It’s 6:18 A.M. on a Monday, and Stiles is using his thumbs to shape the fondant butt of a Winnie the Pooh sculpture. It’s the most action he’s seen in a long time.
He grimaces apologetically as he shoves half a wooden kabob skewer up Pooh’s ass, and then carefully sinks the other end of the skewer into a fondant-covered Rice Krispie hill in the “over the hill” custom cake order he’s been slaving over for the past three hours. While custom orders are merely another part of running a bakery, what most people don’t realize is that the effort to produce those custom orders has to happen in conjunction with everyday tasks at the bakery. Considering running a bakery is beyond a full-time gig, custom orders, especially at the small business level, usually get filled after hours.
Which is why Stiles no longer has a social life. And is apparently thinking about his lack of a social life while fondling a cartoon bear made from water and sugar.
He’s in the middle of boxing up the completed cake when he hears jingling from the bells above the front door, signaling that someone can’t read the CLOSED sign hanging in the window. He flails a little since he’s still holding the cake, and both his hands are trapped awkwardly at the bottom of the box he’s trying to place it inside.
“Uh, we’re not opening for another couple hours!” he hollers, cringing on reflex because he realizes it’s rude to be shouting through the wall like this. But a swinging door separates the kitchen from the shop front, and Stiles isn’t going to drop everything just so he can go out there to yell at some idiot who can’t read.
Said idiot must realize this because a moment later, Stiles hears the distinct swishing sound of the swinging door pushed open, before it lazily see-saws back and forth and slowly stills again.
Stiles groans audibly but controls his temper long enough to carefully and securely drop the Pooh cake into its box. Then he wipes his hands on his apron and whirls around, fully prepared to make a disparaging remark about this idiot’s inability to read signs, but then his eyes land on the intruder, and the words die on Stiles’ lips. “Whoa,” he breathes out, loud enough only for his own ears, “talk about drop dead delicious.”
The guy who’s barged into Stiles’ shop looks like he’s just walked off a GQ photo shoot for badasses. He’s right around Stiles’ height, and he’s got broad shoulders, a trim waist, and muscles that could only be the result of a sacrifice to the pizza gods. Or something. Maybe the reverse of that? Not that Stiles knows the reverse of pizza. But the point is that the guy is ripped. He’s dressed in painted-on jeans, a gray shirt, and a black leather jacket. Stiles notes the light dusting of stubble across his jaw when he realizes the guy is talking, and Stiles hasn’t heard a single word he’s said.
“Sorry, what?” Stiles says dumbly.
The guy clenches his perfectly chiseled jaw because evidently, he’s repeating himself. “Is there anywhere I can lay low back here? Only for a couple minutes,” he says just as casually as one might ask to use the restroom. And then he moves away from the swinging door and begins to search Stiles’ kitchen, as though he’s hiding a secret bunker under the stand mixer or something.
“Hey! What the—wait a minute!” Stiles rushes up to the guy and wraps his hands around a very firm bicep to pull him to the center of the kitchen, where he can’t get his hands on anything else because health codes are a thing. “Okay, those are real,” Stiles blurts out, giving the bicep under his palms an appreciative squeeze.
The guy yanks his arm back and scowls. “Listen to me very carefully—”
Stiles scoffs, affronted. “You listen to me, bucko. If you’re not outta here in the next five seconds, I’m calling the cops on your ass.” The guy cocks a disbelieving eyebrow at Stiles’ threat, so Stiles steels himself and glowers right back at him. “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you didn’t hear me before. But we’re closed, so kindly see yourself out.”
The guy exhales slowly through his nose, and his pale green eyes flicker as he silently examines Stiles’ face. And then he turns around and begins to search the kitchen again.
“Dude!” Stiles yells in outrage. He grabs the first thing he sees—a frying pan hanging from a hook on the wall—and goes after his intruder. “I warned you,” he says, right before he swings so that the flat bottom of the pan connects with a dull clang across the back of the guy’s skull. It doesn’t take him down, although it does create an indentation in the pan, and the guy cowers as he curses and grabs the back of his own head.
