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Born to Make History

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PROLOGUE

Grand Prix Finals
Sochi, Russia

It was like a broken record, playing over and over in his head, and no matter what, he couldn't make it stop.

Probably hadn't been a good idea to check his voicemail right before taking the ice, but he'd figured maybe his dad was wishing him luck, knowing what a huge moment this was. And given the nerves that were causing him to literally shake in his skates, Stiles Stilinski really could've used the reassurance of his dad's calm, steady voice repeating those same words of faith in his son's skills.

Only that wasn't what he'd gotten.

No, what was left was a message about Stiles' husky, Derek, being rushed to the vet after his legs had given out on him one last time and then subsequently passing.

Stiles had been devastated, his hands shaking more than usual as he stepped onto the ice, his nerves feeling like they were actually trembling underneath his skin. He couldn't focus on his routine, couldn't get his mind to settle where it was supposed to. All he could think about was his blue-eyed pup, one he'd gotten because it was the same breed as his childhood idol's, a dog that had been by his side through four am wake-ups, jogging alongside his owner on their way to the rink to get in practice before school, hanging out in the afternoons when Stiles was working on his routines. Derek had been a calming presence that helped eased Stiles' anxiety over grades, friends, college, his romantic life—or lack thereof really—and his mom's death.

Shit, Derek had been the biggest comfort during his mom's illness, the one Stiles had held on to while he cried, the one who'd wiped—or licked really—away tears, the one who'd shown that Stiles would be okay because he still had someone there by his side, still had that rock he could lean on while his dad was busy working.

Only now that steady rock was gone.

Who the fuck was gonna watch over Stiles now? Who was gonna comfort him in his hour of need? His dad was the sole caretaker of the Beacon Hills Bed and Breakfast, meaning he was always at the beck and call of various guests, always had a million and a half things to do. Stiles loved the man to death, but he wasn't one-hundred percent reliable—through no fault of the older Stilinski. That's why Derek had been more than just a pet to Stiles and that's why his death was an especially hard blow.

And it showed in his performance.

He over-rotated a quad and barely escaped smashing his face on the ice, falling onto his hands and knees.

He under-rotated a triple toe-loop and landed on his ass.

He missed a combination, a double twist turned into a single.

He fucked up. Everywhere.

After his shit-tacular performance, Stiles wanted nothing more than to just disappear, to go back to the hotel and pack his shit and head home. But his coach Deaton wouldn't let him. Guards back on his blades, Deaton wrapped his arms around Stiles and hauled him in for a hug, patting his hand over his buzzed hair and murmuring words that Stiles was sure were meant to be reassuring. He didn't hear any of it. Everything was fuzzy, like it was all coming from far away, the sound muffled as though he was under the ice itself and the words couldn't make it through to him. But he nodded nonetheless as he was led over to what was affectionately dubbed the “Kiss or Cry Bench”, the seat where athletes and their coaches waited for the scores to come up, to find out where they now sat in the standings.

Stiles couldn't look, eyes focused on the rubber mat beneath his feet. He was aware of the camera in front of him, filming his reaction, of the backdrop behind him displaying the logos of various sponsors, of Deaton's arm around his shoulders both offering comfort and holding him in place so Stiles couldn't bolt the way he so desperately wanted to. Instead, he covered his face with his hands as his elbows dug into his knees, the PA announcing his score.

The worst of his career.

He sniffed loudly, eyes burning but no tears coming out. He felt numb all over, his feelings having frozen over like the fake ice on the floor of the coliseum, hardening when he'd listened to that voicemail. But he still felt the stab of each number as it was said, the words coming in loud and clear when everything else was nothing more than static. A shaky exhale caused him to tremble slightly and he felt Deaton rubbing his back before leaning over, cupping his shoulders as he put his head close to Stiles'.

“It's okay,” he whispered, loud enough for Stiles but quiet enough that the camera's mic couldn't pick it up. “You'll get 'em next year.”

Stiles nodded again, solely because it felt like the thing to do, dropping his hands then rising to his feet as the next skater was announced, Isaac Lahey taking the ice and waving to the crowd. Reporters were coming in for interviews, already calling his name and shouting questions, and he quickly ducked away, heading in the opposite direction and leaving Deaton to fend for himself against the hungry wolves.

The hallway was littered with people, another skater stretching against a wall under his coach's intense gaze, another camera/reporter combo interviewing a different athlete before he was set to take the ice. The backroom was also crowded, the remaining skaters and someone's coach gathered around the TV to watch Lahey's routine, exchanging commentary and wow-ing at appropriate moments. Stiles continued on his way, unseen, until he reached the restroom, locking himself inside a stall and sitting on top of the toilet seat.

His vision had started fuzzing out at the edges while he'd been at the Kiss or Cry Bench, his chest slowly tightening since he'd been on the ice, and now it felt like an industrial vice was gripping him, squeezing his ribs so hard he swore they were gonna fucking break. As it was, his lungs weren't fully expanding, his heart pounding in his chest like he was still on the ice mid-routine, the sensations making his head spin and a feeling of dizziness take over. Panting through his open mouth, he put his head between his knees, shaking hands clasped on top, willing his body to calm down, to relax, to...to do something other than fucking go on overload and try to shake him out of his skin.

Fuck, this was why he'd had Derek. Something about the dog's presence was calming, would help settle him. Stiles could curl up with the husky, time his breathing to the dog's, focus on the feeling of his soft fur rather than what the fuck was going on with his body.

Okay, that was it, that's what he needed to do. He needed to think about something else. Shouldn't be too hard with his ADHD really, even though his attention-span seemed to be a-okay at that moment, zeroed in on what was going on with him. But thinking about it just made it worse, Stiles knew that for a fact, so he tried distracting himself.

He rubbed a hand over his head, thought about the way his buzzcut felt against his palm, the soft scratchiness of it, the layer of sweat still clinging to the tiny strands. He rubbed at his calf with his other hand, thought about the smoothness of the silk-like fabric his costume was comprised of. He compared the two sensations, the duality of them, his scratchy hair and smooth outfit, and soon felt his heart rate slow and his breathing return to normal.

It was only then that the tears came.

Stiles shoved the heels of his palms against his eyes to try and hold them back, only to completely fail. Fat tears still slipped out, trailing down his cheeks, and he let out a rough sob, the sound scratching his throat from the force of its exit. He'd completely bombed at the one thing he'd always been decent at and now the one thing that could comfort him and cheer him up the most was gone. He thought he'd been through the worst of it when his mom had died, had figured he'd suffered enough and surely the universe wasn't enough of a dick to take anything else from him.

Okay, he knew there was no way Derek would live forever. It was impossible. Huskies had a maximum lifespan of fifteen years so eventually, Derek was gonna die. And considering the pup had been twelve, he'd had a pretty full life.

Didn't mean Stiles was ready to let him go though.

The stall door suddenly crashed open, banging against the side wall so hard it closed halfway over once again. Stiles jumped at the abrupt motion, choking on a gasp that had happened while he'd been exhaling a sob, coughing as he reached over to grab hold of the door. The bathroom had been completely deserted when he'd entered, he'd made sure of it, not wanting anyone to see him fucking breakdown, not wanting to deal with anyone. He hadn't expected anyone else to come in—stupid really, given it was the only men's room for the athletes and coaches—and he sure as shit hadn't expected them to throw open the door to his stall.

His locked door.

What the fuck?

Getting up, he grabbed the edge of the door, slowly opening it to reveal who was on the other side. Standing just outside the threshold was a kid who couldn't be taller than five-five, head ducked, hands shoved in the pockets of his blue warm-up jacket with white sleeves and a red collar, “RUSSIA” stitched across the front in white. Stiles thought it was kind of strange that the Russian National Team didn't have matching warm-up suits.

Not that he'd been slyly checking out another skater representing that same country who just happened to be his idol. And even more gorgeous in person.

Whatever.

But the kid before him wasn't one Stiles recognized, not that he could see much beyond a mess of light brown hair he figured was supposed to be styled in a mohawk of sorts, meaning he was probably part of the junior circuit. They'd skated earlier that day but Stiles hadn't paid too much attention to them, trying to focus on his own routine and settle his nerves.

Which he'd clearly failed at also.

Shit.

The kid lifted his head, glaring hard at Stiles with steely blue eyes, nostrils flaring as he practically huffed every breath like a bull, and the older boy fought the urge to retreat back into the stall and close the door once again. Wouldn't make much difference, he figured, since the Russian had somehow busted it open already.

“You!” the kid yelled, his accent thick, voice deeper than Stiles predicted it would be. “How fucking dare you sit in there crying like pissbaby vhen you have no one to blame but yourself! You are vorthless!”

Stiles head actually tipped back slightly at the ferocity of the boy's words, his attitude, the anger rolling off him in waves so strong it was a surprise it couldn't actually be touched or felt or seen. He sniffed loudly, then swallowed, considering arguing, wanting to point out that it wasn't just the scores he was upset about and how fucking dare this short asshole presume anything about his life. Only the kid wasn't done berating him, lips curled up in a sneer as he went on.

“You make me sick!” he continued, the last word coming out more like “seeck” with his accent, making it sound more aggressive than comical. “You should just retire! I debut in senior circuit next season and I refuse to be in same category as pissbaby like you! Go home! Give it up forever!” With that, he leaned back, lifting his leg and delivering a fierce blow to Stiles' sternum that blew him back into the stall.

With a grunt, Stiles landed on his already bruised ass, slamming his back into the toilet to add to his myriad of injuries. His head threw back, tweaking his neck with a minor case of whiplash, and he lifted his head just in time to see the Russian kid sneer at him and tut in disgust.

“Retire, old man,” he spat, shaking his head as he headed off to the door.

Shuffling, Stiles moved so he was sitting with his back more comfortably against the toilet bowl, drawing his knees up closer to his chest, arms draped off them and head hanging. Liam, the name came to him belatedly, finally recognizing the kid as a highly touted new talent, poised to be the next big thing out of Russian, already drawing comparisons to his teammate and fellow countryman, Derek Hale.

A long sigh escaped Stiles, his hand working the back of his neck, sniffing loudly. Maybe Liam was right. Maybe he should just retire. Nerves always got the best of Stiles when it came to the big stage and he always seemed to fuck up routines that he'd had nailed for months. What was the point on continuing with this career if he wasn't gonna succeed? Talent alone wasn't enough to bring home the gold and with last place all but confirmed in the Grand Prix, he couldn't have been further away from the podium.

He briefly wondered what his parents would think, what their reactions would be to his quitting. His mom—if she was still alive, of course—would be a little disappointed, having been the one to get him into skating in the first place, but would accept it, reassuring him that whatever made him happy was okay with her. His dad would be fine with it, thankful for an extra set of hands at the B-n-B, one he wouldn't have to pay really. Stiles knew his dad was proud in the way most parents were, but he'd always gotten the feeling that he wasn't one-hundred percent approving of his career choice, probably preferring that Stiles stay home and get a “real” job. Chances were he'd be relieved to have his son at home and over his fanciful delusions of being a professional figure skater.

Even if he had technically achieved said dream.

Which, okay, another reason to retire. He'd become a pro, had participated in a Grand Prix, had been on the biggest stage in the sport—short of the Olympics, of course. And he'd proven to himself that he really wasn't cut out for it, that he couldn't handle the pressure of the limelight and the high stakes, that he couldn't measure up to the Derek Hales and the Isaac Laheys and the Jackson Whittemores of the world.

Every great person knew when it was time to give it up and for Stiles, his time had come.

Weirdly settled with this new resolve, he got back up on his feet, feeling wobbly until he remembered he still had his skates on, ready to hang them up and move on to the next chapter in his life.

~*~*~*~*~*~

He'd wanted to go home as soon as he'd gotten back to the hotel, but Deaton hadn't allowed it. The people in charge were throwing a big banquet to honor the skaters and coaches on another successful Grand Prix—something Stiles had laughed at before getting an admonishing look from his stoic coach—and Stiles was gonna be there, whether he liked it or not. Deaton was always quiet and reserved, a coach who offered more calming reassurance than yells about fuck-ups and angry demands to do it again, but he could still be forceful when the time called for it—which was often when dealing with a stubborn athlete like Stiles who was used to getting his own way after having been raised an only child. He dug his feet in and insisted Stiles go and the skater gave in, figuring “what the fuck”. He was giving all of it up, so he might as well have fun that night and drink away his depression over what a royal fuck-up he'd made of his Grand Prix performance, letting someone else pay for the booze while he ignored the rest of the people there.

His plan had seemed like a godawful mistake the next morning though when he'd woken up with a killer hangover and the overwhelming desire to give himself a lobotomy to make the migraine go away. The stomach pyrotechnics put the kibosh on that though and after having spent his morning praising the porcelain gods and cursing his inability to handle alcohol, he packed up and got ready for his flight.

The hotel lobby was crowded, athletes, coaches, judges, various members of the media, as well as a few fans mingling as they awaited buses and cabs to take them to the airport for different flights back to whatever rink they called home. Stiles kept his shoulders hunched as he shuffled behind Deaton, collar upturned and sunglasses on his face as he tried to hide from the bright lights and the loud noises and from anyone who would recognize him. He didn't want to be reminded of how badly he'd performed the day before, how he'd choked during his short program then completely bombed his free one, his ass sporting a rather nice shade of purple thanks to his tumble on the ice—and probably Liam knocking him down, too.

A door to the side opened and Stiles glanced over to see the Russian asshole in question come through, as though summoned by Stiles' thoughts. The kid paid no attention to anything around him, scowling as he trailed behind his own coach, a weathered old man with brown hair who only went by the name Deucalion—no one really knew what his last name was, or if that wasn't his last name to begin with—Liam glaring as he snarled in Russian, voice even deeper with the heavy words coming off his tongue.

Stiles knew it was a mistake, but still, he couldn't help the way hope sprang in his chest, making his heart start pounding. His eyes darted back to the door, watching as it fell halfway closed only to be pushed back open, someone else stepping through. He inhaled sharply, holding it within lungs that sat in an empty chest, stomach filling with butterflies right below as he took in the form.

Derek Hale followed his teammate, rolling his green eyes and shaking his head as he scratched at his whiskered jawline with his free hand, the other dragging his suitcase behind himself. The scruff was a trademark at that point, having been around for the past five years or so, and when combined with the scowl that seemed permanently etched onto his face, his gruff one-word answers during interviews—if he actually gave one—and the way he seemed to look at the world around him like it pissed him off, he had earned a reputation and title as the Bad Boy of the Skating World.

He hadn't always been that way, Stiles recalled, slowing to a stop just to stare at him. When he'd first entered the skating world at the tender age of twelve, he'd been a bright, smiling, sunshine of a guy. But by the time he entered the senior circuit at age fifteen, he'd frozen over, hardened. No one really knew what happened—well, no one other than Derek obviously, but there was no way that guy was gonna say anything. Some speculated it was the death of his dad that had turned the man as cold as the ice he skated on, but Stiles always had a feeling there was more to it than that. After all, he'd lost a parent, too, and he hadn't completely done a one-eighty with his personality.

Then again, grief affected people in different ways so who the hell was he to say that becoming a living, breathing ice sculpture wasn't Derek's way of handling the loss.

Stiles took him in as the Russian trio slowed to a stop, both athletes in their usual warm-up suits, Derek's a red jacket with a thick white strip over the shoulders and down the tops of his arms, the familiar white stitches creating an image of what Stiles figured were supposed to be flames with “Russian Olympic Team” and the famous five circle logo right below, pants the same scarlet color with white up the sides. Derek's black hair was styled in its usual manner, the shaggy locks longer on top and resembling that of a Disney prince. His nose was as sharp as the blades on their skates, his jawline just as lethal, his brows thick as they furrowed over narrowed eyes but perfectly fitting for his Romanesque face. There was a reason his poster graced the walls of countless young girls—and boys, Stiles mentally added, thinking of his own room back home—and it wasn't just talent that had people creaming their pants over him.

Although really...

The man was ranked first in the world, had been for years, and there wasn't a gold medal he didn't own. Grand Prixs, Invitationals, the fucking Olympics, he'd dominated all of them, setting world records as he went, creating new moves. And at twenty-seven, he was something akin to a god in the sport, his name synonymous with mens figure skating, even to those who don't follow the sport.

Derek was one of the main reasons why Stiles had stuck with the sport, why he loved it so much. He'd dreamed of competing against the Russian, of standing next to him on the podium stand, maybe even taking home gold and demoting Derek to silver. Fucking stupid really. Stiles should've known better than to delude himself like that. He hadn't even placed when competing against Derek, had come in dead last, the laughingstock of the sport while Derek continued to rule over it.

The jester and the king.

A sad snort escaped him and he shook his head as he hung it, wondering what the fuck he'd been thinking to ever believe he could stack up against someone like Derek Hale.

Another reason to retire really.

Lifting his head, he found Derek glancing around, bored, Liam still snarling at their shared coach. The older athlete's eyes came across Stiles and the American felt himself freeze all over, right down to his lungs and heart. Okay, not his heart. That thing was pounding at a million miles an hour like it was trying to take off without him or something, wanting to escape his chest as though it could break out past his ribs if it beat against them hard enough.

Derek caught him staring and heat rose to Stiles' cheeks in embarrassment over having been busted. But rather than Derek's scowl deepening as expected, the anger left his face, the corner of his lips curving up in a small smile as he raised his hand in a friendly wave. “Stiles!” the man called out, accent still strangely audible despite the lack of syllables.

Stiles' eyes widened, face inflaming even more, as though he'd shoved his head in an oven or was standing too close to a campfire. His skin tingled all over, heart pounding even harder at the realization that Derek Hale knew his name.

Derek Hale knew his name.

Oh fuck, Derek Hale knew his name because he'd totally fucked up his performances the past two days and had bombed his way through the Grand Prix in spectacular fashion. Chances were he was calling Stiles' name to ridicule him, to poke fun at how badly he'd done, to draw everyone else's attention so they could all laugh at what a fucking joke of a skater he is.

Without hesitation, he tightened his grip on his suitcase handle and marched towards the main doors, leaving behind the hotel, the crowd, and a stunned and confused Derek Hale.

Not to mention his career as a professional figure skater.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER ONE

~*~Four Months Later~*~
Beacon Hills, California

Stiles didn't immediately return home.

He also didn't immediately retire.

No, he kept skating and choked once more at Nationals, effectively ending his season—and his career.

After finishing dead last and making another ass of himself, he flew back to his home rink in Detroit with Coach Deaton, meeting back up with his fellow rinkmates, including one who'd become his best friend over the past few years, Scott McCall. Stiles felt an overwhelming sense of guilt that he'd been chosen for the Grand Prix rather than his friend, a guy who wasn't quite as talented as him but sure as hell wouldn't choke under pressure and end his season when it had barely just begun. Scott tried once to talk Stiles out of retiring, giving up when it was obvious there was no changing his mind, then confessing that he was thinking of going back to his home country of Spain to train there. The American couldn't begrudge him, knowing how strong homesickness could be in their line of work, and wished his friend luck, vowing to follow his career and go to any competitions Scott would have on California.

While in Detroit, Stiles completed his degree online, glad he wasn't attending an actual university where he'd have to ignore the curious stares and not-so-veiled laughter of those around who followed professional figure skating and knew of his epic collapse. His career had derailed his education, time management not a thing he possessed, especially not with days filled with practice, competitions, and much needed socializing. So his degree came a year later than the rest of his peers, but his dad was glad he was still going after it despite his hectic schedule. Part of him didn't know what to do now that he'd earned his bachelor's and even considered going for a masters, but he'd been away from home for five years thanks to skating and school. He figured he'd put it off long enough.

Almost four months after his skating career had come crashing down as badly as his body did on the ice, Stiles returned home to Beacon Hills, a small town nestled at the foothills of a mountain in Northern California. The population was just under a thousand and it was the kind of stereotype one found in old-time TV shows where everyone knew everyone's business and there was no such thing as secrets. Every single resident knew when Stiles had been born, when his mom died, when he left to skate full-time in Detroit, and, most likely, when he failed so epically on a worldwide stage. So it wasn't much of a surprise that they knew when he was coming back.

His powder blue Jeep rumbled its way into town, somehow miraculously having survived the three-day drive down from Detroit, which actually helped towards excuses not to come home and visit, along with laying it on thick about homework and studying. But the ancient CJ5 was still holding strong—despite an issue with overheating that was somehow solved by turning the heat on inside the cab—as it rolled down the interstate into one of two entrances to the town.

The sign welcoming visitors to Beacon Hills had been repainted recently but nothing else seemed to have changed as he made his way down Main Street and the pathetic strip that was considered the downtown area. The few people who were actually out and about stopped when they saw the recognizable vehicle, practically everyone in town knowing it had once belonged to Claudia Stilinski and was now the car of choice of professional figure skater Stiles Stilinski.

Well, former professional figure skater.

His brown eyes flicked up as he drove, catching sight of a banner stretching across the road high above, attached to brick buildings on either side and welcoming him home. The thing was professionally done, high gloss printing on vinyl so it was weather-proof, decorated with gold stars scattered around royal blue letters.

His face grew hot with embarrassment and he drew his shoulders in close, wishing he could hide inside his hoodie. Fuck, the town was so proud, having thrown him a banquet when he went to go train. And his dad had told him all about watch parties for any of his competitions that were televised, how the diner couldn't seat everyone and people gathered outside the electronics store to watch on the TVs displayed in the windows, despite owning their own set at home. The community had all rallied behind him and rooted him on, cheered for him. His dreams had become theirs and with his epic failure at the Grand Prix—which they'd all most likely watched as a collective group once more—he realized it wasn't just himself, his dad, and his coach he'd let down: it was his entire town.

But if they were disappointed, they didn't show it, smiling and waving wildly at him. He raised a couple fingers off the wheel to return the gesture, not wanting word to get back to his dad that he'd been a dick to those welcoming him or for rumors to start that he'd become a diva while he'd been away. But inside he felt his stomach roll, guilt and humiliation combining into a toxic solution that sat heavily in his gut and made him nauseous. Fuck what he wouldn't give to just keep on driving and never come back, to hide away from the world for the rest of his life.

But he couldn't.

Partly because he didn't think his Jeep could handle it.

But also because he couldn't do that to his dad. He'd been away long enough, had avoided home long enough. It was time.

Beacon Hills Bed-n-Breakfast was located on the opposite side of town from the highway entrance, a strategic move designed to show off the town to any visitors and pique their interest in checking out various shops and sights. Stiles had always thought it was kind of a genius move, but on that day it was more annoying than anything, forcing him to face those he'd let down. But soon enough, he found the turn-off, the B-n-B sitting on its own street up on a hill, appearing like something out of a Hallmark Channel movie. Three stories—plus basement, where Stiles' own room sat—made up of white vinyl siding, a picturesque porch spreading across the front complete with swing bench on one end and rocking chairs on the other. The rolling lawns were perfectly manicured, the driveway made of gravel as it split both in front of the house for guest parking and off to the side for employees and permanent residents. A small barn sat off to the right of it, where the riding mower and various lawn tools were kept, the door padlocked since the biggest issue with crime in Beacon Hills was bored teenagers stealing mowers and tractors for joy rides.

Stiles followed the gravel to the right of the house, parking by the barn on the side furthest from the road, recognizing his dad's black Chevy pickup truck on his left. He'd been gone five years yet his usual parking space was still left open and Stiles wondered if it was out of hope for his return or respect for his mom, who had originally owned the Jeep and left it in this same spot. He grabbed his duffel as he slid out from behind the wheel, slamming the door to make sure it caught and stay shut, looking at the other cars. The red sedan was to be expected, his dad having mentioned hiring new help in the form of Noshiko Yukimura, a mother who'd needed something to do with her time when her daughter left for college five years ago. She'd taken over the cooking and was in charge of the housekeeping, allowing his dad to focus on maintenance and the business side of things.

The blue Civic parked by the red Toyota gave him pause though and he stopped halfway to the backdoor to just stare, trying to figure out who it belonged to and why it looked so familiar. He knew someone else was working the B-n-B lately—a couple someone else's, actually, in order to fill in for different shifts and days off—but he'd be damned if he could remember if his dad had mentioned a name.

A creak sounded out, followed by a bang as the screen door was thrown open, and as he heard his name being yelled, he felt like a total idiot for forgetting.

He turned his head to find his friend Malia Tate rushing over, combat boots crunching over the gravel that connected the driveway to the steps leading up to the screened in porch. Her skinny jeans sported giant holes in both knees, her flannel tee was open and flapping in the wind, and her black tee was riding up in the front with every long stride. He was barely able to register the fact that her brown hair was now shoulder length before she was colliding into him, damn near knocking him onto the ground as her arms wrapped around his shoulders.

"Stiles!" she cried out once more, directly by his ear and if she wasn't holding him so tightly, he would've cringed. But since she was surprisingly strong, he was stuck frozen and awkwardly trying to hug back.

"Hey, Mal," he grunted, patting her somewhat. "Breathing would be nice."

She squeezed him extra hard at that and he felt his airways completely close off before she let go and stepped back, dropping her arms to fold over her chest. "Your hair's longer," she commented, reaching up to ruffle her hand in the brown strands and he swatted her away, scowling at her amused laugh.

"Yeah, didn't feel like buzzing it anymore," he muttered, self-consciously running his hand though his hair, hiding the main reason for the change in hairdo. He'd kinda been hoping that without his trademark buzz cut, he'd be less recognizable and able to blend in. Sure, some people may do a double-take or stare at him a moment longer in order to figure out where they knew him, but it was better than the immediate recognition of being the jackass who'd totally fucked up during one of the biggest skating competitions of the year.

Needing a change of subject to something that wasn't himself, he slipped his hand out his hair and gestured to her with it. "You growing yours out, too?" he questioned, remembering when he'd seen her at a competition last November and she'd chopped it off to her jaw.

She grabbed a section of it and twisted it so she could look at it, thoughtful pout on her face. "I guess," she stated with a shrug, refolding her arms and cocking a hip out in her usual stance. "Haven't really thought about it."

He opened his mouth to comment, to say something, anything that would keep the conversation going and away from him but his mind was drawing a total blank. All he could think about was how Malia's eyes were narrowing, how her lips were parting and breath being drawn in to speak, and he had a damn good idea what she'd be saying.

