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Let us Stray 'til Break of Day

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The air is crisp and smells of cut grass. It evokes memories he’d sooner forget. A time when he had moments of happiness, when he had no other purpose than to grow up and suffer the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Derek rolls his head from side to side, noting the stillness of the morning and the soft orange glow beginning to illuminate the world, until he hears Stiles trudging across the field. He moves like a herd of elephants, but with none of the majesty and grace. Stiles has pillow imprints all over his face and his eyelids are drooping. He looks sleep-worn and crumpled. Derek has the irritating urge to rattle him awake. At least, that’s why he thinks his hands rise involuntarily toward Stiles as he makes his way onto the field.

“Oh, God. Now you’re imitating the undead?” Stiles asks, noticing the aborted movement before Derek can think of a way to cover it up.

“At least I don’t look undead,” Derek replies.

Stiles blinks at him, slowly. “That was a pathetic comeback. You really need to hone your bantering skills.”

Derek ducks closer at Stiles, menacing, but Stiles is either still three quarters asleep, or past finding that particular movement intimidating. Derek scowls, deep, before reminding himself that he’s supposed to be charming.

Derek literally has no idea how to be charming. Not when Stiles is staring blearily at him, mouth slack, chest rising and falling softly with each indrawn breath. Stiles is wearing loose sweatpants and a looser shirt, seems to be under the impression he won’t need his actual lacrosse kit. No padding, no gloves, no helmet. What exactly does he think Derek’s planning on teaching him? Derek’s scowl dissipates into a light frown.

“What are you having particular trouble with?” he asks, wanting to bring some focus to the morning’s proceedings. He can’t get caught up in the details when there’s a broader picture to take in.

Unlike Stiles’ teaching style of information overload, throw as much as you can at your student until something sticks, he’s going to narrow things down, work on a couple of skills at a time. Then, maybe, Stiles will actually improve.

“Passing, catching, and picking up ground balls,” Stiles says. Derek opens his mouth to speak and then Stiles is continuing. “Running, jumping, shooting, dodging, managing to stay standing long enough to survey the field…” Stiles peters out, shrugging hopelessly. He’s surrounded in the stench of disappointment.

Derek doesn’t believe that Stiles could be that useless. He obviously exercises, even if it’s against his will. He’s muscular where he needs to be --- deceptively so --- more than wiry, less than built. He’s robust and he’s fit and he may not have a natural affinity for the sport, but he must have some redeeming traits. According to the Little League trophies in his room he once had decent hand-eye coordination. Plus, he practices, doesn’t he? That’s what he and Scott were doing here on the weekend. Perhaps it’s a confidence thing. If he simply reminds Stiles of his strengths he’ll be able to build on them.

“Is there anything you can do?” he asks, doing his best to sound less demanding and more curious.

“I give awesome rubdowns,” Stiles says, before he baulks, then blushes, right eye flickering as he stares off into the middle distance. “Pretend I never said that,” he insists next.

Derek immediately rushes to comply. The last thing he wants is to imagine Stiles’ surprisingly strong-looking hands easing away tension and fatigue. That is a mental place he is staying far away from, for ever and a day.

“What have you been practicing with Scott?” he asks next, because he’s got a feeling Stiles will notice if he never mentions him. Stiles is doing his best impression of a goldfish, like he thinks Derek’s referring to the rubdowns again, so he clarifies, “Attack or defense?”

The relief is palpable. “Attack.”

“I guess the first thing I’ll tell you is that as attack you always have to be on the move. It’s constant. You’re trying to keep your defense’s attention on you, so that they don’t get into a position to join their team in blocking whoever has the ball. You act as a distraction and you also put yourself in place to further the game. When you have the ball, you need to run backwards and forwards, fake passes, vary your pace. It’s as much a mind game as it is a physical advantage. Just keep going.”

It’s the most he’s said at one time in the last three years, he’s sure of it. And it’s such simple advice, but that seems significant somehow. That Stiles is nodding and paying attention to these words that came far more easily than others ever do. Though Derek suspects Stiles is utterly oblivious to what’s going to come next.

“You need to work on improving these aspects of your game,” he announces.

