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Cashier to cash-wrap. Cashier to cash-wrap.

Stiles lets the phone hit the cradle in a crackling Walmart-hang-up and winces as the peppy holiday music starts up again. Hopefully, his page for assistance held the right amount of harried desperation. Not so panicked that the customers milling the store will notice, but firm enough that his manager—and designated back-up cashier—will put down her cell phone, leave the office, and do her god-damned job.

He turns to the growing queue of book-wielding holiday shoppers snaking through the front of the store and pastes on his best customer service smile. “Next in line?”

He has to forcibly hold back a cringe at the swoopy haircut and determined stride of the woman approaching his register.

“Sorry for the wait.” He reaches for the stack of books she drops on the counter, intent on getting through the transaction before she can find a way to make his day more exhausting than it already is. It’s the fourth time he’s seen that haircut today, and it’s living up to its reputation.

He swallows down a sigh. It’s bad enough he’s racking up the retail hours over his winter break when he’d rather be wallowing on the sofa and catching up on much-needed sleep after an overloaded semester. He refuses to admit it out loud, but his dad was right when he said Stiles was packing too much into the five-week winter vacation.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” he forces out in his most pleasant, happy-to-help voice. He knows he isn’t being fair. A haircut doesn’t determine a person’s treatment of retail employees. And yet—

“No. I definitely didn’t. You would think a store this size would try to stock all of the best-sellers. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. You’ve absolutely ruined my holiday plans.”

Stiles grinds his teeth against the retort that he, personally, didn’t make her wait to do her shopping until the Saturday before Christmas. “Was anyone helping you? Maybe we can order it to be shipped to your house?”

“It’s too late now. My husband will just have to settle for—wait—“ She reaches out and slaps one Christmas-red gel-manicured hand down on the book Stiles is about to scan. “You need to discount that one. It’s damaged.”

Stiles blinks at the book with a sinking sensation. It’s nearly pristine—just a normal bit of shelf-wear at the corner.

He glances over the woman’s shoulder at the increasingly impatient customers waiting in line and picks up the phone again. “Manager to cash-wrap please, manager to cash-wrap.”

Stiles keeps his sigh of relief internal when his manager actually appears at the top of the escalator. Thank fuck.

His stomach chooses that moment to grumble demandingly. Stiles glances at the clock. Only five minutes until his break. He can probably hold it together for five minutes.

Despite his fervent wishes, the mess at the register means he ends up twenty minutes late clocking out for his thirty and ready to murder anyone between him and the break room.

Hangry is a real thing. Skipping breakfast was not worth the ten extra minutes of sleep, no matter what past-Stiles thought. On top of that, he grabbed the wrong shoes and the soles of his feet are throbbing in time with his pulse. He’s half-convinced he’ll never walk normally again.

Ugh. He’s been doing this too long to still make these freaking rookie mistakes.

Quickly stuffing his nametag into his back pocket, he beelines for the break room. Head down, shoulders hunched, he projects “don’t talk to me” with every fiber of his being. Then he makes yet another basic error.

“Excuse me.”

Don’t stop walking, he tells himself, even as he slows and reluctantly lifts his head, an apology on his lips. He’s on his break goddamnit, and he needs to sit more than he needs air at this point.

“I need you to sell me the most horrifying, trope-filled, misogynistic, pre-teen targeted drivel you have in stock.”

Stiles’ eyes widen against his will and his forward momentum stalls. The man appears to be dead-serious. “Um—and who are you shopping for?” he can’t help but ask—a thin veneer of professionalism lingering despite everything. It’s probably the best he can hope for at this point.

Besides, Stiles is the living embodiment of “curiosity killed the cat”. With an opening line like that, he hardly has a choice. He silently mourns his lunch break.

“My sister.”

“Alright…” Stiles drags out. “And your sister likes questionable YA novels?”

“God, no. She only reads historical romance and self-help books written by happily married blondes.”

Stiles chokes on his spit. “But you said—”

“Yes. She’s going to despise it.” The man’s smirk widens into a wicked grin, revealing his perfect teeth.

