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Let us Stray 'til Break of Day

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He hasn’t been avoiding his betas so much as relaxing his training regimen and cautioning them to attempt to blend into society. The fact that it looks a lot like him avoiding his betas is coincidental. They’re here, now, though. Came straight after school. Boyd is lifting weights in the far corner of the depot, talking to Isaac. Erica has taken residence in the broken down train car closest to Derek.

It’s harder than he thought it would be, teaching Erica, Isaac and Boyd how to gain and maintain control. He chose all three of them because they’re survivors and strong-willed, and he knew he needed that in his pack. He sometimes thinks they’re all a little too strong-willed. Erica is not above rolling her eyes at him and telling him he’s being an idiot. In fact, she does it a lot. She has a nasty habit of making assumptions and acting on them. Isaac has been struggling with his new-found sense of power. He has mood swings and it can sometimes be difficult to judge whether he’s going to be talking to the overconfident Isaac or the meek one. Derek knows he hasn’t dealt with that well. Boyd doesn’t entirely trust him, though he’s obviously willing to back him up as long as he’s going to keep learning from him.

He likes them. He cares about them. As more than just a source of power. But he doesn’t know how to share enough of himself that they’d feel the same way back. He’s never comfortable with them the way he is with Stiles and he knows that’s fucked up, that he has more of a connection with a human who used to make it a mission to hate him than he does with those with which he now shares blood ties. If there’s a way to change that, he’s ignorant of it.

Then there’s Scott. Scott, who is as unlike Stiles as it is possible to be in so many ways. Unwilling to listen or learn. Scott, who rejects the very notion that they’re brothers now. Who doesn’t seem to get that his life would be nine times easier if he accepted that he’s supposed to be part of the pack. The worst thing is that Derek can’t even hate him, would go so far as to say he admires him, because, yes, he may be frustrating as hell, but his level of control is impressive. Scott could teach the others so much and he refuses point blank.

“I don’t like you, I don’t trust you, I will never join you,” Scott had said.

And Derek believes him, so he doesn’t know what he’s doing pacing around the depot waiting for Stiles and Scott to appear. He doesn’t like feeling indebted to anyone and he owes Stiles more than a dancing lesson. He wishes that was the only answer.

“You really need to calm down, before you wear a hole in the concrete,” Erica says, idly swinging her legs off the beaten down bench she’s reclining on. She’s placed her book on her chest and is gazing at him appreciatively.

“I’m calm,” Derek replies.

“Even if I couldn’t hear the little hop skip of your heart, I’d be able to tell that’s a lie,” Erica counters with a sly smile.

She’s the only one who knows about his plan regarding Stiles and in retrospect his biggest mistake was telling her.

That was by no means his biggest mistake, but it’s comforting to think it was.

“Your plan’s working, Derek,” Erica says, a teasing note to her voice that has shades of danger. “You should be proud of yourself.”

But no, his plan isn’t working, not at all --- and Derek can’t explain that, doesn’t even want to admit that to himself.

“What plan?” Isaac asks.

Derek heard him coming, but didn’t want to acknowledge it, because he wants Isaac’s confidence to be founded on knowledge that he has actual skills. Isaac is very skilled in creeping up on people. Derek likes to think he taught him well.

“Derek has a way to get Scott to join the fold.”

“I still don’t really understand why we need him.”

“We don’t,” Erica says with a shrug. “We want him.”

Derek tips his head back, stares at the ceiling. He does not want to be here for this conversation.

“What’s the plan?” Boyd asks, leaning on the opposite side to Isaac.

“That’s the beautiful thing,” Erica says, lowering her tone and volume until it sounds like she’s being confidential. Not even a warning glare in her direction can get her to stop. “Derek’s going to get to Scott through Stiles.” She smiles and Derek’s surprised at how disturbing he finds the sight of all her teeth.

“So, what, threaten Stiles and Scott will do whatever you want to keep him safe?” Boyd interrogates. He’s carefully neutral and Derek can’t pick up on any emotion, so it’s possible he’s projecting the judgement.

“No,” Erica cuts in before he can reply. “Not threaten. You’ll see.”

