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Tchaikovsky's Nightmare

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“This is supposed to be the worst performance?”

Stiles shifts in his seat and holds up a finger to his lips. “It should be,” he murmurs. “It's kind of a thing. The first performance might have other issues, but when it comes to dancing, it's usually perfect. Pressure and adrenaline and stuff." They watch the flurry of dancers perform a ridiculous number of fouettés. “Then, you let yourself get comfortable and confident the second time around. It's supposed to suck, like, significantly more. And then you realize that you sucked and every time after that is ace.”

Scott scrunches his nose and nods in pseudo-understanding. Stiles pats his shoulder.

Then, “Wait, what do you mean it should to be? You mean it's not?” Scott's been dragged to a lot of ballets with Stiles; of course, he's sure to see the performances featuring Stiles, but there's something about his mind-boggled tone that suggests he's... really enjoying this one. It's surprising, considering he usually doesn't show much interest outside of marveling at the dancers' flexibility.

Because the two leads—who have just reappeared, stage right and stage left—are Stiles' unofficial rivals.

Maybe that's not the proper word to use. Allison Argent is a brilliant dancer. Like Stiles, she's been doing this since she could walk. She's tall and limber and her legs are just—captivating. It helps that she's got this cute smile with dimples and a personality to boot. She's never once been snotty to Stiles. Challenging, and maybe a bit taunting, but it's usually playful, and Stiles is the same way.

Allison's the polar opposite of Stiles' usual partner. His gorgeous and perfect partner, Lydia Martin. Lydia's a short ballerina with strawberry-blonde hair and big brown eyes. She started dancing when she was five, which is normal for kids who don't want to go pro. She caught up to the others with little trouble and entered training at the same time as Stiles and Allison. She even went en pointe two years before the majority. Lydia's fierce, always has been.

Ever since Stiles started working with Lydia, he's been enamored. But unlike Allison, Lydia's far from saintly. She's pretty cruel, especially when Stiles is slacking. Which doesn't happen often, by the way. But still. She doesn't do well when receiving critique. She's a major perfectionist and strives to be the best. That drive is what got her here, though, and it can get a little scary.

Allison and Lydia's styles contrast as well. Allison's the studio's Sleeping Beauty; Lydia nabs roles like Antonina in Don Quixote.

So, technically, Allison doesn't qualify as a rival. Her partner, though?

He uses the word “unofficial” because, like Allison, they work within the same company. They rehearse in the same rooms and cycle through the same instructors and physical trainers—and yet.

Stiles is never as fiercely competitive than when he's confronted with Derek Hale.

Aside from being a major douchebag, the guy's physically flawless. He's a... decent dancer, too.

Derek's good for starting late. Like, stupidly late. Sixteen years-old late. Stiles has heard unbelievable success stories scattered throughout the span of his life, but this is one that he has to witness every day.

Dancers like Stiles, who had been named an apprentice at age 15 and joined the Beacon Hills Classical Ballet Academy as a corps de ballet member the following year, became a soloist at 17 and a principal dancer at 19, frown upon these developments.

Derek dabbled a bit in dance as a child and then, out of nowhere, decided that ballet was a good career path for him. Seriously, what.

How he manages to work alongside dancers like himself, Allison, and Lydia is still a huge mystery to Stiles.

The fact that Peter Hale, Derek's uncle, is their lead director mighthave something to do with it.

Stiles recalls that he has a question to answer. The delay is unnoticed; Scott's eyes are glued to Allison.

“This performance is supposed to suck. Big time. Compared to yesterday's, at least. It’s called a second show flop.”

“But how do you know this one's better if you haven't seen yesterday's?”

Stiles grimaces and shrugs. “... I have?”

Scott finally tears his attention away from the stage, but only because Allison just fluttered away. “Why?”

“Scoping out the competition, dude. Plus, I get free tickets.”

“Competition? I thought these people are your, like, co-workers.”

Oh, Scott. So oblivious to the world of dance. “I'm pretty sure I've already explained this to you at one point or another.”

“Probably.” They laugh, and a lady turns around to glare at them.

Stiles and Scott manage to stay (relatively) quiet until the end. Scott's the first one to jump up and clap. When they're in Stiles' jeep on the way back to their flat, they jam out to the latest mainstream garbage that blasts out of the speakers.

Scott interrupts with, “So...”

Stiles raises an eyebrow. “So?”

“Do you... do you talk to that girl? The main one in tonight's performance,” he clarifies.

“The lead? Allison?”

Scott slowly looks away, out the window, and smiles softly. “Allison.”

“Yeah. I mean, she's usually Derek's partner. We've never actually danced together.”

“I know,” Scott says. When Stiles gives him a skeptical look, he adds, “I would have noticed if you have. She's... I dunno, man, there's something about her.”

“Wait, you don't think she's better than Lydia, do you?”

There's a very long, very not okay silence that follows.

Dude!

Scott's hands fly up in defense. “I didn't say anything. And I don't actually know anything about ballet, no matter how much you try to teach me—so I don't... I couldn’t say what makes a dancer really good. Or what technique Lydia uses that makes her so different than Allison. Because there is a difference. I could tell at least that much.”

Stiles deflates a little. “Well, yeah. But Lydia's my partner.”

An abrupt laugh bubbles out of Scott. “It's not like I said I like the guy better than you. What's his name again?” As if he already doesn’t know. What an asshole.

“Derek.” It's kind of amazing how much malice he can fit into two syllables.

Scott isn't deterred. “Right. You're easily ten times better than Derek. And I'm not just saying that because I'm biased.” He leans against the headrest of the passenger seat, eyes falling shut. “Anyway, you should introduce me to Allison.”

“You live with me, man. You should know by now that dancers don't exactly have a lot of free time.”

That doesn't seem to bother Scott. He shrugs.

Honestly, Stiles can't really see it working out. Allison has zero time to spare during the week and Scott's wrapping up a semester of his pre-vet certification. He’s not even sure if Allison’s single. But, because he's an amazing friend: “I'll see what I can do.”

- - - - - - - - - -

The next morning, Stiles shuffles into the room where he knows Allison practices. It's not that early, only 9AM, so he's feeling relatively chipper. When he wanders onto the dance floor he slips off his street shoes, relieved to find that Allison’s here without her partner, and meanders up to her. She stretches at the barre; she’s probably taking a break mid-practice now that her muscles are warmed up.

“Hey, Allison,” he greets, giving her a smile and a wave.

She drops her left leg with ease and lifts up the right, bending over it. She lets out a contented noise before resting her head on her ankle, facing Stiles. “Hey.”

“Great performance last night. Better than day one, even. Not sure how you managed to pull that one off. Witchcraft, probably.”

She straightens her posture, flexes her foot, and bends backwards a little. He hears her back pop mutely. “You saw both shows?”

“Yeah,” he says. He really doesn't want to go over this again. Especially because he'd rather not lie to her by explaining that it wasn't to compare himself and Lydia to Derek and Allison. “I brought my friend Scott along so he could see it, too.”

“The one with the floppy brown hair?” She makes a vague hand gesture around her head.

Stiles blinks in mild surprise. “Uh, yeah. How'd you know?”

To his even greater surprise, she colors faintly. “I've... seen him around. You bring him to a lot of the performances that I go to. I think he's also brought you lunch before.” There's a pause, and then, “And last night during bows I saw you in the audience—and your friend as well. He looked like he really enjoyed the show.”

“You have no idea,” Stiles mutters.

Allison brightens. “That's good. What's his name again?”

“Scott.”

“Scott,” she repeats, and, wow. That tone is eerily similar.

Stiles clears his throat. “Yep. Speaking of Scott, he kind of —wants to meet you? Last night was the first time he really paid any attention and he wouldn't shut up about your dancing.”

She drops her foot from the barre and straightens. She absently plays with her hands as she says, “Really?”

He can't stop the eyebrow. “Yeah, but he really doesn't know much about ballet, or dance in general.”

Allison's smile drops into a frown.

“Wait, no. Oh, god, hold on—I'm not saying you're a bad—that you don't—uh,” he stutters out, because her frown is deepening. But when he takes a second to breathe, he notices that she's not looking at him anymore.

He turns around to face to door to find Derek leaning against the door frame, arms crossed. He's got an eyebrow hiked up, which is so uncool, because that's Stiles' thing.

“Heyyy, Derek,” Stiles calls, purposefully obnoxious. His voice echoes.

Derek smiles, teeth and all. It's the most ridiculously fake smile Stiles has ever seen. It's like he's not even trying.

“Stiles,” he greets. “Shouldn't you be with the others?”

He tilts his head and smiles with no small degree of bitchiness. “Aw, sweet of you to care. But I don't start until ten. Just wanted to talk to Allison about something.”

Derek shifts his gaze to look at his partner, who is resolutely ignoring both of the boys.

“I can see that,” is the dry reply.

Stiles blinks longer than necessary in an attempt to quell his anger. He usually doesn't have such a bad temper, honestly. It's just—Derek Hale digs his way underneath his skin. It's frustrating, because Stiles should just be able to ignore him.

He should. But he can't.

He'd like to shoot back a remark, but drawing attention to Allison reminds him of why he came here in the first place. “So? Can I give you Scott's number?”

She relaxes a little and smiles at him. “Sure,” she replies quietly. She pads off to her dance bag and retrieves her phone.

Stiles follows her and pretends that Derek isn't watching them with mild curiosity. None of your business, dude.

- - - - - - - - - -

A half an hour before their daily class, Stiles meets up with Lydia in one of the spare practice rooms.

“Lydia,” Stiles greets, “what's up?”

She's sitting near the wall, legs out in front of her. She's not stretching, just leaning back on her hands and staring off into space. Today she's got on her black leotard, the one with the skirt, and baby blue legwarmers. It's Stiles' favorite outfit.

“Everything okay?” he asks.

She rolls her head to the side, neck bared as she glances up at him. “Guess what our next production is?”

Stiles double-takes. “Wait, when did you find out what we're doing?”

“It's a rumor.”

At that admission, Stiles relaxes. “Oh. Well—don’t let it bother you, then? What did you hear?”

Her lips curl into a smile. It's not a pleasant one. “Swan Lake.

Okay, Swan Lake isn't that bad. Overdone? Cliché? Sure. But it’s a classic. Beacon Hills goes wild over that shit.

Stiles purses his lips and shrugs. “At least you have a pretty good chance at being the Swan?” he concedes.

“I know that, Stiles,” she snaps. She's upset with the situation, not him. “But Allison fits the role to a T. She's already the perfect Odette. She knows how to play it dark, too, so Odile won't be a challenge. Plus, swans are tall and lanky and graceful—”

“And incredibly beautiful,” he adds, nodding toward her.

She falters, and he thinks he sees her smile just a mite before she frowns again, shaking her head. “I guess we'll see what happens.” After a pause, she says, “You'd be a decent Prince.”

That's pretty high praise coming from Lydia.

“The Prince is pretty batshit throughout the entire show. Maybe Derek is better suited for this one.”

They both snicker; after, Lydia lifts herself up and twirls onto the floor. She stretches out her hand and Stiles takes it with all of the natural fluidity in the world.

- - - - - - - - - -

It's a week later when Lydia slams the door open and throws her dance bag onto the ground. Stiles startles; he'd been mid-passé until she barged in. He's currently on the floor.

Lydia rips off her street shoes and changes into her slippers. Words are knocking behind her lips, he's sure of it. But she likes to be prompted, so Stiles picks himself off of the ground.

“What happened?”

“It hasn't been confirmed,” she starts, and Stiles remembers their conversation the other day about Swan Lake, “but Peter Hale's directing.”

Stiles waits for her to continue. Apparently, that's the big news. “Okay...?”

Peter's their lead. It only makes sense that he'd be in charge of one of the biggest productions of the year. Though, Stiles can see why Lydia's a little concerned. Peter's creepy. He’s actually pretty terrifying, too. He doesn’t bullshit around and he always finds a way to get what he wants.

Plus, it's hard to ignore that he's related to Derek. There’s been speculation of favoritism.

Lydia's expression suggests that Stiles is dense. “He's been waiting for years to do Swan Lake. He wants to do a version where all of the swans are males.”

“What?”

She nods, pleased that he finally seems to understand her dismay.

“Is that... Can you even do that? Has that ever been done before?”

Yes, Stiles. It’s already been choreographed; apparently, he studied alongside the guy that did it first and they’ve been long-distance friends ever since. I’ve seen a part of it before. It’s… different. The few women that are in the show aren’t on pointe.”

He raises his eyebrows. “So the Swan is a guy?”

He’s ignored. “Heels! If I get casted, I’ll have to dance in heels. Contemporary dance. I haven’t done that in years.”

Shaking his head, he says, “It’s not like you won’t ace it, come on.” Then, he muses, “Wait, so I have a chance at being cast as the Swan, right? That’s awesome!”

“If that’s what you want to call it.”

“Well, yeah. I mean, come on, there’s always a male lead, but how much attention does he usually get? Not a whole lot if there’s a female partnered with him.” Lydia narrows her eyes at him, slightly baffled. “Especially if that female’s you!”

“You’re excited about this, aren’t you?” she accuses.

He shrugs, helpless. He won't lie.

“What if Derek is cast as the Swan?”

He frowns. “No way. Swans are graceful and lanky and everything Derek isn’t. I’ve totally got this one.”

- - - - - - - - - -

“I don’t get it,” admits Stiles. “No, seriously. Why is Derek the Swan? Last time I checked, swans aren’t grumpy assholes.”

“Swans are fierce. Angry. Strong.” Peter’s eyes flicker along the length of Stiles’ body as if to prove a point. Stiles is caught between feeling offense and discomfort. “Derek fits the role.”

His tone doesn’t invite any arguments, so Stiles resigns himself to momentary silence. He switches his gaze to Derek, who seems genuinely shocked by the results of the auditions. It looks real enough that Stiles has to consider that the whole thing hadn’t been rigged after all.

“Good job, Derek,” Allison murmurs, giving his shoulder a squeeze. The touch appears to snap Derek out of his reverie, and he nods back at her.

Lydia is still discontent with the variation of the production regardless, but a light smirk graces her lips upon discovering she’d been cast as the Queen.

Stiles will try his best to reign in the bitter immaturity, but he just doesn’t understand why some directors value type-casting over skill level. Fitting the part is meaningless without the talent to back it up. Derek’s going to embarrass himself.

He situates himself next to Lydia and she gently bumps against him. At least they’ll suffer together.

“Now,” Peter begins, looking far too delighted, “I’m sure you’re all curious about this version of Swan Lake. This company performs the original—what, every four years? Beacon Hills is a small town. It’s time for a change. There’s nothing wrong with spicing things up.”

“Why fix it if it isn’t broken?”

His eyes narrow at Lydia but the upturn of his lips doesn’t falter. She glares back, unflinching.

“There’s always room for improvement.” And the deliberate way he says it gives off an implication that has Stiles straightening his posture, ready to defend Lydia at all cost. Before he can speak, however, Peter’s continuing his tirade. “As I was telling Stiles, swans are poorly portrayed in the original Swan Lake. They’re far more aggressive. It was only a matter of time before someone considered a retelling of the story with men as the swans.”

Allison rolls her eyes, obviously dissatisfied with the misogynistic implications of what Peter’s saying.

He launches, then, into a narrative of the plot.

“It begins with the Swan, played by Derek. The audience is immediately shown that the Swan is far from a peaceful creature—it plagues our young prince's nightmares with harsh movements, illuminated by low lighting. The Swan disappears with a flourish and the boy wakes up. In the same scene, there’s a bridge into reality. A plethora of synchronized contemporary dancers join the scene. They’re prim, proper folk that work for the royal family. The little prince slouches on his bed.”

As the one who plays the Prince, Stiles wonders who Peter has in mind for his younger self. He doesn’t ask, though, grudgingly reeled in.

“Later, when Stiles assumes the role, the Prince is still not attuned to the royal status quo. Most of his choreography mimics the Queen, his mother—Lydia. However, while her movements are graceful and fluid, he delivers his own rendition with great difficulty.” Peter watches Stiles, anticipating another remark about how Derek’s inadequacy would work perfectly here. Stiles bites it back. “It’s also clear that she’s indifferent to her son. The Prince may be treasured, but he is not loved.”

Peter’s being melodramatic. He lives for this shit.

“There’s a party scene that introduces a new character who later becomes the Prince's girlfriend. Allison, that’s you. While the other guests are donned in black dresses and suits, she wears a bright, low-cut dress. Everything about her should broadcast ‘flirty’—and not one minute after she struts on stage, she vies for the Prince's attention. A short while later, she and the Prince share a dance after the others have left. Finally, we see the Prince enjoy himself; his movements are playful and expressive.”

Allison and Lydia have retrieved their notepads from their purses, scribbling down notes on their characters. Stiles absently taps his fingers on his knees, keeping all of the information stored internally.

“When the Queen discovers the relationship between her son and his new lady friend, they embark on a journey to the theater to see a parody of a ballet. The Girlfriend and the Queen's personality differences are heavily highlighted in this scene. Put simply,” he drawls, holding out his hands, “the date ends disastrously. The Prince, unsatisfied with his life and the lack of acceptance from his mother, ends up sitting in his room, shrouded in darkness. He has a bottle of pills in front of him and mulls over his decision to take them while he sits on the floor in front of a mirror, head hung low.”

Stiles almost laughs when he notices that the others are leaning forward, caught up in Peter’s storytelling skills. He has to admit that he’s pretty invested, too. This is him, after all. It sounds like the Prince is a pretty tragic character and gets a lot more attention in this variation of the tale.

“His mother enters. The Prince doesn’t notice her until she taps him on the shoulder. He attempts to hide the evidence of his unhappiness, but, of course—it’s futile. What follows is a heartbreaking dance between the mother and son. The prince clings onto her in various ways but, each time, she pushes him away. His need for physical affection is abundantly clear. Eventually she leaves him, desperate and alone.

Later, the prince decides that his life is not worth living. He heads down to the lake and writes a suicide note. Before he can fall into the lake, however, the swans appear.”

Derek perks up, shifting.

“They’re slightly aggressive at first, pushing him away from the water. The dance evolves into something more graceful, however, and the Prince is inspired by the collective beauty. Occasionally, he imitates their steps, albeit sloppily. The music changes from slow and mild to fast and uplifting, until it takes an intense dive when it appears that all of the swans, sans the lead, are surrounding the prince with devious intent. Derek, our lead swan, appears with an air of authority, ceases the dance and starts another. With respect for their leader, the swans appear to humor him as he teaches the Prince how to act like a swan: a powerful, revered, masculine, and wild creature.”

Stiles snorts, breaking the dramatic tension. Everyone glances at him, eyes sharp, and he holds up his hands in defense. “Go ahead. Please, continue.”

Peter rolls his eyes and looks disgustingly like his nephew.

Anyway, the next scene is the infamous ballroom scene. It introduces the Black Swan. He flirts with the women, especially the Queen, and ignores the Prince, who boils with envy. He breaks them apart with a quick, angry gesture, but it fades into something tender as he attempts to reach the swan's gentler side.” He smirks and holds up the scripts. “The events that follow lead to the bittersweet ending, but I’ll let you read it yourselves.”

He waits for a reaction, but the dancers are focused on the papers that have been placed into their hands.

“I’ll email the link to the production. Matthew Bourne’s interpretation is on YouTube.” He claps his hands together, eyes twinkling. “Now, head to your classes. We start tomorrow, bright and early.”

- - - - - - - - - -

After a week of rehearsal, Stiles is convinced that there’s no way this production’s going to end in anything other than misery.

