Organic chemistry could kiss Derek’s ass. As he sat in the lecture hall, nervously flipping through his flashcards one last time, his glasses slipping down his sweaty face, he cursed again the sadists who decided this should be a required pre-requisite for med school. None of it really made sense, and no matter how much he memorized, that sense of not knowing how it all fit together left him feeling utterly unprepared. Professor Howell entered the room, followed by two TAs, just as the clock ticked over to 12:00. Faintly, Derek could hear the campus’s noontime bells ringing outside. They sounded like funeral tolls.
The professor stopped at his podium and began pulling out exam packets for the TAs to distribute, and Derek reluctantly tucked his notecards back into his bag. Glancing around the auditorium, he saw all of his classmates wearing similar expressions of anxiety, apprehension – dread. All, that is, except for Stiles. At the beginning of term, he had just been another unfamiliar face. As far as Derek could recall, they had never shared a class. Now, he looked back at those Stiles-less days fondly.
It had started with the first exam of the term. Derek had gone through the lecture slides, reviewed his notes, joined a study group. Everyone in the group agreed that Howell was a brutal combination of a hard-ass and a pretty poor teacher. It was widely accepted that the university kept him around for his research, only forcing him to teach one class a semester. He spent most of his class periods diverting into tangents that interested him rather than explaining the basic foundations he worked off of. Howell’s exams had a reputation throughout the Chemistry department as being torturously hard – a rite of passage that everyone had to endure. That first exam had proved the reputation to be almost an understatement. One by one, Derek’s classmates had filed to the front to hand in their packets, stunned, horrified expressions on their faces. Derek had been among the few that stuck it out to the end of the period, desperately hoping that some last-minute inspiration would strike and he’d be able to answer the questions he’d left blank. After the TAs had gone around collecting the papers, Derek had just sat there in the empty auditorium, his mind blank. He wondered, a little hysterically, if this was what it felt like to go into shock.
Later that week, the study group had met in the library to commiserate. At least seeing that the brightest students he knew had been just as soundly defeated by the test as him made Derek feel better. And anyway, they assured each other, Howell had to grade on a curve. Otherwise, no one would ever pass his class.
A few days later, Erica – one of Dr. Howell’s TAs – sent a message to the class that they could come pick up their graded exams. So at his first opportunity Derek showed up to her tiny office. She handed him a packet that was fairly drenched in red ink. “Congrats; yours was one of the better ones,” she said with a wry grin. Bracing himself, Derek took a deep breath and looked down. Forty-seven percent! Derek had never in his life tested below a 90%. Numbly, he turned and walked away without a word. It’s OK, he told himself. She said yours was one of the best. With a good curve, you’ll be just fine.
It was a quiet crowd that filed into the auditorium at their next lecture period. Only a minute before class was set to begin, Derek noticed the guy who usually sat to his left come casually strolling in, seemingly oblivious to the tension that thrummed through the rest of the room. Derek had never really gotten to know the other student. He vaguely recalled him introducing himself as Stiles Stilinski and asking to borrow a pen once early on, but when he’d tried to return it, the cap was chewed up with faint traces of saliva still on it. Derek had just glared at his rudeness and snapped at him to keep it. The most appalling part was that he never even used the pen to take notes; he’d just twirled it between his long fingers and gnawed at it absentmindedly. That initial impression was cemented when Derek had heard a faint snoring sound in the middle of class one morning. He’d looked over and seen Stiles, obviously sleeping, slumped in his seat. It was obnoxious to Derek, a focused and serious student, to see someone taking class so lightly. But whatever – if this slacker wanted to waste his time and his parents’ money by blowing off class and probably failing, that was his own business. Derek had written him off and proceeded to ignore him from then on...until that day.
Professor Howell strode in, right on time as always, and immediately proceeded to pull up his slides. The first showed a summary of their exam results: the expected bell curve, median, and average. Derek sighed in relief when he saw a curve formula. Thank God! He quickly pulled out his phone to calculate his curved grade, and- wait. That couldn’t be right. He cleared the calculator and tried again. Same answer: 78%. Seventy-eight…that’s a C. It felt like his brain hit a wall, glitched, and had to reboot. By the time he became aware again, he was surrounded by furious whispers.
Slowly, a small brunette in the second row raised her hand. “Professor Howell,” she said, “could you please explain how you developed the curve?”
Howell, who looked like he’d been about to move on to the next slide, paused. “It’s a linear curve,” he explained slowly, as though speaking to a child. “The class average was set to 75% and the high score to 100%. Since Mr. Stilinski had a perfect score-“ At this, the room erupted back into noise.
Shocked, Derek whipped to the left to see Stiles slumped uncomfortably in his seat, his face red. He turned to look at Derek, a hesitant, sheepish smile on his face. If looks could kill, Derek swore Stiles FUCKING Stilinski would be keeling over, that stupid smile wiped off his stupid face. Gritting his teeth, he turned back to the front and tried to focus on the lecture.
From that moment, Derek wouldn’t look at, speak to, or acknowledge Stiles. He was Enemy #1, Dr. Evil, Lex Luthor. And Derek wasn’t the only one. Within a day, Stiles became the class pariah. He came into class hunched over, his hood up.. Sometimes he skipped entirely. When he did attend, he never took notes and was constantly fidgeting or looking at his phone. Yet infuriatingly, he continued to ace every exam and break every curve. Derek was growing desperate; his lab grade was excellent, but it wasn’t enough to pull his overall class score to an A. He considered approaching Stiles for tutoring, but he couldn’t stomach the idea of asking his archenemy for help.
