There’s a moving van in front of Derek’s apartment building.
Derek pauses on the front steps, placing his bags of groceries on the ground at his feet – reusable, because Kira is going through one of her manic, save the Earth through the wonders of recycling phases. The sun beats down on his back, and he wipes away the sweat on his brow, dreaming of his air conditioned apartment. He hates humidity.
The driver’s side door creaks open, and Derek hears footsteps on the pavement just before his new tenant comes into view. Derek met him only once, the day he and his roommate came to view the apartment; Erica gave him the grand tour. Derek ran into him on the stairwell on their way downstairs – a mass of flailing limbs and babbling words attached to a face dotted with moles, reeking of magic.
“Stiles,” he said, face flushing pink when Erica attempted to pronounce the name written on his application and failed spectacularly, much to his friend’s immense glee. “Just call me Stiles.”
“Yo, Scotty!” Stiles yells, fumbling with the lock before throwing open the doors to the van. “Get your ass out here!”
The passenger side door opens, revealing the greatly amused friend from the stairwell, grin on his face as he shoves his phone into his back pocket. He strolls back to Stiles, leaning against the side of the van.
“Here.” Stiles grunts as he lifts a box labeled I don’t even know what this shit is in a lurid shade of pink into his arms before shoving it at Scott. He hefts it onto his shoulders with ease.
Stiles drapes a duffel bag over one shoulder, eyes widening a little when he glances at Derek. The musky scent of his arousal meets Derek’s nose, just before he mutters, “Hello salty goodness,” under his breath.
Scott snorts. Stiles grins. Derek picks his bags up and walks inside as fast as his legs can carry him, calling himself an idiot all the while.
Stiles’ grin falls, morphing into a frown as he watches McDreamy turn tail and book it inside of the building. His eyes are drawn to his amazing ass, the muscles in his shoulders flexing with the weight of his bags, the –
“Stiles!” Scott shouts, and Stiles jumps, clutching his bag to his chest.
“Jesus Christ, do you have to bellow?”
“I called you like three times.” He walks up the stairs, the box in one hand while he tows a dolly with the other. “You were too busy checking out our landlord’s ass.”
“And what a fine ass it is,” Stiles says, and Scott rolls his eyes, dropping the box on the dolly and leaving both by the door as he walks back to the truck.
It takes several trips and many prayers on Stiles’ part that no one will break into the van and steal the rest of their stuff, but eventually, Scott piles the last of the boxes beside their front door.
Stiles wipes his hands together, grinning when Scott shoots him a half-hearted glare.
“You barely even did anything.”
“Why would I carry heavy objects and risk pulling my poor, weak muscles, when there is a big, strong werewolf about to do my dirty work?” Stiles ruffles Scott’s hair.
Scott ducks out from under his hand. “Is that why you keep me around? To lift heavy objects?”
“You lift things up and put them down,” Stiles says with a terrible accent. “Basically, yes.”
“Why am I friends with you again?”
“Trashy taste and a fondness for hopeless cases." Stiles winks. Scott shoves him in the shoulder and walks into the apartment, peering around corners like he hadn’t been here when Stiles did the walkthrough. The apartments haven’t been remodeled since the 1960s, but Stiles thinks that gives it a kitschy sort of charm. The walls were repainted after the last tenant moved out and the carpets and linoleum flooring replaced, but otherwise, it’s like stepping into a time capsule. The place has running water, heat, and more storage space than he could possibly know what to do with. Scott was in love from first sight of the the extra closets.
The fact that the rent is spectacularly low doesn’t hurt, either. Stiles thought Derek was kidding when he gave them the estimate and made him repeat the number again, which he did, smirking all the while. Anyone would have been stupid to turn down that offer, never mind when it was coming from Derek I was built by the gods Hale.
“You’re thinking about Derek again,” Scott says flatly, and Stiles sighs, pressing the back of his hand to his forehead while pretending to swoon.
“I do declare! He has ruined me for all other men!”
“Such a drama queen,” Scott teases, turning away from the kitchen window with a grin.
“You know you love me.”
“I have no idea why.”
“Fuck you,” Stiles says without heat.
“No thanks. Save that for Derek.”
“No arguments here.” Stiles bends down to open a box labeled Packing, how do? with a grin.
When Derek arrives upstairs, Erica takes one look at him, rolls her eyes, and takes the bags of groceries from his hands.
“So I see Mr. 5B has arrived,” she says, leaning against the counter, shoulders shaking with laughter.
Derek hates his pack.
“Admit it, Derek. You only gave them the apartment because the cutie with the flailing limbs batted his eyelashes at you.”
“You do have a type,” Kira says, though a lot more gently – which is why she’s his favorite.
She also isn’t just talking about his taste in men. Most of his tenants are of a similar caliber: elderly couples who Derek would never have had the heart to kick out when he took over the building, who have been living there since their children were children. College students or recent grads on their own for the first time. Single parents, new families just starting out.
While Erica might tease him, she and the rest of his pack still answer as many disgruntled complaints as he does, plunging toilets for the frazzled single mother in 1A, calling electricians and providing battery-operated heaters, lamps, and hotplates when the power went out in the middle of a snowstorm.
And now he’s taking in wayward emissaries and omegas. His mother would be so proud.
Someone claps their hands right beside his ear, reverberating like a thunderclap. Derek spins around to find Erica lowering her hands with a shit-eating grin.
“Cora was right. You do spin like a ballerina when you’re startled.”
Kira laughs, covering her mouth with her hand. His cell phone rings, and Derek scowls, tugging his phone out of his pocket without even looking at the display. “What?”
