“Let me know if you have any questions,” Derek calls out to the class, but no one is listening as they pack up their things. Derek sighs and puts his own notes away, running his thumb over the pages of his well-loved paperback before placing the novel in his bag.
He isn’t looking forward to teaching an entry level literature course at the local community college but someone has to do it. He wishes he knew how to keep the students engaged, but their eyes are always tired and absent as Derek teaches. The only good part about the course this year is that he got to choose the curriculum.
Derek knows he’s lucky to have this job – no matter how much he dislikes it – but he misses the tenure track position he used to hold Amherst College. He lost everything when his family died in a house fire and Derek struggled enough that he had to leave his job. The only thing that offered him any sort of comfort over the past few years was a novel.
“Um, hi,” says a voice, and Derek looks up. He sees brown hair, brown eyes, and a white smile. The man’s shoulders are broad and his fingers are long where they clutch at his back pack. He looks only a few years younger than Derek.
Derek frowns. “Are you teaching next? I’ll be out of your way – I just need to clear up the rest of my things.”
The man flushes for some reason and turns away, biting his lip. He turns back and tries to speak again. “No. Um. I’m actually one of your students. My name is Stiles.”
“I’m taking this class. Contemporary Fiction 101?”
“Oh,” Derek says dumbly. He didn’t expect anyone to come forward and actually ask him questions about the course – he normally only gets bored students who take the course to fill a requirement and who don’t want to study Shakespeare.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. He runs a hand through his hair and then shoves his hands into his pockets. He lets out a small chuckle. “I guess I’m kind of old to be doing a freshman level course.”
Derek glances back at him and then shrugs. “There are quite a few people at this college who are older.”
“Right. Um.” Stiles hesitates for a long moment. “Are – are we really going to be studying Magic Bullet ?” he asks.
Stiles sighs. “I guess it’s a good book. But. Is it possible for me to study something else?”
“No,” Derek says firmly, though he’s more curious than he should be. It seems like an odd question.
“But I’ve kind of studied it before?” he says, voice frustrated.
“Kind of?” Derek says, and the guy blushes. Derek raises an eyebrow.
“Okay, that was a lie,” Stiles admits. “I just – I really don’t want to study this book. I am willing to study anything else. Like, literally anything else.”
“Yes?” he says hopefully.
“I can’t make changes to this course just for you.”
He lets out a frustrated noise. “But – but I won’t learn anything. I’ve read this book too many times. I came here to learn stuff.”
Derek looks at him carefully. It’s not often a student will ask him something like this. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve already read it – we’ll be using the book as a tool to learn how to close read and how to write,” he says. “Besides, I see something new every time I read it.”
“I’m actually hoping to find out more from class discussion,” Derek tells him. “It can be good to get different points of view. I’m sure you can learn something else too.”
“You can’t spend a whole semester on this one book,” Stiles says, eyes looking strangely frustrated. “It’s not that good.”
Derek grits his teeth together. He hates that someone is questioning his curriculum before he’s even started teaching it, and he knows that his course is a good one. He’s been planning it carefully over the past few months because it’s all he’s had to do.
“We’re going to be reading other novels,” Derek says, trying to keep his voice even.
“But you’ll be linking them all back to this one,” Stiles says. He takes a deep breath. “Look, I’m sorry, I don’t want to be the guy who can’t take no for an answer. I just – I can’t study this book.”
Derek sighs. If it were any other student, he would say tough luck and by now he’d already be on his way to lunch. But there is something fiery and determined in Stiles’ eyes, and Derek doesn’t think he’ll leave without a fight.
“Fine,” Derek says. “Write me an essay by tomorrow using this prompt –” he scribbles something on a piece of paper “– and if you get an A then I’ll let you read from last year’s infinitely more boring syllabus.”
Stiles blinks. “But –”
Derek looks at his watch. “I have to go,” he says, and he leaves Stiles there hoping that he won’t want to write a single word.
There’s a knock on his office the door the next morning and Stiles slips into the room. He smirks and waves some paper in the air before placing the essay on Derek’s desk.
“I told you that I didn’t want to study this book,” Stiles says. “An essay isn’t going to stop me.”
Derek carefully doesn’t say anything. He picks up the essay and begins to read it, aware of Stiles hovering above him. When Derek finishes he is grudgingly impressed. He’s not a bad writer. He understands the novel. He just –
“You didn’t answer the question properly,” Derek says.
Stiles splutters. “What.”
“You have a good understanding of the themes in the novel and you present your ideas clearly but you didn’t show how you came to your conclusions very well. You’re supposed to convince me of your opinion based on evidence that the author provides.”
Stiles mutters something under his breath.
“I’d probably have given you a B,” Derek says. “Your writing style is also a little dramatic.”
Stiles glares at him. He snatches the essay back and reads over it again, his eyes scanning over the page as he looks for his mistakes. The paper crumples slightly in his hands.
“I still think you could learn something from this course and this novel,” Derek says. He tries not to smirk. “Will I see you in class?”
Stiles shrugs and leaves with his shoulders hunched, throwing his essay in the bin as he walks out.
Derek looks out for him in class, but he doesn’t see Stiles for another week. He might still be here – there are hundreds of students – and for some reason Derek wants to teach and convince this random student that this novel, this particular novel, is worth studying in depth.
He’s startled when halfway through one of his lectures someone clears their throat loudly. Derek looks up and he finds Stiles in the dead centre of the room, his arm raised. Derek finds himself smiling slightly.
“ Seriously ?” Stiles says. “Don’t you think you’re reading too much into this?”
“Why do you say that?” Derek says, voice carefully blank. He looks around and he sees a few more of the other students start to wake up.
Stiles stops. He seems to realize that there’s quite a few people in the room and his cheeks flush. “Well,” he says, more awkward than before. “It’s just a story about a kid who gets into trouble and then has to grow up. It’s fun. The plot is a little bit clever. It’s not meant to teach us anything.”
Derek swallows. “You don’t think dealing with the loss of innocence is a worthwhile topic to examine?”
