Stiles feels like he's in trouble with the principal, sitting in front of a desk and waiting to be told what he's done wrong this time. Or at least, he assumes that's what this feels like. Most of his education was undertaken by tutors on the sets of films and TV shows. His only exposure to principals has been through the medium of pop culture.
Chris Argent ends his phone call curtly and takes his seat with a heavy sigh. He swivels to face Stiles. "Do you know why I asked you to come in?"
"No-o-o," Stiles says, dragging the syllable out while he tries to think. He's not coming up with anything. He's barely been out for weeks. The last time he walked past some paparazzi, they didn't even take any photos of him. They were more interested in some hairy guy with a couple of cute dogs.
"Stiles, you haven't worked in six years," Chris says. He looks concerned. "I know you're still picking up the odd commercial, but the last time you had the lead role in a movie, you were seventeen. No one really knows who you are any more, beside those outlandish rumours about you and Selena Gomez that were swirling around last year. I'm your agent because you pay me, not because you're my daughter's BFF. If you're not working, neither of us are earning money and there's no point in my keeping you on as a client."
"Scott's my BFF," he says, because he'd rather focus on that than the thought that Chris just fired him as a client.
"Scott's my BFF," Stiles repeats. "Allison's my platonic life partner."
"I don't actually care," Chris says with a roll of his eyes. "My point is, we need to raise your profile if you ever want to work in this town as an actor again. I was contacted recently by the producers of Dancing With The Stars. They want you to join the show for the twenty-second season and I told them you'd do it."
"Um, no. I can't dance, Chris." He pauses and frowns. "I can't dance like that. Ballroom dancing? I'm going to fall on my face."
"I don't care if you're the best thing since Fred Astaire. It's not about the dancing, Stiles, it's about getting out there and looking like an attractive prospect for casting agents. If people like you—if they vote for you—then they'll buy tickets to see you in a movie. So you're going on the show and you're going to be as entertaining and likeable as is physically possible."
"That's like... really physically possible," Stiles says. "I mean. You've met me. You should know."
Chris rolls his eyes. "And yet," he says. "Try not to get eliminated first. Then there won't have been any point to this whole charade."
Laura and Derek Hale are two of the most accomplished ballroom dancers of their age, and indeed their generation. No one comes close to touching them on the dance floor and anybody who's been lucky enough to be partnered with one of them during Dancing With The Stars has never gone out before reaching the final five couples. Most go on to win, though a few haven't.
Chris pulls enough strings behind the scenes to ensure that Stiles is partnered with Laura, which means Derek and his partner are going to be their main rivals. If Stiles has to do this—and there are no signs that he's getting out of it any time soon—he wants to win.
Things don't look positive for Stiles when he learns that Derek's partner is Lydia Martin. He knows Lydia all too well; they practically grew up together on various sets. The difference between them is that Lydia transitioned to acting as an adult as if she was made for it, and there's no real reason for her to be on the show at all. There's no way she needs the publicity when she got an Oscar nomination last year.
"I just wanna take some time to have fun, you know?" Lydia tells the cameras with a dazzling smile, her arm around Derek's waist. Her voice has an adorable Texan lilt to it—cultivated by a dialect coach, Stiles has no doubt. Lydia was born and raised in California. "I've been working since I was like, six years old. I can take a few months off to do some dancing with my new best friend."
"Which I'm grateful for," Derek puts in. They smile at each other coyly. "I truly believe Lydia and I can go all the way this season."
Stiles mutes the TV with a particularly violent jab of his thumb. "See? It's just disgusting."
"I don't see why that's disgusting, Stiles," Allison says, confiscating the remote from him before he puts it through the screen. "Lydia's awesome and really nice, you know that. So what if she's playing up to her audience? It's what you're going to need to do. What you totally failed at doing when they tried to interview you about it."
It's true. He's seen the tape of the interview with him and Laura, and he looked like he wanted to die during the whole thing. Stiles actually flinched when Laura put her hand on his shoulder briefly. Mainly because he wasn't expecting it, but still.
"Lydia is the queen of putting on an act," Stiles says. "I've only met Laura twice. We haven't even had a practice together yet."
"Because you cancelled it."
"I postponed it. Dad was sick."
"Your dad has a cold," Allison says. She turns the sound back on and flicks through the channels, looking for something to watch, settling finally on the Food Network. "Even he didn't take time off work. Just you."
"I'm going tomorrow," Stiles says grumpily. "I don't want to talk about this any more. Is that Sweet Genius? What's the inspiration?"
"Betta fish," she replies with great satisfaction.
Stiles turns up at the dance studio before 5am the next morning, clutching a cup of Starbucks coffee containing more espresso shots than he cares to think about and desperately sipping it. It's his second venti of the day and he's still nowhere near awake enough for this shit.
