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Born to Make History

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PROLOGUE

Grand Prix Finals
Sochi, Russia

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

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

Only that wasn't what he'd gotten.

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

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

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

Only now that steady rock was gone.

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

And it showed in his performance.

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

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

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

He fucked up. Everywhere.

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

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

The worst of his career.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was only then that the tears came.

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

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

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

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

His locked door.

What the fuck?

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

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

Whatever.

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

Which he'd clearly failed at also.

Shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if he had technically achieved said dream.

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although really...

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

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

The jester and the king.

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

Another reason to retire really.

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

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

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

Derek Hale knew his name.

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

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

Not to mention his career as a professional figure skater.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER ONE

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

Stiles didn't immediately return home.

He also didn't immediately retire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, former professional figure skater.

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

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

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

But he couldn't.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only it never happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that he actually thought he could redeem himself really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

Hence the new gut.

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only now he was gone.

And Stiles was more alone than ever.

Shit.

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

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

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

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

Fuck knew he needed to feel good.

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or a lot really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for the moment...

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

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

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

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. No way he was handling that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shit.

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

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

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

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

Thank fuck.

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

Fuck his brain. Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid fucking crush.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck it. He'd take it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck, he needed to find some chill.

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

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

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

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

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

Because... what?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And have it go viral apparently.

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

Wow.

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

Erica, of course, ended up being entirely unrepentant.

The bitch.

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

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

That never ended well.

Ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only he still couldn't figure it out.

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

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

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

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

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

Holy. Shit.

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

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

Derek—

Holy shit!

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

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

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

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

And immediately finding what he was looking for.

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

And a smirk?

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

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

Holy shit.

Holy goddamn shit.

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

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

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

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

Not that Stiles looked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am here to be your new coach.”

What. The fuck?

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE

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

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

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

Derek Hale was completely fucking nude and unapologetic about it.

Derek Hale was offering to be his coach.

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

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

Fucking eh.

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

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

Oh fuck. What if Derek had seen it?

What if he hadn't?

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

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

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

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

Oh fuck.

Oh fuck fuck fuck.

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

At least until then. Maybe longer.

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

So he was stuck.

Oh fuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus fucking Christ.

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

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

Boo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still...the curiosity remained and...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derek frowned in confusion. "Mackin'—"

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

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

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

Because it fucking was.

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

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She could be scary as fuck sometimes.

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

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

Of fucking course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now however...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Christ he was serious.

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

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

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

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

Asshole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or sit his ground, given his current position.

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

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

"What is funny?"

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

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

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

Old habits really did die hard, he figured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until he realized what was going on.

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then again. Could've been worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, apparently it had been an unimpressed eyebrow raise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smooth.

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

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

"Did you have sex in Detroit?"

Jesus fucking Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was official. Derek Hale was fucking evil.

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Up."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

Just cruel really.

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

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

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

He weirdly couldn't wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing her so still was almost unnatural.

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

Hard.

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

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

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

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

"Hey!" he cried out offended, pouting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay. Weird. What the fuck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right. That.

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly never gonna happen.

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

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

"Won't your folks be pissed?"

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

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

Speaking of...

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

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

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

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

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

Dick move really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"None taken."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Erica! Fuck!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh fuck, he was gonna die.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He went for the bird-flipping hat trick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You're totally a dick."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drill instructor Kira was the worst.

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only that wasn't the case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe he really had just imagined it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which.

Tempting.

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

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

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

Goddammit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Christ.

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

Which he was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~*~*~*~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was he retiring?

Was he making a comeback?

Why did he fail so horribly and monumentally?

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

No fucking thank you.

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

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

Definitely deserved some fucking carbs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although would that really be worse?

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

Shit.

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

Definitely early for fucking speedo-wearing.

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

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

Still.

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

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

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

"Okay, so why are y—"

"I was naked."

Fucking hell!

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

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

Shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which.

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

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

Not that he could use that argument either.

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

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

What the—?

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

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

Asshole.

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

Fuck. Seriously?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIX

Stiles hated his brain. For starters, there was the whole ADD thing and the inability to focus. Then there was the habit of thinking of the worst case scenario and sinking down into a deep spiral where every bad thought hit him at once. Which also led to his habit of self-doubt and paranoia. And there was also his overactive imagination, which added to the pessimism.

But at that moment, he hated how fucking indecisive he was.

Derek had gone upstairs to—presumably, hopefully—put sensible clothes on, leaving Stiles alone in the kitchen contemplating his life. Or at least the next hour or so of it. He could still call Kira, have her and Malia come over, owe them some big favor in exchange for them lying about deciding on their own to just randomly stop by. It was cowardly, he knew it was, and he hated how pathetic he felt. It wasn't like he'd never had dinner with Derek before, but it was always with other people around. This would be dinner with Derek alone.

Oh fuck.

Okay, he needed to get a grip. Wasn't like he'd never been alone with the guy before. Just. Usually they were working out and conversation didn't happen, Stiles too busy panting and mentally cursing Derek's drill sergeant persona to actually have a discussion. But this? This was dinner and there'd definitely be conversation and it...well, it oddly felt like a date in a sense.

Not that Stiles had a whole lot of experience in that department.

Or any experience.

Another reason to freak out really, his anxiety told him in that cruel manner it always did.

Oh double fuck.

Right, grip getting time. Because this was gonna be his life, this was gonna be something he'd have to get used to. He and Derek were gonna be traveling together for competitions and eating tons of meals, just the two of them. And it would be purely platonic and professional then just as it will be at that moment. Same with the actual traveling together, as well as the practices and the kiss-and-cry hang outs and the sharing hotel rooms.

Oh god, he was gonna have to share a hotel room with Derek Hale. And Derek had a habit of just stripping wherever he wanted. He was gonna see fresh from the shower Derek. Again. A lot. Probably without a towel.

Yeah, there was no way Stiles was surviving to be twenty-four. Derek was gonna inadvertently kill him long before then.

He let out a long slow breath, determined to get his shit together, determined to get his anxiety under control. But nothing was working for him, as usual, because his luck was the actual worst and his body was the actual worst and wouldn't listen to him.

Fuck his life.

The sound of nails clicking on the wooden floors pricked his ears and he pushed himself up from where he'd been leaning on the island counter, hating the half-second of anticipated joy he felt, believing it to be his own dog before he remembered. He thumbed at the tag on his wrist as Misha entered the kitchen, Derek close behind, heading straight for the fridge. Stiles realized at that moment that it was too late to call anyone to “just happen to stop by”, then further realized that while part of him was upset by that, a larger part of him wasn't. All he could think about was how he was gonna have to get used to it being just him and Derek—and Misha, of course—and this would be good practice, in this safe neutral zone that was the kitchen. And now that the man was dressed in a pair of jeans and a plain black v-neck tee, things felt even safer. There was no longer a chance of anything risky happening, of Stiles doing something stupid or his crush getting any bigger.

Although really, with the way that black cotton hugged Derek's torso and the fact that he was actually gonna be cooking for Stiles...

Yeah, he just needed to face the fact that his crush was gonna get bigger no matter what and there wasn't anything he could do about it except wait for the inevitable heartbreak.

After moving several things around, Derek turned and placed a bunch of items on the island counter: two one-pound packs of ground chicken, the carton of eggs, sour cream, parmesan. Stiles cocked an eyebrow, scratching at his temple but still clueless as to what the plan was.

“What, uh,” he began, dropping his hand in order to fold his arms. “Whatcha making?”

Kotletki,” Derek stated, closing the fridge and turning to find Stiles' puzzled frown. “Russian chicken, um.” He began muttering in Russian as he scratched at his whiskered jaw, free hand twisting in a circle as though it could help him figure it all out. “Like burgers? The burger part?”

“A patty?” Stiles offered and Derek snapped his fingers in his direction, head perking up and slight smile on his face.

“Yes. Chicken patty. You eat with no bun. Very moist and delicious.” At that, he set about opening and closing cabinets, pulling out a bowl, a bag of what looked like bread crumbs, a few spices from the cabinet, the salt and pepper. Stiles peered around him to get a look at what he was grabbing, not recognizing some of the ingredients. He wondered if Derek had put them on the shopping list or had discussed them with Noshiko at some point so that if he ever got the urge, he'd have them ready.

“That doesn't sound like something that's on my approved foods list,” Stiles sing-songed as he made his way around the side of the island, pulling out one of the stools before sinking down onto it. At the deadpan expression he received, he smirked, enjoying the way Derek rolled his eyes as he pulled out the frying pan.

“Cheat meal,” he said flatly, grabbing a baking pan next. “Make fries.”

Stiles rolled his eyes right back, muttering about how manners must not exist in Russia and earning a towel thrown at his head. But he still did as he was told, grabbing a bag of frozen sweet potato fries from the freezer and setting the oven to the right temp.

The radio was put on as they worked, Derek mixing the ingredients in the bowl by hand, shaping the patties, Stiles mainly standing around waiting for the oven to heat up. Classic rock played in the background, neither changing the station, Stiles out of fear of how Noshiko would chew him out, Derek out of respect. They discussed Stiles' progress, Derek with his backhanded compliments as he pointed out that the American wasn't huffing and puffing as much as he had been when they first started the work-out regime, poking Stiles' belly again as he noted how it was smaller. Stiles glared and smacked Derek's hand in his usual manner, still somewhat self-conscious, especially when he thought of how cut his coach was when he'd been standing there in his speedo, not an ounce of fat on the guy.

The patties were fried up as the fries cooked in the oven and half an hour after they started, they both had plates of food in front of them as they sat at the island counter. No point in going to the dining room, Stiles pointed out, given it was just the two of them. Might've been a lazy thing to do, but if he could cut back to cleaning only one room rather than two, then he was gonna do it.

Cutting into his food with his fork, Stiles tried a bite of what Derek had made, trying his best not to think about how Derek Hale had cooked him dinner and how disgustingly domestic it was and how date-like it was. Instead, he focused on the flavors of the food, on how creamy and delicious it all was, the moistness of the chicken and the hints of garlic and onion powder that had been added to it. He let out a satisfied noise, a hum to show how good it was, and the older man grinned as he chewed his own bite, clearly proud.

“This is really fucking good,” Stiles stated after he swallowed, already cutting his next bite. “What's it called again? Kalt—”

Kotletki,” Derek reminded and the younger skater repeated it a few times, trying it out. “It is one of my favorite Russian foods. I make it when I have time. It remind me of my mama.”

Stiles slowed his chewing, suddenly careful and cautious. While it wasn't exactly an open invitation to pry into his private life, Derek had at least unlatched the door that hid all his personal thoughts and feelings and memories behind it. And Stiles, with his infinite curiosity, wanted nothing more than to shove that door wide open and take in everything contained behind it.

But that was a dick move. And he knew he wouldn't want anyone doing it to him, so naturally, someone with a reputation of being intensely private like Derek would like it even less.

Still, he felt like he wouldn't get another chance to ask, another shot to find out more about his new coach. And it wasn't like he was asking anything deeply personal. Just superficial facts about his family. Safe questions really, shit one may even find out online or in some skating magazine somewhere.

Swallowing, he picked up his glass of water, focusing on what he was doing more than the other man. Because if he caught sight of those intense green eyes or those thick brows that were usually pulled into a disapproving scowl, he would back down. “Did she teach you how to cook it?”

Derek nodded, picking up some of his sweet potato fries with his fork. “Yes. And other food, too.”

Stiles felt his chest get tight in the same way it always did when he thought of his own mother. He hadn't really had a chance to learn how to cook a whole lot of things while she'd been alive, nothing beyond how to work the oven and throw frozen things on a pan. Okay sure, he'd learned how to make a cake and the perfect way to bake cookies, but it hardly counted, especially when he couldn't really eat any of it. So the reminder that Derek had gotten something that Stiles had been robbed of...it hurt.

Then again, Stiles could look on the flip side of things. Derek had lost his father while Stiles had been given the opportunity to keep his, so to speak. He'd been able to grow up—and would continue to grow up—with a male role model, allowing him to go to him for advice, to get a male perspective on things.

Kind of a dick way to think, he figured, considering all the families out there who'd only ever had one parent or had parents of the same gender. And they were perfectly fine and worked, and sometimes a dad or a mom acted as both parents and did a damn good job but...

But his dad couldn't cook for shit. It was why Noshiko worked for them, had been charged with making meals. And his dad wasn't exactly the touchy-feely kind of guy, as evidenced by the awkward shoulder pats and his dad's inability to know what to do or say when Stiles was upset. So he definitely felt like he was missing in that aspect.

Not that he could do a whole helluva lot about it. Really he should count himself lucky that he still had at least one parent.

He shoved aside any and all melancholic thoughts over what he'd lost and focused on what he currently had: a world class legend in figure skating who was currently sitting in his kitchen, voluntarily, in his new role as Stiles' coach.

“Did she also teach you how to skate?” Stiles asked, thinking back on what he knew about Derek and his family, about how his parents had once been gold medalist pairs skaters. Only made sense that they'd be the ones to teach Derek how to do the same.

A wistful smile formed on the Russian's face and he nodded as he chewed, swallowing before answering. “Both my parents, they teach me and my sisters, but my younger sister, Cora, she was not interested, yes?” He gave a questioning quirk of the eyebrow in Stiles' direction and the younger man nodded. “She did not want to do it. My older sister, Laura, she loves it. Cora does not skate, but Laura does.”

Stiles nodded to show he understood, trying to imagine what it would be like to grow up in a skating family, to have siblings to do it with you. Granted he'd had Erica by his side, the two of them skating together, even goofing around sometimes with pairs stuff—although nothing too dangerous or intense, considering they were kids. But to have a sibling to do it with him, to grow up surrounded by skating, it had to be something else entirely. He wondered if that was why Derek was so good, if that was why he had such confidence, then he wondered if he'd be the same way if he'd grown up in the same situation.

Then he wondered something else.

“Why didn't you and Laura do the pairs thing like your parents?”

Derek's face scrunched up in a manner that could've been disgust, could've been contemplation, but was definitely adorable no matter what, and Stiles felt his heart lurch at the sight of it. “We did at practice when wanting to have fun. We practice lifts and dips and spins but did not want to do competitions together.” He paused to drink, pinky in the air as always. “Laura like to skate for fun, not to win. I was always big competer in family.”

“Competitor,” Stiles corrected gently, Derek pointing at him in response.

“Yes. Competitor. Thank you.” He set his glass down and picked up his fork once more. “So I go into competitions because it make me happy and she become teacher because it make her happy. And pair skating, it is very—” He began rambling in Russian once again, face contorting as he tried to think of the right word. “When you are very close and in person space?”

“Intimate?”

“Intimate, yes! Thank you.” Derek gave him a soft smile. “It is intimate and for me and for Laura, it was little weird to do it together. So we do not do it.”

Stiles seesawed his head, thinking it made sense. “Did you ever consider doing it with a different partner?”

A deep frown formed on the Russian's face and words weren't necessary to explain how very fucking much he disapproved of that idea. “Pair skating? You must trust your partner with your life, especially with lift and spins. I do not trust people that good. And no one is as good as me so no one is okay to be on ice with me.” He grinned at that and Stiles rolled his eyes before smacking his arm, not caring about how true it might have been. Which it was very fucking true.

Derek sobered up after a moment, staring down at his food as he tapped his last remaining kotletki. “I like being on ice by myself,” he said lowly, almost absently. “Not because I like attention on me. I just like being alone. I prefer it.”

A playful smirk formed on Stiles' face at that and he nudged his coach with his shoulder. “Then why get a dog?”

At that, Misha lifted her head from where she was laying under their feet, apparently recognizing that she was the dog in question.

An eyeroll came first before Derek nudged him back with his hand. “Okay, I correct. I like being away from other people, especially on ice. I can focus on me and my routine and my jumps. I can fly around and not worry about crashing into someone or knocking someone down. I can be free when I am alone.”

Stiles nodded as he sipped at his water, thinking it made sense, especially given what he knew of Derek. That sort of intense privacy and the way he kept to himself, it didn't pertain to just interviews or the way he tended to not spend time around the other skaters. It was all aspects of his life, including time on the ice. Sure, it was a lonely existence, but Stiles understood, Stiles got it. The idea of sharing the ice with someone else wasn't all that appealing to him either—goofing off with Erica as a kid notwithstanding—and it definitely wasn't an ego thing. No, it was more of not knowing someone well enough to believe that not only would the routine be pulled off flawlessly, but without injury. And considering his own klutziness and spastic habits, he wasn't entirely sure if he'd be worthy of that trust himself—or if he knew someone well enough to believe they wouldn't pull a lift or dip or spin and not accidentally hurt him either.

“Kind of goes along with that whole trusting your partner, thing, too, huh?” he spoke up, placing his glass back down.

“Yes,” Derek nodded, slight twist to his lips at the knowledge that Stiles understood. “Exactly.”

Stiles nodded right back, a frown forming on his face as he thought further. Because something just didn't make sense to him, something didn't quite add up. Turning to the older man, he watched as his confused scowl was met with a questioning raise of a single eyebrow. “If you like being alone so much, why volunteer to coach me? Why not stay on the ice by yourself, keep flying?”

Derek looked at him with a drawn brow, like Stiles was a puzzle he couldn't solve, a code he couldn't decipher. It made the younger man squirm under the scrutiny, not entirely sure how he felt about being stared at so closely, like there was something more to it all that he wasn't seeing or understanding.

But just as quickly as the expression had appeared, it left, the Russian grabbing his drink and washing away whatever had been on his mind. “I told you,” he began, pausing to take another sip then put his glass down. “You have something good. You are talented but messy. I want to help you get better and get gold. I cannot skate forever, I know this. I am getting older and may even retire soon, I do not know. But right now, I am coach and you are good.” Derek shrugged a shoulder to play it off, a slight smile on his face that didn't quite reach his eyes, and Stiles got the distinct feeling there was more to it than that.

But he didn't wanna say anything, mainly because he felt like it wasn't entirely accurate. Despite the time they spent together and the somewhat deep conversation they were currently having, he still didn't really know the Russian. He could be misinterpreting the look or seeing shit that wasn't there. Wishful thinking or something? Maybe?

Whatever the case, Stiles took the words he'd been given, ruminating on them, thinking them over, and...and he felt his face heat up in embarrassment once again as he realized that Derek Hale had just complimented him. He'd gotten so used to the angry drill sergeant that was constantly yelling insults and commands that he'd forgotten that Derek was even capable of saying something nice, that Derek was there in the first place because he'd believed Stiles was good, had talent. And now he was being reminded of that and...and yeah, he was incapable of any sort of thoughts or anything else for that matter. Because his childhood hero and idol and crush was telling him he was good, was actually good enough to command Derek's attention and deserve his help.

How the fuck was he supposed to handle that?

Shifting in his seat, Stiles cleared his throat, shifted some more, and internally winced at how weird and pathetic and messed up he must seem at that moment. His face was bound to be ruddy in patches, his squirming questionable, and he was barely able to mutter out a “thanks”, the only response he was capable of coming up with.

So lame.

But Derek just smiled and nodded, and Stiles still had that strange feeling that he was missing something.

Oh well. If it was that important, Derek would tell him. He had to trust his coach enough to know that if it mattered, it wouldn't be kept secret.

At least he hoped that was the case.

Then again, that kind of went back to the whole “trust” thing and as it was, Stiles admittedly wasn't sure if he trusted Derek just yet. Sure, the guy was his idol and his hero, but trust wasn't something given freely just because someone asked for it. It had to be earned, over time, through actions that deemed one worthy of it. And while Derek hadn't done anything so far to show he didn't deserve it, he hadn't done anything to show he did deserve it either. At that moment, it was a limbo state, just waiting to see and hoping for the best.

Misha's head perked up once again, only this time she fully rose to her feet. She shook all over and stretched her legs on the way to the back door, standing by it and letting out a few experimental huffs. The sounds of tires kicking up gravel was audible over the low volume of the radio and it was obvious that their alone time was over, that their conversation was over.

“Meeting must be done,” Stiles muttered as he rose to his feet, stool scraping against the wood floor. He gathered his plate and Derek's, shaking his head at the Russian when he wordlessly volunteered to take his own. “You cooked and you're a guest,” he explained simply, turning as he heard loud boots stomping their way up the back steps.

Not his dad, he realized. Not Noshiko or Satomi either.

He frowned as the screen door was thrown open, as more stomping hit his ears, wondering what the hell Malia was doing there.

Sure enough, the back door was shoved open, Misha getting out of the way just in time, her bent tail wagging at the sight of a familiar face. But the husky went ignored by the new arrival, Malia scowling and sneering and almost feral as her narrowed brown eyes went back and forth between Derek still seated at the island counter and Stiles on his way to the trash cabinet with the dishes. Kira followed, much more subdued, almost hesitant and very apologetic, but silent. It wasn't as though both she and Stiles weren't used to Malia's... Malia-ness. She'd go off half-cocked, snarling about whatever thing had gotten stuck in her paw at that moment, and there wasn't much one could do to stop her.

So Stiles didn't bother with formalities or pointing out that most people would knock rather than burst into someone else's house—even if said house was a bed-n-breakfast they were employed at, considering it was after her shift was over. He just continued on his way, dumping whatever scraps had been left on the plates into the trash can hidden in the cabinet next to the fridge.

“The rumor mill is absolutely fucking swirling about you right now,” Malia stated, heading to the island, Kira muttering baby talk greetings to Misha in the background.

Stiles cringed, glad he had his back to the rest of them. The rumor mill had been swirling about him for a while now, since his epic failure at the Grand Prix Finals nearly five months ago. What had caused such a godawful collapse? What could he do to recover? Was he retiring? Was he planning on coming back? How could he achieve said comeback? Drugs, drinking, heartbreak, steroids, injury, all of it had been mentioned by someone somewhere on some site, everyone thinking they knew him in some way. He knew he should be used to it, knew it came with the territory of being a professional athlete and in the public eye.

Yet...

Yet he hated it and it made him cringe and cower every single damn time. He loved skating, loved performing, but the rumors and the gossip, that side of it, that part he could live without. One of the plus sides of considering retirement really.

With a sigh, he turned to Malia, turned to respond and to wince and to find out what rumors it was this time, only...

Only she was looking at Derek. She was sitting in the stool Stiles had just given up, phone in hand, aimed in Derek's direction so he could see the screen. Not that he was actually looking at it. Really, he looked bored, looked used to it and over it, sipping his water with his pinky raised and giving Malia a deadpan look, wordlessly stating how few fucks he gave about the rumor mill.

Malia just stared right back at him for a long moment before rolling her eyes and huffing, pulling her phone back to herself. “Anyway, the world has found out that you're here in Beacon Hills and everyone was kind of scrambling to find out why, until they realized Stiles is from here.”

Uh oh.

Stiles paused on his cross-kitchen journey, turning to find both Malia and Derek staring at him, Malia with a more pointed look, Derek still looking bored but with a slight tilt to one of his eyebrows. And Stiles just stared right back at them, wide eyed and brows raised, innocent and confused and feeling like he'd been trapped. A quick glance at Kira found her sitting cross-legged on the floor, scratching Misha's belly, the husky's back leg kicking and tongue lolling out her mouth. But even then, the ballet teacher kept glancing over, just as curious about the conversation as everyone else, and Stiles felt even more under the microscope.

Not his favorite place to be.

“One rumor is the two of you are fucking,” Malia stated bluntly, and there was zero doubts as to who “the two of you” were.

The younger skater sputtered, face feeling like it was on fire, his heart pounding wildly in his chest. It was obviously—and disappointingly—not true, but...but there was some part of him that was kind of flattered, that people would actually believe he was good enough, good looking enough to catch Derek's eye that way.

Then he felt weirdly violated, like he'd been outed, not to mention the strangeness of people he didn't even know deciding who he was dating, what his relationship status was. It just didn't sit right with him.

He chanced looking at Derek, the older man's face expressionless, unreadable, mask firmly in place. There was no way to tell how he felt about the rumors, no way for Stiles to know how to react himself. Unhelpful.

And a little hurtful.

Not that Stiles was expecting Derek to be super excited about it or anything. For starters, Stiles didn't think he was even capable of being super excited about anything. And he didn't think he'd suggest he and Stiles take the hint and start dating or use it as an excuse to admit to any crush he may or may not have—most likely the “not” part. But...

Yeah, no “but”, except for maybe “but he could've at least shown some sort of emotion, even if it was annoyance at his personal life being invaded again”. Yet Derek remained the stoic statue he always was.

Stiles figured he should get used to it.

“The other rumor,” Malia continued and Stiles focused back on what he'd been doing, crossing the kitchen to the sink, “is actually the truth, not that anyone would know it, but it's that Derek is in town to possibly coach Stiles.”

“They actually get things right at times,” Derek commented flatly, waving a hand in dismissal before standing to refill his glass at the dispenser in the freezer door.

Stiles rolled his eyes as he rinsed their dinner plates. Out of all the things to comment on...

“I guess I just don't understand how they found out you were here,” Stiles pointed out before the realization hit him and his eyes narrowed as he glared out the back window. Fucking Erica and her big mouth.

“I post picture on Instagram,” Derek explained nonchalantly and Stiles spun around in shock, mouth gaping. But the Russian simply leaned back against the fridge, one arm folded over his chest and his ankles crossed, looking casual as hell and like he probably hadn't broken the internet by remembering social media existed. “I thing I tag location. The app confuse me at times.”

Malia bobbed her eyebrows, lips twisted in a way that said the whole thing made sense. Kira wore a similar expression from her position on the floor, fingers still scratching at Misha's belly, only now the leg was still and the husky's eyes were closed in relaxation. Stiles had to admit it made sense, but Derek posting on Instagram...didn't.

“Welp,” Malia began, locking her phone and putting it down before folding her hands on the counter. “Here's hoping the media storm isn't too big to handle.”

The plates fell out of Stiles' hands and into the sink as the realization hit him like a Mack truck. And he'd been doing so well avoiding all the craziness that the media and its unending scrutiny brought about.

Seemed like that was about to change.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The vultures descended the very next day.

And with the Beacon Hills Bed-n-Breakfast being the only place in town that offered a place to stay for out-of-towners, it didn't take a genius to figure out where Derek was.

Stiles was just thankful he'd warned his father the night before, when he, Noshiko, and Satomi had come home from the town meeting. He filled his old man in on Derek's location getting out and the rumors circulating, and told him that there was a huge chance the press would be showing up—and soon. The owner had taken one look at Derek's apologetic expression and promised not to let any of them stay at the B-n-B, solving one problem.

The only remaining issue was the fact that they had to leave at some point.

Things started off normal enough. Stiles, Derek, and Misha all left for their pre-dawn workout as usual, heading to the park, Stiles put through his paces on the equipment. His stamina was getting better, muscles less fatigued, lungs and heart struggling less to do their job. Meaning Derek had kicked things up a notch, all his workouts increased by half. And as much as Stiles wanted to brain the guy on the monkey bars, he knew it was for his own good. Not to mention he couldn't really argue with something meant to get him closer to his goal of being back to his previous weight and therefore back on the ice.

Things were calm when they got back to the B-n-B, although as soon as they'd gotten inside, Stiles' dad told them all about the media swarm they'd just missed, how Malia had practically run over a photographer in order to pull onto the property. She simply shrugged as she dusted off the mantle with a Swiffer duster, unapologetic as she pointed out how the guy shouldn't have been blocking the drive. The owner then went on to tell how he'd gone out there to talk to the mob as a whole about how Derek wasn't there, that none of them were allowed on the property, and no, they had no rooms available. Stiles halfway wondered where exactly all of them would be staying before deciding he didn't really care, as long as it was away from here, then went on to shower.

They weren't so lucky at Ice Castle.

They traveled there in their usual manner: Derek on his bike with Misha by his side, Stiles trailing behind as he ran. Chores had been done and lunch had been eaten and unfortunately, the press that had been outside of the B-n-B had been forgotten all about. Meaning that upon entering the rink, they'd been totally taken by surprise.

The lobby was full of shouting in various languages, crowded with a mob of countless people. Some held large video cameras, turned off and aimed more at the floor than anything. Some held still photography cameras, expensive flashes and long lens, accessories that cost more than Stiles could wrap his head around. Others held nothing but their own phones, pads and pens, mics to shove in people's faces for that quick soundbite that would go viral.

Stiles' eyes went wide as he stepped inside the foyer, glancing around as he tried to take in the rabble before him. Standing on his tiptoes, he was able to get a glimpse of both Erica and Boyd behind the counter, both trying to calm the crowd and bring a sense of order to the chaos on the other side of the divider from them. Stiles felt bad for them, flipping his hood up over his head and shrinking in on himself. It was his fault they were having to deal with all of that ridiculousness. If he hadn't performed Derek's routine, if he hadn't agreed to let the guy coach him, if he had pointed out what a bad idea it would be to actually go on social media and let the world know where he was...

Misha let out a bark and Stiles jumped about a foot to the right in surprise, head snapping to her and hand covering his pounding heart. He'd never get used to the random barks dogs let out, especially big ones. His late husky had been bad at that, but hey, that wind blowing by would know whose yard it dared enter.

Something Russian was muttered out and Stiles switched his focus to find Derek, staring down at his dog, scowl on his face that disappeared behind his sunglasses and finger pointed at her in what was clearly a chastisement. Misha's ears pressed down and she ducked her head, clearly apologetic, and Derek stroked his hand over her fur, mouth opening to speak.

Only he never got the words out.

Because the bark had startled not just Stiles and alerted not just Derek, but the gaggle of reporters and media members. Their heads all swiveled back to find out what had just caused the noise, all of them seeming to spot their target at once, and like a hive mind, they all rushed Derek. The yelling grew louder, all of them calling out the skater's name, crying for his attention. Cameras were raised and set to record, flashes going off, mics and dictaphones shoved in his direction.

Stiles managed to slip away to the side, virtually undetected, as the media pushed past him to get to Derek. Part of him was a little offended that no one wanted to talk to him, that no one wanted to get any footage or photos of him, that no one wanted to ask him invasive questions the way they were screaming at Derek. Was he not important enough? Was he not recognizable enough? Did he not matter?

Then again, in the world of men's figure skating, it was hard to matter when compared to Derek Hale.

Plus he had to admit, that other part of him, the much bigger part of him, was relieved as hell to be able to stand there unnoticed. Just being around this number of people had his heart pounding and his chest constricting, making it hard for his lungs to expand and get enough oxygen. His mind felt like white fuzz of cable that had gone out, no real images or thoughts or sounds, just static, loud and unending. If he'd had those cameras and mics aimed at him, those questions thrown in his direction? He'd probably pass out.

It wasn't that he was entirely inexperienced with reporters, but the media after a competition was generally more orderly. Even at a press conference when there were multiple media outlets there, it was all controlled, a moderator picking and choosing who got to ask what and when. It was easier to focus on just that one person who was asking, rather than the crowd staring at him, the cameras capturing his every move, the lights shining down on him.

Now it was all focused on Derek, the scowl and sunglasses both still on his face as he took in the crowd before him. It was a position he'd been in for over half his life and time hadn't warmed him up to it in the slightest. He was back to that Bad Boy of Skating persona, the rebel with the angry eyebrows and the downturned lips surrounded by dark whiskers. Even from a distance, Stiles could note the tension in his shoulders and the tautness in his jaw, the clear discomfort he had with the media being in his face.

All Stiles' fault.

Shit.

“Hey!” Boyd bellowed and Stiles turned to find him standing on top of the counter, ducking slightly to fit his six-foot-three frame. It was almost comical, Boyd an imposing figure in general with his muscular frame and large build, the way he could stare down a charging elephant and send the pachyderm running in the other direction with just a single glance from his dark disdainful eyes.

Kinda made Stiles wonder what it was Erica saw in him. But then Boyd would look at her and his entire being seemed to change, a light emanating from within, smile transforming his face. It would all make sense in that moment, Boyd's stoic and silent intimidation perfectly contrasting Erica's loud-mouthed brash invasiveness.

Erica nudged at Boyd's side with a bullhorn and he picked it up, putting it to his mouth and calling out another loud “hey!” that managed to get the crowd's attention. The questions died down, all heads turning to him, and he kept glaring at all of them. “My father is the sheriff and unless you want me giving him a call and requesting he bring a team of deputies up here to arrest each and every one of you, I suggest you all get the hell out of my rink and not dare set foot inside unless invited, capisce?” He lowered the bullhorn and raised an eyebrow, daring someone to argue.

Murmurs broke out in varying languages, words unintelligible to Stiles' ears, but still obviously negative and disapproving. None of them wanted to leave, that much was clear, especially not without having been able to grill Derek and get a good quote for their show or site or web-whatever. Yet they all left, Derek stepping aside with Misha as the gaggle turned into a river of bodies all making their way out. Disorderly as always, of course, none of them in any real hurry, but they all exited nonetheless.

When the last one was gone and the door was shut behind them, Boyd hopped down off the counter and strode over, locking it behind them. Heaving a great sigh, he rubbed at his eyes, other hand perched on his hip as it still held on to the bullhorn. He looked tired, defeated, and more done with the world than usual.

And it was all because of Stiles.

“I'm sorry,” the skater muttered out, shoulders hiked up around his ears.

“No,” Derek argued, moving so he was beside Boyd and Stiles was suddenly struck by the difference in their heights, finding it strange that the intimidating skating legend seemed so tiny and just...not intimidating anymore. “It is me why they are here. I am sorry.”

“It's fine,” Erica waved them both off from her position still behind the counter. Her cheeks were slightly red and she appeared more frazzled than usual, but still she was amiable towards the two skaters, didn't hold any of it against them. “Honestly, I put the full blame on those vultures out there dying for some scraps.”

At that, Stiles turned back to the glass doors, finding cameras still trying to film and take pictures. He turned away, partially so they couldn't get a shot of him and realize later during editing who he was, partially so he couldn't see them and freak himself out.

Glancing over, he caught sight of Derek sneering at the cameras before walking to the door that led to the rink, adjusting the strap of his forgotten backpack as it held his skates. The Russian paused by the counter, murmuring something to Erica, she waving him off and leading Stiles to believe it was another apology. It was almost strange, to see the tough, angry, angst-ridden asshole he was perceived to be show remorse. The way the media—and some fans—spoke of him, it was like he only had two emotions: anger and competitiveness. To see something else displayed, it was humanizing in a way, reminding Stiles that for all those years of looking up to Derek, he didn't really know him.

Maybe even now he still didn't know the man.

Easy to change, Stiles thought then retracted. Derek had fortified himself a long time ago and the chances of Stiles getting through those walls were practically impossible.

Still, what he already knew of the man was enough for Stiles to consider the fact that what he'd felt before had been the distant sort of crush one always got on a celeb, and that what he felt now was becoming something deeper, his feelings slowly sinking claws into him in a way that felt like they wouldn't be letting go.

At least not any time soon.

And definitely not without hurting him. A lot.

“Come, Porosenok! You have work-out!” Derek reminded, loudly, as he pushed open the door to the rink and Stiles narrowed his eyes at the asshole, wondering if maybe he didn't have some sort of masochistic streak.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVEN

Things changed after that.

For starters, Derek no longer joined Stiles during his morning work-outs. So far, the media only seemed to be hounding Derek, so while things were still fresh and new and they were still after him, he laid low at the house. He still went to Ice Castle though, but never at the same time. The way he figured was that if he didn't establish a real routine, then neither could they. He also got a key to the place and could show up in the backdoor should he choose.

Boyd had put in a call to his dad at the sheriff's station as well and now a deputy was always posted outside Ice Castle's front door, keeping an eye on the media so they couldn't get inside. The deputies varied from day to day and seemed to always wanna talk to Stiles about how things were going inside. He didn't have the heart to tell anyone that he hadn't actually been able to set foot on the ice in nearly a month due to Derek's rule about his weight.

But things with Derek stayed practically the same. Before Stiles could even shower after his workouts, he'd grill the American about how said workout had gone, how he was feeling, what was going on with him. It was to be expected that when Stiles arrived back at the B-n-B, Derek would be there waiting, usually in the backyard playing with Misha or tanning.

Only, he wasn't there today.

Weird.

Stiles frowned as he slammed the Jeep's door shut, glancing around. The sun was high in the sky, blinding almost, early-May warming the air and bringing the scent of various flowers. He caught sight of the lilacs turning a deep blue, dogwoods a bright wide, and Manzanitas turning from their white urn-shape flowers to apple-like fruits in a grove in the corner, perfect for sitting in the shade to read.

No sign of Derek or Misha though. Or anyone really.

Walking across the gravel, he caught sight of only his dad's car. Malia had been tasked with going to the grocery store, he remembered belatedly, explaining her car's absence, and Noshiko was driving Satomi to the airport, the elderly woman stating that the press and all the hubbub that came with it was too much for her, that she was too old to deal with all that shit.

Stiles loved her all the more for her no nonsense attitude and was sad to see her go, despite her promises to come back and visit again.

Then again, she'd probably visit while Stiles and Derek were gone, the press following them to whatever competition they were dealing with at that moment.

He scratched at his forehead as he ascended the steps to the back door, sweat soaked bangs rubbing against his fingers. He never did figure out what to do with his hair. Then again, it looked fine the way it was, unstyled and laying flat. As long as he didn't wake up with an awful cowlick anywhere, it was pretty low maintenance, just needed more shampoo than before. Fuck it, he'd keep it that way.

The screened-in back porch was empty, as was the kitchen, and Stiles' frown deepened. The TV wasn't on in the other room, there was no Misha running over to see who'd just arrived. Strange.

A glance at the clock on the microwave showed he was there at his usual time and it was unlike Derek to not already be waiting for him. Then again, maybe the skater had headed off to the rink already. Stiles couldn't remember if he'd spotted the man's bike on the front porch or not.

Deciding to take advantage of the lack of drill sergeant, he raced to his room and grabbed a change of clothes and his toiletry bag, along with a towel. The kitchen was still empty when he came back up, same with the living room, and as he crept upstairs, he could hear no sounds on the second floor either.

Definitely weird. But he'd be dumb to not go ahead and get in the shower. As it was, his shirt was sticking to him and his underwear was starting to chafe him, not to mention the way the dried sweat covering his skin was starting to make him itch. Gross.

Stiles cut on the water to let it warm up, setting his things up before stripping. Getting in, he started with his hair, scrubbing away dirt and sweat and oil. Once he had it rinsed, he slicked it back out of his way before grabbing his washcloth and scrubbing his face.

Only for the shower curtain to be pulled back suddenly and almost violently.

He would deny til his final breath that he squealed, Derek once again the cause of such an unmanly noise to come out of him as he jumped, arms flailing and fingers smashing against the tile wall.

“What the fuck?!” he screeched at his coach, hands flying down to cover his crotch. Because what the fuck?

Derek stood there still gripping the curtain, curious frown on his face and head tilted to the side. It was as though he couldn't figure out why it was such a big deal that he'd barged in on Stiles in the shower, on Stiles naked. And, okay, yeah, the guy looked like a porn star and this had cheesy terrible internet porn plot written all over it, that didn't mean that that was about to go down.

Which...Stiles kind of wouldn't have minded if that was what went down.

Nope, no way, bad idea. Coach for starters. He wasn't about to actually recreate any of the numerous fantasies he'd had starring Derek over the years.

He also wasn't about to stand there and let the Russian stare him down while he was naked and wet.

Stiles grabbed the curtain and tried tugging it free, Derek's strength outmatching his and the last thing he wanted to do was rip the vinyl and have to explain to his dad how it happened.

Yeah, my foreign skating coach apparently has no idea what the fuck boundaries are and decided to burst in on me while I was showering, so I tried to pull the curtain back and whoops!

Even if it was the truth, there was no way his dad was believing it.

Shit.

“Derek, seriously,” Stiles tried, hand back over his dick again, lamenting the fact that he'd sent his washcloth flying across the room when he'd flailed in surprise. “What the fuck?”

The frown on Derek's face deepened, lips pulled to one side as though he didn't understand. Then again, maybe he didn't, what with his penchant for nudity that Stiles still wasn't sure was a Russian thing or just a Derek thing or what.

“You have seen me naked,” the older man pointed out, more nonchalant that anyone should be with that statement. “What is the big deals?”

Jesus Christ.

“The big deals,” Stiles mimicked, right down to the accent, “is that was a mistake when I accidentally walked in on you after you showered. This was done on purpose. Not to mention the fact that you have no problem with anyone seeing you naked.”

Derek shrugged. “I do not see why I should have problems with you seeing me naked.”

Yeah, Stiles was way too tired and way too frazzled to even begin to respond to that.

“Was there a reason why you burst in on me in the shower or were you hoping to catch a glimpse of something?” Stiles snorted, changing the subject, trying like hell to forget any and all images of Derek nude or even partially nude. Not when the only things keeping him modest were his hands.

At that, Derek's eyes flipped down, staring at Stiles unabashed, and the younger man felt his face heat up faster than the water he was still under. He wanted to hide, realizing there was nowhere to go, still in a cubicle of open space thanks to Derek holding on to the curtain. Hell, Stiles couldn't even turn around and hide that way if he wanted, knowing it would just put his ass on display. And while it had gotten him more than a few comments over how nice it was when framed in his costumes, he knew it was nothing compared to Derek's.

Not that Stiles really had anything that could compare to anything of Derek's.

Pathetic.

The heat on his cheeks spread further, to his ears, and he just knew he was all splotchy and patchy and, wow, way to kick up the mortification. When it rained, it poured.

“You are almost back to old shape,” Derek commented, reaching out with his free hand to poke Stiles' stomach and with his own hands still covering his crotch, Stiles was defenseless against the prodding, unable to stop it. Instead, he just glared, stepping back and hitting the tile wall.

“Good to know,” he grumbled, agitated, hating the poking and the staring and the fact that he was still naked and vulnerable and Derek was still there. “Can I finish my shower in peace? Alone? With you in another room?”

Derek's eyes flipped back up to Stiles', the puzzled frown back once again. “Why are you so,” he paused, muttered in Russian as he scratched his jaw, before continuing in English. “Determined to have me leave?”

“Because I'm naked!” Stiles screeched again, arms nearly flying about but he kept them were they were, barely. “I don't like anyone seeing me without my clothes on.”

The Russian looked even more confused before bobbing his eyebrows in an “okay then” fashion, not seeming to believe or understand but going along with it. “Do not take long time. You need to update me.” He pointed a finger in warning at Stiles then turned to leave, muttering to himself in his native tongue. And while Stiles couldn't translate any of it, he got the feeling that Derek was having a hard time understanding why he had to leave.

Sucked for him.

And Stiles didn't pity him at all. The weirdo.

He slid the curtain closed with more force than necessary, the rings rattling on the metal rod they encircled, and he let out a deep sigh of relief when the door closed behind Derek. Only to remember...

His washcloth was still on the other side of the room.

“Goddammit,” he breathed out, head hanging, wondering when the hell things were supposed to get easier and realizing they probably weren't going to.

~*~*~*~*~*~

After his shower, Stiles found Derek in the kitchen and gave him the rundown of his morning workout over lunch. Derek kept giving him a strange look but Stiles ignored it, having weirdly gotten used to it. It often made him wonder what exactly it was that Derek was thinking, what he saw in Stiles, if maybe the American wasn't living up to some sort of rumor or the expectations Derek had for him based on that video.

He cleaned up the kitchen when they were done, Derek deciding to go ahead to Ice Castle and telling Stiles to join him later. Noshiko came home and began cleaning up the room Satomi had just vacated so Stiles made himself scarce by hiding in his room before he was dragged into helping. With a lack of anything better to do, he turned on his laptop, figuring maybe he could fall in a YouTube hole for an hour or two before dragging himself out for another workout.

Derek's earlier words over his shape came back to mind as he stood in the middle of his room, how he was almost back to what he had been. It was definitely true, something that Stiles noticed every now and then and it always strangely caught him off guard. Pants he hadn't fit into in months suddenly zipped up with no problems, his shirts hung differently on his frame. He was no longer huffing and puffing while exercising and things that had previously been difficult were no longer any issue. Part of him couldn't wait to try Derek's Stammi Vicino routine again, to see how it felt to do it in better shape now.

Lifting his tee, he stared at his flatter stomach, poking it himself. The definition he'd previously had wasn't quite there, but he could still see the formation of lines between his abs, his obliques, between his torso and pelvis. He also had stretchmarks from where he'd gained and lost weight so rapidly but he pushed that aside, focusing on the positive. It made all the pain that he'd endured worth it, bringing him so much closer to being able to hit the ice once again.

This time with Derek as his coach.

He wondered what the next step would be, if Derek already had any ideas for themes or music or choreography, if they'd talk about it all before formulating a plan, when the familiar Skype ringtone sounded out. Frowning, Stiles dropped his shirt and turned to his laptop, noting how he'd been automatically signed in to the messenger program and was receiving a call from Scott.

Oh shit. He hadn't spoken to Scott pretty much since he left to come back to California. Well, except for a couple texts here and there about how Stiles had arrived home, how Scott had arrived in Spain and his adjusting to not only the time change, but a new routine. Other than a few likes on the plethora of selfies and other photos on Scott's Instagram, there hadn't been a whole lot of communication coming from Stiles' end.

Talk about a shit friend, especially since he couldn't really argue that nothing was going on in his life that was worth updating anyone about. And now with the rumors over Derek being in Beacon Hills to either hook up with or coach Stiles, it made his asshole ways even more obvious.

Which meant he couldn't really ignore this call.

Pulling his chair out, he answered the call, adjusting the angle of his screen so he was better framed, webcam turning on and broadcasting to Scott.

Scott himself was smiling as wide as always, looking exactly the same yet completely different from the last time Stiles had seen him. His dark hair had been cut shorter, more stylish, his tan skin darker, and his smile seemed bigger and more genuine. It was a bunch of little things, but after living with the guy for nearly five years, Stiles could pick them all out, could see that living in his home country was doing a world of good for Scott. He was happier, more relaxed, and Stiles found himself smiling right back.

Stiles!” his best friend greeted, throwing his arms up in the air, white t-shirt moving with the action. His accent was more prominent than ever, even in the single syllable word, and Stiles suddenly realized how much he missed hearing it every day. “It is good to see that you're alive.” At that, he raised an eyebrow in an obvious challenge and Stiles scrunched his face up in a wince.

“Yeeeah,” he drew out the word, wringing the back of his neck. “Sorry 'bout that. Things here have been a little crazy.”

Scott grinned at that, folding his elbows on the desk before him as he got comfortable. “So I've heard,” he commented with a wag of the eyebrows.

Right. Of course he had. Because Scott was the kind of guy who was friends with literally everyone, including other skaters who should've been competition. And since the skating community was sometimes a small one, gossip tended to spread amongst them, much like it did in Beacon Hills. Considering the whole world was buzzing about Derek's new role, there was no way Scott hadn't heard all about it.

Meaning this Skype call wasn't all that random.