Stiles swings the pan once more, though his hand-eye coordination clearly isn’t that great because he intends to strike the guy over the head once more, except the frying pan connects with his shoulder instead. But at least it knocks the guy off his feet.
“Stop! Stop!” The guy shouts, scooting backwards on his butt as his arms come up to defend himself from further blows. “Are you insane?!” he demands once there’s a few feet of space between them.
“I warned you,” Stiles says again as he brandishes the frying pan like it’s a baseball bat. “I told you to leave.”
The guy splutters indignantly while cradling the shoulder Stiles had managed to hit. “You warned me you’d call the cops—not completely lose your shit on me with a frying pan. What the hell!”
Stiles blinks and gazes guiltily at his now dented frying pan because oops. “Well, you’re breaking and entering, so I have a right to protect myself and my stuff.”
The guy mouths wordlessly for a second before he shouts, “The door was open! If you didn’t want people coming in, I don’t know why you wouldn’t just lock the door!”
“Because that would be a fire hazard?” Stiles says like it’s the most obvious answer in the world. Because it is. It’s the only door that leads in or out of the bakery. “I figured a great big sign that says CLOSED on it might get the message across instead.”
The guy looks like he’s about to fire off another retort, but then he freezes upon hearing the tinkling sound of the bells on the front door.
“Hello?” A female voice filters into the kitchen.
The guy’s eyes have gone wide and terrified, and if Stiles is honest, it’s freaking him out a little to see the sudden shift in his attitude. “Get rid of her,” the guy hisses furiously as his eyes frantically flit around the kitchen, searching for a nonexistent exit. “I’m not here,” he mumbles to Stiles, keeping his voice low. “No one’s here. Got that?”
“Is anyone in? I could use some help.” The female voice is moving closer to the kitchen, and clearly the guy can tell because he’s starting to tremble and shake apart, which does nothing to assist in his efforts to get on his feet.
Stiles points at him with the frying pan and whispers, “Stay here, and don’t touch anything.” The guy does nothing to indicate he’s heard what Stiles has said, but then again, Stiles has essentially asked him to do nothing, so he decides on a job well done and ducks into the shop front.
A blonde woman with styled wavy hair has entered his shop, and she looks like she’d been preparing to help herself behind the front counter. She’s wearing black fatigues and an olive tank, and at her side is the unmistakable bulge of a handgun. “Oh!” she cries out in surprise when her eyes land on Stiles. “I was beginning to think no one was here.”
And that’s why she was on her way to getting behind the cash register? Stiles narrows his eyes, taking an instant disliking to her. “We’re closed,” he replies carefully. “That’s why no one’s here.”
“I know. I saw the sign. I’m so sorry,” she says politely, and then she rounds the front counter anyway. Before Stiles can protest, she extends her arm and says, “Hi, I’m Kate Argent. I think you can help me.”
Stiles automatically begins to move to shake her hand, but then he realizes he’s still holding the misshapen frying pan. He notices Kate’s eyes zeroing in on the dents as he sets it down on the counter and says, “Ma’am, you’re not supposed to be back here.”
“Sorry, sorry,” she says with a nervous laugh as she raises her palms at him to show she’s not a threat. Stiles is hard pressed to believe that, though. “It’s just that I’m looking for a dangerous man who’s escaped custody,” she explains. “He was last spotted around here, and I was wondering if you’d seen him.”
Stiles purses his lips because he’s fairly certain the person she’s talking about is holed up in his kitchen right now. “What’s he look like?” Stiles asks, just to make sure.
Kate retrieves her phone from her back pocket, and after swiping across the screen a couple times, she steps closer to him and says, “Here.” Her eyes flick up to him as she adds, “His name is Derek Hale.”
Stiles takes the phone from her and hopes his eyes don’t widen too much with recognition. The picture is definitely of the guy—Derek—currently hiding out in the kitchen. It’s a close-up shot of his face, and he looks sweaty and exhausted, but his blazing green eyes are absolutely livid with fury. There’s a smear of blood across the right side of his face, and even though Stiles can’t see his arms, the way his shoulder muscles are strained makes it clear his arms are restrained in some way off frame.
