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When Derek was hired to photograph some up-and-coming novelist for his book jacket, he was expecting someone stuffy, middle-aged and, well, bookish.

That’s not what he gets. At all.

The boy on his studio doorstep, no older than a college student, is bright-eyed and wearing a clashing blue and purple plaid shirt over a bright red tee with a yellow lightning bolt in the middle, hair sticking up every which way.

As soon as he’s through the door, the guy’s mouth moves a mile a minute, and Derek clutches at his camera like it’s some sort of lifeline amongst the flood of words bombarding him. He’s barely taken two steps inside and Derek has somehow learnt the guy’s name is Stiles, he had an omelette for breakfast and his best friend decided to become a vet after rescuing an injured baby rabbit from the side of the road.

He can’t remember how morning meals turned to woodland animals and, if asked, he’d venture a guess Stiles wouldn’t either. Instead, he’d probably start in on the wonders of the mind and end up at orchestral overtures. As it is, he’s found his way to relating the benefits of glasses over contact lenses. Derek finds himself wondering how Stiles’ fingers can keep up with his thoughts when typing up his novel, how he’d manage to arrange it all into any semblance of order. It just conjures a vision of a very harried-looking editor.

Erica, Derek's assistant, looks just as bemused as Derek feels, but a smile is steadily growing on her face as Stiles prattles on while she arranges his hair into something more presentable. Derek understands it. Stiles’ chatter, despite being a shock to the senses, is lively and engaging, a buzzing energy he can't help letting draw him in.

The feeling only intensifies when he gets Stiles in front of his camera.

The man doesn’t stop fidgeting or talking, eyes darting around the room like he’s not sure where to look; a clear display of nerves. For Derek, it’s like a feast: Stiles’ roving amber eyes catching the overhead lights, the splay of his long fingers as he gestures animatedly, the lush pink of his mouth shining every time he wets his lips. It’s such a pity the typical style for this sort of work is black and white.

He's intrigued by Stiles’ animated descriptions of his book, of what sounds like a complicated web of parallel universes and the clash of seemingly unrelated plot lines, but with Stiles’ energy and passion, Derek has no doubt he can pull it off. It sounds like he's onto something that has the potential to be huge, and when Derek tells him so, it's the first time Stiles falters. He ducks his head, eyes shyly averted and lips pressed together in an attempt to hide a pleased smile.

Eventually, Derek realises he needs to produce some usable photos and Stiles’ sheepishly apologises for his motormouth and jittery nerves.

“If it helps, you can picture me naked,” Derek offers, raising his camera once again in an attempt to conceal the heat creeping up his ears.

Stiles’ eyes widen for a moment and then his smile becomes a lascivious grin. Derek’s finger shakes as he snaps a picture, trying to ignore the stray voice in his head pointing out it would be right at home gracing the cover of a very different sort of publication.

In the end, Derek ends up taking a lot more pictures than he normally would for this sort of job. He tries to tell himself – and Erica’s knowing glances – that he just lost track of time, but deep down he knows it was just a way to delay saying goodbye.

When Stiles takes his leave and Derek shuts the door behind him, the studio is eerily quiet, gone from his favoured setting of a focused, professional working space to feeling like something’s missing.

Erica is shrugging on her coat. She doesn’t say anything but her pursed lips tell him all he needs to know. He should have asked for his number, asked him on a date, at least said he’d like to see him again. But ‘direct’ never has been Derek’s style when it comes to relationships.

Hitting send on the email containing Stiles’ files feels like the end of something no matter how much Derek tries to tell himself there wasn’t even a beginning.

 

*

 

A month later, Erica drops a package in his lap addressed to him in an erratic scrawl. Inside, he finds a signed copy of Stiles’ book and a handwritten message on the inside cover. It rambles just as much as Stiles had in real life and Derek’s smile makes his cheeks ache as he reads.

Look, so, this is probably way out of bounds and I’m really sorry if it is but I’ve been thinking about you a lot ever since I hired you to take my picture and I know I probably should have come to see you in person to do this but you’re like, insanely hot and I couldn’t think of an excuse to come and see you in case of the highly likely certain possibility that I’d chicken out and pretend I needed more photos or something or, God forbid, I’d accidentally say the ones you took weren’t good enough because let’s face it the word vomit is strong with this one. And I just want to be clear, I’m not just saying I couldn’t stop thinking about you because of your face and biceps and your whole everything, because there’s also the fact that even though I took up, like, an hour more of your time than I should have, you didn’t tell me to shut up even once which is probably a first in my entire life? And I kinda got the feeling that you maybe didn’t mind it?

So. Call me? Or don’t. Either way is fine. WAIT I didn’t mean that. I didn’t mean it would be fine if I didn’t hear from you, though of course I totally respect your decision if you don’t want anything further to do with me. I mean, look at this message. Of course you’re already looking, you’re reading it right now. I just mean Jesus, this is why I never hand write. There’s no filter. And now Scott’s advancing to take this away from me before I embarrass myself any further you know, the vet? I’m sure I told you about him? ANYWAY. What I mean is, I’d really love to hear from you so CAL L   M

Below the abrupt end of the message is a phone number printed neatly in someone else’s hand and Derek can picture Stiles’ faceless best friend sighing with exasperation.

Derek reads the message through twice more, able to hear Stiles’ voice so clearly.

No, he doesn’t mind. He wants to hear more. He wants to hear every errant thought that’s ever crossed his mind, every anecdote, every opinion. Derek dials his number and tells him so.

 

*

 

The sequel Stiles presses into Derek’s hands in person and it contains a similarly lengthy, rambling request to move in together.

 

*

 

The final entry in the trilogy comes with only four simple words and Stiles sinking down onto one knee.