Speaking of,” Scott began, smirking in a mischievous manner and Stiles winced at the blow that was about to come. “What exactly is going on with you and Derek?” More eyebrow wiggling, the R in “Derek” rolling his tongue and making it sound almost foreign and not like a name Stiles was speaking on a daily basis.

The American rolled his eyes as he leaned back in his chair, casually swiveling back and forth on it. “Nothing,” he assured, giving his best friend a hard look. “He, uh. He's actually here to coach me.” He suddenly leaned forward, pointing a finger at Scott's face through the screen of the laptop. “But you can't tell anyone. I mean it.”

Scott's eyes went wide momentarily before he zipped his lips shut and mimed locking them and throwing away the key. “ I won't tell, I swear. But why is he—is this because of—

“What's going on in Spain?” Stiles interrupted, in no mood to discuss that damn video Erica had uploaded. He still hadn't read those comments someone—whose name more than likely rhymed with Balia—had printed out for him and suddenly his desk drawer seemed to be calling to him, like the Tell Tale YouTube Posts.

No thanks.

Scott looked perturbed for a moment, clearly not happy he'd been cut off, before his features shifted into something more dreamy. “Jodidamente increíble,” he sighed out in Spanish and Stiles found himself glad for the rudimentary lessons Scott had given him over the years, the only reason why he was able to understand that apparently it was “fucking incredible. “There's this new girl, Allison, she's from France. She came here with her father as her coach in order to get away from their family, since there's all this pressure and animosity between them. It's a telenovela, I swear.

Stiles snorted, thinking back to all the times he'd come home to the apartment and finding Scott watching those very Spanish soap operas he was currently speaking of, crying into a bowl of ice cream as he felt homesick. Another reason why Stiles was able to understand the language, he realized, thinking back to all the love triangles and rhombuses and overdramatic terribad acting he'd watched as he consoled his best friend.

Another sigh left Scott as he leaned his head on his chin, stars in his eyes as he stared off at something Stiles couldn't see—not that Stiles thought there was even anything there to look at. “Have you ever been in love, Stiles?” he questioned, dreamily, hand playing with the gold chain around his neck.

Derek's face immediately sprang to Stiles' mind but he shoved that aside, refusing to think of what he felt for the other skater as anything more than just a crush that still needed to be squashed. “No,” he stated, knowing it was true. “Not even close.”

It's—it's,” he began rambling in Spanish, English mixing in with the words as he spoke about love and Allison and how beautiful the world was.

Stiles simply leaned back in his seat and let his best friend continue to wax poetic about this girl, both amused and a little jealous, all the while ignoring that little voice in his head that told him he was feeling some of the same things.

~*~*~*~*~*~

A month after Derek arrived in Beacon Hills, a week after the media had followed, Stiles stepped on the bathroom scales and saw that magic number: the weight he'd been at the Grand Prix Finals. It was a number he'd looked up just to be sure, had printed out and posted on his walls, had chanted in his head as a mantra when the workouts got too tough and he got too tired and he needed the motivation to keep going. There was no doubt in his mind as to what exactly his goal was, what number he was aiming for. And now, he was seeing it on the digital display of the scale.

So naturally he stepped off, reset it to zero, then stepped back on.

Nope, same number.

"Holy shit," he muttered to himself, mouth hanging open.

Stepping off once again, he checked himself out in the bathroom mirror, eyes roaming his midsection. Still not quite as cut as he had been, but skating would fix that. There was nothing to be done about the stretch marks and he was still kind of pale but...

But the pudgy stomach was gone. But the love handles were gone. But the weight he'd put on with stress eating was all gone.

He couldn't wait to tell Derek, couldn't wait to see the look on his face when he saw that his protege was a porosenok no more.

Couldn't wait to get back on the ice.

A wide grin broke out on his face and he rushed to get dressed in his practice sweats and top, shoving his feet into a pair of thick socks and running shoes. Racing down to his room, he tossed his dirty clothes from that morning's workout in the general vicinity of his hamper in the closet, uncaring, more focused on grabbing his backpack. He double-checked he wasn't missing anything before stuffing his phone and keys in the front pocket. Derek was already at Ice Castle, there wasn't any time to spare if he wanted to hit the ice that day.

Which he very fucking did. Badly. To the point where his soul ached to feel the smooth glide of his blades cutting in and hear the sound of the scraping and inhale the crisp scent of the cold. And to think, he'd almost voluntarily given it all up.

He knew he didn't have a lot of years left, that there was a time limit on athletes, on skaters, especially mediocre ones like himself. Not everyone was like Derek, who was so good, so powerful, so talented, he could keep going into his thirties—despite what a terrible idea it would be, since there would be no way his body would be able to handle it. And Stiles clearly wasn't Derek, meaning the countdown clock was ticking away, the end was nigh, and he needed to take advantage of what time he had left.

If things didn't go right, this may very well be his last season, regardless of whether he wanted it to be or not.

In a rush once more, Stiles raced back upstairs, past where Malia was lazing on the couch with Misha, chomping on animal crackers and watching a nature documentary about deer, past where his dad and Noshiko stood in the front yard, painting the rocking chairs that forest green shade that was so prevalent throughout the house, yelling at them about how he was off to Ice Castle. If they noticed his faster speed and greater desire to get there, they said nothing, all of them continuing on with their previous actions as Stiles ran as fast as he could down the long sloped driveway.

Which turned out to be a mistake.

Because it was a five mile run after a morning of intense workouts so by the time he got to Ice Castle and made his way past the teem of reporters camped outside and the deputy currently on guard duty—Clarke, from the looks of it—reminding someone loudly that the rink was closed for private practice, Stiles was winded as hell.

He doubled over at the front door, hands on his knees for support as he huffed and puffed, lungs burning and legs aching and his body in pain. Yet despite all that, there was a grin on his face and a smug sense of victory surrounding him, comforting him. He'd made it without having to stop and while he was thirsty as hell, he didn't feel like he was dying in the way he had been when he first got back into running. Another win for him that day, another check mark and plus sign and all that good shit. Nothing could ruin that day.

"Uh, Stiles?" Clarke began, almost uncertain in a way she rarely was. Probably concerned for him, he figured, realizing she hadn't been around in the beginning and therefore wouldn't know that the way he was panting was actually a whole lot better than the way he had been when he'd first gotten back into a semblance of a work-out routine.

"I'm fine, Clarke," he assured, waving her off with his hand as he straightened up, stretching his back, still staring at the glass doors. Inside the lobby was empty, quiet, and he figured Derek must have been on the ice, Erica probably trying to spy somewhere.

"I just ran all the way here so I'm a little winded, but I'm okay," he went on, noting how his grin was making his voice seem lighter, and he slipped his backpack off to remove some of the weight, some of the heat, holding the strap loosely in his hand. "I'm better than okay. I'm down to my GPF weight so Derek should be—"

Something hit his back, hard, sending him flying forward. The door gave way and he toppled into the lobby, tripping, and flailing before finally crashing down on his side while his backpack went soaring off somewhere. Great, he hadn't even hit the ice yet but already he was falling and getting bruised. His left side was throbbing where it had impacted against the tile floor and his lower back ached where he'd been hit by...

Whatever he'd been hit by.

Turning so he was on his back, Stiles felt a strange sense of deja vu, like he should've known what just happened. He wracked his brain as he tried to figure it out, distracted, not realizing anyone else was in the foyer with him until a foot pressed against his forehead.

Okay, ow.

And what the fuck?

And ow!

"What the hell?" he called out, reaching up to grab whoever it was by the ankle, feeling denim under his palms. He tried pushing the foot off but it pressed harder and he cried out in pain, the other aches in his body forgotten for the moment.

"Stupeed peeg," came a heavily accented retort and Stiles suddenly realized why the impact against his back felt so familiar.

Because he'd experienced it before, only against his stomach as he was kicked in a bathroom stall back in Sochi five months ago.

"Liam?" he tried, and the owner of the foot tutted in disgust before finally moving away. Stiles pushed himself to his feet, groaning at the various throbs and stings he was feeling, arching his back to combat it. Turning around, he found Liam leaning back against the counter, dressed in black skinny jeans, studded black jacket with leopard print swatches, and black tee with a bedazzled tiger on it. The sneer on his face was a familiar sight, as wears the faux-hawk he'd styled his brown hair into, and Stiles glanced around the lobby as he tried to figured out what the hell the Russian Punk Liam Dunbar was doing in Beacon Hills Ice Castle.

Because honestly, what the hell?

"Vhere is Derek?" Liam demanded and Stiles strangely noted how his accent was thicker than Derek's, most likely due to less experience speaking English. "He is supposed to choreograph my routine for my senior debut!"

A frown formed on Stiles' face and he scratched at his head, feeling the sweat that had formed from his run clinging to his hair. That was the first he'd ever heard of anything like that. Kind of weird considering Derek was there with him, as his coach. It got Stiles thinking though, wondering about his own choreography. He knew Derek did everything himself, picked his own music, created his own routines, even designed his own costumes—or at the very least, was hands on with the seamstress when it came to designing them. Stiles, on the other hand, had always let Deaton do all the work, let him pick everything. He wondered how things would work with Derek, if he'd just continue to let his coach make all those decisions, since Derek was clearly used to making them.

"We haven't really gotten around to discussing programs or choreography yet," he admitted with a wince, hand sliding down to wring the back of his neck. "Today was supposed to be my first day on the ice."

"Vhat?!" Liam burst out, straightening up, staring Stiles down with a venomous look as his lip curled up to bare his teeth. Stiles was suddenly reminded of his "Ice Tiger of Russia" nickname and it felt almost obvious how he'd gotten it. "Vhy is he wasting time vith a loser like you?! I bet if he knew about your crybaby fest at the last competition, he vould not be here to help!" Liam stepped forward as he raged, fingers curled into fists at his sides, his entire body vibrating in anger. He was like a tiny bomb set to explode, the slightest jostle or cutting the wrong wire sending that countdown straight to zero and detonating him.

And yet...

And yet Stiles got the feeling the anger wasn't aimed at him, that none of it was his fault. No, Liam was snarling about Derek. Derek not following through on a promise, Derek wasting his time, Derek helping Stiles.

The realization had him relaxing, tension leaving his shoulders, and Stiles casually walked over to where his backpack had landed, snatching it up. "Whatever problem you have with Derek has nothing to do with me and you should talk to him about that shit yourself," he stated, slinging his backpack onto his shoulder before sending a smug smile Liam's way. "Besides, Derek showed up here on his own. I didn't ask him to come."

The sneer on the younger skater's face grew more confused and Stiles shrugged a shoulder, still smirking. Whatever problems Liam was having understanding what he'd said, it wasn't Stiles' to deal with. Instead, he headed into the rink, leaving the other man to follow.

Derek was—predictably—on the ice, skating, completely oblivious to the fact that he now had an audience. Erica was still nowhere to be found though, so Stiles dropped his bag by the retaining wall before leaning on it, watching Derek. The tricks were all familiar, as graceful as always, the way he glided across the ice effortlessly and spun in the air as though it was nothing. But the routine was new, nothing Stiles had ever seen before. And considering how he'd memorized all of Derek's programs, he would know if it was one he'd done before.

"I recognize this routine," Liam stated, appearing on Stiles' left. His voice was low so as not to disturb the still-skating Derek but that accent was no less rough for it. "He vas vorking on it back in St Petersburg, new short program for this upcoming season." He rested his chin on his folded arms, feet shuffling to get comfortable, and Stiles watched Derek, heart pounding as he realized he was now one of a select few who had been able to see this new choreography.

"But he vas upset about it," Liam went on, catching Stiles' attention, and the older skater turned to the younger with a furrowed brow. "Derek is all about surprising the audience, giving them something new. But vhen you have been skating long time like him, it becomes harder to surprise. He vas not happy about this and even thought about taking year off."

Stiles nodded, remembering a video clip he'd seen of Derek's former coach Deucalion telling the press something along those lines, that Derek was taking some time off in order to consider his future in skating. Not a lie but not exactly the truth either. From what Derek had said, Deucalion hadn't been all that thrilled over his star protege once again disobeying him, this time leaving to "pretend" to be a coach. Stiles had been offended on Derek's behalf and even though the Russian had shrugged it off, he could tell the words had hurt.

Stood to reason that Deucalion wouldn't tell the press what was really going on, more for his own pride than Derek's privacy, Stiles was sure. Why would he admit his biggest star had left to do what he'd been spending his entire life doing?

Liam snorted and Stiles was drawn back to the present, turning to find a smirk on the younger man's face. "I vant to use this program, since he von't be," he stated as he pushed himself up and Stiles was fully prepared to argue, only for Liam to start bellowing across the ice. "Derek, you asshole! Cut this shit right now!"

Derek skated to a stop ten feet away, head turning to them and Stiles finally got a good look at him. He was panting slightly, skin shiny with sweat under the rink's lights, shaggy hair hanging limp in places. He was dressed in a black henley with the sleeves shoved up to his elbows, gloves on his hands, gray sweats on his legs, and Stiles took note of the familiar gold blades on his skates. The Russian flags he knew were engraved on them were a little harder to see from that distance though.

"Liam!" Derek exclaimed, brow furrowing, lips twisting in a confused sneer, and he began speaking in Russian.

Which marked the end of Stiles understanding anything because Liam responded in the same language, words carrying more bite with the harsh syllables. All Stiles could make out was "Russia" and "porosenok" and he was hit with a sinking feeling Liam was talking about him. And none of it was good.

Skating to a nearby open gate in the wall, Derek rolled both his eyes and his head, arguing back in their native tongue and all Stiles could do was frown and fold his arms, hating how he was left out.

"No!" Liam declared, hard, stomping his foot for emphasis, fists shaking at his sides once more. But Derek didn't react to the outburst or the tantrum, calmly putting the guards on his blades. "You promise me you vould choreograph program if I vin gold with no quads and I did. Stop this bullshit and come back to Russia vith me right now!"

Stiles inhaled sharply, the air held in his lungs as his heart stopped and his head snapped to Derek. Derek, who was staring right at Liam with his features flat and indecipherable. There was no way... he couldn't seriously... But with Derek there was no way to tell if he was actually considering the demand, if he was realizing he'd broken whatever promise to Liam that he'd made first and he should leave so he could honor it.

Oh fuck.

Ohhhh fuck.

Stiles hadn't even hit the ice yet and already he was losing his new coach, was losing Derek. No more Russian obscenities, no more drill sergeant behavior, no more yelling, no more porosenok. It was over before it had begun.

Derek's eyes slid over to Stiles and whatever he saw there had his features softening in a such a subtle way, Stiles wasn't sure he would've noticed it a month ago. "I have made promises to both of you," he pointed out and Liam snorted as he rolled his eyes. "I had song I was going to use for short program but it has two different arrangements and I did not know which one to use. So I will choreograph two different routines, one for each of you and I will keep promise to both of you."

Liam let out an undignified "heh?!" while Stiles just gaped. He knew better than to ask if Derek was serious because the man rarely joked around with anything. At least not anything skating wise.

The weird flirting thing he sometimes did with Stiles, he did that often, clearly as a joke.

But this? This was serious.

Holy shit.

The guy had lost his damn mind.

"We will have competition to find out who can surprise audience more."

"Yes!" Erica cheered, popping up on Stiles' left out of seemingly nowhere and making him jump. "Oh my god! We'll sell tickets and make it this huge event: the Hero of Beacon Hills versus the Ice Tiger of Russia!" An arm slung over Stiles' shoulders, she swept her free hand across the air as though showing off an invisible banner and he recognized that manic look in her eyes. She was already scheming, already coming up with ideas and plans for the whole thing.

It was best they just go along for the ride.

Which, judging by the casual way Derek had his arms folded and his lips held the barest hint of a smirk, he clearly wasn't about to stop her.

"We'll saturate social media, make banners and flyers and post them around town," she went on, grinning widely. "We can sell the tickets cheap, since everyone will want one, and use the profits from the tickets to fix the zamboni. We can also give exclusive media rights, start a bidding war on who gets admittance, provided they mention the rink's name, get us some more business." She paused, gasping in realization. "I gotta talk to Boyd about this, start getting things ready, tell my parents so they can help out. Fuck yes, this is gonna be awesome!" Her arm fell away from Stiles' shoulder and she threw herself at Derek, hugging his neck and catching him off guard. A chant of "thank you"s left her before she kissed his cheek with a loud "mwah!", leaving red lipstick on his whiskers, then running off to get started.

Stiles just stared after her before turning back to Derek, finding him stunned frozen, eyebrows raised and apparently stuck in the wake of Hurricane Erica.

"Okay then," was all he could say, shaking it off and scrubbing at the lipstick he surely felt on his cheek.

"I think ve make this competition better," Liam spoke up, arms folded, scowl on his face that had Stiles wondering if the expression was a Russian thing, given how often he saw Derek wear the same one. "Vinner gets Derek to help them out this season."

Derek shrugged to show he had no problems with that and Stiles nodded in agreement, a sinking feeling in his gut that silently told him he was in over his head.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Stiles wanted to argue, wanted to tell Liam that he could stay somewhere else, only... he couldn't. Because Beacon Hills had only one place for out-of-towners to stay and while the media had been banned from there, other guests were not.

Meaning Liam was free to stay at the B-n-B.

Not that he gave Stiles much of a choice. No, once he heard that Derek was staying at the inn Stiles' lived in with his dad, he'd demanded to be able to stay there, too, aggressive in his stubbornness and insisting it was only fair that Stiles not keep Derek all to himself.

Stiles wasn't entirely sure what Liam thought was exactly going on at the B-n-B, if he was picturing secret meetings to go over strategies for taking the smaller Russian down, if Derek was giving tips to Stiles he wasn't giving to Liam, if they were conspiring to make him lose in some way.

No matter the case, he followed them back to the B-n-B, sneering at the front facade of the house.

"So boring," he grumbled, disgusted, and Derek gave him a deadpan look.

"I like it," he argued and Stiles felt his chest puff out in pride. "Very home feeling."

Liam snorted in derision and Stiles glared at him for it as he led the other two skaters inside. He called out for his dad, rapping his knuckles against the check-in podium, then wincing as Liam dropped his leopard print suitcase on the wooden floor with more force than necessary.

Dick.

Rolling his eyes and turning away from the brat, Stiles called out for his dad once more before making his way behind the podium and checking the log-in book. No new arrivals, no guests other than Derek. Part of him was disappointed he couldn't use that excuse to force Liam into staying somewhere else.

His dad appeared from his office, wire rim glasses on his face, bottom teeth on display as he grimaced slightly in a familiar way that spoke more of an inability to figure out his son than anything else. "Stiles?" he responded, cautiously, as he reached the podium and clapped a hand on the younger Stilinski's shoulder. Glancing around, he gave a nod to Derek before pausing on their newest guest, squinting in confusion. "Hi there. I don't believe we've met. John Stilinski, owner and proprietor." He reached a hand in Liam's direction and the young Russian sneered before taking hold of it.

"Liam Dunbar," he introduced with less snarl than usual, his name coming out as "Leee-uhm" with his accent.

"Welcome."

"Liam's another skater," Stiles filled his old man in as the handshake ended, other hand falling off his shoulder as his dad crossed his arms. The younger Stilinski turned to the elder, giving him a wide-eyed look that cried for help and also asked if he could believe this shit.

His dad just nodded further, turning back to where Liam was on his phone, bored, entirely disinterested in everything that was happening. Major dick.

"That's, uh. That's great?" his dad tried, shrugging helplessly, and Derek scowled for some undetermined reason. No help either really.

The back door closed and Misha came bounding through, distracting her owner. The heavy clunk of combat boots on wood followed, Malia joining the group in the foyer with her brow pinched as well, Noshiko right behind her with a curious squint to her own almond eyes.

"Jesus, Stiles," Malia commented with a roll of her eyes, arms folding over her flannel top, hip cocking out. "Did you invite the entire ISF to stay here?"

Stiles glared, fully prepared to argue that he hadn't invited either Derek or Liam in the first place, that they'd both showed up on their own, that he wasn't about to invite anyone ever. But his dad snorted, shaking his head.

"I hope not," he retorted, removing his glasses to rub at his eyes. "We haven't got enough rooms."

"I am only here because of Derek, not because of some stupid pig," Liam sneered, phone shoved in his jacket pocket, and Stiles put a hand on his dad's shoulder to stop him from saying anything to their new guest that he'd end up regretting. Wasn't like Liam would ever care that he'd just insulted the owner's son. "He owes me choreography."

All heads turned to where Derek was crouched on the floor, scratching Misha's neck, the husky panting happily as her curved tail wagged over her back. "Apparently I make promise I forget," he admitted before standing up. "But now we have competition next week and I choreograph for both."

"So I heard," Malia pointed out, waving her phone, and Stiles silently cursed Erica's penchant for gossip.

Liam scoffed, like the whole thing was stupid and beneath him—which he probably thought it was. "Vaste of time." Definitely thought it was. "I vill vin this easy and then you vill come back to Russia to choreograph my senior debut. Then I vill vin gold at GPF and beat all of you!" He got right in Derek's face, sneering, a feral cat with its fur standing on end.

But Derek just stared back blankly, unaffected, unbothered, unflappable. It was the kind of attitude he needed to have on ice, a calm unruffled personality that allowed him to easily shake off any wobbles or falls or mistakes—as rare as they were—so he could focus on the rest of the program and still come out on top, so he could get through the rest of the competition, and all the ones that followed, and not succumb to an anxiety spiral in much the way Stiles always did.

It was admirable and enviable, and he saw that same confidence in Liam, only louder and more brash.

Not that it wasn't warranted in the younger skater. After their bathroom confrontation, Stiles had looked Liam up, had watched his programs. He had dominated the Junior Circuit, winning gold at the GPF and Worlds without needing any quads—although he had pulled one of in a competition, landing it perfectly, something that even some skaters in the Senior Circuit couldn't do. He had a right to openly claim that he was going to win this upcoming face-off, that he was going to win gold at the GPF, because he had the skills to do it.

And Stiles... Well...

It wasn't that Stiles was unskilled. He just lacked the confidence to pull them off.

And the practice, he realized, noting how it had been a while since he'd skated, since he'd been on the ice, thanks to Derek's rule.

Voices clamored around him and he was vaguely aware of his dad leading Liam to his office to pay for the room, of Noshiko telling Malia to go check Room Three was up to standards and freshen things up if need be, of her then heading to the kitchen with Derek asking about chicken tenders and being upset they were out of curly fries, consoled with shoestring ones instead. Everyone was off to do their own thing, Malia demanding Stiles come help her as she ascended the stairs, but he couldn't.

Because Liam was gonna win.

Because Liam was a better skater than he was.

Because Liam was gonna take Derek back to Russia and Stiles would never see him again.

Shit.

Without a word, he turned and headed out the front door, backpack still on, making his way back to Ice Castle.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The media caught wind of the competition and by the time Stiles got ready for bed that night, it had already gone viral.

He briefly considered deleting Twitter off his phone due to the notifications he was receiving, tagged in countless tweets and even entire conversations he had no part in. Arguments broke out, vicious and rude and almost bully-like, a major debate between his fans and Liam's Angels—the rabid, cult-like following of the young Russian skater that was always recognizable by the tiger emojis in their display name and cat-ear headbands or Snapchat filters in their avatar selfies. So-called analysts who were nothing but big fans with blogs and inflated senses of self all weighed in and tore apart the competition itself, giving opinions when nothing had happened beyond announcing the head-to-head.

His already fragile ego couldn't handle any of that shit and it hadn't even been twenty-four hours since Derek had decided he was to face-off against Liam.

The three of them headed to Ice Castle together the next day, Liam and Stiles both jogging behind Derek on his bike, the younger Russian managing to keep up the sneer even as his breathing grew heavier in a way that was both impressive and aggravating. The media outside were now held back by barricades on either edge of the sidewalk, deputies guarding both as the number of cameras and reporters had both seemed to increase. The sight of it had Stiles swallowing hard, his stomach rolling, and he wondered how the hell he was supposed to focus on this competition when he was so goddamn worried about the fact that it was more than likely gonna be broadcast and livestreamed.

But then he'd think about what he stood to lose if he didn't come out on top, the thought of Derek heading back to Moscow causing his chest to get tight, and he used the fear of his loss as a motivator as he tied his skates on and joined the two Russians on the ice.

Derek stood by the end of the rink at the retaining wall, dressed in sweats and a v-neck tee, chest hair peeking out once again, hoodie over it but only zipped halfway up. The rink's radio was placed on the wall itself next to a tissue box that was honest to god shaped like a husky—with mix-matched eyes like Misha, of course—iPhone plugged in and ready to go. Stiles and Liam both stood opposite him, both in warm-ups, Stiles in sweats and a hoodie with his former rink's logo on it, Liam in leggings and a black hoodie of his own, this one with a tiger on it, not unlike the emojis all his fans seemed to overuse.

The eldest skater stared them both down, arms folded over his chest, eyes narrowed and assessing. Stiles almost shrank down under the weight of it, under the scrutinizing way Derek seemed to stare at him, searching for something that Stiles wasn't quite aware of. It wasn't the first time he'd been on the receiving end of that look, and every time it made Stiles wonder if maybe he was missing something, given the way Derek seemed to be trying to find it himself.

But then Derek cleared his throat and rolled his head to loosen his neck, the searching gaze now gone as he switched gears. “As I tell yesterday, this song has two different arrangements, each with different theme. I will make two programs, one for each of you to each arrangement, and you will perform them next week at competition.”

Liam rolled his eyes, arms folded and shoulders slumped as though bored already. But Stiles was enraptured, his heart pounding at both the knowledge that he'd be competing again—sooner than originally thought—as well as the fact that his idol was going to be choreographing a program just for him.

Shit.

Derek glanced back and forth between the two other skaters as though waiting for questions or objections, receiving none. At that, he leaned over and tapped his phone, starting the first song.

The vocals started first, falsetto, more than likely a young boy who had yet to hit puberty and have his voice drop. What Stiles figured to be a harp played along, strumming delicately, and he closed his eyes as he got lost in it, in the gentle way the music swayed, unable to quite understand the foreign language being sung but able to interpret things in his own way.

“It sounds like innocent love,” he commented, head lolling to the side, as an organ and trumpet began playing, a second vocalist joining in and sounding a lot like the first. “Like someone who hasn't experienced it yet.”

Relatable.

Although really, this felt more childlike in its wonder, more pure, like someone who'd yet to be burned by the world or scarred by rejection, who'd yet to experience the ache of loneliness or the sting of loss.

“It sucks!” Liam commented, Stiles' eyes opening to see him sneering again, disgusted look on his face. “It makes me vant to puke.” He began making gagging noises, pretending as though he was about to actually throw up on the ice.

Derek rolled his eyes, tapping his phone once more to start the next song.

The comment over them being different arrangements felt understated as it began, a Spanish guitar strumming the previous notes at a much faster pace. He heard the rattle of a maraca, the tinkle of chimes, then a violin joined in with a fast-paced clapping sound keeping time. It had an entirely different feel to it, like there was no way on earth it was the same song, yet Stiles could still recognize the similar arrangement, the similar notes and chords.

Yet this wasn't pure, wasn't innocent. It felt more urgent, more dynamic, more high-spirited.

A whole new song.

“Dibs!” Liam cried out, actually smiling, grinning really, wide and eager as he stepped forward on the ice. “I call dibs, I vant this one.”

Derek snorted in amusement, slight twist to his lips as the song played out. “The first arrangement is called On Love: Agape. It is about unconditional love, the kind you feel for a parent or a deity. This is On Love: Eros, and it is about sexual love, the kind you feel for a lover or someone who you want for lover.” His eyes slid to Stiles and the American felt oddly exposed and called out.

Oh shit, was his crush that obvious?

Probably. Malia always said his feelings tended to be about as subtle as a wrecking ball. Miley Cyrus who?

“You,” Derek went on, pointing at Liam, “will do Agape and you,” he switched his finger to Stiles, “will do Eros.”

What the fuck?

“Vat the fuck?!”

“More or less what he said,” Stiles agreed, gesturing to Liam as the song ended, leaving them in the near silence of the rink, and he hoped like hell his heart wasn't as loud as he felt it was.

There was no way he could Eros, no way he could perform to a song about sexual love. He didn't have it in him. First there was the whole virgin thing, then the fact that he was awkward as fuck. Not exactly the sexiest combination out there and because of this, there was no way he'd be able to properly portray the theme of the song, translate its meaning into movement and express it to those watching.

Not that he thought a fifteen year old should be skating to a song about sexual love either. Jesus, Derek was metaphorically screwing them both really, considering neither could really—or should really—perform to that song. What the hell was he thinking?

“Yeah, there's no way I can do that song,” he stated, gesturing with glove covered hands before putting them on his hips and putting on a face that was part apology and part “never gonna happen, oh well, what can ya do?”

Derek stared at him with a cocked eyebrow, silent for a long moment despite the parted lips that wordlessly said he was trying to speak but the words just weren't happening. The searching gaze was back, eyes roaming Stiles' face as though looking for something, and the younger man got the distinct impression that Derek was trying to figure out if he was serious.

Which, duh! Of fucking course he was!

Apparently Derek figured that out for himself, eyebrows bobbing in dismissal and face morphing to something more serious, the drill sergeant persona back as his arms crossed and he glared at the other two skaters. “You need to do the opposite of what the crowd expects. You need to surprise them,” he pointed out and Stiles was reminded of the conversation he'd had with Liam the day before when the younger had said that Derek had taken the year off to reevaluate his own career because he felt as though he couldn't surprise the audience anymore.

Considering everything he had done over the years, the tricks and routines and world records, it made sense. Surprise had always been one of the things he was known for...until it became what he was known for and surprises were no longer a surprise, but something to be expected. It must've been hard to be motivated when you knew the audience was expecting to be blown away yet already resigned to seeing him on top of the podium with another gold medal around his neck.

Stiles felt bad for him, empathetic to the pressure Derek must be putting on himself to be better, to wow the audience again, to maintain his status as world champion.

“You both are more mediocre than you think,” Derek stated and suddenly Stiles didn't feel bad for him, his brow furrowing into a scowl of sorts as he glared at his new coach. “The entire world sees you as kitten and piglet and it must be changed. You both need to get better if I am to coach you, but as fans of mine, you should be able to handle that.”

Stiles rolled his eyes, shaking his head in disbelief at the level of ego in that one phrase alone. Sure, it was true, but still. Humility was a thing and it didn't seem as though Derek had any.

Not that he hadn't earned the right to be cocky as fuck. Didn't give him permission to act that way though.

Liam snorted loud, head rocking, his own blue eyes rolling. “I vill vin no problems, and then you vill make me a gold medal vinning program for my senior debut!”

Stiles wondered if the kid had ever heard of the term “indoor voice”, Liam's words echoing in the spacious rink.

The older Russian just smirked, cocky and amused, and Stiles resisted the urge to roll his eyes once more. “It would be a winning program if I skated it,” he stated with a nonchalant shrug, the same ego back once more.

Hard to argue with it though.

An annoying tut came from Liam, sneer back on his face, and he leaned forward to stab a finger in Derek's direction, as aggressive as ever. “I vill vin vith it! And vhen I do, you vill come back to Russia vith me!”

Stiles swallowed at that, eyes dropping to the ice, heart throbbing painfully in his too tight chest. The earlier fear of losing Derek to Moscow was back and the fact that the skater agreed to the terms didn't fucking help anything.

“What about you?” Derek questioned, turning to Stiles, curious pull to his brow. “What do you want if you win?”

The fact that Derek hadn't completely written Stiles off did wonders for his confidence and he stood up straighter, spine made of steel while he wracked his brain. Honestly, he just wanted to keep Derek around, wanted to keep him for himself. He wanted the man to stay at his family's B-n-B, to train with him, to work with him, to travel with him, to share meals with him.

His stomach clenched and before he could even think things through, he was blurting out “I wanna eat with you.”

Liam snorted, rolling his eyes and shaking his head as he turned away, muttering to himself in Russian. But Derek's eyes went wide for the briefest moments, taken by surprise by both the outburst and the request.

“I wanna have chicken tenders and curly fries and mac 'n' cheese with you,” Stiles went on, his gold medal meal that Derek had come to love as well. “I'm gonna win and we're gonna eat that together because I'm gonna give this routine all the eros I have in me,” he stated with conviction, fingers clenched into fists at his sides and jaw taut.

A smirk played on Derek's lips and his eyes seemed to dance in amusement, something flashing in them that was too fast for Stiles to catch. But those green orbs locked onto Stiles' brown ones, heated, and Stiles' felt his face flush and his skin prickle in pleasure. “That is what I like to hear,” Derek replied, that accent and that voice causing the words to wrap around Stiles and grip him tight.

And Stiles didn't want it to ever let go.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER EIGHT

“This is Liam's program,” Derek announced from his spot in the center of the ice, glancing over at his two students as they stood outside the retaining wall to the side. Liam laid his chin on top of his arms where they laid folded on the divider, casual and nonchalant as ever, while Stiles stood there enraptured by the man on the center of the ice. His hoodie was gone, draped next to the radio as it still sat on the far end of the ice with the tissue box, and Derek lifted up the small remote for it, hitting a button before getting into the starting position.

The music began, the sweet purity of Agape, the angelic voice ringing throughout the empty rink. Derek lifted his hand to the air as though reaching for something, or someone, delicately letting it flow back down before he began moving on his skates. He practically floated around the ice, easily moving through the step sequence, the twists and turns, the small hops he used as a substitute for the jumps he would add in later after assessing skill levels.

It was tough, that was for sure, and as Stiles moved so he was leaning on the wall, he was glad it wasn't his own routine. Then again, Derek skated it beautifully, as he always did, making it look easy. It was almost a shame the rest of the world wasn't gonna be able to see it performed by him, that they wouldn't be able to experience this the way Stiles was. It almost felt as though they were taking something away from everyone else and he felt like a selfish dick for a brief moment, only to wave the feeling aside.

If Derek wanted the world to see him perform this routine, he would keep it for himself, not give it to Liam, not design it specifically for Liam.

Besides, Stiles reasoned, there was nothing wrong with a little selfishness now and again. And at least he got to keep the more private aspects of Derek, the more personal side of him, sharing a home—even if it was temporary for the Russian—and meals.

At least for the moment.

Stiles glanced at Liam, seeing that bored expression on his face, yet a determined glint in his eyes. He was entirely focused, despite outward appearances and attitudes and Stiles wondered if there was more to the Russian Punk than he'd been let in on.

Probably, he figured. After all, what teenager didn't hide a whole lot of shit or put on a tough front while their true self was hidden away from ridicule or judgment. He was an adult and he still pulled that shit himself at times. Had to be worse for a fifteen year old who was still coming into his own as a person.

The song wound down and so did Derek's skating, ending with him arching his back and reaching his entwined hands up to the ceiling, panting from the exercise. Dropping out of the pose, he flipped his shaggy hair out of his eyes, turning to make sure the routine had been watched, paid attention to. “Well?” he questioned, the inquiry and his eyes aimed Liam's direction.

Liam scoffed, waving a dismissive hand at him. “I get it,” was all he said and Stiles wanted to hit him upside the head.

“Well, I thought it was beautiful!” Erica exclaimed from Stiles' left, making Liam jerk in surprise. Good to know he truly had been paying attention and hadn't noticed her sneaking in, nudging Stiles' side before Derek had begun showing off the Agape program.

“Vhere did you come from?” the young Russian sneered as he pushed himself to a standing position, snapping a hand to the door. “Get out! This is private practice!”

Erica grinned wide like a cat who'd gotten the cream, far more ferocious with her painted red lips and dark eye shadow than the kitten on Stiles' other side. “I don't think so,” she retorted, reaching over and patting his head.

He swiped at her, a kitten with a toy, sneer deepening as he let out a growl. “I said get out!”

“She works here,” Stiles pointed out over Erica's amused giggles. “Plus she's the daughter of the owners. She's not going anywhere, even if you did ask nicely.”

“I don't ask nicely,” Liam snarled, turning his feral eyes on Stiles.

The American rolled his eyes. “That was my point.”

“Silly kitty,” Erica quipped as she pet his head once more, pulling her arm back before he could make contact.

“Are you finish?!” Derek bellowed from the ice, and all three snapped their heads over to find him standing with his hands on his hips, eyes narrowed in a scowl as he stared them down. Various acknowledgments sounded out: Stiles muttering an apology, Liam tutting, Erica saying “for now”, and Derek rubbed at his eyes before pulling the remote from his pocket. “Stiles, this is your program. Pay attention!”

He nodded once, jerkily, watching as Derek hit play again and pocketed the remote. Standing in mid-ice, Derek cocked a hip out, head slightly ducked and hands by his sides. The music began, the familiar Spanish guitar strumming, and his hands waved around his head before he skated in a wide circle, arms moving, coming to a stop once more. He glanced at the trio on the sidelines, flipping his hair out of his eyes and shooting them a smirk with his eyes seemingly locked on Stiles and the younger skater felt his heart stop in his chest, his stomach swooping.

Fucking hell.

Derek skated away, wide swooping arcs as he flowed into the step sequence, his body in constant motion. It was a sight to behold, the way his hips moved, his hands and arms swirled, all with a heat intense enough that it should've melted the ice below him. Fuck, but he was incredible, embodying the true meaning of the song in that effortless way he had with everything, and Stiles was hit with the overwhelming feeling that he was skilled in more places than just on the ice, that he had experience in more areas than just the rink.

Jealousy ate at him before he shoved it away, the feeling replaced by the more potent one of...absolute terror. Because he was supposed to skate this routine. He was supposed to do these twists and turns and jumps and arcs and sweeping motions. He was supposed to be the one embodying eros, seducing the audience the way Derek was, exuding a confident sensuality that frankly could've knocked up a man.

Jesus, he was gonna die, Stiles realized. His heart was pounding, breathing a little heavier than before, and he covered his mouth with his hands to hide it from Erica and Liam. It wouldn't be the first time Stiles' cock had given an interested throb at one of Derek's routines—especially with those fucking costumes—but it had never been like this. Maybe because it was the first time Stiles was seeing it in person? Maybe because the theme of the piece was literally about sex?

Who knew? Who cared really? Not Stiles, that was for damn sure. All he knew was that it was the hottest thing he'd seen—on ice anyway—and it was causing arousal to rush through his veins in a way he'd never experienced before. And it was all because of a skating routine.

A skating routine Stiles himself was supposed to perform in much the same way.

How the fuck was he supposed to do that?!

He was gonna die.

The routine ended with Derek's arms wrapped around his chest and his knee bent, leg slightly cocked out. His shaggy hair was more mussed that before and even at a distance, Stiles could see where the strands were damp with sweat. His shoulders were heaving from exertion, and when combined with the sheen of perspiration on his skin and the ruddiness to his cheeks, it honestly looked like he'd just gotten laid.

Not that Stiles would know. But god, did he wanna find out first hand what post-sex Derek looked like and if it resembled this in any way.

He had the distinct feeling it was very fucking close, if not exactly alike.

“You can do that,” Erica stated with a “no problem” grin, nudging Stiles' side with her elbow.

He gave her a wide-eyed look of terror in response and she just rolled her own brown orbs at him.

“Stiles!” Derek barked and the mentioned man snapped his head to him. “Did you see all of that?”

“Yeah! I got it. I, uh. I saw and I understood and I-I. That's my routine.” Okay, lame, pathetic, and the way his voice had gotten slightly higher in pitch didn't exactly exude a whole lot of confidence.

So dead.

Derek waved his hand to gesture Stiles closer and he made his way to the open space in the wall, removing his guards before skating over. Liam was left to his own devices, meaning he took out an actual device—his phone—and began scrolling through it in typical teenager fashion, as Stiles moved so he was standing in front of his new coach.

Jesus, he was just as imposing up close as he was from a distance, this giant figure both literally and metaphorically. Muscles were hugged by black cotton, his gold blades cutting into the top layer of ice slightly bigger than Stiles', widening that barely there difference in height another quarter inch or so.

“We need to work on the composition,” Derek stated, folding his arms, face as serious as his tone. “What quads can you do?”

Stiles felt his cheeks heat up and he gripped the back of his neck with a glove covered hand. Kind of stung to know that Derek hadn't looked into him at all, hadn't familiarized himself with Stiles' skating beyond the Stammi Vicino routine he'd copied.

Some fucking coach.

But beyond that, was the embarrassment that his skills weren't all that great, that he wasn't as up to par as his fellow competitors. Yeah, he was great at step sequences and his spins were fantastic, but the jumps? The quads? Not so much.

And admitting that to someone who performed quads like they were nothing and was the first one to land a quadruple flip in competition? It made him feel even more pathetic than ever.

“Well, I can do a toe loop,” he admitted, dropping his hand and wringing his fingers together in front of himself, eyes locked on to them. “And I can do a salchow in practice, but I've never landed it in competition.” Ouch, yikes, ugh, and all of that shit. But he wasn't about to admit defeat, not to Derek, not in front of Derek, and he raised his head, giving the older man a sheepish grin. “But I can still give it a shot,” he offered enthusiastically, figuring it had to earn him some major points. A for Effort and all that, right?

Derek simply stared at him, silent, eyes narrowed and analytical. It was a long moment before he let out a sigh through his nose, face going flat and expressionless. “Work on fundamentals today and I will help Liam. I do not want to waste day teaching you things you should already know, yes?”

Wow. Dick.

A scowl formed on Stiles' face, his arms crossing, and he opened his mouth to argue, to say he knew the fundamentals, fuck you very much, but Derek kept going, kept talking, kept rubbing salt in the wound he'd just created.

“How many times have you choked?” he asked, causing Stiles to inhale sharply, breath catching in his throat.

It was a valid question, he supposed, considering how his last two major competitions had gone down. And while Derek may not have been all that familiar with Stiles' repertoire of tricks, he was certainly well-versed in his reputation and how he'd performed when the pressure was on. Still, hearing it out loud, and from someone he admired, felt like a stab in the heart and he turned away, unable to handle looking at the person who was wielding the weapon.

“You have skills, you are good skater,” Derek went on, easily, as if it was an obvious thing, and Stiles found himself getting whiplash. “Why you are not able to win?”

The words were jumbled but the meaning was clear and Stiles ducked his head, lips pressed together in a hard line. It was an easy question really, with an equally easy answer, considering how much time he'd spent agonizing over all of it. Yet admitting it...

He swallowed hard, shoulders hunching up around his neck and he wrapped his arms tighter in order to hold himself together. “I guess,” he began weakly, cutting himself off with a shake of the head. “I know that I lack confidence,” he admitted with a wince.

“Agreed,” Derek replied, voice softer than ever, gentle, almost soothing. “I want to help you to find it and embrace it.” The words were like velvet, the low volume making that usually course accent smoother, wrapping Stiles in a warm cocoon of safety and security and guidance. He melted against it, teeth sinking into his bottom lip, arms falling to his sides, and part of him hated the affect it had on him, while the other part loved it.

He just didn't know which part was right, which part he should let be in charge, which part should win.

fingers cupped his chin, tilting it up, and Stiles' brown eyes were raised to come into contact with Derek's amalgam of colors in his own. The Russian moved closer, skates inches apart, bodies almost colliding, their noses grazing. Suddenly Stiles was hit with flashbacks of the first time he'd officially met Derek in the B-n-B, naked and fresh from the shower, pinning Stiles to the wall as he told the young skater that he was talented, offering his services as coach.

His breath froze in his lungs as his heart beat out of control and he hoped like hell Derek couldn't feel it against his own chest, as close as they were. His eyes darted down to Derek's lips, seeing the shine from the balm he'd applied after he'd put his skates on in order to prevent them from chapping, and Stiles wondered if they were as soft as they looked, how they would feel against his own.

It would be so damn easy to just..tilt his head...move ever so slightly forward...

“Unleash the eros within you,” Derek murmured, his breath warm against Stiles' frozen skin, and goosebumps formed over the American's flesh at the juxtaposition between it and the cold air of the rink. “Maybe no one see it, but I know that it is there.” A finger pressed to his chest before Derek's palm lay flat between his pecs, the weight of it both comforting and terrifying, invigorating him all the same. “It is deep down inside, hidden away from world, and it has been waiting long time to come out. I want you to show it to me. You can do that, yes?”

“Yeah,” Stiles breathed out on automatic, eyes going half-lidded as his blood heated, swirling inside him, racing around his body and filling his tingling skin. He wanted to show it, wanted to show Derek, wanted to show him everything. The program had caused arousal to rush through him like none before and he was desperate to cause that same effect in Derek.

Only. He had no idea how.

But he was gonna fucking try, that was for fucking sure.

“Hey!” Liam yelled from the side, cutting into the small bubble that had formed around Stiles and Derek, bringing reality crashing down around them.

Stiles only realized that Derek had been wearing a small smirk when his face fell at his other student's interruption, his shoulders slumping before he released Stiles' chin and backed up a few inches. Suddenly everything was cold, the air piercing at Stiles' overheated skin, and the goosebumps were more to combat the chill than anything else.

Reality fucking sucked sometimes.

“You are supposed to be teaching me! Not chatting with piggy!”

Stiles was gonna kill that nickname dead.

Derek waved a hand at the younger Russian, turning back to Stiles. Gone was the closeness, the heat in that stare, replaced with the hard coldness of the drill sergeant aspect of his personality, causing even more whiplash. “While we train, I want you to think about what eros means to you and tell it to me, yes?”

Oh god!

Swallowing hard, Stiles felt his cheeks practically incinerate with mortification. Really, “eros” to him was what Derek had just done on the ice, the way he'd performed the routine, but he had a feeling that wouldn't be an acceptable answer. Nor would porn or the countless fantasies he'd had over the years. Because eros wasn't meant to just be sex, it was sexual love. And as someone who had experienced neither, he was at a loss for what exactly that was.

“Sure, okay, no problem,” he rambled as he skated backwards, putting distance between them, ignoring the panicked crashing of his heart and the anxious tightening in his chest.

He needed serious help. And lots of it.

~*~*~*~*~*~

“So because you don't understand eros, Derek's making you work on fundamentals?” Malia surmised, perfectly summing up everything Stiles had just rambled about in one neat sentence.

Stiles dropped his leg where he'd been stretching it on the barre, turning to shoot an unamused look at Malia in her usual position on the back table of the studio, chowing down on animal crackers as was her habit while Stiles and Kira practiced.

Figuring there was nothing for him to do at Ice Castle—at least for the time being—he'd shot Kira a text to see if she was busy. Luckily for him, the ballet studio was closed that day and she was able to open it up for a private session, Malia tagging along since it was her day off, too.

That, and she'd made it known that he owed her for interrupting their plans of Netflix and Chill and therefore had to spill everything. Which he had. Mostly. He hadn't gone into detail about Derek moving into his personal space and asking Stiles to show him his eros, but he figured that was something just for the two of them. Malia would blab it to everyone and ruin what felt like a special private moment.

Plus he was kind of being selfish with it and wanted to keep it to himself forever.

Possibly as material for solo shower time.