“Don’t let the pretty face fool you,” Kate says with a knowing look. “He’s dangerous, so any information you have on his whereabouts would be invaluable towards catching this monster.”
Stiles swallows hard. “Monster?” he echoes uncertainly. “What’d he do?”
“Something monstrous,” Kate quips. “I can’t divulge more than that. But until he’s off the streets, we’re all in danger,” she says grimly. “So, if you’ve seen him or know where he is, you should let me know.”
Stiles squirms uncomfortably under Kate’s expectant gaze. In spite of her warnings, he’s hesitant to betray Derek’s location. He doesn’t trust Kate on instinct, even though she’s conducted herself far more civilly than Derek, who’d busted into Stiles’ kitchen mere minutes ago with absolutely no explanation. At the same time, Stiles also can’t unsee the pure terror that had crossed Derek’s face when he’d first heard Kate’s voice.
“Is there a number I can call?” Stiles asks, mind made up. When Kate furrows her brow in confusion, he clarifies, “Y’know, if I see him.”
A flash of annoyance passes over Kate’s face before she schools her pretty features to appear neutral again. She finds a stray piece of parchment paper on the counter and uses a Sharpie to write out her number. “If you see him, call me,” she instructs.
Stiles tries not to seem too suspicious as he stares at the parchment paper because there’s no way that’s protocol. Shouldn’t she have a business card or something? Come to think of it, she never even flashed a badge at him.
“Now,” Kate says, shoving past Stiles and reaching out for the swinging door, “for your own safety, let me do a quick sweep of your building.”
“What? No!” Stiles desperately shouts, but he’s too late because Kate’s already in the kitchen. “No, no, no, no—!” Stiles abruptly cuts himself off when he follows her into his completely empty kitchen. Completely empty. Derek is nowhere to be seen.
Kate gawks at Stiles like he’s lost his mind.
“Er, health code violations,” Stiles stammers out. Then he clears his throat and says with more confidence, “Unauthorized personnel can’t be back here, and I have a lot of work I still need to get done before I open for the day. So, I really need you to leave now.”
Kate ignores him and doesn’t move, much to Stiles’ chagrin, as she scans the kitchen, seemingly empty save for kitchen appliances and baked goods. She opens a few cabinets, and she even checks inside the oven, which seems ridiculous to Stiles, although on second thought, he decides it might be a pretty good hiding place under dire circumstances.
“What’s in there?” Kate suddenly asks, gesturing left to a large silver door with a small frosted over window set in the middle of it.
Stiles hopes Kate doesn’t hear his sharp intake of breath because he suddenly realizes where Derek is hiding. “Walk-in freezer,” he supplies, doing his best to keep his panic at bay. “This building used to be a butcher shop. I use the freezer for ice cream cakes and storage now.” He hopes his demeanor conveys there’s nothing more to see here, but then Kate moves towards the silver door because she obviously thinks there is more to see.
“I really have to ask you to leave,” Stiles insists, anxiously following after her. “You can’t be back here!”
He holds his breath as Kate stands on her toes and peers through the glass window for a moment. Then she steps back, apparently not having seen anything suspect, and levels Stiles with a glare. “You’ll want to be careful, being the only place around here that’s open so early.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Stiles says, even though his shop isn’t actually open, but apparently that’s beside the point to people who can’t read a CLOSED sign. Then he holds the swinging door for Kate, but other than that, any semblance of comity leaves him. “Get out.”
Kate rolls her eyes and saunters into the shop front. “I’ll be in touch,” she says over her shoulder, and then she’s out the front door. Stiles locks it behind her—fire hazards be damned—and watches until she rounds the corner and is out of sight. Then he grabs the frying pan from where he’d placed it on the counter and rushes back inside the kitchen. He takes a deep breath and steels himself for the confrontation that’s about to take place.