Stiles gapes. Because oh, this guy’s gorgeous. Like, luxury-product model gorgeous. His over-tired brain wants rub his face against the man's short beard and lick his canines. He fights the reaction down—this really isn’t the time.

“You’re buying your sister a book she’s going to hate?”

“I’m aiming past hate. I’m hoping she throws me out of the house.”

Stiles squints at him, head tilted.

Maybe if he was less of an exhausted mess—if his shift at his evening job hadn’t gone so late, or he hadn’t spent 40 minutes helping a customer choose the perfect series for her daughter, only to find the stack of books on a table near the doors when he was cleaning, or he wasn’t so goddamn noseyStiles would have let it go.

But no. He’s had a shitty day and he’s feeling vindictive. He meets the guy’s eyes—so blue, Jesus—and grins. He suddenly has a feeling delaying his lunch break will be worth it.

“Let’s do this.”

He leads hot-guy over to the young adult section and pulls out a few possibilities, getting thoughtful hums but not much interest. Then he has an idea that makes him snicker.

“How about this one? It’s a series.” He tugs the glossy trade-paperback off the shelf. “The main guy’s got the personality of over-cooked spaghetti, the writer has a terrible habit of killing off the kick-ass girls in lieu of character development, and the queer-baiting is so blatant it’s got its own portmanteau.” Stiles rocks up on his toes in excitement. “Oh! And if that’s not enough to piss your sister off, the plot has more holes and loose threads than the skinny-jeans I’m not allowed to wear in public anymore—because indecent exposure laws aren’t just for my dad’s peace of mind.”

Hot-guy blinks. Then his eyes drag down the length of Stiles’ body in obvious appraisal. His lips twitch into a smirk.

Stiles squirms as he realizes he got a little ranty and offered a questionable mental-image to the most attractive man he’s ever seen. He chokes down a groan and sheepishly rubs at the heat creeping up the back of his neck. ”Sorry.”

Hot-guy ends his leering with a chuckle. He shifts closer to Stiles and glances at the cover of the book, taking in the shirtless dude with glowing red eyes. He cocks an eyebrow. “You sound invested for how terrible it supposedly is.”

Stiles would like to hide in the breakroom now. “It had a lot of potential. Okay?” He bites his lip in an effort to keep his mouth shut about the fabulous fanfic that’s ninety percent of the reason he read the damn thing in the first place. “Anyway, it’s well known enough for her to be horrified, and the cover looks like a paranormal romance, so you can claim you had no idea what you were buying.”

Hot-guy takes the book from him and their fingers brush, slow and deliberate, sending goosebumps racing up Stiles’ arm. “Thank you, sweetheart,” he purrs in a tone that makes Stiles eternally grateful that his work khakis are on the baggy side. “This sounds absolutely perfect.”

He gives Stiles one last up-and-down glance before turning and heading for the register.

Stiles’ eyes lock on the man’s tight, perfect ass and he swallows hard. He can’t fight a longing sigh as he tucks the vision away for later.

His break is going to be so short, but hey, if this day ever ends he'll have some hot jerk-off fodder as a trade. He’s not gonna complain about that.

Peter would like to be anywhere but here. Well, not here specifically—because he’s been told the coffee in this shop is decent—but here, as in Beacon Hills.

He’s been dreaming of a sun-and-sand filled Christmas for months, but for the first time in ten years, despite his best efforts, he wasn’t able to escape somewhere tropical.

Damn his sister for coercing him back here.

He would like to formally state that everything about this “vacation” is terrible. First, instead of a lovely downtown hotel, he’s crammed into his old bedroom at the family house. On top of that, he has to play nice with his siblings and their families for the entire week. And worst of all, thanks to his sister’s bossy meddling, he’s been forced to join the shopping masses on the last weekend before Christmas.

Peter doesn’t hate his family per se—he just prefers to keep drawn-out interactions with them to a minimum. Especially this time of year. Hell, he’s only been in town a day and a half, and he’s already been fussed at twice for not “Christmasing” correctly.

Peter eyes the slow-moving cafe line in front of him, then pulls out his phone and shoots off a text.