“Wow, look who finally showed up,” he remarks, sprawled out on the ground. Lydia and Allison are on either side of him; Lydia's doing a few light stretches and Allison's texting someone on her phone. Stiles is pretty sure that that someone is Scott.

The ladies have been perfectly civil with one another, which is the complete opposite of what Stiles expected. Objectively, they're approaching the situation a bit more maturely than Derek and himself.

Derek sneers at him. “I'm barely two minutes late.”

“Two minutes too late,” Stiles returns with a shit-eating grin.

Unfortunately, Derek doesn't seem to be in the mood for bantering today. His shoulders are tense and his jaw is tight; if Stiles didn't know any better, he'd say Derek was upset. But Derek's always broody. Today's just a different flavor of manpain. No big deal.

“Careful dancing with that stick up your ass,” he mutters loud enough for the other to hear.

Derek scowls, and if Stiles were a lesser man, he would have withered underneath the heat of that gaze.

Instead, he sits up. Upon glancing to the side, he finds that, yes, Allison is texting Scott. He thinks he spies a smiley face and mentally high-fives his best friend.

Abruptly, Peter enters, looking oddly disheveled. He sighs, which captures Allison’s attention.

She’s had a lot of experience with Peter, so she must be more apt at deciphering his moods—but she’s not giving anything away, her face blank aside from the confused dip of her lips. Then, her mouth drops open and she ducks her head as she pulls up the calendar on her phone, fingers working quickly.

Stiles watches her with a raised eyebrow. “You okay over there?”

She glances up and smiles halfheartedly. “I'm fine. But I'm not the one—”

Peter interrupts with, “Everyone to the center.”

Allison purses her lips into a half-smile, her eyes apologetic. He resolves to ask during one of their breaks.

- - - - - - - - - -

“Jesus Christ,” Stiles moans, thumping his back against the wall next to the water fountain. “What the hell is with the Hales today?”

Lydia refills her water bottle, Allison standing next to her. “Um,” Allison says as she re-ties her bun, “they have an excuse for it.”

“What, they burnt their toast before rehearsal? Come on, bad days aren't supposed to affect our dancing. I learned that, like, before I could plié."

She looks uncomfortable. “Not their toast."

“What?”

She bites her lip. “Look, this isn't really for me to tell, but...” She shakes her head, frustrated. “This happened last year, too. I'm surprised Derek's even here today. I mean, it's been ten years.”

“Wait, wait. What does this have to do with toast?”

Lydia sighs, loud and exasperated. “It wasn't their toast that was burnt,” she says. “It was their home. Ten years ago.”

Allison looks vaguely scandalized when she turns to look at Lydia. “How do you know about that?”

“That doesn't matter, does it?” Her sharp gaze settles on Stiles. “That's why Peter looks like he's about to break down into tears and Derek's dancing is worse than usual.”

Stiles doesn't like Derek, sure, but he wouldn’t go so far as to call Derek’s dancing bad, even if he isn't as advanced as the rest of them.

Still, it's not unlike Lydia to say exactly what’s on her mind, and Stiles can’t help but silently agree. Derek’s been noticeably off all morning. He watches her petite form retreat until Allison invades his line of sight.

“I know you two don't get along,” she starts, and Stiles holds a hand up to stop her.

“Look. I get it,” he says lightly, casually. “No need for the be nice lecture. Derek's a prick, but I'm not that much of an asshole. Ask Scott.”

She grins, raising her eyebrows playfully. “I have. So far there’s been mixed feedback.”

Her giggle is endearing and he finds himself laughing along until Derek pads out of the rehearsal room and toward the water fountain. The noise dies stiltedly. Derek doesn't say “excuse me” when he lightly shoves past Stiles, which would normally give him a legitimate reason to initiate a verbal duel.

Sadly, though, Stiles can’t bring himself to say anything. Having a conscious blows.

He sort of claps Derek on the shoulder, which makes the latter startle—and it's a weird moment because Stiles can't think of anything to offer. “Hey, so we were just gossiping about you, and I found out your house set on fire a while back! That sucks. If it makes you feel any better, my mom died ten years ago, too.”

Not likely.

Derek appears to be more confused than pissed. Stiles would smile if they were friends, but they're not, so he drops his hand and walks away.

- - - - - - - - - -

Later that night, Stiles is glued to his laptop when Scott comes home from his late lab. He only looks up because he hears the rustle of a few plastic bags.

“What'd you get?”

“Few things,” Scott grunts before he slips his backpack off onto the chair by the kitchen table.

“What's up?”

“Uhh,” Stiles says, which instantly has Scott materializing behind his shoulder to peer at the screen. He doesn't bother pretending he was doing something else. It's not like it's anything embarrassing, per se, but he’s not exactly sure how to explain himself.

The Hale House Fire?” Scott reads. Below the black bold print is an article, and next to that, a picture of the charred remains.

Stiles frowns at the screen. “It wasn't just an electrical malfunction, dude. I remember Dad telling me that when I was younger. Turns out it was arson.”

Scott squints. “Wait, Hale as in Derek Hale?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

He ignores his friend in favor of reading the second half of the article. He tenses up when he gets to the line “… seven deaths are recorded …” and blurts out, “Oh my god, I am an asshole.”

“What?”

“That's why they were so upset today. Man, I thought it was just their house—I didn't know anyone had actually died.”

Scott shifts his weight onto his other foot. “Wait, start over. What happened?”

“Derek and Peter were more insufferable than usual today. Allison told me that it’s the ten-year anniversary of their old house’s fire.”

“Oh,” is all he says. Yeah, oh.

Later, when Stiles is icing his feet and ankles in the bathtub, he imagines what it would be like to grow up without both parents. Fortunately, Stiles still has his dad. Derek lost seven family members. He imagines his own pain multiplied by seven, and thinks that maybe Derek might have an explanation for acting like such a jerk all of the time.

His stomach feels like it’s in knots. Reading that article—working closely with the men it had affected—

Derek and Peter have each other, at least. The article also mentioned two other relatives that made it out alive. Stiles finds himself feeling grateful that they aren’t completely alone.

- - - - - - - - - -

Nobody brings it up the next day. Derek’s in one of his classes and Peter still looks a little rough around the edges, but he’s ready to work. The rehearsal of the Queen, the Prince, and the Girlfriend attending the pseudo-ballet goes well.

There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. They don’t have to dance, but they do have to act. Allison’s role as the exuberant girlfriend is so amusing, Peter has to call cut one too many times because Lydia keeps snorting laughter into her hands when she should be glaring with disapproval, but he’s satisfied with the performance nonetheless.

When they’re dismissed, Stiles finds himself wandering the halls and situating himself against the doorway to Derek’s class. Mrs. Morrell is bent beneath him, adjusting the angle of his foot.

She stands with a pleased smirk on her lips, pride evident. She’s been Derek’s instructor for years; she’s responsible for his rapid growth, so to speak.

“Good,” she murmurs. Derek preens, tilting his chin up to elongate his neck into a graceful line.

Mrs. Morrell strolls along the length of the current barre, analyzing her students’ movements. Occasionally, she’ll stop and advise, nod with approval, or do a demonstration of her own. The current variation ends with the dancers in fifth; Stiles notices that Derek’s turnout is far from impressive.

Stiles waits for the next track to begin, and when it doesn’t, he realizes that their class is ending. Mrs. Morrell stands between a row of barres and bids them adieu. While he’s here, he waits for Derek.

“Hey,” he says, and Derek gives him an odd look, like he’s not sure why Stiles is talking to him. “We’re doing the Swan and Prince’s first scene tomorrow.”

Derek grimaces. Yeah, me too, buddy.

“Okay.”

“Okay,” Stiles parrots back, and when Derek doesn’t have anything else to add, Stiles rolls his eyes and turns away, saluting his partner offhandedly. “Tomorrow, then.”

- - - - - - - - - -

No matter how much Stiles loves ballet, there will always be one of those days. Where he’s trapped beneath the sleep-warmed cocoon of blankets he’d built around himself throughout the night.

Today is that day.

Stiles stares at his ceiling and attempts to formulate a list of several excuses as to why he shouldn't go in. There are so many cons and so little pros.

He has such conflicted feelings about today’s rehearsal schedule. Like he told Derek, they’re supposed to tackle one of the major scenes between the Swan and the Prince. Stiles gets to do a lot of dancing, for which he’s absolutely pumped. He’s just… not looking forward to one-on-one time with Derek—and that's a totally legitimate reason to call in sick.

But he doubts Peter will be too happy if he insists he's allergic to his nephew.

After about ten minutes of stalling, Stiles lets out a groan. He's so tired, too. His eyes don't want to stay open; he blinks heavily and rubs his eyes with desperate hope that it'll wake him up. He didn't even stay up that late. There had been a bit of browsing on the internet before he hit the sack around 11:30. Maybe this is a sign from his body. Maybe he should just stay home.

As much as he’d love to, he can’t. He’s duty-bound, so to speak.

He tries once again to smear away the prickliness from his eyes, which still doesn’t aid in waking himself up, and kicks away the covers. The flat is deadly silent, Scott having already left for class. He allows himself to lie in bed a little longer, until he feels his eyelids getting heavy. Heaving a long-suffering sigh, he rolls off the mattress and onto his feet.

If Derek was a more pleasant guy, this would actually be kind of exciting. If he wasn’t expecting Peter to fawn over Derek and ignore Stiles, he’d be a little more enthusiastic about going in. He can’t find it in himself to anticipate anything positive about today. He doesn’t even get to see Lydia or Allison—just the Hales. God help him.

- - - - - - - - - -

“Oh, wow. I was expecting him to show, like, supreme favoritism toward you, but boy was I wrong.”

“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek mutters. He spins into Stiles’ hold and tensely rides out the minor lift until he’s safely on the ground. The song ends a few seconds later.

Peter sighs. “Derek, you’re too stiff. Stiles won’t drop you.”

Stiles lets out a triumphant noise.

You too, Stiles. He’s perfectly capable of holding your weight when you lean on him.” Then, he raises a lazy eyebrow at the both of them. “I don’t need to have the two of you do trust exercises, do I?”

“No,” they say together.

“Actually, that’s a great idea. Both of you—over here.”

Reluctantly, they trudge over to Peter. Stiles and Derek shoot each other equally venomous glares at the same time.

“Stop that,” Peter tuts. “You’re acting like children. Put aside your personal reservations or you’ll look like wind-up toys on stage. They’ll laugh at all three of us, you know. I won’t be held accountable for your immaturity.”

“But you’ll gladly take responsibility for our success,” Stiles mutters, and Derek’s eyebrows lift up in evident surprise. His lips twitch, too, and Stiles gathers that maybe Derek had been thinking something along the same lines.

Clearly not amused, Peter’s aura darkens. “Will I? For that to happen, you’d actually need to be successful. Derek, open your arms. Stiles, fall.”

Of course Stiles has to go first. That’s what he gets for sassing the director, he supposes.

He faces away from the Hales, but he can’t help glancing back at Derek to see his arms held open obediently. He heaves a breath, loosening his limbs, and falls. Derek catches him, keeps him steady, and slowly raises him back up onto his feet.

“Good. Again. Don’t look back and close your eyes.”

Stiles bites back the sir, yes sir and does as he’s told. He hesitates between closing his eyes and falling, however, and figures that that might be a problem. Still, he finds himself securely laid between Derek’s arms.

“Keep going. Increase the length of the fall each time. After five, switch.”

Peter ventures away from them, pulling the barres from the side of the room into the center. Derek and Stiles shoot each other skeptical glances, but forgo asking in favor of doing what they’re supposed to. When Stiles is finished with his round of falls, he switches with Derek.

Only—Derek doesn’t fall.

“Hey,” Stiles urges.

“Yeah.”

Stiles lifts his eyebrows, expectant. He waits another ten seconds before he tries again. “Yeah? C’mon, big guy. I won’t drop you.” He won’t. Derek seems reluctant still, but he tips back, and sure enough, he’s caught. Stiles feels Derek’s sigh of relief more than he hears it, and when he pushes him back up onto his feet, they try again and again until Derek doesn’t pause before he falls.

“Next,” Peter calls, mid-drop, “I want you to stare into each other’s eyes for sixty seconds.”

They wait for the punchline.

“I’m serious. Now.”

Stiles shifts his gaze to meet Derek’s. They’ve shared eye contact before, of course, but this is… different, obviously. It’s disgustingly uncomfortable. Derek’s deadly still and Stiles can’t help but fidget.

Derek is the one to break away after a grand total of fifteen seconds.

“Why are we doing this?” Stiles complains, loudly.

“To stress the importance of eye contact.”

“Ugh,” he mutters under his breath. “Whatever. Let’s try again, c’mon.”

It takes a moment, but Derek drags his eyes back to Stiles’, and there’s a surprising amount of resolve strengthening his features. Alright, Stiles can work with this. He nods minutely and straightens his posture.

The minute feels long, too long, and Derek looks away when Stiles’ inner voice reaches sixty.

“Now what?” he asks, afraid to hear the answer.

“Do it again, but touch.”

Derek frowns. Stiles watches his mouth and mirrors the movement. “Like—what, hold hands? Hug?”

“Hands should be fine,” Peter replies, voice even. He’s serious. This is a legitimate exercise, and he seems to have full faith in it.

Surprisingly, Derek’s the one to scoop up both of Stiles’ hands. Of course, the duration of the play is shrouded with intimacy; the Prince and the Swan caress and hold each other at multiple points in the choreography. After a beat, they repeat the last exercise, soldiering through another sixty seconds of staring.

Please tell me that was the last one.”

“If you keep throwing a fit, Stiles, you’re welcome to go home.” There’s a steely edge to his words, and Derek and Stiles exchange a look of resignation. “Proximity. Stand apart, move closer, move away. Analyze how you feel at different distances, and adapt.”

For a moment, Derek almost looks apologetic. Stiles shrugs, and while their hands are still linked, he moves closer, pressing them between their chests.

He hopes that they’re not meant to maintain eye contact during this exercise, because Derek’s staring stubbornly at the wall. “Relax, man,” Stiles murmurs, and Derek’s neck flushes red with either irritation or embarrassment. Stiles isn’t sure which. “Look at me.” He does. Stiles praises him with a bump of their hands against his chest.

Curiously, he retracts his hands and raises them to Derek’s face, instead. The downward pull of Derek’s lips is immediate.

“What are you doing?”

“I’ve gotta do this during, like, three scenes. At least. Might as well get comfortable with it.” He traces his thumbs over Derek’s cheekbones, jaw, nose, and forehead. Derek closes his eyes, so Stiles leans against him, pressing their foreheads together. They do this once, if he remembers correctly, and it’s arguably the most intimate scene in the production.

Peter’s in front of them, suddenly, with a piece of cloth he managed to procure from god only knows where. “Tie this around Derek’s head. Be sure to cover his eyes.”

“This is suddenly a lot kinkier than it was ten seconds ago.”

Stiles.

“On it.”

Blindfolding Derek hadn’t been on his agenda for the day, but here he is, tying a knot at the back of Derek’s head. Peter takes his sweet time with explaining his intentions, and when he finally does, his nephew tenses instead of relaxes.

Stiles’ gaze rakes over the haphazard alignment of the barres, holding onto Derek’s wrist.

“If I trip—”

“You won’t,” Stiles promises.

Derek exhales slowly through his nose, shoulders stiff. He nods his assent, and Stiles begins to weave them through the barre maze. Stiles usually reserves his grace for dance, but this is important (according to Peter), so he concentrates. He’s careful not to lead Derek into a barre, or trip him, or trap them into a corner. It’s not difficult. They emerge from the other side, and Derek’s ripping off the blindfold before Stiles can reach for it.

“And what have we learned?” Peter asks, looking pleased.

Stiles raises his eyebrows and Derek crosses his arms. Neither of them says a word.

“One would think this is a professional company,” Peter mutters, a hand pressed into his forehead.

- - - - - - - - - -

There’s a comfy armchair next to the window with Stiles’ name written all over it.

It’s almost surprising how it isn’t occupied—somebody must have recently gotten up and left. This Starbucks is always packed. Even now, the line stretches to the door. Everyone’s crammed against each other because nobody wants to stand outside in the snow, and sacrifices are willingly made for overpriced, holiday-themed beverages.

Stiles’ cheeks are splotched red and his beanie is pulled down past his eyebrows; he waits less than a minute after he’s settled into the chair to sip his hot chocolate, burned tongue be damned. Warmth floods his core and he lets out a contented sigh before he notices a woman a few feet away from him, peering at him strangely.

She realizes she’s been noticed, but she doesn’t look embarrassed. In fact, an expression of recognition flickers across her features.

“Hi,” she says.

“Hi,” is Stiles’ brilliant response.

“Are you Stiles Stilinski?”

“Uh, yeah.”

Her smile widens. “I thought so. I really enjoy your performances. I could probably say I've been to all of them, in fact.”

“Oh,” he says. It isn’t often that Stiles is recognized because of his profession—or because of anything, really. He isn’t sure how to approach the situation. “You’re a big fan of ballet, then?”

She laughs like she knows something he doesn’t. “Well, I don’t dislike it. I just wouldn’t think to go if it weren’t for my little brother. I remember one night—last year, I think—he wanted to see a show in the middle of a snowstorm.” She sits down across from him, perched on a significantly less comfortable chair with her legs crossed at the ankles. “I told him that staying home was the cost of staying safe, but he didn’t stop pitching a fit.”

Stiles’ eyes crease with amusement. “And you eventually gave in?”

She spreads her arms out, shrugs, and lets her hands drop back into her lap. “I had to! We were nearly late, thanks to the god-awful roads, but we made it before the curtain rose.”

Her little brother must be a pretty big fan, even though he sounds like some ten year-old brat.

“My name’s Laura, by the way.” She leans forward, stretching out her hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, nice to meet you too.”

“So, got any upcoming performances?” she asks.

As usual, whenever he thinks about Swan Lake, he adopts a sour expression.

Laura laughs. “Wow, what’s that face?”

“That’s my ‘yeah, unfortunately I do’ face. We’re doing Swan Lake. Which, don’t get me wrong, isn’t a bad show. It’s a classic.” He shifts so that he’s leaning more toward Laura, forearms resting on his knees. He twirls the cup in his hands. “It’s just—different. The swans are swapped with guys, so I’m not with my usual partner.”

“The strawberry-blonde girl, right?”

“Right,” he says, surprised. “Me and Derek, my current partner, we just… don’t really get along.”

She arches an eyebrow. “Really? You seem pretty personable to me. Like you’d get along with most people.”

“I do! Usually. I’m a great guy. Derek’s just…”

“An asshole?”

“Yeah!”

She laughs delightedly, likely due to his enthusiasm. She bites her lip to keep herself quiet, waiting for Stiles to continue.

“I’ve known him since I was sixteen, and he’s never been a friendly guy. That was almost five years ago—you think he’d warm up to me eventually. He’s got no sense of humor, either.” Flinging an arm out to the side, he adds with indignation, “And recently, he actually made me get him a coffee, like I’m his intern or something.”

“‘Made’ you?”

“Well, the first time he showed up one morning with coffee, I might’ve thrown it out. Bad for the body, y’know?” He smiles sheepishly. “He refused to work with me until I bought him another one.”

Laura props her chin on her hands. “I don’t know. Sounds to me like no one’s trying hard enough to be his friend.”

Stiles furrows his eyebrows. “What? That’s what you got out of that rant?”

She purses her lips before saying, “Well, haven’t you seen his type in novels or movies? The jerk with a heart of gold? Come on, Stiles, it’s one of the greatest archetypes out there.”

He fluctuates between wanting to laugh and looking at her in disbelief. “I don’t know. Derek doesn’t give off that vibe. He just seems like he’d rather be left alone all the time.”

