derek was feeling . . . something. Stiles bent down and kissed Derek, the kiss landing half on his mouth and half off. He stood back and nodded at Derek as if to say, there, I did that, and then he turned and slowly, deliberately walked from the room.

The only reason he didn’t run was because he didn’t think he could, but as soon as he was outside the office, Stiles’ let his legs collapse. “Oh my god,” he moaned.

Boyd frowned at Stiles. “What’s wrong?”

“He’s going to kill me.”

Boyd shrugged. “If he hasn’t killed you by now, I think you’re safe.”

Stiles glared at Boyd, but Boyd was also used to Derek’s glare, so Stiles’ glare suffered greatly in comparison. “That’s actually not very helpful.”

“Why do you think he’s going to kill you,” Boyd asked indifferently as he flipped burgers.

Because I kissed him, Stiles thought frantically. When he looked up, Boyd was staring at him, burgers seemingly forgotten. “Oh, god, did I say that out loud?”

A slow smile creased Boyd’s face. Instead of answering he held out his fist expectantly.

“What?” Stiles said, even as he bumped Boyd’s fist with his own.

“What was that for?” Erica said as she appeared like a whirlwind and started loading plates onto a tray.

“Stiles kissed Derek,” Boyd told her.

“Oh my god, no, don’t . . . .” Stiles looked around feverishly.

Erica gave Stiles an impressed look. “I didn’t know you had the balls,” she said.

“I don’t . . . have the balls,” Stiles finished after she’d strode out of the kitchen. He rubbed his hands through his hair. “Oh god, now he’s really going to kill me. Why did you have to go and tell . . . . Eep!” Stiles exclaimed as he was lifted to his feet.

Stiles looked down at the hand clenched in the front of his shirt and then up into Derek’s glowering face. He shook his head. “I’m sorry! Please don’t kill me!”

Derek turned his glower onto Boyd, who just grinned and saluted him before turning back to the orders he was filling. Derek dragged Stiles back into his office and closed the door behind them. Stiles had never seen the door closed before, which didn’t speak well for his life expectancy.

Derek dropped Stiles into the chair, then stood back. He crossed his arms over his chest. He paced away from the desk, then came back. “Stop looking at me like that, I’m not going to kill you.”

“Thank you,” Stiles said fervently.

Derek sat on the corner of the desk and stared at the floor. Stiles glanced longingly at the door, but he knew that there was no way he was getting past Derek. Stiles wasn’t sure whether he should speak and draw attention to himself, or remain silent. Though, seriously, how likely was that, really?

“So, if you’re not going to kill me, what are we doing here?”

Derek raised an eyebrow. “You think I’d kill you in the office of the restaurant you frequent on a daily basis? The restaurant that I own? How would I move the body, clean up after? Explain your absence?”

“I think I’m disturbed by how much thought you’ve put into this,” Stiles said.

“It’s your fault,” Derek said.

“That you think about ways to kill me and hide the body?”

Derek gave him a look. “That you’re a pain in my ass.”

“You’re not the first person to say that,” Stiles said.

“The point is,” Derek said, and then just stared at Stiles’ hands gripping the arms of the chair he’d been dropped into.

“The point is?” Stiles nudged, unable to keep from speaking.

“The point is,” Derek said angrily, “that I do notice you.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, I’m sorry,” Stiles said. “I’ll try to be less noticeable in future.”

Derek just stared at him as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Or possibly hearing.

“Oh!” Stiles said. “Oh! Really? Because that’s . . . awesome. Right? I mean, I notice you, too, in case that wasn’t clear.”

The corner of Derek’s lips turned up.

“Okay, so that was probably clear. But I should probably tell you that, despite appearances to the contrary, I don’t have much experience with, uh, you know, relationships, and I don’t actually know what to do next.”

“Well,” Derek said, “we’re in the same boat there.”

“We are?” Stiles said. “But you’re . . . .”

Derek glared at him. Stiles gestured at Derek’s abs.

“Ahh,” Stiles said. “Nobody ever got past the glare before?”

Derek grimaced at Stiles’ clearly accurate guess.

“That’s alright, I kinda like the glare.” Stiles got one for his efforts. “Okay, well, then we’ll figure it out together, right?” Stiles pushed himself out of the chair. He didn’t go far because he was already pressed up against Derek’s leg. “I mean, if you want to.”

Stiles held his breath until Derek raised his eyes and met Stiles’ gaze.

“I do,” Derek said.

Stiles smiled so wide he thought it might crack his face. Derek raised an eyebrow in fond amusement. Stiles didn’t care. He leaned in slowly, telegraphing his intent and giving Derek plenty of time to stop it if that’s what he wanted to do. Derek didn’t, and this time Stiles’ lips found their target.

~*~*~*~

Stiles wondered if morning coffee would now include morning kisses. He didn’t ask the question out loud, but Derek was getting pretty good at reading him.

“Yes,” Derek said gruffly as Stiles sat on the stool and stared at his ass.

Stiles jerked his gaze up guiltily. “Uh, yes, what?”

Derek set the timer on the ice cream maker, checked that it was mixing properly, then stepped over to Stiles. He took Stiles’ face in his hands and bent his head.

“Oh,” Stiles said breathlessly when Derek released him and stepped back. “Mornings just got a whole lot better.”

From the smile he got in return, Stiles thought that Derek thought so too.

~*~

Stiles started going into the Malt Shoppe early even on mornings he didn’t have to open. The first time he showed up unexpectedly, Derek raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t say anything when Stiles tied on an apron and washed his hands. Though he did look torn when Stiles told Derek to put him to work. Stiles could see the indecision on Derek’s face – trust Stiles with frosting the cupcakes, or put a sharp blade in his hands.

