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Sweet Buns

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1.

The problem with being the sheriff's kid is that Stiles got an automatic social hit the minute he started high school. He could've been the coolest freshman around, and he still would've gotten flack for his dad. But it turns out Stiles is a spastic, skinny kid drowning in pre-omega hormones with one friend, singular, and an uncontrollable urge to never shut up. He's also got eyes and a newly awakened libido, and he figures out why omegas have their own locker room five days into the school year after lacrosse tryouts.

This is also when he falls in love with Derek Hale.

A full three years older than him, with dark, angry eyebrows, stupid spiky hair and the musculature of a god. He smells like sweat and old gym socks and heaven as he manhandles Stiles out of the room.

Stiles says, "Whoa, dude," as Derek practically lifts him from under his armpits.

Douchewad Jackson helpfully opens the locker room door to the hallway for him, and Stiles's sneakers screech as they skid on the linoleum floor.

Derek says, "You can come back in when you don't smell like you want to be eaten," in a low growl, and wow, okay, that will be no time soon.

Male omegas are technically allowed to use the boys' locker room if they want, but it's always a good idea to avoid adrenalin fueled alpha jocks. That's just common sense.

So, anyway, Derek Hale saved Stiles's virtue by being a caveman, and apparently Stiles is super into that. Go figure.

*

So Stiles maybe gets a little obsessed. It isn't any worse than his crush on Lydia Martin, honestly, which is harmless and not at all creepy, Scott, because Stiles always keeps a polite distance and no one ever got arrested for wistful sighs in specific directions.

"Look, it's not like I think I have a chance," Stiles says.

Scott looks properly outraged. "Dude, of course you do."

Stiles pats him on the shoulder before dropping down at their regular lunch table. He appreciates Scott's devotion, but truly: Stiles at fourteen is the kind of gangly, hyperactive mess that’s probably never going to attract an alpha of Derek Hale's hotness level.

"Besides," Stiles says with a shrug, "Lydia has Jackson right where she wants him, and Derek has a secret old lady girlfriend."

It's not exactly a secret. Stiles has spotted Derek with a vaguely familiar blond woman more than a couple times the past week alone; someone else has to have noticed, too.

"Derek has a what?" someone says from behind them.

Stiles tilts his head back and looks at Cora Hale upside down. "This can't be news," he says.

Cora just looks constipated. She grips the sides of her lunch tray with white knuckled fingers and says, "Tell me anyway."

And he does. She does not seem happy about anything he has to say.

"There's the problem with werewolves, Scott," Stiles says, watching as Cora marches across the lunchroom and over to her brother. She's so pushy.

"I'm a werewolf," Scott says, a pout in his voice.

Stiles waves him off. Scott's barely a werewolf. Scott couldn’t threaten a fuzzy bunny. "Do you think I just got Derek in trouble?" Stiles can't make out what they're saying, but there's hand waving and eyebrows of doom and they both look majorly pissed.

"What, that you just told Cora that Derek's probably dating the substitute we had in history last month?"

Stiles whips around to stare at Scott. "That's where I knew her from? Wait, how did you know that?"

Scott makes a face. "Do you honestly not remember when you drag me places to stare at him?"

"I’m not that creepy!" Stiles says. It's gotta be some sort of omega compulsion, he's working on it.

"Oh no," Scott says with wide eyes, looking over Stiles's shoulder. He reaches out and grips Stiles's wrist and says, "Don't look."

"Don't look? How can I not look when you tell me not to?" Stiles says, and then he's inadvisably locking eyes with Derek across the room. He's not wolfed out, not technically, but Stiles can still see it lurking beneath his skin. There's a fury barely banked in him that clogs Stiles's throat with pure panic. He's made an alpha angry.

"Stiles," Scott says. "Stiles, cool it."

"Cool what?" Stiles says, voice edging toward hysterical. Shit, shit. He's annoying, he knows this. Pretty much everyone gets irritated with him at some point, even Scott. But the oppressive weight of Derek's rage toward him makes him want to curl up into a ball and sob. It's a tangible force that implies Stiles has done something unforgivably wrong. Stiles is not fucking delicate, okay, but hormones are a bitch sometimes. Stiles's body is telling him that an alpha wants to rip him apart, and the only thing keeping him from booking it is Scott's hand like a band of steel on his wrist.

Which is good. Great even, because the only thing worse than making an alpha angry is running from one.

Stiles's heart feels like it's trying to beat out of his chest, and he blinks a hazy red out of his vision when a body steps in between him and Derek, breaking his gaze.

He draws in a hitched breath. And then another.

"Okay," Cora says. "I might have misjudged that one. You okay, Stilinski?"

Stiles is probably not okay. He swipes a shaky hand over his cheeks, embarrassed to find them wet. He focuses on Cora's face, looking slightly chagrined. She reaches out to place a hand on his shoulder, only to abort at twin growls from Scott and Derek.

Stiles's stomach turns over and he has to grit his teeth in an effort not to throw up all over her shoes. Wow. And his day was going so well.

*

Hours later, Stiles is still feeling it. Like Derek's standing over him, metaphorical jaws to Stiles's throat.

This proves to be a problem when his dad is staring at him across the kitchen table in deepening concern.

He says, "What happened?"

Stiles chokes out the most unbelievable, "Nothing," that has ever come out of his mouth. Stiles is good at lying to his dad. He has to be, because he's the sheriff's one and only omega son, and if his dad knew half the things he got up to on the weekend, he'd already have that strategically placed tree outside his window cut down into mulch.

"Son," he says, so much disappointment and worry in his voice that Stiles's shoulders slump.

He doesn't want to tell his dad about Derek, though, so he ends up talking about his creepy history class substitute instead.

*

Life goes on. Stiles's body stops reacting every time Derek glares at him in the hallways. To his credit, none of the glares have potent alpha rage behind them, so it's mostly normal—Derek never really liked Stiles anyway.

And if that makes the omega in Stiles sad, well, they've already been over how out of his league Derek is.

And then Derek stops coming to school. Stiles has a sneaking suspicion that it's somehow Stiles's fault, and apparently so does everyone else.

He barely notices it at first, the whispers, the word narc hidden in coughs, the way Jackson's shoulder-checks get a little more vicious when they cross paths.

And then, in the middle of the hallway, Lydia Martin pinches Jackson's ear after Stiles's nearly gets brained on a locker and says, faux sweetly, "It's not Stilinki's fault that Derek's still technically jailbait," and also, "hit him again and I'll twist your nuts off," and Stiles is baffled by this exchange because why does Lydia care?

It isn't until later that night that he finds out that Kate Argent, Derek's secret girlfriend, was a serial arsonist almost twice his age, and that the only reason his family found out about it was because Stiles had told Cora and his dad. Huh. You'd think that would make Stiles the hero here.

"Do you think Derek knew about the arson thing?" Scott asks around a slice of pizza. They're holed up in Stiles's room, thinking about playing video games but mostly just contemplating Stiles's total social homicide. It'd been bad before. Chances of recovery now: negligible.

"Alleged arson thing," Stiles says. "And I don't know." He wants to say he didn't, but that's just his dick talking. It wants to think that Derek is a good person, and that maybe one day Derek will see Stiles as a desirable omega and sweep him off his feet.

Stiles's brain can only think about the way Derek's oppressive rage that day in the cafeteria had nearly ended him. Yeah, Derek hates his guts.

It's probably a good thing that, if rumors are true, Derek's transferring out for the rest of his senior year.

It won't salvage Stiles's reputation, but it'll up his likelihood of surviving until graduation at least. Maybe. Apparently Derek has a lot of siblings.

Scott nudges his arm. He says, "It'll be fine," smiling at him. "A week, tops, and then everybody'll forget about it."

"Sure," Stiles says, not entirely sure. He shrugs. "C'mon, let's bike to the station and pester my dad for ice cream money."

*

Before high school, Stiles was peripherally aware of Derek Hale, burgeoning basketball and lacrosse star. Sort of awkwardly put together, with the kind of limbs that weren't sure what they were going to be like yet and with ears maybe a tad too big for his head. Presented late, per usual for a growing alpha. Turned up naked once, on a full moon, under Paige Krasikeva's window. Got sent to a werewolf camp the summer after his junior year to help control his urges—which Stiles vaguely thought was hilarious, at the time. And then he showed up senior year like he stepped right out of all Stiles's hidden trashy omega romance books, and Stiles clearly remembers having to bite his knuckle to keep down a whimper.

Derek's muscles decided to grow muscles of their own, and apparently getting a dick with a knot on it makes you super grumpy, but Derek's growly face didn't deter Stiles’s unfortunately warm feelings at all.

Until the cafeteria incident. And until now. Right now, with Derek a large immovable wall in front of him outside the sheriff station.

Scott meeps behind him, his bike drops with a clatter, and he edges around Stiles with a, "Um, I'm just gonna go… get… your dad."

Stiles presumes, at some point, that he's gonna grow taller than five-foot five. He's fourteen, he's got noodle arms, a shaved head, eyes that, Scott has assured him, are Bambi levels of baby deer brown. They're his most endearing omega asset, so he blinks them up at Derek, focusing on the scruff covered dimple of his chin.

Stiles isn't sure whether the heat radiating off of Derek is because he's a werewolf, or because he's just that mad.

"Move," Derek says, voice gruff.

Stiles would like to move. He would love that, truly, but his chest has seized up and his limbs feel like they're drenched in molasses, and his vision goes blurry at the edges, and all Stiles can see is that dimple and the firm line of Derek's lower lip.

"Stilinski," Derek growls. His arms slowly come up toward Stiles; or maybe just at regular speed, honestly, but Stiles is registering everything on a ten-second delay.

He flinches before Derek can touch him, though. Trips backward to crash into his discarded bike, and suddenly he can breathe again—heaves deep lungfuls of air, palm pressed over his heart.

He wants to believe it was just his primitive omega instincts telling him that an angry alpha was about to rip him apart—everyone knows how fucked up and unreliable those feelings are, a residual, useless fight or flight vibe that's completely bullshit—and that Derek Hale would have been reasonable, possibly even protective of a distressed omega, but a single glance at Derek's face dashes any hope of that.

His eyes are still glowing red when Scott and Deputy Goetz swoop down to fuss over Stiles. He's showing fang, and he's breathing like a bull, like he can barely stop himself from howling.

So, uh, Stiles is still on Derek's shit list. Possibly for forever.

Minutes or hours later, Stiles's dad moves to peer around Derek with a frown, watching as Scott brushes Stiles off his jeans and helps him to his feet. He glances from Stiles to Derek and back again and frowns even deeper. He says, "Mr. Hale was just leaving. Right, Derek?" and claps his shoulder meaningfully.

Stiles ducks his head, cheeks hot.

Derek's voice is almost soft on, "Thank you, Sheriff," and Stiles just hunches his shoulders up higher around his ears, curling in on himself.

Worst day ever.

Their arms brush as Derek moves past him, almost deliberate, and Stiles shivers.

There's a long, tense silence—Stiles's dad stands with his hands on his hips, Deputy Goetz's gaze is on something over Stiles's head, Scott is still gripping Stiles's arms, holding him steady. A car door slams, and the growl of an engine turning over breaks the spell.

Stiles can feel Scott's shuddering breath on his neck and then he says, "So. Ice cream?"

 

2.

