The kid was looking again, and Derek had just about had it.
It's not like Derek didn't know how he looked. Wolves matured early, and Derek had developed muscles and scruff before any of his peers. He had first started to become aware of his appeal under Paige's shy gaze. It had been confirmed when Kate had silenced him with a kiss, her throaty voice purring, "Nobody wants you for your conversation, darling," as her fingers traced greedily over the muscles of his abdomen. Fool that he was, he had been flattered at the time.
Losing his family had only made him more disciplined -- more determined to be stronger and faster than anyone who might hunt him. Working himself to the point of physical exhaustion was both his penance and his salvation. As a result his shoulders broadened, his biceps bulged, his thighs thickened with lean muscle. And the eyes of strangers lingered longer, the cloying scent of their avid interest a miasma that surrounded him no matter where he went in the city.
Here, though, in the safety of his own apartment -- he shouldn't have to put up with that. He wouldn't say that he ever fully relaxed his vigil, but at least in his own apartment he could finally shut out the chaos and noise and sticky lust of the city. This was his sanctuary, smelling only of him, and here was as close as he ever got these days to feeling at peace. Until that damn kid moved in to the building across the alleyway.
New York City was claustrophobic enough on its own. It had been Laura's choice to come here, her fervent hope that anyone tracking them would lose them in the teeming mass of the city. Derek had followed along numbly, secrets and remorse burning like acid in his chest. He had forfeited any right to his own opinion on the day he betrayed his whole family.
Then Laura had died, and Derek had stayed behind in the city he despised. Most of the time he didn't even know why. Maybe he was still trying to be a good beta to Laura even after his eyes had flared alpha-red with her death. Maybe he was reluctant to sever that last, tenuous connection to her. Or maybe he was just treading water, with no place better to go. Pretending to be a functioning human being because that’s all that Laura had ever wanted for him.
So he had his apartment, small and sparse but clean. It didn't have a view, of course, the building across the alley was so close that their fire escapes practically touched. But that building was a wreck, half of the windows boarded up, and the apartment facing Derek's had been empty for as long as he had lived there -- until earlier this week.
That's when the kid had moved in, and the floor-to-ceiling windows of Derek's industrial loft had turned from a blessing to a curse. They used to create the illusion of space and light, allowing Derek to pretend that he wasn't really hemmed into the small square footage of his actual apartment. That illusion was the only thing that made the cramped space tolerable, and why he abhored the very idea of curtains. The lights of the city didn't bother him, through closed eyelids he could even pretend it was sunshine filtering through forest leaves.
The kid must have moved in while Derek was at work. Derek hadn't even noticed at first, so accustomed to his routine. He had ditched his wallet and keys on the table by the door, kicking his shoes off and nudging them underneath. His bed was smack in the middle of the loft, and he had stripped his suit off, throwing it on the comforter to be hung up later, anxious to shower the heat and scent of the city off his body. He was already pulling his shirt over his head when he had noticed the flicker of movement in the apartment across the alley.
There the kid had been, his apartment completely dark, just standing at his window and staring straight at Derek. It didn't look like he had just been passing by the window and had been distracted, either. No, the kid had looked like he was settled in for the long haul, his forearm braced against the top of the window, his gaze fixed forward directly into Derek's apartment.
Derek had turned his back, startled and unsettled, and then had felt even more exposed, knowing the kid could probably see the triskele tattooed between his shoulder blades as clear as day. He had almost felt those eyes crawling over him from the darkened apartment across the way, and he hadn't been able to suppress his shudder. He had lunged for the light switch, working harder than he had needed to in ages to keep his eyes from flaring red in the sudden darkness, his claws from lengthening at the invasion of his once-private space.
He had scuttled to the bathroom, the one enclosed space in his apartment, and had let the shower beat down on him, water scaldingly hot. He had tried not to look across the way when he got out, but couldn't help himself.