“Party’s over, Derek,” Stiles calls out, directing his voice at the walk-in freezer. He’s sure Derek’s in there, even though Kate would disagree, because there’s literally no other exit Derek could have used. The kitchen doesn’t even have any windows, and Stiles and Kate had been blocking the way to the shop front the whole time.
Stiles grips the freezer’s handle and yanks it open, shivering a little at the gust of cold air that rushes out. He strides forward, fully prepared to kick him out, but then Stiles yelps and shuffles right back out. “Oh, no. Nope!” Stiles cries, refusing to accept what he’s seen. “This is not happening!”
He doesn’t receive any sort of response to his outburst, so Stiles slowly edges back into the walk-in freezer and reluctantly peeks at Derek again.
And yep. This is definitely happening.
The door is located in one corner of the freezer, and Derek appears to have collapsed in the corner parallel to it, which is most likely why Kate wasn’t able to see him when she had peered inside. Derek is gloriously shirtless, but Stiles can’t even appreciate the view because their meet-cute is officially a meet-gross, considering the jerk is gingerly prodding at an actual hole in his own shoulder. It’s open and circular and red and kind of purple and bleeding and everything. There are spindly black lines that spider out from the wound, and Stiles swears he can see it smoking and maybe even glowing a little. Trails of blood sluggishly coil down Derek’s arm and chest, and all in all, it’s absolutely disgusting. Stiles has to look away so he doesn’t add vomit to the list of bodily fluids that have no reason for being inside his bakery.
Dropping the frying pan at the door, Stiles screws up his courage and stomps towards Derek, dutifully focusing only on the man’s face. “What is the matter with you?” he demands.
Derek’s eyes just flick towards his own shoulder, like the answer to that question is fairly obvious. And it is. But that’s not what Stiles had meant.
“You complete and utter moron,” Stiles seethes, waving his arms wildly. “You need medical attention. What would possibly compel you to seek that attention at a bakery instead of, say, at a hospital, huh? Ever hear of those?”
Derek shakes his head, and Stiles notes the man looks considerably paler than he had upon first entering the bakery. “No hospital,” Derek grunts out with effort. “Too obvious.”
“Pretty sure that’s the point,” Stiles says, pushing a hand through his own hair as he begins to pace anxiously in the tight quarters. He breathes in and out for a moment, trying to calm down enough to be productive. Stiles may or may not have a fugitive bleeding out next to the ice cream cakes, and as stressful as the situation is, he knows it would be far worse if Derek dies on him. The sensible thing to do would be to call an ambulance, except it seems as though Derek has some aversion to being treated at a hospital. Stiles doesn’t doubt that aversion probably has something to do with Kate Argent.
“Please. No hospital,” Derek implores once more, almost like he can read Stiles’ mind. Stiles watches as Derek shifts strangely against the icy wall at his back, and it takes a minute before he realizes Derek is trying to use the wall as leverage to get on his feet again.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. What do you think you’re doing? You can’t go back out there,” Stiles says, flinging an arm towards the shop front. “You’re hurt. You need a doctor or an ambulance or something. Sit down!”
“I’ll be fine,” Derek says through gritted teeth.
“You have a bloody hole in your shoulder, and I took you out with a frying pan,” Stiles deadpans. Granted, Stiles realizes he’d most likely only been able to do so because Derek has a bloody hole in his shoulder, but whatever. Derek is still stubbornly trying to get up, so Stiles decides to quit arguing with him before the guy passes out for his efforts. “Stop pretending like you’re going to march out of here on your own two feet, and tell me what I can do to help,” he says.
Derek lands on his butt with a dull thump and glances up in surprise.
“What?” Stiles asks incredulously. “You don’t want an ambulance? Fine. Whatever. But you seriously didn’t think I’d let you bleed out all over the floor instead while I go about the rest of my day, did you?” The expression on Derek’s face makes Stiles realize that’s exactly what he’d been expecting, and isn’t that the most depressing thing ever? Stiles heaves a weary sigh and says, “Look, I only have a vague idea of how to disinfect that spot you’re sitting in now. I have no idea how to disinfect it if you die there. So, how do we not make that happen if a hospital is out of the question?”
