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Life imitates art, right?

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Stiles is practicing.

Surprise, surprise.

He’s the lead dancer in the new ballet rendition of The Little Mermaid and they open in just over a week so it’s not unusual that he’s putting in extra hours.

Stiles has been dancing since he was young at the encouragement of his mother. She loved to take him to dance class, loved watching him try to be graceful as he learned. When she died when he was only 10 he kept dancing, kept pursuing it in her memory. He thought he could make her proud if he became a professional ballet dancer.

The longer he did it though the more joy he took from it. It was cathartic, expressing himself through his dancing. He could channel anything he was feeling into the movements and leave it all on the floor when he finished. He has bled, sweat, and cried on the dance floor but he has always been able to pick himself up and walk away from it with a sense of confidence in himself that he wouldn’t trade for anything.

He hasn’t always been the most conventional of dancers. Puberty was an awkward time where his body lost some of the fluidity of his traditional ballet training. But he just pushed himself more towards the looser styles of hip hop dancing and worked at mastering different techniques for a while. It was his blending of the two styles that caught the eye of a few different scouts.

And that’s mostly how he ended up the principal dancer for this new ballet.

Stiles had only been with the company for a few months when he was selected and he was still navigating his way through ballerinas and ballerinos. Walking into the first day of rehearsal he was a bundle of nerves. Not that it wasn’t without reason; this was his first time being the principal dancer for a production, he was a guy playing The Little Mermaid instead of a woman, and he was dancing counter to the Derek Hale as well as Scott McCall and Kate Argent.

He was so nervous, mostly about failing or being inadequate compared to the talent of the other three main dancers, he had his first panic attack in years. He didn’t even make it to the practice room, just hyperventilated in his dressing room alone until he passed out. Waking up in the arms of Derek Hale with Scott standing over them nervously was not something he expected to come of it.

Nor did he expect that over months of practicing the ballet he’d have to deal with unending amounts of sexual tension between himself and Derek, and just regular old jealous tension between himself and Kate. He’s spent more hours with Derek, Scott and Kate over the last few months than he’s spent alone. And that’s part of the reason he’s practicing right now.

Everyone else has left the studio; Stiles is blessedly alone and can get in some extra practice with the concept costume the design team borrowed him. It’s very flowy and it’s honestly going to be beautiful when he and the other mermaids dance in the actual costumes. As it is though, he’d rather practice in a mock up while he learns to dance around it. Just in case.

Today was just an exceptionally long day. They’re to the point where they’re practicing the final scenes of the story. So you know, the scenes where Derek as the prince chooses Kate the princess over Stiles the mermaid who can’t declare his love.

It’s awkward.

Stiles has pretty much been harboring a crush on Derek Hale since he got hired with the company. And Kate Argent pretty much hated Stiles on sight because Derek actually, you know, talks to Stiles outside of practice. That’s the weirdest thing for Stiles, that Derek was easy going and kind to him almost immediately when they met.

It could have something to do with the panic attack but Stiles isn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Because Derek is so much more than a pretty face and a phenomenal dancer. He’s so kind it makes Stiles ache. He’s got the driest wit Stiles has ever come across and Stiles loves how much Derek can make him laugh.

And the dancing, well, Stiles isn’t complaining about being pressed up against all those firm muscles on a regular basis. More than that, it’s incredibly effortless to perform alongside Derek. It’s not easy, no the choreographers outdid themselves to make the steps as fluid, beautiful and intricate as they could. But it’s easy to get carried away in the work when he’s working with Derek.

At least it has been.

But for the last three days Stiles has dealt with watching his fears play out in front of him. Namely, that Derek will choose someone else to love if, when it comes down to it, Stiles can’t voice his feelings.

It’s stupidly ironic that the art is imitating his life. But while Derek’s been nothing but kind and friendly these last few months Stiles still doesn’t know where he stands with him. He still doesn’t know if Derek is even interested in guys at all. All he knows for sure is that there was ‘something’ between him and Kate once upon a time. And that’s only because Scott and his girlfriend Allison, who is Kate’s niece, told him about it and warned him about the possibility of Kate acting out during the production and rehearsals.

He gets lost in his thoughts and when the music changes from the score of the ballet to another playlist on his phone he loses himself in the music, in dancing wherever the song takes him. He’s so absorbed in the moment he forgets he’s wearing the costume, forgets about how careful he needs to be in order not to trip.

Try as he might Stiles can’t banish all his thoughts and worries from his mind while he moves across the floor. Worries about the production, about what Kate could do to win Derek back, about if Derek’s going to find out about Stiles' massive crush on him all cloud his mind until he’s stumbling.

He catches a foot on part of his tail in the middle of a twist and he goes down. Hard. The pain in his ankle stabs sharply enough to bring tears to his eyes as he lays there. He’s trying to catch his breath and trying to stop the tears that are falling without his permission. He’s just, this is all so overwhelming and he doesn’t know what he should be doing to make it better. So he cries, curled up in a ball on the polished wood floor he sobs it out until he can feel the stress keeping his chest tight and uncomfortable start to loosen.

