For as long as he can remember, the background image on Stiles' cellphone has been an old photograph of his mother. He's always loved that picture. His dad took it when they were just turning twenty, highschool sweethearts navigating college together, and she's smiling, bright and easy, turning to face the camera with a look of complete adoration in her sea-green eyes.
It's not visible in the photo, but there must be a slight swell to her belly, concealed by a green summer dress. It's Stiles' photographic debut, and he hasn't looked as photogenic since.
Stiles loves that photograph, likes looking at it every time he checks his messages or his e-mails, which is why he immediately notices that this isn't his phone.
"Well, shit," he says aloud, startling a passing teenage girl. He gestures an apology before furrowing his brow and inspecting the Blackberry in his hand.
It's definitely not his. For a start, the background is just a stupid picture of some fucking woods. Whoever's phone this is must be the most boring person ever to have come kicking and screaming into this world. Who honestly chooses to have a picture of foliage as the default image on their cellphone? Even herbologists probably choose photographs of their friends or family, drunk pictures taken on nights out or photos of sticky children with grass-stained knees. Not trees.
He turns the phone over. It's almost completely unscratched, which is a stark contrast to Stiles' own phone. A deadly combination of gangly limbs that he never quite grew into and a tendency to flail when excited – which is always – has led to Stiles' phone becoming more battle-scarred than an extra in one of those World War films his dad likes to watch on Sunday afternoons.
He groans. How did he manage to switch his phone with someone else? For a start, that means someone else made the unforgivable mistake of buying a Blackberry. He immediately feels some sort of kinship with his phonemate. They have both suffered at the hands of a phone that refuses to cooperate 80% of the time – although admittedly, the other person probably has the raw end of the deal here, considering Stiles' Blackberry has been through a laundry cycle and a rainstorm and coincidentally is no longer in possession of a working 'g' key.
He's contemplating the relative excellence of this phone when he remembers that he's supposed to be meeting Lydia like five minutes ago. She's going to murder him.
He breaks into a sprint.
He arrives at the café nearly ten minutes late, wheezing and sweating unattractively. Lydia is sat at their usual table with a cup of coffee. She looks, as always, perfectly put together. Stiles feels more than slightly self-aware. He breathes in in an attempt to pull himself together and plops himself down in the chair opposite Lydia. Upon meeting his eye, she raises one perfectly plucked eyebrow and her lips pucker slightly. She's not best pleased.
"You're late, Stilinski," she says. Stiles groans.
"Dude, don't even," he sighs. It still feels weird calling Lydia 'dude'. It's taken five years of unreciprocated love, several lengthy conversations and four boyfriends (on her part) to get to this stage, but it's worth it, Stiles thinks. They work well as friends.
"Did something happen?" she asks, concerned. Stiles shakes his head.
"Nothing major," he assures her. "But also the single worst thing in the world."
He digs around in his jeans pocket and pulls out the phone, placing it on the table in front of Lydia. She takes one look at it and her eyes widen in surprise.
"That's not your phone," she says. Stiles blinks.
"How did you know?"
She shoots him a mildly withering glare.
"Please," she says. "Your phone looks like it's been eaten, digested and excreted. This one has clearly been taken care of."
Stiles can't argue with this. He sighs again.
"I need my phone," he says. "How else can I tease Scott about Allison every few minutes? How am I supposed to send Jackson pictures of butts when I know he's in class? I can't live like this, Lydia. Not in a first world country."
Lydia rolls her eyes.
"Don't be so melodramatic."
"Sorry if the complete cessation of my life is inconvenient to you," mutters Stiles. He leans forward and rests his head on the table. He just wants an easy life. "The worst thing is that I don't even know whose phone it is. There's no pictures on it or anything. Unless he's a forest, that is, in which case I think I should probably wash my hands before preparing food."
"You never prepare food," Lydia points out. "And that's a Blackberry, right?"
Stiles nods, although he's aware that, given his current position, it's probably imperceptible.
"You can totally find out who this belongs to, Stiles," Lydia sighs. Stiles looks up. This is news to him. Lydia is holding the phone now, and Stiles is suddenly very worried that she's going to do something completely insane, like try and contact someone on speed dial.
"Don't do that!" he hisses, scrambling to get the phone back. Lydia holds it out of his reach, reflexes as annoyingly fast as ever, and raises an eyebrow. Stiles groans. "I don't want to talk to one of Tree Guy's friends. I was figuring on just ringing my phone from this one, then arranging to meet up and swap our phones back. I mean, he must have mine if I have his, right?"
"One would assume so." Lydia looks at the phone again, her perfect features arranged in a way that Stiles knows means she's thinking as hard as she can. Suddenly, her eyes light up. "I've got it," she says. "This thing is connected to Facebook, right?"
"I am not looking through someone else's Facebook, Lydia!" he says. "That's creepy. Borderline illegal, probably."
"I'll do it, then."