Stiles made the decision by leaning up to press a kiss to Derek’s lips and covering the hand holding the knife with one of his own. “Go. Frost.”

Derek frosted while Stiles chopped celery and cubed chicken. When he was done, Derek filled the pastry display on the counter with the gaily decorated cupcakes and stored all but two of the rest in an airtight container in the walk-in cooler for later. Stiles smiled as he added chopped walnuts and cranberries, and then stirred up the chicken salad for that day’s special. He knew that one of those cupcakes was for him.

“What are you smiling at?” Derek growled.

“Nothing,” Stiles said.

~*~

“I think we should go on a date,” Stiles said one morning.

Derek didn’t lose a finger to the mixer, but it was a near thing.

“I mean, I know you’re busy with this place, and you don’t have, like, any time off, but I thought, well, Mondays are kind of slow, maybe we could do something then.”

“I’d have to leave the others here alone,” Derek said, his tone that of a man saying, “I’d have to blow up my restaurant.”

“Yes, well,” Stiles said. “We could start slow. If you could take an hour break, I know this place that has great burgers and milkshakes.”

“Here?” Derek said. “That’s not special. You eat here all the time.”

“Not with you,” Stiles said.

~*~

“Hey, Dad,” Stiles said. He wiped his palms on his jeans and then realized what he was doing and shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans.

“Stiles.”

“We’re sitting over here,” Stiles said, leading his dad to the booth he’d reserved. “Thanks for coming,” he said as they slid into their seats.

“Of course,” his dad said.

Isaac came over to take their order. Stiles’ dad ordered a burger and fries without even looking at the menu. Stiles ordered the same.

“Okay, what’s wrong?” his dad said.

“What makes you think anything’s wrong?” Stiles said guiltily.

“Because you didn’t say a word when I ordered the burger and fries.” His dad held up a finger to forestall any comment. “Too late now. Now spill.”

“Okay, well, the thing is, you know how I, um, well, it’s like this, Derek and I . . . .”

Stiles broke off when he realized that his dad was looking over Stiles’ shoulder rather than paying attention to his ramblings. Stiles turned his head to look over his own shoulder and saw Derek watching him not-quite surreptitiously from behind the counter. Stiles smiled. Derek gave Stiles what to the uninitiated would appear to be a grumpy nod, but to Stiles said, ‘I’ve got your back.’

“Which one of you finally made the first move?” Stiles’ dad asked.

Stiles felt heat suffuse his cheeks when he remembered the very clumsy kiss he’d planted on Derek. “Uh, I think I did,” he said, his voice full of the wonder he still felt when he thought about where it had gotten him.

“Congratulations,” his dad said. “I’m happy for you. And I’m still eating my burger.”

~*~

At seven o’clock Derek came out of the kitchen. He’d removed his apron, though he still wore the black t-shirt with his name on the front left pocket and the name of the restaurant filling the back.

“Hi,” Stiles said, staring stupidly at Derek.

“Hi,” Derek said, staring stupidly back at Stiles.

Erica rolled her eyes at them. “Your table’s ready,” she said.

Stiles stood up from the stool where he’d been waiting for their first official date to begin, and promptly tripped over his own feet. Derek moved quickly and caught Stiles before he fell on his face. Stiles was glad that Mondays were slow, or he might never hear the end of that.

“Smooth,” Erica said.

Not that he was going to hear the end of it now.

Derek led him over to the booth and they slid into opposite sides. Stiles nervously studied the menu without seeing it, even though he had it memorized by now. Erica interrupted Stiles’ musings by setting drinks on the table. She gathered up the menus.

“Hey, we didn’t order,” Stiles said.

“You’re having the Philly Steak special,” Erica said as she strode off with their menus. “No onions,” she called back, making Stiles blush.

Stiles turned back to Derek. “Why did we sit in her section again?”

“No choice,” Derek said. “She arm wrestled Isaac for it.”

That startled a laugh out of Stiles. “Doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “So,” he added after a moment of silence. “I’m not sure what people usually do on a date. Talk, probably.” He huffed a laugh at the thought of Derek talking, then caught his breath when Derek’s foot touched his under the table.

“I suppose I could talk enough for both of us,” Stiles squeaked as Derek trapped Stiles’ foot between both of his.

~*~

“I hate full moons,” Stiles complained.

“Still haven’t been invited to join the coven?” his dad said, fighting back a smile.

“No.” Stiles threw himself onto the couch and stared at the television screen. “Not that I want to become a Wicca.”

“You just hate not knowing what’s going on,” his dad said.

“Yes. I mean, no.”

Stiles’ dad chuckled. “I’m surprised you haven’t snuck out to the woods to see what they’re doing out there.”

Stiles was surprised, too. It wasn’t like him. He was going to call Scott. “I’m going to call Scott.”

“No,” Scott said when Stiles presented the plan to him. “I am not sneaking through the woods looking for the coven.”

“You would’ve done it when we were in high school,” Stiles pouted.

“I’d like to think that I’m a lot smarter now,” Scott said haughtily.

“You still can’t figure out how to get your fingers out of a Chinese finger puzzle,” Stiles reminded him.

~*~

They made out in Derek’s office a lot. Sometimes it was because Stiles couldn’t keep his hands off Derek. He looked especially kissable when he was frowning over an order form or cursing as he stabbed a finger a the keyboard to his laptop. Other times, Derek instigated it.

