Stiles looks at Derek. Derek looks at Stiles. Scott's hand is warm on Stiles' back, and Stiles swallows hard, feeling a little like the world has just spun violently on its axis and he's the only one still standing upright.
"Dude, we can leave," Scott says quietly, and Stiles shakes his head.
"I should probably deal with this."
Derek stands still, and rubs the back of his neck. Boyd steps forward, and Derek breaks eye contact with Stiles, looking at the floor instead.
"Need a hand?" Boyd asks, and Stiles shakes his head again.
"No, but thanks," he replies. "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, y'know? Don't wait up."
Boyd claps him on the shoulder.
"Give him Hell, then," he says. Stiles blinks.
"Purgatory, at least," Scott affirms. "And hey, we'll all be at mine later if you want to join."
Stiles offers them all a weak smile – which even Jackson returns – and heads over to Derek as they leave.
Derek looks as though he's about to smile but thinks better of it, slinging his gym bag over his shoulder and keeping his eyes on Stiles. Stiles wonders if it's possible to actually die of anxiety. He remembers reading somewhere that no-one's ever died of a panic attack, but there's a first time for everything.
"So, um," he says, eloquently and articulately. "Hey."
Derek is being unsurprisingly non-congenial, Stiles thinks. Still, needs must.
"I guess this saves us the hassle of arranging to meet up," he says. Derek nods.
Stiles pushes his hand through his hair awkwardly, wondering if, should he pray hard enough, the ground might open up and swallow him whole.
"I was wondering - " says Derek, at exactly the same time as Stiles says, "So, should we - "
Stiles gestures for Derek to go first, and Derek swallows, Stiles watching the bob of his Adam's apple in his throat.
"There's a café across the street," Derek says. "If you wanted to talk. I do, by the way. Want to talk."
Stiles considers it. On one hand, he might be about to hear a lot of things he'd rather not hear. On the other hand, it might take him one step closer to sorting out this whole damn mess.
"Lead the way," he says, and Derek does.
Derek traces the ceramic rim of his mug with one finger and sighs.
"I wanted to explain everything," he says. "I thought I'd have more time to prepare, but actually, this is probably better. I haven't had any time to make up any excuses. Not that I would."
Stiles picks up his cup of coffee and sips it, nearly burning his tongue.
"Go ahead," he says. Derek licks his lips, and Stiles wonders how long this is going to take.
"I screwed up. Big time. I shouldn't have left you like that and I'm sorry. I'm really, genuinely sorry. It wasn't something I've ever done before, wasn't something I planned to do or thought I ever would, and I regret that I did it every day."
Stiles takes another sip of coffee, despite knowing that it'll scald his mouth, because he doesn't know how to react. Derek continues.
"I know I owe you an explanation as to why I did it, but... no, you know what, there aren't any 'but's. I did it because I was scared, and that's not something I like to admit, but it's the truth. I was scared because we'd fallen into the same pattern that I've fallen into before - "
Stiles sees red. It keeps coming back to the same thing.
"Kate," he says, bitterly, and Derek's eyes widen.
"No, actually," he returns. "Not Kate. Just other relationships that I've had in the past that went wrong because I did it all wrong. And I saw myself doing the same things wrong. I didn't want to make the same mistakes, set you up for a fall, and in trying to get myself out of that situation, I made an even bigger mistake." He rubs his forehead. "I'm not good at this."
Stiles decides to give him a break.
"You're doing fine," he says, because he is. He hadn't expected him to say anywhere near as much as he has, and he thinks he's starting to understand. Derek smiles at him gratefully.
"After you sent me that text, before we... you know, I got worried that it was all just going too fast. Not that I thought you meant it, of course, but it showed that you were thinking of me in a way that no-one had thought of me since – what? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You're going to have to speak to me like I'm an idiot, or at least someone who isn't a goddamn mind-reader, because I have no idea which text you're referring to. I sent you a lot, if you recall."
"You said you loved me," he says. "And I know you didn't mean it, I'm not an idiot. You were drunk. But after we..."
His voice trails off, and Stiles rolls his eyes. He has no idea which text Derek is talking about, but he'll let him say his piece before he drops that bombshell.
