“You can get class credits for it,” Laura says, with a knowing look in her eye.
Derek has to admit, he’s been ignoring some of his gen ed requirements, and an independent study in the theater department would be great for boosting his GPA and lowering stress.
But it’s theater.
“What are you guys working on again?” Derek folds his arms.
“Into the Woods,” Laura replies. “Look, I’m just the stage manager, but this quarter’s turnout was really low and I really need help getting the sets together. All you have to do is paint, I promise. Please, Derek?”
And this is how Derek finds himself on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons outside BHU’s art building, painting a forest mural. He’s got a few other murals to paint but it’s self-explanatory, and he and the other set tech, Boyd, get along well. It’s actually really relaxing, and Derek doesn’t have to interact with the cast much at all.
Derek has to admit Laura was right. This is a great idea. He finds himself looking forward to the time rhythmically painting and the companionable silence with Boyd; it’s a highlight of his week, especially as his other classes are getting incredibly difficult. He was worried that Laura might try to convince him to try out for one of the parts, but she’s been busy choreographing dance moves along with her other duties.
One of the best things is that Derek can come in and paint whenever he wants; he gets a key from Laura and he can come in at any hour to the art lot and work on the murals. Boyd takes the most advantage of this, as he’s on the track and field team and has competitions all the time, and it isn’t long before Derek is coming and going at all odd hours.
It’s early evening, and the actual theater class has been over for a few hours. There have been a few people going in and out of the auditorium, but Derek is alone, adding details to a tree, completely in his own world, singing along to the Hamilton soundtrack. If he gets a little carried away in one of his favorite songs, no one needs to know.
“I am the one thing in my life I can control...I am inimitable, I am an original…” Derek is totally lost in the song now, harmonizing and singing the final few verses, flicking his paintbrush at a tree leaf with a flourish.
“Whoa. Who are you and why are you not in my musical?”
Derek freezes, yanking off his headphones and turning around. There’s a guy pushing his way through the lot gate with a box of… costumes, it looks like. There are a few colorful bits of fabric hanging out of the open box, and lots and lots of sparkles.
“I… I’m Derek. I’m just working on the set. Laura told me I could do independent study for class credit?”
The guy waves his hands, shaking his head. His whole body is alight with energy and movement, and his eyes sparkle with excitement.
“Yeah, I know she had some students painting and stuff, but you! Your voice! It’s amazing, please, you have to do the play. I’m still need Rapunzel’s Prince, and so far Greenberg has been playing the part but he really can’t carry a tune, so we’re all suffering through Agony.”
“Is it agony?”
A delighted grin graces the guy’s face, and Derek has to swallow back a newfound nervousness. He’s not good with people he’s attracted to, not really. He should really leave before he makes a fool of himself. He already made a bad joke, so.
“I’m Stiles! I’m the director here. It’s my first college production, so I’m very excited.” Stiles holds out his hand, and then before Derek can shake it, he awkwardly cards his fingers through his hair. “Hah, handshake, sorry. I still have no idea how the adulting stuff works, I mean, I can never figure out like if I’m introducing myself to another student whether or not the handshake will be weird.”
Derek nods. Stiles talks a mile a minute as he puts away the costumes in the storage shed, and it’s all Derek can do to keep up. Stiles keeps rambling, going on about weird etiquette and college norms and somehow it ends in a story about being sexiled all the time.
“Danny’s great and all, and he’s totally chill to leave the dorm for me too, but unfortunately I am not getting laid left and right like he is, which makes sense, considering I’m not—” Stiles makes some confused sort of gesture to himself, an adorable bewildered expression on his face, biting his lip.
Derek shakes his head. “No, no, you’re very fuckable— I mean, um— fuck. I’m sorry, that came out wrong. I just met you, but um, dateable, is what I’m trying to say. You seem nice. And you’re very cute. Is what I’m saying, um, you shouldn’t have a problem getting laid. If that’s what you want.” He looks down at the mural, where he’s just painted a huge green stripe on the tree trunk. Great. That’s going to take forever to fix, and he’s also just made a fool of himself and insulted Stiles.
Stiles’ eyes widen. “Really? You think I’m cute?”
“Yeah, I um, I have to go to class, you can lock up, right?” Derek grabs his dirty brushes and his stuff, hastily making his way towards the gate.
“Yeah! It was nice to meet you! This forest mural looks great, thanks! You should really be in the play, though. Can you come try out for Rapunzel’s Prince?”
Derek’s so caught up in trying to leave quickly without embarrassing himself further that he just mumbles “Yeah, okay,” to all of Stiles’ questions and is already dashing towards main campus.
It isn’t until he hears Stiles’ voice call out, “Thanks! I’ll see you next week during rehearsal!” when he realizes what’s just happened.
Laura is laughing hysterically at him as she hands Derek another dish. “Let me get this straight— or so very not straight.”
Derek glowers, taking the dish and drying it.
“So you’re in the play. Because you have a thing for Stiles.”
“I— no.” Derek wipes another dish with much more force than necessary. “You know that I’m not good at talking to people I’m interested in.”