Stiles never knew what it was that set Derek off, but he’d feel Derek’s eyes on him and know. They’d excuse themselves very awkwardly, and Derek would have Stiles up against the office door before it was fully closed.

“You should get a couch in here,” Stiles suggested one day.

Derek’s eyes went distant, as if he was considering it, but then he shook his head. “You’re distracting enough as it is, I’d never get any work done in here.”

Stiles couldn’t help preening because he was the reason Derek sometimes didn’t get any work done in there.

“Yeah, you’re the man,” Erica drawled before turning to Derek and asking him a question about that day’s special.

Stiles flushed red, but he couldn’t help nodding his head because, yeah, he was the man.

~*~

“Let’s go,” Derek said one Monday night.

Stiles let himself be drawn to his feet. “Where are we going?”

Instead of answering Stiles, Derek told Erica, “We’ll be back in an hour.”

Implied was, “The building better still be standing when we get here.”

Only once they were outside and headed towards the Camaro did Derek address Stiles’ question. “I still owe you a ride.”

Stiles’ face broke into a grin. “Really?”

Derek opened the passenger door for Stiles. Instead of walking around the front of the car, Derek slid across the hood.

“Show off,” Stiles said as Derek slid into the driver’s seat, but he couldn’t deny that he was impressed.

Derek smirked as if he knew it as he turned the key in the ignition. Stiles changed the subject.

“So, where are we going?”

Derek revved the engine. “Does it matter?”

Stiles swallowed hard. “No.”

Derek pulled out of the parking lot rather sedately for a guy who wore a leather jacket (when he wasn’t wearing an apron) and drove a Camaro. When Stiles commented on it, Derek gave him a look.

“Do you want your father pulling us over?”

Stiles gave Derek a horrified look. “No.”

Derek drove through town, and though Stiles had lived in Beacon Hills all his life, looking at it now, from the passenger seat of the Camaro with Derek beside him, everything looked different. Derek took a turn outside of town that Stiles was unfamiliar with. He sat up straighter and looked out the windshield.

“Where are we going?” Stiled asked again.

Derek didn’t answer, which made Stiles pay even more attention to their destination. Stiles still wasn’t sure when Derek pulled the car over and parked.

“What are we doing here?” Stiles said.

Derek turned off the engine, then turned in the seat to face Stiles. Stiles was so flustered by the heat in Derek’s gaze that it took him a few moments to realize what it meant.

“Seriously?” Stiles said as he unhooked his seatbelt. “You brought me to make out point?”

“Are you complaining?”

“No way,” Stiles said.

~*~*~*~

“So when do I get to see your apartment?” Stiles asked one night while he sat in the chair across from Derek’s desk and watched him do payroll. (Derek had given in and purchased two chairs in lieu of the couch Stiles had suggested so that he had something to sit on while he was in there bugging him.)

So far their relationship consisted of stolen kisses, dates at the Malt Shoppe that were overseen by Erica (and on one truly memorable occasion, Stiles’ dad), and make-out sessions in the office or the backseat of Derek’s Camaro that often left Stiles feeling more frustrated than when they’d started. He was ready – more than ready – to move things to the next level, and they needed privacy to do that. Since he still lived at home with his dad, that left Derek’s apartment.

Derek’s hand jerked on the calculator as he added up his numbers. It was a small movement, and Derek quickly recovered, but Stiles saw it because he’d been watching for it. Stiles had thought that he and Derek were on the same page – it seemed that way when they were making out in the office and had to stop before they came in their pants because one or both of them had to get back to work. Derek appeared to regret having to stop as much as Stiles did, but now Stiles wasn’t so certain.

“Why don’t you want to have sex with me?” Stiles asked before he could talk himself out of it.

The pencil Derek held skittered across the ledger.

“I mean, you seem into it when we’re, you know, making out and stuff, but, are you not . . . interested?”

“I’m interested,” Derek growled.

Stiles took heart. “Then why do you keep coming up with reasons why we can’t?” Either Derek was too busy with the restaurant or Stiles had to get up early to open at the bookstore. There was always *something*. When Derek didn’t answer, Stiles went on.

“Is it because you think I’m too young? Because I’m nineteen. And a half. Well over the age of consent in California, I might add. And I’m interested, too, in case I didn’t make that clear. Very interested.”

Derek looked like he was constipated. Or wanted to throw up.

“Is it because I’m a virgin?”

Derek growled low in his throat, and in the light in the office it appeared that his eyes flashed red for a moment. Stiles stared at him, and finally Derek ground out, “It’s not that. There’s something I need to tell you before we . . . .”

“What?” Stiles said. “Derek, what is it? You can tell me anything. You know that, right?”

Stiles got out of the chair and moved around the desk. He leaned his butt against the corner of the desk and touched Derek’s shoulder. The pencil in Derek’s fingers snapped in two. Stiles glanced at the broken pencil, then looked at Derek’s face.

“Derek?”

“I know,” Derek said, but still he said nothing.

Stiles waited for a few minutes to give Derek time – he didn’t want Derek to feel pressured. Just as he opened his mouth to say something, the door to the office slammed open. Stiles turned his head in surprise, but it was only Erica, Boyd, and Isaac filling the doorway.

“Geeze, you guys! Way to give a guy a heart attack!”

“I can’t take this anymore,” Erica said. “We can’t take this anymore.”

Boyd looked bored, and Isaac looked like he’d rather be anywhere but there, so Stiles figured it was mostly Erica who couldn’t take whatever it was that she couldn’t take anymore, and she’d browbeaten the others into backing her up.