The hardest part about Lilith Hewitt dying is that she leaves the bakery to a grandkid who wants to immediately sell it. Well, okay, that's not the hardest part—she died, after all, and Stiles was sort of fond of her, mostly for all the ways that she left him and Isaac to run the place for years while she spent her 'retirement' backpacking all over Europe.

Stiles is good at running the bakery. Isaac, not so much, but all Isaac has to do is bake.

Stiles isn't allowed to touch the ovens. There's been… incidents.

The only good part about Mason wanting to offload the bakery as soon as possible is that he's perfectly willing to sell it to them.

Mason swivels back and forth on the stool behind the counter and says, "Guys, this bakery is my nightmare, don't make me keep it."

"I'm not making you do anything," Stiles says. Stiles has been doing the books and every day running of this place since Lilith took off for Italy. He has zero kitchen experience, but he's got a business degree and Isaac, and they've been turning a healthy profit all by themselves for almost three years. He knows what it costs to run the joint, keep the lights on, pay the mortgage—he knows what it's worth, and he knows that there's absolutely no way two unbonded omegas will be able to afford it.

Jackson looks up from his laptop and says to Stiles, "You can't expect the bank to lend you the kind of money you need, not without an alpha to co-sign."

Stiles makes a face at him, because he knows. It's backwards and terrible and pretty dodgy, legally speaking, but any bank branch in podunk Beacon Hills is gonna want either a bond or a co-signor, because otherwise omegas are 'flakey.'

Stiles says, pointedly, "We're closed, you know," but Jackson just ignores him and narrows his eyes and says, "Hang on, I might have an idea."

If anyone told Stiles at fourteen that Jackson Whittemore, super douche, would be regularly and voluntarily spending time with him at twenty-five, he would have done a truly spectacular spit take in their face.

"What if we could get you an investor? Someone willing to help you with the loan, too," Jackson says, shifting up off his chair and pulling his phone out of his back pocket.

"You want to find a random alpha who, out of the goodness of their heart, will help out a pair of bachelor omegas running a business?" Stiles is truly skeptical such a person exists. Jackson, bless his shriveled, rotten heart, would help them out in a hot second if he was an alpha, but that's just because Jackson loves them.

Jackson's shifty face makes him look constipated. He says, "Look, I know we never talk about it, but high school was kind of shit for you for a reason."

"I was okay," Stiles says tightly, leaning into the counter, pressing his palms so hard into the edge they ache.

Mason, wide-eyed and thrilled, says, "What happened?"

"Nothing happened," Stiles says, glaring at Jackson.

"Do you know what my dad said they found in her apartment?" Jackson says frowning, phone still gripped in his fist. His shoulders are visibly tense. "Bombs. Accelerants. Blueprints of the Hale house."

"Jackson," Stiles says, half-exasperated, half-terrified. "You're not guilt-tripping the Hales into buying a bakery for me." No matter how grateful the Hales were for Stiles kind of accidentally thwarting Kate Argent's evil plans, all the younger ones sort of made his life hell for the giant Derek-shaped hole it created in their family.

"Us," Isaac says, sticking his head through the swinging door. There's flour on his forehead and crusted in his hair, cheeks adorably rosy from the hot ovens. The only reason he's not mated yet is because he's shy, and kind of a bitch, and mostly in love with an oblivious Scott.

Stiles says, "I know you're trying to help," Jackson is always trying to help, it took Stiles embarrassingly long to figure out why so many would-be bullies kept a wide berth around him in high school, because Jackson had mastered the art of maintaining an asshole front for his squishy marshmallow center by the time he hit puberty, "but can we please avoid solutions that involve the family of my arch enemy?"

"You have an arch enemy?" Mason says, absolutely delighted. He claps his hands together in glee and makes tell-me-more motions.

"You take way too much pleasure in my pain," Stiles says, hip-checking him off the stool. "Now get out of here so I can cry into an entire cheesecake."

*

A week later, Jackson drops a thick stack of papers on the middle of the table where Stiles is taking a well-deserved break. He says, "You're welcome."

"Um." Stiles squints up at him. "What?"

The chair across from him screeches as Jackson pulls it out. He unbuttons his suit jacket and flutters it back like a douchebag as he sits, then shoves a pen at the hand Stiles has curled limply on the tabletop.

"Sign it," Jackson says, a smug, smarmy look on his face.

"What?" Stiles's fingers tighten automatically around the pen. He flips through the packet, stomach dropping. "Jackson, these are bank papers. This is my business plan." Stiles's voice rises sharply. "How did you get my business plan?"

Jackson's grin is annoyingly wide. "I had Isaac drop it off. He's already signed his half."

"Oh no," Stiles says, growing more and more horrified.

"I'm meeting a Hale at the bank in one hour," Jackson says, and Stiles knows he's getting off on both helping Stiles and fucking embarrassing him. Jesus.

"A Hale," Stiles says. He's fighting the insane urge to rip all the papers to shreds. He's mad, but he's not that mad. He's not stupid.

Jackson shrugs. "Apparently they were drawing straws."

Bile burns in the back of Stiles's throat. "What, loser has to go and rescue poor, stupid omega Stilinski?"

That trips Jackson up, Stiles can tell by the rapid blinking and the barely there waver at the edge of his smirk. "The winner, dumbass. You think you've gotten to cater the dessert for every single local government event by chance?"

"No," Stiles says, scowling now. "I mostly thought we did that because Isaac's the best baker in Beacon Hills." It's true, the Hales are the most prominent political family in town, but Isaac's pies have made people weep tears of joy before, that's not some kind of handout.

Jackson waves a hand. "Then you won't have any problem signing the papers. Nobody, least of all the Hales, wants Sweet Buns closing its doors any time soon."

"Jackson."

Jackson slumps back into the chair. He says, half-petulant, "This is the only reasonable solution. You'd be stupid not to jump at it."

"I appreciate your help—"

"Isaac appreciates my help." Jackson pinches the bridge of his nose. "He doesn't want to lose his job, or his home, and it's been eleven goddamn years, so if anyone's holding a grudge here, Stilinski, it's you."

Stiles sighs. After a long, quiet moment he says, "Silent partner?"

"As silent as you want it to be, sure." Jackson has his 'clients' smile on when Stiles glances over at him, which means he's talking out of his ass, but, honestly, Stiles doesn't have any other options.

"Fine," he says, and scratches his name in every place Jackson has helpfully put a little arrow sticky. "This better not come back to bite me on the ass."

"Oh, I'm sure it will," Jackson says happily, gathering up each paper as Stiles flips through them. "I can't wait."

*

Sweet Buns is on a favorable corner on the main strip of Beacon Hills proper, with recently repainted bright white stucco and a cream and blue striped awning. They have a couple small sets of red metal tables and chairs under pink umbrellas. On summer weekends they have an ice cream cart and plates of Isaac's special funnel cakes for sale.

They have two part-time employees—Rilla and Maddie—that take shifts at the till, and a lone, single teenager, Pip, that Isaac hordes for himself in the kitchen. Pip's real name is Harrison, but the only reason Stiles knows that is because he's the one that does the payroll. And the utilities, and the daily accounts, and the supply orders, and he organizes the shift schedule and cleaning duties and obviously never sleeps and/or leaves the shop ever.

Technically, Isaac is supposed to be in charge of cleaning the kitchen and prep areas, but technically, Isaac is terrible at remembering this.

On the first Monday morning after all their paperwork has gone through, after Mason has officially signed over every single aspect of the business and building with a relieved flourish, Stiles steps into the shop, takes a deep, satisfying breath of sugar and vanilla, and then promptly freaks the fuck out.

He hides behind the counter, folded up on the floor, and calls Scott.

Scott says, "Breathe, dude, you're gonna be fine."

"I'm going to be not fine, Scott! How did I let Jackson talk me into this? I owe the bank hundreds of thousands of dollars." Just talking about it out loud is giving him hives. How did this happen? He didn't even buy a house; he bought a building with a bakery with a fifty-fifty chance of going under within the next five years. All right, more like seventy-thirty. Eighty-twenty, if this year's summer ice cream venture is as successful as last year's, and if Isaac remains an immortal werewolf that can bake heavenly food for them for forever. Which, like. Yeah. Okay.

"It's kind of cool, right?" Scott says, terminally cheery.

"Kind of," Stiles admits. He stares at the metal shelving behind the counter and idly makes a mental note to have Rilla wash them all down during her afternoon shift.

The door from the kitchen swishes open, and then Isaac's head pops over the top of the counter. "What are you doing?"

"Admiring our parquet flooring," Stiles says. It's a black and white checkerboard. It looks cool from this angle.

Isaac quirks an eyebrow at him. "Okay."

Scott echoes, “Okay?” at him over the phone, more of a question, and something loosens in Stiles’s chest.

He takes a deep breath, feels his arms tingle all the way down through his fingers. He says, “I’m good.”

He has to organize their weekly supply list, he needs coffee, and he needs to stop worrying about which Hale decided to sign for them—Jackson’s being unreasonably mum about it, and normally that wouldn’t stop Stiles from digging it out of him, except normally Stiles isn’t dreading the answer.

The only Hale it wouldn’t be, for absolute sure, is the one that probably still blames him for ruining his life. So it’s not like it really matters. Right.

“So are you going to stay down there all morning?” Isaac asks, and the good thing about Isaac is that he sounds super okay with it, if that’s something Stiles choses to do, but will definitely still make fun of him.

Stiles closes his eyes and says, “Give me five more minutes.”

 

3.

Stiles’s personal life is basically non-existent. He eschewed traditional courting in favor of higher education, kicked more than a few overly handsy alphas in the balls—because, of course, college omegas are easy, right—and trying to weed out the assholes just seemed like so much work compared to advanced calculus.

Now he’s way too busy to even think of dating. He pops more suppressants than is probably advisable, and works through the first few days of his pre-heats with heating pads strapped to his lower back, wrapped in warm cardigans and layers of Isaac’s ridiculous scarves.

“It’s not normal,” Jackson says, because obviously Stiles huddled over the front counter, long sweater sleeves pulled down over his fingers, upsets his delicate sensibilities.

Stiles flips him the bird without lifting his head out of his arms.

“Leave him alone,” Isaac says.

A plate clatters in front of Stiles and he opens his eyes to the heavenly sight of a sticky bun the size of his head, fresh out of the oven. “I love you,” Stiles says, tearing off and stuffing a huge hot and gooey piece in his mouth, and then the bell over the door dings even though the sign out on it clearly says closed.

And because the universe clearly hates him, Derek Hale steps inside.

Stiles hasn’t seen Derek Hale this close up for over a decade. He looks almost exactly the same, except somehow he seems even bigger and broodier—criminally handsome, with soft-looking dark scruff, heavy brows, light hazel eyes. His gaze zeros in on Stiles almost immediately, and his scowl lightens minutely in what looks like surprise.

Stiles is acutely aware that he has melted butter and cinnamon all over his face, and tries to surreptitiously wipe it with the ends of his sweater-sleeve.

“Why are you here?” Derek says to him.

“Um.” Why wouldn’t he be there? Everyone knows that Isaac and Stiles are always there. “I work here. What are you doing here?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles sees Jackson face-palm.

And then—then!—Derek sniffs him, nose blatantly tilted up, nostrils flaring totally unattractively from across the room.

“Oh my god, Hale,” Jackson says.

Derek’s face flushes red and he turns a glare on Jackson before he says though his teeth, “I wanted some cake.”

“Cake,” Stiles says, one eye squinted.

Derek crosses his arms and says, “Yeah.”