Why the hell did I agree to this?

He doesn’t bother returning the device to his pocket. It buzzes almost immediately.

Talia called you before coffee, while you were still in bed with the flavor of the weekend. You’re downright charitable when you’ve just had your cock sucked.

Peter gives his phone a dirty look. Now that’s just rude.

Oh, really? What was it you gave the boy who blew you at that event last month?

Peter sighs. God, I hate you. I don’t know why we’re friends. He waits almost a full minute but doesn’t get a response until he caves. They were extras. And he had a god-given gift. It deserved a reward.

It was some reward. Face it, Peter. Getting off makes you less of a bastard. You’d be a perfect sugar-daddy—if you kept them more than one night.

Peter glares at the text, then hits “call.” This requires the nuance of tone—eavesdroppers be damned.

Chris is chuckling when he picks up.

“I have ways to make you regret everything you’re thinking right now,” Peter growls, as if threatening the bastard ever works.

“Fashion Week, Peter. You gave your bathroom hook-up tickets to Fashion Week.”

“It’s one runway show and a backstage pass. I’m not flying him to Paris, and I definitely don’t have plans to see him again.”

“Of course you don’t. You’re the master of the parting gift.”

“Gifts,” Peter sneers, shifting his phone to trap it against his shoulder and pull out his wallet. He’s getting closer to the front of the line. “Can you believe money isn’t acceptable for Christmas anymore? Now I have to buy ‘things that require effort’.”

“That’s gonna backfire spectacularly.”

Peter presses his free hand to his chest. “I’m touched that you know me so well.”

“You’re ‘touched’ alright,” Chris makes a sound that Peter knows is accompanied by a long-suffering eye roll. “What did you do?”

“I’ll have you know I got Talia a lovely book.”

“Is it the Gay Kama-Sutra?”

Peter barks out a laugh, some of his annoyance unraveling for the first time since he left the house that morning. This is why he still talks to this guy, best friend, or no. “No. But now I need to make another trip to the bookstore.”

“Just don’t tell her it was my idea. I like my balls right where they are.”

It’s not a bad idea, actually. And if he’s lucky, maybe the cute twink will be working. Peter would enjoy seeing his reaction to that book request.

Even after a ten-year leave of absence, Beacon Hills is disappointingly lacking in Peter’s kind of entertainment. Bookstore-twink—Peter’s a little miffed he wasn’t wearing a nametag during their encounter—was the best thing he’s come across since he got to town. He wouldn’t mind taking that one home for a night of fun—if home didn’t currently include his siblings, their spouses, and all of his various nieces and nephews.

The house is big enough for everyone to visit comfortably, but the boy looked like a screamer. It would have ended poorly.

Peter hangs up with Chris when he finally reaches the counter—he may not have ever worked in customer service, but he knows better than to be that guy.

“Medium latte with a pump of vanilla and an extra shot, please,” he tells the wide-eyed and slightly flustered barista. She jots the details of his order down on the side of the cup and slides it to a tall, lanky young man who—with killer cheekbones and a mop of blond curls—could easily pass for a model.

Peter’s work-brain immediately starts dressing him in some of the newer styles that have come across his desk.

A drawback of working in fashion. He can’t turn it off.

The cafe is busy, the tables filled, customers milling while the two employees scramble to fill orders. Honestly, they seem a little understaffed for such a busy weekend, and Peter is starting to regret his impulsive stop. This might take a while.

He steps down to the other end of the bar to wait, taking a minute to sort through a few emails. It might be Sunday, but everything he does now is one less thing his personal assistant will put on his list later.

He’s distracted from his inbox when the door to the back of the store flies open and a slim figure bursts through, still in the process of tying an apron on. “Kira! Isaac! I’m here to rescue you!”

The girl-barista—Kira he assumes—flashes the new arrival a mega-watt smile. Model-boy—Isaac—mutters a distracted “aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” as his hands continue to fly over the espresso machine, pulling shots and steaming milk.

Peter smirks, amused.