"Well, at least you're on time," Laura says from the floor. She's stretching, doing the splits and then pressing the length of her body against her leg, first one way and then the other. Her hair's pulled off her face in a messy topknot and she looks far better than anyone has any right to at this hour.
"I really hope you don't expect me to do that," Stiles says.
"Not in the first week. Do you know how to warm up?"
Their first dance is the cha cha cha and Stiles hates it immediately. They run through the choreography slowly, step by step, and Stiles keeps missing his cues. He starts on the first beat or the third and his feet get under Laura's whenever she starts dancing on time. They both fall over more than once. Every time he tries to move his hips the way Laura instructs him, he forgets what he's supposed to be doing with his feet. It's more frustrating and exhausting than Stiles had imagined.
"This is seriously impossible," Stiles announces around midday, collapsing onto the couch in the corner. "Dancing has won. I'm going home as soon as my legs work again."
"Stop being such a baby," Laura says. She runs a towel over her face and sips from a bottle of water. "You think it's difficult now? This is just the beginning."
"I didn't even want to begin."
"Listen," she says, sitting down next to him. "We'll take a break, get some lunch, and then start fresh in the afternoon. This is your first try. Trust me, you're not even close to the worst I've seen."
"I find that really difficult to believe," Stiles says.
There's a diner down the street from the studio and it's clear they know Laura very well. A waitress greets her with a bright smile and leads them directly to a booth in the corner. "I'll put in the order for your usual, Laura," she says, handing Stiles a menu. "And can I get you a drink while you look over the menu?"
"Just a coke, please," Stiles says. He flips through the menu and wonders if they'll still make French toast for him if he asks really nicely.
"You can eat whatever you want today, but I'm working with a dietician to put together a diet plan for you for the duration of the competition," Laura tells him.
"This is going to be hard, Stiles," she says. "You'll be burning more calories than you usually do and you can't afford to replace them with junk. You'll get tired more easily if you do."
The waitress comes back over and puts their drinks down on the table. "Are you ready to order?" she asks Stiles.
"I'd like a bacon cheeseburger with extra bacon and curly fries on the side," Stiles says promptly, mustering his most charming smile. "And can I have a chocolate milkshake as well, please?" He hands the menu back.
"Really?" Laura says with a roll of her eyes. "That's not childish at all."
"I should have guessed you'd be here. Do you mind if we join you?" Derek Hale asks, materialising behind Laura. He and Lydia don't wait for an answer before they slide into the booth.
"It's so good to see you again, Stiles," Lydia enthuses. "It's been years since we last got to hang out properly." She's dressed similarly to Laura, with her hair pulled back into a bun and attractive strawberry-blonde curls framing her face, and either no makeup or the kind of makeup that makes it look like she isn't wearing any. "Aren't you just having so much fun?"
"No," says Stiles.
Lydia and Laura both laugh while Derek just stares at him unnervingly. He has artful designer stubble and is wearing a deep v-neck tee that exposes most of his muscular chest, which has to be waxed. Stiles feels threatened on a cellular level.
"I was actually hoping to talk to you," Laura says. "Stiles is having trouble getting a handle on the cha cha cha right now, so if you have ten minutes free, it'd be great if you could come down to our studio and we can show him how it's done."
"Look, I'm pretty sure I can figure it out by myself," Stiles says quickly. "It's just teething problems. You probably have your own things to work on."
"Oh, please do," Lydia says. "I grew up watching you dancing together. And it'd be so great if you'd dance the rumba for me while we're helping each other. I can't get the intensity right and watching videos on Youtube isn't the same as seeing it in person." She reaches across the table and clasps Laura's hands between her own. "I'd just love it," she says sincerely.
Laura smiles at her. "Well, if Derek helps us with our dance, I don't see why I can't help you with yours."
"I don't think I can argue with that," Derek says finally. "More specifically, I don't think I'm allowed to argue with that. What exactly is the problem with the cha cha cha?"
"Everything," Stiles grumbles. Laura kicks him under the table. "Ow! Jesus. My hips, I guess. And my feet."
"His footwork?" Derek asks Laura.
"No, his actual feet," she replies, deadpan.
Their meals arrive—Derek and Lydia must have ordered at the counter—and Stiles busies himself with his extra-bacon cheeseburger so he doesn't have to talk to anyone. He's aware he's being petty but his muscles are starting to ache from the exertion, and he thinks he can feel the start of a headache.
Not for the first time, Stiles wonders why he agreed to do this.
In the end, Laura and Derek don't dance together for them that afternoon. Someone working on the show gets wind of it and decides they want footage for their training montages, so it's almost a week before Stiles and Lydia get to watch their partners show them how it's done. Stiles is starting to get the hang of moving his feet and his hips at the same time, but it quickly becomes apparent that he isn't a patch on Derek.
