Stiles is a mess of emotions, and just like his headphone cables, he’s impossible to untangle. He concentrates on school instead, giving it more focus than he’s felt inclined to in weeks. It’s a familiar routine of listen to the teacher, mentally mock the teacher, eat as much as humanly possible in the cafeteria, make notes, read boring text books, get vaguely interested by a passage in The Taming of the Shrew, attempt to ignore Scott’s ever-present staring.
Scott wants to ‘talk’. Stiles is putting a moratorium on words. He’s not overly successful, because he and words are in an abusive relationship --- they keep hurting him, he keeps going back to them because no other bond ever feels the same --- but he’s doing his level best. He’s shocked by how easy it is not to discuss, examine, inquire. He manages to go whole hours without saying more than “yes” or “no” and a memorable “sorry” to Lydia after he steps on her shoe. She ignores him anyway.
This must be how Derek feels most of the time --- only ever having to deal with a syllable here or there.
No more thinking about Derek.
It both helps and hinders that he has lacrosse practice after school. Helps, because then he’s busy getting changed, concentrating on how he’s going to convince Finstock to let him play. Hinders, because Boyd and Isaac are in the locker room as well and they are only too happy to talk to Scott about the previous day.
“You were awesome,” Isaac says, smiling in an easy way he never had before Derek bit him. Stiles notes that, quickly looks away. No more thinking about Derek. “How you side-stepped that trip wire and then deliberately triggered it to get Boyd?”
“I wanna be insulted, but I’m just impressed,” Boyd adds.
Stiles tilts his head down toward his locker door and attempts to make himself invisible. He shrugs on his uniform, concentrates on attaching his padding. Any second now, he knows. Any moment. They will turn to him and they will want to know why they came back to stone cold silence. They’ll subtly twist the conversation to supposed dance lessons. Scott asked him questions the entire Jeep ride back to his place, not picking up on Stiles’ utter unwillingness to share. It’s the most attention he’s given him for months, which is darkly hilarious.
Stiles can’t share because he hasn’t even sorted it out for himself.
Sure enough, Scott turns to him as if he’s going to prod at him again, but then Boyd’s drawing Scott away. It’s an easy, unaffected movement; a hand on Scott’s elbow and a question about his hearing abilities asked in a soft, curious voice. Stiles stares at them as they walk toward the locker room door and is rewarded with a tip of Boyd’s head, so it wasn’t accidental. Stiles nods back. Huh. He’s spent a long time assuming Boyd hates him to teeny, tiny pieces, but that was the act of a man who knows when someone wants to be left alone. On second thoughts, yeah, it makes perfect sense that Boyd should realize that, even if it’s a surprise he could be so compassionate.
Of course, Isaac is still there, staring at him. Stiles hasn’t found it in his heart to forgive Isaac completely for how he acted immediately after wolfdom, isn’t positive he’ll ever be able to. But he looks sympathetic at the moment as opposed to ‘you’d be delicious on rye’, so Stiles waits.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Isaac says. “None of us do. Except maybe Erica, she seems to know everything. But if you’re trying to help the pack, I support you.”
Stiles gives what he thinks approximates a smile. It could be a grimace. Stiles acknowledges Isaac’s words, at any rate. Isaac seems happy enough with the expression, takes it as a dismissal, because he follows Boyd and Scott out of the room. Stiles checks and rechecks his shoe laces, the fastenings for his padding, the mesh of his stick. Nothing appears to be loose.
After that, he wastes no time going and talking to Finstock. The quicker the less painful it will be, like ripping off a band aid, like pulling out a tooth, like coming up with another figurative analogy.
“Uh, Coach?” He asks --- too tentative. He knows that won’t get Finstock’s attention. He’s busy shouting at Jackson. Stiles taps him on the arm. He might have done that a little too hard. “Coach, I’d really like to play today, not just watch everyone else practice. I wanna be out there, doing my thang.”
He should not have added the head-wobble. Now he’s just embarrassing himself. It gains Finstock’s attention, though.
“Sure thing, Stilinski,” he says without a second look. “As long as you do something for me.”
“Yeah! Anything. Well, not anything. Within reason. There has to be some kind of moral code in place. I wouldn’t want to do anything illegal.”
Stiles has done enough illegal things in his day. He doesn’t need to add to the list.