“I can do that,” Stiles replies, but he’s still rubbing at his left eye.

“In order for you to practice your movement, I’m going to imagine you have the ball and I’m going to chase you,” Derek says, enunciating slowly and clearly to get the point through to Stiles.

“You’re serious,” Stiles says on a groan. “When are you ever not serious? Great! Why did I agree to this again?”

“I honestly do not know.” Derek watches Stiles bends down to pick up his stick. He shakes his head. “Leave your stick alone and run.”

“Why am I not using my stick?”

“It’ll be more of a hindrance than a help for now. Get going.”

There’s a whine and then, “I don’t wanna.” Contrary to what he’s saying, Stiles has already begun to shuffle off, not picking his feet up enough, but managing more than a walk.

“Run or I’m eating your liver. I hear it’ll be good with a nice chianti and fava beans.”

Stiles spins to watch Derek as he travels backwards. “You’re not allowed to be funny and referential when you’re making me run around at stupid o’clock in the morning, Derek. Cut that shit out.”

Derek ignores the strange, warm thing that explodes within him at Stiles calling him funny and gives him a three minute head start. It doesn’t appear to do much. He’s seen Stiles run faster to the school cafeteria. He maybe shouldn’t have seen that, but he was keeping an eye on Scott. Stiles doesn’t seem appropriately driven, given the context Derek has constructed. He also spends way too much time glancing over his shoulder and not looking where he’s going. At one point, his feet almost get tangled up together, but he recovers. A second later, Derek bounds after him.

This is familiar in all the ways that ache. This is how he used to train, but back then it was in the woods. He’d get Laura and his cousin Gemma to come at him from two sides, so he’d have to be doubly evasive. Gemma was an ordinary human, but an extraordinary athlete. She was quick and frequently, in the early days, had him eating dirt and bark on the forest floor. He was only just coming into his powers as an adolescent werewolf and any time he wanted to push beyond regular human endurance he had to shift. He’d been told in no uncertain terms that in order to play lacrosse he had to keep his speed and strength in check. His dad had said he’d have him pulled off the team if he saw even a hint he was transforming. Derek remembers what it was like to be turning fifteen and developing control; like he had the world in his palm, way too easy to crush. Lacrosse helped focus him and eventually gave him advantages his werewolf cousins hadn’t had.

It’s unsettling, doing this with Stiles. Like he’s sharing a part of himself he locked away years ago and never muses on because it hurts too much. And Derek --- he doesn’t know why, but something within him wants to share this. He didn’t realize it would feel like this again, after so long. He thought it would be easy. Nothing is easy with Stiles, though, he should remember that. There are always complications. Because Stiles is so loud, even when he’s quiet, and he’s also so very human --- the best and the worst of humanity in one neat, compact package. He’s a constant reminder of what Derek’s lost and can never recapture.

Derek feints right as he runs left, capturing Stiles around the middle, tumbling them both to the ground. Stiles gives out a wheezed ‘oof’ sound and grizzles.

“Ow… my everything. No warning?”

Derek looks down at Stiles’ face bracketed by his arms. There’s a line in his forehead indicating pain, and his eyes are a touch too bright; morning sun giving the illusion they’re honey more than sherry colored. He’s warm underneath Derek; warm and solid, and the material of his shirt is thin enough that it’s like they’re pressed skintight. Derek’s inner voice yells “no” at him again, just as when Stiles turned up at the warehouse.

He should be wanting this, shouldn’t he? The way Stiles is licking his lips and glancing at his mouth? He should be celebrating how Stiles unconsciously pushes up against him, hips canting the barest amount, almost negligible, except that Derek has heightened senses. He should be congratulating himself on a soon to be successful plan. He’s really not. He eases off Stiles, ignores the steady thrum of his pulse as he holds out a hand to pull him back up.

“You think your opponents are gonna warn you? Better yet, wear little bells to alert you to their presence at all times?”

“That’d be crazily useful.”

Derek resists the temptation to respond again. If he did, they could be here all day talking. He hates that he isn’t annoyed by the prospect. Stiles may not be easy, but there are aspects of him that are comfortable.

“This time,” he says, pointedly, “worry less about what I’m doing and more about what you’re doing to me. You’re attack, remember. Employ psychological warfare. You also need to speed it up.”