“Maybe?” Stiles says. “But how on earth is this novel about that? You’re meant to pick it up, read it, enjoy it, be grateful you’re not that stupid kid, and then forget about it again. I bet this author didn’t expect a whole class to be talking about ‘the loss of innocence.’”
Derek tries not to feel amused. He always, always, has a student like this in the class.
“I just don’t think the author intended all of the things you’re saying.”
“S. M. Dylan is a gender neutral pseudonym,” Derek says. “The author has given no interviews. You can’t know what they intended except from looking at the words they’ve decided to put on the page. That’s all we have to draw conclusions from.”
“Yes, but –”
Derek lifts his eyebrows.
Stiles deflates in his chair. “Nothing,” he mutters. He glances around the room and Derek makes sure no one else has anything to say. He continues teaching, and as he speaks he can’t help but look towards Stiles.
Derek looks up from his office chair. He immediately straightens when he sees Stiles standing by the door, and he puts down the book he’s reading.
“Do you want to come in?” Derek says.
Stiles nods. He walks in slowly and sits on the chair in front of Derek. He’s quieter, taking up less space than he did the last time he was here. His eyes look thoughtful as they travel over Derek’s face and it makes him feel too warm, scrutinized.
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
Stiles scratches his nose. “Yes, actually. You know this essay we have coming up?”
“Look, I know I’m twenty-seven but I’ve never been to college before. I have no idea how things are supposed to work, but studying for me is only part-time. I have a job,” Stiles says.
Stiles lets out a breath. “Work wants me to fly out of the state for a week. I don’t want to miss the tutorials and I don’t want to miss the essay hand in date. Is there some kind of way I can hand the essay in online? And can I make up the tutorial some other way?”
Derek smiles at him gently. He sees the worry in Stiles’ eyes and Derek knows he teaches this crappy job to help the students that actually want to learn. “I’m sure we can figure something out,” he says.
“Really?” he says, looking hopeful.
Derek nods. “I’m here to help. Not everyone is in the same place in their lives.”
Stiles smiles back at him. “Thanks.”
“I won’t be marking your essay, but I’ll let your tutor know that you’ll be emailing it directly to them,” Derek says. Stiles nods. “As for the tutorials… they’re meant to help you before writing your essay.”
Stiles licks his lips. “Um. I won’t be able to make it to any of the tutorial sessions next week. Can I – can I make an appointment with you instead? To talk about the book?”
Derek looks back at him and notices the glint in Stiles’ eye. They’ve only ever disagreed with each other in class discussions and Stiles has even gone so far as to laugh about how wrong he is. He can see Stiles learning, though, arguing his points with more clarity and evidence from the book, and watching Stiles improve makes Derek dread teaching the class less and less.
“Okay,” Derek says, and Stiles’ eyes somehow brighten. “Are you free at one in the afternoon tomorrow?”
“Alright, you can meet me here in my office and we’ll go over it.”
“Thanks,” Stiles says, rising from his seat. He looks over his shoulder as he leaves, and Derek doesn’t quite notice the happy feeling settling in his stomach.
Stiles walks into his office and sits down with a grin. He’s got on the faded jeans and the oversized jumper he seems to always wear, and despite knowing he’s older and has a job Derek still thinks he’s got that distinct student look about him.
Derek shuffles through some of the material he asked Stiles’ tutor to send him. He doubts they’re going to stay on topic.
“How’s it going?” Stiles says.
Derek rubs his eyes. “I have a lot of work to do,” he says, and it’s only half the truth. He’s been trying to sort out his life – the life insurance, the family home, the things he’s been putting off for months and months.
“You teach lots of classes?”
Derek shakes his head. “Only two. I teach another first year course next semester, though. You could probably enrol in that if you wanted to.”
Stiles grins at him. “We’ll see about that.”
Derek glances at him and then turns back to the tutorial material. Things start off slowly, and they tend to agree about the surface level themes in the book. But as soon as they try to discuss things like what message S. M. Dylan was trying to convey, or how the book dealt with ideas like grief and loss, Stiles becomes more frustrated.
“What’s the problem?” Derek says, raising an eyebrow.
Stiles’ lips twist. “I think you’re reading too much into it. I mean – I guess all the stuff you’re saying is in there… but that’s just what makes a good story. It’s not interesting if everything is happy for the characters. A lot of the things are probably there just because he wanted it there.”
“S. M. Dylan.”
“We don’t know that they’re a man,” Derek points out.
“Right,” Stiles says, his cheeks flushing. Derek pauses. Every time he thinks Stiles is starting to get it, starting to understand that everything the author writes is a choice, he loses him again.
“I think,” Derek says slowly, “That for the most part books belong to their readers. Every person experiences things differently and no interpretation is incorrect.”
Stiles glares. “That sounds like there’s a lot of room for bullshitting.”
Derek holds back a smile and he has to look away for a moment when Stiles leans forward, eyes shining with determination. “Look, I feel like I should say that I’m a writer. That’s my job. I write and I don’t put half the effort into the meaning of my books as you do trying to find the meaning from this one.”
“You’re a writer?” Derek says, surprised. “Then why are you studying literature here now?”
“Oh. Um,” he says, looking uncomfortable.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Derek says quickly, and he deliberately doesn’t ask for more information. He thinks it’s probably a bad idea that he’s so curious about this one student.
“Anyway,” Stiles says, taking a breath. “I write what I want to write. I write for fun and because I’ve thought of a good plot. I write because it’s a distraction. I don’t write so that someone one day can study it and get some magical meaning from it to inform their lives.”
Derek struggles to know what to say. He speaks slowly, carefully. “Why do you read?”
“Why do you read books? Is it for the same reason?”
Stiles opens his mouth to speak. “Yeah. I read because I enjoy it.”
“Do you like books that make you think?”
“Yes?” he says, like it’s a trick question.
“Is it fair to say that you would then write books that make people think?” Derek asks.
“But you’re upset because you don’t get to choose how your readers think about it.”
Stiles sits there and his gaze is surprisingly direct. Derek meets it and tries to stay calm. He’s never enjoyed a discussion about his class material so much and he doesn’t want it to end.
Stiles finally opens his mouth to speak. “It’s just a story about a kid who has an overactive imagination.”