“Never, ever touch me again,” Finstock says, rounding on him. His face contorts into an exacerbated scowl. “You were always gonna play today. Five members of the team have come down with food poisoning. No one ever follows the prescribed diet. Why doesn’t anyone listen to the wisdoms of age? I’m putting you in as an attacker. Just don’t cause any injuries, okay? We can’t afford to lose anyone else.”
“I resent that,” Stiles says automatically. And the funny thing is, he really does. How’s he supposed to have confidence in himself if no one else does?
Still, this is good. This is great. He’s been working on offense and he knows he’s golden aim-wise, so basically all he has to do now is remember everything Derek’s taught him regarding movement and not faceplanting.
He really sucks at the ’don’t think about Derek’ game.
He tells himself to concentrate, even uses the term ‘eyes on the prize’. Surely rhyming will get him through this. Stiles takes several deep breathes, rolls back his shoulders, gives himself a mental pep talk. He can do this. He can totally do this. He’s an excellent runner. He’s got speed. He has his own kind of style, and that has to count for something. He’s learning how to balance, how to maintain his poise. He thinks about how he needs to stand for the tango and shifts his weight and stance until he’s set up correctly. Who knows, maybe he could even use the principles of slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.
Stiles falls over almost the second he gets the ball. He gets the ball, but the shuffle to the side he intended to do somehow gets turned into some kind of grapevine stepping thing and he’s over and out. To add further insult to the humiliation, Jackson’s the one who runs toward him and looms, scooping up the ball.
“You snooze, you lose,” Jackson says with the kind of smooth mockery only someone with a PHd in douchebaggery can achieve.
Stiles bashes his helmet again into the grass. Rhyming’s a traitorous bastard.
That’s all it takes for Stiles to give up. He doesn’t see the point. He hasn’t gotten good enough yet, it’s that simple. No matter how much he wants to speed things along, to improve overnight, it’s not going to happen. He watches the rest of the game and isn’t all that upset none of the acting midfielders pass him the ball. He wouldn’t either, in the same position.
Stiles skilfully avoids Scott by forgoing a shower at school and driving straight home. He crashes onto his bed for ten minutes, but can’t stay still. He switches on his laptop, youtubes an appropriate track, stands up and practices the Goddamned tango. This isn’t the end, he tells himself, this is only the beginning.
He can’t lie to himself anymore. He wants to. He misses that ability. But he can’t.
He’s as bad as Kate. Stiles has fallen for the person Derek has been pretending to be and he’s going to get hurt. He’s already been hurt, if the disappointment Derek vividly remembers is any indication. There isn’t anything he can do to change that. The best thing he can do now is to leave Stiles alone. Whether or not Scott joins the pack, it’s irrelevant. Yes, he works well with the others, yes he would provide much needed power. No, it isn’t worth it in the end.
The look in Stiles’ eyes --- Derek can’t get it out of his head. For a second, more, he wanted Derek.
He wanted the illusion. It’s better to snatch it away now than let it linger.
Derek goes for a drive to clear his head, tries to think of what he’ll say and do if Stiles approaches him again. Maybe he’s lucky and Stiles recognized his rejection. He really doesn’t think the stick ‘accident’ was all that accidental. Stiles is clumsy occasionally, but he has good control over those aspects of the game. And he didn’t talk to him, either. That’s a good sign.
Derek actually wishes he had an immediate threat to worry about so he couldn’t afford to think about this. Something more threatening than the metaphorical chess game he’s playing against the Argents. There’s something lurking, he can sense it, a problem around the corner. It’s one of the reasons why he was so convinced he had to get Scott on his side. But it hasn’t made an appearance yet and the anticipation is gnawing at him.
He isn’t aware he’s going in any particular direction until he begins to recognize the thinning out of the woods. He’s doubled back on himself at some point. Probably after he went to get gas. He figures it’s his subconscious attempting to punish him further for his transgressions. He’ll always end up back here.
Derek drives down the overgrown lane, pulls up close to the house. He gets out and stares at the wrack and ruin caused by his mistakes.
The journey back to the depot is short and easy to concentrate on. The trees whip by in a kaleidoscope of color and the road’s mesmeric. Plus, the speeding helps. It’s probably stupid, the last thing he wants is to be pulled over, but it helps.
