Derek stares down at the pastry, the taste of the first bite still lingering in his mouth. The choux is wonderfully light, a perfect juxtaposition to the thick, rich crème patisserie that it’s filled with. Not only that, but it also looks elegant, with a light dusting of cinnamon sugar and a swirl of dark chocolate ganache.
“Wow,” he says after savoring another bite. “Whoever made this, I want to marry them.”
“That’s quite a compliment,” someone says suddenly, sounding amused. “But I’m not sure I’m ready to settle down just yet.”
A young guy pulls out the chair across from him and sits nonchalantly in it, a smirk pulling up the corner of his mouth.
“You made this?” Derek asks, not insulting, just a little disbelieving. French pastries are difficult to make and harder to master, and this guy doesn’t look older than twenty.
“Sure did,” he says easily, clearly not taking offense. “Choux is one of my favorite pastries to make, I love how much it puffs up.” He slants Derek a look, gives him a more genuine smile, and says, “I’m Stiles, by the way.”
“I’m Derek,” he replies, a little shortly. His conversational skills have never been great, but they’re worse around someone as attractive Stiles, and the fact that he’s an accomplished baker only adds to Derek’s interest.
“Nice to meet you,” Stiles says. “You offer your hand in marriage after eating dessert very often?”
Derek has to swallow down his embarrassment before he can answer, with a straight face, “Only if it’s really good.”
“Well, don’t get ahead of yourself—you haven’t even tried my mille-feuille yet, or my delicious—”
“Please don’t tell me,” Derek cuts in quickly, smiling a little at Stiles’ enthusiasm. “Or I’ll never leave.”
“Would that be so bad?” Stiles asks softly, in a way that makes Derek’s heart race. He cocks his head, fingers lightly tapping against the table, and asks in a more normal tone, “So, what brings you to the restaurant?”
He’s polite enough not to end it with all alone?, but Derek hears it anyway. “I’m a food critic,” he says, hoping Stiles will want to keep talking to him anyway.
“Oh, cool,” Stiles says brightly, and Derek breathes a tiny sigh of relief. “I have nothing to do with the entrees—those are Lydia’s domain. And she’s pretty, uh, exacting, so quality is very consistent here. I only make the desserts—which is a lot more fun, in my opinion.”
“You make all of them?” Derek asks, eyebrows raised. “By yourself?”
“I usually have an assistant,” Stiles says easily, shrugging. “But I learned to make most of them by myself, so that’s usually when they turn out best.”
“It obviously works,” Derek says, taking another bite of pastry. “Because this is perfect.” He watches Stiles’ expressive face for a moment, the way his eyes dart from Derek’s fork to his lips and then back again. “What’s your favorite thing to make?”
“Honest answer?” Stiles says like it’s a secret, eyes practically glowing. “My favorite thing is a batch of chocolate chip cookies, hot and fresh out of the oven. I know my job is to make all these beautiful, complex desserts—and I love them, I do—but sometimes I’m just in the mood for something more simple, you know? Is that weird?”
“I don’t think so,” Derek says, eyes catching on the slight flush on Stiles’ cheeks. “I love to cook fancy things myself, and obviously I eat expensive food for my job, but sometimes when I go home I just make myself a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.”
Stiles gives a delighted laugh. “But are you one of those people who makes a ‘simple’ grilled cheese with fresh herbs and three different kinds of cheese?”
“Not at all,” Derek says, grinning. “In my opinion, nothing can top the perfect simplicity of crispy, buttery bread and rich, melty cheese.”
“Agreed,” Stiles says, and even though it’s for nothing substantial, Derek still feels pleased. “And I did want to tell you: my favorite thing to make here at the restaurant are the buche de noel cakes I do for the holidays. I make a dark chocolate one with mocha buttercream and ganache, and a white chocolate one with maple-vanilla buttercream and thin slices of fresh strawberry.”
“You’re killing me,” Derek groans. “It’s only April.”
“Don’t think you can make it until December?” Stiles asks teasingly.
“No,” Derek grumbles, trying to hide his smile. It doesn’t work. “And I’m going to end up in here trying all your pastries for the next few months, I just know it.”
“I think you’ll like them all,” Stiles says, just a little bit smug. “But I’ll make you a deal.”
Derek’s eyes narrow. “What kind of deal?”
“Well, as I said before, I’ll have to turn down your proposal—” Stiles says, and Derek pointedly rolls his eyes, “—but I am interested in a date with you. I usually make a few batches of the buche de noel throughout the year, just to keep in practice. You could come over after we have dinner, try a slice or two, and then we can do whatever you want after that,” he adds with a wink.
Derek’s pretty sure he flushes all the way down to his toes. “Yes,” he manages to get out around his surprise.
“Awesome,” Stiles says brightly. He tears off the corner of Derek’s napkin and scrawls his number across it. “The restaurant is closed tomorrow, so I’m free. But now I better get back to the kitchen before my assistant starts freaking out.”
Derek nods, trying to hide his disappointment. Of course Stiles can’t stay with him all evening. “I’ll pick somewhere amazing,” he says, fingers curling around the scrap of napkin.
“I’d expect nothing less,” Stiles says cheerfully, and gives Derek a little wave before he goes.
Five minutes later, a waiter brings Derek a lovely, delicate pastry that he didn’t order. There’s a smiley face drawn on it in chocolate glaze, and Derek laughs.
(True to his word, Stiles makes a buche de noel for him, and it’s just as delicious as Derek thought it would be. He monologues about the perfect combination of flavors and textures for a while, until Stiles rolls his eyes and pulls him into a kiss. Derek leans into it and kisses him back, grinning. He’ll tell Stiles the rest later.)