The kid had still been there, a long lean silhouette in the window topped by a fluff of hair. Derek had watched through sidelong glances as he hurriedly redressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt, awkwardly holding his towel up for modesty. He was waiting for some kind of self-consciousness or at the very least acknowledgement on the kid's part, but the kid had seemed unrepentant, the streetlights from below reflecting off of wide eyes unnervingly fixed on Derek's form. Finally Derek had skipped dinner and retreated beneath his comforter, shifting restlessly long into the night, unaccustomed to sleeping in clothes, feeling vulnerable and edgy under the memory of that gaze.
The kid hadn't been there the next morning, and Derek had heaved a sigh of relief. The way the kid had been staring at him had been rude as hell, but maybe he hadn't realized that Derek could see him past the reflection in his own windows, and Derek supposed some degree of the kid's curiosity about his new neighbors was allowable. Hopefully that curiosity had been satisfied. Derek had tried to push it from his mind, focusing in on his work.
That night he had returned home, and had barely flicked on his own lights before the kid was in the window again, staring. Derek hadn't worked as late and even in the dim evening light filtering down between the two buildings he could see the kid more clearly.
He didn't seem as young as Derek had thought at first...still gangly and lean but with surprisingly broad shoulders, his bicep stretching the sleeve of his t-shirt where his arm was braced against the top of the window. A scattering of moles dotted the pale skin of his cheek, and his mouth was pink and lax, lips slightly parted almost obscenely. Most arresting, though, were his eyes, wide and ringed with dark lashes, the irises lit to an almost golden amber by the few stray beams of dying sunlight slanting between the buildings as he stared almost unblinkingly into Derek's apartment.
"Dammit," Derek had cursed. He had glared back for a few minutes, eyes narrowed, but the kid hadn't seemed intimidated at all. He had even smiled a bit, the corner of his lips tilting up as if he were enjoying Derek's discomfort. Asshole.
Derek tried to ignore him, going about his routine as usual as much as possible, but his skin crawled with self-consciousness, nerves jittering. And then it happened again the next night, and the next. By Friday night, Derek was absolutely determined to do something. Whatever the punk kid’s problem was, Derek would no longer let himself feel threatened in his own space.
That night he got home, sweating and itching from the summer heat, throwing his keys on the table with such force that they scuffed the wood. He stalked directly to his windows, teeth already grinding, fingers clenched into fists. The kid was already there, already staring, as Derek glared angrily back.
“Hey!” Derek’s windows were thick and didn’t open, but the window the kid stood in front of was an ancient metal-framed one with a hand-crank, and Derek could see that it was cranked open a few inches. “Hey you!” Derek snarled, slamming his fist on the frame of his own windows, making the floor-to-ceiling glass shudder alarmingly. The kid didn’t even flinch, his smirk unwavering. Derek listened, but couldn’t hear his heartbeat through the glass and the cacophony of street sounds to know if he was even the slightest bit alarmed. He certainly didn’t look it.
“That’s it,” Derek snapped. He snatched up his keys, stomping down the stairs of his apartment building and storming across the street before he had time for second thoughts. The lock on the main door of the building was already broken, confirming in Derek’s mind the kind of run-down dump that it was. Derek’s fury carried him past a mailroom with junk mail scattered on the floor, through a moldy-smelling lobby and up the dingy stairs. The already unbearable heat rose with every floor he ascended, fueling his rising temper. Four flights up he burst into the landing, the hallway narrow, the flourescent light overhead flickering and buzzing. He headed straight for the door of the apartment that faced his own.
“Hey.” He knocked sharply on the door. “Hey!”
He heard the footsteps approaching, saw the peephole darken as the kid came to stand right in front of the scuffed metal door. At least he seemed alarmed now, his heart rate already rapid and quickening further the longer he stood there.
“Yeah?” the kid finally said, his voice sounding uncertain. “Who is it?”
“Fucking what?!” Derek muttered to himself. What the hell kind of game was this asshole playing? “You know who I am,” he snapped loudly. “Your neighbor.”