Because Malia was a figure skating fan, because of Stiles. She didn't compete, mainly because she hated the cold and thought it was unbearable enough in the stands with her hands wrapped around a hot chocolate, but she followed the sport, went to whichever of Stiles' meets she could go to, always the loudest one in the crowd. And he appreciated it, liked having a small piece of home with him, even if he could barely go to see her between practices and warm-ups and interviews and performances. But it was nice to have something close to family cheering him on when his dad couldn't.

And right now, the world championships were happening in Kyoto and he was in Beacon Hills, meaning she was stuck there, too, since he was her excuse—and ticket really—to go there.

Which meant that drawn in breath was about to be used to lay into him about his fucking up and subsequent retirement.

Only it never happened.

His name was called out once again and he turned to find a petite Asian girl trotting over, huge smile on her face. Her black hair was hanging loose about her shoulders, torso covered in a gray hoodie that was two sizes too big and brandishing the logo of UC Berkeley—a college he knew she hadn't attended—legs wearing a pair of leggings covered in Marvel comic book characters, tucked into black Converse high-tops. A smile formed on Stiles' face at the sight of Kira, Malia's girlfriend and the daughter of his dad's employee, and he held his arms out as she drew close, enveloping her in a hug that wasn't as violent as the one Malia had given him but was just as tight.

"It's so good to see you!" she practically squealed, arms around his neck as she jostled him back and forth, and he was helpless to steady himself against the unexpected motion. "It's been forever and we've missed you all so much and wow! I can't believe you're actually here, it's so awesome! And—wait." She cut herself off, taking a step back and sliding her hands to his shoulders, staring down at his stomach.

Immediately Stiles' eyes went wide and he shoved his hands in the kangaroo pocket of his hoodie, hoping it would hide what she was undoubtedly staring at.

Not that it really helped. If anything, it probably made shit look worse, but logic didn't seem to factor in at that moment. He was desperate to hide something that had become just as shameful to himself as his failure at the Grand Prix.

Okay, maybe not just as shameful but still up there on the shame scale.

Kira's brows furrowed and her head tilted, making her look like a cute and confused puppy, and she was so adorably earnest in her expression it was hard to be pissed when she asked "did you gain weight?"

"What?!" Malia barked out, stomping the three steps required to get back in Stiles' space, roughly yanking him away from her girlfriend's loose grasp. She forcefully tugged his arms out the pocket, raising them above his head before letting go to shove up the bottom of his hoodie and the tee he wore underneath. "What the fuck, Stiles?!" she demanded, glowering, and Stiles could perfectly imagine her growling.

He dropped his arms and pushed his clothing back down as he took a step back, glancing around and unable to make eye contact. "It's been a rough couple months," he muttered, hunching his shoulders up to his ears and trying to make himself small as possible again.

Little harder nowadays with the extra twenty pounds he was sporting around his midsection. It wasn't a whole lot, but considering how lean he was all over and how cut he used to be for skating, it seemed like a shitload more.

Malia folded her arms and glared harder as Kira gave him a sympathetic smile. At least he could count on her to understand. Kira had been a ballet dancer all her life—although you wouldn't know it from watching her on a day-to-day basis, given what a klutz she was, but when performing, she was grace personified. She knew what it was like to give your everything to something you love only to lose it. Her own nerves had gotten the best of her and she'd given up a career as a professional dancer. Now she worked as a ballet instructor at a studio downtown, living in the apartment above it with Malia.

Who was actually growling now and tugging at her own hair. "What were you thinking?" she grumbled, still loud but not as badly as she had been. "A professional skater can't be out of shape like that. You need to drop the weight and get back to working out before the season starts."

Stiles felt his face heat up as shame flooded him once and he tried to hunch his shoulders up even further. He was tempted to flip his hood over his head and pull the strings tight so he could hide but he knew he'd never get away with it. Malia would probably cut the hood right off just for spite. So he settled for wringing the back of his neck with his right hand, his left shoved in the pocket of his sweatshirt once more, practically up to his elbow as he simultaneously hid his stomach and held himself together. He hadn't actually voiced his plans about retiring to anyone at home, only really telling Scott and his coach, forcing them both to promise not to say it to anyone else before he got a chance to. Easy enough, since neither had really planned in telling anyone, figuring it wasn't their place to.

Which, okay, cool, Stiles didn't have to worry about anyone getting pissed because they heard the news from a second-hand source, but it also meant he had to tell them himself. In person. Because he'd talked himself into thinking that was the best way to break news like that, when really he knew he was putting it off and avoiding it.

Couldn't avoid it any longer though. Not with the season ending that day and questions soon rising about when he'll be getting back into skating shape and ready for next season so he could redeem himself.

Not that he actually thought he could redeem himself really.

Those around him probably thought he could but their opinions were biased and therefore bullshit.

"Yeeeeah," he dragged the word out, wincing, gripping the back of his neck hard. "About that."

The two girls turned expectant looks on him, Malia's more skeptical and accusatory while Kira's held a slight hint of worry, both waiting for him to just get on with it and spit it out already, only he never got the chance to. The screen door banged open once more and all three of them jerked their heads to watch Stiles' father make his way down the three wooden steps.

"You two done hogging my son yet?" he accused in a playful manner, smile on his face as he trotted over in a pair of well worn jeans, burgundy fleece, and tan boots with white paint speckles on them. His hair was more gray than brown in recent times and his face was sporting a few more wrinkles around his eyes, things that didn't really show up too well during Skype calls and FaceTime. But he was still the same familiar face that Stiles had known for twenty-three years and he didn't hesitate to step closer and shorten the distance between the two of them.

John Stilinski enveloped his son in a fierce hug, both men wrapping their arms around the other's shoulders and holding on tight. Stiles buried his nose in the fuzzy collar of his dad's shirt, inhaling the fabric softener the B-n-B kept on hand and the familiar scent of his dad's cologne. Something in him settled, a weight coming off his chest and a tightness easing from his shoulders and for the first time since the Grand Prix, he felt like he could finally breathe.

"Welcome home, son," his dad murmured into his ear, kissing the side of his head and slapping his shoulder a couple times for good measure.

A lump formed in Stiles' throat and his eyes burned with emotions so he closed them to hold it all back, to keep himself together. It didn't matter how old he was, a hug from his father seemed to make everything better—even if it was a false sensation and temporary at best—and he relished the comfort he was experiencing.

"Good to be home," he replied just as lowly, deciding he'd wait til later to tell everyone about his retirement. A few more hours wouldn't hurt.

~*~*~*~*~*~

After a long hug with his dad and an awkward exchange of waves with Noshiko, Stiles headed inside with his duffel and one of his suitcases, his dad grabbing the other. Pleasantries were exchanged as they made their way inside, questions about the drive down and where he stayed and what he saw, but not once did his dad ask why Stiles hadn't flown, instead of chancing his Jeep crapping out on him in the middle of nowhere. Stiles figured his old man was just happy to have him home and was focusing on that, saving the real inquiries for later. Honestly, there were times when Stiles thought his old man should've been a cop or sheriffs deputy or something along those lines.

They entered through the back, passing through the screened-in porch and heading into the kitchen where Noshiko said she was gonna start dinner prep. Malia and Kira kept walking straight, heading through the dining room to get to the living room, where Stiles could hear the TV faintly playing, a laugh track loud as some actor said something that was meant to be funny. Stiles wondered when the last time he'd genuinely laughed was and realized it was probably before the Grand Prix, when his life had taken a swift one-eighty and thrown him into a pit of depression he'd tried to eat his way out of.

Hence the new gut.

Two doors sat on the left in the kitchen and his dad opened the first one without pause, the "Employees Only" sign on it a generic piece of tin that had been purchased at the town's only hardware store, a set of descending wooden stairs revealed. The light was already on so they headed straight down into the basement, turning right at the end to enter the basement proper. The floor was hard concrete, walls all made of cinder blocks, the entire space a typical dull gray. An industrial sized washer and dryer sat on the wall adjacent the stairs, set of shelves next to them full of various detergents and fabric softeners and stain removers. Under the stairs were large fireproof safes full of old files his dad was supposedly in the process of digitizing and Stiles considered volunteering to help out. Wasn't like he had much to do lately.

His room was opposite the length of the stairs, nothing special, a built-on addition that had been created years before he was born as an after-thought to the rest of the house. The sign he'd made as a kid was still taped to it, yellowed with age, one S in his name inexplicably backwards and his chest grew tight with a pang of nostalgia as he took in the Disney on Ice stickers he'd decorated it with.

Of course the sign hadn't always been there, since that hadn't always been his room. He originally lived on the third floor with his parents—then just his dad. It wasn't until he was twelve and insistent that he was a big kid now, that he was allowed to move, the basement room chosen to give him a modicum of independence during his teen years, and also so he was less likely to disturb any guests when he left the house before five am for early skating practices.

Only downside was having to go up two floors for a shower, but nothing in life was ever perfect. He'd learned that painful lesson in recent times.

Stiles paused outside his door, tensing up as the realization hit him. He'd been so caught up in the reunions with his dad and his friends that he'd completely missed the one reunion that hadn't taken place. There wasn't sixty pounds of fur trying to tackle him, jumping up with paws on his chest as the husky tried to lick his face all over, jumping up with excitement. There wasn't tail wagging so hard it knocked things down and hurt anyone standing nearby, loud barks and whines drowning out any other noise. There wasn't a fight to get the rowdy dog settled and calm and on the ground so Stiles could actually walk, the husky sticking closer than a shadow and making it near impossible for the human to get anywhere.

Fuck.

He'd known Derek had passed, that he'd be coming home to no dog, but it hadn't really fully hit him until that moment. His best friend was gone. Truly gone.

His chest felt hollowed out and his next exhale was shaky, lungs feeling strangely tight. A lump formed in his throat and he felt himself start to choke on words he couldn't fully think of, much less speak.

But his dad didn't need to hear them. Somehow he knew—probably some sort of magic dad power, or just years of being around Stiles and learning how he worked—clapping a hand on his son's shoulder as he put his suitcase down. "I'll let you get settled," he spoke lowly, wording it in such a way to allow Stiles to keep his dignity, despite the fact that they were the only ones in the basement. He slid his hand off Stiles' shoulder with a final squeeze to the back of his neck then turned and headed back up the stairs, his footsteps deliberately loud.

The basement door closed behind his dad and Stiles took a shaky breath, running his hand through his hair as he tried to locate his balls. It really shouldn't be that big a deal. He'd been through far more nerve-wracking shit than this—and choked-out but that was beside the point. This was just simply entering his own bedroom. That was it. He needed to stop being such a fucking pussy.

With another deep breath, he opened the door with a trembling hand, body automatically bracing itself for Derek to come flying out and pounce at him. Only it obviously didn't happen. All that happened was his room was revealed and he felt his chest empty further, skin growing tight and eyes burning.

He dragged both suitcases in and left them beside his bed in the opposite corner from the door before dumping his duffel on top of it and looking around. The room was close to immaculate, free of dust and fur, recently cleaned judging by the artificial lemon scent that still hung in the air. His bedding had been recently washed, mountain fresh smell—whatever the hell that was exactly—wafting up at him and he sniffed loudly as he found a few stray pieces of fur still embedded in the comforter.

The room was still exactly the same as always, drywall painted gray in a lame attempt of rebellion when he was fourteen, posters of Derek Hale scattered about, cork board covered in photos of family and friends above the desk on the wall by the door. A bureau was on the wall to the left of it, next to a nightstand then Stiles' bed. A set of drawers was on the final wall, TV on top and he made a mental note to hook his gaming system up to it soon.

Scrubbing his face, he did a three-sixty of his room, taking in the details he'd forgotten over the years he'd been gone, ending at the nightstand and finding a new object sitting on top. Not that he didn't immediately recognize what it was: Derek's collar.

His hand trembled as he reached for it, only to pull it back, then attempt to pick it up a second time. The black fabric was cold, decorated with flaming paw prints and covered in dander and black and white fur. Metal tags jangled together, loud in the otherwise silent room, and he cradled them in his palm before looking through them one by one: his Beacon County dog license, his three-year rabies shot—that he'd been due to get in a month—his name tag on a blue bone shape, with the B-n-B's number on it in case he managed to get lost.

Stiles reverently smoothed his thumb over the engraved letters and numbers as he sank down onto his bed, absently shoving his duffel back when he halfway sat on it as his mind went over conversations he'd with his dad about Derek's last few months. It had started out innocent enough, Derek more lethargic than he had been, having days where he'd spend most of it laying around, barely eating anything. But they chalked it up to old age and possible depression over missing his owner, nothing too serious, nothing worth getting worried about. Even when he started having spells where he'd wandered about almost drunkenly and started refusing to go downstairs were attributed to age and possible arthritis.

But then Derek would perk back up and be okay. He'd bark at squirrels on the other side of the windows, chase after any toy thrown for him, beg for scraps from the guests, and eat his usual amount of food. Stiles still worried and his dad promised to take the husky to the vet if he had another bad spell, keeping a close eye on him while his owner was away.

The very next morning, Derek's back legs gave out and he did a split while standing still in the kitchen. An emergency trip to the vet showed a tumor on his stomach that was continuously rupturing, causing fluid to leak out and fill the cavity, which further caused his weak spells. The doctors said they weren't sure if he'd survive the next break and the eldest Stilinski made the tough decision to end Derek's pain.

Something wet hit Stiles' hand and it was only when he sniffed loudly that he realized he was crying. It had been a couple months and he knew time was supposed to heal all wounds, but seeing the collar by itself with no dog attached felt like receiving the news of Derek's passing all over again. His raw edges were being scraped together and he felt torn apart once more. It hurt, on the same level as losing his mom, because this wasn't just his dog that he'd lost: it was his best friend, a family member, the closest thing he'd come to having a soul mate. Stiles had been socially awkward his whole life, finding it hard to fit in and make friends—much less date—and so Derek had filled that void—to a degree at least. Throughout his life and his career, Stiles had felt completely alone, but Derek had managed to ease the loneliness, a constant companion and loyal presence by his side.

Only now he was gone.

And Stiles was more alone than ever.

Shit.

He sniffed loudly then wiped under his nose with his sleeve. Not the most hygienic thing in the world but he didn't care at that moment—or ever really, given what a bad habit he made of that very act. Fuck it, he mentally dismissed, shoving up his sleeve then clicking the clip on the collar open, wrapping it around his wrist three times before closing it. If he couldn't have Derek around, he'd settle for having a piece of him.

His thumb smoothed over the name tag once more and he felt his eyes welling up again. Right. A distraction was in order. He couldn't spend the rest of the evening crying and lamenting his loss. He moved to lay back across his bed, only to bed jarred upright when he felt his duffel underneath him. Twisting around, he raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips in consideration then rose to his feet. His skates were in there, and while he may have quit professionally skating, he still did it for fun and was even practicing a new routine. Heading to the rink would be just the distraction he needed.

He glanced at the alarm clock on his nightstand and was surprised to find an hour had passed. Then again, time wasn't easy to tell when in a basement room with no windows. But still, he didn't think he'd been crying that long. Scrubbing at his face, tags jangling loudly, he did a quick calculation in his head and figured if he didn't leave soon, he wouldn't get to the rink before it closed. Things in a small town tended to shut down early, especially on a Sunday.

Mind made up, he jerked the zipper of his duffel open and started hauling out a pair of windbreaker pants and a thermal top. He hadn't planned on taking any of that stuff out again—or at least anytime soon—but he knew it would feel good to fly around the ice a few times.

Fuck knew he needed to feel good.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Ice Castle was a skating rink on the outskirts of town and pretty much Stiles' home away from home while he'd been living in Beacon Hills. Located only five miles from the B-n-B, he was able to jog there, using it as part of his workout to keep in shape and help his endurance. The number one cause of missed jumps during a routine—especially the longer free program routines—was fatigue, skaters getting worn down from the exertion of previous tricks.

At least that's how it was for other skaters. Stiles' number one cause was nerves and his negative outlook psyching him out.

His dad didn't blink when Stiles announced he was off to practice, simply told him not to stay out too late, and when Malia stated she wanted to tag along, Stiles felt a moment of panic. It wasn't that he didn't want her around, just sometimes he wanted privacy, space, the chance to work his shit out on his own without cheers and/or jeers from the sidelines and Malia was not known for quietly observing something.

Luckily for him, Noshiko put the kibosh on that, reminding the younger girl she had chores to finish, and Kira volunteered to stick around and help. Stiles found it curious she wasn't at the ballet studio working but decided to let it go, knowing he needed to get a move on if he was gonna get to the rink before it closed.

He jogged the way there, getting winded due to the extra weight he was carrying in his midsection and on his back, but he made it before the sky got too dark. He climbed the large set of stairs that he used to do a Rocky impression at the top of when he was a kid—yells of "Adrienne!" and all—then headed to the main entrance, thankful that the doors weren't locked yet. A glance behind him showed only one car, most likely the unlucky soul stuck closing, and he breathed out a sigh of relief as his heart rate slowed.

The unlucky soul was behind the front counter, spraying disinfectant into a pair of rental skates with her back to the door, blonde curls in a ponytail and black track jacket bearing the Ice Castle logo in white. She huffed out a tired sigh at the sound of the inner-door closing, waving her hand toward him without turning around, calling out an automatic "we're closing" that held zero emotion.

"Uh yeah," Stiles said with a slight wince, rubbing at the back of his neck then adjusting the straps of his backpack, holding onto them as he approached the counter. "I was hoping maybe you could make an exception?" He grimaced further at how fucking lame and pathetic he sounded, especially to someone he'd known since he was a kid. But his social anxiety was rearing its ugly head, worse than ever after he'd choked at the Grand Prix, so he was left feeling awkward and half-convinced he'd be chewed out then thrown out.

Erica jerked her head towards him, ponytail whipping around so fast he had to step back so he didn't get hit in the face with it. She wasn't as lucky, chunks of hair getting stuck in her open mouth and glossed lips, a few strands sticking to heavily shadowed eyes that were wider than normal. "Stiles?!" she practically squealed before lunging across the counter and flinging her arms around his neck.

Stiles returned the embrace, letting his eyes drift closed as he settled into it, despite the wood digging into his pelvis. Erica had been the first real friend he'd ever made and kept, an awkward misfit like himself. Her parents owned the rink so she spent all her free time there, and soon enough, so did he. She'd been the one to teach him to skate, to introduce him to the world of figure skating, to show him Derek Hale. They both idolized him, looked up to him, Stiles admittedly more than her, and they'd copy his routines the best they could as a form of practice.

Erica was talented and loved skating but she never really had a real passion for it. No, her heart laid with a boy they met in seventh grade and began seriously dating in the tenth. The two of them had eloped to Vegas when they turned twenty and while it had initially caused a rift between Erica and her parents, they got over it, knowing it was inevitable and that deep down, they loved and approved of Boyd.

Stiles had tried to keep in touch but they were limited to sporadic emails and the occasional text-fest when something exciting happened and he actually had the free time to reply. She never seemed to mind though and not once held it against him, and that moment didn't seem any different.

"Where the hell've you been?" she accused loudly, jostling him slightly before pulling back and playfully hitting him in his arm. "Thought you forgot all about this podunk little town or something."

A sheepish smile formed on his face as he adjusted his backpack again, the straps knocked down a little from the hug he'd just received. "Nah, just busy," he admitted, hiding the fact that he hadn't come home for many visits due to the fact that he couldn't handle the pressure of seeing the entire town rallying behind him. Was bad enough to get a second-hand account from his dad.

Clearing his throat, he gave a little shrug. "Mind if I get some practice in? I know you're closing and all."

She waved him off with a dismissive hand and a loud raspberry. "For you, I'll stay behind. Go ahead and lace up while I lock the doors so you can skate undisturbed."

An appreciative smile formed on his face and he leaned over the counter to kiss her cheek. "Thanks, 'Reeka."

"Yeah, yeah." She gave him an amused smile with her tongue trapped between her teeth, playfully shoving him before heading to a side door to get out from behind the counter.

Stiles pushed open the door by the front counter and entered the main arena of the rink, heading straight for the locker room off to the side. Benches sat in rows in the main area, lockers lined the walls, and he chose one at random the furthest from the door, stashing his sneakers as he changed into his skates. He put his backpack in and sealed it up with a combination lock, making sure he still had his phone on hand before he left.

Erica was already at the rink, standing by the three foot wall that lined it, fiddling with the stereo that sat on top. He walked straight up to her, pulling up his music as he went and getting the right track lined up to play, then handed the device over.

"Mind sticking around to watch?" he questioned as she took hold of his phone and plugged the cord into the headphone jack. "I've been working on something."

"Sure," she stated absently, not taking her eyes off the phone screen, yet still managing to take hold of the blade guards when he held them out to her.

He nodded slowly once then stepped out onto the ice, the move like second nature to him. Gone were the days where he wobbled and slid, adding to his reputation as nothing more than a newborn deer trying to figure out how his limbs worked. 'Course there'd been a readjustment as he grew, puberty making his limbs grow faster than his coordination, but weirdly skating helped with that, especially off the ice. He still had the occasional klutzy moment, crashing into things, limbs flailing and knocking things down when he got too worked up but on the ice, on what was supposed to be difficult and more of a challenge to remain upright, he was flawless.

He glided around with no real direction, wide swoops as he got used to the feel, warming up a little, before he made his way to the center. Lines were painted for the junior hockey league and he positioned himself on the red circle in the direct center. With a nod to Erica, he tucked his chin into his chest and waited for the music to start.

The music began, soft wind instruments, and he slowly raised his head, looking at the scaffolding in the distance as a male began to sing. He raised his right arm, keeping his fingers soft and loose, stroking down the side of his face before dipping his head and spinning. He exited the turn and skated forward, beginning a routine he'd memorized, having watched it countless times, entirely enamored with both the program and the skater behind it.

He turned, arms swinging freely, lifting them up on cue before dropping to a knee and rising into another spin. He moved around the rink with ease, feeling free, seamlessly pulling off the first jump: a quadruple lutz, left leg crossed over right, four rotations, nailed the landing.

He glided around the ice, nailing the quad loop, his arms in constant motion as he perfectly replicated the choreography Derek had not only performed, but created himself. He let himself get lost in the classical piece, balancing on one leg and leaning over for a camel spin. He had no idea language the man was singing in—presumably Italian, but Stiles wasn't entirely sure—no clue what he was singing about, but felt himself slip into it nonetheless. Part of him wondered if Derek knew and realized he probably did. A perfectionist like him would have put every effort into his routine, right down to lyrics and their meaning, using it to inspire the story he was telling with his routine.

He gracefully exited the spin, skating around the ice with his arms back as though flying, mind able to focus on what he was doing and what was coming next. It was the one time when his ADHD came in handy really.

The world grew distant as he continued the routine: a flying sit-spin, a quad solchow, a toe-loop jump combo. The step routine was next and he knew he'd nailed it, steps always having been his strength, and he glided around before doing a triple lutz.

Stiles was certain he wasn't quite as graceful as Derek but he didn't care. He felt free from the burdens of life, from the pressures of competition, allowing him to land each jump on his skates rather than his ass or his hands. He was a little wobbly, sure, but had there been judges, chances were they wouldn't bother deducting anything and if they did, it would be a fraction of a point.

He shoved aside all thoughts of judges and scores, the music swelling, strings soaring and winds rising in volume. His breathing was heavier than it had been yet his body was still able to go, allowing him to handle the triple flip with ease.

Hands twisted, the blades cut through the top layer of ice, the singer's vocals became desperate sounding despite the different language. Instead, Stiles created his own interpretation, his own translation, based on Derek's routine, the emotions he portrayed through his facial expressions, through his body language. Stiles imagined a story of love, the desperate kind that made you long to remain next to them for all time, that was all-consuming and passionate, that drove one to near madness.

Okay, he'd never experienced anything remotely close to it—except for maybe his love of skating—but he could imagine it, could imagine the lucky soul Derek was longing for in his routine, could imagine himself longing for some nameless lover.

And if that lover just so happened to look like Derek, then who would really know.

The final quad was next as the music soared, a toe loop that was quickly followed by a jump then a triple toe loop. His body was moving on automatic, muscle memory from having practiced it over and over on his own, memorized from having obsessively watched it, every fine detail etched his mind from the exact shade of purple and pink sequins on Derek's jacket to the way his eyebrows pulled together as he swept his arms in the air.

The singer's voice grew stronger, louder, as though the words were being ripped from his soul as much as they were coming from his throat. Stiles glided into the final trick at the music became almost urgent in tempo, leg going behind himself as he leaned forward into another camel spin. As he rotated, his leg swept to the front and he crouched down into a sit-spin, counting the beats in his head before rising, the upper half of his body leaning over his outstretched limb. He slowly lowered it as the brass instruments grew stronger, louder, coming to a triumphant end and he finished the routine with his legs crossed and his arms in the air, reaching up for something he couldn't see.

He was panting hard as he held the pose for a few long seconds, shoulders rising and falling, heart pounding in his chest. He could feel the thin sheen of sweat covering his skin, dampening his hair, soaking into his long sleeve at his back, his pits, the center of his chest. But fuck it felt good, his endorphins racing throughout his body, giving him a euphoric high that was enhanced with the knowledge that he'd nailed the routine of his idol, one that was considered incredibly difficult with its challenging jumps and four quads.

Stiles let his arms drop to his sides, the tired limbs flopping down, then dropped his head. A small satisfied smile formed on his face, adding to the lightness he was feeling. Skating always freed him and in that moment he wondered why he was even considering giving it up for good.

"Holy shit!" Erica cried out from the sidelines after a long moment and Stiles snapped his head over to find her staring at him wide-eyed and open-mouthed, hands clasped on top of her hand before she waved them about. "Are you fucking kidding me?!"

His face grew hot for more than just exertion and he wrung his neck in awkward embarrassment. "So I did okay?"

"Okay?!" she squawked back in disbelief, sputtering before she clamped her mouth shut and took a deep breath. "That's one of the most difficult routines by one of the most talented skaters of all time and it has, so far, won him four golds and you fucking killed it!"