“You should've just made something up,” she suggested, shrugging as she paid more attention to her pink frosted cookie than her friend, and Stiles seesawed his head where it was ducked over his shins.

Wasn't like he hadn't thought of that, but knowing Derek, he'd see through it in a heartbeat. Not to mention the fact that he'd kind of panicked and couldn't think of anything other than Derek in a speedo, Derek in a towel, Derek in absolutely nothing.

Not a good thing to say to Derek himself.

“Maybe,” Stiles muttered, twisting back and forth to stretch his back. He'd already been stretching, rehearsing, moving around and working on his flexibility once more, as well as doing a dry run of his routine—or at least the parts of it he could and that he actually remembered. With the ice occupied by Liam and Derek working on the Agape program, there hadn't exactly been enough room for Stiles to “work on his fundamentals”—something that still irked him when he thought about it. But he needed to work on this routine, needed to do something other than lay on a bench in the locker room thinking about what eros actually meant to him.

Still not a fucking clue.

“Maybe Derek hasn't thought about it either,” Kira chimed in, hopeful and bubbly, tucking loose hair from her bun behind her ear. “I mean, maybe that's why he decided not to use this music for himself, because he couldn't figure it out.”

“Maybe,” Stiles agreed, somewhat at least, rolling his shoulders. “But he's a skating god so he can get away with shit like that. The way he moved on the ice and performed that program? Whether he knows what eros means to him or not, I dunno, but it sure as hell looked like he did.”

Hell, the entire thing had looked like a fucking mating ritual of the Hale Clan or something, Stiles thought as he turned away and reached up to the sky with both arms. Maybe it actually was, given the family history on the ice. Certainly wouldn't surprise Stiles and considering his own reaction to it, it was certainly effective. Even he had wanted the guy to impregnate him, despite knowing it was biologically impossible.

“So what are you gonna do then?” Malia asked with her mouth full of half-chewed cookie, shaking her box as she stared down in it, once again on the hunt for a particular kind.

Stiles scoffed, head ducking, hand running through his sweaty hair. It was a good question, one he wasn't entirely sure about. But then he caught sight of Kira's wide-eyed expectation and Malia lifting her own head to stare at him impatiently and he knew that even the half-cocked idea he had was better than nothing.

“I've been thinking about it, going over the song in my head,” he started, glancing around the room. In the corner sat an old TV strapped down to a rolling cart, a DVD/VCR combo on the shelf underneath. It was a set-up just like that back at Ice Castle that he and Erica used to watch competitions together, that he'd first laid eyes on Derek Hale, beginning a love affair with the man's skating and with figure skating itself.

Man, if eight year old Stiles knew he was working with Derek, he'd probably pee his pants.

Assuming, of course, twenty-three year old Stiles could get his shit together, figure out what “eros” meant to him, and earned the right to keep Derek as his coach.

Shit.

“I imagine this story,” he went on, staring down at his foot as it absently swept in a large arc back and forth across the polished wood floor. “It's about this handsome playboy that comes to town and all the women fall for him, wanna be with him.”

Malia stared at him with a cocked eyebrow, Kira covering her smirk with her hand, and yeah, Stiles could tell how this felt familiar, hating the fact that the playboy he envisioned as he told the story had shaggy hair and scruff. But Derek had skated the program, had put the story in his head, so the playboy character just happened to look like him. No biggie.

“But the playboy has no interest in any of them. He only wants this one woman who's the most beautiful of them all, but she rejects him.” Stiles slid forward, moving toward them, swiping a hand in front of himself as though pushing someone aside, acting out his story now as he got into it more. “But the playboy isn't easily deterred, doesn't accept the rejection. So he begins to pursue her more, tries harder, showering her with gifts, flattery, promises, indulging her romantic side as he desperately tries to sweep her off her feet.”

At that, he reached out and grabbed Kira's hand, pulling her close then dipping her. Malia frowned and Kira giggled, playing along and enjoying it. “Finally, she gives in, agrees to be with him, but the playboy loses interest.” Stiles raised her back up and held their joined hands above her head, spinning her. “He's bored now that he has her, more enthralled with the chase, the hunt, than the person herself.” He spun her away, Kira ending in a perfect arabesque, back leg curled up, grinning at the game and Stiles fought a losing battle against a smile of his own. “He breaks her heart and leaves her, off to the next town and a new conquest.” Jumping on top of the table, Stiles stood with his pelvis slightly cocked, arrogant, victorious... ridiculous.

It wasn't him. At all.

It was Derek, the way he pictured it in his mind, the way the story unfolded, the way the Russian had come into town and caused people to trip over themselves at the sight of him.

Stiles was screwed.

Clapping sounded out and Stiles looked down to find both girls applauding him, Kira still smiling wide, Malia looking a little more dubious. “That's a nice story,” she admitted, picking up her box of cookies from where she'd temporarily laid them on her lap and arching an eyebrow in Stiles' direction once more. “But it's not you.”

A long exhale left Stiles and he slumped his entire top half, arms dangling and head hanging, utterly defeated. “I knooow,” he groaned in frustration, scrubbing at his face before he lowered himself down so he was now sitting on the table. “Anyone who sees it is just gonna wish that Derek was the one skating it, not me. And after seeing him actually skate it, I can't blame them.” Reaching over, he snatched one of Malia's cookies out the box, ignoring her objecting “hey!” as he bit it in half. “The guy literally oozes sex and I—” He paused, using his free hand to pull his sweat-drenched shirt away from his chest. “Just ooze.”

“I dunno,” Kira stated with her head cocked, absently picking at a fingernail where her hands were clasped in front of her torso. “You looked pretty hot in that viral video.”

Malia nodded in agreement, for once not talking with her mouth full, and Stiles grimaced before laying back. “I can't just keep copying Derek though. It's bullshit and cheating for starters. Plus I'll never get better than him at that.”

This time Malia snorted, an ugly thing, giving him a disbelieving look as though he'd suddenly sprouted white fur and grown three feet and turned into an abominable snowman. “You honestly think you'll be better than Derek Hale one day?”

Ouch.

Also, whoops! Yeah, he totally hadn't meant to say that shit out loud, not when he knew how fucking ridiculous it sounded. It was one thing to have a dream. It was another thing to have a totally outlandish dream that one knew would never happen in a million years. Honestly, he'd be lucky to even reach the Grand Prix Finals this year, much less ever beat Derek at anything or break one of his records. Malia was right to laugh. Bitchy, but right.

Kira shot her girlfriend a murderous look, smacking her arm with the back of her hand, and Malia just rolled her eyes, laughing. “Oh come on. Stiles,” Malia turned to him, staring down at him with an inquisitive look. “You said yourself he was a god. Do you seriously think you're god level the way he is?”

Stiles scoffed, shaking his head as he sat up, putting a wry grin on his face that he didn't fully believe. He wanted to be good, maybe even great, but he knew Derek was on a whole other level that no mortal could even see, much less achieve.

Still, it stung that his best friend didn't have faith in him, didn't back him up and cheer him on, regardless of how impossible the goal was.

“Nah,” he admitted, knowing he was being honest but still hating saying it out loud. “But I definitely need to be better than I was. I need to be good enough to beat Liam and earn the right to have Derek as my coach.”

“And you will,” Kira declared emphatically, beaming at him, and this time, Malia didn't laugh or scoff, nodding just as enthusiastically.

At least he had their support with that, he thought, sliding off the table to get back to work.

Now he just had to make himself worthy of their support, too.

~*~*~*~*~*~

When Derek's plethora of boxes had been moved into Room Two, it had been decided that Stiles would use that bathroom, considering his own lack of facilities in the basement and the fact that no one was going to be using that one while the room was occupied by nothing but belongings.

Stiles honestly wasn't entirely sure what the hell was even in the boxes and why Derek needed so much shit he'd yet to even really open but whatever made him happy, Stiles figured.

The bathroom wasn't big or fancy, none of them were. Each one was pretty damn standard and a little on the small side, but they held what was necessary with enough room to move around someone. A shower running along the end opposite the door, toilet and small counter with basin sink on the left when one entered, the right wall home to two towel racks, with fresh ones there after every use.

But the thing Stiles liked the most was the fact that the showers were all actually in tubs, in case a guest preferred a bath, nice shower curtain in a mint green that matched the décor of this particular bathroom. And while the bathroom may have been small, the tub was spacious, big enough for his long legs, complete with jets should he choose.

And that night, he fucking chose them.

After a couple hours spent at the ballet studio, he got a ride back to Ice Castle with the girls, joining the other skaters in the rink. Liam had been sent off elsewhere, Derek apparently frustrated he couldn't feel his "agape", leaving him to help Stiles run through the basics his routine. Still no jumps, though, just hops and leaps where they would be, discussions over spins and Stiles demonstrating, glad he was able to prove he wasn't totally inept with skating. And after several hours of that, plus ballet, everything in his body was hurting.

As soon as the trio of skaters returned to the B-n-B, they went their separate ways. Liam stomped up to his room, complaining loudly in Russian, and Stiles didn't bother asking Derek to translate; the meaning was obvious. Derek himself had gone out back with Misha, spending time with her since they'd been apart all day. And Stiles had grabbed a change of clothes from his room before heading up to Room Two, filling the tub up with hot water and getting in.

The heat did its job, relaxing sore muscles and aching joints, melting away the pain on the day. Stiles leaned back, rolled up towel serving as a pillow against the wall, and cut on the jets. Immediately water pulsed against his lower back, his obliques, the sides of his legs, and he adjusted his feet so there was a jet massaging the aching arches. He'd forgotten about this part of the job, the pain of it all, the price he paid for flying on the ice.

Worth it though, he thought, eyes closing as he let out a pleasured groan, thinking about how he was back doing what he loved and with his idol as his coach.

For now at least. The whole thing depended on whether he was gonna win the face-off against Liam next week, on whether he'd win the bet to have Derek stay as his coach. Which all further depended on what the hell he thought "Eros" meant to him.

Shit. Why the fuck couldn't he have been given agape? At least that was easy to figure out. It was how he felt for his dad, his late mom, his recently deceased dog. It was how he felt for Malia, Kira, Erica, and even a bit for Boyd, not to mention Scott and Deaton.

Then again, that was probably why Derek hadn't given it to him. It wasn't just about surprising the audience, it was also about challenging himself. For years, Stiles had rested on just following what Deaton said, what Deaton told him to do, and for years, it had resulted in him landing in the middle of the pack—or worse. His first and only stint in the GPF had ended disastrously. It was clear he needed to do something new, something different, in order to get different results.

And that meant the challenge of "Eros".

The groan Stiles let out this time was one of frustration and he grabbed his washcloth from where it was floating in the water, wringing it out before putting it over his face. He was a grown ass man, twenty-three years old, for fuck's sake. He should know what eros meant, and what it meant to him specifically. Why the hell was this so hard? Why the hell was this such a challenge?

So. Fucking. Pathetic.

"Stiles!"

The loud barking of his name made him jerk, arms flailing and splashing the water. He whipped the washcloth off his face to make sure nothing had spilled on the floor—or at the very least, that the mat had caught it—peering over the side of the tub to check. Okay, all good. Wet patch on the mint green mat, but nothing on the tile. Awesome.

Relief flooded him and he reached back to cut off the jets, the pulsing now more annoying than massaging. Hand on his chest, he willed his heart to calm, his mind to stop buzzing, his—

"Would you want to do jumps in first half or second?"

Oh Jesus Christ, he'd totally forgotten he wasn't alone.

He jerked again, hands flying down to cover his crotch, visible in the clear water. Then he glanced up, finding Derek casually leaning his hip against the counter, chewing on a pen as he stared down at an open notebook in his hand.

Wearing only a pair of tight black briefs.

"The fuck are you doing?!" Stiles cried out, scandalized, wide-eyes and gaping. "And why aren't you wearing clothes?!"

Derek frowned before moving the notebook so he could look down at himself. "I wear brief," he pointed out in an obvious tone, turning that puzzled frown back on Stiles. "What is problem?"

Stiles moved so he was leaning against the front of the tub, arms folded over the edge and one hand palming at his face. "The problem is that I am naked and you are in something commonly referred to as 'underwear', that frankly looks a size or two too small, and I still don't understand why it's so hard for you to keep your clothes on."

The corner of Derek's lips turned up in a small smirk, green eyes alight with amusement, and he closed his notebook before folding his arms, putting those impressive biceps on display. Fucking hell, really, Stiles should just take a photo of the way Derek looked at that moment—the cock of his hip, the casual seduction of that smile, every muscle chiseled out on stone, and the black cotton of his briefs hugging his package tighter than any briefs had a right to—and use that as his definition of "eros". The way his own cock was pulsing under the water said it was in agreement.

"I could say same about you, yes?" Derek stated with an arch of the eyebrow, challenging, and it took Stiles a minute to figure out what the hell he was referring to.

Right. Lack of clothing.

Which...

"I'm in the fucking bath," he argued, gesturing with a hand. "And last time, you let yourself in while I was showering. I'm not supposed to keep clothes on for that."

Derek simply stared at him, brow creased and lips parted, eyes flicking about as they took in what they could see of Stiles. He looked at Stiles like he was an unsolvable puzzle, like he couldn't figure him out, or just didn't know how to respond. Made sense. Lots of people couldn't understand Stiles and the fact that he'd brought up a damn good point had probably squashed whatever argument Derek was about to use against him.

The sound of Liam screeching Derek's name reached their ears, slightly muffled, and Stiles figured that at least the bedroom door was shut, since the bathroom one was clearly open. He wondered if Derek had actually closed it or if it did so on its own, knocked shut by Derek's fast movement or just not being opened fully. Whatever the case, Stiles was grateful for that small amount of privacy, considering how much Derek had taken away by being in there.

The Russian stared down his protege, still frowning, before decidedly letting it go. "We talk later," he stated lowly, absently, as he pushed away from the counter, then turned and left the bathroom, closing the door over on his way.

Stiles just stared after him, stared at the wood, feeling as though he was missing something and realizing that Derek was just as big a puzzle as he was.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Dinner was baked chicken and brown rice—for Stiles at least. Flavorless, bland, not all that appetizing considering the lack of sauces or spices or rubs added to it.

Stupid fucking diet.

His dad was off to Bingo Night at the rec center—the closest thing to entertainment the small town of Beacon Hills offered—Noshiko and Ken joining and, according to the older Stilinski, possibly scheming to set him up with someone. The idea of his dad dating was still strange but Stiles knew his dad more than deserved happiness. And considering how long it had been since his wife's passing, John Stilinski was long overdue for it.

Malia and Kira had decided to go to the city to catch a movie and get some dinner, escapism of their own, while Erica and Boyd were having dinner at her parents' house. Meaning Stiles was stuck at home eating with Derek and Liam.

A little awkward to say the least.

Especially since they were both eating mouth-watering tender chicken and mac 'n' cheese, leaving Stiles with the bland shit. Unfair.

Christ, his entire day had been shit, he decided, scrubbing at his face with one hand while repeatedly poking his fork into his chicken with the other. Derek thought he couldn't skate, his body ached all over, Liam was a douche, his bath had been interrupted, and on top of all of it, he was still unable to figure out "Eros".

The realization of the last part had hit him with he'd finished drying and getting dressed in a pair of baggy sweats and a t-shirt, causing his head to hurt and neck to ache with stress tension. He was almost tempted to fill the tub back up so he could let the jets work on the knot he could feel, or at least steal the handheld massager from his dad's office. Sure, it would help work out the pain, but it wouldn't solve the long term problem.

Eros. Sexual love, sensuality. But it was deeper than just wanting to bone someone. It was desire, it was a soul deep want, it was craving so bad that it caused you to lose sight of the things around you. It made you crazy, caused you to push aside rational thought in your zeal to obtain it.

But what caused that for Stiles? What made him so crazy that he forgot rationale and sense, all in his quest to get it? What did he desire so bad that he lost sight of what was right, what he was supposed to do, what he was allowed to do?

"Chicken!" he burst out, causing Liam and Derek to turn to him abruptly, both pairs of eyes wide. And really he should've taken that as a sign that he'd truly lost his damn mind, and maybe he did realize that and somehow used that to justify his argument, rambling on like a fool. "That's what eros is to me. Juicy, flavorful chicken tenders. The way it tastes, the way it feels when I bite into it, how happy it makes me and how much I crave it when I can't have it."

There was a pregnant pause before Liam snorted and rolled his eyes, muttering under his breath in Russian. Derek simply stared at Stiles, eyes narrowed in that analytical way he seemed to watch him, lips pursed in thought before he began working his jaw.

Right. Because Stiles was an idiot and what he'd just said was idiotic.

He shouldn't be allowed to talk. Honestly.

"Well," Derek began, putting his fork down with the tines on the edge of his plate. "That is certainly. Unique." He scratched at a temple with one finger, seemingly in disbelief before he shrugged it off. "But if it is what works for you then okay. We shall use it."

Liam gave Derek a confused sneer, Derek reached for his water and mumbled something about vodka, and Stiles wondered if he'd made the right decision. Considering how his only other option was his coach, he realized that it was the best choice he had. Really, he just needed to roll with it and hope for the best.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER NINE

Actually training with Derek was completely different than how Stiles had imagined it.

He'd always figured he had some idea of what it would be like, given Derek's behavior and attitude during work-outs. The drill sergeant persona, the not-so-flattering nicknames, the constant poking and prodding, the thinly veiled insults that Stiles was never entirely sure if Derek meant or just didn't realize how truly hurtful they were or just used as a weird motivational tool. The skater had assumed that all of it had been a glimpse into his future, that he would be in for more of the same once he hit the ice.

Only...it wasn't quite like that.

Sure the porosenok term of not-so-endearment stuck, Liam picking up on it and giving it a more menacing tone—something Stiles constantly glared at him for, before using Google to look up the Russian word for “kitten” and taking to calling him kotenok, which earned him more than a few snarls. There were also constant reminders over how he should be able to handle the basic moves already, nitpicking over what he was failing at, comments regarding what he was doing wrong. Sloppy free leg, stiff hands, ugly faces, wooden movements.

The one saving grace Stiles had was that Liam was having just as much difficulty with his own program. The pair would take turns on the ice, Derek supervising them running through their program either from the sidelines or on the ice as well, calling both out on what they needed to fix or pay more attention to. While Liam was talented and skilled, his technical abilities and execution flawless, he still was having major issues finding his “agape”, his performance lacking because of it. Every jump was landed perfectly, the spins never wobbling, the steps handled with what looked like minimal effort, but the emotion was missing, the heart and soul of the piece. And Derek let it be known, shouting at him to think of something he loved unconditionally, to remember what love was.

Stiles thought it was counterproductive to scream about love—especially at a fifteen year old who'd probably never really experienced it—but he kept quiet on that front as he would watch from the sidelines. If Liam had issues figuring it out, then it would help Stiles during the face-off.

Not that his own emotional understanding of his program was still all that great. He did have a better hold on it than Liam did, though, helped along by Derek calling out reminders to think of the juiciness of the chicken tenders, how soft the macaroni was, the way it felt on his tongue, the taste of it all.

More than once Stiles had regretted picking a food as a stand-in for “eros”, mind flashing with images of what else he could feel on his tongue, what else he wanted to taste. The way Derek's sweatpants clung to his ass and how his sleeves were practically always pushed up to his elbows, gloves over his hands, none of that helped get rid of the fantasies flooding Stiles' brain at any given moment.

The fact that he still couldn't fucking land a quad salchow didn't help either.

Derek also proved to be more hands on with teaching the choreography as well. Deaton could skate as far as sliding across ice and not falling, but when it came to tricks and the like, he couldn't do it. It had constantly reminded Stiles of the old adage over “those who can't do, teach”. Instead, Deaton had mapped out programs on paper, drawing the routes, where the tricks would be, writing down a list of elements that would be performed and in what order.

Derek, however, was on the ice side by side with his two students as much as possible, especially in the beginning stages when they were still learning the program. Stiles had always thought it would be a distraction to be on the same ice as Derek at the same time, and in the beginning it had been, but soon it was as effortless as breathing to glide around the ink in perfect synchronization as the Russian. Granted Derek easily landed the quad salchow Stiles was still falling on, leading to arguments over whether it should be lowered to a triple breaking out often.

Throughout it all, regular work-outs still continued, Liam and Stiles forced to do them together. There was the morning run to Ice Castle, the warm-up stretches and routines, exercises performed around the rink before they were allowed on the ice in order to stay in shape, then the jog back to the B-n-B. The two never really spoke beyond trash talking, and Stiles asked Derek to teach him some insults in Russian that he could use. When he explained why, the elder skater had grinned and happily supplied him with a few, allowing Stiles to catch Liam off-guard and fluster him when he was made fun of in his native tongue.

But at the end of the day, Stiles readily admitted—at least to himself—that he respected the hell out of Liam. He was only fifteen and miles better than most of those in the Senior Circuit, a division he was soon joining now that he was of age. And despite how terrifying the prospect must've been—or at least it had been to Stiles—Liam seemed more impatient than nervous, constantly boasting about how he was gonna take home the gold at the Grand Prix Finals, how everyone sucked compared to him, how he was glad an old geezer like Derek was stepping aside to make room for him. Stiles wished he had even a tenth of the kid's confidence, realizing that it must've come easy to him, just like it seemed to come easy to Derek. Was hard to be anything short of cocky when that talented.

Spoke highly of the Russian ice skating program, really.

Not all that reassuring, when Stiles thought about it, considering he needed to win this upcoming competition in order to keep Derek as his coach. That excellent Russian ice skating program definitely favored Liam.

And if the kid ever figured out “agape”, Stiles was done for.

Not that it seemed as though that would ever happen, not with the way Liam was currently complaining and ragging on it as Stiles cleaned up the mess from dinner. His dad was in his office paying bills and Derek was pacing the screened back porch, pacing as he spoke in Russian on the phone. His voice drifted in through the cracked window, Stiles getting lost in the stilted rhythm of the words, the harsh accent, the cadence. Whatever he was talking about was apparently important to him, given the rushed way he spoke, the passionate way he'd raise his voice before realizing how loud he was being and lowering it once more.

Man. Stiles really needed to learn Russian. So far he was only able to pick-up a few words from Derek and Liam speaking it, super basic “yes”, “no”, “thank you”, what he was pretty sure was “fuck you” or something to that effect.

“Vho believe in unconditional love anyway?” Liam grumbled from the island counter behind Stiles, the American skater rolling his eyes as he rinsed off plates before putting them in the dishwasher.

It was strange how on the ice, Liam came across as a seasoned veteran, yet when on hard ground, he was every inch the surly teenager stereotype, inexperienced with how the world worked and pissed when it didn't go his way.

Like with being told he wasn't understanding his program.

“It's not that hard,” Stiles pointed out, setting another dish in the bottom rack of the washer. “Don't you have any parents?”

“They left.”

Oh.

Stiles winced as he straightened, turning around to find Liam already staring at him like he was an idiot—aka, how he usually looked at Stiles. He wasn't upset at his parents not being around, wasn't pissed that Stiles had rubbed salt in that wound. If anything he looked bored by it, raising his glass of water to his lips with a blank expression. Whatever the circumstances, it had happened long enough ago to where Liam was over it, or maybe he was just too young to remember and therefore wasn't as affected by it. Maybe it was a combination of both.

“Pet?” Stiles tried, voice cracking so he cleared his throat. His chest stung at the thought of it and he resisted the urge to rub Derek's old tag where it still sat around his wrist, not wanting to get it wet.

Liam actually cocked an eyebrow, a real response, before snorting. “My cat is asshole,” he stated harshly, “cat” coming out weirdly as “keyat”. He put his glass on the counter and folded his arms, giving Stiles an expectant look, as though challenging him to come up with someone he actually loved and cared for unconditionally, without prejudice or judgments or restraints.

Stiles actually frowned at that, finding it hard to believe there wasn't someone out there who didn't meet those requirements for Liam. Sure, the kid was a dick and about as cuddly as a fucking cactus, but... but even someone had fallen in love with The Beast, even someone had cared for him and he'd cared for them right back. It had to ring true outside of a Disney movie, right?

“Are you seriously telling me that throughout your entire life, there's been no one that you've cared for more than yourself for the simple reason that they exist and that they cared for you, too?” he asked, dubious, mentally creating a list of people who'd been that for him. His dad, his mom, Derek the dog, Erica, Malia, Kira, Scott, Deaton, possibly even Derek the coach at times.

The young skater scowled at his glass, hand absently tugging at his fauxhawk before he seemed to zone out. Whatever he was thinking about, it made his features soften, the scowl disappearing and the tension leaving his shoulders. Stiles stood frozen, silent, scared to move or make any noise for fear of breaking Liam out of whatever trance he'd fallen into.

And when the teenager's lips quirked ever so slightly, Stiles knew he'd figured something out for himself, had managed to find someone he loved unconditionally.

Meaning Stiles was now in huge trouble.

The back door opened and he turned to find Derek coming in with a deep scowl on his own, eyes dark. Stiles figured his phone call hadn't gone so well, watching as the Russian headed straight for the freezer and pulled out a bottle of Absolut. Without saying a word, he marched out the kitchen toward the stairs, Misha in tow, disappearing into his room.

Well. That evening had certainly been an eventful one, Stiles thought, turning back to his clean-up job and wondering if it was worth trying to figure out what the hell was going on with either one of them.

Then again, given the way they both lived up to stereotypes regarding Russian temperaments, it was safest to just leave them be. For better or worse.

~*~*~*~*~*~

“Derek is late,” Liam barked from where he skated out onto the ice, Stiles rolling his eyes as he removed his guards and set them on the retaining wall by the opening.

It was completely fucking obvious Derek was late, given the fact that they were the only two there at Ice Castle—besides Erica at the front desk manning the phone and making sure the deputies continued to do a good job of keeping anyone and everyone out of the private practice session. He and Liam had made the jog to the rink alone, after Derek had been a no-show at breakfast. The fact that he hadn't been spotted all morning had prompted Stiles to ask his dad if he'd seen the skater, getting a sighed out chuckle and a shake of the head that spoke more of a disappointed yet amused parent than a “no, haven't seen him”.

“He was up drinking all night,” Stiles stated, remembering what he'd been told. “Chances are he's still sleeping it off.”

Liam turned and cocked an eyebrow at him from his position halfway across the rink, inquisitive tilt to his head. “So,” he began then paused, putting his hands on his hips. “Vill he be coming? Or it vill be just us?”

A shrug was Stiles' only real answer as he stepped onto the ice, gliding forward with ease. “No idea.” He skated along one side, warming himself up, feeling out the ice itself and getting used to moving on it. “Guess we can just practice by ourselves and hope he shows.”

The young Russian snorted, palming at his face in annoyance before he began skating aimlessly, muttering to himself in his native tongue. From the sounds of it, it was a whole lot of not-nice aimed in Derek's direction. “You vant first turn or no?”

Stiles got the feeling that Liam was hoping he'd say “no”, that he would slack off and let Liam had the rink to himself all day. Would certainly give the little shit the advantage, having more practice time, not to mention he was probably selfish as fuck and just wanted things to himself, wanted things his way.

However... Stiles had another idea.

“Actually,” he began, almost reluctant, as he drew closer to the line demarcating the middle of the rink. “I was hoping you could maybe help me land a quad salchow.”

Both of Liam's eyebrows raised this time, clearly surprised that Stiles was asking for that, and from him of all people. And yeah, it was probably dumb to ask someone who was supposed to be his competition to give him pointers, but Derek had seemed fixated on switching the quad to a triple in Stiles' program, something the American wasn't too thrilled about, especially since Liam's program featured two quads of his own. Stiles needed the advantage, needed to add points, needed to impress Derek enough to make him wanna stick around. And if Derek wasn't gonna help him land a quad salchow, then Stiles was gonna learn how to do it on his own.

Just...with Liam's help, of course.

The teenager's face shifted into an expression of boredom, his shrug nonchalant, yet there was something sparkling in his blue eyes that proved there was more to him than the uncaring air he put on. “Okay,” he agreed easily, casually, as though it didn't bother him either way. And while Stiles was shocked by how he'd given in without a fight or being pushed into it, he was also grateful, as well as curious about what exactly had happened in that kitchen the night before, what he'd thought of that made him just the tiniest bit softer.

At least softer for the moment. When they were running through the trick and Stiles still wasn't landing it however...

“You are useless!” Liam growled out, throwing his arms in the air in frustration.

Stiles glared as he pushed himself up off the ice, his side killing him from where he'd landed on it. Again. Part of him wanted to take his skate to Liam's throat—or at least throw it at his damn head—but he refused to get yelled at by Erica for getting blood on the ice, allowing Liam to remain unharmed for the time being.

Back on his feet, he skated to the side, holding his oblique and pressing against it. It throbbed beneath his fingers, meaning there was definitely gonna be a bruise there, and he grimaced. He was already banged up from all these practices. Then again, what was another bruise on top of all the others.

“I show one last time,” Liam grumbled before he began skating forward, building up momentum. As he neared where Stiles was leaning against the retaining wall, he drew his right arm and leg back then swung both forward, turning around on just his left skate. He propelled himself up, legs spread eagle as he spun around four times, landing perfectly on his right foot, skating backward.

Fuck, he made it look easy.

And it wasn't that Stiles couldn't do the jump itself, because he could and he had. It was just the number of rotations, getting his body turned the right way so he landed on the right side of the right foot, heading in the right direction. The extra turn just seemed to fuck him up, but he needed to do it, needed to nail it if he was gonna be able to compete that season. He couldn't rely on just one quad, not when having to face guys like Liam who had multiples in their repertoire.

Liam drew to a stop on the opposite side of the ice, leaning back against it in his usual “not a care in the world” manner that was added to a seemingly long list of traits he possessed that Stiles envied. “Now you!”

Nodding once, Stiles skated around in nonsense circles, warming himself up, before moving along the edge of the wall, gaining speed. Ahead, he could see the right spot for take-off, for landing, and he swung his right leg and arm back, then forward, spinning, getting ready...

The door to the rink opened, Derek walking in, and Stiles aborted the jump, right foot back on the ice before he turned and skated in the forward direction once more. The guy looked rough, Stiles realized as he skated closer, hair disheveled, heavy bags under his eyes. Even his short beard looked unkempt, clothes wrinkled and shirt half tucked into his sweat pants.

“What are you two doing?” he grumbled, glancing back and forth between the two skaters on the ice.

Liam waved a dismissive hand at him before looking away, aloof as ever. Stiles switched to skating backwards again, shrugging, playing innocent in much the same way he did when he and Scott were busted goofing off back in Detroit.

“Warm-ups,” he answered, keeping his voice light so he didn't give anything away.

Derek cocked an eyebrow before wincing, rubbing at his forehead. “Okay,” he uttered harshly, seeming more like he wanted to just let it go rather than actually think about it, and Stiles wondered exactly how much he'd had to drink last night in order to be that hungover.

Then he remembered his last hangover at last year's Grand Prix Finals Banquet and internally winced. Not a fun memory, even if half the banquet itself was a completely blank. Explained the mind shattering hangover though and why he hadn't touched a drop of alcohol since.

Well, aside from a couple pity beers he'd had with Scott after bombing Nationals, but that hardly counted. He hadn't been as plastered as he apparently must've been at the GPF banquet.

Letting out a sigh, Derek headed halfway down the long side of the ice, pushing Liam away from the wall and getting a glare for it. “Warm-up, then we run through programs,” he declared, eyes shut as he rubbed his temples.

The two skaters exchanged looks before warming up on opposite halves of the ice, big laps and sweeping loops, small jumps and half-hearted spins.

Liam was the first to run through his program, Stiles standing to the side with Derek, watching. There was an intensity to the coach's face as he watched, something he didn't expect given how bad his head must've been hurting. Yet his eyes were narrowed in singular focus, jaw tense, gloved thumb tapping at his bottom lip as he stood with one arm folded. Stiles found himself switching his own line of sight between his coach and the other skater, noting how Liam's movements seemed softer, the program flowing, and he thought once more about the epiphany the teenager appeared to have in the kitchen the night before.

“Liam has found his agape,” Derek stated, almost absently, folding his arms together as he watched Liam pull off a combination spin. The corner of the elder skater's lips curved up and something like pride formed on his face, the expression causing Stiles' heart to seize.

Because he'd always believed he was the only one capable of causing Derek to halfway smile like that. Because he'd always hoped he'd be the one to cause that pride to shine on Derek's face that way. Because he'd always wanted to impress Derek with his abilities on the ice.

And now it was all being aimed at Liam.

Ducking his head, Stiles wrung his towel in his hands, grinding his teeth to hold back any negative emotions. No crying, no pouting, no getting mad. It was stupid. He wasn't about to act like a jealous sibling pissed that he wasn't getting love from the parent, that he wasn't the favorite. He just needed to remind Derek that he was a good skater, too, that he could make him proud as well.

“Seems like he's ready for the next stage.”

That had Stiles' head jerking up, confusion pulling his brow into a deep V. He had no clue about any next stages, wondering what exactly the next stage could be, wondering if he would get one, too.

Probably not any time soon, he realized, turning to lean his folded arms on the wall. His own program was still missing something. The framework was solid and he had the choreography down, but it was lacking its true core. Yeah, he had that story in mind and the obscure definition of “eros”, but...

But it didn't feel like enough.

Resting his chin on his arms, he peeked at Derek out the corner of his eyes, noting the tiny smile on his face. Stiles needed to figure out what the hell was missing with his program. And fast.

After all, he only had three more days before the big competition. Meaning he had only three more days to make himself worthy of Derek's tutelage and attention.

~*~*~*~*~*~

“What costumes are you guys gonna wear?”

It was a fair question that Malia had posed as she used her chopsticks to bring some more sesame noodles to her mouth, Stiles practically drooling at the sight of them.

Fuck this no carbs bullshit, he thought, scowling at his salad and its dried out chicken. Another reason to win that upcoming weekend, he figured, thinking of his victory meal and how fucking amazing it was sure to taste after having gone without for so long.

Malia looked at him as she sat on his right, then glanced at Derek and Liam in turn as they sat across the table from them. Even his dad at his position at the head of the table seemed interested in the answer, his own brows raised in expectation as he brought a fork-full of spare ribs to his mouth.

Because Malia had decided that Noshiko having the night off meant “Chinese food”, forgetting that her best friend and one of their guests weren't allowed it.

Granted Liam had still stolen an egg roll before taking one bite, deciding it was gross, and tossing it in the trash. Stiles had stared after it forelornly, debating if he was desperate enough to actually dig it out and eat it.

Derek's heavy eyes on him meant that no, he was not.

“Yeah, I have no idea,” Stiles answered, stabbing a piece of hard boiled egg with more force than necessary. “I think all my old costumes are still back in Detroit somewhere.”

To be honest, he had no idea what the hell happened to his costumes at the end of the season. Or even during the season to be honest. Deaton had always taken care of making sure they—and the back-ups—were packed and brought with them to various competitions, part of his luggage. Most of the time, Stiles was glad to never see them again, since they usually reminded him more of his failures than any sort of happy memories or accomplishments.

“Mine are in Moscow,” Liam added, munching on his own leafy greens that he'd been allowed to slather in dressing. Stiles wondered if that would change if Derek became his coach, only to shove the thought aside immediately. He refused to ruminate on that what-if, refused to let it pull him down into an anxiety spiral. He had to focus on winning and nothing else.

“I had mine shipped over,” Derek stated nonchalantly, shrugging a shoulder, seeming to be more focused on making sure the dumpling he had between his chopsticks stayed between his chopsticks. Stiles had been thrilled to find out he was terrible with them, excited that Derek actually had a flaw and something he wasn't naturally gifted at.

Well, that, and apparently an inability to handle his alcohol. Kind of sad for a Russian.

Although given the number of bottles Stiles found in the trash, it wasn't an inability to handle it, so much as how much vodka he'd consumed. It was a wonder his liver still existed, much less worked.

“You two borrow one,” he concluded, popping the dumpling in his mouth.

Stiles gave a thumbs up as he chewed, grateful the problem had been solved before it had a chance to become a Problem, before he could really think about it and then panic over it. Not to mention he finally got a clue as to what the hell Derek had put in those mystery boxes in his extra room.

Then it hit him: he was gonna be wearing one of Derek's costumes.

Holy. Shit.

His eyes went wide and he damn near fell over in his chair, heart pounding in his chest. He was gonna be wearing the same outfit that Derek had, maybe one he'd won a medal in. It was something that had hugged him close, had been a second skin to him, something he'd sweated in.

And now Stiles was reaching the creepy levels of fanboying and needed to dial it back about a thousand degrees. Swallowing, he gave a “thanks” before his dad could jump him about his manners, proud that he'd sounded normal and in control, managing to maintain that level of chill throughout the rest of dinner.

Of course, all that went to shit when he, Derek, and Liam headed to Room Two and Derek located the boxes of his old costumes, tearing the tape off the tops and allowing the two skaters to rifle through them.

Because it. Was. Amazing.

It felt like holding history in his hands as he lifted each costume, as he unfolded them to reveal them in all their glory. The Stammi Vicino costume was on top, his most recently worn piece, and Stiles felt something in his brain short circuit as he picked it up and held it in his lap.

It was designed to look almost like a tuxedo of sorts, with an almost military like aesthetic to it. The jacket was pink fading into magenta in an ombre fashion, the fabric somewhat gauzy near the bottom, all of it sparkling under the light. The shirt was white, crisp, open to reveal his chest and Stiles was suddenly hit with the realization that his pecs had been hairless during competitions. Most likely he'd shaved over the season—or at least the night before he had to hit the ice in it—and he found himself almost jealous that Derek could pull off both looks. Meanwhile he had a small patch of fuzz between his own pecs that he could never really decide if he liked or not.

The attached pants were meant to look like tuxedo pants, the fabric stretchy to accommodate all the moving they had to do. And on the shoulders of his jacket were brocades, gold ropes like the kind soldiers wore on dress uniforms draped off the joint, chains linking across the front of it as a way to make the jacket stay in place.

To think this costume paired with the program Stiles had mimicked, the one that had brought Derek to the B-n-B after having seen it. He owed a lot to that program, he knew he did, rubbing his thumbs on the smooth fabric of the jacket. There was just no way he could ever say any of it.

Knowing there was no way he could get away with wearing it, he carefully folded it back up and set it aside, going back to the box to see what else it contained. He recognized costumes from years past, knew immediately what they were from. A blue and white one he'd worn to the Olympics one season. An all-black one he'd set a world record in for highest free program score. Red and black one that he'd made his senior debut wearing, the song immediately popping into Stiles' head and he had to refrain from humming it to himself.

Peeking over, he found Derek sitting on the floor like the two skaters, leaning back against the wall, Misha laying right next to him with her head on his lap and his hand absently stroking it. A strange look was on his face as he seemingly stared at nothing, a mix of nostalgia and melancholy, and Stiles wondered what exactly was going through his mind.

“Derek?” he found himself prompting gently, the Russian snapped out of whatever he'd been zoning out over, turning to him with his eyebrows raised. “You sure it's okay that we wear these?”

A soft smile formed on his face and Stiles peeked out the corner of his eye to see if Liam noticed it, too, finding the younger skater with his back to Derek, more engrossed in what was in the box before him. “Yes,” Derek stated, no hesitation or falsehood. “Or I would not say it was okay, yes?”

Stiles nodding, figuring that made sense, turning back to his own box to take out the next costume. Unfolding it, he recognized it immediately. It was all black, smooth shiny fabric that felt luxurious under his hands, silk-like and soft. The entire right side—including the arm— and most of the front was comprised of a mesh-like material, pretty much see-through, save for a flowing, triangular stripe that ran from his shoulder and swooped across his nipple and part of his stomach, ending at his waist. Large rhinestones were on the stripe near the shoulder, as well as by his right hip and on the middle belt section. A half-skirt sat at the top of the right thigh, red fabric on the underside for a splash of color, loose and flowing, able to fly up during spins and twists.

“You wore this during your last junior championships, right?” he asked, already knowing the answer as he held it up so his coach could see it.

That smile stayed on Derek's face, fond, green eyes focused on the outfit. “Yes,” he replied, shifting his focus to Stiles. “I won gold two time that year. At Grand Prix and at Worlds.”

A small smile formed on Stiles' face as he nodded, not bothering to point out that he already knew that, that he knew when Derek had won all of his gold medals. Mainly because that was verging into obsessed fanboy territory—again—and the last thing he wanted to do was scare Derek back to Russia.

Especially if that meant he'd be off to coach Liam.

Petty, sure, but Stiles didn't care. He refused to lose to the little asshole on a technicality. Or at all.

Holding the costume up, he pressed it against his torso, measuring himself. Derek had been leaner in his junior days, meaning the outfit was smaller than some of his more recent ones and that it was closer to Stiles' size. He partially wrapped it around himself, the side hems reaching halfway along his sides. He tried to remember what height Derek had been at fifteen, wondering if the costume would be long enough and if it would be fixable.

He'd fucking make it work, Stiles decided. Because the outfit was perfect. The satiny material smoothed against his skin in a delicious way and the mesh cut-outs gave just enough of a hint of bare skin and he thought about how the half-skirt flared during Derek's programs, meaning it would do the same for Stiles. If any costume would encapsulate Eros, it would be this.

Except maybe the one Isaac Lahey had worn two years previous that was him practically shirtless on ice, with cut-outs all along the side of his legs and even part of his ass, but there was no way in hell Stiles would ever wear something like that, especially not in front of the entire world.

Made him wonder how the hell the Swiss skater got away with wearing it in the first place. It was probably just on the side of allowable within the rules.

His eyes fell to the costume he was now holding in his lap, thumbs absently rubbing the material, light reflecting off the large gemstones on it. Yeah, this was perfect, he believed, smile growing. Now he just had to make sure that he himself could pull it off and bring his skating up to the same level as everything else.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Sleep wasn't coming to him that night.

Not much of a surprise really, after the day he'd had. Liam being ready for the next stage—whatever that was—the knowledge that his own program was lacking something, gaining permission to wear one of Derek's old costumes. Laying there in bed, the costume itself hanging off his closet door, Stiles' mind was racing through a million thoughts about it, about the Eros program, about all of it and none of it.

Fuck.

He ran through the choreography, ran through the story he'd created for it. The devastating playboy coming to town and breaking hearts all over, chased by all these women, while he pursued the one who wasn't interested.

So not him.

Well, the person he wanted not being interested in him was definitely a very Stiles-like thing. He had tons of experience with that. Although he never really had the time—or the confidence—to chase after that person, and he most definitely didn't have other women lusting after him or a bevy of past lovers, as Derek would put it.

That was why his program was suffering, he knew it was. Because he wasn't the playboy, wasn't a guy who came into town and caused a stir as others fell for him left and right. If anything, he was...

His eyes went wide and he sat up in his bed, the epiphany hitting him out of nowhere. Okay, so he'd figured out the program, and mostly figured out how to fix it. Or at the very least, he knew who would be able to help him fix it.

His head snapped to his clock, seeing it was just after midnight. Not exactly a good time to go to someone else's place for help. Chances were they were asleep and he'd get his ass chewed out for waking them up.

But the face off was in two days and he didn't have any time to waste, not if he wanted to win, not if he wanted to keep Derek as his coach. And he so very desperately wanted to win and even more desperately wanted to keep Derek around.

As his coach.

Just his coach.

Shit, he was barely able to convince himself of that shit anymore.

Shoving his blankets back, he distracted himself by shucking his pajama pants, slipping on a pair of boxer-briefs and sweats. More than likely he was about to get torn apart—quite possibly literally—but it practically felt like life or death. Hopefully his friends were as understanding and supportive as he'd always believed them to be.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Beacon Hills always felt like a completely different place at night. Most of the town shut down by around eight, only the diner and a gas station open til ten. There was a strip mall near the outskirts of town close to the highway that featured a Wal-Mart, a Food Lion, and a McDonalds, those open til nearly midnight, and on the weekends, the local movie theater had a late night showing. But other than that, the town was practically an elderly person, early bird specials and going to bed right after Jeopardy.

The stoplights stopped working after midnight as well, flashing yellow rather than their cycle of green, yellow, red, a caution and a yield rather than stop or go. No other cars were on the road as Stiles drove his Jeep down Main Street, passing under a large banner advertising the upcoming face-off at Ice Castle. He cringed in the driver's seat at the sight of it, feeling the pressure of the town's expectations weighing heavily on his shoulders.

Because it wasn't enough that his future was sort of riding on this competition, oh no. If he lost, chances were he would have to move somewhere else and never be able to show his face in Beacon Hills again. Bad enough he'd fucked up so bad at the GPF and Nationals. Screwing up at a one-on-one competition? There was no excuse for it.

Sighing, he turned down Elm and almost immediately turned right into a parking lot behind the brick building on the corner. Malia's blue Civic was in its usual spot, near Kira's old beat up station wagon that she'd had even back in high school. Stiles figured the two of them probably just took Malia's car more often than not, that Kira didn't quite make enough to get a new ride of her own and she wouldn't be able to get all that much back if she traded in her junker. Shame really.

Stiles parked his Jeep in the back corner and killed the engine, sliding out and slamming his door shut. The back of the building was lacking windows on the bottom floor, but two were on the second, both darkened as the occupants most likely slept. He felt a little guilty, but pushed it aside, determination fueling him as he made his way over, justifying his asshole behavior by thinking about how his future was riding on this.

He recognized the metal door with its sign instructing people to use the front door, that this was for emergencies only, and scoffed at it like he so often did. A staircase was nearby and he climbed it, sneakers feeling loud on the metal steps. The glass window on the door was covered by a gauzy curtain, the hallway beyond it black, and he sent up a last minute prayer to whoever may be up there that he not get reamed too bad. With a deep breath, he hit the buzzer, hearing it sound out within the apartment.

Nothing happened for a long moment so he tried again, adding a loud banging on the door with his fist. Something crashed inside, an expletive being yelled out—Malia, most likely—and Stiles leaned back against the railing surrounding the metal landing in front of the door. Yep. He was about to get laid into.

A moment or two later, light appeared behind the curtain, footsteps sounding out through the door as they drew closer. The curtain itself was moved as Malia squinted out to see who had rang, a literal growl leaving her before she snarled his name in annoyance.

This was it. This was how he died.

He listened as the chain was removed and the deadbolt unlocked, the door thrown open right after. Malia glared hard at him, dressed in a pair of boxers and a faded graphic tee, hair tangled on one side. “I'm gonna kill you,” she threatened, scowling as though she could actually do just that with only her thoughts.

“I know,” he assured her, Kira poking her head over Malia's shoulder momentarily, her own hair thrown up in a messy bun at the top of her head. “Hey, Keer. Sorry to wake you guys.”

Kira disappeared as she stopped standing on her tip-toes, moving so she was standing beside Malia more than behind., and the taller girl crossed her arms over her chest.

“I don't think you're sorry at all,” Malia stated, still scowling, and Stiles seesawed his head.

“I'm a li'l sorry.”

She scrubbed at her face with both hands, muffling her groan, then dropped her hands with a harsh sigh. “Whaddya want?”

