1) Guards! Guards!
Stiles skidded into the bookstore about five minutes before closing and threw an apologetic look at the clerk behind the counter. "I swear, I'm just grabbing something!"
From her narrowed eyes, he didn't think she believed him.
Oh well, he didn't have time for that now. He needed a gift for Scott's birthday and he'd just figured out the perfect one. He only hoped the bookstore still had it.
Stiles stumbled to a stop at the fantasy aisle and ran down, scanning the author names for Pratchett. He just needed one book, one--
He spotted the bright green cover of Guards! Guards! and crouched to grab it. Thank God, he hadn't been--
Another hand closed over the book just as Stiles grabbed it.
"Hey!" Stiles yanked the book back, but the other guy had a firm grip on it. "What are you--"
He trailed off when he set eyes on the leather-clad god with a glare that could strip paint off a car who also had hold of the book.
Stiles gulped, but he didn't let go. "Hey, dude, I had it first."
Those powerful black eyebrows bent down further. "Like hell you did."
If Stiles was going to be intimidated by a murder face, he wouldn't have had a crush on Lydia Martin for most of high school. He scowled and tightened his grip on the book. "I so did. And this book is coming with me, so you can just go ahead and--"
The guy jerked back, and Stiles lost his grip and his balance, stumbling into a shelf with a curse.
The guy held up the book. "Mine," he said, and then marched toward the front of the store.
"Hey, asshole, it's for my friend's birthday!" Stiles yelled.
"This is for my sister's!" the guy yelled back. "Get your friend Wyrd Sisters or Witches Abroad."
Stiles kicked at nothing, and then grabbed Wyrd Sisters. Scott would probably like Granny Weatherwax.
It didn't stop him from cursing the Leather-Clad Book Stealer the entire way up to the counter.
2) Prohibition Bakery
Stiles really should have learned his lesson the first time he lost out on the book he wanted. He was right about the substitute--Scott did love Granny Weatherwax and was halfway through the rest of the Witches books--but still, it was the principle of the thing.
He should've gotten to the store earlier, maybe. Or ordered online a week ago (although he chafed at that idea; he liked supporting his local store). The point was, there were ways to ensure he got the books he wanted on time.
But now he was standing in the middle of the cookbook aisle, the day before Allison's birthday, with both hands on a copy of Prohibition Bakery.
And the other two hands on the book belonged to none other than Leather-Clad Book Stealer.
"No," Stiles said.
Leather-Clad Book Stealer sighed exasperatedly. "You again?"
Stiles glared. "You're not getting this one. You stole the last book, you're not stealing this one from me."
"You do realize it's not actually yours until you pay for it, right?"
Stiles would have waved his hands, but he wasn't letting go of this book for anything. "Semantics, dickweed. Now give it."
Stiles widened his eyes, going for the puppy dog look Scott and Allison had perfected. "Please?"
"Interesting tactic," Leather-Clad Book Stealer said. "Still no."
"Then we appear to have reached a stalemate, because I'm sure as hell not letting go."
Stiles was prepared to plunk his ass on the ground right there on the cookbook aisle, taking the book and Leather-Clad Book Stealer with him, when someone yelled, "Derek! Where the hell are you?"
Leather-Clad Book Stealer turned toward the voice, and Stiles seized his chance. He tugged the book free and sprinted to the end of the aisle, crowing his victory.
He turned back long enough to see his nemesis--Derek, apparently--glowering at him, but Stiles just gleefully waved the book over his head. "Hasta la vista, book stealer!"
The bookstore was one of Stiles's favorite places in the entire town. It was cozy and well-stocked with huge shelves, plus a little cafe tucked off to one corner with plenty of tables and plush chairs. It was a great place for studying, and Stiles probably spent a good quarter of his monthly income on the delicious cafe pastries.
Of course, that wasn't counting how much he spent on actual books. He really needed to budget better.
But today he wasn't worried about that. Today, he had a gigantic mug of his favorite hot cinnamon spice tea, a free afternoon, and the entire first volume of Saga to keep him company for a couple of hours.
He'd just settled in and taken his first sip of tea when someone cleared their throat right above him.
Stiles looked up from the book to see Leather-Clad Book Stealer, a.k.a. Derek, standing over him, wearing the same leather jacket he'd been the previous two times. He had his hands shoved in his pockets and his brow knit in a constipated furrow.
Stiles wasn't sure what it said about him that tall, dark, and angry made him horny instead of fearful.
Derek looked so pained Stiles almost felt sympathy for him. "Of course it's you."
Stiles let the hardback book drop against his chest. "It is me, whoever me is for you, oh nemesis of mine."
Derek's dark eyebrows shot up. "Nemesis?"
"Twice you've tried to take a book from me, and only once you've succeeded. I think that makes us nemeses. Nemesises?" Stiles frowned. "No, I'm pretty sure it's nemeses."
Derek nodded at his chest. "I need that book."