This isn’t the first time he’s had a breakdown on the practice floor. Though it is the first time he’s had one since getting hired at the company. And it’s definitely the first time someone has shown up in the middle of one. He hears the door open as he takes a deep breath between sobs.

“Stiles!” Derek cries and Stiles should be embarrassed but he just doesn’t have the energy.

He’s tired of this. Tired of the stress, the dirty looks from Kate, the mixed signals from Derek. He just wishes they could start performances already and then he could go back to being a nobody dancer without all this added pressure. So he doesn’t try and wipe away the evidence of his emotional breakdown just tries to take another deep breath and stop the hitching in his chest.

He listens to a pair of footsteps race across the floor noisily and when he opens his eyes Derek is there in front of him kneeling down on the floor and reaching out for Stiles’ shoulders to roll him over slightly. His face is pinched in obvious worry and he looks pained when he sees Stiles’ face and the tear tracks.

“What happened, Stiles? Are you hurt?” he implores, sounding just as anxious as he looks.

Stiles kind of shakes his head as he ducks his face back into his shoulder and looks down at the floor again. But Derek crooks a finger and gently tips Stiles’ chin back up to look at him.

“What happened?” he asks quietly and Stiles can’t look away from Derek’s eyes as he shrugs.

“Tripped. Twinged my ankle,” Stiles admits.

Derek drops his gentle hold on Stiles’ face and shifts down to pull Stiles’ ankles into his lap. Stiles just rolls over so he’s flat on his back to make things easier. Derek lifts the costume out of the way and Stiles watches him look at each ankle, trying to figure out by sight which one is hurt. Stiles kind of wants to smirk at his focused look but chooses to lift the one he twisted and shake it slightly. Derek just nods silently and starts gently pressing his fingers all the way from Stiles’ Achilles tendon up into his calf to see if there’s more damage than Stiles realizes.

But Stiles only winces slightly when Derek presses were his ankle is just barely swollen on the side. It’s nothing a few days of rest won’t heal but he doesn’t have a few days to sit on the sidelines and stop practicing. He drops his head back on the wood floor and fights the tears that threaten to spill out again.

All that work, all the shit he’s put up with for the last few months and now a stupid extra practice is going to knock him out of his spot as the lead.

“Hey,” Derek says softly as he drops Stiles’ foot gently and crawls up over Stiles, his knees on either side of Stiles’ hips and his hands next to Stiles’ face holding him up on all fours.

“It’s not that bad, Stiles. As long as we ice it tonight and take tomorrow off to really rest it and let it heal –“

“I danced through a week-long bout of the flu, what makes you think they’re going to believe that out of nowhere I come down with something that keeps me out of practice for a whole day?” Stiles interrupts incredulously at Derek’s simplistic plan.

But Derek doesn’t see the flaws that Stiles does and just furrows his brow in confusion.

“Why tell them you’re sick? You’re hurt, we just tell them you’re resting a minor injury and you’ll be back in a day.”

Now it’s Stiles who looks at Derek in confusion.

“You’re kidding right? Derek, the second they catch wind of me being injured, a mere week before our first performance, they’re going to bench me and put Kira in instead.”

“Do you really think you’re that replaceable?” Derek asks hesitantly.

“Um, yes? That’s why there’s more than one person dancing each part. They’ll never keep me in with a bum ankle,” Stiles explains, voice tight with the emotion he’s trying to hold in and closes his eyes tightly.

“Oh, Stiles,” Derek breathes and the cold that seeps in when Derek stands feels like insult upon injury making it even harder not to start crying again.

But then Derek’s arms are scooping him up off the floor and Stiles can’t hold it in. He doesn’t care that Derek is bridal style carrying him out of the practice room towards the trainer’s office. He just wraps his arm around Derek’s neck and lets the tears silently fall into Derek’s shoulder. When they get to the door Stiles takes a deep breath and pulls himself together again as he opens it for Derek so they can walk in.

Derek doesn’t say anything after he puts Stiles on the exam table and then goes to gather an instant ice pack and some tape. Stiles peels out of the costume pants so he can leave them in his locker and Derek’s footsteps stutter when he turns back around and sees Stiles in his boxer briefs. Again Stiles just doesn’t have the energy to be embarrassed. He’s had every part of his anatomy pressed up against Derek at one time or another with only the thinnest layers between them on the dance floor.

Derek recovers quickly and makes quick work of taping the ice pack to Stiles’ ankle and grabbing him a set of crutches so they can leave again.

It’s only as they’re walking back down the hallway towards the room where Stiles left his phone and his clothes that the silence is broken.

“I’m gonna take you home, okay?” Derek says quietly and Stiles nods in agreement.

He’s more than ready for the day to be over. After Stiles has gotten some assistance slipping on his shorts and getting his phone from the speaker system Derek walks him to the parking lot. Instead of heading for his own car Stiles follows Derek to his.