Right. This was where it got difficult.

Not that it was easy risking life and limb knocking on their door and waking Malia up. The girl was practically feral when her sleep was interrupted, something Stiles had learned the hard way when he'd had to wake her up from a nap during a bus ride on a school trip back in high school.

He'd thought the bite mark on his arm would never fade.

Turning to Kira, he grimaced and gave her a sheepish grin, wringing the back of his neck and causing his tags to jangle. “I need you to teach me how to move like a woman.”

Both women stared at him, silent, dubious, Kira blinking rapidly and Malia cocking an eyebrow. It was a long time before either of them spoke and it wasn't much of a surprise that it was the taller of the two bursting out with a “what the actual fuck, Stiles?”

Which. Understandable and totally justified.

“Thought you were a figure skater, not a drag queen.”

He glared at her, unamused, but Malia just stared right back at him completely deadpan and unintimidated by him in any way, shape, or form.

Also understandable and totally justified.

“Mal,” Kira gently admonished, hand on her girlfriend's arm to gently push her aside just enough so that she could step closer. Turning her attention to Stiles, she yawned before speaking, head tilted to the side. “I don't know if I'm too tired to get it or if your request was just too weird—”

“It's Stiles. He's always weird.”

A gentle smack was laid on Malia's arm before Kira folded her bare ones over her tank covered torso, a sleepy fox printed on it that matched the multiple repeating ones on her pajama pants. “But why do you need to know how to move like a woman?”

“I finally figured out why I can't nail the Eros program, what it was lacking,” Stiles explained, tangling his fingers together in front of his chest, leg shaking as he tried not to rush out his epiphany. It had been killing him since he'd had it to not be able to share it, to not be able to talk it over with someone and see if it had any merit or if he was just plain nuts. And now it was here, his chance to voice it, and he needed to take his time, to not ramble on as he was so apt to do, so that he could be better understood. Because if he was better understood, then it increased his chances of getting helped by them—well, mainly Kira.

“Remember the story I told you guys, about the playboy and the woman he seduces?” Both girls nodded, Malia now leaning against the open door, half-asleep, Kira seeming more awake by the minute and totally engrossed in what he was saying. “Well, I can't get the playboy persona down, it's just not me.”

Malia snorted and muttered about how she'd already pointed that out, but he ignored her, refused to acknowledge she'd spoken, going right on with what he'd been saying.

“I have to play the role of the beautiful woman who seduces the playboy. It's the only way I can make the program work. I won't change any of the moves or the choreography or anything like that. I just have to change the way I move, give it a more feminine flair. It's a better expression of the way I feel, the way I relate to the story, the way I can properly tell it to the audience.”

Malia cocked an eyebrow again and Stiles knew she was thinking about Derek, about how she'd previously hinted at the way he fit into the playboy role of the story. And really, Stiles had already known that and should've figured that it meant he could never play that role himself, that he should've been trying to play the female role all along.

Despite how very fucking obvious it would've made his crush, meaning he would've had to admit to having one in the first place. Or at least admit it out loud. Which was never happening. Ever.

Kira nodded, lips twisted as she thought it over, and the way she looked at him showed she understood, that what he'd said made sense.

“I'm sorry that I'm waking you in the middle of the night with this, but the competition is so soon and I need to get as much practice in as possible, meaning I wanted to get started on it as soon as it occurred to me. Think you can help?” His brows lifted in a pleading manner, hands clasped together under his chin. Out the corner of his eye he noted Malia turning to her girlfriend, obviously awaiting her decision, but Stiles kept his focus on just Kira, on conveying how desperate he was and how much he needed her help.

And Kira, bless her soul, shrugged a shoulder and put on a small grin. “Sure. Gimme a couple minutes to change and grab my keys. I'll meet you out front.”

Stiles smiled wide, leaning forward to hug her and kiss her cheek, thanking her profusely. And in his joy, he even kissed Malia's cheek, grinning wider at the scowl she gave him in response. With a bounce in his step, he made his way back down the stairs, finally feeling like he had a shot at nailing his Eros program and beating Liam.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TEN

Early mornings were spent working out. Most of the day was spent at Ice Castle. The evenings and into the night was spent at the ballet studio.

Derek had asked where he was going and Stiles didn't bother lying, but didn't tell the entire truth either, simply saying he was getting extra work in with Kira. The Russian seemed to approve, yet was still unsure about it, advising his protege to make sure he wasn't wearing himself out too bad. After all, he still had to compete and he couldn't win if he was run down.

Stiles knew he had a point and made sure not to push himself too far, despite how badly he wanted to win. So he kept Derek's words in mind, repeating them as a mantra, realizing later on how it almost felt as though Derek was giving the advice not just as a coach, but because he was rooting for Stiles.

Probably wishful thinking, Stiles figured. Really, Derek should be totally bipartisan, totally neutral. It was the only way to judge the contest fairly, the only way to truly declare a winner. It wouldn't mean anything if Stiles won solely because Derek was favoring him in some way. Stiles would rather lose than have Derek declare him the winner because the coach liked him more. No, it had to be on his own skills, based on his own merits, due to the fact that Derek still saw something in him that had been in that video and inspired him to coach him in the first place.

The final couple days seemed to just melt away and before he knew it, Stiles was packing his duffel to head to Ice Castle for the competition. He obsessively checked its contents countless times, terrified he was forgetting something, that he was missing something. Not that he could figure out if he was missing anything. Made him long for the days with Deaton really, his old coach handling this shit for him most of the time.

Jesus, he'd been a brat. Time to act like an adult and handle his own shit really.

A knock on his bedroom door stole his attention and he told whoever it was to come in, zipping his bag up. Turning, he found his dad opening the door then leaning against the jamb, pensive look on his face. He folded his arms and crossed his ankles in a casual manner that didn't match the pull to his features, the way his lip was turned down to reveal his bottom row of teeth, the way the skin around his eyes was wrinkled as he narrowed them, the way his brow was stretched into a hard line. Obviously something heavy was on his mind and Stiles paused where he was trying to get the zipper of his team jacket to catch, giving his old man his full attention.

“You all set?” his dad asked and Stiles frowned, feeling as though that wasn't why his dad had knocked.

“Yeah,” he answered honestly, clearing his throat as he peered at his duffel where it sat on his bed and mentally running through its contents. His costume, skates, back-up skates, back-up laces, dancers belt, lotion, gloves, lip balm, extra socks and underwear just in case. His phone, keys, and earbuds sat on his nightstand, ready to go, sneakers on the floor by the bed. Seemed as though he had it all together. He just needed to mentally gather himself.

Turning back to his dad, he noted how the worried look was still on his face, making his own heart lurch in his chest. All he could think about was that voicemail he'd listened to before the GPF, how he'd thought it was his dad wishing him luck but instead, it had been news about his dog's passing, rocking his entire planet off its axis.

Subconsciously his right hand slipped into his left sleeve and he thumbed at Derek's tag, speaking without being conscious of the thought. “Everything okay?”

His dad let out a questioning hum, eyebrows lifting, before his face relaxed, lips curling up at one side. “Yeah, fine, sorry. Just wanted to make sure you were okay and not too nervous.”

Stiles shrugged a shoulder as he slid his hand back out, staring down to see the slight tremble in them. Yeah, that wasn't gonna do at all. He needed to get a rein on that shit, stat. “I'd be lying if I said I wasn't,” he admitted, fiddling with the zipper on his jacket once more. Navy blue, red stripe on the cuffs and bottom hem, “USA” in white letters across his shoulder blades, and a patch featuring the familiar stars and stripes on his left arm. Another thing he needed to earn: the right to wear those colors and make his country proud on the international stage, to redeem himself before his fellow Americans.

“Nerves are to be expected,” his dad reasoned, scratching at his jaw. “Just know that no matter what happens on the ice, you have a whole lot of people behind you who will always love you.”

The younger Stilinski turned with a smile on his face, reassured by the words and feeling something settle within him. “Thanks, Pops.”

His dad smiled and his eyes shone, beaming with pride in a way that spoke of unconditional love and an assurance that no matter the outcome of the competition, that pride would remain. Pushing himself away from the wall, he fully entered the room and Stiles stepped closer, getting enveloped in a bear hug, his back pounded. “Love you, son.”

“Love you, too, Dad.” Closing his eyes, he inhaled his dad's familiar scent, taken back to countless times when his dad had given him a hug just like that and eased whatever violence was in his head. There was nothing his mind could create that his old man couldn't make go away with just a simple embrace.

A few more back pounds and his dad pulled back enough to hold him at arms length, looking him right in the eye. “That being said, kick this little snot's ass. We all know you have it in you to wipe the ice with that short shit.”

Stiles snorted out a laugh, grinning wide as his shoulder was thumped a couple times. He wasn't sure if he was capable of doing just that, but he was damn sure gonna give it a fucking try.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Stiles and Liam were able to warm-up and get another couple run-throughs of their program before the front doors were opened. As people poured in and filled the bleachers, the two of them got changed in the locker room, the hallway curtained off and a deputy posted on guard for security.

His borrowed costume was a little baggy in the legs but he was still able to move freely, to spin and lift his leg, practicing a few stretches and splits on his own when he was dressed. The sleeves ended in gloves that covered the first knuckle of his fingers, holes for his thumbs, and he flexed his hands a few times. Perfect freedom, nothing restricting him. And the fabric managed to cover his nipples perfectly so no worries there.

Stupid thing to be concerned over, really. But he figured worrying about something as trivial as that was better than letting himself worry over the big things, like the competition itself and the fact that the media had been invited in.

Dammit, Erica.

He pulled his team jacket back on as the female herself knocked and entered, letting out a wolf whistle at what he was wearing. He flipped her off as he zipped up his jacket, turning as she did to look at Liam. His own outfit was also from Derek's junior days, his all-white in contrast to Stiles' all-black. The top portion was sparkly, crisscrossed with tiny rhinestones and glittered thread, the shoulders padded with feathers and giving him an angelic appearance. It worked for the innocent theme in his program but was such a contrast to Liam's personality that Stiles nearly bust out laughing.

Erica gave Stiles a wide-eyed look that showed she was thinking along the same lines as him, he nodded ever so slightly in agreement, before she bobbed her eyebrows in dismissal. “Yeah, there's a reporter here to talk to you guys. Braeden from the ISU Net is waiting out in the hall.” She pointed at the door behind herself with a thumb over her shoulder and Stiles grimaced.

He'd known the interview was coming, that they'd all come to a compromise of only one reporter getting in any questions before or after the face-off as an “exclusive”, when really, the three skaters just didn't wanna deal with any of them. And he knew Braeden, had been interviewed by her before, knew her work with the International Skaters Union's various broadcasts and competitions. She was always the one in the back, in the hallway, interviewing them after their program to see how they feel, what went wrong, what went right.

Now, apparently, she wanted to get a few soundbites for the website, short clips that could be edited into a story about the face-off.

Fuck, he hated interviews.

“Let us get this over with,” Derek grumbled as he adjusted his coat and Stiles found himself drooling over the guy.

Because Derek had decided that if he was gonna be a coach, he had to dress like one, and that meant wearing a fucking suit. And naturally, he looked edible in it. Gray slacks and matching jacket, crisp white dress shirt, blue tie, and a long black jacket on top, matching leather gloves on his hands. His hair was perfectly parted in the middle and his beard had been groomed and tidied, and he looked a million times sexier than he usually did.

So totally unfair, Stiles decided, having gotten used to seeing him in jeans or sweats. He cleaned up good. Too good.

Double-checking his laces were tied, he followed Derek and Liam out into the hallway, where Braeden was chatting with a camera man. She was dressed in a pair of black skinny jeans and a white shirt, leather sport coat on top that was professional and badass at the same time, black hair perfectly curled in loose waves over her shoulders, dark skin sporting minimal make-up. Not that someone as gorgeous as her needed any. She was intimidating on so many levels and Stiles wanted to shove himself into a locker and hide.

Hearing them coming, Braeden turned and gave them a smile, shaking their hands in turn before arranging them with Derek on her left, Stiles and Liam on her right. Holding the mic up, she instructed the cameraman to start rolling and he followed with no problems, the red light illuminating at the top of the camera.

“Braeden Masters here in the small town of Beacon Hills, California, where a once in a lifetime event is taking place. American skater and hometown hero Stiles Stilinski—”

He internally grimaced, feeling his face flush. Yeah, he really didn't need the title, thanks. He was freaking out enough as it was without that kind of pressure.

Dick move, Masters.

“—is facing off against a Russian skater getting set to make his senior debut, Liam Dunbar. Both men are skating programs choreographed by five time world champion, Derek Hale.” Pausing she turned to Stiles, professional smile on her face and intimidating glint in her dark eyes. He swallowed hard, hoping like hell she'd take it easy on him, hoping his voice didn't crack or his words didn't disappear. Sure, this wasn't live but he couldn't face the humiliation of freezing already, and just by getting interviewed. “Stiles, how are you feeling heading into this competition?”

Shit.

He wrung the back of his neck as he let out a nervous laugh, heart pounding and stomach churning. Honestly, he was feeling like a fucking trainwreck about to happen. He could see the debris on the tracks as he barreled right towards it, unable to stop or slow down or avoid it in any way. He was gonna crash, and crash hard, and the world was gonna see it once again.

Or maybe things would go well and he wouldn't humiliate himself as badly as he had in the past.

“Honestly?” he began, dropping his hand and shoving both in the pockets of his jacket. “I'm looking forward to it being over so I can relax and not have to think about it any more.”

Braeden stared at him, an eyebrow cocked in disbelief, and she blinked several times in order to snap herself out of whatever she was thinking. “Right,” she muttered before bringing the mic back to herself. “And Liam, what about you?”

When the mic was in reach, Liam wrapped his hand around it and turned a sneer on the camera, snarling rather than speaking. “I am looking forward to kicking his ass! This sport does not need both of us. It is better he realize this now and retire already. Today vill be first step toward me vinning gold at Grand Prix Finale!”

Tugging her mic back, Braeden kept it lowered as she grumbled to herself about how that was a soundbite and Stiles felt his face grow hotter, just knowing it was patchy and ruddy.

This was why he hated these damn things.

“Finally, Derek,” she spoke into the mic again, professional smile back on her face, meaning she was gonna be doing a lot of editing before this ever was posted anywhere. “Today decides who you'll be coaching. Any thoughts or comments going in?”

Derek's eyes went wide momentarily, as though this had only just occurred to him, before he regain his composure and resumed the flat expression he always wore. He looked at both skaters in turn and Stiles could've sworn his eyes lingered on him just a little longer than they had on Liam.

Probably wishful thinking again.

“May best man win,” he said flatly. Short, sweet, to the point.

And then he was turning to leave.

Seemed like a damn good idea to Stiles, and he gave Braeden a thumbs up before rambling out a “cool, thanks, see ya 'round”. Passing in front of her and ignoring her annoyed huff, he raced back to the locker room for final pre-skate prep work.

Putting his earbuds on, Stiles went through some final stretches by himself, listening to the “Eros” track and running through the program in his head. Spin here, steps there, toe loop, salchow, hands hands hands. Liam was doing the same by the opposite wall, arms stretching behind himself, noise-canceling headphones over his ears. Both skaters were getting in the zone, getting mentally prepared for what was about to come, readying themselves as much as possible. The whole thing was last-minute as hell and they hadn't had nearly enough time to prepare, but ready or not, it was happening.

Straightening up, Stiles glanced over at Derek in the corner, leaning back against the wall with his arms folded and his eyes closed. He looked deep in thought, lost in his own mind, and Stiles wondered what he was thinking about, where he had gone. He had plenty experience with getting mentally ready before his own competitions but this was his first time as a coach. There was obviously gonna be a difference, but Stiles wondered exactly what he'd be thinking about. Was he nervous about his choreography? Was he second-guessing his program assignments? Was he scared about the results? Had Braeden's words put some sort of doubt in his head?

A knock sounded on the door and Derek opened his eyes as Erica came in once again. Liam seemed to notice or sense her as he straightened up, lowering his headphones so they were around his neck as Stiles popped one of the buds out of his ears.

“You're up first, Liam,” she told him, glancing at Derek briefly before giving Stiles a meaningful look that was obviously an expression of luck she couldn't exactly say in front of his competition.

Liam nodded once, tapping his screen to stop his music then locking his phone. Fully removing his headphones, he wrapped the cord around his phone and tossed it on the top of his duffel then headed out, Derek following.

Shit. This was it. It wouldn't be long before the competition was over and Derek was picking a winner, picking who he wanted to coach. He was about to change one of their worlds, their futures, with one simple decision.

Fuck. Oh fuck, fuck, fuck.

Stiles' chest grew tight and he rubbed between his pecs with the heel of his palm, mesh rubbing against mesh. Stopping his own music, he popped out his other earbud and shucked his jacket, then set about putting his things away in his duffel. Useless menial tasks, but it was better than thinking about the way his stomach was rolling and his heart was pounding and his skin was prickling unpleasantly.

Boyd's voice sounded over the PA system, muffled through the closed door but Stiles could still understand the meaning behind the words. Liam was being introduced, the crowd told of his program. “On Love: Agape”, choreographed by Derek Hale.

Unable to help himself, Stiles left the locker room and headed down the hall, stepping carefully so he was balanced on his blade guards. He stepped through the curtain mostly unnoticed, the posted deputy glancing at him briefly before turning back to focus on the rest of the rink. The house lights were turned off, spotlights shining towards the ice where Liam was skating in wide circles around the area to warm back up.

The entire end had been cordoned off for them, Erica off to one side with a Bluetooth headset on—most likely so she could coordinate things easier—Derek on the other, leaning against the wall by his husky tissue box cover. The crowd for the most part ignored them all, all staring out at the ice as Liam moved to his starting point, getting into his first position.

The familiar sounds of “On Love: Agape” rang through the rink, coming from the speakers of the PA system, the angelic voice of the singer and the sweet strings. Liam easily slid to his next position, effortless, flowing like water as he skated across the ice.

Stiles moved to the wall, gripping the edge of it as Liam performed his first jump, a triple axel he landed perfectly, legs straight just like they'd all been taught. His sit-spin morphed into a camel spin, free leg at a perfect right angle as he held it behind himself. It was textbook, flowing, all of it so easy.

Glancing around at the crowd, Stiles found them all mesmerized, completely transfixed on the teenager gliding around the ice, as he landed a quad salchow like it was nothing. Turning back, Stiles found there was something different about him, the harshness that he usually wore gone. He'd figured out agape, what it meant to him, how to express it. And it showed in the easy triple toe loop he combined with a quadruple toe loop, in the way his hands moved around delicately. He was a beautiful evolving monster, a demon who was shifting into a true force to be reckoned with, getting better as time wore on.

And there was no way Stiles could win against that.

He gripped the wall with white knuckles as Liam drew to his final pose, back bent and clasped hands reaching to the sky. Stiles was so fucking screwed. How in the hell was he supposed to compete with that? The kid had nailed it, every aspect of it. There was no defeating that.

Liam left the ice and Derek gave him a congratulatory thump on the shoulders, reminding Stiles of his dad and how he'd pulled a similar move on him earlier. And as Derek praised the younger skater and called it “the best I have seen you skate so far”, Stiles had to turn away, head hanging, chest heaving. Liam was gonna make his senior debut ranked among the top of their sport and all his blustering and boasting about winning GPF gold seemed so much more realistic now after that performance.

Shit. Stiles had to win, he knew it more than ever. He wasn't a top ranked skater, might never be, but he definitely wouldn't be without Derek's help. Having the Russian coach him was his best chance at even making the GPF at all, much less getting on that podium. Stiles needed to beat Liam and prove that he deserved Derek as his coach, needed to keep Derek around.

But Liam was so good.

No. Didn't matter. Stiles had to win. Had to win. Had to win.

“Stiles!”

The harsh way his name was called had his head snapping up, finding Derek standing beside him. Weird. Hadn't he just been nearly ten feet away talking to Liam?

Releasing his grip on the wall, Stiles found his hand was shaking as he brought it to his head, sweeping his hair back from his face. He was already sweating, heart thudding harder and faster than ever, and he felt vaguely nauseous, like his stomach had just been rolling and he'd had no idea.

Fuck, he'd been so far in his head that he'd been totally unaware of the anxiety spiral he'd just slid down. Didn't bode well for future events.

Derek tilted his head inquisitively, brow furrowed and lips twisted. “Are you ready?” he questioned lowly, a gentleness there that a month or so ago, Stiles wouldn't have figured Derek would be capable of.

And it was because of that gentleness that Stiles gave in to the urge to just...wrap his arms around Derek's shoulders, pulling him in close for a hug. Derek stiffened for a brief moment, caught off guard, before the tension melted away. His own arms slid around Stiles' waist, returning the embrace, and the younger skater tightened his grip, refusing to let go of his coach. There was no way he was letting this man go back to Russia, no way he was allowing that little punk to take what was his. Stiles was gonna fight to the fucking death for him, that he knew deep down in his soul.

“I'm gonna be the tastiest chicken tenders you've ever seen,” he stated, voice like steel, determination gritting his jaw. He pulled back just enough to look Derek in the eye, to let him see the serious pull to his brow and the grave expression he wore. “You'll watch, won't you?” he added, suddenly unsure, suddenly more concerned that he had Derek's attention than any of the usual bullshit he worried about before taking to the ice.

Better that than thinking about the crowd or the cameras or any of that other bullshit. No, all that mattered was knowing Derek was watching. He was the one person whose eyes Stiles wanted glued to him.

A small smile curled Derek's lips on one side, green eyes sparkling with mirth, and he breathed out a small laugh through his nose. “Of course. Chicken tenders are my favorite.”

Stiles inhaled sharply at the intensity shown in Derek's eyes, at the way he kept the contact, at how serious and grave he sounded while saying something that was kind of borderline ridiculous when it came down to it. But it felt like there was something more to it, an undercurrent to his words that made it seem as though he wasn't talking about chicken tenders, but something else, something deeper. It made something warm light inside Stiles' chest, his heart thumping, and he felt himself get carried away with it once more.

Really, there was no reason to think Derek meant anything other than the superficial meaning, that he really did love the food—because he did, that much was obvious every time he ate it. And yet...yet the way he looked at Stiles, like he was looking past the brown color of his irises and into something deeper, it made the American skater believe that...

That maybe Derek was hoping Stiles would win.

Not that he could say that, he remembered. Still, it felt like Derek was secretly rooting for him and as their arms dropped from one another, Stiles stood up straighter, a new determination, a new burst of confidence stiffening his spine.

Stepping over to the open section of wall, he removed his blade guards and set them aside before stepping onto the ice. The crowed erupted, clapping loudly, yelling, cheering. He skated in a wide circle as he waved to them all, catching glimpses of signs, most of them aimed at him, how they were rooting for him to win, too. He was able to find his dad as well, halfway down the ice, hollering through cupped hands as he stood next to a whistling Malia, a screaming Kira, a politely applauding Noshiko, and a cheering Ken. Looking back, he found Erica yelling through her own cupped hands, his support group all there, doing their job, living up to the name.

A small smile formed on his face and he ducked his head to hide it, heart thrumming in his chest with joy, with nerves, with pride. He was gonna do this, he was gonna win. There was no way he was about to let his town down again, let his friends and family down again. Not in front of them, and not with so much on the line.

Stiles reached his starting point in the middle of the ice, standing with his hip cocked, taking a deep breath to settle himself. The music started up, the familiar strumming of a Spanish guitar, and his arms automatically flowed around him, his body spinning, twisting the way he'd practiced so many times. Pausing when the music did, he lifted his head to find Derek leaning against the wall, watching him as he'd promised, and Stiles shot him a smirk and a wink. A whistle sounded out in the brief silence of the song and Stiles was pretty sure it came from Derek's direction, from Derek himself.

For so long, Stiles had felt lost on the ice, with no real direction, no real purpose. It was as though he was skating just to skate. Yeah, he loved it, felt like he belonged on the ice, but it still felt as though something was missing in all his programs, all his movements. Now though...now it felt like he'd found that missing something, that boost, a reason to not give it all up and continue with this career.

And he was standing on the other end of the ice, eyes glued to Stiles.

The music started back up, that strumming guitar and vibrant strings, and Stiles easily moved through the step sequence. He had full confidence in this, knew this was one of his strengths, something he was known for. The steps were jilted, fast-paced, just like the song, and he moved to the beat of it, feeling the music in his soul.

Flowing out of it, he skated in wide circles, spinning and twisting as he glided around. His arms were in constant movement, twirling about himself, and he kept in mind his story, kept in mind the things Kira and Malia had both taught him. His fingers were curved gracefully, arms flowing, hips rocking. He kept his features soft, took advantage of his long skinny legs, bringing the femme fatale of his tale to life.

He moved into a camel spin, leg perfectly flat behind him as he leaned forward, counting the rotations in his head. Spins were another thing he had mastered, another thing he was good at, and the knowledge of that gave him the confidence he needed to keep going, to relax on the ice.

His jumps had been saved for the second half of the program, the first filled with movements and gliding, more artistry than skills at that point. It didn't mean much in the context of this current face-off but once he was back in competitions against other skaters, with actual judges, it would add to the point value of his routine. After all, jumps in the second half of the program were scored higher due to the greater difficulty of trying to perform them on tired legs.

Not that his stamina had ever really had a problem with that.

Moving along, he skated around in a spread eagle, before kicking his right leg back and using it to propel him into the air and around, legs crossed as he performed a triple axel. Not great, but he landed squarely on his right skate, not wobbling or falling. The salchow was up next and he knew that in practice he'd always done the triple, that it was what Derek had decided for him.

But Liam...

Liam had done amazingly, had performed a routine that was sure to get him a medal of some form when he did it during the season. And Stiles needed to compete with that in order to hold on to Derek.

Launching himself in the air, he kept his legs spread apart, counting one, two, three, four rotations. But he didn't quite nail the landing, wobbling, and as he stepped out of the spin, he had to put his hand on the ice to prevent himself from completely falling.

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit.

The audience groaned and he ignored it, skating away. It wasn't that bad, he mentally assured himself, wasn't the end of the world. At least he hadn't completely fallen. That would've cost him more—if they even had deductions at that point, which he was pretty sure they didn't. No, he'd fucked it up more in practice and while he hadn't landed cleanly, it could've been worse. Besides, it was just one mistake. He could still win this thing.

Next up was a quadruple toe loop, and he skated into it backwards as always, left leg slightly crossed in front of his right. He landed cleanly then immediately launched himself into a triple toe loop, legs just the same as before.

Nailed it.

Landing the combination jump helped settle the nerves that had formed after the screw up of his quad salchow and he felt himself relax, allowing his movements to be free and graceful as before. His final trick was a combination spin, allowing him to feel even more at ease with everything as he skated along. He easily moved into the camel spin of before, then swung his leg around and bent over it as he continued to twirl. Lowering himself into a sit-spin felt like breathing, then he raised himself back up, both feet on the ice as he now spun with his hands clasped above himself.

Leaving the spin was easy as well, skating in wide swoops across the ice, twisting, turning, his hands flying around. He was loose, easy, free, and despite the minor mess up with the salchow, he honestly believed that he'd, at the very least, given Liam a run for his damn money.

The music drew to a close and Stiles assumed his final pose, standing with his left leg slightly kicked out, knee bent as he dug his toe pick at the front of his blade into the ice, his hands grasping opposite shoulders with his arms folded in front of himself up high. He was panting, could feel the sweat on his overheated skin, his hair plastered to his forehead, his legs and feet and abs all hurting in a way that showed he'd given it his all, that he'd put on a fantastic performance.

The crowd erupted once more, screams raining, whistles blowing, claps, yells, catcalls, all of it and more. Dropping his arms, Stiles looked around himself, only just making out the faces of the people in the front row, finding his friends and family cheering the strongest. Kira was jumping up and down, using a fist-pumping Malia for leverage. Noshiko was calling out to him, same as her husband Ken. And Stiles was pretty sure he saw his dad swiping at his face under his eyes.

Damn. He did that well.

His name was called out and Stiles turned to his left, finding Derek waiting by the opening in the wall. Without hesitation, he sped over, immediately being wrapped up in a tight hug. Stiles returned the embrace, giving in to the urge to bury his face in the crook of Derek's neck. No matter the outcome of things, at least he had this moment: Derek holding him close, muscular body pressed against his more leaner one, the feel of his warm jacket as his slightly numbed fingers gripped it tight.

Was too bad his nose was numb, too, and he couldn't really breathe or smell anything at that moment. Would've been nice to know what Derek smelled like.

“I did okay, huh?” he quipped, voice light before he sniffed.

Derek snorted, chest thumping against Stiles' with the action, then he pulled back enough to look him in the eye once more. “I have never seen tastier chicken.”

Jesus...

The look in his eyes, the way he said it, it all went straight to Stiles' gut like a punch. His heart began pounding for something other than the adrenaline and exertion of skating, his stomach flipping for something other than nerves and anxiety, and he felt his already heated skin grew hotter on his cheeks, knocking away some of the numbness that had been brought on by the cold temps of the rink.

“I have something I want to ask,” Derek began and Stiles stopped breathing.

Because this was it. This was Derek asking to stick around. This was Derek asking to be his coach. This was Derek asking if he was ready to work with him and make his big comeback. This was... This was a life changing moment and Stiles wasn't entirely sure if he was ready for it or not.

“What was with pathetic triple axel out of spread eagle?”

Or not.

Derek pulled back and folded his arms, scowling at Stiles as he went on. “And quad salchow? We agree on triple. Do not think that I do not know about secret practice with Liam. He taught you, yes? I will have words with him, but you need to do what you are told and not do what you want.”

Stiles felt the words like blows to the temple, too much, too fast, too angry, after such a great skate. Unable to handle it, he simply sank down onto the ice and hoped it would end soon.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Liam was gone.

Stiles didn't see him loitering in the designated area outside the ice and when he headed into the locker room, his things were gone. Part of him wasn't surprised the kid would take off without saying goodbye but...he just didn't think Liam would leave so soon.

“I caught him on his way out,” Erica stated and Stiles jumped slightly, having thought he was alone.

Turning from where he was peeking into the now-empty locker Liam had been using, he found her leaning against the wall by the door, hands shoved in the pockets of her tracksuit jacket. “Figured he'd wanna stick around for the results,” he stated with a shrug, closing the locker door that Liam had left open. “I know manners aren't really his things, but surely he'd wanna hear, ya know?”

“I said the same thing and according to him, he didn't need to see the results to know who won.”

Stiles' eyes went wide at that, brows shooting up to this hairline. That was a compliment in Liam-ese, he knew it. Funny really. Part of Stiles had been convinced that for all he'd done, how well he'd skated, he'd still lost. Even Derek had said it was the best he'd seen Liam skate and he of everyone there would know. The two shared a coach, a home rink, would see each other in both practice and at competitions. If Derek said that was his best performance, then it was.

Not to mention the fact that Liam had quads and Stiles didn't, as well as more talent, more potential, more everything really. What the hell did Stiles have to offer besides a bundle of anxiety and neuroses?

Looking down at his hands, the gloves of his sleeves covering them, he noticed a slight tremor that he wasn't entirely sure was caused by the feeling returning to previous numb appendages. Derek had seen something in him when he'd watched that video, something that was enough for him to fly halfway across the world to coach him. Liam had seen something in him that had him bailing on a competition he'd been adamant about winning. And Stiles? Stiles had no clue what it was.

“He's going back to Russia alone to keep training under Deucalion,” Erica went on and Stiles lifted his eyes to find her engrossed in her fingernails momentarily before she returned his gaze. “Oh, and he says to tell you that he's still taking gold at the Grand Prix Finals.”

Stiles snorted, thinking that sounded like the Liam he'd come to know over the past week, not to mention a highly likely thing. And after the program he'd just put on, the way he'd skated, he was gonna get better as the season progressed and the gold was practically his.

Especially since Derek wouldn't be there to automatically win it by practically just showing up.

The door opened and they both turned to find Derek walking in, eyes widening slightly as he took in the two of them. “I come back?” he offered and Erica shook her head, pushing away from the wall.

“He's all yours, big guy,” she stated, clapping him on the shoulder, then turning back to Stiles. “Congrats on winning by the way. Podium should be set up in five and they're gonna want you to say something to the crowd. Better think of what it is now so you don't put your bladed foot in your mouth.” She shot him a smirk and he flipped her off, the cackles following her as she left the locker room.

As she left Derek and Stiles alone.

Because Liam was gone and Stiles...

Stiles stared at Liam's locker before slowly lowering himself onto a bench right behind him, sighing heavily. He should've been happy, should've been celebrating, should've been overjoyed. Because Liam was gone and Derek was still there, was gonna continue to be there, be Stiles' coach. Yet...

“I wish he would've stuck around,” he found himself saying as he gripped the edge of the bench, Derek's head rearing back in surprise before he made his way over, sitting on the opposite end from Stiles. “Not 'cause I enjoy his company or anything like that. Kid's a prick. Just would've been nice to know that I won on my own merits, ya know? Not by default because he bailed early.”

Out the corner of his eye, Stiles could see Derek frowning as he turned to look at him. “If he did stay, you would still win,” he stated firmly and Stiles' head snapped to him. “I would rather stay here and coach you than go to Russia or coach him. Plus, I keep promise and give him routine.” At that, he smiled, proud. “I make promise to you both, I keep promise to you both. Everyone happy.”

Stiles seesawed his head, impressed pout on his face. He had a good point. Liam got what he wanted, which was a gold medal winning program choreographed by Derek. And Stiles was gonna get what he wanted, which was Derek.

Derek sticking around and coaching him, that was.

Right.

“I seriously won, though?” He was probably beating a dead horse, but part of him couldn't really believe it, wasn't ready to accept it. He just...needed the reassurance, needed to be one-hundred percent sure that he really, truly had won. “You're not just saying that because Liam isn't here and you're stuck with me now?”

Derek rolled his eyes before twisting to face him and his hand shifted until it was covering one of Stiles'. He wasn't sure if it was intentional or not, but the contact still made his heart stutter in his chest, Derek's hand so much wider, thicker than his. He hated the fabric in the way, the fingered sleeve of his costume, the glove on Derek's hand. It needed to go.

He wouldn't mind the rest of their clothes going, too, but he figured that wasn't really appropriate for a locker room, not when he had to be out there in a few minutes.

“You really won,” Derek repeated, voice low but firm, eyes locked onto Stiles'. “If not, I would be packing bag to go to Russia, yes?”

Okay, also a good point.

The intensity of the eye contact rendered Stiles incapable of doing anything but nod. Not that he really knew what to say or could form any sort of argument against that. It did make sense, and it was comforting to know that Stiles hadn't won through some form of technicality because really, Liam had quit.

A knock sounded on the door and Erica poked her head in, eyes zeroing in on their hands. Stiles slipped his out from under Derek's before rising up onto his feet, wobbling slightly thanks to a brain fart that had him forgetting he was still in his skates. He shot her a stern glare and she bobbed her eyebrows in an “alrighty then” fashion, dismissing it for the moment but definitely filing it away for later.

“They're ready when you are,” she informed, shooting Stiles a knowing grin. Definitely gonna bring it up later.

He rolled his eyes at her before snatching up his team jacket and slipping it on, wishing he had friends that weren't so invested in his personal life.

“We be right there,” Derek replied, giving her a hard look until she backed away and the door closed over. Once he was sure she was gone, he turned to Stiles, brow no longer hard but inquisitive instead, head tilted slightly. “Everything is okay?”

Stiles nodded as he zipped his jacket up, putting a smile on his face. Everything was fine, at least it should've been. He won, he was keeping Derek as a coach, he was about to make a big comeback and had the best in the sport to help him do it. He shouldn't have been feeling like something was missing, shouldn't have been disappointed.

It was this stupid crush, he knew it. He had to get over it so that he could focus on what actually mattered, so that he didn't ruin things between himself and Derek.

“Fine,” he assured, putting the victory at the forefront of his mind so he could think about that and that only, so he could get back to the joy he'd felt before. “Just hate this whole public speaking thing.” Not exactly what had been worrying him, but it seemed like a good excuse for his shifted mood.

Derek's lips curled up at the corner and he bobbed his head in a manner that said he understood, he got it, he could relate. And given how short and sharp his soundbites tended to be, he really did understand and get it and relate.

Jacket zipped up and everything feeling...as okay as it could be, Stiles headed to the door, Derek right behind, ready to get the whole thing over with.

~*~*~*~*~*~

There was an honest to god podium in the center of the ice. Stiles thought it was ridiculous, thought it was too much for a stupid little face-off. But considering how the entire town had crammed in there and there were cameras flashing and recording, it was obvious the Reyeses wanted to make a good impression on the world and show that they weren't some tiny rundown rink in the middle of nowhere with nothing to offer.

Which...Ice Castle kind of was.

Although after all this, with world champion and living legend Derek Hale now using it to train his new protege, Stiles had a feeling it would become more than that.

He stood on the top-most step of it, bouquet of flowers cradled in his arm, a small trophy purchased for the event in his hand. Seemed just as over the top as everything else, but he had to admit, it felt good to stand up there, to have physical proof of his victory, something he could touch and show off when he thought about how he'd won that day.

Derek stood just behind him, frowning against the flashes blinding them and scowling at the microphone that had been sent his way by Braeden. No comment clearly.

Stiles wasn't as lucky, wasn't able to get away with it. Not in front of his hometown, not when he'd won. So he took hold of the damn thing, looking around the place with the houselights still down, telling himself it was just his friends, his family, people he'd known his whole life. No big deal, no pressure.

He cleared his throat as he felt it getting tight, swallowing a lump that had gotten lodged in it. Shit. He hated public speaking. It was why he'd been so stoked to do homeschooling his final two years of high school after having moved to Detroit: no more oral presentations or speeches in front of the entire class.

No. Now it was worse. He wasn't being graded, but the entire world was gonna be able to watch and hear this, to dissect his words and interpret and reinterpret and misinterpret...So much worse.

“Uh. I guess I wanna just start by thanking everyone for coming out,” he tried for, sheepish grin on his face as he tried for a levity he didn't feel under the spotlights aimed his way. “Having your continued support means the world to me and I'm gonna keep trying to make you proud as I continue on this season. I know this is only the beginning and I still have a long way to go, but knowing that you guys are all behind me helps. With Derek by my side, as my coach, I hope I can win the Grand Prix Finals and bring home gold to all of you. Thank you!”

The crowd was a roar in his ears and he handed the mic back before waving to them all. Flashes went wild, from the media and fans alike, and something pinged in his chest, a need, a desire to always feel this way and the determination to make it happen.

It was gonna be hard, a battle every step of the way, but Stiles was ready to fight for his career, fight for his comeback, and fight for that gold medal.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Stiles let it be known that he'd won.

A lot.

At least for about five minutes that night, back at the B-n-B, when arguing over dinner.

He'd showered at home, changed into the comfiest sweats imaginable and his favorite hoodie, then proceeded to point out that he'd won and therefore should be allowed his favorite meal.

Derek, the asshole, had argued that, no, because no medal was won. To which Stiles simply—and literally—shoved his trophy in Derek's face and stuck his tongue out, mimicking his new coach in the worst fake Russian accent ever. Suddenly Erica's insistence on getting these trophies made in the first place wasn't as dumb and extra as originally thought.

Derek eventually relented and Stiles performed his version of a victory dance—mainly the cabbage patch with a bit of the water sprinkler added in—until his body protested, his abs stinging and his legs aching. So he dropped down into a stool at the island and proceeded to bug everyone instead as the meal was cooked, Derek put to work for once.

Erica and Boyd joined them for dinner, filling the table, seated on the opposite side of Derek from where Stiles was. Across from them were Malia and Kira, the latter girl's parents next, then Stiles' dad at his usual place at the head of the table. Malia's dad had apparently been invited to the impromptu victory meal, but had to turn it down due to needing an early night's sleep. Having missed part of that day to go to the face-off, he was heading in to work early the next day to pick up extra hours and earn the money he would've missed.

Standing up, his dad tapped a knife on the side of his drink, the squat glass containing whiskey he was allowing himself in celebration. The din of several conversations faded away, all eyes fixed on him, and he held up his drink in a toast.

“First of all, I wanna thank everyone for being here. It means a lot that you joined us in this celebration.” A smile was on his face as he looked at everyone in turn, settling on Derek last. “I especially wanna thank Derek for his coaching skills and the routine he made for Stiles, as well as picking him as today's winner. I may be biased, but I believe you made the right call on that one.”

Laughter broke out and Stiles felt his face flush in embarrassment. Didn't matter the age. Parents were always gonna do something to mortify their kids.

“I don't know a lot about figure skating and the whole thing kinda confuses me,” his dad went on, waving his free hand around before clapping it on Stiles' shoulder, peering down at him. His blue eyes were sparkling, lips curved in a smile, and though he spoke where the group could hear, the words were aimed at Stiles only. “But I know you did an incredible job out there on that ice and I'm super proud of you. And I know that your mom is watching you from up there, bragging to everyone within earshot about how great her son is, just as proud of you as I am. Maybe even more so because I'm sure she'd get what all those twirly things were called and the spinny-jumps. Whatever, you get my point.” He let out a small chuckle and lifted his head and his glass up higher. “To Stiles and his first victory of many this season.”

Glasses were raised all around, in various shapes and forms, Stiles raising the beer bottle he was allowed to have—by both himself and his coach, since one wasn't enough to actually do anything too bad—and as one, everyone let out a joyous “to Stiles!” before drinking. Stiles took a sip of his own drink, the bubbles feeling good as they went down, and he ruminated on his dad's words. “The first victory of many this season.” He sure as hell hoped so.

Glancing at Derek out the corner of his eye, he got the feeling that with his new coach, it was achievable.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Stiles overslept.

He totally didn't mean to. Complete accident. Then again, considering the day—and night—he'd had before crashing out, it was no surprise that he just...passed out. And stayed out. And forgot to set his alarm.

Shit.

He also didn't get a Misha and/or Derek alarm either. Weird.

As he woke up more, he realized Misha was actually on his bed, laying alongside him, her head lifting as she realized he was now awake. Okay, even weirder, Stiles thought to himself. He didn't remember Misha coming in his room. And wouldn't Derek have come looking for her at some point?

Checking his phone, he saw it was ten til eight and his heart began pounding as he cried out an “oh fuck!” The problem with basement rooms, he knew as he burst out of bed, falling as he got tangled in his sheets, was that there were no windows, meaning no sun coming in. It could be three am or three pm and he'd have no idea, his room perpetually dark. So it wasn't as though the sun could've leaked through the windows and woken him that way.

Oh, fuck, he was so dead.

He raced through getting dressed, putting his shirt on backwards at first and getting flustered as he had to remove it and put it on right. He threw on his sweats, a hoodie, socks, and sneakers, before he grabbed his backpack and shoved in his skates, rifling through his duffel for his keys. A clean towel was snatched from his chair and tossed in as well and he grabbed his phone on the way out his room, Misha following. He barely said a goodbye to his dad as he snapped up a granola bar and bottle of Gatorade from the kitchen, heading straight out the front door to get to Ice Castle, eating on the way before he began to jog.

Erica gave him a disapproving shake of the head as he entered and he flipped her off as he ran past the front counter and into the rink, panting and puffing out from the exercise and the panic. He had no idea how Derek was gonna react, but he figured it wouldn't be good, not with the lecture he'd gotten over his sloppy performance the day before. Stood to reason that drill sergeant persona would come out and lay into him about his tardiness.

As expected, Derek was standing in the middle of the ice, hands on his hips and back to the door, head turned towards the scoreboard on the opposite end of the rink. Stiles followed the line of the sight, noting how it was now after eight, and while he'd made good time on his run—thank you, panic—he was still way fucking late.

“Sorry,” he heaved out, doubling over as his stomach protested. Yeah. Probably shouldn't have sped there after practically inhaling a granola bar.

“Is amazing,” Derek deadpanned, turning to give Stiles a clearly unamused look. “Only Aeroflot has kept me waiting for longer.”

Stiles just stared, having no idea what the fuck that meant. Obviously it wasn't good and implied that he'd been forced to wait a while, but...what the fuck was an Aeroflot?

“Russia airline?” Derek tried, an eyebrow cocked. “Is famous for lot of delays and waiting. Never mind, would be funnier back home.”

“Sure.” One of those things Stiles was just gonna have to trust him on really. Straightening up, he cracked open his Gatorade and chugged some of it down, ignoring the way the cold drink gave him a minor bout of brain freeze.

Derek slowly nodded, thoughtful pull to his brow, eyes analytical as they took in his protege from head to toe. It was unnerving, although Stiles knew he was gonna have to get used to it. His coach was gonna be staring at him quite often, analyzing him constantly, trying to figure out why he wasn't landing this trick, why that spin was sloppy, why he couldn't stick his landings on that jump. It was the only way to fix any issues and get better.

Still. It was weird to feel it when he wasn't even on the ice yet, when he had yet to even put on his skates. It was like Derek was trying to figure out who he was a person so he could figure out how to help him as a skater. And Stiles wasn't all that sure how he felt about it. Yeah, it would help, yet he felt flayed open, exposed, scrutinized, his every flaw and imperfection on display.

Unnerving as fuck.

Derek's features soon flattened out to nothing and it was as though that previous expression had never been there. Instead, he sniffed from the cold and skated over to the side of the rink with long easy strides, barking out a command at Stiles to “get on skates, time to work.”

With a nod of the head, Stiles did as he was told, dumping his bag before stretching and warming up. When he was loose and ready, he switched his sneakers for skates and stepped onto the ice, starting off slow with a few laps and a couple easy minor elements: a spin here, a single loop jump there, nothing too major. Derek kept his eyes glued to him the entire time, still analyzing and judging.

As he grew more comfortable on the ice, Stiles upped his jumps, doubles, then triples, before Derek stepped off it and had him run through his Eros routine. The whole thing had a surreal feel to it, a strangeness Stiles couldn't help but ruminate on as he went through the motions of his program.

For starters, having a coach with him as he practiced at Ice Castle felt like a whole new world. He was so used to doing all of this back in Detroit that it felt almost alien to do it there in Beacon Hills, where he was more accustomed to solo practices with only Erica or Malia on the sidelines, making—unnecessary and sometimes unwanted—comments on his performance.

Yet there he was, with a full-time coach, in his hometown.

Shit, even just having a full-time coach was strange. He'd had to share Deaton with Scott and a couple other younger skaters, meaning that sometimes, Stiles had to practice by himself or with one of the assistants while Deaton traveled with his other proteges to their competitions. But with Derek being retired and committed to Stiles and only Stiles, he wouldn't have to leave to be by anyone else's side as they competed. He wouldn't have to split practice time and his attention between countless others. He wouldn't have to try to juggle students. He could focus only on one.