Stiles is powerless to stop her. He probably couldn't even physically overpower her, not that he'd want to. Lydia has been the cause of too many bruises on Stiles' body after drunken nights out, and not in the way he used to hope for. He decides to leave her to it and order a coffee. He's only had eight cups today and he's starting to get the shakes. He offers her one last disapproving look and stands up to join the queue at the counter.
By the time he's returned with the largest espresso he can legally buy, Lydia is sitting with the phone on the table in front of her, her hands in her lap and the smuggest shit-eating grin that Stiles has ever seen on anyone who isn't Jackson.
"What?" he questions carefully, putting the coffee on the table and sitting down.
"This phone belongs to a Mister Derek Hale," she says. "And he's a regulation hottie."
She pushes the phone towards Stiles with her index finger, and he picks it up, squinting at the screen. He can make out the Facebook profile of someone called Derek Hale. He feels more than a little sullied by this. He's never been one for Facebook stalking. Even when Scott broke up with Allison for a week in senior year, Stiles flatly refused to help him trawl through her Facebook information in search of any clues as to why the relationship wasn't working.
Well, fuck it. Lydia says this guy is a hottie. Stiles isn't one to judge before he has all the relevant data. He's a scientist.
He looks a little more closely at the screen.
He can see that Derek's profile picture is a photograph of two people, a man and a woman. It looks like it was taken at a restaurant. The woman is grinning at the camera, her arm around the shoulders of the man, who looks like he'd rather be in the seventh circle of Hell than here, wherever it is.
Lydia was right, though. He's ridiculously good-looking in the way that mere mortals never really are, with cheekbones that could probably cut glass and artfully mussed black hair and eyes that can see right into Stiles' goddamn soul. He seems to suffer from the same defect of most insanely hot people, however, in that his personality appears to be lacking. His expression, Stiles, thinks, could best be described as 'surly', and worst described as 'downright pissed off'.
"He has a girlfriend," he says. Lydia shakes her head.
"He's listed as single," she counters. "I'm betting that's his sister."
Stiles looks at her strangely.
"You should not have memorised this dude's entire Facebook profile, you know. That's... yeah. That's weird."
"There's precious little eye candy around here," she says. "And you had the fortune of running into this guy!"
Stiles narrows his eyes. He doesn't want to know what's in that sweetener Lydia puts in her coffee.
"I've never met him before in my life," he tells her. Lydia blinks at him, clearly waiting for him to make some sort of connection. When he fails to do so, she groans and rubs the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger.
"Stiles," she says slowly, like she's talking to a problem child. "You switched phones. You must have run into him somewhere."
Oh. That would make sense. Stiles flushes.
"Well, I don't remember him," he mumbles. "And, y'know, you'd think I would."
"Do you know where your paths might have crossed?" she asks. Stiles folds his arms and nods.
"I was at the gym with Scott this morning," he answers. "I took my phone out in the changing room to arrange to meet you. I guess it got switched then, while I was naked and defenceless."
"He's not a criminal, Stiles," Lydia retorts. "He's an innocent victim in this, just like you. He's probably just as pissed as you are."
"I am not pissed!" cries Stiles. "That is a baseless accusation with no basis in fact."
"Regardless," sighs Lydia, raising her hands in mock surrender. "You were in a room with this guy – who was probably naked at the time – and you didn't notice him? Seriously?"
Stiles shakes his head mournfully. Lydia exhales loudly.
"What kind of bisexual male are you?" she asks in wonder. Stiles shrugs.
"I wasn't looking," he says, feeling his ears turn red. Lydia raises an eyebrow. "I wasn't!"
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much."
"Look," protests Stiles. "I think, if I had been looking, I would have noticed this fucking demi-god in a glorious state of unclothedness. Now, stop looking at me like I'm some sort of experiment gone wrong and help me draft a coherent text to send to this dude that says 'I'm classy, available and really need my phone back'."
Lydia sighs like she's the most put-upon human being on Earth, but takes the Blackberry and types something before handing it back to Stiles.
"'Hi. I was at the gym earlier and I think we must have got our phones mixed up in the changing room. We should meet up over coffee and swap them back'," reads Stiles. He raises his eyebrows warningly. "Really? That does not say 'classy and available'. That says 'I put out on a first date because my father never taught me better'."
"It'll get the job done."
Stiles deletes what she's written and writes his own version. Slight infatuation aside, he really does need his phone back.
Hey, sorry, this is going to be really annoying, but I think we switched phones at the gym earlier? Do you want to arrange a time we can switch them back?
Lydia pokes her tongue out.
"You're no fun," she says.
"Give me business over hot, sweaty pleasure any day," responds Stiles.
"Bullshit," says Lydia, but she drops the subject.
He almost forgets that he's waiting for a text until he's alone in his apartment later that evening, poring over a Psychology textbook whilst attempting to cook a rudimentary stir fry. Multitasking has never really been his strong point. He can barely solotask. He's valiantly trying to mop up a rather messy soy sauce spillage when he feels the phone vibrate in his pocket. It's an unusual feeling – he always sets his phone to silent. Vibrate is just annoying – and it makes him jump, sending another burst of soy sauce spreading over the kitchen counter. He curses under his breath, puts down the bottle and the teatowel, and takes out the phone.