Once they’re settled in their seats Derek turns to Stiles, his expression still just as serious as it was when he’d been tending to Stiles’ ankle.

“Do you trust me?” he asks.

Stiles’ only reaction to that is a firm, “yes.”

He does trust Derek is the thing. He trusts Derek with lifts and intricate moves on the dance floor. Why shouldn’t he trust him now when he’s spent the last few months building it up between them?

Derek just nods once and pulls his phone out of his pocket and puts it on speaker phone after pressing the contact he chose to call.

“This is Noshiko,” Stiles hears after the ringing stops and he can’t help the way his heart starts to race. Derek’s called the company owner, Noshiko Yukimura. Stiles is doomed.

“I assume you’ve found Stiles then, if you’re calling me Hale,” she continues and Derek smirks a little.

“Found him alright, practicing away. He’s going to need to take a day tomorrow. He tweaked his ankle a little and needs a solid 24.”

Stiles holds his breath, this is it. This is where she benches him.

“Take the day yourself,” is what he hears next though. “Make sure he doesn’t overdo it tonight and keep him off it tomorrow, would you?”

“No problem,” Derek replies with a growing smile, “Thanks Noshiko.”

“Yeah, yeah. You two better be ready for the next week of full costume rehearsals,” she warns.

“We will be,” Derek assures her before they say goodnight.

Stiles is still looking at Derek in wonder when he hangs up the phone.

“She didn’t bench me,” he says a little breathily and Derek’s smile sharpens.

“No, she didn’t. She picked you for the lead for a reason, Stiles. She wants to see you perform it and represent the company.”

Stiles lets that sink in for a minute because that’s a little hard to wrap his mind around.

“She was pissed when you pushed through the flu to keep practicing and yelled at me to have you get your shit together and take care of yourself.”

The box of vitamins, case of Gatorade and saltine crackers that showed up in his dressing room suddenly makes a lot more sense. He holds back a wince because when he puts it like that, Stiles seems like a burden. Like a responsibility Derek has had to stress over.

He ducks his head and looks at his hands where they’re folded in his lap.

“Sorry you had to cater to the newbie,” he says quietly and Derek huffs.

For the second time that night Derek brings Stiles’ face around to look at him with a finger on his chin. He looks anything but annoyed, mostly just a little playful.

“Wasn’t like I hadn’t volunteered for the job or anything,” he replies and Stiles looks at him confused.

“How can you not see,” Derek whispers as he leans in and kisses Stiles.

It’s nothing more than a gentle press of lips but Stiles’ breath is taken away by the action. He feels his eyes go wide in surprise when Derek pulls back and looks at him fondly.

“Idiot,” he says affectionately before leaning in again and giving Stiles another quick peck of a kiss.

Stiles can’t help but smile shyly as Derek starts the car, gets them out of the parking space and then tangles his fingers with Stiles' on the center console. He is quiet for a few blocks as they drive towards the apartment complex that most of the dancers live in. But he can’t stay silent long.

“How long?” he asks quietly and Derek looks over to smile at him indulgently.

“When did I notice you were attractive? The moment I watched you skip into the building on your first day at the company. But I think I really started to like you and knew I needed to be with you on the day you straight-faced told Kate to watch herself dancing so she could really see what she was doing wrong.”

Stiles blushes as Derek laughs.

“She wasn’t getting what Finstock was trying to show her and I was sick of running those same four steps while she kept making the same mistake over and over again,” Stiles defends himself and Derek just squeezes Stiles’ hand.

“I know,” he laughs, “and I couldn’t say anything because I wasn’t about to start an incident. That was when I first started really paying attention to you but I wanted to wait to ask you out or anything. I didn’t want it to come across as, I don’t know, sleazy.”

Stiles crooks an eyebrow at the man in confusion.

“Sleazy?”

“You know, like, older more experienced dancer offers help and tips in exchange for sexual favors.”

Stiles rolls his eyes.

“You watch too many bad rom coms.”

“I watch just the right amount of rom coms,” Derek shoots back easily before growing serious again. “Honestly, though, I didn’t know how to approach this. I didn’t want you to feel pressured.”

That’s honestly the sweetest thing Stiles has ever heard.

“Well,” he says only with mild hesitation, “I wouldn’t feel pressured if you asked me out right now.”

Derek throws the car in park since they’re in their apartment’s parking lot and turns to face Stiles, just the hint of a smile playing at the edges of his mouth.

“Stiles would you want to go on a date with me?”

“Yes, I would,” Stiles replies confidently, feeling infinitely lighter than he did at the beginning of the evening.

“And if said date was Netflix, ice packs, smoothies and take out?” Derek offers with a grin and Stiles reaches across the car to pull Derek to him, kissing him soundly before he pulls back and away completely.

“Sounds like a first date to me.”

*

Three days later they’re back running through full dress rehearsals, just as Noshiko promised. But now they get to finish. Stiles jumps in front of Derek to save him from death, his love for Derek is known to the world and Kate is left in the background, alone.