Stiles had a complicated relationship with his job. On the one hand, he loved giving students the opportunity at a stellar education. On the other, that stellar education was hindered by administrative politicking that usually left him overworked and underpaid. There was nothing wrong with bringing the International Baccalaureate program to an otherwise underprivileged, and conveniently located for the tri-county area, school—it was a fantastic idea, in fact, since it made the program more available to more students—but when considered in conjunction with the school’s already poor funding and the expenses to properly train and qualify IB teachers, well…Stiles wasn’t quite sure where he stood on the matter, but he was frustrated.
Sometimes he blogged about it. Sometimes he ranted about it to Scott over the phone.
Okay, so maybe he had an entire blog dedicated to his criticisms of the system and the failings of the community and government. And maybe it was a nightly ritual to call Scott and impotently rage against the machine. At least Scott listened, and his blog never judged him.
Day to day, he loved his job. His students were clever and hilarious and so brilliantly innovative, he typically dismissed classes with hope for the future. But then came the paperwork, and Stiles often asked himself why he ever bothered to become a teacher—or, specifically, an IB teacher. Currently, he was responsible for both Standard Level and Higher Level Literature, and Higher Level Theory of Knowledge, because he was the only teacher qualified in those subjects, and the school didn’t have the funds to hire anyone else.
But at least he, and the Language Arts Department, wasn’t suffering as horribly as the History Department. They’d gone through no less than six history substitutes within the last semester alone, because their designated Latin American History teacher had gone on maternity leave. The substitutes weren’t trained to teach the material to IB standards, regardless of their degrees and other qualifications, and even the students started to recognize the severity of their situation. Without proper teaching, how were they ever going to score well on their Final Exams? At least Kira, the current Latin American History teacher, knew her stuff, even if she wasn’t familiar with how the IB system worked.
At four o’ clock, the student body had been officially released for the day for two hours, and Stiles was left in his classroom, stapling packets of practice tests into practice booklets. Because the school was so tight on funding, Stiles poured a lot of his own earnings into making and preparing material for his students. Be that as it may, as much as he wasn’t financially strapped for supplies, he was always strapped for time. He couldn’t always run out and get what he needed before stores closed, and shipping costs were astronomical. So when his stapler was empty after completing only few packets, he did what he always did in such a pinch—walked next door to badger Kira into sharing supplies.
“Kira~!” he whined, high and petulant and in the way that always won him a fond smile. He clacked the stapler into a chomping alligator, hungry for more staples. “Kira, my stapler’s out of—” But he stopped three steps into the classroom, because Kira wasn’t at her desk. In fact, Kira wasn’t there at all.
Some new guy—some, holy shit how can anyone possibly be that gorgeous guy—with thick, expressive eyebrows, and stunning iridescent eyes behind a pair of adorably nerdy black glasses, and scruff just skirting the line of unprofessional and perfect was standing at the desk. In his strong-looking arms—seriously, Stiles watched his biceps flex beneath the soft-looking weave of his sweater—he held a white banker’s box filled with…teaching supplies?
He was a teacher?
“You’re not Kira,” Stiles said, unable to form anything more intelligent. And yes, the guy definitely had a faculty ID hanging around his neck, but the Batman logo along its lanyard did not in any way catch Stiles’ attention. Nope. Not even a little bit.
The guy’s kissable lips quirked into a smirk, and he set the box down on the desk. “No, I’m not. But you must be Mr. Stilinski.”
“I was warned about you.”
Incredulous, Stiles frowned. “By whom?” So he sometimes intentionally ignored the casual and ever-evolving etiquette of speech to be a grammar snob. So what? This guy just accused him of being someone to be warned about. As if people talked about him, which, he knew they did. But he hadn’t thought it was anything particularly malicious. The students loved him, he got on well with his fellow teachers, and even administration didn’t bother him too much about some of his more eccentric teaching techniques.
The guy was totally unimpressed. If anything, he seemed amused, and Stiles had spent most of his high school and college careers being the butt of jokes for built, beautiful men. He didn’t like it, tried to go with ‘mildly defensive’ before anything else. With a short laugh, Not-Kira said, “By Ms. Yukimura before she left her classroom to me. Said you had a tendency to pout and sulk until someone shared supplies with you. I can see she wasn’t lying.”
Stiles crossed his arms. “I’m not sulking!”
Teasingly, the guy grinned, charming and infuriating. “So you admit to pouting?”