“Erica,” Derek growled menacingly, having clearly come to the same conclusion as Stiles.

Derek rose to his feet and loomed over Stiles as he glared at Erica. For some reason, Stiles didn’t feel threatened in the slightest. He pushed his shoulder into Derek and liked the way Derek curled around him, almost protectively.

“The thing Derek is trying to tell you,” Erica said defiantly.

A growl rumbled in Derek’s chest.

“. . . is that he’s a werewolf. We all are.”

The chuckle and ‘yeah, right’ were right on the tip of Stiles’ tongue when Erica’s, Isaac’s, and Boyd’s faces rippled and they . . . changed, became something Stiles had only ever seen in movies, comic books, and RPGs. He may have squeaked. Not in fear, of course, but in surprise. (That was his story, and he was sticking to it.) Derek moved faster than Stiles had ever seen him move, and Stiles was suddenly behind him, clutching at Derek’s t-shirt.

“Change. Back,” Derek snarled.

They did, and it was just Erica, Isaac, and Boyd standing there again. They all looked like they knew they were in trouble, but only Erica raised her chin as if she didn’t care.

“So.” Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek’s waist (not at all because he needed help standing), and set his chin on Derek’s shoulder so he could peer over it. “Werewolves are real.”

Erica grinned at Stiles. “I told him you wouldn’t freak out.”

“Nope, not me,” Stiles agreed. “That noise you may have heard before was only because you startled me with the suddenness of your . . . you know . . . thing.”

Erica’s grin widened. She turned it onto Derek, who remained stiff and angry in Stiles’ arms. The grin didn’t dim. “You can thank me later,” she told Derek, smirking.

Before Derek could shed blood, Stiles said, “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to do that again? The thing with your faces? Maybe one at a time, this time?”

“Just this once,” Erica said. “We’re not performing monkeys, you know.”

Stiles wondered if she saw the irony in that. Decided that she probably didn’t. Further decided that he wasn’t gonna be the one to tell her. When she changed, Stiles studied Erica’s features. Her teeth looked very sharp, so he also curbed his natural instinct to ask if he could touch any part of her face.

Boyd and Isaac also shifted so he could familiarize himself with the changes to their features, as well, and Stiles uttered an uncharacteristically meek, “Thank you.”

“Can we leave now?” Isaac asked plaintively.

“Yes,” Derek snapped.

Isaac was gone like a shot. Boyd gave them a nod before turning away. Erica smirked at them both before sauntering out of the office as if she didn’t have a care in the world, and pointedly closing the door behind her.

“So,” Stiles said into the silence that fell in their wake. “You’re a werewolf.”

Derek stood stiff and silent in Stiles’ arms for a couple of long seconds before he let out a breath and said, “Yes.”

“Cool,” Stiles said, and Derek huffed a laugh.

“Yeah, it is pretty cool,” Derek admitted.

Stiles rubbed his face against Derek’s back. “Can I see?” he asked softly.

Of the four of them, Derek was the only one who hadn’t changed, and the one Stiles really wanted to see.

Derek turned in Stiles’ arms and looked at him. He rested his butt on the desk and gently clasped Stiles arms. Derek must’ve found whatever he was looking for in Stiles’ face because his features shifted. Stiles studied the changes – nose and forehead, sideburns – as if he was going to be tested on them later.

“Can I touch?”

Derek’s only answer was to release his hold on Stiles’ arms. Stiles reached up slowly and placed his hands against Derek’s cheeks. He ran his fingers over Derek’s nose and forehead, pushed them through the facial hair that had sprouted on the side of his face. Stiles touched his thumb to Derek’s lips. He jumped and gave a nervous giggle when Derek snapped his teeth at Stiles’ thumb. He knew that Derek would’ve caught it if he’d really wanted to do more than startle him.

Stiles curled an arm around Derek’s neck and pressed their foreheads together. “Derek.” Stiles brushed his lips over the corner of Derek’s mouth. “Is this why you wouldn’t have sex with me?”

Derek huffed, but he curled his hands around Stiles’ hips and pulled him in close. “You needed to know what you were getting into.”

Stiles nodded. He could imagine Derek worrying about that. He was quite the worrier.

“You know I’m going to have a lot of questions, right?”

Derek chuckled. “I’d be surprised if you didn’t.”

Stiles felt something inside him release that he hadn’t even known was tensed up. “You don’t mind?”

Derek forced Stiles to look at him. His features had shifted back to human. “I don’t mind.”

“Some of them will probably be stupid,” Stiles said.

Derek just looked at him.

“Okay, well, my first question, then. Does this mean we can have sex now?”

“Dear god, yes, please!” Erica called through the door. “Put us all out of our misery! The unresolved sexual tension is killing us!”

“I’m not in misery!” Isaac said, then yelped when Erica probably tugged on his ear in retaliation.

Through his flush, Stiles said, “Let me guess. Werewolves have really good hearing?”

“Yes,” Derek said, torn between smiling at Stiles and yelling at Erica.

“Well, they better plug their ears, then,” Stiles said, and leaned in to kiss Derek.

~*~*~*~

Stiles finally got to see Derek’s apartment. Derek put Boyd in charge of prep the next morning (much to Erica’s chagrin), and they left Betty in the parking lot. Stiles was nervous and excited now that he was finally getting what he’d been wanting. It made his mouth run.

“So, do all werewolves live in apartments?”

“No.”

“They don’t all live in the woods, do they?”

Derek raised his eyebrows. “No.”

“So, the Wicca thing. A cover for the werewolf thing?”