“Okay, but we’re closed,” Stiles says. The only reason Stiles is still there is because he’s not stupid enough to drive himself home.

“He’s here,” Derek says, gesturing toward Jackson.

“Yeah, well…” Stiles trails off, unsure of what to say that isn’t ‘Jackson’s my best friend,’ because he’s sure both Scott and Jackson would be offended by that.

Stiles’s whole body aches. Arguably, he should have stayed home today, when he woke up to the worst of his pre-heat symptoms—shivers, hot flashes that aren’t worth unwrapping his layers for, a hormonal flux that had him crying over a cupcake iced like a unicorn earlier. The suppressants let him skip over most of the insatiably horny parts, but they still leave him wrung out, tired all the time, and overly weepy. There’s a gallon tub of rocky road waiting for him in the freezer at home.

This is how he’s presented himself to Derek Hale after all these years. This is what’s actually happening in front of his old crush turned enemy. If he felt a little better, he’d probably be a lot more mortified.

Jackson stands up with a sigh. He ignores Derek completely and says, “Come on, Stilinski. Let’s get you home.”

Stiles flops forward and moans.

*

Later, Stiles convinces himself it was a fever dream. It’s entirely likely. Right.

Suppressants ease Stiles’s heat, but also drag it out for longer than when he has to suffer through it naturally. The only relatively good times are when his heat falls on the same week as Isaac’s and they can cuddle and commiserate.

So Stiles is dragging ass by the time he gets back to work three days later, like he’s at the tail end of the flu.

“I hate everything,” Stiles says, stumbling into the bakery two hours after opening, just past the morning rush.

Maddie wrinkles her nose. She says, “We ran out of apples yesterday,” and Stiles curls his fingers over the front counter, leans into it and says, “Hate. We don’t even use that many apples!”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Isaac says, shouldering through the kitchen door, wiping his hands on a rag. “Derek went out to the supermarket for a bag.”

Stiles makes a face, because bagged supermarket apples are subpar, they have a farmer’s market for a reason. And then he thinks, wait, what, and says, “Derek?”

“He also emailed out our weekly fresh fruit order, since you forgot to do that before Jackson had to carry you out of here.” Isaac sounds like he’s chiding him, but on the other hand, Isaac doesn’t care about anything other than baking food. “Hence,” his eyebrows go up, like he’s expecting praise for using the word hence, “Derek.”

“Was he in my office? Did he break into my computer?” Stiles says.

“I don’t know if using the password on the sticky note on your bulletin board counts as breaking in,” Isaac says, frowning thoughtfully.

“Isaac!” Stiles throws his hands up. “Why the hell was Derek Hale here in the first place?” Stiles's first thought, without the chills and exhaustion of heat pulling at him, is that Derek is going to try and sabotage them and run Stiles out of town.

Isaac rocks back on his heels and says, “Well, my best guess is that he wants to keep an eye on his investment.”

Stiles goes very, very still.

He holds his breath until Maddie pokes him in the stomach with a pen and says, “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Stiles says, high and thin. Christ. He should have seen this coming. Derek Hale doesn’t want to run him out of town. He wants to ruin him.

*

“I think you’re overacting,” Isaac says, after Stiles has an embarrassing panic attack on the bakery floor. Stiles had let himself be maneuvered into the kitchen, and now he’s drowning his troubles in fresh, warm blueberry muffins.

“Sure,” Stiles says, mouth full. “Sure I am. Of course.”

The thing is, Jackson hadn’t been wrong. High school had been pretty terrible for Stiles. While Laura and Cora Hale had been grumpy about the Kate and Derek thing, they’d understood. The twins in Stiles’s year on the other hand, and then later Lola, a year behind them, made sure his entire high school career was a living nightmare. Stiles was a narc, a tattletale, a pariah. The best days were when Stiles was just left the hell alone, and it wasn’t until after he graduated that he realized most of that was due to Jackson, Danny and Lydia.

Which wasn’t exactly pleasant either, given that the three of them publically avoided him, too, but high school was high school, and Jackson has more than made up for it since.

Stiles just can’t believe, right now, that Derek has his best interests at heart. And now he has access to his livelihood. He’s basically in charge of it, legally, and in the eyes of their bank. How can this not go spectacularly wrong?

“This was such a bad idea,” Stiles says, covering his face with his hands.

“This was a good idea,” Isaac says. Isaac is never the voice of reason, honestly, but Isaac lives with Erica and Boyd, both betas, and the only reason he’s still viewed as a respectable omega is because he’s earning a respectable living doing something respectable. Baking.

Stiles, on the other hand, is used to being condescendingly told that his father is indulgent with his hobbies. God, alphas are such jerks.

“Look, Isaac,” Stiles says, “you’re gonna be fine.”

“I know,” Isaac says, frowning.

“And this bakery is, most likely, going to be fine,” Stiles goes on.

“Well, yeah,” Isaac says, tipping his head in question.

“But me—” Stiles pauses to stuff another piece of muffin his mouth, voice muffled on, “I’m replaceable.”

"That's bullshit."

Stiles swallows thickly. "To you, yeah," he concedes. To Isaac, Stiles is a miracle-worker that keeps their lights on and stocks his fridge and deals with Pip when he gets screechy. But that doesn't mean Derek isn't going to continue breaking into his computer, pushing to make Stiles obsolete.

"You're being stupid," Isaac says, but he goes to the fridge, gets out a gallon of milk, and pours Stiles a cup.

"Your face is stupid," Stiles says.

Maddie pokes her head into the kitchen and says, "Are you going to work at all today? Because the lunch crowd is hangry."

"Is hangry still a thing? I didn't think that was a thing anymore." Stiles heaves himself to his feet with great reluctance. He really wants to lock himself in the office and scrub Derek's smell off everything and pettily change his password, even though he'll never be able to remember it.

"So long as we keep running out of Isaac's ham and cheese croissants before noon," Maddie says, cocking a finger at him, "hangry will always be a thing."

*

The only day of the week that Sweet Buns isn't open is Tuesday. Tuesday is notoriously the slowest day, and since Isaac doesn't really get a weekend, or take any days off unless he's suffering through his heat, he gets a singular day of strings-free rest, where no one is allowed to disturb him for any reason whatsoever.

Stiles, because he's pathetic, likes to spend most of his Tuesdays in the back office.

The only good thing about this, besides getting lots and lots of work done in peace, is that Danny almost always brings him lunch.

They watch The Price is Right on his tiny TV and eat cheeseburgers and milkshakes and sometimes Danny lets Stiles curl up and take a nap with his head in lap. It's not weird. Danny's the only alpha he feels completely comfortable around, like there's zero expectations, and if sometimes Danny gets a little proprietary, well, it has more to do with his protective instincts than wanting to get into Stiles's pants.

Which is probably why Stiles suddenly ends up pressed into the couch underneath him when Derek Hale walks in and bares his teeth at them in a half-shift.

"Holy crap, Derek," Stiles says, voice muffled by Danny's well-muscled back. "Stand down, assholes. Both of you."

He pokes Danny viciously in his side until he lets up enough for him to properly breathe.

"Cool it, Cujo," Stiles says, leveling a glare at Derek and Derek's wolf face over Danny's shoulder. "Put away the fangs, please."

Derek sullenly pulls back his shift and crosses his arms, entire body still tense.

Danny says, "Hale," and then Stiles pokes him in the back some more until he's no longer sitting on him, geez.

When Stiles finally manages an upright position, he plasters on a smile and says, "Derek. What are you doing here?"

Derek stares at him blankly for a long moment, then shifts his gaze to Danny, eyes hard, and says, "Leave."

Danny doesn't move right away. He cocks his head, then slants Stiles a bemused look, a can you believe this guy? quirk to his mouth. Thankfully, he doesn't look like he's in the mood for an alpha throw down. Stiles hates those.

Still, he reaches over and places a hand on Stiles's arm, blithely ignores the low, rumbling growls emanating from Derek, and says, "Stiles?"

"It's fine." Stiles shrugs. "I'm fine." Technically, Derek owns half this place, there's not much Stiles can do here, and he'd rather not have to clean blood off his couch.

Danny pats his arm before standing up. He says, "I'll call you later," then shoulder checks Derek as he walks past. Typical posturing, except Derek doesn't budge an inch, and Danny ruefully rubs his arm with a glance back at Stiles, smiling a little.

Derek doesn't relax until the little bell over their front door jangles.

Stiles says, "So is there a reason you wanted to ruin my lunch break, or…?"

Derek's eyebrows go quizzical, with these not at all adorable little arched squiggles near his nose. "It's your day off," he says.

"It's Isaac's day off. I'm doing bills." He gestures toward his computer. Everything is sent digitally, because otherwise Stiles would just leave piles of papers everywhere. That's the only reason his office is even remotely neat.

Derek strides across to the desk and says, "I'll do them."

Stiles says, "Hell no," and Derek looks visibly offended, the asshole.

"Why not?" he says, one hand gripping the back of the chair.

Stiles thinks about trying to wedge himself in between Derek and his computer before eyeing up the baseball bat he has propped up in the corner.

"Stiles," Derek says, exasperated. "Just go home."

Go home, right. So Derek can take over all the utilities, like he did with the supply list. Stiles leans back into the couch, frowning. "This is my job, Derek. You realize that, right?"

Instead of answering directly, Derek says, "You're exhausted."

Stiles would argue that, but he's the middle of stifling a yawn into his forearm. Still, he glares at him and says, "This is my job," again.

Derek says, "Do you need a ride home?"

"I'm—" Stiles throws up his hands, "are you deliberately trying to get me to attack you? I don't need your help, okay?"

Derek narrows his eyes and steps around the desk, moving closer to him.

Stiles tenses up, it's involuntary, the last time they were this close Derek looked like he was about to rip his throat out with his teeth, so. It's a little harrowing, tilting his head back to take in all the ways Derek grew into his body.

"Do you—" Derek grimaces briefly, before letting his face fall blank. "Do you want me to call Danny back?"

"Uh." Stiles squints first one eye and then the other. "No?"

After a few moments of silence, Derek's shoulders slump. "It's nearly two o'clock on the only day the bakery doesn't open, Stiles. What can I do to get you to go home and rest?"

Stiles opens and closes his mouth. Finally, he says, "You don't touch my computer."

Derek nods so solemnly that Stiles is suspicious he's being patronizing when he says, "I won't."

Stiles is pretty tired, though. Having Pip and Isaac in the kitchen at the same time, while on purpose—he's Isaac's protégé—and for a good reason—eventual real vacation time for Isaac—is still terrible for all, and only getting worse.

Stiles likes Pip, he really does, but he's also pretty sure he keeps fucking up on purpose to get Isaac mad because a red-faced Isaac is, admittedly, adorable. Pip really needs to get over his crush.

"Okay," Stiles says.

Derek's hands hover but don't actually help Stiles to his feet. "Okay?"

"Yeah, dude, okay."

*

Stiles does not go home. He drives to the vet clinic to bother Scott, pet the cats, and walk a few dogs.

Afterwards, he stands by his jeep and spins his keys around his finger and thinks about going to IHOP. There's an itch between his shoulder blades, a restlessness he always gets on off days. He could go to Erica and Boyd's, but he honestly doesn't want Isaac to find out that he never has any idea what to do with himself when he's not at the bakery. It's one thing for Isaac to suspect, and another for him to actually know.

He's not lonely, exactly. But it still feels like all his friends have other friends to hang out with except him.