It was a novel thing, something Stiles had never had the benefit of before. And as he thought about it, he realized Derek hadn't either. Deucalion had several of his own students, including Derek. Liam Dunbar, Jennifer Blake, Theo Raeken, probably others Stiles had never heard of but were sure to be huge stars. After all, it was what Deucalion was known for: churning out world class athletes. Countless people flocked to him for his training, longing to be as successful as his most well-known student, Derek Hale.

And now Derek Hale was training Stiles, the most surreal thing of all. Five time world champion, countless gold medals decorating his home, a long list of world records he'd set then broken and set again. And he'd given it all up—temporarily at least—in order to coach some pissant little American who'd bombed his way out the GPF.

Jesus, it wasn't like having a coach really, Stiles thought as he made his way around the ice. It was like having a god on the sidelines. Wasn't Nike the Goddess of Victory? Hence the shoe name? It was like she'd been reincarnated into Derek. Or maybe it was like a Percy Jackson thing and demigod kids were a reality and Derek just happened to be one of them.

Wasn't there a Norse god of victory and games? He was pretty sure he saw something about that on a TV show he watched once.

Whatever. Point was Derek was this untouchable...creature, this deity that had no business being in a small town like Beacon Hills for a lowly skater like Stiles Stilinski. Yet there he was, wasting his time like that. Sure, Stiles had won the face-off and had proven he wasn't entirely incompetent, but still.

Fuck. His coaching fees were gonna be astronomical. It was a good thing he'd agreed to defer payments.

Stiles launched himself for a triple axel and crashed hard on the ice, rolling where he'd landed on his side and finally ending up on his stomach. The ice felt good against his heated skin, cheeks flaming from both exercise and humiliation. He was supposed to be able to land that trick no problem, had done so yesterday in competition. Now in his first private practice, no one else around, no one else stealing Derek's attention, he flubbed it.

The sound of metal scrapping on the ice hit his ears, getting louder as Derek skated closer, and Stiles wondered if he laid there long enough, would it be possible to just freeze all over and become part of the ice? Maybe Boyd could run him over with the Zamboni. God knew he'd probably wanted to do that very thing countless times over the years.

Flopping onto his back, Stiles simply laid there with his arms splayed, starfishing on the ice, staring up at the white ceiling, the caged lights, the sterility of it all. Soon enough, Derek entered his line of sight, looming over him with a disapproving scowl.

“You mess up jumps when something on your mind,” he pointed out and...wow. Okay. Stiles knew he was paying attention, but he didn't think the guy was paying that much attention, especially considering how their first week of practicing together consisted of Derek simultaneously helping out Liam. “Care to tell?”

Stiles wracked his brain, trying to remember what the hell he had been thinking about when he went down and... “Nope,” he answered, popping the “p”, before he pushed himself up into a sitting position. “I'm good.”

“You are not good. You fell.”

Carefully, Stiles got back up onto his feet, grunting at the awkwardness and the throbbing on his side where he'd landed. “I'm good.”

Derek simply sighed, hands on his hips, shaking his head before he flipped his hair out of his face. “Fine. Do again from spread eagle, yes? Skate like you are trying to seduce me.” With that, he gave a pointed look at Stiles, who simply gave him a bewildered look right back.

“What happened to the chicken metaphor?” he questioned, feeling stupid for asking but...it was better than trying to figure out how to seduce someone. Sure, Kira—and a little bit of Malia—had helped with the character and the performance, but it wasn't really him, especially not within the confines of practice.

Especially not when he was told to seduce Derek in particular.

The guy had a mirror, right? And for all his strutting around naked, he had to know what he looked like and was clearly proud of it. Did he seriously think a guy as awkward and gangly and all around plain looking as Stiles could ever have a chance with someone who was akin to a god such as himself? Because no. That shit didn't happen in reality.

“I do not have food fetish,” Derek stated, arms folded, shrugging like it was an obvious thing and how did Stiles not see this. “Lot of people do not have food fetish. It is time to seduce audience with some other thing.”

Fucking easy for him to say, walking orgasm that he was.

Rubbing his face with a gloved hand, Stiles scowled at his coach then put his hands on his hips, huffing. “And how the hell do I do that?”

His coach shrugged nonchalantly again. “Skate naked.”

Stiles gaped, heart pounding and stomach flipping and...there was no way he was serious, right?

Couldn't be.

Right?

Not only was it illegal and against the rules and regulations put in place for costumes, but it wasn't exactly something Stiles would ever actually do. Hell, just going shirtless in his own backyard felt like a stretch out of his comfort zone. Being entirely naked in front of someone? Never gonna happen. There was a reason he'd gotten so freaked when Derek had bust in on him in the shower.

Not to mention the fact that when he compared himself to the Russian...

“Who the fuck would wanna see me skating naked on the ice?” he asked dubiously, glowering, and a little upset. Not that he wanted the entire world lusting after him or demanding to see him sans clothes but...would've been nice to have someone long to get him nude.

Granted the someone he was thinking of would never want that and Stiles shouldn't be wanting him to want it, considering it was his coach but the heart wants what it wants. Selena Gomez had sung that shit for a reason.

“I would,” Derek said, simple and easy and so entirely nonplussed that Stiles had a hard time trying to figure out if he was serious or not. The smirk on his face really wasn't helping him come to any sort of conclusion.

Either way, his heart was pounding in his chest and his numb face was growing hot and he was inundated with images of doing just that, just stripping down right then and there and maybe even Derek would do the same. And maybe they'd fool around on the ice, or in the locker room. He could feel that broad frame against his leaner one in a way he'd fantasized about so often over the years, could feel what it was like to have something more than an awkward dry hand job by someone who clearly had never done it before, could feel something better than he could ever have imagined or dreamed of, at the hands of someone he'd imagined and dreamed of.

Or not.

No, nope, no way. Terrible idea.

Turning his head away, Stiles cleared his throat awkwardly, rubbing at the side of his face as though he could erase the ruddy patches that were sure to be littering it, filling the spaces between the plethora of moles dotting his skin. Derek was joking, had to be. There was no way he'd be propositioning Stiles in that way. It was unprofessional and inconceivable. Really, Derek's suggestion was made because he didn't have the same hang-ups about nudity as Stiles did. Or any hang-ups about it. Chances were he'd spend all day every day nude if he could.

It was a joke. End of.

“Start from the spread eagle, right?” he double-checked, changing the subject entirely to a much, much safer one. Better to focus on work, on his program, than what Derek had ridiculously suggested.

The smirk disappeared from his coach's face, replaced by a frown that was so brief, it might've been imagined. But Derek still nodded, running a hand through his shaggy hair. “Yes. From spread eagle,” he muttered in response, turning and skating back to the wall on the far end.

Stiles took a deep breath to calm himself, skating around in wide loops to warm back up, hands on his hips as he moved. He was gonna have to deal with a lot more moments like that now that Derek was his coach and he had a program designed to seduce the audience, a program based on sexual desire and love. He needed to get a grip on things and learn how to take it all in stride.

As he began skating more seriously, picking up speed as he pulled a large loop in order to get to the point where his spread eagle would happen, he realized it was easier said than done.

And promptly flubbed his jump again.

Goddammit.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Stiles needed to talk to his dad about getting a lock installed on the bathroom door. Obviously, Derek would have a key to Room Two, since it was where his things were, those boxes of crap he'd had shipped and still hadn't entirely unpacked. So if Stiles locked the door while he showered, Derek would be able to simply unlock and enter.

The bathroom however.

There was no lock on that doorknob, mainly because whoever was using it would know if someone were in there and would know not to enter.

Well, at least most people wouldn't enter. Derek wasn't most people, a fact that was becoming more and more clear as time went on.

Meaning that when Stiles was finishing up his shower, the shower curtain was unceremoniously pulled back and Stiles, standing there bent over and taking great care to scrub at his bruised and aching feet, let out a yelp in surprise, nearly beaning himself as he jerked up suddenly. Backing up against the wall, Stiles used the washcloth he'd managed to hold onto and covered his junk, glaring daggers at his coach.

Who was, of course, naked.

Because why wouldn't he be?

Stiles began wondering if being allergic to clothes was an actual literal thing that could happen and if maybe Derek was afflicted by it. Probably not. He was probably just a regular ol' nudist, for better or worse.

“Are you ever gonna stop doing that?” he grumbled, referring to inviting himself in while Stiles was showering. Pretty much already knew the answer really. Still. He peeked down at himself to make sure everything was covered, and whoops, okay, so a little bit of his pubes were showing, no big deal. Quick adjustment and it was all good.

Derek gave him a deadpan look, like he was the one tired of this shit, and Stiles kinda of wanted to punch him in the face. “When lobster sing on top of mountain.”

What. The actual. Fuck.

Stiles gave him a confused sneer, head slightly tilted to one side, not entirely sure how to respond because he wasn't entirely sure what the hell that even meant. A long moment of silence stretched between them, Derek appearing just as confused before he bobbed his eyebrows in dismissal.

“That must be Russian one,” he stated and Stiles slowly nodded because, duh! “It mean never going to happen.”

“When pigs fly,” Stiles offered, shrugging slightly. “The English speaking version.”

Derek let out a thoughtful hum and muttered a “good to know” before scratching at his jaw with the corner of a notebook. Stiles' eyes zeroed in on it and recognized it as the same one that he had written and drawn out both his and Liam's short programs, about half the size of a regular notebook, spiral bound along the side, black cover front and back. He frowned at the sight of it, wondering why exactly Derek had it with him, why it was necessary for him to hold on to it as he broke in on his student's shower—again.

The coach noticed the staring, holding the notebook out as if to silently question if that was what Stiles was wondering about, then proceeded to hold it at an angle where only he could see what page he was turning it to. “I was questioning if three quads too many for you.”

Whoa, what the fuck?

“Whoa, what the fuck?” It needed to be said out loud and not kept inside his brain, honestly. Stiles stepped forward, bashing his shins on the edge of the tub, the water spray running down in his ear. He reached over blindly to cut it off, eyes still locked onto his coach. “We can't cut those jumps. I need them in order to win.”

“Not true,” Derek argued as he snapped the notebook shut. “ You get perfect score on program components and you will be okay.” He shrugged like it was no big deal and...

Maybe it was kind of not a big deal, Stiles mentally acquiesced, pushing his wet hair back off his face, slicking it all back.

Or maybe Derek was forgetting who the fuck he was talking to and what kind of skater he was. Considering how only a week and a half ago he was telling Stiles about how mediocre he was and that he needed to work on his fundamentals. There was no way he could get his score up to par with his competitors.

Reaching over, he grabbed a towel off the rack, wrapping it around his waist in a way that didn't expose anything. “I still feel like I need to do more though. All these other skaters, they all have multiple quads. I need to do something in order to compete with them.” He tucked the edge of his towel in tight, making sure it wasn't gonna drop unexpectedly, tossing the washcloth onto the small built-in corner shelf where it now lived.

Derek gave him that analytical look for a long moment before he put the notebook onto the counter, Stiles stepping out of the shower and onto the mat. “Do you know why I decide to be coach for you?” he murmured softly, and Stiles' heart pounded at the seriousness of it, at the way everything about him seemed to smooth over. Derek was rough edges, harsh words in a harsher accent. But at that moment, with the way he spoke so gently, the way his eyes seemed soft as they looked at Stiles, the way he gently took his student's hands in his and held them between their two bodies, it was as though that roughness had been sanded away, like scraping off the burnt edges and revealing the soft gooey center.

Stiles knew the answer to the question, something about the video, but he couldn't find the words, couldn't find the ability to speak. All he could do was stare wide-eyed at the older man, standing there fixed on him, held in place by those green-brown-golden eyes.

A gentle smile played on Derek's lips, his thumbs rubbing absently across Stiles' knuckles as he continued. “I was drawn to you by way you move to music.” With a gentle tug of the hands, he pulled Stiles closer, the skater stumbling a step or two forward, until their bare chests were almost touching. Stiles inhaled sharply, lips parting and hanging open, loose, and he hated the way his eyes dipped to Derek's, watching as his tongue darted out to wet them before he went on. “Is like song is in you and you use body to get it out. You need high difficulty program to take advantage, yes? I can give you that. Short program say I am right. Now we work on free.”

God. Damn.

And a little bit what the fuck?

Reality was as cold as the air in the room, reminding Stiles of the circumstances surrounding them. Derek wasn't hitting on him, just making observations about his skating that really any other random person could have made. And he was saying all this shit to convince him to just go along with his plan for Stiles' free program, as an argument. And he was pulling Stiles close as a tactic in order to win this debate, that was it. More than likely, he was aware on some level of his protege's crush on him and he was taking advantage of it.

Dick move.

Slipping his hands free, Stiles moved around him, heading over to the counter where he'd left his clean clothes. He felt shaken up inside, not sure how he felt about anything anymore. He just knew that the close proximity to Derek had once again wreaked havoc on his heart and his head and Derek more than likely had no idea. He wondered if it was just part of his coach's personality, getting in someone's intimate space, always in close proximity and touching. Didn't quite fit right with what he knew of Derek, the gruff exterior, the Bad Boy of Figure Skating rep he'd had for over a decade now.

Wracking his brain, he tried to remember any interactions Derek had with Liam during their practices, but his head was too jumbled. Not to mention the fact that half the time, Stiles was ignoring the two of them together. It had hurt too much, his mind pointing out the fact that there was a very real possibility of how that could be Derek's future.

Thankfully his head had been wrong, yet at that moment, Stiles hadn't known that, had just known it caused anxiety to well up inside him so in order to combat it, he'd ignored the two of them whenever they were together. Had helped at the time, was entirely unhelpful in his current situation.

Knowing there was no point in thinking of any of that, he grabbed his boxers, noticing Derek turning around out the corner of his eye. His fingers flexed outward from where they'd been gripping Stiles' before his hands dropped entirely, only for his right one to lift so he could run it through his hair. Focusing on his student, Derek gestured at him then put both hands on his hips.

“I think you should produce free program.”

Stiles' eyebrows flashed upwards before he turned to his coach, almost wide eyed in his gaze. “Wha—I—what?” he stumbled, tripped over his words. He hadn't expected that to be his response to Stiles' pulling away—not that Stiles knew what he'd wanted Derek's response to be: upset, offense, chastisement? He definitely wasn't expecting to be told he should create his own program, especially since...

“I've never done that before,” he admitted, muttering the words out as his free hand wrung the back of his neck, skin still damp and slick. “Deaton always took care of it all: song choice, choreography, theme, the whole shebang.”

Derek frowned momentarily, eyes flicking as he thought something over, before his face morphed into more of a disapproving scowl. “Is more fun to do yourself. I show how.”

Dropping his hands, Stiles propped a hip against the counter before folding his arms, boxers hanging from his hand, forgotten. He had a feeling he wasn't gonna win this argument no matter what, that Derek was gonna make him do it. More than likely Derek had it in his head that because he did it himself and he enjoyed it, then everyone else must do it, that they'd enjoy it, too. There was no rebuttal in the world Stiles could come up with that would change his mind.

“Come. We start now.” With that, Derek stepped forward and grabbed at Stiles' wrist, fingers inadvertently brushing against the younger skater's chest. Stiles jolted at the touch, at how cold Derek's hands were in comparison to his fresh-from-a-hot-shower flesh. His hand was tugged free and Derek was still heading for the door and Stiles was still in a towel.

He dug his feet in as he was spun around, yanking his arm back. “Mind if I get dressed first?” he insisted, raising an eyebrow pointedly. “And you should do the same.”

Derek gave him that puzzled look he always seemed to wear when Stiles suggested he put clothes on then let out a put-upon sigh, acquiescing with a sharp “fine” and muttering to himself in Russian as he left the bathroom.

Stiles closed the door behind him and pinched his brow, letting out a sigh of his own and wondering how the hell he was supposed to survive the next eight months of this.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Sweatpants were both a gift and a curse.

A gift, because they were comfy as fuck. And after having spent the day physically exerting himself, Stiles had earned a lot of fucking comfort, considering the various aches and pains he was experiencing. Sweats were loose and soft, not chaffing like jeans could be at times, not constricting and hard. There was a reason why they were referred to as “lounge pants” at times.

Derek in sweatpants, however...

It answered the question if Derek constantly went without underwear, that was for sure. And all Stiles could think about was that fucking “Gray Sweatpants Challenge” or whatever that had been a thing on the internet for a while, all these guys in gray sweats showing off what little package they had.

Derek would've destroyed all of them had he participated.

And Stiles knew he shouldn't stare, that it was his coach and it was rude and invasive and messed up...but then his brain would remind him that this was a guy who was quite often nude and probably had no sense of shame or would care if anyone stared.

Then again, he probably went nude with some sort of expectation he wouldn't be gawked at, like maybe he spent a lot of time in bathhouses or whatever and there was a code about not staring at other dudes' junk. Or maybe the nude thing was an unwritten permission slip to take a peek, while wearing clothes meant consent to stare had not been given.

No matter the case, Stiles still found himself glancing and...

Because he hadn't been gifted enough really, what with the good looks and the nice ass and the fucking amazing skating skills. No. He was hung like a horse while flaccid.

It was put even more on display when he sat on the couch next to Stiles, their thighs pressed together, and Stiles forced himself to focus on the task at hand, not on how warm Derek now felt, on how much bigger his leg was in comparison to his own, on how easy it would be to just swing his right leg around and wind up straddling the older man.

Danger Will Robinson!

Mentally shaking himself out of it, he stared down at the phone he had in his hands, listening at the rings coming from it, the device on speakerphone. Part of him had considered trying to get out of the phone call, trying to come up with various excuses, working out time zones and thinking back on routines. But he knew it would just be delaying the inevitable, that he'd end up having to make the call first thing in the morning anyway. Might as well get it over with.

Besides, even with the two hour difference, it was barely nine there. He'd be sure to answer.

Hello?

Dammit. Stiles hated being right sometimes.

“Hey, Coach Deaton,” he began with a wince, glad it wasn't a FaceTime so Deaton couldn't see the ugly grimace on his face or the ruddiness of his blushing cheeks. “It's Stiles.”

Stiles.” Shock laced the name, a hint of emotion from the usually stoic man, and Stiles figured it was warranted. “I must say I'm rather surprised that you're calling me. I heard Derek Hale is coaching you now.

The grimaced deepened, jaw locking and teeth grinding, his eyes screwing shut. There was a reason why he'd been putting off this phone call, why he'd never kept in touch. At first it had just been the embarrassment at having been such a failure and the guilt he was experiencing over how Deaton must've been feeling. After all, his performances were a direct reflection on Deaton's abilities as a coach so for him to do so poorly, to those not in the know, they saw it as Deaton being a terrible teacher.

Now though. Now he had a new coach, Deaton had been replaced, and Stiles hadn't wanted to see what kind of reaction Deaton would've had to that news. Hurt, betrayal, anger, happiness, reluctant acceptance. If Stiles didn't talk to him, it was like Deaton didn't have a response, either negative or positive.

Schroedinger's Reaction, he mused.

“Yeeeeah,” he drew the word out, rubbing at his forehead with his free hand. “Sorry 'bout that.”

Deaton let out a soft chuckle, more amused than offended, and Stiles took it as a sign that the man wasn't pissed at having been replaced. “It's alright, Stiles. I was actually glad to find out that you hadn't completely given it all up after you'd done so poorly last year.

Ouch. Okay, so it was kind of a jab, or at least the paranoid part of Stiles was taking it that way. No matter what, it sucked to hear it being said with his new coach sitting next to him, able to hear it.

He glanced at Derek, seeing a concentrated frown being aimed at the phone, the same look he wore when watching Stiles or Liam practice, like he was analyzing it all and storing it away for later use. “Deaton, I have question,” he spoke up, not acknowledging the comments over Stiles' shitty performance or even introducing himself to the conversation, letting it be known he'd been sitting there the whole time.

Ah, Derek,” Deaton greeted warmly, and Stiles could picture the condescending smile he'd surely be wearing, curving that mustache and puffing out the chubby cheeks of his round bald head. “Are you having fun playing coach? I figured you'd be bored with it by now.

Derek scowled at the phone, clearly offended by the insinuation that he couldn't—or wouldn't—take the job seriously. And honestly, Stiles was offended for him, glaring himself at the device. Derek may have been inexperienced but there was nothing about the routines they'd formed or the drills he'd put Stiles through that implied he wasn't being serious about it, that he was doing this as a joke or a hobby or a way to prove something.

Or maybe he was proving something to someone, his old coach maybe? Or maybe even just himself. It was the one accomplishment in figure skating he hadn't achieved just yet, the transition from being on the ice to being on the sidelines.

No matter the case, Stiles knew he was trying his best, working hard at it, and he didn't appreciate the way Deaton had implied that he wouldn't or wasn't.

He opened his mouth to argue, but Derek talked right on top of him, not acknowledging what had been said, what slight had been thrown his way.

“Why did you not let Stiles choose music?”

There was a pause as though Deaton had been thrown by the question, like he'd expected a rebuttal and not a change in topic. He let out a thoughtful hum before answering in that calm level manner he always had. “Well, it wasn't that I didn't allow him to, he just chose not to. I have no problem with my skaters picking their music if they wanted, but Stiles usually just had me do it for him. He did bring me a piece once that wasn't too bad, but he didn't seem entirely convinced about it. He never really did have much confidence in himself or his decisions.

Stiles winced again, jaw working in anger and insult. “Sitting right here, Deaton.”

And I didn't say anything that I hadn't told you countless times over the years.

“True.” He wagged his eyebrows and seesawed his head in concession. Deaton had been the one to make Stiles aware that his confidence—or rather, lack thereof—was affecting not just his everyday life, but also his skating, his decision making abilities, his career. And while Stiles had always had an inkling that that was the case, it had been Deaton who'd really solidified that fact for him, who'd really made him see just how bad it was and how much damage it was causing.

And despite all of that, not once did Deaton chastise him for his poor performance at the GPF. It was as though the coach had known that Stiles was doing enough berating to himself, that he didn't need to add on to it, that there was nothing he could say that Stiles wasn't already thinking. Instead, he'd put a hand on the skater's shoulder and given it a squeeze, much like his dad would, reassuring him. He did the same after Nationals and when Stiles had told him he was retiring, he'd been understanding, far more than any coach should've been.

Stiles owed him so much and he'd repaid him by getting a new coach. Definitely a dick move.

“I'll change that,” he vowed, clearing his throat before continuing with a stronger, more confident, more certain voice. “At this year's GPF, I'll make you proud.”

I was hoping to hear that after last year. Good luck, Stiles.” The smile was audible and it caused tension to leech from Stiles' shoulders, a long relieved breath escaping him.

“Thanks, Deaton.”

The two said their goodbyes before Stiles ended the call, tossing the phone onto the coffee table with less care than he should've given it. He fell back against the couch with a happy sigh, clasped hands on his forehead, wet bangs on the back of them. It felt like twenty pounds had been lifted off him, like he was lighter now, even more so than when he'd lost all that weight. It was amazing what a simple phone call could do.

“Man, I feel better after that,” he stated, smiling, rubbing at his eyes absently. “I couldn't bring myself to call him for the longest time, ya know? Too worried that he'd be mad at me for quitting then upset because I'd gotten a new coach. But to hear that he's okay with it all and that he even wished me luck? It feels good.” Dropping his hands, he turned to find Derek giving him an imploring look, thick eyebrows pulled into a hard line, a deep 'V' etched in the skin between them.

Uh oh. Not a good look.

“What?”

“You never told you had music,” he accused, clearly pissed. Stiles stared wide eyed, the proverbial deer in the headlights of his coach's glare. “Why not?”

“I—yeah, I have no idea,” Stiles shrugged, sheepish look on his face. “Didn't seem to matter.”

The scowl deepened and honestly, Derek was the first person Stiles had ever met who had different levels of glares and scowls and generally angry expressions. It was almost impressive, definitely intimidating.

No wonder he wasn't all that social with other skaters. At least that's what the rumors said.

Of course, some of those same rumors said Derek wasn't friendly with other skaters because he had a huge ego and believed himself to be better than all of them. And while that was partially true, Stiles got the feeling that wasn't why he didn't hang out with any of them. He just wasn't a friends kind of guy. Stiles wasn't either but for different reasons. Like social anxiety and the ability to stick his foot firmly in his mouth while rambling like a lunatic.

Not conducive to being good at the whole buddy thing.

Was why he'd stuck with pretty much Scott and Scott only.

Until Derek showed of course.

“It matters,” Derek argued, voice just as hard as ever. “I want to hear it.”

Given the hard look in Derek's eyes, Stiles knew it was another one of those things that he wouldn't be able to change his mind about, that it was better to just do as he was told. The Russian was just too hard-headed and stubborn and while that more than likely helped out when it came to attempting a new skating trick, in every day life, it was just assholical.

Huffing out a sigh, Stiles rose to his feet, snatching his phone from the table. At Derek's bewildered expression, he shrugged a shoulder then gestured to the kitchen. “Song is on a disc in my room. If you wanna hear it, we gotta go there.”

“Okay,” Derek replied, standing up and adjusting his black v-neck around his waist. “I am just in surprise that you did not argue me.”

“Figured I wouldn't win so there was no point.”

The coach grinned at that and Stiles reminded himself not to get too blinded by the expression, hating how his stomach swooped anyway. “You are right.”

Dick.

Stiles rolled his eyes—and his entire head—before turning on a sock covered heel and heading to the dining room, passing through it on his way to the kitchen and the basement door. He could hear the soft padding of Derek's footsteps as he followed, as well as the jangling of Misha's tags as she shook all over after rising from where she'd been laying in the living room with them. Her nails clicked on the floor as she joined the procession, Stiles leading them all down the basement steps to his room.

Where he paused in front of his door.

Because he was about to invite Derek into his room.

Okay, so the man had been in there before, but it was always brief, a minute or two spent making sure Stiles was getting up. He never really delayed or hung around or got a good look at anything. Plus he wasn't exactly invited in those instances, just barging right in, despite however many protests and demands that he stop that Stiles would give later on.

But this? This was Stiles allowing him to enter, almost insisting upon it. Really, he could've just grabbed his laptop and and the CD and brought them back up to the living room, but...but he hadn't. And it was hitting him right then and there how huge a moment this was, in so many ways.

He'd never really had someone he'd been interested in come into his room. Really, other than Noshiko cleaning it while he was gone, the only people who'd been in there had been his dad—but that was usually for private conversations and not to just hang out—Malia, and Kira. All of it purely platonic. And as much as he wanted to believe that this was purely platonic as well, he knew better. And he knew that from here on out, he'd never be able to look at his room the same again.

Because no matter the outcome of the coach-student relationship he had with Derek, no matter how long it lasted, he'd never be able to look at certain objects, certain places in his room without thinking about how Derek had stood there, touched that, looked at this, sat here.

Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe he was dooming himself more than he was already doomed.

Maybe he was just being a chickenshit and thinking the worst, like he had so many times before. He had a knack for talking himself out of shit, for practically making the worst thing possible happen by thinking about it over and over and over, until it came to be purely by his mental will.

He wasn't superstitious or believed in anything really, but sometimes, he thought maybe the people who thought that positive thoughts brought positive results were onto something. He certainly had a lot of experience thinking negative things and having them bring about negative results.

His eyes focused on those Disney On Ice stickers on his homemade sign, characters from The Lion King, The Jungle Book, Tarzan, all with blades animated on the bottoms of their feet, like drawing entire skates was just too much work. The sign was stupid and childish, but he was keeping it up, if for no other reason than nostalgia, remembering how he made it at the kitchen island as his mom hummed along with the radio while making cookies for their guests. He didn't have a normal childhood, but he'd been okay with that, considering he got a better than normal mom and a better than normal adult life. Was hard to complain when his childhood idol was standing right behind him, waiting to go into his room.

Stiles had a brief moment of worry over what Derek would think of those stickers, only to decide it didn't matter. They were staying. If anything, it was proof of his love for the sport, of how long it had been a part of his life.

He was delaying. He was distracting himself with idiotic thoughts and concerns. He was avoiding everything that he needed to be focusing on, as per usual. Smearing a hand down his face, Stiles got a hold of himself, mentally repeating that it was no big deal, no big deal, no big deal. Derek was there to listen to a song he'd almost used as a program a couple years ago, that was it. Things were never gonna be like that between them. This was just like inviting Malia or Kira to hang out in his room.

His conviction was fleeting and he knew this, so he took advantage of it while it was sticking, opening the door and stepping in.

Misha barged her way in, pushing him aside in her bid to be the first to enter. Her nose went straight to the ground, sniffing around, curved tail wagging as she picked up various scents.

Stiles headed straight for his desk, Derek closing the door over but not shutting it completely, and Stiles wondered about that as he opened up his laptop and cut it on. Sure, closing it over was a way for them to get privacy, so they wouldn't disturb anyone.

Although who the hell they'd be disturbing at seven PM in a basement was a little hard to know.

Not closing it all the way was also curious, since that usually was a way of assuring the parent of the house that you weren't up to anything illicit or unapproved with their child. The only reason you'd wanna prove that you weren't up to that shit was because you'd been thinking about it, or said parent had implied that you already were doing it.

Which they weren't.

At all.

And weren't about to be, despite countless fantasies Stiles had involving Derek in his bedroom. The skater single-handedly helped Stiles through puberty and his own sexuality crisis just by existing.

Derek glanced around the room, taking in the plain walls that now held nothing but a Batman calendar Stiles had brought back from Detroit. Stiles ignored the dust marks that showed there had clearly been posters hung about—and recently—focusing instead on opening his desk drawers on the hunt for the disc.

He was pretty sure he'd taken it with him when he'd moved back. There'd been no reason to leave it in Michigan. What the hell he'd done with it when he'd unpacked however...

Misha invited herself up onto his bed, circling before laying curled up in a ball, tail curled over her nose. Derek meandered about the room, taking it all the details: the tower of CDs in the corner, the Star Wars figures on top of his bookshelves, the books contained within. It was as though he was trying to get to know Stiles through his stuff and the owner himself wasn't sure how he felt about that. Part of him wanted Derek to know him, to like him, but... but this was invasive, yet also not. He felt exposed but not entirely, still able to keep certain things close to his chest, locked away inside. And it was easier to let Derek learn about him this way, rather than having to find the right words, something he was never all that successful at.

Turning away once more, Stiles continued his search, finding the right disc in the bottom drawer, buried under those godforsaken YouTube comments over his Stammi Vicino routine that honestly, he needed to just burn. Popping out the disc drive, he put the CD on the tray and pushed it back in.

“A couple years ago, there was this girl who studied at the Detroit Institute of Music Education,” he began, following the prompts on the screen in order to open the disc's contents, to open the media player. “She knew someone at the rink I think, I can't quite remember, but I had her compose something for me.” At that, he hit play, the music soon flowing from the speakers on the laptop, filling the otherwise silent room.

Stiles shifted so he had one arm hanging over the back of his chair, legs spread casually, and he spun halfway around to get a look at Derek. The older man's eyes were narrowed in concentration as he continued his visual perusal of the room, but it was clear he was no longer focused on the stuff contained, but rather the song playing. Stiles paid attention to it as well, trying to remember what it was about it that he loved, what it was about it that he didn't like. It wasn't a bad song, had a lot of great elements to it, it just...

There was something about it...

Eventually Derek came to a stop, sitting on the end of Stiles' bed closest to him, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. His shaggy hair fell into his narrowed eyes, brow pulled as usual, right thumb tapping his left fist to the beat. It felt like the longest four and a half minutes of his life, which seemed like a dumb thought to have. He'd spent four and a half minutes on the ice during free programs plenty of times and there had been moments where it felt like it would never end.

'Course all those times were totally anxiety caused and this was no different really. He was worried what Derek would think, what he'd say, if he'd chew Stiles out for ditching such a good song or agree that it wasn't right.

Eventually the song drew to a close and Stiles made sure it wasn't gonna repeat itself, that it was actually fully finished. Locking his eyes onto Derek, he watched as the Russian worked his jaw, eyes flicking around as he thought it over before letting out a long sigh through his nose.

“I do not like it.”

Stiles sighed in relief, oddly glad for that, that he wouldn't be forced to skate to a piece he didn't like either. “Yeah, I was never entirely sold on it. I think that's why I backed out when Deaton asked me if I was sure this was the song I wanted to use.” Turning back to the laptop, he ejected the disc and closed down the media player. “It felt. Weak, ya know?” He glanced at Derek, seeing his confirming nod, then focused on his desk once more, taking the CD and putting it back in its case. “I guess that makes sense though, since I'd asked her to make me a piece based on my skating career. Weak skater, weak person really, makes for a weak song.” He put on a deprecating smile as he switched his attention back to his coach, noting the disapproving pull to his brow, the way his lips were pulled to one side.

Okay, probably not the thing to say to the man who was in charge of his career now, who would be instructing him during his skating. Really, he was giving Derek an excuse to bail, to change his mind, to decide that maybe he'd already proved he could be a coach thanks to that face-off and there was no need for him to stick around.

But Derek deserved to know what he'd signed up for. Not that he didn't already have a good idea. Still.

Derek narrowed his eyes momentarily, thinking once more, head tilting to one side as he spoke. “What happened at Grand Prix?”

Stiles was taken aback by the question, head jerking at it. He shifted in his seat, slumping further in it, arms wrapping around his torso to hold himself together. “Combination of things,” he admitted, reluctantly. “Nerves mostly.”

“You were too in head, yes?” Derek asked as though he didn't already know it to be true, gesturing to Stiles before sweeping a hand through his own hair.

“Yeah,” he croaked out then cleared his throat, arms falling and hands laying in his lap, fingers automatically going to his dog's old tag and rubbing it for comfort. “I psyched myself out like always. That, plus I made the mistake of listening to a voicemail from my dad before I hit the ice.” At Derek's curious expression, he went on. “I thought maybe he was wishing me luck, but instead.” He paused, swallowing hard as his chest grew tight and his eyes grew wet. Fuck, it definitely wasn't any easier to think about, much less talk about, but he knew he had to power through it. He owed it to Derek, both the coach and the dog, owed it to himself to get it out there. “Instead, he was telling me that they'd had to put my dog down.”

Derek sat up straighter, his hand automatically reaching back to lay on the back of his own dog, Misha's mismatched eyes popping open in response. His eyes turned down at the corners, grew sympathetic, one side of his lips pulling as though he wanted to give a reassuring smile but couldn't quite manage it. Chances were he was thinking about how he'd handle it if he'd gotten the call that his own husky had passed, hearing the news right before a major competition. As stoic and as professional as Derek was, Stiles didn't think he'd handle it all that well.

“I am sorry,” he murmured and Stiles scoffed in derision, causing Derek's head to snap to him.

“I just. You get sick of that phrase,” Stiles explained, scratching at a thigh. “I heard it a lot after my mom passed, then my dog. It just reminds me of how weak I am.” At that, he turned back to his laptop, to the disc sitting next to it and the weak song that had accurately reflected him as a skater, even if he hadn't realized it at the time.

Shuffling sounded out and he turned to find Derek rising to his feet, fierce look of determination on his face. He stepped closer, towering over Stiles, and the younger man sank further in his seat, eyes crossing as a finger was stabbed in his face.

“You are not weak,” Derek argued, voice hard and leaving no room for debate. “No one who knows real you would say that. I will prove it to you and make you believe.” At that, he snapped his fingers at Misha, the dog obediently hopping off the bed and following her owner out the room. The door was closed behind him, latch clicking in place this time, and Stiles could hear the determined strides of his coach heading up the stairs.

Well then.

Shutting his laptop down, Stiles bent over his legs, fingers combing through his hair as he ducked his head. He wanted to believe he wasn't weak, that he had a strength of his own. It was just hidden, hard to reach at times, too difficult to see. But Derek believed in him, believed he wasn't weak, believed he could do this.

Which made his bullshit over not doing three quads all the more confusing and...well, bullshitty.

Stiles dropped his hands and let out a huff before slumping back in his seat. His coach was annoying and they'd barely even gotten started.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWELVE

“He wants to reduce the number of quads in my free program. Can you believe that shit?”

Stiles knew most people began a conversation by saying hi, asking how the other person was doing, what they were doing. And considering the bewildered look his dad gave him, followed by an exasperated sigh and a pinch to the bridge of the nose, his old man knew this, too. But his dad also knew that Stiles wasn't like most people—for better or worse—and wasn't about to do things in a typical fashion, meaning he wasn't gonna waste his time with superfluous shit like wish his dad a good morning as he came through the back door after his morning run, finding the older Stilinski cleaning up breakfast dishes.

Brown sugar oatmeal from the smell of things. Stiles wondered if he was allowed any or if it was off-limits due to his no-carbs, high-protein diet. Maybe he could be allowed a cheat meal if it wasn't.

Then again, knowing Derek, the answer would be “no”, especially considering he'd gotten a cheat meal only two days before: his victory dinner after having beat Liam in the face-off. There was no way the drill sergeant would allow another one so soon.

Dropping his hand from his face, his dad gestured to him, helpless. “You know, you could've said all of that in Latin and I would've understood it about the same.”

Shit. He forgot his dad didn't speak figure skater.

He pointed finger-guns at his old man, clicking his tongue, then began all over again. “Derek is currently working on a loose plan for my free program,” he explained, heading over to the cabinet where he knew the oatmeal lived, his dad returning to rinsing out his own bowl. “Which is the longer skating performance.”

“What was it you did the other day?” his dad asked over the running water.

“Short program. Different lengths of the performance, different requirements and rules,” he further explained, locating the tub of oats and reading the label. Seven grams of protein, twenty-seven grams of carbs. Probably off limits then. Damn, because he was craving it pretty damn bad now.

The water cut off, his dad transferring the rinsed dishware into the dishwasher now. “And he wants you to do less,” he trailed off, swirling a hand in a circle. “Whatever it was you called them.”

“Quads,” Stiles reminded him, putting the tub back and grabbing a protein bar instead. “Any jump with four rotations.”

“Right. He wants less but you want more, I'm assuming.” He closed the dishwasher door and leaned back against it, grabbing the nearby towel and drying his hands.

“Right,” Stiles repeated, mimicking his dad's body language across the kitchen as he unwrapped his protein bar. At least it was oatmeal raisin. Usually not the most appealing flavor but hopefully would curb the craving he was having. “Which'll knock my technical score down. And I can usually make up for it with the PCS but not—”

“Latin, Kid,” his dad interrupted, bottom teeth on display and brow pulled into a confused wince.

Shit, right. Figure skater talk.

Stiles chewed and swallowed the bite in his mouth as he thought over how to easily explain it all in layman’s terms, knowing it was best to make it easy so he could get to why his dad should be pissed at Derek much faster. He needed—wanted the back-up on that.

“Okay, so your score is broken down into two parts,” he stated, holding his hands out like he was displaying both halves. “First is the technical score, which is based on the jumps, spins, step sequences.”

“The step sequences. That's the tap-dancing, leg kicking,” his dad paused, lifting his leg so the top half was parallel to the ground, wagging the bottom half in a terrible Michael Jackson impression. “thing.”

“More or less.” Stiles smirked, holding back a chuckle at what his dad had just done. He definitely didn't have a shot at any sort of career involving dance, that was for damn sure. “Then the second half is the performance components score, which is the choreography and interpretation of the music, the theme of it all.”

His dad nodded to show he understood. “Your weird story about the playboy.”

Okay, what?

Stiles frowned at his old man, bar in his mouth, teeth halfway sunk in and ready to tear off another piece. Only he was frozen in confusion, because how the hell did his dad know about that?

Then again...Malia...

Goddammit.

Huffing a sigh through his nose, he ripped off a bite of his bar, nodding as he chewed. “Yeah,” he stated, a little offended that his dad thought it was weird.

Then again, it probably was. But it was also his own interpretation of the song, so fuck what anyone else thought.

“Anyway,” he began then swallowed. “The two scores get added up, then they deduct stuff for any mistakes. Didn't get enough rotations on your jump or spin, falling on a landing, touching the ice, shit like that.”

His dad folded his arms casually, nodding as he took it all in, those bottom teeth on display once more. “Alright, I think I got it.” He rubbed at his forehead momentarily. “So basically, Derek wants you to do less quads—the harder, four spin jumps—which would make for a lower starting score?”

Stiles' head reared back, honestly a little surprised that his dad had managed to sum it up. “Yeah, basically. He thinks I can make up the difference in the dance part of the score, since I tend to lose a lot of technical points because I'm not very consistent with landing my jumps.”

“You seemed to do okay the other day.”

He gave his dad a nonplussed look. “I touched the ice.”

The older Stilinski shrugged. “Looked okay to me.”

“This is why you're not a judge,” Stiles stated, pointing at him with the remaining third of his protein bar. “You're biased.”

His dad just shrugged again.

“Anyway,” he went on, a little exasperated himself. “I totally disagree with what Derek thinks. I need the higher starting score in order to really compete with the other skaters. I can't rely on interpretation alone, especially when the higher points are in the jumps.”

“I see,” his dad murmured, rubbing his jawline in thought before letting out a sigh. “It's easy for me to stand here and say trust your coach, but.” He stopped, gestured helplessly as he shook his head. “Trust your coach, Kid. He's done this long enough and has won enough times, he knows what he's talking about.”

Shoving the last of his bar in his mouth, Stiles nodded as he chewed, figuring it made sense. But he couldn't help thinking about that conversation he had with Derek, about how trust had to be earned and that's why he never did the partner skate thing. He didn't know Derek well enough to trust his instincts or his plan.

Then again, did he really have a choice? And had he even known Deaton all that long before willingly handing his career over to him?

Shit. He'd gone to his dad hoping to get some back-up, hoping to rant about Derek and his unfair judgment and have his dad agree with him, but instead, he'd gotten a ton more shit to think about.

“Yeah, I guess,” he murmured, more to himself than anything, rolling up his wrapper lengthwise and tying it into a knot. “I'm gonna go wash off before I gotta head to the rink.” He wasn't entirely sure who he was talking to with that. He knew it was supposed to be aimed at his dad but the volume wasn't all there. Whatever. Point was probably still put across or something like that.

The “alright, Kid” his dad gave out meant it was at least loud enough to have been heard and understood. He was pretty sure anyway. He didn't really know. His head was full of a lot of shit and he was having trouble wading through all of it, wondering what was right, what he should do, what he wanted.

Things were so much simpler before Derek showed up.

But they were also a whole lot shittier, Stiles could admit that much.

Shoving his hand in his sweaty hair, he headed down to his room to grab a change of clothes, clueless as to how he should handle things with Derek and his free program.

~*~*~*~*~

There was an alcove, about room size, just off to the side of the ice rink within Ice Castle. The walls were painted a sky blue and lined with slate gray lockers for customers to put their shoes in. Fabric covered benches were in two columns of three in the middle space for parents to sit while their kids skated, allowing them to gossip and mingle without freezing on the bleachers that sat in closer proximity to the ice.

Stiles used the area to stretch in before changing into his skates, yoga mat rolled out on the course gray carpet, sitting on it with his legs spread in a perfect split. He arched over to grab his toes, stretching his obliques, hearing as much as seeing Erica swooping in.

“Did you guys hear about Liam?” she questioned, voice a mix of curious and mischievous, and Stiles just knew that whatever it was, it was juicy as hell and she was hoping they were clueless so she could break the news.

Sitting upright, Stiles peered up at her as she leaned against the corner of the alcove's open entrance, brown eyes focused on her phone as she blew a bubble with her pink gum. She was dressed in her usual black tracksuit, hair in a messy bun that spoke more of not giving a fuck how she looked than anything, and he figured it was because he and Derek were the only customers that she decided she was going more for comfort than professionalism.

Her face was still completely made up, of course, but that was Erica for ya. He wouldn't be surprised if she slept with the stuff on her face.

He glanced behind him at where Derek was sitting on one of the benches and the Russian gave him a shrug and a shake of the head, clueless as well. Turning back to Erica, Stiles let out a sigh before leaning over to his left, knowing they just needed to play along and do what she wanted, or else they'd be bugged about it for the rest of the day. “What is up with Liam?”

“You know how he went back to Russian to train with Deucalion once more, right?” she began, finally lifting her eyes from her phone.

Stiles let out an acknowledging hum, considering that was the last thing he'd heard about Liam. He hadn't really given a single thought about what happened to the guy since he left Ice Castle after that face-off. Probably an asshole thing, but Stiles had his own career to worry about, his own programs to focus on. He couldn't spend time worrying about anyone else. Chances were he'd run into Liam again during the Grand Prix Series and he'd find out what happened to the teen then. But until that day, Stiles wasn't losing any sleep over what he was up to.

At least he hadn't been. Now Erica had piqued his curiosity and as he straightened up once more, he gave her a pointed look, waiting for her to continue.

“Well, apparently, Deucalion has called in some Prima Ballerina to help out with choreographing his free program, this woman named Kali—” she trailed off and peered down at her phone once more, brow furrowing at what was more than likely a hard to pronounce name. “Baranovskaya?”

Derek shuddered audibly, both heads turning to him, and Stiles swore he looked paler than usual.

“I take it you know her,” Stiles commented, Derek scrubbing at his face.

“Yes. She is terrible woman. Yells always, very mean.” He turned to Stiles, eyes wide and practically fearful, and almost a little apologetic. “I yell, yes, I know. But she is always with the screaming. She has no normal voice. For the indoors, yes? And she look scary, too. Sharp nails and teeth that remind me of shark or tiger.” He curled his fingers and sneered like he was doing an impression of a predatory animal, ridiculous and adorable at the same time.

“Well, she sounds fun,” Stiles quipped, sarcastic pull to his lips.

“I once have nightmare where she pull barre off wall and—” Derek stopped and began muttering in Russian, before pointing to his abdomen. “Through the stomach?”

“Impalement,” the younger skater offered, bobbing his eyebrows. “Also fun.”

Derek nodded absently, eyes staring off at nothing, haunted. Whatever it was that Kali Baboshka—or whoever the hell she was—did, it was worse than he'd tried to explain.

Erica stared at him for a long moment before turning to Stiles' eyebrows raised in a question, finger pointing at the Russian. Stiles simply shrugged, having no clue what the hell was going on with him exactly or whether he was okay. It was the first time he'd ever really seen Derek react that way. Probably looked a lot like how Stiles appeared when he thought of old competitions.

Yikes.

“So,” Erica began, locking her phone and shoving it in the pocket of her jacket. “You guys are working on your free program, right? How's that going?”

Derek snapped out of whatever dimension he'd zoned out into, head jerking towards Stiles in order to glare and sneer, something a kin to an annoyed growl coming from him.

The lone female cocked an eyebrow at that before tilting her head to the side, giving Stiles a pointed look. “What did you do this time?”

He scoffed in offense, putting a hand on his chest as he brought his legs around so they were both stretched out before him. “The hell makes you think it's my fault?”

Erica just kept the expression up and Derek rolled his eyes, muttering to himself in Russian, and Stiles made a mental note to download Duo Lingo or Babbelfish or some other app to help him learn it, if for no other reason than moments like these.

“I am not one who can not pick music,” Derek pointed out, giving Stiles a deadpan look, and Stiles just rolled his eyes right back at him.