For a moment, it seems as though Derek’s not going to say anything, but then his wound makes itself known as pain clearly lances through his body. Derek clutches his bloody shoulder, curls in on himself, and moans miserably.
Stiles is instantly at his side. “Okay, big guy,” he murmurs. “Let’s get you on your back.” Stiles gently helps Derek ease onto the icy ground and bundles up Derek’s discarded shirt so that it can act as a pillow.
“Lighter,” Derek wheezes. And when Stiles only makes a face at him in response—because what does that even mean?—the man clarifies by mumbling, “Jacket pocket.”
Stiles rifles through Derek’s leather jacket off to the side until he comes up with a silver cigarette lighter. Then a horrible thought dawns on him. “Are you going to make me cauterize your wound?” he shrieks, immediately trying to bleach his mind of images where he brings a flame to Derek’s skin. “I mean, I know I just said I want to help. And I’m sure I seem amazingly calm and resilient right now, but unless you want to see my dinner again,” Stiles warns, trailing off.
“God, no. Just shut up and listen,” Derek snaps as he twists to one side and retrieves a bullet from his pocket. He drops it into Stiles’ palm, which is when Stiles realizes the hole in Derek’s shoulder is actually a gunshot wound. “Open the bullet,” Derek commands.
Stiles stares dumbly from the bullet in his hand and back to Derek. “Come again?”
Derek huffs and tries to sit back up, but the ache in his shoulder has him slumping down instantly. He’s covered in a thin sheen of sweat and is trembling slightly. “Just open the damned bullet!” he screams impatiently.
Startled, Stiles flails and nearly drops it. “Sure,” he says feebly. “Uh. Right. Open the bullet. Obviously. That makes sense.” Except, Stiles has no idea how to do that. “Just. Um. Let me get a paring knife—?”
Derek’s hand snatches the bullet out of Stiles’, and within the blink of an eye, Derek bites down on the bullet and spits out a small piece of casing from his mouth. “Here,” Derek says, hastily but carefully handing Stiles the bullet again. The pointy end is still attached, but the flat end, while surrounded with small indentations from Derek’s teeth, is now open. “Dump out the powder, set it on fire.”
“What? No! Why?” Stiles exclaims. He knows that gunshots are like tiny little explosions that only require a spark to set off the gunpowder, and he really has no intention of blowing off his fingers with the force of a gunshot. “You’re sure this isn’t the, uh, freaky purple bullet wound talking? Because I’m pretty sure this isn’t how they do it on TV.”
Derek shuts his eyes tightly, though Stiles can’t tell if it’s from the pain or out of frustration. Probably a little of both. “Just do it!” he shouts.
“Geez, okay, all right,” Stiles says, scrambling over to where he’d abandoned his frying pan earlier. He diligently pours the gunpowder into it since the pan is ruined anyway and sets the empty shell casing aside. Before he can think too much about it, Stiles rolls his thumb across the lighter to spark a flame, and then he quickly touches the fire to the gunpowder. Immediately, a large, bright purple flame flares up out of the pan, and Stiles yanks back his hand to the safety of his chest. The flame flickers and pops like a giant sparkler, a few sparks fly out of the pan and die on the freezer floor, until gradually the flame peters out, leaving behind a smoldering pile of ash, and the pungent scent of something rotten.
Stiles uses the edge of the lighter to poke warily at the ash and scowls at the steadily growing pillar of smoke that swirls up from it. “This better not stink up my bakery,” he grouses, wrinkling his nose. “Okay, now what?” He turns to Derek for the next set of grumbled instructions, except the man appears to have passed out.
Panic courses through Stiles as he crawls over and shakes Derek’s unwounded shoulder. “Derek?” When that doesn’t get him a response, Stiles lightly slaps his cheeks a couple times. “Come on, man. Don’t do this to me. Wake up!”
Derek’s head only lolls from side to side, and other than a shallow breath that causes his chest to rise and fall, he does not move.