“You’re my neighbor?” The kid’s voice sounded more confident now. “You gotta forgive me if we were introduced — I’m not exactly good with faces.” Derek could hear the smirk in his voice now, and it was the final straw. What kind of crack was that? Four solid days of staring creepily at Derek and now the kid was pretending he didn’t even recognize his face!?
The rage burned so brightly within Derek that he could feel his vision haze red, his claws snapping out involuntarily. It was simple to slide one of those claws between the rickety metal door and the jamb, slicing through the deadbolts the kid had no doubt placed, thinking himself safe.
Derek shoved the door open, sending the kid pinwheeling back to land on his ass. Derek stepped into the apartment, the low rumble of a growl escaping his chest, enjoying the look of fear on the kid’s face as the door swung shut behind him with a solid thunk.
The kid scuttled backwards until his back was against the wall, scrambling to his feet while his arms flailed wildly, reaching out apparently for some kind of weapon. He grabbed a floor lamp, shifting it until he held it in his hands like a baseball bat, almost conking himself in the head with the shade.
“Listen, if you want money, I don’t have much, but you can just take it, okay?” the kid was babbling.
“I don’t want any damn money,” Derek spat, stepping closer. “What I want is for you —” Derek’s voice stumbled to a halt, his senses belatedly prickling with the awareness of something wrong. Even though he had stepped closer the kid’s eyes were still staring at the doorway, over Derek’s shoulder.
Derek turned his head, looking at the closed door and then back at the kid.
“What do you want?” the kid was saying, tightening his grip on the lamp. “I swear, if you lay a hand on me — my dad — he’s the Sheriff, he’ll fucking find you and kill you —” his voice cracked slightly on the word ‘dad’ and Derek found himself dropping his hands to his side. He took another silent step to his left, watching the amber eyes closely. They didn’t even flicker in his direction.
“You —” Derek watched as the kid startled and flailed before adjusting his stance to face Derek’s new position. His eyes slid past Derek a bit and then fixed again — at a point closer to where Derek stood, but still not exactly right.
“I’m warning you, leave now or I’m gonna start swinging,” the kid said defiantly. “Last chance.”
“You’re blind,” Derek said flatly, the anger draining from him so suddenly he felt almost woozy. His vision cleared, his claws sliding back into blunt fingernails.
“Thanks for the memo, genius,” the kid said acidly. “I can still fucking defend myself, so don’t take another damn step.”
“Fuck, I...I’m sorry,” Derek stuttered.
“What?!” The kid’s brow crinkled. “I mean — what?! You’re fucking sorry!?” His lips thinned into a harsh line. “What, is this some kinda Hallmark movie where you’re discovering the error of your ways because you don’t want to rob a blind person?! That’s fucking condescending, man. I’ll have you know that —”
“Just, wait.” Derek interrupted what was apparently the start of a convincing argument as to why he should rob the kid after all, feeling his head start to spin. “This is — it’s a misunderstanding. I’m — I’m not robbing you. You’re — you’re safe, okay? I’m taking three steps back. Just — just let me explain.”
Derek took three steps back, counting each, letting the floor creak noisily under his feet. “I’m at the door. I’ll leave the second you want me to. Just — just let me explain.”
“Explain why you came busting into my apartment? Yeah, go right ahead, man, I can’t wait to hear this epic tale.” The kid’s voice dripped with sarcasm, and Christ, Derek had earned every ounce of it.
Derek was bad with words on a good day, and in a situation like this he was beyond hopeless. He stared at the kid, tongue-tied, not having the slightest clue where to start.
“Well?” the kid prompted. Derek stared blankly at him for a bit longer. The kid lowered the lamp a fraction. “Did he fucking leave?” he mumbled to himself.
Derek thought longingly of how easy it would be to slip out the the door and just disappear, but he couldn’t do that. This kid would be terrified forever, would never feel safe in his apartment again, and Derek knew all too well how that felt.
“I’m still here,” Derek pointed out obligingly.
