Grand Prix Finals
Probably hadn't been a good idea to check his voicemail right before taking the ice, but he'd figured maybe his dad was wishing him luck, knowing what a huge moment this was. And given the nerves that were causing him to literally shake in his skates, Stiles Stilinski really could've used the reassurance of his dad's calm, steady voice repeating those same words of faith in his son's skills.
Only that wasn't what he'd gotten.
No, what was left was a message about Stiles' husky, Derek, being rushed to the vet after his legs had given out on him one last time and then subsequently passing.
Stiles had been devastated, his hands shaking more than usual as he stepped onto the ice, his nerves feeling like they were actually trembling underneath his skin. He couldn't focus on his routine, couldn't get his mind to settle where it was supposed to. All he could think about was his blue-eyed pup, one he'd gotten because it was the same breed as his childhood idol's, a dog that had been by his side through four am wake-ups, jogging alongside his owner on their way to the rink to get in practice before school, hanging out in the afternoons when Stiles was working on his routines. Derek had been a calming presence that helped eased Stiles' anxiety over grades, friends, college, his romantic life—or lack thereof really—and his mom's death.
Shit, Derek had been the biggest comfort during his mom's illness, the one Stiles had held on to while he cried, the one who'd wiped—or licked really—away tears, the one who'd shown that Stiles would be okay because he still had someone there by his side, still had that rock he could lean on while his dad was busy working.
Only now that steady rock was gone.
Who the fuck was gonna watch over Stiles now? Who was gonna comfort him in his hour of need? His dad was the sole caretaker of the Beacon Hills Bed and Breakfast, meaning he was always at the beck and call of various guests, always had a million and a half things to do. Stiles loved the man to death, but he wasn't one-hundred percent reliable—through no fault of the older Stilinski. That's why Derek had been more than just a pet to Stiles and that's why his death was an especially hard blow.
And it showed in his performance.
He over-rotated a quad and barely escaped smashing his face on the ice, falling onto his hands and knees.
He under-rotated a triple toe-loop and landed on his ass.
He missed a combination, a double twist turned into a single.
He fucked up. Everywhere.
After his shit-tacular performance, Stiles wanted nothing more than to just disappear, to go back to the hotel and pack his shit and head home. But his coach Deaton wouldn't let him. Guards back on his blades, Deaton wrapped his arms around Stiles and hauled him in for a hug, patting his hand over his buzzed hair and murmuring words that Stiles was sure were meant to be reassuring. He didn't hear any of it. Everything was fuzzy, like it was all coming from far away, the sound muffled as though he was under the ice itself and the words couldn't make it through to him. But he nodded nonetheless as he was led over to what was affectionately dubbed the “Kiss or Cry Bench”, the seat where athletes and their coaches waited for the scores to come up, to find out where they now sat in the standings.
Stiles couldn't look, eyes focused on the rubber mat beneath his feet. He was aware of the camera in front of him, filming his reaction, of the backdrop behind him displaying the logos of various sponsors, of Deaton's arm around his shoulders both offering comfort and holding him in place so Stiles couldn't bolt the way he so desperately wanted to. Instead, he covered his face with his hands as his elbows dug into his knees, the PA announcing his score.
The worst of his career.
He sniffed loudly, eyes burning but no tears coming out. He felt numb all over, his feelings having frozen over like the fake ice on the floor of the coliseum, hardening when he'd listened to that voicemail. But he still felt the stab of each number as it was said, the words coming in loud and clear when everything else was nothing more than static. A shaky exhale caused him to tremble slightly and he felt Deaton rubbing his back before leaning over, cupping his shoulders as he put his head close to Stiles'.
“It's okay,” he whispered, loud enough for Stiles but quiet enough that the camera's mic couldn't pick it up. “You'll get 'em next year.”
Stiles nodded again, solely because it felt like the thing to do, dropping his hands then rising to his feet as the next skater was announced, Isaac Lahey taking the ice and waving to the crowd. Reporters were coming in for interviews, already calling his name and shouting questions, and he quickly ducked away, heading in the opposite direction and leaving Deaton to fend for himself against the hungry wolves.
The hallway was littered with people, another skater stretching against a wall under his coach's intense gaze, another camera/reporter combo interviewing a different athlete before he was set to take the ice. The backroom was also crowded, the remaining skaters and someone's coach gathered around the TV to watch Lahey's routine, exchanging commentary and wow-ing at appropriate moments. Stiles continued on his way, unseen, until he reached the restroom, locking himself inside a stall and sitting on top of the toilet seat.