"Had sex," he supplies, and Derek swallows.
"Yes. After that, I started to think – couldn't stop thinking, really; what if you thought I was only doing it because of what you'd said? Or what if – what if you'd said it just so that I'd do that? And I know that's not fair because you're not like that, but I've met people before who are like that, and I had to leave, because - "
"I didn't send that text," Stiles interjects because is enough, really, he doesn't need to hear about all the reasons Derek was convinced he was some kind of asshole, and he watches Derek's face still, furrow into an expression of confusion. "No, but really. I have no idea which text you mean. I've never said that."
Derek, still frowning, picks up Stiles' phone from the table and starts fiddling with it, presumably looking through his messages. Stiles wonders what he expects to find. Phantom texts, presumably. Dream phonecalls. Imaginary voicemails –
I lveo yoouo hahaahah i bet yu knew that thou didndt yo becuae i bet eberuone loves you anad yur cheekbneos butt Derek you area cooler than cucucmber and hoettre than my dads secretery and seh had a a boobj ob lasts years so that s hsaying somethng! im drunk ok bryyeee!
[Received 1 week ago 01:04]
Derek eyes him suspiciously – the first thing Stiles had noticed about him was his eyes, he thinks - and Stiles shrugs. He doesn't have any memory of that night in particular, but he's pretty sure he'd remember sending that. He's also fairly certain that he'd have seen that scorching example of embarrassment and shame in his outbox, and would have had a mental breakdown accordingly. He winces.
"Dude. I honestly don't - " And then it hits him, like a punch to the gut, and he inhales sharply, closing his eyes. "Erica."
And Stiles could kick himself for not realising it earlier. Laura had got involved. It made complete sense that Stiles' own friends would do the same. He knows they have his best interests at heart, knows that they have only good intentions, but he feels a surge of hot anger at the realisation that other people have been making mistakes that aren't theirs to make. Stiles' face must show exactly how he's feeling because Derek looks at him, a little concerned, and leans forward, actually touches his hand.
Stiles rubs the bridge of his nose. Derek's hand remains, warm on his own, and Stiles wonders if this is what he's been missing out on because other people can't keep their fucking noses out of his business.
"We've been doing this all wrong."
Derek looks at him blankly.
"I figured that," he says. Stiles waves his hand in a flippant gesture – whatever Derek thinks he means, it's likely wrong.
"This thing," he continues. "Whatever it is – it's our thing, right? I mean, it's between us."
Cautiously, Derek nods, and Stiles takes this as permission to continue. "So riddle me this; why does it seem to me as though everyone has had a say in it apart from us?"
Derek raises an eyebrow, and Stiles sighs. Why must he always spell everything out for everyone? "Think about it. Your sister phoned me every other minute, telling me what I should do and how you felt about things. Erica took it upon herself to go through my phone history. And it's great that we both have people who care enough to do that, but it sucks pretty hard that neither of us felt as though we could just tell them to, you know, not."
Derek is frowning again, and he rubs his thumb over the soft bit of skin between Stiles' thumb and forefinger absent-mindedly. Stiles thinks it's a little odd that he's so comfortable making physical contact when they haven't actually seen each other in a while, but he also thinks it's a little awesome, and he's fully aware that he hasn't made any effort to tell Derek not to do it, so he lets it slide.
"What did my sister say, exactly?" Derek asks. Stiles shrugs.
"The usual," he answers. "That you had a history of bad break-ups. That I should try and win you over. That you really liked me. Loads of confusing stuff that didn't make sense at the time and just made me think that everything might be my fault."
"Well, obviously." Stiles sighs, and at the guilty look on Derek's face, he turns his hand over, palm upwards, and takes Derek's hand in his, which makes the other man's eyes widen in something like surprise. He doesn't move his hand, though, and Stiles continues. "Look. We probably started this the worst way possible. I mean, seriously. We could write a book on how badly we did this. Luckily for you, I am a certified genius – well, almost, but that test was bullshit because even Lydia failed it and she's – OK, yes, anyway, I have an idea."
Derek looks like he's trying hard not to laugh.
Stiles spreads his unoccupied hand in a gesture of benevolent wisdom.