“When has it ever been a good idea to leave someone like that alone?”

Stiles shrugs. “It isn’t. And lucky for him, I don’t. He may get on my nerves, but I get on his. It’s a mutual, nerve-grinding process.” He sips his hot chocolate, and while doing so, catches sight of his watch. “Oh my god.”

“What?”

“Sorry, I just—“ He stands up. “I only meant to sit down for a few minutes. I’ve got rehearsal with Derek in less than five. Oh, man, he’s going to bitch at me for being a hypocrite.” After downing the rest of his drink, he tosses it into the trash. “It was good taking to you, Laura. If you happen to see Swan Lake, maybe you could stop backstage with your little brother. I bet he’d like that.”

She covers her mouth with her hand, stifling a grin. He thinks he hears, “You have no idea.” She joins him by the garbage bin and shakes his hand. “Thanks, Stiles. See you around!”

Stiles books it out of there. Derek’s going to be unbearable.

- - - - - - - - - -

“Is this going to be a problem?”

Oh, yeah. Maximum sassiness, punctuated with his signature bitchface.

“Is what going to be a problem?” He sighs agitatedly, shouldering out of his winter coat—which, by the way, he hadn’t even gotten a chance to slip out of before Derek started his tirade.

“You’re late.”

“Astute observation, Derek. My turn: you’re an asshole.”

Derek narrows his eyes. “What’s your problem?”

You’re my problem! I’m, like, ten minutes late. It’s not like we aren’t making progress.”

He scoffs. “Right. Progress. Is that what you want to call it?”

Both Stiles and Derek jump when they hear a feminine voice interlude with, “Drop the attitude, Derek.”

Stiles assumes that it’s Allison, but it takes a half of a second to register that Allison’s not coming in for another hour. When he looks to the door, the woman from Starbucks nods at him in greeting.

“Laura?” Derek and Stiles exclaim in unison.

“Hi, Stiles.”

“Uh,” he says. “Did you follow me here?” Because as nice as she is, that’s… really creepy.

She laughs. “No.” Then, she looks at Derek. “It’s not Stiles’ fault he’s late. It’s mine. We ran into each other at Starbucks and got caught up in a riveting conversation.” There’s a suspiciously mischievous glint in her eyes. It’s making Stiles a little uncomfortable, and judging by Derek’s rigid posture, he isn’t alone.

“Is anyone else really lost? Or is it just me?”

Stiles is ignored.

“You really should give Stiles a break,” Laura muses. “He’s having a hard enough time dealing with you as a partner.”

Derek sneers.

Clearly, Derek and Laura know each other. He'd place bets on a romantic relationship if it weren’t for Derek’s obvious distaste. Maybe they’re exes.

“I’m a little disappointed that you hadn’t thought to introduce me to Stiles before,” she says. “He’s handsome. Funny, too. Though, considering the gaping black hole where your sense of humor should be, I doubt you appreciate that.”

Derek gives her a flat look. Meanwhile, Stiles observes the blatant harassment and wonders if he should be taking notes.

“Also looks good in tights,” she adds appreciatively. She raises her eyebrows at Stiles and drops her gaze, raking her eyes along the length of his legs. Stiles feels his face flush despite himself.

At the edge of Stiles’ vision, he can see Derek clench his jaw before gritting out, “Is there a reason you’re here? Don’t you have work?”

Laura glares at him. “Don’t be rude, Derek. Anyway,” she says, perking up as she shoves her hands into her coat pockets. “Now that that’s settled, you two can get down to business.”

“Goodbye, Laura,” Derek says pointedly, jerking his head toward the exit.

She lifts up her hands. “Yeah, yeah. I know when I’m not wanted. I’ll see you later. Both of you, hopefully.” After winking at Stiles, she salutes the boys and ducks out the door.

There’s a palpable tension in the room. Stiles slowly turns to Derek. “So…”

“Don’t ask.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Sorry, dude, but I can’t not ask. I’ve had a pretty weird morning.” He crosses his arms. “I didn’t know you two were—” He waves his hand, assuming Derek will mentally fill in the blank. "I mean, we talked about you at Starbucks.” Alarmed, he realizes he ranted to Laura about someone she knows. Wow, he probably came across as a huge tool.

“You talked about me,” Derek says flatly.

“No, shut up, don’t change the subject.”

“What did you talk about?”

“That’s still changing the subject. Are you two friends or something? I can’t really tell.”

Derek sighs slowly through his nose, turning away. He approaches the barre and places both of his hands on it, clutching his hands tightly. He rolls a crick out of his neck. After a long moment, he says, “She’s my sister.”

Everything slams abruptly into place.

“Oh my god.”

Derek faces him. “What?”

“That means you’re—oh my god.”

Stiles’ surprise clearly ruffles Derek’s feathers. He lets go of the barre and turns around. He’s more tense than Stiles has ever seen him, which is seriously saying something. “What did she say? What did she tell you?”

This needs more time to process. “Hey, I need to go to the bathroom. That hot chocolate went right through me.” Before Derek can object, Stiles is halfway through the door. Upon looking back, he catches a glimpse of Derek peevishly grabbing for his bag and pulling out his phone.

Luckily, there’s no one else in the bathroom. He goes as far as opening each one of the stalls, just to be sure. Leaning against the door, he wonders where to even begin. He does the first thing that crosses his mind: he calls Scott.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“So, Derek is Laura’s little brother—the samelittle brother that, apparently, drags Laura to each and every one of my performances.”

“… What?”

“Wait, I should probably explain,” Stiles backtracks. “Alright, I ran into this woman at Starbucks, right? Well, she said she’d seen all of my shows, so I figured she was a pretty big fan of mine, but she told me that her younger brother was the real fan. I thought, okay, whatever, probably just some kid aspiring to get into dance. Nada. I showed up late to rehearsal and Derek was pissed and then Laura showed up to apologize to Derek for making me late. When she left, he told me that she's his sister. That means Derek is a fan. My fan.”

Scott’s still cyphering through this new information, and he’s silent until he says, “Uh… What?”

“Dude!”

“Okay, okay, wait. How is Derek making his sister go to your performances any different than you dragging me to his?”

Oh. Stiles frowns. “It is different, though. We go because I have to verify that I’m still the better dancer.” He’s explained this to Scott plenty of times before. It’s easier to understand if you’re in the business.

“You are the better dancer. Everyone knows that.” Stiles’ chest explodes with warmth for his best bro, pride brimming at the surface of his skin. “Why do you go to more than one show, though? Like last time—you said you went the night before, too. And, besides, what makes you think Derek isn’t doing the same thing?”

“Man, I don’t know. Laura just made it sound like Derek’s my number one fan. Which seriously doesn’t make any sense, but whatever.”

Scott hesitates before he says, “It's probably not the best time to mention this, but you… I don’t know. You’ve always seemed kind of obsessed with Derek?”

That startles a laugh out of him. “What?”

“You always brought him up at least once a day. And ever since you two were casted as partners, it got worse.” Sounding amused, he adds, “I didn’t think it could get worse.”

“Dude—”

“I’m serious. I know you don’t like him, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care about him or whatever. Derek probably feels the same way. From what it sounds like, you two are more alike than you think.”

Stiles doesn’t know whether or not he should feel offended. “I gotta go. Later.”

After hanging up, he approaches the sink and splashes water on his face before drying it off with a paper towel. He still doesn’t understand what he’s just learned, and even if Scott ended up being more of an irritant than a help, he feels a little bit better knowing that he isn’t alone in obsessively attending his colleagues’ performances.

He heads back to the rehearsal room, but because he’s nosey, he stealthily approaches the doorway when he hears the faint sound of a conversation. He sticks himself to the wall.

“No, Laura, he doesn’t. Yes, I’m sure.” Derek releases a noise of distress and lowers his voice. “Stop avoiding the topic. What else did you say? … That’s it?” There’s a pause, and Derek sounds resigned, and maybe a little sad. “You can’t do something like that again. You’re lucky I—”

Stiles peeks past the doorframe and spots Derek’s face flush profusely at something said on the other end of the line.

“I’m working on it,” he promises, and even to Stiles, who still isn’t quite sure what’s going on, it sounds like a flimsy proclamation. He doesn’t believe it, it’s almost guaranteed that Laura doesn’t, and even Derek seems unsure of himself.

Suddenly, Derek glances at the mirror and spots Stiles. Shit.

He bares his teeth and says, “I have to go,” and then slides his phone into his bag. Stiles is already putting his own away and exchanging it for his ballet slippers when Derek snipes, “Eavesdrop often?”

Stiles rolls his eyes, playing it cool. After slipping on his shoes, he bounds toward Derek and grabs his wrist, pulling him toward the center of the floor. “I didn’t hear anything,” he lies. “Come on, let’s dance. Time is money!”

- - - - - - - - - -

“Clearly, I made a mistake,” Peter remarks, watching Stiles and Derek pick themselves up off of the ground.

“Or maybe your precious trust exercises weren’t as effective as you thought they were,” Stiles retorts, frustrated. Derek’s being difficult today; they’ve botched every single one of their lifts. It’s not Stiles’ fault, he’s sure, because he knows how to lift another dancer.

Peter’s lips twitch into a tight frown before smoothing into a smile that makes Stiles feel uneasy. “Run it again.”

One of these days, Stiles’ lack of brain-to-mouth filter is going to get him fired. He’s half-afraid that today’s going to be that day, but he’s fairly confident that Peter really wants Stiles and Derek to keep their roles. Isaac and Danny are good, but they’re understudies for a reason.

When Derek slips out of Stiles’ hands and they trip over each other’s legs, Peter walks toward the door.

“Where are you going?” Derek demands, sounding panicked. Fuck.

“Home. I’ll accomplish about as much progress on the production there as I will here. Which is to say, none at all.”

Stiles and Derek exchanged wide-eyed looks and, in tandem, rush over to Peter.

“Hold on,” Stiles begs, overlapping with Derek’s, “Uncle Peter—”

He rounds on them, stepping close, gaze narrowed and sharp. “You two will perfect this scene, and it’ll be on your own time—or you’re out. Do you understand?”

Whether it’s a bluff or a genuine threat, Stiles and Derek take it to heart. They nod. Peter strolls out the door, laughing with lofty disbelief.

They glance at one another resignedly, mulling over their options. Finally, Derek says, "I have a key we can use to get in later tonight, if you want to stop at home and get something to eat."

Stiles isn't exactly hungry, but he's more than willing to spend some time away from the other before they spend an inevitably long period of time attempting to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Maybe he's being dramatic, but he hasn't had this many complications since he was an apprentice.

"Works for me." Without further ado, he changes shoes and grabs for his coat, pulling Scott's number up on his phone to bitch.

- - - - - - - - - -

When Stiles opens the backdoor to the studio, the lights are already on, which means Derek must have arrived before him. He wrinkles his nose and stops to fill up his water bottle before venturing past the doorway.

Derek is mid-jump. When he lands, he doesn’t seem to notice Stiles; his eyes are closed. Stiles is familiar with the process of feeling his movements and memorizing them without watching himself in the mirror. Derek jumps again, and this time when he lands, one foot slides behind him and he uses the momentum to push himself into a spin. The movement is clean, as is the leap that follows. He ends the short arrangement of moves with a fierce stance that Stiles recognizes immediately.

This is when the Swan and the Prince match gazes, and when Derek opens his eyes, that’s exactly what happens.

Stiles can tell that Derek is still in-character. His eyes are narrowed and his head is tilted, slightly bird-like. After a moment, Derek rolls his neck and everything reverts back to normal. He frowns, turning away without a word and fiddling with the CD player until the next song plays.

Derek starts to dance again, and it takes a few steps until Stiles recognizes the choreography.

“Oh—hold on, I need to—”

He stops, huffs, and rummages through his bag until he finds his slippers. He toes off his street shoes and hurries to slip the others on; as soon as he does, he meets Derek on the dance floor, swiveling around him and shifting into character. He falls onto his knees, facing away from Derek.

Not even a hello, then. Fine, Stiles can work with that. In fact, he has worked with that before. His partner’s Lydia Martin. He’s acclimatized to the cold shoulder.

Derek approaches him and leans forward, the weight of his hip present against Stiles’ shoulders. Stiles relaxes against the support, and at that same moment, Derek jumps away—his cue to stand up. He follows Derek’s lead, copying his movements, and when Derek spins and lifts up a leg, posture straight, Stiles wraps an arm around his waist and one hand under his knee. Derek breaks away and crouches into a defensive posture, arms behind him, and Stiles marvels for a moment. He has to admit that Derek can act really well. All of his body language encompasses the essence of a swan. A very petulant and angry swan, but a swan nonetheless.

Derek swoops forward and jumps away. Stiles frowns, because they always mess up here. It isn’t that Stiles can’t lift Derek, because he can. He’s lifted heavier in the past. But Derek seems to think that he’s as light as Lydia or Allison.

When Stiles grips Derek’s waist, just under his ribs, he can already feel that Derek isn’t pulling up his own weight. Stiles tries his best by holding him as tight as he can, but by the time Derek is above him and artfully swinging his legs, Stiles is knocked off balance.

“Damn it,” he gasps, falling down to the ground. Derek lands bodily on top of him, luckily avoiding Stiles vital limbs. He still groans. It might be a little over-exaggerated.

“You held on too tightly,” Derek snaps, rolling off of Stiles.

Stiles would usually play the blame game, because, seriously: this was Derek’s fault. But Derek looks so hilariously offended; Stiles doesn’t think Derek realizes that his mouth is almost contorted into what looks like a pout.

So he laughs, a little meanly. “Aw, do your ribs hurt, Odette?”

Derek’s nostrils flare. “No, but they might if you keep doing that.”

“Okay, I’ll ease up.”

“Don’t call me that.”

Sure. Derek’s more of an Odile, anyway.

Stiles stands up and pads over to the CD player, dutifully ignoring Derek’s dirty look. He restarts the song and they slip back into character. Once again, everything flows smoothly until the lift.

He feels the same sense of foreboding and his instincts are, once again, correct—Derek slips out of his grip this time because he barely makes it off the ground.

Derek spreads out his arms, looking at Stiles expectedly.

“What?”

“What was that?”

“That was me being mindful of your fragile body. Considerate, I know.”

“You barely held on.”

“Derek!” exclaims Stiles, exasperated. “That’s how I’m supposed to do it. It shouldn’t take much for me to lift you. But I can’t do it if you don’t help.”

Derek doesn’t say anything. He crosses his arms, frowning.

“Oh my god,” says Stiles. “Get over here.”

It looks like Derek is physically biting back the words “make me”, but he relents nonetheless, following Stiles to the barre.

“Get in fifth and hold on with your left hand.”

It’s exceedingly obvious how much Derek doesn’t like to be ordered around, especially by Stiles. Still, he gets into position. Stiles examines him; his alignment is perfect, at least, and his turnout is marginally better than what he had witnessed during Morrell’s class.

“Now do a few tendus.”

Derek obeys, wordlessly doing as told. Stiles notices several things at once.

“Whoa. Dude, relax,” he says.

Derek glances peevishly at him. His shoulders are tense, so they’re higher than they should be. Stiles steps behind him and massages gently below his neck. He figures that Derek isn’t a fan of being examined so closely by someone who isn’t an instructor.

Once Derek relaxes, Stiles says, “Alright. Okay, those were actually pretty great.” He slides his hands down to Derek’s waist, the same hold he deploys during a lift. “Do a few more.”

After a moment of hesitation, Derek does so; his weight leaves his core and pulls up into his ribcage, so his leg can extend and effortlessly glide instead of drag along the floor, which—

“Perfect! Okay, just—did you feel the difference? Relax,” he tells him again, “and do another. Hold it.” He grips Derek’s waist a little bit to gather his attention to that spot. “See how you’re sucking in like that? It’s so you’re a little taller—so it’s easier to move your leg.”

“I know that,” Derek huffs.

“Yeah, but you’ve never been lifted before. Most guys haven’t. Dude, what you’re doing now? You have to do the same thing when I pick you up; otherwise I won’t be able to, plain and simple. It doesn’t seem like it’ll make a huge difference, but it really will.”

Derek breaks away, nodding stiffly.

Stiles presses his lips together, hoping they made some sort of progress, and restarts the song yet again.

As they say, third time’s the charm. Miraculously, when Stiles lifts Derek up, it’s five times easier than the last two attempts. The movement is shockingly smooth.

When Derek lands, Stiles beams at him, but he’s already branching into the next set of moves.

Stiles loves this sequence. They each have the same moves, a few jumps and twirls. After, Stiles picks Derek up again, this time with an arm around his waist. He’s expecting it to be a colossal disaster because that’s his life, but thanks to Derek getting his shit together, they manage to pull it off.

He grabs the back of Derek’s neck. This is clearly one of Derek’s least favorite parts, because he always gets that pissed off, pinched expression, consequently breaking character. On cue, he rolls his shoulder and turns his head and body, causing Stiles’ hand to slide to his forehead. When Derek grips his arms, it falls even further, trailing gently down Derek’s face.

It’s one of the more uncomfortable moments they share in the entirety of this scene, due to their general proximity, but it certainly isn’t the worst. They’ve done it so many times that by now it just feels routine.

A few steps later, Derek is back in his swan stance—the same one that wows Stiles every time. He glides forward and nuzzles Stiles’ chest. It should be awkward, but it’s acting; as the Prince, he revels in the physical comfort right before he’s spun around by the Swan, who now stands behind him.

Derek drapes an arm over Stiles’ shoulder and leans against his back. He’s a decently heavy guy, but Stiles is pleased to notice that he doesn’t crumble under the pressure, likely because Derek has learned that he needs to be the one to haul around his own weight.

After that, Stiles slips back into character, and when he does, he really does. Any previous thoughts he’s had have slipped out of his mind, and he only thinks in terms of the Prince.

The Swan is elusive and taunting, yet kind; both Stiles and the Prince find him alluring. They chase after him, copying his movements as they desire to achieve such grace.

Movements flow out of them like clockwork, and before Stiles knows it, they’re nearing the end of the song. The Swan dips underneath the Prince’s arm so that it drapes around his shoulders.

They’re inches apart, staring into each other’s eyes. It’s standard and practiced, they’ve done this several times previously during the daytime rehearsals, but—

Derek’s eyes, after losing the harsh edge they take when he’s embraced his swan persona, drop down to Stiles’ lips. Almost subconsciously, Stiles does the same, letting his mouth fall open so that they’re breathing the same air.

Derek moves fractionally closer, and Stiles is startled enough that he jerks his eyes back up to Derek’s.

They’re a few seconds past their cue to move on to the last couple of moves, but Derek suddenly yanks himself away. Stiles, completely caught off guard, falls right on his ass.

“Ow,” he complains, watching Derek as he doesn’t even complete the song. He’s already at his dance bag, exchanging his black slippers for his street shoes. “What are you doing?”

“We’re done here.”

Stiles blinks. “What? We’ve only been here for, like, a half an hour.”

He stands up and grabs his coat before sliding it on. He’s not looking at Stiles. “My uncle wanted us to get it right. We did.” His hauls his bag over his shoulder and stops in the doorway.

“Goodnight, Stiles.”

Strangely similar to the actual end of the scene, the Prince is left bewildered and alone.

- - - - - - - - - -

Fortunately, Peter deems their renewed performance acceptable. He still makes it a point to chastise Stiles and Derek for acting like a bunch of idiots, but at least they’re no longer facing the threat of termination.

Derek’s still acting weird. That’s nothing new, though, so it’s not a cause for concern. Besides, they’ve got space today. Derek’s dancing with the other swans downstairs while Stiles lounges on the couch in his tiny dressing room, dragging his thumb along the screen of his phone. He intends to wait for Derek, hoping that he’ll be willing to run through the scene in the park a couple more times before they head home.