His vision had started fuzzing out at the edges while he'd been at the Kiss or Cry Bench, his chest slowly tightening since he'd been on the ice, and now it felt like an industrial vice was gripping him, squeezing his ribs so hard he swore they were gonna fucking break. As it was, his lungs weren't fully expanding, his heart pounding in his chest like he was still on the ice mid-routine, the sensations making his head spin and a feeling of dizziness take over. Panting through his open mouth, he put his head between his knees, shaking hands clasped on top, willing his body to calm down, to relax, to...to do something other than fucking go on overload and try to shake him out of his skin.
Fuck, this was why he'd had Derek. Something about the dog's presence was calming, would help settle him. Stiles could curl up with the husky, time his breathing to the dog's, focus on the feeling of his soft fur rather than what the fuck was going on with his body.
Okay, that was it, that's what he needed to do. He needed to think about something else. Shouldn't be too hard with his ADHD really, even though his attention-span seemed to be a-okay at that moment, zeroed in on what was going on with him. But thinking about it just made it worse, Stiles knew that for a fact, so he tried distracting himself.
He rubbed a hand over his head, thought about the way his buzzcut felt against his palm, the soft scratchiness of it, the layer of sweat still clinging to the tiny strands. He rubbed at his calf with his other hand, thought about the smoothness of the silk-like fabric his costume was comprised of. He compared the two sensations, the duality of them, his scratchy hair and smooth outfit, and soon felt his heart rate slow and his breathing return to normal.
It was only then that the tears came.
Stiles shoved the heels of his palms against his eyes to try and hold them back, only to completely fail. Fat tears still slipped out, trailing down his cheeks, and he let out a rough sob, the sound scratching his throat from the force of its exit. He'd completely bombed at the one thing he'd always been decent at and now the one thing that could comfort him and cheer him up the most was gone. He thought he'd been through the worst of it when his mom had died, had figured he'd suffered enough and surely the universe wasn't enough of a dick to take anything else from him.
Okay, he knew there was no way Derek would live forever. It was impossible. Huskies had a maximum lifespan of fifteen years so eventually, Derek was gonna die. And considering the pup had been twelve, he'd had a pretty full life.
Didn't mean Stiles was ready to let him go though.
The stall door suddenly crashed open, banging against the side wall so hard it closed halfway over once again. Stiles jumped at the abrupt motion, choking on a gasp that had happened while he'd been exhaling a sob, coughing as he reached over to grab hold of the door. The bathroom had been completely deserted when he'd entered, he'd made sure of it, not wanting anyone to see him fucking breakdown, not wanting to deal with anyone. He hadn't expected anyone else to come in—stupid really, given it was the only men's room for the athletes and coaches—and he sure as shit hadn't expected them to throw open the door to his stall.
His locked door.
What the fuck?
Getting up, he grabbed the edge of the door, slowly opening it to reveal who was on the other side. Standing just outside the threshold was a kid who couldn't be taller than five-five, head ducked, hands shoved in the pockets of his blue warm-up jacket with white sleeves and a red collar, “RUSSIA” stitched across the front in white. Stiles thought it was kind of strange that the Russian National Team didn't have matching warm-up suits.
Not that he'd been slyly checking out another skater representing that same country who just happened to be his idol. And even more gorgeous in person.
But the kid before him wasn't one Stiles recognized, not that he could see much beyond a mess of light brown hair he figured was supposed to be styled in a mohawk of sorts, meaning he was probably part of the junior circuit. They'd skated earlier that day but Stiles hadn't paid too much attention to them, trying to focus on his own routine and settle his nerves.
Which he'd clearly failed at also.
The kid lifted his head, glaring hard at Stiles with steely blue eyes, nostrils flaring as he practically huffed every breath like a bull, and the older boy fought the urge to retreat back into the stall and close the door once again. Wouldn't make much difference, he figured, since the Russian had somehow busted it open already.
“You!” the kid yelled, his accent thick, voice deeper than Stiles predicted it would be. “How fucking dare you sit in there crying like pissbaby vhen you have no one to blame but yourself! You are vorthless!”