When his phone buzzes with a call, it's so unexpected that he stares at the unknown number long enough for it to stop. When it starts again a few seconds later, he warily swipes to accept and says, "Hello?"

"Stilinski," a vaguely familiar voice says, "a little wolf told me you have off today. Come meet me for dinner."

"Uh." Stiles wrinkles his nose, scratches idly at the edge of his jaw. "What?"

“Dinner. That meal you eat in the evening. Followed immediately by dessert if you’re not a heathen.”

“Who is this?” Stiles says. He’s certainly not going to argue the dessert part.

"Sam's Diner on fifth, twenty minutes." She hangs up without saying goodbye, and Stiles absently stares off into the fading sun and thinks why the hell not?

It's either this or going home to reheated leftovers with his dad.

He shrugs to himself, stuffs his phone back into his pocket, and swings up into his jeep.

*

Sam's is more of a retro-posh restaurant than a diner, with high-polished chrome and glitter flecked red vinyl and on Tuesdays and Thursdays all the servers wear roller skates. Stiles not-so-secretly loves it.

It's full on a Tuesday night, there's a line out the door waiting for tables, but Laura Hale knocks on one of the huge front windows to get his attention and then waves him inside. Of course.

"This better not be some kind of intervention," he says when he gets to the table. He slides in across from her, glaring. He's had plenty of nosy alphas wondering what he was doing with his life. Laura Hale has never before been interested in anything Stiles does—there was a single, awkward thanks for saving my family from a gruesome death moment, and for years she's just given him bro nods when they pass in town.

"Please, welcome, sit down, Stiles," Laura says with a scary, scary grin. "Tell me all about yourself. Are you seeing anyone? How's your dad? How good are your perimeter alarms?"

Stiles's eyes narrow even further. "Why?"

"Absolutely no reason," Laura says.

"I'm not telling you about my house perimeter alarms." Who has fucking house perimeter alarms in Beacon Hills?

Laura somehow looks both delighted and disgruntled. "You don't have any. You know alphas in ruts are assholes, right?"

"My dad's the sheriff," Stiles says, wondering why this conversation is actually happening—is it actually happening? "There hasn't been a case of an alpha breaking into an omega's house during a rut in literal decades."

"Yeah, because of perimeter alarms."

Stiles points a finger at her. "Look, you got me here. I'm gonna order some gravy fries, a cheeseburger the size of my head, and you're going to pay for it. That's what's happening here, right? Wait, fuck." He freezes. "You're not trying to court me, are you?"

She makes a face. "No way, Stilinski."

"Okay, wow, you don't have to act that disgusted."

She reaches across the table and pats the back of his hand. "Sorry, sweetheart, I'm not into dick."

Stiles still has no idea what's going on, but he relaxes a little back into the booth. Laura has a frenetic energy that he can identify with, and he watches her drum her fingers on the formica tabletop.

Finally, Stiles says, "No, really, what is this about?"

Laura bites her bottom lip and tilts her head. She looks more like a puppy than a wolf, but there's a dangerous gleam in her eye. "I'm gonna do you a solid," she says.

Stiles snorts. "Yeah?"

"Yep." She pops her p and kicks at his shins under the table.

"You planning on elaborating on that?" Stiles says.

Her grin has a disturbing amount of teeth. "No."

 

4.

Stiles goes back to work on Wednesday relieved. That's gotta be fucked up, that he can't handle one lousy day a week without the bakery. Everyone grows up learning that omegas get lonely pretty easily, but he never really figured that would happen to him. Mainly because he never figured he'd be alone.

But whatever, at work on Wednesday he has Isaac, he has Rilla staring him down judgingly while holding an empty box of straws, and he has Mason swiveling back and forth on their counter stool by the register, eating an entire loaf of crusty ricotta bread.

And then out of nowhere he says, "I'm marrying Cory," and Stiles has to fight off the ridiculous urge to cry.

It's just because he's only a couple days past his heat.

Rilla says, "Did he ask you or did you ask him?"

"Nobody asked anybody," Mason says, and his normally cheerful smile looks forced. "This is why I’m flooding my body with enough carbs to choke a duck."

"Don't feed that bread to ducks." Jackson snaps his laptop closed and gets to his feet, swings his suit jacket over his shoulders and nods his head at Stiles in the next motion. "Gotta get to the office."

"Since when do you work anywhere else but here?" Stiles says, honestly bewildered and a little alarmed. The first couple years Jackson hung around them Stiles was convinced Jackson didn't even have a job, and just liked wearing fancy suits to eat baked goods and drink coffee.

Jackson's face looks tighter than usual. "Since Hale is paying me a crap load of money to stay out of his way."

"How does that make sense?" Stiles rounds the counter and follows Jackson to the door. "What, he gets to tell me who I'm friends with now?" He's somehow unsurprised to see Derek standing on the front walk, scowling at them through the glass door.

"Listen." Jackson reaches out and places a hand on Stiles's arm, and Stiles stares down at it with wide eyes, because they're friends, but they've never been touching arms friends.

The front windows rattle, and the growl of what's probably a passing truck makes Stiles's ears pop.

"Listen," Jackson says again, "eventually he's going to figure this shit out, and I'll be richer and he'll look stupid, so in the end this is a win-win for me."

Stiles looks up from the way Jackson's now squeezing his arm to squint at his face. "Right."

The door flings open so hard it almost shatters. "Whittemore," Derek growls.

"Hale," Jackson says, and slides his hand slowly off Stiles's arm, like a caress, and Stiles is seriously weirded out, but he's certainly not going to say anything about it out loud.

Derek pushes past both of them, stalks across the bakery floor, and then disappears into the back, probably to get his alpha stank all over Stiles's office again.

The ringing silence in his wake is broken by Mason whining, "Can we talk about my crisis now?"

Stiles presses a finger to his nose and points to him with his other hand and says, "Nothing you say is a crisis, Hewitt. Go ask your boyfriend to marry you."

*

Derek lurks around the bakery for no apparent reason for the rest of the day. Stiles's entire body keeps getting tenser, and Derek's weirdly intense staring gets worse, and Stiles is ready to tear all his hair out by closing time. He's sweaty and anxious and he's pretty sure he's developing some sort of nervous tick in his right eye. He still has to work out the receipts for the day, and Isaac and Pip need to clean up and set out the ingredients for the morning, and Derek is a permanent grumpy fixture in the corner of the room, like some sort of incredibly handsome hulking gargoyle.

He continues to sit there as the stragglers clear out, as Rilla cleans up and leaves, and the only sound in the place is the muffled radio from the kitchen. Stiles wants to retreat to his office, but he's pretty sure Derek will follow him.

Instead, he heads for the back pantry and its weekly cleanout. It's relaxing. He sticks in earbuds and puts on a jazzy playlist for ultimate scrubbing rhythm. He waves at Isaac when he sticks his head in to say he's heading out. Most of the kitchen lights are off, there's a single bank of fluorescents near the door to the front, and Stiles's corner is a bright spot back behind the giant ovens.

Stiles is picking through a tin of forgotten rock hard cookies that had fallen back behind a metal shelf when a shadow is suddenly thrown across the floor next to him. He jerks back and hooks a thumb through the earbud cord at the same time, losing his balance. He scowls up at Derek from his sprawl on the floor.

"Can you not?" he says. Jesus. Derek is like a cat-footed ninja, and also: "I thought you left!"

"It's raining," Derek says.

Stiles has… no idea what to do with that. Will he melt if he gets wet? Is that a thing with alpha werewolves? And then he hears the rumble-boom of thunder, feels the shake of it through the floor. Awesome.

For some reason, known only to god and the electric company, the bakery's power always goes out during thunderstorms.

They're in a windowless room. He doesn't even get to see the sky light up before the entire place goes pitch black.

"Shit," he says. He shoots to his feet, knocks an elbow into what he hopes is Derek, despite Derek not saying a fucking thing, and then says, "Shit," again as he stumbles backward into a hard shelf.

A warm hand wraps around his wrist. Derek's voice is surprisingly soft on, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Stiles breathes. "Peachy." He lets Derek keep his grip on him. It's currently his only anchor in the dark.

Stiles isn't afraid, okay. This has happened plenty of times over the years. He just gets a little claustrophobic when he can't see, like the darkness has a weight to it, and no amount of rapid blinking can make his eyes adjust to the absolute lack of light. They need to install emergency lights. That's probably a building code violation.

It's humid. It only takes a few minutes of the lack of recycled cool air for it to feel stuffy. Too hot. Logically, Stiles knows most of that's just from rising panic, but illogically Stiles is having trouble breathing.

"Stiles?"

"I'm fine." He's not fine. "Just, uh…"

"Come on," Derek says, far too gently, and tugs Stiles toward him.

Stiles fumbles a grip on Derek's shirt and blindly follows him through the room—they push through the door to the front of the shop and the blessed murky gray twilight spilling in through the floor to ceiling windows.

Stiles lets out a relieved breath and tips his forehead into Derek's shoulder. "Okay," he says. "Okay, now I'm fine. Thanks."

"No problem," Derek says.

Stiles appreciates the way that no part of his words sound mocking. He leans against Derek and lets him hold onto his wrist for several long, calming minutes, and it surprises Stiles how not awkward it is. The flashes of lightning get further away, the late spring thunderstorm passing as quickly as it came. One side of the horizon is black, the other a weak squiggle of blue. Everything in the shop is cast in shadows, but at least Stiles can see.

Finally, Stiles says, "Why are you being so nice to me?" There must be some sort of nefarious plan here, right? It just doesn’t make sense.

Derek doesn't say anything, but he tenses up underneath him.

Stiles leans back to look into his face—it's mostly all eyebrow and shadows and beard scruff. It's too dark to really parse his expression, but Stiles kind of gets inexplicable waves of hurt from him. Huh.

"What?" Stiles says.

Derek looks toward the front windows. "Nothing."

"Uh uh." Stiles pokes him in the chest. "None of that passive-aggressive bullshit."

"I don't…" Derek starts stiffly, then sighs and shakes his head a little. "It's just. Why wouldn't I be nice?"

Stiles scoffs. "Oh yeah. Why wouldn't Derek Hale, who's hated me pretty much since the moment we met—why wouldn't you be nice to me? I don't know, Derek, could it possibly be because I wrecked your entire life when you were seventeen?"

"You…wrecked my life," Derek says slowly.

"Yeah. Duh." Stiles got Derek sent away to, like, delinquent wolf boarding school or something, Mia and Marcus tortured him about it every day.

The more Stiles's eyes adjust to the lack of light, the more he can tell Derek's a jaw is clenched really tight.

"So," Derek says through his teeth. "So, you don't—" He sounds like he's having an aneurism. Stiles is a little worried.

He has to curl his fingers into a fist to stop from rubbing Derek's jaw loose.

"I don't what?" Stiles says.

"Never mind," he says, like it's killing him. "Will you be okay here alone?"

Something about the darkness and the earlier freak out and the way Derek is being so careful makes Stiles unnaturally honest. He says, "No." He will not be okay there alone. He'll probably freak himself out even more while closing up. "Can you stay while I lock all the doors?"

At first, Stiles is pretty sure Derek is going to say no.

Which is fine.

But then Derek jerks his head in a stilted nod and Stiles stifles a sigh of relief behind a cough.

He follows one step behind him as Stiles locks the back door, checks Isaac's stack of morning supplies by flashlight, and Stiles doesn't even mind the way he can almost feel Derek's breath on his neck.