“I know you do,” Stiles says. He turns his head to the side. “I just – I don’t – I don’t get it.” He sighs. “Never mind.”
“I should go,” Stiles says, and he meets Derek’s gaze again. It holds for a moment too long. “Thanks for your time.”
Derek nods and this time he refuses to watch him leave.
He knows Stiles is going to be away for the next week but Derek still looks for him when he teaches. He’s frustrated with himself, knowing that he should forget this student and his stubbornness. It’s not professional for Derek to care so much about this one student’s progress.
Derek tries to reach out to the other students. It doesn’t work as well as he’d like, but he thinks he sees a few more interested faces. It was almost easier when Stiles was here to start discussions and Derek tries again not to notice that he’s gone.
The week after Stiles arrives at the lecture early. Derek swallows nervously when Stiles comes forward, a grin on his face and his bag slung over his shoulder.
“Hey!” he says.
Derek nods at him. “How was your trip?” he says politely.
Stiles shrugs. “Good and bad. My publisher wants another book from me but I don’t really have any ideas.”
“I don’t think I can help you with that,” Derek tells him.
“It’s not exactly an essay, is it?”
Derek shakes his head, and he sees the other students starting to come into the room. He glances back at Stiles who smiles prettily and then goes to join the rest of the students. Derek takes a breath and reminds himself that Stiles is a student. It’s easy to forget when he’s years older than everyone else.
Stiles interrupts him again that lesson, but he seems to be having more fun with it than he did before. Derek finds himself getting more and more frustrated – they’re talking about grief today, something that Derek knows a little too much about.
The class ends and Stiles comes back down to the front again. Derek doesn’t even look at him, and he knows it’s not fair to Stiles, he knows Stiles hasn’t done anything wrong, but he’s mad at himself for thinking too much about someone he barely knows.
“It’s pretty much a crime novel,” Stiles says, continuing the discussion. “Of course there’s death in it.”
Derek gives him a flat look. He feels like Stiles hasn’t been listening to him. “The novel begins with a kid who tries to solve a string of murders after he snoops into his father’s unsolved police files. He’s trying to understand those deaths in much the same way he’s trying to understand why his mother died from cancer.”
“I guess –” Stiles says, looking uncomfortable.
“You could say that the kid has also lost his father to alcoholism – another death in a way.”
Stiles chews his lip. His eyes dart across Derek’s face. “That’s barely mentioned,” he says quietly.
Derek shrugs. He doesn’t say anything else but he can still feel Stiles there, not moving away.
“I know – I know those things are in there,” Stiles says. “I’m not denying that. But I still think that it’s not meant to be focused on. You’re meant to figure out the murders along with the kid. It’s only a murder mystery.”
Derek stays silent.
“And I don’t – I really don’t think people should be learning about grief and how to deal with loss from this stupid book.”
Derek turns at stares at him. He feels angry – angry at the book, at his life, at the reason why he has this shitty job instead of the one at Amherst. He’s angry that he had to give up everything when his family died.
“What gives the author the authority to give that sort of advice?” Stiles says.
“I can guarantee that this author knows what grief is like,” Derek says in a hard voice.
Stiles looks taken aback. He opens his mouth – probably to argue – but for once Derek doesn’t care about what he has to say . Instead he desperately wants Stiles to know where Derek is coming from, he desperately wants Stiles to know why this book is so important to him.
He interrupts Stiles before he can speak. “Do you have another class right now?”
“No?” Stiles says.
“Good,” Derek says, and he begins to walk, hoping Stiles will follow. He knows he’s being angry and weird but Stiles is still following closely behind him. Derek feels less and less calm.
They arrive at one of the coffee shops on campus and Derek orders them both a coffee. He can feel Stiles staring at him curiously, barely keeping still in his seat, and Derek has no idea where to start. He was the one to drag Stiles out here. He should know what he wants to say.
“I don’t think you can tell someone what they should or should not get from a book,” Derek says abruptly.
Stiles’ eyebrows jump up. “Is that what you’re going to say?”
Derek scowls. “I’m not speaking as your professor trying to teach you about a book. You keep on telling me that I can’t get some kind of comfort from this book. You keep on telling me that I can’t focus on the ideas in this book and have it mean something to me.”
Stiles looks again like he wants to argue.
“Stiles,” Derek says, more quiet but also more forceful. “This book is wonderful to study because it’s a lot more complex than one would expect after reading it for the first time. There are so many layers and I’m not the only one to think that it’s a brilliant work written by someone incredibly talented.”
Stiles stares at him. He clutches his cup of coffee and sits very still.
“But – but this book helped me . I know it’s not exactly the same, but I lost people close to me. I was depressed and lost my job – I lost everything. I know this book is crime fiction but it let me process everything, it let me laugh for the first time in a long time and it let me get a different perspective on what had happened to me.”
Derek looks away. He feels like he’s said too much and he knows Stiles doesn’t want to hear any of this – shouldn’t have to hear any of this. He shakes his head and glances up, opening his mouth to apologize.
Derek stops talking when he sees Stiles. He looks shocked still, his eyes wide and his lips dry. He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t acknowledge Derek before him, and it’s awkward and uncomfortable. Derek immediately regrets saying the things he said.
He should have never taught this fucking book and he should have never invited Stiles to have coffee with him.
“I should – I should go,” Derek tells him, and Stiles doesn’t even move. He just sits there and Derek’s neck is hot as he’s the one to walk away.
He wakes the next morning with a headache and an awful feeling under his skin. All he knows is he made Stiles uncomfortable and that he was too honest about what the book meant to him. Derek wants to hide away, much like he did before, and it’s too hard not to think of his family.
But he gets up and he hopes that Stiles won’t try to find him during office hours. He hopes that he’s scared Stiles away and their ill-fated coffee will be the only time they interact outside of class again.
Derek closes his eyes at the sound of Stiles’ voice. He braces himself and then watches Stiles walk in. It hurts a little to see him.
Stiles swallows. He runs a hand through his soft looking, clean hair. “Hi.”
They look at each other. Derek eyes him warily when he takes another step forward.
“I’m sorry,” Derek manages, when it looks like Stiles isn’t going to say anything.