Derek smirked at him. “Yes.”

“That explains a lot, actually.”

Stiles fell silent as Derek pulled into the apartment complex and angled into a parking spot. He remained silent as Derek led him into the building. His stomach twisted into knots when Derek slipped the key into the lock and let Stiles into his apartment.

“Are you alright?” Derek said as he dropped his keys on the counter and shouldered out of his leather jacket.

Stiles nodded. “Nerves. But I still want this,” he assured Derek.

“I know,” Derek said, a little growl in his voice.

Stiles kept nodding. “You do? How?”

“I can smell it on you,” Derek said.

The words weren’t what Stiles had expected, and Derek’s voice had gone husky, which sent a shiver down Stiles’ spine. “You, uh, you can?”

“Drives me nuts,” Derek said. “You smell so good. Makes me want to eat you up.”

Stiles moaned, then caught himself. “Not, uh, not literally, though, right?”

Derek’s smile was downright predatory. Stiles had no idea how he hadn’t guessed before now that Derek was a werewolf.

“Oh, god, Derek,” Stiles groaned. He was ready when Derek moved towards him.

Derek easily lifted Stiles in his arms and carried him towards what Stiles fervently hoped was the bedroom. Another perk of being a werewolf, Stiles noted.

“You do have a bedroom,” Stiles said wonderingly as Derek dropped him and he bounced on the mattress.

Derek raised his eyebrows. “You didn’t think I had a bedroom?”

“No. But I didn’t think I was ever going to get to see it with you cock blocking me at every turn,” Stiles corrected.

Derek pulled off his t-shirt over his head and tossed it aside. “I wasn’t cock blocking you, I was protecting you.”

“Po-tay-to, po-tah-to,” Stiles said.

Derek’s fingers went to the waistband of his jeans, and Stiles’ mouth dried up. He couldn’t speak, could only stare as Derek unfastened his pants and shoved them down over his hips. Derek smirked at Stiles as if he knew exactly the effect he was having on him. He probably did, the danged werewolf!

“You suck,” Stiles said.

Derek grinned, and Stiles blushed when he realized just what he’d said.

“Only if you’re really good,” Derek purred as he crawled onto the bed.

Derek slipped his hand between Stiles’ thighs and Stiles moaned as he fell back on to the bed. He spread his legs and pushed up into Derek’s hand.

Derek claimed Stiles’ lips as he tugged at the button and zip keeping him from touching Stiles skin to skin. Stiles whimpered into Derek’s mouth and clutched at his shoulders when Derek pushed his hand into Stiles’ pants. Stiles made a strangled sound in his throat as Derek stroked him.

“Wanna see you come,” Derek growled in Stiles’ ear. “Wanna smell it, taste it.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles whined, arching his back. “You can’t just say that. And also, I have too many clothes on.”

Between one second and the next, Stiles lost his clothes.

“Wow,” Stiles breathed when he lay naked on the bed. “You have awesome superpowers.”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Derek said.

Stiles’ chuckle was cut off as Derek took him back in hand. Stiles gasped. “Derek, please.”

Derek dropped his head and took one of Stiles’ nipples into his mouth in response, suckling him while his hand worked Stiles’ dick. Stiles trembled and writhed beneath Derek’s ministrations. It was embarrassing to admit, but this was the first time anyone besides himself had touched his cock and it was going to be quick. Stiles felt it first in his lower back.

“Derek,” Stiles warned brokenly.

Derek growled against Stiles’ chest. He scraped his teeth across Stiles’ nipple and pressed his thumb to the sensitive spot beneath the head of Stiles’ dick. Stiles keened, a sound he’d never heard himself make, and his release spilled over Derek’s fingers and spattered in hot stripes across his belly.

Derek eased Stiles through his orgasm, and then he licked his hand and Stiles’ belly clean before crawling back up his body and claiming Stiles’ mouth to share the taste of him.

“Wow,” Stiles said breathlessly when Derek released his lips. “You weren’t kidding about wanting to taste . . . me. Is that a werewolf thing?”

Derek shrugged. “I’ve always been a werewolf, so I only know it’s a me thing.”

Stiles frowned. “Have Isaac, Erica, and Boyd always been werewolves?”

“No,” Derek said as he nuzzled Stiles’ neck.

“How did . . . ?”

“Do you really want to talk about this now?” Derek said with amused exasperation.

“Oh,” Stiles said. “No.” He slid his hand over Derek’s belly, lower. “I want to watch you come, too,” he said, blushing furiously at the words.

Derek made a sound Stiles had never heard him make before when Stiles curled his fingers around him, but Stiles knew he wanted to hear it again.

“Wanna come all over me?” Stiles said as he stroked Derek.

“You think you’ve got me all figured out, don’t you?” Derek growled as he pushed helplessly into Stiles’ hand.

“Not yet,” Stiles said. “But I will.”

It was a promise, and from the way Derek pulled Stiles down and kissed him, he was going to hold Stiles to it.

~*~

Stiles Skyped Scott and, miracle of miracles, he answered.

“My dad left a box of condoms on my bed,” Stiles said without preliminary.

Stiles thought he’d dodged a bullet when he came home to change the next morning and his dad’s cruiser wasn’t sitting in the driveway. He was riding the high of that (and Derek’s goodbye kiss), until he got to his room and saw the box of condoms sitting right in the middle of his pillow where he couldn’t miss seeing it.

“Why?” Scott said, drawing out the single word. “And why are you telling me this?”

“I may have spent the night at Derek’s,” Stiles said, blushing as he spoke the words.