Twenty minutes later, Derek has successfully extricated himself from his betas and has decided to look through the ‘homework’ Stiles gave him. It’s similar to the book quotes assignment, but more like an Easter egg hunt. He smothers a laugh at, “find the website that uses the words ‘zip, zilch, zero’ to describe what occurs to werewolves during lunar eclipses.” He wants, again, to prove to Stiles that he’s more than capable of finding the answers to these questions and he doesn’t know why that is.

He smells them before he hears them coming, the scent of musky teenaged boy intermingled with garlic. When he hears them what he mostly hears is Scott complaining.

“I don’t know why you’re insisting on this, can’t you see it’ll only end badly? Has he hypnotized you? Brainwashed you? I know he has some kind of weird Alpha abilities regular werewolves don’t.”

If only.

“We’re doing this because it will be good for you,” Stiles is saying, in a tone of voice that suggests it’s not the first time. “Anyway, you’re the one who said I needed to learn how to dance. Derek’s gonna show me a couple of steps, that’s all.”

“Aren’t you even a little suspicious that he doesn’t have your best interests at heart?”

“Dude, I know he doesn’t. This isn’t about me,” Stiles says, curt. Derek’s throat constricts and he wishes he could stop listening, stop hearing the truth of it all. “This is about two people with different skill sets mutually using one another to get what they want.”

Scott’s silent at that and so is Derek, his heart-beat going so shallow he can’t hear it over his own irregular breathing. The harshness of Stiles’ voice slices through the nerves he refuses to acknowledge and he stands in readiness for their arrival.

Scott hangs back, but Stiles steps into the depot with alacrity. He’s turned up with his full lacrosse kit, dumps it on the ground. Derek’s about to step forward and speak, but then Erica appears.

“Oh, hey guys,” she says, mock-sweet. Derek stares at her but it isn’t any kind of deterrent. “Good to see you could make it. Stiles, Derek’s been waiting for you. Scott, we’ve been waiting for you.”

She wraps her arm around Scott’s and pulls him to the side, where Boyd and Isaac are standing. Boyd’s face is blank, but Isaac looks amused. Scott’s expression of bewilderment mirrors how Derek feels.

“What are you doing?” Derek asks, because, really --- what is she doing?

“Boyd, Isaac and I decided we were going to go practice the moves you showed us. A little bit of play-fighting, a little bit of tag. We thought Scott could come along and see what it’s like. It’ll be fun!”

“I set a couple of traps up in the woods yesterday,” Isaac adds. “We’re going to test if we can dodge them. It’ll be great to have another pair of claws.”

“I don’t think that’s the greatest idea,” Scott says, reaching forward like he’s trying to grasp hold of Stiles.

“It could be good for you, buddy,” Stiles says, before Derek can agree with Scott.

“Okay?” Scott says, though it sounds more like a question. He’s squinting at Stiles as if looking for something within him.

“Yes!” Erica says, bubblier than she’s been in a while.

He sees what Erica and Stiles are trying to do. Maybe Scott will join the pack despite him, because he connects with the other betas. While he’s failed to win him over, will presumably always fail in that regard, other werewolves his age might not. Already, Scott has tried to save each of his betas in one way or another. He obviously cares about them on some level, even if it’s just basic compassion. Spending time with them, especially in training exercises, might help change his mind. All might not be lost.

Derek watches as Scott grudgingly walks off with the others, leaving Stiles standing in front of him, stiller than he’s ever been. It’s almost like time has paused. Having time alone with Stiles will give him the space he needs to finish this once and for all. It’s wrong that thinking this leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.

*

Stiles is torn over why he encouraged Scott’s abandonment. On the one hand, Scott practicing with the betas is exactly what he wanted to happen. On the other hand, he didn’t particularly relish the thought of four pairs of eyes watching him as he made a fool of himself. On the third, mutant hand, he’s now alone with Derek. And Derek’s expression? Crazy impossible to read. He’s, like, sucking his cheeks in and staring intently, while blinking in a fashion that looks nervous and worried. Why on Earth would Derek be the nervous and worried one?

“Explain to me why you brought the padding,” Derek says with his head tilted to one side.

“I figured you’d teach me the basic steps and after I did them a few times we’d see if it’s improved my balance,” Stiles says with a shrug.

“That’s not how this works. You really think ten short minutes of slow, slow, quick, quick, slow is gonna fix everything that’s wrong with your game-play?”

Stiles opens his mouth wide, indignant. He! How dare! The insult. “So, how long is this gonna take, then?”