“No!” he says hurriedly, and he reaches out. Derek stills when he feels Stiles’ fingers brush over the back of Derek’s hand. Stiles quickly pulls away. “I mean,” he says, a flush on his cheeks. “You have nothing to apologize for. Thank you for sharing what you did with me. I – I thought that I might tell you what the book meant to me, um.”
Derek doesn’t answer and Stiles takes a deep breath.
“I know I have a lot of opinions about it – but I have read the book a lot. I guess I identify with the kid a bit? I had a parent in law enforcement growing up and I used to be driven around in the passenger seat of the cop car. My dad would sometimes put the sirens on and I felt like I could do anything, you know?” Stiles says, and as he remembers he looks beautiful, sad. “But um, when I was in high school my dad got shot. I would have lost both my parents if he had died. I had to quit school to support us both and we were in debt for a long time because of the medical bills. I guess I didn’t think being a cop was so great anymore. The book kind of reminds me of all that.”
Derek looks at him. He feels tired all of a sudden and more confused than ever. He doesn’t understand Stiles’ thoughts on the book – not with that speech – and a part of him still wants to go over there and comfort Stiles even though it’s the last thing he should be doing. He should be saying goodbye instead.
“Stiles?” Derek says.
“Yes?” he says, voice small. His fingers look like they’re shaking.
“I think that you should let some of the other students have a chance to speak during class discussion.”
“Oh,” Stiles says, his voice breaking. His eyes look hurt. “Yeah, um. Sure.” He gives a little shrug and walks slowly towards the door. He pauses just before he leaves. “Um thanks – for, for everything.”
The semester ends, the next one starts, and he doesn’t see Stiles again. Derek doesn’t even know if Stiles had felt the tentative affection that Derek did, but he knows stopping whatever this was before it had begun was the right thing to do.
But he could have explained himself better and his words could have been kinder. Derek could have done a lot of things differently but now he forces himself not to care.
Derek throws himself into his new classes and starts eating lunch with one of his colleagues, Erica. He hears about the Magic Bullet movie that’s going to come out soon and Derek isn’t as excited for it as he should be. He also hears that S. M. Dylan is going to be releasing another novel, and instead of looking forward to it he’s scared that it won’t mean as much to him.
Derek looks up and sees Erica at his office door. She’s new to the department and she decided pretty quickly that Derek was going to be her friend.
“I’m meeting up with some friends from high school tonight,” she says. “We’re going out for dinner and I need you to come with me.”
Derek wrinkles his nose. “Why?”
“Because I haven’t seen them in forever and I need to make a good impression,” she says. Derek raises an eyebrow. “Fine. I just need some moral support. I wasn’t always this confident and beautiful, you know.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
Erica grins back at him. “I’ll see you at seven tonight,” she says, and then tells him what restaurant they’re going to. Derek doesn’t have any time to say no before she’s gone.
He arrives fifteen minutes late and he spots Erica’s blonde curls at one of the tables. Derek awkwardly walks over and clears his throat.
“Derek! You’re here!” Erica says, standing up. “Everyone, this is Derek. Derek these are my old friends from high school – Isaac, Boyd, Allison, Scott and Stiles.”
Derek’s heart lurches and his eyes find Stiles’. Stiles looks away quickly, pink dusting his cheeks. But then he glances back and this time there’s a soft smile on his face even as his lip trembles.
It takes everything in him but Derek manages to smile quietly back.
The only empty seat is the one opposite Stiles and Derek takes off his jacket, sitting down carefully. He doesn’t know where to look or what to say, but he hears Stiles’ voice.
“Hey,” he says, voice cracking. “How are you?”
“Good,” Derek says, finding the courage to look back at him. “How did your finals go?”
“They went well,” he says. His brown eyes flit over Derek’s face and his voice stays light. Derek can’t tell if he’s simply being polite or if he wants something more from him. Derek can still remember when they had that coffee, when Stiles then came to Derek’s office and touched the back of his hand.
“Do you know each other?” Erica says, looking over at them suspiciously.
Derek nods and clears his throat. He has nothing to hide. “Stiles took one of my classes last semester.”
The guy with dark hair, Scott, immediately looks interested. There’s a half grin on his face. “This is Magic Bullet guy? Your professor?”
Stiles glares and elbows his friend. Stiles turns back to Derek and tries to smile.
“He just knows that I studied the book in your class,” Stiles says before Derek can get too uncomfortable. Derek tries to smile at him and then instead of replying he looks at his menu.
All through the night he tries to pay attention to all of Erica’s friends, but his skin feels too warm and it’s too easy to look at Stiles as he speaks. He listens to all of Stiles’ stories – wants to know more – and he’s beautiful here. His eyes are amber in the half light of the restaurant and his eyelashes flutter over his cheeks when he laughs.
Erica catches him staring and gives him a suggestive look.
“So,” Stiles says, when they’re outside again. The others have all said goodbye and now it’s just the two of them.
Derek doesn’t know where he stands. He’s ready to apologize because the situation feels like it needs it, but Stiles doesn’t look hurt or angry. He looks nervous.
“Do you want to go for a walk or something?” Stiles asks, hands in his pockets.
“Sure,” Derek says, and his heart flutters when Stiles beams. They begin to walk side by side with their shoulders occasionally brushing. He doesn’t know where they’re walking to and they’re not even talking – listening instead to the sound of late night chatter and the cars passing by them on the street.
They both stop when they see the poster for the Magic Bullet movie.
Stiles turns and grins cheekily at him. “Have you seen it?”
Derek shakes his head.
“I have,” he says. “It’s alright. Do you want to see it with me?”
Derek looks at him, a bit startled. Stiles falters. “Now?” Derek asks, looking at the time. It’s about nine thirty at night.
“Yeah,” says Stiles, a bit breathless.
“Okay,” Derek says, his lip twitching into a smile when Stiles grins. He’s not expecting Stiles to grab his hand and then pull him towards the direction of the cinema, but he doesn’t mind. He likes the feel of Stiles’ fingers threaded through his own.