“You’re not going to share details, are you?” Scott asked.

“No,” Stiles said emphatically.

Stiles didn’t think he could speak of what he and Derek had done, and not all of that was because he imagined he’d turn red as a beet if he related to Scott all the details. When Stiles remembered what he and Derek and done to each other, it made him squirm in his seat with the desire to do it again, which would only add to his embarrassment. But the other thing was, what they’d done was private. Personal. Intimate. He found that he didn’t want to share it. It was a strange feeling for Stiles, who usually didn’t have any filters.

“But it would serve you right if I did,” Stiles added.

Scott had the grace to give Stiles a sheepish look as they both remembered how Scott had once upon a time shared absolutely everything about Allison. He recovered quickly, though.

“In that case, congratulations. No one is happier for you than me.”

“I think Derek and I are happier,” Stiles said lightly.

Scott plugged his ears with his fingers. “La, la, la, la, la!”

~*~

Over the next few days Stiles was full of questions for Derek.

*

“Do you have to change on the full moon?” Stiles asked.

“No,” Derek said. “Because I’ve learned to control it.”

“But the others?”

“Yes. Until they gain control over the change.”

*

“Are they dangerous?”

“Yes. Right now they’re all instinct.”

“You mean Erica’s even more scary than usual?”

*

“Where do you go? On full moons, I mean.”

Derek hesitated. “Out to my family’s old place. There’s a lot of land there, some forest, for them to run around on.”

Stiles had been young, like ten, when fire had burned down the Hale house and taken the lives of most of Derek’s family, but he’d seen photographs of the scorched skeleton. “Is the house still there?” he asked softly.

“What’s left of it,” Derek said shortly.

“That must suck,” Stiles said inadequately, but Derek let him take his hand in an offer of comfort.

*

“Why does Erica glare at Allison whenever she comes into the restaurant, and Isaac try to ignore her? Is it because of Scott?”

Stiles could tell that Derek was tempted to let Stiles believe that their weird behavior with respect to Allison was because of Scott, but he sighed and said, “It’s because of her family.”

“Because of Kate?” Stiles guessed, remembering that Derek’s insane Uncle Peter had been killed by Allison’s father a couple of years ago, when he and Scott had been sophomores, but only after he’d first killed her Aunt Kate.

Derek stiffened. “Not just Kate. Her family are hunters. Werewolf hunters.”

Fear for Derek and the others closed Stiles’ throat. “There are werewolf hunters?”

“Yes. Most of them abide by a code.”

“What code?”

“They only kill werewolves that have first shown themselves to be a danger to humans.”

Stiles was having trouble taking this in. “You said ‘most’?”

“Not all of them care about the code.”

Stiles wanted to know more about that, but he’d gotten to know Derek well enough to know that now was not the time to delve further into that topic. Luckily, they had time, and Stiles was nothing if not persistent.

“Do they know about you?”

Derek grimaced. “Yeah. Chris Argent and I had a chat . . . .”

Stiles didn’t need finger quotes to know that it hadn’t been a pleasant one.

“. . . when I first returned to Beacon Hills.”

“Does Allison know? About werewolves?”

“I don’t know.”

*

“Why do your eyes flash red and theirs flash yellow?”

“Because I’m the Alpha.”

“Wow.” Stiles grinned.

“What?”

“You really like saying that, don’t you?”

*

“So, this wolfman thing you’ve got going on, that’s the extent of the change?”

“For betas, yes.”

Stiles perked up. “But not for you?”

“I have another form.”

“You do? What is it!” Stiles said.

“A black wolf.”

“Like, a real wolf?”

Derek just looked at him.

“Awesome. So how come you can change into a full wolf and the others can’t?”

“Because I’m the Alpha,” Derek said.

Stiles grinned.

“Shut up.”

Stiles crawled into Derek’s lap. “Can I see?”

“Yes. But not now.”

Stiles opened his mouth to protest, but Derek gave him something else to think about.

~*~

Stiles used the key Derek had given him to let himself into Derek’s apartment. He called out Derek’s name, even though the shower was running, knowing that Derek would hear him. He kicked off his sneakers and then headed for the bedroom. The shower turned off and Derek stepped out of the bathroom. Naked. Stiles stumbled to a stop as his eyes raked over Derek’s body.

Between one moment and the next Derek went from being fully human to having the form of a black wolf. Stiles jumped back in surprised.

“Holy crap! Don’t do that! One second I want to jump your bones, and the next I’m very disturbed about that fact. And now I want to scratch behind your ears.”

Derek gave Stiles a haughty look, but he let him ruffle his fur. Stiles went to his knees and wrapped an arm around Derek’s neck.

“Hey, big guy. You make a very handsome wolf. Not that your human form is bad.”

Derek gave Stiles a nudge that had him off-balance and on his back. And then he stood over Stiles and laughed.

~*~*~*~

“You like him,” Stiles’ dad said.

Stiles’ cheeks heated up. Partly at the question, and partly because four pair of werewolf ears were currently listening to everything they said.

“Yeah,” Stiles said. “I guess.”

“I mean, really like him.”

“Yeah, okay,” Stiles said, looking over his shoulder. “I really like him, alright?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I just . . . don’t want Derek’s head to, you know, swell.”

“It’s not like he can hear us.”

Stiles barked a laugh. “No, of course not. ‘Cause that would be ridiculous, right?”

“He seems like a nice guy.”

Stiles sobered up. “Yeah. He is.”

“Is it serious. Between the two of you?”

Stiles was pretty sure his expression fit the ‘deer in the headlights’ description. “I, um, think it is,” he said.