Stiles head actually tipped back slightly at the ferocity of the boy's words, his attitude, the anger rolling off him in waves so strong it was a surprise it couldn't actually be touched or felt or seen. He sniffed loudly, then swallowed, considering arguing, wanting to point out that it wasn't just the scores he was upset about and how fucking dare this short asshole presume anything about his life. Only the kid wasn't done berating him, lips curled up in a sneer as he went on.
“You make me sick!” he continued, the last word coming out more like “seeck” with his accent, making it sound more aggressive than comical. “You should just retire! I debut in senior circuit next season and I refuse to be in same category as pissbaby like you! Go home! Give it up forever!” With that, he leaned back, lifting his leg and delivering a fierce blow to Stiles' sternum that blew him back into the stall.
With a grunt, Stiles landed on his already bruised ass, slamming his back into the toilet to add to his myriad of injuries. His head threw back, tweaking his neck with a minor case of whiplash, and he lifted his head just in time to see the Russian kid sneer at him and tut in disgust.
“Retire, old man,” he spat, shaking his head as he headed off to the door.
Shuffling, Stiles moved so he was sitting with his back more comfortably against the toilet bowl, drawing his knees up closer to his chest, arms draped off them and head hanging. Liam, the name came to him belatedly, finally recognizing the kid as a highly touted new talent, poised to be the next big thing out of Russian, already drawing comparisons to his teammate and fellow countryman, Derek Hale.
A long sigh escaped Stiles, his hand working the back of his neck, sniffing loudly. Maybe Liam was right. Maybe he should just retire. Nerves always got the best of Stiles when it came to the big stage and he always seemed to fuck up routines that he'd had nailed for months. What was the point on continuing with this career if he wasn't gonna succeed? Talent alone wasn't enough to bring home the gold and with last place all but confirmed in the Grand Prix, he couldn't have been further away from the podium.
He briefly wondered what his parents would think, what their reactions would be to his quitting. His mom—if she was still alive, of course—would be a little disappointed, having been the one to get him into skating in the first place, but would accept it, reassuring him that whatever made him happy was okay with her. His dad would be fine with it, thankful for an extra set of hands at the B-n-B, one he wouldn't have to pay really. Stiles knew his dad was proud in the way most parents were, but he'd always gotten the feeling that he wasn't one-hundred percent approving of his career choice, probably preferring that Stiles stay home and get a “real” job. Chances were he'd be relieved to have his son at home and over his fanciful delusions of being a professional figure skater.
Even if he had technically achieved said dream.
Which, okay, another reason to retire. He'd become a pro, had participated in a Grand Prix, had been on the biggest stage in the sport—short of the Olympics, of course. And he'd proven to himself that he really wasn't cut out for it, that he couldn't handle the pressure of the limelight and the high stakes, that he couldn't measure up to the Derek Hales and the Isaac Laheys and the Jackson Whittemores of the world.
Every great person knew when it was time to give it up and for Stiles, his time had come.
Weirdly settled with this new resolve, he got back up on his feet, feeling wobbly until he remembered he still had his skates on, ready to hang them up and move on to the next chapter in his life.
His plan had seemed like a godawful mistake the next morning though when he'd woken up with a killer hangover and the overwhelming desire to give himself a lobotomy to make the migraine go away. The stomach pyrotechnics put the kibosh on that though and after having spent his morning praising the porcelain gods and cursing his inability to handle alcohol, he packed up and got ready for his flight.
The hotel lobby was crowded, athletes, coaches, judges, various members of the media, as well as a few fans mingling as they awaited buses and cabs to take them to the airport for different flights back to whatever rink they called home. Stiles kept his shoulders hunched as he shuffled behind Deaton, collar upturned and sunglasses on his face as he tried to hide from the bright lights and the loud noises and from anyone who would recognize him. He didn't want to be reminded of how badly he'd performed the day before, how he'd choked during his short program then completely bombed his free one, his ass sporting a rather nice shade of purple thanks to his tumble on the ice—and probably Liam knocking him down, too.
A door to the side opened and Stiles glanced over to see the Russian asshole in question come through, as though summoned by Stiles' thoughts. The kid paid no attention to anything around him, scowling as he trailed behind his own coach, a weathered old man with brown hair who only went by the name Deucalion—no one really knew what his last name was, or if that wasn't his last name to begin with—Liam glaring as he snarled in Russian, voice even deeper with the heavy words coming off his tongue.
Stiles knew it was a mistake, but still, he couldn't help the way hope sprang in his chest, making his heart start pounding. His eyes darted back to the door, watching as it fell halfway closed only to be pushed back open, someone else stepping through. He inhaled sharply, holding it within lungs that sat in an empty chest, stomach filling with butterflies right below as he took in the form.
