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Living With Lycanthropy

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(cover by eeames)

It was the laugh, you suppose, when you think about that day. It still is.

You were tucked in the corner, facing the door like instinct tells you, absently reading a forgotten newspaper and wondering if your sister knew you’d already been in town for close to three hours. You weren’t putting it off, but there were overdue conversations. Memories not confronted. An understanding only she shared that you could never decide was really welcome or not.

But, that laugh. It was this bright, sweet, stunning wall of sound, bursting through even the heavy wooden doors and drowning out the muffled croon of the radio; an acoustic-heavy pop song soundtracking the day.

You stiffened.

You knew laughter like that - something inside you still craved it, and though you could catalogue many sounds, tones, vibrations and echoes for miles if you tried, it was that laugh that weaved under your skin. It washed over your muscle and sinew, though you didn’t know why, and you felt it settling into the pit of your stomach like a beast lulled to relaxed sleep.

Something about it reminded you of home - a home you didn’t have anymore. Or yet.

When the kitchen door swung open, you lifted your eyes without thought, like you were powerless, even then, and your body was just acknowledging what your mind was yet to learn. You remember how just a head and a shoulder appeared - that’s all; flour smudged down one pale cheek, a look of bright exhilaration on the features; curved, inviting lips, honey-golden eyes and dark, tousled hair.

You felt your breath catch. You would have scoffed at the thought, had it not actually happened to you, but it had. He, well, he was slightly painful to look at directly, fulgent and blinding and demanding of attention, but the twinge wasn’t in your eyes, and it wasn’t enough to make you want to stop.

It was even better when you could see the laughter escape; bubbling up from somewhere inside to disperse in the air, like the last plumes of smoke before clarity. It was even better when you saw the crinkles around those eyes, the expanse of exposed throat below a jaw tilted skyward; unguarded, unconcerned, unthreatened. It was better than just having the sound, and worse all the same.

You had always found an easy curiosity in the strangers around you, effortlessly assuming facts about their lives in passing. It was safer that way - detached. You’d lived in cities and immersed yourself in the pulse of the crowd and the din of life surrounding yours, but then it was gone as soon as it arrived. You moved on, and you liked that. Liked that you forgot. That you could find another distraction.

It was jarring when the contentment left.

You caught yourself eavesdropping, wondering at the cause for the laughter, the reason that had this fascinating being so animated and loud and what had their voice breaking with mirth. Something about a mishap, a mess beyond the door, but you suspected it was less about the moment, and more about the person. The man - because that’s what he was, though his face was young and soft and mischievous, his shoulders were broad and strong; stable. He relaxed into the building like he belonged there, like he cared to answer to no-one and probably wouldn’t, even if he had to. He was settled into his existence, despite the graceless movement of his hands and the stuttered thrum of his heart. Things came easy for him, like they never had for you.

You wondered if you could share that, just by being near him.

You thought about standing, a tether in your chest drawing you forward, and then caught yourself. Why? What would that achieve?

You thought about what it would be like if you were better at this. What it would be like if you’d ever had to learn how to approach this without the crutch of your appearance doing the work for you - because you wanted someone like him, this impossible, intriguing, curiosity of a person, to know more than as much as a passer-by in the street could tell about you. How would this pan out if you could lean across the counter and introduce yourself, strike up a conversation and smile, make him laugh some more, maybe?

But you wouldn't, because you’re not good at this when it counts, and people like him - magnetic, distracting, vibrant and whole - don’t need to concern themselves with people who have to plan conversations before having them; who analyse words long after they’re spoken; who press their mouths shut rather than saying something awkward or cutting or stupid.

So you stayed seated, and you just looked, because you’re not good at this - still aren’t - but the more you saw, the more you hoped: One day, maybe?

Maybe.


 

 

LIVING WITH LYCANTHROPY:

a handbook for alphas

 

This book is dedicated to the impossible, incomparable ‘Stiles’, who taught my brother how to live again, and give me the pack I never thought I’d have.

The bite is a gift, but family is a true blessing.

 

Chapter Four: Pack Relationships.

One of the things I always assumed from watching my mother growing up, was that being an alpha to such a large pack was determined by instinct. Our betas need us, just as much as we need them - not just from a strength perspective, but for emotional support and guidance. Since we lost her and everyone else, it became apparent to me that human relationships are just as important as lupine ones.

Whether your pack is large or small, leaning on each other is vital to survival, and it’s one thing an alpha should never forget. For those of us who were prematurely thrust upwards in the hierarchy, it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of power, the new feelings of completion and responsibility that come with the title. Your betas are not only extra weight to your anchor; your link to humility, but you have to be that for them, too.

For a long time, I had one beta. My brother, Derek and I were left floundering at a delicate age with nobody to hold on to but each other, We were close before, when our family was still alive and living to make every day a delightful challenge, and I don’t think we would have kept afloat after what happened, if it wasn’t for the bond we had to begin with. I was eighteen years old and moving to a new city while becoming not only an alpha, but a legal guardian to a fifteen year old boy - my priority was to be a parent and a sister, first and foremost, and being Derek’s alpha took a backseat. More than anything, it was us against the world. We were both grieving and heartbroken, newly wealthy for all the wrong reasons and hating it, but Derek - Derek had something dark inside him I didn’t know how to defeat.

Grief is one thing, but guilt? It can eat up the best of us; cut us in two and leave nothing but the twisted remains.

I was at a loss as to how to even begin dealing with it. I still felt like a beta, still felt like we were partners in this, and with spending so much time hiding our nature in order to protect our vulnerable position, I’ll admit it was never addressed. A functioning alpha would have confronted the problem and faced Derek’s issues, but clueless was barely a scratch on the surface of what I was back then. Sometimes, I wonder if there was a part of me that shied away from that responsibility - who not only failed at leading, but wanted to stay in that place where my brother could, not exactly shoulder, but help me ignore some of my burden, and I didn’t quite understand that being an alpha actually didn’t mean I had to bear everything on my own. Residing in the role of Beleaguering Big Sis was a comfort I knew well.

Soon, obstacles came in the form of college (which we both attended later than most) and those various twists and turns life throws at you, but after six years just getting by, and an entire four years living apart, the time came for us both to share space once more. Not only were we going to be two grown adults attempting to merge our lives together, but it was finally time for us to be a pack again. Needless to say, it was always going to be difficult - not just because Derek’s quietly serious disposition just brings out the good-natured tease in me.

Wolves are social creatures, as are humans, but humans also need a sense of security and a show of trust that comes inherent in natural wolf packs. An alpha werewolf too long without a pack can fall into a power-sickness when the internal war with omega status inevitably begins - something which, thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with due to the regular contact we kept up; but I could have.

My brother and I weren’t the only surviving members of my family. One other member, our uncle, was so brutally injured in the tragedy that befell our home that he was left a shell of his former self. Catatonic and burned, he became a resident of the local care home, and, unfortunately, our lives were too threat-filled and turbulent to offer him the support he needed to recover. All we could do was keep up the payments, and hope that one day, Peter would find his way back to us.

It wasn’t to be.

The first time I set foot in the town where I grew up in ten years was to identify his body. My uncle had healed on his own, and without pack, evidently, but healed wrong. He had the scent of an alpha about him - the result of a quest for the power his former beta self never had, but ran out of time before he could establish a pack for himself. If the local news reports on animal attacks and threats to the local wildlife, and the fact that he had sought out another alpha’s power to steal were anything to go by, he wasn’t in any position to be leading betas.

The sight of his nightmarish remains on that slab were reason enough for me to put down roots again - I knew exactly how I wanted to do it, but it wasn’t going to be easy.

When my brother graduated and agreed to put his degree to work by becoming my business partner, sharing space and a territory again put us on awkward footing. We needed to re-build the dynamic we’d forged as cubs growing up together, and later when we dragged ourselves into adulthood - but with me as his acting Alpha now, it was going to be different.

New Unexpected Alpha’s (NUAs) often find themselves struggling to ascend from Beta to Alpha within established dynamics, and Derek and I had already lost those fundamental months and years after losing our pack. I often wondered if it was too late. However, more than perhaps anyone, Derek needed his alpha. It was a transitional time in our lives; Derek's more than mine. I was worried about the company he was keeping, the choices he’d make based on his own self-deprecation, and if I was ever going to be worthy to call myself a leader - to earn my red stare, if you will - I had to try. So, from the day he moved back to our home town, I began keeping a record of our journey together. It turned out to be more interesting than I'd bargained for.

Laura’s Journal, Day 1:

Derek has agreed to move in with me. It wasn’t an easy task to convince him, since, apparently, being twenty-five and living with your big sister looks ‘odd’ and people already think that about us since we’re ‘those strange Hale orphans’. After the right amount of cajoling (guilt-tripping) and reminding him repeatedly that we need to reconnect, he has relented. I didn’t think anyone over the age of six could make that face, and also, we need to talk about his eye-rolling. It’s disrespectful. I’ve been too lenient with pack etiquette, and he’s lost the healthy fear he had of me when I could still put him in head-lock (Derek was a late bloomer, I think I had a good three inches on him until he hit senior year in high school).

We spent one last full moon outside the city confines, stopping for the night in the forest off the road with Derek’s life packed into his car.

He has an embarrassingly small amount of stuff, and since I’m on this new ‘mutual respect’ kick, I’ve refrained from commenting on the fact that he still has his wolf’s paw slippers from when he was fourteen, but yet doesn’t own an actual wallet. Is it a guy-thing to keep cash and change in the ashtray of your car? Or just a my-weird-little-brother thing? Honestly, it’s like he wants me to rib on him. Not only that, but I’m pretty sure he was broodily listening to Taylor Swift in his headphones when we were unpacking, and he snuck off to call his old roommate and ask about someone called “Mr Mittens” who I really hope is the cat responsible for the smell on a lot of his (mostly black clothes) and not some ironic, hipster drug dealer. I didn’t say anything about that, either. Maybe it’s my fault. I’ve neglected him too long.

Laura’s Journal, Day 5:

The store started getting the last of its furniture today. It’s actually taking shape, and it’s hard not to get a little excited about it. The bookshelves are a little bigger than I’d envisioned, but I'm sure we’ll have no problem filling them up. Our coffee-and-book-shop is, at last, feeling real after the months alone I put in scouting a location, focusing on my design, and actually securing the permits, and I guess it’s part of actually sprouting roots that’s making me a little emotional. I think it might help having Derek finally here. Like it’s a den and I get to move a beta in and fuss over him a little - not that that’s how I’d ever describe it to him, but whatever. I’m allowed to be proud of actually achieving something Mom and I talked about so many times. I just wish she was here to see it.

Derek and I set up camp at one of the new tables to interview some potential staff. His trust issues evidently haven’t improved; the first guy practically ran out the door and I’m pretty sure one of the girls has a hard-on for being bossed around, because every time Derek asked one of his borderline hostile questions, she just snarked back and flipped her hair at him. Yeah - it wasn’t her first rodeo, I learned - Erica Reyes is my brother’s close friend from UCLA (as if the faint smell of cat wasn’t clue enough, she's the aforementioned roommate) and had neglected to tell him that she’d decided to take a year off to remind herself why she needs a masters degree. I had to have her - anyone who won’t take Derek’s macho-posturing shit is clearly destined to be my new best friend.

See also: Boyd, who actually spent half the interview eating Doritos and looking at us like we were boring him. He knows how to work a cappuccino machine and doesn’t spook easy, so he’s hired.

I’ve noticed my little brother disappearing off in the afternoons for the past few days - it’s nothing worrying, we all need our space - but my suspicions were piqued when he came back smelling like latte and fresh-baked bread. “Checking out the competition,” he maintained. Really? Three days in a row, Derek? I’m keeping an eye on this.


 

“You know that I didn’t hire Allison just so you could come here and distract her.”

Scott stiffens from where he’s been surreptitiously smelling Allison’s hair while she runs inventory. She just smirks into her pen and shakes her head at the clipboard. Stiles isn‘t even going to comment on the fact that they’ve clearly been making out against the wholegrain flour again. He can actually see like, half of her bra.

“No, you hired her for her genius business mind and the beautiful smile that everyone comes here to see.” He beams at her openly, like he's waiting for a cookie or something. Bless her heart, Allison actually weaves a distracted hand into his hair and scritches behind his ear.

“Yeah, except anyone who spends more than ten minutes here knows she’s unavailable because you’re always right there making moon eyes at her,” Stiles scoffs. “Seriously, for all your whining about doing Probie grunt-work, you have plenty of time off.”

“That’s because I’m on nights this month,” Scott retorts, jutting his chin out. “You bitched for an entire day because I wouldn’t be around to help you troll those British guys on Xbox live, remember?”

Stiles waves a dismissive hand. “They still think my actual surname is Manhattan and I’m training to be a doctor, it’s all good.” He jerks his chin at Scott. “So what brings you here at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday? No kittens down a well needing rescue?”

Scott shakes his head. “Working my way through the firehouse grocery list - I’ve seen Finstock chew actual paper but the guy’s surprisingly picky about his rye bread.” He scrunches his nose for a beat. "And name one well that exists within fifteen miles.”

“There’s always a well. And an adorable feline or canine up to mischief. I’ve seen the movies.” Stiles quirks his lips. “Allison only gave you a chance because you kept showing her the picture of the puppies you rescued from the gas leak six months ago.”

He's well aware it’s not the only reason at all - their entire courtship had actually begun when Allison moved back to town after college with a shiny new business degree and was desperately opposed to working for her dad’s outdoor sporting goods store, yet without any options. Scott, hopeless romantic that he is, had seized the chance (who said eavesdropping benefitted nobody?) to offer her a job working with Stiles. Stiles, who had just inherited his grandmother’s bakery, yet knew nothing about running it beyond a natural culinary talent and encyclopaedic memory of all the family recipes.

Alright, so it wasn’t Scott’s place to actually offer her anything, but Stiles really needed the help, truth be told - his Dad was still pretty adamant he should have just sold the place and gone to 'train with one of those fancy-pants places in LA that don’t believe in mashed potato’ - but if it gave his best buddy an excuse to get to know the girl he’d been crushing on from afar since high school, well, that’s just the kind of friend Stiles is.

Luckily, Allison actually is a genius with accounts.

“Not entirely true,” she says thoughtfully. “It was at least half because of how he looked holding the box of puppies while wearing his suspenders and station pants...”

Scott’s brows rise as Stiles gestures to her. “There we have it - Allison Argent is a shallow sucker for a guy in uniform. I’m judging you so hard right now.”

Far from being totally offended, like he probably should be, Scott’s just got a far-off, dreamlike expression on his face. Stiles can practically smell the hormones.

“I could swipe one of the extra helmets from the firehouse,” he mutters, quiet and sultry, which, ugh so much nope - they’re about six seconds away from disappearing off into Allison’s office. Again.

“I forgot something in the... thing,” Allison says, not taking her eyes off Scott.

Yep, there they go.

“This counts as your lunch break, Allison!” he calls after them. “Just because I said I’m not your boss doesn’t mean that-- yeah, no, they’re not listening anymore.”

Stiles sighs and walks back out into the shop. Fuck his life.

Watching Scott fall out of infatuation and into love with Allison had been as joyfully hilarious as it was vomit-inducing. Truth be told, Stiles had pretty much choked when Scott actually made a move and invited her to dinner. Where was the guy who had minor asthma attacks and broke out in hives at the sight of her, or who once sprained his ankle trying to make it across the quad to help pick up her scattered schoolbooks?

(Allison had brought his Biology homework to the nurse’s office unprompted and he still hadn’t worked up the courage to properly introduce himself, or ask her out.

There were people around, Stiles!

Wimp).

It wasn’t like they were sixteen anymore, but somewhere after the last summer Allison spent in Beacon Hills, and following the rogue alpha werewolf that attacked and bit Scott when he was out for his (usually) pitifully-fruitless morning jog just over a year back, the guy had gained about 30lbs of muscle, eligibility for enrollment in firefighter training, and a shit-tonne of confidence.

It was a beautiful thing. Sometimes Stiles wonders if he’s due his own life-changing development.

Okay, well, he’s probably leaving out some stuff - like those horrible months of adjustment they both went through as Scott got control of his wolf. The struggle for information when Scott’s alpha seemingly skipped town and eventually turned up dead in the preserve from some weird sickness that probably made him feral in the first place. The going-on seven months of secrecy they’d both had to endure so as not to attract attention to Scott, an un-bonded omega without a pack or a mean bone in his body.

It was made marginally easier by the revelation of the Argent legacy half a year ago. That, and the - if frustratingly sparse - information they could provide for Scott. Allison’s dad was an enigma, and probably would have never revealed himself, if it wasn’t for Scott’s near-death from anaphylactic shock the first time he was invited over for dinner and there was a bouquet of Nordic Blue in the middle of the table. That was all behind them now, though, and it was made pretty clear that he wasn’t going to give up his quiet existence for the sake of killing a trainee firefighter and unthreatening Omega.

Add that to Stiles' dad, answering a call about public nudity around the time of Scott's first unrestrained full moon, only to find his own son in the woods trying to cajole his unofficial second son into shifting back and putting on some damn pants. This, of course, ended up leading to the most unfortunately-timed hey dad so werewolves are real how about that conversation in history. Stiles can laugh about the whole thing now, but it's hard to imagine how they would have gotten through the debacle without his father's help and influence.

Then there's Lydia Martin, local journalist and Allison’s roommate, figuring the whole thing out on a flash of gold eyes and single throwaway comment, and being ingratiated into the Scott-turns-hairy-on-full-moons fold, and life had been surprisingly stress-free. She’d even managed to help the sheriff re-frame the low-level werewolf activity in the press to cast suspicion on a wandering mountain lion. It’s things like that which make Stiles congratulate his eight-year-old self for wanting to marry her.

So yeah, Scott’s life should probably be the subject of some supernatural teen drama. Not so much life-changing developments as quasi-fortunate coincidence. At least it hasn’t been boring - or else Stiles would have probably resigned himself to living in an ABC Family mini-series.

Or, there’s the fact that Stiles has probably already had his own life-changing development and is now just turned twenty-one and a small business owner.

Piekarnia has been such a permanent fixture in Stiles’ life that he has an actual baby picture on the wall of his dad’s home taken here - sitting on the counter, beaming a semi-toothless smile, while his grandmother proudly posed a baker’s hat atop his light brown fuzz.

Stiles remembers the worst day of his young life, and how it was made marginally better when he was brought to the kitchen here; dressed in a little black suit, hair parted on the side, and face still tracked with tears because his father hadn’t looked at or held him all day.

His grandmother had found him packing a backpack, determined to go live with Scott, because clearly, his dad blamed him for losing her - and his dad was always right. It was once he’d finally admitted his guilt out loud, that his grandma had sat him on the counter, smiled that sad, knows-too-much smile, and mixed up a batch of his dad's favourite brownies from scratch.

Something as wonderful as brownies don’t just happen by accident,” she’d said.

She’d shown him that each ingredient in the bowl came from somewhere else, each one pretty amazing in its own right, but they all combined to make something even better. That’s what Stiles was, she’d said - the ‘something better’ made from the raw ingredients of his mom and dad. But, she’d said, he was mostly like his mom - like the cocoa that gave the brownies their colour. The brownies were still wonderful, but anyone just looking could see that they had cocoa inside them, so because his dad didn’t have his the cocoa he loved so much anymore, it’d take a little time for him to be able to look at his beloved brownie and not feel a little sad.

Stiles had brought his dad home blueberry pie, instead.

His visits to the bakery weren’t confined to life-affirming metaphors or babysitting time, either. Every summer before the age of thirteen (when not with Scott) was spent getting under everyone’s feet and being a general nuisance, until he was scooped up in a pair of surprisingly strong arms and handed a batter-covered whisk to occupy his ever-active mouth. Every summer since the age of thirteen (when not with Scott) was spent ensconced in the kitchen, absorbing each step of the recipes that had followed his less-distant ancestors from Poland and became as much of an inheritance to him as the Stilinski sweet tooth and (borderline psychotic) curious streak.

That is, until last summer, when his grandma finally fell victim to her arthritis, and in that way that usually befalls people so bright and engaging and loved, everything went downhill quickly after that. Pneumonia was the final cause, but Stiles thinks, in his more silent moments, that not getting to wake up and open the bakery every day left her with little else to strive for, and losing the ability to indulge your passion before you’re quite prepared for it can break a person more than they’d let anyone see.

The place is permeated with her presence, even now. He still sometimes imagines her voice calling out from the kitchen asking him to bring more baking powder from the dry goods store. He still grins when he catches himself absently checking out a hot customer, practically hearing her asking him why he hasn’t brought home another nice girl or boy for her to fatten up since he was clearly genetically incapable of gaining weight (complete with a poke to his stomach and an exasperated tsk). He’ll still find something with her handwriting, forgotten amongst the ingredient stock and labelled in her shaky cursive, and recalls her constantly accusing him of hiding her glasses, even though they were usually perched in her little greying beehive, and he hadn’t actually done that since he was ten and was trying to swindle some extra cookie balls to trade at recess.

Her loss is like an insistent ache he’d thought could only be associated with the loss of a parent - but that’s what she was, in all the ways that mattered.

It had surprised literally no-one when Stiles’ name was called out as the new proprietor in her will. The decision to postpone his final two years of training to give the place a real shot was a relatively easy one; culinary college had been at least fifty percent her idea - but Stiles hadn’t found something that gave him the same sense of family, especially when his became fractured so early on, as actually creating delicious food every day did. His parents had met when his mother was hired as a shop girl, for God’s sake, back when the bakery was just that - a store - and nothing else. He’s probably got margarine in his blood or something; and even though his mom had eventually become a nurse, his grandmother had lamented her wasted talent in the kitchen and adopted a few of her Americanised recipes for her own.

Stiles likes to theorise that his chosen profession was more a matter of fates coming together with awesome genetics, than anything he could have controlled (though his dad often grumbles about being the black sheep of the family by burning toast on a regular basis). Other times he wonders if, had he spent most of his childhood bothering his dad and the deputies down at the station, he’d still have ended up here, or would have found his passion somewhere else.

It’s not like running a business has been without its difficulties - his dad had been extremely vocal about Stiles getting tied down to Beacon Hills so young when he could be off seeing a little more of the world (or at least the state), and he still feels like his brain is threatening to implode when he looks over copies of the shop’s accounts, but that’s what Allison is for. She’s a godsend - no, that’s not his inner-Scott talking - and with the hiring of regular customer Isaac in the lead-up to the Holidays four months ago, the place is feeling less like chaotic kids playing pretend and more like an actual livelihood. Even if it had cost him an on-off relationship in the process. Grandma would be proud.

Well, no, she’d just move on to the next thing to pester about: Stiles’ non-existent love life. He’s been busy and grieving, geez, give a guy a freakin’ break?

You make excuses like that your whole life and you end up alone and bitter with nobody to shtup you like your great aunt Lenka.’

Yeah, whatever, you’re welcome for not letting your unofficial second baby fall victim to the recession, Grandma.

It’s ironic that those are the thoughts going through his head when he makes it back behind the counter and, despite the small smattering of locals and regulars out front, his eyes automatically fall to the corner table, and on the most ridiculously handsome guy he’s seen outside of one of Lydia and Allison’s stupid rom-coms.

He can not be from Beacon Hills - people who look like this guy don’t just arrive on your doorstep unless they’re a strip-o-gram or you wake up and your life is suddenly a well-produced porno. He’s all chiseled facial-features and stubble, and his wardrobe suggests he’s part of a model-hot biker gang or or has been cast as the Bad Boy in a TV show where everyone’s pants-tentingly attractive. Abs should not be visible through a fucking t-shirt.

Get a pair of arms like those wrapped around your tushie and shower time gets a lot more enjoyable, am I right?’

“Inappropriate, Grandma. So, inappropriate,” Stiles mutters aloud, only belatedly registering the presence of Isaac slumped against the counter in the world’s least-productive-looking pose ever, and casting him a confused look.

“Huh?”

Stiles gapes. “Uh, quoting rap lyrics,” he blurts dismissively, and then lowers his voice. “Who’s the guy?”

“Is that by Macklemore?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. And people say he goes off-topic. “Isaac, focus,“ he hisses. “The guy? The one currently leaving and lowering the temperature of the shop by doing so with his hotness?

Isaac looks back just in time for the bell to clink as GQ Cover holds the door open for Mrs Frobisher to hobble in.

“Oh, the Five O’Clock-Shadow guy? No idea. He’s been here...four times this week already? Never this early.”

Stiles’ brows rise. “He’s been here before?”

Isaac shrugs, going back to doodling on one of their logo-printed paper bags. “Yeah, but it’s usually around afternoon when you stop being cognitive.” He twists his mouth in thought. “Pretty sure you sold him a loaf of sourdough and a latte yesterday."

Stiles watches Mr. Fine nod politely to the pensioner and purses his lips. Jesus, he really needs to stop burning the candle at both ends if he’s missing out on this.

“The two-pm slump. Explains a lot.”

Stiles usually climbs the stairs to home and faceplants on his couch around three; being awake since five and baking since six, and caffeine being less of a stimulant and more of a focus-aid to someone with his particular tendencies, means he runs mostly on the rush of indulging his passion - but even that can only take him so far before it’s time for a nap. He’s not a machine.

He rakes his eyes over the line of the guy’s shoulders, the lazy-perfection of his hair, the kind-of mind-numbing beauty of the butt encased in those jeans... and steadfastly reminds himself that the very reason he never noticed this guy before is also the very reason he is not dating right now. No matter how stupidly hot the potential distraction from keeping the shop afloat may be, if the whole thing with Danny established anything, it’s that he just doesn’t have the time.

And it is stupidly hot. Like, the back of the guy’s neck is sexy. He’d blame good old fate for trying to toy with him, but he’s pretty sure his grandma’s up there somewhere winking lecherously and cackling.

“Nice try,” he grumbles at imaginary-her.

The guy’s eyes snap back to Stiles suddenly, and he manages to smoothly busy his hands with rearranging the rugelach display and averting his attention, while the dude seems to linger for a beat, and then he’s gone. Huh.

...

"That new coffee shop on Phoenix smells like werewolf," Scott comments distractedly, and Stiles drops his orange juice.

It's a Sunday, which means the store is closed for the day since Stiles is not a freaking masochist, and they get to laze around his and Scott's apartment above it eating cereal, marathoning Archer, and doing absolutely nothing else whatsoever.

"Werewolf, as in, will-be-able-to-scent-you-out-and-kill-you-just-for-shits werewolf?” Stiles’ voice is climbing higher and higher. “What the hell, Scott, why didn't you say anything?" he demands, tiptoeing (angrily) past the shards in a beeline for the kitchen broom.

"Hey, that was one of Allison's moving-in presents," Scott laments, frowning at the mess.

"Have they seen you? Who is it?! Was it a customer?!"

"They're not even open yet, so I don't think so." He looks thoughtful, and then shrugs. "I saw one of the chicks who works there setting up. Blonde hair. Kind of intimidating. Super hot."

Stiles rolls his eyes. Nobody could ever say Scott didn't have amazing observational skills. "That's all wonderful. Is she a werewolf?"