“Do I need to remind him that I carry a firearm and know how to use it?” Stiles’ dad asked. Way too seriously for Stiles’ peace of mind.

“No! I don’t think so?”

Stiles broke off when Derek appeared at his side. He felt a goofy grin spread across his face. “Hey,” Stiles said.

“Hey,” Derek said back. He turned to Stiles’ dad. “Sir.”

“Derek.”

Derek set the two glasses he carried onto the table, and then motioned for Stiles to scoot over so he could join him on his side of the booth. Stiles scooted.

“What are you doing?” Stiles said as Derek slid in beside him.

“Bringing you and your dad milkshakes.”

Stiles glanced at the milkshake sitting in front of his dad. His dad pulled it closer.

“Thank you,” Stiles’ dad said pointedly to Derek.

“You’re welcome, Sir.”

Derek put his arm along the back of the booth and Stiles blushed when it brushed his shoulders. His dad gave him a knowing look. Stiles glared back at him.

“I hope you enjoyed your meal,” Derek said, breaking their staring contest.

“I did,” Stiles’ dad said. “Excellent Oriental Salad. One of the best I’ve ever had.”

“I’m glad. I was surprised you didn’t order your usual.”

“Stiles told me you’d run out of burgers.”

“And you believed him?” Derek asked.

“No. But sometimes it’s best to let him think he’s won.”

“I’ve discovered that, as well,” Derek said.

“Sitting right here,” Stiles said, wondering why he’d ever thought it was a good idea for them to get along.

~*~

The restaurant got busy enough that Derek eventually had to break down and hire another cook to help Boyd in the kitchen during the lunch and dinner rushes. Especially if he wanted to have any time free to take Stiles out on a date that didn’t include milkshakes or the backseat of the Camaro. (Not that Stiles ever got tired of either.) Which apparently Derek did want.

College started back up and both Scott and Stiles had less time to spend at the Malt Shoppe. It took some getting used to after the free summer hours they’d both spent there. On the upside, they all relaxed when Allison went back to school and no longer stopped in for her ice cream floats. No one more than Isaac.

Stiles gave Derek a copy of his class schedule. (“So you don’t need to make everyone memorize it.”) Derek just looked at it before slipping it into the top drawer of his desk. “You can thank me later,” Stiles teased, but Derek had other ideas. He dragged Stiles down onto his lap and kissed him. (The chair groaned ominously and Stiles made a mental note to talk to Derek again about getting a couch.)

Stiles turned twenty. Derek threw him a party at the Malt Shoppe, closing it down for the private party. Stiles ate way too much cake and ice cream. (He forgave himself for it because Derek had made their special strawberry-walnut-fudge swirl concoction for the occasion.) His dad didn’t bat an eyelash when Stiles announced that he was spending the night with Derek. Derek snuck Stiles into the office for a quickie blow job when Stiles whispered that he’d packed the box of condoms in his duffel bag. They hadn’t done that yet, but tonight they were definitely going to.

At the employee holiday party (everyone ignored Stiles when he told them that having a Christmas party, even if they were calling it a “holiday party”, might raise questions about the legitimacy of their claim to be practicing Wicca) Isaac drunkenly kissed Scott under the mistletoe, and after two days of avoiding each other (and freaking out about the fact that he’d kissed Isaac back), Scott officially asked Isaac out on a date.

By January Derek determined that Isaac, Erica, and Boyd had enough control for Stiles to join them on the full moon.

“We’ll be gone a while,” Derek told Stiles before he shifted. “Go home after we leave, it’ll be too cold for you to wait for us.”

Stiles agreed, and then watched with a dry mouth as Derek unselfconsciously stripped off his clothes and stored them in the Camaro so he could shift into his full wolf form. The others milled around and Stiles could sense the energy running beneath their skin as they growled and swatted at each other. He’d stood very still when Derek had them all scent him, and even more still when they’d scent marked him.

“Whew,” Stiles said when Derek finally called them off. “I thought that was going to the naughty place.”

“Hey, handsome,” Stiles said now, going to his knees so he could hug wolf!Derek.

Erica snorted. “Kiss up.”

Derek put his shoulder into Stiles’ chest and knocked him on his back, then stood over him laughing.

“I should’ve seen that coming,” Stiles said wryly.

Derek licked Stiles’ face, then yipped to remind him not to wait up.

Derek tipped his head back and howled at the moon. The sound sent a shiver through Stiles even before the others picked up on it and added their own yowling to Derek’s. Derek gave Stiles one last look before bounding off into the woods with the others following him.

Stiles stood up and wiped off his butt, looking after them, peering into the darkness where they’d disappeared. “Be careful,” he said. It didn’t matter that Derek did this every month, Stiles always worried until he returned.

Stiles climbed into Betty and turned on the heat. He turned around in the driveway and headed to Derek’s apartment to await his return. There would be post-full moon cuddling (which hadn’t taken Stiles nearly as long as he thought it should to get comfortable with), and after the other three left the next morning, the best sex in the world.

~*~

After they’d been dating seriously for a couple of months, Isaac got permission to tell Scott about his ‘condition’. They gathered in Derek’s apartment for the reveal. Scott took it better than Stiles thought he would, given that he’d needed a couple of days to wrap his head around the kiss.

“Actually, that explains a lot,” Scott said.

“That’s what I said,” Stiles agreed. Then he noticed the way Scott was looking at Isaac, and the red flush rising to the surface of Isaac’s skin. “Never mind. I think we’re talking about two different things here.”