“Gah!” The kid startled and flailed again, and this time the lamp shade did hit him in the face.
Derek could feel his own eyes widening. “That wasn’t me,” he rushed to explain. “That — that was the lampshade.”
“I know it was the fucking lampshade, you asshole!” the kid spat back at him, angry tears standing out in his eyes as he ripped the shade off the lamp and threw it to the ground. There was no bulb in the lamp yet, and Derek belatedly realized why the kid was always standing around in the dark. “I’m not — what the fuck is wrong with you!?” His lip was starting to swell up in the corner, and between the tears in his wide eyes, his upturned nose, and his pouting lip, he was starting to look like a child having a tantrum.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Derek found himself saying dejectedly. “I’m just really, really sorry. You can put the lamp down. I promise I won’t hurt you. I’ll fix your door. I really am your neighbor.”
“You really are my neighbor?” the kid repeated incredulously, apparently latching onto the least reassuring part of that whole speech. “Christ, my dad told me I was gonna get murdered in the first month of living here, and I told him he was being overprotective. Now I have a fucking psycho for a neighbor and I’m gonna die in the first week.”
“You’re not gonna die. I don’t — I don’t live in your building. I’ll fix your door, and I’ll leave you alone, I promise. You’ll never have to see me again,” Derek babbled, and then cringed at his own word choice.
“You just said you were my neighbor!!” the kid practically shrieked. “Are you trying to fucking confuse me to death?”
“Across the street! Your neighbor across the street, is what I meant. Your — your apartment window looks into mine. And — you’ve been standing there, every night, just looking in my window. And I don’t have curtains, and you — you were making me really uncomfortable, and you weren’t stopping no matter how much I glared at you, and — and fuck, you’re blind, and that’s why, I get that now, but before it just felt really threatening, and that’s why I came over —” Derek stumbled to a stop once again, wondering inanely if that was more words than he had spoken at once to anyone since Laura died.
The kid had lowered the lamp now, at least, his eyebrows high on his mobile face. “I. Seemed threatening. To you,” he repeated dubiously.
It sounded ridiculous now that he had said it, and the kid didn’t even know what Derek looked like — didn’t know that he was almost 200 pounds of solid muscle and werewolf to boot. The apartment was almost unbearably hot and humid, and Derek felt his cheeks flush even warmer, sweat trickling down his back. He looked down at his feet, unable to explain further. “I — I have issues,” he finally said.
The kid snorted. “That’s an understatement if I ever heard one.” He seemed to be calming down a little, though, the frantic patter of his heart slowing, the acidity of fear in his scent settling into something warmer and softer.
He relaxed his stance a little further, the base of the lamp settling to the floor, but his voice was still sharp with suspicion when he spoke again. “Are these issues, like, anger management issues? Have you ever hurt someone? And that whole thing about blind people having heightened senses is true, man, so I’ll know if you’re lying,” he said, his heartbeat ironically blipping as he told the lie.
Derek couldn’t help the bark of laughter that escaped him. “Only if you were blinded saving an old man from a truck full of radioactive waste,” he found himself blurting out, and then bit his tongue. Crap, he was supposed to be apologizing, not needling the guy.
Surprisingly, his stupid remark seemed to put the kid further at ease. “Daredevil reference,” the kid observed, his eyes crinkling a little at the corners. “Nice.”
“I shouldn’t have joked about that,” Derek said awkwardly. “Sorry. Again.”
“No worries, dude. I’m not sensitive about it. Besides, for all you know, that’s exactly how I went blind.” The kid grinned widely for a minute before seeming to remember the situation and forcing his face to look stern again.
“Anyway,” Derek forged on. “I’m not — I’ve never — I wouldn’t hurt anyone. But if you want to call the cops on me or something, that’s fine. My name is Derek Hale. I can wait here while you call or you can send them over to my place. I’ll — I’ll corroborate your statement and all that. If that would make you feel safer.”