“Holy shit, you guys are in the weeds,” the new kid announces, unknowingly echoing Peter’s earlier thoughts as he dives into work, snagging a stack of unstarted drinks and adding syrups to them. Peter’s eyes track the flurry of movement with interest.

New-kid is a fashion disaster with a beanie pulled over his dark hair, hipster-typical, dark-rimmed glasses, and layers of very unfortunate plaid. His worn skinny jeans—that nevertheless mold beautifully to his thighs—are the only thing worth mentioning.

His voice is what snags Peter’s attention and makes him pause to look closer.

The glasses throw him off for a moment, but the mole-dotted, pale skin and the wide, laughing mouth finally let him connect the dots.

Apparently, his bookstore-twink has a second job. Peter’s lips curl up, pleased by the coincidence.

“Latte for Peter?”

His name pulls Peter away from the enticing daydream of just what might be hiding under all those horrible layers. As he steps forward for his drink, a heavyset man—in an ill-filling, off-the-rack suit from five years ago—reaches past him and grabs it.

Peter’s eyebrows shoot up, but before he can protest the man takes a sip and his face pinches in displeasure.

“This isn’t a Caramel Macchiato!” bad-suit squawks. He slams the cup back down hard enough that the lid pops off and hot coffee explodes in an arc across the counter, coming perilously close to Peter’s Berluti dress shoes.

Isaac skitters back, wide-eyed, his shoulders hunching. “Oh—I—uh—”

Peter’s bookstore-twink is suddenly there, between Isaac and the angry customer. “Oh damn! I’m so sorry, sir.” He snags the cup off the counter and tugs down the cardboard sleeve. “I’ll get your drink remade right away—Peter.” He spins away, using the rapid movement to shuffle Isaac back towards the register. “I got this, can you help Kira?”

“I’m in a rush,” bad-suit whines, fists balled up like a child. Peter glances down, wondering if he’ll stamp his foot too.

“Of course, Peter,” bookstore-twink gushes. “I’ll have your vanilla latte ready in just a minute.”

The man freezes and Peter sees the dawning realization on his face.

“Let’s see,” Peter’s new favorite barista muses, loudly enough that everyone within ten feet of the counter can hear as he reads off the side of the cup. “You wanted one pump of vanilla, an extra shot of espresso, and soy milk. Right, Peter?”

God, the snark on this boy is beautiful.

The rude customer—whose name obviously isn’t Peter—is quickly turning a blotchy red. He glances down at another cup, sitting innocuously in front of him on the counter.

Peter doesn’t bother to restrain the humor in his voice when he answers. “That’s right, sweetheart. Vanilla soy latte. And take your time, I’m happy to wait.”

The man grumbles something incomprehensible, then grabs the drink that’s actually his and slinks away to the chuckles of the observing patrons.

Bookstore-twink meets Peter’s eyes for the first time and his own go wide behind his dark-framed glasses. His mouth opens in a little “oh” of recognition.

“Hello, again.” Peter offers the boy his most charming smile.

The sweet thing ducks his head to hide his answering blush while his long-fingered hands move expertly to remake Peter’s drink.

“Hey, stranger,” he quips, gifting Peter with a coy glance from below his lashes. His tongue darts out to slide over his full lower lip as his focus returns squarely to the steaming milk.

Peter takes in the way the little tease chews at the inside of his cheek and fights a smile. His honey-brown eyes make Peter want to tug his glasses from his face so he can get a better look, and Peter isn’t sure if he’d rather strip him down to his skinny jeans and dress him in something that will show him off, or just strip him in order to find all his sensitive places.

Peter tells the Chris-toned voice in his head that’s grumbling “not again” to fuck off. There’s nothing wrong with playing with a pretty-boy as long as everyone involved is having fun—and knows that playing is nothing like a commitment.

“Well, we don’t have to be strangers, but you don’t seem to be a fan of name-tags.”

“What?” The boy slaps a hand over his heart, then flushes when he doesn’t encounter anything. “Crap.” He fishes in his apron pocket, but he can’t juggle the name-tag and the steaming milk he’s pouring. He luckily chooses the milk.