When Stiles glanced over at Derek, his face was completely straight. Too straight. Which meant that inside, Derek was totally laughing at him.

~*~

A few weeks later, Scott said, “Isaac said Derek would turn me if I want him to.”

Stiles hid his surprise. “Do you want him to?”

Scott shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

That night Stiles mentioned it to Derek. “You’ve never offered to bite me.”

“You don’t want the bite,” Derek said confidently, if a little disbelieving that anyone would not want the bite.

“How do you know?” Stiles persisted.

“Because you like who you are.”

“The others didn’t?”

“No,” Derek said, but didn’t elaborate.

~*~

When Hale’s Main Street Malt Shoppe & Restaurant had been open for a year, Stiles devised a surprise for Derek.

“Um, hey,” Stiles said. It was ten am and everyone was at the restaurant getting ready to open at eleven. “So, could everyone come outside for five minutes?”

“What’s up?” Erica said as she set the coffee machine up to brew a fresh pot of tea for the iced tea.

“The photographer’s here,” Stiles said.

“For what?” Derek said.

Stiles fidgeted. “To take your picture.”

“I already had my picture taken.” Derek crossed his arms over his chest and stared at Stiles as if he knew Stiles wasn’t telling him everything.

“Yes, but you, uh, you weren’t all in that photo.”

Erica, Isaac, and Boyd paused what they were doing to stare at Stiles, but Derek’s gaze was heavier on Stiles than all of theirs combined.

“I mean, I saw the photographs that are hanging on the wall out there. The family photos.”

“Everyone out,” Derek commanded.

Erica, Isaac, and Boyd scrambled for the door.

“I just thought it would be nice for you to have a family photo to add to the wall,” Stiles finished.

“You arranged this without asking me?”

“Surprise?” Stiles said.

Derek looked past Stiles, teeth clenched, tic in the corner of his jaw. For the first time since they’d met, Stiles couldn’t tell if Derek was really mad at him.

“I could tell her that now’s not a good time if you . . . .” Stiles trailed off.

Finally Derek looked at him. Stiles held his breath, but Derek didn’t say anything. He took off the apron tied around his waist and tossed it towards the laundry bag (of course it dropped right in), before striding past Stiles toward the front of the restaurant.

Stiles let out the breath he’d been holding, and then turned to follow Derek. Stiles’ dad and Scott had both stopped by to witness the occasion, and when Stiles’ dad gave Stiles a questioning look, Stiles could only shrug. He had no idea what was going on.

To Stiles’ surprise, Derek growled, “Where do you want us?” to Jenny Masters.

Jenny, to her credit, didn’t blink an eye at Derek’s tone, merely laid out her ideas for the photo. Derek finally nodded and gestured for the others to join him. Derek stood at an angle in front of one of the plate glass windows with Isaac, Erica, and Boyd arrayed behind him. Jenny positioned herself so she could get the sign hanging over the sidewalk in the photo. Derek’s arms were still crossed over his chest and instead of looking at the camera, he stared hard at Stiles.

Stiles gulped and had to admit, if only to himself, that his first instinct when Derek crooked his finger at him was to hide behind his dad and Scott. Instead, Stiles squared his shoulders and walked past Jenny, who was still setting up the shot. He stopped in front of Derek, leaving a foot of pavement between them. Not that distance mattered. Derek reached out, fisted his hand in Stiles’ hoodie, and dragged him close. Stiles went up on his toes and clutched at Derek’s arms.

“Derek,” Stiles started.

Derek slammed his mouth onto Stiles’, which was a pretty effective way of shutting him up. It took Stiles a moment to recover from the surprise and kiss Derek back. The sound of Erica gagging behind them eventually pulled them apart.

“You’re not mad at me?” Stiles said breathlessly.

“No,” Derek said shortly.

It was other emotions, then, that Derek was hiding behind his stony facade. Stiles was usually better at cluing into that, but this time he’d been too nervous about the surprise he was springing on Derek to read him correctly.

“Okay, good. Well, I’ll just . . . .” Stiles gestured with his hand and took a step back.

“No, wait,” Derek said. “Stay.”

Stiles frowned. “You want me to . . . ?”

“Stay,” Derek repeated, pulling Stiles in close again.

“Oh,” Stiles breathed. “Okay. I mean, are you sure? This is your family . . . .”

In response, Derek put his arm around Stiles, and then nodded to Jenny that they were ready. A moment later Derek rolled his eyes.

“Scott.”

Scott jumped as if he’d been goosed. “What? I didn’t do anything!”

Derek just looked at him.

“Oh. Really?” Without waiting for Derek to answer, Scott rushed over to stand next to Isaac, both of them blushing prettily.

“Sheriff,” Derek said respectfully.

“What?” Stiles’ dad said.

“Would you join us?”

“Oh, no,” Stiles’ dad demurred. “I don’t work here, and I wouldn’t want to intrude on your . . . .”

“You’re family,” Derek said, as if that ended the discussion.

Stiles’ dad glanced at him, tucked under Derek’s arm. “Well, when you put it that way.” He nodded politely as he passed Jenny (who seemed completely unfazed by the drama) and ran his fingers through his hair, stepping to the other side of Boyd as everyone shuffled around and closer together to make room for him in the arc they’d created around Derek and Stiles.

Stiles felt Derek’s gaze on him. He turned his face so their eyes could meet. Derek’s arm tightened fractionally around Stiles before Derek bent his head and kissed him. When they broke the kiss, Derek and Stiles smiled goofily at each other. The didn’t even notice the flash go off.

The End