He shrugs. Stiles flails.

"Why aren't you more freaked out about this?"

"I couldn't smell anything!" he retorts defensively. "The scent wasn't hers, but it's someone who's been there lately, I don't know. If they wanted to kill me, wouldn't they have sent a message or something? Painted a symbol on my door or whatever?"

Stiles snorts. "Yes, because werewolves exist in the Old West and have a flair for dramatics. Honestly, dude."

Scott looks indignant. "Well I'm not exactly an expert here. Neither are you."

"Which is exactly why you should be more freaked out about this." Seriously, Stiles would totally not judge if there was some manly crying. He might even join in.

"I was here first," Scott sighs. "If there's some rules about migrating into my territory or whatever, shouldn't it be on them to tell me?"

Stiles narrows his eyes. "Yeah, maybe, except you don't have a pack, and you're sleeping with who should be the next in line to lead one of the oldest hunter families in the continental US."

"The Argents are retired," Scott replies defensively. "They got out of it after her grandpa died, and Chris' sister got blacklisted and hunter court-marshalled, or whatever, for breaking the Code. They don't even talk about werewolf stuff anymore. Believe me."

"And I'm sure that was the headline on the Daily Howl," Stiles drawls. There should totally be a lycanthropic newsletter or something. Stiles should look into that with Lydia. You know, when Scott stops being all blasé about the potential murder and all. "Why would a new pack in the area make themselves known to someone knowingly associating with the Argents? It's not like you walk up to your enemies and announce yourself so they can make with the maiming and killing sooner."

"I don't even know if it is a pack...Maybe it's an Omega, like me, passing through? I only smelled one person."

"...And it's sentences like that one that make me buy the thirty-dollar body wash."

"You always smell good to me," Scott offers earnestly, and ugh Stiles is both cursed and blessed to have an actual puppy for a best friend. "Like muffins and family."

"You are such a dick. You never let me get pissed at you."

"Allison says it's my super power," he says, beaming proudly.

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Allison would."

...

A shadow falls over the counter where Stiles is slumped, cursing over Infinity Blade and wondering if the God King is just a stupid myth or if his neglect of proper gaming time lately is responsible for how much he’s sucking right now.

A five-dollar bill is placed silently on the counter in the corner of his vision but he just waves them off.

“On break. Bother Allison.”

The shadow doesn’t move.

Aaaallliiisssoooon!

Okay, so there had been talk of a customer service seminar, but Stiles is the talent behind this operation, he doesn’t need that shit (he once watched his grandmother chase someone outside with a broom; people know what they're getting themselves into here).

“Stiles, I’m right beside you,”she hisses, nudging at his shoulder, but fuck, he may actually be hitting a streak this time, so he just jerks his head.

“You have a customer.”

“You mean we have a--” she sighs. “Nevermind. I’m sorry, sir, what can I get you?”

Stiles bats at the air. “Distracting... move awa-- aaaaagh!” He swipes at the screen and just about recovers by the skin of his teeth, and The Shadow still hasn’t spoken (he doesn’t think).

“Sir?” Allison prompts. The Shadow sighs. Shadows can sigh now. Who knew?

“Um...Caramel latte, double shot,” comes the belated response, and whoa, speaking of caramel. That voice. Stiles manfully drags his eyes away from his tablet and feels his brows jump. It’s the guy from last week. The sexy one with a sexy frown. Are frowns sexy? Well, now they are. And said frown is being directed at Stiles’ hands - or at least the game they're fluttering over.

Wonder what it would take to drag a smile out of that face, possibly more than a few extra kolaczki before dinner, huh?

He just about remembers that he’s not dating right now shut up Grandma and drags his focus back to his game before Caramel Latte has a chance to meet his eyes.

He’s being aloof.

No, he’s not being aloof, because being aloof would suggest that he, at some point in the future, plans to stop being aloof and start being super friendly and possibly cuddly, which he is not (and even though Stiles is a super great cuddler and anyone on the receiving end should count themselves lucky - Caramel Latte will not be that person).

Nothing wrong with a little fun, Stiles. Even I had fun back in the Stone Age when it was just me and your dziadzio..

Oh my God, he’s heard way too much about his grandparents’ sex lives and it’s evidently haunting him after their deaths. Is there a therapist qualified to deal with this kind of trauma?

Stiles shudders with his whole body and glares at the tablet until he can feel The Shadow recede, and then he’s being bodily draped-over by his business manager.

“So that was rude, even for you,” she says, right by his ear, because she knows he’s in gaming mode (supposedly) and it’s annoying as shit when she distracts him.

He shrugs. “Scott’s wiping the floor with me. I have a reputation to uphold.”

“Even in the face of sexy guys with leather jackets?”

Stiles licks his lips. “There was a sexy guy in a leather jacket?”

The front door chimes as it closes behind the stranger, and Allison sighs like he’s a lost child she adopted from the street and pulls the tablet away from him.

“I know you saw him. You totally left yourself open to that attack by the Guard... rookie mistake.”

Stiles narrows his eyes, “So Scott’s been logging all the hours on this by himself, huh?”

Deflecting,” Allison sing-songs.

“Not dating,” he replies, and grabs the tablet back off her.

“Well then,” she says, wiping down the counter needlessly. He hates when she does mundane tasks just to appear nonchalant - she learned it from Lydia, of course. “Someone should tell Mr Leather Jacket, so he can stop coming in here to moon over you from afar.”

...

Stiles is pretty sure he’s never been cordially invited to anything, and would probably have thrown the envelope in the trash had it not borne the little tree logo of the new coffee-and-book place half a block away. The same coffee-and-book place which boasted fresh baked goods (making it technically his competition), a new and pre-owned Lit section, and a possible visiting werewolf.

Of course, Scott had to be completely lame and be on-call when the time came for the stakeout - ahem - opening party. Which means that Stiles will have to make small-talk and mingle and try not to glue himself to his phone since he's an adult now and can’t get away with acting antisocial and sixteen.

Stiles is texting to remind Scott of his lameness when he reaches the front door, framed all quaint and homely with dark, stained wood and hand-painted signage. The windows are stained glass and vintage-looking, and he’s pretty sure those are actual, working gas lamps fixed to the wall. It’s all soft hues, sweet scents, and very fairytale. Like, all that’s missing is a pretty French girl in a blue dress swinging off one of the bookcase ladders, lamenting her provincial life.

He’d probably have walked into the frame of said fairytale door had it not been for the manicured hand placed squarely in the centre of his chest, and the lipstick-stained smirk greeting him when he tore his eyes away from his phone. She’s wearing what appears to be an apron with the same little tree emblem, but it’s modified in such a way as to lift and highlight her cleavage. Stiles has to admire her innovativeness.

“I hope you know how much it cost me not to trip you up just now,” the girl informs, all blonde and over-confident and leer-y. “But I’m supposed to be handing out goodie-bags and making nice, so ‘Welcome to Talia Tales! Feel free to indulge in the refreshments and explore our store, and we hope we’ll inspire, if not your inquisitive mind, your repeat custom!’”

She thrusts a little, striped-green paper bag into his hands and Stiles raises a brow as he pulls apart the rope handles. It’s got the same swirly logo on one side, and is filled with free coffee vouchers, a cupcake with the decorative tree on it, an invitation to their new monthly book club with a list of required reading, and a pamphlet about the store.

“Are you reading that from a flashcard?” he snorts, inspecting the cupcake. It’s cute. Annoyingly so.

“Not after the last fifteen people,” she replies jadedly. “Plus my boss is kind of intense about the good impression thing. I’m not getting fired, thank-you.”

“I admire your self-control,” he says wryly, and holds out his hand. “Stiles.”

“I know,” she replies easily, taking his hand. “Erica. We went to high school together for a while. I graduated early.”

His brows rise, but there doesn't seem to be any bitterness hiding in her words. “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t--”

“Don’t worry about it,” she waves off. “I was kind of mousy back then. Could probably have faded into the walls if I tried had enough. You ever hear of a prom queen using her smarts to get out of high school before she has to?”

Stiles presses his lips together. “Guess not.”

“Luckily, college was much more me.” She glances back over her shoulder. “Anyway, I’m kind of doing a thing here, so if you could...”

He jerks back to attention when he realises he’s still blocking the door. “Sure, uh, nice meeting you. Again?”

She smiles. “Yeah, again. See you ‘round, Stilinski.”

He’s still glancing back over his shoulder at Erica when he almost stumbles into yet another beautiful woman with a predatory look on her face.

“Mr Stilinski, the competition,” she says, grinning.

“Didn’t know I was such a big name around here,” he replies, letting his eyes dart around the store and then back to her. “You’re the owner?”

“Laura,” she says. “Pleased to meet you. I hope Erica didn’t make you want to run the opposite direction - she kind of has a way about her.”

Stiles smirks. “Nah, she’s okay. I like ‘em intimidatingly attractive.”

“Good to know," Laura snorts. She seems to be studying him as he inspects the place. It's either flattering or terrifying, his nerves can't be sure, but the sheer volume of people crammed into the store is more distracting than anything else. He recognises a few of his own regulars sampling gingerbread from an honest-to-god gingerbread house, and Vernon Boyd working the counter, looking like a hunk of dark chocolate himself. This place definitely has people's interest. Dammit.

"Nice place you’ve got here. Much better than the depressingly run-down Blockbuster Video it used to be."

"Yeah, now it's just going to be a depressingly run-down bookstore. My brother loves to remind me how popular Kindle is these days."

Stiles pulls a face. "I don't know, there's something to be said for that old-book smell." Why is he trying to make her feel better? Stupid attractive nice woman.

"That's what I said." She looks pleased, and Stiles inexplicably feels like he's achieved something. "Nice to know not everyone's an unsentimental heathen like him."

"Your brother doesn't agree with your new venture?"

Laura shrugs. "He sort of doesn't have a choice either way, since he's my business partner, but luckily all he has to worry about is making sure I'm not jailed for messing up my taxes or whatever. PR's still a work in progress with him."

Stiles gives her a commiserating look. “I know the feeling - my dad’s still conflicted between being ecstatic that I’m still living so close, and disappointed that I’ve ‘sentenced’ myself to staying in Beacon Hills.”

The smile Laura gives him is rueful. “He supports you, though?”

“Sure. He’s just not exactly vocal about it. It also might be to do with the fact that he’s banned from consuming the merchandise.” Stiles flicks his gaze around to see if there are any beige uniforms half-buried in the free samples. “Which reminds me, if the Sheriff shows up here trying to indulge in a cupcake bender, could you kindly hunt him away?”

“Banned from sweets?”

Stiles nods. “Doctor’s orders. Well, Dr Me. You’d be doing us a huge favour.”

Laura looks oddly pensive for a moment, before she shrugs, smiling. “Alright, I’ll let Derek know - I’m trying a thing where I force him to deal with the public in the hope that he’ll learn basic social skills again.” She casts an eye around the store. "I'd introduce you, but I have no idea where he's skulked off to. He was here a second ago - case and point."

Stiles waves her off, catching sight of Isaac falling victim to Erica's one-woman welcome party at the door. Thank God, a familiar face.

"I'm sure I'll see him around. Small-ish towns and all that. Oh hey, um, I think I better go rescue my barista from yours."

He jerks his thumb over his shoulder and is backing off in their direction, just as he hears Laura's thoughtful, "Who is that with him?”

Stiles glances back, seeing Isaac hasn’t come alone. “Oh, Allison? Yeah, I lucked out on the business manager front,” he smiles, feeling proud, but Laura doesn’t return it.

“I should go find my brother.” Her face breaks into a grin, but it’s now slightly forced, like she’s distracted. “Really great to meet you, Stiles. I hope you won’t be a stranger.”

He pretends to think about it. “I’ll make up my mind after I try your caramel slices,” he quips, turning away to catch sight of Allison mouthing an impressed can you believe this place?

Stiles sighs. No, he can’t.


 

Laura’s Journal, Day 9

Opening evening was always going to be a challenge, but something I hadn’t factored in was our biggest rival serendipitously employing someone from the very family responsible for decimating mine.

The Argents were kind of a campfire ghost story to us growing up. The legend of La Bête du Gévaudan was more of a cautionary tale to young werewolves about power-sickness and the importance of respect for human life than it was dramatic horror story. I would assume the mainstream version takes an entirely different point of view.

Their name fell into infamy among our kind, and though there was talk that the family was still active and hunting, the word was that they relied more on their reputation and adhering to the Code than partaking in that which made their ancestors famous. After all, in this day and age, when most people were struggling to hold down one job, how was anyone supposed to lead a double existence?

It took the ultimate price for us to figure out we were mistaken.

Kate Argent came into our lives at a time when my brother was still grieving from the loss of his first love, and on the cusp of a journey of self-flagellation that would continue into his adult years. He and I grew distant, as I knew he was hiding something from the pack, but teenage boys are strange creatures, and nobody wants their big sister intruding on their life uninvited.

I wish I’d meddled more.

A part of me thinks that Derek may believe that I blame him in some way for what Kate did to us. Honestly, I blame myself. I was supposed to protect him, to reach out to him and recognise self-destructive behaviour when I saw it, but short of backing my mother up when she demanded to know where Derek was sneaking off to at night, I let him be.

I let him grieve. I just didn’t know who was ‘helping’ him do that.

This time, however, I know where Derek has been going, and though he still has the concealment capabilities of a wet paper towel, it wasn’t until Allison Argent walked into our store that the reason for his shady behaviour made sense.

He pretty much disappeared as soon as people from Piekarnia started arriving, knowing he was caught, and when I attempted to question him about his avoidance, he shut down, and changed the subject. He pains me, I swear. The kid literally half-swan-dived into my oven claiming to have smelled burning. We’re werewolves. No smell goes undetected long enough to result in ruined scones.

There’s still a long way to go with our communication exercises, and I think it might take a lot more than feeding him treats and reminiscing about growing up to get him to talk more. Still, I can see the subtle changes in him. The quickness of his retorts and the genuine lack of reluctance to get out of bed and come to work.

Allison Argent, for her part, seems sweet. She’s either a fantastic actress, or has genuinely no idea about the history intertwined between her family and mine. If the rumours about the Argents’ retirement after Kate’s death, and the disappearance of their patriarch are anything to go by, I have a feeling it’s the latter.

I’m not sure it’s healthy for Derek to be so fixated on them, though. Kate is dead; the Argents are reportedly no longer hunting; our pack is still struggling on - shouldn’t it be time we put it behind us?


It's a disaster.

Stiles has been on the warpath all morning because it's freaking Fat Thursday and he doesn't have any almonds for the freaking paczki. Disaster. Dis-as-ter.

Alright so, he could technically substitute with nuts or something, or run down to the convenience store and buy like five bags, but his grandma has been making the traditional donuts for years on this day, placing an almond into one out of every dozen for luck to whoever finds it, and only fresh that morning from this one supplier. Breaking tradition, on this, his first ever Tlusty Czwartek when he's the owner, and especially on a good luck charm, is kind of making his chest feel tight.

He managed not to yell at Jackie, his regular delivery girl, when she innocently admitted she had no idea what had happened to that part of his order (or the coconut, but he's got backup of that and it's not important like the almonds), since they were packed in with the rest of Piekarnia's stuff and had the address taped on the box. She'd even double-checked before setting off on her rounds, apparently, knowing how important it was. He agreed not to file a complaint since she promised to bring by a replacement before ten, but it's pushing 9:30 now and he's already had eight people stop by to pick up a batch of donuts, only for them to give an interesting look when Isaac explained that they don't have any yet and to come back later.

He feels like a failure.

Standing outside the front doors of the shop with a scowl and still wearing his stained baking clothes is probably not helping to attract new customers, but he's a little frazzled right now. He'll totally blame the frazzled-ness on the fact that he stops Mrs McCall on her way into the store eating, what looks to be, a coconut bar. Topped with almonds.

Almonds.

And coconut.

"Where did you get that?" he demands, causing Mrs McCall to just catch herself before she shrieks aloud.

"Holy crap, Stiles, you scared me half to death!" she admonishes, clutching at her chest. She's still holding the offending treat up to her mouth and glances between him and it. "This? There's a girl handing out free samples outside that new coffee place."

"Free samples."

"Yeah," she says eyeing him warily. "Hey, you know I would never cheat on Piekarnia, but they've got cookies, almond squares, macaroons, fifteens, and free's free, right? I was just coming by to pick up some of your grandma's famous paczki before shift 'cause I know you'll be all out later."

The look on Stiles face must clue her in to what a failed endeavour that is, so she says, "Or... I could just come back later."

He sighs. "No... I mean yeah. I'm sorry, it's just--" he bites his lip, and okay, he's feeling kind of stupid over how emotional it's making him. "It's the first one without her, and the store's always hectic today, y'know, and it's kind of like the ultimate test? Like, I've been doing fine with everything, I think, but I know there's people who think I can't handle this, and hey, look, I guess they were right--"

"Stiles..."

"And I just know none of this would be happening if she were here, and it's really freaking suspicious that today of all days that new place is handing out stuff made with the only items missing from my order--"

"Stiles."

"Sorry."

"It's okay. So you don't have the donuts, it's not even ten o' clock yet. Milena would just tell people to have some damn patience and lay off her Słoneczko. And, anyone buying donuts at this hour should probably be worried about more than their sugar fix."

He raises a brow at her.

"Hush, I'm working a split. It doesn't count."

He begrudgingly lets a smile pull at his mouth. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Thanks, Mamalissa," he says, knowing any reminder of his kindergarten mispronunciation of her name will beg forgiveness for the freak-out.

Her face softens, cajoled. "I'm always right, haven't you and Scott figured that out yet?"

"You know Scott's always a little slower on the uptake."

She fixes him a pointed look. "I'll let the insult to my kid's intellect slide if you have Isaac skip me to the front of the line for my coffee. I'm gonna be late if I have to avert any more meltdowns today."

Stiles smirks - as if that wouldn’t have happened anyway.

"Fine, but only 'cause you're family." He's about to follow her inside when he catches sight of three more people walking past the store holding more almond-covered treats. He presses his lips together and exhales sharply through his nose. Fuck the calm approach - something about this whole thing stinks.

"Isaac! VIP customer... Caffeine-related medical emergency," he says, gesturing to Mrs McCall in her scrubs. He throws the dish towel he'd been wringing in frustration behind the counter and stalks right out of the store again. "I'll be back in five."

Alright, so storming down the street in a batter-splotched apron thrown over a worn henley (which still has the sleeves pushed up to the elbows to display his burn-marked arms) and muttering to himself probably earned the concerned and curious looks that follow him, but fuck this. Today has been stressful enough to worry about what Mrs Greenberg will be telling people she saw at the grocery store later. He's got Talia Tales in his sights, and Erica's even standing outside of it in jean shorts with a tray of goodies.

"What the hell is happening?" he demands, probably sounding a little more hostile than he should.

"Hey Stiles," she says brightly, "Cookie? They're white chocolate and almond."

He looks at the tray. Dammit, they do look delicious. He shakes his head. "No, I don't want a cookie. I want to know why suddenly you guys are running a special on almond stuff."

She seems to fight a smirk before shrugging. "I don't know, I just work here. I think maybe there were some extras in with our delivery this morning? You'll have to ask Derek."

Stiles hesitates. "Derek?"

"Yeah, Laura's brother? She sucks at paperwork so makes him deal with all of that. Why?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe because the supplier we've been using for thirty years messed up for the first time since I can remember? And you guys are handing out free crap using the only ingredients I was missing."

"So what, you think we stole some nuts out of your order?"

He bristles. "Technically, almonds are seeds... No, you know what, I don't have time for this. Where's this Derek guy?"

Erica jerks her head inside the store through the window. "He's behind the counter. Good luck, he's not good with hostility."

Stiles follows her gesture, taking a step forward, and then stops, because fuck.

It's the guy. The sexy frown guy. The caramel latte guy. Stiles feels the hairs at the back of his neck stand up.

This guy's been staking out Piekarnia for weeks, sampling the merchandise, watching how they do things, sitting there silently, apparently, and it's not because he's got the hots for Stiles, like Allison maintained. It was espionage. Potential fucking sabotage. (And now he's got that song playing in his head as if to add weight to the moment.)

Well, two can play at that game, asshole.

"Stiles?" Erica says. "He's the one who looks like it hurts to smile." (It's still a nice fucking smile. Even half-assed. Dammit.)

"Yeah, I see him."

"Aren't you gonna go throw some accusations at him?" Stiles looks at her with a frown, his feet planted to the spot. She pick up a cookie and starts munching on it. "What? It's been a slow morning standing out here. Go make a scene."

He straightens up. He could totally go do that, but no, he's going to be the bigger person (that's totally all this is about).

"No, you know what? I'm above that. I'm not gonna go make myself look like a raving idiot just because he feels threatened by my store."

"I'm really starting to think that's not it," she says, giving a secretive smile.

"Yeah well, think whatever. I have a business to run, and a line of customers waiting for donuts that I have yet to actually put in the oven, so if you'll excuse me..."

"Want me to tell him you stopped by?" she calls after him, and he shakes his head. The thought of that Derek guy knowing how intense Stiles got over this is already bringing a flush to his cheeks. No way.

"Nope, don't even bother." he says loftily. "If he wants to be childish about this, then let him. I hope Laura knows what he's up to."

Of course, it's got nothing to do with you getting a little tongue-tied around the pretty ones, huh?

"Cool it, Grandma," he mutters, just as he turns back on to his own street and sees Jackie's van pulling up outside the store.

Crisis averted.


 Laura’s Journal, Day 14

I’d start to question my decision to send my brother to business school and then ask him to help me realise my dream, if I, for one second, believed his I-Done-Goofed face.

Messing up a simple order. Really?

Lets just say if I never make another coconut-related pastry ever again, I’ll die satisfied.

Erica made some veiled references to the fact that we received a heated complaint from one of the guys at Piekarnia. I’m not sure if it was the adorable, smart-mouthed baby-faced owner with the Bambi eyes, or the one who looks like the puppy my kid sister Cora rescued from an abusive asshole when she was six and it kept peeing in the corner if anyone raised their voice.

Derek seemed to be extremely interested in who paid us a visit, though. I’m trying the thing where I act oblivious in the hope that he’ll crack and come explain everything to me himself. Then I can tell him he’s a dumbass, because honestly, if this is his way of making life difficult for Allison in revenge, I’ve already decided we need to marathon some Park-Chan Wook. Or at least a little Tarantino. Erica seems to be down for it, because she’s the opposite of an idiot.

If nothing else, there’s a lightness to Derek - a quiet excitement living beneath his skin that I haven’t seen in years. Maybe it’s being here again; having pack, having Erica here, but I hope it lasts.

She’d make a great beta, actually, but Derek tells me she’s not interested. Something about hitting him over the head, and asking where he was with his life-changing propositions back when she was in high school. He says she’ll get back to us when she hits forty and starts getting crow’s feet.

I get the feeling she was kind of a wallflower before she met Derek. I would never assume, looking at her right now, considering she and Derek have just taken over the couch for movie night, she’s already demanded popcorn, and she’s just produced some toe-separators before shoving her bare feet in my brother’s lap.

I think he’d like to protest, but she has got a point - he’s got a steady, delicate hand and a wonderful attention to detail. Flattery from Erica seems to be enough to have him backing down - I must remember that.

Like I said, new best friend.


 Nobody ever said Stiles couldn't hold a grudge. Especially on a slow Tuesday when there's nothing to do but badger Isaac over who he's constantly texting. The kid needed a project, and Stiles still had those walkie-talkies from when he and Scott went through their Secret Agents phase.

"Johnny Cage to Angel Tushie. Come-in, Angel Tushie. What's the sitch? - Over."

"How come you get to pick your own codename? I don’t remember agreeing. to Angel Tushie."

"Because I'm your boss, and this was my awesome idea. Plus, you're supposed to say ‘over’. - Over."

"Yeah but Angel Tushie? That doesn't even mean anything!" There's a pause. "Uh, - over."

"Oh yeah? Ask the high school girls who come in and only order one muffin between like six of them. 'Oh, his face is so cute and angelic but his butt's even better!' - Over."

"I hate you. - Over."

"Roger that. I'm completely devastated. Hey come on, what's going on over there? - Over."

"Not much, but they do have a chalkboard that says 'Delicious treats you don't have to speak another language to enjoy!'" There's a small burst of static. "Also, those girls have been calling you Sugarnipples for months. Why isn't that your codename? - Over."

"Because Johnny Cage is awesome and doesn't lose, not when I'm involved." He rolls his eyes and toggles the button again. Honestly. "Stop whining, I knew I should have picked Scott for this. - Over.”

Hey, it’s not my fault Scott’s cooler than me. - Over.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, again. “Yes, it’s not your fault, but he is, in every way, and you need to stop telling him that - he’s getting an ego and he keeps defending you when I talk about your many failures. Is this gonna be another one of them, Angel Tushie? Or are you serious about the chalkboard? - Over."

"I think there's a crude drawing of you speaking Polish in the corner. - Over."

Stiles narrows his eyes, trying to reconcile the Laura he met and shared a moment with, with someone who could be that much of an ass. It's not happening, which only leaves another culprit. He feels the plastic creak under his hands as he plots. He could totally ask Isaac to steal the board and run away, but he needs to think bigger.

"Um, Stiles?"

"Johnny Cage!"

"Whatever. Um, your dad's still banned from eating sweets, right?"

"...Yes, yes he is. Are you using this opportunity to confess something? Because you know I can't flick you in the forehead right now, but I can make you work mornings for the next month. Scott or no Scott. - Over."

"Uh no, but he did just go inside, and it looks like that guy Derek's bagging him up a stack of Rocky Roads. - Over."

Stiles lets out an indignant squawk, so loud that Allison peeks her head inside the kitchen door to frown at him. He bats her away.

"Alright, it's definitely on. Everybody in town knows that he's blacklisted from anything with sugar. I told them to inform their staff when I went to their opening night." He thinks for a beat. "Okay. Okay, we can use this. How do you feel about doing a little acting, Angel Tushie? - Over."

There's a sigh, even over the static. "It'd be better if you just made me work mornings."

Ten minutes later, and there's a commotion out front, and Stiles hears his dad yelling for him until he nonchalantly makes his way out of the kitchen.

"What's up, Daddy-o?"

He's got Isaac by the scruff of his neck and a thunderous expression on his face.

"Care to tell me why I found this one loitering outside the Hales' coffee place, telling people I'm there to question them about drug trafficking?"

Isaac looks guilty, and Stiles gives him an admonishing look. "I said protection money to the mob, dude! Never go too big with the lie!" he scolds, and his dad just gives a weary sigh.

"You know what, I don't even want to know. But this? This could be slander. You're just lucky the owners didn't hear about it before I did. They could have a case."

Stiles does his best to look guilty, but mostly he's just mad that Isaac is such a failure.

"Yeah, okay, sorry. Just some friendly business rivalry."

"You know what, Stiles? Next time, rise above. Lying is not the way to gain the upper-hand."

Stiles works his jaw angrily and glares at his dad. The nerve. "Speaking of telling the truth, what were you doing there today, father-mine?"

His dad gives Isaac a cold look. "I needed some new reading material."