Derek silently walks him to his jeep in the now-drizzle. Stiles clenches and unclenches his fingers around his keys.

Finally, as he opens the driver's side door, he says, "Okay, well, thanks for—"

"You didn't wreck my life," Derek blurts out.

Stiles stares at him, mouth gaping. "What?"

Derek shoves his hands into the pockets of his unfairly tight pants, and it makes his shoulders curl up around his ears. "I went to my grandma's farm and got to ride horses every day."

While Stiles legitimately thinks that sounds awesome, Derek's eyebrows still look like they want to murder him. "O…kay?"

"I got my GED." He scowls, like he can't believe Stiles isn't just getting this. Whatever this is. "I'd been begging my parents for months to let me test out. I can't… you saved me."

Stiles is simultaneously thrilled and freaked out by the amount of words Derek is spewing at him.

"You saved my entire family, Stiles," Derek says, softer now. "And maybe it took me a little too long to, uh, get over the—"

"Rage?" Stiles helpfully supplies. He distinctly remembers being face-to-face with a seventeen year old ball of rage; sometimes he still has nightmares about it.

"Guilt," Derek says.

It's weird, how the passing storm makes the twilight both earlier and longer; it feels like it's been a solid hour of thin horizon, and only now are the heavier shadows creeping in. Stiles should probably feel threatened here, caged in by an alpha. He's standing in the open V of the door, blocking any escape.

"I never hated you. Okay?" Derek's words are expectant. There's a thrumming arch to his body, an impatient shift to his feet.

Stiles acts on a whim and reaches out, curls a hand around one of Derek's wrists, and says, "Okay."

 

5.

Stiles no longer believes Derek Hale is trying to eke him out of his job. But he's absolutely sure Derek Hale is trying to ruin him in ways that have nothing to do with baked goods.

Currently, he's helping Scott hang a new sign over the entrance of Sweet Buns. Personally, Stiles was kind of attached to the previous flashing neon pink one, but he'd been outvoted.

And now Derek Hale is shirtless, despite hardly breaking a sweat, and Mason and Stiles are all the way across the street, sipping coffee and pretending to have any kind of interest in the new arts and crafts store behind them while pretty much blatantly ogling.

Stiles says, "I can't believe he isn't mated yet. I mean, there's got to be some kind of deal breaker involved, right? Like he full shifts and bites his toe nails obsessively. There could be licking."

"Well, he's pretty grumpy all the time," Mason says, but Mason has abandoned all pretense of studying the handcrafted baskets in the window. He leans against the glass and sighs dreamily at Derek’s rippling back muscles.

Stiles feels his hackles inexplicably go up, which is stupid, both because Mason is engaged—kind of—and Derek is not interested in either of them. Obviously.

Derek probably has a glamorous omega girlfriend at home, someone he'd never even think of introducing them to. Stiles is embarrassing and Isaac is neurotic and nobody ever voluntarily wants to know Pip. The only arguably normal people at the shop are Rilla and Maddie, and, as far as Stiles can tell, Rilla is currently taking pictures of Derek's abs with her phone without shame.

"He's showing off."

Stiles jumps a foot in the air and spins around. "Jesus Chris. Lydia. Wear a fucking bell, okay. What's with everyone sneaking up on me lately?" He's going to get an ulcer.

Lydia flips her hair over her shoulder. She ignores his words and says, "That man is showing off."

"For who? Rilla?" Stiles squints one eye, trying to decide if Rilla’s crossing a line by basically being two feet away from Derek's naked man abs. Technically, she's just hanging out in the bakery doorway.

"No," Lydia says, suspiciously slow. "Not for Rilla."

Like Lydia would know anything, though. She hasn't been around the bakery for weeks. Jackson and her are trying out this new thing where they don't talk or see each other and also don't have hate sex.

Of course, Jackson has still been taking off whenever Derek flicks a heavy eyebrow at him—"I'm on retainer, it's nothing personal, Stilinski."—so Lydia's probably taking advantage of Isaac's baked goods in a Jackson-free environment while she can.

"He's just overseeing his investment." Stiles tilts his head to the side. "Shirtless." Yeah. That makes sense. Sure.

*

Stiles starts to get an inkling of a clue when the muffins show up. They're not great muffins. They're not even kind-of-okay muffins, which means they were baked by neither Isaac nor Pip. The only reason Stiles forces them down is because he's pretty sure Derek is watching him. And he's only pretty sure of that because every time he tries to get a bead on the dude, Derek is whistling at the ceiling. Not subtle, but also sort of ridiculous, and Stiles has never been officially courted before, and it's bizarre and thrilling and makes his skin feel tight. Huh.

And then—then—they start having conversations.

Weird, stilted conversations about the weather, and baseball, and ice cream. About cats and Pip's short-shorts and if the trade-off of watching his somehow amazingly lithe legs is worth the health and safety code violations.

"I don't want to see that," Derek says. "I also don't want to see him burn all his skin off."

"Which won't happen," Stiles says, eyeing the back of Pip's knees—but really, really, this is Pip, and no matter how shapely his gams are, Pip is still the most annoying nineteen-year-old on the planet. Pip sing-songs about strawberry torts and chain smokes in the back alley and calls them all 'lads' despite having lived in Beacon Hills for his entire short life. Nobody would put up with it except he's the only one who's ever been able to keep up with Isaac in the kitchen.

Derek almost absently nudges a small plate of cookies across the table toward Stiles. It's seven am. They open in a half hour, and Stiles is definitely past the age where eating cookies for breakfast is acceptable.

Stiles bites into one anyway, hums under his breath and says, "You're getting better," around a mouthful of crumbs.

Derek's cheeks flush above his beard. He clears his throat and says, "Well," and then doesn't say anything else.

Currently, Pip is wiping down the front counter with his ass in the air. Then Isaac roars, "Harrison Wellington Fields!" and Pip yelps, tumbles onto the floor with a squeak of his sneakers, and then books it out the front door, little welcoming bell ringing after him.

The kitchen door slams open and Isaac is a looming, red-faced figure, hands in oven mitts. He says, "I'll kill him."

"You can't kill him," Stiles says.

Derek makes a noise like he's thinking about letting Isaac do it anyway.

Stiles shoots him a look and says, "You can't kill him," again.

Isaac takes a heaving breath in a visible attempt to calm down. He says, "Every single fucking loaf of bread is in the shape of a penis. I want to rip his fucking head off."

Stiles stifles a laugh into the back of his hand.

Isaac in a snit is hilarious; he's a willowy, fluffy headed cat, with sharp cheekbones and a yellow gingham apron. He glares around the room, at the muffled snorts coming from Maddie, hiding behind the cash register. He tips his head back and sniffs and says, confidently, "People will eat them anyway."

"Of course they will," Derek says, in this calm-the-omega tone that's half parts horrifying, because it's aimed at Isaac, and mostly parts adorable.

All of Stiles's insides melt. It's totally gross and unfair.

*

It's Laura that cinches it. Laura, who takes him out to dinner for the third Tuesday in a row, who finally takes pity on his anxious, stressed omega hormones and says, "If it makes you feel any better, I've never seen him court anyone like this before."

"Aha!" Stiles jabs a fry at her across the table. "So you admit Derek's courting me."

"He's pretty terrible at it," Laura says, nodding.

Laura and Stiles have, inexplicably, become bros. It's not as weird as he thinks it should be.

"He always puts too much salt in the muffins, but his cookies are good," Stiles says, feeling a strange need to defend him.

"He never baked for Paige," Laura says. "But on the other hand, he never really got past the wanting to hump everything that smelled like her phase. By the time he got back from camp, her family had moved away. He smelled like spunk and misery for months."

Stiles wrinkles his nose. "I feel like you shouldn't be telling me this."

"Eh." She shrugs.

Despite the conversation, though, Stiles doesn't wholly believe it, deep down inside. That Derek would somehow want him. That this could be a real thing.

Just because it seems likely, now, with all the evidence spread before him, doesn’t mean it's true. Someone has to be the big boy here and just say something, and Stiles is afraid, with all of Derek's social reticence on display, that it's gonna have to be him.

Laura pats his hand. "Don't overthink it."

"Sure." There is no universe in which Stiles will not overthink this.

Laura looks like she knows this, but she lets it go anyway and helps herself to half of Stiles's fries.

*

Because Stiles is on crazy amounts of suppressants, his doctor insists he have a full heat at least every six months. It's not terrible. It's uncomfortable, definitely, and leaves him vulnerable in ways Stiles hates, but it usually lasts two days, max, where the most embarrassing thing that happens is Stiles gets off on Danny's smell.

Every time Stiles has a regular heat coming up—Jackson's meticulous at keeping track for him, go figure—Danny wordlessly hands him a bag of clothes he's recently worn, and Stiles thanks him with a silent nod. It's a system they’ve had since college. That they don't talk about, ever.

Stiles is only mildly surprised when Danny shows up one Wednesday, buys a dozen cranberry white chocolate muffins, and dumps a paper bag in the middle of the corner table Stiles had been filling up napkin holders at.

He says, "What, oh—now?" in clear violation of their no talking about it agreement.

Danny arches an eyebrow at him. "Seriously?"

It's not entirely Stiles's fault, though, because the last thing on his mind has been his heat. He has to physically stop his suppressants to trigger it, so while Danny's timing is right, probably according to Jackson's graphs and calendars, Stiles is still only vaguely feeling the pre-heat symptoms of a suppressed weepy snuggle-fest. Damn it, he'd been looking forward to syncing up with Isaac's this month.

Derek grumps his way into a maximum looming position and says, "What's that?"

Danny drops a hand on his shoulder and squeezes it in a mildly protective gesture. He's sort of backed off, where Derek is concerned, since Derek's mostly immovable and Danny's mostly amused.

"Absolutely nothing," Stiles says, but then Pip says, "Ugh, heat week is the worst, mi' lads."

"That's not a thing," Isaac says, a tray full of glazed donuts in his hands. He clatters it onto the front counter in front of Maddie. "You can't make that a thing."

"It's a porn thing," Pip says, pouting.

Stiles says, "I feel like it's bad business to be talking about heats and porn here guys," and he can't stop his cheeks from reddening, because Derek is glaring at him.

God. Stiles had been absently thinking about asking Derek to, uh, provide scent materials, and now he just feels embarrassingly small. Ugh. He blinks back a burn at his eyeballs and takes a deep, shaky breath. Okay. This can be… salvaged.

Totally.

*

Stiles is second guessing every bit of his shaky bravado as he hovers in the doorway of his own office, Jesus, staring down a stone-faced Derek who is sitting at Stiles's own desk. It's a testament to how nervous he really is that he doesn't bother to complain about how Derek's got Stiles's laptop open, fingers paused over the keys as if Stiles had interrupted him doing Stiles's job.

Off pills, Stiles is probably two days out of a full blown heat. That is the only reason he's allowing this to happen. Not that he actually could use some assistance now and then, even though Laura makes fun of him, thoroughly, for not having a life outside of the bakery. Whatever. That isn't the point here. The point here is that—

"Yes?" Derek says, arching an eyebrow at him.

Stiles rubs a hand over his jaw. Why is this so hard? Asking Danny to help in college hadn't been this hard, and back then they hadn't even been friends. Not that Derek is his friend. He's like his weird… possible suitor… thing.

Sweat rolls from Stiles's hairline all the way down his spine and he shifts uncomfortably when Derek's eyes widen, turn a shade darker.