His cheeks grew hotter as he flushed further but still he smiled, slowly skating his way over to her with long glides. "Yeah?" he questioned, full of self-doubt. He knew he'd done well, had landed the jumps with nothing more than a slight wobble; he just didn't think he'd "killed it". That seemed to be pushing it a little.

Or a lot really.

Erica bent over and folded her forearms on the wall, rolling not just her brown eyes but her entire head. "Yeah. Honestly. Stiles, you're so fucking talented, it genuinely boggles my mind that you didn't take home silver instead of that curly-haired freak who always looks like he's coming in his pants when he skates."

"Isaac," he clarified, bracing his hands next to her on the wall and beginning a weak impression of push-ups. "And from what I hear, he actually does."

Her features scrunched up in disgust and she gave a full bodied shudder, making fake retching noises before sobering up. "Seriously though, had you skated like that at the Grand Prix and/or Nationals, you might've given Derek Hale himself a run for the gold."

The reminder of his most recent competitions—and therefore his most recent failures—made Stiles collapse onto the wall, the top ledge digging into his plush midsection. Suddenly he was thrust back into the past, his mortification causing his face to inflame even further, and he let his head hang to avoid her gaze. That was why he'd considered retirement, he remembered, because he couldn't handle the pressure and always fucking choked. It was best to give it all up before he made an even bigger ass of himself and ruined his reputation further.

Pushing himself away from the wall, he allowed himself to glide back a foot or two, the feel of the ice under his blades so familiar and comforting. He thought back to only moments before, when he'd been going through Derek's routine, when he'd felt like he was flying, was free, and wondered if maybe it was worth the risk of failure and humiliation to regain that same weightlessness and carefree attitude.

Fuck, he felt confused, torn, and for the first time in a long time, he had no idea what his future would hold.

Probably a good thing the season was ending that day—probably even ending that hour. Would give him time to get his head straight and figure his shit out.

But for the moment...

He pointed behind himself with his thumb as he skated backwards, finally looking at Erica, finding her already watching him with an analytical gaze. "I'm gonna skate around su'more," he stated for no reason, watching her absently nod then shrug.

"Sure," she muttered while straightening up. "Go for it. I'll give you some space." She slipped her cell out of her pocket, switching her attention to it as she turned and headed out the door.

Stiles spin around, absently gliding on the ice, performing a few weak turns and jumps here and there, wishing his mind would shut down like it usually did while he skated. But of course, it didn't.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO

Stiles stayed at Ice Castle a while longer, losing track of time as he skated around, practicing jumps, spins, step sequences, or even just letting himself glide and enjoy the feel of the blade cutting across the ice. He didn't bother looking at the scoreboards on either end of the rink, the hour displayed in red blocky numbers. That wasn't why he was there, to limit himself, to tell himself "an hour or so of this and I'm done for good". He wanted to get lost, to disappear into the scrape of the ice and harsh pants of his breath and the grunts as he jumped and landed.

Erica left him at one point, waving goodbye as she announced she was going home, trusting him to lock up. It wasn't a secret that he had his own key to the place, illegally copied at first, before her parents found out. They relented immediately, honored that a certified member of the Professional Skaters Association—and a hometown hero—wanted to use their rink for practice. They figured it was good promotion.

The sky was pitch black outside, not much of a surprise considering it'd been twilight when he'd showed, and the street lamps guided his way home. He walked this time, legs shaky, the muscles strained from the work he'd just put them through. Even without knowing how long he'd practice, he was well-aware that he hadn't skated that much since he'd flubbed at his last meet, and he was sure as shit gonna pay for it. The cold air outside stung against his heated skin, freezing the sweat on him, and he was very fucking looking forward to a hot shower.

He entered the Bed-n-Breakfast through the front door this time, footsteps heavy on the wooden stairs and across the porch, screen door creaking as he opened it up, propping it with his hip as he turned the knob of the hunter green front one.

The front foyer of the house was roomy, coat rack on the wall by the door, hat rack nailed right above it, both the same dark green as the front door and shutters, painted in what his mom had called a "country shabby chic" manner with purposely chipped paint and ground in dirt. A check-in podium was just ahead, the wood a dark cherry to match the floors, a cheesy "Welcome" sign hanging from it in that same shade of green.

Stairs bisected the area, corridor to the right leading to a formal sitting room-slash-library type area and his dad's office, while the open area to the left contained the living room. The space was decorated with a giant beige L-shaped couch, love seat to the left of it just in front of the bay window and its bench, a matching armchair on the opposite side of the room. A fireplace was against the wall with a flatscreen TV mounted above it, entertainment unit to the side containing a Blu-Ray player and receiver for their digital cable.

Straight ahead was the large open archway for the dining room and he headed straight for it, passing the large table for ten with its pine top and legs painted white in that same "shabby chic" style, the chairs styled to match. A china cabinet was against the back wall, displaying their finest dishware that Stiles was ninety-nine percent sure had never been used, along with a sterling silver tea set and a glass cake holder that currently held a Play-Doh puppy he'd made when he was five. His mom had put it in there for safe keeping and his dad hadn't the heart to take it out.

The next open archway led to the kitchen and Stiles passed right through it, taking in the large room that had remained largely unchanged for the past twenty years or so. Counters lined the three walls on the left, cabinets above them decorated like window panes and revealing their contents. Stiles noticed the fridge had finally been updated to something from this century, still white to match the other appliances, but now featuring a water and ice dispenser in the freezer door. The large island in the middle of the room had three stools tucked underneath on one end, and a small table was set off to the side with three chairs of its own, usually decorated with the various newspapers they ordered for their guests.

His dad was seated at the table, papers gone, most likely in the recycling bin. Back when Stiles still lived at home, the sports sections would be left on his bed if Derek was mentioned anywhere in them, his name and picture more prevalent during the Winter Olympics.

His eyes cut to the calendar and he realized they were still two years away from that. He wondered if Derek would participate again, or if at age thirty—as he would be at that point—he'd call it quits and retire before they came around.

Stiles had never made the Olympic team, something that was both a major bummer and a huge relief. If he couldn't handle the pressure of a Grand Prix, he sure as shit couldn't handle the astounding intensity of the Olympics, when the audience was bigger, as those who never paid attention to those sports were suddenly huge fans all in the name of patriotism.

Yeah. No way he was handling that.

He switched his focus back to his dad, finding him swiping the screen of his iPod as he cut into a piece of pie that more than likely had been delivered by Ms Archer, a curly haired teacher who'd apparently taken an interest in who was probably the town's last remaining bachelor in her age group. Stiles often wondered why it was his dad had never taken to dating after his mom's death, especially in recent times when his main excuse of "too busy raising my hyperactive kid" was gone as said hyperactive kid was grown up and had moved out. He never said anything or even attempted to broach the subject though, figuring it was too sore a subject. Better to let sleeping dogs lie.

"Noshiko left you a plate of dinner in the microwave," his dad informed him, not looking up from his screen. "Your favorite: chicken tenders, curly fries, mac and cheese."

Stiles' stomach chose that moment to growl, reminding him he hadn't had anything but a junk food grab-fest from a gas station that barely passed for lunch. Glancing at the microwave across the room from him, he noted it was nearly ten and after having spent several hours physically exerting himself on an empty stomach, it was quite surprising he hadn't passed out.

He nodded and muttered out a thanks, hitting the thirty-seconds button on the microwave before grabbing a Gatorade from the fridge, wondering if they were still bought in case a guest wanted one or a recent purchase after Stiles had told them he was coming home.

After checking his food had reheated enough, he snatched up the fork and napkin that had been left out for him then joined his dad at the table, sitting across from him. Nothing was said for several long minutes, Stiles digging into his food and his dad finishing off his pie. But the silence was comfortable, letting Stiles sink back into his head after having been stuck in skating for so long, everything getting muddled as he contemplated his future.

His dad pushed his now empty plate aside, clicking the home button on his iPad before tapping open a new app. "How'd practice go?" he asked quietly, curious but not wanting to disturb the peace they'd created.

Stiles shrugged, swallowing what was in his mouth and taking a drink before answering. "Fine. Tiring. Good though."

His dad nodded almost absently, like he knew it was the right response and was done on automatic without really thinking about it. Not that Stiles thought the elder Stilinski didn't care and was just humoring him, it was more like he had a lot on his mind.

"The girls watched that skating championship before heading home. Figured you'd be here to watch it but I guess you were busy."

Stiles chewed slowly, wondering if his dad was disappointed or upset that he hadn't been there to watch Worlds, despite there being no real heat behind his words. He was simply making conversation, filling the time, still more focused on his tablet than anything else. He swallowed back a sense of guilt along with his food, deciding it wasn't worth worrying over. If his dad really was upset about it, he wouldn't be so subtle in making it be known.

His dad scratched the back of his neck and clicked the home button once again, switching to yet another app before continuing on in the same absent tone he'd been speaking in. "Malia said to tell you that you missed your love Derek and that I was to say it in a schmoopy voice—her words—and bat my eyelashes but—" he let the end of his sentence hang, instead leveling his son with a deadpan "let's be real, that's not gonna happen" look and Stiles felt the corner of his lips curve up. “Anyway, the conversation devolved from there, turning into inappropriate comments over how attractive he was and how many people around the world were falling in love with him. I don't know.” He shrugged and gestured helplessly. “I wasn't paying that much attention to the guy. No offense, but figure skating was never really my thing.”

Stiles gave a shrug of his own and a dismissive wave, not all that bothered by it. He'd known it wasn't really his dad's thing and he respected that. Football had never really been his thing, but he didn't begrudge his dad for watching the 49ers every Sunday. His dad was still supportive and chances were, had Stiles been in that competition, then his dad would've paid attention.

“I did find something interesting though,” his dad went on, eyes focusing on his iPad once more, tapping the screen a couple times before turning it and holding it so Stiles could see.

With a confused frown, he looked at the screen, noting it was an article of some form, all the tiny words making up long lines of text that his attention-span was already telling him wasn't about to be fully read. Instead, he cocked an eyebrow in his dad's direction, wordlessly asking “wtf?” while he kept chewing.

“Rumor has it you're retiring,” was the flat explanation he got, the older man pulling his tablet back, locking the screen before laying it flat on the table.

Shit.

Stiles swallowed hard, hurting his throat, and he felt his face heat up once more. His appetite suddenly vanished and he pushed his own plate to the side before leaning back in his seat. His teeth dug into his lower lip as his fingers began twiddling together on top of the table, knee bouncing underneath it. He'd known this conversation wasn't gonna happen at some point, he just figured he'd be the one to bring it up in his own time on his own terms. Being caught off guard like that was throwing him through a loop and he had no idea how to answer it, especially after realizing earlier that he wasn't one-hundred percent sure he was still gonna do it.

“Dunno,” he mumbled, clearing his throat and sniffing. “I told Deaton I was and he's apparently gonna be heading to Spain with Scott so they can keep training together but.” He stopped suddenly, letting out a sigh, wringing the back of his neck before fiddling with his fingers again. “After getting some practice in, I'm not sure if I am or not. I just don't know how to come back from such a major fuck-up, especially by myself. If I even can come back from that.”

His dad slid his hand across the table to cover Stiles', stilling the nervous twitchings, offering comfort in his own unique way. “You can come back from that. I have every faith in you. But only if you want to. I'll support you no matter what you decide to do.”

A small smile formed on Stiles' face and he felt some of the tightness in his chest loosen with the words. “Thanks, Pop,” he replied quietly, small laugh huffing out his nose as his hands were squeezed then released. He had no idea what the fuck he'd been so worried about, why he'd been so nervous. Clearly his paranoia had gotten the best of him and his usual self-destructive habit of immediately jumping to the worst-case scenario had taken over once more, making him believe that his dad would be disappointed and...well, fuck, he didn't know what else, had refused to let his neurosis go that far.

Thank fuck.

The elder Stilinski returned the small grin then gathered up their plates as he rose to his feet. “How 'bout a couple beers and you tell me about school? Sound good?”

Stiles' smile grew and he fully relaxed, rolling his shoulders to get rid of the last remaining bits of tension they held. “Sounds great.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Back in his room, Stiles stared up at his posters of Derek, halfway contemplating taking them down. Instead, he slowly lowered himself down onto his bed, gazing up at them as he had so many times over the years, since first discovering Derek when the older man had burst onto the figure skating scene in his junior debut.

The posters were staying, Stiles decided, gripping the edge of the mattress, eyes narrowing in determination. As for the decision over his possible retirement, he still wasn't sure. He just didn't know if he was ready to hang it all up, not without having skated on the same ice as Derek as he'd so often dreamt of doing.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Sleeping on a decision never made much sense to Stiles. Okay, it kind of did if it wasn't taken literally but instead as the metaphor it was, a roundabout way of saying “take some time to think about it, don't make a decision right away, really consider your options then choose one”. Of course when his dad told him to “sleep on it” when discussing his possible retirement, Stiles had instead stayed up half the night contemplating that fucking phrase rather than the dilemma he was actually facing.

Fuck his brain. Seriously.

The next morning, he didn't feel like he was leaning towards one option or the other any more than he had the previous night. He was stuck in decision limbo, still lost, his brain still muddled. Neither option seemed right or stood out more than the other and he wondered if he'd be able to actually just pick one before the next season rolled around.

Laying on his bed, looking down at his stomach, he knew one thing he had to take care of. Skating or not, he needed to get back in shape now that he wasn't eating his emotions.

Then again, there was something so very fucking appealing about a large meat lovers pizza for breakfast every day.

Huffing out a sigh, he grabbed his phone and checked his emails, unsurprised to find Google Alerts about Derek Hale. Turns out, he'd won yet another gold, making it five for the routine Stiles had copied the night before. There was also a link to a press conference video that he barely debated over before he hit the link to watch it, feeling his heart pound in anticipation.

Fuck, it was stupid, he knew it was, but hearing Derek call his name on that last day of the Vancouver competition had felt like a minor miracle, one he didn't deserve. He'd actually recognized Stiles, knew who he was, knew his name, and had thought to call it out in a crowd of people when he was more than likely supposed to be listening to his coach. Every now and then, he'd let himself think back on it, to the way his name sounded with that accent, to the small smile that had formed on Derek's face, softer than anything Stiles had ever seen coming from the man, the way his face practically transformed from just a slight curl of the lips. And every time, his heart would start pounding, his breathing would become shaky, and he felt butterflies fluttering around in his stomach.

Stupid fucking crush.

The video loaded and he hit play without hesitation, the shot from far away in order to capture all three skaters behind the desk. Derek was in the middle, dressed in his red and white warm-up jacket, the letters “RU” stitched on either side of the zipper. His shaggy hair hung loosely, parted in the middle, brow pulled into a hard line above narrowed eyes and scruff covered jaw. On his right was Isaac Lahey, the silver medal winner, his left was Brett Talbot, the bronze medalist, both dressed in the track jackets of their respective countries.

The assembled members of the media threw out their various questions, a moderator keeping them all in line, and Stiles tuned out Isaac and Brett whenever they spoke. He didn't care what their off-season plans were or what was going through their heads at whatever moment or blah blah blah. But when Derek spoke, he completely focused, listening to the way his words seemed thick on his tongue, the harsh way he pronounced things with his accent, the way his lips would only slightly twitch when being praised on another flawless—and tough—routine.

It was one female reporter's question that had Stiles jolting upright in bed though, the grip on his phone tightening and the tremble in his hands making the screen shake.

Derek,” she began, her own French accent rolling the R. “You said at ze beginning of ze season at ze Grand Prix that we were to wait until ze end to ask you about your plans for next season or if you were going to retire. It is now ze end. Have you made a decision?

Stiles inhaled sharply and held the air in his lungs, waiting for the answer, watching as Derek's frown deepened into a scowl so fierce, it had to hurt. The Russian scratched at his jaw then gestured with an open palm, seeming more helpless than anything.

Still not sure,” he admitted with a shrug. “I am going to take time to figure it out. I am sure you will find out soon.

The press conference ended after that, the screen going black, and he clicked the “done” button to make it disappear. For years, Stiles had dreamt about competing against Derek Hale and when he'd finally gotten the chance to, he'd choked, crashed, and burned. Now, he may not get another chance to share the ice with him and it wouldn't be due to his own retiring.

Not that Stiles could blame the guy. He'd been competing for fifteen years and at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, he was considered an old man in a sport dominated by guys in their late teens. Hell, even Stiles at twenty-three was older than most other competitors. And with practically every possible gold medal under his belt and decorating his shelves, there wasn't much left for Derek to do except hang up his skates and reap the rewards of a successful career. Guy had to be rolling in the fucking dough, not to mention surrounded by countless groupies willing to drop their panties at the snap of his fingers.

Stiles put his phone on the bed with more force than necessary, grinding his teeth. Okay, stupid fucking reaction, he knew that. There was absolutely no reason for him to be jealous about whatever rink rat that wanted to drop to her knees and give Derek a gold medal blow job. He and Derek weren't anything, had never been anything, would never be anything. The guy had said Stiles' name once and had given him a friendly wave, competitor to competitor, that was it. All there was between them was a stupid crush Stiles had on him and even then, it was equal to a crush any fangirl had on their celeb of choice.

Still, the thought of Derek with someone else caused his stomach to churn and he shoved his blankets back, inadvertently sending his phone flying off the bed onto the floor. Oh well. Thank fuck for Otter Boxes, he reasoned, rising off the bed and adjusting his shirt where it had ridden up over his tubby tummy.

He yanked a pair of random sweats out of one of his suitcases, realizing in the back of his mind that he should probably unpack at some point—or at least dig out his dirty clothes so he could wash them before they stank the rest of his things up—and jerked them on. Next was a pair of random socks that at least matched each other then he shoved his feet into a pair of Adidas sneakers, scrubbing his hand through his hair. The lengths were getting longer, bangs hanging halfway down his forehead and he figured he should either cut it or style it or do something with them to.

Fucking hell. He had no idea where the sudden burst of motivation came from, why he wanted to actually get shit done when months prior, he'd barely had the will to get out of bed.

Then again, chances were it wasn't motivation so much as a need to put off coming to a decision about his career and the only distraction he could think of was getting his room back in order and fixing his hair.

Fuck it. He'd take it.

Feeling as put together as he was gonna get, he headed upstairs to find Kira sitting at the breakfast bar, kicking her legs and humming to herself while typing on her phone. Her mom was standing in front of the stove, working on a bunch of scrambled eggs, the smell overwhelming that of the sizzling bacon and sausages the next pan over. She glanced over her shoulder long enough to raise an unimpressed eyebrow at his appearance, Kira twisting around to give him a bright smile, overly bubbly and optimistic where Noshiko was more stoic and negative.

Stiles shrugged, not all that bothered by it, giving Kira a “what's up” head nod that she returned it with a fake mean mug fake before breaking out in a wide grin and breathing out a laugh.

“Kinda surprised you're here,” he stated, heading to the coffee maker on the left side of the kitchen and grabbing a mug from the cabinet above. Dark green, the Beacon Hills Preserve logo in gold, and he rubbed his thumb over it before filling it up with the good stuff. “Figured you'd have a class to teach.”

Kira gave a shrug out her own as she finished typing with her thumbs, then locked her phone and put it on the counter in front of herself. “No classes today,” she informed, watching as he set about adding sugar and milk. “We've had to cut back a lot since there's not a whole lot of people in Beacon Hills these days. People graduate, go off to college, get a job elsewhere and just. Stay gone.” She ran a hand through her loose hair, pouting, and Stiles thought the expression was completely wrong on the personified sunshine that was Kira Yukimura.

“I'm sorry,” he murmured, shuffling over and sitting on the stool to her left.

Another shrug and she propped herself up on one hand, head turned to look at him. “It's life. Not all of us can escape small town life for a big career as a professional athlete.” Her tone turned teasing at the end, nudging his shoulder with her free hand and smirking at him, almond eyes crinkling at the edges and her nose wrinkling.

Stiles snorted, bringing his mug to his lips before he slipped up and said something dumb like “Well, now I'm stuck here, too, since I'm giving up said career as a professional athlete since I was more of a professional failure.” Mainly because he wasn't entirely sure if that was his plan anymore, but also because he didn't wanna seem like a privileged asshole reducing himself to living a life others were trying to get out of. Seemed kinda fucked up.

But it was like Beacon Hills was a fucking magnet and it just sucked you right back in, never letting you go. After all, he knew he could've stayed in Detroit, gotten a job there, a place to live, found a whole new career and way of living. He could just return to Beacon Hills for holidays, visited his dad on special occasions, could've gotten out and stayed out. It wasn't the same as it was for Kira or Malia, who didn't have any other choice but to return home after college, to fly back to the safety of the nest—so to speak—while they figured out how to fly again. And for that, he felt like a giant ass.

Especially when he realized that there was no way he could actually say any of that without sounding like a giant douche.

But he couldn't just let her comment hang and seem like he didn't give a shit about her or what she was going through, because he did genuinely feel bad. Less classes to teach meant less income, and a greater threat of being fired altogether. Then what would Kira do? She had to pay her bills somehow. Wasn't like she could rely on Malia for everything.

Right, he was jumping to the worst possible conclusion again. No one was saying anything about Kira losing her job, just that she wasn't teaching that day. For all he knew, Mondays were her day off.

Fuck, he needed to find some chill.

The back screen door banged open and he realized he wasn't the only one who needed to find their chill. Heavy stomps sounded across the screened-in porch, followed by the back door slamming open, and all three of them turned their heads to find Malia standing there, holding the door open with one hand, nostrils flaring as she panted in anger—and most likely exertion, since she probably ran from her car into the house, whatever pissing her off fueling her actions.

“You,” she growled, pointing at him with her free hand, eyes narrowed and jaw grinding. “How. Fucking. Dare you.”

Stiles' eyes went wide as he sank back in his seat, heart pounding faster with each step she took towards him. Chances were she'd found that same article his dad had and that she'd come over to tear him a new one for not only not telling her his desire to hang up his skates, but for wanting to do so in the first place. She always seemed to take it as a personal affront when he messed up his own career, like his mistakes were a slap to her face for whatever reason. And him wanting to give it all up was probably seen as a shotgun blast to the stomach.

She paused right beside him, towering over his seated form, brown eyes narrowed to slits as her nostrils continued to flare. Her arms folded over her chest, obscuring the logo on her graphic tee, and she looked about two seconds away from punching him in the jaw. “You went viral and didn't fucking tell me?” she cried out, letting out an offended noise as she threw her arms in the air then put her hands on her hips.

Noshiko chastised her about her language but otherwise paid them no attention and Kira sat wide-eyed staring, head snapping back and forth between the two of them like a spectator at a tennis match. And Stiles... well, he had no fucking clue how to react, except to stare open-mouthed for a long moment before spitting out a “what?!” in disbelief and confusion.

Because... what?!

She snorted, rolling her eyes and cocking a hip out as her arms refolded. “Like you don't know,” she sneered, the expression fading when he continued to stare at her in genuine fucking confusion. “Oh my god, you really don't know.”

He shook his head and held his hands up in surrender, honestly innocent in the whole thing. “I don't have a clue what the hell you're talking about,” he admitted, sheepish grin on his face, Kira cocking her head to the side out the corner of his eye.

Malia's head reared back in surprise before she reached into her back pocket and slipped her phone out her camo skinny jeans. “I can't believe you don't know,” she muttered to herself, unlocking her screen and tapping it as she searched for whatever the hell it was she was talking about. “Here,” she stated, thrusting the phone at him.

Stiles gingerly took the device, staring down at where the YouTube app was open, a video already playing where she'd turned the screen sideways. The music sounded distant, like it was coming from somewhere other than an editing program, but he was still able to recognize the aria as Stay Close to Me. And as he took in the visual itself, he was able to recognize more: the metal walls of the ice rink, the advertisements for local businesses on the wall around the ice, the scoreboards in the background—and himself, standing in the middle of the ice before he began to skate.

“Holy shit,” he breathed out, turning the screen to look at the video details.

Stiles Stilinski attempts to skate Derek Hale's Stay Close to Me routine

“Holy shit,” he repeated, Kira now leaning over to find out what the hell was going on.

“Oh wow,” she softly said in his ear, smile practically audible as she bounced against him. “Stiles, you're really good.”

“He's amazing,” Malia argued, arms folded once more, almost offended that anyone—even her girlfriend—would think any less of him. “I don't know why it was titled as 'attempts to skate' it, since you pretty much nailed it. You looked like Derek, only with shorter hair and a bigger gut.”

He shot her a glare at the blow to a weak spot, then stared at the screen, checking out the uploader. Fucking Erica. He should've known. She was the only one who'd been there the night before and therefore the only one who'd be able to actually film it, much less post it on YouTube.

And have it go viral apparently.

His eyes slid across the screen to the views and...

Wow.

He didn't even get that many hits on his own original stuff but now he was getting it by copying someone else? Kind of offensive really.

Realization smacked him in the face and his eyes went wide, paranoia taking hold once more. What if it somehow made its way to Derek? What if the other man saw it, was offended by it himself, was pissed off that some peon would dare attempt his routine and do it so terribly? What if he took it as an insult, took it to mean he hadn't done such a great job choreographing it if some hack was able to do it so well? What if he was so pissed by it, he made Stiles even more of a leper in the skating community, and he would no longer have to think about whether or not he was gonna retire because Derek would make it so he couldn't even enter an ice rink, much less a competition, for the rest of his life?

“Oh god,” he groaned, thumping his head onto the counter, the phone being pulled out of his hand. He was gonna kill Erica.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Erica, of course, ended up being entirely unrepentant.

The bitch.

When he called her to confront her about it, she claimed it was a favor to him to show him how talented he was and that he was capable of great things if he didn't let his nerves get to him so damn much. She then explained that posting it on YouTube for the world to see was revenge for “those bullshit rumors about you possibly retiring, what the fuck's up with that, Stilinski?” He called her the worst person ever then hung up when she cackled in response.

He wound up skipping breakfast, choosing instead to hide out in his room and pretend to be productive when really, he just didn't wanna deal with the outside world. It had been hard enough when he'd choked out, but now he was sure to be the laughingstock even more after that video, and he couldn't handle the responses he'd get in return. Sometimes it was just easier to ignore the problem until it went away and the best way to ignore it was to hide and shut off his phone so no one could bug him and he wasn't tempted to Google himself.