Eventually, he dozes off with an arm sprawled above his head and a leg hanging off of the couch.

If he dreams, he doesn’t remember it.

He wakes to the smell of smoke.

When his eyes fly open, they sting. “Jesus,” he coughs, flailing off of the couch and onto the ground. Merely seconds later, there’s a frantic thumping at his door.

“Stiles!”

And that’s Derek’s voice, barking his name.

“If you don’t unlock the door, I’ll kick it down,” he threatens, sounding one-hundred percent serious. Derek could probably manage it, too. He’s got thighs that would make Zangief jealous. “Stiles!

“Okay, okay! I’m unlocking it—don’t kick the door at me, I swear to god, Derek.” His heart’s pounding in his ears, unsure of the situation. It’s easy to piece the evidence together, but there’s no fire that Stiles can see. That is, until he opens the door to reveal a disheveled Derek with flames behind him, licking their way down the hall. “Oh my—Jesus, Carrie, we need to go.”

“You think?” Derek snaps, hands curling around Stiles’ biceps. He makes a noise of complaint, but Derek doesn’t budge. Seconds later, he’s being shoved down the stairs and out the nearest double doors.

The night air is cold, but it’s fresh, and Stiles inhales deeply. God only knows how long he’d been inhaling smoke in his sleep.

When he turns around, Derek’s gone.

- - - - - - - - - -

There’s an ambulance, a fire truck, and a police car. They’re only there because it’s the standard procedure, but it makes everything look excessively dramatic. Nobody was hurt.

Seriously. So the guy that keeps insisting that Stiles should wear a shock blanket can kindly fuck off, thanks.

“You might not know you’re in shock,” the paramedic explains. He’s got a goatee and tired eyes. He sounds like he’s heard the same complaints from several others before. “It’s just a blanket. At least we’re not hauling you to the hospital, kid.”

Stiles shrugs. That’s a valid point, even if there is absolutely no reason for him to go. He sighs out, “Fine,” just to get the guy to go away. It works.

He glances at Derek, who has finally reappeared, sitting on the curb a few feet away from him. It’s too dark to see read his expression, but Stiles can see that Derek doesn’t have a blanket of his own. It’s probably because he hadn’t actually been exposed to the fire for an extended period of time. He’d been the big damn hero. Stiles’ hero, actually. Which is pretty embarrassing, and probably a task that would’ve been better off left to the professionals, but he still owes Derek a huge thanks.

Stiles bites his lip, considering, before hopping off of the stretcher and sitting down next to him. He opens his mouth to say something, anything, but one look at Derek’s face makes Stiles freeze up.

Derek’s never been good at hiding what he feels. Reading irritation in the lines between his eyebrows is as easy as reading a stop sign. He scowls when he’s pissed off and he smirks when he’s feeling superior. When he’s trying to suppress an emotion, his face is carefully blank.

It’s so painfully neutral that Stiles can’t help but sigh in sympathy. His pallor is pale and his eyes are glazed over; if anything, Derek looks like the one that could use the shock blanket.

Actually, that’s not a bad idea.

Stiles slips out of the bright orange blanket and carefully drapes it over Derek. He startles; apparently, he hadn’t even noticed Stiles.

Derek looks at the blanket, and then at Stiles, before he starts shaking. He wraps the blanket securely around himself and focuses on the ground.

Something dawns on Stiles. The Hale house fire.

He doesn’t know about Derek, but if he had gone through what Derek did, he wouldn’t exactly feel comfortable when faced with the substance that killed the majority of his family.

Judging by the way Derek’s reacting, he isn’t doing so well.

Stiles rests a hand on his back, right over the orange blanket, and rubs. Derek twitches, but otherwise doesn’t object. Interpreting that as a sign he’s in the clear, Stiles scoots closer.

“So, that was kind of badass,” he begins. He mentally fist pumps when he hears Derek huff out something that sounds like a lot like a laugh. Casually, he wraps his arm all the way around Derek’s shoulders. He’s surprised to feel Derek relax underneath him. “Even though the manhandling was pretty unnecessary. You could have at least saved my dignity and carried me out, instead.”

If the quirk of Derek’s lips is anything to go by, Stiles is doing something right.

It’s quiet for a moment. Stiles absently brushes his thumb along the side of Derek’s neck.

“Thanks,” he says, quiet and honest. He looks at a dead, crumpled leaf that hasn’t yet been blown away by the winter breeze. It tumbles past Derek.

Stiles feels him shrug.

At least he stopped trembling, Stiles concedes. Something occurs to him. “Hey, is Peter going to be okay?”

“Probably not.”

That’s reassuring. “… Where is he, anyway?”

“I don’t know. He’s worse with it than I am,” he adds after a moment. “Fire,” he clarifies, as if it wasn’t obvious. “He was there when it happened.”

“You weren’t?”

Derek shakes his head. “My sisters and I were at school. My uncle was the only one to make it out of the house in time.”

Stiles nods. He doesn’t want to apologize, because he has nothing to apologize for. He knows that saying sorry is a person’s fallback response for when they can’t think of anything else to say. He certainly heard it enough after his mom passed away.

Eventually, he asks, “How’d this even happen?”

“Some of the new girls thought it’d be a good idea to smoke in their dressing room. It escalated from there.”

The silence is broken by a quick blip of a police siren. Stiles glances up and spots the Sheriff’s car.

“Oh, f—quick, hide me.”

“What?”

Stiles attempts to lift the blanket up so he can duck underneath it, but Derek stubbornly refuses to let go, so his entire arm lifts instead. Stiles dips underneath it regardless and successfully camouflages himself. His face is essentially plastered to Derek’s chest and his arms are locked around Derek’s waist. It’s vaguely reminiscent of a piece of their choreography.

He expects to be pushed away, but Derek is fairly accommodating; he uses his other arm to shield Stiles as well. It leaves them in an awkward sort of embrace, but Derek doesn’t seem to mind. “Are you running from the cops, now?”

Stiles snorts.

He hears the car door open and close. “Has anyone seen my son? Stiles!” he calls, voice stern and laced with worry.

“Why are you hiding from your dad?” Derek murmurs. Stiles can picture the way his eyebrows furrow with confusion.

“He’s going to freak out on me. I’m fine, clearly, but he worries too much. He’ll probably drag me back to his house tonight and make me sleep in my old room.”

Stiles hears footsteps crunching along the pavement and knows that he’s been caught.

“Mr. Hale,” the Sheriff says.

“Sheriff.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have seen my son anywhere?” he asks, even though it’s crystal clear that what he’s looking for is partially attached to Derek.

Stiles sighs before Derek can say anything to embarrass the both of them. He pushes himself upright and waves at his dad. “Hey.”

“Come here, Stiles.”

He stands up, takes a step, and is promptly pulled into a tight hug. He sighs again but doesn’t fight the embrace. In fact, maybe he’s a little more affected by the fire than he initially thought; he clutches his dad, reveling in the paternal comfort.

When they break away, Stiles immediately glances back at Derek. He looks miserable and small, having enveloped himself in the blanket once more. Stiles is reluctant to go. Something bothers him, seeing Derek like that. He looks so dreadfully alone, and that’s just—not okay.

“We’re leaving,” says his dad.

“Now?”

“Yes, now.”

He rubs one hand through his hair while the other gesticulates wildly toward the charred studio. “Are you sure? Don’t you have paperwork or something?”

“Nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow,” the sheriff says, narrowing his eyes. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“I just—” He drops a subtle nod toward Derek.

There’s a pause in which the Stilinski men stare each other down. “You’ve got fifteen minutes,” he bargains. “And then we’re going home.”

“You’re the best, dad,” Stiles gushes.

The sheriff shakes his head in exasperation and ambles away.

Stiles whirls around. “Hey, Derek, did you call Laura?”

Dazedly, Derek looks up. “No.”

He sighs. “Where’s your phone?”

“In my dressing room.”

Of course it is. “Great,” says Stiles, frowning. No, not great. Nowhere near great, actually.

Stiles takes out his own cellphone and calls Peter. As expected, he doesn’t pick up his phone. No one ever does, anymore.

“What’s your sister’s number? Either one.”

Derek furrows his eyebrows. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know.”

“Contact lists exist for a reason.” Oh, good. Stiles was starting to think that the sass had been shocked out of Derek. “I never dial it myself.” The explanation sounds like an insult.

“Alright, fine,” he declares. “I’m going in.”

“What?” he hears Derek say as he turns on his heel and jogs away. “I just pulled you out of there!”

He scouts around to the back of the building where the fire escape is, careful to avoid any nearby authorities. He knows that if he’s caught, he’ll be in a heap of trouble, but that’s never stopped him before. Plus, the fire’s been put out.

Once he reaches the second floor, he hops through the window before quietly bounding down the hall. It’s untouched by the flames, but it’s completely evacuated. The ceiling could cave in on him, he realizes, so he decides to make this quick.

The first thing he notices is the music, which shouldn’t exist. But Derek had hooked up his iPod to a dock, so the sound of some song Stiles has never heard before (Derek is such a massive hipster) echoes throughout the room.

Aside from that, though, the room is a lot like Stiles’ except with a little more clutter. The white vanity holds scattered brushes, make up, and, thankfully, Derek’s phone. Stiles snatches it up and wakes the screen.

There’s a text from “Your Amazing Sister” shimmering above a New York Mets wallpaper, for which he assumes Laura is responsible.

Did you tell Stiles yet? :)

Stiles swipes his thumb along the bottom of the screen to unlock it, and huffs a laugh of disbelief as it opens without prompting him for a pin.

He squints at the message and texts back, Tell him what? And as soon as he sends it, he realizes what he’s just done. Derek’s going to obviously notice eventually that Stiles read his text—

So why not read the rest of them?

Slowly, he scrolls his way through the thread under Laura’s name. He’s surprised to find that Derek’s extremely talkative over text. Or maybe he’s more vocal with Laura because she’s his sister. But as much as he’d like to sit there and read through everything, he settles on skimming through the messages to look for anything else that involves him.

Tell him.
No.
Why not?

Derek.
No.
I wasn’t even going to say anything about that!
Good. Keep it that way.
… But I mean, now that we’re talking about it…

I don’t see what could go wrong.

OK, seriously. If you snap at me one more time because YOU’RE the one with the inability to emote, I’ll tell Cora about last summer.

You owe me lunch. Tell him I say hi. ;)

Stiles laughs, although there’s a hysterical edge to it. Are all of these recent texts about him, or just the last one? He doesn’t really get a chance to ponder because the next moment the phone is blasting out Fix You by Coldplay.

He can’t even say hello because Laura is already talking.

“Don’t play coy. It’s not cute.”

“Uhh,” says Stiles.

“Wait—Stiles? Where’s Derek?”

“Outside. Of the studio, I mean. Um, there was a fire in the girls’ dressing room while I was taking a nap. Derek pulled a Superman and got me out.”

He was expecting Laura to make a joke involving Stiles and Lois Lane, but he’s met with silence instead.

“… Laura?”

“I’ll… I’ll be there as fast as I can,” she says. Stiles can hear the rustling of a coat. “Please, just tell me that he’s okay.”

“He’s kind of shaken up, but he isn’t hurt.”

“Thank god,” she breathes. “See you soon.”

“Yep,” he says, and hangs up. Before he leaves the dressing room, he snags Derek’s iPod out of the dock and slips it into his pocket.

He manages to make it back outside without further incident. Derek is still in the same spot, looking about as distant as he did before. Stiles drops the phone into his lap.

“Don’t bother calling Laura,” he says when Derek looks up. “I already talked to her. She’ll be here soon.”

Derek nods.

“Oh, got your iPod, too,” he says, fishing it out of his pocket.

“Thanks,” replies Derek, although he looks like he’s ready to berate Stiles for being an idiot.

He waves it off. “No problem, dude.” He sits down next to him on the curb, again. He’s got about seven minutes before his dad makes him leave.

It’s quiet for a moment. Derek absently wakes his phone and opens the messaging app. Stiles panics.

He throws his arm over Derek’s shoulders and leans close to jovially say, “I should have known you’d be the guy to listen to that depressing indie shit. Congrats on fulfilling your stereotype.”

Derek’s eyes narrow in defense, but he locks his phone, so Stiles chalks this one up to a victory.

“What’s wrong with what I listen to? Besides, what did you hear, a single song? My library isn’t composed entirely of one genre.”

“Hey, I’m just saying—”

“What do you have on yours? Tchaikovsky’s discography? Sergei Prokofiev? Advanced pointe music, vol. 2?”

Stiles huffs, affronted. “Tell you what. How about we swap iPods for the weekend? Broaden our musical horizons.”

Derek looks dubious. “That sounds like a terrible idea.”

That sounds like you’re backing down.”

He snorts, loosening the blanket from around his shoulders. “I’m not.” He tosses his iPod at Stiles and watches him trip all over himself in an attempt to catch it. Stiles does the same to Derek and scoffs when he catches it without a hitch. What an asshole.

They fall into companionable silence as they flip through each other’s music selections. Stiles won’t admit that Derek has decent taste.

He doesn’t have to. The Sheriff steps in front of him, eyebrows raised expectantly.

Stiles meets his eyes, challenging, but he eventually backs down. “Fine, I’m coming. I’ll meet you in the car.” He waits until his dad slides into the driver’s seat before turning to Derek. He’s not sure how he feels about leaving before Laura arrives, but he doesn’t have much of a choice, so: “You’ve got my number, right?” Derek nods, because, yeah—the cast exchanged numbers ages ago. “Text me when you get home. See you Monday.”

With that, he pushes himself up using Derek’s shoulder as leverage and heads home.

- - - - - - - - - -

“How are things, Scott?”

“Uh, that’s a pretty general question,” Scott replies, sheepish.

“He survived the fall semester and managed to get on the dean’s list,” Stiles brags. “He’s interning with some vet in Beacon Hills.

Deaton. He’s not some vet, he’s, like—the vet.”

The sheriff’s lips pull into a prideful smile. “Impressive, son. I’ve known Alan for years. He’s a good man. Does good work, too.” Scott seems to perk up at this, and he launches into stories told by other students, rumors that have been circulating for years—while the sheriff confirms or denies, obviously amused.

The three of them are sitting at the kitchen table, digging into toasted waffles and turkey bacon. Stiles relishes it; his breakfast usually consists of wholegrain toast, egg whites, and a green smoothie.

The company’s nice, too.

Later, Scott and Stiles say goodbye to the sheriff, the both of them trapped underneath either of his arms in a hug. “Don’t be strangers,” he warns, eyeing both boys. To Stiles, he adds, “Opening night.”

He always attends Stiles’ first show if he can help it. It’s still nice to hear.

Scott passes Stiles a spare helmet and slips onto his motorcycle. Stiles looks disdainfully from the headgear to the bike, but he really doesn’t have much of a choice, so he shoves the helmet over his head and slides behind Scott.

“The studio, right?”

“Onward.” Because he’s a piece of shit, he wraps his arms tightly around Scott’s torso. The cold winter air feels like it’s splitting his skin into pieces. He buries his face into Scott’s shoulder. “This is so romantic,” he comments loudly.

Scott swats at his thigh.

His jeep is untouched, sitting right where he’d left it the night before. The windows are frosted, which is a pain, but it’s nothing a few minutes of patience won’t fix. Scott idles on his bike, waiting to make sure Stiles is good to go—which turns out to be a really good idea, because his jeep stutters helplessly before falling silent. He tries again. And again.

“Baby, no,” he moans, slamming his forehead against the top of the wheel.

“Stiles?” Scott calls.

He slams the door shut and trudges back to Scott’s deathmobile, straddling the back of the seat once more. “I’ll look up the number for a tow when we get home,” he grumbles moodily. Scott pats his knee sympathetically.

- - - - - - - - - -

Later that afternoon, Stiles is assured that his jeep’s been taken to Beacon Hill’s best mechanic, who works a few miles down from Stiles and Scott’s flat. It’ll be in there for an indeterminate amount of days, he’s told, so it’s convenient that Scott’s finally on his absurdly long winter break.

He spends the day fucking around with Scott; it’s been a while since they’ve had free time on the same day. They’ve both been so busy that they decide to do whatever will exert the least amount of energy. Piled on the couch, they start up a new file of Fallout 3, name their character after the pizza guy that delivers their pepperoni and pineapple, and narrate everything they make him say with dramatic voices, adding, and that’ll be $17.35 after each sentence.

They end up passing out in the evening and waking up around midnight to finish off the leftovers.

Propped up onto the counter, Stiles mentions, “You know, Allison’s off tomorrow, too.”

“I know. We’re going bowling with Lydia and Jackson.” Scott sounds wary, like he’d really rather not.

Stiles makes a face. “You’re going bowling with my partner and her boyfriend?”

“And Allison.”

And Allison. Yeah, I got that.” He shakes his head. Stranger things have happened.

“Besides, Lydia’s not your partner anymore. Derek is.”

Stiles looks scandalized. “Don’t you ever say that again. She’s my forever girl. But, you know, not like that.”

Scott rolls his eyes. “Yeah, okay.” He grabs a can of soda from the fridge. “I’m gonna go Skype with Allison.” As he pads out of the room, Stiles waves him off. He absently kicks his feet until it sinks in.

Derek. Derek never texted him, that asshole.

It’s past midnight, though, and Stiles has a feeling that Derek’s the type who never stays up past ten. After padding to the bathroom, he washes up and slinks off to bed, content with the knowledge that he’s able to sleep in tomorrow.

- - - - - - - - - -

He wakes to the sound of Scott getting ready. It’s early, but not tragically so, and Stiles is more than content to roll around in his bed for an hour or five. Because he can. Belatedly, he recalls his revelation from last night and slaps his hand around his bedspread in search for his phone.

He’s not sure what he expects to hear when Derek answers his phone, but it’s not Laura’s voice.

“Hey, Stiles.”

“Uh, hey, Laura. Where’s Derek?”

“Right here. Shh, Der, can’t you see I’m on the phone?”

He pauses, assuming that she’ll pass it to Derek. There’s a bit of shuffling and muted banter. From what Stiles can decipher, Derek sounds mildly distressed. He picks at a loose thread, patience wearing thin. “Uh, guys?”

It’s still Laura. “What’s up?”

“I was just calling to see if Derek made it home alright.”

When Laura croons, there’s another audible scuffle. “Jesus, Laura, just give it to him,” is the next thing Stiles can hear clearly, a third voice that he’s unfamiliar with. If he had to guess, he’d venture that he just heard the fourth Hale speak.

Finally, silence. “Derek?”

“Yeah.”

“You never texted me.”

“Yeah. Sorry, I—” A door gently clicking shut intercepts Derek’s words. “Things were a little hectic that night. Laura wouldn’t stop fussing and Cora insisted that we try to find Peter. We did, by the way.”

Stiles drags a hand through his hair, flipping onto his side. “You don’t have to explain yourself, dude. Like I told Laura, I just wanted to make sure things were… y’know.”

“They are. Y’know.”

He finds himself smirking against the receiver, pleased to hear the dryness of Derek’s tone. “Good. Hey, have you listened to any of my music, yet? What’s the verdict?”

“I can’t believe you actually have Tchaikovsky’s discography on here. That was a joke.

“I take my work very seriously.”

“Is that why you have the dubstep remix of Dances of the Swans on here, too?

“Obviously.”

Derek expresses his distaste with a scoff. “It’s pretty bad.”

You’re pretty tasteless.”

“I really don’t think I am.”

Stiles snorts. “Of course you don’t. But my subjective opinion is that your subjective opinion is shit.”