“Months. But today? An hour, at least.”

It’s the calm way Derek says it that has Stiles crossing his arms against his chest and choosing not to argue the point. Okay, so this is what he’s gotten himself into and he really has no one else to blame. He might as well weather it and beat himself up later.

Derek tells him and shows him the steps of ballroom tango, models the two most typical holds. He talks a lot about posture and gait, says that it’s different here than in Argentine tango, and honestly, Stiles didn’t even know there were different types of tango, so he’s more interested than he thought he’d be. Derek is verbose, again, not the caveman from Sunday afternoon. Stiles likes listening to his voice. It’s softer and higher than he ever thinks it should be, not quite the Batmanesque growl he sometimes imagines. And in conjunction with movement --- well.

Derek’s effortlessly graceful and Stiles is not above thinking of him as beautiful, because he is. He’s all broad shoulders and defined torso and perfect moving hips. Stiles finds it very hard to believe that anyone could look at him like this and not find it difficult to contain all their drool. It still breaks Stiles’ mind that Derek knows this at all, that he has a history that involves ballroom dancing. It is one of the most incongruous things he’d associate with Derek, behind, perhaps, Rodeo Clown and Children’s Entertainment Performer. He wants to ask so many questions about it, but instinct tells him it’s verboten and he’s been trusting his instincts lately. Possibly more than he should.

“It’s your turn,” Derek says, casually, like he isn’t reveling in the idea of Stiles’ utter and immense humiliation. The lying mcliarface.

“You want me to imagine I’m holding someone and move around the room?”

“To practice the steps,” Derek affirms mildly.

It’s one of the most insane things he’s said in a vaguely normal voice; no alpha growl, no barely concealed fury. A bubble of laughter is threatening to escape his throat, panic grating up his spine. He shouldn’t be pushing this, but he knows he’ll look a complete tool if he starts sashaying by himself. He has none of Derek’s grace and majesty. He already can’t remember the correct steps.

“I’ve been told it takes two to tango,” he points out. He mockingly extends his arms. “C’mere, big guy. Teach me how to dance the forbidden dance of love.”

If he makes this a humiliating experience for the both of them, Derek won’t have material to blackmail and mock him with for years to come. If he makes it a joke, the truth will be neatly obscured. The hesitation he expects in Derek does not come, though, as Derek swiftly strides toward him, getting all up in his space.

“That’s the lambada,” Derek corrects, with one perfectly arched eyebrow. “Okay, we’ll speed things along to this part.”

“We were always going to end up like this?” He has to ask. He has to know.

“Of course. I can only hope this is going to help with your abysmal posture,” Derek mutters, forcing Stiles’ legs apart by nudging with his right shoe, adjusting his stance. Stiles thinks about him doing it for other reasons and suppresses a shudder.

“Abysmal? Really?” he asks, needing to do something from turning to jelly. “You totally nailed the vocab section of the SAT, didn’t you? Man, next you’re gonna be telling me off for being loquacious.”

Derek puts a hand on his back; too warm and too tight. “I would, but I know it would be an inefficacious endeavor.”

“Oh my God, for someone who hardly ever speaks unless they have to, I am so impressed by your word porn.”

Stiles quickly realizes two things; one --- that he just said the words ‘porn’ and ‘impressed’ to Derek in the same sentence, and two --- he’s moved closer and closer as they’ve been talking. To the point where he can feel Derek’s hot breath against his cheek. This is precisely why he invited Scott along to act as a shield. A cockblocking shield. Too bad he also told Scott to go running off in the woods with Derek’s betas.

“I’m gonna apologize for all the garlic they put in the lasagne today. Up close like this, it must be more like a stench than a barely noticeable odor.”

“I smelled it a mile away. Literally. Luckily for you, I like garlic,” Derek says, lifting Stiles’ arm up and tapping on the underside of his elbow as if to tell him to keep it there.

“Trying to distinguish yourself from your blood-sucking brethren I see. Must be nice that not all supernatural beings suffer from the same allergies.”

Derek clasps hold of his hand. “Real original, a vampire joke.”

“It was either that or referencing how large doses of garlic can be toxic for dogs, so, I think this is less insulting,” Stiles says, casting his gaze down to look at how little space there is between their bodies.