"So, uh," Stiles swallows, tries to ignore the flush climbing up from his chest. "I have a real heat coming up. Not that," he scrambles to clarify, waving a hand, "I mean, I'm spending it alone, obviously, only—" He cuts himself off, wrinkling his nose at the way Derek has his lips pressed together. This is such a bad idea. The words would you give me something for scent catch in the back of his throat. His mouth is dry, his tongue thick.

"Did you have a point, Stiles?" Derek sounds both impatient and patient at the same time, and it's fucking with Stiles's head, but okay. Okay.

Stiles takes a deep breath and stares up at the ceiling. He says, "It helps to have, uh, an alpha scent with me? And I was wondering if you… would… help… with that?"

The silence is unnerving enough for Stiles to risk a glance at him.

Derek's face is pink and a little pained and he says, "Stiles. I don't think that's a good idea. I…"

Stiles is nodding before Derek even finishes, says, "Right, right. Of course not. I'm just… being stupid." He rubs at his wrists, tries to walk backward out of the room and hits his shoulder into the doorjamb. He course corrects with a wince, ignores the burn in his eyes. "I'll just, uh, leave you to it. See you in a few days, I guess."

"Stiles, wait." Derek's half out of his chair—Stiles's chair—when Stiles turns to look at him again.

Stiles is not going to cry, damn it. "What?" he snaps.

"Just." Derek sighs heavily. "Do you have someone to drive you home?"

Stiles bites off an unfunny laugh, digs a palm into an eye socket. "I can drive myself."

"Stiles." Derek looks like he doesn't believe him, but fuck that.

If whatever vibe Laura was picking up from Derek was just him feeling responsible, Stiles has plenty of people looking out for him. He really, really doesn't need Derek's pity or polite concern.

"Listen, Derek, I get that you don't," he waves his hand between them, "and that's fine, okay. I don't need you to worry about me. And I need to not be around you for a while." He didn't meant to say that, but it's true. In a fit of hormones and bad decisions, he says, "You can handle the rest of the week, right? I'll see you on Wednesday."

It's the most Stiles has ever taken off ever. It's probably a mistake. He'll be over his heat by Friday, bored by Saturday, pacing holes in his floor by Sunday. But he needs some time to quietly get his life back together and somehow convince himself he isn't actually in love with Derek Hale.

 

6.

Stiles has, if possible, the most miserable heat of his life. They're never great, especially when he has to go through full ones, but this one is the absolute worst. Danny's scent won't work for him anymore, and he refuses to think about why. He just wallows in snot, slick and desperation for two days, burrowed under his blankets, and sucks down bottles of water so he doesn't die of dehydration.

And then comes the after, where he's stuck inside his house with nothing to do.

"Holy crap, kid, you're driving me crazy." Stiles's dad grabs his arm as he paces past and then deftly steers him toward the back door. "If you're gonna be here all day, you're gonna weed the garden."

"Aw, man." Stiles lets himself be pushed out onto the porch. He blinks in the hot sunlight, rolls his shoulders, and feels tired. "Dad, we don't even have a garden."

"We have a patch that isn't grass and a bush," his dad says sternly. "Clear it out and maybe I'll send you to the store for some daises."

"That sounds like fun," Stiles says, but he could use the fresh air and busy work, because otherwise he's going to end up back at the bakery. He can do this.

His dad cups his shoulder with a firm hand. "You wanna talk about it?"

"Absolutely not," Stiles says.

The great thing about his dad is that he doesn't care about Stiles getting an alpha or starting a family or concentrating on other shit than the bakery, but he does care about Stiles's happiness, and occasionally that spills out in awkward ways. He says, "I know we've talked about the possibility of you moving out, finding a place with Isaac once Erica and Vernon get married."

Stiles groans into his hands. It's not done, is the thing, and it's fucking ridiculous, but Isaac's already away from home because his dad's a dick, and landlords are more likely to rent to multiple omegas. If Stiles ever wants to leave his dad's house, Isaac is his best bet. The sad fucking thing is that right now Stiles really doesn't want to leave his dad's house.

His dad squeezes his shoulder again. "I know you don't need me to say it, but no matter what happens, you never have to move out, okay?"

"Nothing happened."

His dad arches an eyebrow.

"Nothing happened with Isaac," Stiles clarifies.

"Oh, so you're avoiding the bakery for other reasons?"

Stiles feels for sure like this is some kind of trap, but he's honestly too tired and irritable to care. He echoes, "Other reasons," staring off into the sun drenched yard. It's a mess. He should probably mow the grass, too.

"Hale giving you trouble?" His dad sounds gruff, like he could really do anything about it if Derek was.

But Derek Hale is not giving him trouble, right? If he did, maybe Stiles could actually hate him a little.

Stiles takes a deep breath, looks over at his dad. "Remember that tiny crush I had on him freshman year?"

"Oh, you mean, the one where you spied on him so much I had to continuously call in deputies to get you off the street?" He looks amused, at least, which he had barely been at the time. "Yeah, I think I remember. I also seem to remember him getting pretty close to attacking you after the Argent thing went down."

"He wouldn't have attacked me," Stiles says. He maybe hadn't been confident of that at the time, but in retrospect—Derek never would have laid a hand on him, even if his dad hadn't swooped in to save the day. He shrugs. "Anyway. I think it might have gotten worse."

"Just to clarify," his dad says, looking extremely judgmental, "you mean the crush."

Stiles sags a little. "Yeah."

"And I don't see any proper courting going on because…?"

"Because I asked," Stiles says, wrinkling his nose and looking up at the too bright sky. "And he said no."

"Oh, kiddo." His dad wraps an arm all the way around his shoulders, brings him in for a hug. "That sucks."

Stiles snorts a half-hearted laugh into his dad's throat. Yeah, it totally sucks.

*

Jackson is sitting at his regular table when Stiles slinks into the bakery on Wednesday morning. It's well past the time Jackson usually leaves, since he always lets Derek kick him out.

Stiles says, "Are you allowed to be here?"

Jackson snaps his laptop shut and says, "Mr. Hale is no longer my client, so I can do whatever the fuck I want."

"What?" Stiles plops down across from him. "What happened? Were you fired?"

"No, Stiles," Jackson says. "I dropped him. I don't work for people who punch Danny."

"He punched Danny?" Stiles says, leaning forward onto his elbows. "Why?"

"Because he's a god damn idiot, Stiles. I don't know and I don't care. Nobody punches Danny." Jackson being fierce about Danny is cute, because Danny doesn't actually need anyone being fierce about him.

"Well." Stiles makes a face. "I missed you. Or whatever. So I'm glad you're back."

"Fuck off, Stilinksi," Jackson says, ducking his head to unsuccessfully hide a smile.

"Are you here to work? Or are you going to flirt with Jackson all day?"

Stiles points a finger at Maddie where she's draped over the front counter. "You are here to work. I'm here to eat donuts and answer emails."

The morning rush is just heating up. He's antsy, and busy hands would be good, but also he doesn't want to set a precedent. He hates the morning rush. This is why they hired Maddie and Rilla in the first place. So he retreats to his office, sprays an obscene amount of fabreeze, and tries not to think about anything for a few hours.

*

The Hale twins show up during the afternoon lull, and the only reason Stiles knows that the Hale twins show up is because Jackson starts yelling. Really loudly. The thing is: Mia and Marcus are banned. They've got their pictures on the wall and everything. They show up every couple of months anyway, like somehow they'll manage to sneak in without Jackson knowing. Impossible.

Stiles is almost entirely sure they've matured and grown since high school, but Jackson has decidedly not—Stiles lets him have his way on this, both because it's amusing, and because it's not like the Hale twin ban hurts Sweet Buns' business at all.

This is the first time they've shown up since Derek became an investor, though, and Stiles slips out of the back just as Mia says, "Yeah, but Derek owns this place now, you can't keep us out."

Jackson bares his teeth and says, "Watch me."

Stiles absolutely does not want a brawl happening in the middle of the bakery. They're all betas, but Mia and Marcus have the werewolf advantage, and as much as Jackson getting his ass kicked amuses Stiles in theory, he doesn't actually want that to happen either.

"Break it up, folks," Stiles says. "Put your fangs away, Hale Twins, and maybe I'll let you have a muffin before kicking you out."

Mia pouts. "You let Lola in here."

Lola is, at this point, nearly nine months pregnant, and Jackson has a soft spot for babies and omegas.

Stiles doesn't say that, though. He says, "Did Derek say you could come here?"

The thing about wolves, and Hale wolves in particular, is that they're annoyingly truthful; it normally makes it really hard to hate them. Good thing Stiles is the best at holding a grudge.

Marcus makes a face and says, "No." He makes an even worse face. "He said you were in charge."

That is… surprising. Maybe. Stiles doesn't know how to feel about that, exactly, but his breathing goes a little funny, and Jackson shoots him a worried look, and Mia and Marcus pointedly ignore his distress by begging Maddie for lemon poppy seed muffins.

He doesn't get why Derek has to be so nice.

"Maybe he doesn't have any ulterior motives," Scott says later, picking up a cucumber slice from the cutting board and popping it in his mouth. "I mean," he says around his bite, "maybe he doesn't want anything."

Stiles waves a carrot around. "He saved the bakery for us," he says.

"Yeah, because it's a good business decision. The bakery is awesome. The bakery couldn't close," Scott says adamantly. "What would Beacon Hills do without Sweet Buns? Starve?"

Stiles appreciates Scott so much, but: "Isaac could've baked somewhere else."

"But nobody wants him to," Scott says, like that makes perfect sense. He looks earnest. "I'm just saying. Derek invested in a business. He thinks you do a good job, obviously, or he wouldn't have told the Hale twins. I feel like we should just take this at face value."

And that's when Stiles realizes that the problem is not Derek Hale. The problem has never been Derek Hale. The problem is Stiles.

"Derek's just being nice," Stiles says. He puts down his knife, stares blankly at the bowl of salad he's been making for dinner.

"Exactly!" Scott says brightly.

Stiles is being the gross and inappropriate one here. Oh god. Derek's just being nice, and Stiles has dumped all these expectations on him. They haven't even talked about it. This is just… on Stiles. He's such a fucking idiot.

He takes a ragged breath and tries not to fucking cry.

"Hey, are you all right?" Scott asks, voice suddenly hesitant and soft.

"Totally, man," Stiles says, sniffing. "Onions, you know."

And Scott, like a boss, doesn't bother pointing out that there are none.

 

7.

At dinner the next Tuesday, Laura makes sympathetic faces at him that mean she's talked to Derek and he absolutely does not want to know.

He holds up a hand and says, "No," before she can open her mouth.

"If it makes you feel any better—"

"It will not."

"—I have no idea what's going on in his head at all. Like, zero, he hasn't been this secretive about shit since the Argent thing went down."

Stiles sighs and sinks down into his seat and tugs his plate of fries closer so it's hovering half off the table, over his belly. "It doesn't matter," he says, grabbing a handful and stuffing it into his mouth.

Laura looks like she wants to argue, but the thing about Laura is that she doesn't take Stiles to dinner to talk about Derek, normally, so she lets Stiles steer the conversion into calmer waters, like how foxy Kira looks in her waitress outfit and skates, and how the beta she's courting has a complex about alphas, and a bet about how many ice cubes she can fit in her mouth before her brain freezes.

Stiles wins three quarters and a paperclip.