He tries not to feel guilty. It’s the end of the semester and Stiles isn’t his student anymore, but Derek is certain that he needs to explain himself somehow, that he needs to let Stiles know that he didn’t do anything wrong.
“Here,” Stiles says, handing him his ticket. He also has two chocolate covered ice creams to eat during the movie. “I can’t believe you haven’t seen it yet. It’s already been out two weeks.”
Derek shrugs. “It reminded me too much of – of how I left things with you.”
Stiles licks his lips. “Hey,” he says softly. “We can talk about it later. After the movie.”
Derek nods and he follows Stiles into the cinema. There’s still quite a few people even though it’s so late, and Stiles freezes for a second when he sees them all. He shakes his head and mutters something under his breath before he finds their seats, somewhere near the front of the cinema.
“I really want to know what you think,” Stiles says, looking at him eagerly. He’s already started licking his ice cream, and there’s a little bit of chocolate on the tip of his nose. Derek tries not to stare at it.
“You know I’ll probably just be comparing it to the book,” Derek says.
“It’s hard not to do that,” Stiles agrees. “But S. M. Dylan apparently helped do the screenplay as well. There’s some of their magic in there.”
“Writing good things isn’t magic,” Derek says, and Stiles smiles to himself and sits back in his seat.
The adverts begin to play and the sound is loud already so Stiles leans closer to him, whispering in his ear to talk. It feels thrilling to have him so close, but after he finishes speaking Stiles always settles himself a careful distance away. Derek doesn’t know what to make of it.
He watches the movie and he’s very aware of Stiles watching him for his reaction. The movie is beautifully shot and acted, and it follows the book closely. There are some changes and Derek is enjoying it, he is, but he’s more nervous that Stiles is sitting next to him. It’s difficult to pay attention to the film.
“So,” Stiles says when it’s over, nibbling his lip. “What did you think?”
“I prefer the book,” Derek says carefully. “But I liked it. I thought it was done well.”
Stiles looks relieved for some reason and they look at each other, the end credits playing next to them. Stiles’ eyes look bright but nervous, and they both know they’re going to have to talk to each other. They both know that they’re about to say something that might mean something.
“Let’s go,” Stiles says quietly, calmly, and Derek follows him outside. They start wandering down the street and the air is sharper. There are only a few people about and it feels like the night belongs to them.
“Why are you only at college now?” Derek says, before he can stop himself.
“Oh,” Stiles says, and he sticks his hands in his pockets again. “I told you about my dad. I couldn’t go to college because I had to look out for him. But I read a lot and wrote in my spare time, and somehow I managed to get my first novel published. It’s um. It’s doing well. I still live with my dad – he needs the help – but we’re financially secure enough for me to finally go to university.”
They slow down as they talk, enough for Derek to stand still and look at Stiles’ face.
“I didn’t know what else I could write, and I hoped that if I studied other novels then I could figure it out. Before I – I wrote about my life, about what I knew, but now that’s done I have no story to tell,” Stiles shrugs. “I have no idea how I wrote the first one. I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
Derek licks his lips. “There are a lot of authors who never studied literature, Stiles.”
Stiles looks up at him. “I know I said I wouldn’t learn anything from your class, but I did. I learned so much, and now I want to write a book that means something. I want to actually say something. I want to write something that I’m proud of and that you would want to read.”
Derek’s breath hitches.
Stiles looks at him determinedly. “I’m not going to try and make it pretentious or worth studying or whatever – I don’t care about that – but I want, when you read it, to like it.”
“I haven’t even read your first novel,” Derek points out, and Stiles’ cheeks turn red. “But I’m sure I’d like whatever you wrote.”
Stiles smiles at him nervously.
“Stiles, I’m sorry,” Derek says, because he can hear his own heartbeat and it’s now or never. He runs a hand through his hair. “I felt like we were – I was getting too personal with you and it wasn’t appropriate when you were my student.” He takes a breath. “I’m sorry for how I handled it and if – if you’re interested I’d like to have dinner with you. I want to know you.”
Stiles looks at him but he doesn’t necessarily look happy. Derek takes a step backwards and he waits for Stiles to say no.
“I really, really didn’t think you were ever going to say that,” Stiles admits, “Even though you have no idea how much I wanted to hear it.”
He smiles crookedly. “But I’m still one of your students, Derek. I’m in your course this semester. I’ve been sitting at the back in class.”
Derek looks away. He clenches his teeth together in frustration and he hasn’t made things better, he’s only made things worse by confessing a little of what he feels.
“Stiles,” he says, shaking his head.
“I know,” Stiles says, and he comes forward and takes Derek’s hand again. His skin is warm and he runs his thumb in circles over Derek’s knuckles. Derek doesn’t pull away. “Look, I didn’t think you were ever going to talk to me again so I thought it was safe to enrol in your course. I wanted to learn from you. You – you make me think. You’re a good teacher.”
“Thanks,” Derek says, a little miserably.
“I’d drop the course but we’re almost a month in and it will go on my academic record.”
“I understand,” Derek says, and slowly, he lets their fingers untangle from each other.
Stiles looks panicked. “Wait,” he says. “Don’t go.”
Derek lets out a frustrated noise. “Stiles, what do you want me to say? I can’t be involved with you.”
“I can wait for you,” Stiles says. “I want to wait for you. I like you, Derek, and there are so many things that you don’t know about me that I want you to know and I can wait. I can wait for the semester to be over and for you to not be my teacher.”
Derek has never had someone want to wait months for him before. He feels shocked by it and a little bit hopeful. He doesn’t think he’s wanted to be with someone more than he wants to be with Stiles, and he can’t have him.
“You shouldn’t have said that,” Derek says.
Stiles swallows. “I know.”
“And I don’t think that’s going to solve the problem.”
“What else can we do?” Stiles says. He takes a breath. “I’ve already told you how I feel – I can’t take that back. I don’t want to take that back. So we can not be together and wait until the course is over, or we can not be together and then never get a chance to see if it works.”
Derek stares at him. He knows that doing this would still be inappropriate and he can’t believe Stiles is suggesting it. He knows that he should tell Stiles that they can’t be together, that they should try and move on and pretend all this never happened. But he wants to be selfish, he wants something for himself, he wants to hold Stiles close and to have someone to wake up next to in the morning.