I think you're right. Unfortunately, I left town almost straight after the gym and won't be back until next week. If you feel you can cope until then, we can wait until then to exchange phones. Otherwise, I can post it back to you. I will, of course, borrow a friend's phone in the meantime.
Well. Turns out that Tree Guy – Derek, Stiles reminds himself – is possibly a robot. That would explain the oddly perfect appearance. He's probably a government experiment gone horribly right.
Stiles taps out a reply.
Ouch. Bad timing on my part, then. It's cool, I'm on contract so you can use that phone if you've memorised the numbers you need. Thanks for trusting me not to change all your Facebook information, by the way.
It takes Stiles until after he's pressed the 'send' button to realise that he might as well just have announced 'hey, I'm a creeper, I stalked your entire Facebook profile and I haven't been locked up in Pilgram yet!'.
Stiles kind of hates his life. He actually thinks that 'life' might be pushing it a bit.
Thank you. I'm on contract as well, so you can do the same. You looked at my Facebook?
Oh, no. I mean, not really. I just wanted to see if I could work out who the phone belonged to, you know. Put a name to the face. Not that I had a face, because I didn't remember you at all. I didn't look at anything, is what I'm trying to say. I wouldn't do that, man. That's not right.
Good. I'll be in touch about meeting to swap the phones back. Thank you again, Stiles Stilinski.
Son of a bitch.
The next day is a total pain in Stiles' ass. He's five minutes late for his first class – five goddamn minutes – and the lecturer basically hands him his ass on a plate, garnished with white wine and broken dreams. His favourite lunch place is shut for refurbishments and he ends up buying a soggy tuna sub from the college canteen, which he attempts to eat in vain. It turns out that he did the wrong assignment questions and is forced to sneak out of his third class before someone asks him to answer a question that might as well be in Greek.
He wants to call Lydia, but he has no idea what her number is. He doesn't really have many options. He could call someone called Laura, or some dude named Peter, but that's about it. Derek's contacts list is surprisingly short.
Hope your day is progressing better than mine. Not that that's hard. My day is going so slowly that I might sign it up for remedial classes.
He doesn't really expect a reply. Derek's probably got a really busy, fulfilling life. Heck, he's probably a model on the catwalks of Milan, or an artist with a weekend apartment in Paris and a beret. He could be a pornstar for all Stiles knows.
He doesn't need that image in his head. Not while he's in the library, anyway. Maybe later, although he knows he'll feel guilty about it after he's finished.
It's Tuesday. Do Tuesdays ever go well?
Stiles blinks, looks at the screen once more and blinks again. He types out a response, fingers flying over the keys. He's actually conversing with the hottest guy this side of the equator, albeit through the medium of a Blackberry.
I suppose not. It's Thursdays I really hate, though. Never got the hang of them.
He waits fifteen minutes for a reply before resigning himself to a lonely life of spinsterhood and cats and dying alone and being eaten by budgies.
He really, really hates his life.
Freud was a motherfucker. Not literally. Although, y'know, reading his theories, I'm starting to wonder.
Aren't you a college student? Why aren't you at class?
Yeah, I am. That's slightly creepy. I don't have classes all day. It's college, not penitentiary school.
That makes sense.
Stiles doesn't know what that means. He doesn't know how to respond to a flat statement, but he doesn't want to end the conversation.
"Come on, Derek, throw me a bone here," he mutters, then flushes at the double meaning because he's secretly twelve and female.
He sighs. Derek's not going to add anything, and he has no way of replying. Accepting defeat, he puts the phone down on the chair next to him and crosses his legs like a child in the reading corner, focusing once more on Freud's theory of wish fulfillment.
Is that your girlfriend in your background picture?
Stiles is thrown by the fact that Derek has texted him without a prompt. He doesn't know what to make of this.
It's a pity text. Derek can obviously sense Stiles' fratboy longing and is merely humouring him until he can give him his phone back and ignore him forever.
Stiles shouldn't fall for it.
He totally falls for it.
Dude, no. Gross. My mom.
She looks very young.
Well, yeah. She was. Is. Idk. She died like two years after that picture was taken, so yeah. Pretty young.
It's cool. You weren't to know.
No. I'm still sorry, though.
My mother died when I was sixteen.
Dude, that blows. I'm sorry, too.
It's OK. At least I have memories of her. You don't. I'm lucky in comparison.
You call me 'dude' a lot.
Dude, I call EVERYONE 'dude' a lot. It's like my thing.
He doesn't expect a reply. He doesn't want one, either. He's just spilled his guts to some random dude he's never met – admittedly a ludicrously hot one, but a stranger nonetheless – and the last time he saw his mother she looked like a ghost, her hospital gown a white reminder of mortality.
Freud can suck a fat one. Stiles is going to bed.