That never ended well.

Ever.

His dad came in when he didn't show for lunch, pulling the rolling chair out from under his desk and sitting, “Concerned Parent” written all over his face. Elbows on his knees, his dad put his bottom teeth on display, sucking in air as he tried to find the right words to say before actually speaking, always cautious not to say the wrong thing and cause his overdramatic son to flip out or take something the wrong way.

“I saw the video,” he said quietly, blue eyes trained on Stiles where he was laying on his bed, eyes closing as he winced. “I thought you did quite well.”

Stiles bit back a retort about how his dad had never seen any of Derek's routines, much less the one Stiles had copied, so how the fuck would he know what was good or not? Not to mention the fact that parents were automatically bias as hell. How many dads out there thought their kid was the best at whatever, how many moms thought their kid was the best looking, all because said kid came from their DNA. His dad thinking he did well skating wasn't a true testament to his skills, just a parent trying to be supportive and having blinders on when it came to their child.

Still. The corner of his lips curved up in a bare hint of a smile, cheeks flushing with embarrassed pride, despite his own self-deprecating thoughts causing him to shrug and play it off. “Not as good as Derek.”

His dad gesture helplessly, leaning back in the seat, legs spread as wide as they could go in his jeans. “Well, I don't know about that. I tend not to watch the other skaters,” he admitted, folding his arms over his chest. “But I still know you have talent and should be proud of what you did.” Stiles just shrugged again, silence descending, before the elder Stilinski spoke up again. “Did you look at the comments?”

Stiles snorted so hard it hurt, lifting an arm and throwing it over his eyes as though he could physically block any and all comments from ever entering his brain, the tags on the collar around his left wrist jangling with the motion. “I'm not a masochist, Dad. I'm not gonna abuse myself and my already miniscule self-esteem by reading all the vitriol that YouTube assholes spew out on a regular basis. I already know I'm not as good as Derek and that I was the biggest flop ever in the history of the Grand Prix and that I'm basically fooling myself into thinking I could be a skater. I don't need to see it in black and white next to some supposedly clever username with numbers for letters and some cartoon for an icon.”

“Not all of it is negative though,” his dad argued. “I bet for every one negative comment, there's another fifty or so positive ones.”

Another snort came from the younger Stilinski. “Maybe, but it's me. You and I both know I'll only focus on the negative ones.”

A sigh was his dad's initial response, followed by his hands slapping his thighs with a sense of finality, then a slight groan as he rose to his feet. “I just think maybe you should check them out—check the positive ones out. Might make you think twice about retiring.”

Without moving his arm from his face, Stiles shrugged, the conversation over, his dad leaving. Tempted as he was, Stiles left his phone where it sat, powered down and shoved under a pillow. Hell, he may even just delete his YouTube app so he was one-hundred percent never enticed to check out those comments.

Okay, that was never gonna happen, but he definitely was resisting. It was better for his sanity that way.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Days passed without much change. His dad never broached the subject over Stiles' career plans or suggested he read those comments, even though someone printed them out and shoved them under his door—Malia most likely the culprit, although he never confronted her and she never admitted to it. Stiles wound up sticking them in the junk drawer of his desk after internally debating whether or not to just burn them, only to decide it was a waste of paper and bad for the environment in some roundabout way.

Malia never mentioned any rumors of his retiring, but she continued to give him hard analytical looks when she thought he wasn't paying attention and he was pretty sure that any day, she was gonna ream him about it. Kira hung out during her time off, regaling him with gossip and news of what had happened in Beacon Hills while he'd been gone, which wasn't really much of anything, considering how boring small-town life could be.

He finally got around to unpacking on his second full day at home, and headed back to Ice Castle that night. He'd planned to give Erica the cold shoulder, but after much haranguing and pouting, he gave in, being smothered by her enthusiastic response. She swore never to film him without his permission again and informed him that Boyd wasn't all that pleased with what she'd done either, which was probably why she was so apologetic. She even offered to delete the video from her account and Stiles told her not to bother. It was the internet: when something was posted, there was no way to erase it. Someone somewhere had most likely downloaded it somehow the second it was uploaded and then reuploaded it to their own account, giffed it, cut it into pieces and shared on various accounts on various social media sites.

Stiles tried not to fixate on it, instead focusing just on skating, but every now and then—mainly when he was trying to fall asleep—he was hit with another attack of paranoia over Derek having seen it. He'd manage to talk himself out of it, remembering how Derek wasn't much of a social media guy, his twitter account boasting an average of one tweet per month that seemed to practically break his fandom, Instagram photos limited to whatever Getty image he googled of himself from whatever gold medal he'd won the day before. Chances were he was completely in the dark over Stiles' pseudo-impression and hopefully would always remain so.

The Bed-n-Breakfast received a guest on Stiles' third day there, an elderly Japanese woman named Satomi Ito, in town for her daughter's wedding, that hadn't wanted to impose on the soon-to-be-wed couple by staying in their house. Things seemed to settle for Stiles and he sank into small town life, his days filled with moping around the house, helping out here and there with little chores, his evenings spent at Ice Castle working on nothing in particular. He was beginning to realize how it was that people got stuck in Beacon Hills, time slowing to such a crawl that one couldn't tell time was even passing until you looked up and realized it was a week later. Life was wasted on a town like that.

He wondered if anything would ever change, then wondered if he wanted it to. The way things were, he was hiding from the world, something that was unhealthy for his social life and possibly his mental status, but also weirdly helping said mental status. There were no stares, no ridiculing, no talking behind his back and conversations that suddenly cut off when he entered a room or store or whatever. It gave him time and space to think about what it was he truly wanted to do.

Only he still couldn't figure it out.

It was a week after he'd moved back home that something actually broke the monotony of his daily routine. Climbing the stairs to the main floor that morning, he opened the basement door to nothing special. He could hear his dad out back fixing the creaky step, Noshiko and Satomi playing a game of Go and speaking Japanese, Malia and Kira in the front room giggling and speaking in hushed tones—meaning Malia was supposed to be doing something else but instead was watching whatever morning news program his dad had put on and ordered to be left on. Stiles shrugged, wiping his tired eyes as he shuffled over to the coffee pot, dressed in the rattiest, baggiest sweats he owned and a t-shirt that used to be a size too big but now mostly fit—at least around the stomach area. He tugged it down to cover his ponch as he reached into the cabinet for a mug, the dog tags around his wrist jangling with the movement.

A low growl sounded out and he paused, brow furrowing in confusion. Okay, small town life was getting to him more than he thought, boredom driving him to hear shit, like a dog snarling. Clearly impossible, given Derek was long gone, hence the tags Stiles had taken to wearing around his wrist.

He shook his head to snap out of it, grabbing whatever random cup was in front and putting it on the counter. A bark sounded out at that, Malia yelling “shut it!”, then the familiar sound of claws clicking on the wooden floor hit Stiles' ears. He turned just in time to see a large husky come barreling in the room, skidding before righting itself and turning to him. Without hesitation, the dog let out another “boof” then charged him, knocking him backwards. Stiles landed on his ass, the husky standing between his splayed legs, paws on his shoulders as it licked his face.

“Derek?” he muttered in confusion, pushing against a barrel chest to get the husky literally out of his face, taking it in. Definitely not Derek, he knew that, had known that, the realization causing a strange sense of upset to take over and he felt his heart sink. It was stupid to have hoped it would be. Derek was long gone and there was no way he was coming back, not without some sort of Pet Semetary thing happening and Stiles didn't even need to see the movie to know it wouldn't end well. Stephen King, enough said.

Still, there was something vaguely familiar about this dog, from the markings on its face, to the mismatched blue and pink eyes, to the purple collar aroundits neck. With one hand still against the husky's chest, he took hold of the tags, a rainbow colored heart-shaped one declaring her to be called “Misha”.

Holy. Shit.

“I see you've met one of our new guests,” his dad stated in bemusement and Stiles snapped his head up to find that he now had an audience. Malia and Kira stood in the kitchen doorway, wearing differing looks of worry, Noshiko and Satomi in the back doorway, the latter amused while the former was unimpressed and half a second away from a maternal lecture, while his dad stood at the end of the kitchen island, smirking down at his sprawled out kid and the husky that was licking his face once more. “Belongs to our actual human guest, this handsome guy, looks like a lumberjack to be honest. And you won't believe what his name is.” The amused grin grew, blue eyes crinkled and sparkling, and he shook his head in disbelief at whatever was so damn funny.

Probably the irony of the situation, that Stiles once had a husky named Derek, the moniker taken from his skating idol who had a dog of the same breed named Misha, who was actually currently slobbering all over Stiles because Derek was—

Derek—

Holy shit!

“Oh my god!” Stiles yelled, giving Misha a good push before jumping up to his feet. The amusement left his dad's face, but Stiles didn't care, didn't pay attention, didn't look back despite all the cries of his name. He simply shoved his way past Malia and Kira and shot off down the hall and up the stairs and—

Okay, he jumped the gun, he could admit it. He had no fucking clue what room Derek would be staying in. He knew Satomi had room four at the back, wanting a view of the yard and the forest surrounding it, and guests usually weren't given rooms on the third floor unless the second was filled and...

Well, he didn't have much of a choice. Just had to go through them one by one until he found what he was looking for.

Room one was on the right, the door plain white like the rest, a green number painted on it to let others know which one it was. Tripping on the top step, Stiles headed straight for it, shoving the door open and...

And immediately finding what he was looking for.

The occupant of the room paused on his way out of the en suite, towel wrapped around his waist, water still clinging to his skin from his shower. And what fucking skin it was, deliciously tan all over, dark hair covering his chest, gathering down his navel then creating a trail that disappeared beneath white cotton and Stiles wanted nothing more than to follow it with his tongue. His throat went dry as he looked the other man all over, taking in flat pecs and rippled abs and thick biceps, following a bead of water down a prominent collarbone, eyes drifting up to take in familiar black whiskers covering a sharp jaw. Shaggy black hair was dripping wet, tousled from being washed, unkempt, and Stiles fantasized about running his fingers through it, about messing it up from something other than shampoo-rinse-repeat. He turned his attention to the other man's face, taking in familiar green eyes and a sharp blade nose and...

And a smirk?

Derek Hale didn't fucking smirk. It just wasn't in his nature. Yet there it was, the corner of his lips curved up and his eyes crinkled, that same soft smile he'd given Stiles all those months ago at the Grand Prix.

Stiles was pretty sure his brain had shorted out, nothing but a blue screen of death and a long tone that signaled dead air. He was done, he was over, he was...pretty sure it was worth it to die right then and there because Derek Hale was in a towel and wet from a shower and smiling at him.

Holy shit.

Holy goddamn shit.

Derek huffed out an amused laugh through his nose, turning to face Stiles from his position at the end of the bed, smile still there. “Hallo, Stiles,” he greeted, accent thick.

“Wha—hi?” he managed to choke out, tongue feeling twice as big as normal in his dry mouth and he was pretty sure he could hear his blood rushing to his dick as it twitched inside his boxers. “Why—what—fuck.”

The Russian shrugged a shoulder before reaching down and literally whipping off his towel, draping it over his head, and Stiles had to grip the doorframe to keep from passing out. Because Derek Hale was now naked in his house, completely unashamed or embarrassed. Which...

He had every right to be totally fine being naked with a cock like that.

Not that Stiles looked.

Just a quick peek, because he was so very human and Derek was so very naked and so very tempting and so very fucking hung.

Screaming internally, Stiles used every ounce of willpower he had to keep himself upright and his eyes locked on Derek's face, watching as the older man began scrubbing his hair with the towel.

“Why you look surprised?” Derek questioned, equal parts amused and puzzled, dropping the towel from his head and tossing it onto the bed.

“I don't—why—you're at my house?” Not the most eloquent statement in the world, but Stiles thought he got the point across.

“Of course,” the other man stated, brow furrowed as though he couldn't understand why this was so surprising and why it was even an issue. “I call your coach, he say you are here, so now I am here.”

“Okayyyy,” Stiles drew the word out, scratching at his forehead with a finger, tags jangling around his wrist. “But why?”

Derek grew even more confused before the smile returned, this one softer and more friendly and Stiles swore his heart both stopped and took off flying at the same fucking time. Standing with his feet shoulder width apart and his body angled slightly away, Derek stretched his arm out in Stiles' direction, palm up, as though offering something up. And when he opened his mouth and spoke in that heavy accent, it was obvious just what he was gifting.

“I am here to be your new coach.”

What. The fuck?

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE

Stiles had no idea how to react or what to feel as he stared open-mouthed and wide-eyed at Beacon Hills Bed-n-Breakfast's latest guest.

Gobsmacked. That was the word. He was completely and totally gobsmacked. And with good reason really.

Derek Hale was currently at the B-n-B his family owned and that he himself currently lived in.

Derek Hale was completely fucking nude and unapologetic about it.

Derek Hale was offering to be his coach.

It was a dream, right? Had to be. His usual sexual fantasies had taken a turn and were becoming full-on pornos, complete with a lame attempt at an actual plot of some form. Really, Derek offering to be his coach was along the lines of the man offering to clean his pipes or check his cable or deliver pizza. Volunteering to coach someone was definitely more original than those tired cliches, but still very fucking outlandish.

Left hand still gripping the doorframe, he shoved his right into his hair and subtly tugged it. The sharp sting of pain proved he wasn't dreaming and all this was very much fucking happening but it didn't make it seem any more real.

Fucking eh.

Derek stood there, completely nonplussed—and nude, something Stiles didn't think he was gonna get over anytime soon, or possibly ever—folding his arms over his chest. Which. He needed to not do. The action pushed his large pectorals together and put his huge biceps on display and with the furred chest and shaggy hair, he genuinely looked like a pornstar. He just needed a terrible mustache to complete the stereotype.

But despite all that, he was... he was completely fucking serious. Stiles looked around, trying to find hidden cameras, waiting for someone to hop out and tell him it was a prank, for Derek to bust out laughing and say he was obviously joking and had come to sue Stiles for stealing his routine.

Oh fuck. What if Derek had seen it?

What if he hadn't?

He felt his cheeks heat up and he pushed all thoughts of that god-forsaken video aside, swallowing hard before he actually spoke. But even then, all he could do was croak out a confused "what?"

"I have come here to be your coach," Derek repeated, shrugging his shoulders as though to ask what the big deal was, acting like the entire thing was no biggie so why was Stiles acting like such a freak.

Stiles sputtered out a breath, scrubbing at his mouth, making the tags on the collar around his left wrist jangle. "I—you—what? Why?" he sputtered again, gesturing to Derek, jangling some more, right hand moving to his hip. "Am I being pranked? Is someone gonna pop out the closet holding a phone they'd been recording with and start laughing at me?"

Derek's brow pulled together in confusion and if Stiles didn't know any better, he'd swear there was a hint of sadness in his green eyes, like he was hurt by the accusation that it was an elaborate joke. "No," he stated honestly, Russian accent making the word harsher than it really was. "Stiles, I saw video. Of you skating my routine?"

Oh fuck.

Oh fuck fuck fuck.

The younger man breathed out the expletive as he listed sideways and crashed into the doorframe, letting the wood hold him up as he scrubbed at his mouth once more. His face felt like it was on fire as shame and humiliation raged inside of him and he was hit with the urge to run downstairs, hop in his Jeep, and just drive somewhere, anywhere until Derek left town.

At least until then. Maybe longer.

Only problem was the fact that his keys were down in his room and he didn't wanna risk the extra time by having to grab them, in case someone saw and tried to stop him.

So he was stuck.

Oh fuck.

Of course, with his luck being as shitty as it was, Derek was completely oblivious to Stiles' internal freak-out, the confusion melting from his face and being replaced by that soft smile that had the younger man's heart trying to pound its way out his ribcage. The Russian moved closer, sauntering his way over, arms hanging freely by his sides, hips rolling in a way that was pure sex, and his—

Nope. Eyes up. If Stiles kept his gaze locked down south, he'd feel his own cock wake up and decide to join the fun. Then it really would turn into the porno he'd been imagining it was.

Or not, he realized, remembering his shit luck. Derek was probably straight and even if he weren't, there was no way a walking orgasm like him would be into an awkward little shit like Stiles.

But still, the smirk curving up Derek's lips had a sexual edge to it, and the way he moved was predatory, and Stiles felt every inch the prey. He shifted so his back was against the wall, right hand wrapping around the doorframe for an easy escape he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to take. His heart was pounding even faster, breathing shaky, and he felt his skin tingle all over in a way he'd never experienced before. Half his blood was heating his face, the other half slowly making its way to his dick as it started plumping up and he scrambled to think of something, anything to stop the semi-chub in its tracks.

Derek paused mere inches away and Stiles caught to keep eye contact, determined to not peer down to figure out the exact amount of space between them, to not check out the older man, to not see if maybe he was in a similar state of semi-arousal. Was rude to stare, not to mention he didn't quite wanna face the disappointment.

Stiles swallowed hard from the close proximity, breathing shakily through parted lips. He could feel the heat rising off Derek's still damp body, could see the individual whiskers on his face, could tell that his eyes weren't actually green but an amalgam of green, brown, and gold all swirling together to form an entirely new color. He watched as they darted down, briefly focusing on his lips, and his tongue automatically slipped out to wet them.

Rough fingers wrapped around his hands before they were lifted up, Derek clasping his hands between their bodies as he gave him a completely earnest look, face grave and serious. "You are talented," Derek stated lowly, in a tone that brokered no argument—if Stiles could even get his brain back online long enough to form one. "You did good job. You are just rough around edges but that is okay. With my help, you will make Grand Prix and win gold."

Jesus fucking Christ.

Brown eyes flicked back and forth between green ones, trying to find a hint of a lie, but there was none. Just open honesty, a genuine proposal and a promise, joined by a confident smirk and a squeeze of the hand. "You're serious," Stiles breathed out in realization, heart pounding for a whole other reason.

"Yes," Derek answered with just as much sincerity as everything else, thumbs rubbing Stiles' knuckles. "You should not retire. You have too much talent. Let me help you work on nerves and polish tricks."

Stiles inhaled sharply, face practically burning and heart about to burst from pounding so hard so fast. Derek thought he was talented. Derek had seen the video of Stiles copying his routine and rather than get pissed over plagiarism, was offering to coach him. He'd be spending every day with Derek, learning from his adolescent idol and a master of their sport and despite any previous considerations about retiring, he still found himself nodding.

"Yes. I'd love for you to coach me."

~*~*~*~*~*~

"Wait. So you're telling me that that is the Derek Hale? The one you've been rambling about all these years?"

Stiles threw his arms in the air in exasperation, standing over his dad who was crouched by the back step he was still fixing. Malia and Kira had been sent on a grocery run, which meant they wouldn't be back for hours since "grocery runs" apparently turned into "sneak to the lookout to fool around despite living together and being able to do that whenever". Noshiko was driving Satomi into town to visit her daughter and have lunch at the elderly woman's insistence, despite Noshiko being adamant nothing was owed to anyone. And Derek was up in his room presumably—hopefully and/or unfortunately—putting actual clothes on.

After having agreed to let Derek coach him, Stiles skedaddled out the room as fast as he could, finding his dad in the backyard once more, Misha with him, immediately launching into a louder than necessary bitch-fest about how messed up it was that the older man didn't tell him who his new guest was. A minute—and several flails—later, the husky was sitting near the base of a tree, staring up at presumably a bird or squirrel, curled tail wagging every now and then when she caught sight of her target. Stiles envied the blissful ignorance of dogs, he really did. To be so amused by just staring at some small animal or chasing its own tail or chewing on something, not worrying about future career plans or where to live or hot naked Russians staying two floors above you.

Stiles scrubbed his hands over his face before jerking his head almost violently, refocusing on his oblivious dad. Folding one arm over his chest, he held the other up to gesture with, hand rotating near his face. "I literally have posters of him all over my walls. How could you not know that was the Derek Hale?"

His dad scoffed as he rose to his feet, tossing the hammer into his tool bag and dusting his hands off on his thighs. "I don't exactly pay attention to what's on your walls, kid," he explained with a grimace. "When I go in there, it's to make sure it's relatively clean and there's no food turning into a science experiment or animals we don't allow in the house. Noshiko handled keeping the place dust-free then passed the job onto Malia last year. In fact, it's probably due for a cleaning soon so don't be surprised if you get a tray of supplies shoved in your hands sometime soon."

Boo!

Stiles rolled his eyes, crossing his arms, tags jangling. "You're completely missing the point of what I'm tryna say here," he stated, eyes narrowed in a dubious manner, leg shaking where his stood.

His dad narrowed his own eyes, bottom teeth on display, body language a more statuary mirror of his son's. "And what exactly is the point?"

"That Derek Hale is staying at our B-n-B," he whispered harshly, eyes wide and slightly manic as he tried to get his old man to comprehend the seriousness of this entire situation and why it was such a huge fucking deal.

Which, apparently, he didn't given the unimpressed look he still wore. "I'm aware of who is staying here. I was the one who answered his call when he made the reservation, checked him in, charged his credit card, and listened to you ramble about him for the past five minutes."

His face morphed into a scowl and he ground his jaw, not appreciating his dad's sense of humor. Alright, so Stiles knew he'd inherited his smartassness from someone, but he wasn't a fan of having it thrown back in his face like that. Although really, it was totally something Stiles would do.

Didn't mean he had to be cool with it being done to him though.

"Okay but did you stop to think why he'd be checking in?" He held up a hand before the older Stilinski could say anything else about not recognizing Derek or his name. "Beacon Hills isn't exactly a tourist destination and we're not close enough to any big city for that to be an excuse. Our biggest attraction is a ten-acre plot of woods and a local legend about a magical tree stump. It's so boring here people are leaving. Why would anyone come to stay?"

He knew it was a dick thing to say, especially to a man who owned and operated a bed-n-breakfast, but he justified it with the belief that his dad—as the owner of the only place to lodge in town—would know Stiles had a point about the lack of outside visitors. Their guests were usually elderly couples wanting a taste of something small and quaint or people like Satomi, back in town to visit family without wanting to impose.

"We get a lot of traffic at Christmas," his dad pointed out, eyes screwed up defensively. "People from all over the state, and some neighboring ones, come to check out the lights and the festivities."

Stiles seesawed his head. "Point. But it's April."

The older man huffed out a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose, a familiar look of exasperation that his son had seen countless times over the years—and more often than not, was aimed at him. "Fine. It's April," he ground, crossing his arms and giving the younger Stilinski a hard, flat look. "Am I to assume that your unnecessary reminders about the slow-season and your cocky attitude mean you have a good idea as to why our latest guest has decided to stay with us?"

Yeah, Stiles definitely inherited his snark from his old man.

He allowed himself three seconds to look offended and pissed at the insinuation that he was deliberately being a dick—since it was only about sixty-percent deliberate—before remembering the question and its accompanying answer.

And the embarrassing way he'd found the information out.

His face grew hot again and he cleared his throat as he looked down at the gravel between his feet, mind flashing flashing with snapshots of being in Derek's room: fingers wrapped around his, bodies too close together, nudity, all while the skater had complimented and announced his intentions.

"He, uh," Stiles began, wringing the back of his neck. "He wants to be my coach."

His dad's eyebrows shot up, deepening the wrinkles in his forehead, blue eyes going wide. "That, uh. That—that's great. Right? I don't really know how I'm supposed to react here." He scratched at an eyebrow, suddenly awkward and unsure, puzzled frown forming. "I thought you were retiring though?"

"I was thinking about it, yeah," Stiles clarified, chewing his bottom lip, arms shifting so they were wrapped around his pudgy stomach, still staring at the ground. "I wasn't one-hundred percent either way, but." He lifted his eyes and met his dad's, almost pleading with him to understand. "Derek's a legend in men's figure skating. He's won all these medals and has been to the Olympics and has set records. And apparently he thinks I have something worth coaching, that I have talent. I'd be an idiot to pass up an opportunity like this."

Seesawing his head, his dad's eyebrows bobbed in concession, seeing the point even if he didn't seem like he totally agreed with it. "Okay. But I don't want you to agree to this because you feel you'd be an idiot otherwise. I want you to do it because you truly want to and because you decided not to retire," he stated in a warning tone, hand held up to gesture in a purely paternal manner.

"I am, I do. I wanna keep skating." Stiles shrugged, playing it off in his usual manner, watching his dad's eyes narrow analytically. "I realized over the past week of going to Ice Castle that I'm not ready to give it up like I thought I was."

The slight tilt of his father's lips caused Stiles to relax, tension he wasn't aware he'd been carrying melting some at the knowledge that his dad wasn't upset or annoyed at his indecisive son or mad that he was going back to skating. No, the older man was pleased, probably feeling a sense of relief himself, knowing his kid had gotten his shit together and was figuring his life out, rather than just wasting away in the basement.

Reaching over, his dad clapped a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Your mom would be proud of you," he commented with that same rough edge he always got when mentioning his late wife.

Stiles' chest grew tight in his own usual reaction to hearing about her and he automatically dropped his arms to rub his thumb over Derek's name tag on his wrist. "Thanks, Pop," he murmured, trying to form a smile but the expression wouldn't stick.

But as always, his dad got it and used the grip on his shoulder to haul him in for a hug. The embrace was tight, both pounding one another's backs, and Stiles felt more of that tension go and his chest loosen up. He'd had no idea how much he'd missed this over the past few years, how badly he'd needed nothing more than just a hug from his old man. But now he was aware and couldn't believe he'd managed to get by without them for so long.

The sound of the back door opening caused them to part and take a step or two back from one another, Stiles turning to find Derek making his way through the screened-in porch, thankfully—unfortunately—dressed in a pair of jeans and a gray henley. Fuckin' hell but he looked just as good with his clothes on, too, chest hair peeking out from where he didn't bother with the top button, cotton wrapped tight around his arms and chest, denim showing off strong thighs.