The name-tag hits the floor and when he shifts his foot to catch it, he sends it skittering under the far counter. He sags with an embarrassed groan.

Peter blinks, startled by the unexpected, dramatic flailing, then chuckles. “I guess now we’ll never know.”

His bookstore-twink makes a sound suspiciously close to a snort and squirms with embarrassment. “I’m Stiles.” He pops the lid on the finished coffee and bites his lip briefly. His pretty brown eyes flick down to the cup and back up again before he holds it out. “And you’re Peter?

“I am.” Peter takes the new drink with a smile, then reaches out and tucks a couple bills into the front pocket of Stiles’ apron as a thank you—both for the drink, and the entertainment.

“Thanks?” Stiles licks his lips nervously and stares, gaze locked with Peter’s.

If feels like it lasts longer than it probably does, then his coworker—overwhelmed by the ever-lengthening line—interrupts, shouting for assistance.

Stiles flinches back into motion, head ducked, grinning as he starts filling orders again.

Peter takes a sip of his—perfect—latte and glances around for a place to sit, but the cafe is packed, all the tables taken, and he’s not willing to awkwardly hover. He’d like to talk to Stiles more—maybe see where the interest reflected back at him will take them—but he can always come back later.

“I still say he’s trying to get in your pants.”

“Thanks so much, Isaac. It never occurred to me that he tipped me a hundred bucks for something other than my latte making skills!” Stiles rolls his eyes and tosses his rag in the bucket of cleaner a little too violently.

He sighs and grabs it again to clean up the splashes.

“Maybe he’s just feeling the holiday spirit?” Kira suggests, her sweetness strong in the face of Isaac and Stiles’ skepticism.

Stiles snorts. “Yeah, no. This is the same guy who was looking for presents his family will hate. I don’t think ‘Christmas Spirit’ is a thing he does.”

“But he didn’t give you his number or anything?” Kira asks, yet again.

Stiles shrugs. “Nope. Just the cash.”

He’s not sure what he feels about that, to be honest. Because he sure as hell needs the money—he wouldn’t be working so much if he didn’t—but it's still weird. Maybe a little skeevy. Who just gives that kind of money to a stranger with no expectations? Stiles is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

He finishes straightening up and tugs off his apron. “If you guys are good here, I’m gonna go try not to spill red wine on fancy people.”

Isaac frowns at him. “You’re at the restaurant tonight?”

Kira is wide-eyed and equally concerned. “Why didn’t you say something? We kept you here all afternoon.”

“Hey, money is money. I’ll take any shifts I can get. Besides, it’s only for another week and then I’m back at school.”

They make a few more noises about him working too hard, but he waves off the rest of their concern. Yes, of course, he’s exhausted all the time. He’s running on pure caffeine—good thing he works in a coffee shop, right? Anyway, it will all be okay in the end.

He pats Isaac on the back and kisses the top of Kira’s head, then heads out. He honestly appreciates the concern and knows some of it’s probably warranted. Isaac and Kira really are good friends. He ought to find time to hang with them outside of work, just as soon as he’s not so busy.

He regrets forgetting his coat at home this morning as he hurries down the street to his car. It’s gotten cold now that the sun is down. The holiday lights on main street sure are pretty, though. It makes the walk almost worth it.

Pulling out his phone, he checks the time, then snaps a picture for Insta. Good. If he hurries he has just long enough to swing by his dad’s. He can change clothes and shove some food in his face before his shift at the restaurant.

Stiles thinks—not for the first time—that there should be a way to make it through college with only the normal amount of debt. He knew going in that there would be loans. He planned for it. But he wasn’t expecting the debt to pile up quite so quickly. Or for so many people to be screwing him over.

Like the financial aid office that decided halfway through the fall semester that they weren’t going to cover his off-campus housing while he completed his mandatory, unpaid spring internship. Because the internship he found requires forty hours a week, and Stiles can’t schedule enough classes around it to maintain his full-time status.

Part-time status means part-time aid apparently.

And a full-time—did he mention unpaid—internship, plus classes, also means having to quit the nights-and-weekends restaurant job that covered his expenses for the last three and a half years.