"Sure you did, and a stack of chocolate, marshmallow-y goodness to go with it, huh?"

His dad's face is turning red. Seriously? Stiles has heard about him cutting deals with perps and threatening suspects into practically singing information, yet this is when he loses his poker face.

"I am a grown man, Stiles. What I do or don't eat is my decision," he retorts, almost sounding petulant.

"Sure it is," he says, pulling out his phone. "So hey, I think you're probably due a physical from Dr Eriksen soon, right? Wouldn't want you to miss that appointment, would we, since you've been eating so well."

His dad tries to engage in a stand-off for a whole ten seconds, before he gives out a put-upon sigh and reaches into his back pocket, pulling out a grease-stained paper bag with the little tree logo on the side. He drops it down on the counter with a thud.

"You know what? Fine. I give up, but if you so much as come near me with a veggie burger in the next month, I'm putting your vintage Nintendo collection on eBay and buying a tenderloin."

Stiles gapes. "You wouldn't."

"Try me," he grits out, stalking out of the store.

It'll take him an hour or so to calm down - Stiles was planning on making meatballs for him later, so he's not worried.

And the Rocky Road is infuriatingly delicious.

...

He's not about to let the whole thing with his dad go, but the catalyst that spurs him into action is, surprisingly enough, Scott.

Scott, who thinks he's being sneaky when Stiles gets in from dinner with his dad, and does a piss-poor job of hiding the fact that he was scarfing mint chocolate brownies by sitting on the bag, but failing to wipe the crumbs off of his mouth and chest.

"What is that?" Stiles asks sharply, kicking his shoes off and pausing before he slumps down in the La-z-Boy.

Scott is the picture of innocence, the bastard.

"What's what?"

"The fact that you look like you just went down on the witch from Hansel and Gretel."

"Ew," he replies, face adorably scrunched, "You know it makes me nauseous when you joke about things like that. Cheating and stuff."

"Yet you have no problem with cheating on me?"

Yeah, now he looks guilty, and he cracks. "I'm sorry, dude, they just showed up at the firehouse with a bunch of goods! You know I can't say no to chocolate."

"Don't I feed you enough, Scott? Isn't the unlimited free supply on your literal doorstep enough to keep you satisfied? Hell, even when I’m not there, Isaac saves you the best stuff."

"I'm sorry, okay! I was weak. Weak and hungry." He pulls out the bag from under his butt. "But dude. You should taste these brownies. They're like... like Betty Crocker made sweet love to Hershey's Bliss Creme De Menthe, and these are their babies."

"You shut your dirty mouth. You know how I feel about Betty Crocker," he snaps. He's had people coming in all week raving about Laura's creations, and he's not ashamed to admit that he spent the drive to and from his dad's brainstorming ideas to step his game up.

"Right, sorry," he says, looking sheepish. "But uh, I did a little recon while Boyd was there, and he mentioned that his boss was looking to cut a deal with supplying the firehouse. They're branching out into breads, apparently. Finstock seemed pretty into it."

Stiles narrows his eyes. "Did he, now."

"Uh, yeah. He said he was on his way to the sheriff's department, too."

Stiles seethes.

"Um, dude, your eye is twitching. Are you okay? You know I'll totally argue for you when they put it to the vote, and it's me who does the supply runs anyway. Probie privilege."

"Fine, Scott, just fine," he says, but he can feel his teeth grinding together. "I just think it's about time me and this Derek Hale had a little talk."

...

His anger is the one thing keeping him from running the opposite direction when the door to Talia Tales shuts behind him the next morning. Derek Hale is the only one working the counter, looking like the woman instructing him how to arrange her pastries in the box is responsible for Third World Debt and the death of his beloved pet gerbil. Stiles would think it’s a personal thing, if he hadn’t overheard the two high school girls in front of him discussing how they’ve nicknamed him Scowly O’Sexbomb and one of them wondering if she’s discovered a disapproving-teacher kink. His whole attitude screams I’d-rather-give-myself-an-acid-enema-than-deal-with-you-people, and holy shit, can Stiles relate to that some days.

Despite the standoffish demeanour, Hale legitimately freezes when he catches sight of Stiles and the totally scary look on his face. Yeah, you better be afraid. Even though your shoulders are huge and you could crush me. Um.

"So, I don't believe we've been formally introduced. I'm Stiles," he says holding out his hand when he reaches the top of the line, and is irrationally proud of how even his voice is. Nobody warned him about this guy's eyes. Unfairly distracting is the first thought that comes to mind. The second is a less pure thought about the feel of that stubble against his buttcheeks, but he's kind of in the middle of something here.

"And you're...Derek..." he prompts when there's no response. Rude.

The guy's just staring at him, eyes flitting over his face dumbly before he catches himself and shakes Stiles' hand, clearing his throat.

"I... Yeah, that's. Derek. I'm Derek."

"Um... Okay," Stiles frowns, jarred by the change in demeanour. "Well, Derek. I'm not exactly sure what little game you think you're playing here, but you're messing with the wrong dude. I am, like, formally trained in this kind of warfare. You cannot win. Don't even bother trying."

There seems to be an honest-to-god smirk threatening on the guy's lips for a whole half a minute, and it evolves into an actual smile when he finally opens his mouth to speak.

"And what game would that be, Stiles?"

Oh, God, the way he says his name, and he's got a set of adorable bunny-ish teeth that just make him, like, a thousand times more attractive. Stiles' thing is totally cute imperfections - he had a crush on Kate Hudson's ears for six months in junior high. He's fucked.

He wets his lips, dragging his eyes away from Derek's mouth. Focus. He’s an asshole and you hate him. Despite his beauty.

"You know what I mean. The delivery fuck-up was one thing. The chalkboard was even kind of funny, but being my dad's enabler? That shit is not gonna fly with me."

Derek raises his brows. "Oh, so we should just ignore the fact that you had a little minion spying on us from across the street?"

Stiles snorts before he can stop himself. He's totally referring to Isaac as 'minion' from now on.

"Know thy enemy," he says, folding his arms. "You'd know all about that, right? Word is you were a regular at my shop before this place opened."

There's a tilt to Derek's head, and he frowns. He looks intrigued. "Yeah? You noticed that?"

Stiles quirks his lips. "Actually, no." Derek straightens up, immediately less expressive. "But my minion did."

"Oh."

After that, there's a pause where Stiles just studies the guy, wondering what the hell his deal is.

"So... Anyway. If you could just lay off all of this prank stuff, that'd be cool. You won't bother me, I won't bother you, everything's gravy."

Derek's face has gone completely blank, and he just picks at a stack of dog-grooming flyers and leaflets about the upcoming fayre arranged on the counter, refusing to meet his eyes.

"So this is a diplomatic visit. Of course."

"Dude, no hard feelings, right?" Stiles asks, dipping his chin to meet Derek's gaze. "I'm not gonna wake up tomorrow with graffiti on my door informing what I like to do with other men's genitals in my spare time?”

Are you trying to give the boy an invitation to find out? Lord, you can be more subtle about it than this, Sloneczo. Really.

Stiles steadfastly gulps and ignores her.

"No," Derek snorts, eyes wide, "Not my style."

"Yeah, didn't really think so," Stiles can't help but grin, though his pulse is thudding in his throat. He'd actually admire Derek's genius if it was directed at someone else. He slaps the counter before he can go on to admire anything else. "Well, this has been real. It was, uh, nice to actually meet you. See you 'round, Derek."

He turns to leave, feeling overheated and awkward, and it's at least eighty percent due to the pull on the fabric of Derek’s shirt over his biceps.

"Stiles?" Derek calls out, just before he reaches the door, and he turns. Derek kind of just looks at him, motioning to say something, but stops, glancing over Stiles’ shoulder. "Uh, you too. Nice to finally meet you."

When Stiles just gives a polite nod, and pulls his hood up against the beginning downpour outside, Erica’s standing just inside the threshold, smiling calculatingly at the exchange.


 

Laura’s Journal, Day 17

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a room and a hush falls over all the people inside? It’s kind of shitty when it happens to werewolves, right? Because we can pretty much hear the conversation before we open the door. Which is exactly why I’m proud to say I glared a confession as to what exactly was going on out of Erica within about twenty seconds.

It’s better for my ego if I pretend it happened that way, and not because she was champing at the bit to tell me, regardless.

Evidently, what had my little brother’s face looking like his underwear was migrating into his butt for summer was because Erica had walked in on an exchange.

And extremely interesting exchange between Derek, and the cute-as-fuck owner of our rival, Piekarnia - Stiles. Our rival, who apparently Derek has been making life extremely difficult for.

Why? Well, anyone’s guess is as good as mine. But I do have my suspicions.

Of course, the initial shock that it actually had nothing to do with Allison Argent had me slightly dumbfounded. Seemingly, this was why he’d actually been disappearing off in the afternoons since before Talia Tales opened. He was skulking around being a little stalker-wolf. Cute.

Well, no, kind of really surprising, actually - if only for the fact that Derek seems to possibly like someone.

Don’t get me wrong, the kid hasn’t been celibate, okay? If Erica’s commentary is anything to go by, my little brother had his fair share of attention in college, and took advantage of it (and that’s about as much thought as I’m going to spend on that, thank you).

I probably don’t even need to state that Derek denied the whole thing, claiming a misunderstanding and a mutual agreement for he and Stiles to leave each other alone before he flounced off into that stupid Camaro (seriously, it sounds like our grandpa snoring). His excuse was claiming we needed toilet paper for the bathrooms.

Lies, of course. That’s one order he did not mess up.

If nothing else, his dramatic exit gave Erica a chance to explain what happened in better detail.

Yeah, as if I hadn’t noticed the extra artwork on our Specials board, and Derek walking around with that quiet little smirk on his face that only showed up when he thought he was getting away with something (he never does) - but it seems like the explanation was weirder than I could have anticipated. For one, our bakery is embroiled in a prank war. With Stiles’ bakery, because Derek, my sweet, emotionally-crippled baby brother, wasn’t trying to sabotage anyone - we think he was trying to flirt.

Flirt with Stiles. Via pranks.

The only thing that makes it more tragic was the fact he evidently failed at it. Erica says Stiles took it completely the wrong way, stormed in, guns blazing, deciding eventually to call a truce, and then told Derek they’d keep out of each other’s way.

As in, seemingly the exact opposite of what Derek wanted.

Sigh.

I will not get involved. I will not meddle. A good alpha trusts her betas to know when to ask for help. Trust your betas, to trust you, to trust them.

Repeat until the urge to do otherwise leaves.  


Maybe Stiles should have made an actual effort to inform Isaac about the truce, but in his defense, if he’d actually planned another strike against Derek, it would have been a lot more imaginative than whatever the hell this was.

Turns out, Isaac may have gotten himself a tiny crush on Erica, and if their constant texting was anything to go by, it was becoming sort of a fixation. Or, it would have, had Erica not already been in a flirtationship with her coworker and human tank, Boyd, and Isaac hadn’t shown up on his lunch break to invite Erica for food, only to see them together.

Isaac can be bitchy when things don’t go his way - this isn’t news to anyone who’s played against him in touch football - and ironically the only time he shakes off his usual confrontation-related anxiety is when he thinks he’s got an axe to grind. Apparently today, it manifested in posturing in front of Boyd as he tried to attract new customers to the coffee shop.

Isaac, of course, having spent entirely too much time with Stiles lately, used his extended lunch break to loiter around up the street a little, holding the arrow-shaped sign bearing Piekarnia’s logo (that had only ever been used as an initiation for new staff, because that shit’s humiliating; there’s a second arrow pointing down to whoever the sign’s holder happens to be, with the text want something even tastier?). It went from harmless advertising to actual call-out when he went on to remind everyone passing by that their coffee didn’t taste like swamp sludge (in Isaac’s defense, he has it on pretty good authority that Piekarnia has Talia Tales licked in the coffee department, no contest).

More than anything, Stiles is a little disappointed that the first he hears about all of this is after Erica storms out of the bakery, after she'd barged in demanding to know from Isaac why she’d had to break him out of Boyd’s headlock. Apparently her own not-boyfriend wasn’t very forthcoming with the details.

He’d sagely left the part about wanting to ask her to lunch out in Erica’s version, though, which means they probably think Stiles sent him there on minion duties. Wonderful.

He watches Allison sprinkle marshmallows on a hot chocolate and push it across the table, and reigns himself in from making a quip about the dejected puppy look on Isaac’s face.

“I thought she liked me,” he frowns, taking a swipe of cream from the top. Allison shares a look with Stiles, who raises a brow that says you really want me to be the comforting presence here? She sighs.

“I’m sure she does, buddy,” she says, reaching across to give his arm a squeeze, “but acting like an ass because things aren’t going your way isn’t going to help any.”

Stiles breaks, he can’t fucking help it. “You seriously challenged him to a duel? With two-by-fours?”

Isaac gives him a dark look when Stiles lets out a spluttering cackle of glee. He’d pay cash money to have watched that, although, from the sounds of it, Boyd hadn’t been down and just crushed Isaac under one massive arm when he got close enough.

“It was a demonstration of valor,” he retorts, and even Allison’s trying not to smile.

“It’s sweet,” she says comfortingly. “Really douchey, but kind of sweet all the same.”

“You like Scott because he’s brave,” Isaac accuses, his brows scrunched. Stiles had his own suspicions about Isaac’s feelings for Allison when they met, but his bro-crush on Scott had taken care of that. Finding out yet another girl he likes is taken probably isn’t helping him forget the initial rejection, though.

“Partially, but Scott doesn’t go around setting fires just so he can put them out.” She frowns thoughtfully. “At least I don’t think he does.”

Stiles shakes his head, nose scrunched. “Nah, the smell of accelerant makes his tummy hurt.”

Allison gets that same fond expression on her face that he’s seen on his best bro’s countless times, and Stiles just sighs. He’s surrounded by hormone-crazed teenagers, apparently.

“I think the best thing to do here is admit defeat,” he says, deciding that giving Isaac some actual advice wouldn’t hurt. “Erica seems to have no problem voicing what she wants, and I’m sure if she felt that way about you, she’d let you know. Maybe she still will, fucked if I know, but you acting like a dick isn’t going to make that happen any time soon, and waiting around will just make you bitter. Move on - if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, well, then you’ve already moved on.”

Allison’s looking at him strangely, like she’s seeing a new side to Stiles, which, hey. He’s not a total moron.

“What?” he says, looking at her. “Years of unrequited love with a 5’3, redheaded spitfire taught me enough to know that waiting for her to magically change her mind gets you nowhere. Best thing I ever did for our friendship was get over it and acknowledge that I wanted to give other girls - and also dick - a try.”

They both roll their eyes, moment broken.

“Yeah, and that worked out fine, until you drove Danny away and now you’re afraid of dating,” Isaac says, and Stiles gives him an indignant look.

“I’m not afraid of--”

“You kind of are,” Allison cuts in gently, giving him a sad smile. He looks between them.

“Is that what you guys think? That I’m too much of a wimp to see anyone right now?” There’s a collective, noncommittal shrug, and Stiles isn’t sure how he let this devolve into a discussion about his own love life and perceived shortcomings. “Danny understood what I had to do - we both agreed amicably that letting me focus on the business was the fairest thing, since my dad’s his boss and all. I didn’t drive him away.

He’d make Danny come by and tell them himself if he wasn’t sunning himself in freaking Hawaii. What they had was, while pretty great, more out of habit than anything else. Getting together in high school as two of the only openly queer guys who happened to be attracted to each other, and picking up the on-off nature of their relationship after Danny moved back from college had been fun, but Stiles knew it was all they’d ever be. Danny was kind, and super-intelligent, and thoughtful, but there was always something... lacking. It wasn’t all hearts and puppies and stomach-flips every time they were together; at least not for Stiles.

He thinks, sometimes, that when it’s real, when he’s found that spark that he and Danny never had, there won’t be any holding back. His parent were like that. The whole aligned-stars-and-perfect-complement deal, where, when it was right it was so right, but there was just the right amount wrong, of fireworks, to keep it tangible.

It’s kind of too hard to explain to the two Judge-y McJudgersons in front of him without sounding like a dick, though.

“You barely noticed when he’d show up to spend time with you,” Allison points out. “It was a little painful to watch. You’re so oblivious sometimes, Stiles.”

“Hey, I noticed.” Kind of. “Forgive me for not wanting to let my family’s legacy die with my grandmother.”

“Erica told me she used to have a huge crush on you in high school,” Isaac volunteers. “You barely knew she existed.”

Stiles... doesn’t have a response to that. Although it does explain a little more about the imbalance in their knowledge of each other.

“We’re supposed to be talking about you here. Danny and I are over, and we’re still good friends, and everyone got out with their pride intact. I see him all the time at the station, and it’s cool. We’re actually bros.

“Because Danny isn’t an asshole and he doesn’t hold a grudge.”

“Yet another reason why he and I were unsuited.” Stiles kind of needs someone who matches him on the asshole scale. Another face pops into his head, smirking smugly with stubble and stupid seafoam eyes, but she shuts that thought down immediately.

Isaac and Allison share yet another knowing look, and Stiles resolves to reduce their shared working hours so they can get off his dick already. “Look, back to the issue at hand. You--” he points to Isaac, “Stop nice-guying Erica, and you--” he twists to look at Allison, “Stop Lydia-ing my love life.”

She holds up her hands. “Alright, but I still think you’re sabotaging yourself.”

The response dies on Stiles’ lips when the front door chimes, and four little old ladies mosey inside. Followed by six more. And he can see at least five making their way across the street towards the bakery

“Hello dear,” Mrs Graham smiles when Stiles gets up to hold the door open for them. “We’re here for the Senior's Sweetie Scheme?” she says hopefully.

“I’m sorry, the what?

“The surly young man who needs a shave at the other place told us you’re giving out free coffee and cake to the over-sixties.”

“He would really be quite attractive if he smiled more, didn’t I say so, Enid?” her friend pipes up, and Enid nods.

“Mm-hmm, he would, but of course we all go through our bad-boy phases, don’t we?”

Her friend bobs her head sagely. “Yes, yes. Good thing I settled for a nice, sweet boy like you with my Howard, Stiles. How’s your dad doing? Is he still on that horrible diet? I just know he’d love from some of my lasagne. I could have my Carly bring it over. She got divorced, you know...”

Stiles holds out his hands. “Uh, maybe... I don’t-- wait. Back up. Senior Sweeties scheme?”

Mrs Graham beams. “Yes! Couldn’t believe our luck, and well, we couldn’t have let an opportunity like that pass us up. Can we choose anything from the menu?”

Stiles’ brain kind of freezes to a halt for a second, before it kicks back into gear.

Derek.

Everyone who’s ever worked in the service industry is well aware that pensioners will show up for anything free and split before spending actual money on anything else, and who’s going to be seen kicking a bunch of grannies out of their shop? Not only has Derek filled up the place with the smell of talcum powder and thin mints, but Stiles can kiss today’s profits goodbye. It’s diabolical. And genius.

“Um--”

“Anything from the left display case,” Allison cuts in, catching on to what’s happened at the same time as Stiles. “And you just tell Isaac there your coffee order.” She smiles one of those Disney Princess grins and ushers more of them inside, before giving Stiles a look of barely-contained outrage.

Stiles knows the feeling. It’s so on.


 

Laura’s Journal, Day 19

Well, the prank war’s back on.

I wish I could report that I know this because my beta has come and talked to me, shared this part of his life with me, maybe even confessed a possible crush, but no. First I knew of the whole thing was being told that a horde of first-graders will be descending on the store in response to our latest ‘literature outreach’ scheme.

Unfortunately, their teacher has been misinformed, since we don’t run anything even like that, but managed to get Erica on the phone when she called to book with us and ‘Uncle Derek’, and she’s, of course, the one person who would never have passed the chance to see this up. And yes, unfortunately our insurance does cover this. There was talk of puppets. Jesus.

Alright, it’s kind of genius, if only for the fact that Derek will be nagged into doing all the different voices, just like with Cora (alright, so I’ll be there to make sure the kids know about the voices), and some of those pint-sized cretins who’ve already stopped by to press their little chubby faces up against the glass and get a glimpse of Derek are so freaking cute that even my ovaries glowed a little, but still. Smooth move, Stiles.

If only because for the first time in days, my brother’s genuinely smiling again.


"We’re closed!” Stiles frowns at the clock. “Like, seriously closed. And Isaac needs another lecture on being raised in a barn.”

It’s just past 10:30, and Stiles is/was in the zone. His ipod is docked, a random playlist he’s had since forever shuffling through some tracks so old he remembers having a buzzcut when he downloaded them, and he has the entire building to himself since Lydia’s been sexiled for Scott’s first full night away from the firehouse. Also, there’s nobody to judge the Stilinski Shuffle. The perfect creative environment.

Which is why it all comes to a halt when Derek Hale gives a soft knock before nudging the kitchen door open.

“The ‘closed’ sign was kind of a dead giveaway.”

Stiles smirks, despite himself, and relaxes, pushing his glasses further up on his nose. He’s in sweats, chucks, and his ancient Stud Muffin shirt, but it’s not like it’s business hours anymore - let your inner slob free.

“Derek. To what do I owe the displeasure?”

He should be a little more jarred by the intrusion; he doesn’t know Derek, not really, but there’s something about being in his own space that makes him feel in charge. If Stiles could call anywhere his domain, it’d be this kitchen - the walls could tell his life story if someone only knew how to ask.

Derek clears the doorway, raising a brow. His stance is calm, confidently-serious as he distractedly trails a finger across the edge of the wood, but there’s something hesitant in the way his eyes flit around the large kitchen, like he’s unsure of invading Stiles’ space. It’s strange, given what Stiles has seen of his character - that Derek would be that considerate. Most of Stiles’ friends still have to be told outright to leave him alone for brainstorming time.

Derek lifts his head. “I thought it was my turn to stage a confrontation.”

The corner of Stiles’ lip pulls up, and he crouches slightly to pick up a container of vanilla sugar. It’s been three days since he started updating the Specials board with phrases like ‘Lemon Squares!! - only half as bitter as Derek Hale’s disdain for humanity!’ and ‘Piernik - dipped in chocolate darker than Derek Hale’s demeanor *(but not as dark as his eyebrows); just hours since he informed Heather, who teaches first grade, about the completely adorable Story Hour with Uncle Derek, open to kids aged 4-7. She’d been so touched that she vowed to call and set up a field trip with her class to the bakery-slash-bookstore, since it had that ‘totally kitch fairytale vibe the kids will eat right up’. Stiles wouldn’t be so proud of it if he didn’t have the feeling that Erica would completely make it happen. This visit, though, suggests Derek has other ideas.

As if he has a choice. How precious.

“Well shit, Derek, I was hoping you could read me a story first,” Stiles says innocently, mentally measuring a cup of confectioners' sugar. He hasn’t looked directly at him yet, and he’s not sure why.

Cute. Guess I don’t need to drag a confession out of you,” Derek replies, folding his arms. He leans against the edge of the industrial sink, and Stiles hadn’t noticed him walk any closer. He takes up the space of a person much larger than he actually is; presence commanding, and it’s hard to feel like the room is the same size it was before he arrived. It’s not unpleasant, somehow - it’s like he’s just a new feature, melding with the old. It’s still doing strange things to the rhythm of Stiles’ pulse, though.

“I could retract it if you want to handcuff me to something,” he offers, watching Derek’s Adam’s apple dip as he swallows and looks determinedly to the left. Interesting. ”But why would I deny such genius?” Stiles shrugs, stepping backwards to lay a hand on a mixing bowl behind him.

The whole room hasn’t been rearranged since the late nineties. Stiles could probably put together a batch of rye bread without fully opening his eyes - though that’d probably be ill advised with the hot surfaces and sharp objects and all. Derek watches him silently for a beat, interest vaguely masked with his all-business expression.

“I thought you were all about calling a truce,” Derek says, cutting the pseudo-silence. Somewhere in the background, Frank Turner is singing about someone saving him from the way he tends to be, and Stiles finally looks at him.

“I was, until you turned my bakery into a seniors centre.”

“Because you decided to settle everything with a battle-by-barista.”

Stiles grins into his shoulder, shaking his head. He’s pretty sure it’s the dust-fine sugar that’s making his nose itch, but he’s much too preoccupied to worry about what the hell he looks like right now.

“I had nothing to do with that.”

“Sure.”

Stiles raises his brows, turning back. “I didn’t.”

The lazy smirk slowly falls from Derek’s features, and he rears back slightly. “No?”

“No. Isaac just doesn’t deal well with rejection, and I’m a man of my word.”

Silence falls again, and Derek seems to mull over the new information, like his world looks completely different.

After a moment, Stiles dips his finger in the bowl to taste-test, and frowns at the result.

“What are you making?” Derek asks.

Stiles gives him a suspicious look. “Trying to infiltrate my kitchen now?”

“Don’t flatter yourself. It’s not like it’s a state secret.”

Stiles raises an accusing finger at his impostor. “No way, buddy. Some things are sacred.”

“Sacred enough to make your face look like you’re chewing bolts?” Derek asks, barely hiding his judgement.

Stiles wipes his hands on the back of his pants before realising, and steps back from the workspace, mind still working. “I’m experimenting, okay?" He gestures to his face. "I’m wearing my thinking-glasses. The whole point is trial and error.”

“So that was error,” Derek surmises, peering at the bowl of ingredients.

“Precisely,” Stiles says thoughtfully, before grunting. “It’s too much sweetness. Needs a kick.” The words are more of a thoughtful musing than an explanation, but Derek steps away from his perch as he speaks. Stiles considers him for a moment.

“It’s, uh, babka. The Jewish kind - like a twisted yeast cake with--”

“I know what a babka is,” Derek cuts in impatiently, coming to a stop by Stiles’ side. “What’s the filling?”

Stiles puffs out a breath, staring at the bowl. “Therein lies the problem. I could make the chocolate kind in my sleep, but I’m trying something different.”

Derek sniffs, and raises a brow. “White chocolate?” he says, pretty much disdainfully.

“White chocolate and vanilla, actually,” Stiles retorts in his own defence. “Except...”

“Except?”

He runs a wrist over his forehead wearily, probably smearing god-knows-what across his brow. “The flavours aren't meshing well. There's no contrast. White chocolate is inherently sweeter than the milk kind anyway, so the vanilla’s just making it overwhelming.” He picks up the little silver bowl. “Back to the drawing-board, I guess. Maybe I could do something with cinnamon and--”

“Wait,” Derek says thoughtfully, placing his hand on Stiles’ own. It sends a shiver up his arm, into his chest, and Stiles finds himself stopping without actually meaning to. He looks at Derek expectantly, but he’s pressing his lips together, lost to thought. “Do you have any chillies?”

Stiles frowns.

“You mean like--” The realisation dawns on him, and he starts walking backwards, still talking, animated. The feeling of Derek’s touch stays. ”You... you think that could work? I mean, they’re usually paired with dark chocolate, in fact I have some powder tucked away in the back of the dry goods store from Halloween...”

“Trial and error, right?” Derek calls out, and is absently mixing the ingredients when Stiles retrieves the jar and comes back.