And just like that, Stiles was back in that room with Derek and a whole lot less fabric, getting an unobstructed view of muscles and skin and body hair, trying his damnedest not to get a peek down south and see where exactly all that hair led to. Really, he should be rewarded for his strength and willpower to not give in to temptation and take a big ol' gander at what lay between the Russian's legs. Hell, those skating costumes left little to the imagination and it was clear Derek was packing and Stiles was at a point in his life where he was getting comfortable with the fact that he was attracted to both men and women. Wanting to see exactly what Derek had going on was only natural—even if he was straight—and it wasn't like Derek was being shy about his body, what with him yanking off his towel during their first formal meeting.

But still, Stiles kept his eyes raised, didn't let them wander past his belly button, and with the amount of superhuman strength needed to do so, he felt he should be given sainthood or some shit.

Misha let out an excited bark and came bounding over just as her owner reached the bottom step, the two Stilinski men backing up to give him space. The husky didn't hesitate to jump up and put her front paws on Derek's abdomen, the skater slightly arching his back to give her something to prop herself up with before he began rubbing the sides of her face in greeting, the action seeming well-practiced. Stiles felt a light pang in his chest that he was no longer able to do that with his own dog and had to look away, lips pressed together as he stared unseeing at the tree line in the distance.

"Mr Hale," his dad greeted cordially, pleasant smile on his face. "Are you settled in okay? Everything to your liking?"

"Yes, thank you," Derek replied, his own features flat but not menacing or intimidating. Just a mask with no real emotion as he rubbed his dog's head and nudged her to get down. "And please, call me Derek, yes?"

"Alright. Derek." The name was spoken with a strange combination of acceptance and disapproval, his dad testing the weight of it on his tongue then shrugging when he realized it was what his guest wanted and he'd be rude to argue.

Stiles kept his gaze away but tried to steal glances at Derek, noting the sheen of shower water was gone from his skin and his hair had been dried and brushed. He has to stifle back a laugh at the image of someone like Derek using a blow dryer, the action seeming so out of place with someone as gruff looking as the Russian, but it was the only way to explain the lack of dampness in the black strands.

Derek himself was glancing at Stiles, strange pull to his brow, like he couldn't figure out the younger man. Wouldn't be the first time someone leveled that look at him, probably wouldn't be the last time either, but something about it coming from Derek made him squirm. It was like he was trying to figure him out, dissect him with his eyes and find out what made him tick, what made him who he was. Stiles had never felt so under the microscope, maybe not even during competitions when judges were taking apart his every move to find every minute flaw, and he wasn't entirely sure why Derek was looking at him so closely. Okay, yeah, Derek was gonna be his coach—a fact that was still mindblowing as fuck—but it didn't make sense for the Russian to analyze him so much off the ice when they were just casually standing by the back steps. It was unnerving and Stiles felt his heart pounding uncontrollably within his chest, felt his cheeks heat up as he started to blush.

His dad was either completely oblivious or decent enough not to acknowledge anything, smoothly changing the subject to a question about his guest's needs. Derek gave Stiles another long, inquisitive look before the expression disappeared and his features flattened out once more.

"I was going to ask about lunch," Derek stated, accent thick, Misha sitting against his leg and staring up at him. "I know this is bed and breakfast but--"

The owner waved him off. "Don't worry about it. The name is a formality more than anything. Sounded better than 'Beacon Hills Inn' I guess. We'd have no problems with you eating here."

The corner of Derek's lips curved up on one side but the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. It was like he knew it was the right thing to do yet couldn't bring himself to mean it, and Stiles found himself once again wondering what had happened to Derek in the past to make him that way.

Not that he'd ever ask. It was none of his business really. Plus things weren't really like that. It was gonna be strictly professional between the two of them—despite the nudity and Stiles' countless fantasies over the years—and asking about past hurts that turned the angst up to eleven fell far outside the realms of that.

Still. He was curious as fuck and as much as he tried to convince himself it was just because he was nosy, he knew that was bullshit. He figured it was just residual from the celeb crush type feelings he had for Derek, that desire to know things about one's idol, the realization of which reminded him exactly what he was to the older man, where he stood, what kind of relationship the two of them had. It was like being doused with cold water, his cheeks heating up again as he thought about how idiotic and childish he was behaving. Derek's past was his own and didn't concern Stiles in the slightest so it was best to just let it go.

Still...the curiosity remained and...

The sounds of a car engine and gravel being kicked up hit his ears, growing louder as the vehicle drew near and all three men turned their heads toward it. Misha popped up from where she was sitting, ears angled toward the noise, guard dog on alert and Derek bent down just enough to place a calming hand on her head.

It wasn't long before a blue sedan appeared from around the corner, parking alongside the black SUV, Malia popping out soon after the engine was cut off. Surprisingly, there was no Kira to be found and Stiles figured she had a class to teach.

"Mind giving me a hand?" Malia called out, boots crunching on gravel as she headed to the trunk and popped it open.

All three men made their way over, despite insistences that Derek was a guest and therefore didn't need to help, but between the four of them, they managed to get all the grocery bags inside in one trip. The Russian stayed off to the side with Misha as things were unpacked and put up, explaining that he'd get in the way more than help, and it wasn't long before counters were cleaned off and Malia was making her own inquiries about lunch. All attentions turned to Derek, everyone else wordlessly deciding that as the guest, he should make the decision.

Derek looked bewildered for a moment, leaning against the basement door with his arms folded, shrugging before turning to Stiles. "What is your favorite food?"

Brown eyes went wide, Stiles' turn to look singled out and confused, and they darted to the other occupants in the room before settling on Derek. "Uhh," he began, rubbing at the name tag on his wrist, feeling like an awkward teenager all over again. "My favorite food?"

"Yes. As your coach, I am going to need to know things about you, like what is your favorite food?" Derek was perfectly calm and relaxed as he said it, an air of nonchalance around him that Stiles couldn't fake even if he tried. It was almost jealousy inducing, to be that confident and assured in oneself to just say whatever came to mind with no fear of repercussions. Stiles wasn't sure if it was an age thing, if it came with having solidified oneself as the best in their field of work, or if it was a Derek thing, but he found himself even more in awe of the man, this time as a person rather than a skating idol.

Clearing his throat, he shrugged and folded his arms, hoping to convey the same ease Derek was displaying, most likely ruining it with the small grimace that flashed on his face. "My fave isn't really a lunch food though."

"That's fine," his dad butted in, leaning one shoulder against the fridge in his own relaxed manner. "Exceptions can be made."

Well okay then. Dumb to argue if it meant he could get his favorite meal again. "Chicken tenders, curly fries, and mac 'n' cheese."

Derek frowned in confusion. "Mackin'—"

"Mac. 'N'. Cheese," Stiles enunciated. "Macaroni noodles in a cheddar cheese sauce."

The frown shifted to a slight pout and it took everything in the younger man's power not to comment on how cute the slight downturn of his lips was. "I do not think I have ever had that."

"Probably not. Full of carbs and therefore not a part of most skaters' restricted diets," Stiles spat with a sneer, hating the whole thing. As a self-professed junk foodie, he loved any form of breaded chicken or anything with melted cheese involved, so being told he had a list of things he couldn't eat and that said list contained most of his favorites, yeah, he'd been pissed. He understood the reasons why, of course, but still thought it was bullshit.

Because it fucking was.

But then he'd given up skating and diets and Do Not Eat Lists no longer mattered, so he was free to chow down on whatever the fuck he wanted while he binged to deal with his feelings. Which, naturally, lead to him gaining weight and sporting some extra pudge around the middle but it'd been totally worth it at the time.

Self-consciously, he adjusted his hoodie around his waist, making sure it covered his larger-than-normal gut, wrapping his arms over it.

Derek nodded, the explanation making sense. Chances were he was—or at least had been—on a restricted diet of his own. And he probably stuck to it a whole lot better than Stiles did, given the younger man's habit of talking Scott into sneaking out for pizza or fast food. Plus one didn't end up as cut as Derek was by chowing down on junk all the time. It would honestly shock the shit out of Stiles if Derek'd had a burger in the past decade or so.

With a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders, Derek turned to Stiles' dad, features as flat as always. "Then that is what I would like for lunch."

~*~*~*~*~*~

The owner put his kid and employee to work, divvying up jobs then leading his guest into the living room to watch TV, Misha following close behind. The oven was preheated, curly fries laid out on one baking tray, frozen chicken tenders on another, and Stiles was suddenly hit with a weird urge to actually hand-bread fresh chicken and fry it up themselves. Not that he really knew how or anything, but he was overcome with the need to impress Derek, to show off for him. He told himself it was just because Derek was his new coach, that of course he'd want him to believe his new protege was talented, completely ignoring the fact that an ability to cook from scratch had nothing to do with anything that happened on the ice.

Malia sidled up to him as he read the back of the mac 'n' cheese box—despite practically having it memorized—rest of the food in the oven, the two standing over the sink to the side. She stared out the window above it, as though checking out the backyard, but her eyes continued to slide to the right, to check out Stiles, her lips twisting in thought. He let out a sigh and she took it as the opening she'd clearly been going for.

"So rumor has it that Derek is taking a year off to coach you," she murmured rapidly, TV droning in the background, the two men watching it silent save for random bursts of awkward small talk.

Stiles felt tension rise, tightening all his muscles, and he had to force himself to keep his grip on the famous blue box loose, to not grind his words out as he spoke. "News travels fast," he muttered, unable to hide the heat in his words. "He only asked about an hour or so ago."

Malia shrugged then began smoothing her hair back into a short ponytail at the base of her skull. "Apparently Deucalion is pissed his star skater left, told the media all about it. Didn't say he was gonna coach you though, I kinda put that together when he randomly showed up here."

He relaxed a little, glad he wasn't included in that part of the rumor mill—yet—absently reading the ingredients for the mac 'n' cheese without actually taking any of it in. "Yeah, well. You got it right."

Her lip curled up in a "no shit, idiot" sneer, dark eyes rolling. "This mean you're not retiring?"

His head snapped to her, heart pounding, wondering who the hell had told her. His dad wouldn't do that to him, she wasn't close enough to Scott to exchange numbers or emails or keep in regular contact, and she'd never even met Deaton. So far, they were the only three who'd known what he'd been considering and therefore the only way she'd find out but he honestly didn't think any of those were a possibility.

She shrugged a shoulder, not seeing the big deal. "There's rumors about that, too."

"Right," he muttered as he set the box aside and stared out the window. Should've known really. Even if no one betrayed his trust, people were bound to make shit up. Chances were someone had made an off-hand comment about how if they were in Stiles' shoes, after bombing so bad at the Grand Prix, they'd give it all up. That opinion probably got twisted and morphed as it spread from person to person, turning into rumors that Stiles himself had said that.

Which, okay, he had, but it wasn't like anyone outside his inner-circle knew that.

Then again, the fact that he'd pretty much disappeared from the world of skating after failing at Nationals spoke those words for him.

"Soooo," Malia stretched the word, lips pursed, twisting back and forth between Stiles and the window before finally stopping facing his direction. "Is any of it true?"

He let out a long sigh, bracing his hands on the counter as he stared out the window at nothing in particular, shoulders hunched up around his ears again. "Kind of? Honestly? I was considering retiring, but wasn't one-hundred percent sure. Then Derek showed and offered to be my coach so. Not retiring. At least not before the beginning of this upcoming season anyway." He gave her a self-deprecating smirk and she returned it with an entirely unamused glare that immediately sobered him up.

She could be scary as fuck sometimes.

But then she fully turned to him, arms folded, wearing a small smile, and he was slightly taken aback by the sudden shift.

"I'm glad you're not giving up on skating," she told him softly, scratching her shoulder through her flannel shirt. "You're really good. You just gotta get back in skating shape and shake the nerves."

Of fucking course.

He felt his cheeks heat up in embarrassment and he hid it with a playful glare aimed in her direction and a finger pointed in her face. "Thanks, Mal," he grumbled darkly, frowning out the window once more.

Malia rolled her eyes then gave him a gentle shove. "You can do this," she urged, practically bouncing with conviction. "You have all of us behind you rooting for you and helping you along the way."

A small smile curled up his lips as the realization that she was right and he ducked his head at it. When he'd first gotten serious about his skating career, he'd moved to Detroit to be closer to his coach. He'd left behind his friends, his family, his entire support system. And while he visited home during the off-season, not having those friendly faces there during competitions had been hard. Sure, he'd made friends with Scott, his rinkmate that he'd lived with and eventually had gotten an apartment with, but he'd still felt incredibly alone and isolated when it came to skating.

But now? Now he was home. Now he had his dad backing up his decisions and Erica letting him use the rink after hours, watching and critiquing practices, and Malia and Kira rooting him on and Derek as his coach. He had that support system, was surrounded by love, and had a safety net should he fall during his comeback. Things would be different this time around, he just knew it.

He bumped her shoulder with his own. "Thanks, Mal," he repeated, softer and more genuine this time.

One side of her mouth curved up, revealing a dimple that resembled a parenthetical symbol, like her smile was a secret meant for only him, and she bumped his shoulder back. "C'mon. Let's finish up lunch."

Stiles nodded once and they pushed away from the counter to complete their assigned tasks. The smell of the chicken tenders was already filling the air and he hoped like hell Derek liked it.

And if he didn't? More for Stiles then.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Derek ended up loving it from the first bite. His eyes went wide before closing, letting out a moan that was too close to sexual for Stiles' crotchular comfort, repeating the process with each new food he tried. Sitting across from him at the dining room table, Stiles had to shift in his seat more than once, questioning his position. Then again, being next to Derek, those noises right in his ear, probably be way fucking worse.

His dad seemed amused from his seat at the head of the table, sitting between Derek and Stiles, Malia on his son's right. A smirk was on the owner's face, one he tried to hide behind his food or drink, winkles around his blue eyes more pronounced. Stiles ignored it, determined to not react to anything, keeping his eyes locked on his plate as he chowed down. His leg bounced up and down under the table, disturbing Misha where she'd stretched out between him and Derek, and she got up up with a shake and circled around again, bashing everyone's knees with her hard head before she finally flopped down with her head by his dad's feet.

His dad's hand disappeared under the table, clearly slipping her food judging by the wet chomping noises coming from below, but Derek didn't object. Stiles wondered if his old man missed having a dog around that he could feed scraps to, that would curl up at his feet while he watched ball games, that would keep him company as he went about his tasks. As devastated by the loss of Derek the dog Stiles had been, his dad was more than likely incredibly upset, too, having to let go of a family member and friend, not to mention having to be the one to make the decision to put him down.

Stiles pushed all those thoughts aside, determined to enjoy his lunch, not to mention the fact that his idol was sitting across the table from him and offering to be his coach. He had all these awesome things happening and his life was taking a positive upswing. There was no need to focus on the sad parts of his past.

"This is your favorite meal?" Derek questioned, drawing everyone's attention, though he was focused solely on Stiles. "When was last time you eat it?"

He thought back over the past week and realized with a start just how often he'd had it. Benefit of being the only child having returned home after a long absence, he figured, not to mention the fact that he'd basically thrown the middle finger to his diet since he was pretty sure he was gonna retire.

Now however...

Reaching for his water glass, he muttered out an "every night" before taking a drink.

"He used to only be allowed it after he won a competition as a reward," Malia spoke up, dipping a fry into a practical ocean of ketchup, seeming too nonchalant and at ease for Stiles' liking. "But since the season ended early for him, he's clearly been indulging." Shoving the fry in her mouth, she gave him a hard look and he simply rolled his eyes.

Derek's brow pulled into a scowl then he shrugged it away, scooping up some mac 'n' cheese with his fork. "This is your last one for long time. Starting tonight, you go on diet. You need to get down to weight from Grand Prix before I will coach you."

Stiles choked on his water, coughing it back into his glass, some of it dribbling down his chin. Both Malia and his dad snapped their heads in his direction, his dad wearing an expression that was a weird mix of concern and resignation that, yes, his son was that big a spazz. Malia simply snatched up an extra disposable napkin from the holder in the center of the table and flapped it in his face until he grabbed it.

Chin wiped up and coughing subsided, he croaked out a "what?", coughing a few more times to try and clear the scratchiness in his throat, only really succeeding in making it burn more.

Derek seemed entirely unperturbed, features flat, staring at him unflinchingly. "You need to lose weight. You are too fat to be skater. Gut and love handles must go. Until then, you are not allowed on ice."

Jesus Christ he was serious.

Malia and his dad both turned to him with expectant looks, awaiting his rebuttal, but all he could do was gape at Derek. He'd had no clue what to expect out of the Russian as a coach, what kind of techniques he'd been using, if he'd be supportive and nurturing or hard and insulting, but it seemed like he was getting a peek into it at that moment. Derek was gonna be a dick.

The doorbell rang and his dad excused himself, wiping his mouth as he rose to his feet then left. Stiles barely paid him any attention, focused on Derek, trying to figure him out and find out how serious he truly was.

"You're for real about the diet, aren't you?"

Derek looked puzzled for a moment, like he didn't quite understand the phrase and had to think about it for a moment, nodding a long moment later. "Yes, I am for real," he stated, the phrase sounding ridiculous with his Russian accent. "You can have this meal after winning gold, like you did before, but right now is diet."

Asshole.

He opened his mouth to argue—even though he wasn't entirely sure what exactly he was gonna say—only to not utter a syllable. His dad returned, stopping at the head of the table, hands on his hips and dubious look on his face.

"We just had a delivery of what has to be about fifty boxes of I don't even know what," he declared, pausing to rub his forehead then turned to Derek. "I'm gonna assume it involves you somehow."

"Yes, I had things shipped here. If I am to coach Stiles, I will be here long time."

Stiles felt his heart speed up and his stomach twist up. Derek was planning on sticking around for a while, which—okay, part of him figured that would be the case, given the whole coaching thing, but having actual verbal confirmation that he wasn't going anywhere made it all real. He was gonna have Derek staying in his house, teaching him at the rink, for the next few months at least. It wasn't permanent by any stretch, but it was long term and that was more than Stiles had ever dreamed of.

His dad nodded, pensive pull to his brow that he removed with a wag of his eyebrows. "Well, there's no way it'll fit in your room and still leave you space to be comfortable, so for now we can stick it all in room two across the hall. Stiles and Malia, haul all of it up there. I'll grab the key."

"Wait, why do I have to help?" Stiles objected, frowning.

An unimpressed look was aimed his way and he resisted the urge to hunch his shoulders or sink into his seat. He was a man, dammit. He could stand his ground.

Or sit his ground, given his current position.

"Because Malia isn't gonna do all of it by herself and Derek is a guest," his dad explained in an annoyingly calm voice. "Consider it your first step in getting back into your work-out groove." An all-too-pleased paternal smirk formed on his face and Stiles knew he was finished.

He pointed a finger gun at his dad, clicking his tongue and winking simultaneously, then rose out of his seat, Malia standing also. They both reached for their plates, only to be stopped by the owner stating he'd take care of it, they just needed to get a hustle on with the boxes. Without hesitation, the two of them headed outside, immediately finding the boxes stacked four high in several rows along the length of the porch, leaving an opening for the door.

A swear left Stiles under his breath, his hand smearing over his face. His dad hadn't been kidding about the amount and Stiles wondered what the fuck was in them, what was so damn important that Derek couldn't have left it back in Russia.

He and Malia exchanged dubious looks, rolling their eyes and sighing in perfect synchronicity. Knowing there was nothing else to do, they both grabbed a box each and got to work. Sometimes coming home fucking sucked.

~*~*~*~*~*~

It took them nearly half an hour to carry all the boxes up to the designated room, Malia's swears becoming more frequent and creative as time wore on. She bailed on him with one stack left, citing the excuse of having to do laundry, pretending the buzzing from her back pocket wasn't giving her away like the tell-tale cell phone. Stiles figured Kira was finished teaching whatever class she'd been in charge of and was trying to sneak in a few texts with her girlfriend and who was he to stand in the way of true love?

The final box placed in Derek's extra room, Stiles repeatedly swiped his hands together to get rid of the dirt and dust that had collected on them while he took a look around. He still had no idea what was in them, the only labels being a shipping address and handwritten notes in Russian that he figured Derek had made so he knew which box contained what. He hoped the guy remembered how many he'd sent and that they'd all shown up. Anything returned to sender would most likely just sit outside of whatever home the man had in Moscow, being damaged by the harsh weather—if it hadn't been stolen already.

"That would suck," he muttered to himself, finger combing his bangs so they were straighter on his forehead, rather than curled up from sweat. Fuck, his dad hadn't been kidding about kickstarting his workouts. Stiles felt his heart pounding, his lungs burning, and his legs aching from fuck knew how many flights of stairs he'd just been up and down and he was one-hundred percent sure the only thing keeping him standing was his stamina. That, and the few skating sessions he'd had by himself at Ice Castle, knocking all the rust off and keeping himself in somewhat decent shape.

He let out a laugh as he slipped his cell out his back pocket to check the time, peering down at his extended gut and thinking "in decent shape" was a term best used loosely with himself.

"What is funny?"

Stiles flailed at the sound of that accent voice coming from behind him, his phone flying as a result. Yeah. Otter Boxes were a gift, he thought absently once again, spinning around to find Derek casually leaning against the doorframe. His left ankle was crossed over his right, arms folded to put those godforsaken muscles on display, shaggy hair framing his eyes, and...

And a small amused curl to his lips, like he'd forgotten he was supposed to be angst-ridden all the time and let a hint of positive emotion slip past the mask he usually wore. Stiles felt his stomach flutter at the sight of it, heart continuing to pound despite being over the initial shock of someone else being present, and he mentally cursed himself for his stupid ass crush.

Fuck, it was high school all over again, crushing on the insanely hot person who was so far out of his league Stiles could barely see them.

Old habits really did die hard, he figured.

"Well?" Derek prompted, eyebrow cocked in expectation. "What is funny?"

Stiles rapidly shook his head then messed with his bangs some more, glancing around the room. His mind had gone blank and he couldn't even really remember laughing, much less what has caused it, and he stammered out a lame response. "I-I-I. I don't." He paused, huffed, spotted his phone only a foot or so to the left not far from a box that now sported a small divot where the device had hit it. "Your boxes. All. Uh. They're here," he awkwardly got out, clearing his throat and muttering about leaving as he headed to his phone.

Lame. So very fucking lame. Jesus Christ, no wonder he was a twenty-three year old virgin.

Well, that, plus the whole focusing on his skating career thing. But the lameness clearly didn't help matters.

Crouching down, he took hold of his phone, right as another hand laid on top of his. Stiles inhaled sharply at the contact, skin tingling where they touched, warmth spreading from Derek's palm throughout all of his body. The Russian's skin was tanner, fingers shorter but thicker, hair dusting his knuckles and the back of his hand and Stiles had to resist the urge to touch it, to see if it was as soft as it looked. His breathing was shaky and as he lifted his gaze to find Derek's green eyes already locked on him where he'd also crouched down, Stiles stopped with the inhale-exhale altogether.

A gentle smile spread across the older man's features, small, but his eyes were still lit up. It was the same smile from the Grand Prix, when Derek had spotted him and called his name and Stiles felt his skin go tight all over, barely able to contain his pounding heart.

"Stay," Derek quietly urged, fingers wrapping around Stiles' hand, slipping between his palm and his phone, and the sparks grew in intensity.

"I," he breathed out shakily then swallowed hard. "Why?"

"I want to get to know you better," Derek stated honestly, shifting closer from his own crouched position, dropping onto one knee for leverage. "As your coach, I am going to need to know everything about you."

Stiles mind immediately raced through every embarrassing moment, every dark thought he'd ever had. Like how his room was covered in Derek's posters like a thirteen year old fangirl or how he was called "Chublinski" all throughout elementary school because he was pudgier than others or how he spent a month being pissed at his mom for getting sick and not playing with him anymore. He thought about his excessive masturbation habit and how he'd never gone further than a few terrible and dry handjobs and how he secretly feared he'd wind up like Steve Carrell in The Forty Year Old Virgin with a lame job at some electronics chain store and a collection of action figures.

Yeah. Not shit he wanted anyone to know, much less Derek.

"Everything?" he squeaked out, hands shaking and he tried to tighten his grip on his phone to steady himself, Derek's fingers impeding the act.

"Yes, everything." The words rolled out smoothly despite the harsh accent, sending a shiver down Stiles' spine. The older man shifted his hand so that his fingers were tickling the back of the other skater's, trailing up his forearm in a barely there touch as he continued in the same low murmur. "I want to know your hopes, your dreams. What other hobbies do you have? What rink do you skate at?" He leaned in closer, noses almost touching, and Stiles could feel Derek's breath ghosting on his lips as he spoke. "Is there a special girl in your life? Or maybe a boy?"

Green eyes darted down to his lips and Stiles' chest began heaving with his erratic breathing. Alarms began blaring in his head as Derek's eyes went half-lidded and an almost dreamy looking expression formed on his face and everything in Stiles began tingling in anticipation.

Until he realized what was going on.

This was his coach. Things weren't supposed to be like this between them. Stiles wasn't supposed to be awaiting a kiss, he wasn't supposed to be all heart-poundy, stomach-fluttery over this guy, he wasn't supposed to feel his cock twitching in his boxers out of hope and desperate need.

The alarms grew louder, blaring at a level that was hard to ignore, and he knew without a doubt that he had to abandon ship before he drowned. Gripping his phone, he shot to his feet, arm slipping out of Derek's loose grip, then took off running out the room towards his own. He zoomed past his dad in the living room with Misha, past Malia sitting on the dryer texting under the guise of doing laundry, and didn't stop until he was safely inside his locked room, leaning back against the door.

His heart was pounding harder than ever and he dug the heel of his palm between his pecs like he could calm it and his panting down. He didn't know what the fuck was going on but he hoped like hell that wasn't gonna be part of Derek's coaching technique. He'd never be able to look at the guy, much less talk to him.

His head fell back against the door with a loud thump and he realized he was more screwed than he'd originally thought.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR

The best thing about his dad was that he'd put up with enough of Stiles' weird shit over the years to know when to just back off and not ask questions. His son running to his room and locking himself inside for the rest of the night probably didn't even register on the "My Kid is Fucking Weird" scale.

And that was without the older man witnessing how his only child ran around his room like his ass was on fire, taking down every poster, every picture, every piece of fanboy paraphernalia related to Derek Hale so the skater-turned-coach wouldn't think his new protege was an obsessed freak.