Derek Hale followed his teammate, rolling his green eyes and shaking his head as he scratched at his whiskered jawline with his free hand, the other dragging his suitcase behind himself. The scruff was a trademark at that point, having been around for the past five years or so, and when combined with the scowl that seemed permanently etched onto his face, his gruff one-word answers during interviews—if he actually gave one—and the way he seemed to look at the world around him like it pissed him off, he had earned a reputation and title as the Bad Boy of the Skating World.
He hadn't always been that way, Stiles recalled, slowing to a stop just to stare at him. When he'd first entered the skating world at the tender age of twelve, he'd been a bright, smiling, sunshine of a guy. But by the time he entered the senior circuit at age fifteen, he'd frozen over, hardened. No one really knew what happened—well, no one other than Derek obviously, but there was no way that guy was gonna say anything. Some speculated it was the death of his dad that had turned the man as cold as the ice he skated on, but Stiles always had a feeling there was more to it than that. After all, he'd lost a parent, too, and he hadn't completely done a one-eighty with his personality.
Then again, grief affected people in different ways so who the hell was he to say that becoming a living, breathing ice sculpture wasn't Derek's way of handling the loss.
Stiles took him in as the Russian trio slowed to a stop, both athletes in their usual warm-up suits, Derek's a red jacket with a thick white strip over the shoulders and down the tops of his arms, the familiar white stitches creating an image of what Stiles figured were supposed to be flames with “Russian Olympic Team” and the famous five circle logo right below, pants the same scarlet color with white up the sides. Derek's black hair was styled in its usual manner, the shaggy locks longer on top and resembling that of a Disney prince. His nose was as sharp as the blades on their skates, his jawline just as lethal, his brows thick as they furrowed over narrowed eyes but perfectly fitting for his Romanesque face. There was a reason his poster graced the walls of countless young girls—and boys, Stiles mentally added, thinking of his own room back home—and it wasn't just talent that had people creaming their pants over him.
The man was ranked first in the world, had been for years, and there wasn't a gold medal he didn't own. Grand Prixs, Invitationals, the fucking Olympics, he'd dominated all of them, setting world records as he went, creating new moves. And at twenty-seven, he was something akin to a god in the sport, his name synonymous with mens figure skating, even to those who don't follow the sport.
Derek was one of the main reasons why Stiles had stuck with the sport, why he loved it so much. He'd dreamed of competing against the Russian, of standing next to him on the podium stand, maybe even taking home gold and demoting Derek to silver. Fucking stupid really. Stiles should've known better than to delude himself like that. He hadn't even placed when competing against Derek, had come in dead last, the laughingstock of the sport while Derek continued to rule over it.
The jester and the king.
A sad snort escaped him and he shook his head as he hung it, wondering what the fuck he'd been thinking to ever believe he could stack up against someone like Derek Hale.
Another reason to retire really.
Lifting his head, he found Derek glancing around, bored, Liam still snarling at their shared coach. The older athlete's eyes came across Stiles and the American felt himself freeze all over, right down to his lungs and heart. Okay, not his heart. That thing was pounding at a million miles an hour like it was trying to take off without him or something, wanting to escape his chest as though it could break out past his ribs if it beat against them hard enough.
Derek caught him staring and heat rose to Stiles' cheeks in embarrassment over having been busted. But rather than Derek's scowl deepening as expected, the anger left his face, the corner of his lips curving up in a small smile as he raised his hand in a friendly wave. “Stiles!” the man called out, accent still strangely audible despite the lack of syllables.
Stiles' eyes widened, face inflaming even more, as though he'd shoved his head in an oven or was standing too close to a campfire. His skin tingled all over, heart pounding even harder at the realization that Derek Hale knew his name.
Derek Hale knew his name.
Oh fuck, Derek Hale knew his name because he'd totally fucked up his performances the past two days and had bombed his way through the Grand Prix in spectacular fashion. Chances were he was calling Stiles' name to ridicule him, to poke fun at how badly he'd done, to draw everyone else's attention so they could all laugh at what a fucking joke of a skater he is.
Without hesitation, he tightened his grip on his suitcase handle and marched towards the main doors, leaving behind the hotel, the crowd, and a stunned and confused Derek Hale.
Not to mention his career as a professional figure skater.