“Please,” Stiles says, his voice breaking.
Stiles’ eyes go wide with surprise. “You’re saying – you’re saying yes?”
Derek nods and it’s worth it when the sweetest smile emerges on Stiles’ face.
“We honestly shouldn’t be doing this,” Derek says quietly, running a hand through his hair.
Stiles nods and doesn’t say anything more. He sways on his feet like he wants to come forward to embrace him or touch him, but then seems to realize that he can’t.
They say goodnight with shy smiles and they deliberately don’t give each other their phone numbers. He’s not with Stiles, not really, and it’s only a promise they’ve shared with each other. Derek knows that he should have given up Stiles completely but he wants more from his life than a crappy job and an empty apartment.
Stiles might be able to give him that.
Derek feels the closest to alive than he’s done in a while. He goes through every moment he shared with Stiles that night, and he doesn’t know that he’s smiling until he sees himself in a mirror. Derek is startled by it.
There is an uneasy feeling in his stomach knowing that Stiles is still his student. Derek knows he’s not doing all he can to keep the situation professional but it’s been a long time since he had something to hope for. He wants to take the risk.
It gets easier when he realizes he has no way to talk to Stiles, but at the same time it’s hard not being able to create new memories with him. Derek knows hardly anyone in this town and it makes him think about Stiles so much that it feels like it was all a dream. But then classes start and Stiles waves at him from the back of the room, a small grin on his face.
“Hey,” Stiles says, still smiling.
Derek looks up from where he’s clearing his lecture notes. He quirks his lip. “Any objections to the course material this time?”
Stiles doesn’t take his eyes off him. “No.”
“How are you?” Derek says quietly, eyes darting around to make sure there’s no one there to hear them.
Stiles shrugs, and his eyes look tired. “I’m really busy at the moment. I’ll be out of town meeting with my editor all next week.”
“Oh,” Derek says, and he wonders why he still hasn’t read Stiles’ first novel, wonders why Stiles has kept it from him. Derek hasn’t looked him up online due to Stiles’ hesitance here and maybe Stiles is embarrassed or doesn’t think it’s good enough or doesn’t think Derek will like it. Maybe he’s waiting for a better time.
Stiles looks determined. “But I’m going to catch up with all of your lectures. I’ve already talked to my tutor about getting all the class material.”
Derek is glad that Stiles is going directly to his tutor for help instead of to Derek.
“Have you finished writing your book?” Derek asks.
Stiles makes a noise. “Yes and no. I’ve written it over and over and over again. My editor is getting a bit annoyed with me but it’s getting better each time, so.”
“I’m looking forward to reading it,” Derek says, his heart in a nervous flutter when Stiles looks carefully pleased. They both linger at the front of the room, talking about the course, about simple things, until they have to say goodbye.
Derek finds himself wanting more .
Derek slowly makes his way through the insurance paperwork he’s been avoiding. It’s somehow a distraction from the fact that he hasn’t seen Stiles for a few weeks. Derek misses him more than he should, and he can’t help but look out for Stiles in the crowd of students, can’t help but be disappointed when it’s someone else knocking on his door.
“Oh,” Derek says. “It’s you.”
Erica raises an eyebrow. “Wow,” she says. “It’s so nice to see you too, Derek.”
“Sorry,” Derek says, rubbing his face. He doesn’t like the way she’s looking at him carefully, and he braces himself when she walks in and closes the door. It shuts with a soft click.
She sits down and looks at him sharply.
“You know that I’m not blind,” she says. Derek swallows. “I know there’s something going on with you and Stiles. I know that he’s still your student this semester. I know that you’re hoping he’ll walk through your door at any minute.”
Derek takes a few breaths to steady himself. Erica doesn’t look too accusatory and she just sits there and waits for him to speak.
“We’re not in a relationship,” Derek says, and at least that’s the truth.
“But you want to be,” she says.
Erica doesn’t look surprised and she wants to know more. She wants to know why they were so awkward at the restaurant and why Derek wants to see him now. Derek hesitates. He’s not sure what he should be telling Erica but she’s one of his only friends and he feels like he’s going crazy.
So he talks. It feels good to get everything off his chest, and when he finishes Erica smiles at him.
“It’s okay, Derek,” Erica tells him. “You don’t have to beat yourself up. It’s a good thing that you’re waiting, and you shouldn’t deny yourself something that could make you happy.”
“Derek. You know, when I first arrived here you were the gossip that everyone wanted to tell me. You’re handsome and your life is so crap that you belong in one of those novels that you study. The whole literature department knows that you lost your family and that you have no one. I’m glad that you might finally be able to have someone ,” she says.
Derek shakes his head. He doesn’t like knowing that people talk about him. “Rules still apply to me even if my life is shit.”
“Yeah,” she says, “But it’s not like he’s a teenager and you haven’t even talked to him for two weeks.”
Erica smiles at him. “You should come out for a drink with me and a few of the others tonight.”
Derek’s eyes darken. “You just admitted that they gossip about me.”
“If you make friends with them, then they’ll know you for more than what happened to you,” she says.
Derek sighs and he knows that she’s right. He’s kept to himself since working here and the only reason he’s friends with Erica is because she wouldn’t take no for an answer. He smiles weakly at her and gives a little shrug.
“Okay,” he says. “I’ll go have a drink with you guys.”
“I’ll make sure you have fun,” Erica tells him, and Derek doesn’t feel so heartbroken that Stiles hasn’t been here.
It’s the end of a long day, but when he looks up and sees Stiles standing there he doesn’t feel so tired. “Hi,” Derek says, smiling.
Stiles smiles back at him and he looks different. He’s wearing a well-fitted charcoal grey suit jacket and a white shirt, unbuttoned at the collar. His hair is still messy, and he looks stunning. Derek doesn’t know what to say for a moment.
“I came straight from the airport,” Stiles says, walking in and closing the door. He sits down on the seat opposite Derek. “I feel kind of overdressed.”
Derek nods. “How long are you back in town?”
Stiles runs a hand through his hair. “Only a few days,” he says quietly.