“I should probably be stewing actual chillies for this, but--”

“Trial and error,” Derek repeats, and he even smiles softly. It’s still completely unfair.

Stiles estimates a teaspoon’s worth and adds it to the mix, watching the reaction on Derek’s face as he takes his turn to taste.

“Hmm. Little more vanilla.”

Stiles dutifully complies and then takes a taste for himself. His eyes flick to Derek’s.

Dude.

After setting the bowl down, Stiles reaches past Derek’s crymax-worthy shoulder to pull down an egg beater and thrust it into his hand. He smells like cologne and the leather jacket he’s not even wearing.

“You’ve proven your usefulness, now get to beating up a glaze while I put together some streusel.”

Derek hesitates, looking at the utensil, but Stiles is already dumping everything he needs together from memory, moving around the kitchen like it’s a waltz that the music just about fits. He’s got a good feeling about this one.

“I...”

Stiles pauses, wiping the excess margarine from his hands on to his apron this time. He raises a brow at Derek, who still hasn’t so much as cracked an egg.

“I don’t bake.”

Stiles snorts. “Dude, you co-run a bakery. And it’s clear when someone knows what they’re talking about. You obviously do.”

“Laura’s the baker, I’m just the-- This isn’t something I do anymore.”

Stiles frowns, taking in the pained look on Derek’s face, and turns to face him. “Dude, it’s not like it’s heroin or something. It’s baking. You make a mess, you lick the spoons, you give yourself a tummyache from over-eating what you made. What’s so horrible about that?”

“It’s...”

Stiles looks at him expectantly, wanting to press further, but Derek sighs, moving towards the hand sink. “I need a bowl. Where do you keep your eggs?”

There are a few moments of companionable silence while they work, the line of Derek’s shoulders relaxing to the soundtrack, while Stiles kneads the margarine manually through the sugar and flour. He’s almost back in the zone again when he looks up to find Derek staring at what he was doing, an unreadable look on his face.

“Glaze done?” Stiles asks, snapping him out of his reverie. Derek swallows and nods, avoiding his eyes. His stance is tense again, nervous, and Stiles can’t be sure why. “Cool. See that big bowl behind you? Dough should be risen by now.”

Derek clears his throat. “Oh-- Okay... rolling pin?”

“Bottom left shelf.”

Stiles turns away to rinse his hands off, and when he turns back, his eyes catch on the tense-release of the muscles of Derek’s shoulder, slowly rolling out the dough with a look of fierce concentration on his face. The expression borders on adorable, yet his arms are sturdy, forearms thick and dusted with dark hair, each pull of tendon and sinew visible beneath the sun-touched skin. There’s the edge of ink peeking out from the cuff of one rolled-up sleeve, and Stiles mentally notes that he’ll have to discover the full image some day. It’s a tantalising sight - and that’s got nothing to do with the food.

“Ever, uh--” he licks his lips, mouth decidedly drier than ten seconds ago. “Ever made this before?”

Derek shakes his head distractedly, mouth ticking left.

“My mom was constantly in the kitchen, creating things,” he says, lulled into openness by the business of his hands. “It was compulsory in our home that if you were around, you had to pitch in. She called it family bonding. It’s hard not to pick up a few pointers.”

Stiles steps closer, finding his focus drawn to the soft, content look on Derek’s face. He’s gorgeous like this - more than usual; his mouth curved with the sweetness of memories.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said you seem to know what you’re doing,” Stiles says in compliment, watching the perfect, evenly-rolled square taking shape beneath Derek’s sure palms. This isn’t the work of someone who just learned by watching.

“I grew to enjoy it.”

“But you stopped,” Stiles says, not a question.

Derek’s hands slow, and his eyes draw up, as if remembering where he is, and who he’s there with. “After we lost her, it wasn’t so enjoyable anymore,” he says, filling the silence between songs.

A familiar clench roils through Stiles’ chest, and he puts out a hand to anchor Derek’s. This, he gets, of course. He obliquely thinks on how people deal with loss using different methods. Stiles’ is immersion; Derek’s, avoidance.

“Shit, I--”

“It’s fine,” Derek says, dismissive. “Time for the filling?” He reaches for the oil and brush, and Stiles hesitates a moment before nodding. He’s glossed over painful subjects so many times that it’s slightly discordant to witness it on someone else. It wakens something in him - a need to connect, so Derek knows he’s not the only one feeling his muscles tense at the reminder of loss.

“My mom was pretty amazing at this, too,” he volunteers after a beat, voice low as he picks up the bowl of white chocolate mixture.

He’s careful about pushing this, but the one advantage to the newness of his interactions with Derek is the unlikelihood that Derek will shut down in polite company - if Stiles could even be called that. It’s still a gamble.

“I’m here because of my grandma’s will, because I promised myself I wouldn’t see her life’s work go down the pan, but I’d be lying if I said that doing this doesn’t make me feel close to both of them.” Stiles dips a hand in the mix. “It hurts sometimes, but it’s a good hurt, you know?”

Derek watches him sprinkle the filling over the dough, and doesn’t immediately respond.

“So that’s what you meant about being a man of your word?” he eventually says, giving a dim smile. Stiles instantly misses the playful smirk of before.

“I guess. I know it’s weird, but I can’t help it. This is like their legacy.” He looks down, beginning to roll the dough over on itself. Derek’s hands take cue from his own, smoothing the edges, and Stiles guides him enough so that it’s a little closer to perfect. “It’s my responsibility to honour that, wholeheartedly. When you love something you should put everything you have into it.”

“Hm.”

He looks up, then, feeling breath on his cheek, and stills.

Derek is right there. Close, utterly devastating, looking at him with eyes so knowing and clear they hurt.

“It’s not weird at all,” he says softly, and Stiles feels it on his mouth. It’s like a dare.

All it would take is a slight tilt of the head; a catch of lips. He could tangle his hands in that soft, dark hair, feel the rasp of stubble on his chin. He could wear floured handprints like a brand on his body, and let himself go. Would opening himself up to all of that be such a bad idea? It’d be so easy, so right to give in and do it; to acknowledge what this could be, with the first person to ever make Stiles feel simultaneous amusement and rage and curiosity in the span of just days.

It only feels fully possible when he can hear her in his head.

A man doesn’t look at you that way if he just wants to be your downfall, Stiles... Enough denying yourself what could make you happy. Maybe it’s time to take a little risk, hmm?

Stiles stills, genuinely considering, weighing up the want with his own rationality... but before the thoughts can form themselves in full, he’s leaning too far into Derek’s space, because he has to; because the denial has an end in sight--

--and then his arm is knocking over a bowl, and the thud is sharp, and Stiles jolts away from the moment quicker than it ever formed.

Smooth, Stilinski. Real smooth, he thinks, scrabbling guiltily at the mess of beaten egg. He rights himself, biting his lip and forcing a bashful smile. His heart is stuttering. Fuck.

“Uh.. Y-you think so?” he stammers, shaking his sticky hand out, like that will repair his composure or distract from the failure of the situation; his voice is no more than a croak. “Glad that someone at least gets it - that I let myself get so monumentally caught up in things.” He wipes his hand on his apron just to have something to focus on. “What can I say, I’m kind of a long-haul-relationship guy. One ‘Great Love’ at a time. When I’m in, I’m all-in. No chance of straying.”

He smiles ruefully and gestures to the kitchen, to the public space beyond, swallowing his unease.

But Derek’s head has bowed as Stiles rambled, an awkward flush dusting over his cheeks, and he glares hard at the ground.

“Oh, I... sorry. I shouldn’t have just--” he straightens up, grabbing at an errant dish towel to clean off his hands and a couple of flecks that somehow made it to his cheek. “This was-- Fuck, it’s really late. I should get going.”

Stiles frowns, reeling. The air has suddenly changed around them. “But we haven’t even twisted the dough yet.”

“You can handle it on your own, right? I mean, I wouldn't want your..." Derek clears his throat, and if Stiles didn’t know better, he'd swear there's a slight wince. "I'll probably ruin things. It's best that I go.”

“Uh... Alright, but...” Stiles says dazedly, feeling the room grow colder. It was much more pleasant with Derek pressed against his side. Something in Stiles isn’t quite ready to let that go yet. Maybe his decision has already been made.

“Derek,” he says, catching him before he opens the door, desperate to say something. “I... hope you know it’s a rule that when anyone bakes this with me, here, it means we’re officially babka buddies. Repeat performances must be staged... if that’s cool with you and your sister.” He’s trying for playful, and it’s somewhat of a relief when Derek offers a small smile.

“Yeah, I-- sure?” He seems to remember himself then, and raises a sardonic brow. It’s... off, somehow.

Stiles beams anyway, because that wasn’t a ‘no’.

“Good. I’ll send over some of this in the morning if it’s not a total disaster,” he says, gesturing to the almost-forgotten cake.

“Look forward to it.”

Stiles goes back to the dough, trying to be pleased, despite the monumental failure that is his basic motor function. “Awesome. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Derek keeps the forcibly-pleasant expression up until he pulls the door open and slips through, not looking back. “Bye, Stiles.”

...

The problem with being compulsively analytical is that, even when trying to just enjoy what’s maybe-happening, Stiles has spent the better part of his morning wondering what the hell happened to make Derek flee his kitchen like someone was enforcing mandatory eyebrow waxing.

He’s not completely oblivious (thank you, Allison); he knows a swift getaway when he sees one.

The babka - nicknamed Kiss With A Fist (geddit? It’s because it’s sweet but then hurts because of the chil-- nevermind) - is a resounding success, and Stiles just about managed to hoard a piece of the original he and Derek made before the repeat batch sold out. He hasn’t seen word-of-mouth spread this fast since the Unattached Soccer Moms Club found out Chris Argent is divorced. Evidently, he and Derek have a creative dynamic that people appreciate.

That Stiles may have ruined.

It’s not like he threw himself at Derek - not like he’d kind of wanted to, at least - but the replay of their conversation before The Great Temperature Drop could only have, in Stiles’ view, two possible reasons for the outcome.

One: Derek isn’t into guys. It’s a distinct possibility, since it hasn’t exactly come up - and it wouldn’t be the first time Stiles has projected his own attraction/feelings on to someone else and saw something that wasn’t there. Getting all up in a straight guy’s grill, no matter how open they are, isn’t the best way to endear them towards your stupid crush.

Two: (And this is all the more likely, if Stiles’ sense of sexual chemistry isn’t completely off) Derek is into guys, but Stiles’ stupid mouth had gone and scared him away. He’d been babbling about commitment and the long haul and being ‘all-in’, for God’s sake, and Derek has just moved to town. Talking about how intense he is to someone who’s probably still unpacking their moving boxes - even though he was talking about his fully-committed relationship with a freaking bakery - was probably a sure-fire way to send him running. Derek would probably want to test the waters first, and it kind of sucks, because Stiles would probably let Derek test his waters (is that a thing?). Now he’ll be lucky if there isn’t some awkward avoidance and a possible polite request for space.

Okay, so Stiles should probably take it as his ‘Get Out Of Messy Feelings And Potential Heartbreak While You Still Can’ Free Card. But if he’s being totally, completely, annoyingly honest, he doesn’t really want to.

If the churning in his stomach and the low-level thrum beneath his skin is anything to go by, it’s already a little too late. He wants more of this weirdly-broody-yet-devastatingly-attractive-and-kind-of-hilarious person his life, and that’s going to happen.

Except for the whole, you know, avoidance thing. That Derek is doing. Because Stiles has permanent foot-in-mouth.

Well, screw that. If Derek wants Stiles to dial it down a little, Stiles will dial it way down; like, baby-let-me-love-you-down down (there’s so many ways to love ya’). Stiles has done the whole sexually-charged friendship thing, and it’s fine. Stiles will be so chill about it all that he’ll practically be reclining. Stiles will be cooler-than-cool. Ice cold.

He’s trying not to mutter any self-encouragement aloud as he makes the short walk to the bookstore - because there finally was a lull in the bakery’s custom. His feet slow when he catches sight of Derek outside their place, crouched down in sinfully tight pants, shirt riding up to reveal the sexiest expanse of back since the cage fight scene in the first X-Men movie, with a rag erasing one of the specials from the chalkboard. Seems like Piekarnia wasn’t the only place experiencing a rush.

He’s just about to call out, get Derek’s attention (figure out if things are still weird like they seemed to be last night), when a pair of strong, sallow hands cover his eyes. Stiles almost fumbles the box of babka in his shock.

“Holy fuck!”

“You really ought to start looking where you’re going, Stiles,” a familiar voice says, low and flirtatious, and the hands fall away just before Stiles blinks. Derek is standing now, off in the distance, watching the exchange with a concerned expression; a foot forward in an aborted step closer. Stiles turns, grinning, and steels his jaw.

“You should really stop looking so smug about giving me a heart attack,” he admonishes without heat.

Danny is close, all brown eyes, self-satisfaction and dimples, looking as gorgeous in his deputy’s uniform as the first day Stiles ripped it off of him, and it’s been a couple weeks since they saw each other. Stiles wraps an arm around his shoulders, pulling him into a hug.

“Thanks for calling as soon as you got back into town,” Stiles says, sarcastically. “How was the family reunion?”

Danny shrugs, pulling back. “Oh, you know, drunk uncles, a lot of invasive questions, bruised feet from dancing with my little cousins. Same old.”

“Yeah, you make it sound like you weren’t in fucking Hawaii for two weeks surfing and getting drunk.”

You make it sound like you weren’t invited. You could have been there too, you know.”

Stiles twists his mouth. “Nah, I couldn’t,” he says, and it comes out apologetic. Danny’s smile dims, and his eyes fall on the logoed box in Stiles’ hands.

“Yeah. Guess not. How’s business?” he asks, and for the first time, Stiles hears the slight trace of resentment in his tone. Damn Allison for her stupid observations.

“Good. Really good, even with our new competition,” he says, gesturing behind him. Danny follows his gaze, raising a brow.

“I heard you’re in the middle of a turf war. We’re not going to get called out to a gang fight with icing spatulas and bread pans, are we?”

Stiles snorts. “It’s cute that you actually made a baking reference, coming from someone who can’t be in a room with cookie dough without having an internal crisis about his abs,” he grins, and shakes his head, eyes flitting around the street. Derek isn't anywhere in sight, now. “Nah, it’s more guerilla-type combat. Lots of sneaking around and camouflage.”

Danny gives him a fond smile. “Yeah, well, you better pick me if you need a character witness when you get sued for corporate espionage or something.”

Stiles beams, warmed that Danny, despite his obvious problems with how much the business has consumed Stiles’ life, is still willing to help out.

“Aww, Boo, you do care.”

Danny shoves him, stepping away. “Shut up. I can still arrest you for being a dumbass.”

“You know, my dad’s been threatening that for years. Never happened.”

“That’s because he’s gone soft.”

“I’ll tell him you said that.”

Danny juts his chin out. “Do what you want. Your dad introduces me to colleagues as his almost-son-in-law, you know. He adores me.”

Stiles grits his teeth. Danny’s right, of course; nobody had been more devastated over their break-up than his dad was, but he’s not about to readily admit that with the genuinely pleased look his ex is wearing.

“You sure about that? I mean, you’re gonna have to work with him every day, I can get very inventive with stuff you supposedly said...”

“I forgot you can be so petty,” Danny says, tilting his head like he hadn’t forgotten at all.

“Dude, I have to reclaim my father somehow. You’re making things difficult for me, you ass.”

Danny’s eyes narrow. “Well I’ll tell him what really happened to the order of steaks at the last Fourth of July barbecue.”

“You play hard ball, Mahealani.”

Danny steps back, smirking, “You would know,” he hums, and raises a brow. See ya later, Stiles.”

The lingering look he gives him before he turns is like a flashback to a different time - and it does nothing to assuage the low-level guilt still curling in Stiles’ gut.

He nudges his way inside Talia Tales with as little grace as he was blessed with, to find Erica leaning half-way out of the Staff Only door behind the counter. She looks suspiciously pleased to see him.

“Stiles! What a pleasant surprise! What brings you here on this fine Wednesday afternoon?”

She’s got an arm hidden behind the partition, and is getting intermittently shoved, though her smile barely even cracks.

“Uh, hey?”Stiles says, drawing it out. “Is, uh, Derek still around? I’ve got something for him.” He holds up the box as proof before setting it by the register and leaning on his elbows. Erica makes a great effort at looking thoughtful

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” she says, raising her voice slightly. “Is Derek still around? I mean, he was here a second ago, and his face looked like a pug whose friends forgot his birthday.” She makes the face. It’s hilarious. There’s another shove. “I mean, it’d be super suspicious that he just suddenly had to leave, as soon as you arrived, Stiles.”

Stiles narrows his eyes. “Um, I don’t think I need to acknowledge that you’re being really freaking weird right now.” He straightens up. “Is he here, or not?”

What he doesn’t ask, is if Derek actually wants to see him, or if he should just give up now and let the avoidance happen.

Erica looks inside the door, face making a complicated series of expressions, complete with threatening eyes and mouthed-swearing. She turns back, grin turned shark-like “Why yes, Stiles, I believe he is.

There’s a muffled curse behind the wood, and she just dissolves into snickers of mean laughter, slumping against the frame as it swings open.


Derek is standing there, glaring at her like his eyes alone could choke her to death, or at least pull her hair extensions out. “Hey, Stiles,” he says, not tearing his eyes away. “S’up.”

Erica just laughs harder, crowing and covering her mouth until she’s snorting unattractively, and then she shimmies sideways through the space created in the doorway. “S’up,” Stiles hears her parrot as she walks off. “You actually said ‘S’up’. Oh my GOD...’

Derek clears his throat and slams the door closed behind her.

Stiles valiantly gives a friendly smile, even though the dull disappointment that Derek actually was attempting to avoid him makes bile rise in the back of his throat. He feels like a tragic stalker, and the sensation only redoubles his desire to come off cool and casual. Even though he sought Derek out. Shit.

“Hi. So the babka was a complete success.” He announces as he pats the box. “I saved some for you, if you wanted to try it for yourself--" Stiles raises a brow. It's not flirting. "And you didn't ruin anything."

Derek’s eyes fall on the box, and he nods. His face closes off, just slightly.

“Sure... thanks.”

“No problem.” It’s awkward; so, so awkward. “Well, it was nice having some company during my little lab session last night. Feel free to drop by whenever.” See? Totally chill.

Derek nods, his lips curved in an polite, almost-smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. It’s cold - and the last time Stiles had seen Derek’s smile, it made him feel like that first sip of hot chocolate on a cold-as-balls December day.

“Sure.”

“‘Cause I love my friends,” he says, tracing the wood grain on the countertop, “don’t get me wrong, but they’re more of a hindrance than a help, you know?”

“Right.”

Stiles takes a step back. recognising when he is definitely not wanted. Fuck this, he thinks, petulantly - he’s not about to beg for Derek’s friendship. It just would have been cool to not have his stupid mouth fuck things up for once.

“Well, yeah... I should--” he jerks his thumb over his shoulder.

“Okay. See you ‘round.”

“Sure.”

He’s feeling like a complete idiot for falling for someone - yet again - who isn’t interested, as he makes his way back tohis place.

It stings, because no matter how much common sense protested at him not to get distracted; not to even think about letting someone in right now - Derek had come along with his stupid perfect looks and biteable ass and dry sense of humour and tragic man-angst-filled past and broken the walls down with a slight nudge of the elbow. Stupid muscular elbow.

It’s too late. Stiles is invested now; he doesn’t know everything about Derek, but fuck if he wants to - and Derek Hale being petrified of Stiles wanting a relationship seems like a stupid reason for the attractive asshole to kibosh the whole thing Stiles wasn’t about to propose, goddamnit. He’d totally have settled for some light fooling around in the dry goods store. Scott and Allison made it seem kind of fun.

Still thinking of ways it might not be over yet - there could still be a casual friendship to pursue, if nothing else - he gets back to Piekarnia to find the aforementioned couple behind the counter, this time not bringing Stiles' hygiene regulation into question, but instead with a collectively panicked look on their faces.

Stiles huffs out a weary breath. “Shit, what is it now?” He steps closer, peering over the surface of the display case. “Don’t tell me the coffee machine is on the fritz again. It’s our biggest advantage.”

“Stiles...” Allison says, but Scott’s interrupting her before she can get the urge to ‘stay calm’ out.

“You had someone over last night. In the kitchen,” he says insistently. He holds up a partially soiled dish towel like it’s proof, and Stiles’ face twists in confusion. “Who was it?”

Stiles un-creases his brows. “I.... Derek came over, to talk about the truce. We ended up making babka... he’s pretty good, actually.” The slightly proud smile he involuntarily let out falters as he glances between his friends. “Why? What’s the big deal?

Scott and Allison share a look, and Scott sniffs at the fabric subtly, meeting Stiles’ eyes again.

Stiles is losing patience. “Guys, what’s going on?

“Dude,” Scott says, looking apologetic. “I think we’ve found our mystery werewolf.”

...

“We could leave town. People take unexpected trips away all the time. I could shut up shop for a couple weeks, we could go down-state, get a little sunshine--”

“Stiles, I’m not leaving town. We don’t even know if he’s hostile.”

Stiles stops his pacing to resume chewing on his abused thumbnail. “We don’t know that he isn’t. I hate to remind you, dude, but the last werewolf we encountered didn’t exactly stop by to give you a friendly cuddle.” He whirls round to face Allison. “Tell him! Come on, there has to be a reason your family hunted and killed these things for generations.”

Allison looks conflicted, but Scott just looks hurt.

“I wasn’t aware you thought of me as a ‘thing’,” he says, eyes trained on the ground.

“Come on, man, you know I didn’t mean it like--"

He lets out a weary sigh. Really, the guilt has started to set in that he completely dropped the ball on the whole mystery-werewolf stake-out. Derek had waltzed in with his perfect... all of it, and Stiles had been sucked in quicker than Isaac on a dumbass bet.

"I’m just-- I’m worried,” Stiles admits. “Why would he have been hanging around here so much if he hadn’t taken an interest in you? You live here.”

“Maybe because there was someone else he was interested in,” Allison supplies sympathetically, and he’s never hated her stupid, creepily astute observations of his mood more in his life.

“Yeah, not so much,” Stiles says, deflating. “Whatever reason Derek Hale had for hanging around here, it wasn’t me.”


 

Laura’s Journal, Day 22

I paid an official visit to the Argents tonight.

Well, when I say the Argents - I mean the last remaining one in the know. I couldn’t relax, knowing we practically share a postal code and he was liable to pop up at any second. Hunters and their warnings.

So I popped up first - twice.

He seemed hell-bent on dismissing his daughter from the discussion, which was interesting, if not surprising. I seem to remember the story going that their women were the leaders, but Allison seemed content to leave - anxious to do so, actually. Like she sensed something about me. It explains his insistence that we speak on his turf, since my approach to flash my eyes at him at the gas station wasn’t exactly well-received.

I couldn’t resist.

Argent is charming. I would go so far as to say handsome, had his namesake not been responsible for the singlet worst event in my life. Still, I could tolerate him.

There’s a faint scent of wolfsbane around his home. Faint enough that it wasn’t detectable from the outside, and he insists it’s for personal protection. Omegas in the area from time-to-time, he said.

Sure. Omegas are his biggest threat - I dread to think how many others of my kind would kill to wipe their line from the world.

He was open to negotiation, at least. Hunting his behind him. The elephant in the room - his sister’s death, and the events leading up to it - was obliquely cited as the reason for his retirement. I’m sure he forgave me for not extending my condolences.

If I knew where her grave was, I’d set it on fire myself, just to make sure.

I left feeling like I’d accomplished something, at least, and the simple agreement to alert each other to any potential threats - to humans, or otherwise - in the area seemed like a small price to pay to sleep a little easier at night.

Argent knows I’m aware of him. I’m hoping at least he’ll lose some sleep over that.

Oh. Derek is moping again. I have a feeling it has to do with Stiles, but honestly, if he doesn’t start coming to me with these things on his own, I’m going to have to change tactics.

Hale women, if nothing else, are experts at interfering. It’d be for his own good, really.


 

“So, they don’t know about Scott?” Stiles hisses, using the sound of the frother as cover. He’s become hyper-aware of sounds and super-hearing and scents all over again.

Allison presses her lips together and nods, eyes flitting around the customers, even though the chances of another werewolf being in the vicinity is slim-to-none. Still, they don’t want to take the chance.

“Didn’t seem to. She wanted to talk to my dad about peaceful coexistence. He seemed kind of... charmed by her, like it wasn’t the first time she’d been to visit. It was weird, so I left them to it. I tried keeping out of her space, you know? But I’m not sure how powerful an alpha’s sense of smell is.” She sighs, “God, I wish I knew more about this.”

Stiles gives her a sympathetic look. “I, for one, am grateful that your little family tradition died out with your crazy aunt.” He chews his lip, thinking better of his choice of words. “Sorry.”

Allison eyes him witheringly. “Hey, if it means my dad isn’t trying to shoot Scott full of silver bullets or whatever, I’m not crying over it. Kate was a lot of fun, but there was always something... unhinged about her.”

“And you said Laura seemed to know her?” He’s still reeling from the revelation that he had unknowingly had a full conversation about business and PR with a freaking alpha werewolf. Laura had seemed so tiny, and normal, and human - but then, so had Derek. Derek, who invited himself into Stiles’ kitchen and under his skin and inside his head.

Stiles licks his lips. “You think she had anything to do with why the Hales’ mother isn’t alive anymore?”

The memory of Derek’s expression as he’d loosened up, talked about family, and bonding - pack bonding, Stiles now realises - is still fresh in his mind. He has his reservations about werewolves; he knows entirely too much and too little about them all at once. Hell, his best friend and roommate is one and he still conveniently stays in his old bed at his dad’s house on full moons now that Scott’s got a handle on spending them alone - but no matter what the reputation, or what the history is, Stiles knows loss a hell of a lot more. The look on Derek’s face was one all-too familiar; he’s seen it on his dad, and even more often in the mirror.

Allison’s eyes tick downwards. “I think that’s exactly how she knew her.” She meets Stiles' curious gaze again, looking haunted and guilty. “I left the house, since my dad doesn’t want me caught up in this, but... She said something about a history. Between our families - between the Argents and the Hales.”

Stiles doesn’t know why - he’s not even sure later when he thinks over it - but the moment Allison finishes that sentence, and says their name, is the moment it all comes flooding back.

The Hales. Huge, affluent family living on the outskirts of the Preserve. Generations growing up the same house that had been there for decades. Respected in the area, part of the community, and the picture of the all-American archetype of happiness.

A family which was decimated, ten years ago, when an unexplained fire tore through their home, killing almost everyone inside.

His stomach roils, and he drops the jug of milk with a slosh.

“Not just the mother...” he breathes, feeling his chest go tight. “Oh my god.”

Allison stiffens, looking between the jug and his face in alarm. “What? Stiles, what is it?”

He feels his eyes glaze, brow pinch, and croaks, “Allison, I think we need to talk to our dads.”

...

"Doughnuts."

Stiles shakes the box. "Yeah. I heard a crazy rumour that cops love 'em."