“Oh, my God! Who even are you?” Stiles demanded, pointing an accusing finger. His face was hot—he was blushing in that embarrassingly blotchy way Lydia always teased him about. She said it was a tell, that anyone looking at him would know he was talking to someone attractive. Hopefully Kira didn’t tell this guy about it.
“Derek Hale,” he answered easily. Then he frowned slightly, like maybe he’d anticipated his name to mean something to Stiles. “Didn’t you get the memo?”
“Memo?” Stiles hissed. “What memo?”
Why hadn’t Kira mentioned she was leaving? They’d had lunch just the previous afternoon; surely her moving on was something worth mentioning to the guy who taught next door to her classroom and had lunch with her every day. Nevermind, all the nights they spent running over IB standards! And maybe Stiles was a little wounded. Maybe Stiles was a little embarrassed. Maybe Stiles just wanted to get some staples, so he could finish making his practice test packets, then go the fuck home.
“She wasn’t kidding when she said you never check your email,” Derek sighed.
Stiles sighed as well, running a hand through his hair. “Can you do me a solid and just bullet point me on the damn thing?”
Derek seemed disappointed for a split second before looking away and unpacking the banker’s box. A Grumpy Cat mug filled with pens near the corner that almost slipped from his grasp, an unsteady and sliding stack of file folders to the right. Stiles also saw a small container with geometric paperclips that Derek nearly spilled everywhere and a staple-remover shaped like a dinosaur.
Stiles didn’t know what sort of man he was, or how good of a teacher he might be—Stiles had a lot of training, a lot of credibility, and a propensity to judge the quality of the education provided to his students—but he was interested in Derek Hale. God knew why, but he was. Maybe it was the speech-bubble shaped Post-It notes Derek tossed into a drawer, or the Batman lanyard Stiles most certainly had not noticed. Maybe it was the way Derek’s grasp seemed as unsteady with nerves as Stiles’ pulse.
Organizing other odds and ends, Derek said, “The school’s getting a $50,000 grant to help improve the IB program, and I’m the new Latin American History teacher.”
Blinking, Stiles said, awed, “Wow. Seriously? That’s awesome! You’re IB trained and qual’ed?”
“Yeah,” Derek answered. “Been teaching for a few years now.”
“So, what brought you here?” Stiles asked, lowering his gaze to the empty stapler he resumed clacking, softly. “Most of the innovative and, frankly, better teachers transfer out hella quick. Better areas, better funding. Or, wait, nevermind. The grant. The grant’s the reason you were hired, right? Jeez, I’m dumb.”
Derek’s expression could only be described as pensive. Something questioning, something unsure, something a little guilty. Was Stiles giving him the third degree without realizing it? Stiles smirked and tried to lighten the mood. “Or am I falling into the correlation versus causation trap?”
Derek shrugged. “The…grant has something to do with it, yes.”
“Oh.” That was strangely disappointing to hear. “You gonna ditch when the funding runs out?” Stiles asked, emboldened with self-righteousness.
Stiles just raised his eyebrows and made a nonchalant gesture with his hand, hips canted carelessly. “You’ll be Latin American History teacher number seven for these kids, and they have exams at the end of the year. The class next year will need some sort of stability to not abandon the program, and I doubt you signed a contract for longer than a year, so...” He shrugged. “Besides, $50,000 won’t last very long, so my question stands.”
“Would you blame me if I ditched when the funding ran out?” Derek all but demanded. “I can hardly work for free.”
“No,” Stiles acquiesced. He continued fidgeting with his stapler. “But sometimes it isn’t about—”
“—you, it’s about the students,” Derek finished, alight and animated with indignity. “Sometimes you have to use your own money to fill in the gaps created by too few tax dollars and too many budget cuts. Sometimes you have to provide for the kids when their parents can’t. Yeah, so I’ve read.” But then Derek’s eyes widened, as if he hadn’t meant to say so many words, or so many specific words. He hadn’t meant to quote. He’d clearly meant to snark. And the tender skin just above his almost-beard suddenly went fever-pink, a color also shading the tips of his ears and the column of his throat. “I, um…”
Chewing his lip, Stiles felt suddenly cornered and alarmingly out of his depth, but very very flattered. For once in a very long time, he didn’t have an answer. He could weasel his way around of the most incriminatingly worded questions by administrators and students alike, could weave elaborate, and plausible, explanations for nearly anything even remotely questionable he did. But this? Having his own words literally thrown in his face? He just…hadn’t been prepared for it. He might have just fallen a little bit in love with Derek Hale. “You read my blog?” Stiles asked, trying and failing to suppress a smile.