“At least you’re not dead,” Stiles mutters to himself. “Think, Stiles. Think!” His eyes flick restlessly between Derek, his wound, and the dented frying pan until finally settling on the smoke still floating off the small mound of ash. “You must’ve had me burn this stuff for a reason,” Stiles says as he retrieves the pan. He leans close to Derek and uses a hand to waft the smoke into the man’s face. The fumes have a sharp smell that bothers Stiles’ sinuses, so he ventures a guess it might have some effect on Derek’s condition. Unfortunately, after a minute or so of no reaction, Stiles concludes he’s wrong.
He sets the pan on the ground and frowns. “Maybe you’re supposed to eat it?” Stiles thinks aloud. Carefully, he opens Derek’s mouth and sprinkles a pinch of the ash onto his tongue, but nothing happens past the ash staying stuck to Derek’s tongue and getting saturated with saliva. Curious, Stiles places a pinch of ash on his own tongue and promptly spits it out in a fit of coughing. The ash tastes like ash. Shocker.
“Screw it. I so don’t have time for this mental trauma, and I definitely don’t have the funds to pay for all the therapy I’m going to need if you die,” Stiles says to Derek’s unconscious form. When Derek still doesn’t respond, Stiles digs his phone out of his back pocket and dials 911, dismissing Derek’s adamant refusal to seek actual medical assistance. He decides the man automatically forfeited any say in the matter upon losing consciousness. Besides, it’s not like Stiles didn’t try it his way.
The phone only rings once before a female voice answers. “911, please state your emergency.”
“Um, I’m at Claudia’s Bakery,” Stiles says, inexplicably more panicked upon hearing the almost robotic state of calm in the 911 operator’s voice. “Someone’s been shot. And he’s unconscious—he just passed out like two minutes ago? And I’m not really sure what to do, but we need an ambulance.”
“Sir, are you in any danger?”
“What?” Stiles asks, puzzled. “No, I said someone else has been shot.”
Patiently, the operator says, “Is the assailant still in the building? Was this an accidental shooting?”
“Oh. Um, no. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, I’m safe. We’re safe.” Stiles pauses to reconsider. “Well, I’m safe. I’m not hurt, but my—” Stiles glances down at Derek, wondering what to call him, considering he’s a virtual stranger. “Uh. My acquaintance has been shot.” Stiles cringes and makes a face because that just sounds like a euphemism for any number of ridiculous things.
Thankfully, the 911 operator doesn’t comment on it. “Have you applied pressure to the wound?” she asks.
Stiles swears loudly at himself for not having done so sooner. “No, hang on,” Stiles says. He puts his phone on speaker and sets it on the ground. Then he undoes his apron, balls it up, and presses the fabric down onto Derek’s shoulder. The man groans a little, and Stiles swears the black lines twisting out of the gunshot wound are now clawing further down Derek’s arm and chest. “Um, I think the bullet hole is infected.”
“Don’t worry about that for now. Maintain pressure. I have an ambulance eight minutes out,” the operator replies, cool as ever. “If you’re able, unlock your door so the paramedics can come in, and please stay on the line until they arrive.”
“Pressure, door, on the line. Got it,” Stiles recites, already feeling more at ease with a clear plan in mind. He balances the frying pan atop his balled up apron to weigh the cloth down for the time being. It’s by no means effective, but he only needs it to hold until he can come back to properly apply pressure to Derek’s wound. With one last glance at the unconscious man, Stiles picks up his cellphone and dashes out the walk-in freezer, through the kitchen, and into the shop front. The clear glass windows there reveal the street lamps outside are still on, and only a few cars are traveling on the roads so far. Most of the other businesses surrounding Stiles’ are still closed, and not a single pedestrian is in sight.
With a flick of his wrist, Stiles unlocks the door, and the moment that’s done, an absolutely blood-curdling scream rips through the bakery. Stiles loses his grip on his cellphone when he instinctively hunkers down, like the noise is something he could hide from. Then the scream transitions into what could only be described as a howl, and Stiles realizes the sound is coming from the walk-in freezer. “What the hell?” Stiles wonders aloud. He’d just left Derek half dead back there, and now he’s auditioning for the freakin’ opera!