His dad squints, "What do you need, Stiles? Did Scott inadvertently expose himself to some old women again? 'Cause you know I can only cite low-lighting and Rush Week once in six months to pull suspicion away."

"No, nothing like that," Stiles scoffs, trying for breezy. "I was hoping for a little, uh, intel. On an old case."

"Intel," his dad says flatly.

"You know, this would be over way quicker if you stopped repeating random parts of everything I say."

"I'm just trying to wrap my head around the fact," he says, forehead crinkling, "that you seem to think I'll tell you anything, about any of my cases, that don't directly affect you."

"Because I'm your favourite person in the whole world, and I brought doughnuts?" He nudges the box across the desk, pasting on a grin. "They're jelly-filled. Fresh from the oven."

His dad's face darkens. "Jelly... This is serious, isn't it?"

"I hope not," Stiles replies, twisting his mouth, and then sighs. "The Hales. The family whose house burned down ten years ago."

"The same Hales you're embroiled in some kind of prank-fuelled rivalry with?"

Stiles' mouth gapes. "You don't think you could have mentioned who they are a little sooner?"

His dad shoots him a chastising look. "Pardon me, for remembering what it's like to only be referred to in conversation by the past tragedy in your life."

Eyes cast downwards, Stiles bites back on his shame. Growing up somewhere like Beacon Hills meant that for years, he was simply known as that-deputy-whose-wife-died's kid, or Nurse Stilinski's boy, remember her? So sad.

"Is this to do with the rivalry again?" his dad questions, prying him away from his thoughts. "Because I gotta say, son, I know you get a little obsessive, but--"

"What?! No! What kind of monster do you think I am?" Stiles asks, horrified.

His dad shrugs. "I assumed it was some kind of background check to pull up dirt on them from after the fire. Embarrassing high school photos and such."

Stiles deflates, calming. "Oh. I hadn't thought of that." He frowns again, "but no, that's why we have Facebook."

Dad huffs. "Is there a point we're approaching any time before I retire?"

"The Hale fire. It was suspicious, right? I mean, I remember you having that file on your desk for weeks, and that's not exactly standard procedure for an open-and-shut electrical fault."

In reality, Stiles remembers the file because he was ten years old, and one name on the list of the deceased was that of a girl from another school, just a grade above him. He remembers how his dad had crawled into bed beside him when he got in from the call, smelling of smoke and ash, and hugged him tightly until he fell back to sleep.

The sheriff's lips thin, and he deliberates for a moment.

"Nothing about that case smelled right. I mean, the whole extended family were gathered there for some kind of reunion. The Fire Marshal said it was classic faulty wiring, old house and all, but we just--" he sighs, "Stiles, I shouldn't even be discussing any of this."

"Dad, please," he urges, eyes beseeching. He takes a steadying breath, and licks his lips. "The Hales? They were werewolves. All of them. Well... Most of them. I'm not sure of the exact ratio--"

"They what?" his dad hisses, eyes flicking towards the closed door. "You mean, like Scott? With the..." He seems to make an aborted movement to claw his fingers before thinking better of it. Stiles bites his lip, smirking, and nods.

"Yeah. Like Scott - only they've ingratiated themselves back into town, situated themselves right by us, and have, for some reason, taken a special interest in my bakery, which is right below where Scott lives and happens to be where Allison works.

"What does Allison have to do with this?" his dad asks, clearly lost. "I mean if they've got some business with Scott, that's, well, as plausible as werewolf business can be." He shakes his head, probably wondering how his life has got to the point where 'werewolf business' is an actual thing. Stiles knows the feeling. "But Allison?"

"Remember how I told you Allison didn't need much convincing to believe Scott's condition?" Stiles asks, and his father frowns. "The Argents are hunters. Or were. Chris retired, and is determined not to let Allison get drawn into it any more than basic defence skills and weapons training. He hadn't so much as laid eyes on a werewolf until Scott, since his sister broke their honour code in some spectacular way."

"Broke it how?" his dad says, dubious.

"That's why I'm talking to you," Stiles says, holding out his palms. "We're not sure if it's Scott they're interested in, though they don't seem to be aware of his furry secret. Allison last saw her aunt when she was ten, which was--"

"...Around the time the Hale fire happened," his dad says, thoughtful. He starts opening up the box of doughnuts distractedly. "You know, a couple of statements we took from family friends mentioned a young woman that Talia didn't seem too fond of. I dismissed it as a mom being protective of her kid, but it kept coming up--"

"Wait, which kid?" Stiles asks, heart stuttering.

His dad hesitates, looking up. "Her son. Uh, Derek, right?"

Stiles' breath stills.

"He was seeing some college sophomore at the time," he continues, digging back into the box but not quite looking away from Stiles. "This young blonde woman he'd been sneaking around with for months. She disappeared after the fire happened - we just put it down to things getting too serious for her. The kid had lost almost his entire family."

Stiles' blood chills in his veins. It can't be a coincidence. That Kate, someone who's been painted in a less-than-positive light by even her surviving family, fits the profile of a young woman who suspiciously disappeared right after a family of werewolves were decimated by a fire, the origin of which was never satisfactorily determined.

"Stiles, if this case needs to be re-opened, you're going to have to tell me now. If this woman's still out there..."

"She isn't," Stiles interrupts, shaking his head. "Remember that code I mentioned? Well, turns out they take that stuff seriously. Like, dead-seriously. The last thing other hunters want is a couple of werewolves out for revenge."

The sheriff doesn't look appeased by that, especially the dead-woman part, but he runs a weary hand over his brow and leans back in his chair. "You know, I think I liked it better when you weren't so open about all of this."

Stiles gives a pained smile. "No you didn't."

...

"And they're just letting it go. Just like that," Lydia says, sounding about as sold on the whole thing as Stiles is.

Allison shrugs, "They just want a fresh start. Coming back here is a kind of therapy for them both." She sighs. "Look, I know my dad can be kind of intense, but if he believes her, so do I. The Hales aren't here to spill blood."

"Then what's with Derek's whole intimidation route? It's still seriously sketch to me," Stiles says, holding up two painfully-similar-looking HDMI cables. Far be it from Stiles to comment on the girls' resourcefulness - they're both scarily more capable than he is, even on even their most hungover, sub-vocal days - but understanding the basic technology in their apartment seems to be where their talents end. Either that, or they just like letting the guys feel useful for a change.

"Seductively baking babka with you at night and making moon eyes at you across the cappuccino machine hardly counts as intimidating," Scott points out self-assuredly, and Stiles shoots Allison a look of betrayal. There were no ‘moon eyes’ involved, thanks.

Lydia hums thoughtfully. "No, while I may not personally appreciate Stiles' particular brand of charm--"

"Hey!"

"--there are better ways to go about getting into his pants than beginning some juvenile prank war. Like asking, for instance."

"I'll have you know, my virtue is practically untainted," Stiles retorts, insulted.

"Danny told me you gave him head in the bathroom at Jungle on his birthday and pitched the idea of a threesome before even standing up."

Stiles’ mouth gapes. "I was trashed, and I'm a very generous lover. Also, Danny is the worst."

Scott looks like he's seriously debating whether to finish his sandwich.

"No, evidently that's you," she says, inspecting her hair for imaginary split-ends. "Luckily, my editor's been on my ass about starting some boring-as-hell series of character pieces. Where better to start than Beacon Hills' newest businesswoman?"

Their collective brows rise.

"Lydia, you can't just ask her what their deal is - that's not how these things work," Allison says, earning an agreeing nod from Scott.

She shoots her a fond look. "Oh, honey. If you think someone on her way to winning a Pulitzer before I'm thirty is that clueless, I still have so much to teach you."

...

Scott loves to cite the fact that he's a glorified lackey at the firehouse as being enough of a reason to get out of grocery shopping. Apparently running errands on his own time would just be too much pressure. Which is why Stiles finds himself at the late-night grocery mart after leaving the girls’ place, failing to visualise what the cupboards looked like that morning before he left for work.

He’s contemplating messing around with their incredibly lapse bathroom cleaning schedule as payback to Scott when he rounds the cereal aisle, yawning and making a beeline for the sugar-filled stuff he avoided while living with his dad. There has to be some upsides to being out on your own, right?

Except he freezes, because the first thing his eyes fall on is a set of broad, stable shoulders hunched to glower at a box of Raisin Bran that has somehow earned their owner’s disapproval.

He's seriously considering moonwalking right back around the corner as silently as possible when Derek looks up, frown falling off his face as soon as he catches sight of Stiles.

It’s sort of scary how quickly he has to tamp down on the guilt he's feeling about their interactions thus-far, when Stiles didn't realise who Derek was, and he licks his lips.

"You know, there's a joke on the tip of my tongue about the look on your face and cereal killers, but I like to think my humour's much too sophisticated to stoop that low."

Derek presses his mouth closed, a smirk ticking at the corner as he sets the box back on the shelf.

"Could have fooled me," is the quiet, dry retort, and he picks up his basket again from the floor. He's in a soft, forest-green t-shirt and jeans, and Stiles internally laments ever noticing the colour of Derek's eyes.

"So how is Story Hour With Uncle Derek going?" Stiles asks as they fall into step beside each other, plucking Lucky Charms off the shelf and steadfastly ignoring the judgemental look he gets for the choice. It's probably not the best idea to bring up one of the many reasons Derek should be mad at him, but in the almost-deserted store, Derek's presence true and solid by his side, it's hard to dwell on everything he's learned about the Hales in the last week.

Allison is Stiles' friend, and the silly, hopeful part of him hopes that, even if this all was some kind of revenge kick to make the surviving Argents pay, once they realise how sweet and protective and badass Allison is - and that she's innocent - that they'll back off. It's not outside the realm of possibility. Regardless of their past, Derek and Laura obviously seem to making a valiant effort of not letting it define them, which is kind of admirable.

"I spent fifteen minutes today doubling as a climbing frame," Derek grunts, and Stiles forgets himself, and laughs.

"I'm sorry," he pants, catching his breath. "It's just-- the mental image alone. Oh my god."

Derek is silent in response, watching with a soft, pained sort of look, which he blinks away and turns forward from when Stiles gets his breath back.

"Glad to be a source of amusement for you, if nothing else."

The tone is intended as light and detached, but Stiles finds his brow creasing at the choice of words. Derek is shutting down again, like the last time he saw him, and though he's now much more aware of the reasons for Derek's quiet, guarded manner, there's an insistent prod at the back of his mind that wonders if they're having two different conversations.

Before he has a chance to say anything, though, they're parting ways to two different check-outs, and Stiles only manages to watch Derek in contemplation as he boxes up his own haul. His distraction is obvious enough that the clerk gives Stiles a strange, shrewd kind of grin as he pays her, looking about three seconds away from dissolving into laughter. Whatever, not everyone has the self-control to not stare when Derek Hale is in the vicinity.

Derek's list was evidently much shorter, but Stiles feels something akin to relief as he spots him hovering at the exit doors, not quite leaving before Stiles is done.

"Gonna walk me to my car?" he grins, shifting his box of groceries in his grip. "And they say chivalry is dead."

Derek looks oddly smug, leans in close as he shakes his head, and Stiles tries to remember how to breathe.

"Nope," he says, not even meeting his eyes.

He rustles around in the box as Stiles makes aborted, questioning protests, but soon steps back, holding a up large, colourful, extra-value pack of tampons, and shakes them around. Tampons that Stiles did not buy.

"Thanks," he says, before tucking the box under his arm. "My sister gets off on making me buy these for her. Wasn't in the mood to field probing questions from the clerk today." Derek pivots around, shooting the girl who served Stiles a polite wave, and she just descends into giggles. She'd seen the whole thing.

"See ya later, Stiles."

Stiles watches him walk off; jaw slack, half turned-on, and decides in that moment, that he might be, kind of, completely in love.

Grandma agrees.


Laura’s Journal, Day 24

I think I developed a full-fledged girl-crush today.

Lydia Martin is beautiful, intelligent, witty and protective, and if I ever feel like exploring the fluidity of my sexuality, I’m definitely giving her a call.

She’s the junior reporter for the local paper, and was apparently dispatched to gather the first in the series of profile interviews about residents of our fair town. Well, that’s what she told me, anyway, but her questions seemed to lead the way of digging; asking about our absence from the area for so long, and also slipping in, conversationally, of course, that her good friend was a certain Ms Argent, another returning family to the area, and I’d met her, right?

I have to say, a protective streak is a major cause for respect to me. Argent made it clear that his daughter is not part of his former world, but something tells me Allison’s instincts aren’t exactly dormant. An alpha feeling threatened can give off certain vibes, even if we’re not aware we’re doing it, and I’m genuinely regretful if she picked up on those. It’s a defense-thing.

Lydia was fazed by none of it.

I do hope it won’t infringe on the tentative truce I’ve forged with the Argents, more than anything. A pack of two, against someone with their probable contacts are not odd’s I feel like going up against.

I think I was successful in reassuring Ms Martin, though. She moved away from the subject promptly, at least. (Really, she’d kind of make a great ambassador - getting facts without showing her hand. I effing love it.) She even brought up Derek’s little prank war with Stiles. People have begun to notice. It’s kind of adorable.

What’s not adorable is having a six-foot storm cloud of sad puppy scaring off the customers. Derek’s moods since Stiles’ non-rejection (he’d actually have to be propositioned to reject it, dumbass) have become a problem, and I’m currently looking for an opening to get involved. It’s officially gone on long enough, and I can’t even anticipate how he’s going to be acting, it’s so random - whether it’s sending him to the grocery store (which resulted in him coming back with a giddy little grin on his face, because getting free reign on toilet paper selection just does that to a guy) or asking him to cover the mid-morning rush in which he refused service to three members of the local sheriff’s department. None of which were the actual sheriff, who is actually not allowed anything but black coffee (don’t ask).

Even his little prank-flirting thing with the object of his mooning can’t seem to break him out of it - and I was sure it would. Derek’s fluctuating moods are at least a little brighter when evidence of the guy’s antics show up at the store. The kid’s really stepped up his game, too. It’s kind of sweet, in a perverted, phallic Victoria’s Sponge kind-of-way.

Little shit.

Whatever. I just can’t with Derek. I mean, denying cops pastry? Does he have a deathwish? Just ask the guy out. Even the troupe of fan-grannies who regularly come by to bombard him with personal questions and offer dating advice seem to grasp that one. But no, all Derek can do is look up hopefully every time the door opens, only for his expression to crumble at every person who isn’t Stiles.

At least one positive came out of it all - he’s baking again.

It’s something I never thought I’d see after, well, everything. He’s locking himself away after hours each night, experimenting for some community stuff we have coming up, and wow. I forgot how talented he is. Who knew someone who looks so sour could create something so sweet?

It’s times like these I wish he found the elusive, much coveted, werewolf’s mate. At least then I could foist all of this off on someone who has the mystical ability to make even Derek smile with minimum effort. Someone arbitrarily perfectly matched to him, who will actually be charmed by his lame attempts at courtship rather than turning it into the culinary equivalent of Rush Week.

Hah, we should be so lucky -- that’s like, 100:1 that he’ll even find someone compatible, and willing to look past his bitchface. Still, all hope can’t be lost with less, uh, supernatural avenues.

I wonder if Stiles is doing anything this weekend?


 

“I don’t even know what that is. You mean like, shaped like dicks?” Scott says, eyes flitting around the living room like he’s suspicious they’re all fucking with him.

“Among other things,” Lydia says, toying with the lip of her wine glass. She’s been looking at Stiles with this eerie contemplation ever since he started talking about Derek, which was, granted, kind of a while ago. “There are also pictures involved. It’s very high-class.”

Stiles preens. The pièce de résistance of Operation Get Derek’s Attention Again Now That We Know He's Not Out For Vengeance had gone down a charm in the three days since he circulated a bunch of flyers advertising Talia Tales’ foray into ‘Erotic Cakes - no kink too obscure! Call Derek today for a consultation’. He’s assuming the lack of retaliation on Derek’s end is due to him being so shocked by Stiles’ genius. Either that, or he’s planning something juicy as payback.

Stiles is resolutely convincing himself that the reason could be either of those, coupled with the more likely possibility that Laura Hale was talking out of her ass, and Derek has less of a shy interest in Stiles than he does appearing in musical theatre.

He’s not letting his friends know what stupid, hopeful reason he would prefer, though.

No, it’s totally the too-impressed-to-retaliate one - which is why he’s allowing himself to relax with beer and take-out with Scott, Allison and Lydia in celebration. And is completely not over-analysing the fact that he hasn’t even seen Derek in close to a week. Even the Senior Sweeties club have started asking about him.

Allison re-fills her glass and settles further into Scott’s side. “You know it’d probably be so much easier if you just went and talked to him. You know, made friends the regular way.”

“No way,” Stiles says vehemently. “I’m pretty sure I almost scared him off talking about commitment and how barnacle-like I can get before. If Derek wants to play games, I’ll play his games. It seems like that's just how he works." He drains the rest of his beer. "‘I think you’re an evil genius so maybe we can be buddies’ doesn’t need a grand, romantic speech of intent.”

“Yeah, but Laura's actual words were, ‘if I had to make a wild guess, I’d say he has a crush on that guy’,” Lydia interjects, raising a brow.

“Right, because blowing hot and cold quicker than that song means he wants in my pants,” Stiles scoffs, feeling his face heat. “I’m not going to make an ass of myself. For all we know, he told her to say that to you.”

“As a prank?” Scott says, sounding moderately horrified. “You really think he’d do that to you?”

Stiles shrugs. No, he doesn’t actually, but trying to make sense of how Derek acts around him, now that Allison and Scott are for sure not the focus, is pulling him further into hopeful territory. Hints of pleasant possibilities that are making warning signs flash inside his head. Danger Will Robinson.

“Is this about Heather?” Scott squints, and Stiles hates him a little bit for bringing any of that up.

“No, it’s not about Heather, jeez,” he says tiredly. “Just because I couldn’t do sex-buddies when I was sixteen doesn’t mean I’m traumatised by it.”

“Wait,” Allison says, “Heather? Like, your-friend-the-elementary-school-teacher, Heather?”

Stiles sighs as Scott nods. “She made this losing-their-virginity pact with Stiles when we were in high school," he explains, looking at him all judge-y the whole time. "It was just supposed to be this one-time thing, only it kept happening and then Stiles got attached and got his heart broken when she started dating one of the guys from her school’s track team.”

“I didn’t get my heart broken,” Stiles protests, reaching for another beer. “The boundaries were clear from the start. I just wanted to see if she’d maybe like to make things more exclusive, but when I went to her house she was on a date with another dude. It was fine.

“So ‘fine’ you started sleeping with Danny soon after, and broke it off any time you started to feel something for him...”

“Danny and I aren’t right for each other,” Stiles dismisses, taking a swig from the bottle. “It was better for everyone that we called it quits, and the whole point of being with Danny was that we knew it wasn’t going anywhere. I learned my lesson.”

“Yeah, that you always fall for people who don’t feel the same way,” Scott says, like the idea is ludicrous. “Except Danny could have, given the chance,right for each other or not.”

“Can we stop talking about Danny? Jesus, it’s over for good this time. Things are good,” he says, feeling his voice go tense, “Weren’t we talking about Derek?

“Exactly, for the last hour,” Allison says, looking shrewd. “So why can’t you just admit that you might not be content with being just friends?”

Stiles clenches his jaw, looking skyward for strength, but his grandmother is suspiciously silent. “Guys--

Scott holds up his hands innocently, cutting his rant off.

“Alright, alright... we’re messing with you,” he says lightly, curling an arm back around Allison’s shoulders. “Just hate to see you in denial, dude.”

....

The thing about a town like Beacon Hills, is that it sometimes seems to forget that it’s not so little anymore. People are in and out of each other's business; the sheriff’s department, while having the official presidence over the entire county, doesn’t really have much county left that isn’t part of the city limits, and every year, the town chamber likes to pretend it’s still the small, quaint hamlet it was in the fifties and holds the annual Spring’s-End Fayre.

It used to be kind of fun, actually, manning the Piekarnia stall and goofing off with Scott while his grandmother did all the work - until this year, when Stiles got roped-in last minute to helping out with the food and drink stands. Now he seems to be on the speed-dial of every retirement-age, this-is-my-moment-to-shine homemaker or cafe/restaurant owner in the area.

After spending an entire nine hours breaking up stand-offs over stall locations, being forced against his will to emcee a Jam and Preserves contest, judging a Junior Chef’s bake-off and making a seven-year-old girl cry, and diverting a small crisis wherein Isaac ran out of sernik, Stiles has procured a giant cup of Dr Fenris' pear hard cider and is switching his phone off. It's sunset, so the paper lanterns Finstock forced the fire department to string around the square are just coming on, the crowd is looking older as teenagers and adults replace the majority of excited kids Stiles has been tripping over all afternoon, and the beginning of the night's entertainment can be heard drifting through the crowd noise. It'd be kind of romantic, for people who have someone to share it with. Which is exactly when, of course, he sees Derek for the first time all day.

He weaves through the crowd with Laura on his arm, looking effortlessly perfect in a plaid shirt and his usual crafted-by-angels-of-torture jeans. His hair is fluffy, his jaw unshaven, and Stiles groans before taking a generous gulp from his drink.

“Stiles!” Laura calls out, waving to him. They’re kind-of overwhelmingly gorgeous individually, but there should be a warning for seeing both Hale siblings together. Looking at them now, Laura with her hair loose and in her denim and boots, Stiles is kicking himself for not figuring out the whole werewolf-thing sooner. Inhumanly beautiful may or may not be the phrase his mind supplies.

Derek looks uncomfortably hesitant as she leads him through the throng, eyes darting around the microbrew stand Stiles had been resting against, looking for-- what, exactly?

“All alone?” she asks, raising her brows.

Stiles shrugs, giving her a sleepy grin. “For the first time all day. I swear these things used to be awesome,” he chuckles, feeling his skin prickle under Derek’s scrutiny. He pulls the lanyard from around his neck and holds it up. “This is officially going in the shredder, first chance I get.”

“Tough day?” Derek asks quietly, and Stiles has no choice but to give up his avoidance of looking directly at him. It’s just unfair.

“You could say that. Who knew the church bake sale would turn into such a potential bloodbath?”

Laura grins, no trace of sympathy. “You look like you survived.”

“Barely.” Stiles squints. “How did you guys skip out on your civic duty?”

She raises a shoulder. “Excuse of a brand new business venture. We got away with a measly stand tucked behind Posey’s Tacos.”

“Ugh, lucky,” Stiles grunts. “I think the only thing worse than trying to man our stall myself was letting Isaac do it. Kid’s an aggravated assault charge waiting to happen.”

Derek ducks his head, hiding a small, tight-lipped grin.

“Yeah, well, we did get a little unexpected attention when word got out about Derek’s Macadamia Fudge Torte,” Laura says with barely-concealed pride.

Stiles’ brows rise. “Dude, you’re still back baking? That’s awesome,” he says genuinely, and he’s definitely not imagining the pink tips of Derek’s ears in the lantern-light. Laura, on the other hand, is looking between them.

“You knew he’d given up?” she asks, tilting her head.

Stiles mouth gapes. “Well, yeah. He sort of mentioned having the enjoyment sucked out of it for a while. I guess I kind of strong-armed you back into it. My bad, dude.” He takes another mouthful of cider to cover how awkward he all of a sudden feels.

Derek lifts his head, eyes widening, and his brows crease. “No, you--”

“Uncle Derek?!”

Two cotton-candy-wielding grade-schoolers lope up to Derek’s side, gazing up at him with wide-eyed awe only acceptable before the age of thirteen or while high. One of them is holding a bright green elephant plushie that's about half her size, and Stiles vaguely recognises her as Deputy Morris’ kid. Derek looks down at them, startled.

“Jenna. Ashley. Hey guys,” he says, voice wary. “Having fun?”

The question prompts a sugar-fuelled spiel of the events of their day, ending in an argument about whose idea it was to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl the second time when Ashley(?) threw up. Derek’s just about to intervene when a woman shows up, looking harried.

“I swear to god, girls, I turn my back for one second and--” She freezes when she catches sight of Derek, “Hi.”

Stiles knows the feeling.

“Hi,” Derek says, straightening up uncomfortably. “I, uh...I’m--”

“Mom! This is Uncle Derek! The one who reads to us on Thursdays?”

Realisation dawns on the woman’s face, and she deflates. “Oh, I see,” she smiles. “Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Hale.”

“I... thank you?” Derek says, brows knitting, and if he weren’t so tightly-controlled, Stiles could imagine him physically squirming under the attention. “It was, uh, Stiles’ idea,” he deflects, half-turning back to gesture at an awkwardly-waving Stiles who's still the only one drinking in the equation.

“Hey,” he says, catching sight of the girls’ expressions darkening as they notice him for the first time.

“And this is my sister, Laur--”

“He made Cathy cry!” Ashley(?) declares, pointing an accusing finger at Stiles.

“Yeah! He give the Golden Rolling Pin to Jack Treborn, and he’s a total butt-head,” Jenna chimes in, volume much lower, while all three adults stop looking slightly horrified.

“I... sorry, girls, but I gotta be fair, you know?”

“Is he your friend?” Ashley asks Derek, sounding betrayed that her idol would associate with pure evil. She’s the mouthy one - Stiles can already tell.

Derek's barely hiding a smirk.

"Actually they're kind of mortal enemies," Laura cuts in to tell her, crouching slightly, and Derek is determinedly not looking back at Stiles. "But Stiles isn't all bad, I promise you."

The girls look to Derek, as if for confirmation, but all he does is give a blasé shrug.

"Wow, thanks for the vote of confidence, dude," Stiles mutters, and Laura stifles a small laugh.

"Uncle Derek, we need to ask you a favour," Ashley declares, finally dragging her attention away from trying to maim Stiles with the power of her mind. "My dad had to go back to work before he won Jenna a prize, even though he promised...”

“Ashley,” the woman says warningly, “I’m sure Mr Hale is busy right now--”

“But Mrs Anders, she doesn’t have a prize!” Ashley wails, like nothing in the world is fair. Her friend unleashes some major doe-eyes on the adults, and Stiles sees the moment Derek’s resolve cracks.

“I guess.. I could give it a try,” he says, sounding unsure. He huffs out a breath. “What’s the game?”

“It’s the Duck Shoot!” Ashley exclaims, and Stiles doesn’t miss the way Derek’s entire body stills, but the kids are oblivious. “My dad is a deputy so he has a gun and he’s one of the best in the whole department and he always wins me something but this time he said Jenna would get a prize too but then he ran out of time!”

Derek deliberates for a long moment, Laura watching, and starts to shake his head, regretful. “I don’t think I could--”

“No way, the Duck Shoot?!” Stiles interrupts, stepping forward, and putting far too much enthusiasm into it, because for whatever reason - and Stiles’ brain is running through a few solid ones involving hunters and werewolves and bullets in his head - he just knows that Derek can’t do this. “Can I try?”

The girls round on him, and their collective expression is suspicious, but shit, he’s said it now.

“I rule at that game,” Stiles continues, pleading his case. “You know Sheriff Stilinski?”

Ashley brightens. “Is he coming? My dad says Sheriff Stilinski is the man! Maybe he could win Jenna a prize!”