Stiles was left to mope and hide out and try to make sense of his life until Malia came to "drag his pathetic ass out into the world so you can at least pretend to be human", which he figured was her own phrasing and not anyone else's. Dinner was pizza Noshiko had picked up when she returned with Satomi—that Stiles was allowed to eat, leading him to believe it was one last meal before his diet began the next day—Kira joining the group, and they all are gathered around the table. Luckily for Stiles, the only open seat was as far from Derek as possible, but it didn't stop him from glancing at the older man as he regaled them with stories of skating and life in Russia, along with a particularly colorful one involving his old coach's reaction to Derek leaving.

The two of them didn't talk to one another directly but Derek did speak about Stiles, explaining it was the viral video of him skating Derek's latest free program that inspired him to coach the younger skater. But other than that snippet of convo, they didn't acknowledge one another beyond Stiles' sneaky glances and Derek's barely there grin when he was caught.

Thinking about it kept Stiles up til fuck knew when, mind running in circles over what Derek's behavior meant. Had it been anyone else, Stiles would've thought it was almost flirty, the small private smiles, the hand holding, the leaning in way too close. It almost seemed like behavior of people who were interested in each other, who had begun to date, who wanted to date.

But then his lovely brain would remind him of the fact that he was entirely inept at flirting, not to mention had never been flirted with, so how the hell would he know what it looked like. The pounding heart and shaking lungs and twisting stomach also came when he was nervous right before a big competition—or any competition really—so his reactions to Derek may not be because he had a crush, but because he was intimidated by having his idol so close. Plus it was Derek Hale, the grumpiest grump to ever hit the ice. Stiles wasn't entirely sure the guy was even capable of flirting.

But then he would think of the older man's behavior all over again and wonder if he was capable of it, then he'd write it off because Derek was there to coach, not hit on him, then he'd wonder if that was part of his coaching technique, yet it seemed genuine.

His brain ran more laps than his body had in weeks yet it was still hours before he passed out from mental exhaustion.

It felt like he'd only been asleep for five minutes when something large landed on his bed. He let out an "ommf" at the feel of large paws on his chest and stomach, a large snout digging into the blankets covering Stiles' head, and it took him several sluggish moments to remember it wasn't his own dog.

"Dobroye utro, porosenok!" Derek announced as he flipped on the overhead light, his husky still snuffing her way across Stiles' head like she was trying to find a way to get through the comforter covering it and lick his face all over. "Is time to awaken."

Stiles peeked out his covers just enough to get a glimpse at his alarm clock, catching sight of a red five as the first number and letting out a deep groan, hiding when Misha's wet snout got a little too close for comfort. "Is time to asleepen!" he called out from under his comforter, not bothering to hide his displeasure in the mock accent.

A huff sounded out, loud enough to be heard through the comforter and Misha trying to literally dig her way through it, Derek barking out something in Russian. The husky hopped off the bed, her tags jangling, and seconds later, the covers were whipped off Stiles.

The younger man will deny to the end of his days that the noise he let out was a yelp, because it totally fucking wasn't. He curled up in a ball to conserve body heat and hide his belly, suddenly incredibly self-conscious. He was back to being "Chublinski", his shirt was a black so faded it was now gray, with SpongeBob SquarePants in his underwear yelling at Plankton to leave his brain alone, and his PJ pants were covered in repeating rows of largemouth bass. Not exactly the sleepwear he wanted Derek to see him in yet there it was.

Then again. Could've been worse.

He pushed himself into a sitting position, right hand on the bed to prop himself up, left starting the futile fight with a cowlick to get his bangs to lay flat on his forehead like they should. Scowling, he caught sight of a very smug Derek towering over him, arms folded over a tank that was just as obscene as his nudity had been, running shorts completing his outfit, arms folded and comforter still in his grip. Asshole. Stupid, unfairly attractive asshole.

"I could've been naked," Stiles grumbled, still glaring, still battling his hair. "What then?"

"Then we would have been even Stevens since you had see me naked yesterday," Derek pointed out, his tone as nonchalant as his half-shrug.

The younger man gaped, hand falling to his lap absently, face heating up as he recalled the details of their first official meeting. Derek fresh from the shower, shaggy hair wet, skin damp, whipping his towel off and standing around naked like it was no big deal. He'd been completely comfortable with his body in a way Stiles had never been, even when Stiles had been in the best shape of his life. He'd always felt too gangly, too loose-limbed, too awkward. The muscle tone was nice and got him plenty compliments when someone managed to snap a pic of him shirtless at the beach and posted it online, but he never truly believe the words, always nitpicking at some part of his body or another. Feet too big, nose too upturned, moles too plentiful, now stomach too big.

But Derek? Derek had stood there naked and unabashed like he was one-hundred percent confident in every inch of himself. He didn't care that some people found hairy chests a turn-off or worried about his feet or nose or some other random imperfection—if the guy even had any. He had stood there as calmly and confidently naked as he would have with clothes on, uncaring about societal norms or proprieties or manners. He was like a living, breathing statue carved by one of the masters themselves and Stiles wanted nothing more than to just admire the art.

With that, his brown eyes slipped down to the bare skin currently on display, large biceps revealed by his tank, his collarbone, the hair on his chest Stiles wanted to pet. Derek had the same aura of self-assurance standing there dressed as he had when nude and Stiles envied him for it, wished he could emulate that aspect of Derek the way he could imitate his skating.

"Come," Derek commanded in his harsh accent, taking Stiles' lack of response as an end to that particular conversation rather than the reality of the younger man having had a few synapses fried at the memory of the Russian being naked. Tossing the comforter aside, Derek fixed him with a hard glare. "Be in backyard in five minutes ready for running or I come back and drag you there in pajamas, yes?" With that, he stalked out of the room, snapping his fingers to get Misha to follow and leaving the door open like a dick.

Stiles stared at the open doorway, dumbfounded for a moment, not entirely sure how to react. Part of him considered grabbing his comforter off the floor and just going back to sleep as a form of rebellion, but he had the distinct feeling that Derek had been serious with his threats to physically drag Stiles up and out.

He wasn't about to immediately jump just because Derek told him to either. He had some pride left, dammit. Crush or not, he wasn't gonna bend or cater to every one of the older man's whims. He hadn't with his old coach, a habit he was sure Deaton had wanted to break him of but couldn't. Only made sense that he behave the same with Derek.

Still, he didn't wanna give Derek any reason to change his mind about coaching and head back to Russia. Being an insubordinate little shit was definitely a reason for bailing.

In the end, Stiles stood after delaying for only a minute, taking his time to put on a pair of gray sweats, an old tee from his rink back in Detroit, and a black zip-up hoodie. His sock-covered feet were shoved unceremoniously into his running sneakers and he snatched up his phone and keys before leaving, closing the door behind himself, unlike some bastards who would remain nameless.

The sky was still pitch black when Stiles slipped out the back door, the only light coming from the one in the sunroom and the ten-foot tall street lamp illuminating the graveled area that served as employee and permanent resident parking. He made a mental note to tell his dad the one above the storage shed's door was out as he made his way down the back steps, the bottom one no longer creaking or straining under his weight.

Derek stood in the middle of the graveled path, leash folded up repeatedly in his grip, gray hoodie only zipped halfway up and exposing his collarbone, six Cyrillic letters printed across the front. The two characters in the middle repeated so Stiles figured they spelled out "Russia", wondered if it was a team hoodie or one he bought at some tourist stop to remind him of home while traveling. Slipping his phone out his pocket, Derek noted the time, raising an eyebrow, its meaning hard to decipher, then put it back inside his hoodie.

"Maybe once you lose weight, you will move faster."

Okay, apparently it had been an unimpressed eyebrow raise.

Stiles just scowled. "Or maybe its because you have me up before the sun to run in the fucking cold," he grumbled darkly, breath clouding and dancing in front of his face.

Derek rolled not just his eyes but his entire head, clearly unamused and now sporting a scowl of his own. "This?" he asked sharply, arms spread out on either side of him. "This is nothing compared to Russia. Grow some balls," he chastised, the last word coming out more like "bowls".

The younger man ground his jaw, wrapping his arms around himself, stomach bumping up against the bottom of his forearms. "Not the point," he argued, eyes hard. "We're not in Russian right now. We're in Beacon Hills."

"Exactly, so think you are lucky, yes?" He raised both his eyebrows this time in a look daring the younger man to argue and Stiles opened his mouth to do just that, only to be cut off. "Where do you run?"

"I—what?" he floundered, caught off balance, and it took him a moment to right himself and get back on track before he could answer. "The park has some jogging paths I think. There's also the Preserve."

"Preserve?" Derek questioned, face screwed up in confusion, something probably lost in translation for him.

"Uh, yeah. It's this huge forested area, I forget how many acres, but it's all land that's protected by the law and can't be cut down. Some people run through it for a challenge or to get away from others. Teenagers go to certain spots to fool around and have sex." He shrugged, hoping for nonchalance, hoping the red that was spreading across his cheeks would be attributed to the chilly morning air and not the embarrassment he was feeling. Because there had literally been no reason to bring up the fact that the Preserve contained a known hook-up spot, yet there he was, bringing it up.

Smooth.

Derek nodded a couple times, seeming as though he understood, his head tilting to the side in thought. "Did you go there for sex?"

The flush on Stiles' face grew hotter as his humiliation expanded and he hunched his shoulders up as he shoved his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. "I-I-I," he stammered, huffing, glancing around at anything that wasn't Derek while bouncing on the balls of his feet. "I-no. I. I'd moved to Detroit for skating by the time I was old enough to do any of that stuff."

"Did you have sex in Detroit?"

Jesus fucking Christ.

If Stiles had had a drink with him, he would've spat it everywhere. But as it was, his face became even more inflamed, as though he'd shoved his entire face into a roaring fire. Fuck, he had no idea what the fuck to say to that, why Derek would even ask in the first place. It was crossing over the line between coach and skater by leaps and bounds and Stiles was left scrambling for a reaction once more.

Part of him knew it would be easy to tell the truth, that he'd never had sex in Beacon Hills or Detroit or any other city on the planet because he'd never had sex. Surely it would put an end to the questions and the invasion of privacy.

But in the scant amount of time that Stiles had known Derek—less than twenty-four hours—he'd learned that Derek wasn't one for letting shit go that easily. Chances were he'd start in on why Stiles had never had sex and that was a whole other embarrassing can of humiliating worms and he'd suffered enough mortification for one morning.

His only option was diversion and luckily for him, it was a skill he happened to possess. "Thought you were gonna torture me with exercise, not interrogations."

The smile that formed on Derek's face was an unsettling smirk that spoke more of devious intent than genuine pleasure and Stiles gulped in response. "I can do both at same time."

Shit. Of course Derek fucking Hale, the living legend of perfection on ice, was capable of asking invasive personal questions while forcing that person to work out at asscrack o'clock in the morning.

Stiles glanced around, rolling his shoulders and bouncing on his toes again. Heat was prickling the back of his neck, discomfort making his skin feel wrong, and he winced. "Can we—can we just not talk about it right now?" he pleaded, finally turning to the other man. "I just woke up, it's super fucking early, and I can only handle one thing at a time before I get at least two coffees in me."

Derek nodded in acquiescence, unbothered. "Okay. But you are going to have to cut back on coffee. Too much sugar."

It was official. Derek Hale was fucking evil.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Stiles drove them to the Preserve in his Jeep, Misha calmly sitting in the backseat in a way his own dog had never quite been capable of, staring out the window at everything they passed in the dark. The entire town was still shut down, minus the diner on Main that was beginning to open up and the bakery that had a light on far in the back as someone began to make bread for the day.

The Preserve was on the opposite side of Beacon Hills from where he lived, a fifteen minute drive thanks to traffic lights that weren't on yet, cutting a few minutes off their drive. What amounted to rush hour would surely have started by the time they were done, but even then it wouldn't be any worse than half an hour and it wasn't like either of them had anywhere important to go or an appointment to keep.

Parking was a gravel lot by a thin trail entrance demarcated by wooden blocks and Stiles parked his Jeep to the side of it before sliding out. Derek had them warm-up with a few jumping jacks to get their blood pumping in the slight chill, then led them in a series of stretches before having Stiles lead the way, both of them strapping lights around their head, a flashing one being attached to Misha's collar. They walked at a sedate pace for several yards before coming to the place where the trail broke off into several directions, a cartoon map on a large board explaining where each trail went and the difficulty levels of each hike.

Derek gave Stiles an expectant look, letting him decide once more, and the younger man chose one of the least difficult paths, thinking it was best to ease himself into it. Misha was let off her leash and they started off with a slow jog, gradually building up speed. The husky ran off after various animals on occasion but always came back a minute or two later, enjoying the exercise and the scents still lingering on the trail.

Derek didn't speak a word, apparently respecting Stiles' wishes to not discuss anything personal so early in the morning, but he did keep a close eye on his new protege, occasionally glancing at him with analytical eyes, the aim of his beam drifting with his gaze. Stiles pretended not to notice, forced himself to focus on his footing so he didn't trip and make a total ass of himself in front of his new coach. Soon enough, he didn't have to try so hard. The terrain grew more rugged, well-worn foot paths creating divots in the dirt trail, growing roots making speed bumps or sticking out from the ground altogether, all of it ready to trip his ass up and send him flying.

The end of the trail was a lookout spot at the edge of a ravine, giving an unimpeded view of the town. A guard rail made of wooden posts and metal slats featured countless signs that instructed people not to climb on it, the warning always ignored by drunken teenagers suffering from an immortality complex. Three benches sat in a row several feet back and Stiles collapsed onto the closest one, laying along its length with his face towards the lightening sky. His skin was covered with sweat, legs aching and lungs burning and heart pounding as he panted, grossly aware of how out of shape he'd become.

Misha licked at his dangling hand and he yanked it away, flopping his arm over his eyes, the husky moving on to try and lick the exposed part of his face. Derek snorted derisively, nudging Stiles' hip with his foot.

"Up."

Stiles groaned, dropping his hand onto Misha's head, the husky now panting somewhere by his chest. "I need a break," he whined, his own breathing as harsh as the dog's.

An eyebrow was raised beneath his head lamp, Derek looking him up and down in disapproval. "Break is what made you this way in first place," he pointed out harshly, leaning down to poke the younger man's chubby stomach.

A not-so-manly squeak escaped Stiles as he automatically curled up around his belly, the sudden movement causing Misha to back away then get distracted by a scent elsewhere. He glared up at the Russian, taking note of how Derek was already scowling at his expanded midsection, arms folded in disapproval.

"Time to go, porosenok," he declared, grabbing hold of one of Stiles' arms and hauling him off the bench.

The skater had no choice but to go along with the movement, no match for Derek's strength, even if he'd been at his physical best. His coach shoved between his shoulder blades, nudging him back to the trail and they set off jogging again, Stiles ignoring the burn in his lungs and legs, ignoring the sweat, ignoring the glances shot his way as they went. Instead, he focused on pushing himself, determined to lose the weight and prove that it was worth Derek traveling so far, worth Derek's attention, worth Derek's random desire to coach him.

The sun was rising when they got back to the Jeep, high enough for them to be able to ditch the headlamps. They each grabbed a bottle of water out the back of the SUV and chugged, Derek pouring half of his in a travel bowl for Misha. All three of them were silent as they rehydrated, the Russian scrunching up his bottle into a ball when it was empty then turning to the younger man.

"Not bad today, porosenok," he commented, wry twist to his lips before he prodded at Stiles' belly again. "Keep it up and that will be gone soon."

Stiles glared, the expression hardening when Derek tossed his trash in the back of the Jeep, despite the fact that Stiles had done that very thing countless times. Which, not the point. People still needed to respect the Jeep. Misha finished her own drink and Derek shook the bowl dry, turning back to Stiles with a serious expression.

"Home to shower. You smell like actual pig now. Then we discuss your diet and work-outs."

The skater groaned, head falling back and face toward the lightening sky. Yeah. Derek was gonna be the slave-driver kind of coach, he could tell.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Stiles showered in the one unoccupied room on the second floor then got dressed in a pair of sweats and a clean hoodie. His breakfast was a bowl of oatmeal he was allowed to garnish with fruit only—which turned out to just be bananas since it was the only fruit Derek approved of. The older man lectured him about other changes to his diet while they ate together, the most devastating blow coming when he was reminded he had to cut back on coffee and sodas.

Just cruel really.

He debated taking a short nap but his dad came through and recruited him into helping around the yard. After that, he was charged with wearing Misha out with a game of frisbee, the husky having issues with the whole "bring it back" part of fetch, and he ended up spending half the time chasing her around the yard. He wouldn't have put it past Derek to have purposely made him play with the dog for that very reason, rather than the bullshit he'd given about talking to Noshiko regarding Stiles' new meal plans.

Lunch was a salad while Derek grilled him about the rink he skated at, eating four grilled cheese sandwiches that had Stiles glaring in jealousy. The younger man told all about the rink he used—aka the only ice rink in town that was mainly used by citizens from November through December when everyone was high on Christmas spirit and cliches, allowing him to pretty much have the run of the place in the meantime, except for the odd peewee hockey game or practice. He also told about Erica, whom he'd grown up skating with, and how she'd explained that even the peewee hockey had gone the way of the dodo in Beacon Hills, too few kids interested and therefore not enough to make a team. Derek took it all in, nodding at the appropriate places, smacking the back of Stiles' hand when he tried to steal a potato chip or five. After lunch, he gave Stiles a ten minute warning to clean up and get ready to leave so he could check the rink out for himself.

Among the things Derek had shipped from his hometown in Russia was a bicycle—which Stiles struggled to wrap his mind around, too caught up in stereotypes of the country being permanently iced over and buried in snow—and he rode it to the rink, Misha's leash in hand, Stiles jogging behind both of them. Combined with his jog earlier that morning and running around the yard with the dog and Stiles' legs were killing him. He knew he'd have to get used to it, that he'd have to rebuild his tolerance and his endurance and soon the pain would be part of his everyday life as he began training once more.

He weirdly couldn't wait.

Ice Castle was just as abandoned as he figured it would be, only Erica's familiar sedan in the parking lot as Derek chained his bike to the empty rack outside the main door. The three of them entered to find the blonde leaning against the counter in her usual tracksuit uniform, hair falling around her face in soft curls, brown eyes focused on the phone in her hands as her fingers swiped across the screen. The way she muttered under her breath suggested she was playing a game of some sort—and she wasn't doing too well.

She let out a bored sigh, not bothering to lift her eyes from the screen. "Welcome to Ice Castle. What size skates do you need?" she droned, sneering at her screen then muttering about stupid pigs.

Derek turned to Stiles with a wry smirk on his face, poking the younger man's side and making him squirm then glare. "You are not only porosenok in town, huh?" he quipped and if Stiles didn't know any better, he'd say the guy was teasing him, being playful.

Stiles batted at his hand, fighting off another poke or prod or any other touch to his belly, as a gasp sounded out. His head snapped over to Erica, taking in the wide-eyed gaping expression on her face and the frozen way she stood. It wasn't hard to figure out what had caused such a reaction in her, her gaze locked onto Derek standing by Stiles' right, leash in hand, his own brows raised in a startled manner.

"Uh. Hello?" Derek tried cautiously, unsure, accent making it come out as "hullo" and Stiles found it oddly endearing.

Erica just stared for another long moment, barely breathing out a "holy shit" but otherwise remaining frozen. It was a little worrying, to see her so still. Erica had always been prone to big reactions, her fiery nature causing her to over-exaggerate at times with wide gestures and loud yells. She wasn't as flail-ly as Stiles, but she had done some damage to people in the past, mainly those who didn't know her well enough to expect wild arm movements and flying limbs.

Seeing her so still was almost unnatural.

Stiles carefully approached her like she was a startled animal, a deer caught in headlights, waving a hand in front of her face to snap her out of her stupor. He cautiously spoke her name, getting no reaction, and he turned to Derek to ask if they should maybe call someone only to get punched in the arm.

Hard.

"Ow!" he cried out, automatically wrapping his hand around the bicep she'd just slugged, Derek taking a step toward him, Misha straining against her leash to do more than that. "What the fuck, Erica?"

"Why the fuck didn't you tell me?!" she screeched in return, back to her usual self, brown eyes glancing at Derek before glaring at him.

He didn't have to bother asking what she was referring to, the only change in their routine being the six-foot Russian gold medalist only a few feet away, clearly having accompanied Stiles to the Ice Castle. "Didn't get a chance to," he explained, rubbing at the spot she'd punched and wondering if he'd bruise. The gray striped hoodie he had on was pretty thick though. Maybe he'd get lucky and there wouldn't be a war wound.

She rolled her heavily shadowed eyes at his response, apparently not finding it an acceptable answer, turning her attention to Derek. "There were rumors you were taking a year off to coach. I just didn't think you'd be training Stiles."

"Hey!" he cried out offended, pouting.

Derek wore a frown of his own, arms folding over his henley top, hands automatically giving Misha more slack on her leash. "What is wrong with Stiles?"

Locking her phone, Erica set the device aside and casually folded her arms on the counter, shrugging as best she could. "Nothing. I know how talented he is, even if he can't see it himself sometimes." She shot him a hard look at that and he shrank in on himself, shoulders hunched up. "That's why I put that video on YouTube, to remind him and everyone else out there that he's really fucking good and that his performance at the Grand Prix doesn't accurately represent who he is as a skater."

Stiles just stared at her, equal parts remembered anger at her going behind his back like that and grateful that she'd done something so kind-hearted with only his best intentions in mind. Sure, she'd already explained why she had done it, but at the time it had felt like she believed she needed to say that because it had been the right words to earn his forgiveness. But now, hearing her say it to an uninvolved third party, it felt more genuine, more honest.

Swallowing, he peeked at Derek out the corner of his eye, noting the way the older man was watching Erica with his eyes narrowed analytically, the pieces being put together. As much as Stiles wanted to still be pissed at Erica out of principle, he couldn't, not when that video was the spark that caught Derek's attention and drove him to becoming Stiles' new coach. Really, he kind of owed her.

Not that he'd ever let her know that. She'd lord it over him for the rest of his life and he was not about to give Erica Reyes that kind of power over him.

"That video is part of why I am here," Derek stated flatly. Yet Stiles noticed that his shoulders weren't as stiff and his body language was a lot more relaxed and it wasn't until that moment that he realized his new coach had actually been offended at Erica's insinuation that he wasn't worth training. He wondered why that was, wondered what the other reason was for him taking Stiles on as a protege, only to decide it wasn't the right place for that discussion, not with a gossip like Erica. Once she sank her fangs into something juicy, she was liable to share it with others and in a town as small and as dull as Beacon Hills, it would spread like wildfire, the residents having nothing better to do with their time than yammer.

Yeah. Would be much safer to keep that particular discussion until a time when he and Derek were alone and Stiles wasn't having an internal crisis over being alone with Derek.

"Which, again, no offense to Stiles," Erica began, gesturing to the mentioned man with an open palm. "I'm just surprised you're here training him, that's all." She tucked some of her hair behind her ear then tugged the cuffs of her sleeves over her hands.

Derek shrugged it off and glanced around, like a response wasn't necessary. And maybe in some way it wasn't. He'd already said he had watched the video of Stiles skating and he'd explained to the skater himself that he wanted to help him clean up his performance. Maybe Erica realized that, too, maybe she didn't, but either way, Derek didn't seem like he was about to explain it.

"Is okay if we skate?" the Russian asked with a finger pointed towards the double doors leading to the rink itself, completely changing the subject.

Erica looked confused for a moment, most likely due to the shift in conversation, and glanced at Stiles for confirmation yet finding none. Hands sliding against the counter, she pushed herself upright, clearing her throat and pretending she was professional once more. "Sure. Did you bring your own skates or—?"

"Size eleven," Derek cut her off, ruffling Misha's fur, the gentle touch a stark contrast to the harsh tone he'd just spoken with.

She exchanged another glance with Stiles, who simply shrugged and shook his head in a 'what can ya do?' sorta way. Her eyebrows bobbed in concession and she shoved her hair back from her face, quickly recovering from whatever had momentarily brought her down, smirk forming.

Shit.

"You know what they say about men with big feet, right?" she teased, tongue sticking between clenched teeth, painted red lips spread wide, eyebrows bobbing rapidly.

Stiles felt his face flush in second-hand embarrassment, growing hotter as he flashed back to Derek whipping his towel off, and he had a moment of regret over not sneaking a peek to find out if the old cliche was right.

"No," Derek answered flatly, taking the wind out of Erica's sails and causing her face to fall.

She disappeared into the back to grab the pair of requested skates and Derek finally approached the counter, leaning on it much the way Erica just had then peering over his shoulder at Stiles.

"Is thickness of fingers that is more accurate to size of cock," Derek stated in a manner that was almost teasing, wiggling his fingers at his new protege and shooting him a wink.

Stiles choked on air, sputtering out nothing, his face practically on fire at the insinuation Derek had just made. He started coughing, throat burning, the sound covering up the barely there laugh he wasn't entirely sure Derek actually made.

"Is joke, yes?" Derek added with a smirk, something dancing in his eyes that made Stiles believe he wasn't being entirely truthful on the joke front. "Unless you want to look and find out if true?" he offered, standing up straight as he unbuckled his belt and immediately unbuttoned his jeans right after.

"No!" Stiles cried out, hands flying out to grab Derek's and stop him, only to realize the guy was now working on his zipper. Yeah, probably best to keep his own hands to himself on that one, he decided, wringing the back of his neck instead as he glanced around. Erica was still rifling around in the back, no one was coming in, so they were safe for the moment. Still, he spoke in a lower volume as he shoved his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. "That's okay. Keep your pants on in public. Please."

Derek stared at him for a long moment, eyes narrowed like he was looking for something, and Stiles fought not to squirm under the scrutiny. Whatever he'd been looking for wasn't there apparently, the Russian bobbing his eyebrows in dismissal and redoing his button and belt. "If you say so," he muttered, sounding oddly dismissive and disappointed all at once.

Okay. Weird. What the fuck?