Stiles looks about to retort, then clearly thinks better of it. He dashes off and this time Derek is pleased to note that he picks up the pace and doesn’t look back. Derek lets him run for a while to test his endurance and work out. He watches the lithe arch of Stiles’ body, his lean contours and long legs. He looks almost elegant, when he weaves to the right. It’s a pity he trips over his own feet, faceplanting in a wet stretch of grass.

Derek sighs, goes over and hauls him up by his arms, careful to immediately let go. There’s a flush over Stiles’ cheekbones and he glances at the ground rather than at Derek’s face. Considering the fact Stiles could win awards for his ability to stare Derek down, this is disturbing.

“I know, all right. You don’t have to tell me how much I suck,” Stiles says on a sigh.

“You were doing well,” Derek says, and Stiles eyes snap up to glance, assessing. “Until you decided you needed more roughage in your diet.”

Stiles rubs his hand over his head, biting his lower lip in a thoroughly distracting manner. “Scott thinks I should take dance lessons to improve my coordination,” he says, like it’s a joke.

It makes a lot of sense and is also one of the ways Laura helped him. For years she also held it over his head as the ultimate in sisterly blackmail, but she did teach him how to tango, foxtrot and quickstep to help develop an economy of movement and lightness of step. Before the dance lessons his main failing was how he ran flat-footed.

“Scott said that?” Derek clarifies.

Stiles grins, broad and wide. “I know. Some days it takes a lot of effort not to just call him a dumb puppy and chuck him under the chin.”

“It’s a good idea. I agree with Scott. I can teach you some ballroom steps and it’ll help you with your poise, rhythm and balance.”

Stiles’ face goes deadly, quietly blank. It’s the human equivalent of an old-school computer blue screen of death. Derek wonders if he has a restart function. He prods at Stiles’ shoulder, and Stiles rocks backwards with the movement, rigid and yet oh so simple to maneuver.

“Stiles,” Derek says, attempting to cut through the fog of his expression. He succeeds, but Stiles starts to wince at him, all scrunched up nose and pulled down lips. No one else on earth could pull the expression he’s pulling.

“I think I misheard you,” Stiles says, continuing to sound shell-shocked.

“You didn’t. Now, if I were you, I’d start running. Right this second.”

Stiles doesn’t run and Derek tackles him to the ground, but in a way that minimizes the impact. It’s a ploy to shock him into action more than anything and he doesn’t stay pinning Stiles long, because that way madness lies. Stiles smells musky and sweet and his heart is beating out a swift, thundering cadence. Derek wonders if that’s due to their proximity, his shock at the tackle, or his shock at the idea of dancing. With him. It’s probably all three.

“Okay, okay,” Stiles grumbles when he gets up, this time of his own volition. “I’m running.”

Almost as if he wants to prove to Derek that ballroom dancing torture is not necessary, Stiles ups his game. But he still gets snarled up in himself on three separate occasions, isn’t wholly focused on the task. He’s quicker, sure, but he doesn’t dodge well enough. When they switch to have Stiles running toward him, Derek has him on the ground five more times, and each occasion Stiles is sweat-slick but dry-mouthed, if the smacking of his lips is anything to go by. Each time Derek presses him into the grass it gets harder to lift up and away again, but not because his muscles are sore. It’s because he’s been without touch for so long, has purposely avoided human contact, and experiencing it all in a rush like this is heady.

Time passes and Derek gives more advice, some of which helps immeasurably and some of which gets summarily ignored. They take a break from running after an hour to practice passing. Stiles is not terrible. With a little more practice every day he could be brilliant. He has decent aim and the ability to catch. After Stiles has caught his breath, they try several runs holding sticks, and that causes them both a few injuries, though Derek’s heal immediately.

“You need to bring your kit next time,” he says when he examines a scrape on Stiles’ forearm. It’s a large abrasion and Stiles flinches when he strokes his thumb over it.

Derek places his hand on his shoulder and lessens the pain without a second thought, but Stiles goes wide-eyed and purse-lipped.

“You don’t have to do that. I can take it. I have to learn, right? And it’s --- you know, I may be breakable, but it’s possible to fix stuff without werewolf mojo.”

