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Jump Through Hoops

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Stiles followed Scott into his dressing room, letting the door slam shut behind them. Scott had shown up to work with his normal amiable mood, then for no reason that Stiles could discern, he'd turned suddenly angry and gone stomping off to his dressing room. Stiles knew that celebrities were prone to temper tantrums and unique whims; he had heard more than a few horror stories about what other managers had to deal with--which only made him feel that being Scott's manager had somehow been too easy. Though Scott's demands had never been unreasonable, that didn't mean they'd always stay that way.

The room was a decent size—large enough to hold an overstuffed couch, a dressing table, a couple of straight-backed chairs, and a small kitchenette—with every inch of wall covered in posters of musicians and movies and athletes. None were of Scott or his roles, an observation that Stiles made afresh and with some shock every time he stepped through the door. “Come on, dude. You can’t do this to us. You have to go on.”

Scott threw himself onto the couch, arms already crossed in his most defiant pose. Like Stiles, he was wearing the bright yellow Staff shirt for the facility, though his pose covered the identifying words across his chest. “No,” he proclaimed. “I’m done.” He flopped back into the cushions, a whoosh of air rushing from them. “I-I-I’m tired of it, of this life. I’m tired of always being on display and always having to put on a show.”

Stiles threw his hands up in exasperation. “This was your idea!”

“This was your idea,” Scott corrected. “And I went along with it.” He dropped his head, a scowl pasting itself across his face at how he felt about going along with Stiles’s ideas.

“You can’t do this to us, man. You can’t quit now. We’re sold out. The auditorium’s packed. You’ve got—“ He waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the theater, “—hundreds, no thousands, of people out there, who are waiting to see your show.”

For a second, Stiles thought he’d gotten through. He saw Scott’s eyebrows go up, the scowl curl into an expression more akin of curiosity than contempt, then Scott’s eyes flicked to the mirror over the dressing table and the scowl returned, louder than ever.

A light tapping at the door interrupted the next protest out Scott’s mouth. The door swung open and Lydia stepped into the room, clad in her black wetsuit, with her reddish-blonde hair pulled back into a tight pony tail. “I don’t care if you’re dec--” she started, before she caught at look at Scott’s face with his chin set stubbornly. “--ent. You’re not ready! Stiles, why isn’t he ready? The show starts in ten minutes?”

Stiles dropped his head back bonelessly. “Scott’s quit,” he informed her.

Lydia frowned. “Again?” She turned back to Scott and eyed him contemplatively, hands akimbo. “It was the photographers, wasn’t it? They were taking too many pictures of you. Stiles, what have I told you about not having restrictions on cameras. You know the light from the flashes hurts his eyes.” She said the last with a slight pout, like a person commenting on an idiosyncrasy she’d discovered in a pet.

“The light doesn’t hurt my eyes,” Scott mumbled in return, clearly not amused by her tone.

“Then what is it?” Stiles asked.

Scott clamped his lips together in stubborn silence, but his eyes ticked once again to the mirror. Stiles followed his friend’s look. The only thing on the mirror was a photograph that had been used as the basis for one of the theater’s largest promotions. It showed a dark-haired teen girl standing with her arms slung around her mother and father, all of them wearing shorts, shirts, bright smiles, and sunburns. They were clearly having the time of their lives. In front of them was posed a seal, its black skin still damp from having just jumped out of the water to get its picture taken. Stiles grabbed the photograph from the mirror and waved it in Scott’s face. “This? This is the problem?”

“What?” Lydia asked, peering over Stiles’s shoulder, catching his hand in hers to stop the waving long enough that she could see the picture. On recognizing it, she breathed out an “Ohhhh.”

“You’re mad because she liked you when you were a seal?” Stiles asked, slipping from exasperated to incredulous.

Scott jumped to his feet, grabbing the picture out of Stiles’s hand. It crumpled in his grip and he immediately dropped it to the table and started rubbing at the wrinkles, trying to press them out of the paper. “She’s out there right now,” Scott said, speaking to no one in particular. “I saw her when I came in.”

“So, she’s a local,” Lydia commented, “with a frequent visitor’s card.”