When he gets to the depot he discovers he’s not as alone as he’d like to be. It must be later than he thought. Erica and Boyd are working on some kind of mix of martial arts. Derek thinks anyone could be forgiven for thinking Boyd would be the one to win, given the advantage of his sheer size, but Erica is kicking his ass. She’s swift, well-coordinated. She’s noted Boyd’s weaknesses and she keeps attacking them. Even when Boyd attempts to pick her up, she wriggles free and delivers a crisp roundhouse to his face. Isaac is sitting cross-legged on the floor reading the same book Erica’s been reading in her spare time. When Derek looks at the title, he recognizes it as one of his family’s old books, a history of the area that briefly discusses the wolves that once lived there. He doesn’t know how accurate it is, but he’s read it several times himself. It’s a painless way he can connect with the past.
“There you are, Papa Wolf,” Erica says, brushing her hands down her clothes in a movement that Derek suspects is supposed to be more seductive than practical.
“Don’t call me that.”
Erica smiles, sweetly, and nothing good ever comes of that. “Sorry. Would you prefer it if I called you Daddy instead?”
Derek’s not proud of himself for using his Alpha powers for something so small, but he does. He half-shifts, glares, doesn’t back down even when Erica whimpers. It’s cathartic and he needs to release his pent-up aggression.
“I’m going out,” he says. “When I come back, I want you all gone.”
“We can’t, we told Scott we’d meet him here,” Isaac says, wary in how he approaches Derek.
“Meet him and then take him away with you,” he says, calm as he can manage.
He turns his back on his betas and goes to the library.
The week goes by relatively pain free. Scott, bless his little wolfy socks, decides he’ll respect Stiles’ wishes and ceases in his relentless press for answers. It’s a relief, because the more he had to think about how to avoid responding, the more he had to think about why. Scott’s also been hanging out with Erica, Isaac and Boyd, which is good, Stiles thinks. It sounds like, ego-wise, they’ve all pretty much returned to normal. Or at the very least, not psycho. Erica’s been giving Scott some tips about how to focus on hearing and scent at the same time. Though she has apparently been very handsy when doing so. In turn, Scott’s been explaining how he maintains control during the full moon. There’s one coming up, so that’s handy. Scott doesn’t bring up Derek and Stiles doesn’t ask.
Stiles hasn’t wanted to interfere with the werewolf bonding. That’s what he gives as his excuse. He’s been too busy working on his dance moves, anyway. That’s an excuse he keeps to himself. He’s cleared some floor space in his room, has downloaded several different tango tracks. He’s watched a few tutorial youtube videos, but they didn’t tell him anything much that he hasn’t already been told. He feels idiotic dancing around his room by himself, but he figures that’s better than dancing around solo in front of an audience. His dad has almost caught him once or twice, but thankfully seemed to take the presence of Stiles’ drawn blinds and flushed cheeks as him interrupting Stiles’ self-pleasuring time. That’s never not going to be awkward. For some reason, it’s still less awkward than him knowing Stiles was actually in the middle of --- firstly --- checking his posture in a mirror and ---secondly --- trying to do a turning corte.
On Saturday, Stiles goes to the lacrosse field and runs. He does a couple of sprints to warm up his body. Then he does a few different things, runs forwards and backwards, shuffles off to the side like a crab (and if he makes Three Stooges appropriated Zoidberg sounds when doing so, he’s the only one around to hear.) He concentrates hard on what his feet are doing, on being careful enough there’s nothing precarious in his balancing.
It… still doesn’t seem to be working, overly well. He’s doing his best, honestly he is, but he isn’t fluid, yet. He doesn’t have enough sense memory to successfully translate his dance practice into his lacrosse practice. He also thinks --- well, no, he knows --- that he needs to dance more with a partner. Which means he’s going to have to go search out Derek again.
Stiles sits on the bleachers and lets himself remember being in Derek’s arms. It’s distracting. He still occasionally gets a tingle down his spine remembering the heat of Derek’s body against his, the sound of his low, steady breathing. He thinks about how Derek had looked at him. He wasn’t imagining the heat in that gaze. No one’s ever looked at him like that before. And maybe Derek was simply caught up in the intimacy of the dance, that makes sense based on how he reacted immediately after. But Stiles can’t forget it, or how much he’d wanted Derek to close the gap between them. He thinks he may have been unfair in his disappointment, but no one had ever looked at him like that before, and the promise in it was enticing.
He decides then and there to visit Derek in the afternoon. He’ll ask for the answers to his homework quiz, he’ll casually slip in an anecdote of his many failures on this very field, he’ll use his best version of puppy dog eyes to ask for more lacrosse tuition. It’ll be fine. He’ll approach it on purely platonic terms. And if he somehow ends the evening wrapped up in Derek’s arms, that’ll just be a bonus.