Which is what led to Stiles working his ass off all of winter break, trying to scrape together enough money to pay his landlord—something that has to be done at the beginning of each semester—because “off-campus” doesn’t mean he gets treated like an actual adult.

Apparently, college kids can’t be trusted to pay their bills on time. Who woulda thunk?

Under the looming threat of homelessness, Stiles called every single one of his old high-school bosses. The bookstore and the cafe were happy to have him back during the holiday rush, and he got extra lucky when his buddy Danny needed someone to cover his restaurant shifts while he’s away visiting family.

A good night at the restaurant pays more in tips than the other two jobs combined, even if he doesn’t get the really nice shifts, like Saturday nights—those are for the servers with seniority. He did pick up Christmas Eve because even though it pays well, no one really wants to work until late when they could be home with their families.

He’s damn proud of himself, really. Over the course of the last few weeks he’s managed to make just enough to cover rent and groceries for the next three months. He’ll have to figure something else out for the spring, but that’s three months away, and he’s going to celebrate his wins while he has them.

The Beacon Inn is packed for a Sunday night. That’s mostly due to the jazz band that’s playing—holiday-themed of course, because Stiles can’t stop losing Whamageddon this year. He's assigned to all the bar two-tops. They’re running him off his feet, but he’s also too busy to notice how tired he is.

He’s just swung by with another round for the big, daddy-looking bears in the corner—they've been flirting with him non-stop since they came in, he’s apparently rocking the hipster-twink look in his old glasses—when the manager snags him.

“I just sat two in the dining room. Can you take them?”

Stiles glances around. His tables are all settled with full drinks and plenty of bar-snacks. He can handle one more. And dinner customers equal bigger tabs which means more money in his pocket.

He ducks into the main room and snags a water pitcher and bread for the table. The couple is seated near the window with a great view of the street.

“Hey,” Stiles says with an upbeat smile as he approaches the table. “Welcome to—Bea—Beacon Inn—” He fumbles and stalls, gaping.

Peter—his hot bookstore-guy—somehow he’s here. He’s in Stiles’ restaurant—well, really Danny’s restaurant, but semantics—either way, he’s on the opposite side of town from the last place Stiles saw him. And not only that, but he’s in Stiles' section—all casual—like it’s no big deal.

Stiles can’t be blamed if he stares a little and forgets how words work.

Peter arches an eyebrow, obviously questioning his mental health.

Stiles is questioning it too, to be honest. He’s also wondering where his sudden suit-kink came from—because fuck, a fancy vest over an open-collared button-down should not be this hot. His mouth works silently as he searches for words that aren’t a request to lick Peter’s thick, gorgeous neck.

It takes him way too long to notice the beautiful woman sitting across the table from the asshole that’s stolen his entire attention.

She looks just as fancied up as Peter in a blouse and skirt combo, her long dark hair loose around her shoulders. She turns and gives Stiles a polite smile, kindly ignoring the way he’s frozen like a startled deer. “Hi there.” She smooths out her skirt and folds her hands in her lap expectantly. She’s not wearing a ring.

Date night. Stiles’ rude brain supplies, something uncomfortable twisting in his gut. “I—can I—” He clears his throat and starts again. “Can I start you off with something to drink?”

They order a fancy bottle of wine like they’re celebrating something. Peter is still eyeing him with curiosity. His date, thankfully, seems oblivious to the attention as she scans the menu.

Stiles somehow manages to rattle off the night’s specials before he flees, his face burning and his heart pounding painfully.

This is stupid. He needs to get it together.

Yes, he may have entertained the idea that Peter was flirting with him. He can’t be blamed for that, the man practically purrs when he talks. Stiles is allowed to be disappointed that he was wrong. What he’s not allowed to do is fuck over a table that has a good chance of leaving him a fantastic tip.

Stiles breathes and makes a loop through the bar, clearing a few empty glasses, then heads back to take Peter and his date’s order, determined to be the best server they’ve ever encountered.