“So you are interested in him!” Laura crows.
Derek sighs, putting the last dish on the rack and heading to his bedroom.
Laura follows him; their apartment is small, it doesn’t take long. “Hey.” She pokes her head into his door, all the teasing gone from her voice. “You gonna be okay to do the part, though?”
“Yeah. I think I’ll be okay,” Derek says.
The thing is, Derek is not okay. He loves musicals and theaters and singing, just not… in front of people. The idea of being on stage terrifies him, though. His high school girlfriend had laughed when Derek had told her he’d wanted to try out for their school’s production of Rent and his group of friends were mostly basketball jocks who found his musical habit weird. Derek is fine singing in the shower or when he’s alone, but put him in front of other people and he just can’t make a sound.
It’s not even the entire cast and crew— everyone is off working on their own thing, people rehearsing lines with each other and it’s just Derek and Stiles in a corner of the stage but there are still people around and Derek just can’t do it.
“Are you okay?”
Derek shakes his head.
“Oh, I got just the thing. Come on.”
Stiles takes Derek by the hand and drags him off backstage and into a small practice room. It’s empty aside from a broken chair and a very old, out of tune piano.
“Is this okay?” Stiles asks earnestly. “I just want you to be comfortable. It can get really loud in the auditorium.”
They’re still holding hands. Derek takes a deep breath. “Yeah, this is… this is great.”
“Perfect! You can just work on the song here, and then I’ll get Jackson— he’s playing Cinderella’s Prince, but right now he’s working on a scene with the Baker’s Wife, but later you guys can work on the duet together, okay? And I know in the script says you rip your shirt off, but if you’re not comfortable doing that in the show that’s cool, just let me know.” Stiles winks at him and then leaves the room.
“Agony...beyond power of reach...when the one thing you want… is just out of your reach,” Derek sings. It's technically not his line, but it feels right. The room feels much emptier without Stiles in it.
Somehow over the next few weeks Derek moves from the practice room to the main stage, rehearsing with all the main cast. It’s really due to Stiles, slowly getting him used to an audience, listening to him sing and then introducing him to one and two people at a time to work on his stage fright. And then it starts to be fun. Derek likes the rest of the cast, and Scott, who plays the Baker, convinces him to come out and play on the school’s Quidditch team. “It’s really fun and nerdy, you should definitely do it, we all have a good time,” Scott had said after Derek complimented his Hufflepuff scarf.
They’re a fun group of people, and Derek enjoys it a lot. Time seems to fly by a lot faster than when he was just painting by himself.
The costumes are all finished, the props are all gathered, lines are rehearsed and rehearsed again, Boyd’s finished painting all the sets (“Erica, the girl who replaced you, is really nice,” Boyd says with a grin to Derek one afternoon, offering him a fist bump), and then opening night is upon them.
Derek is nervous, but also excited in a new and thrilling way. He’s never been part of something like this, this live experience of music and dance and he waits backstage, listening to his fellow cast members nail their notes and the audience cheer and laugh at all the right parts.
Finally, it’s his duet. Derek strides on stage, singing ardently about pining desperately and thinking about Stiles— Stiles, who he’ve come to know over these past few weeks, who is an absolute nerd and the epitome of the word passion and who Derek is absolutely, absolutely gone for.
“The shirt ripping, it’s not necessary, okay, you don’t have to do it, I know you’ve been uncomfortable with the stage presence and everything,” Stiles had said at the last dress rehearsal.
Derek had nodded, but he sees Stiles standing in the wings, clutching his clipboard, waiting expectantly. It’s all the encouragement he needs, really.
Jackson is already ripping his shirt, and the whole song is about these two brothers trying to one up each other, so Derek does his best. He sings the song with gusto, ripping his shirt dramatically on cue.
The crowd cheers.
The rest of the play goes off without a hitch, and it’s at curtain call with the entire cast and crew that they’re bowing— and bowing again for another standing ovation. Stiles is standing next to Derek, grinning broadly at him.
“I can’t believe you actually ripped your shirt!”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you,” Derek says, sincerely. It’s hard to speak above the noise of the crowd but maybe that’s good, that he can say this and Stiles isn’t hearing it. “I just really like you and ever since that first time we met, I feel like I gave you the wrong impression, that I was objectifying you but I do really think you’re datable. But like. For me. Like I would like to date you.”
Derek is pretty sure the words are lost to the rush of applause but Stiles’ mouth has fallen open, and he’s just staring shell shocked at Derek. People are starting to leave the stage, but they’re still standing there.
Derek is about to turn and follow the cast off the stage but Stiles grabs his hand, and then there’s a sudden rush of movement, and Derek finds himself being dipped dramatically and kissed within an inch of his life.
He clutches the back of Stiles’ shirt, dizzily kissing Stiles back. Derek is vaguely aware that one of his feet has popped completely off the ground, like a Disney princess.
The crowd is still cheering when they break apart for air. “So, is that a yes to the dating?” Derek asks, dazed.
“Absolutely,” Stiles says.