“Yeah,” Derek admitted dejectedly. “And before this goes any farther—”
“Further,” Stiles impulsively corrected. He was such a fucking grammar snob. Though he didn’t think it was possible, Derek blushed even brighter. He hid his smug grin with a casually raised hand, and took the opportunity to approach the desk in the back of the classroom. After tucking his boring stapler behind his back, he used his free hand to twirl a pen idly in the Grumpy Cat mug, then coyly straightened the leaning stack of files. “It works as an adjective meaning additional,” he explained, and enjoyed how Derek seemed conflicted about whether to increase or lessen the distance between them. “Farther isn’t commonly used that way. Also figurative versus physical distances and such.”
Clearing his throat, Derek nodded. “Right. Further.” He ran his hands along the edges of his banker’s box as if he didn’t know what to do with them. “Before this goes any further, you should probably know something.”
“What’s that, Mr. Hale?” Stiles asked, and he hoisted himself halfway to sitting on Derek’s desk.
“I asked for the job. I chose this school.”
“Because of the grant?”
“The grant is because I chose this school.”
Stiles reached into the small container and picked a bright orange tetrahedron-looking paperclip. He slid it over and under his fingers in an old coin trick fashion, biding his time, before finally saying, “I don’t follow.”
“The grant is from Hale Industries.”
“Hale…as in you?” Stiles asked with an arched eyebrow. He dropped the paperclip back into its container and picked a green swirl shaped one to play with instead.
Derek clarified, “As in my family.”
“Good thing I was raised not to believe in coincidences.” Sliding off the desk, he flicked the paperclip at Derek like his students flicked quarters at each other. Derek unflinchingly caught it with a quick swipe of his hand. He didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that Derek wanted to work with him. There was plenty of reason for him to think so—Derek read his blog, quoted his blog even, Derek’s family donate money for the IB program, Derek’s teaching Latin American History—but it was too absurd. Stiles wasn’t that guy. It was more likely something to happen to Lydia, because Stiles never got that. “Well, you and your family are very generous, Mr. Hale. The students probably won’t appreciate it—you know, teenagers—but I do. So, welcome aboard.”
“Thanks, Mr. Stilinski,” Derek said, but he wore a small smile.
“Call me Stiles.” Derek arched an eyebrow, so Stiles explained, “Nickname. The students call me Mr. Stilinski.”
The way Derek said his name, like it felt pleasant on his tongue, like it was a question and a promise and the verbal embodiment of possibility made Stiles smile. He spun on his heel and walked between the rows of desks towards the door, twirling his stapler around in one hand and walking the fingers of the other along the desks’ surfaces. He’d bothered Derek enough for the day. He could get office supplies from the staff room, he supposed.
Stiles turned and leaned in the door frame, pursing his lips in question.
Then, like a fucking pitcher on a mound, Derek threw something at him in a perfectly straight, perfectly timed trajectory. Stiles caught it by chance, a reflex to protect his face from an incoming object hurdling through space. It was a brand new box of staples. The metallic colored ones. Blue. He smirked.
“Hey, Derek?” Stiles purred. He walked over to the dry erase board at the front of the classroom and pulled a marker from his pocket. With courage he didn’t know he had, he wrote his phone number on the board, with a hastily added call me sometime beside it—“Think fast.”—then left.
Back in his own classroom, he returned to his desk with his heart thudding in his chest and refilled his stapler. As he tapped the papers straight for the next test packet, his cell phone buzzed in his pocket. An unknown number flashed on the screen. “Hello?”
“Fast enough?” Derek asked.
Stiles could hear him through the phone and from the room next door. He laughed, and cradled the phone against his shoulder to continue stapling packets. “Damn, Hale. Eager much?”
“I’ve been crushing on you since you picked a fight with the ethics instructor at the Austin training session.”
Stiles laughed again, because how was this his life? “That was two years ago.”
“I know,” Derek said, and he sounded a little embarrassed. “Will you have dinner with me tonight?”
“I have test packets to make.”
“Okay,” Stiles sighed, and his cheeks hurt from how much he smiled.
“Okay?” How hopeful he sounded was so endearing Stiles’ chest ached.
“Yeah, that’s what I said, Hale. Meet me in the lot in fifteen.”