Peter continues giving him odd looks and the occasional eye roll—possibly due to how over-the-top pleasant and helpful he’s being. Well, let him. Stiles has no intention of explaining himself.

He manages to hold it together until he’s making his way over after their food is delivered. He’s too far away to hear her words, but Peter’s date has her arm stretched across the table, one hand gently cupping Peter’s face. Peter’s lips are curled up in a soft smile as he accepts the intimate touch.

Stiles turns and flees back to the bar.

God, this sucks. He’s not usually like this. He jabs at the point-of-sale computer, sending a round of drinks through for one of his other tables. This is what he gets for letting his fucking hopes spiral out of hand. Men like Peter aren’t interested in guys like Stiles.

Not that Stiles isn’t a catch. He objectively hot, and he knows he’s his own brand of awesome. He does just fine when he has time to date. And when he doesn’t there’s no shortage of hot dudes willing to swipe right for him.

This one just felt different.


Stiles bristles but keeps entering orders, trying to pretend he doesn’t recognize the voice or his name.

“Stiles.” He’s too close to ignore now.

“Can I help you, sir?” Stiles forces out sweetly, keeping his eyes locked on the screen.

Peter huffs. He’s close enough that Stiles imagines he feels the puff of air on the back of his neck. “Really? Is that how you want to play this?”

Annoyance wells up past the—probably unwarranted—hurt and Stiles turns to face him. “Fine." He scowls at the man’s stupidly perfect face. “Are you stalking me?” He plants his hands on his hips and pulls his shoulders back. “Because this isn’t funny anymore.”

“Stalking—” Peter rolls his eyes. “Do I look like the type of man that needs to stalk someone, sweetheart?”

Stiles takes a deep breath and reminds himself that he can’t go off on a customer—even a conceited asshole customer—and also, he still needs to earn his tip. “Sorry. Look, Peter.” He gestures to the room. “I’m really slammed here. Was there something you and your friend needed?” He glances past Peter’s broad—distracting—shoulder and sees his table of daddy-bears trying to flag him down.

“She’s not my—”

“Great,” Stiles cuts him off and side-steps around him, heading for the customers that actually need something. “I hope you both enjoy your meal.”

He hears Peter sigh but doesn’t let it stop him. He’s got daddy-bears to take care of, and maybe a little flirting—the actually harmless kind—will cheer him up.

Stiles spends the rest of the night moving as quickly as possible between tables and refusing eye-contact with any and everyone in the direction of the dining room—all while keeping a bright, fake grin on his face.

He drops Peter and his date's check off, gushes a little over how lovely it was to serve them, and how he hopes they have a wonderful evening. He’s not quite far away enough to miss the woman’s annoyed, “Peter, what did you do?” as he flees for the final time.

He misses the answer and he waits until long after they’re gone to collect the bill.

When he sees the two hundred dollar tip he doesn’t know whether to laugh or scream.

Talia is either going through a mid-life crisis, or she’s developed empty-nest syndrome despite two of her adult children still living at home. Peter can’t think of any other reason that she would have gone out and bought a ridiculous, designer dog.

What the hell even is a “Pomsky?”

All he knows is that it looks like someone hit a Husky with a shrinking-ray. There’s something so wrong about taking a working dog and miniaturizing it.

Peter might have a career in fashion, but he maintains the “designer” label is for clothes, and not anything that needs to be kept alive. Because in his experience, “designer” means “high-maintenance”.

Chili is no exception. Talia got caught up at work, so for some reason, Peter is the one picking the furball up from his bi-weekly grooming appointment at the animal clinic.

Peter leans on the front desk and taps his fingers against the glass countertop in bored rhythm, vaguely following along with the omnipresent holiday music as he waits for the floppy-haired vet tech to return with his temporary charge. It’s been at least ten minutes and he’s running out of patience.

The waiting room is slowly emptying out of yappy animals—it’s apparently the last day for check-ups before Dr. Deaton closes shop for the holidays. The Beacon Hills Animal Clinic staff is getting ten days of paid vacation. Peter knows all of this because the floppy-haired vet tech is very much an over-sharer—and was enthusiastically describing his vacation to the person in front of Peter in line. Scott’s apparently getting on a plane to San Diego just as soon as his last patient is picked up.