"We start over."
He knows it's naive, foolish and possibly latently sadistic. He knows that. He's fully aware that Lydia would arch an eyebrow and tell Derek that he'd missed his chance, and that Erica would knee Derek in the groin before texting all of their friends about his lack of sexual prowess – although, Stiles thinks, that would be a total lie – and he knows that Scott would dither about it until Derek left and nothing would ever get resolved. But here's the kicker; he's not them. He's Stiles Stilinski, and this is his decision, and he's going to make it without thinking of anyone else, because right now? He deserves it.
"You'd do that?" Derek asks. "But I was - "
"A douche? An ass?" Stiles butts in, and Derek grimaces but nods. "Yeah. You kind of were. But I'll take the risk that you won't do it again. And if you do, I'll kick your butt. You didn't see me back there, man, I was lifting weights like a pro."
"I just don't want you to feel like you have to."
"Dude. Please. I am so done with doing things because I feel like I should. No, this one's on me. It's my mistake entirely." He pauses. "And yours, obviously, if you say yes, because I can be really irritating sometimes, too."
"I hadn't noticed," Derek says drily, and Stiles beams.
"And that's why I'm doing this. Because we're kind of good together. And I know this is turning into Honesty Hour, but whatever. I want this." Their hands are still laced together, and Stiles looks at them pointedly. "And I know you do, too."
Derek tilts his head, contemplative.
"And you're sure you're not doing this because - "
"Oh, for the love of - " And with that, despite being fully aware that he's acting a little like a nu-age rom-com heroine, he stands up, his chair falling backwards with the force of it, leans forward and grabs Derek by the shoulders – knocking his cup of coffee onto the floor in the process - and kisses him.
Derek doesn't say anything else for a while, and Stiles doesn't even mind when the cafeteria lady comes over with a face like thunder and makes him pay for the china.
"I'm setting a list of rules," Stiles states. Derek pauses, his car still locked.
"Go on," he says.
"Firstly, we take things slow this time. No jumping into bed just because we're both horny. We're grown men, damnit. We're above that." Derek raises an eyebrow. "Well, I am, anyway."
"That's fair enough." Derek unlocks the car but doesn't make any move to open the door, waiting for Stiles to finish listing his rules. "What are the others?"
"You tell me about Kate as soon as – and only when – you feel ready," Stiles responds. "Because I'm done with living in her shadow, and I don't plan on making a big deal of it if you don't."
"I'll try not to."
Stiles nods. He's willing to trust that Derek's learnt that Kate is in the past, not the present. If his blind faith comes back to bite him in the ass later, well, that's up to him to deal with, but for now, he'll take it.
"I guess I can live with that. The last rule is that you come to Scott's house tonight."
"Is that a coded message that I have to decipher in order to win your heart and soul or something?" he asks. "Because I don't know what you just said."
"Cute," Stiles says. "And no. My best friend is having a Hangover party this evening. For clarification, we don't get drunk and vomit together. We simply bask in the glory of Bradley Cooper and Co., and you're going to come and bear the brunt of their well-deserved vitriol – you did break my heart a little, after all – after which I will defend your honour, thank them for caring and tell them to let me lead my own life." He pauses. "That's kind of your karmic retribution."
Which is half true, because although he figures that Derek probably deserves a little bit of a hard time, he mostly just wants to skip to the part where he gets to tell them all thanks but no thanks.
Derek rolls his eyes.
"Text me with the details and I'll be there," he says, and Stiles grins because he hadn't honestly expected it to be that easy. Suddenly, Derek reaches into his pocket and pulls out Stiles' phone. Stiles had honestly forgotten that he still had it. "We should switch back."
Suddenly, Stiles has a brilliant idea.
"We'll swap them at Scott's," he says. Derek rolls his eyes again.
"Fine," he says, and he opens the car door. "See you later."
"Yes, you will," Stiles promises.
31 Parkfield Way, 6pm. Be there or be square.
No-one's called anyone a 'square' since about 1967, Stiles. I'll be there.
Sometimes, we must forsake social norms in order to make sweet rhymes. And don't text while you're driving.
No, sir. See you at 6.