“Uh, no,” Stiles says, head feeling a little fuzzed; was he like this as a kid?. “But Sheriff Stilinski is my dad, and he taught me how to shoot as soon as I was old enough, so maybe I could try win something?”

The girls look dubious, but Laura snaps out of whatever contemplative silence she’d fallen into and places a hand on her hip. “Alright Stilinski, show us what you’ve got.”

Stiles really wasn’t exaggerating the level of awesome he possesses at this game. The guy manning the stand actually recognised Stiles and sighed as he approached, smirking in anticipation, and he’s already hit three of the five targets needed to win the super-prize. His hate-club is actually starting to yell encouragement when Derek steps forward, a long line of warmth at his back, and leans over his shoulder.

“You’ve got to be cheating,” he says after a long, thoughtful pause, voice low, and so close that Stiles can feel the heat of breath by his ear. Derek smells of cinnamon and cologne, an oddly masculine mix that seems to complement each other. Or else Stiles really is losing it and is finding the slightest nuances attractive.

He readjusts his grip on the handle, and shakes his head. “Nope. Professionally-trained marksman here. Skills honed by hours of Halo and way too much time on my hands.” Stiles licks his lips and shoots. Target number four is a bullseye.

Derek steps to the opposite side, casual, and juts his chin out to examine Stiles’ line of sight. “Ever think about taking up a proper hobby?” he asks disparagingly, and Stiles can imagine the cocky quirk of brow that only comes out when Derek is trying his best to fuck with him. “I mean, there must be better uses for your hands.”

The gun goes off in Stiles’ hand, twice, and the last duck doesn’t have so much as fleshwound.

“Oh! So close!” the carnie cries, not even trying to hide his smug amusement that the guy who beat his ‘test of skill and prowess!’ the last three years running has just choked at the last hurdle.

“Whoa, hey, no fair!” Stiles protests. “I was totally compromised. I demand another try.”

The guy just frowns unsympathetically at Stiles and places a crappy Troll Doll possibly left over from the early nineties in front of him. “Rules are rules, buddy.”

Stiles seethes at the repetition of his own conceited declaration from last year, when he’d demanded the only super-prize left on the stand, which the dude had had to get a ladder to reach. Derek has already stepped away, a completely fake look of disappointment on his face.

Asshole.

“I knew he wouldn’t do it,” Ashley says, outraged, and Jenna’s face crumples. “Who’s gonna win Jenna’s prize now?”

Stiles turns and folds his arms. “Yeah, Derek, who’s gonna win Jenna’s prize now?”

He looks caught at the accusation, as if just realising what he’d cost them with his little stunt, but before he can start making excuses, Laura steps in.

“I might have an idea,” she says, still texting on her phone. She looks up and smirks, and Stiles watches all traces of relaxation drain from Derek’s stance. Her eyes trail past them further into the carnival, where another classic game is attracting every posturing high school jock and guy on a date that passes by.

The High Striker.

Derek frowns, looking back at Laura. “Seriously?”

She shrugs. “Not like you could lose,” she says loadedly, and Stiles schools his face into innocent confusion. A werewolf against a test-your-strength game? No contest.

“C’mon big guy. Don’t think you can handle it?” Stiles says, raising a brow. Derek looks at him, narrowing his eyes, and squares his shoulders.

“Alright, Jenna,” he says, stepping forward. “You want the pink elephant, or the yellow one?”

Stiles realises what a terrible idea it was to bait Derek into doing this, right around the time Laura reminds him that the shirt he’s wearing was a gift from her and insists he takes it off to avoid damage. He’s probably not the only one who almost swallows his tongue at the sight of Derek Hale stripped down to his undershirt, dark shadow of intricate tattoos curving up over one broad shoulder and disappearing beneath the cotton - but he’s the only one actively trying to hide it.

"Holy fucking fuck," Stiles mutters under his breath, and averts his eyes when he feels Laura's gaze snap towards him. Stupid werewolves.

The girls are cheering now, and a small crowd of teens and adults has gathered around them, probably in the hopes that Derek will magically lose the rest of his clothes.

"Needs just the right amount of momentum," Laura says helpfully, and Stiles hears the don’t break the damn thing and cast suspicion on us or I'll end you masked behind the encouragement. Derek glances back at her over his shoulder and nods, drawing the hammer back up behind him. After that, it's just a blur of perfect back muscles and a loud ring Stiles isn't completely convinced wasn’t the sound of all his blood leaving his brain and heading straight for his dick.

So he has a strength kink. Sue him.

Shoulders like those are solid enough to hang on to when things get a little sweaty, hmm?

Stiles shakes his head, taking a step back, the reappearance of his grandmother's voice dragging him back to the moment where he's been openly gaping at someone he's been adamant he just wants to be friends with.

He gets to see Derek Hale: Human Jungle Gym in action when he sets the hammer down, and the girls proceed to hero-worship the crap out of the guy. It’s odd to think that a slight stretch of muscle, the tiniest release in control, and the man Stiles is watching give bashful shrugs and utterances of modesty to a couple of seven-year-olds could turn into a deadly predator.

Being hit in the face with the force of his attraction kind of makes Stiles want to bury his head in the sand, but since there are no convenient places to do that, he chooses beer instead. Sweet, frosty, forget-your-soul-crushing-reality-check beer. He’s taking his first sip when he feels a presence at his side.

“You know this whole thing is your fault,” Derek says, and it sounds kind of like a demand for remorse. He’s noticeably without his entourage - or his sister. Stiles smirks around the rim of his plastic cup and takes a gulp.

“I just made it so you had to read to them. Not my fault your surly demeanour is like catnip to first-graders.”

“You never apologise, do you?”

Stiles shrugs. “Apologising would imply that I’m sorry about it,” he says, taking a step, and it’s weirdly validating when Derek falls in beside him. “Which I am not.”

“You’re infuriating.”

Stiles turns. “So I’ve been told.”

“And,” Derek glares at his mouth, tensing, “...immature.”

“Well, obviously.”

There’s a clench to Derek’s jaw.“You make me--”

“Oh my gosh, it’s Uncle Derek!” comes the cry over the crowd noise, and Derek hunches over in a vain attempt to hide himself.

“Fuck.”

“Holy shit,” Stiles says, far too amused. “I’ve literally created a celebrity. Kids freaking love you.”

“Yeah, well,” Derek grunts, “It balances out all the old ladies that show up to give me advice and subtle threats about--” He looks over his shoulder and grunts.

A muffled curse spills from his mouth again when he sees the kids approaching quickly, and Stiles feels a grip on his wrist before he’s being pulled forward and shoved down in the seat of--

“Dude, a ferris wheel? If you just wanted me to ride it with you, all you had to do was ask.”

“Shut up,” Derek says, as he pulls the bar down and glares at the steward until he backs away. Three kids around the age of Derek’s target audience come to a stop at the bottom of the ride, watching in confusion and waving as it begins to take off. It’s funny, for a moment, until Stiles realises he’s stuck there, alone, with Derek.

He takes a sip of his beer. If nothing else, at least he was able to smuggle it on board.

“So,” Stiles says, breaking the silence. Derek jerks, and he looks around as if just realising for the first time what his actions have led to. He looks pained. “Jesus, man, it only lasts like three minutes, no need to look like someone’s tweezing your pubes.”

Derek’s frown deepens,“I don’t look like-- like that.

Stiles raises a brow. “You kind of do. Also, you can’t see what you look like right now, and I can. Ergo, I’m right.”

Derek shakes his head, muttering ‘ergo’ under his breath jadedly. “Do you even hear yourself talking sometimes? Or do you just open your mouth and the first thing to come out is the winner?”

Stiles gives a vague, uncaring grunt and relaxes back into the seat. Might as well get comfortable. “I’m sorry my special brand of conversation is such a turn-off for you.”

Derek looks slightly startled, and he clears his throat awkwardly.

“I didn’t say that.”

“Don’t have to, I know I drive you nuts,” Stiles says, letting his gaze flit over the fairground, It’s actually kind of breathtaking, the higher they get. He can see old Enid Graham on the ground, giving them both a smile and an enthusiastic wave. Derek is warm and stable at his side, a welcome, if distracting, presence in the dropping temperature. He grins back at Enid before he turns to Derek again, “What is it, bummed that you’ve finally met your match?”

Derek’s head jerks around so fast that Stiles instinctively grabs hold of the support bar for fear the bucket they’re in will start swaying.

“I-- no,” he replies, sounding earnest, and Stiles frowns.

“It’s okay to admit when you’ve been bested,” he says, feeling self-satisfied, “Not everybody can deal with this.” He makes a sweeping gesture toward himself and Derek follows the line of his hand, before turning away.

“I think I can handle it,” he says dryly.

“Well, good. Think you can stop avoiding me now? Not everyone gets the luxury of a Stilinski friendship. We’re like a mold - we grow on you and it’s annoying at first but you learn to appreciate the beauty of it as it worms its way into your life.”

“I think you and I have different feelings towards mold.”

“Aww, dude, you wound me,” Stiles mocks, clutching his free hand to his chest.

Derek turns, eyes flitting up from the palm over his heart to rest on Stiles’ face. They settle here, and Stiles doesn’t even have the presence of mind to drop his hand. It feels like everything’s gotten weirdly intense all of a sudden; like the rest of the crowd and lights and cadence has dulled away to nothing.

“Who said I wanted to be your friend?”

Stiles shrugs, trying for nonchalant, but the muscle under his palm is beating heavily against his ribs and his mouth is definitely less eloquent than it was a second ago. “I was uh, planning on easing you into the idea.”

Derek fights a smirk. “But not now?” he says, raising his chin, and Stiles’s throat feels dry and tight. “What, were you gonna hang off one of the bars of this thing and threaten to let go if I don’t declare us Best Friends Forever?”

Stiles’ mouth slackens as he’s pulled back to the moment. “Dude. Firstly, I have a BFF, thanks, and he’s awesome. That spot’s taken,” he says loftily, squirming around in the seat so much that his foot slips off the edge and he sinks. Derek lunges forward, grabbing a hold of his arm.

“Can you--” he says, pulling his hands back as if burned. All self-possession has disappeared from his demeanour as he sets his gaze stubbornly forward. “Stop moving around so much. You’ll fall.”

“Dude, I’m not nine. I’m pretty sure I’m safe here.”

“Yeah, well...” Derek says, trailing off. He sets a hand on the safety bar and jerks it, testing its stability. “Just... stop. Please.” Stiles rolls his eyes.

You stop with the protective thing. We’re cool.”

Alright, so there is something warm curling in the base of his chest at the sheer terror in Derek’s expression as he’d slipped. Even now, his hands are curled into fists on his lap, like he’s holding himself back from reaching out again. But wait, Stiles was making a point.

“No, wait, where was I?” he frowns, sloshing the cup in his hand. Stuff’s damn good, for carnival beer. “Oh, yeah. Secondly! Seriously? A Notebook reference? I’m so disappointed right now.”

Derek looks slightly caught, but his jaw clenches and he folds those massive arms that Stiles is determinedly not looking at, like, at all. “You’re the one who got the reference,” he retorts, and Stiles narrows his eyes.

“Yeah, because I have some extremely bossy women in my life,” he says, not even feeling ashamed. He’d like to see Derek try to argue with Lydia when it comes to movie night.

“So do I,” he says petulantly, and Stiles is about to respond with sympathy when one of the women in question comes into view.

“Speak of the devil,” he mutters, as the ride makes it’s final descent.

“Stiles! Where the hell have you been?” Lydia calls from her spot at the admission booth. Her arms are folded and she’s looking calculatingly at Derek, which does not bode well for either of them.

“Sorry, Lyds. Got sidetracked,” he says sheepishly, hopping out of the seat once the bar is up, leaving Derek to explain why they stowed away on the ride without a ticket.

“Yeah, well, your phone’s off. Danny tried calling you like six times because the guys are about to go on and Scott refuses to play without you there.”

Guilt creeps up Stiles’ spine coolly.

Shit. In all of the Hale-related distraction, he’d completely spaced out about Scott and Danny’s show. Emergency Response is a casual cover band made up of two firefighters, a cop, an EMT and a med student who happened to rule on the drums. It had been kind of a novel idea when Scott came up with it, back when Stiles and Danny were still together, and they always get a great reaction at any charity gigs or random parties they play at. It’s probably got less to do with their actual talent than it has the fact that each member is a guy in his early 20s who wears a uniform for a living.

“Crap, what time is it?” Stiles asks, pulling out his blank phone as Derek approaches his side.

“They’re on in ten minutes. I can’t believe you didn’t remember,” she says, eyes flitting to Derek once again. “This whole thing of them playing for the fundraiser was your idea.”

“Yeah, well, like I said. Sidetracked.” He looks up, realising. "Oh, um, Derek this is my friend Lydia--”

“We’ve met,” they say in unison, and Stiles looks between them in confusion. He’s pretty sure Lydia mentioned him not being around when she tracked Laura down for her interview, but she’s looking at him like she knows far too much about the whole situation.

“Oh...kay,” Stiles says. “Well, anyway, we should get over to the tent. It’s on the other side of the fair, right?”

“I should probably--” Derek starts, but Lydia’s already cutting him off.

“Why don’t you come with,” she asks, with far too much lightness in her tone. “Unless you have something against supporting the refurbishment of the kids’ playground.”

Derek looks at her for a moment, like they’re challenging each other, and shrugs. “Sure.”

The tent is heaving by the time they get past admission and worm their way to a bench at the back. Stiles stands on it, helping Lydia up beside him to get a better view, when Danny’s voice comes over the mic.

“Well guys, Stiles is finally here, so it looks like we can officially get this show on the road!” he says, pointing the arm not holding his guitar in their direction, throwing in a wink. Stiles feels a heat creeping into his cheeks, but he holds his arms out cockily for applause as Scott whoops over the noise.

“My public!” Stiles hollers, letting it wash over him.

Danny shakes his head, grinning. “Remember, we’re all here tonight for a great cause, so don’t leave your wallets untouched. That means you, Stiles ‘I-only-pay-for-dates-if-there’s-a-possibility-of-layage’ Stilinski,” he says, and Stiles does his best to look indignant. “We like to call ourselves Emergency Response, and we’re kicking off tonight with a little-known ballad by Foo Fighters!”

As the band opens the show with Monkey Wrench, Stiles looks down to find Derek's attention distracted with the crowd, like there's something he's noticed and needs to attribute to someone; like someone's farted but he can't pinpoint the culprit. Stiles bats him on the shoulder to pull his focus back.

When Derek looks up, Stiles exaggerates the shimmy he'd been doing in time to the music, matching Lydia in pure sex-appeal, obviously, and raising his brows. So the alcohol in his system coupled with fatigue and an empty stomach is lowering his inhibitions a little - whatever; this song rules.

Derek just watches his movements dumbly for a moment, eyes dragging over his sweet moves, until his gaze flicks over Stiles shoulder, and he turns away, training his attention stubbornly forward. All Stiles finds when he looks back is Lydia clapping and cheering, a smirk on her face.

Hopping back down, Stiles veers around to stand face to face with Derek. They’re the same height. Why did he never notice that before?

“Dude!” he yells over the noise. “C’mon, the world isn’t gonna implode just because you decided to enjoy yourself.” He’s still dancing, though he’s not sure why.

Derek folds his arms. “I am enjoying myself,” he retorts, eyes trained over Stiles’ shoulder, jaw set.

Stiles scoffs. “Shit, I’d hate to see you at a half-off sale of leather jackets,” he jibes, and Derek looks at him and frowns. Stiles just beams in reply, bringing his fists up in front of him to do the patented Stilinski Elbow Dance. He bites his lip and bobs his head, daring Derek to smile. He’s close.

“Almost there, man, c’mon, get your hips in on it,” he says, placing his hands below Derek’s waist, encouraging him to move too.

It finally works, muscles shifting under Stiles hands, a delicious warmth under his fingers - and when Derek allows himself a begrudging smile, it’s like looking into the freaking sun. Until the song ends, and Danny’s voice comes over the PA again, announcing the next one.

Derek steps back abruptly, face closing off.

“I need to go,” he says, eyes darting around the tent. “I have to-- Laura shouldn’t be walking back to the apartment on her own.”

Stiles scrunches his brows, hands still hanging in mid-air, as the music starts up again. He bites down on the retort that anyone meeting Laura in a dark alley should be the scared one, but he bunches his fists closed..

“I-- sure. if you gotta go, you gotta go,” he shrugs, trying not to sound too disappointed. Derek just nods, glancing back at the stage and licks his lips.

“He’s good. They’re good,” he calls over the music, and then looks back. His eyes are haunted, and Stiles is dying to find out why. “I’ll see you later.”

Stiles follows his gaze, turning in time to catch Scott mouthing the lyrics, and Danny shooting him a sweet salute as he sings, and can’t help but smile. Fuck it, they are good.

When he turns back, Derek is gone.


 

Laura’s Journal, Day 28

I think mates could be real.

Alright, so I always regarded the whole thing as a little ridiculous; some kind of old wives’ tale in werewolf circles that only true romantics believed in - like soulmates for humans, but less rare. But after what I’ve seen, I’m starting to believe that a bond like that could be a real, actual thing for us, not just a claim made by smug, superior couples - and I think my little brother has found his.

So of course, because this is Derek’s life - the one he chooses to be his one and only, is in love with someone else.

It's like a bad country song.

Our little town was buzzing with the annual fayre this weekend. It’s always been a pretty big production, and I remember mom getting pretty into it, so it felt like a nice way to round off our first month of business with a stall there.

Of course, unbeknownst to my brother, I had ulterior motives to giving Boyd and Erica the day off so he could help me run our stand - and maybe run into a certain cutie who’s got his boxer-briefs in a twist.

I should probably back up a day or so, to Lydia flouncing her way into the store just before closing time and announcing jadedly just how 'done she is with this shit'.

Derek was there, free to be on the receiving end of her unimpressed scrutiny and questioning whether he was aware that denial was not a river in Egypt. I ushered him away before she could start giving him sample pick-up lines or something, to find out what the hell was going on.

Turns out, Lydia - fierce, fabulous, potential protegée of mine, is close friends with none other than our favourite little baker, and had taken it upon herself to put an end to the back-and-forth emotionally crippled game of wits both guys are embroiled in.

Yes, as it turns out, Stiles? Not so unaffected after all. Of course, running to tell Derek that was top priority, in the hope that head would at last be extracted from ass, but that would also include the information that I’d inadvertently confessed his crush to one of Stiles’ besties.

Well, no, the real attraction with not telling him was keeping up the clueless-big-sis thing I had going, and the gleam in Lydia’s eye when she suggested some light manipulation.

It was like she was talking dirty to me.

So, armed with a plan to throw those stupid boys together as much as possible, the fayre became an operation in constructed serendipity. Meaning: we were going to make this happen, end the angsting and fumbled courtship failure once and for all.

There was a slight hitch in the fact that our stall was actually overrun - perching Derek on the side boredly sipping on frappuccinos did wonders for business, as did his torte - and Stiles’ was running around like a headless chicken on fire. The time came, though, in the evening, to strike. I practically pushed them together in the hopes that there’d be some mild flirting, maybe a few doe-eyes - but what I got was so much more.

Stiles is... perfect for him. Really. He matches him in wit and sarcasm alone. He’s just the right amount of asshole to separate himself from the countless men and women fawning over Derek on a weekly basis, and something in him seems to just get the big loser. He picks up on his moods quicker than I even can, and there’s something in the way they look at each other.. I just.. it’s right.

Oh, and the baking thing? All Stiles.

Suddenly, I felt bad for making so many jokes at Derek’s expense. Mates aren’t a dime a dozen for us. We meet, potentially, five people in our whole lives who could be match for us, but it depends on random factors like age and proximity and just finding that spark. It’s like how humans find The One. Werewolves could date fifty people and find barely one they feel a bond with - that they could happily pledge themselves to. And Derek found his.

I left the fayre that night, satisfied in my endeavours, knowing Lydia was on hand to enforce Phase Two: the Stilinski Seduction Dance (apparently, get the kid around a good beat and he’s like the second coming of Swayze) and relaxed in the tub with a book.

So the last thing I was expecting was Derek coming home, alone, and pissed at me for pushing him at Stiles.

Because Stiles has a boyfriend, and all I did was rub in his face what he can't have, all over again, when he was just starting to come to terms with it.

Those weeks of moping didn’t seem so pathetic, then.

I started out by being mad at Lydia, but it wasn’t all her. I didn’t have to agree to any of it, and my brother deserves better than underhanded conspiracy.

No, not letting Derek heal - when he’d bravely let himself actually fall for someone again - was my fault as much as anyone elses, and Stiles’ sketchy cheat-flirting, and Lydia’s nefarious motives, and my crappy puppeteering had done enough. It was the least I could do, having someone cover for him when Stiles stopped by the store today. Whether he’s under the impression they can be friends, or he’s really in the middle of some conflicted feelings, I don’t know. It’s just best if Derek takes a step away. Takes a breath.

I’ll fix it, somehow. I’ll find a way to help him get over it.

But until I can - I have something else to worry about, with a beta who’s hurting and the potential mate who has no idea of his part in any of this, we have to make it through tomorrow night.

Because tomorrow night is the full moon.


 

“Seriously?” Stiles asks his ceiling. It’s still got one of those glow-in-the-dark stars his Dad put up when he was eight and refused to sleep inside for a week. That was one cold-as-balls October.

He hears it again, closer this time, and unmistakable.

“You’re so lucky my dad’s on nights,” he mutters, levering himself out of bed. The battered alarm clock on his nightstand reads 1:47, and Stiles picks his way past the debris still littering his childhood bedroom, scooping up a pair of discarded jeans in a quest for the door.

It’s been a while since Scott’s lost control enough to end up in indecent exposure territory, but then again, it is the first full moon since two new werewolves moved to town. His wolf’s got to be at least a little antsy.

He makes his way to the kitchen, bleary-eyed and grumpy, and slides the door open enough to poke his head out.

“Dude! Again! Really?” he hisses into the darkness. There’s no response.

Stiles frowns, pulling the door quietly closed behind him and drapes the pants over his shoulder. The ground is cold beneath his bare feet, and he toys with the idea of running back inside to toe on his dad’s boots, that have no doubt been discarded beneath the kitchen table, but he’s not planning to be out here very long.

“Isn’t this what your significant other is for?” he asks, squinting in the low moonlight. It’s fat and full in the sky, only a few clouds framing it, so visibility isn’t much of a problem to make the trek to the tree-line at the end of the yard. “I get no joy out of seeing you naked.”

He hesitates at the edge of the darkness, digging his toes intermittently in and out of the grass and huffing against the just-out-of-bed chill. “Pretty sure I’m well within my rights to let your little wolfy-ass freeze out here. What is it, 37 degrees? Also, I think I was in the middle of a pretty kinky dream involving--”

A pair of brilliant, blue eyes shine out from the shadows, and Stiles’ words die on his lips.

“Huh,” he says. His heart leaps painfully in his chest. "Not...the droid I’m looking for..." The eyes just stare back, unblinking, tilting slightly, like their owner is cocking his head, curious.

Stiles swallows, hair at the nape of his neck prickling with fight-or-flight. His mind is the only thing outrunning his heart, knowledge of everything from the last year merging together to formulate coherent thought; like the fact that Scott was haunted by a pair of red eyes - the eyes of an alpha, Chris had said - staring out at him from the darkness. That the bulk he’s seeing, half-hidden in the canopy of trees, is decidedly familiar. The shoulders - they’re the same shoulders he’s daydreamed about between fits of denial and feigned nonchalance; and those strong, capable hands - they’re hands he’s seen tenderly and intricately moulding dough, and one of them is now braced on the nearest tree, clawed at the fingers. Like it’s an effort to hold the figure back from something.

Hold himself back from Stiles.

He draws in a ragged breath, steps closer, and swallows.

“Derek?” he says, like a whisper. It’s still a gunshot; the loudest thing between them.

The eyes straighten up, rearing back, their owner dumbly taking a step backwards, further into the dark.

“Derek it’s okay--”

Before Stiles can reach out to stop him, the shadow has retreated; disappeared. Stiles' hand curls uselessly in the air, the sound of cracking branches signalling flight, and it’s mere seconds before the snaps peter out, their distance too great to carry on the wind.

Stiles stands for a long moment, just breathing, and willing his heart back to normal. Because he’s seen a lot of amazing things in the past year, and he’s wrapped his mind around plenty of unbelievable stuff - but things like this; monsters in the dark, not-strangers in the night, and someone good and sweet and normal that he sees all the time being governed by the pull of a giant rock in the sky, still make him feel like he’s floundering. Like he’s nothing more than a kid scrabbling for purchase on what’s real and what isn’t.

When he finally makes the last step towards the tree, there’s just enough light to show that the bark is marred. Mutilated with five long, angry scars.

Claw marks.

He fits his hand over them, tracing their length, and looks off into the dark.

A long, mournful howl echoes through the trees, already miles away.

...

Isaac isn’t due to show up to work for another hour, which is why the knock at the delivery entrance makes Stiles hesitate from his super important task (stacking cake boxes into an unsafe-looking pyramid behind the counter). He waits until it happens again, a little more insistent, before he abandons the project and makes his way to the door.

It’s seven-am, but it’s not like Stiles could sleep again after the whole thing with Derek, so he’s actually kind of organised today. Still, the thought that someone is so desperate to talk to him at ass-o’-clock in the morning makes him pause, the excuse of having so much to do rolling around in his head - but the question of who it is pulls on his curiosity more than anything else.

The knocking has devolved to banging by the time he reaches the metal door, and he slides it up with enough force to have his visitor startling back, blinking owlishly at him in the early sunlight.

“Laura,” Stiles says, confused. Not the Hale he’d been expecting, at all. “What’re--”

“We need to talk,” she says abruptly, striding forward and dipping her head slightly to make her way inside. She’s not her usual, put-together self; hair in some kind of messy bun, sweatpants, and no make-up to disguise the dark circles under her eyes. Full moon all-nighter? his mind asks.

“Uh, you know it’s seven-am. In the morning.”

“It’s not that early for you,” she says, turning back to fold her arms and lean against the shelving of the store-room. She’s slight, and tiny, but her presence expands over the room. Pure power. “Your lights are always on when I’m headed to work, and if your night was anything like mine, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion you haven’t slept either.”

Stiles tugs on the door, sending it crashing back downwards and turns to her.

“Well, I didn’t spend it sharpening my claws and howling into the ether, if that’s what you mean.”

Laura blanches, her mouth forming aborted words for several long seconds, before she pulls in a breath. “Who are you, Stiles?” she says, like some suspicion has been confirmed.

He holds out his hands, “Your friendly neighbourhood baker,” he says dryly. “Who are you, Alpha Hale? I mean, you’re the alpha, right?”

Her brows furrow, and she shakes her head. “I--” She looks at him, searching. “You know. About us. All of it. How long?”

He shrugs uncaringly. “Couple of weeks. Right around the time you paid Chris Argent a visit to negotiate co-existence, I s’pose.”

She sets her jaw, unsurprised. “Why would he tell you? Hunters don’t just go around broadcasting what they do, I mean...”