“Sir? Sir!” The 911 operator’s tinny voice calls out when all the yelling dies down for a few seconds. “Is everything all right?” She asks, her composure slipping the slightest bit. “What’s—”
Another roar from Derek has Stiles lunging forward, cellphone left forgotten on the ground. He slides over the front counter, scrambles back into the kitchen, and skids to a horrified halt once he’s in the walk-in freezer again. Derek’s clutching his wounded shoulder with one hand, while he writhes on the icy freezer floor, eyes squeezed shut in obvious agony if his literal growls are anything to go by.
“Stop moving! Stay still!” Stiles demands, rushing to kneel at Derek’s side. He wraps his hands around Derek’s upper arms and tries to push him back to the floor with limited success. “It’ll be okay, you’re gonna be fine! I called an ambulance!” he yells over Derek’s screaming. “But until it gets here you’ve gotta—”
“You what?” Derek shouts, lurching up from the ground and into a seated position, almost knocking into Stiles. Then he opens his eyes, ostensibly to glare at Stiles’ inability to follow instructions, except Derek’s eyes glow an eerie, icy blue before fading back to their regular pale green color.
Stiles yelps in shock and scoots out of the way since his immediate thought had been laser eyes. Except, laser eyes aren’t a thing because the real world isn’t a comic book, and that had obviously been a trick of the light. Never mind that the freezer only contains minimal lighting.
“Dammit,” Derek curses as he shakes his head slightly, as if to clear it, and then easily rolls onto his feet, apparently finished screaming bloody murder. He briefly scowls at Stiles, then turns around to snatch his shirt from the floor. “I told you not to call for an ambulance. What part of that was a difficult concept to grasp?”
Stiles gapes at Derek’s muscled back, which features what looks like a three-pronged Celtic-style swirl of some kind centered below his shoulder blades. “It looked like you were dying,” Stiles says in his defense, starting out meek but gaining confidence as he continues. “You were dying, and all you’d told me to do was some weird hoodoo-voodoo thing with a bullet—” Stiles cuts himself off when he suddenly takes in the healthy flush all over Derek’s bared skin. The man is no longer clammy or pale; from Stiles’ angle, he appears to be the picture of perfect health.
Before Derek can slip his shirt back on, Stiles’ hand shoots through the air and latches onto Derek’s arm to spin him around. “Okay, what!” Stiles squawks, eyes zeroing in on the tan, blood-stained, yet completely healed skin of Derek’s previously wounded shoulder. “There was a bullet hole here five minutes ago,” Stiles says, poking a finger into Derek’s shoulder, in spite of the man trying to bat his hand away. “And there were black squiggly lines all along here,” Stiles says, trailing his fingers down Derek’s arm and chest.
“Get your hands off me,” Derek says in a low, growly voice.
Stiles just squints his eyes and leans in closer to get a better look. There are a sparse few tiny black dots stuck to the dried blood on Derek’s shoulder, and it takes a second for Stiles to identify them. “You put the gunpowder ash in your wound,” he marvels, quickly glancing at the empty frying pan on the ground to confirm his suspicion. “Pretty sure that’s not how doctors would advise treating bullet wounds.” Derek purposefully avoids Stiles’ searching gaze. “What are you?”
Derek shoves Stiles away at that, though only hard enough to put some space between them. Then he slips his shirt back on, which sports a large red bloodstain and small hole at one shoulder, and shrugs on his leather jacket as well. Looking at him now, no one would say the man had been at death’s door only minutes ago.
Derek scans the area around him, like he’s trying to determine if he’s forgotten anything. He says, “Sorry you got my blood on your apron.” And then the jerk just strolls out of the freezer.
Stiles gawks at Derek’s retreating form, then at the apron, and then back to Derek again. “Hey, wait!” Stiles shouts, jogging after Derek and catching his shoulder right before they can exit into the shop front. “You can’t just leave.”