His throat and mouth are desert dry, his palms and armpits too damp. He hates how his body is rebelling against him. He’s still sore from lacrosse practice on the weekend and the twinges and achiness are making this all the more real. He can’t pretend this is some kind of fucked up dream when he doubts he’d add in the detail about his left ribs feeling like someone stomped on them.

“Clearly you’ve never met a vampire. I have and, frankly, the dog joke would’ve made me feel better about myself,” Derek says, all softly sardonic and sneakily witty.

Stiles doesn’t think he’ll ever get sick of Derek like this and feels the need to point it out, acknowledge that he knows Derek is made of more than glowering and awkwardly facing-off against Scott.

“Oh wow, that was a joke.”

“I never really joke, we’ve established that. But I am lying for comedic effect.” Derek shifts and presses his hand harder against Stiles’ back. It does terrible things to Stiles’ nervous system, makes him want to curl into himself to protect from arching back into the touch. “Stop rolling your shoulders forward, you look like a hunchback.”

“Out there, where they all live unaware, what I'd give, what I'd dare, just to live one day out there!” Stiles sings, grinning widely. Derek’s frown is horrified and confused and Stiles pushes back at him with the hand at his shoulder. Derek actually moves with the shove and there’s no doubt in Stiles’ mind that doing so was a conscious choice. “Oh, please, don’t tell me you’ve never watched that movie; Quasimodo is to you what Max Goof is to me.”

Derek stares at him, way too close, close enough that Stiles can see the different shades of green in his irises, the gold limning his pupil. He’s spellbound for a second. “I have no idea what you’re talking about half the time.”

“That means that half the time you do know what I’m talking about.”

“Unfortunately. You need to stop talking for ten minutes, do you think you can manage that?”

Stiles is more than capable, but he doesn’t want to, because he thinks he’s been doing a great job of diverting Derek’s attention from sensing anything about him. Like how he has butterflies crashing around in his abdomen. And very inappropriate thoughts sailing around his mind.

“Why?”

“I want you to concentrate on where you’re stepping and on maintaining this posture and that’s hard to do when you’re yammering on a mile a minute.”

“Dude, I’m the king of multi-tasking. I can conduct this conversation, dance, and think up new nicknames for you all at the same time. I’m thinking Derek the Menace doesn’t have the same zing as Dennis the Menace because it rhymes imperfectly, but if said quickly eno---”

Derek puts a hand over his mouth and glares. Stiles has no clue why his first thought is to lick his palm, he can’t go anywhere in this state, he is uncontrollable. When Derek slides his hand again to where it was resting on his back he’s silent, tongue-tied and a little hysterical. He, just --- this is all the bad things Stiles both craves and knows he needs to avoid, swaying in Derek’s arms like some lovelorn damsel. Well. He is in considerable distress.

Stiles keeps telling himself to relax, but, then, Derek is rigid and uncompromising in front of him. There’s space, there, now, presumably for what Derek earlier called an open hold. He remembers what Derek said about maintaining his frame and thinks perhaps he’s supposed to be all stiff and formal at first too. He adjusts his stance slightly and tries to straighten up more, while still compressing his knees. Without the slouch he’s even closer to Derek in height and that’s a weird thought, that they’re almost eye-level, it kind of doesn’t seem right that he should be so equal in size to an Alpha werewolf. Then Stiles casts another glance over all of Derek’s muscles and reminds himself of their disparities.

“That’s it,” Derek murmurs, and it sounds like he’s cooing at him. “For now, just follow my lead.”

And they’re away, moving to an imaginary beat. A minute passes, more. Stiles looks down at his feet constantly, watching what Derek’s doing and trying to ensure he doesn’t step on his toes. It’s slow, slow, quick, quick, slow and trying to remember to lead with his heel. He’s thinking that if Derek didn’t have a grip on him he’d have tumbled over by now. He needs to remember that he’s the follow and therefore should be moving backwards, but he doesn’t always do it in time and they collide frequently. He knows he’s doing this all wrong, that he certainly shouldn’t be studying their steps like this, but when he looks up to wonder why Derek hasn’t told him off for not holding his head correctly, Derek’s eyes are closed tight and he’s breathing shallowly. His expression is all smoothed out, like he isn’t thinking, or angry, or concerned, and Stiles has never seen that before.

“I think I’d find this easier with music,” Stiles says, softly, not really wanting to break Derek out of his reverie, but this is far too intimate.