“Thanks for sharing,” Derek remarks; Stiles can practically hear the eye roll. It’s delightful.

- - - - - - - - - -

The following week is filled with more ups than downs. Peter’s in a better mood because of it, resulting in a less tense atmosphere among the rest of the cast. Derek and Stiles exchange iPods again, and although it captures the attention of the others, they refrain from commenting.

Allison smiles knowingly, though, and Stiles narrows his eyes as he watches her change into her boots and slip on her coat. Whatever Scott told her, it’s probably bullshit.

Lydia raises an eyebrow. “Where are you going?”

“I asked Peter earlier if I could leave early.”

“Why?”

Allison brushes a lock of hair behind her ear and sheepishly explains, “I have a date.” She tries to avoid Stiles’ gaze.

“Really?” He raises his eyebrows. “With just Scott? Or are you angling for a triple date this time?”

“Just Scott.” She sounds exasperated, but her face is pink. She stops at the door to wave to everybody. “See you guys tomorrow.”

“Have fun, you lovebirds.” He can’t resist adding, “But not too much fun.”

Lydia rubs a palm over her face in synchronization with Derek releasing a pained noise. “You sound like my sister,” he mutters. It’s probably not praise. When Stiles looks back at the door, Allison’s gone.

Two hours later, Peter dismisses them. Stiles has one arm in his jacket when he realizes something.

“Shit.”

He groans dramatically, spinning around to face the rest of the room. Lydia shoots a sidewise glance as she bends down to pick up her dance bag; Derek is putting on his left glove, peering at Stiles questioningly.

He turns to Lydia first, but he doesn’t get a chance to open his mouth. “No, Stiles.”

“But—”

“Jackson is picking me up.” Stiles makes a face. “Exactly.”

He sighs. “Fine. But if I can’t find a bus that takes me back to my flat and I have to walk home in the cold, consequently causing me to fall deathly ill, I’m blaming you. And then you’ll have to live with the knowledge that you could have made a difference.”

She’s unfazed. “Goodnight, Stiles,” she chirps. She’s out the door before he can return the lovely sentiment.

Restlessly, he taps his hands against his legs, weighing his options. After a second, he pulls out his phone to look up a bus schedule.

The results are pitifully unsatisfactory. When he looks up, Derek is standing in front of him.

“Whoa. Hey, big guy. What’s up?”

Derek purses his lips, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Do you need a ride home?” he eventually asks.

Stiles blinks. “Uh. Yeah, I do. Are you offering?”

“Don’t sound so surprised,” Derek says, frowning.

“Sorry? I just wasn’t expecting you to…” he trails off, shrugging. “Never mind. Thanks, I guess.” He awkwardly gestures toward the door. “Shall we?”

Derek shoulders his bag, leading the way outside.

He had forgotten that Derek drives a mom car. It’s beautiful. “Where’s the Capri Sun? Wait, hold on and let me take off my cleats. Don’t wanna dirty the upholstery.”

Long-suffering, Derek casts his eyes to the graying sky and unlocks the vehicle.

He slides into the passenger seat and buckles up while Derek starts the car. The engine lets out a soothing purr and Stiles relaxes against the heated seats. Mom cars have their advantages after all.

For the most part, the drive is relatively quiet, aside from Stiles telling Derek to “turn here” or “wait until the next stoplight”, but it isn’t as uncomfortable as he expected.

When they pull into the driveway, Stiles opens his mouth to give his thanks, but he’s distracted by his phone buzzing in his pocket. It’s a text from Scott.

Hey don’t come in okay Allison is over sorry bro wait like an hour or two, it reads.

“Oh my god.”

“What?”

“I’ve been sexiled. Scott just sexiled me.”

Derek raises his eyebrows. “Scott’s dating Allison, right?”

“Yeah.” Then, his mouth twists into something that resembles half of a grimace and half of a grin. “Wow, we’re both going to know that she got laid tonight.” He lolls his head over to look at Derek. “Let’s give her a hard time tomorrow.” He can’t help but snort. “Hard time.”

He’s almost too distracted by laughing at himself to notice the conflicted expression on Derek’s face. He looks like he’s caught between smiling and rolling his eyes.

For once, he’d kind of like to see a real smile. Just to see if it’s possible. Now that he thinks about it, he’s only ever seen him wearing that infuriating smirk, which definitely doesn’t count.

Silence falls, and Stiles realizes what’s wrong with this picture. Derek’s car is stalling; he’s waiting for Stiles to get out, but he won’t have anywhere to go if he does. He rolls his lips between his teeth and taps a rhythm on his leg, brainstorming—

“Wait, what are you doing?” he asks, watching as Derek shifts into reverse.

Derek stretches his arm along the back of the passenger seat and glances behind him to make sure the coast is clear. After successfully backing out, he says, “We’re going to get something to eat.”

“Oh,” he says. That’s… unexpected. “Awesome.”

Stiles had assumed that prolonged exposure to Derek would drive him insane, but so far, they’ve managed to stay civil. It certainly took them long enough.

“What do you like?” asks Derek.

“Huh?”

“To eat. What kind of food do you like?”

“It doesn’t matter, I’m not that picky,” he says, shrugging. “I won’t freak out if you want to go to like, a diner, or something.” Of course, he semi-strictly follows a dancer’s diet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t treat himself every once in a while. Hence, the pizza with Scott. “That Mongolian place by the mall is pretty interesting,” he muses. “Ever been?

Derek shakes his head.

Stiles looks at him. “Wanna go there, then?”

“Okay.”

Stiles stares, raising a skeptical eyebrow. To be honest, he had been expecting some sort of argument.

It’s only a few minutes of slightly awkward silence before they pull into the parking lot. Stiles tumbles out of the car first. As he nears the door, Derek’s arm reaches past him and grabs the handle.

It takes a good second or two for it to register that Derek is opening the door for him.

That’s… polite—and totally unlike Derek.

Actually, maybe it is like Derek. Aside from being a snide, competitive douchebag, he hasn’t purposely gone out of his way to give Stiles hell. For all Stiles knows, Derek could be a perfect gentleman.

He needs to stop overanalyzing. All Derek did was open a door for him. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s pretty great, actually. He should give Derek a door-opening ribbon.

“I can’t believe you’ve never eaten here,” he says, voice a little dreamy. “It’s so good.”

“Isn’t it kind of like a buffet?” asks Derek, voice dubious—like he’s doubting the deliciousness of this place.

“You can go up as many times as you’d like, yeah, but it’s—it’s better, okay? Take my word for it.”

The hostess plucks two menus from the holder and shows them to a booth.

“Can I start you off with some drinks?” their server asks, smiling sunnily at the both of them. Her eyes can’t seem to decide where they want to land. It probably doesn’t help that they’re both still wearing what they wore to ballet, which looks about two sizes too small to someone that isn’t well-versed in the dance world.

“Water,” says Derek curtly. His eyes are occupied by the menu.

“Me too,” says Stiles. He’s already starting to feel a little guilty for stuffing himself with greasy, unhealthy food the past few days.

“Have you two been here before?” the waitress asks.

Stiles raises a hand. “Yep. He hasn’t, though,” he adds, nodding toward Derek. Derek scowls, obviously dissatisfied at being put on the spot.

“Would you like the rundown on how things work?”

Derek clears his throat and attempts to smile politely at her. Stiles is surprised to recognize that as his “kindly fuck off” smile. “Actually, I think I’m good. He’ll show me.”

“Alright. You two can go up whenever you’d like,” she says, sounding a little put off. With that, she leaves.

Derek furrows his eyebrows. “Up?

“To the grill. The ‘buffet’, if you’d like. See, you’d know this if you had let the poor girl do her job.”

He shrugs as he stands up, clearly indifferent.

Stiles rolls his eyes, following Derek. “Okay, it’s really not that hard. Grab one of those bowls, pile in whatever crap you like, dump in the sauce you want, and give it to the guys at the grill. Don’t get too risky on your first go, though. Remember that if you don’t like it you’re not allowed to complain, because you put it together.”

Derek uses the tongs to poke at the frozen meat.

“You’re one of those dancers that never eat anything besides organic whey protein and veggies, aren’t you?”

“Shut up, Stiles.”

“Oh my god, you are. I feel like I’m witnessing something really special, here.”

Meanwhile, Stiles had already piled in chicken and a large heap of the noodles. He’s ready to throw a fit when Derek passes the noodles up completely.

“You’re missing the best part,” he tells Derek, nudging him. Stiles’ bowl is practically consumed by noodles.

“I want rice.”

“Okay, bossy. Also, you might want to put more—”

“I’ve got it under control, Stiles,” says Derek, voice tight.

Again, he finds himself rolling his eyes. “Only trying to help.”

Despite everything, their dinner passes without a hitch. Derek mentions that he found a dubstep song he actually likes; Stiles rants about the Mets’ last season. Inevitably, their chatter dissolves into gossip about the other dancers, about the current production. When they go up for round two, they decide to make each other a dish as a parody of their switched iPods.

Stiles complains that his food’s too hot. He downs three glasses of water in the span of time it takes for Derek to finish his first.

“I’m too white for this,” he whines, twirling noodles pathetically between his chopsticks.

Derek’s using a fork. When Stiles points it out, Derek remarks, “I’m not white enough for this.”

- - - - - - - - - -

On the ride home, Stiles says, “Okay, I don’t get it.”

Derek furrows his eyebrows. “Get what?”

“Why are you being so nice to me?”

Derek glances at him, and then looks back at the road with narrowed eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Dude! You gave me a ride, you paid for my dinner–”

“Are you seriously complaining about that?”

Stiles stares, caught off guard by the tone of Derek’s voice. “Well, no? It’s just weird. No offense.”

Derek seems to clam up at that, refusing to talk until they reach Stiles’ flat. As they pull into the driveway, Derek lets out a slow breath through his nose as if to brace himself.

He parks the car and looks at his hands. “I don’t hate you. You’re obnoxious, yeah, and you never keep your mouth shut—but you’re talented and persistent and dedicated, and I admire that.” He pauses and meets Stiles’ eyes. “I always have,” he adds with a little shrug.

Holy shit, Stiles thinks. Derek is baring his emotions for all to see—well, for Stiles to see. And, wow, it’s a sight to behold. He’s half-smiling and his eyes are soft; it’s totally unlike his usual range of expressions. For once, Stiles is left speechless.

“Goodnight,” Derek says.

“Um, yeah. Right. See you Monday.” Confused, he steps out of the car and closes the door.

He takes a few steps before he freezes, all of the pieces belatedly piecing together. Whirling around, he taps on the window of Derek’s stupid mom car; unfortunately, he’s already pulling out, and he seems to speed up when he notices that Stiles wants his attention. He jumps back before the wheels can crush his feet.

“Watch the merchandise, asshole!” he calls with less heat than he intended. “God knows I’d be useless without these,” he mutters, glancing down.

He stands there in a daze, watching as Derek drives away, because he thinks he just went on a date with Derek Hale.

When Stiles opens the door, Scott looks up from playing their latest Fallout 3 file and pauses it when he sees the confused, furrowed eyebrows and distraught frown.

“What’s up?” he asks.

“I think I just went on a date with Derek Hale,” Stiles tells him.

Scott replicates Stiles’ expression.

“Yeah, my thoughts exactly,” he says, and falls onto the couch next to Scott. Then, he hits his shoulder.

“Ow! What was that for?”

Stiles glares. “You sexiled me. It so better have been worth it.”

“It was,” Scott replies, mouth melting into a smile. Then, “Besides, I think it benefited both of us.”

“How does that work?” Because he definitely didn’t have a mind-blowing orgasm tonight. But thanks! Now he’s thinking about mind-blowing orgasms and Derek.

He shrugs. “Well, I got laid, and you now know that Derek doesn’t hate you.”

“Okay? What does that mean?”

“It means that you can stop hating him.”

“I don’t hate Derek,” he answers automatically. He’s surprised by his own honesty.

Scott is, too. “That’s not how you used to feel.”

Stiles crosses his arms, sinking further into the couch. He doesn’t say anything else, so Scott un-pauses the game. Stiles is entertained for all of two minutes before he reevaluates the night he’d just experienced. Eventually, he succumbs to a mild headache and trudges off to his bedroom after bidding Scott goodnight.

- - - - - - - - - -

He should have known.

Going to Starbucks shouldn’t even be included in his morning ritual anymore—not when the threat of running into Laura Hale exists.

He’s taking his peppermint hot chocolate (holiday specials are his favorite) from the guy at the counter when he hears, “Stiles? Hey!”

Before turning around, he makes sure to slap on a pleasant expression. “Hey,” he returns easily.

“I’m glad I ran into you. I wanted to thank you personally for keeping Derek sane during the whole fire ordeal.”

She could have thanked him on the phone when he called. “I didn’t really do anything,” he confesses.

She blinks. “Sure you did. He told me about the whole shock-blanket thing, and then you went back in to get his phone and iPod—wait, let’s talk about that for a minute,” she says, voice taking on a sort of steely tone.

She lowers her eyebrows and looks at him crossly, arms folded over her chest. God, she’s ten times more intimidating than Derek, that’s for sure.

“Talk about what?” he says innocently.

She jerks her head toward a tall table next to the far window. He follows her reluctantly and slides into the one closest toward the door. Tactical thinking. He’s afraid. He’s deathly afraid of Laura. But mostly annoyed.

“You snooped, didn’t you?”

“It depends on how you define ‘snooping’?”

“I define it as going through my little brother’s personal stuff. How do you define it?”

“Gyrating in the same manner as Snoop Dogg?”

She gives him an odd look. It reminds Stiles of his dad. “Did you go through his messages?”

“Possibly?”

She leans forward, hands pressed to the table. “It’s a yes or no question, Stiles.”

“Okay! Yes, I did!” he blurts. “Oh my god, are you a cop or something?”

“A deputy, actually,” she confirms, and takes a moment to flash one of her terrifying, toothy grins. “And, before you ask: yes, I work for your dad. He’s a nice guy.

“That’s… good.”

After nodding, she says, “But that’s not what we’re talking about, is it?” Then, her persona suddenly shifts and her smile doesn’t look so intimidating anymore. “It’s okay. I would have done it too. Derek is pretty interesting, isn’t he? You’d think a guy like that would have some pretty good dirt.” She settles back against the back of her seat, slouching a little. “Well, you’d be wrong.”

“… Yeah,” he drawls. “His texts weren’t exactly 50 Shades of Interesting. Then again, I only read the ones between you two.”

Her eyebrow perks up. “Oh?”

“After seeing ‘Did you tell Stiles yet?’ with a smiley face—yeah, you bet.” He takes a sip of his hot chocolate. “By the way, I still don’t know what exactly it is that he won’t tell me.”

Laura taps the pads of her fingers against her cup, considering. “Well, aren’t you two dating now?”

“What?”

“Last week—didn’t you two go on a date?”

Stiles lifts his eyebrows. “That night he gave me a ride home? We went out to eat, yeah, but—” He pauses. “Is that what Derek called it? A date?”

Laura’s eyes widen, but other than that, her expression stays the same. “Oh? What—no, no. He just mentioned that you two had dinner. I must have misinterpreted.” She rubs her hairline with the tip of her pointer finger. It looks like a casual, absent gesture, but Stiles can see it for what it is.

It’s a tell. Laura’s lying. “Oh my god.”

She shakes her head. “Stiles, you’re misunderstanding. Seriously. I mean, did it really seem like a date at the time?”

Pursing his lips, he concedes, “Not really. But Derek’s pretty awkward when he’s not being a jerk, so who can say?” He throws up his hands in exasperation. “I don’t know. But he did pay for me. Like, commandeered the entire freakin’ check. Didn’t even let me go halfsies.”

“He’s—”

And he opened the door for me.”

She tilts her head, giving him a flat look, and her resemblance to Derek is suddenly striking. “You open the door for strangers, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but—”

“He was being polite!” She crosses her arms. “It may come as a big shock to you, but Derek’s one of the most well-mannered men I know. Our parents always enforced that sort of behavior.”

“I never would have guessed. And I mean that wholeheartedly.”

Huffing, she says, “That’s because you don’t know him like I do.”

“Okay, fine. So what about paying for me? Keep in mind that this happened after he gave me a ride, which was out of his way. I’m a pretty polite guy too, but I don’t do that for just anybody.”

“Maybe you’re not just anybody,” she says exasperatedly. “Maybe he considers you his friend.”

He leans back. “You say that like you don’t know. Whatever,” he sighs, officially giving up. “I’ve got to get to the studio. Nice talking to you.” It wasn’t really that nice talking to her.

- - - - - - - - - -

“Is that what you call flirting?” Peter chides. “You’re supposed to seduce. Not—whatever it is you’re doing.”

Stiles breaks character, smirking as Derek is chastised. All four leads and the corps de ballet are scattered among the largest rehearsal room, practicing for the ballroom sequence. The scenes include the Black Swan, who dances with the majority of the women. Each time he moves from girl to girl, the choreography becomes looser and dirtier. In the end, he’s meant to charm the Queen.

Meanwhile, the Prince stews with bitterness and jealousy.

Unfortunately, the only envy Stiles feels is for Derek’s opportunity to dance contemporary with Lydia. That’s what acting is for, of course; he’s supposed to desire to be in both the Queen and the Swan’s place. The Black Swan effortlessly captures the Queen’s attention—the kind that the Prince never quite achieved—and ignores the Prince, who’d found solace in his embrace.

Derek tries the sequence again with Peter alongside him, taunting him—and while it may not achieve the desired effect, Derek’s determination overrules his frustration and he improves significantly. Peter allows the scene to bridge with Stiles and Derek’s.

Stiles loves this part. He and Derek push each other around, get into each other’s space, and dance with harsh, clipped movements. It’s easier for them, he thinks, to pull off this kind of chemistry. The taunting, the tension.

They press close; the Black Swan grips the back of the Prince’s neck, forcing his head back as he guides him to the ground.

Perturbed, the Prince launches himself back up and sways toward the other, his shoves becoming more desperate. It seems only for a moment that the Black Swan takes pity, smugly providing close physical comfort until he pushes him away.

The Prince is nothing if not persistent. He grabs the Black Swan’s wrist and they move together in a variation of what they’d done at the lake—until the former grows bored, returning to the Queen. Derek’s eyes meet Stiles’ from across the room and his gaze is still heated, intense.

Peter steps into the center, disrupting the flow, and they turn to him. “What I just saw? That was flirting. I want to see it again, but with the girls. Run it again.”

When Stiles looks back at Derek, he’s staring at the ground, neck flushed.

- - - - - - - - - -

“Where are we meeting up for your birthday?” asks Lydia after rehearsal.

“I was thinking that club a few roads down?”

“A nightclub? That lacks originality. You don’t want to spice it up?”

“Wow, okay, Peter.” Lydia’s face sours. “I know your idea of spicing things up, and I vote pass. I just want to dance and drink with all of my friends without having to worry about the performance. Sounds like a pretty good birthday to me.”

She shrugs as if to say your loss and then asks, “Who are you inviting?”

“You—and Jackson by extension, I guess—Scott, Allison, Danny, Isaac… Erica and Boyd, probably. That’s it, I think.”

She raises her eyebrows inquisitively. “No Derek?”

“You heard me when I said ‘friends’, right?”

“You talk to Derek more than Danny.”

“Yeah, but I actually like Danny.”

She gives him a knowing look. “I don’t know. You and Derek haven’t been as standoffish as you used to be. Maybe, once you stop denying your chemistry, you might even become good friends.”

He squints at her. “Yeah,” he drawls, “not likely. See you later.” He salutes her and ducks out the door.

- - - - - - - - - -

“Is that Derek? Why is Derek here?”