“They do if their home décor almost kills your best friend.”

Laura frowns again. “I don’t--”

“You’re not the first werewolf I’ve met,” he settles on, enjoying the ambiguity. Screw it, humans should get to be mysterious sometimes too. She raises a sardonic brow.

“I gathered as much.” Her eyes narrow. “Your best friend. Is that who you thought was outside the house last night?”

Stiles presses his lips together, only to find himself nodding. It’s kind of like the wolf’s out of the bag, and though he’d protect Scott with his actual life, and her brother clearly has some personality flaws, Laura Hale is not someone he needs to do that with. He can feel it, in his bones.

“He’s had some issues with full moons, but he’s been getting a lot better,” he starts, exhaling it like relief.

“He’s an omega?” Laura asks, thoughtful. “There aren’t any other packs around - this territory hasn’t been reclaimed, anyway.”

Stiles tries not to smirk at her formal tone. Werewolves. “Yeah. Last year someone decided to take a chunk out of prime, Mexican-American flank and didn’t stick around for aftercare.”

Laura’s face clouds over for a moment, and she looks off to the side. It’s getting tense again, but he doesn’t know why.

“I thought maybe he was backsliding, with his control,” he continues, because one of them should talk. “But no, it was just your brother, lurking in the shadows waiting to scare the crap out of me.”

“He says you didn’t seem too scared, or shocked, even.”

“Believe me, I was close to fucking terrified. Shocked... well, slightly. The only thing staving off a full-on anxiety attack is the fact I’ve seen him get tugged around by eight-year-olds. Dude’s an overgrown puppy.”

Laura smiles sadly. “He’d never hurt anyone, especially not you.”

Stiles steps forward, cocking his head. “You sure? It was hardly a nice, neighbourly introduction,” he says, the million questions from last night bubbling forth from the distraction work had forged. “In fact, why was he even there last night? There’s like, a thousand places for him to be and he picks my dad’s back yard?”

Laura looks guarded, for the first time, and takes a step back. “It’s complicated.”

Stiles snorts. “Sure it is. Dude shifts on a full moon and ends up outside my bedroom howling like they’ve run out of hair product before prom,” he drawls, and shoots her a sour look. “He freaked me the hell out. I don’t need that shit.”

“He’s working through some things,” she retorts, looking irritated now. “You haven’t exactly made any of this easy for him, you know.”

Stiles rears back. “Wait, what? What’s any of this got to do with me?”

Laura’s eyes turn cold. “You know what I mean. The flirting. The pranks--”

“Hey, he started those, I was merely retaliating.”

“The wanting to be his ‘friend’, when anyone who comes within breathing distance of you two knows that it’s never going to be just that for you...”

Stiles wrinkles his nose. “First of all: ew. No sniffing of my person without express permission. “ He holds up a hand. “I mean it. You guys seem to think you should do these things just because you can. Well, you know what? Eavesdropping is rude, and an invasion of privacy. Smelling me and my.. reactions...is the same.” He folds his arms, before dropping them again, remembering he’s not finished. “Secondly: Your brother made it pretty clear that he’s not interested in more than that. Like, at all. No matter what he might smell like, I’m not going to be it for him.”

He chews on his lip. He’s not even a smidge bitter about it, after spending an evening with plaid shirt, fluffy-haired, tight undershirt and snark-master kid-idol Derek Fucking Hale. Not even slightly.

Laura frowns, looking unfairly disgusted. “Yeah, because no matter what he feels, he can’t abide cheating.

The room goes silent, and an icy feeling settles in the pit of Stiles’ gut.

Of course. How hadn’t he even considered that? Of course Derek is with someone. Probably somebody gorgeous and funny and normal and who doesn’t drive him half-crazy or have small crises over babka at 10pm.

He leans back into the door, chest tight, the burn of her eyes on him and the room feeling smaller. Like he has the right to be fucking jealous.

Anyone would be an idiot not to come right out and snap Derek up instead of playing silly games, because, for all of Derek’s nuances and awkwardness and over-reliance on facial expressions for communication - he’s kind, and quietly-hilarious, and up-ending, and all of that would be reason enough to just beg the guy to be with him if he wasn’t mind-numbingly, let-me-take-my-clothes-off-and-rub-up-on-you sexy to boot.

The weight of disappointment is a familiar press on his lungs..

“I... oh.”

Laura nods, brow pinched, and she begins to pace. “Yeah,” she says, but hesitates, watching him. “So...whatever ‘harmless’ fuckery you were playing at before your boyfriend got back to town needs to stop. Completely.”

Wait... what?

“We’re not like everyone else,” she continues, sounding punched-out and hurt. “Derek especially. He isn’t like this with anyone, and just because you... you missed the attention--

“Wait, wait, wait,” Stiles says, lunging forward from his perch, stopping her tirade.

His brain has just kickstarted again, and what?

“Back the hell up a second. ‘Boyfriend?’” He squints. “I... you said Derek has a boyfriend. I don’t have a boyfriend. What boyfriend?!” His tone climbs, loud and demanding, and it sounds foreign and slightly crazed.

Laura halts, glaring at him. “Your boyfriend. The deputy. I don’t know what your friend Lydia thought she was playing at, but I don’t appreciate being used for shits and giggles against my own brother.” Stiles splutters, because so much information. ”What, you’re going to tell me it’s all casual between you and the cop?” she goes on. “He doesn’t mind if you mess around with other people or something?”

Stiles holds his hands up, shaking his head. “I... what?” His mind frantically catches up, aware he’s said little else in the past five minutes, and his expression scrunches. “Lydia is... I have no idea what you’re talking about there... and Danny? Danny is not my boyfriend. He’s an ex,” he enunciates, loudly. “An ex I’m still friends with, but we broke up like six months ago. It was never even serious between us to begin with, but even then, I’m pretty fucking...monogamous...

Laura looks set to retort, but her mouth snaps shut. She looks pensive.

“But, what about...” she starts, turning completely to face him. “Derek said you told him you were in a committed relationship.”

Stiles’ shoulders reach his ears. “What the--” he starts, looking at the ceiling. “I don’t know... pretty sure I never said that because it isn’t true.

“The night you two were here. Baking. Together.”

She says ‘baking’ like they were taking turns blowing each other on the counter-tops. Which, well...

No. He’s totally pissed at Derek’s Edward Cullen impression right now.

“I...” Stiles starts, but the memory of how he thought he’d fucked up that night comes creeping back; thinking he’d been seen as coming on too strong, talking about how invested he is, and how ‘all-in’. “Oh, man... I was, shit, I was talking about this place. Danny called it my ‘other guy’,” he explains. “The bakery is my committed relationship.”

Laura looks like she doesn’t quite believe him, but her glare turns curious. “Then how come you completely backed off when your - when ‘Danny’ - showed up?”

Stiles frowns. “Because when I went over to maybe feel things out a little, Derek acted like he’d rather eat a jar of cinnamon than talk to me,” he says, still feeling the remnants of hurt. He cocks his head, recalling the rest of that week. “Also, later that day, I found out he was a werewolf and I wasn’t totally convinced you guys weren’t here to kill either my best friend or my business manager so I peaced the fuck out.”

Laura raises a brow, absorbing the information. “Alright,” she says slowly, “So what magically changed after that?”

Stiles looks at her ruefully. “Chris Argent, as a former hunter of your kind, makes for a pretty remarkable character witness.”

Laura’s face dissolves into a smile, and her shoulders seem to relax for the first time since she arrived.

“You know none of this explains why I had my not-midnight visitor?” he leads, clinging to his irritation, and she tilts her chin up, challenging. “What, some kind of full-moon booty-call? Because we have these things called phones now. And I’d like to at least be bought dinner first. I’m a gentleman.”

“Like I said, Stiles, complicated.”

He holds his hands out. “Oh come on, I just answered all of your extremely convoluted questions. I deserve an answer!” he says, calling after her as she makes for the door again. “So help me Laura, I will--”

He stops short when she turns, eyes flashing red playfully. “You’ll what, Stiles?”

“Spread some extremely embarrassing rumours about you,” he settles on, petulantly, because bitches be scary.

She laughs, and it’s smug. “Oh, I dread to think.” She looks at him for a moment, considering. “Just.. give it a little patience. I think this whole thing could probably be resolved with a simple explanation. Just tell him everything you told me.”

“What?” Stiles folds his arms. “No. I’m merely a victim of misunderstanding, here. Why should I be the one to go grovelling? I’ve made it abundantly - well - pretty clear what my feelings were. It’s him who needs to reassess his techniques.”

Creeping around in the dark on a full moon and blowing hot and cold isn’t the way into Stiles’ heart. Or pants, despite Lydia’s beliefs on the matter. He knows Derek was working the last time he stopped by to talk to him - but Boyd had just shrugged and gone back to reading Babysitters Club.

“Snarking at me, avoiding me, smiling at me....making me like him and then disappearing off into the freaking abyss any time it seems like things are actually going somewhere...” Stiles shakes his head, and shrugs. “No, fuck that. He seems to have no problem seeking me out when he feels like it.”

He holds his ground, hoping his lack of interest will seem plausible enough, even though ugh. Honestly, the thought of going to Derek and getting shut down, again is the real issue here. There’s only so much rejection someone can take, and Derek? He hasn’t exactly given Stiles much reason to believe Laura is right.

Laura turns, looking slightly desperate. “No... you have to,” she says, stepping back towards him. Her eyes dart between his own. They’re hazel green, too. “Look, my brother and I are close, but he’d shut down if he knew I was meddling in this. Like I don’t trust him to resolve this on his own.”

“Yeah well, you’re not exactly doing a good job of proving otherwise,” Stiles points out

She sighs. “I know, but this? Stiles, I’ve never seen him like this. Not since before--” she stops, swallowing, meeting his eyes briefly before staring at her fumbling hands. “He deserves to be happy. To let himself be happy, and you? You bring that out in him. He’s not acting like his life is a chore anymore. He’s having fun again, and interacting with people, and reading to kids and arguing with senior citizens and making fucking sarcastic jokes again, and at first I thought that it was just moving back here, but,” she pauses, looking at him fully. “Watching you guys together at the carnival, it’s clear what the common thread is.” She gives a soft smile. “Derek started living again the moment he met you.”

Stiles looks away, his heart swelling slightly, giving a heavy thud of tentative belief, but he shakes his head - because Stiles has never fixed anyone. He’s never been the answer to someone’s problems, just the cause of a lot of them. Of hurting Danny and making things awkward for Heather, and generally being crappy at this stuff, and even if what she’s saying is true, that’s a hell of a lot of pressure to be under. The pressure to not hurt someone like he’s been hurt; to be the good in someone’s life when he isn’t even sure how to be the good in his own.

He can love people fiercely, but it’s not always in the way they’d like to be loved. Stiles is a pretty awesome best friend; but boyfriend? C-minus, much room for improvement..

“What’s your email address?” Laura says, cutting off his thoughts. She pulls out her phone and looks at him expectantly. He frowns.

“What?”

“Just-- I think I can show you, properly, what I mean. Please? And I won’t bother you again, not if that’s what you want.”

Stiles glares at her, confused, before sighing and giving in. Damn her for preying on his curiosity. She copies down the address and gives him an approving nod, and he hates that he feels like he’s achieved something.

“Thanks. I think you’ll see what I mean. I really do.”

...

Stiles leaves Isaac to shut the store when the email comes through.


Laura’s Journal, Day 32

The wait is killing me.

He’s had the information for four days now, and I’ve tried not to snap, and Erica’s attempted tough love, and Derek - Derek’s moved out of the apartment, and into sweats, and baked.

I’m kind of wondering why I ever wished he’d take the hobby back up in the first place. He constantly reeks of sweat and sugar cookies, and let me tell you, that’s not a good combination.

More than anything, I just want to know what Stiles is thinking. I can’t tell Derek what I did, because it’s either false hope or a loss of hope, and I’m not sure which is worse right now.

All he knows his he fell in love, tried to get a handle on it, as we all do, and the first full moon rolls around and his wolf takes him to the exact last place his human side wants to be. I mean, it’s like a kick in the teeth when he’s down, right?

Probably doesn’t help that Stiles may as well have vanished off the face of the freaking Earth, either - and Derek’s not brave enough to go seek him out; not when he’s so obviously being avoided. I’ve tried telling him about the cop - the guy was even in the store yesterday with some man-candy on his arm. Evan or Ethan or... something. Derek wouldn't have noticed, though, he was in the kitchen eating buttercream frosting from a bowl.

I’m trying to keep occupied. The store is almost enough, picking up a certain business manager’s slack (I’m still woefully clueless about this stuff), but giving Derek his space is the major issue. I’ve kept contact with Lydia, who is a fabulous spy, but unfortunately it sounds like Stiles is absolutely fine, if a little distracted.

That just sounds like Stiles on a normal day, to me.

I’ve decided to reach out to Scott, the omega Stiles was feigning ignorace to protect. I can’t imagine what it must be like, getting the bite and being left alone - but from what Lydia says, he was lucky enough to have at least one great friend around him, and many more since - just none who can quite relate to him on that level.

Scott seems like a good kid, and humble to boot. Maybe the gut feeling I have about his werewolf line being of Hale origin is true, I don't know - we’ll see how things pan out. It's kind of my responsibility as the alpha of the territory, and I have no plans right now to offer anyone the Bite; not that I’ve met, anyway - unless Erica changes her mind - but I won’t say never.

I just wish I knew what our future looked like. If Derek’s still hurting this much in six months, I can’t see him staying, but I just don’t know. It’s not like I can call up my mom to ask about mating bonds.

God, I miss her.

The thought of separating again, or living like nomads for another five years turns my stomach, but can I really let my only beta go off alone? Already there’ve been mysterious scents outside the apartment; someone taking an interest in us whom I don’t recognise. I don’t sense danger, but... I don’t like it.

I think I need a vacation. Maybe I'll go throttle a certain 5’10 brunet on the way to the airport, and make him put me out of my damn misery.


 

“So then we all took our clothes off and covered ourselves in cocaine.”

“That’s-- Wait, what?

His dad raises a brow as he gingerly lifts another forkful of cous-cous. “I was beginning to think you weren’t listening.”

“Hey, no, I...” Stiles begins to retort, but he sags. “I’m sorry. I have a lot of stuff going on.”

“So I hear. And it, of course, has nothing to do with the fact that you keep taking long detours away from Phoenix Boulevard.”

“Do you have, like, a network of spies?” Stiles says, squinting irritably. The memory of crossing the street when he saw a familiar-looking set of shoulders ahead of him this morning makes a flush creep up his jaw. Smooth.

His dad shrugs. “Deputy Morris said you reversed the wrong way up Marlboro Street, and that band of old ladies you charmed into thinking you’re some kind of sweetheart keep stopping me to ask if ‘the gays do the courting thing’ and if you and the ‘Hale boy’ are an item yet.”

Stiles glares at his plate, betrayed. “I thought they hated him,” he grumbles.

“Apparently he has an extremely pathetic mope-face.”

Stiles eyes shoot up, shocked that his dad has seen him, and tamping down on howdidhelook whatdidhesay, only to find his dad holding his hands up placatingly. “I just know what I’ve heard. Seems like you two are the best will-they-won’t-they since Brennan and Booth.”

Stiles rears back, and his dad’s mouth twists.

“They’re from Bones,” he informs.

“I know,” Stiles says, side-eyeing. “I just thought you said procedural cop shows give you second-hand embarrassment.”

“Stop changing the subject,” his dad replies, expression morphing into Sheriff Face. “Do I need to start decorating that ridiculous Camaro with parking tickets? Or start writing a letter of apology and blame your mother’s side for your... exuberance...”

“Wow, thanks for not jumping to conclusions, Dad,” Stiles says, genuinely surprised. “Usually the letter’s on a second draft by now.” His dad looks guilty, and Stiles huffs, resigned. “Oh, come on, this is not my fault.”

The sheriff goes back to innocently forking through his food. “Didn’t say it was. I don’t even know what’s going on.” He looks back at Stiles. “Are you seeing this guy? The one you told me not two weeks ago is a werewolf who might want to hurt you?”

“That’s racist.”

You said it. I only really know one werewolf, and he hardly counts when I taught the kid how to ride his bike.”

Stiles grins. “Yeah, Scotty isn’t exactly your textbook carnivorous predator.”

“So what about Hale?” His dad presses. “Is he dangerous? Stiles, I don’t like the idea of you getting involved with someone if he’s--”

“He’s not dangerous,” Stiles frowns, knowing that his own trepidation from the night of the full moon had more to do with being honest with Derek than any real fear that he could hurt him. The previous four nights' reading helped him admit that much. “I doubt any hardened killers have an aversion to talking about their feelings and end up starting prank wars instead. Seems a little indirect.”

“I still don’t understand what’s happening.”

Stiles lets out a sigh. “Neither do I.. it’s just... there’s been a lot of miscommunication and I know more about his past than I should probably know about anyone and it’s making me...” he thinks for a moment. “Anxious.”

“Anxious, how?”

“That I’m kind of ill-equipped to deal with what he’s been through.” He meets his father’s eyes. “He’s dealt with some really bad stuff, Dad, and he... for whatever reason... is into me. And I’m just-- I’m not exactly a positive, nurturing presence for anyone to be around.”

His dad’s face falls into a kind smile. “Oh, I don’t know, I seem to remember a certain nine-year-old pouring a bottle of Jack down the sink and informing me that my time for wallowing was over.”

Stiles casts his eyes downwards. They don’t talk about that - about his dad’s demons - ever.

”Yeah, like I said, not exactly Mr Heartfelt-Speech.”

His father shrugs. “It’s exactly what I needed.” He thinks for a moment, and schools his face casual. “And just because things didn’t work out with you and Danny, doesn’t mean it’s something you did wrong. I know you, kid, and your heart wasn’t in it. It was one of the kinder things you did, getting out of it before it got bad.”

Stiles studies his dad for a beat. “I always thought you kind of hoped we’d work it out.”

His father’s brows rise, head tilting. “Danny’s a good kid. One of the best deputies I know. Would I have liked to call him ‘son’? Sure. But I’ve kind of got my hands full with the one I have.”

Stiles grins. “Still your favourite?”

His dad chews on a mouthful of tasteless grilled chicken, pulling a face. “Most of the time.”

“Wow, now I know where I get my sweet, loving disposition.”

His dad looks sardonic, and reaches for the salt. “Just remember that nobody can make you do anything you don’t want. Not ready for a relationship? Don’t have one.”

Stiles is just about reach out and swipe the salt-shaker back when his dad puts it down, huffing. “Are you gonna put the Hale kid out of his misery or what?”

He swallows on reflex. “I... guess so? I’ve pretty much only talked about any of this with his sister.”

“So you have no idea what he actually wants from you,” his dad says, flatly. “Even though the cause of this whole mess was you guys not talking to each other.”

“I made some fair assumptions?” he hedges, sheepish.

His dad scrubs at his forehead wearily. “We did it, Claudia,” he mutters, shaking his head. “We raised an idiot.”

...

Hands tightening on the wheel, Stiles makes the turn on to Phoenix for the first time in five days.

He left his dad’s house with their conversation rattling around in his head, overwhelming any effort to crash in front of the TV, or carry on any further shoot-the-shit discussion until he’d found himself being shoved outside, with his car keys in his hand, and a recieving a look of exasperation before the door shut.

Now, he’s here, and he’s not really sure how that happened.

Well, that’s not strictly true. Since Stiles started reading (and re-reading) Laura’s journal, sitting on the floor beside his bed, practically memorising the unfolding of his own story from the eyes of someone else, he’d kind of known he’d always end up here.

He's been in denial, and a dumbass, and sometimes it just takes a stern hand and the dead-end of patience to nudge him in the right direction.

There’s, of course, one word sitting comfortably in the middle of his brain, Whispering at him, tugging on something like hope, deep inside, when he probably has no right to feel it. It’s that same, hopelessly romantic part of him that wants to grab on to it, wants to believe Laura’s speculations, because from the moment he became aware of Derek’s existence, it feels like they’ve been slipping into orbit, put on path to collide, and there has never been anyone, not in his life, that makes Stiles' skin thrum and his heart skip and bring out simultaneous respect and frustration and fondness until he feels whiplash.

Derek Hale is localised storm, and he’s not going to forgive himself if he doesn’t find out what the hell they’re supposed to be to each other. Someone owes it to somebody. Maybe Stiles just owes it to himself.

'Well go. I let no person deprive you of the chance to be happy. Not even if that person is you.'

He closes his eyes, and breathes. She sounds so real, sometimes, but then, he knows someone needs to tell him he's being an ass, and she's not able to. But, she is - she's with him still. He should have listened to her sooner, he thinks, smirking.

'Go then', she says again, and he unfolds his legs as he hops out, getting steady land beneath him. He realises it’s past 8pm and there are still lights on inside Talia Tales. He hadn’t even thought.

It’s only as he pushes a little on the door, catching the attention of both figures inside, that he realises neither of them are who he’s there to see.

“Oh thank god,” Laura exhales through the coloured glass, standing up to unlatch the door. Erica turns then, frowning, and takes a deliberate sip of coffee.

“He’s literally eaten us out of freaking brownies,” she says, blowing a shock of blonde hair out of her eyes. “What, d’you lose the use of your legs or something?”

Stiles frowns. “Hey, kind of in the middle of a thing here, so if you could not be, well, you--”

Erica stands. “Oh no, Stilinski. You don’t get to just saunter in and decide that you want him--” She steps forward, but Laura’s got a hand on her shoulder and is shaking her head. “Are you serious?” she asks Laura.

"-'Saunter'?" Stiles asks.

“-Five days I’ve had to watch him eat like a pregnant manatee and glare at me so hard I have extra split ends,” Erica finishes.

Stiles frowns. “Sorry to be such an inconvenience, but it’s not like he didn’t know where to find me.

Erica’s jaw clenches and she deflates slightly. “He won’t even talk about you. Men are fucking idiots, you know that?”

Laura rolls her eyes, tugging her up. “Everyone knows that. Now lets leave before he finds the ipod again.”

“Oh fuck. No more Morrissey, please.

He hears Laura cackle as the door shuts behind them, leaving the place in silence. Light spills out from the kitchen, and Stiles breathes, swallows, and bolsters what’s left of the Stilincki faux-bravery.

His back is to the door when Stiles finally gets in there.

The kitchen is much more modern than his own; not quite as spacious, but still fresh and bright and new. Derek is like an out-of-place shadow in the corner of it - shoulders stiff, hair unruly, and not bothering to look behind him.

“Laur, just give me an hour, okay? I’ll-- “ he turns, already walking closer to reach the sink, but he retreats a step when his focus lands on Stiles.

He’s in sweats and a soft, over-washed shirt. His jaw’s unshaven to just below the point of actual beard territory, his hair’s an unruly mess but still apparently wet from a recent shower, and there’s - what looks to be - chocolate frosting smeared against his bottom lip.

His eyes are sunken and panicked. He’s still so unfairly attractive Stiles wants to weep.

“Stiles,” he says eloquently, his gaze raking over all he can gather, like five days was a year, and a year was a prison sentence. His face wilts, goes blank. “What’re you doing here?”

Stiles licks his lips, moves to speak, but for the first time in his goddamn life, barely a whisper comes out. He averts his eyes, glares at the ground, and raises his chest in a heave of breath.

“I--” he tries, but there’s a thud at his sternum that’s got to be too loud to be his heart, oh god, and Derek’s stepping close, abortively reaching for a wrist before thinking better of it.

“What am I to you?” he grits out, willing himself through it. There’s flour on Derek’s hands and the shoes he’s wearing are worn and comfortable-looking black sneakers. Derek’s in sneakers and Stiles feels like he might collapse if he doesn’t keep talking.

There’s a shift of skin and fabric, and Stiles looks up, studying the face in front of him, because that stupid word is still practically tattooing itself on his tongue and part of him wishes he’d never read the damn thing in the first place.

But then Derek is frowning, and his eyes are soulful and despondent, and Stiles knows he’s not the only one with a lot on the line here.

“What do you--” he asks, and shakes his head, expression pinched.

“I need to know what...” Stiles trails off, gestures between them. “What is this?”

Derek’s face hardens, but his eyes are wide and shining. He breathes for a long moment, and he looks over Stiles’ shoulder. “This is a headfuck, is what this is.”

Stiles squints. “You say that like you’re a victim of some slight,” he observes, and Derek’s eyes snap to his.

“Oh, so you weren’t going to mention that you know what I am, at any point?”

Stiles clenches his jaw, and points. “Hey, no, you don’t get to give me shit for not spilling Scott’s secrets to protect him when you--”

“Scott,” Derek cuts in, frowning at him. “What are you--”

“My best friend. Scott,” Stiles says slowly, like Derek’s sustained a head injury. “The other werewolf I know?”

Derek straightens up, thoughtful. “You were protecting someone? I knew there was another..” he says pensively, “but I guess I just assumed.. I mean, I figured out who Allison was, and she’s-- they say things. They’re manipulative. I thought maybe they noticed. How I felt about...about you--”

Stiles groans, because Derek trying to talk? Absolute torture. “Oh my god now I know why you didn’t just ask me out.”

Derek’s jaw snaps shut, and he looks affronted, “I.. you never stop talking, and you barely-- wait,” he says abruptly, and narrows his eyes at Stiles. “It’s actually true? About that cop? The, uh, the deputy?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Do you honestly think I’d be here... no, that I’d have flirted with you, like half as much if there was a guy in the picture?”

Derek looks down. “I thought maybe,” he mutters, “You just liked the attention. That you weren’t totally happy with him.”

Stiles holds his hands out, palm up. “And it never occurred to you to actually find out?

“I thought I did,” Derek grits out, and glares at him. “You started talking about being all committed and then I saw you with that guy. You always smelled like guilt when he was around and then you fucking dragged me to see his band and I--”

“And you assumed. You never assume, Derek.”

There’s a ripple of muscle in the clench of Derek’s jaw. “I swear to god, Stiles, if you make an ‘ass-out-of-you-and-me’ comment I will--”

“What, flirt with me some more?” Stiles challenges. Their voices have climbed, and he’s leaning forward into Derek’s space like it’s fucking gravity and his willpower is gone. He tilts his head. “Which you did, by the way, even though you were convinced I was seeing someone.”

Derek’s eyes blaze up. “I tried to stop that, you were always there. Being--” he throws a hand up, gesturing to Stiles, and he’s not quite sure what it’s supposed to mean, but he thinks he should be insulted.

“Wow, awesome, thanks,” Stiles deadpans, muttering. “My heart’s all aflutter, Derek.”

There’s a sharp exhale through Derek’s nose, and he glares at his feet, shaking his head. “No, you-- I couldn’t get you out of my head, you ass,” he grits out. “I fucking tried, but I couldn’t so fuck you.

The room goes silent, save for the angry huff of Derek’s breath, and the race of Stiles’ heart. He thinks he might be a little light-headed, or at least oxygen-starved, because that’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said to him, and it ended in a ‘fuck you’.

He looks at Derek - this asshole - for a long moment, the set of his shoulders, the stupidly endearing scowl on his face, and just eventually throws his head back, sighing.