Derek’s eyes snap open and if Stiles didn’t know any better, he’d think there was a blush across his ridiculously sculpted cheekbones. He lets go of Stiles and nods, briskly.

“Music,” he says, as if it never occurred to him before. But he’s moving toward a decades' old sound system that Stiles thinks still uses cassettes. Which. Derek is not that old and really needs to stop pretending he is.

*

Stiles is practically vibrating in his arms and it’s getting increasingly hard not to respond to that. There’s a metallic and salty scent in the air masking the garlic that Derek wants to taste. He has to constantly remind himself he can’t until he’s sure he’ll be in control. Derek isn’t sure of anything.

He wants to know what it is about Stiles that breaks him down like this, twists him up. He simultaneously wants to get as far away from Stiles as he can. Instead, he pulls him closer.

The open hold they were maintaining half an hour before has closed. They’re pressed torso to torso and Derek’s heartbeat is matching Stiles’; rapid and rhythmic. Stiles has gotten hold of the basic steps, although he’s still clumsy with them, and will be for weeks, even with continued practice. He still occasionally lists to the side now that he’s stopped looking at his feet and Derek has to pull him upright.

When Stiles gets it right is when he’s most dangerous, though. There are minutes there when he’s sinuous and controlled, frenetic energy thrumming against Derek’s skin like passion. The tango had never seemed very passionate --- he’d been taught by his sister, after all. He knew the reputation, but he didn’t understand it. Dancing had always been a means to an end and not something he necessarily loved. Admittedly, he enjoyed it more than he ever let on. With Stiles in his arms, he’s struggling to see how he could ever think of it the same again, the heat of Stiles soaking into his skin. It would be easy to forget that anything else existed. It’s visceral, vivid. When they move in sync, Derek can’t think straight, because he has never had anything like this before.

“You can talk now,” he says, needing a distraction.

“What use words when I have hip thrusts?” Stiles asks, surging forward to prove that he’s actually a demon in disguise.

Derek refuses to tremble just because Stiles pushes all his lean, sinewy weight against him. There is something very like laughter in Stiles’ tone, but Derek doesn’t think that’s what the shakiness truly is at all. He can feel his pulse, his body using it as its metronome, he senses when it impossibly increases tempo.

“You do realize this isn’t a one-time thing and that you’re going to have to keep this up? A single lesson won’t give you the poise and balance you need to improve your lacrosse,” Derek admonishes, trying to grasp onto any scrap of sanity he has left.

“When you say ‘you’, you really mean ‘we’, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t. I’ve done my part. You should be able to remember these steps by now.”

Stiles turns his head to look into his eyes. “Yeah, but how stupid will I look dancing with myself?”

“I don’t think it’s possible for you to look any stupider,” Derek says, because Stiles’ gaze is drawing him in and he needs to escape.

As opposed to seeming insulted, though, Stiles looks amused, and Derek hates how much he wants to keep that expression on his face. It’s so much better than the dejected, life-weary Stiles he’s been seeing in recent months. The one he understands all too well, because it feels like an echo of everything he can’t let go of, for fear of the world spiraling out of his reach.

Stiles’ lips are glistening, and so, so pink, parted distractingly. Since when did they get so full? His fingers have tightened against Derek’s, long and capable. He’s staring and his pupils are wider, almost eclipsing the warm brown Derek’s used to; mesmerizing. All Derek wants to do is drag a hand through the too short hair at the back of his head, tilt forward, and give and give and give.

He can’t. He won’t. Derek pulls away from Stiles, pacing the deep breath he needs to take. His chest is tight and painful, but not in any way that can quickly heal. He flourishes toward nothing in particular, realizes the music has stopped playing --- thinks it may have done so minutes before.

“Just keep everything I told you about tangoing in mind when playing lacrosse, practice the steps, and you should get better.”

Stiles rocks forward on the balls of his feet, hands tucked into his jean pockets. Derek has a horrified moment where he thinks the determination in Stiles’ eyes is going to end with him suddenly being pressed up against the wall by 150 pounds of gawky but alluring teenager. Thankfully, after narrowing his eyes, Stiles steps back and picks up his lacrosse stick.

“Let’s see if it’s made any immediate change,” he says, and Derek doesn’t think he’s imagining the hint of acrimony in his tone. “I’d hate to think I’ve wasted your precious time, after all.”