Derek looks at him suspiciously. “We have the essay due this week.”
“I know,” Stiles says, looking frustrated. “I know.”
“Stiles…” Derek says. He looks down at his fingers. “You haven’t been turning up to the lectures.”
“A lot of students don’t turn up to lectures,” he snaps, and then he deflates. Stiles slouches down in the chair and covers his face with his hands. “Sorry.”
“I – just – um – everything is so busy,” Stiles says. “I have so many meetings and the book is done but there’s all sorts of other shit to sort out. I can’t always be here, and then when I’m at home I have to make sure that my dad is doing okay. I don’t know how to manage all of these things.” He takes a breath. “Is it – is it possible for –”
Derek glares and he feels sadness wash over him. He knew that something like this would happen. He knew that he’d have to make some kind of decision – as a teacher – that he shouldn’t be making.
“Stiles,” he says, a little bitterly. “You need to hand in the essay on time.”
“I know, but –”
“I can’t change anything for you,” Derek says, snapping. “I don’t appreciate you asking this of me.”
Stiles looks up, his eyes wide and horrified. “No!” he says. “I’m not – I’m not asking you to change anything for me. I understand. It will be hard but I can get the essay done. I just don’t know that I’m prepared enough for it.” His voice goes small. “I would never ask something like that of you. I know that it would make you uncomfortable.”
Derek pauses. “Sorry,” he says. “Then – then what do you want?”
Stiles looks at him, miserable. “Help? I don’t know how to prepare myself.”
“You need to talk to your tutor – not me,” Derek says. He’s not sure if he can give help and not have it be subjective. He knows how to answer the damn essay question. He knows exactly what readings Stiles needs to study.
“They told me to come and talk to you,” Stiles says quietly. “I’ve missed a lot.”
Derek sighs. “Stiles. I know that I don’t mark your work or have much to do with your grades but you know that we can’t have a relationship because it’s not fair to the other students. How am I supposed to know that I’m being fair to all of them when I help you?”
Stiles glares. “We’re not even together! Why can’t you just tell me the advice that you would give any other student?”
Derek looks down and tries not to feel like he’s pushing Stiles away. “I can’t know if I’m being fair.”
“I think that’s bullshit,” Stiles says. He clenches his teeth together. “I’m not asking you to give me all the answers – I just want some help on how to prepare.”
Derek covers his face in his hands.
“I mean,” Stiles says in a small voice. “This is what your office hours are for, right?”
“Yes,” Derek sighs. “It is.”
“I’m sorry,” Stiles says. “I thought I could handle school and work and everything at home but I can’t.”
He takes a breath and silence settles into the room. It feels awkward and uncomfortable and Derek hates that they’re arguing. He hates that they’re in this situation and he tries to think but his head is spinning.
Stiles swallows. “I can go,” he says.
“No,” Derek says, and his voice croaks. “I’m just thinking.”
Stiles fidgets on his seat and Derek tries to think about the lecture content. He tries to think of what he should go through and what Stiles needs to know.
“Have you at least read all the readings?” Derek asks.
“Yes,” he says.
“Good,” Derek says, nodding and he reaches for a piece of paper. “Okay. What do you know? What are you comfortable with?”
Stiles hesitates. “I’m familiar with the beginning of the course.”
“You still need to study that,” Derek says. “But I’ll briefly go through each week you’ve missed and point you to where you need to look.”
Stiles leans forward and watches him write on the piece of paper. He outlines the course and tells him to look at specific resources – which he has already given the class – and tells him that he should brainstorm each of the readings and figure out any connections between them. Stiles listens and asks good questions, and when they discuss the readings he lets Stiles lead the conversation.
Derek looks at his watch. “I should be going now,” he says.
Stiles sits up and rubs his eyes. “That’s cool,” he says. “Thanks for your help.”
Derek smiles weakly.
“I really didn’t mean to put you in an uncomfortable position I just –”
He shakes his head. “Stiles, it’s not your fault. And I’m sorry if I overreacted.”
Stiles shrugs and then stops to look at him for a moment. He seems to be breathing heavily, like he’s trying to stay calm. “Do – do you, um, want to read my novel?” he says.
Derek blinks, surprised.
“Of course,” he says.
“Okay,” he says, looking nervous. “It’s – I don’t normally show people my work. Outside of my editor, only my father and my friend know my pseudonym and I just – I shouldn’t be showing it to you. It’s pretty much confidential.”
“I don’t want you to get in trouble,” Derek says.
Stiles shakes his head. “It’s fine. I’m just nervous.”
“I didn’t know you used a pseudonym,” Derek says.
Stiles gives him a strange look. “You didn’t try to look up my stuff?”
He shakes his head. “You seemed to want to keep it to yourself.”
“You wouldn’t have found anything,” Stiles says. “But, um. Thanks. I’ll bring you a copy later.”
Derek nods and he watches Stiles stand up. He looks stressed but handsome and he gathers the pieces of paper that they’ve both been writing on. He smiles and then without another word he leaves.
There is a package waiting on his desk when he arrives at work the next morning. Derek pauses and his fingers shake as he reaches out for it. He doesn’t really know what to expect. He’s hardly heard Stiles talk about his own writing.
He waits until he gets home to read it. Derek is surprised that he’s been given a printed copy – it’s a lot of paper – and on the front page there’s only a scribble of words, but no title, no author.
Let me know what you think. S.
Stiles has also left his phone number and it sends a complicated set of emotions through him. He brushes his fingers over the ink and he sits down. Derek takes a deep breath and he turns to the first page.
He starts to read – hoping badly that he will like it – but he soon forgets about that as he’s taken into the world. Derek follows along with the characters and the writing feels familiar but in a way he can’t quite put his finger on. He thinks it’s because he knows Stiles and because he’s seen the way Stiles thinks.
Derek’s eyes are blurry by the time he finishes. The last words fall away on the page and Derek realizes that it’s long after midnight. It was a wonderful read – simple, honest, fun. Derek remembers laughing every so often, he remembers wanting to know what would happen and he lies down on his bed, oddly satisfied.