Stiles' brow furrowed and his lips pursed in confusion, wondering what the fuck that was about. Maybe it was just a Russian thing, he considered, well-aware that his knowledge about it was close to nyet. Maybe Derek was just a huge nudist who was bummed that he couldn't drop trou and just hang in his birthday suit much the way he had upon their first meeting. But surely even in Russia, clothing was a necessity in public places—bathhouses and spas being an obvious exception. And sure, Derek was probably better equipped to handle cold temper than Stiles' Californian blood but skating on ice naked was a bit much.

Then again, Derek was probably the kind of crazy asshole who did the Polar Bear Plunge every New Years, skinny dipping into frozen lakes.

Preference for nudity aside, it didn't explain the inquisitive look he'd given Stiles before acquiescing. It was almost like he was expecting Stiles to change his mind or like he was surprised he'd even said it in the first place. Strange as fuck really. Last time Stiles checked, he hadn't ever given Derek any sort of indication regarding his possible crush or a preference for him being pants-less. Hell, he'd kept his eyes averted when Derek had taken his towel off and the only other time the older man had gotten flirty, Stiles had bolted then hidden out in his room. There was nothing in any of their past interactions that would indicate that Stiles was cool with Derek taking his clothes off in public.

At least he didn't think there was. Malia had once told him he was totally inept when it came to flirting.

Then again, it didn't take a fucking Casanova to know that running away wasn't flirting.

A light thump drew his attention away from the older man and he found Erica standing on the other side of the counter, pair of black skates on top, hand ruffling through her hair.

"Best men's size elevens we have," she declared, turning to Stiles with a light smile on her face. "What about you?"

He opened his mouth to answer, only to get cut off by Derek's no-nonsense tone explaining "Porosenok is not allowed on ice until he lose weight."

Right. That.

Stiles felt his cheeks burn in a combination of humiliation and anger, narrowed eyes shooting daggers as Derek. But the Russian simply stated back unintimidated, eyebrows raised as though daring the other skater to argue. A staring contest broke out and Stiles was the one to lose, turning away with a huff.

Derek nodded once, his mask of neutrality front and center as he picked up the skates and headed to the rink door, Misha in tow. Turning to Erica, Stiles found her already staring at him, an eyebrow cocked in question. He shook his own head and followed his new coach into the rink proper, withholding a sigh at the knowledge Erica would follow and interrogate him no matter where he went.

~*~*~*~*~*~

There was something about seeing Derek skate in person that made chills break out all over Stiles' skin. He moved beautifully across the ice, effortlessly, his body graceful and flowing even with the more aggressive choreography and jumps. There was a hidden sensuality to it all, even in track pants and hoodie, the way his spine arched and his hips moved. It wasn't quite the blatant way that Isaac Lahey seemed to be seducing the audience and almost having sex on the ice, but Derek's routine was erotic in its own hard masculine way.

Standing by the retaining wall with Misha laying by his feet, Stiles felt foolish for thinking he could ever copy Derek's routine, watching his free program in person for the second time—a thought that still blew his mind. There was a reason why Derek had won so many gold medals, why he was ranked number one in the world for consecutive years, why the words "Living Legend" always preceded his name. Stiles was a naive idiot for thinking he could even attempt it.

Okay, he knew he wasn't terrible and that he'd pretty much kicked ass at Derek's free program. He was confident in his skills, knew his strengths as a skater, knew what he was capable of. His problem was nerves, comparing himself to others and feeling like he had to do better, then crumbling under the pressure he put on himself. Back when he first started skating, the routines, the jumps, the sequences, all of it had been a way to shut his mind off and get out of his head for a while. Now he was too lost in it, his thoughts out of his control and sending him spiraling through self-doubt until he crashed—usually on the ice.

He was capable of so much more, Stiles knew that for a fact. He might not have been on Derek's level—especially not with the pressure of competition bearing down on him—but he was better than placing dead last. He was podium worthy, and with the right routine, he knew he could bring home the gold. He just needed to find a way to not let the pressure get to him so damn much, the way Derek did.

Fuck, he made everything look easy, even the quad flip that had become his signature move, being the only skater to use it in competitions—so far. Seeing him go through the routine he'd performed so many times, he looked just as relaxed during this private practice session as he did competing on the global stage. Then again, Stiles figured, it was probably easy to be relaxed during a competition when you'd established yourself as the best and knew gold was pretty much a given. Hell, he'd won five that season alone. Being that talented and well-established in your career, obviously being confident and at ease came naturally. Stiles just wished there was a way he could bottle up Derek's self-assurance and spray himself with it before his own performances, chug it like Gatorade.

Clearly never gonna happen.

Misha lifted her head at the sound of someone approaching and Stiles glanced back to find Erica making her way closer. He leaned on the retaining wall as Derek pulled off a flawless quadruple lutz, Erica joining him on his right, hips cocked to one side and chin propped on her hand.

"I locked up the doors and put up a sign saying we were closed for a private practice session. Doubt anyone will actually come but—" she trailed off and gave a half-shrug, eyes glued to Derek in much the same way as Stiles'.

"Won't your folks be pissed?"

She scoffed and rolled her eyes. "They're barely around these days. Boyd and I practically run this place on our own. Guess they're tryna prep us for what things will be like when they retire but so far it just feels like they're being lazy."

Stiles just nodded, having no clue how to respond to that. He didn't know Erica's parents well enough to pass judgment, especially after having been gone for five years, but even then, his most extensive conversations with them involved his use of the rink.

Speaking of...

"Derek wants to use this place as our main training facility," he brought up, recalling the Russian's one-sided conversation on their way there as Stiles huffed and puffed and trailed behind. Although his exact words had been more geared towards checking out it to see if it was suitable enough for training, but Stiles didn't foresee any issues with the place. He'd practiced there for years without any problems. Not to mention the fact that the next closest rink was nearly an hour's drive away and that just did not feel like an option, especially given the fact that it was in a bigger town, which meant the two of them would draw more attention, and the owners might not even be agreeable to closing the place off for private practices. No, they were better off sticking to Ice Castle, in the small town that barely used the place, with owners who had a history of allowing closed sessions.

Erica pushed her hair back from her face, shrugging again. "I've gotta check with the 'rents, but I don't see any issues with it."

He nodded and gave her a grateful smile then turned back to watch Derek go through a difficult step session, predictably nailing every part of it before gliding away. Silence descended over the rink, nothing but the sounds of blades scraping the ice, the echoing clunk when Derek landed, the barely audible grunts of exertion. Stiles kept his eyes glued to the man, but still noticed Erica out the corner of them as she twisted her lips in thought, a sly smirk spreading across her features before she turned her head to him.

"So," she began, restarting conversation, mirth twinkling in her eyes. "Porosenok, huh?"

"Yeah," he muttered darkly, huffing, a scowl forming on his face as he worked his jaw. "I Googled it. Apparently it means 'piglet' or 'piggy'."

Dick move really.

Still, he couldn't help but compare it to "Chublinski" and mentally debate over which one was worse.

Erica's face fell as she let out an "oh", disappointed. "So it's not like," she paused, turning her lips down and making a face as she pretended to think it over, shrugging nonchalantly. "A term of endearment like 'sweetheart' or 'baby' and it doesn't mean 'boyfriend' or 'soul mate' or anything like that?" She fully turned her head to him, hand propping her head up, brown eyes staring at him imploringly.

Stiles sputtered, cheeks inflaming once again, and he straightened to a standing position then flailed his hands around as though he could magically wipe the words she'd spoken from existence. "No!" he cried out, a little too loud, causing Derek to turn his head to him as he skated around the other end of the rink. Stiles shook his head and waved him off, the Russian taking it as a sign that all was well and continuing on with his routine.

Angry frown back on his face, Stiles turned his glare on Erica and crossed his arms. "It's not like that. He literally just showed up at the B-n-B, said he wanted to be my new coach, and that was it."

Erica stared up at him with her lips twisting once more, eyes narrowed analytically, not seeming to believe him. "And you, what? Just went along with it?"

"Pretty much," he muttered, leaving out the nudity and the heavy flirtation. "Be pretty stupid to turn down an offer like that. Plus the guy was kinda insistent," he added, leaning on the retaining wall once more, arms still folded.

She seesawed her head in concession, twirling a lock of curls around her right index finger. "I have a feeling he doesn't hear the word 'no' a lot, huh?"

"Probably not. Pretty people usually don't. Figured you of all people would know that," he quipped with a smirk, nudging her with his shoulders and making her sway a little.

She hid a grin of her own with a roll of the eyes, shifting her weight and cocking her other hip out. "Smooth, Stilinski. You should try those lines on someone who might actually respond to them sometime."

He swallowed hard, looking down, watching as his right hand slipped inside his left sleeve, fingers finding the dog tags and rubbing over the now familiar engraving of his late pup's name. His mind flashed back to Derek's flirtatious behavior the day before, leaning in close, holding his hand, innuendos joined by smirks Stiles had never seen him ever wear. And every time, Stiles wound up turning bright red and running away after stammering like an incompetent jackass.

And his history with flirting and hook-ups wasn't all that great either. Cheesy lines that got him laughed at more than lucky, drinks he tried to get for someone being spilled on them instead, his lack of experience leading to awkward encounters in the bedroom—if he even managed to get that far through some minor miracle. Eventually he gave up, his version of flirting morphing into staring and hoping they made the first move then panicking when it actually happened.

Fucking hopeless. He really was gonna end up as the Forty Year Old Virgin.

"Can't," he mumbled in admittance, still thumbing the tag by his wrist, unable to make eye contact. "It's easier to flirt with you because I already know I'm gonna get turned down and not being interested—no offense—"

"None taken."

"Means there's no chance of being hurt. It's safer and easier." He shrugged to wrap it up, playing the whole thing off with a self-deprecating smile and acting as though he wasn't bothered by it, lifting his head to stare at nothing.

Erica gently bumped their shoulders together then rested her head against his, peering up at him through thick lashes. "But it's also sadder and lonelier," she pointed out, voice soft and low. For all her loud, boisterous, at times inappropriate ways, she knew when to tone it down, when to be serious, when to leave the smirks and the innuendos and the callousness behind. "You gotta take risks sometimes. Sure, you might get hurt, but you also might be get lucky and find a really great thing."

He nodded, more to himself than her, knowing she'd made a good point but also knowing it was easier said than done. Well, that, and—

"I'm not taking that kind of risk with my coach though."

She scoffed, batting his arm with the back of his hand. "Loser. I'm telling you if I was single and in your shoes, I'd be climbing that like a tree every chance I got," she stated with a smirk, staring out over the ice at where Derek was pulling off his last jump. "I mean, that ass alone—"

"Okay, Erica," he called out as he straightened up, forcing her to do the same.

"Can you just imagine," she went on, undeterred, naughty glint in her eyes and smirk pulling at her lips.

"Please stop," Stiles begged, face heating up for more than just embarrassment, glancing over at Derek as he twisted and turned on the ice. Yeah, Stiles could imagine, and that was half the problem.

She held her hands out by her waist, palms up, fingers curved like she was squeezing something, and it didn't take a genius to know what she was mimicking. "Grabbing hold of those cheeks as he—"

"Erica! Fuck!"

She stated up at him innocently, all beguiling eyes and faux-confused expression. "What?"

He shook his head at her, doing his best to look scandalized while his imagination ran away without him. In his mind, he was doing exactly as Erica had suggested, grabbing hold of Derek's ass, squeezing the cheeks, and feeling the play of muscles as he pounded into Stiles.

Fuck, okay, not a train of thought he should be hopping aboard, he realized, staring aimlessly at the lines painted on the ice for hockey, wishing he could strip down and lay across it to cool his overheated skin. Because Derek had a truly glorious ass, it was obvious to anyone who'd ever seen the guy. And given how tight skating costumes tended to be, the fullness of those round cheeks was put on display at every competition, leading to jokes about his last name being Kardashian not Hale or rumors that he stuffed his pants to appeal to the female judges—not that he needed the extra help in gaining points or anything. Stiles liked to think it was real, even though he knew he'd have no way of finding out for sure.

He might have a chance to now, what with Derek so easily shedding clothes and towels like it was nothing.

Nope, no way, not happening. He'd just told Erica things weren't like that between them and it was gonna stay that way. That was his coach; he wasn't gonna look at the guy's naked ass or think about his ass or fantasize about grabbing his ass—if he could even help the last one. Things were gonna remain strictly professional between them.

Derek skated over, coming to a stop with a spray of ice then flipped his shaggy hair out of his face with a shake of the head and Stiles suddenly understood that godawful One Direction song about being overwhelmed by that seemingly innocent move. Fuck, he really needed to rein in his crush, shit was starting to get out of hand and Derek had only been there for two days. He was in for months of interactions with the older man.

Oh fuck, he was gonna die.

The Russian's face was stoic as he glanced around, catching his breath, shrugging a shoulder and turning to Erica after a long moment. "Is okay if we train here?"

She shrugged right back. "Don't see why not, but I don't get the final say in this shit."

"Call owners. We talk." With that, he glided back on the ice and began skating around aimlessly, performing small leaps and jumps at random.

"Definitely doesn't hear 'no' a lot," Erica muttered with a mix of annoyance and humor as she pushed herself away from the wall to head to the front desk in order to call her parents.

Stiles let out a small laugh, shifting so his chin was on his folded arms as he watched Derek skate. No, he probably didn't, but he was probably gonna start hearing it a lot now that he was working with a stubborn asshole like Stiles.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIVE

Dinner was lasagna made by Noshiko's husband, Ken, who joined them, along with their daughter Kira. Ken spoke about his job as a high school history teacher, sharing stories of bratty teenagers and the wildest excuses he'd heard for not turning in homework. The whole group got a laugh about one kid who tried to convince him that he'd been possessed by an evil kitsune, having heard the man's wife was Japanese so he'd get the reference.

Afterward, the adults sat around having a cup of coffee together, while Kira extended an invitation to Stiles to use the ballet studio after hours for more practice. Derek had, of fucking course, overheard and said it would be a good idea, poking the younger skater's belly and scowling at it.

The studio was just off Main Street, near what was considered downtown, another brick building blending in with the rest. The glass windows were covered with posters of tiny toddlers in tutus, little girls on stage with legs in the air, teenagers leaping under bright lights. Kira was featured in one, showcasing her guest role in the Philadelphia Ballet Company's production of The Nutcracker when she was thirteen.

Inside, the reception area was comprised of white walls and gray linoleum flooring, the space bisected by a hallway. To the left sat the front counter where people registered their kids and paid for classes, the glass front displaying a few small trophies the company had won. Behind it were numerous framed photos of shows they'd put on throughout the years and Stiles liked making a game of trying to find Kira and Malia in them, even though the latter had ended up dropping out at age eight. Across the way sat a glass case, showing off the larger trophies and awards dancers had won over the years. Plastic chairs sat on either side, a giant cork board by the entrance to the main hallway littered with 8x11.5 ads for local events: the upcoming Easter egg hunt for kids, penny drive for the Salvation Army, little girl's bike for sale, Beacon Hills High band having a car wash to raise money for new uniforms.

The hallway was clean and polished, an emergency exit at the very end, complete with sign about not opening the door or an alarm would go off. Stiles knew that was bullshit put there mainly to discourage the kids from running in and out of it, driving teachers and parents nuts, but he never gave away that he knew there was no alarm. A dance room was on either side, the one on the left slight smaller and more open. The left side of the hall also featured a girl's changing room and the owner's office, while the right had a single toilet unisex bathroom and employee break room, both sides containing windows that allowed one to see inside the dance rooms.

Kira led them to the smaller room, closing the blinds on the hall window despite no one else being in the closed building. Stiles appreciated the gesture though, knew it was her way of making him comfortable as he eased his way back into skating shape.

Not that he thought she'd take it easy on him. Kira could be a drill instructor if she wanted and with Malia there to back him up, he knew he stood no chance.

The two of them went through a few stretches, Malia sitting on the table against the windowed wall, boom box untouched next to her as she scrolled through her phone. Across the room from her, the wall was covered in mirrors, bars at three different heights spread across it, and Stiles was relieved to find he could still stretch to the top one—although holding it there was a little hard on his hamstrings.

Kira put him through his paces, forcing his body to bend and contort in ways it hadn't in months. His muscles burned from disuse and he was pretty sure every tendon in him was screaming and it was less than an hour in before he was crying "uncle" between huffs and puffs. She scoffed and rolled her eyes, hands on her hips but let him take a break nonetheless, Stiles collapsing on the hardwood floor.

"Drama queen!" Malia accused before chomping off the head of an animal cracker. A giraffe, from what Stiles could tell.

He flipped her off as he lay on his back, arms spread out and legs splayed, sweatpants shoved up to his knees and t-shirt soaked. Malia just laughed at him and he decided that Kira was his favorite best friend at that moment.

Kira practiced a few pirouettes on her own to kill time, Malia munched on a few more animal shaped cookies, and Stiles forced his breathing to return to normal. He knew it wouldn't always be that way, that soon he'd be better able to handle the intense workouts and multiple exercise regimes, as well as skate practice, but for the time being, everything hurt. His legs were burning, already pissed at him for that morning's run, chasing Misha around, and then the jog to Ice Castle. Driving home was gonna be a bitch and he started trying to come up with a way to bribe one of them for a ride home.

"Thing I don't get," Malia began, half-chewed elephant in her mouth. "Is why Derek is even doing this. No offense, Stiles."

He flipped her off again and Kira stopped spinning to glare at her girlfriend.

Malia put on a baffled expression, swallowing what was in her mouth. "What? Am I the only one who thinks that it's really random that Derek Hale decided, after winning five gold medals in one season, that he wanted to coach? And to coach Stiles of all people."

He went for the bird-flipping hat trick.

"I thought Derek saw Stiles' video and decided to coach him because of that?" Kira questioned, head tilted, scratching at her bare shoulder where her wide-neck tee hung off it and exposed the straps of her sports bra.

"Erica's video," Stiles argued from the floor, closing his eyes to rest them for a few moments. The clock above the window said it was only eight forty-five but after his early wake-up and long day of physical activity he wasn't used to, he was fucking wiped.

"Right but," Malia countered, rifling around her box of cookies for the right shaped animal. "What if Derek is just using that as an excuse? Like, what if he just wanted a break for one season and his coach wouldn't allow it so he made up some bullshit about being a coach himself so he could get away from the pressure of competing and the expectations of always winning? He doesn't actually wanna coach, he just wants to take it easy for once."

Stiles flopped his arm over his eyes as though he could somehow magically wipe away what she'd just said. Because in all honesty, he'd wondered the same thing, the thought having rolled around his head so much so often that it had grown into an overwhelming fear that ate at his gut. It didn't make sense to him that Derek would put his own career on hold for some lowly pissant skater who'd only made the Grand Prix Finals once and had managed to make a total ass of himself during it. Using Stiles as an excuse for a vacation seemed the most likely explanation for it. That, or he had some sort of bet going with another skater or coach that he could turn around the worst skater they could think of and have him win gold, like some sorta cheesy teen dramedy movie. Guy was good looking enough to star in one of those.

"Maybe he lost a bet," Malia added on, crunching into a cookie, table squeaking as she swung her legs back and forth.

"Malia, you're a dick," Stiles commented, removing his arm and scowling at her, pissed she'd managed to voice both of his biggest fears.

She pointed half a cookie at him, chewing the other half as she argued. "I am not a dick."

"You're totally a dick."

"You can be a dick sometimes, babe," Kira backed him up, further cementing her status as Number One Best Friend.

"Screw both of you," Malia grumbled, Stiles giving a "no thanks" at the same time as Kira's "maybe later". She blew a kiss at her tiny girlfriend before hurling a cookie at Stiles, the snack bouncing off his head. He picked it up, figured out it was a rhino, then shoved the whole thing in his mouth.

"I'm telling Derek you're cheating on your diet," Malia warned with a smirk, legs swinging higher and harder.

"Dick move," he grumbled, pushing himself up to his feet and half-assing a couple stretches to warm his muscles back up. She kept smirking and shrugged, chewing on her snack and looking like a bratty kid.

"For what it's worth, I don't think Derek's here for those reasons," Kira spoke up, fiddling with a lock of black hair that had fallen out of her messy bun. "I mean, he could just retire if he wanted and go to the Caribbean or something then come back next season in this, like, spectacular fashion." She threw her arms out dramatically, raising one leg behind her as she moved onto her tiptoes, holding the arabesque pose for a second or two before resuming her previous two-feet-on-the-ground one. "And even if he was here for that, wouldn't it be in your best interests to prove to him that you're worthy of his time and attention and to take you seriously as his protege? Make all the doubters feel foolish for thinking Derek was making a mistake tryna coach you."

Malia wore an impressed pout and Stiles stared, a little dumbfounded but equally as awed. It wasn't that Kira was dumb by any stretch of the imagination but her approach to things tended to be more stay-out-of-people's-shit. Giving unsolicited advice was rare yet always right on the money and entirely welcomed.

"Good point, babe," Malia commented before brutally chomping a lion cookie in half. Stiles just stared as he pulled one leg behind his back, wondering if maybe she wasn't some sort of carnivorous predator in a past life the way she tore into food. Pizza stood no chance against her. Venison jerky always met the same fate.

"Yeah," he muttered absently, still distracted by Malia's violent eating before giving his full attention to Kira. "I think that's what I'll do."

Kira beamed up at him, full sunshine sweetness, even with her hands on her hips. "Good," she stated, genuinely pleased she'd been listened to and taken seriously. "So let's get back to it. You've still got pounds to shed and flexibility to regain." She pointed at him in warning before taking her place in front of the mirror and Stiles groaned as he dropped his leg.

Drill instructor Kira was the worst.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Derek woke Stiles up at the ass-crack of dawn once again the next day, deciding to run in the park this time, Misha keeping perfect pace with them. The Russian took advantage of the playground and used it to make Stiles work out: pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, every type of ups. There were jumping jacks, squats, lunges, shit Stiles couldn't even really name. By the end of it, every muscle felt sore and tight, and his shower was more than a welcomed relief.

He spent the rest of his morning helping out his dad, jogging to Ice Castle with Derek after lunch to work out arrangements with the Reyeses for use of the rink. A contract was worked out, a check handed over, and Derek took to the ice as he put Stiles through another work-out.

The subject of money had sparked a realization in the younger man's mind though and when they returned to the B-n-B, he brought up Derek's own coaching fees. Sponsorship money had helped paid for Deaton but now he didn't have any of that coming in. He'd have to dip into his savings.

Derek waved him off, saying they'd forgo payment until Stiles won a competition. The agreement helped the younger man relax and pushed aside that worry for another day, distracted by Noshiko calling for his help.

A routine was established after that, Derek waking Stiles up early for a run, work-out at the park, chores around the house, another afternoon work-out at Ice Castle as Derek skated and yelled insults Stiles was hoping were meant to be encouraging. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings, he headed to the ballet studio with Kira and Malia for more practice there, the intermittent days spent doing yoga with Noshiko in the living room of the B-n-B, his body loosening up and allowing him to do the contortion-like moves he used to do on the ice.

On Sundays he was allowed to sleep in until eight and he never thought he'd be so glad to see that hour on his clock after Misha tried to dig him out of bed. The three of them would hike in the Preserve, using the bench at the lookout for various exercises, Misha chewing on a stick she found, Derek managing to keep a close eye on both of them at the same time.

All the work-outs were strenuous and exhausting but after the first week, he was able to fit back into his jeans. His baggier, bigger sized pairs, but jeans nonetheless, and he felt slightly closer to his old self. It also spurred him on and motivated him to keep up with all the activities, feeling his strength return and his stamina build back up.

Derek seemed to notice it as well during his constant poking and scowling at Stiles' belly, the angry glare not quite as heated as before. The prodding became less frequent but his sense of personal space was still abysmal, crowding against his protege as they watched YouTube videos of Stiles' old routines, breaking down what went wrong and what went right, clueless to the way the younger man's heart felt like it was gonna burst out of his chest or the way he went tense all over or the way he had to focus on breathing like a normal person, to the point where Derek's words often went unheard.

It was around the two week mark that Stiles felt himself calming down around the Russian, his reactions not nearly as hindering as they had been. His heart still pounded and his stomach still knotted and his lungs still trembled, but he was able to still function the way he needed to. He wasn't sure if it was due to increasing annoyance at the drill sergeant way Derek treated him or the way he was called porosenok more than his actual name or just a result of over-exposure, but soon, he wasn't feeling as internally jumbled. He still had moments when his brain fritzed out on him, like when he went outside to rake the gravel out the grass only to find Derek running around shirtless as he played frisbee with Misha or when Derek's stoic mask cracked and let a tiny smile come through or when Derek actually laughed at something Stiles' said. The younger man had actually thought he'd dreamt the whole thing, but the aching in his legs and lungs spoke otherwise.

It was also around that time that Stiles begun picking up on Derek's habits. The guy always had a pinky raised when he drank or held cutlery, like he was at a fancy dinner party when in reality, he was eating McDonalds that had been cruelly purchased for everyone except Stiles. He tended not to use the words "the" or "a" when discussing something, "let's go to rink" rather than "let's go to the rink" or "pass me napkin" rather than "pass me a napkin". Then there was his habit of not using contractions, " I am", "is not", "could have", instead of the more common replacements. He also had a habit of saying "yes?" at the end of a sentence when he wasn't sure of the wording and hated when he was corrected in every day conversation, his eyes growing dark and brow furrowing, so Stiles made a habit not to call him out on tiny grammatical errors. Hell, it was impressive as fuck that the guy had mastered three languages—apparently he'd also learned French at some point—English as his second, a language that, from what Stiles understood, was notoriously difficult to learn. Picking apart the way Derek spoke was almost insulting. So instead Stiles kept his mouth shut and subtly nodded whenever Derek seemed to question his wording, the Russian relaxing his shoulders minutely at the new habit.

Stiles also picked up on the fact that Derek was intensely guarded—which wasn't much of a surprise, given the scowl he practically always wore, the lack of interviews he gave, and his practical nonexistence on social media that was limited to a Twitter account that he used once a month and an Instagram he posted random shots from Getty Images of whatever competition he'd just finished, no captions added. But Stiles had just figured he was private when it came to the public eye, that he kept his personal business personal but around others he'd be open.

Only that wasn't the case.