Scott gives him a helpless grin. “Because I invited him.”

Why?

“Allison told me to.”

Stiles frowns. “You invited Derek Hale to my birthday party… because Allison told you to,” he reiterates.

“I’m sorry?” he says. “Anyway, didn’t you guys go on a date? I thought you two were cool.”

“That wasn’t a date!

Scott holds up his hands. “You definitely said it was. But, okay, whatever.” He’s an idiot, but Stiles can’t find it in himself to be mad.

As the semi-host, he feels obligated to greet his guests, so he bounds through the crowd and sets a hand on Derek’s shoulder. Derek startles slightly and faces Stiles. Poor guy looks ridiculously out of place; clearly, this isn’t his scene.

“Hey,” he says.

“Yo.”

“Happy birthday.”

“Thanks!” This is painful. “Come over here, everyone’s getting their drink on.” He jerks his head toward the bar.

Derek glances toward the bathrooms. “I’m waiting for Laura and Cora.”

Stiles blinks. “Your sisters are here?”

“Scott said that that was okay?”

Of course he did. “Yeah, no problemo. The more the merrier. So just join us when you’re ready, I guess.”

“Okay,” Derek replies just as the girls exit the bathroom.

“Hey, Stiles! Happy birthday!”

He still isn’t sure how to feel about Laura. At first, she gave off a vibe that told Stiles she was a nice gal, but she’s also related to Derek, and therefore looks like she could possibly beat the shit out of you if need be—which is a good look to have if you’re a deputy.

And she hides things. Things that are relevant to Stiles’ interests.

“Thanks!” he still says, grinning anyway. It’s his birthday! Birthdays are great when they’re his. He gets to be the center of attention.

“Can we not stand right next to the bathrooms?”

Stiles looks at the girl who must be Cora. “Yeah, the rest of us are at the bar. Cora? I’m Stiles.”

“Yeah.” She gives him an assessing look. “I’ve heard about you.” Her eyes flicker to Derek, not Laura, which could mean a number of things. “Happy birthday,” she tacks on.

“Derek, didn’t we tell you to go meet up with them?” Laura says, ruffling his hair. He peevishly swats her hand away.

Stiles arches an eyebrow. “Looks like he didn’t want to face the crowd alone.”

Derek scowls.

“Oh, no, you better put that face away. You wouldn’t want to ruin my birthday, would you?”

“How—”

“I don’t want any negative feelings tonight. None.”

Laura smirks when Derek hunches his shoulders in defeat. “Derek might have a hard time with that. Especially since he’s the DD.”

Stiles gives him a look. “Really? Not gonna loosen up for one night?” Yeah, technically dancers aren’t supposed to drink, but they don’t have to be at the studio tomorrow. What’s the harm? “It’s like you’re actually allergic to fun.”

“Aw, don’t be so hard on him. Someone’s gotta drive us home safely,” Laura says. It’s kind of a poor defense; she even peers at him like she wishes he’d do what Stiles asked and relax for once. She adjusts her shirt, which is buttoned precariously low, and declares, “Well, enough standing around. I need a drink.”

Derek trails after her, and again, his fish-out-of-water syndrome is dreadfully evident. Cora is gone when he turns to where she’d been standing. Ah, well. Stiles honestly doesn’t plan on paying much attention to the Hales.

When they reach the bar, Lydia’s fruitlessly tugging on Jackson’s arm in an attempt to get him to dance.

“Don’t you dance enough?” he bitches, clutching his glass of whiskey. Stiles is pretty sure that Jackson wants to be here even less than Derek, which is really saying something. Jackson and Stiles have never got on well, mostly thanks to the fact that Stiles’ infatuation with Lydia didn’t suddenly vanish after she got a boyfriend. It’s not Stiles’ fault he thinks Lydia deserves better.

Not that Jackson’s all bad. He has his moments.

“Jackson,” Lydia grits, “if you don’t dance with me, I’ll find someone else.”

“Go ahead.”

Now is not one of those moments.

Lydia glances at Stiles. He immediately picks up on his cue and says, “I’ll dance with you.”

She smiles prettily; Jackson narrows his eyes as he shoves his glass at the bar. “No way. Back off, Stilinski.”

Stiles gestures toward Lydia in a mock-offering. As she saunters away with Jackson beside her, Lydia mouths a thank you and blows a kiss. Stiles slides into the seat that Jackson had been occupying and turns to find Derek watching him with mild curiosity.

“What?”

Derek shrugs, looking embarrassed that he’d been caught. “I thought you liked Lydia,” he says.

“Lydia’s my friend. Her happiness makes me happy, yadda yadda. She’s perfect and smart and all that, but it’s never gonna happen. I’ve accepted that,” he says. “So if she wants to dance with her boyfriend, I’m going to help her out.”

“Jackson seems like an asshole,” Derek says, which startles a laugh out of Stiles.

“Oh, yeah. He’s like that all the time. Actually, he’s probably just really pissed because he doesn’t want to be here. We don’t like each other. At all.” He absently pokes at the condensation on Jackson’s glass. It’s tempting to finish it off. “When he gets drunk he calms down, though. Gets friendly, even.”

“But not too friendly?”

“I don’t know, I’d watch out,” Stiles warns, though he’s only joking.

Scott catches Stiles’ eye. He not-so subtly glances at Derek. Looks like inviting Derek wasn’t a huge mistake and you two are getting along just fine is clearly transmitted from those big brown eyes. Stiles shoots him a simple shut up of a glare.

“And you?”

“Hm?” he replies distractedly.

“What kind of drunk are you?”

Stiles holds out his hands, shrugging. “I don’t know. I never remember any of it.”

“That was a trick question,” says Derek. “You just turned twenty-one today.”

“Who are you, my dad? Or worse, Laura?” He flags down the bartender. “It’s not like I did it often. My physical trainers would have my ass mounted to their walls if I did. I’ll have a rum and coke,” he tells the busty lady with the bright lipstick, flashing his legal ID for the first time.

“It’s his twenty-first birthday,” Derek tells her.

She pauses and flashes the both of them a pearly white grin. To Stiles, she says, “Why don’t you have some shots, then, birthday boy?”

He grimaces. “You mean take twenty-one shots, or whatever? Isn’t that dangerous?”

“I definitely don’t recommend it. Especially not for you,” she says.

He’s not sure if he should take offense to that. His stature is pretty lean, yeah, but he can hold his alcohol fairly well. “Then, I don’t know, get me a few Hot Apple Pies.”

“Coming right up.”

She shimmies off and Derek asks, “What are those made of?”

“Irish cream and cinnamon schnapps,” he says. “Wait for it—”

The bartender sprinkles cinnamon on top and lights it on fire with a match before going to work on the other shots.

He grabs the glass and downs it. It’s really good and really sweet. Pleased, Stiles licks at the rim of the glass where a bit of the drink remains.

“What about you, honey?” asks the bartender.

“What?” Derek tears his attention away from Stiles and looks at her.

She raises her eyebrows.

“I’ll just have a diet coke,” he says, voice firm. Stiles can’t help but shake his head, amused. He furrows eyebrows at him. “What?”

“A diet coke,” Stiles imitates in his most stoic voice. Derek still doesn’t understand, so he waves him off. “Nah, nothing. Just you. You’re funny.”

“You’re not already drunk, are you?” he asks, eyeing Stiles warily. The bartender slides his diet coke over.

Stiles snorts. “Not even close.” He tips back the second shot and slips off of the stool. “But I am ready to dance.”

Derek takes a drink of his coke. Laura, who had been chatting up Isaac from Derek’s other side, pokes her head around to glare pointedly at Derek. “What?” he snaps.

“Go dance,” she says.

“Why?”

“Because you’re good at it!”

“I’m good at classical dance,” he says flatly. “Not modern dance. I don’t even know what this song is called.”

Stiles huffs a laugh. “Nobody knows what this song is called. It’s techno.” He claps Derek on his shoulder. “Hey, I’ll show you the ropes. I took a modern dance class once.”

“How did that work out for you?”

“It didn’t.” Grinning, he slides his hand down from Derek’s shoulder to his wrist and pulls him away from the bar. “Watch his drink!” he calls to Laura. She winks.

Surprisingly, Derek doesn’t put up much of a fight. If he really didn’t want to dance, he could have physically prevented Stiles from dragging him to the mass of people, so Derek’s officially not allowed to bitch.

He eventually lets go of the other once he finds a suitable spot to dance. Frankly, Stiles has no idea what he’s doing. He and Derek are seriously out of their element—but that doesn’t stop him from having fun. It’s like prom. Nobody knows how to dance so they kind of wiggle and whip their arms around to the beat, hoping for the best.

So that’s exactly what he does. Derek follows his lead, after a few stiff moments, and even though he looks kind of ridiculous, he doesn’t laugh. One, Derek would get offended and probably storm out, and two, Stiles knows he isn’t doing any better.

A pretty brunette slides up to Stiles. She smiles and her teeth are brightly illuminated by the black light. She presses up against him, chest brushing his and, purely by instinct, his hands reach trace her curves as they both move to the beat of the blaring, persistent techno.

She moves until his body fits along the length of her spine. Reaching back, she finds his wrists and guides them to her waist. As she swivels her hips she makes contact with him every time, grinding and twisting to each thump-thump-thump of the music. Her arms dip to grab his ass, pulling him closer against her own.

Stiles looks up to find Derek. He too has a lady writhing against him; she’s petite with dyed-black hair and some crazy purple eyes. At least, it looks like she has purple eyes.

Derek doesn’t seem to appreciate her eyes or her anything—especially her clinginess. She’s draped all over him.

The girl Stiles had been dancing with loses interest and flits over to another guy. The space occupied is replaced with Cora. “Do you just—materialize in and out of reality?”

She looks at him like he’s an idiot. He’s seen three other variations of that same look, so he brushes it off with ease.

“You’re lucky you’re cute,” she mutters, pressing her mouth against his ear. He shivers.

“You know, that’s not the first time I’ve been told that.”

He thinks that maybe he shouldn’t be feeling up Derek’s little sister while Derek’s bound to be watching, but. Here he is, feeling up Derek’s little sister. Whatever. He’s been hellbound for years.

Somehow, they end up kissing, which is totally fine with him. Cora’s lips taste like the type of ale his dad drinks.

She pushes herself away, smirking. He thinks he hears her hum, considering, but the music drowns it out. Not like it matters. She’s already moving onto her next victim, who turns out to be—Lydia. Okay. Stiles is caught up in the movement of two really hot girls grinding their hips together, eyes glinting competitively, and—

Derek catches his gaze.

He’s very popular tonight. He’s surrounded by a drag queen, an absolutely smashed dudebro, and Danny. Stiles takes pity on him and squeezes his way into the little foursome, pressing himself close to Derek. Good thing they’d been doing all of those trust exercises, or else this might’ve been awkward.

The others float away. “You’re welcome,” says Stiles. Derek rolls his eyes.

They seem to have a natural pull, Stiles observes. It must be due to the endless hours of rehearsal—Stiles is simply inclined to move in a way that compliments Derek.

Even if that movement involves stringing his arms around Derek’s neck. Derek tenses, at first, but relaxes fairly quickly.

“Still have no idea what I’m doing,” he says into Derek’s ear.

“I can tell,” replies Derek.

“Thanks, I really appreciate it.”

Derek suddenly grabs Stiles’ hips and pulls him closer. All he can feel is heat and he’s not sure if it’s because of Derek’s temperature or what. Everything’s getting a little blurry, so he knows that the alcohol is starting to kick in.

Nothing feels unpleasant right now, that’s for sure. Derek’s breathing against the side of his neck, and there’s a friction going on in between them that keeps sending spikes of tension straight to Stiles’ abdomen.

The tensions turns to knots, and he’s starting to think—which isn’t a good idea. He needs to be drunk, not coherent. Feelings do not belong on the dance floor. He reluctantly tears himself away from Derek and stumbles back toward the bar.

“Ready for another?” asks the same bartender as before.

He notices Laura staring at him.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Derek awkwardly rejoins them, sliding onto the stool between Stiles and Laura. Laura hands him his coke and then turns back to Isaac; they seem pretty immersed in a deep, thoughtful conversation. Which is pretty weird, considering that they’re at a club.

Laura is starting to sway a little bit, though.

Stiles’ gaze drifts over to Scott and Allison. They’re huddled together, talking about who knows what. Scott’s usually an angsty drunk, so it’s kind of awesome to see that he’s enjoying himself. Stiles is happy for them.

He downs the third shot as soon as it’s placed in front of him.

Stiles spots Danny in the crowd; it looks like he found Jackson, who’d been replaced by Cora, and appears to be drunk enough that he doesn’t mind the suggestive proximity of his best friend.

Derek’s glaring kind of sullenly into his coke, likely wishing he was at home. Stiles takes this time to really look at the guy. His Henley is rolled up at the sleeves and he’s wearing some pretty tight jeans. If he’s ever seen Derek in street clothes, he can’t remember. It’s pretty weird, because even if those pants are tight, he’s seen him in things much tighter.

Still, he looks good. Damn good, even.

Eventually, Derek notices that Stiles is staring at him.

“What?” he asks, sounding oddly self-conscious.

“Uh,” Stiles starts, tongue slower than normal.

Five more shots appear in front of him. He stares at them in mild confusion, because he did not order that, but when he looks up, Scott and Allison are waving at him from across the bar. Well, okay.

“I’m going to die,” he states. “They’re trying to kill me.”

Derek raises an eyebrow, amused.

“I’m so lucky I stuffed my face after rehearsal,” he says, right before throwing back the fourth shot. “Derek, if I die of alcohol poisoning and the show is postponed—make sure Isaac’s cast as the Prince. He’d be a good prince.”

This captures Isaac’s attention. “What?”

“You won’t die,” says Laura, waving her hand.

Derek adds, “Not from eight shots.”

“Well, that sounds vaguely threatening.” Weren’t they talking about something else? “Oh, Isaac. You’d be a good prince.” He cups a hand over the side of his mouth, shielding it from Derek. “Good luck working with this guy, though. He’s unbearable.”

Of course, Derek can still hear him. “Thanks,” he says flatly.

“No problem, buddy!” He claps Derek on the shoulder and then grabs his fifth shot. Once it’s gone, he muses aloud, “Why eight?”

“Hm?” That’s Derek.

“Eight shots. Allison and Scott ordered me five more. There had to be a reason for that.”

“I think you’re overanalyzing.”

He scoffs. “No such thing.” He’s quiet for a moment, and then pointedly he says, “There were supposed to be eight guests.”

Derek looks at him, face neutral. “We probably should have asked if it was okay with you, first. Scott said—”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Scott’s a dumbass, though. I didn’t want you to come.” Derek looks a little wounded, so he adds honestly, “But I’m kind of glad you did. Really glad, actually. Which is gonna give Lydia bragging rights for weeks.”

Derek smiles, but it doesn’t last very long. He must assume that the conversation is over, because he turns away.

Stiles looks at Derek with a renewed sense of determination. It feels like such a good idea to get everything off of his chest—everything that he locked up and let out in the form of competitive sarcasm.

“I don’t hate you,” he begins, echoing Derek’s earlier confession, “but I used to.” He pauses to gather his thoughts. “It wasn’t fair. You started late and got really good really fast. I worked at this my whole life. Dancing is the only thing I’ve ever been good at. You showed up all shiny and new and—” He flaps his hands around, which he deems an appropriate descriptor. He shrugs. “It wasn’t easy to like you.”

“I can understand that,” Derek says, peering at Stiles like he’s a mystery that’s just been solved.

“Can you, though?” Another shrug. He’s not expressing himself very coherently anymore. “Whatever, man. I’m sorry for never giving you a chance. You’re actually a pretty cool dude.”

Derek seems pleased. He covers it up by taking a drink of his coke.

He looks back at Stiles, still failing pretty miserably at hiding his expression, and pauses to glances down at Stiles’ mouth; absurdly, Stiles wonders if there’s cinnamon on his lips until he realizes that Derek might want to kiss him.

Because of this strangely appealing revelation, Stiles leans forward. Kissing sounds like a great idea and birthday sex sounds even better.

Derek pulls away, though, downing the rest of his glass. It kind of loses the forlorn effect because it’s not alcohol. He’s frowning thoughtfully; there’s a line between his eyebrows that Stiles wants to smooth out.

So he does. He reaches over and nudges at his forehead. Derek gives him an odd look before shoving his hand away.

“You’re pretty wasted,” he observes.

Stiles wrinkles his nose, but he smiles. “Definitely.” To further prove that point, he grabs his sixth shot and gulps it down. He then slumps over and leans his head on Derek’s shoulder. It’s pretty uncomfortable until Derek stops tensing. “I don’t think I can make it to eight.”

“You have a dancer’s metabolism,” Derek rationalizes. Stiles really likes that Derek is defending his honor.

“Right. Good. That’s exceptional reasoning, Derek.”

“I try,” he says dryly.

Stiles snuggles against Derek’s shoulder when he feels his phone buzz in his pocket. He groans a little and digs it out, holding it to his ear. “Hello?”

Hi, son.

“Dad,” he says, drawing the word out. “What’s up?”

I can barely hear a word you’re saying. Where are you? Actually, never mind, don’t answer that. I don’t think I want to know. Look, I just called to remind you that if I find out you drove home without a designated driver, I’ll kill you if you don’t manage to kill yourself.” Before Stiles could object, he adds, “And drink responsibly.

“I am drinking responsibly. Right, Derek? Six instead of eight,” he declares proudly.

Derek Hale?” the Sheriff picks up on, evidently confused. “He’s with you?

Stiles nods and belatedly remembers that his dad can’t see him. “Yeah, of course. He’s my DD. He’s taken me home before. He gives good rides.” Stiles bursts out laughing, saying, “Oh my god,” over the sound of his dad hanging up. He rolls his head up to look at Derek, whose head is hunched into his shoulders like he’s trying to hide himself from the situation. The tips of his ears are pretty red. Or maybe that’s just the lighting. It’s usually the lighting.

“Body shots!” Erica crows. Stiles jerks his head up to look at her, wondering if he blacked out for a minute, there. It feels like it. Boyd’s now sitting with Laura and Isaac; in his place is Cora,seemingly having moved on from Lydia. She’s sipping contentedly at a beer while Erica sits in her lap.

Allison nods at Stiles encouragingly, and it takes him a moment or three to realize that Erica’s suggestion had been for him to—

“Uh,” he drawls.

“Take off your shirt and lay down, sweetheart. You won’t regret it,” says the bartender, patting the bar. Well. He trusts her judgment, so he finds himself scooting onto the hard surface, laying back. He watches her procure salt and a bottle of tequila. The next thing he knows, he’s got salt sprinkled among various places of his upper body and all of his friends are holding a lime in one hand and a shot glass in the other.

“I’ll go first,” Scott says, snickering. “I won’t let anyone else take advantage of you, bro.”

Stiles isn’t sure what Scott’s talking about, but he finds out soon enough. Scotts mouth presses against his; there’s a sloppy tongue that drags along Stiles’ bottom lip, and when Scott pulls back, he downs the shot before biting into the lime.

Yeah!” he shouts, stumbling back into Allison’s arms. She steadies him before taking her own turn. She lifts Stiles’ hand as if she’s about to kiss it, and—that’s what she does. Stiles is oddly charmed.

Erica takes the dip of his collarbone at the same time Lydia’s lipstick leaves a mark below Stiles’ navel. Jackson, even while inebriated, refuses to partake. Laura and Cora mouth at either bicep. Danny and Boyd take each nipple, which makes Stiles dissolve into laughter, his head tilting against the surface of the bar.