That’s five minutes of his life Peter is never getting back.

Honestly, Peter is done with this whole day. He’s been out shopping since noon and he’s exhausted. He thought gag-gifts for his family would be easy, but—unless he wants to take Chris’ suggestion and just hit up the nearest sex-shop—they are going to take some planning. Effort. Just like Talia wanted. Peter thinks he’s probably backed himself into a corner with this plan, but he’s much too invested to give up now.

Though possibly, he needs some outside input. He debates asking Cora. She would absolutely be on board for gag-gift shopping, but she’s also terrible at keeping her mouth shut. It’s a thought anyway.

He’s still frowning into space when the door to the back of the clinic swings open behind him.

“Hi, Peter. Chili’s ready for you.”

Peter’s head whips around so fast that his neck cracks. His jaw drops and he flat out stares at Stiles, who for some ungodly reason is dressed in blue scrubs, holding Talia’s purse-dog, and smiling pleasantly.

Peter has no words.

Alright, he has plenty of words, but Talia will be pissy if he gets them banned from the best—only—animal clinic in town, so Peter bites down on them.

“Would you like to schedule the next appointment now, or should we wait for Chili's mom to do it?” Stiles asks.

“Is this a joke?”

Stiles raises a judgmental eyebrow at him. “Suit yourself. But we have a limited number of slots during the holidays. It’s better to book in advance.”

Peter knows he’s being punished. He saw the way Stiles looked at Talia during dinner and he’s not an idiot. He would have happily cleared up the misunderstanding if Stiles had given him two minutes to talk, but the boy was too damn stubborn.


Stiles’ jaw ticks and his cheeks go a little pink, but he holds onto his pleasantly blank expression as he sets Chili down and holds out the leash.

Peter reaches out, but bypasses it and closes his hand over Stiles’ warm skin. He gives a little squeeze, then slips the lead from Stiles’ hold and tugs the dog to his side.

Stiles steps back, mouth held in a perfect customer service smile. The brat doesn’t so much as twitch or hint that anything strange is going on. It’s actually impressive. “Alright then. Have a nice day. Bye, Chili.” He waves to the dog.

Peter continues to stare. There’s no way all of this is a coincidence. There’s no way—even in a town as small as Beacon Hills—he could run across one perfect boy so many times in such a short period.

But if he’s going to figure this out—without running his boy off—Peter needs to make a strategic retreat. It’ll be fine. He has a feeling their paths will cross again soon.

Stiles keeps it together until he hears Peter’s car door shut—then he loses his shit, doubled over, laughing so hard he’s wheezing and tears are rolling down his face.

Scott sticks his head through the swinging door, attempting to hide his shirtlessness. “Dude. Do you need to borrow my inhaler? Also, can I get my scrubs back? It’s freezing in here.”

Stiles waves him over and tugs the scrub top over his head, tossing it to Scott. He has a t-shirt on underneath—there wasn’t enough time to change completely after he heard Peter’s voice and had his brilliant epiphany. And god, Peter’s face.

“Dude,” Stiles gasps, laughter starting up again. “Dude, did you see his face?”

“No.” Scott pouts. “I was hiding. Because you stole my shirt.” He dresses quickly, snagging a hoodie from the back of the door to throw on top.

Stiles might be cold if he ever stops laughing, but for now, he’s warm to the core. “We can cancel Christmas.” He collapses into the receptionist chair and sends it spinning around and around as he grins at the ceiling. “I’m not getting a better present than that.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Look, that asshole showed up at all three of my jobs last weekend and it was really freaking annoying. I saw an amazing opportunity and I took it.”

“That’s super creepy. Is he stalking you? Do you want me to say something to Dr. Deaton?” Scott is giving him worried-puppy-face, but Stiles waves the concern off.

“Nah, man. It’s fine. I can totally handle him.” Stiles has a plan now, and with the way things have been going, he doesn’t think he’ll have to wait long to put it into action.