Whenever a conversation got too close for comfort, Derek would expertly swing it around to someone else, the act so smooth you didn't even realize it'd happened until looking back at the conversation later on. Stiles found himself talking about his mom's passing when he was young and the recent loss of his dog and what it was like growing up in such a small town, but not ever about Derek's family or his past. He spoke of growing up in Moscow in broad terms and never went into detail about his life in St Petersburg unless it was about his training and skating. That was the only time the man ever became talkative.

And it wasn't that Stiles didn't already know shit about Derek's past. Google was a friend, and so was Wikipedia—even if the latter was less than reliable at times. He knew Derek was a middle child with both an older and younger sister, neither of whom skated professionally. He knew Derek's parents had, though, that they'd been a famous pair who'd won countless medals together, even taking home Olympic gold themselves. He also knew that Derek had lost his father to a car accident when he was fifteen and since he was well-aware of what a touchy subject the loss of a parent could be—hence him only really saying his mom had been sick and passed on, not sharing any details himself—he kept away from the topic, figuring if Derek wanted to talk he would.

'Course Stiles was fucking dying inside but it was better than pissing off and alienating his new coach.

So conversations were kept superficial and easy, never personal and never tough. The only time things were strained or less than courteous was when Derek was riding Stiles about whatever work-out he was currently being forced through, proving himself to be a bigger drill sergeant than Kira.

But Stiles tolerated the insults and the godawful nickname and the conversations that never got deeper than weather comparison between Beacon Hills and St Petersburg if it meant he could keep his own cards close to the chest. He didn't have to worry about his own personal shit getting pried into and torn apart if he left Derek's alone, an unspoken agreement settling between the two of them.

It was at the end of week three when shit changed. Stiles wasn't sure what spurred it on, what had prompted Derek to cut into their agreement and undo it, what it was about his red splotched face as he huffed and puffed his way through exercises at the lookout in the Preserve that made Derek believe it was okay to ask.

But it happened.

Side-to-sides weren't Stiles' favorite, having to run sideways back and forth across the flat-ish surface of the lookout, twisting his upper body back and forth as he went, working on his obliques. His coordination on regular land was atrocious, constantly tripping and falling, leading Malia to joke that his head was backwards since he was fine on ice where most people tended to crash on their asses. Moving sideways made shit worse, especially with high leg kicks and an inability to see the ground, rocks and twigs and trash laying in blind spots, just waiting to sabotage him.

After finishing his set, he stood before the bench with his hands on his hips, panting away. Sweat covered his skin, soaked through his t-shirt, and he had an absent thought about laundry, if he was running out of clean shirts lately with all the extra workouts.

Misha peered up at him with her mismatched eyes, still chewing on a rubber bone Derek'd had the foresight to bring with him this time, the man himself sitting on the bench with his legs spread almost obscenely, basketball shorts stretched to their limit. Stiles was hit with a sudden urge to step between his legs, to lower himself down between them, smoothing his hands up those strong thighs until he reached their meeting point, gently taking hold of—

He turned his head away and pretended to get distracted by some form of bird of prey crying out in the distance, circling and swooping with a second above the town. Thank fuck his cheeks were already ruddy in patches, allowing him to blame the embarrassed heat that flooded them on nothing more than physical exertion.

Some annoying little part of him internally commented that he wouldn't mind physically exerting himself with Derek and he tamped it down, ignoring it.

"How is practice with Kira?" Derek questioned, drawing him back.

Stiles stared for a moment, the inquiry not entirely out of place. His coach had a habit of asking after each session at the ballet studio, trying to gauge where his protege was at, keeping track of his progress. But Stiles was still struck dumb by the sight of the man himself, how instead of being sweaty and gross, he seemed to glisten in the sun, how the wet patches between his pecs and under his arms were sexy rather than off-putting, how his biceps were once again put on display thanks to his folded arms and sleeveless tee, faded Cyrillic letters printed across the front that Stiles couldn't even begin to translate. His shaggy hair was limp with perspiration and the younger man wanted to push it back, to get a better look at him, but reined himself in, shoving his own bangs off his forehead.

"Fine," he informed, stretching to one side to stay warm and loose. "I didn't do as much damage to my flexibility as I thought and my stamina seems to be improving."

Something flashed on Derek's face, but it disappeared before Stiles could interpret it, leaving him to wonder if he maybe had imagined it. Derek ducked his head to peer down at Misha and check on her, giving no indication that anything had happened.

Maybe he really had just imagined it.

Totally possible. Derek's face was pretty much the same stoic expression so there was totally a chance that Stiles had just stared too long and his eyes played a trick on him, making him think something shifted.

Except he hadn't been staring. And Derek's face always wearing the same look just meant it was more noticeable when something changed.

Whatever. He wasn't gonna drive himself crazy with circular thinking or worrying about what had actually happened. He had more important shit to obsess over.

Standing up straight once more, he scratched at his head, fighting off a wince at the sweat that clung to his fingers. "Worst part of it is Malia throwing cookies at me," he quipped before stretching down to his other side. "But I guess it's good practice for ignoring outside stimuli and focusing on what I'm doing."

Derek frowned as he turned back to him, arms crossing tighter, eyes growing dark. "Malia is always there?" he asked, accent thicker with the weight of his words.

"Yeah," he answered honestly, confused pull to his brow as he straightened up once again, pulling his leg behind him in a stretch. "Why? Do you not like her?"

He wracked his brain for any and all interactions between Derek and Malia, finding nothing but civility and polite conversation. Malia wasn't as brash with him as she was with Stiles, mostly out of respect for Derek as a guest, but he was sure part of it was also admiration for the Russian as a skater. And Derek was his usual cordial self, still standoffish, but no more than he was with anyone else. As far as Stiles knew, there wasn't any problems or issues between his friend and his coach, but it wasn't like he was there all the time. Maybe something happened that he hadn't witnessed or been made aware of.

Derek shook his head, scratching at his whiskered jaw before refilling his arms. "No. I was just wondering what is between you two? Are you dating? Are you in love?"

His foot slipped out of his grip in shock at the suggestion, mouth gaping as his jaw dropped and he damn near choked on the dubious laugh that tried to come out of his throat. "Oh my god," he breathed, laughing once more. "No. God no. No fucking way."

Derek just stared up at him in a mixture of confusion and offense, like he didn't understand why the question was so goddamn funny and how dare Stiles laugh about such a serious inquiry. "Then you are dating Kira?"

He laughed even harder, scrubbing at his jaw and feeling the stubble where he hadn't bothered shaving that day. "Absolutely not," he stated, swiping both arms in front of himself to clear the air of such a ridiculous fucking suggestion. "Kira and Malia have been dating since they met in, like, eleventh grade. Okay, that's like six years or something crazy. Admittedly, Malia was my first kiss but we were seven or eight and that was before she realized how incredibly gay she is."

Realization dawned on Derek's face and he slowly nodded as he took it all in. "So you and Malia or you and Kira? You do not—"

"Nope, never," he shook his head. "Love them both to death but as sisters. Not once have I ever thought about them in that way."

More nodding, his frown turning thoughtful as he stared off at the town then back at Stiles. "Are you dating anyone?"

Stiles pressed his lips into a hard line as his face flushed again and he wrapped his arms around his midsection tightly, right leg shaking where he stood. "Nope."

"So you do not have a lover at all?"

The way the question had been worded made Stiles' face heat up further and his skin prickle all over. Derek was the only person who spoke like that, who used that term, and Stiles wasn't entirely sure how he felt about it, save for a low burning in his gut. Because the term "lover" brought about all kinds of sexual connotations, made him thing of cheesy shit like "making love" on a bear skin rug by the fireplace, red rose petals sprinkled across the bed and candles causing a soft glow as skin was explored, movements slow and deep, not the hard, fast paced fucking of porn. It was sensual and sweet and about souls connecting rather than bodies colliding. And when spoken by a person whose face had probably launched a thousand orgasms, the word and the thoughts it induced went straight to Stiles' dick, making it twitch inside his boxer briefs.

"No," he croaked, swallowing hard, focusing on the humiliation of singledom rather than the way his body reacted to Derek's words. "Very much alone and unattached and lover-less."

Something flashed in Derek's eyes, some spark of recognition or realization, and he nodded slowly once, like he was filing the information away for later. His eyes turned analytical as they practically bore into Stiles and the younger man felt exposed as he stood there, shifting his arms to cover himself up, like it would hide everything he didn't want to be discovered.

"Have you ever had a lover?" Derek asked quietly, like he knew the question would spook Stiles in some way and cause him to go taking off into the woods towards his Jeep.

Which.

Tempting.

But he'd have to drive Derek back to the B-n-B, then deal with him while staying there and with him being his coach so it was better to stay put and divert the conversation. Or at least try to.

His left hand began wringing the back of his heated neck, tags jangling with the movement, right arm around his waist, and he ignored the way his face felt like it was on fire. "Yeeeeah," he stretched the word out with a grimace on his face, looking around at everything except Derek. "Thought we agreed not to talk about that."

The older man's face was completely flat except for one eyebrow that he momentarily raised, shrugging a shoulder nonchalantly. "We agree not to discuss it then because too early in morning. Now is not too early so we discuss."

Goddammit.

Stiles winced as he folded his arms tightly, staring off to the side, those falcon-eagle-hawk-things still circling in the sky. "No," he admitted lowly. "I've never had a girlfriend."

"I ask about lovers, not girlfriends. Lovers can be any gender and you do not have to be in a relationship with them."

Stiles turned to find the completely earnest look on Derek's face, noting a complete lack of judgment. He was giving the guy a chance to state his own sexuality in his own terms, not jumping to heteronormative stereotypes that because Stiles was a young man he clearly must've been interested in young women. Even after having admitted his first kiss was with a girl, Derek didn't presume his new protege was only interested in the opposite gender.

The realization had Stiles' own mind churning over other realizations, remembering countless interviews Derek had done over the years and how none have ever included his own relationships or sexuality. Stiles figured it was because he was intensely private—a fact that had only been solidified over the past three weeks—but at that moment he was wondering if maybe Derek was just closeted.

With a slow nod, Stiles stepped over and dropped down on the opposite end of the bench from Derek, legs not quite as splayed, thumb rubbing the bone shaped tag of the collar still wrapped around his wrist. "I, uh. I haven't had a lover of any kind or gender or whatever. I've never gone past second base."

A confused frown formed on the older man's face, head turned to the other, something lost in translation. "Second base?"

Stiles' cheeks flushed hotter and he swallowed an embarrassed lump, pushing away his discomfort in order to explain things. "Hands down pants, pretty much."

Thick brows climbed Derek's forehead for the briefest moment before he frowned in thought, apparently trying to piece it all together and figure out all the other bases, how it all worked. He bobbed them in an "okay then" manner once he seemed to have it all worked out, shuffling so he was turned more towards Stiles, giving the younger man his full attention once more. "Whose pants did you reach into?"

Jesus Christ.

Apparently Stiles' face was just gonna stay bright red and flaming hot because it continued to get that way with damn near everything that came out of Derek's mouth. "I-I-I. Yeah, I really don't wanna talk about this," he sputtered, facing forward and staring at nothing, hoping his features looked as flat as Derek's usually did but knowing he probably looked like he was internally screaming.

Which he was.

Fuck, he felt like a deer caught in a hunter's crosshairs and he had nowhere to run to. He just had to hope the guy put his weapon down and let him live.

Derek nodded like he understood, turning to the view as well. "I am," he began, screwing his face up when his English failed him. "Pansexual? The, when you are attracted to all?" He glanced at Stiles out the corner of his eye, getting a small reassuring nod that allowed some of the tension to leave his shoulders. "I do not hide it but I do not scream it to world. My family know, some people I skate with know, my publicist and management team know. I tell Deucalion and he say he do not care as long as I keep skating good." A wry grin was on his face and he shrugged a shoulder like it was no biggie. "What I am saying is I do not care about whose pants you reach into, as long as you are happy and it does not affect skating, yes?"

Stiles nodded at both the correct wording and the sentiment, swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat. He kept rubbing his dog's old tag, feeling the grooves where the pet's name and his number had been engraved. He imagined his husky there by his side, nudging with his wet nose, looking up at him with pale blue eyes in a canine form of comfort and support.

Glancing down, he spied Misha still laying near Derek's feet, head on her paws, ears twisting this way and that as she picked up various sounds around them. As though she knew she was being stared at, she turned her head and peered right back up at Stiles, what passed for her eyebrows lifting over mismatched eyes, the expression inquisitive and as sassy as he'd ever seen a dog look.

"I'm bi," he found himself saying, eyes drifting back to his hand smoothing over the bone-shaped tag. "I guess. I'm not one-hundred percent sure but that's the closest term that feels right so." He sank down in his seat, shoulders bunched up around his ears again, and he tried in vain to once again swallow the lump trying to choke him with the discomfort he was feeling.

It wasn't that he wasn't open with himself or his friends, but like Derek, he didn't broadcast it to the world. He hated the fact that with every new person he met, he had to come out all over again, had to put himself in the precarious situation of rejection or worse, had to risk being judged or beaten or killed. Shit would be so much easier if he were straight and the only ridicule he faced were stereotypes and jokes over how "gay" men's figure skating was.

Would save him from getting a crush on his coach, that was for goddamn sure.

The corner of Derek's lips twisted up in an imitation of a grin and something like recognition flashed in his eyes and Stiles got the impression that the guy had somehow already known—or at least had a pretty good assumption. Chances were he'd caught Stiles staring or there were rumors Stiles wasn't aware of or maybe he just had a damn good gay-dar.

No matter the case, Derek wasn't about to judge or argue or tell him his sexuality was invalid or any of the other bullshit Stiles saw online on a daily basis. He simply smacked the younger man's chest with the flat of his hand and gave a "see? Not so bad" in a voice that was as close to jovial as Derek got. Then he rose to his feet, Misha doing the same and giving a big shake, face back to the serious scowl he usually wore. "Time to go. You waste enough time being lazy."

Stiles let out a groan as he stood, ignoring the sight of his coach bending down to pick up Misha's toy and leash, half-heartedly stretching his legs instead. Things gathered, the three of them took off at a jog into the woods once again, Stiles mentally ruminating on the asshole drill sergeant part of Derek's personality so his crush didn't get any bigger than it already was.

~*~*~*~*~*~

After showering and changing and grabbing a bite to eat—as well as finding out laundry was, in fact, being done so Stiles wasn't at a risk of running out of clean shirts or underwear any time soon—Derek insisted on being shown the town. Stiles found it strange that he hadn't already explored on his own, only to realize they'd been spending damn near every moment together so it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Derek hadn't gone off to do that.

That, plus it was Beacon Hills. Wasn't really a whole lot to see.

Still, the twosome jumped in the Jeep and Stiles gave a proper tour, pointing out the schools he went to, the diner he liked to eat at—which earned him a dirty look and a scowl at his decreasing belly—the ballet studio and Kira and Malia's shared apartment right above it.

Derek had them pull over at the statue of the town's founder that stood tall and proud in front of City Hall and Stiles went through the bullshit story every Beacon Hills Elementary kid heard every single year on Founder's Day as they put on the same exact play. The Russian played tourist and took photos of the entire ride, of the statue, even pulling Stiles in for a selfie. His heart pounded wildly in his chest at the feel of Derek's warm body pressed along his side, at the arm wrapped around his lower back, sparks igniting his skin where Derek's hand rested against his hip. He didn't think it was the kind of hold one wrapped a friend—or protege—in, but he relished it nonetheless, pulling away once the picture had been taken. Because the embrace was too nice and he refused to enjoy it too much, already slipping down the dangerous slide into an out-of-control crush.

And, okay, yeah, he already had a crush, but at that moment it was still small, easy to ignore. He could easily shove it away and pretend it didn't exist as he tried to act like a normal human being around Derek. But the more physical contact and prolonged exposure he had to the older man, the more his crush was fed into, making it grow, and Stiles refused to let it get any bigger than it already was. He'd learned the hard way what the end result was when that happened.

Derek didn't seem too put out by the way Stiles practically jerked out of his hold, giving him a curious glance so brief it could've been imagined before flattening his features out and messing with his phone. Nothing was said between the two of them, Stiles enjoying the warmth in the spring air and admiring the blooming trees, tulips and daffodils sprouting in carefully designated places picked out by the city's landscaping department.

They loitered for an hour or so before heading back to the B-n-B, where Stiles was given the task of sorting, folding, ironing, and delivering laundry while Derek went out back with his dog. The young man grumbled through his job, both disappointed and relieved to find none of it was Derek's, and getting frustrated as fuck at the impossible job of folding fitted sheets in any semblance of order, much less in a way that would prevent horrible wrinkles.

The rest of his afternoon was taken up by the job, his dad coming down around five to let him know that he, Noshiko, and Satomi—who had extended her stay by two weeks at that point—were all headed to a town meeting and potluck dinner and that Stiles was more than welcome to come with. The younger Stilinski considered it for half a second before rejecting the offer, making up an excuse of not wanting to be rude by leaving Derek on his own when that was only the half of it. He also didn't want to face the disappointment of the town as a whole for his epic collapse last season and all the prying questions that would come with it.

Was he retiring?

Was he making a comeback?

Why did he fail so horribly and monumentally?

What was it like to reach your ultimate goal and throw it all away because you couldn't handle the pressure?

No fucking thank you.

His dad nodded and gave him an understanding smile and clap on the shoulders, as well as twenty bucks to order pizza or Chinese or whatever else it might be that the two of them would want for dinner. Stiles didn't bother pouting out that those were literally the only two options for food delivery, since the diner would most likely be closed for the meeting—yay small town life—and instead thanked him as he pocketed the cash.

Laundry put away and the more grown-up adults gone, Stiles stood in the kitchen staring at the magnet for the Beacon Hills Pizza, phone in hand as he considered inviting Malia and Kira over. Pizza and beer sounded damn good and he figured he'd more than earned a cheat meal at that point. His free hand automatically splayed out across his stomach, not quite as flat as it used to be, ponch definitely smaller though and more like a tiny beer gut or the few extra pounds most people gained over Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Definitely deserved some fucking carbs.

Okay so food had been decided, he just needed to call Malia or Kira and hope they weren't too busy with each other to actually answer. Unlocking his phone, he pulled up his contacts and scrolled down, only to get distracted by the back door opening.

Shit. He should probably let Derek in on the plan. And maybe hit him up for some more cash cause twenty bucks wouldn't be enough to cover pizza for all four of them, not with the way Malia inhaled it and Stiles planned on gorging himself sick on it to make up for all the pizza he'd had to give up over the last three weeks.

"Hey, Derek?" he began, hearing the clicking sounds of dog nails on wood floors and the flip-flip-flip of the Russian's flip-flops as the two of them entered the kitchen. He turned around, eyes still on his phone, coming across Kira's name in his contacts and pausing. "I was gonna order pi—" The words died in his throat as he finally got a look at the other man—or rather got a look at what he was wearing.

Derek had strolled in as though nothing was wrong wearing what could only amount to a speedo, the black scrap of fabric so tight Stiles couldn't see how it could possibly be comfortable, leaving barely enough room for his actual dick. The thing was so low cut it was easy to tell that he most likely trimmed down there, the sharp line delineating his hips and torso more evident than ever. Fuck, the speedo was so small and tiny it was almost as scandalous as his being naked and Stiles felt his cock pulse in his own briefs.

It took Stiles a moment to realize he was totally gaping like a moron, Derek turning to him with an eyebrow raised in expectation, and shit, he had totally just stopped mid-sentence. He should probably finish his thought and spit out what he was gonna say, only... Only he had no clue what the fuck he'd been saying, too distracted by the outline of Derek's cock that he could see in that ridiculous fucking speedo.

Jesus Christ, Stiles didn't think anyone actually wore those, besides athletes involved with water sports or creepy pervs on vacation in Europe. And this definitely wasn't fucking Europe and there wasn't even a fucking plastic kids pool in the backyard so why in god's name would Derek wear a fucking speedo?

Stiles had either done something really wrong or really right in past life in order to be graced with this sight.

Could've been worse, he figured. They could've been white and wet and practically see-through.

Although would that really be worse?

His brain practically screamed "yes!" but part of him still wasn't convinced.

Shit.

His face felt hot once again and he turned away, staring out the back window past the screen surrounding the porch, taking in the yard beyond. He'd helped his dad put out the furniture the day before: lounge chairs and plastic tables, a large metal table with accompanying chairs and giant umbrella standing through the hole in the middle, two picnic tables with attached benches, grill set up a little way off for any guest who felt like cooking out. Stiles figured Derek had stretched out on one of the loungers, taking advantage of early season warmth, although in Stiles' opinion, it was still a little early for going shirtless.

Definitely early for fucking speedo-wearing.

Then again, speedo-wearing didn't seem appropriate any time of the year.

Although Derek sure as fuck pulled it off. And him being Russian and used to colder temps, Beacon Hills probably felt nice and hot to him.

Still.

"Did you—" Stiles started then paused, pointing to the backyard, phone forgotten in his hand. "Were you out there in. That?" He pointed at Derek's choice in swimwear, using every ounce of self-control not to stare once more.

Didn't take a genius to know that was a capital letters Bad Idea.

Derek looked perplexed, glancing out the backdoor momentarily then looking down at himself before fully focusing on Stiles, placing his hands on his hips. "Of course not."

"Okay, so why are y—"

"I was naked."

Fucking hell!

Stiles sputtered, mind flooded with images of his first encounter with Derek, when the man had slipped off his towel and nonchalantly stood naked before him, unashamed. He remembered the quick peek he'd gotten of his cock then and his eyes darted down to see the outline of it in that ridiculous speedo, wondering how something that big would fit in something that small.

Which, of course, led to his mind supplying other right places Derek could fit his dick into. Like Stiles' mouth. Or his ass.

Shit.

His own cock twitched once more and he felt every ounce of blood in his body race to it or his face, heating it up. His brain flatlined, capable only of half-formed images with fuzzy details. Derek naked in a bed. Stiles on his knees with a warm weight pressing down his tongue. Derek behind him, Derek on top of him, Derek fucking him against a wall. Choked off moans and half-formed cries, gasped out names and whines disguised as demands.

His dick started filling, half-hard, and he cursed the fact that he'd changed into boxers, giving it room to grow.

"Is better," Derek went on, seemingly oblivious to Stiles' internal meltdown and the fact that he wasn't sure if he was breathing. "No tan lines. See?" He hooked his thumb in the black material by his right hip, pushing it down, and Stiles' eyes were immediately drawn to the movement.

Sure enough, there were no tan lines, just an even color over his skin, and holy shit, Derek wasn't stopping. He was totally gonna take it all the way off, evident by the fact that his other thumb was now working the other side of the speedo and pushing it down, too. Stiles gaped further, watching as more flesh was revealed, eyes sliding over to the trail of hair leading from his belly button down to a neatly trimmed thatch that had been covered only seconds before, the speedo still lowering to reveal the first glimpse of skin and—

Stiles jerked his head away, facing the back window as he smeared his hands over his face. "Oh my god, why are you trying to get naked in the kitchen?!"

"I was trying to show you no tan lines," Derek explained calmly, while also sounding put out. Fucking hell, nudist much?

Then again with what Stiles had witnessed so far, yes, Derek was very much a nudist.

"I believed you," he insisted, digging the heels of his palms into his eyes, hoping he could rid himself of the image of that tiny peek at Derek's cock. He didn't need that haunting him while he tried to sleep or go about his day, teasing him with what he couldn't have. "You didn't have to—" he began then cut off, huffing in frustration and dropping his hands at the sound of Derek putting his clothing back where it belonged. "Why are you always getting naked?"

Derek frowned in confusion, arms folded, and Stiles did his utmost to look him in the eye and not peek to see if his speedo was, in fact, where it was supposed to be. "Why do you always have problem with my naked?" the Russian questioned, sounding almost offended and definitely puzzled as to why anyone would have an issue with his constant nudity.

Which.

Okay, maybe the biggest problem Stiles had with it was pretty much in his own head—and his own underwear, really. It wasn't like Derek was in public this time, like when he'd threatened to show his dick at Ice Castle. He was in what amounted to his temporary home. That other people lived there with him was a huge factor but since most of them were gone for the evening—and had been for a while—Stiles couldn't bring up that argument—except maybe to prevent future instances of nude tanning.

But the real problem was Stiles' fucking crush he was trying to get a handle on and not let spiral out of control and knowing what Derek looked like fully naked would definitely lead to out of control territory.

Not that he could use that argument either.

Stiles scratched his head then ran his fingers through his bangs, laying them flat against his forehead as he came up with a response. "Because this is America and here we wear clothes. Unless you're a stripper. So." He paused and gave a shrug, folding his arms across his chest and giving the older man a harsh look. "Are you a stripper?"

The corner of Derek's lips curved up and something knowing and mischievous flashed in his eyes and Stiles felt his heart pound at the sight of it. "Are you?"

What the—?

The younger man just gaped again, then frowned, breathing out a "wha—" as his arms fell limp by his sides. "No! God, I," he started then stopped, pointing a finger at his coach. "This isn't about me, okay? This is about you and how you shouldn't tan naked."

Derek just smirked, amusement making his green eyes seem lighter. "Worried neighbors will see?" he quipped, knowing damn well there weren't any.

Asshole.

Stiles rolled his eyes and once more tried to think of a good argument, blurting out the first thing that came to mind that wasn't "because I'm afraid of what'll happen if I actually get a good look at you fully naked." "Because too much sun is back for your dick and sunburn on it would be the absolute worst."

Fuck. Seriously?

His cheeks inflamed and humiliation made his throat dry so he swallowed hard against it, trying to keep his features flat and not give away the fact that he was dying inside.

Derek looked thrown off for a moment but recovered, smirk reforming again. "I did not know you were worried about my dick."

Stiles was gonna have an aneurysm and die because of this guy.

"No! I-I. Like, I care in a general sense, like I wouldn't want anyone to get sunburn on their dick, not just you in particular," he scrambled, barely convincing himself in all honesty.

And the skepticism on Derek's face meant he didn't entirely believe it either but the nod he gave showed he was willing to just take Stiles' word for it. "Okay." He shrugged it off, letting it go. "I make us dinner."

"Sure," he replied, almost dumbfounded and brain dead, recovering enough for one last comment. "Just put some clothes on please."