It's easy to see why Laura and Derek have the reputation they do. To Stiles, their dance looks effortless, even as they both direct a steady stream of advice towards him.
"Look at Derek's butt, Stiles," Laura barks across the studio, doing something complicated with her arms. "Look at the way he's working his hips."
Stiles does not want to look at Derek's butt. He would rather be anywhere else and doing anything else than sitting here with Lydia and several cameras recording his reaction to being ordered to look at another guy's butt. It doesn't help that it's probably the best ass Stiles has ever seen on a person, man or woman. He doesn't need his slack-jawed amazement broadcast on national TV.
"You're not looking," Lydia says.
"I'm not looking because—oh my god," Stiles cuts himself off because he turned his head slightly and got an eyeful of Derek's cock swinging around in his sweatpants. "Derek's not wearing underwear," he hisses to Lydia, thanking every deity that may or may not exist there isn't a boom mic in his vicinity.
She raises a perfectly shaped eyebrow. "You're meant to be looking at his butt," she hisses back, lips barely moving.
"It's hard to miss." Stiles grits his teeth and crosses his legs.
"Sure is," Lydia croons happily. "By the way, he's wearing underwear. It's just that big."
She's messing with me, he thinks. She has to be.
"You both need to pay attention," Derek calls and Stiles hopes his hearing has been ruined by years of loud music. "Lydia, this'll be us in a few weeks. Look at the way Laura's finishing off her hand movements; you need to be able to do that."
Lydia sits up straighter on the couch.
Stiles really didn't think the day could get any worse than having Derek "Perfect Ass" Hale parading around in front of him, demonstrating exactly how bad Stiles is at the cha cha cha, but then somehow it does when Laura and Derek show them the rumba.
It's sexy. It'd be uncomfortably sexy if anyone else was doing it, but between two people who are actually related? Stiles doesn't know what to think. He definitely doesn't know how they're doing it with a complete lack of embarrassment. They go through the whole dance looking as if they're on the verge of making out, then when it ends both of them act like it was nothing. To them, it probably is. Stiles heard or read somewhere that the Hales have been dancing together since they were eight and ten.
"Job well done, little brother," Laura says, kissing him on the cheek.
"We're never going to be that good," Stiles says despondently.
"Speak for yourself," Lydia replies. She loops her arm through Derek's. "I'm feeling so much more confident now," she says to him. "I think we should go back to the studio and get to work."
"Oh, me too," Stiles says, pasting a grin across his face. "We're gonna kick your asses."
As soon as Derek and Lydia have left, he collapses face down on the coach. "We're dead," he moans into a cushion. "We're so dead."
"You might be dead but I'll drag your corpse through as many rounds as I can manage," Laura says.
"Harsh," Stiles says. "But fair."
They don't really train tirelessly in the weeks leading up to the first show of the season, which is mainly Stiles' fault. He turns up to almost every training session and hardly ever cheats on his diet. Laura slowly manages to whip him into shape—or something that resembles it enough to get them through, with any luck. She seems optimistic, but Stiles is pretty sure Laura's confidence is all an act. He knows he's all kinds of terrible at the dance, and about the only thing he has been able to do right is memorise the choreography, even if he can't quite execute it to Laura's standards.
They work a little on the jive, their dance for week two, but in the end Laura decides they should concentrate everything on the cha cha cha.
"I don't know why this one dance is so hard for you, Stiles," she says one particularly frustrating afternoon. "You can do the jive, more or less, so clearly it's not a problem with the Latin dances."
Stiles crouches in the corner with his head in his hands. "Maybe I'm going to suck at all the rest of them apart from the jive," he says. "Can I quit, please?"
"No one's quitting anything. We dance in four days." She touches his shoulder. "Break's over. We've still got a lot of work to do."
Scott, Allison and his dad are all sitting in the audience for the first live show, which is the kind of pressure Stiles could really do without.
"Are you kidding me?" his dad said the night before when Stiles called him. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."
He hasn't been able to see them in the audience—there are so many people that all the faces are blurring into one anonymous, amorphous blob—but that's probably for the best. Just knowing they're out there watching him is difficult enough for Stiles.
"I thought you'd done stage stuff before," Laura says from outside the men's bathroom where Stiles has his head down a toilet.
"It's not the same," he says. "I know how to act. I don't know how to dance. They're all going to laugh at me." He decides that he probably isn't going to throw up after all and gets up, walking out of the bathroom. "You've tried really hard and I'm going to let you down."
"You'll only let me down if you don't go out onto that dance floor and give it everything you've got," she says.
He swallows hard and nods. "Laura, if I fuck this up—"
"You won't," Laura says. "Are you ready?"