“I can pick music, I just. Haven't. Yet.” Okay, lame comeback and the sheepish look on his face and the way he was wringing his neck wasn't helping. “But I'm gonna pick it today! Tonight. Maybe.”

Erica went wide-eyed, lips pursed and hands held up as she wordlessly noted she had nothing to do with this discussion and wanted nothing to do with it. Rolling her spine around the edge of the wall, she disappeared around the corner, for once not sticking around to see how the drama will play out.

Out the corner of his eye, Stiles noted Derek rubbing at his eyes in much the same way his father did, before looking skyward and muttering in Russian once again. Whatever. Derek could talk to whoever he wanted. It wasn't gonna help Stiles find a song any sooner.

Although really, Stiles wouldn't mind the help, because he still had no idea where to even fucking begin.

~*~*~*~*~*~

“I still can not believe you do not have music,” Derek commented, dumbfounded, as Stiles took a break. The coach was leaning on the retaining wall, staring out at nothing, shaking his head in disbelief.

Stiles rolled his eyes as he gripped onto the wall on the ice side, squirting water from his bottle into his mouth. It had been a good hour or so of practice since they'd pretty much ended that conversation and left it in the alcove, Derek barking out about how his skates couldn't do the routine for Stiles so he'd better put them on and get on the ice already. And now, out of seemingly nowhere, he was bringing it back up.

And it wasn't like Stiles wasn't already aware of that fact, because he was. He knew that the sooner he found a song, the sooner they could put his free program together, and the sooner he could practice and perfect it. It wouldn't be long until the Grand Prix Series assignments came out and he'd learn when his first competition was, so he needed to get on the ball, get it ready and over with. Because knowing his luck, he'd be drawn in the first event: Skate America.

Fuck.

Yeah, he had to get it together. There was no way he'd be able to handle completely bombing on an international stage once more, especially not now that his failures also reflected on Derek.

He closed his mouth, cheeks puffed out with water, and slowly swallowed it in three big gulps as he closed the top of his bottle. The music was a huge part of that program, that much was obvious. And with what Derek had said about the way the music seemed to be inside him and how he gained big points in the interpretation part of his score, it felt like a overwhelming task looming over him, a difficult assignment that could essentially make or break his season—and possibly even his career. He couldn't use just any old song. It had to mean something, had to fit into the theme of his season, work with the Eros program in some way.

After they both rejected that original piece, it felt like an even more difficult tasks. Last thing he wanted was to bring another dud to Derek's attention, to piss his coach off even more and have his dedication to skating be questioned. He could practically hear the heavily accented accusations that would fly his way, harsh words about how he wasn't taking things serious and Derek was wasting his time.

Fuck again.

He clutched the center of his chest, feeling it go tight at the thought of Derek quitting on him and heading back to Russia.

“You need to trust instincts,” the older man went on, and Stiles snapped out of an anxiety spiral before he even began to slide down it.

Thank. God.

Putting his bottle on the wall, he put his gloved hands on it and bent down so his upper body was parallel to the ice, stretching and also taking a breather. But he still glanced up at Derek, noting the thoughtful look on his face as he peered down at his protege, the nonchalant shrug of the shoulder he gave, the way he was absently scratching at his bearded jaw.

“It can be based on memory,” he went on over the rasp of his whiskers. “Like moment with your mother maybe. Or maybe with friend? Maybe when girl first say she love you.”

What?!” Stiles practically screamed as his head shot up, arms flailing and causing his skates to slide on the ice. He had to take a moment to recalibrate himself, nearly slipping and landing on his ass, but when he was righted once more, he turned to find Derek staring at him, almost deadpan.

The dick.

Stiles was thinking that about him way too often.

“Sorry. Forgot you not have lover before.” A small smirk played on his lips and he shrugged, innocent as hell, like it was just an honest mistake. Yet there felt like something more ulterior beneath it all and Stiles narrowed his eyes at him both in anger and as a way to try and figure out what the hell was running through Derek's mind. “It is okay. You do not need to have lover to be good skater.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles muttered out, gripping the wall with one hand while smearing the other over his face. “Your obsession with my sex life—or lack thereof really—it knows no bounds.”

Derek held his hands up and raised his shoulders, reminding Stiles of that shrugging guy emoticon thing he always saw on Twitter and Tumblr, same pull to the lips and everything. “I am just trying to help.”

Stiles snorted and rolled his eyes, moving so he was standing with a hip pressed against the wall, taking his weight as he folded his arms. “Help with what? Making me a better skater, or getting me laid?”

“Either-or,” Derek answered honestly, then leaned into Stiles' personal space. “Which one is it that you want me to help most?”

Jesus fuck, he was close, Stiles thought, gaping like a moron. That stupid cliché about getting lost in someone's eyes popped into his head and he decided there was a lot of truth to it, his mind slipping away as he stared into that green-brown-gold amalgam once again. They darted down to Stiles' lips and he was randomly glad he'd remembered to put on lip balm before hitting the ice so they weren't as chapped as they usually wound up being. This close, Stiles could smell the mint of Derek's toothpaste, feel the warmth of his breath, and suddenly he was finding it hard to make his lungs do the same damn thing.

Fuck him.

Possibly even literally.

Whoa, nope, nuh uh. Bad idea, he remembered, hating himself for that. As tempting as it was to find out if getting laid really would help with his skating—which he had the overwhelming feeling it wouldn't—there was no way it could happen. Not with Derek anyway.

Finally managing to shut his damn mouth, Stiles swallowed, practically feeling his adam's apple bob with it. “The skating,” he rasped out, damn near inaudible as the voice in his head—or maybe some other part of his body—started screaming that he was a fucking filthy liar. “Just the skating.”

Derek's eyes flicked about Stiles' face, searching, before his lips pressed into a hard line and he pulled his nodding head back. “Then go skate,” he ordered, the intimacy of the previous moment gone completely.

There'd never been a faster one-eighty in the history of everything.

Stiles was subconsciously aware that he was nodding, that he was sliding backwards away from the wall before turning to skate properly to the center of the rink. Everything in him felt shaky, off balance more than the first time he stepped onto the ice, and he had no idea what the hell he was supposed to do anymore.

Right, his routine. That godforsaken Eros program where he was supposed to seduce Derek.

He glanced over his shoulder at his coach and decided that maybe it really would be for the best that he find a free program song as soon as humanly possible. If Stiles didn't know any better, his plan with his current program was weirdly working and Derek was answering it in his own way.

Not. Fucking. Good.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Practice went about as well as could've been expected considering Derek was annoyed at Stiles' inability to land his jumps and Stiles was annoyed at Derek's being annoyed at him. He couldn't remember ever being this aggravated with Deaton, but then again, Deaton's coaching style was more zen, more compassionate assurances and gentle persuasions. Derek was a Russian stereotype of yelling and swearing, getting pissed when things didn't go right, and Stiles found himself having brief moments of almost regretting the fact that he'd agreed to be coached by him.

He knew it wasn't Derek's fault, that it was a lot of himself being unable to reach the standards Derek had set. He wondered if maybe the bar had been set to high, that maybe Derek was expecting so much because the Russian himself was capable so much. Maybe he was expecting it because of that damn video, a performance he was able to pull off because there'd been no pressure of competitions or audiences or coaches expecting absolute perfection. Now he had a five time world champ breathing down his neck, expecting a gold medal routine.

And in all honesty, Stiles was expecting it himself. He knew he was capable of more, of doing better. Derek wasn't asking for the moon, just asking Stiles to push himself further, to perform the way he was able to. Only Stiles couldn't deliver and it was frustrating him, which in turn, made him worse and frustrated Derek.

His shower went astonishingly uninterrupted, Stiles halfway expecting Derek to burst in with some revelation over what Stiles was doing wrong or a new plan in order to make him better. It surprised Stiles that it felt weird.

Dinner was strained, silent, mechanical. Stiles honestly couldn't remember what the hell he ate, if it had any flavor, if it was different from what his dad or Derek had. His dad seemed to pick up on the tension, not trying for any conversation while at the table but cornering Stiles in the kitchen during clean-up, asking if everything was okay. Stiles told him it was a bad day on the ice and his old man seemed to accept it, figuring it meant he was stressed over missed jumps or a bad spin, something like that. It had been a while since Stiles had come home to this house after a frustrating practice session, but he still knew his kid, knew that if Stiles wanted to rant, he would.

And he'd be unstoppable with it.

Back in his room, Stiles went through every CD he owned, trying to find anything that could possibly work. He scoured his music library on his phone and his laptop, checked playlists on various apps he had. He even got lost in a YouTube hole, clicking related video after related video, finding artists he'd never heard of. And while he discovered a few new tunes he enjoyed, none felt right for a skating program.

He let out a frustrated growl as he bent back in his seat, the chair leaning with him, hands covering his face as he turned it to the sky. This was why he always let Deaton handle this shit, because he personally couldn't do it. Sure, it was lazy and weak to just have someone else do all the work, he wasn't gonna deny that. But there was also a lot less pressure on him that way. If the music wasn't right, if the theme didn't work, if the program was weak, he could escape any sort of culpability by saying “I didn't pick it, I had nothing to do with any of that.”

Fucked up, but true.

Kind of made him out to be an asshole now that he thought about it, but it had never been about trying to pass the blame onto someone else. It had always been about getting away from the stress of it, from the heavy expectations of having to choose this great song and create this great program. He had enough pressure put on him to perform it perfectly. He didn't wanna have to also deal with the additional pressure of having to come up with the entire thing.

Derek seemed to thrive under that pressure though. The proverbial diamond that always emerged from it, the rough coal turned into something precious and fantastic and loved. Derek was able to come up with amazing stories, then have music created for it that he could choreograph himself. He had a hand in everything, every step of the way. It was why his programs always resonated so well with the audience, why he was able to put on such amazing performances: because part of him was in it, because he was able to connect with them on a deeper level than “I like this song”, “I'm good at this trick”, “I'm a skating god”.

Made a lot of sense. When you put so much work into something, it meant more to you. And the more meaning it had, the better you wanted to make it, to make others like it, too.

Maybe that was part of Stiles' problem. Sure, he liked his old programs enough to perform them countless times over a season, but they'd never really meant anything to him. And considering how doing things his old way—by letting his coach do all the work in picking the songs and creating the program itself—had resulted in a lot of lackluster finishes, it was clearly time to try something new.

Like finding his own music.

If only he knew how.

The Skype ringtone sounded out and he lifted his head to cock an eyebrow at his screen, wondering who the hell was calling. Scott's familiar name and icon greeted him and Stiles didn't hesitate to hit “accept”, uncaring that his hair was a mess and his shirt was baggier than ever thanks to having been stretched out when he'd gained weight. Whatever. The two of them had seen each other at their worst, faces covered in sweat and snot, shirts wrinkled and stained with ice cream or ketchup or both, pants on backwards or inside out or both. Scott wouldn't care if Stiles was slobbing it.

The screen filled it with an image from Scott's webcam, the dark-haired Spaniard smiling wide, though his brow was pulled in confusion and his head was cocked to the side, reminding Stiles of a puppy. “Stiles!” he greeted in his usual warm, excited manner, even with the puzzled tilt to the name. “What are you doing awake at this hour?

At that, Stiles frowned himself then turned to peek at his alarm clock behind him on the opposite side of the room. Sure enough, it was nearly two am, meaning it was about eleven where Scott was. Well, shit. He honestly didn't think he'd been up all that late. Time apparently did fly, especially when unable to figure out what the hell to do with one's future—in a sense at least.

Wow. He definitely had not meant to stay up this late.

Scrubbing at his face, he let out another groan before dropping his hands onto his lap with a loud smack. “Yeah, I honestly lost track of time,” he admitted, wincing a bit. “I've been trying to find a song for my free program.”

Scott's eyebrow shot up, face a mix of being both surprised and impressed, and he let out a whistle. “Wow. I did not think you would choose your own. You usually let Deaton pick.

Nodding, he scratched at his jaw. “Right, but now Derek wants me to pick my own music and theme and I have literally no clue where to start.”

You start by finding song,” Scott offered with a shrug, crooked grin on his face, as carefree as ever.

Stiles simply stared at him deadpan and wondered if this was how Derek felt when he said something so obviously dumb. “No shit.”

Scott shrugged again, still grinning.

Fool.

Shaking his head, Stiles glanced around the room, fingers drumming absently on his desk. It took everything in him to not wail about how that was a totally obvious thing to do and he had, in fact, been doing it for the past...fuck, he had no idea how many hours, but it was a lot. There was no need for Scott to suggest something Stiles had already been doing and was most likely forced to continue to do, since he was still at a loss for song ideas.

His fingers hit something plastic and he turned his head to find the case containing his old score he'd had composed. His eyebrow quirked as an idea came to him. Sure, this song hadn't worked, but it was through no fault of the creator. Now however...

“Hey, Scott?” he began, getting a hum in response to show his friend was listening. He raised his head to find Scott tapping something on his phone before setting it aside, giving his full attention to Stiles once more. “Remember that DIME student who composed that score for me?”

Sydney?” he double-checked. “Sure. I follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Of course he did. Social media fiend that he was. “Do you think she'd maybe be willing to create another song for me?” Stiles asked with a wince, features twisted in uncertainty. “I just. I feel bad that I didn't use her other one and I'd feel awkward as hell requesting another because, like, what the fuck? Ya know? Why wasn't the first one good enough? Why can't I just use that one?”

Why can't you use it?” Scott questioned, folding his arms on his table and resting his chin on them, peering up with wide brown eyes.

“It.” Stiles paused, wringing the back of his neck as he continued. “It didn't quite feel right, still doesn't. Me and Derek both agree that it doesn't really work. And I told her—Sydney, that back then when I apologized for not using it and she seemed okay with it, but I just. I kind of feel like an ass for not using it and I don't wanna, like, offend her or anything, ya know?”

Scott nodded, chin still on his arms. “I get it.” He rubbed at his lopsided jaw in thought. “I don't think she'd have a problem with it. It seem like she was fine with you not using other song, so she would be fine with new song.

Stiles nodded slowly as he scratched his forehead. It was easy to hope that was the case, to believe that you hadn't offended anyone. But composing music had been something Sydney was passionate about, something that she was hoping to be her livelihood. It was why she'd been going to a university that specialized in teaching about various musical forms, creating, learning, teaching. Telling her that her song hadn't been quite right was the same as Stiles being told his program wasn't good enough.

He'd judged her, and while she had told him it was okay, there was no telling how she truly felt inside. She could've just as easily been lying, had secretly been incredibly hurt and offended, could still be holding a grudge against him for it. It was impossible to know what someone was thinking, especially when you didn't really know the person themselves.

So now Stiles was left feeling awkward and unsure, afraid of how Sydney truly felt about him and his rejection of her song. As much as he wanted to believe that she'd understood, there was always a chance that she hadn't and getting back in touch with her would reopen that wound. Asking for another song may very well be a slap in the face and she'd be unwilling to help because...well, frankly, why should she when he'd rejected her other one? What would be so different this time?

Well, the song would be different. That was for sure. Stiles himself was different, his career was different.

It was a chance worth taking really. Worse case scenario, she'd say “no” and he was back to trolling through countless music sites trying to find something that resonated with him.

If you want, I can message her?” Scott offered, sitting up straighter, hopeful pull to his lips that make his crooked jaw even more obvious. “See if she will want to?

A relieved sigh left Stiles and he felt his shoulders slump with it, some of the weight gone from them. “Yeah, man, thanks. That'd be great.”

Scott grinned and picked up his phone, tapping away at the screen, swiping and typing, pausing every now and then to read what he'd written. Stiles recognized it from their days living together in Detroit, remembered how Scott said he was confident in speaking English, but writing it sometimes gave him trouble. He often had to stop and reread his words to make sure that he'd put the right form of whatever, that his sentence made sense and he was using English grammar rules rather than Spanish ones. It made texting with him more time consuming, but Stiles never complained, thinking it was impressive that he could speak more than one language at all.

His mind automatically switched to Derek and his own polyglot ways, refusing to ruminate on that. He was too tired, making him weak, meaning it would be all too easy to slip into further thoughts about his coach that he wasn't supposed to have, meaning it would be harder to fight all those feelings away. No, just better and safer to completely shut him out of his mind and pretend like the guy didn't exist.

Not that that was even entirely possible but he had to try nonetheless.

So,” Scott began then paused, putting his phone aside once more and turning a grin on Stiles. “How are things going with you and Derek? What's it like training with him?

Oh hell no.

Okay, so part of Stiles was dying to basically just scream about all of it, about how mind-blowing the entire thing was. After all, this was his childhood hero turned coach. He'd learned more about Derek in ten days than he had over ten years of being a fan. Not to mention the fact that he was drop dead gorgeous and had a penchant for being nude. Oh, and for busting in on Stiles in the shower.

Really, it would've been so fucking nice to talk that over with Scott and exchange “what the fuck? That's so weird!”s with him, considering how Erica would get too invasive with questions, Malia would tell him to get over it as she rolled her eyes, and Kira would go all wide-eyed and red and probably not know how to react beyond squeaking.

He wasn't about to tell his dad about it, for obvious reasons. Last thing he needed was his coach on the sidelines with a black eye because the owner of the inn he was staying at beat the shit out of him for interrupting his son's bathing. Or even the reverse, Derek fighting back and landing a right hook on his dad.

Scott would get it though. Scott wouldn't ask too many invasive questions that he wasn't prepared—or even wanted—to answer. Scott wouldn't judge him or tell him to just deal with it. Scott wouldn't get all flustered and rush away from the conversation—in much the same way Stiles originally behaved whenever Derek got too flirtatious or too naked. No, Scott would probably laugh, ask if Stiles was serious, laugh some more, and agree with how weird the whole thing was. And being European, maybe Scott would have a bit more insight into the whole “naked in public” thing.

But...

But Stiles wasn't sure if it was his place to share talk of this behavior with anyone. Not to mention that same feeling he'd had earlier about how it was just this private thing between him and Derek, these precious moments that were meant for just the two of them—however humiliating and embarrassing and annoying they were. No, he was gonna keep all that to himself.

So instead, he put on a smirk and folded his arms as he casually leaned back in his seat. “Why? Trying to scope out the competition for next season?”

Scott rolled his eyes but wore a grin of his own, laughing softly. “I can beat you even without secret information.

“Yeah, right.”

A buzzing sounded over the webcam and Scott picked up his phone, his grin growing into this lopsided, goofy, almost moony thing. If Stiles didn't know any better...

He suddenly remembered his last conversation with Scott and saw a way out, saw a way to change the conversation and get the focus off of him.

“Allison, huh?”

Okay, Stiles knew it was kind of a dick move to use Scott's crush on someone else as a way to get what he wanted, especially since Derek had more or less done the same thing. He'd used Stiles' feelings on him to convince him to do what he wanted and now Stiles was pretty much doing exactly that.

Only Stiles could readily admit it was a dick move. Derek probably thought it was an okay thing to do.

Super dick.

Not that Stiles was exactly innocent. Glass houses, those without sin, yada yada. Basically, he wasn't about to start throwing rocks anytime soon.

Scott typed up a response to her then let out a dreamy sigh, turning that dopey grin on Stiles. “Yeeeeah,” he breathed out, propping his chin in his hand before launching into a long ramble about her and how things were progressing between them. And while Stiles was stifling yawns more often than ever and about ready to pass out right there in his desk chair, he listened to every word, glad his friend was so happy. Hopefully it wouldn't be long before Stiles was just as at peace with his own life.

Chapter Text

Stiles had never skipped a practice in his entire life. Even when he was sick as hell with the flu, he'd still shown up at the rink, skates on and ready to go. Of course, Deaton had taken one look at him and had sent him home, but the missed session wasn't on purpose by Stiles.

That morning however...

Stiles had wound up Skyping Scott until nearly four, talking about Allison, about Scott's programs, about Stiles' face-off against Liam Dunbar, about whatever random shit came to their minds. It felt a lot like back in Detroit, staying up past their designated bedtime just shooting the shit, eating junk they had snuck into their apartment and watching trash TV or movies. It helped Stiles forget about the stress of finding a song and his shit practice session, made him feel light for a little while.

Until he'd finally signed off and flopped onto his bed, remembering he was gonna have to do it all over again the next day.

Or rather, in a couple hours, when his alarm would go off and he'd have to head to Ice Castle once more.

His alarm felt like the enemy, seemed louder than normal against the headache he was experiencing due to an extreme lack of sleep, and he wound up hitting the snooze without even really thinking about it. There was no way he could skate that day. He'd be worse than ever. Not to mention the fact that he refused to face Derek in his fatigued and migrained state, refused to listen to his chastisements over staying up too late and the fact he still was clueless over his free program song.

Yeah. Fuck that.

He pulled the covers over his head, not bothering to fight the weight of his eyelids as they slid down, eyes closing, mind drifting...

It felt like it had been only five minutes when his door banged open, causing him to jerk awake, head popping up. He fought his way out of his comforter in order to glance at his alarm clock, seeing that it had actually been nearly three hours, that he was supposed to have shown up at Ice Castle nearly an hour ago, that...

That Derek was gonna be pissed.

Shit.

He'd totally forgotten that part. Yeah, Derek wasn't gonna be too thrilled that Stiles still hadn't found a song or had barely slept, but he was gonna be even more pissed that his protege hadn't even shown. The drill sergeant part of him definitely wasn't gonna let that slide and Stiles just knew he was gonna get ripped a new one.

Scrubbing at his face with a hand, Stiles let out a sigh and pushed himself up to a sitting position, just as Misha jumped up on the bed. Fuck, his eyes hurt. His entire eye sockets hurt. It felt like he'd gotten punched in both of them and he had a feeling that if he looked in a mirror, the bags under them would look like actual black eyes, too. Shit.

Wearily, he turned to find Derek standing in his doorway, scowling, arms folded over his chest. Yeah, he was definitely pissed, Stiles could tell even through his bleary, half-closed eyes. Which he had every right to be. Stiles had performed like shit the day before and now was late for practice that day.

Definitely about to be torn a new one.

Derek's eyes raked over him, muscle in his jaw twitching. Then his features softened, teeth no longer grinding, eyes no longer narrowed, shoulders no longer tense. Instead, he was almost relaxed, more at ease, and Stiles was too damn tired to even try to figure out what the hell had caused the change.

“Get dressed,” Derek ordered without heat, scratching at his chest. “We take day off.” With that, he turned and left the room, closing the door behind himself.

Stiles stared at the closed wood for a long moment before letting out a belated “huh?”, scratching at his head. The first part he'd expected, the command to change. But the second part? The day off part? He didn't think Derek knew the words to be honest. After all, he would've earned a damn day off following the competition against Liam, but instead, had been on the ice that next morning, running through his routine and focusing on what he'd messed up.

Getting a day off that particular day felt random as fuck. Sure, Stiles had planned on taking one anyway, hence the ignoring his alarm, yet he'd never imagined Derek would actually condone it, much less suggest it when it was clear Stiles was still in bed.

Not that Stiles was about to complain.

Squint at him in confusion and sleepiness, sure. But complain? Not gonna happen, cap'n.

Not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, Stiles got up out of bed, Misha staring at him like he was nuts as she continued to lay on it. “Same,” he sighed out, rubbing at his eyes with the heels of his palms before switching his pajama pants for a pair of jeans. He didn't bother changing his t-shirt, figuring a day off meant lazing around the house and hopefully eating junk.

Then again, if that was the plan, Derek wouldn't have told him to get dressed.

And there was no way in hell Derek would let him eat junk.

It was borderline abuse, Stiles decided, shoving his feet into a pair of socks then his sneakers. His stomach grumbled as though in agreement and he wondered if his Pop Tarts were still hidden where he'd stashed them.

Great. Now he was craving S'mores Pop Tarts like nothing else.

Misha followed him out the room, Stiles grabbing his phone on the way. Up in the kitchen, he found Derek leaning against the counter near the fridge, mug of coffee in hand. His gloves were gone but the sleeves of his gray sweatshirt were still shoved up, the Cyrillic letters on it now recognizable as spelling out Russia. Stiles felt a moment of disappointment that he couldn't get into his secret stash but Derek simply cocked an eyebrow at him, sipping his coffee as he reached behind his back and pulled out the box of Pop Tarts.

Busted.

Goddammit.

Derek put the box on the island, the raised eyebrow now a challenge, and Stiles simply tilted his chin up in defiance as he walked over, snatching the box up and speeding to the other side of the island. It took him further away from the coffee maker, where Derek had strategically parked himself, but whatever. Pop Tarts.

A snort left the Russian before he tipped his mug up to his mouth and drained what was left. Stiles simply smirked as he pulled a pack out the large box, pleased to find none were missing. He wouldn't have put it passed Derek to have given him an empty box, the foil packs hidden somewhere else.

“You ready to go?” Derek questioned, crossing the kitchen to the sink, and Stiles slunk around the outskirts of the large square island to ensure the older man didn't try to snatch his toaster pastries out of his hand.

Stiles frowned, death grip on his pack of Pop Tarts as he opened the cabinet above the coffee maker, looking for a mug. “Go where?”

“Preserve.”

Okay, that deserved a glare and Stiles turned to do just that.

Derek rinsed his mug and put it in the dishwasher before he spun to find the daggers Stiles was shooting in his direction, rolling his eyes in response. “Not to exercise,” he assured, closing the dishwasher door then leaning back against it. “We go to enjoy nature and get air that is fresh.”

Part of Stiles thought that sounded really fucking terrible, still stuck on his idea of a heavenly day off involving sweats and Netflix. But he had to admit, it would've been nice to have a change of scenery, something other than the inside of Ice Castle, the B-n-B, and the route between the two.

Nodding, Stiles turned back to the mug cabinet, grabbing a to-go tumbler with an old English “D” on it, a souvenir from the one Tigers game he'd managed to attend back in Detroit. “Gimme five,” he requested, tilting it in Derek's direction as he closed the cabinet door with his other hand. The coach nodded and Stiles set about getting his cup of kick-in-the-ass together, wondering if maybe he should make a second. He had a feeling he was gonna need it that day.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The Preserve was blessedly unoccupied by humans as Stiles pulled his Jeep into his usual parking space. The air was already warm, heavy with the smells of pine, cedar, oak, and blossoming flowers, filled with the sounds of calling birds and the rustle of small rodents running for cover.

Both men carried water bottles, Derek with a second for Misha, her leash in hand as she led them up the familiar easy trail. There was no running or jogging, just a casual hike, allowing them both to appreciate nature rather than push their bodies. Stiles admired the changes the Preserve had undergone as the season progressed, how much more green everything was, the way the sun was brighter but more obstructed, fighting leaves and flowers in order to reach them. It was peaceful, being surrounded by nature, the song of it in his ears and the smell of it in his nose. It helped clear his mind of all the stress that had accumulated the day before and he had to admit—at least in his mind—that Derek had a point in getting out there.

At the lookout, they stopped, sitting on the bench as Misha sniffed the ground around them, tracking the scents of other animals, other people. Nothing was said as they stared at the town below, Stiles wishing he'd brought his sunglasses to combat the sun as it sat at a closer proximity than usual, but the view not any less amazing for it.

He chanced a quick peek at his coach, noting how a small smile was on Derek's face. His features were softer, more relaxed. There wasn't a hint of a scowl or a frown to be found, just the slight hint of wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, smile lines more than anything. He looked good like this, at peace, not a care in the world. Stiles felt a smile of his own form, wishing he could see this more often. It was a million times better than the view down below them.

Derek caught him looking, head turning to him with a cocked eyebrow before it smoothed out to that same relaxed smile. “I do this at home,” he stated, softly, switching his focus back to the view of the town. “When I get too in head and need break, I go to beach near St Petersburg and just look at view. Nature has magical way to help relax.”

Stiles nodded in agreement as Misha came over and sat beside him with her head on his lap. His hand automatically curved over the round of her skull, fingers lightly scratching the soft fur between her ears. It was hard to argue with what Derek said, considering the fact that Stiles felt very fucking relaxed at that moment. In all honesty, it was hard to imagine that he'd been stressed in the first place, that he'd been so worked up over something as silly as a song.

Of course he knew that feeling was fleeting and that worry would be back pretty much as soon as he returned home, but for the moment, he was gonna sit in this little bubble with Misha, Derek, and nature, letting himself forget all about it.

A hawk cried out in the distance and Derek turned to watch it swoop and circle in the air above Beacon Hills, a second joining it. Stiles absently wondered if they were the same two he'd spotted here before, how many there were, why the hell they were circling in the air like that in the first place.

“Remind me of seagulls in St Petersburg,” Derek absently commented, wistful pull to his lips as he rubbed his whiskered jaw. “For so long, I thought I would never leave city, that it would be home forever. Now?” He paused and Stiles turned to see him shrug a shoulder. He looked almost lost, uncertain, like he wasn't entirely sure of his place on Earth anymore.

Stiles felt a little guilty about it, since he was the reason Derek was in Beacon Hills. Not that he'd even explicitly asked Derek to come; the guy had just shown up on his own. Still. If Stiles was from St Petersburg, Derek wouldn't have that same look on his face, wouldn't appear so confused about where he was.

“I'm sorry,” he found himself murmuring and Derek turned to him with a small smile, shaking his head.

“I do not have regrets for leaving,” he explained, looking around at the scenery. “I just comment on how no place have ever felt like home. I never realize until now because I was always busy with traveling and practicing. My mind was busy thinking of other things that I did not think of that.” His eyes landed on Misha, smile softening into a fond one and it was clear how much he cared about his husky, how Misha was family to him.

“I think I get it,” Stiles stated, peering down to find the dog's eyes were now closed. “Detroit never felt like home either while I was there. It was just where I lived. Now that I'm here in Beacon Hills, surrounded by family, in the house I grew up in, it felts like home. It feels right.”

Derek nodded, staring out at the view as silence descended over them. Birds tweeted in the trees just behind them, calling one another. Leaves rustled as a small creature tried to find food buried in the dead that had fallen. The hawks continued to circle and swoop, crying out in echoing screeches. Misha moved away to sniff at something that had caught her attention before she curled up in a ball in the shade just behind the bench.

Peaceful.

A pensive look came across Derek's face, a deep frown as he shifted on the bench, getting comfortable. Stiles glanced at him, noting how his legs were splayed as though relaxed, yet his arms were taut where they were crossed, a tightness in his shoulders. It traveled up to the tension in his jaw and the pull of his brow, and while Stiles had no clue what Derek was thinking about, it couldn't have been good.

Oh shit, he was about to be pissed that Stiles had skipped out on practice—or at least had tried to. More than likely, he was thinking of how to chastise him, how to phrase his upset, ruminating over translations and meanings. He was probably thinking about some sort of punishment, if he should make Stiles do extra jumps or run an extra lap or stay at the rink for extra time, how far he could push the skater as a reprimand without causing serious harm.

Maybe Stiles could nip it in the bud, head it off at the pass, some cliché shit like that. If he could get out ahead of it by apologizing, maybe Derek would take it easier on him. Worth a shot, right?

“I'm sorry,” he blurted out, just as Derek opened his mouth to speak.

The coach frowned once more, head turned to his student, slightly tilted. “For what reason?”

Stiles winced, rubbing the back of his neck. “For skipping practice.”

A small laugh gusted out Derek's nose, his lips pulled up on one end as he shrugged a shoulder. “I cannot be mad at that. I have habit of not doing as told sometimes. Deucalion say I am reason his hair go gray.”

Stiles breathed out a laugh of his own at that. “My dad used to say the same to me. And I'm sure Deaton would've as well if he didn't shave his head bald all the time.”

“Maybe,” Derek agreed, seesawing his head as silence came over them once more, this time shorter. “I was thinking about what it is that you need from me.”

Okay, weird, Stiles thought, wondering if maybe it had just been translated wrong and maybe he couldn't decipher the true meaning of Derek's words as easily as he had in the past. “Whaddya mean?”

“I mean, I am coach, yes?” Derek put a hand on his chest and Stiles nodded. Relaxing once more, he put his arm across the back of the bench, fingers accidentally grazing Stiles' shoulders. “But what kind of coach do you need me to be so I can help you do best?”

Oh. Well that made sense. Hard to bring out the best in someone if you didn't know how to go about it. And since Derek was a brand new coach, it also made sense that he wasn't entirely sure what he was doing, how to figure it out for himself. Being his first student, Stiles had to help him out as much as he was being helped, had to make sure Derek was on the right path so they could both achieve the best results, those shiny gold circles they most likely both dreamed about.

“Do you need me to be father figure?”

Stiles thought of his actual dad, deciding he didn't need another one, not now that he was at home and around his dad so much. Not to mention that he was realizing in that moment that that was what Deaton had gone for, a more paternal approach to coaching with the supportive hugs and pats on the back, words of encouragement and phrases of affirmation that sounded a lot like the messages his actual dad left on his voicemail.

He shook his head, mumbling a “no” as he turned to stare out at the horizon, the mountain range that met the sky, blurred by the distance.

“Brother maybe?”

That just made Stiles think of Scott, the closest thing he had to a sibling really. And as much as he loved Scott and as competitive as they could sometimes be with one another, it wasn't what Stiles needed either. So he shook his head and let out another “no”.

“Friend?”

Another shake of the head. He had plenty of those and while he didn't mind having Derek as a friend, it wasn't the kind of coach he needed.

“Lover?"

“Jesus Christ, dude!” Stiles burst out, jerking in his seat and flailing his arms around. Unflappable Derek just stared, eyebrows raised in expectation, and Stiles flopped back against the bench, hands covering the ruddiness of his blushing cheeks. Yeah, in his fantasies, that was exactly the kind of coach he wanted Derek to be, the kind who would push him on the ice, helping him be at his best, then fucking him off it, teaching him how to perform something other than just skating.

But that was fantasy and this was reality and never the twain shall meet, or whatever.

“You keep saying shit like that and I'm gonna start to think you seriously want in my pants,” Stiles commented, dropping his hands with a huff.

Derek shrugged a shoulder and Stiles just stared, once again unable to decipher if he was serious, if he was just flirtation, if he was fucking with Stiles, if he was aware of Stiles' crush and was manipulating it to his advantage.

He liked to think Derek wasn't a big enough dick to do that last one, but really, how well did he know the man, even after being together for over a month.

Stiles sighed heavily as he looked out at the view once more, fingers tangling together on his lap. His thoughts felt just as muddle and twisted and he had a hard time trying to straighten them, trying to figure out exactly what it was he wanted, what he needed.

“I just want,” he began then paused, scratching at the top of his head before gesturing at nothing. “ I want you to be you. I've always looked up to you and now?” He turned to the older man, seeing the intent pull to his brow, the concentration on his face as he hung on to Stiles' every word. “Now you're here and I'm terrified that you're gonna see all my shortcomings and leave.”

The confession caused a lump to form in his throat and he swallowed hard against it, hating how weak he felt because of it. How exposed he felt because of it. It was the last thing he wanted to admit, that he was scared to lose Derek, that he was more neurotic and paranoid than he let on. It was one thing to be nervous before a competition, before stepping onto the ice. It was a whole other thing to be nervous over your coach up and bailing on you. You were supposed to have faith they would stick around, through good and bad, better or worse.

And it wasn't that Stiles honestly thought Derek would just leave on a whim, but that he was worried Derek would eventually become frustrated by his failures and his inability to land certain tricks, would hate the blow to his ego and his reputation, would decide that coaching wasn't for him, especially with such a terrible student, and he'd pack it in to head back to Russia. It wasn't that he believed Derek would go, but that he would drive the man away.

Derek scowled as he turned his upper body to Stiles, leaning closer, invading his personal space once more. Those multi-hued eyes were locked onto his brown ones, serious in their intent, and Stiles felt his heart speed up at the close proximity between the two of them. It wasn't quite as close as Derek had been in the past, but it was still enough to cause his breathing to become a little shakier and it would be a miracle if Derek wasn't aware of Stiles' crush, of the affect he had on his protege.

“Thought I had made it obvious,” Derek began, his voice a low rumble with his accent thickening the words, “that I am not leaving. I am here to stay. I told you, I will help you win gold and I can not do that if I am not here.”

Stiles swallowed hard again, exhaling shakily, and he could no longer keep up the eye contact. His peered down at the miniscule space between their thighs on the bench, at his trembling hands clenched together on his lap. “Yeah, I know. I guess I'm always gonna worry about it though,” he murmured, feeling ridiculous, feeling weak, feeling annoyed at himself. A new resolve came over him—no, not new. It was the same determination he'd felt before he'd taken the ice during the face-off with Liam, that refusal to let Derek go, that drive to fight for him, earn him.

Lifting his head, he let his coach see the hard look in his eyes, the steely resolve he was feeling. “But I'll make up for it by skating my best.”

A lopsided smirk came across Derek's face, eyes lit up with pride and mirth, and Stiles' heart tumbled in his chest at the sight of it, at the knowledge he'd cause it. “That is what I want,” he informed before moving his head away, sitting up straight rather than leaning over. “And I will not let you off easy, yes? It is my way of showing my love for you.”

Stiles frowned, figuring his words had somehow gotten jumbled in translation. Or maybe he'd meant a friendly sort of love, like what he himself felt for Erica, Malia, and Kira, maybe the same respect and admiration he'd felt for Deaton and the fatherly way Deaton had cared for him. He didn't mean a romantic love. After all, thanks to the two programs Derek had created, Stiles was even more aware than ever over the many different types of love that existed in the world.

“Sounds good,” Stiles agreed, small pull to his lips on one side, and Derek nodded once in affirmation before they both turned back to the view.

That same earlier peace came over him once more, knowing that he and Derek had reached some sort of accord, an agreement, that he'd gotten confirmation that Derek wasn't going anywhere. He had nothing to worry about on that end, leaving him to just focus on doing his best on the ice.

Tomorrow anyway. Today, was about relaxing and resting. Because as important as it was to be in physical shape and know his routine, it was just as important to be in good mental shape as well, to take care of his mental health as much as his physical. It was something he was only just beginning to learn and while it was a little late, it was better than not figuring it out ever.

Relaxing further, he slumped on the bench, feeling Derek's fingers tickle the back of his neck. But the coach didn't move them and Stiles didn't ask him to, relishing the touch and deciding that, just for that day, he wasn't gonna freak out or worry or look into it too deeply. He was just gonna let himself enjoy it and not try to fight anything.

That was a panic-induced spiral for another day.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Scott had gotten back to Stiles while he was out with Derek, a text containing Sydney's email and a note saying she was expecting him to get in touch, that she harbored no ill feelings toward him. Stiles wasn't entirely sure about the second part, but he emailed her nonetheless, apologizing once more for not using her previous piece and feeling sheepish and dickheaded as he asked if she minded making him another. A back and forth ensued over the next twenty minutes or so while Stiles ate lunch, discussing what he was looking for.

It helped that she happened to be a skating fan and was up to speed with what was going on in his life, but he still filled her in on the details and put a more personal spin on it, rather than the rumor-filled nonsense that was sure to have been infecting various websites. It was a whole lot easier to spill his guts to her than anyone else, since he more than likely wouldn't be talking to her much after this—if at all. Plus typing things out always felt safe in a sense, easier than face to face where his expression could be read or he could see the other person's reactions.

By the time dinner rolled around, Stiles was able to tell Derek that there was something in the works for his free program, the coach giving him a small, approving smile.

They were back to practice at Ice Castle the next morning, Stiles having gotten an actual full night's sleep and feeling more refreshed after a day off and knowing that there was a plan coming together for his free program. His short still needed work, he knew that, still not landing the quad salchow as often as he should be. He really didn't wanna think about that though, not after achieving this peaceful state of mind after the events of the day before. All of that would be shot to shit if he thought about the issues his Eros program still contained.

So as he pulled his skates out his bag, sitting in the alcove and getting ready to hit the ice, he paused, looking up at Derek. “I don't wanna work on my short today,” he stated, Derek raising an eyebrow in response. “I need a break from it. And we can't work on my free since we have no idea what it'll be so.” He put his skates to the side then sat up straight, noting the intense way Derek was watching him, waiting for him to get to the point so he can decide if he was gonna approve or argue. “I want you to teach me all your tricks.”

Both eyebrows raised at that, his face an impressed stunned sort of look, like he was surprised by the request and almost prideful that Stiles would wanna do something like that. As much as Stiles—and others—joked that Derek won gold simply by showing up, it was an obvious exaggeration. The guy had a huge arsenal of tricks he was able to pull off, highly difficult ones, giving him a higher starting score. Hell, his signature move was a quadruple flip, a skill most other skaters had barely even attempted in practice, much less during competitions. Not to mention most of them hadn't landed it.

So for Stiles to ask if he could learn to do just that, it was...well, kind of ballsy.

But he knew it was necessary, something he needed to figure out and do. He couldn't rest on the mediocre skills he had, despite Derek's insistences that his artistic prowess could make up for his lack of technical ability. No, he needed to raise both, to raise his own base score. He needed to prove to himself, to Derek, to the world, that he was worthy of Derek's attention. As much as Derek had assured him the day before that he wasn't going anywhere, Stiles didn't wanna take that chance. He wanted to prove to his coach that he was willing to do what it takes—and then some—to make the man proud of him.

Derek's eyebrows lowered to where they belonged and he shrugged a shoulder as he scratched at his jaw. “Okay. Why not?” he replied, heading over to the locker where he'd stashed his own skates when they'd first arrived that day.

Stretched out and laced up, the two got on the ice and skated laps to warm up before Derek began his lesson. He made it look so easy, so effortless, taking to the air like a bird as he spun around, landing just as gracefully. It was amazing to watch, to see it up close, taking note of the physical strength Derek clearly possessed in order to do those very things.

He demonstrated the flip a few times, Stiles copying, before they began doing them side by side, almost in perfect synchronization. Only thing was Derek landed them a lot steadier while Stiles was sometimes shaky—if he even managed to land it at all. He was still stepping out on the landing, still had to put his hand out to catch himself at times.

Shit.

Stiles wasn't entirely sure how long they practiced, how long he kept Derek on the ice with him. But eventually, the Russian skated to the side, panting as he gripped the wall and shook his head. His skin was covered in a sheen of sweat, his face and arms where his sweater sleeves had been shoved up to the elbows. His hair was limp with it, hanging about his red face, lips parted as he breathed heavily.

“I am done,” he declared, swallowing once before he grabbed his water bottle off the wall, Stiles skating over to join him for a drink of his own. “I am too tired.”

Stiles took a few gulps of his water and wiped his face off with his towel. His legs were aching in the delicious way they always did after hard work, abs throbbing from pulling them tight as he launched himself during jumps, feet beginning to burn within his skates. Yet he wasn't tired—at least not enough to actually stop—still feeling like he had more energy in his tank, more power to go on.

“I wanna keep at it,” he stated and Derek actually physically deflated at that, leaning on the wall.

Bozhe moi,” he muttered to himself and Stiles recognized it as the Russian equivalent of “oh my god”. “I have heard about your stamina, yet I am still impressed by how much you have.”

Stiles didn't really know how to reply to that, simply shrugging as he took another drink, recapping the bottle and setting it aside. He watched as Derek straightened back up, sweeping his hair back from his face with a gloved hand and turning tired eyes on his student.

“Maybe nervous eating help you last longer?” Derek speculated and Stiles felt his face heat up, partially out of anger at the obvious jab at his eating habits, partially because the more perverted part of his brain had taken the “last longer” part of Derek's statement to mean something a little dirtier.

Who knew really? Maybe Stiles really did last longer in the bedroom. His stamina had to work somewhere else other than just on the ice. Right?

“Plus you are younger,” Derek went on, drawing Stiles' attention away from anything more x-rated. “And you have not had major injury, yes?”

Stiles nodded, remembering how Derek had hurt his knee pretty bad a couple years ago, knocking him out for half a season. It had been a major blow to the world of skating and a lot of people had speculated if that would be it for him. He was older, his body was breaking down, he was reaching retirement age anyway...

He'd shut everyone up by showing up the following season and winning the Grand Prix Finals, European Championships, and Worlds all in one fell swoop. No one doubted Derek's resiliency after that.

Well, no one except maybe Derek, Stiles figured, noting the far off look in his eye and the almost disappointed tilt to his lips as he got lost in his own head, most likely thinking about the same thing Stiles was.

A sad sigh left Derek before he wiped it all away with a shrug, reaching his arms into the air to stretch. His sweater went up with him, t-shirt underneath, too, revealing...

Revealing a stripe of tan flesh from his low slung sweatpants. Revealing that trail of dark hair as it bisected his lower abdomen and disappeared into a place Stiles wanted to follow. Revealing that damn tempting line between his torso and his legs that drove Stiles mad when he saw it on a guy. Arguably the sexiest part of a man, he always thought, so naturally Derek fucking had it.

The bastard.

Stiles' fingers twitched by his sides, aching to touch it. His entire attention span had zeroed in on that measure of skin on display as Derek slightly arched his back, revealing even more. God, he was so tempted to touch, to just...to see if it was real, if he was real.

He shouldn't though. He knew he shouldn't.

But.

But his hand was already reaching out, and his fingers were curling so that only his pointer was extended, and...

He poked Derek's lower abdomen.

The Russian jerked in surprise, arms dropping as Stiles whipped his back to his own body, clutching both hands behind his back as though he could pretend he hadn't been the one to do it, despite being the only two people there. Derek scowled at him, a mix of anger and offense, one of his hands reaching down to splay over his now covered lower abdomen where he'd just been touched.

“Seemed only fair, since you poked my belly so much,” Stiles found himself saying, not even the slightest bit remorseful. For some reason, he thought of those fish in Finding Nemo and the awed way they said “He touched the butt”, even though it was the opposite side of Derek's body.

Still felt like a huge accomplishment that should've garnered that amount of awe.

Derek's scowled deepened. “You are not fair.”

Stiles frowned at that, moment of elation over, head tilting to the side. “What's that supposed to mean?”

Smearing a hand down his face, Derek began muttering to himself in Russian and Stiles was honestly pissed at himself for not having downloaded any sort of translator app or learn to speak Russian type of deal. Would've come in handy an awful fucking lot.

Huffing, Derek put his hands on his hips, that scowl still there, and Stiles got the distinct impression he'd fucked up somehow. Although he had no clue how. He didn't think poking Derek in the belly was that grave an offense, not when Derek had done that very thing to him so many times. Not to mention it didn't seem like Derek was all that hung up on personal space, the way he constantly seemed to be getting into Stiles'. No, it was something else, something Stiles wasn't aware of, and he opened his mouth to ask what it was, only to be cut off.

“If you want to skate, then skate. I am done.” His voice was harsh, gruff, as hard as the expression on his face. Yeah, he was pissed about something, that much was obvious as he skated to the open gate and brushed the ice shavings off his blades before stepping off it. Stiles was left standing there, wondering if he was ever gonna figure out his coach and getting the distinct feeling that no, he wasn't.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The agitation was gone from Derek by the time they left for home and as much as Stiles wanted to ask about it, he kept quiet. Chances were bringing it up would just piss Derek off all over again, would turn him back into that moody asshole, and Stiles didn't wanna risk having to deal with it once more. Better to just remain confused about the whole thing and hope like hell it didn't happen again.