“You’re literally the most ridiculous person I’ve ever met oh my god,” he grins, and he doesn’t get to explain that, because Derek’s got a hand at his neck, soft, careful fingers at the hinge of his jaw, and he’s pulling himself into Stiles’ space, lips meeting lips, and it’s nothing but a whimper and a gasp and Stiles feels his brows climb as he finally gets to stop imagining that misguided mouth on his.

Derek smells like lime bodywash and his lips taste like chocolate, and this is much more than anticipated.

He’s hot and unyielding, like he’s been starved of something Stiles has hoarded from him for too long, and just the gentlest touch of tongue is enough to have him clutching back at those shoulders, pressing forward as good as he gets, and Derek’s lower back is hitting countertop like they’re struggling for balance on a capsizing ship.

Stiles pulls away, panting, and Derek’s eyes are closed in front of him, foreheads pressed together. His mouth is shut tight, chasing taste, and Stiles feels something in him stripped impossibly raw at the idea of it. He weaves a hand up to rest at Derek’s temple, dark hair curled thickly around his hands.

“Tell me to stop,” he rasps quietly, desperately, lips hardly managing to part from Stiles’ skin once more - even for a moment. “If you-- just, tell me to stop, and... and I will, if it’s too much--”

Derek,” Stiles croaks back, deep and rough, and his eyes open. They’re bright, impossibly-hued as always, and there’s the barest, subtlest flash of blue on an inhale.

It’s nothing like Stiles has experienced before. The urgency; the burning hope that everything he’s feeling in his own core is reciprocated in the pronounced rise and fall of Derek’s shoulders.

He breathes like he’s suffocating, but his face is more open than Stiles has ever seen it.

Stiles gulps, catching his own breath, and shakes his head.

There’s so much they should still be discussing, explaining, and clearing up, but right now there’s this, and doing this feels more natural than denying themselves more of it.

He immediately feels the soft stroke of fingers at the nape of his neck, and blinks extendedly.

“Holy shit,” he says, lips tingling, and Derek’s face breaks. His smile is like a release of tension, the loosening of a coiled spring. “That’s... is that because of-- or is that just...us?”.

Derek frowns, “Because of what?”

“The... werewolf... thing,” he explains instantly feeling ridiculous. “I mean, the bond.” Derek straightens up to look at him suspiciously, and Stiles leans back. “Laura said we might be...that I could be your... y’know.”

Derek’s brows jump, and his hand slackens. “Oh,” he says, pensive. “I.. don’t--”

“I was just, uh, curious,” Stiles cuts in, feeling like his skin is uneven and his mouth’s a menace. “It’s not like it matters.”

Derek’s eyes meet his, and he seems to peer into Stiles for a long beat. “I always hated the idea,” he says after a moment, and his hand slips to Stiles’ flank, warm and burning through his shirt. “It sounded so... animalistic, like we couldn’t control ourselves. My parents said differently - that it was rare, beautiful, and it’s like... a returnable gift if we feel that way about it.” His eyes roam to his hand, and he bunches the fabric beneath his fingers, exposing Stiles skin just the slightest amount, his touch trailing down to make contact.

“But it doesn’t feel like a force of will to me,” he says, awed, hand reaching its destination. “Even on the full moon, I felt like I chose this, even if it was going to hurt like fuck not to have it.”

Stiles feels his lips curl, his stomach flip. “I think that’s pretty much normal, then.”

The fingertips are like a brand, but nothing about it feels magical, or unnatural. It’s just that it’s Derek; that it’s someone Stiles feels a connection to for the first time in his life. Someone he wants and who maybe wants him just as much, and that thought is the catalyst for Stiles to surge forward again, capturing Derek’s mouth, and try to pour all that thought into the kiss, show Derek without words that whatever force guided them together; whether it was supernatural soul-bonding or Stiles’ own dead freaking grandmother, what it came down to in the end was that choice. That moment Stiles turned on to the street tonight, or maybe the day Derek first showed up at Piekarnia and ordered a coffee.

Fate might think it’s got things on lock, but it’s no match for two stubborn assholes and a truckload of relationship baggage.

The kiss picks up, soon turning filthy and uninhibited, and the world spins for a brief moment before Stiles is set on the counter, Derek’s lips chasing after his own. He huffs happily into the mouth on his, pulling him in by the waist, enjoying the opportunity for roaming touches and exploration.

“So was this, like,” Stiles says conversationally, between kisses, “A dirty fantasy of yours?” Derek’s lips part from Stiles’ and pepper over his jaw, his neck. He shudders. “‘Cause I’m probably down for that.”

Derek gives a noncommittal shrug, and hums. “Not sure,” he says distractedly, pressing himself into Stiles’ body and mouthing at the space behind his ear. “Mostly just wanted you.”

Stiles grins, because ridiculous, and migrates his hand south to give a reprimanding squeeze. “Stop trying to be smooth, you asshole. I liked the insults and stammering better.” He can feel Derek smirking into his skin, hair tickling at his cheek.

His hands pull back up to find the waistband of Derek’s sweatpants - because the guy takes wallowing to Shakespearean dramatics, apparently, and toys his fingers along the corrugated cotton without thought.

Derek’s spine legitimately bows when the fingertips breach just past the waistband at the back of his boxers, arching up in encouragement and... oh.

Oh.

Emboldened, Stiles grazes his nose across a warm, clammy cheekbone, and grins.

“Wow,” he says, fingers skimming infinitesimally lower. “That’s definitely the good kind of surprise.”

He can feel the heat of Derek now, under his hands, against his front. He’s resolutely ignoring his own hardness, because acknowledging it at the moment, when he’s got Derek panting in his ear, mouth slackened, eyes hooded just from anticipation, would mean this would all be over very soon.

And he really doesn’t this to be over any time soon.

Stiles explores - he’s always been the inquisitive sort; finds the crease of Derek’s ass, starting at the tailbone, and trails down. It only takes the slightest, dry caress of his hole; a tease, really, for things yet to come, for Derek to buck forward, grinding between Stiles’ spread legs, and a soft, surprised, encouraging grunt escapes from his lips.

His mouth latches at Stiles’, needy and demanding, and ignoring his own reactions is becoming pretty damn impossible, what with the repeated thrusts, shallow yet urgent, taking his dick past generally interested to needing-to-get-involved.

“Fuck, okay,” Stiles says, breaking the kiss. “Okay... okay...”

Derek nips at his bottom lip playfully and grinds.

“Oh wow, you’re an asshole,” he chuckles, punched-out and voiceless, and he’s kneading Derek’s flawless butt-cheeks in each hand, with two warm palms splayed on his own hips. “And I’m finding it really hard to figure out why I care right now, but we kind of should not do this in here.”

Derek’s just mouthing at his jaw, eyes crinkled at the corners, moving lazily back to suckle at an earlobe. He huffs, amused. “Yeah, ‘guess,” he says, like he doesn’t really give a shit.

Stiles squeezes the flesh in his hands sharply and tilts his hips, pulling a last gasp out, enough to have Derek’s mouth gaping soft and surprised, enough to let his ear go.

“That’s right,” Stiles grins, though totally affected, “C’mon. Do we need to leave, or--”

“‘pstairs,” Derek says, dazed and already back to snuffling. He scents at Stiles’ throat, into his hair again, and pulls him forward off the counter. “Been sleeping here.” Their eyes meet, and Derek’s are fervid. He raises a brow. “Upstairs.”

With his feet beneath him again, Stiles stretches straight, banding his arms around Derek’s neck and indulges in another lazy, searching kiss. When he gets a hand at the small of Derek’s back, he pulls away, smirks, and rounds to get behind him before nudging him forward.

He feels powerful.

Like all of Derek’s strength and capability, and the coil of potential energy within that near-perfect body are only a percentage of the turn-on that the thought of Stiles taking charge of it all is.

He wants Derek under him. He wants his body wrapped around him, accepting him happily, greedily, and he wants to make the shudder Derek lets out as he breathes hot against his ear to be a loud, uncontained, destitute groan.

He wants Derek to muffle himself in the sheets and whine. He wants him to let his control slip, just the slightest amount, and be calm in it; content and cared for because he knows Stiles will be there to ground him. Always.

“Lead the way,” he urges, voice shaken, and hooks his chin over Derek’s shoulder. He scritches absently at the trail of hair leading down from Derek’s navel, feeling he could possibly implode, and he doesn’t need to ask twice as chest collides with back, and Stiles’ heart betrays his need unsubtly.

The trip to the spartan apartment upstairs is a blurring stumble of limbs and gropes and an errant light switch, but seeing an actual bed when they reach it is oddly reassuring.

Their footwear and shirts are discarded somewhere before even the blinds are closed.

Stiles isn’t sure how he ends up on his back on the bed, but, Derek baring down on him from above, dipping in to nip and suck delicately at his neck is the kind of ridiculously-hot fantasy his teenage self would have blamed on substance abuse, or too much late-night internet surfing. Derek is unguarded and wild, grinding down, pulling consuming breaths, and he takes the slightest pause every few moments to just look at Stiles; like he’s some kind of perfect mirage, barely within reach.

He palms at the back of Derek’s pants again, urging. “Aright, I’m gonna need you to--” he says, shivering as Derek’s thumb grazes over a nipple. “Dude, I had plans here.” He hooks a knee over Derek’s hip, somehow, miraculously managing to roll them over, and then Derek’s splayed on the bed, looking like a stupid wet dream, and Stiles takes the barest second to just drink him in.

It’s not long before there’s a heel at his ass, urging him forward once again and lazy, all-the-time-in-the-world kisses punctuate the easing of his boxers and sweats down his thighs.

Derek kicks them off, spreads his legs for him, and raises an expectant brow. Stiles releases a breath, because fuck him for being so impossible and endearing and smugly antagonistic - even naked. He hesitates at the sight, stills, because it's more than he's accustomed to - far above his regular experiences, and an attack of nerves flares up in his chest, only dissipating when Derek threads a hand through his.

“You--” Stiles starts, and pauses to lick his lips. “You’re sure about this?” Are you sure about me? He reaches out, palming Derek’s length, and watches the ripple and clench of his abs in response. Everywhere he’s touched, his body chases Stiles hands, silently asking for more.

He nods.

Stiles returns it biting at his lip. “Okay,” he says, gaze slipping down, and Stiles really needs to get his mouth on that, like now.

So he does.

Derek’s breath punches out of him, and he tangles a set of fingers in Stiles hair, not urging, just anchoring, and Stiles tastes and licks until he can feel himself full and heavy between his own thighs.

He pulls off, glancing up, and wets a thumb in his mouth before continuing his exploration, dipping the tip inside hot, delicious heat.

Derek’s head rolls back, throat exposed, and yeah, this needs to start happening soon.

He clears his throat. “Do you have... anything?” he asks, before getting his mouth on Derek again, sinking lower on his cock, pulling up with a pop when he senses movement and rustling beneath one of the pillows.

Derek presses the small bottle into his hand, flopping backwards again and grinding down on the finger inside him. Stiles smirks.

“Such a boy scout,” he teases, snapping the lid open. Derek glares back at him, jerking when Stiles gingerly pulls his hand free.

“Told you,” he retorts, stiffening again at the chill of fluid over his entrance. “Could-- couldn’t get you out of my head.”

A breath sinks out of Stiles at the response, and he throws his eyes to the ceiling. “Holy god,” he laments, because that image, and slips a finger inside.

Derek’s eyes fall shut, a pinch between his brows, and Stiles takes the opportunity to observe him; the heave of his chest, the flush of his cock on his belly, and the tiny, involuntary twitch of his calf where his left leg is braced on the bed, opening himself up.

There’s probably some deity he should be thanking for this, for the soft O of his mouth and the warmth of his cheeks, but his brain is kind of shorting out right now.

He doesn’t know if it’s too soon or too long before Derek’s grinding down on his hand again, taking two fingers contentedly and clutching at the bedding, insisting on a third.

Stiles sits back to marvel at the movement of his own hand, the disappearance of his fingers where they’re connected, and is so vaguely aware of his own hardness leaking into his boxers that he almost misses the rasp of enough that comes from ahead of him.

“C’mon,” Derek mumbles louder, shuddering. “Need-- come on.

Stiles just nods, because there’s no part of him that’s strong enough to argue, to prolong this, and he pulls his hand back, sits back on his heels, and undoes his jeans. Derek reaches for him to help, but his movements are groggy as he sits up, and it’s almost dreamlike when he shifts to kneel, turns his back, and glances over his shoulder.

Stiles presses a hand below the curve of his neck. There’s a tattoo there, a three-fold celtic symbol linked across his left shoulder, joining the splash of dark ink covering most of his arm.

“What are these?” he asks tentatively, tracing a design with his fingers, and Derek’s head dips.

“Therapy,” is all he says, quiet and private. Stiles braces his forehead to the centre image, a silent tribute to their purpose.

He feels him shift beneath him then, lowering them to the bed, and Stiles’ cock brushes where he’s open and loose, hot and inviting, and he has to brace a hand underneath them both to get his bearings back.

“Need,” he croaks, curved over the bow of Derek’s spine, “D’you need me to use--” He’s cut off by the shake of Derek’s head and the press-back of his ass, and yeah, he’d kind of figured the no-protection thing from the whole.. super healing, but it feels only right to ask.

“‘S fine. Just.. come on.”

Stiles grasps himself, one last slick of lube while he’s mouthing at the skin within reach, and lines himself up.

He takes his breaths slowly, and eases forward.

The first press inside is like electricity, and his jaw gapes through it, because his whole world zeroes in on hot-wet-tight-perfect, before there’s an arch to Derek’s back, and he’s slipping futher in.

He groans shamelessly, breath wetting Derek’s skin in front of his mouth, and the first shallow thrust is an involuntary jerk. 

Derek is clutching at the sheets by his head, hands tensing-releasing, and Stiles gathers just enough wherewithal to lace their left fingers together, pulling out to thrust in properly. He takes his time, gathering on his control, and obliquely thinks if this is what it's like to have something in you warring to take over.

Below him, Derek’s head is turned, eyes closed and mouth slack, and Stiles pecks sweet, promising kisses at his face, kisses of calm and security and reassurance, before straining up to rest his jaw on his shoulder.

“You...fuck,” he says, and yeah, yeah Stiles is right there too.

“I-- I got you,” he says, tongue heavy in his mouth.

He pulls up, leaning his weight on weak arms, then shaking knees, and runs a hand down Derek’s spine. He watches where their bodies are connected, long, slow, careful thrusts releasing and connecting them, and the sight of their forms melding together brings an unfamiliar ache to his chest.

He bites at his bottom lip, snaps his hips forward, and Derek whimpers.

The sound goes straight through him, punching the air out of his lungs, and he finds himself increasing his pace, again and again and again, desperate to hear it once more. He has to keep looking away from the join of their bodies, watching the blissed-out expression on Derek’s face flicker through pleasure and need to try keep his composure. He wanted this, hoped for it, but it's still a jolt to have it - to have all he needs spread out beneath him.

It’s overwhelming, as he keeps going, hips meeting muscle, but before he can find it in him to grind out a warning, the angle changes, and Derek’s body goes taught when Stiles grinds; hits that perfect spot inside him.

He feels gratified, accomplished at the sensations he’s causing, because it’s Derek, and he wants to give him this - all these moments of release and beauty and reprieve - and his heart clenches at the muffled, fulfilled groans slipping from his throat. Soon, there’s a frantic movement of bicep and arm beneath him, his back rising and falling with shallow, needy breaths, barreling closer, racing to finish.

Derek goes impossibly, perfectly tight around him, Stiles’ own throat becoming dry with his vocalised need, and it’s not enough, and too much, when the body beneath him is slackening, sinking into the bed, catching his breath.

It consumes him, and as Stiles’s movements stutter and endeavour to continue, stumbling towards his own end, he clutches at Derek’s flesh, watching himself disappear inside, and chases that delectable build of ecstasy.

It’s barely seconds before he squeezes his eyes shut and curses out, emptying himself wholly, wringing himself tight; the sweet release coming like a bolt of perfect bliss, finally, mercifully, letting his body go.

He collapses down, overheated-skin meeting cooling sweat, and tries, mind blank, body sated, to catch his breath.

Holy.

Fuck.

.....

Stiles wakes in increments.

There’s a dim glow of light beyond his eyelids, and the heat along his side ebbs and flows, its source moving carefully away. He grunts softly in protest, still under, and buries his nose in cotton; slips back into sleep.

When he’s next aware, there’s a soft flutter of fabric disturbing the air at his back, and before he moves, a soothing caress smooths down his spine, and Stiles feels safe, content like he’s never been, and lets himself succumb to the dark again.

A rasp of stubbled cheek at the curve of his ass brings him back once more; hot, wet breath fanning out over his skin, and Stiles frowns, tries for sound, but all that breezes past his lips is a sigh.

There are kisses then; slow, languid, sweet, and he feels himself being exposed, at the hottest part of him, an appraising moment taken, before one is pressed there.

Oh.

He blinks his eyes open, lips curving, and wriggles his waking hardness into the sheets.

“Morning,” comes the greeting from behind him, before a soft, tentative lick makes him shudder.

“Mmmf,” he says intelligently. “My new alarm clock rules.

There’s a bloom of breath, a chuckle, and then the tongue is back, slicking him up, lapping at him, before a sweet kiss is pressed to his right butt-cheek.

“Sorry,” Derek says, sounding far from it, sounding wrecked. “You just... you smell so--” He nips at Stiles’ flesh, thumb teasing at his rim, and doesn’t finish. “Couldn’t help myself.”

Stiles grins into the pillow. “Dude, zero complaints here,” he reassures, breath whooshing out as Derek goes back, kissing him deep, exploring and venerating him.

He lets out a contented sigh, shifting his hips, and then there’s a hand snaking beneath him. Stiles bites at his lip, fully wakening, as Derek’s hand grips him, stroking slowly.

He chances a glance back, and the sight there; Derek’s head bowed, hair bed-tousled and dark lashes fanning over his cheekbones, sends a jolt straight through his chest. Someone, somewhere, thinks he deserves this. Stiles gets to have this, to keep him; this perfect, infuriating, loyal and battle-scarred person worshipping him for just happening to exist. His stomach flutters as he realises it, and a feeling of overwhelming fortune slips over him like a wave.

Derek licks at him slowly, oblivious; languid, kitten-like teases, and his grip tightens around where Stiles is pulsing and needy.

He grunts, pressing his forehead into the pillow, and arches his back, silently pleading for more.

Derek acquiesces, stroking him harder, increasing his rhythm, and it’s only a minute or two before Stiles feels the orgasm crashing through him. He bites at the pillow, muffling his groan, as the hand on his dick coaxes him patiently through it.

Stiles goes boneless, slumping back into exhaustion, and breathes hot, short plumes into the cotton.

He feels kisses roaming up his spine to reach his cheek, adoring and chaste and devoted.

“Just..” he says, licking his lips, peacefully sated, “Gimme a sec.”

Derek shakes his head dumbly, forehead pressing into Stiles’ shoulder, and he can feel a rhythmic jerking in time with the breaths by his ear.

“Or.. you could do that,” he smirks, feeling a self-satisfied thrill as there’s a tease of the head of Derek’s cock along the cleft of his behind. The pace increases, and then he’s sloppily grasping himself and panting, and there’s a ruined little grunt before Stiles feels a warm splash of wetness hit his lower back and ass.

Stiles grins, Derek’s over-heated temple resting on his shoulder, and he palms at his own mess, smoothing it over Stiles’ skin, satisfied and silent as he collapses to one side.

“Yeah, definitely okay with you doing that,” he says, turning his face to greet him with a kiss.

“Hi,” he whispers, beaming, as Derek's fingertips continue to massage slow circles into his skin; slick and filthy. Last night feels like another world, and the thrum of his body, despite his exhaustion, boasts like the start of something new, exhilarating, perfect.

Derek smiles back at him sleepily, and stifles a yawn into the sheets. When he stretches his limbs out over the crisp fabric, it looks like a commercial for high-end bedding and is, of course, completely ridiculous.

“You’re offensive, you know that?” Stiles tells him grumpily, and Derek just blinks back at him, brows pulling together in a frown. “Nobody fucking looks like you first thing in the morning. This is preposterous.”

Stiles presses his face into the pillow and growls, letting it turn into a laugh when he feels a nose at his neck.

“Why are you pissed at me?” Derek asks, and Stiles lifts his head to glare.

“You’re giving me a complex, that’s why.”

Derek looks at him seriously for a moment before his face breaks into a grin. “Your poutface is kind of adorable.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and flops onto his back.

“I swear to god, Hale, you so much as hint that I’m cute when I’m angry, I--”

A vibration distracts him from the rest of the threat, and Derek frowns into the air, locating the source of the noise.

“Who could possibly be calling you at--” he looks around for a clock, but there isn’t one, clearly, “This early on a Sunday. Don’t they have Sundays in your family?”

Derek grunts, fishing his phone from under the bed and holds it to his ear.

“What, Laura?” he asks, but he sounds resigned to whatever crisis she’s calling about rather than actually mad about being disturbed. There’s a shrill exchange in which Derek mostly squints and then the line beeps, signalling the end of the call. He stares at the phone, and Stiles sits up.

“Derek?” he asks, pulling a pillow on to his lap. Derek’s still silent, studying his phone, when there’s a loud knock at the downstairs door, and Stiles looks off in the direction, unsure of what to do.

Derek bolts up, before hesitating, his face intense, and he looks to Stiles. “It’s Laura. Something’s happened. We should--”

Stiles scrambles up, tripping over an errant shoe and rights himself. “Okay, okay, bathroom?” At the jerk of Derek’s head, he goes to find a washcloth, running two of them under the faucet and rushing back to see him already half-dressed. He tosses one to him, wiping himself down with a wince, and starts to gather at his clothes.

There are already more than one set of footsteps on the stairs, and Stiles just about gets his shirt on by the time Derek swings the door open, revealing Laura, and oddly enough Scott, standing with wrinkled noses.

“Dude,” Scott says, pulling his wrist to his face, “It stinks like--”

“Not the time, kid,” Laura bites out, but her own expression is pinched. She focuses on Derek. “I’m seriously happy for you guys, and all, but, oh my god,” she says. and Derek steps forward.

“What is it?” he says, shoulders stiff, and looks between them. “What’s he doing here?”

Laura gestures back at Scott. “He came to find me,” she waves off, “We’re kind of discussing his joining our pack. It’s not important right now... Derek, does the name Deaton mean anything to you?”

Stiles frowns. “Like, the veterinarian?” he asks, and Scott nods.

“Yeah, dude, the guy who used to let us visit the puppies when we were like six, before they shut it down? He stayed in touch with my mom - I guess they were friends or something, and--”

Derek, holds his hands up. “What’s this got to do with anything?”

“Derek, he’s been trying to find us since the fire,” Laura says, her face wan. “He knew mom. I think he was something to our pack. You know, like those advisors we heard about? They helped alphas if they needed it.”

Stiles folds his arms. “Is nobody from here just a normal human being?”

Laura ignores him, taking a step towards Derek. “Derek he’s been trying to reach us, because it wasn’t just us who escaped that day.”

Derek’s face drains of colour, and Stiles mouth slackens. He takes a step towards him, puts a hand on his shoulder, and squeezes.

“Wha-- what are you talking about?” he asks, voice low, tremors echoing through it.

Laura risks a smile, eyes welling up, and a hysterical laugh rings out. “Derek, it’s Cora,” she says, “Deaton got her out. She’s alive.

...

It was the laugh, you suppose, when you think about that day. It still is.

Unlike then, you aren’t tucked in the corner, and the desire to be alone is something you haven’t felt in a while. Not since that first day, and not since that night, six weeks ago, when he came to you, angry and nervous and brave. When he did the one thing you couldn’t bring yourself to - because being raw and vulnerable are - to you - words that describe being open with another person, exposing your heart, rather than letting your body be open to attack.

He’s crawled his way into the dark corners of you, lighting them up with a knowing grin and a smart mouth, and you’re not sure when a part of you stopped being scared of that. Stopped wanting to hide.

You couldn’t have known what the possibility of letting him in could mean; known what it would give you, but sometimes when it’s quiet - when the moon is in crescent and its glow touches his skin, bare against your sheets - you wonder if the other side of you did. If that part of you that’s restrained and dark and snarling took over when you weren’t able to see the obvious, and picked him out. Chose him to be yours.

(Chose you to be his).

No, today you sit prone, those closest - and potentially closest - around you, while your sister messages her best, fiercest (most red-headed) ally, and tries not to pace.

She is the embodiment of the caged beast, the stalking wolf, the protective alpha not content until her pack is within reach.

Each shadow past the doorway is a lightning-bolt, pulling your attention to the glass, wondering if this is The One. It’s dark outside, silent and peaceful, but everyone in the room is thin-nerved and agitated.

He takes your hand, and he squeezes, and still, despite the stress of this moment, the look in his eye is enough to pull you back, to settle the beast, to give you breath. The look is Home - it's what he gave you. It's the feeling of belonging again in a town that robbed you of so much. It's the scent of pine in the preserve, the chorus of morning greetings when you jog through the park, the cheer of the crowd behind you the first time you kissed him in public.

It's the feeling in your chest every single time you look at him.

His best friend is by his arm, and he's someone you feel kinship with, even though you can’t explain it. He's in love with someone you've found yourself wanting to trust, and you don't think it's just her kind, sweet nature that brought you 'round. Maybe it’s because you’re brothers now, because you can see, in him, the person you could have been if no-one else had gotten to you. If she hadn’t made you hers first.

Another shadow passes, and you catch the eye of the Prospect. New to all of this, and nervous in that puppy-ish way, though he’s yet to actually get the Bite. He grins bashfully, and averts his eyes, and you’re yet to decide if your sister is doing the right thing by considering him, but he’s pure and earnest of heart like only someone who needs family this badly could be.

Your best friend settles behind you, her love by her shoulder, and she lays a hand on your back. She’s been there for longer than most, and she still will be, after the dust settles - you know that. Her touch is welcome and warm, and you mentally thank her for being yours.

The latest shadow pauses at the door, and there’s a collective hitch of breath as it moves to knock - but your sister is there, impatient and motherly, and she’s gasping into her hands before the shadow can even clear the doorway.

You’re all on your feet, energy no longer contained in your bodies, and you’re surrounding the shadow, surrounding her, and you’re inviting her into what you’ve cultivated, because she was gone too long; stolen away by circumstance, and a minute more without her would be a minute too long.

Your sister - big sister, you correct - takes charge again, showing her eyes, and ordering you all back, because she’s protective and ecstatic and her little sis needs air.

Introductions are made, and embraces are exchanged, and she’s ushered inside, shown to a seat. Voices clamber over one another, enthusiastic and inquisitive, and it’s only when you catch the Prospect eyeing her, and the looks she gives in return - coy and sweet - that you shoot him a flash of blue, a demand not to even think about it, Lahey, that the nervous tension disappears.

You hear his laughter over all of theirs - bold and fulgent and warming, and you smile. You smile because you know how.

Yeah, it was the laugh, you suppose, when you think about that day.

It still is.

END