"Get ready." And that's the end of that.
But the best thing Stiles can say about their cha cha cha, once it's all over, is that neither one of them fell down or had a wardrobe malfunction. No amount of rehearsal prepared him for how it actually feels to dance in front of a crowd.
"Your hips, Stiles, your hips!" Bruno says. "Where was the passion?"
"It was not in my hips," he says, somewhat unnecessarily.
"Maybe the cha cha cha isn't your thing," Carrie Ann says, "but I think you definitely have potential and I hope with Laura's guidance we'll see some more of it."
The judges give them sixteen points, two fives and a six, putting them firmly at the bottom of the scoreboard for the first week. Stiles actually thinks they were more than generous but Laura is furious.
"They undermarked us," she says when the show's over and no one's filming them any more. "It's ridiculous. That was the best I've ever seen you dance it and we deserved at least twenty. At least."
"Are you mad because this is the lowest score you've ever got?" Stiles asks.
Laura glares at him. "Partially," she says after a moment. "But you were better than a sixteen and you know I wouldn't say that if I didn't mean it. We're in danger now, Stiles, if people don't like you and you don't dance better next week."
"People like me."
"Well, we'll find out next week."
At that point, Allison, Scott and Stiles' dad turn up to speak to them, and his dad and Laura immediately bond over the criminally low score they received.
"Seriously, I'm pretty sure I deserved it," he says.
"No way, man, are you kidding?" Scott says. "You were amazing." Allison elbows him in the side. "You shouldn't have gotten the lowest score, anyway."
"And it's still only the first week," Allison says encouragingly. "You're going to get so much better."
Laura makes a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob.
"I'm proud of you anyway, son," his dad says. He ruffles Stiles' hair, knocking it out of the gelled quiff the hair and makeup people put it in for the show.
"Thanks, Dad," he mumbles, reaching up to adjust his hair. "Please never come and watch me dancing again."
"What are you talking about? I'll be here every week. Allison and Scott agree with me." All three of them nod.
"I actually think that's a great idea," Laura says.
Stiles turns to her with betrayal in his eyes. "Et tu, Brute?"
"If you can dance in front of your dad, you can dance in front of anyone," she says, looping her arm through his elbow. "It's one of the first things I learned when I started dancing."
"You're all the worst."
Stiles wishes that training was as quick and easy as the montages the show airs imply. He puts in the time Laura asks him to, he eats what Laura's dietician friend tells him to eat—properly this time, not just when he feels like it—and he sleeps like a log for eight hours every night before doing it all over again the next day.
"Your life no longer contains weekends," Laura tells him. Stiles repeats it to Scott, who laughs in his face. Scott is the worst BFF ever.
The week's over before Stiles knows it and he has to dance again. With their first score so low, the stakes feel a hundred times higher than they did the week before, even though Stiles is more confident about the jive than he ever was about the cha cha cha.
"What do you have to remember?" Laura asks just before they dance.
"Fast feet, finish with my fingers," Stiles says. "And don't get dizzy and fall over when I have to spin."
Stiles gives it his all. He doesn't fall over—nor does he drop Laura during any of the dips—he only slips out of time with the music once, and he flirts shamelessly with all three judges under the guise of being in character for the dance. At the very least, he hopes they'll get points for being entertaining.
And whether it was the dancing or the flirting, the judges give them twenty-two points. Stiles whoops with delight but Laura is more reserved with her celebration.
"We still don't know if it'll be enough," she reminds him. "We're at the bottom of the scoreboard."
"It's got to be enough," he says. "People love me. And failing that, people love you. You're a champion."
One by one, the other couples are declared safe. Lydia and Derek are the first, of course, because they nailed both their dances and they look amazing together. He thought his chemistry with Laura was good, but Lydia and Derek dance like they're having a passionate love affair. Maybe they are. No wonder people voted for them.
Stiles' heart sinks when he and Laura are told they're in the bottom two and at risk of being eliminated. He wraps one arm around her shoulders and holds her hand with the other, probably tighter than she finds comfortable, and they wait for the worst to happen.
"Matt and Anna, the judges loved your rumba but weren't quite so thrilled with your waltz, leaving you tied at the bottom of the scoreboard. Stiles and Laura, your cha cha cha last week failed to impress, but will the improvement you showed this week when performing the jive be enough for our viewers to save you? Let's find out. The couple who'll be leaving the competition tonight is..."
Stiles sucks in a deep breath. Much to his surprise, he realises that he really wants to be here next week.
"...Matt and Anna. We're so sorry to lose you guys!"
"Holy shit," Stiles says into Laura's ear, hoping neither of their mics pick it up.
"We pulled it off. Holy shit," she echoes faintly.