Isaac refuses to touch alcohol, for reasons unknown to the majority of the group, so they don’t pressure him. Derek, on the other hand—

“There’s one left,” Laura observes, inclining her head toward the tequila and lime sitting in front of Derek.

“I see that.”

“One shot won’t kill you.”

Derek stares at the length of Stiles’ throat. “It might.”

She shoves at him. “Seize the day, baby bro.”

“You should be fired,” Derek mutters.

He blinks blurrily at the ceiling, colors whirling through the air. The wet spots on his skin are starting to dry, he thinks. He lifts up a hand as if he could catch one of the lights and keep it in his pocket. “Hey, is everyone done? My back’s—oh, that—heeeyy, Derek.” His hand lands on the back of Derek’s head, holding him steady as he mouths at Stiles’ throat. “Oh my god.”

Derek pulls away to complete the shot. Stiles’ arm thumps back against the bar.

“Ow,” he says.

That’s the last thing Stiles says before he passes out.

He wakes up a couple of times after that, but for never more than a few seconds. The first time, he hears, “I’ve got Stiles. Can you carry Laura to my car?” and a response from Isaac.

The second time, which must only be a little while later, his back is touching the backseat of his jeep when he opens his eyes. Derek is precariously balanced over him while awkwardly crammed in between the front seat and the doorway.

“Sorry,” Derek says. The back of Stiles’ head hurts a little bit. He slowly manages to put two and two together.

“S’all good,” he concedes. Derek is still holding onto his waist. Stiles grabs one of his hands and squeezes it. “Job well done.”

Derek shakes his head fondly. He disappears and is replaced by Allison.

“I’m driving you home,” she tells him.

“If you crash my baby I’ll soak your pointe shoes in lemon juice.”

“Noted,” she says, clearly not intimidated, but she still grimaces at the thought.

- - - - - - - - - -

The following Monday, the leads sprawl out on the floor of the rehearsal room while Peter updates their schedule.

“You’re all aware, I’m sure, that we perform this weekend,” he drawls, sliding his hand along the mirror as he paces. “There’s a cast dinner Wednesday night, leads only. I hope you all like Vietnamese.”

“I hope you like covering our checks,” Stiles grumbles, nursing day two of his epic hangover.

Peter pauses, meeting his reflection’s eyes. “Of course. You deserve it.”

Finally, after ages of disappointment and patronization, Peter sounds genuinely impressed. As he damn well should be. Things have been tough.

BH News is stopping by on Thursday. You’re all expected to show up at the theater, on stage and in costume by 9AM sharp. Understood?”

Stiles vibrates, his knees knocking together in a steady rhythm. He loves being featured in the paper. He’s sure that as long as no mass murderers take a trip through Beacon Hills, he and Derek will make the front page. The blatant twisting of the classic tale is bound to draw attention.

—Which is exactly what Peter wants.

- - - - - - - - - -

Scott leans against Stiles’ bedroom doorway. His arms are crossed and there’s a smirk plastered to his face. Clearly, he’s enjoying the situation. Stiles regrets their friendship.

“I don’t get it,” Scott says.

Huffing, Stiles ignores him. He tears off the third shirt he’s tried on tonight and exchanges it for another one.

“You said this was a cast dinner.”

He accidentally buttons the shirt wrong. Restarting, he says, “It is.”

“Then why does it look like you’re going on a date?”

“I’m not! Dude, no.” The picture he makes in the mirror is pretty pathetic: he’s got a scrunched up face and a half-buttoned shirt over some khaki pants he hasn’t worn in over a year. Everything feels off. He sighs, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “I’m supposed to dress up. We’re going somewhere fancy.”

Scott raises an eyebrow. “Then why are you freaking out?”

“I’m not freaking out!”

“You totally are.”

He narrows his eyes. “I’m totally not.” Abruptly, he lets out a frustrated noise and unbuttons his shirt before throwing it back into his closet.

“Yeah, that’s the perfect picture of control.”

“Shut up.”

“No way. Hey, if you’re having issues with what to wear—”

“God, when you say it like that—”

“Wait.” Scott abruptly careens out of the doorway, jogs down the hall, and reappears within ten seconds. His phone is in his hand, and he’s speed dialing someone before Stiles can even ask what he’s doing. “Hi, mom,” he says.

Stiles groans. “Dude.”

Scott shushes him. “I’m fine. Yeah, no, it’s Stiles.”

He makes a point to mouth “I hate you” at Scott, who makes kissy-lips in response.

“He needs some advice on what to wear. He’s going to a dinner tonight with people from the dance studio. Yeah, they’re all in a production together. I know, right? But I have to finish this huge analysis for Deaton by Monday, so we both get to do things we don’t really want to do tonight. Anyway, he’s wardrobe challenged. I think he’s trying to impress someone. Probably Lydia. It’s usually Lydia.” Then, something dawns on Scott. “Wait, it actually might not be Lydia.”

Stiles’ eyes widen.

“So can you help?”

There’s a brief moment of silence. Stiles fills it by tapping his foot.

“The dark red button up,” Scott repeats, “your nicest black dress pants—hey, I think I see some over there—and your best dress shoes. I think he only has one pair of those anyway. Make sure you wear a belt and tuck in your shirt, too.”

This is Stiles’ life. He has to receive fashion advice from Scott’s single mother.

Still, he doesn’t want to argue with Mrs. McCall, even if she can’t really do anything if he decides to wear something else. He loves her just as much as Scott does. Which—

“I love you too, mom,” he murmurs into the receiver, phone pressed close to his face. He sounds embarrassed but he’s wearing an enormous smile. Suddenly, his face flushes red. “Mom—no, what did you just call her? Alyssa?” He turns around and pads out into the living room. Stiles can vaguely hear, “Her name’s Allison. Yeah, we’re doing great, actually.”

It’s only a moment later that Stiles hears Scott let out a woeful moan.

“Mom, I’m not your ‘little man’, please stop calling me that.”

Stiles laughs. He feels a little less tense than he did earlier, and after he pulls the red dress shirt (which he didn’t even think about wearing, thanks Melissa!) over his torso, there’s a low thrum of confidence coursing through his veins.

He looks in the mirror and deems himself presentable.

Luckily, Peter didn’t think that a formal dinner was necessary. Stiles couldn’t handle wearing a suit for more than an hour in the company of his co-workers—not without a serious incentive. He always prefers worn out t-shirts and tights.

- - - - - - - - - -

Unsurprisingly, the ladies steal the show. Allison’s wearing a deep purple A-line dress that accentuates the slimness of her waist and length of her legs, her hair tied up in a braided bun. Lydia’s sporting a black dress with laced long sleeves that hugs every curve. Curls spiral past her shoulders and her lips are coated with dark lipstick.

Derek’s wearing a fitted black dress shirt and, humiliatingly enough, black pants, black shoes, and a sleek red tie. Allison is the first to notice, her eyes flickering from Stiles to Derek and back again. Blessedly, she says nothing, though he can tell that she’s trying very hard to mask her amusement.

Unfortunately, Peter Hale exists.

“So, did you two plan the matching outfits?” he asks casually, sipping his glass of water.

“No,” they say simultaneously.

“I didn’t even plan on wearing this,” Stiles adds. “My friend’s mom made me.”

Instantly, he regrets the words that fly out of his mouth. Goodbye, dignity.

Derek laughs quietly beside him. So quietly, in fact, that Stiles is pretty sure that he’s the only one that heard.

“Red is a good color on you,” Peter notes. He glances at Derek. “You, on the other hand.”

Derek gives his uncle his signature Bitchface™ and Stiles is pleased that it isn’t directed at him, for once.

Lydia, perched on her chair at the other side of Stiles, looks bored out of her mind.

Stiles spies Allison checking her phone out of the corner of his eye. She's being pretty subtle about it so he can't help but give her credit. While the others are distracted by their own conversations, he leans forward and brightly begins with, "So Scott's got this huge analysis for Deaton due on Monday. Told me he'd be working on it all night. Sucks to be him, right? Three cheers for avoiding generic degrees."

She smiles with a hint of exasperation, and she guiltily slides her phone back into her purse. "We tried," she supplies.

"And that's all that matters."

"We just couldn't keep up with both."

"Except Lydia. You know she took online classes and got a degree?"

"I know. She told me," says Allison. Now it's her turn to lean forward. "She also told me that you used to be in love with her." Her eyebrows are lifted and her lips are pursed into a playful smile; she's teasing him, and he knows it, but he can't help but respond exactly the way she intends.

"Since when did you two get all buddy-buddy?"

A shrug. "Since the start of Swan Lake."

"I don't like it."

"So? Were you?"

"Yeah," he admits, glancing over at the young woman in question. Allison follows his gaze. It's not like he'd been subtle, back then. Or ever. He's fairly certain that the entire studio knew it.

Her voice softens. "Are you still?"

He feels Derek shift next to him, and as he fades out of his prior conversation, he turns to Allison and Stiles.

Fortunately, Stiles isn't embarrassed enough to keep his mouth shut. "Nah. It was hard to let go, you know? But even though I knew early on that she'd never return my feelings, it took a while before I realized that that means it's time to move on." Fondness seeps into his voice. "I love her to death. She's my partner and my friend. But like they say: you fall in love more than once."

Both Allison and Derek nod minutely in agreement, as though they're familiar with the sentiment.

"No matter how long it takes, apparently," Peter adds, suddenly facing their end of the table as though he'd been part of the chat all along. Stiles peers at him with narrowed eyes, but Peter ignores it in favor of smiling sunnily at Derek. "How long's it been, now? Ten years?"

Stiles is swift enough to recognize the time identifier of ten years.

Derek's teeth clench in response.

"Better late than never, I guess," he continues airily.

"You're dating someone, Derek?" Allison asks curiously.

"No."

He's obviously uncomfortable. Stiles figures that he receives enough harassment from his sisters and waggles his eyebrows at Allison. "Speaking of dating. You and Scott? How's that going?"

"It's going, Stiles," she says with an upturn of her mouth, prompt and unwilling to dish out any other details—as if he hasn't already heard it all from Scott.

"Are we going to gossip all evening? What is this, high school?"

Everyone turns to look at Lydia.

“Honestly.”

After that, they venture into conversational territory that doesn’t involve love or dating. However, it isn’t long at all before idle chitchat of weather and family dissolves into gossip of another kind, revolving mostly around the studio and the cast members that aren’t with them tonight.

“Who’s leading our stage crew this time?” Stiles asks, balancing his chopsticks effortlessly between his fingers.

“Erica and Boyd,” Allison replies.

“Good. I don’t know why we even bother enlisting anyone else’s help.”

“They have other commitments,” Peter supplies.

Allison perks up. “Did you know they’re planning to get married next summer?”

Stiles lifts his brows. “Huh. Good for them. I say it’s about time.”

Enviously, Derek eyes the chopsticks in Stiles’ hands. He has a pair of his own because the server hadn’t offered them forks as an alternative; consequently, his dinner is hilariously untouched.

Stiles catches his gaze and gives him a smirk, waggling the chopsticks effortlessly.

Derek huffs, turning away.

He pulls out his phone and shoots Derek a text.

Let’s get some subs later. Food that requires nothing but the sheer will of a man’s hands and mouth.

It takes a moment for Derek to check his phone, but when he does, he shakes his head out of exasperation. Still, he replies, Ok.

Stiles’ lips curve into something like a smile and Allison pointedly clears her throat, eyeing the two of them with an arched brow. Stiles shrugs loosely, unbothered. Derek stares into his untouched pho.

If I can’t text, neither can the two of you, she sends them.

The trio look to Peter and Lydia, who are debating the merits and downfalls of dating within the company.

“They’re doing fine, aren’t they?”

“Sure!” Lydia says, leaning forward. “Until they have a fight before one of our shows. Next thing you know, we’re missing half of a set and our cues are off.”

“You realize that could happen between anyone, don’t you?” he drawls, sweeping a gestured hand at the table. “Any mature human being knows not to let their personal feelings interfere with the workplace.”

She hums sharply.

“What?”

“Oh, nothing.” She retrieves a small mirror from her purse and checks her makeup. “I just find it unprofessional.”

He watches her primp. “Ah, but dear, you can’t help who you fall in love with.”

- - - - - - - - - -

“Stiles, Derek; Matt Dahlaer will be here in a couple of minutes,” Peter says. “Be prepared to do the scene in the park.”

Of course, Stiles thinks. Peter would want their most intimate scene to be photographed.

Derek looks just about as thrilled as he feels—which is to say: not at all.

Matt Dahlaer arrives as scheduled, stage left, with his camera already out of his bag and into his hands. He’s playing around with the settings and the focus—Stiles has no idea how it works, really—while Peter is fussing.

“You’re going to smear it all off,” Derek objects to the pressure of Peter’s thumb beneath his eye. There’s a lot of black makeup above and beyond his eyelids, intercepted by a long, angular stripe from the top of his head to the space between his brows, and even the slightest smudge outside of the crisp lines will ruin the effect.

Peter licks the side of his finger and grabs Derek’s jaw so he won’t jerk away, scrubbing yet again.

Stiles stifles a snicker and makes a mental note to tell Scott that Derek totally just got mom’d.

- - - - - - - - - -

Matt flicks through the stills on his camera while Stiles and Derek sit at the edge of the stage across from Allison and Lydia, who are lounging in-costume. The corps de ballet are spread among the house, paying various degrees of attention.

He raises his eyebrows appreciatively. “Huh,” he says. “You know, I’ve taken pictures of you two before, but never together. You have different styles, but when you work together, there’s this chemistry that’s really hard to miss.” He looks up and grins. “You two make a pretty good pair.”

“Thanks,” says Stiles. He’s a little mortified. Peter looks pleased. Derek is expressionless.

What else is new.

“Alright.” Matt slings the camera around his neck and pulls out a small notepad. “I have a couple of questions for you, Mr. Hale,” he says, indicating which Mr. Hale with an inclination of his head toward Peter. “It’s no secret that this isn’t the Swan Lake we all know and love. What should the audience expect to see this weekend?”

“Simply put: something different,” he replies. “Something new. A story that reinvents the idea of a white and black swan and its interactions with a prince. It’s a little darker, too. I aim to make an impression.”

“And how do you think the public will react to the notion of male swans?”

“I hope that they’ll understand my direction. Once they see it, they should be able to associate the swans’ choreography with realistic, birdlike movements.”

Matt leans forward. “Right. But the fact that the lead is a male, too? Is this variation still considered a love story?”

Peter frowns. “It’s about a prince who undergoes political and societal pressure. He’s unloved—until he finds acceptance from the Swan. Whether or not it’s a love story is irrelevant and, frankly, not the intention behind the genderswap.”

Seemingly satisfied, Matt tucks the notepad into his douchey messenger bag.

When Matt leaves, they all breathe a little easier, even if Peter still seems ruffled by Matt’s line of questioning. At the very least, it’ll be interesting to see those photos later—Stiles is pretty curious about that aforementioned chemistry.

He gives Derek a pat on his shoulder. “Hey, good work. We really nailed that run.” And they did. Finally, they seem prepared for the weekend. “We’re going to blow the audience away.”

Derek looks at him—really looks—and nods. There’s evident understanding in Derek’s eyes. “Yeah, me too.”

“Alright,” calls Peter. “While you’re all in costume, let’s run the whole show.”

- - - - - - - - - -

Thursday night, Stiles can’t sleep.

He flips and flops, kicking away his blankets and regretting it once he feels the cool air creep up his legs. “Ugh,” he whines.

Today had been their last rehearsal. They’ve got it down, he knows they do, but he can’t help but wallow in the apprehension. It happens each time, he rationalizes. This isn’t a new feeling. He considers calling Lydia, as he’s done many times in the past, but when he scrolls through his contact list he ends up thumbing Derek’s name.

“Stiles?”

“Hey.” He pauses. “Did I wake you up?”

“No. I can’t sleep.”

He blows a sigh of relief. “Me too. Part of me just wants it to be over with so I can stop—wigging out. But I’m excited, too.” He draws a hand beneath his eye and rubs. “Ugh. I just wish I could pass the fuck out already. It’s been a long day and we’ve got an even longer one tomorrow.”

“Go get a glass of water. Make your bed. Lay down and listen to Tchaikovsky; imagine the choreography to the show while it plays.”

Stiles blinks. “Is that what you do?”

Derek snorts. “No. I’m not the one with his discography on my iPod, remember?” More gently, he adds, “Just try it. Sounds credible enough.”

“I can’t believe you just made up some remedy to help me sleep without actually knowing if it works or not.”

“I’ll know tomorrow.”

He finds himself closing his eyes, focusing on the sound of Derek’s voice. “I don’t think you will. It sounds like a lot of work.”

“You dance ballet and making your bed is considered ‘a lot of work’,” Derek repeats dryly, just to clarify. “Something about that doesn’t seem right.”

“Don’t try to understand; it’ll save you the headache,” he advises with a murmur, tucking himself beneath the sheet. “Hey, tell me why you decided to dance.”

For a moment, Derek’s silent, but Stiles doesn’t push. Eventually, he says, “After the fire, Peter brought me with him to BHCBA. He suggested that I take a class or two. Tokeep me occupied, I guess. I used to play Basketball with one of my brothers. I needed a new hobby. Somehow, I liked it. And for someone starting so late, I was good at it.”

“Would you say that you were... alive?”

“What?” And, after a pause, “Shut up.”

“Okay, Mr. White.”

Derek huffs something that sounds like a laugh. “Your turn.”

“Huh?”

“You started so young. Was that your parents’ influence?”

Nostalgic, Stiles replies, “Yeah. My mom was—she was incredible. She trained in Paris, man. Worked in Texas, then New York. When she got older, she moved back to Beacon Hills to be around her family. That’s when she met my dad. She probably would have liked to go to San Francisco, but she must have thought that it was a good time to settle down. She didn’t pressure me to stick with dance, but she didn’t have to. It’s in my blood.” He turns, stretching. “I still have a box full of tapes with her performances on ‘em.”

“... Yeah? I’d like to see one sometime.”

“You can. Hell yeah, you can. When the season ends and we actually get some free time, come over.”

“Okay.”

Stiles hums, pressing his face into the pillow. He doesn’t realize that a significant amount of silence has passed until he wakes himself up from drifting. “Der?”

No reply. He ends the call. By the time he locks his phone, he’s out like a light.

- - - - - - - - - -

When the curtain disappears, Stiles stops worrying.

As he stands backstage, his eyes flutter shut and he listens to the music of the first act, relaxing as he seeps into character. He feels a warmth against his shoulder so he opens his eyes, finding the Swan pressed close. Whether it’s the Swan’s presence that calms the Prince or Derek’s that calms Stiles, he’s unsure.

They don’t speak. Stiles pushes himself off of the wall he’d been leaning against when he hears his cue. He looks back at Derek and, with a grace reserved for the stage, rounds the corner to slip into position.

It’s a blur, after that. When the Queen finds him on the floor with a bottle of pills, he claws at her waist as he begs for attention, only to be rejected again and again. Overwhelmed by the scene, Stiles doesn’t have to fake his tears. As Lydia exits stage left, he catches glints of wetness on her own cheeks.

As the scene in the park nears, Stiles expects to feel apprehension, but he doesn’t. The swans nearly engulf him and he experiences a rush of exhilaration when Derek intercepts their advances.

Stiles kneels, facing the audience. When Derek presses his hip to Stiles’ back, leaning elegantly against him, the muscle memory takes over and they dance.

As the Prince, he’s inexperienced. He has the freedom to move with less precision, giving himself away to the feeling of the music. He loosely mimics the Swan, eyes full of wonder, and when they begin to move together, Stiles’ awareness is reserved only for himself and Derek.