The next two days passed by uneventfully, slowly. Stiles was intensely aware that the Grand Prix assignments were due to come out in about two weeks, meaning his future was about to be determined in about two weeks. He was gonna know where he was competing, who he was competing against. Part of him was hoping for a rematch against Liam so they could find out for certain who was better, but the other part of him was terrified of that idea, remembering how beautifully Liam had performed his program and knowing he was only gonna get better at it with more practice time under his belt. He would wipe the ice with Stiles and not even blink.

It was that very thought that was keeping Stiles up once more, laying awake in bed and staring at the ceiling. He knew he needed the sleep, knew he needed to just...shut his eyes and drift off, only it wasn't that simple, not with the way his brain was buzzing, ruminating on the thought of how there was a very good chance he'll be competing against Liam again. Even if through some miracle they managed to avoid each other during the series, they'd meet up once again during the finals. There was no way Liam wasn't making the top six and Stiles was too damn determined to not make it either.

It was just too bad determination wasn't all it took to make it that far.

With a swear, he got up from his bed and headed over to his laptop, wondering if Scott was online and possibly up for a Skype chat. His brain tried to figure out the time difference, pretty sure it was nine hours, and since it was one am there, it had to be ten there. He was bound to be awake, right?

Awake, sure. Online? Questionable.

Definitely not, Stiles found out, staring at the gray offline circle next to Scott's name. Damn.

A heavy sigh left him and he knew he should just shut down the laptop and hit the sack, give sleep another shot. Only he couldn't. Instead, he hovered over the Twitter button on his bookmarks toolbar before sliding away, deciding it was best to not fuck with Pandora's Box. Facebook was pointless, he wasn't all that big on Tumblr. He could always check his email.

Oh shit, he hadn't done that since that morning.

It was probably full of junk but he was procrastinating sleep, as tired as he was. He just felt too lazy to actually get up and head back to bed. It was too much work.

Clearing out his email was way too easy though, unable to buy tickets to whatever Mets game the team was advertising a giveaway for, not interested in the latest release by whatever author, surprised that he was subscribed to a band's newsletter when he hadn't listened to them in years. Okay, unsubscribing to that would kill a minute or two. That helped.

Near the bottom of the junk he'd received that day was an email from Sydney and his heart began pounding in his chest as he took in the subject line.

'Here it is!'

There was only one “it” they had discussed. It had to be the song he'd asked her to create for him.

His chest grew tight and his skin tingled in anticipation as he stared at that bold subject. His hand was trembling as he moved his finger along the mousepad so the cursor hovered over it, clicking on it, opening it up. The email itself wasn't too long, a few lines saying she was sorry it took so long—which Stiles didn't fully understand, since it had only taken her about three days, and that felt incredibly impressive to his non-music expert self—and that she hoped he liked it. She also said it was done for free and then she wished him luck for the upcoming season, XOXO Sydney.

Wow. That was way nicer of her than he deserved, Stiles thought, as he clicked to download the attached song. He'd dissed her years ago and now she was giving him a new song for no charge? Didn't quite feel right. Of course he was gonna give her credit in all the competition programs and shout her out on various social medias, and maybe she'd get some business that way. Or maybe it was just to add to her resume as she went looking for a job. No matter the case, it didn't feel like enough.

Especially not when he opened the song to play it.

It began with melodic piano, a fast rhythm played on one hand, with a steady beat played on the other at a lower key. Soon the two melodies met, entangling, joining together to create a whole new one. A cymbal shimmered, strings accompanying and playing something soft, almost sorrowful. The piano swooped as the strings began to soar, climbing, near frenetic, before the strings died away.

Then it was just the piano by itself. One note, two notes, repeating, before the original melody began, this time much slower. It felt lonely, cold, before it picked up the pace once again, both hands striking the keys in a fast rhythm that seemed to climb across the board. It was heavier now, strings joining in with their swooping gait. The two instruments intertwined once more, cymbals crashing and shimmering along with them, a gentle drum beat struck with brushes rather than sticks.

It ended with the cymbals shimmering once more, the strings playing an elongated note, the piano drawing to a close with the same melody.

Stiles stared at the screen, gaped really, floored, as the song started over once more. The animation from his music player swirled before him, icy blue spirals with white lightning crossing it to the rhythm of the piano. God but he could relate to the song, despite there being no words. But it was him, more him than anything he'd ever felt or heard before.

It was his drive at the beginning of his career, how he started out on his own, trying to make something of himself. It was him joined by Deaton, by Scott, training in Detroit, making the Senior Division and competing at an international level.

Then it was his failure. It was him alone, isolating himself, coming home with his tail tucked between his legs and giving it all up. The lone piano playing the sad, slow beat.

Then it picked up pace once more, Derek coming to Beacon Hills, reigniting that love for skating and the passion he once had. The strings joined in, Stiles' climbing back into competition, realizing he wasn't as alone as he'd always thought he'd been.

He was stronger now, had fought to beat Liam, had fought to earn Derek as a coach, had fought to no longer be so intimidated by his own failures. And this song showed it.

It was perfect.

It was playing again and Stiles was leaning back in his chair with his hands clasped over his closed eyes, getting lost in it. He could picture himself glided across the ice to it, his arms swooping, his legs spinning, his whole body soaring. This was it. This was the song for his free program.

He couldn't wait to share it with Derek.

So he didn't.

As the song drew to a close once more, he stopped it completely, snatching up his earbuds as he grabbed up his laptop. He probably should've just waited until the morning, but he didn't think he could possibly stand it. The excitement felt palpable, dancing across his skin, drumming in his heart, and he knew there was definitely no way he could sleep like this. He was too anxious to get Derek's thoughts on it.

As his coach.

Of course.

Stiles raced up the basement stairs, momentarily confused by the darkness in the kitchen before remembering it was the middle of the night. The other two occupants of the house were more than likely fast asleep, hence all the lights being off, save for the one at the backdoor, yellow glow streaming through the window.

Right. He should probably turn around and head back to his room.

Nah.

Stiles headed through the dining and living rooms to the stairs, taking them two at a time in his haste. The lights in the upper hallway were off as well, nothing coming from under any doors either. And okay, yeah, Stiles was hit once again with the thought that he should leave and wait until morning, but then he thought about all the times Derek had burst in uninvited to his room or his fucking showers. Eye for eye, right?

Leaves the whole world blind, sure, but. There was a reason the saying “revenge is sweet” exists and Derek was long overdue for some payback.

Curling the fingers of his free hand into a fist, Stiles pounded the base of it against the wall and called out a “Der?” loud enough to be heard through the wood but not wake up his dad on the next floor.

He heard the rattling of dog tags as Misha raised her head and let out a halfhearted “boof”, followed by Derek letting out a groan of his own, muttering in Russian.

Perfect. If he got yelled at, he can just blame it on not knowing the language and believing that Derek had been inviting him in.

Stiles tried the knob, finding it unlocked, then pushed the door open. “Yo, Der,” he greeted, belatedly realizing he'd used that nickname twice in as many minutes when he'd never called the man that ever before.

Not that he thought Derek was awake enough to realize, leaning over to switch on the bedside lamp with a click. The light was soft, warm, casting a glow over most of the room, and Stiles took it all in, noticing the differences from when he'd burst in on the man that first day.

The furniture was all in the same place, the bed to the left, dresser to the right, desk by the door. But there was...well, stuff everywhere. A laptop was on the desk, notebooks piled on either side of them, pens scattered about. The dresser was covered in framed photos that Stiles was dying to take a closer look at, curious about who Derek deemed important enough to keep out in the open like that, figuring it was probably his family—which only just made him even more curious, he could admit. There was dirty clothes scattered about, a couple books stacked on the nightstand, Russian flag hung across the window in both patriotism and a way to block out sunlight—even though Derek's room was on the west facing side of the house.

Misha's bed was on the floor at the base of Derek's and Stiles watched as she got up and circled around, laying with a huff, curled up. Stiles was pretty sure she was giving him the stink eye at having been woken up and he sent her an apologetic wave he knew she didn't understand, those mismatched eyes closing on him.

“Stiles?” came Derek's groggy voice and the mentioned male finally chanced a look at him. The Russian was sitting up, bleary eyed and blinking rapidly at him with a furrowed brow. His hand was scratching at his head, hair mussed up and tangled adorably, beard surprisingly neat. His sheet had fallen down onto his lap, revealing his bare upper body, and Stiles suddenly realized that more than likely, the guy slept naked.

He did pretty much everything else naked. Why not this?

Whatever. Didn't matter. Stiles was on a mission and he had to...

Had to...

Had to see if Derek's chest hair was as soft as it looked in the warmth of lamplight.

No, that wasn't it. Goddammit. Focus, focus, focus.

His left hand felt heavy and he suddenly remembered the laptop he was holding, the earbuds gripped in his right fist. Oh right, the song.

“Sydney sent me the song!” he exclaimed, voice dangerously close to not being one suitable for inside. Closing the door behind himself, he rushed over to the bed and climbed on top as Derek drew his legs close to himself. Stiles sat with his own folded in front of him, handing over the earbuds as he settled his laptop in the nest he'd made with his long limbs and plugged the buds into the jack.

“You wake me up for song?” Derek grumbled, scowling at the tangled cord as he unraveled it and Stiles just nodded vehemently.

“Figured it was about time I burst in your room for something.”

“You did it first,” Derek pointed out, leveling his glare at his student as he put the buds in his ears.

Stiles just rolled his eyes then hit play, eyes shooting up to Derek to make sure the volume was okay.

The Russian didn't cringe or appear as though he was straining to hear, so he figured it had to be alright. Derek rubbed at his tired eyes as the music began, hands dropping to his lap as he squinted in concentration and, more than likely, sleepiness. Stiles watched him, fascinated, watched the way his eyes seemed to roam around the room as though seeing the music, as though seeing how one could move across the ice to the music. His head tilted to the left, head bobbing as the piano was plucked, tilted the other way as the strings swooped and soared.

Stiles wiggled his toes under the laptop, chewing on the side of his thumb, anxious as fuck. He needed Derek to like this song. He already felt a connection to it, already believed with all his heart and soul that this was The One, the perfect score to accompany the “Eros” one, that would make his programs successful and his theme work. He was ready to fight to the death for it, arguments already forming in his head in order to defend it, knowing that no matter what Derek said, he was gonna debate it all.

A small smile came across Derek's lips and Stiles knew he wouldn't have to argue or debate or fight. Derek was sold on it, too.

When the song ended, Stiles made sure to hit stop as Derek popped the buds out of his ears. That soft smile he would sometimes through Stiles' way was on his face, encouraging, and he nodded.

“Send me song and we work on composition tomorrow.”

Stiles fist-pumped, shaking the mattress, and Derek let out a small laugh, grinning. It was as though being tired had caused his walls to break down, had caused him to forget to keep them up, and he seemed...gentle this way, more human. It was another side to Derek that Stiles had never seen, that he doubted anyone had seen really.

The pounding in his heart that had been caused by the elation over this song being a winner soon shifted into something else and he knew he had to leave before he did something dumb. Like invite himself into Derek's bed, like curl up around him and fall asleep, like kiss him.

Nope.

He closed his laptop and took the earbuds back from his coach, winding them up around his fingers. “I'll do that,” he promised, shooting a shaky smile that matched the erratic beating of his heart and the tingle on his skin. He got up off the bed and headed for the door, hearing Derek shuffled around as he laid down once more.

“Night, Der,” he mumbled out, peering over his shoulder to find the other man propped up on one elbow, green eyes already locked onto him, that soft smile still there, framed by his beard.

Dobroy nochi, Stiles,” he murmured back, a slight roll to the “R”, the words hitting Stiles right in the middle of the chest.

It was amazing how those two words seemed to affect him just as much—if not more—than a full song created just for him.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Derek did as he said, making a list of components for Stiles' free program while they were at Ice Castle. He jotted them all down as a list in his notebook, about a third of the way through it, and the younger skater wondered what filled the other pages, if it was an old notebook he used for all his choreography or one he'd gotten when he offered to be Stiles' coach.

He doubted he'd ever get to see it, deciding it didn't matter. Derek would copy the important parts onto other sheets he'd rip out for Stiles to keep a hold of: his own list of components, a mapped out drawing of the choreography with notes about where each trick would take place, reminders of various things he had to do during the performance. As it was, Stiles was able to see the page Derek was currently writing on, notebook resting on the wall as the coach stood on one side, the skater on the iced one.

Derek frowned at the page, tapping his pen by the penultimate component where he'd written a “3T”, code for a triple loop. There were eight jumps in all, including two combinations, and only one quad, something that had Stiles himself scowling at. He knew they'd talked it over and that Derek wanted to do less, but one wasn't gonna cut it, especially when his short program had two.

Or at least had two when Stiles decided not to listen to Derek and just do what he wanted.

“I think we should put other quad as last jump,” Derek stated, putting an X over the “3T” on his list.

Both of Stiles' eyebrows raised at that. “As the last jump? Really?” It was pretty unheard of, considering how tired and fatigued skaters were by the end of their program, especially during the free program. It was something not even Derek had done before and now he was telling Stiles to do it.

Kind of weird in all honesty.

Derek shrugged a shoulder as he wrote a “4T” next to the crossed out words. “Someone with stamina like you? You can handle it.” He lifted his head to give Stiles a reassuring smirk and Stiles felt his cheeks grow hot and his chest swell with the praise.

“Alright. Let's do it then.”

The routine was mapped out, discussed between the two of them, Derek demonstrating it first like he had with the “Eros” program. Then it was Stiles' turn on the ice, no longer ridiculed for not knowing the basics or being told to go work on them by himself before he can skate. Derek stood off to the side, calling out reminders of when to leave a spin, when to try a jump, what motions his hands were supposed to be doing.

It was strange really. It felt like home, being on the ice, moving around, learning a new program as his coach called out to him. It felt the same, yet brand new, a new voice calling to him, new coach, new motivation. He had a lot of ground to make up, a lot of work to do in order to regain what he'd lost after his epic failures the year before. It was gonna be a comeback season after all, and those were never easy, especially when there was also a chance it would be his last one.

He knew he didn't have a whole lot of time left to skate, knew a skater's career wasn't a long one. Soon his body would break down on him, give out. He was extremely lucky he hadn't suffered any major injuries so far, but the tide had to turn at some point. But while he was still able to skate, while he was still able to be on the ice, he was gonna take advantage of it, of having Derek around. After all, they'd only really discussed Derek coaching him until the GPF. Who the hell knew what was gonna happen after that?

So for the time being, he was gonna work like hell to get where he needed to be, to win the way he was so desperate to win, and to make the most of his time with Derek.

In a few months, their season together was gonna begin. And Stiles couldn't fucking wait.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

His free program was starting to come together really well. Granted some of his tricks were a little sloppy on the landings, but that was why Stiles practiced so much.

Of course he still had off days so he didn't succumb to fatigue or injury, but on those days, he still worked out some, keeping himself loose and in shape. He also helped around the house with various chores, as did Derek, who'd begun volunteering for different tasks in a bid to make himself useful. Stiles' dad frequently pointed out that it wasn't necessary, since he was still, in all technicality, a paying guest, but Stiles told him it was pretty much impossible to talk Derek out of something once he'd set his mind to it. He ignored how his dad said that sounded like someone he knew, giving his son a pointed look.

Time seemed to stretch and contract all at once, speeding by and slowing down in ways Stiles couldn't keep up with. Some days he'd wake up unable to believe it was only a Tuesday, when it felt as though it was a Friday. Other days he'd wake up unable to believe it was already Thursday and the GPF assignments were coming out so soon. He distracted his mind from all of it by practicing and trying to convince Derek he should be allowed to do more quads, only to fall on them during practice.

Self sabotage was something Stiles had always excelled at.

Soon, the day of the Grand Prix assignments had arrived, that fateful late May afternoon. Derek had decided they'd forgo practice that day, knowing there was no way either one of them would be able to focus entirely on what they were supposed to be focused on. Meaning Stiles was gonna flub his jumps more than ever and would cause more harm than good to his program—if not an all-out injury that would put him out of commission for who knew how long. Instead, they went for another hike in the Preserve, taking one of the tougher trails, exercising muscles and getting fresh air to clear their minds.

It was only partially successful.

The entirety of their group was at the B-n-B for the announcement, not just Stiles, Derek, and his dad, but Malia, her dad, Kira, her parents, Erica, Boyd, and the Reyeses. It had somehow turned into a full-on party in the backyard, complete with a large sheet cake Malia had picked up, explaining that it was either for celebration or consolation. Derek had scowled at her for the second part and Stiles had grumbled a sarcastic thanks for her vote of confidence.

His dad worked the grill, burgers and hot dogs all around, even for Stiles. Noshiko brought a potato salad that he avoided, the Reyeses some potato chips that he indulged in, and Mr Tate provided the coleslaw that he side-eyed. If he was granted the opportunity to have a cheat day, he was gonna take advantage by shoving as much crap down his mouth as possible, including helping himself to the cookies he knew were stashed in the pantry behind a couple boxes of white rice.

Granted he was more sneaky and devious with that part but what his coach didn't know...

All the more grown up adults sat at one picnic table, Reyeses and Mr Tate on one side, the Noshikos and eldest Stilinski on the other. The younger ones took up the second picnic table, Malia, Kira, and Stiles on the bench closest to the parents, Derek, Erica, and Boyd on the other. Misha lay stretched out under their table, her head wedged between Derek's feet and Stiles', halfway dozing, halfway waiting for something to fall. Stiles was just grateful she chose to be with them and not by her dad, who had a habit of slipping her stuff from his plate every now and then.

Was a good thing she ran with Stiles and Derek so often, otherwise she would've put on a lotta weight since moving to Beacon Hills with her owner.

Countless conversations swirled in the air, people talking over one another. It was a pleasant atmosphere, laughter flowing freely, everyone seeming to be in a good mood. But every time Stiles thought about why they were there, why they were gathered, it caused his heart rate to skyrocket and his stomach to churn. Chances were good that he was in. He hadn't blown it that badly the previous season. But there was always that small chance that he wasn't in, not to mention a bigger chance that he was given tough assignments.

Like facing Liam twice.

He highly doubted that would happen. There was no way the ISU would let that happen. If through some luck of the draw it did, they would just rearrange things.

Facing Liam once was a big enough nightmare. He wouldn't be able to stand it more than three times this season. Anything more and he'd retire on the spot.

But Liam wasn't the only threat out there. Isaac Lahey was still a fantastic skater, Scott was showing a lot of progress, Brett Talbot had earned the bronze at World's the precious season, which just happened to be his senior debut. Not to mention countless other skaters he knew of: Jackson Whittemore, Jordan Parrish, Danny Mahealani. Competition from here on out was only gonna get tougher. He may have somehow managed to beat Liam at the face-off, but these guys? It was a whole other ballgame.

Right, yeah, he needed to stop thinking about all that because he ended up having a panic attack right there in front of everyone. Bad enough his appetite was gone and the one time he was allowed burgers, he couldn't even finish his second one.

He put the remaining half on his paper plate, swiping at his face with a disposable napkin before grabbing his bottled water and taking a big gulp. Derek raised an eyebrow from his position across the table, chewing his food slower as those green eyes flicked all over his student. Stiles shook his head at him in a vain attempt to convince him he was okay, that there was nothing wrong, but there was no chance of successfully lying to him. No, Derek's staring and analyzing him meant he knew all of Stiles' tells already, could figure out for himself when he was full of shit.

Like that moment.

Holding his own burger carefully, pinkies raised as always, Derek locked eyes with him, expression hard and unrelenting. “You will be fine,” he assured in the same gruff manner he always did. “You will be picked and skate wonderful and dominate Grand Prix Series.”

Stiles turned his head away, unable to handle the intense look in Derek's gaze or the firm belief in those words. Fuck, he wanted to, more than anything. He wanted to think he'd breeze through the GPS and get to the Finals with no issues and take home gold but...but he honestly wasn't sure if he was capable of that. Sure, he'd made the GPF the year before, but things were gonna be harder now and there was no guarantees for a skater like him that he'd make a return to the finals.

A skater like Derek however...

“Explain to me how this whole thing works?”

Mr Tate's voice drew Stiles' attention and he twisted around to find the man already turned in his own seat, looking right at them. A forkful of potato salad was near his mouth and he waved it around some as he continued.

“To me, the Grand Prix Series is Formula One Racing so you guys talking about it being skating is confusing me.” With that, he shoved the forkful in his mouth and shrugged.

Malia covered her face with her hands and groaned, more than likely pretending that wasn't her dad. Sucked for her when everyone else there knew it was, in fact, him. Stiles gave her a conciliatory nudge in her side with his elbow before turning to Derek, raising his eyebrows as though asking if he wanted to take it. Derek just gestured at him with his burger before pointedly taking a bite of it, answer enough.

Right. Okay then.

“The Grand Prix Series is a series of six events worldwide.” Okay, apparently Malia was taking it, her hands dropping and head snapping around to scowl at her dad. “The top skaters from the previous season each compete in two events and the top six with the highest scores go on to the Grand Prix Finals.” She flicked a hand in her dad's direction. “I've explained this to you, like, every year for the past ten years.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow. Ten years had been about how long he'd been competing at the professional level. He was glad to see Malia had cared enough to try to drag her dad into it, as little as he seemed to be into it.

Still. Thought that counted.

Her dad slowly nodded once, light bulb seeming to be going off behind his eyes.

“And we're waiting to find out which two events Stiles will be competing in, correct?” Noshiko spoke up from the other side of the table, leaning over so she could peer between Mr Tate and Mrs Reyes in order to see the “Kids Table”.

A chorus of “yes”s sounded out from the younger group, except from Derek, who gave a resounding “no”. Stiles turned to glare at him, finding him staring down at his phone in his hand. Meaning Derek had said “no” because they weren't waiting anymore. It had been announced.

“Oh shit,” he muttered to himself, turning fully in his seat to look at his coach. His hands were trembling and he reached down to grip the edge of the bench, using it to ground himself. Because his heart was taking off without him, his stomach was doing countless quad flips of its own, and his skin was tingling so bad, Stiles was surprised no one could see it buzzing right off of him. This was it. This was his fate right there on that tiny phone screen.

Misha perked up from under the table, shoving her head between his legs, and Stiles put a hand on it, absently stroking the soft fur as he breathed shakily between parted lips. Derek glanced up to take in the sight of his obviously distressed protege, foot sliding forward to nudge against the side of Stiles', soft smile pulling up one side of his lips.

“It is not bad,” he assured in a low voice before speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. “Stiles will compete in third event, Cup of China in Beijing, and sixth event, Rostelecom Cup in Moscow.”

There was a pause before cheers rang out, loud whoops and clapping. Kira jumped up and threw a shredded napkin like confetti, the pieces slowly floating down around him before landing on his head, shoulders, and food. Erica burst out of her own seat and ran around the table in order to hug him from behind, planting a big wet one on her cheek. His dad followed suit by clapping him on the shoulder and giving it a squeeze, his own way of saying he was proud, before asking Ken if he'd help grab some brews from the kitchen. Various congratulatory phrases rained down and Stiles just sat there stunned, staring at his coach, the whole thing feeling surreal as fuck.

He didn't have this last year, or the year before that, or even the year before that. Sure, he and Scott had always had their own lowkey celebrations, sending out for pizza and a twelve pack of their own. But he'd never had a party like this—as impromptu and thrown together as it was. He'd never been surrounded by so many people who were proud, who were just as excited as he was.

And he'd never had someone like Derek, who was currently giving him a grin and a nod, eyes lit up.

Holy shit.

He felt like he was floating and he wasn't sure if it was from the announcement or the way Derek was looking at him, but it all added up to him feeling lighter than air.

So, of course, he was dragged back down to Earth by Malia yelling out a “wait a minute, wait a minute!

The cheers and yells died down, his dad and Ken paused halfway across the yard, and everyone turned their attention to Malia as she now stood, her hands spread out on either side of her.

“Nationals last year.”

That had the color draining from Stiles' face and the smile completely disappearing from it. It even took the air out of Kira, who slowly sank back down on the bench, and Erica, whose shoulders sagged and face morphed into a pout. The adults all looked at one another in confusion, Derek scowled, and Boyd munched on a potato chip, the crunch filling the almost silence of the afternoon.

“Someone's gonna have to explain to me what that has to do with anything,” Stiles' dad stated, walking back over and rubbing at his forehead. “I know he didn't do all that great, but how does that affect this season?”

“Puttin' it nicely,” Stiles muttered, wishing the beer had already been grabbed.

Then again, drinking away his problems and upset was a terrible idea. Last thing he needed to do was have a black out of that afternoon and a killer hangover during practice the next day. Really, that had been the one saving grace of his last drunken stupor, that all he had to do while he felt like death was fly home.

Not all that fun, but more bearable than trying to jump and spin on ice.

“I completely bombed,” he corrected, grabbing his water bottle as a poor substitute for something more mind-numbing. “And because of that I have to make up the points, otherwise I can't compete in the finals. Meaning I have to compete in another qualifying event before the Grand Prix Series.”

A cacophony of comments sounded out, confirmations that they understood, assurances that it'll be no problem, he can do it easily. Stiles didn't pay any of it that much attention, more focused on Derek scrolling through his phone, most likely for whatever event Stiles will have to compete in now.

Great.

It wasn't that he minded competing. It was what his entire career was based around really. And if he hated the competition aspect of the whole thing, he could've just become a coach of sorts himself, a skating instructor, or just get a job at Ice Castle. But no, he loved pushing himself to be better and going against others in a battle to come out on top, the joy of being on that podium. It was something that had been reignited by that face-off with Liam and he wasn't about to let it go anytime soon. No, if anything, he was more determined to experience it again, greedy for it really.

He just didn't expect it to be happening so soon. He figured he'd had until early November to get his routines down perfect. Now he had until September.

Shit.

“Hey, it won't be so bad,” Malia assured him, pushing at his shoulder and rocking him. He turned his head to frown up at her in confusion, not understanding the nonchalant shrug of her shoulders. “A national competition will be nothing compared to the Rostelcom Cup.”

His frown deepened. The Cup of China was up first for him, so really, her trying to calm him should've mentioned that competition. A national match-up would be nothing compared to his first GPS competition that would happen after.

Until it hit him. The Rostelecom Cup was in Moscow. As in Derek's home town in his home country.

Oh.

Malia nodded as his face morphed to show he got it now, that he was absolutely fucked. “Yep. The entire skating world is gonna hate your guts for stealing Derek off the ice.”

“Malia!” Kira smacked her girlfriend's arm and glared at her in disapproval as Stiles turned to find a scowl on Derek's face. But before anything could be said between the two of them, Stiles' dad came over and put his hands on both of his son's shoulders, squeezing, jostling him.

“I'm proud of you, Kid,” he commented and Stiles couldn't help the smile that came on his face. “We'll all be rooting for you come September.”

The smile grew and he glanced around the backyard, taking in all the familiar faces, the joyous looks on them as they all talked and laughed and shared. Even Derek seemed lighter than he had moments before, nodding at his student in agreement with the older Stilinski's words, lips not quite holding the smile he was trying to wear.

It wasn't gonna be easy, Stiles knew that for damn sure, and he was already dreading the Rostelecom Cup and the Russian crowd, but with his friends and family having his back and Derek by his side, he was ready for it.

At least he hoped like hell he was.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Liam was drafted for the Rostelecom Cup. Because of fucking course he was.

Stiles wanted to be pissed at the unfairness of it all, looking at the assignments and seeing the names of skaters he wouldn't be facing in any competition during the Series and wondering why Liam couldn't be one of them. Not to mention the bullshit at how Liam was gonna get to compete on his home turf, while Stiles had to travel to the other side of the world for his.

Unfair bullshit. Bullshit unfairness.

But that was life, he figured. Besides, might as well get their rematch over with before the finals. Just sucked it couldn't have been during Skate America, or even Skate Canada, where the crowd would be more in his favor.

Whatever.

Now that the deadline for his first competition was closer than they'd originally thought, he and Derek were practicing harder, longer. The coach himself was even on the ice with Stiles, skating the routine side-by-side with him, tricks and all. And gradually, as they went along, Stiles was matching him, element for element. His jumps weren't as shaky, he wasn't stepping out of them as often—unless it was any quad that wasn't a toe loop. But still, the two moved in perfect synchronization on the ice, something that often didn't hit Stiles until they paused after each run through, taking a break at the side of the ice.

Stiles analyzed his coach as Derek took a long drink of water, his brown eyes roaming that blade nose and the sharp cheekbones and the way his whiskers were longer than they had been when he first arrived at the B-n-B, a full-on beard now. It was weird how Stiles had never really noticed that change until that moment, how he never really noticed a lot of changes, the way they just gradually happened and things shifted so slightly and kept shifting so slightly that it wasn't until he looked back that he noticed how different things were.

Like the fact that Derek... Derek was sharing the ice with him.

Of course, it was entirely different and Stiles was probably misinterpreting the situation, but he couldn't help thinking of that time in the kitchen when Derek was making kotletki and telling Stiles about how he would never do a partner skate because he didn't trust anyone enough to share the ice. Yet there he was, doing just that with Stiles.

Okay, yeah, definitely misinterpreting. He'd done the same with Liam while teaching his routine.

Except it was only while teaching. It wasn't while practicing, when the program had been memorized. This felt...different. And Stiles was clueless about whether he was imagining it out of sheer hope, or if it was real.

Derek caught him staring, raising an eyebrow over his water bottle before lowering it, cheeks wide with water. Swallowing, he tilted his head to the side and turned to Stiles, the question already written on his face without his lips having to move. “What?”

Stiles shook his head, not entirely sure that he wanted to share what he was thinking, out of fear it would sound dumb or that Derek would realize what was going on and would stop. Stiles knew he had no shot of competing against Derek—at least not this season—no shot of ever skating against or with him, so this was the closest he would ever come to sharing the ice with him once again. The last thing he wanted to do was jeopardize that by making Derek aware of what was going on and causing him to quit out of discomfort or upset or something like that. No, he was gonna take advantage of it.

Probably a little messed up. After all, there was a chance it caused Derek great discomfort, yet he was forcing it on the guy.

Well, not forcing it, since it was Derek's choice and he was doing it without any provocation from Stiles, any requesting or cajoling or coercing. A lot like how he showed up in the first place, really.

Still, just because he wasn't aware that he was doing it, didn't mean he was okay with it. And for Stiles to not point it out to him, yeah, it was messed up. He for damn sure wouldn't want anyone holding anything like that back from him.

And yet...

He was a selfish asshole, he knew he was. And this just further proved it.

“Nothing,” he mumbled, shrugging as he popped the top on his bottle closed. “Just making sure you weren't getting tired, old man.” He smirked in a challenge, putting his bottle on the wall, and delighting in the scowl that formed on Derek's face.

“I am not old man,” he objected, popping his own cap shut. “I am only four years more than you. Soon you will be this age, yes?”

Stiles just continued to smirk as he slowly began skating backwards. “Yeah, and you'll still be four years older. Old man.”

Derek's glare intensified and he put his drink aside. “I will show you who is old man,” he declared, reaching out to grab at Stiles. Only the younger skater spun away and sped off, laughing as he built up speed. Derek grumbled in Russian before taking off after him, chasing him around the ice.

The two raced around the rink, Stiles managing to dodge the other skater, spinning away when he was reached for, taking advantage of his fast footwork in order to stay ahead of Derek. He wasn't sure how long the chase lasted but eventually, Derek grew tired, drawing to a stop on one end of the rink. He grabbed the wall with one hand as he doubled over, panting, seeming to be done. Stiles didn't stop until he was on the opposite end, a little out of breath himself, but feeling like he could keep going. He grinned wide, laughing between pants, standing with his hands on his hips and his head held high.

“Not an old man, huh?!” he called across the ice, chuckling.

Derek raised his head enough to glare. “I will get you back!”

“Yeah, sure, okay,” Stiles replied sarcastically, heart pounding in his chest as he wondered exactly how and when Derek would get him back. And why the hell he hadn't just let Derek catch him in the first place.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Derek's revenge came later that evening, as he burst in on Stiles' shower, whipping the curtain back to scare the shit out of him before punching him in the arm and walking away. Despite the ache in his left bicep, Stiles decided it was worth it. Wasn't every day you outskated a world champion.

~*~*~*~*~*~

It turned out that Satomi Ito was a former seamstress who now volunteered for her local community theater program helping make the costumes. It was a random fact that had apparently come up during a phone conversation Noshiko had with her, the two having kept in touch after Satomi had returned home. And when the elderly woman had found out that Stiles was back skating and getting ready to compete, she volunteered to make his outfits.

Stiles wound up calling her to explain that he already had one for his short program and while he appreciated the offer, he couldn't afford it. Satomi argued she was doing it of her own volition and for free, that the only payment would be an excuse to come back to Beacon Hills to visit. He couldn't really say “no” to that, so in the middle of June, she returned.

He felt a little guilty at having her stay with them when the weather was hitting the eighties, but as Noshiko explained to him, there was no talking her out of it. It was better to just humor an old woman than debate with her.

Which was how, on her first night there, Stiles found himself sitting at the table on Satomi's right, she at the head with Derek on her left, watching video of Stiles' free program on his laptop that was recorded by Derek's phone earlier that afternoon. She'd wanted to see it for herself, to hear the song, in order to get a feel for what she was making, what they wanted. Stiles explained to her how the song—how the program really, was based on his career as a skater, giving her an abridged version of all he'd been through: learning to skate thanks to his mom, moving to Detroit at fifteen, failing on the world stage and returning home, how he'd contemplated retiring until Derek showed and became his coach.

Satomi was silent throughout the whole thing, lips pursed in a way that maximized the wrinkles around them, almond eyes narrowed in focus. She nodded at times though, proving she was paying attention, and when the video was over, she slid the laptop back before slipping a sketchbook out of her oversized quilted purse, a pencil stuck inside the spiral binding.

“So, what is it that you want exactly?” she prompted, opening the sketchbook and flipping through until she found a blank page. Stiles tried to check out her other designs but was only really able to catch a couple glimpses, just quick enough peeks to be able to tell what it was supposed to be. A dress, a suit, another dress, a smaller dress most likely for a young girl, a second suit. He also caught sight of a couple outfits that looked like they could've been dance costumes.

Those made him feel a little better, reassured him more in Satomi's skills. Not that her ability to design female costumes would affect him really. Although he liked to think making a man's costume would be easier, but he was sure Project Runway begged to differ.

“Honestly?” he began, tapping the side of his thumb on the tabletop. “What I want is to wear sweats and a hoodie during my routine.”

Derek glowered across the table and kicked his foot, making Stiles hiss in pain and glare right back.

“She asked what I wanted,” he pointed out, gesturing to Satomi, who was currently staring at him with an eyebrow slightly quirked in question. “And it's supposed to be based on me, right?”

“Your career and life as skater, not life as slob college student,” Derek argued. Funsucker as always.

“I would suggest creating a false hoodie-type top,” Satomi interjected, clearly trying to play Peacemaker. “But I have a feeling the hood would whip around and hit you in the face during spins.”

Stiles didn't bother pointed out that that was exactly what would happen and that it had, in fact, happened to him during practice. Derek had a habit of rubbing at his forehead when it did, having given up on trying to get Stiles to quit wearing them on the ice. Stiles kept wearing them because they were comfy and to prove a point.

What point he was trying to prove, he wasn't sure. Maybe he was just being difficult to be difficult, because he enjoyed fucking with Derek.

Served him right for all the interrupted showers.

Scratching at his temple, Stiles seriously thought about what he wanted in a costume. The hoodie thing was halfway a joke, halfway a dream costume, but he knew it was unrealistic to hope for it or to think it'd work. So instead, he gave real consideration to what he wanted and what would work. He thought about his costumes of the past, what he liked and what he didn't, what was within regulations and rules. Men had to wear pants, no tights, sleeveless wasn't allowed but they could give the illusion of it, no inappropriate body parts showing.

Not that he even wanted to show any.

No, he was gonna keep it classy, keep it simple but with just enough flash to be noticed, to stand out, to make it memorable. Well, memorable for the right reasons, and not because he looked like a fucking weirdo on the ice. Last thing he wanted was to go down in the wrong kind of history, like Bjork in that swan dress at the Oscars.

Yikes.

Simple. Simple was key. It was almost impossible to go wrong that way.

“Pants, tuxedo type jacket, simple shirt underneath,” Stiles answered and Satomi began making notes in a list along the side of the page. “Not like a buttondown or anything. Collarless, more like a t-shirt almost. Maybe some rhinestones or sequins or something on the jacket, some sort of embellishment, but not all over where I look like a disco ball on the ice.”

Satomi nodded, adding to her list as he spoke. “What about just a pattern on the jacket? That we can make out of embellishments?” She sketched out what she meant, pencil scratching against the nice paper. The jacket went down to about his crotch, but split for easy movement, and had a deep plunge with a single button that would hit right around his midsection. She then drew a diamond shape on the back of the jacket that wrapped around to the front, the two corners meeting at the button, then over the main part, drew a swirled pattern that somewhat resembled a fleur-de-lis of sorts, fancy filigree harkening back to another time period yet still feeling fresh and relevent.

“We can do a mix of bigger gems like on your other costume, as well as smaller rhinestones and sequins. Then on the body suit for underneath.” Satomi paused as she drew a low dip in the wide opening of the jacket, like a plunging v-neck that would be sure to show off his collarbone and part of his chest. “We can add more sequins here for added sparkle. Maybe some on the shoulders of the jacket scattered, just enough to catch the lights shining down.”

Stiles' head bobbed along in agreement with everything she suggested, liking the idea of it all. It was just enough to catch the light and make him shine, just as she'd said, just enough to be on par with other skater's costumes, yet enough of himself to not be too over the top and flamboyant. It was...

“Perfect.”

Satomi smiled brightly, dark eyes sparkling as she wrapped up her rough sketch. “What colors are you thinking?”

“Blue and orange,” he answered on automatic. Easy choice really.

“No,” Derek spoke up, finally joining in the conversation. “Blue and orange do not go on ice.”

Wrong.

Stiles glared at him. “There's no rule saying blue and orange do not go on ice,” he argued, mimicking Derek's accent as he threw the Russian's words back at him.

Derek just glared back, not intimidated. As usual. “I make it rule now.”

Of fucking course he was, Stiles thought as he rolled his eyes, throwing his arms in the air in exasperation then slumping back in his chair. Satomi smirked like she was trying to hide how amused she was, almond shaped eyes flicking back and forth between the two men. Good to see someone was enjoy this tete-a-tete, cause Stiles sure as hell wasn't.

“How about just blue?” she suggested, peacekeeping once more. “At least for the jacket. Black pants, black for this section.” She tapped the diamond shaped she'd drawn.

“Depends which shade of blue,” Derek commented, not shooting it down entirely, which was a good start.

And honestly, blue and black sounded like a good combination, too. “A deep blue, like royal or navy,” he decided as he looked at the sketch, turning to his coach. “Like the shade of my team jacket.”

Derek's eyes flicked around as he thought about it, lips turning down in an impressed pout as he nodded. “I like that color.” Those green-brown-gold orbs landed on Stiles' brown ones, locking on. “It looks good on you.”

Stiles felt his face heat up and he folded his arms over his chest as he shrank in on himself. “Thanks,” he mumbled, his mom's voice in his head reminding him about his manners, which then had him switching his focus to Satomi. “And thank you for doing this. Are you sure it's no trouble?”

Scribbling a few more notes, Satomi shook her head and turned kind eyes on him. She put her pencil on top of her sketchbook before reaching over and gripping his bicep in a grandmotherly way. “None at all. In fact, I'm really looking forward to it.”

Relief had his arms relaxing, unfolding, shoulders falling so they were no longer hunched up by his ears. He shot her a grateful smile as he covered her hand with his, rubbing the back of it. He noted how Derek frowned, his eyes zeroed in on the action, but no comment was made about it by either male. Stiles figured if it was a serious issue, then Derek would bring it up later. Besides, it wasn't like no one had ever touched Stiles in a familial sort of manner while in Derek's presence. There was no reason for him to react that way.

Satomi began talking about fabrics and how she'd have to take him with her when she purchased them so she could be sure they were right and Stiles tried his best to listen, to agree, to understand. But Derek was on his mind, on the periphery of his vision, and Stiles wondered if he'd ever understand the man.

He was pulled away when Satomi said she needed to take measurements and it would be easier to do so in her room. Derek excused himself to take Misha for a run and Stiles stared after him as he left, hating his confusion and how weird it felt to not be hanging around the guy.

~*~*~*~*~*~

There was nowhere to purchase fabric in Beacon Hills, so the next day was a road trip to Beacon City, an hour's drive away. Noshiko drove, Satomi in the front seat, with Stiles sitting in the back alongside Derek, who had insisted on coming along for decision making and paying, despite Satomi's arguments to the contrary. Stiles didn't bother objecting, knowing there was no point as well as figuring it would be easiest. After all, the guy was more than likely a millionaire. If he wanted to throw a couple hundred or so on fabric and embellishments, let him.

Stiles did, however, put his foot down during progress check-ins. Every evening after dinner, he would head to Satomi's room to see how things were going—even helping to glue on rhinestones on one memorable occasion, managing to get them stuck to himself more than the fabric and ending up fired from the job. And every evening, Derek would want to join, would want to find out how things were going. Stiles knew it was his way of micro-managing and refused to let the guy come, convincing him that not only did Stiles have the whole thing under control, but it would be even better to see the end result at once, rather than all the steps in between. Derek bought the argument, giving them peace and allowing Satomi to do what she did without any undue pressure from the Russian drill sergeant.

In the meantime, practices happened as normal, his first one after fabric shopping with Satomi finding Stiles on the ice in a tee that had large orange and blue stripes, just to prove a point. Five days a week were spent at Ice Castle, with specially designed work-outs on the other two. He also still spent three evenings a week at the ballet studio with Kira and Malia, keeping up his flexibility and shooting the shit. As days passed and his practices became more intense, he was beginning to realize that his time was becoming even more limited, that being able to hang out with his friends was gonna be more difficult. He needed to take advantage of the moments he had left and be around them as much as possible.

He also spent non-skating related time with Derek. The two teamed up to give Misha a bath on a hot afternoon and Stiles took Derek on his first expedition to a Wal-Mart so they could buy her a plastic kiddie pool in order to cool herself down. Stiles also introduced him to Star Wars, since the older man had tragically never seen any of them all the way through, and Derek introduced Stiles to some of his favorite Russian movies. He was able to find most on Netflix, but one he had to stream illegally on his laptop—something else he taught Derek—the two of them crammed together on the couch so they could both watch the smaller screen easily.

Hanging out together also seemed to humanize Derek in Stiles' eyes. He always knew that he was idolizing Derek and seeing him through fanboy-tinted sunglasses, that he'd put the coach on a God Status pedestal that was impossible to stay on. But rather than his illusions being smashed or the skater failing to live up to expectations, Stiles' view of him changed. Sure, he was still something of a god on the ice, nothing was ever gonna change that considering the medals and the records and the whole thing. But Stiles was learning that there was more to the guy than his scores or how much gold had been hung around his neck. He was...he was a guy, a regular guy. Fallible, imperfect, flawed just like every other human on the planet.

Stiles had kinda hoped it would cause his feelings to dissipate, that his crush had been formed based on the illusion of what Stiles believed Derek to be and as that illusion was diminished, so was the crush. But no. If anything, it shifted, changed, morphed into genuine feelings for a man rather than a legend and a celeb star of his fantasies. He wasn't just admiring Derek for his skills on the ice and the accolades attached to his name. He was admiring him for the parental relationship he had with his dog and the well-mannered behavior he exhibited with Stiles' dad and Noshiko, the way he seemed to notice everything around him and how he paid attention to the point where he noticed all of Stiles' little quirks and habits after only a couple months together.

Derek wasn't perfect, but it made him all the better for it. At least in Stiles' eyes.

Still, he kept it all to himself, not wanting to damage the relationship they had on ice and the friendship they were building off it.

It might've been harder than the comeback he was planning to undergo. But both would be worth the hard work in the end.

At least that's what he hoped.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Satomi turned out to be a whiz and a miracle worker with costumes and sewing.

A fully detailed drawing—complete with colors and fabric ideas—had been rendered before they'd even gone fabric shopping the day after their discussion over costume ideas. She'd had a pattern drawn up and cut by the following evening. Two days after that, she had an outfit for him to try on. Granted there was no inner-lining and the hems weren't done, but it was clothing and it was pretty bang on.

It was a little over a week after her arrival when Stiles found himself in Room Four—which had been temporarily designated her sewing workshop—staring at a finished product. It was even better than it had been drawn up. The jacket was a deep blue, lined in black, with a notched lapel. The diamond shape was done in a similar mesh to that on his Eros costume, with a plum filigree design along his spine, separate shapes in emerald green on the sides and around to the front. Tiny rhinestones were scattered along the shoulders as well as the filigree shapes, catching the overhead light in the room. And the front panels were sewn in such a way that they intertwined, rather than any sort of button keeping the jacket closed.

The body suit was sleeveless and in the same plum as the filigree on the back of the jacket. The v-neck collar dipped down low, ending just above that one patch of chest hair he had between his pecs. And it fit perfectly, was loose enough to move around in and as he fit it over his underwear—because no way in hell was he wearing a dancer's belt in front of an elderly woman—he enjoyed the way the fabric felt against his skin. Satiny, smooth, thin enough so his skin could breath and not sweat too badly under the lights and while exercising.

“This feels really good,” he commented, flexing his arms around, then his legs.

Satomi smiled from her position a few feet away by the whole body mannequin she'd brought with her—which he was curious about but also didn't wanna know how the hell that had went on a plane. The jacket was in her hands as she picked something off it, lint or stray strand of glue, possibly fur considering there was a dog in the house.

The last one seemed the most likely. Sure, Misha hadn't been allowed in the room since it was cleaned before Satomi's arrival, but fur didn't care. It managed to go everywhere no matter what.

“I'm glad to hear,” she replied, pride in her voice. “It looks good on you, too.”

Stiles' smile grew as he picked up the pants from where they lay on the bed, feeling the smooth fabric on them, too. They were styled almost like a tuxedo pant, the fabric having a slight stretch to it, some sort of satin-spandex blend he figured. He hadn't paid that much attention and after a while of watching the items being keyed into the cash register, he'd had to look away. It was way too much money.

Then again, considering how nice the Eros costume felt and Derek's other outfits looked, it was obvious the guy didn't settle for anything and only bought the best.

And further considering how much money he'd surely made over the years and how highly ranked he was, the number of sponsors he had and advertisements he was a part of, he could afford to live lavishly like that.