Derek turns around, folds his arms across his broad chest, and stares pointedly at Stiles’ hand until Stiles releases his shoulder. “I can leave, and I am leaving,” he says, tilting his head to the side, like he’s listening for something.
“But I called 911. I called an ambulance,” Stiles insists. “I said someone had been shot. What am I supposed to do when they show up, and no one needs medical attention?”
Derek appears to study him for a moment, eyes flickering over Stiles’ face, much like they had earlier that morning. Then his lips quirk up the slightest bit in a handsome smirk as he says, “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
Stiles splutters for a moment, caught off guard. “Not helpful,” he says. “I mean, I can’t just pour strawberry jam all down my front and tell them false alarm. I know some people are deathly allergic to strawberries and all, but there’s no way that would hold up once they replay the 911 recording—” Stiles’ eyes widen in horror. “Shit!” he curses, and then immediately lowers his voice. “I’ve still got the 911 lady on the phone out there!” He groans in despair and runs his hands down his face. “They’re gonna make a 48 Hours special about this,” he says, anxiously glancing at Derek and nodding with certainty. “They’ll say I’m like that guy from Choke by Chuck Palahniuk, except replace the Heimlich with strawberry jam.”
“What?” Derek furrows his brow in confusion, and then he puts up a hand to stop Stiles from further clarifying his ridiculous tangent just as the faint, whining sound of sirens begins to filter in from the distance. “I have an idea,” he says, then walks back into the freezer and returns with Stiles’ bloodied apron.
“Oh, gross,” Stiles wheezes, swallowing down his nausea while resolving not to look at the blood soaked into the fabric. “No one is going to believe that’s strawberry jam.”
Derek ignores the remark and takes a knee next to the cabinet where the mixing bowls are stored. Stiles edges closer, and it appears as though Derek is threading one end of the apron through a couple of the handles that are screwed into the cabinet doors. Derek’s fingers move hurriedly but efficiently, like he knows what he’s doing. “Give me a hand, will you?”
Stiles crouches down beside him. “What are you—”
Before Stiles can finish his question, Derek grabs Stiles’ wrists and quickly wraps the apron strings around them in an intricate series of over and under weaving patterns. When Stiles realizes what’s happening, he tugs furiously at his wrists, horrified to discover he can’t get free. “What the hell are you doing?” he demands, doing a poor job of tamping down on his mounting panic. “This is not what it means to give someone a hand!”
“Quit pulling,” Derek scolds. “You’ll give yourself bruises.”
Stiles gapes at him incredulously, and in that moment, he realizes how stupid he’s been. Sure, Stiles had helped Derek because he hadn’t trusted Kate Argent—there’s just something off about her—but that didn’t mean Stiles had to trust Derek by default instead. For all Stiles knows, Derek Hale really is a dangerous criminal, and Stiles has been getting chummy with the guy all morning.
“Let! Me! Go!” Stiles shouts, punctuating each word with a vicious yank at his bound hands. But his self-preservation instincts have kicked in too late, and in spite of his best efforts to free himself, Stiles remains securely fastened to the cabinet handles. His struggling only turns the palms of his hands red, and Stiles feels a little queasy when he realizes some of that red is from Derek’s blood.
“Go ahead and tell them whatever you want,” Derek says as he ties the apron strings in a final knot and stands up. “Blame me.”
“Well, of course I’m going to blame you, you asshole!” Stiles retorts with a tug at his wrists for emphasis.
Derek doesn’t even have the good sense to look apologetic. All he says is, “Keep your doors locked,” just loud enough to be heard over the wailing sirens surely turning down the road, judging by their volume.
Stiles frowns at him and points out, “You’d be dead if I’d had my door locked.”
Derek makes a noncommittal grunt, like he doesn’t quite want to believe that truth. With one last nod directed at Stiles, Derek pushes through the swinging door, and a short moment later, Stiles strains his hearing and catches the light, jingling sound of the bells above the front door as Derek leaves him behind.