They take turns lifting one another; as he faces away from the audience, Stiles shares with Derek a secret smile.

The Swan presses close, nuzzling the Prince’s chest. Derek is more focused than Stiles has ever seen him. It’s easy to move with him like this—like the choreography is nonexistent and they move based on pure instinct. Stiles allows himself to feel captivated, and when the swans disappear, emptiness exists in their stead.

When they meet backstage after the first intermission begins, Stiles props himself up on a table and slumps forward onto Derek’s shoulder.

“So far so good,” he whispers into his ear. “You ready to Odile it up?”

Derek snorts softly. “As ready as I’ll ever be. You ready to throw a fit over losing my attention?"

“This is the worst part of the show,” he complains.

“No it’s not. We’re allowed to get into each other’s faces. Just like old times.”

Stiles shoves him away and hops down, leaning into his space just to be a little shit. “Yeah? You miss this, buddy?”

Derek watches the words leave his mouth, presses their foreheads together, and uses the leverage to push him away mock-aggressively like the Swan will soon.

“That’s right, big guy. You’re suddenly a straight swan, now. Embrace it.”

Snickering, he follows Derek into their dressing room and tears off the outfit he’d been wearing in exchange for a fine royal suit. Derek removes the shredded white swan bottoms and slips on a sleek black vest over a white dress shirt. He tucks slim-fitting pants into his soft, knee-high boots.

Stiles whistles at him. Derek hitches a mildly irritated eyebrow.

“Swan and Prince in five!” Erica calls, ushering down the hall with an earpiece tucked behind her hair and a clipboard between her brightly manicured nails.

Derek, looking supremely uncomfortable but supremely good-looking, steps out of the room to get into position. Despite the way he’d defended the scene earlier, Stiles knows that the ballroom sequence is the most challenging portion of what Derek has to act out. By the end of several rehearsals, Peter finally praised him, but it took ages for the Black Swan’s flirting to appear genuine.

For Stiles, it’s the easiest bit of acting he has to do throughout this production. He seethes wordlessly, watching the Black Swan charm one woman after another. The Prince is hurt, confused, and pissed as he’s ignored by the one creature who had given him genuine attention.

When the Black Swan curls his hand around the Queen’s shoulder, the Prince gets rough.

He attempts to intervene, disrupting the dance between Lydia and Derek. Fed up, the Black Swan releases her and pushes the Prince away.

They dance around one another, aggressive and persistent, until the Prince breaks down with desperation and plasters himself to the Black Swan despite being continually cast away.

Derek saunters back to Lydia, pressing a smirk to the side of her neck, and for the first time, Stiles finds himself envious of Lydia instead of Derek.

The Prince pulls out a gun.

In the flurry of chaos, the Girlfriend is shot and the Prince is restrained, forcibly drawn and quartered in his room like a patient in an asylum.

Lost and alone, the Prince tosses and turns in a dreamlike state as he lies on his bed. Stiles can feel the corps de ballet beneath the wooden bed, thumping around inelegantly until they emerge from beneath the bed skirts. The Prince doesn’t notice the swans until they begin to advance on him with ill-intent, mirroring their first scene. He nearly resigns himself to his fate—until the White Swan reappears, intercepting his brothers.

Stiles presses his back to the headboard of the bed, his body bracketed by the White Swan’s arms. He hunches over, facing the other swans, his posture defensive and tense. Fearful for their lives, the Prince huddles within the safe space until the Swan is torn away from him.

The swans, betrayed, swarm their former leader and pick at him with harsh movements. Helpless, the Prince hops down onto the floor and attempts to tear them away.

He’s cast to the ground, on his knees; they drag the Swan to the bed and surround him, dipping forward to tear him apart with their beaks.

Frozen in place, the Prince watches, horrified.

As the Swan dies, the Prince begins to writhe, sobbing into his arms and hands. He falls apart, center stage, while some of the swans slowly flutter away and the others drag the Prince back to the bed to drape him over the edge.

Stiles forces himself to still as the lighting fades from blue to white. The Queen stumbles upon the body of her dead son and weeps, enveloping her body around his. Finally, she cradles him as a mother should—but it’s too late.

The Swan and a double of the Prince appear above the bed, locked in their signature embrace, illuminated mutely. The stage goes dark silence falls.

The crowd immediately bursts with noise, clapping and shouting with enough fervor to make the house shake. In the darkness, the dancers slip off stage as Boyd and Erica push the bed offstage to make room for the corps de ballet.

“Holy shit,” he whispers to himself, stumbling toward the edge of the stage. Chest tight, he swallows back an agonized noise, careful not to mess up his makeup while he wipes the tears from his eyes. “What the fuck.”

It’s over.

He brightens. The first performance is over. Swiveling around, he watches the swans and the royals take their bows. Derek stands at the opposite end of the stage from Stiles, hidden behind the curtain. Their eyes meet.

Allison is next, then Lydia—

Finally, Stiles reenters, fluttering downstage. The sheer amount of love he feels from the audience almost makes him waver. He’ll never get over the rush of adrenaline that reminds him of his love for performance arts—that makes the blood, sweat, and tears worth it. Angling back, he outstretches his arm for their swan.

Derek faces the crowd, bows, and the amount of applause is thunderous. His head jerks with surprise, just slightly, and the most genuine, heartwarming smile appears on Derek’s lips. Eyes creasing, he bows again, and when he reappears Stiles can see that he’s grinning.

Something hits Stiles, then—hard. The breath’s knocked out of his chest and he feels like he’s floating when he moves further downstage with the others. He joins hands with Derek and Allison as the cast forms a line and bows together, one last time.

They all back away. As the curtain falls, Stiles watches the sheer pride emanate from Derek. Unfamiliar as it is, Stiles can’t help but admit that confident looks good on him.

The applause doesn’t die down for another couple of minutes. The cast seems frozen in place, ecstatic; nobody could have predicted the town’s reaction to the new material. Peter appears, pushing his way through the crowd of goofily grinning dancers, and grabs Derek’s face.

“They loved you. Do you hear that, Derek? That’s all you.”

Whether or not that’s true, Stiles isn’t sure, but he doesn’t disagree. Derek smiles again and Stiles is uncomfortably drawn to it.

“You were alright, too, Stiles,” Peter drawls.

Derek shakes himself out of his uncle’s grip while Stiles scoffs. “That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

The others buzz with chatter as they exit the stage and venture to their dressing rooms. Stiles’ heart still pounds, euphoric, and he follows Derek to their shared dressing room. Before the latter can open the door, Stiles is pushing him against it.

“Stiles—?”

“Shut up.” He further silences the other with a kiss.

It doesn’t last very long. Derek pushes him away.

“What the hell was that?”

“The majority of this country would call it a kiss.”

His eyes narrow. “Yeah? And what would you call it?”

“Don’t be an ass.”

Derek turns and pushes the door open, approaching the mirror. Stiles nearly groans when he finds that Derek has schooled his features into careful indifference. He’s so obvious sometimes.

“Character bleed,” Derek mutters.

“What?”

“You heard me. That’s what that was: character bleed.”

Stiles squints at him. “What are you talking about? How—”

“It happens to everyone, Stiles, you know it does. The Prince is—you’re being influenced by residual feelings from the show.” He pulls makeup removal wipes from the drawer and sets them on the vanity counter. “I saw you crying after the finale.”

Flushing, Stiles steps forward. “You’re an idiot.”

“What?”

You heard me,” he mocks. “I kissed you because I wanted to. It has nothing to do with the Prince’s boner for the Swan. It has everything to do with my boner for you.”

Derek looks down.

“Not currently. Jesus Christ.”

Finally, Derek asks, “What are you saying?”

“Do I have to spell it out?” Frustrated, he steps into Derek’s space. He hasn’t cleaned off his swan makeup yet, so there’s a harshness that accentuates the confusion written all over his features. “Against my better judgment I ended up—” He waves his hand around. “—Feeling things for you.”

Feeling things for me.” Fortunately, Derek sounds like he’s teasing him.

“Yeah, asshole.” He has to know what it feels like to kiss Derek’s smile, so he leans forward, capturing Derek’s upturned lips with his hands around Derek’s waist.

Derek exhales through his nose, drawing a hand up to the back of Stiles’ neck. He tilts his head and presses into the kiss—and releases a startled noise as he’s lifted on top of the vanity counter.

He blinks down at Stiles, who situates himself between Derek’s legs.

“Show off,” he mutters, leaning forward.

Two thumps on the dressing room door has the two of them breaking apart, wearing matching looks of agitation. “Derek, Stiles! Peter wants to talk to everyone before we leave.” It’s Danny. “And we really want to leave.”

“Reading you loud and clear, Danny boy,” Stiles calls back. “We’re almost done.”

He grabs a wipe from the container and smears it all over Derek’s face. Derek yanks it out of his hands and kicks him away. “I’ve got it.”

“You sure do.”

Derek gives him a look. Stiles winks.

“Get dressed.”

“Yes, sir.”

It’s worth it, really, to see Derek’s face color with embarrassment, even if he is shoved toward the bag where his clothes lie. He changes into his shirt that says PLIÉ / CHASSÉ / JETÉ / ALL DAY and a pair of shorts. He nearly faceplants into the ground attempting to lace up his shoes.

“How you manage to be the most graceful dancer on stage and the least graceful person off stage is honestly a mystery to me.”

“Hey!”

Derek raises his eyebrows. Stiles realizes that there was a compliment buried somewhere in that insult; he smirks, inching back toward Derek, who’s settled on the chair in front of the vanity, removing the last of the makeup.

“So, when did it all start?”

He’s met with a wary glance. “When did what all start?”

“Your crush on me.”

Derek looks so unbelievably affronted. It takes everything Stiles has to keep himself from laughing, thus ruining his chance at receiving a genuine answer. He slides his hands over Derek’s shoulders, leaning over to rest his chin on top of his head. He watches their reflection.

Eventually, Derek relaxes. “Before Swan Lake.”

Stiles purses his lips, surprised. “Really?”

“Yeah. But I didn’t know any better when I first joined the company. I had no idea you were such a little shit.”

“You’ve liked me for five years?”

“No,” he snaps. “Stop misinterpreting. I admired you. There’s a difference.”

“Well, somewhere along the way that must have changed.”

Derek shakes his head. “It didn’t change, exactly. I still admire you. You started out as someone that I idoled. That didn’t last long. Not with the way you treated me.” Stiles opens his mouth to explain, but Derek interrupts him. “I know. You told me why on your birthday, remember?”

“I don’t remember a lot of things that happened that night.”

Derek huffs. “Yeah, well. After that, I knew that you didn’t hate me because of me, you hated me because you’re a child.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He smooths his hands down Derek’s bare chest and then up his neck so he can tilt Derek’s head back. He draws their faces close. “But how long have you wanted to kiss me?

Derek’s eyes fall to Stiles’ mouth. “A while.”

"Even when you thought I hated you? I bet you like it rough, don't you, big guy?" Derek narrows his eyes. If he thinks he's intimidating anybody, he's sorely mistaken. He playfully brushes his nose against Derek’s before backing away. “As much as I’d like to know the specifics about that, we gotta go. Wanna come over tonight?”

Pulling on a BHCBA t-shirt, Derek says, “Yeah.” He sounds a little breathless. As a sign of great tolerance, Stiles tampers down the instinct to poke fun at him. They’re at the brink of a great thing, he thinks.

Once Derek is considered decent, they grab their things and exit the dressing room. The rest of the cast is gathered in the hall behind the stage near one of the backdoors. When Stiles and Derek join the half-circle, they’re met with dubious looks.

Peter stands in the center, hands clasped together. “One down, two to go.” He pauses. Stiles is surprised to see him look hesitant. “My sources tell me that the director of San Francisco Ballet, Helgi Tomasson, is stopping by tomorrow or Sunday. As some of you may know, San Francisco Ballet performed the first American production of Swan Lake. He’s very interested in this interpretation.”

Stiles tenses. San Francisco Ballet is one of the three largest ballet companies in the United States. Its director does beautiful work.

He’s always wanted to join—always considered it. After training with minor companies, it’s only natural to pursue a higher scale of professional dance. He’s spent hours on SFB’s website, researching the principal dancers’ backgrounds. Some of them come from overseas companies and start as leads; others apprentice first, become soloists, and then lead as principal dancers.

Stiles is confident and driven. Part of him wants to take the leap while he’s still young. Staying in Beacon Hills will limit him and he knows it.

“Whether or not he’ll be scouting, I’m not sure.” Peter clears his throat. “But that won’t matter, will it? You’ll all do your very best and nothing less regardless.”

The dancers murmur, looking stricken and nervous. Peter, uncharacteristically, doesn’t chastise them. Tomasson could be on the prowl for choreographers or artistic directors, too.

“Tomorrow’s call is 5PM. Rest up—and try not to injure yourselves.” He gives Stiles a look of dry exasperation.

“Okay, that was one time.”

It eases the tension; the others laugh and disperse. He’s glad that they find it funny. A twisted ankle and an understudy equal one unhappy Stiles. Giselle is one of his and Lydia’s favorite shows. It’d been the most fun, easily—and he blew it by overstressing a swollen ankle between performances.

Peter watches Derek and Stiles look between one another. “Oh?”

“Uncle Peter—”

“Oh what?”

He holds up two delicate hands, backing out the double doors. “Nothing. I’m merely confident that the next two performances will be… enhanced after tonight.”

Stiles narrows his eyes, watching him leave. What a creep.

The doors reopen. In Peter’s place is Scott. “Dude! That was awesome.”

“Just awesome?”

Scott pushes him, beaming. “Really awesome. I like seeing the four you on stage together. Make sure you don’t forget about me when you get famous.”

“He might,” Derek interjects.

“What?”

Pressing his lips together, Stiles swings his arms a bit. “He’s being presumptuous. Peter told us that the director of SFB is stopping by to see one of the shows. No big deal. We don’t even know if he’s looking.”

“Looking? You mean, like, to recruit?”

“Something like that. He’s got an eye for talent. If he sees what he likes? Who knows what could happen.”

“Holy shit, man. What are you gonna do if he asks you to join the company?”

Stiles looks down at his hands. “I don’t know, dude. I want it. I want it bad. But I’d have to move to San Fran, you know? And I’d be leaving you and Dad behind. I’d be leaving my home behind. Plus, like, ninety percent of the principals at SFB are foreign.”

Scott frowns. “I won’t be here forever. I have to go wherever there’s a job opening—and it’s not like Deaton’s retiring anytime soon. Your dad’s got my mom. He won’t be alone.” Stepping forward, he squeezes Stiles’ shoulder. “This is your dream. You know you’ll regret it if you don’t go for it.” Quietly, he adds, “Your mom would have wanted you to try.”

“I know.” He gives Scott a pat and straightens his posture. “Fine, god. If by some chance I get an offer, I’ll pursue it. Promise.”

“Good.” Satisfied, Scott looks from Stiles to Derek and back again. “Uh, do you have anything else you need to do before we go, or—?”

Aaactually, Scotty boy, I’m gonna need you to do me a favor.”

Scott tilts his head.

“Find another ride. And don’t come home for a couple of hours.” He grabs Derek’s hand and slides past his bewildered best friend and out the doors.

“Are you—Stiles! Oh my god, are you sexiling me? With Derek Hale?

“Payback, bitch!”

- - - - - - - - - -

Stiles is still laughing about it as he’s unlocking the door to his and Scott’s flat.

“It’s beautiful, really. It’s like it came full circle, y’know?”

“Yes, Stiles. I was there.”

“Good. Then you can appreciate the genius behind this.”

“I’m starting to think you invited me over just so you could get back at Scott.”

Stiles closes the door behind Derek and pushes him up against it. “Maybe the idea influenced my decision, just slightly,” he teases, watching Derek flush under his scrutiny. “I think there are some board games in the closet. There’s an unfinished file of Fallout 3 at our disposal, too. As long as he thinks we’re having sex, my plan will come to fru—”

Derek swaps their positions, pressing his lips firmly to Stiles’. If he’s trying to get Stiles to shut up, it’s not working very well. He’s snickering between kisses and eventually tilts his head back so he can free his mouth.

“Or we can do this. I’m one-hundred percent on board with this.”

This is Derek dragging his teeth along the length of Stiles’ neck. He sucks softly at the skin beneath his ear.

“Hickeys can be seen from the audience.”

Derek huffs. “It’s nothing a little bit of makeup can’t fix.”

“You know what makeup can’t fix? The embarrassment you’ll feel when all of your relatives and the entirety of the company give you shit tomorrow.” When Derek pulls away, Stiles lifts up his eyebrows, challenging him.

“I don’t care,” he eventually says, pressing his body close and biting a mark onto the side of his throat. Stiles arches, hands idling at Derek’s back.

“You say that now…”

“Christ, do you ever stop talking?”

“Are we asking questions we already know the answer to? Hey, how would you feel if I fucked you into my mattress tonight?”

Derek’s forehead falls against Stiles’ shoulder as he rolls their hips together, shuddering.

Stiles kisses the side of his head. “C’mon. Bedroom’s that way.”

- - - - - - - - - -

In the end, Stiles doesn’t fuck anything but Derek’s hand and mouth. It’s a satisfactory compromise. He does finger Derek until he comes untouched, though, his legs stretched against his chest. He makes a comment about flexibility and how Derek should be thankful that Stiles is here to help him improve. Derek’s glare is hard to take seriously when he’s moaning into his arm.

They pass out from exhaustion before they get the chance to do anything else. The time spent in the shower the next morning serves as a great chance to stretch their sore muscles.

As they lounge on the couch, fully dressed, Scott glares at the back of their heads from the kitchen table. Stiles ignores him, sprawling further across Derek’s lap. He can throw a fit all he wants; he’d probably gone to Allison’s last night, anyway.

Derek, with one hand in Stiles’ hair and the other holding his phone, releases a noise of discontent when Fix You blasts from its speakers.

“Laura?”

“Unfortunately. Should I answer?”

“Only if you put it on speaker.”

He does. “If I find out the reason you didn’t come home last night isn’t because you got laid, I’m calling the cops.

“You are the cops,” Stiles replies.

“Oh, Stiles! Good. Cor, you owe me dinner.” Distantly, they hear Cora curse Derek’s name.

“What was Cora’s bet?” he can’t help but ask. Derek seems offended that Stiles is unbothered by his sisters’ invasive shenanigans.

“She thought Derek would pine for another couple of weeks before he made a move. Unfortunately for her, she forgot that Derek’s a sucker for cliches. Of course he’d plan for opening night!” She sounds so delighted that Stiles almost doesn’t want to correct her.

“Actually, Derek’s not responsible for this one. You both lose.”

“Aw, Der, really?”

What?” he snaps. “If that’s all, I’m hanging up.”

“Don’t be a baby. I wanted to let you know that Cora and I are coming tonight. And tell Uncle Peter to wait for Cora. I have to go straight to work after the performance and she needs a ride.”

“Why do I have to tell him?”

“Because you’re his favorite. Just do it, please? See you tonight! Bye Stiles, bye Derek!”

The line goes dead. Derek locks the screen and tosses his phone to the other end of the couch. He scrubs a hand over his face; Stiles takes pity on him and grabs his wrist, lowering it

“You hungry?”

“Starved. Want me to cook something?”

Stiles places their joined hands over his chest with a dramatic flourish. “A man after my own heart.” When Derek smiles, Stiles matches it.

- - - - - - - - - -

That night, Stiles and Peter are personally invited by Helgi Tomasson to stop at SFB and introduce themselves to the principal choreographer. Allison and Lydia are encouraged to audition. Derek receives high praise for his performance as the Swan and congratulations on his excelled growth despite the late start.

Needless to say, it’s anything but a second show flop.