"You..." Stiles looked down and then wrapped his arms protectively around the book. "No! I've been wanting to read this for months!"
Derek wiped his hand over his face and cursed softly under his breath. "I need it for a class, okay? That's the only copy they've got left!"
Stiles shrugged. "You snooze, you lose. They'll have more in next week. Or you can go and ask them to order you one! Special!"
Derek closed his eyes and tipped his head back, quietly mouthing something. Stiles kind of wished he could read lips. "What are you doing?"
"Silently counting to ten so I don't rip the book out of your arms," Derek said.
"You're a little violent, dude."
"I'm a little desperate. And my name is Derek."
"Good for you." Stiles snuggled deeper into his chair and hunched further around the book. "I'm not giving this up. Like you need this for a class, seriously."
Derek gave him a flat, unimpressed look. "Actually, yes, I do. Saga is part of my thesis. I loaned my own copy to my younger sister, who is now in Japan for the next six months, and I would really like to have another one before my meeting with my advisor. Which is tomorrow."
"Holy shit, you're doing your thesis on Saga?" Stiles snapped his mouth shut and cursed the excitement in his voice.
Derek's lips twitched, and the scowl softened a bit. "On the move toward diversifying and thus normalizing characters in comics, but yes. Saga's a big part of that."
Oh no. Less scowly Derek wasn't just hot, he was kind of beautiful. Really beautiful, with the pale eyes and the dark stubble and the way his eyes crinkled just a little bit at the corners, like he wasn't quite smiling but he was getting there.
Stiles's heart thumped treacherously, and the next thing he knew, he was handing over the book. Voluntarily. "Fine, here you go."
Derek's eyebrows went up in surprise. "That's it?"
"Just take the book before I change my mind and go hide with it in the back or something," Stiles said.
Derek nodded once and took it carefully, like he was taking a baby. "Thanks, uh..."
"Stiles. And before you ask, it's a nickname."
Derek gave him a full grin at that. "I wasn't going to ask, but that's good to know. Thanks again, Stiles. I'll see you around."
"See ya," Stiles said, and waited until Derek had left the cafe before he flopped against the chair and groaned.
4) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Stiles frowned at the Js on the science fiction and fantasy shelf at the bookstore, wishing he'd thought to write the author's name down instead of relying on his memory. Lydia's birthday was coming up and Stiles knew she'd been branching out into reading more fantasy, so he was looking for a book he'd read about online but hadn't had a chance to read himself.
"James?" he muttered. "Jameson?"
Stiles spun to see Derek standing behind him, holding up a copy of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.
"Yes! That's the one. I knew I should've written it down." Stiles looked back to the shelf, and his face fell. "Shit. I don't see another one. Damn it, I know Lydia would love that."
Derek shoved it into his chest. "Here you go."
Stiles fumbled but managed to grab the book before it dropped. "Holy shit, seriously?"
"Seriously," Derek said, and then turned and walked away.
"Thank you!" Stiles called after him, but he wasn't sure if Derek heard.
That was quite possibly the weirdest interaction he and Derek had had yet.
5) The Drunken Botanist
Stiles didn't start going to the bookstore three times a week in the hopes of seeing Derek, okay? He just needed more study time, and he got the best studying done at the bookstore.
So he wasn't disappointed when he went three weeks without seeing hide nor hair of Derek. Nope, not disappointed at all.
This particular trip wasn't one of his study trips, though.
"Dude, Scotty, Kira likes plants, right?" Stiles asked desperately, one hand on his phone and the other cautiously balancing a stack of six books.
"Yes?" Scott didn't sound too sure. "I mean, she likes them well enough."
"Do you think she'd like a book called The Drunken Botanist?" Stiles asked. "It's plants and booze. She likes those things, right? And there are...wow, a lot of drink recipes in here."
"You know you don't have to get my girlfriend a Christmas present."
"Considering after this Christmas she's going to be your fiancée, yes, yes I do."
"Dude!" Scott hissed. "Not so loud."
Stiles rolled his eyes so hard he almost gave himself a headache. "Oh my God, man, it's not like she's in the bookstore." He froze. "Wait, is she in the bookstore?"
"No, she's here making dinner, but still!"
Stiles was glad he wasn't there, otherwise he'd have slapped Scott upside the head. "Oh my God, will you calm down then? I'm getting her the book."
He started to pull the book off the shelf and into his pile when another large hand landed on top of his, and Stiles reflexively jerked away.
It was Derek. Because of course it was.
"Scotty, I'll talk to you later." Stiles hung up the phone before he heard Scott's response. "Heeeeeey, Derek."
Derek's lips just barely turned up at the edges. "Stiles. Christmas shopping?"
"Yup." Stiles shoved his phone back into his pocket and gestured at the stack of books balanced on his left arm. "Almost finished. You?"
"Just picking up a few more gifts." Derek held up The Drunken Botanist. "Do you know anything about this?"
"I was thinking of giving it to my best friend's girlfriend," Stiles said. "It's got plants and booze, that's about all I know."