“I just figured you’d be sore enough already without needing that too. Anyway, it doesn’t last forever,” Derek says with a shrug. He wipes his hand down his shirt, trying to get the feel of Stiles’ sweat off his palm. He likes it a little too much.

There’s an awkward pause and then Stiles is leaning forward to shove at his shoulder. “You really had me going, before, with the whole ‘I’ll teach you how to dance’ thing. But that was you trying to freak me out, wasn’t it?”

“No, Stiles, like you said earlier, I’m never not serious, even when I’m joking. I believe Scott has the right idea for once. All of the skills that come with dancing would benefit you. You are actually fast, you’re learning how to attack, you have good aim. You fall over because you don’t think hard enough about what your feet are doing. If I teach you how to tango, that won’t be an issue anymore.”

If Derek teaches Stiles to tango, he’ll have him in his arms without needing to violently tackle him first. Which works in favor of his ‘seduce Stiles’ manifesto, but seriously impedes upon his ‘don’t let feelings get in the way’ terms and conditions.

Stiles narrows his eyes. “Just to double check --- this isn’t psychological warfare?”

“If you want to stay on the bench forever, be my guest. It’s no skin off my nose if you never improve.”

“I’m not saying that!” Stiles exclaims. “It’s more that we had a deal and this feels like we’re changing the rules and regulations.”

“It’s a means to an end. I said I’d train you, not that I’d give you one lesson and then expect you to know everything there is to know. Training involves time, effort and practice. If that also includes doing something different to work on aspects of the game in which you’re failing, I don’t see the harm.”

Stiles holds his hands up in surrender. “All right. When are we doing this?”

“After you show me some of your google tricks.”

“I’m busy until Tuesday. Unless you wanna come over tomorrow afternoon for the intensive study session my dad insists I run, even in his absence. I mean, Scott will be there, obviously, but it might be a good thing for you both to have time to talk.”

Derek doesn’t understand why he’s hesitant to agree, considering this is his endgame. Scott learning to rely upon him is the entire point of his plan so the more they interact, the better it will be. But he’s reluctant.

He can’t erase his grudging tone when he says, “That sounds like it would work.” He looks Stiles up and down and notes the weariness around his eyes. “I think we’re finished for today, don’t you?”

“Oh, thank God. I was worried you were gonna suggest another sprinting session. Yeah, I’m done. Doneski. Finished.”

Derek walks over to the bleachers and retrieves the papers filled with quotes that Stiles demanded of him the day before. They had taken an hour to compile and Derek’s hand had cramped halfway down the second page, but he was damned if he was going to give Stiles the satisfaction of believing he was incapable of doing this kind of thing for himself. Stiles looks over them, raising his eyebrows a few times in surprise where he presumably sees that Derek hadn’t fallen for some of his tricks.

Derek knows there’s something wrong with how much he craves Stiles’ approval on this, but he can’t stop himself from asking how he did.

“Is my work to your satisfaction?” he asks with a teasing smirk, because he did everything required and some.

“I’ll concede that you know your way around a book or several. I also like that you annotated some of the quotes with ‘this is wrong’ and ‘completely implausible’.”

“They were,” Derek interjects.

Stiles makes a weird, halting noise, more seal than human. “You know I deliberately chose them to, like, raise your ire?”

“Yeah, I gathered that. That was how you’d know if I did the work or if I decided on delegation.”

“I’m actually starting to believe you got As in school.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

Stiles smiles, small and soft, and Derek’s throat clenches shut. This is not good. This is bad.

“I need to get back home. I’m supposed to be having brunch with my dad,” Stiles says, further confirming the wrongness of this. “Thanks for today. You, uh, you’re really not the worst teacher in the world. You’re not the best, either. That was Miss Peterson in fourth grade, who was knock-out gorgeous and thought that every lesson had a mandate to include glitter. But you’re pretty okay.”

“You’re welcome,” Derek says, the words foreign and thick against his tongue.

He watches Stiles gather up the small amount of gear he brought and stumble toward his Jeep. When he’s safely out of sight, Derek sits down on the bleachers, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms.

“Fuck.”