At the end of the evening, he's just a little bit steadier. He needs some introspection. He needs to look deep into his soul and figure out his shit.

*

Stiles half feels like he should apologize to Derek, but he doesn't honestly think he'd get through it without making a fool of himself. Or crying. This has to be a thing. Like maybe he's going through some sort of nesting phase. Maybe he's ready to settle down, have a spouse and a kid, and he's just latching onto the first alpha that's managed to gain his attention in years. Maybe he just needs to put himself out there more. Right?

The only other omegas Stiles is remotely friendly with are Isaac and Lola, and with Lola it's iffy, both because of their rocky past, and because she's a Hale. She's also contentedly mated to her high school sweetheart.

So Stiles slinks into the kitchen after hours, well after Pip has left, and says, "So. Mating mixers."

Isaac's cheeks heat and he says, "No."

"Oh, come on." Stiles leans a hip against the metal counter. "I know you've tried them before."

"Believe me, Stiles," Isaac says, staring fixedly at the dough he's kneading, "they're totally not your scene."

"But you like them," Stiles says, carefully watching Isaac's face.

"I, uh." Isaac shrugs, flustered. "Not really? I mean, college is for experimenting, right?" He slumps a little, finally slants Stiles a look. "You know I was a little fucked up."

Stiles doesn't say yeah, because he knows Isaac hates talking about it, even when he brings it up himself. But still: "People find mates at those things all the time."

"Some people do, yeah," Isaac says slowly, expression pained. "Some people…don't."

"You know making it sound so mysterious isn't exactly discouraging me, right?" Stiles feels antsy, which isn't unusual, but he also feels unsettled. He taps his fingers on the counter, shifts his feet back and forth, and thinks about the flutter low in his belly every time he sees Derek, hears his voice, the swoop of misery every time he remembers, and decides he wants to be some people, whether he does or doesn't find anyone he really wants.

Isaac sighs. "It's dangerous to go alone."

"So come with me," Stiles says.

"No," Isaac says, shaking his head. "Hell, no. Take Scott. Or Danny."

Stiles grimaces. If Scott even knew he was thinking about going to a mating mixer he'd freak out completely. Scott's totally not the boss of him, of course, but his puppy eyes are a dangerous weapon. And going with Danny, with practically an alpha bodyguard, would pretty much defeat the purpose.

They wouldn't let Erica and Boyd through the door, not so thoroughly mated, and Stiles would rather gnaw off his right arm than ask Jackson. Not that Jackson would even let him go. He'd probably lock him in the dry pantry and call his dad.

So yeah, his options are Isaac or nobody, and he knows Isaac well enough by now to know if maybe he called—maybe he last minute called, standing outside the club, Isaac wouldn't be able to tell him no.

*

Stiles can admit it to himself: he feels a little apprehensive standing outside some hot spot called Instincts, a heavy bass beat thumping up through the concrete to rattle his thighs, cell phone clutched in one hand.

He calls Isaac, because that’s the plan, but he’s definitely probably thinking about just leaving without going inside. The guy at the door is eying up him and Stiles licks his lips nervously.

Isaac answers the phone with a groggy, “It’s after eleven, Stiles. I have to be up before four. I have no problems killing you to death,” and then hangs up on him.

It’s possible Stiles didn’t figure in the lateness factor here. He calls Isaac again and says, “Don’t hang up,” before Isaac can say anything.

“Death,” Isaac says on a groan. “Please stop calling.”

Stiles hunches over a little, backs up so he’s in the dark shadows of the building’s brick walls. “Listen, I may or may not have gone to a mixer by myself.”

“Stiles,” Isaac says. “Are you honestly that dumb? Nope, never mind, you totally are.”

Stiles says, “Isaac? Isaac?” and realizes after a long moment of silence that Isaac has hung up on him again. Perfect. He takes a deep breath. The neighborhood he’s in sucks. He’s only about a two-block walk from his car, which is fine, but feels worse with the itch of being watched between his shoulder blades. Ugh.

The door to the club slams open, spilling frat boy techno onto the sidewalk, along with two alphas, a beta, and a skinny little omega. He looks frighteningly young to Stiles, but also completely fine with being manhandled, and Stiles is totally not up to shaming anyone here, but… he can’t help but think of Isaac here, like this.

God. Stiles is sheltered prude. He’s never even spent his heat with anyone. He’s never even thought of it.

Maybe this place will be good for him.

He straightens up and thinks fuck it and slinks forward to go inside.

*

The main problem is that Stiles can’t fully relax. He orders a drink at the bar and downs half of it in one long swallow.

Someone says, “Damn, baby,” and Stiles grimaces around the glass rim.

A hand slips over the small of his back and Stiles presses up against the lip of the bar to get away from it—he smells alpha and sweat and beers looming over him. Fingers grip his hip when he tries to move sideways.

Irritated, Stiles glares at him over his shoulder. “Do you mind?”

The alpha grins, teeth glinting, and says, “Not at all.”

He’s thick and tall and pale, short sleeves rolled up over his biceps, v-neck revealing a smooth waxed chest—Stiles isn’t interested. He shoves an elbow back into the dude’s rock hard stomach and says, “Move,” swallowing a wince.

The alpha backs off, thank god, hands up and placating, with a lightly mocking smile, and then Stiles finishes the rest of his drink, coughs at the burn of the dregs going down his throat, and dives into the dance floor.

Stiles isn’t a great dancer, but he makes up for it by being completely unselfconscious about it.

The place seems super lax about gender and dynamic roles, which is both terrifying and freeing. Someone is grinding on him. He doesn’t particularly like it, but it’s a novelty, right? Normally, handling an omega this intimately in public is taboo. There’s a thrill, having unfamiliar fingers tight on his hips. Twice, he’s jerked away, spun to another space, and nobody’s stopped him, nobody’s told him no, and the layers of scents around him, coupled with the alcohol, leave him woozy.

Sure, it’s not exactly safe, not in any of the ways he’s used to. He probably shouldn’t be there alone. But this also isn’t some sort of wild hell scape, some underground sex dungeon. Probably. Stiles has only been there an hour.

He’s had two more drinks and danced with a pretty, longhaired beta three songs in a row before he feels a growl at the back of his neck.

Angry, he thinks, and instantly flinches forward.

The beta’s eyes widen and she stumbles back a few steps before she spins around and weaves herself hastily away through the crowd.

“What do you think you’re doing here?” a voice says.

Stiles knows that voice. It’s still angry, though, and Stiles is absolutely sure he doesn’t want to deal with that right now. The comfortable buzz he’d been sporting has all but disappeared. His throat feels hot.

Derek curls a hand around his bicep and pulls him around and Stiles stares determinedly over his shoulder, avoiding eye contact.

He says, “Derek. What are you doing here?” and is especially proud of how his voice doesn’t shake.

“Isaac called me,” Derek says.

Of course he did. Asshole. Stiles tries to shrug off Derek’s grip, but his fingers only bite in harder. He’s probably going to bruise.

The bouncer from the door suddenly appears in Stiles’s line of vision, frowning, and he says, “Is everything ok here? Is this alpha bothering you?”

He can’t see it, he's not looking, but he can feel Derek stiffen up, the air going still and quiet around them in the crowded press of bodies. Stiles swallows hard and says, “No. I’m okay.”

The dude doesn’t look like he totally believes him, arches an eyebrow, but backs off anyhow.

“Stiles,” Derek says, low and suspiciously calm, dipping his mouth close to his ear, “please tell me what the fuck you’re doing at a mating mixer.”

Stiles shivers, fights off the urge to scrub at his skin as Derek’s breath ghosts across it. He’s jostled closer from behind, bodies moving to the music all around them. His eyes catch on the corner of Derek’s mouth as he turns into his chest, grips the front of Derek’s shirt with this free hand. He says, “What do you think I’m doing here?” hoarsely.

Derek’s teeth are sharp when he grins, his expression just vicious enough to make Stiles’s belly swoop. “It’s a bad idea,” he says.

Stiles definitely doesn’t bare his neck, but it’s a close thing. He steels his spine and says, “How is it any of your business? Besides, so far everyone here seems pretty big on consent.”

“And what were you going to consent to, Stiles?”

Stiles finally looks into Derek’s eyes—looks at how hard they are, even as his lips curve up, even as he sounds amused, Stiles is acutely aware of how fucked he is. Derek isn’t just angry, he’s furious.

Stiles’s mouth goes dry, manages to whisper, “Nothing.” It’s the truth, honestly, but Derek doesn’t seem like he’s willing to accept it.

The hard grip Derek has on Stiles’s arm suddenly relents, the switch to soft touches along his sides dizzying. Derek palms the sweaty small of his back, tugs Stiles toward him with a solid jerk.

Their hips and groins line up and Stiles’s sucks in a high, thin breath.

This is everything Stiles ever wanted, and he can’t help thinking it’s all wrong. Derek is mad. Derek, leaning down to mouth at the curve of Stiles’s jaw, shoulders tense enough to alarm Stiles, to make him think that Derek’s only doing this to prove a point.

Derek doesn’t really want him.

Heat spirals just under Stiles’s skin, everywhere Derek’s touching, his heartbeat is heavy and fast, tears prickle at the corner of Stiles’s eyes. But none of this is real.

Stiles whines, distressed, and struggles weakly against Derek’s hold.

Derek freezes with his teeth pressed firm against the juncture of Stiles’s neck.

Stiles wants to sob, he wants this so much, and Derek is being an asshole about it. Christ. Fuck. He says, thickly, “Let me go.”

Derek drops him like he’s burning, like his hands are blistered, and Stiles covers his face, mortified.

Derek says, “Stiles,” and Stiles just says, “Please, just. Walk me to my car?”

The music is still loud and thumping, it’s hot with the cloying sent of alcohol. Stiles slices his way through the crowd without stopping to check if Derek’s following. He wants to go home.

 

8.

The aftermath of Stiles’s wild night out is… difficult. Mostly because Stiles is fucking embarrassed and he hates being embarrassed and he’s super mad at Derek for making him feel that way. He’d be mad at Isaac, too, but Isaac told him not to go alone, and Stiles was kind of a dick for calling him from the club so late. So allowances have to be made. He doesn’t blame Isaac for calling Derek. Much.

He refuses to hide in his office and curls into a corner of the bakery and hopes nobody bothers to tell Jackson what happened.

Halfway through the morning, Isaac kicks the chair opposite him so it makes a grating screech over the floor.

“Here,” he says, sliding a small plate across the table at him.

“What’s this?” Stiles says.

“An apology muffin,” Isaac says, wrinkling his nose a little. “It’s chocolate chip banana.”

Stiles sighs. “You don’t have anything to apologize for, Isaac.”

“Oh, I know,” he says, backing away with his hands spread. “It’s not from me.”

Stiles doesn’t know exactly what he feels at that, but it’s not pleasant. “No, thank you,” he says.

“If you don’t eat it, he’s going to pout.” Isaac makes this seem like the end of the world, but that’s only because Isaac gets easily annoyed by people having emotions around him.

“Are you hearing yourself right now.” Stiles squints up at him. Why should Stiles care about how Derek reacts to his crap apology muffin? He pokes at the plate with his finger. “Did he even make it?”

Stiles isn’t even sure Derek is there, right now. He definitely didn’t see him come in.

“He made it in the sense that he called me at 5 am and told me exactly what he wanted, and then I promised to make you a red velvet cupcake with rainbow jimmies.”