"Ah." Derek flipped over the book to look at the back, a fond smile on his face. "I was thinking of getting it for Cora. She's started to get really into mixing drinks and stuff, she'll get a kick out of it."
Stiles's heart sank. Any woman who could put that smile on Derek's face was a special one, and Stiles immediately berated himself for thinking that, because he barely knew the man.
He cleared his throat. "You should do that. Get that. You'll win present of the year."
"You think so?"
Stiles nodded. "Yeah. Totally. I'm just going to go find something for Kira and then, you know, finish braving the madness."
"Do you want some help?" Derek asked.
Stiles shook his head. He wasn't that much of a masochist. "Nah, thanks though. I'm fine. Have a merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas," Derek said, and Stiles wasn't sure if he was imagining the slight disappointment in his voice.
Imagining it, definitely.
+1) Good Omens
Between Christmas and New Year's and the post-holiday recovery that took just about the entire month of January, Stiles didn't get a chance to go back to the bookstore until nearly Valentine's Day. It was one of the few places that wasn't utterly overwhelmed by pink and red hearts, although he noticed the romance novels had been moved to a position of prominence near the front door.
He wandered the aisles in the fiction section, not really sure what he was looking for. It wasn't until he spotted Good Omens on the shelf that he remembered he'd been intending to read it for about five years now.
He picked up the book and flipped it over. It was almost weird, now, to pick up a book without Derek's hand landing on the same one. Stiles resolutely shoved the thought away. Derek had a life, Derek had a girlfriend, Derek definitely did not spend all his spare time lurking the aisles of the bookstore to snatch books away from fellow book lovers.
"It's a good one."
And apparently Derek also lived to prove him wrong.
Stiles raised his eyes from the back of the book and turned to see Derek there, hands in his pockets and looking almost shy. His heart thumped at the sight.
"Have you read it?" Derek asked, nodding at the book.
Stiles shook his head. "Nah. I've been meaning to, but it's always gotten pushed to the bottom of the TBR pile."
"You should," Derek said. "If you like the Discworld series, you'll enjoy it. Pratchett and Gaiman work really well together."
"Cool." Stiles gripped the book a little tighter and hope he sounded like everything was cool. "I'll have to check it out, then."
"I, uh." Derek cleared his throat. "I've been meaning to reread it. It's been a few years. Would you want to read it together?"
"Together?" Stiles repeated, his heart beating a little faster. "Like how?"
Derek shrugged. "You know. Read it, and then get together over coffee to talk about it? Like, maybe Saturday?"
"Saturday?" Stiles counted up the days. "Wait, don't you have plans?"
Derek looked confused. It probably would have been adorable any other time. "Why would I have plans?"
"Saturday's Valentine's Day," Stiles said. "Don't you have plans with your girlfriend?"
"Girlfriend?" Derek frowned. "I don't have a girlfriend. Where did you get that idea?"
Stiles's cheeks heated. "Uh, at Christmas, you were buying a present for Cora--"
"Who is my sister," Derek said. "The one who took my copy of Saga overseas, actually."
"Oh." Stiles felt like an idiot. "Okay. Yeah. I'm an idiot."
"Hardly." Derek smiled. "Well, you are, but it has less to do with that and more to do with you stealing my copy of Prohibition Bakery."
"Hey!" Stiles swatted his shoulder. "I won that one fair and square. And you got Guards! Guards!, so that was only right. Justice was served."
Derek snorted. "If by justice you mean your own personal self-interests, then yes."
Stiles grabbed another copy of Good Omens and shoved it into Derek's chest. "Well, maybe you should come to the cafe with me right now and let me buy you a drink to make up for it. We can go ahead and get started on that 'reading it together' thing."
Derek looked from the book back up to Stiles. "Is this your way of asking me on a date?"
"Depends. Was asking me to meet on Saturday your way of asking me on a date?" Stiles said. "Because if so, then yes, this is totally me asking you on a date. If not, nope, just hanging out, no pressure whatsoever, just going to enjoy some hot beverage and delicious pastries and--"
"It's a date, then," Derek cut in. "Definitely a date."
It took every ounce of his willpower not to do a victory dance right in the middle of the fantasy aisle. "Awesome, then. Definitely awesome."
Stiles needed to stop talking before he said anything else stupid, but he couldn't keep the idiotic smile off his face.
That was okay. Derek's answering grin was just was wide and he ducked his head a little, like he was shy. It was so adorable Stiles thought he was going to die.
"Yeah, I would really, really like to date the hell out of you," Stiles said.
Derek looked up at him and nodded back to the café. "Well, why don't we get started, then?"
"Sounds good.” Stiles bumped into his side deliberately, pressing against the warm length of Derek’s leather sleeve. “Fair warning, though: if I like the book, I absolutely will not shut up about it."
Derek leaned back into him, and his grin faded to something small and soft and private. "That's okay. I look forward to it."