The kid put the lamp fully down now, running a hand through his already disordered hair and taking a deep breath, letting it out with a sigh. “Nah, man. Maybe I’m being stupid, but I don’t think that’s necessary.” Dusk was starting to fall more fully, casting shadows across the kid's face as he shrugged his shoulders a few times to release the tension. “Not that you didn’t scare the crap out of me, but I kinda get where you were coming from. You stormed over here to confront a raging pervert and instead you got 163 pounds of sarcasm and disability. It’s — well, I won’t say it’s understandable, it’s still weird as hell, but — I can see where I would have creeped you out since you didn’t know about the whole —” the kid’s fingers did some sort of elaborate twirl in front of his eyes “— situation going on up here.”
“Why —” Derek started, before stopping himself. He had no right to ask any questions.
The kid waited for a minute, and then snorted again. “Just spit it out, dude. I think the good ship Etiquette has fucking sailed.”
Derek felt himself flush again at the reminder, but his curiosity was starting to override his shame. “Why do you stand at the window all evening?”
"Oh! That’s an easy one.” The kid grinned again. “It’s a fucking oven in here in the evenings, if you hadn’t noticed, and no a/c. Can’t even put a window unit in these damn casement windows, and most of them are painted shut from the outside under like, nine decades of paint.”
He moved back over to the window, hand unerringly finding the crank and trying to turn it. It made a horrible screech and only opened a fraction more, the kid holding his breath with the effort of turning it even a few rotations. “I can only get this one window open,” he huffed, “And even this one only cranks a few inches. But if I stand right in front of it I get at least a little bit of a breeze. So I throw a podcast on, and just hang out here and listen.” His mouth twisted into a self-deprecating grin. “Hot nightlife in the big city, huh?”
“I can — I can try to fix that for you too,” Derek offered. “Make it so they all open, at least.”
“Really, man?” The kid braced his forearm on the top of the window frame and leaned into the breeze, the position familiar to Derek but now seen from the other side. It seemed so obvious now. “That would be awesome. Handy is something I am absolutely not.”
“Yeah, I’ll — there’s a hardware store a few blocks down that’s open for awhile yet. I’ll do the door for sure tonight, and the windows if I can.”
"Thanks.” The kid seemed remarkably unconcerned with Derek’s continued presence in his apartment, in a way that spoke to poor self-preservation. He stood relaxed at the window, still savoring the breeze. His t-shirt had a damp patch between the shoulder blades, making it stick to the strong muscles of his back. “So you live over there, huh?” he remarked, gesturing out his window.
“Yeah. For, uh, about two years now.”
“And you thought I was spending all evening just perving on you,” the kid remarked, his voice bright with mischief. He turned his head, a dying ray of summer sun lighting his eyes to a translucent honey-gold. “You must be hot, to have thought that. No one worries about getting perved on when they’re like a hundred years old and wrinkly. Are you super hot?”
“I — uh —”
The kid laughed in delight, his whole body shaking with it. “You totally are!” he crowed. “You’re hot like burning!” He turned back to the window, letting his long fingers glaze lightly over the surface of the glass. “Wasted opportunity, man,” he said contemplatively. “You’re like the stereotypical sexy neighbor in a sitcom, and here I am, a Peeping Tom with no peepers.”
“I —” Derek had no idea what to say to that.
The kid straightened up suddenly, a pink flush rising to his cheeks. “Jeez, sorry, dude. My mouth runs away with me sometimes. Feel free to disregard, like, 90 percent of what I say.”
“No, it’s okay.” Derek managed to shuffle a few steps closer to the door, wondering why he hadn’t left already. “I better get to the store, though, before it closes. I’ll be back in, like, half an hour?”
“Yeah, sounds good,” the kid said moving back to the window. Derek finally made it out the door, closing it behind him and taking a deep breath, trying to collect his scattered thoughts.
“Bring pizza!” the kid yelled from inside the apartment, and Derek found himself smiling as he kicked himself into motion, making his way down the dingy hall.
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