Stiles frowns down at the muffin. It looks delicious. “This isn’t a red velvet cupcake with rainbow jimmies.”

“Yeah, no.” Isaac leans over and breaks off a crumble before popping it in his mouth. “I didn’t have the ingredients prepared for that. You get what everyone else gets on a Saturday morning.”

Stiles knows that Isaac loves him, but he’s also an asshole.

Derek, apparently, is also an asshole, and he can take his secondhand apology and stuff it. But not the muffin.

Stiles is totally going to eat that.

*

Jackson says, "You're lucky Isaac didn't call me," and tries to look menacing while eating a bagel. It doesn't really work.

Stiles ignores him in favor of taking the next customer's order. Working the register is his least favorite thing to do, but this way he can keep the solid oak counter in between him and Derek.

Derek, who currently isn't even looking at him, but Stiles feels his eyes all over him anyhow. It's disconcerting.

Jackson says, "What were you thinking?" with a smear of cream cheese on his cheek.

Stiles sighs, leans into the counter and reaches out with a napkin. He wipes harder than he probably needs to clean Jackson's face and says, "You are not actually anything remotely close to my keeper, you know that, right?"

Mostly it's sweet that Jackson feels so responsible for him, but it's also super annoying. He doesn't need another dad. His dad doesn't even give him this much shit. He'd just sort of arched a disappointed eyebrow at him when he'd staggered home, but like… he doesn’t need to be cossetted, so fuck Jackson and fuck Derek. Figuratively.

In the grand scheme of things, Stiles doesn't have time for this bullshit. They're starting their summer days of ice cream soon, and Stiles has to hire a couple of high school kids to stand out in the heat every weekend, because Stiles certainly isn't going to do it.

He spends most of Wednesday doing interviews.

Dave—hair in a high bun, a daisy neckerchief tied quirkily around his neck, wearing weird 80s pants with suspenders—looks cheerfully optimistic sitting across from him. He's got a holiday job in retail under his belt. Stiles likes the cut of his jib.

He says, "Are you comfortable wearing a pastel t-shirt that says 'I heart Sweet Buns'?"

Dave says, "Hell, yeah."

"It's gonna be hot and sweaty," Stiles cautions. "But you'll get unlimited water and ice tea and one of those spritzer fans."

"That's fine." Dave nods.

He seems committed, and he's at least wearing a shirt, which the last candidate was not. Stiles shoves his application in the 'probably' folder and says, "Okay, good, I'll let you know tomorrow. Thanks for coming in."

Dave shakes his hand—firm for a seventeen-year-old, a little clammy—and Stiles sinks into his seat with a groan when he disappears out the door. Dave, Rilla's cousin Penny, and whoever walks through that door next. He checks his list. Starshine? Stiles is tired, and as long as they're wearing shoes, he's sold.

But before Starshine Rebekah Moony, aged sixteen, can walk through that door, Isaac drops a plate with a giant giraffe cookie on it in front of his face.

Isaac says, pissily, "I'm not your errand boy."

Stiles stares at the giraffe. Iced animal cookies are generally not in Isaac's wheelhouse. He says, "What."

Isaac just stomps away in a huff, though, and Stiles carefully folds a napkin over the cookie's judging eyes.

*

So Derek is super great at glaring. He's got his lurking brood down to an art form, he's got a resting bitch face that's magnificent, and while normally Stiles wouldn't take that kind of thing at face value, it's hard not to succumb to nerves while Derek does all this all over the bakery nonstop.

It doesn't help that he keeps leaving Stiles treats—brownies, cookies, muffins, croissants—on his desk for him to find first thing in the morning. More often than not, it's accompanied by his favorite flavor of coffee.

If Jackson's with him, he'll viciously snag whatever it is and bare his teeth at Derek when he walks past.

Stiles puts up with all of this for nearly a month, because he's still working off the mating mixer embarrassment, and how incredibly crappy Derek had made him feel, but then Derek finally snaps and grabs Stiles's apology coffee—they're still going with apologies, here, right?—out of Jackson's hands with a growl, claws ripping through the paper cup, spilling hot liquid all over himself and the floor.

They're ten minutes from opening. Maddie is popping her gum, riveted, and Pip is plastered up against the kitchen door, peeking out at them, and Stiles yells, "Enough!" over Jackson's hysterical squawking about being scalded to death, Jesus.

In the ringing silence afterwards Stiles takes a deep breath and says, "Jackson, are you ok?"

Jackson is scowling and shaking one hand and Maddie finally jerks forward and reaches over the counter, grabbing his wrist and saying, "C'mon, back here, you need to stick that under cold water."

Derek is dripping all down his front, but he's a werewolf and he can take it.

Stiles shoves a mop into his hands and then shoulders into the kitchen door, making Pip yelp and jump backward out of the way.

Stiles fervently hopes that his slammed office door will buy him an hour or so of peace, but twenty minutes into trying to concentrate on their payroll for the week, Derek brings him in another coffee.

His gruff, almost-annoyed, "Sorry," is belied by the careful way he places it by Stiles's elbow on the desk.

Stiles says, just so fucking tired of it, "Do you even know what you're sorry for?"

Derek lifts his hand, like he wants to touch him, and Stiles freezes.

Derek's face is pink above his beard. His eyes are hazy and a little lost and kind of sad and his next, "Sorry," is so soft and low Stiles barely hears it.

Stiles drags in a shaky breath. He says, "You are seriously killing me, dude." This hot and cold shit is driving him crazy. He'd been so sure this was his fault, that he'd been projecting his feelings onto Derek, but Derek is being a protective asshole, he won't stop apologizing, and someone has to start a conversation about it before Stiles goes completely insane. “I have no idea what you want.”

Derek opens and closes his mouth and stands there looking both pained and helpless and pissed off about it. His shoulders are rolled a little, like he's expecting a physical fight.

Stiles doesn't want to fight him. He wraps his hands around the hot coffee cup. "Are you going to tell me why you punched Danny?"

Derek lets out a long breath, deflating a little. "No?"

"Derek," Stiles says. The name is heavy in his mouth; it feels like there's a weight on his chest, holding him down.

Stiles watches as Derek shakes off the last of his defensive stance. The air around him melts, softens, and his shoulders slump as he rubs a hand over his face. He says, "He wasn't taking care of you right."

Stiles waits a beat for more, but Derek just stands there, staring down at the ground. "Well," Stiles says eventually. "Yeah. Why would—" He stops, licks his bottom lip, says, more carefully, "Danny is my friend. He doesn't have to take care of me. Okay?"

Derek slowly raises his eyes, catches on Stiles's. He blinks, and something around his mouth relaxes. "Okay. Sorry."

"You," Stiles can't believe he's going to go there, after everything, but, "were you, uh," he grimaces, "courting me before you… with Danny?"

There's a brief, panicked expression on Derek's face. He says, "Maybe."

"Oh no. Hell no, man," Stiles says. He's not dealing with a maybe right now. "Lines of communication are open." He waves back and forth between them and Derek kind of looks like he wants to die. Tough.

Derek glances up at the ceiling, swallows hard, and says, "I was jealous. And angry. Isaac called me about the mixer, and the club, and I just thought if Danny isn't…" he looks dejected "…why wasn't I good enough for you?"

"First of all," Stiles says, equal parts stunned by the words coming out of Derek's mouth, thrilled at the implication of what they mean, and also furious that Derek assumed all this shit about him without talking, "I asked you. I asked you about my fucking heat and you said no."

"Because—"

Stiles waves his hand to cut him off. "Because of Danny, right, which probably deserved a conversation and not making me feel like shit in front of a bunch of strangers. You know. Life advice. Free of charge." He curls his hands into fists on the desk, a fresh wave of hot embarrassment running through him.

Derek's fourth, "I'm sorry," is both sad and devastated, and unfairly makes Stiles feel like he's kicked a puppy.

"You're a dick," Stiles says.

Derek nods, silent and kind of resigned.

In the end, though, Stiles likes Derek. He says, "You have to apologize to Danny."

"I already did," Derek says earnestly.

Stiles narrows his eyes. "And Jackson."

Derek makes a face, but nods again. "Fine."

The funny thing is that Stiles is pretty sure Jackson has been on Derek's side the whole time. Until the Danny punching incident, that is. God, what a fucking mess.

"Okay," Stiles says, standing up from his chair. He slowly rounds the corner of the desk, stopping in front of Derek. And then he tilts his head. Just a little.

Derek's breath catches, his eyes flash red. He stares fixedly at the exposed length of Stiles's neck. Fingers slowly come up, hover warm and hesitant over the hollow of his throat. He makes a whining sound that Stiles feels all the way down his spine.

He probably shouldn't be nervous, but he can't help it. Eyes falling closed at the first press of Derek's thumb under his adam's apple. He startles slightly when Derek's nose skims along his jawline, and then he lets out a noisy sigh.

"Thank you," Derek says quietly.

Stiles lays his palms on Derek's chest and hmmmms.

 

9.

Stiles's entire body hurts. There's a band of pressure around his abdomen, his back feels tight, his calves ache, and he doesn't even feel guilty, hoarding the last three double chocolate chip dark fudge muffins to himself, curled up on his office couch and watching Judge Joe Brown with two of Isaac's scarves wrapped around his head.

He's past the point of being able to drive himself home, per usual, and now he just has to wait for someone to find him, preferably before his legs stop working. He wants his heating pad and an endless supply of kettle corn and A Walk to Remember, but he doesn't have the steam or stamina to be proactive about it.

"Stiles," Derek says from the doorway. "Why didn't you call me?"

Stiles pouts up at him and says, "My fingers are cold."

Also, they haven't done that yet. Discussed heat protocols. Even his annoying suppressed heats, like this one, where his face breaks out and he's thinking about housing an entire extra cheese pizza. They haven't done anything outside of, like, a formal acknowledgement of wooing. Derek even went and asked his dad about it, who'd laughed and then told Derek good luck.

Derek leaves him gifts along with the baked goods now, like comic books and wool socks and mini lego sets and once a stunning wooden sculpture of a wolf that Stiles fears cost more than his entire Sweet Buns investment. He has it displayed on the mantel at home.

Derek shifts on his feet, looking adorably conflicted.

He's so cautious, it makes Stiles's heart hurt in good ways.

"God, I can't handle how cute you are," Stiles says. "C'mere, help me up." He makes grabby hands until Derek moves toward him.

He reaches down and grips Stiles's wrists and Stiles oomphs as he's tugged up out of the squashy depths of his old couch.

"You're warm," Derek murmurs.

"I'm cold," Stiles says, and then curls in closer.

Derek hums under his breath, slides his hands up Stiles's arms and around his back. He noses Stiles's temple and says, "Do you want me to take you home?" He presses a feather-light kiss under Stiles's ear and Stiles shivers.

"I'm not gonna break, you know," Stiles says, and wriggles halfway out of Derek's hug, careful not to shrug off Derek's arms. He brushes their mouths together, grins at Derek's little jerk of surprise, before the brush becomes more of a kiss.

They haven't done this before, either. Stiles feels like his heart is gonna beat out of his chest, and it's not even—it's chaste. It's sweet, dry lips, a shallow sweep of tongue; Stiles is covered in clammy sweat from his pre-heat and he has to fight off the urge to rut up against Derek's solid thigh. It's like… right there. And perfect. It's totally not Stiles's fault.

"Stiles," Derek says, half a growl, "can I take you home?"

Stiles tilts his forehead onto Derek's and says, "Yeah."