So here they were: the end of the term, the final exam. Stiles accepted his test packet from Erica then turned to Derek and offered a melancholy smile. “Good luck.” Then he turned back to his paper and began writing. As he’d come to expect, Stiles was one of the first to walk to the front to turn in his paper. Dr. Howell shook his hand with a genuine smile. Derek was just close enough to hear their quiet conversation.
“Stiles, it’s been a pleasure. You have a real affinity for this subject. Are you sure I can’t convince you to TA for me next year?”
Stiles huffed a laugh. “I’m flattered, but no. My schedule will be packed as-is. Thanks, though. It’s been…” He hesitated, and when Derek looked up, he saw Stiles looking straight at him for a moment before turning back to the professor. “…an experience.” The two finished saying their goodbyes, and Derek shook himself back into focus on his test.
Eventually the period ended and Derek handed in the last packet of Organic Chemistry he hoped to ever see. Hell, he thought as he gathered his things, maybe I’ll go home and burn my notes.
The next day, he packed up and headed home for Winter Break. He spent the first week decompressing, sharing stories with his sisters about their fall term exploits, (being teased for his lack of social life,) and putting all thoughts of school firmly out of his head. About a week into break, he checked his email and saw a message from Dr. Howell. “After discussing it with Mr. Stilinski, I have decided to remove his exam grades from the curve calculations. Your course grades now reflect this change.” Derek immediately opened the student portal. There it was – an A. Derek’s perfect GPA was intact! He spared a brief moment to wonder why Stiles cared about his classmates’ grades, especially after they’d basically shunned him. Then he pushed that thought aside and went to tell his parents.
Derek spent the rest of his break care-free, enjoying the time with his family and the break from stress. Eventually, though, the end of January approached, and he had to return. At least this term it seemed he was back to his normal routine: no impossible classes – and no Stiles – to deal with.
One beautiful Friday in late March, Derek’s last class was cancelled. With this unexpected break, and inspired by the blue skies and slight Spring chill, he decided to visit an out of the way coffee shop he’d discovered Freshman year. He hadn’t visited in months, too busy to make the trip. He walked in, happily breathing in the scents of coffee and fresh baked goods then stopped abruptly when he noticed the barista. It was Stiles. He looked good, singing quietly to the radio and occasionally shaking his hips to the beat as he wiped down counters. He clearly hadn’t heard Derek come into the empty café, and Derek was oddly hesitant to interrupt the scene in front of him. It was strange: here in this environment, he didn’t see the cocky smirk he had imagined when that first exam was returned, or the bored, indifferent attitude he thought he saw during lectures. Instead, he saw a slightly goofy and…cute guy. He noticed for the first time how Stiles’ shirt pulled across his broad shoulders. How he had a little cluster of moles across his left cheek. How strong his forearms looked with his sleeves pulled up.
Eventually, Derek moved toward the counter and cleared his throat. Stiles turned with a bright smile that quickly dimmed when he saw Derek. His face closed off.
“Hey. How can I help you?”
Realizing he’d been staring at Stiles since he walked in the door, Derek quickly glanced at the menu. “Oh. Just an Americano, I guess. Medium.”
As Stiles turned to prepare his order, Derek found himself blurting, “Hey, wait. Just…thanks for helping us with the curve.”
Stiles shrugged dismissively. “Yeah, no problem.” He hesitated for a moment, as though on the verge of saying something else, before he shook his head slightly and began to turn away.
“And I’m sorry.” At that, Stiles paused and looked over his shoulder at Derek. “I was kind of an ass to you. It wasn’t your fault that you did well. I was just – I just didn’t want to blow my GPA, and I hated that class so much and had to work so hard, and then you just came in and aced it like it was nothing, and-“ He cut himself off and forced a deep breath. “I’m sorry. Maybe I could buy you a coffee? As a peace offering?” He offered a smile that felt awkward on his face.
As Derek spoke, Stiles’ face had slowly shifted, become more open. At the end of his rambling speech, Stiles just looked frustrated. “You know, I saw you around the library before. You were cute, the way you fussed with your glasses and mouthed the words when you read, how your eyebrows looked ready to murder anyone who got too loud.” Derek self-consciously smoothed a finger over his thick right eyebrow. “When I saw you in Orgo, I thought that would be my chance to talk to you. But it was like you hated me from the first day.”
They both looked away for a moment. Derek cleared his throat and said gruffly, “I’m sorry. I really had no idea. I mean, that’s not an excuse. But if… If you’re still interested, I’d like to get to know you. Here-“ He grabbed a napkin from the dispenser and a pen laying on the counter. “Here’s my number. If you want, call me sometime.”
Stiles just looked at him for a moment, as though searching his face for something. Then he reached out and accepted the napkin with a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth. “Yeah. Maybe I will.” He tucked the napkin into his pocket and turned to prepare Derek’s drink. Their fingers brushed slightly as he handed it over. “Have a good day, Derek.”
“You too, Stiles.” And Derek walked out to a beautiful day that suddenly seemed full of even more possibilities.