He shoved the thought away as he slipped the pants on, sliding them up. The elastic waistband was well concealed, the top still looking like pants, meaning it followed the rules of no tights for men. And the stirrups on the bottom were the perfect shade of black so they'd blend into his skates. Every detail they'd discussed with her had been followed to a T.

“These are great, too,” he praised, twisting and turning around his waist. “Look, feel, the whole thing.”

“Thank you. I'm sure Derek will agree.”

Stiles turned to find her smirking with an eyebrow raised pointedly and...okay, apparently he was missing something, because there was no way she was implying...

No, of course she wasn't. Because it wasn't like that between he and Derek, never will be. It just couldn't happen really. And even if it could, it still wouldn't, because Derek didn't see him like that.

Oh fuck, his one-sided crush was more obvious than he thought.

Unless he was completely misinterpreting the whole thing and seeing an implication that wasn't even there. Wouldn't be the first time he'd done so.

He cleared his throat as he felt his cheeks heat up, head ducking as he pretended to adjust the waist of his pants around his actual waist. “Always gotta hope the coach likes the costume, right?” he quipped, chuckling with a lightness he didn't really feel.

Satomi gave him a look that said he wasn't fooling her and he felt like he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar by his actual grandmother. He could practically feel the wooden spoon smacking the back of his knuckles. “And you also have to hope that the boyfriend likes the outfit, too. Right?”

Okay, yeah, apparently he hadn't misinterpreted her look.

But Satomi sure as shit had misinterpreted how things were between him and Derek.

His eyes went wide at her words and he began sweeping his arms back and forth in front of him, tags on his wrist jangling with the motion. “Whoa! No, no, no. No, like, it's not like that between us,” he clarified, shaking his head vehemently. “He's my coach, and only my coach. That's all it is and all it will be.”

She stared at him with her eyes narrowed and he felt ridiculously exposed, his face heating up under the scrutiny of her gaze. She was way too wise, he decided, knew way too much, saw way too much. He almost felt like she should've been the wise woman of legends, living on top of a mountain in East Asia somewhere, dispensing guidance and advice for those strong and brave enough to make it to the summit.

“Hmm,” she hummed in thought, head nodding once slowly. “Well, take it from someone who's been around a long time and has seen a lot of people in love—”

“We're not in love,” he interrupted and she gave him a chastising look.

“There is definitely something there though,” Satomi stated in such a way that silently told him that if he were to argue, she'd tear his face off—possibly quite literally. “Whether you see it or act on it, that's up to you.” She shrugged helplessly, playing innocent as she handed him the jacket.

Stiles simply nodded, not entirely sure how to respond or react or anything. Old age had clearly messed with her mind and there was a good chance she was senile, meaning she was seeing shit that wasn't there. But he wasn't gonna argue with her or be rude to a guest, especially one that had just made him such a fantastic costume—for free, too. So he just let it slide, ignoring it, knowing it wasn't true.

Unfortunately.

Clearing his throat, he put the jacket on, slipping his arms in the sleeves and pulling it over his head. The tails were loose, coming about halfway over his ass, the front covering the top of his pants perfectly. He once again twisted, stretched, rolled his shoulders, and even practiced a few of his arm movements. Next he kicked his legs out, stretched them, moved into an arabesque position with his leg curled up behind him.

Perfect movement, no restrictions, and nothing moved or fell off. He even jumped up and down a couple times, spinning in the air, grinning when no rhinestones or crystals were spotted on the floor.

“Perfect,” he commented, lifting his head to grin at Satomi. “Thank you so much. I can't even put it into words how awesome this is or how much I appreciate it.”

“You're very welcome,” she replied, smiling with pride shining in her eyes.

Unable to help it, he stepped over and hugged her tight, kissing her cheek in gratitude. “Thank you,” he repeated low as a knock sounded out on the door.

“Can I enter?” Derek's accented voice came through, muffled, and Stiles pulled back from the hug, Satomi squeezing both his upper arms before calling out a “yes”.

Stiles turned at the sound of the door opening, spreading his arms in display and smiling at his coach. “Whatcha think?”

The door closed behind him to keep Misha—and her fur—away from the costume, Derek's eyes made like an elevator, roaming up and down Stiles. The skater had to fight to stay put, to not cringe or shy away from the scrutiny but...

But he swore he could feel Derek's eyes on his body, could feel that gaze penetrating him. His skin felt hot all over, heart pounding in his chest, and Stiles had the oddest thought over how glad he was that Derek couldn't hear it. It was embarrassing enough that he was sure his face was ruddy and splotchy once more.

Derek held up a single finger and made a circle, the international sign for “turn around”, and Stiles did as he was told, pausing so Derek could take in the detail of the back of the jacket. He looked down at his hands, glad they weren't shaking when his entire being felt like it was trembling. God, he was nervous. He wanted Derek to like the costume. He was loving it, could see himself skating in it, knowing it would match perfectly with the song, with the program, with the theme of everything he was doing this season.

Perfect.

Silence had descended over the room, the AC noisily cutting on and humming as it blew air into the room. Stiles hoped it was the heat of the summer that was making his skin feel so hot, hoped the cool air blasting would help him out.

Hoped Derek would fucking say something because he was pretty sure he'd been turned around for a while.

Chancing it, he peeked over his shoulder, finding Derek completely zoned out, staring unseeing at fuck knew what. Stiles' brow furrowed as he turned around bodily, leveling his confused expression on his coach. Right, the guy had turned into an astronaut—well, cosmonaut really, Russian and all—and was clearly lost somewhere in outer space.

Not really a good sign, or a bad one. Just...nothingness.

“Der?”

The coach jerked as though snapped out of something, head twitching and shoulders jumping. Yep. Totally had been out in space somewhere.

Derek rambled in Russian and Stiles just stared at him with a raised eyebrow, lips pursed in confusion. The older man went wide eyed momentarily before closing them and rubbing at his forehead, muttering to himself in his native tongue. “Sorry, I go to outer space,” he tried explaining, the words lost in translation but the meaning understood. “And then I apologize in Russian. Sorry for that, too.” Dropping his hand, he put both on his hips and Stiles got momentarily distracted by the realization that he was wearing those godforsaken gray sweatpants.

The asshole.

“Were you lost in thought about how much you like the costume?” Stiles tried, eyebrows raised hopefully, a weak grin on his face. Out the corner of his eye, he noted how Satomi was smirking as she glanced back and forth between the two of them and he pointedly ignored her, refused to let his brain bring up her earlier insinuations.

She hadn't been right then and she wasn't right at that moment either.

Derek cleared his throat, scratching at his jaw before gesturing to Stiles with that same hand. “You look stunning.”

Holy shit.

Stiles' face went up in flames at that point, the compliment making his head spin. Because Derek didn't really dish them out that often, so when he did, they were completely genuine, from the heart, and entirely serious.

Holy. Shit.

Sure, it wasn't meant as a compliment to him, Stiles knew that. It was the costume, the aura, the way he felt in it that had his confidence raised about fifty points so he was standing up straighter and his shoulders weren't slumped like they usually were. And confidence was sexy, every cliché said so. Meaning that Derek's words hadn't really been aimed at him, but how he was looking and behaving at that moment.

And the costume.

But still. Damn, it felt good to be praised by someone as hot as Derek.

“There is just one problem.”

Because of fucking course there was.

Stiles' shoulders slumped a little, the air leaving him as he began worrying over what the hell could possibly be wrong. In his opinion, the costume was perfect. But Derek being Derek, he was gonna find something that needed improving.

Although really, that never completely satisfied attitude was probably what drove him in his career, what made him so successful, what kept him going.

Or at least had, until this season.

“We need to do something with hair.”

Oh. Right.

On automatic, Stiles' hand reached up and began fingering through his bangs as they lay against his forehead. Part of him had once considered doing something with it after he'd grown it out, but he'd eventually decided “fuck it” and left it be. But now that he was about to be on televised competitions, he probably should do something with it.

“Shit,” he breathed out, scowling. He had no clue in all honesty. It was why he'd had the buzzcut for so long. No need to worry about styling it, brushing it, no worrying about cowlicks or bad hair days. Just get up and go. He could spend that extra time freaking out about something else.

“I have idea, yes?” Derek spoke up, sounding more like he was unsure if his suggestion was welcome than anything else. Stiles nodded and dropped his hand, sucking in his breath as Derek approached. Fuck, the guy moved like a predator sometimes, those hips rolling, that dark gaze in his eyes, brow in a hard line as he zeroed in on his target.

And Stiles had a big ass bullseye painted on him.

Derek stopped mere inches away and Stiles flashed back to the time on the ice during practice, when Derek asked him to unleash his eros. His face became a blazing inferno and he wanted to be engulfed, incinerated, turned to ashes by this man.

Large hands brushed over his hair, brushing it back and holding it as they settled on top of his head. Derek's eyes were still narrowed in concentration, but the corner of his lips were pulled up in that secret smile he wore for Stiles only, apparently pleased with what he'd done. Stiles couldn't think, could barely breathe, his scalp tingling where Derek's hands rested.

No wonder cats purred or dogs lolled their tongues. It felt damn good.

“You know movie with girls in high school?” Derek murmured and Stiles frowned because that could describe about a hundred fucking movies. “Lindsay Lohan try to destroy the blonde one?”

Mean Girls?” he questioned, wondering what the hell that had to do with anything.

Derek's smile grew and he nodded. “Yes. Mean Girls. Your hair look sexy pushed back. You should do that.”

“Okay,” he agreed easily, brown eyes locked onto the male form before him. If a perfect specimen like that was telling him that he looked sexy a certain way, he'd be dumb not to do it.

The coach nodded once, deciding things were settled, dropping his hands and his gaze from the top of Stiles' head, a frown forming as his eyes reached about Stiles' lips or so.

Not what anyone wanted really, to see their crush stare at their mouth in disapproval. Made all the happy fuzzies that'd been brought about go the way of the dodo.

“Your lips are chapped,” Derek commented, slipping a hand into his pocket and pulling out a small tub of balm. Because he was ridiculous enough to carry it in his fucking sweats. “You need to take care of self on ice.” Twisting open the top, he smoothed his finger over it then held the digit up, bringing it to Stiles' lips.

Which...

What?

Stiles leaned back, eyes wide, wondering what the fuck was... just what the fuck?

Derek gave him a deadpan look. “My finger already have it. Just let me do it. I see better.”

Okay, logic, yeah. But... still...

Really, he just needed to let Derek do it. After all, how many more opportunities would he have for something like this? None. Better to take advantage like he was with everything else lately.

Straightening up, he let out a breath as he shrugged with a nonchalance he didn't feel, parting his lips and letting them go slack. Derek didn't miss a beat, applying the balm with care, first the bottom then the top. Once again, Stiles' skin tingled where Derek made contact and he had to fight the urge not to let his tongue dart out and get a quick taste.

It wasn't until Derek had closed the balm and put it back in his pocket, stating that he was gonna find his old hair gel for Stiles and leaving the room, that Stiles realized they hadn't been alone during that moment. That Satomi had caught the whole thing. That once again, his brain had zeroed down into just the two of them.

Shit.

Smearing a hand down his face, he let out a deep breath and turned to her with a grimace, knowing what was coming. And sure enough, she was giving him a pointed look, eyebrow raised and lips twisted into a smirk.

“It's not like that,” he repeated and she held her hands up in innocence, turning away to fuss over something that didn't need fussing, and Stiles knew he wasn't fooling either one of them.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Southwestern Pacific Regional Invitational
Anaheim, California

Time became elastic again. It stretched and contracted, sped by and slowed down, all at once. Most of it was spent with Derek, practicing, exercising, discussing, bonding. The two of them grew even closer and with that, Derek opened up more. Stiles now knew that his older sister was an English teacher at a high school in Moscow and spoke the language better than him because of it, that his younger one was a sculptor and painter who'd done a few shows, that his mom was now a figure skating coach in Russia, working with young kids and teaching them the basics of performing, which was how he and Laura had learned to skate in the first place. Stiles also learned that no matter where Derek was in the world, he always called his mom on Sunday nights and tried to email each of his sisters just as often. Apparently all three were hoping that with Derek taking this sabbatical and potentially retiring, he was heading back home to live there permanently, since he was usually only able to visit for short periods of time.

Stiles was able to relate, telling Derek that very thing, about how he'd been away from home for years himself. He also talked about his mom more, about how the B-n-B had been her parents' and not once had she ever been upset or resented following in their footsteps, taking over the business when she was old enough. And not once had Stiles been pressured to follow either, to give up skating to run it himself.

Granted he'd gotten a business degree so he could do that very thing, but even back when he'd been thinking about retiring and had told his dad as much, he'd never been asked or told to help out with running the B-n-B.

The hours at the rink and the ballet studio added up, time melting away at varying speeds, and soon, Stiles found himself checking in to the Hilton in Anaheim, across the road from the convention center where the competition would be taking place over the next week.

Shit.

He let Derek handle all of it, booking the room, checking in, the whole thing, mind too loud to be able to deal with any of it. Which meant he had no idea of the accommodation arrangements until they were upstairs, opening their room door and he realized...

Their room.

Oh. Oh shit.

Okay, he knew that at some point this would happen. And really, he should've seen it coming when he'd been booked for this competition back in May. And yet he'd totally spaced on it, had totally forgotten.

Although really, a good majority of him had honestly thought it wouldn't happen. After all, he and Deaton usually had separate rooms when traveling, so he'd just figured the same would happen with him and Derek.

They never stayed at a damn Hilton right enough. He was kind of surprised the USFSA had booked such a classy joint. The fact that it was across the street from the venue explained it though.

The room was damn nice, walls a warm beige and carpet a golden brown. Two queen sized beds were on the left with a dark wood nightstand in between, fresh white linens covering them. On the right was a tan armchair, a low bureau with a flatscreen TV on top, and a desk with rolling chair tucked underneath. At the end of the room was a glass sliding door that led to a private balcony, the tan curtains open to reveal the night sky beyond. The bathroom was to the left upon entry, a couple suitcase stands on the outside wall facing the beds, and they put their main luggage on top. The duffel containing Stiles costumes and equipment went on top of the armchair, ready to go for day one of the competition the next day.

Stiles flopped back onto the bed furthest from the front door, clasped hands covering his eyes. He wasn't entirely sure how he was supposed to be able to handle this shit. It was hard enough keeping his hands to himself on a regular basis, when constantly spending time with the man. But he always had an escape, a way to get away. His bedroom was a sanctuary, a place to hide out and collect himself. Derek may have had a habit of inviting himself into the bathroom while Stiles showered, but he was respectful enough to not just burst on in Stiles' room—unless he'd somehow slept through his alarm and needed the wake-up call.

But for all his invasiveness, Derek still knew when to back off and give space. Sharing a room though, there wasn't a whole lotta space.

At least there were two beds.

“Nervous?”

Stiles lifted his hands in order to raise an eyebrow at Derek, watching as the coach moved between the two beds, sitting down on the unoccupied one. “Not yet,” he admitted, hands now on his forehead. “But in all honesty, I'm trying not to think about the competition. I'm too tired for an anxiety spiral.” A self-deprecating smile formed on his face and he turned his head to aim it at Derek, taking note of the frown he was wearing.

“You have nothing to be nervous for. You will do well. This event is no pressure.”

A snort left Stiles before he could even really think about it and he ran a hand over his face. He wasn't in the mood to get into it, not with Derek and not at that moment. He had plenty to be worried and anxious about, but he refused to think about it, knowing that once he started, it was nearly impossible to stop. The last thing he wanted was to spend the next day and a half freaking the fuck out, the nerves building and building and building until he was too fucked up to even go on the ice.

It would be the Grand Prix Finals all over ago.

His comeback would be over before it began.

Yeah, he wasn't gonna let that happen. Not yet anyway.

Derek smacked his own thighs before standing up once more. “I am going to shower. I smell like plane. Gross.” Stepping over, he ruffled Stiles' hair then gave it a gentle shove. “No nerves. Find something bad to watch on TV, yes?”

Stiles glared up at him. “I don't watch anything bad.”

The coach raised a single eyebrow in disagreement then bobbed both in dismissal. “There are no friends in taste and color.”

He just stared. Derek just shrugged. Stiles rubbed at his face. “Yeah, that must be another Russian one.” Stiles had heard several over the past couple months. His favorite had to be “If you call yourself a milk-mushroom, then get into the basket”. He was pretty sure it was the same as “put your money where your mouth is”.

He was pretty sure this one was something along the lines of “no accounting for taste”, but Derek could kiss his ass. He happened to enjoy that show about the teenage werewolf. Not Stiles' fault Derek wasn't into it.

Derek walked around the end of his bed and to his suitcase, grabbing his toiletry bag and carrying it to the bathroom. He closed the door over but didn't latch it—much less lock it—and it wasn't until Stiles heard the shower cut on that he realized...Derek slept nude.

He covered his face with both hands and groaned loud and long, more anxious about having to deal with that than the competition.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Stiles had gotten worked up over the wrong thing. He'd managed to avoid seeing a naked Derek by heading to the bathroom right after he'd left it, keeping his eyes focused more on the furniture so he didn't run into anything than his naked coach. By the time he was done, Derek was under the covers of his bed, fully engrossed on the episode of Law & Order Stiles had left the TV on. It had led to a discussion over how Stiles had actually wanted to be a cop as a kid before he'd gotten into skating, conversation turning to stories of their childhoods.

He also managed to avoid the sight the next morning when the alarm went off by trying to suffocate himself with his pillow as Derek went to the bathroom to relieve himself.

Then he didn't have to worry about trying to avoid the sight because the reality of his day was beginning to sink in. He was competing that day, for the first time since the disastrous turn at Nationals. Fuck. Yeah, who cared about what Derek was or wasn't wearing when he was starting to slide the all-too familiar Anxiety Spiral.

Fun, fun, fun.

Stiles forced himself to eat, knowing he'd need the nutrition for later, even though his stomach was rioting and protesting and wondering what the fuck he was doing adding more to it that would just get churned about. Today was definitely gonna be an interesting one, he knew that for a damn fact.

Really though, he'd been prepared for the nerves, the anxiety, the freaking out. He'd expected it. The way Derek seemed to watch how his hands trembled as he ate, as he gathered his things, as he went about getting ready, it seemed like he had no clue what was going on or what to do about it.

Shit.

~*~*~*~*~*~

There was an anteroom set aside for the media and more than likely would be used for press conferences after the competition was over. For the moment though, it was set-up differently. To one side, were rows of chairs, although no one was using them for sitting. The mass of photographers and cameramen and journalists were all gathered there, cordoned off by metal posts with black ropes in between. The other half of the large room consisted of a table with three officials seated behind it, a large fishbowl in front of them with four slips of paper inside.

Stiles was seated on the opposite end from the officials, beside the three other skaters in the men's Senior Division. At twenty-three, he was the oldest by a long shot, two of the others only seventeen, the third clocking in at eighteen. It felt like a whole other world when compared to the Grand Prix Finals and it made him even more aware of how limited his time was as a skater. The next generation of big names in the skating business were already lined up, ready to take over when any one of them stepped aside—or fell aside, really.

He glanced at Derek, standing to the side with the other coaches, dressed in another nice suit, looking way more dapper than the others who were all dressed in varying track suits. Derek noticed him staring and shot him an affirming nod, wordlessly telling him to relax, that it would all be okay.

Easy for him to say—or not say—Stiles thought, gnawing the side of his thumb, turning away to stare at the way his leg was bouncing. He wasn't about to compete, he wasn't about to take the first step on a comeback season, he wasn't about to draw a number for his skating order.

Fuck, he hated this.

Yeah, okay, it was the best non-biased way to do it. Luck of the draw, no prejudice, no favoritism. Fair and balanced or whatever.

He still hated it though. His luck was the worst and these things never went his way.

“Stilinski, Stiles!” one of the officials called and his eyes went wide in surprise, hand dropping to his lap. Should've known he'd be first to pick. He'd gone the furthest out of all these kids, a couple of whom he was pretty sure were about to compete at the senior level for the first time.

Still...

His shitty luck.

He made the mistake of glancing at the media, noting how cameras were raised and aimed in his direction, red lights on as they filmed. Journalists had their notebooks and phones raised, ready to take notes about the drawing, still cameras held up and ready to capture the moment.

He definitely hadn't missed any of this.

With a deep breath, he got up to his feet and made his way across the anteroom, ignoring the sounds of cameras clicking, the flashes going off on his right. His sneakers were silent on the burgundy carpet, that or they were just drowned out by the sound of his blood rushing in his ears. His heart was pounding wildly, stomach churning once again, and his skin prickled uncomfortably. And this was the easy part, just figuring out where he'd be skating in the order of things.

Maybe it was just the fact that it was so out of his control that had him freaking out the way he was. Yeah, skating was nerve-wracking, but he practiced—a lot—could determine what skills he performed and how well he performed them—as long as his damn head stayed out of it. And if he messed up, it was on him. But this? This was random chance and there was nothing he could do to improve himself or his odds of success.

Other than pray.

Which he wasn't really one for prayer, but he sure as hell was one for chanting in his head and throwing it out to the universe in naïve hope.

In this case, hoping like hell he didn't draw number one.

Not number one, he thought, swallowing once more as he continued on his way across the carpet. Anything but one, anything but one, anything but one.

Stopping in front of the table, he greeted the officials with a “good morning” and a nervous smile that he hoped didn't look nervous. But the shaky way it formed on his face and didn't stay on there, chances were good his anxiety was obvious.

“Morning, Mr Stilinski,” the head official in the middle replied, tone dulcet and smile emotionless. It reminded him a lot of Deaton and he rolled his shoulders as he tried to shake that thought away. “Please draw your number.”

He nodded once, throwing out one last mental beg over not number one, anything but number one, then reached into the bowl. Swirling his hand around, he mixed them up as though it would help him out, finally grasping one of the papers. He didn't, couldn't look at it as he unfolded it then raised it above his head. His heart pounded even harder, stomach doing more flips than he was personally capable of, and he closed his eyes against the blow that was about to come.

“Skater Stilinski has drawn number one!”

Goddammit.

His shoulders slumped as he lowered his hand, handing the paper to the official on his right so she could make a note of it, so it could be one-hundred percent... well, official. His smile was even shakier as he waved weakly at the three of them, then turned on a heel to head back. His eyes automatically sought out Derek, finding him easily, finding him already watching him. Derek gave him a thumbs up and a nod, mouthing “it is okay” and Stiles ducked his head as he walked to his seat. As much as he wanted to believe Derek, he couldn't quite do so. At least not at that moment.

Maybe one day.

Just not that day.

Slumping down onto his seat, Stiles let out a long breath, resisting the urge to cover his face with his hands, knowing there were cameras more than likely still aimed in his direction. He wasn't entirely sure how well-known his nerves were, but he wasn't about to make it more obvious or show just how bad his anxiety truly was.

“Holy crap.”

The sound of an awed whisper had Stiles lifting his head from where he'd ducked it, turning to his right to find one of the young skaters staring at him. He had no idea who the kid was, although part of him was pretty sure he recognized the guy. His skin was dark, black hair styled so it had a tuft at the front, body covered in the same navy blue tracksuit Stiles had on as part of Team USA. But it was the wide dark eyes and the parted lips that caught Stiles' attention the most, the way he was staring at the older skater like he was someone actually important, someone worthy of that kind of awe.

It was unnerving.

Stiles peered behind himself to see if maybe the kid was staring at someone else, but no, it was aimed at him. Holy shit, okay, wow. Part of him recognized that it was similar to how he felt towards Derek—or at least how he felt in the beginning—and he hoped like hell he didn't look that same way, with the fanboy written all over him in such an obvious way.

“Uh...” he stammered, nervous laugh being forced out of him. He glanced around to see what else was going on, to see if anyone was noticing this. A lanky brunet skater was drawing his number, practically all the cameras and attention aimed at him, and the fourth skater was on the other side of the fanboy looking as though he was about to fall asleep. The coaches seemed engrossed in the drawing also, although Derek was continuously glancing at Stiles, eyebrows furrowed as he tried to figure out what was going on.

Good question, Stiles figured. He'd like to know what the hell was going on, too.

“I just can't believe I got to watch you draw your number two years in a row,” the kid stated, that same awe and wonder in his voice, gaping mouth morphing into a giant grin, dark eyes sparkling. “I'm so lucky. I mean, this is so huge and monumental and the fact that I'm gonna get to skate after Stiles Stilinski once more, it's incredible.”

Stiles felt his own brow pull into a confused frown, wracking his brain as he still tried to figure out who this kid was. Okay, apparently he'd skated against him before, most likely on a national stage rather than international. The only American competition Stiles had participated in during the previous season was the National Championships, so he must have been one of the skaters there.

Only Stiles couldn't remember any of them for the life of him. He was pretty sure he just blocked the entire thing out. Saved himself from the psychological trauma or something.

“Yeah, I'm sorry,” he shrugged helplessly, shaking his head. “I don't—who are you again?”

The kid's face instantly fell, the grin turning to an open mouthed pout as he let out a hurt noise, and Stiles was punched in the face with guilt. He hadn't meant to hurt his feelings; he just...he had no clue who the guy was.

“Hewitt, Mason!”

The fanboy rose to his feet like a zombie, answering that question, even though Stiles still didn't fully recognize him. But he had a name and..

And, well nothing really, he thought, as the brunet sat down in his previous seat. He wasn't there to make friends or be buddy-buddy with everyone. He was there to win so he could qualify for the GPF. He was there as step one of his comeback season. Knowing the kid's name wasn't gonna change that.

Turning his head, he peeked at Derek, who simply shrugged, looking just as lost. Clearly he didn't know who the kid was either. Oh well, Stiles decided, scratching at his head. As asshole as it sounded, the only name that mattered was his own and where it sat on the leaderboard at the end of the day.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The drawing ceremony ended and the media was able to move about, able to talk to the skaters. Not something Stiles wanted to have any part in. Sure, it pretty much came with the job, but everything was starting to sink in, everything was starting to buzz in his brain. He was about to take the ice and compete in about an hour. He was about to be facing off against the three kids he'd been seated next to. He was about to undergo the serious challenge of trying to make up for the mistakes of his previous season.

It was a huge hole he'd dug for himself and the climb out wasn't gonna be easy by any means. And it all started soon. Months had whittled down to weeks, then days, then hours. Now, it was down to minutes.

Fuck.

But before he could grab Derek and disappear from the room, he was approached by Braeden Masters, the female reporter from ISU's website and channel, the one who'd gotten a soundbite from him back before his face-off with Liam. A sharp smile was on her face and with her tight jeans and leather blazer, she looked like a badass hunter from a vampire or werewolf movie, like she'd have no trouble tracking him down and hurting him if he ran.

Fuck again.

He gave Derek a wide eyed silent plea for help but his coach was no help, simply shrugging in a subtle manner that said there was nothing he could do so just deal with it. Ass.

Braeden smirked as she drew before them, cameraman setting up near her so he could get all three of them in the shot, and she obviously knew she'd won, that she was getting what she wanted. She arranged Stiles and Derek in a line with her, held her mic up, and did her little intro before turning to Stiles, that dangerous smile fully trained on him.

“How are you feeling about your first big competition since failing at the GPF and Nationals?”

Wow. Right for the heart with the biggest damn weapon she had.

Stiles went wide eyed and felt his throat seal shut, a weird squeaking noise coming out rather than words. Honestly, he was feeling like he needed to not think about his most recent skating history, like he needed to not think about what was looming ahead, like Braeden was kind of a bitch.

Okay, so it was her job to ask the tough questions, to get the good blurb, the real scoop, all that shit, but still. Subtlety was always good. She was like a fucking wrecking ball slamming his ass through a concrete wall.

“I am not worried,” Derek spoke up and Braeden automatically moved the mic closer to him, side-eyeing the hell out of Stiles and his inability to speak. “We time season so he can peek at Grand Prix Final. Today is no pressure so he can relax, take it easy, and focus on getting personal best.”

Stiles was gonna throttle him.

He smeared a hand over his face, hoping the tremble he was feeling wasn't all that obvious. Him saying something like that was putting pressure on Stiles and now he was freaking out even more. He'd honestly just been hoping to do well enough to not choke or finish dead last again. Now, he was apparently supposed to beat his personal best score?

Fuck that.

Not trusting himself to not chew his coach out, Stiles turned around and left, ignoring Braeden's protesting yells. He heard Derek's annoyed huff but ignored that, too, just continuing on his way out the anteroom. The hallway was empty and he felt some of the tension he'd been experiencing inside the crowded room leave him. His shoulders relaxed, lungs able to fully expand and contract, and while nerves over his upcoming skate had his skin still tingling, he wasn't as worked up about everything as he had been.

He made it a few feet down the hall when the door opened behind him and he didn't even bother looking, knowing who it was. Derek's expensive shoes clicked on the tile hallway as he caught up, calling out Stiles' name, and the agitation Stiles has been feeling came back. The back of his neck felt tight, his skin felt hot, and he drew to a sharp stop, spinning around to glare at his coach.

“Did you completely fucking forget what happened to me at Nationals?” Stiles snarled through gritted teeth, trying his best to keep his voice low so no one else would come across them, investigating yelling.

Derek's head reared back in surprise for some inexplicable reason, probably at the way Stiles had exploded. The two of them had talked at length over Stiles' failures at the last GPF and Nationals, had watched video of it, Derek breaking down what went wrong and how to adjust so it didn't happen again. So it wasn't that he was stunned that Stiles had performed so shittily in the past. No, he was just surprised Stiles was standing his ground and yelling back.

Which, really, he shouldn't have been surprised at. Wasn't the first time Stiles had done it. Although really, in those other instances, he'd apologized almost immediately, chalking it up to being worked up over skating or pressure or whatever else. But in this situation, he was pissed at Derek.

And a little nervous. But most of this was aimed at Derek.

“I'd bombed so badly, rumors started that I was injured,” he went on, reminding his coach of what had happened. “But no, there wasn't anything physically wrong with me. I'm just mentally weak and couldn't handle the pressure so I fucked up and crashed. Hard. Twice. And now I'm on this big comeback tour type of shit and you just added even more pressure by saying 'there is no pressure'.” The final part in another imitation of Derek's accent that he was getting better at and he knew he was rambling like hell, but it felt good to get it all off his chest.

He heaved out a sigh, running his hand through his hair and letting his shoulders slump once more. “I just—”

Hands on his shoulders shut him up and he dropped his hand to peer up at the serious way Derek was staring at him, looking him straight in the eye. “You are not weak. I tell you this before. You will be fine.”

Stiles rolled his eyes and Derek cuffed him upside the head, which just made him glare at the asshole. Rude.

“You. Will. Be. Fine,” Derek repeated with more emphasis. “I would not say to reporter if you will not be fine.”

Okay, true. Derek was nothing if not completely honest, sometimes even to the point of being hurtful. So for him to announce to the world that Stiles would do well, it meant he truly believed Stiles would do well.

Stiles just wished he himself could believe it.

But he wasn't in the mood to argue, didn't want things to be like that between them, not when it was so close to competition time. So he just nodded, placating, mentally agreeing to disagree. Sometimes it was just easier to go along with what someone else was saying, even when you felt different.

The door in the distance opened, the other skaters filing out, loud, obnoxious, excited, that Mason kid practically bouncing. The media bullshit was clearly over, time was still passing, getting closer to the moment when he'd be hitting the ice, and he stepped back from Derek, those hands falling off his shoulders.

“I gotta get changed,” he mumbled, still backing away, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb.

Derek nodded, checking the time on his watch, a gold one of fucking course. “I see you soon,” he promised, raising his eyebrow in a pointed manner that meant he'd come sooner if Stiles needed.

And Stiles just nodded back, hoping it wouldn't be necessary but not holding his breath about it. With that, he turned around and went straight for the locker room, forcing himself to focus on getting changed and getting in the right mindset.

~*~*~*~*~*~

They had half an hour to change and get ready. Stiles got into his Eros costume and used hair gel Derek had taken with him from Russia—which made Stiles once again wonder about what the hell he'd left behind at his actual home—to slick his hair back thanks to a lesson from both his coach and Erica. Warm-ups took place after, all four skaters on the ice, skating the entirety of the rink as they got loose, as they practiced jumps and parts of their choreography.

Stiles had issues focusing, as always, mind buzzing over a thousand things as his body went through the motions thanks to muscle memory. He and Derek had been together five months at that point, training hard, practicing almost constantly. And when they weren't practicing, they were watching footage of practices, discussing everything that could possibly be discussed. Having Derek's perspective was eye-opening, and as much as he appreciated everything Deaton had done for him over the years, Derek's comments made a lot more sense, meant a lot more to Stiles. Because he knew what it took to be able to do those tricks, to improve those moves. He'd actually been on the ice, competing, trying to impress those same judges so he was able to speak from experience as he advised Stiles on what to do.

Yet for all of his help, Stiles was still unsure of himself, still not entirely confident in his skills. This was his first big test to see if he was in good enough shape for the Grand Prix Series. He'd thought he was completely done with skating, had put his skates up, had even gained weight and then lost it. Now he was back competing, back on the ice, and back trying to beat all these other people. It was a lot of pressure. He thought of that damn deep hole once more and wondered if he was genuinely able to get out of it.

He'd find out soon enough.

The PA announced the end of warm-ups and the skaters headed to the edge of the rink, the other three leaving the ice while Stiles stayed on it. Because he was first. Shit.

First had a lot of pressure on them. First had to set the bar, and set it high, had to come out guns blazing and do their absolute best to get their absolute best score so that anyone who followed couldn't touch them.

Stiles' inability to handle pressure meant this was the absolute worst position for him to be in.

Derek held out a bottle of water as he stood on the other side of the wall, just behind the husky shaped tissue box cover, Stiles' blade guards right next to it. Stiles took the bottle and muttered a thanks, drinking deep pulls to combat how damn dry his mouth felt. He knew it was a side effect of nerves and that he could drink an entire ocean and shit wouldn't get any better, but he definitely didn't need to get dehydrated. On automatic, his fingers sought out his dog tags, only to remember he'd put the collar around the husky tissue box cover, and he put his bottle down on the wall to reach over and rub them.

“Stiles,” Derek prompted and the mentioned male let out a hum to show he was listening, pulling his hand back before giving his coach his full attention. Derek pulled him into a hug, arms wrapped around his shoulders as he pulled Stiles as close as possible with the wall in between them.

Okay. Unexpected but definitely welcome, Stiles thought as he wrapped his own arms around Derek as best as he could, inhaling deeply as he felt the embrace do its job, calming him, centering him, making his mind go blissfully blank. His heart was still pounding, but this time, it was for a whole new reason, a much better reason, and he never wanted this feeling to go away.

Still. He didn't really expect Derek to do something like that.

Pulling away, Stiles gave his coach a confused frown, head slightly tilted to the side. “Wha—?”

“It is my job as coach to make you confident, yes?” he pointed out and Stiles just nodded, freezing as Derek cupped his chin and pulled him close once more, until their noses were almost touching and he had to go a little cross-eyed to get his vision focused. “Now go out there and seduce me with all you have. If you can enthrall me, you can bring audience to knees, yes?”

Holy shit.

Stiles didn't need to worry about skating his personal best because chances were he was gonna die before he even made it out there.

“That is what I say in practice, yes?”

Right. Practice. It was all part of the routine, the theme of the program, the...it had nothing to do with the two of them or Derek himself. It was all a part of the whole eros thing.

Damn.

Stiles swallowed hard and nodded, dumbfounded, unable to speak, and Derek dropped his hand to pat his shoulder twice.

“Go skate.”

Another dumb nod and Stiles skated further onto the ice, big loops and circles around the rink itself, arms swinging to get loose.

Representing Ice Castle Skating Rink in Beacon Hills, California,” the PA announced as he cracked his neck. “Stiles Stilinski!

Scattered applause broke out and Stiles frowned as he headed to center ice, thinking he should've received more than that. Okay, yeah, he wasn't the greatest skater in the world, but still. He'd earned more than that.

He shoved the thought aside, knowing it wasn't gonna help his performance, getting into his starting position, head ducked and hip cocked. Skate just like in practice, he mentally reminded himself, act like the chicken tender femme fatale that enthralled men.

One last deep breath to calm his nerves and the music started up. His body moved on automatic, arms twisting about his head before he moved in a wide circle. He paused when the music did, shooting a smirk at Derek, tipping his chin at him.

Derek nodded at him once, one last vote of confidence, and the music kicked back in.

Stiles seamlessly moved into his step sequence, twirling and twisting as he skated around, feet kicking and blades scratching the ice. This part was as easy as breathing and he knew he was kicking ass as he went through the moves without even having to think about them. He felt good, knew he was doing awesome, his confidence kicking up because of it.

The crowd however...

Lukewarm as hell.

Shit. They were way more into his routine at the face-off versus Liam. And, okay, sure, that was his hometown crowd and they were clearly biased toward him, but still. This routine had been choreographed by Derek fucking Hale. It was deserving of more than just a few polite claps and scattered murmurs.

Stiles skated spread eagle along the rounded corner of the rink, then swung his right leg back then forward, launching himself into a triple axel and landing it perfectly. Still with the polite applause, and he wondered why the organizers had invited a golf crowd to a skating event. Did they even know anything? Did the audience not recognize when something was good? Did they not know that that trick was one of the hardest in all of skating?

His next trick was a quad salchow and just like at the face-off, he overrotated and touched the ice with his hand. It was okay though, he was okay. His knee hadn't touched down so it wasn't a fall, wasn't a full point deduction, he could still have a great score. As long as he had the right number of rotations...

He thought of Derek's words in the bathroom months ago, how he was drawn the way Stiles moved to the music. It was why his program component score was so high, because of how he interpreted the music, how his body played along with it. He had this, it was fine. Especially since his last jump was a combination and worth the most points out of anything in the program.

The quadruple toe loop was executed flawlessly, but as he launched into the triple, he began his spins too late and only managed to pull off a double.

Shit.

He was losing it. He was screwing it up. He was too in his head, thinking about the wrong shit as he moved into his final spin sequence, leg stretched out before him, upper body bent over it.

And now...now he couldn't remember his own damn story.

Oh he was so fucked.

He lowered into a sit spin, raised his arms above his head for more difficulty, more points, raised back up and skated around once more. Fuck, the story, okay, the ending. How did it end?

Right. The temptress casts the man aside, tired of him now that she's gotten what she wanted, and she moves on to her next conquest.

Whipping around, he fell into his final pose, leg cocked, arms wrapped up high above his collarbone, right as the music hit its final note and ended.

The crowd began cheering loudly, much more enthused than they had been at the beginning. He'd managed to pull it off, managed to perform well, but he knew there were flaws, mistakes, especially with touching the ice and the triple turning into a double.

Stiles waved to the crowd on one side, then the side behind him, to the left, to the right. They all seemed to love and enjoy it. He had done his job as far as entertaining them. But the one opinion he cared most about—besides the judges, of course—was Derek's. He hadn't been happy with him after he'd performed the routine at the face-off and he was sure to be just as upset with him after this one.

Exhaling deeply, Stiles skated over to where an event worker was opening up the gate, where Derek was waiting for him. Sweat covered Stiles' skin, shoulders and chest heaving as he panted, but physically, he felt good, felt like he could run through it again, and then again after that, until he skated it as well as he did in practice, something he should've already done but hadn't. He smeared a hand down his face to suppress a groan, displeased with himself.

But he hadn't fallen. He could rest easy with that.

Derek extended the guards and Stiles took them, picking ice shavings off his blades and tossing them onto the rink.

“First half was good,” his coach stated as he put his guards on. “You got too focused on landing jumps again so performance was sloppy.”

Stiles just nodded, knowing he was right, taking hold of the bottle he was offered as he straightened up. With careful steps, he headed over to the kiss-and-cry, sitting down on the bench and drinking deep. Out on the ice, he could see Mason skate around in wide laps, loosening up. In front of him, just before the wall, was a small TV and he could see a shot of himself. Unfortunately. His hair had managed to stay in place thankfully, but his cheeks were patchy and ruddy, skin shining with sweat, and it wasn't all that great a look.

His skin began to prickle as the cold air of the rink blew against the perspiration covering it and he shivered against it. A nudge was felt against his side and he looked to see Derek holding out his team jacket, eyebrow raised in silent challenge to prove him wrong.

Which, ordinarily, Stiles would totally take him up on. But he was fucking cold so.

He took it, putting it on with a “thanks” muttered his coach's way, bottle resting between his thighs on the bench.

Stiles Stilinski has earned,” the PA announcer began and Stiles' eyes automatically went to the TV in front of him, seeing the bar pop up across the bottom in order to display it. “Ninety-four-point-three-six. A new personal best!

Holy shit. It really was. By nearly ten points, too.

There was something to be said for having a routine choreographed by someone who'd won Olympic gold and five world championships.

Derek let out a hum that was almost dismissive in nature and Stiles turned to him with a cocked eyebrow. “I thought you would score over one hundred because there was no pressure.”

The announcer introduced the next skater and Stiles threw his arms in the air, rolling his eyes and his head and spluttering. “Right, sure, yeah, okay, because you have countless world records with scores in the hundreds, so clearly it must be easy,” he quipped, the sarcasm clearly lost on Derek given the way he grinned and his eyes sparkled in mirth.

“Of course.”

Yeah. That deserved another eye roll.

The two of them left the kiss-and-cry, left the rink area, and headed to a back hallway. Stiles feet were feeling cramped and his balance was wobbly as he tried to walk on his blades without toppling over. Always fucking fun.

“I need to get these things off,” he grumbled and Derek breathed out a laugh through his nose, lips curled up on one side in understanding.

“We go get sneakers,” he decided, tucking his husky tissue box under his arm. “Then probably interviews.”

“Or you can get the interview over now,” came a familiar voice from behind and the two of them drew to a stop, Stiles wincing. Because Braeden wasn't sounding all that pleased with them—or at least with Stiles—and he didn't think he was up to handling her wrath.

Not that he thought she'd try anything. Not if she wanted to keep her job anyway. Because being rude to and physically fighting a skater wouldn't reflect well on the ISU website and they would definitely would have to let her go.

That knowledge in mind, Stiles turned to face her, Derek doing the same, taking note of the saccharine sweet smile on her face and the way she stood with her arms crossed and her hip cocked.

“Think you can actually give me a couple answers this time?” she asked, a challenge in her tone and in the tilt of her eyebrow.

Not that he didn't deserve the attitude, considering the fact that he hadn't said a damn thing to her during her earlier interview then walked out on her. He grimaced again, wringing the back of his neck, mesh material rubbing against sweaty skin. Fun.

“Yeah, sorry 'bout that,” he apologized with a wince and she shrugged a shoulder.

“I'll chalk it up to nerves and give you a free pass, if you actually talk to me this time.”

Blackmail. Also fun.

But he nodded, knowing that really, he didn't have much of a choice. Derek was able to have a cold attitude towards reporters because he was an amazing skater and constantly winning gold. But Stiles wasn't on that level, not to mention he was surrounded by a bunch of people who wouldn't let him get away with being rude to the media.

Then again, maybe Derek's mom and-or sisters weren't too thrilled about that part of his behavior and let him know quite often and he chose not to listen to any of it. Stiles didn't quite have that ability, living in the same house as his dad still.

The cameraman handed Braeden her microphone, the three of them moved into position, and the red light went on. The challenging expression and harsh attitude went away, replaced by a smiling professional., and Stiles was honestly impressed by how smooth the transition was, by how easily she put that mask on.

“Stiles, you just got off the ice, how are you feeling?”

Like shit, he thought, but he couldn't say any of that. So he gave a shrug, right hand automatically sliding into his left sleeve before he remembered he'd had to take the dog tags off earlier. Probably wouldn't look to go if he reached out and snatched the stuffy tissue box cover from Derek right after being asked a question. “Alright, I guess,” he answered honestly, clearing his throat and scratching by his eye. “I obviously had some stumbles and made some mistakes but I'm happy with the score and I know where I need to improve.”

Braeden nodded, smile becoming a little more genuine at his cooperation and the fact that he was actually talking. “Speaking of scores, it's not official yet, but yours is among the top ten in the world right now? That's gotta feel good.”

His eyes went wide and he gaped at her, stammering. “Yeah, I.” He turned to Derek, his coach shrugging then looking around, almost bored. Right, no help, and he obviously didn't know that either. “I had no idea.”

“He will improve that as season go on,” Derek spoke up, Braeden smoothly moving the mic closer to him. “And at free skate, he will be focused on flawless performance.”

Stiles wasn't sure if he wanted to facepalm or slap Derek in his pretty one because what the fuck? He really needed to stop making these promises for Stiles, especially when they were promises he wasn't entirely sure he could keep.

Unhelpful.

“Stiles!”

The skater jerked at the sound of his name being called from behind him and he turned to see Mason rush over, beaming wide. His own costume was on, a sparkly black thing with purple fringe, his team jacket on top and unzipped, and judging by the sheen on his skin, he'd just gotten off the ice.

“Did you see my performance? I did awesome, I scored a sixty-two-point-eight-three, can you believe it?”

Holy shit, the kid could ramble. Which...okay, the irony wasn't lost on Stiles and he almost felt like he was talking to a younger, shorter version of himself. A little scary really. Made him wonder—and not for the first time—how any of his friends or family could actually stand being around him.

The words Mason yelled finally sank in and a sheepish grin formed on his face, hands gripping the back of his neck once more. “Yeah, sorry. I was being interviewed.” To back up his excuse, he pointed to the camera behind him, noting that it was still rolling. Right. Better to film all the boring shit behind the scenes on the off-chance it developed into something interesting and dramatic.

Mason's face fell again and Stiles grimaced, hating that he once again hurt the kid's feelings. Damn. “That's okay,” Mason said lowly, almost to himself, before repeating it at a higher volume, in a more chipper tone. “That's okay! Just make sure you skate your best tomorrow, because I know I will, and I won't ever forgive you if you don't give it your all! I'm gonna beat you fair and square this time!” He grinned wide, beaming through a threat, pointing a finger at Stiles.

Stiles, who simply stood there with his brows raised and his jaw hanging slack, wondering what the fuck was even going on. He barely knew this kid and yet he was challenging him?

Then again, he thought as he spied Derek out the corner of his eyes, the Russian momentarily raising an eyebrow as he watched the exchange for himself. Then again, part of him liked to think he'd do the same with Derek. Not that he thought he stood any chance of beating the guy, but if they were to compete against one another, Stiles would be giving his all, and would want his competitor to do the same.

“Wow, ladies and gentlemen,” Braeden stated, letting out an amused huff of a laugh, and Stiles peeked over his shoulder to see her with her mic raised as she clearly addressed whoever would be watching this video. “The gauntlet has been thrown down by last year's National Champion.”

Stiles' eyes went wide and his body froze all over, head snapping back to Mason, who was still beaming, grinning, and practically bouncing on the spot. Now he remembered Mason, remembered how he'd skated damn near flawlessly less than a year ago, kicking ass and taking names at Nationals.

And suddenly, Stiles was even more nervous as fuck about the free skate.