He doesn’t care about the lateness of the hour and he reaches for his phone, calling Stiles’ number. He settles back on his bed, staring at the ceiling and the novel clutched to his chest.
“Yeah,” he says. “It’s me.” Derek pauses and he can hear Stiles breathing on the other end of the line. “I read your book.”
“And?” he says. “Did you like it?”
“It was beautiful,” Derek says, voice hoarse. “I loved it.”
“Thank you,” Stiles says, shy, and Derek thinks he falls in love with him then. He wants Stiles to know how brilliant he is and how much Derek felt the words on the page. He wants Stiles to know that Derek has loved spending time with him, has loved talking to him and arguing with him.
Derek closes his eyes. He doesn’t know what to do now – doesn’t know how he’s supposed to last until the end of the semester.
They talk a little more about the novel and Stiles seems surprised by all the details Derek has remembered. Another hour goes by and their conversation hasn’t slowed down, despite it being so late.
“I should get some sleep,” Stiles says, yawning. “I have to hand the essay in tomorrow.”
Derek clears his throat. “Oh,” he says. “I forgot.”
“I would have been up anyway to finish it,” Stiles says. “I’m feeling better about it.”
“Glad to hear it,” Derek says. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Stiles says.
Derek hangs up the phone and he turns out the light. He wants the semester to end as soon as possible, he wants to be with Stiles more than he’s ever done. He has Stiles’ number now but Derek knows he’s not going to use it.
He’s going to continue waiting and at the end of it, they can be together, just as they promised.
Derek feels light and hopeful the day exam marks are released. They’ve been waiting so long for this and Derek has already received a text from Stiles, along with his address.
Stiles: I’ll see you later? 8pm?
Derek: Wouldn’t miss it.
He’s not expecting to find a parcel on his desk at work, something wrapped carefully in brown paper. There’s no note attached, nothing, and Derek sits down. He unwraps it slowly and finds a book – hardback, thick, bright with colors – and his heart lurches when he catches sight of the author’s name.
Derek stares at it for a long time. He wonders why he has this book in his hands because it shouldn’t be out for another week.
He’s scared to open it. Magic Bullet has been his favorite novel for a long time now, and he’s not sure what he will think of this one. It’s almost impossible for this one to mean so much to him, not when Magic Bullet helped him through some of his darkest moments.
Derek turns to the first page, the clean smell of new paper in the air. Written in small print, in the centre of the page, are a few words.
For Derek. You changed my words more than you will ever know. S.
He thinks he knows what this means and his heart is beating too fast as he scrambles for the first page. Derek starts to read, starts to read something that he’s already seen before. It’s Stiles’ book. It’s Stiles’ words – words that he can’t believe he’s reading again in this way.
Derek’s head throbs and he begins to laugh. He thinks through every one of their conversations about Magic Bullet and Derek feels like a fucking idiot, discussing Stiles’ own book with him, discussing what everything means and what it doesn’t.
Erica appears at his door, looking alarmed.
“Derek – are you crying ?” she says.
Derek looks up at her and wipes his eye. “Fuck,” he says. “I didn’t think I could fall more in love with someone.”
Erica looks at him, curious. “What did he do?”
“Nothing, nothing,” Derek says, brushing his fingers along the front cover. He’s still shocked and he can’t quite believe it. But all the things Stiles has said – it all seems to fall into place. He gets up and tells Erica he has to leave and she knows enough that he doesn’t have to explain why.
Derek gets into his car and drives to the address Stiles gave him, his head spinning and his skin hot. He arrives at a nice house with a pretty garden and Derek braces himself as he knocks on the front door.
It seems to take forever before the door opens and then there’s Stiles, wearing a thin t-shirt and his hair a mess. His eyes widen when he sees Derek and for a moment neither of them knows what to say.
“You’re early,” Stiles says, biting his lip.
Derek looks back at him. “I couldn’t wait.”
Stiles takes a shaky breath, his cheeks dusted with pink. Derek must look strange, staring at him like this, but Derek feels like he knows him, through and through.
Stiles huffs. “I can’t handle this – can you please say something?” he says, and before all the words have left his mouth Derek steps forward, cups his face, and kisses him.
Stiles lets out a little squeak, but his hands quickly cling onto the front of Derek’s jacket as their lips meet. Derek lets out a sigh of contentment, their mouths hovering over each other just long enough for them to settle closer in each other’s arms. Then they’re kissing again – warm, rough kisses that leave Derek breathless.
“Derek,” Stiles says, voice broken. He presses their foreheads together. “You’re not mad at me?”
Derek pulls back and frowns. He sees Stiles’ reddened mouth and his bright eyes. “Why would I be mad at you?”
Stiles looks down. He fiddles with the fabric of Derek’s jacket. “Well. Because I didn’t tell you until now that I wrote Magic Bullet .”
“I can’t say I was expecting it,” Derek lets out, a chuckle on his lips. “But surely you know that I’m here, whether or not you wrote that book.” He looks down. “I’ve wanted a relationship with you for months now.”
“Yeah?” Stiles says, smiling. His eyelashes flutter over his cheeks. Derek nods.
Stiles brings their lips together again, careful and sweet. He takes Derek’s hand and leads him into the house and they settle down on the couch, sitting close to each other. Stiles runs his fingers through Derek’s hair and Derek can’t help but kiss him.
“I bet you thought I was crazy when we had that coffee and I just stared at you,” Stiles says when they finally break apart. “I don’t want to bring it up if it makes you upset, but it was the first time I really understood what you were saying. It was the first time I understood what my book meant to people. I guess a lot of me was in it – more than I realized.”
Derek rubs his thumb over Stiles’ knee. “I thought I had scared you.”
Stiles shakes his head. “No,” he says. “You didn’t scare me. I think you’re amazing – I’ve always thought you were amazing.”
Derek feels his cheeks darken in embarrassment but Stiles just laughs, the sound warm and bright and happy. Derek wasn’t expecting to feel so content, here, with Stiles in his arms but he is. He can’t wait for more – can’t wait to love him, to hold him, to be with him.
Stiles brushes the tips of his fingers against Derek’s cheek, his eyes fond, and Derek knows without a doubt that he feels the same way.