“We don’t have a 'frequent visitor’s card,'” Stiles replied. “We’re not a coffee shop. You don’t get free admission to the park after you visited nine times.” He brows drew together thoughtfully. Before he could follow that idea to its natural conclusion, Lydia punched him in the arm. “Hey,” he protested.

“Focus,” she said. “We’re on in five minutes now, and our darling Scott is still refusing to put on his skin. We won’t need a frequent visitor’s card if he doesn’t get his butt out there and do the show.”

Having apparently salvaged the state of the picture, Scott reverently stuck it back into the mirror’s frame. His fingers ghosted over the girl’s face one last time before he turned back to his former co-workers. “I’m going to meet her,” he informed them. “As myself.”

Lydia sucked in a breath at the announcement. Stiles rocked backward on his heels. The room went dead quiet, not even the rumbles of the audience anticipating the pending water show seeping through the walls. Scott’s normally tanned skin, which already appeared sallow next to the yellow t-shirt, now looked pale and sallow, and he had an expression like he taken a big bite of coffee grounds.

“Not to be a party pooper,” Lydia said, “but technically, she has already seen you as yourself.”

Stiles cringed. Scott hated to be reminded that the seal form was his natural one. Scott hadn’t wanted to talk about the whole selkie thing at all, and was only forced to after Stiles accidentally found the skin that Scott had done an incredibly poor job of hiding in a plastic tub behind the water heater in his basement. And, no, Stiles thought, it wasn’t relevant what he had been doing digging through the tubs in Scott’s basement to begin with.

“We’ll invite her backstage,” Stiles burst out. Scott and Lydia’s mouths both dropped open, though Lydia reclaimed her poise so quickly that Stiles wouldn’t have caught it if he hadn’t been watching her. He always had one eye on her.

“W-what?” Scott asked.

“We’ll invite her backstage. After the show. You go on and she’ll get to see your wonderful performance.” And the show will probably be even better because he’ll totally be trying to impress her, which would be even more beautiful. Stiles could happily visualize what this would do for the park. Having the most famous performing seal in the country would only be the start of their fame. “Then she can come back here and find out all your secrets.” He held a finger up, cutting off Scott’s predictable protest before his friend could voice it. “Two minutes,” he said. “Decide now.”

Scott hung his head, his brown hair flopping over his face as he worked through his options. Stiles took that to mean that he had already won. He gave a slight nod to Lydia. She flicked her eyes between them, assessing the next few moves in the argument like it was a chess match. She must have liked the outcome she saw because she turned on her heel and slipped out the door. Stiles could trust her to figure out how to get the show started on time with the least disruption, no matter how creative she had to be about it.

“Fine,” Scott relented.

“So you don’t quit?” Stiles asked, just to confirm. That the question needled his friend was only an added benefit.

“I don’t quit,” Scott ground out.

Stiles let the comment hang there. His expression was carefully blank, drawing the moment out until Scott shifted uncomfortably. “Perfect,” he finally replied with a grin. “Now get out there and get changed.” He watched as Scott trudged toward the still open door, doing his best to hang on to the last bit of defiance, even as they heard Lydia’s voice echo over the loudspeakers, announcing the start of the 2:00 pm performance.

He started to follow, then turned back to retrieve the picture. No sense taking this kind of risk if he wasn’t sure he had the right person. He paused, studying the photo. Though Scott had done his best to smooth out the wrinkles, a crease cut through the mom’s face, making her appear sinister. Fortunately, the important part of the photo was unharmed. The girl was pretty, whatever her name was, though her long, curly hair was too dark for Stiles's taste. With a shake of head, he dragged his thoughts back to reality.

If Scott wanted an introduction to a pretty girl, Stiles would see that he got it. When he had convinced Scott to start working for the aquarium and it had worked, he’d been sure that he’d used up all the luck he was ever going to have in his life. He crossed his fingers and hoped for the sake his best friend, and his job, that he had enough luck left to play matchmaker. One last glance at the photo and he set off to find the girl, fighting off a small pit of dread growing in his stomach. As far as celebrity demands went, this was nothing, so why, he deliberately didn't ask himself, did he feel like the request was going to end in nothing but trouble?