“Happy to hear you’re as pleasant as ever,” Cora says, as if drawn by the sound of her name halfway across the world.
“Speak of the devil.” Kira ducks with a grin when Derek slaps at the back of her head.
“Awww, you were talking about me? I knew you missed me.”
Derek snorts, but he can’t help but smile; he does miss his sister, his entire family, like an ache in his chest that never really goes away. Most days, he’s able to ignore it. The days that he can’t, he surrounds himself with his pack; allows the wolf to take over, lays his head in Kira’s lap, and lets her run her fingers through his fur.
“How’s Amsterdam?” Derek cocks his hip against the doorframe. “Or is it Athens this month?”
“Rome actually. The food. Derek, the food.” Cora sighs dramatically. “I swear, I’m going to kidnap one of the kitchen boys and force them to be my personal chef.”
“I’m sure food is all you’re thinking about,” Derek says dryly; he can see the wolfish grin Cora is giving him in his mind’s eye.
“Two for the price of one.” Derek groans; Cora laughs.
“Such a prude,” she teases, “Although I hear that might be changing. How is your 5B lover boy, anyway?”
Erica cackles, toppling off of the counter.
Derek hangs up.
Two days later, he runs into Stiles in the lobby, grumbling at the elevator like it personally offended him.
“Come on,” he mutters, kicking the door with the toe of his battered, black Chucks.
“I don’t think you’re going to get a response,” Derek says, grinning when Stiles jumps a foot in the air and spins around in what would have been a stunning display of acrobatics had he not tripped over his bags. Derek shoots a hand out to grab his shoulder, stopping his descent towards the floor.
“Holy shit,” Stiles says as he rights himself. “You can’t sneak up on a person like that! I could have a heart condition! I could have died!”
“You wouldn’t have died,” Derek says, doing his level best to not roll his eyes. “There’s a retired doctor in 4C.”
“Ha fucking ha. Wolf’s got jokes.” Stiles jerks his thumb towards the elevator. “Elevator’s broken.”
Derek heaves a sigh, because of course it was. The damn thing broke at least once a month. The last time, the repairman joked that he didn’t need any other clients because Derek alone could fuel his income.
“I’ll put in a call to the repair company.” He goes to the small table against the wall, pulling out an Out-of-Order sign and a roll of packing tape.
“Wow. Laminated and everything.” Stiles smirks. Derek ignores him in favor of ripping off a piece of tape with his teeth. Stiles’ heart skips a beat. “Should I be worried?”
“Probably.” He tosses the tape back into the drawer and shuts it with his hip, then starts grabbing Stiles’ bags.
“Are you planning on paying the repair guy in food?” Stiles’ lips twitch into a smile that morphs into a full-blown grin when Derek flushes to the tips of his ears.
“Do you need help with your bags or not?” Derek snaps, like it’s a hardship. Like he doesn’t want to spend more time with Stiles and his annoying grin and infectious laugh.
“Someone’s grumpy,” he says, grabbing the remaining two bags. He leads Derek up the stairs, complaining all the while. Stiles spins his key in the lock and the door opens wide.
As Derek follows him over the threshold, warmth tingles down his spine. He drops the bags in the kitchen then turns, glancing up over the front door. A silver horseshoe hangs above the entryway, with the wolf runes for protection and peace etched on either side.
Derek gives the air a discrete sniff; the entire apartment smells faintly of sage and cedar: a protection spell, no doubt woven into the doorways and windowpanes.
“Sorry about that,” Stiles says as he starts to empty the bags. “I threw all the windows open earlier, but I couldn’t really get rid of the smell.”
Derek shrugs. He hasn’t been around any magic users since his mother’s emissary, but Stiles is nothing like Deaton, warm where Deaton was mysterious and aloof, smelling of cinnamon and wet grass, and the electric, clean scent of ozone.
Stiles grins, rolling up his sleeves to his elbows as he bends down to start unpacking the bags. He separates food that has to go in the fridge from food that doesn’t on the tiny table wedged against the wall. A black fox tattoo curls around his left wrist, the tail winding up his forearm in a smoky blur of shaded blues and greys, swirling twice just below the crease of his elbow. The tiny red and blue hummingbird on his other wrist seems out of place in comparison. Derek stares, trying to parse out the meanings.
“You just gonna stand there, or are you going to help me unpack the bags?” Stiles grins like he knows exactly what Derek is thinking.
Derek flushes and glares but starts unpacking.
Within a week, Stiles questions his earlier assessment about his apartment being a steal.
The front door clicks open then closed, and a moment later, Scott throws himself down onto the couch, feet almost smacking Stiles in the nose as he mashes his face in the cushions.
“Rough day?” he asks around the pencil between his teeth; he frowns down at the textbook in his lap. He fucking hates math, but if he doesn’t pass this class this time around, no way will he have his degree by the end of the year. That and his father has made it abundantly clear that in Stiles’ case, the third time will not be the charm unless he pays for the credits himself.
Scott groans. “I hate school.”
“Should have thought of that before you decided to be a vet,” Stiles says, patting the back of his calf.
Scott groans even louder.
Stiles sighs and takes the pencil out of his mouth, using it as a placeholder. He lets the book fall closed. “Wanna play Halo in our pajamas and eat pizza until we can’t move?”
Scott perks up. He lifts his face from the cushion. “Hawaiian?”
Stiles’ entire face wrinkles up. “I still can’t believe you like that crap.”
“’S good,” Scott grumbles, pouting like a grumpy puppy.
Stiles pats his leg again. “Whatever you say, buddy.”
Stiles makes good on his promise; they eat their way through two large, greasy pizzas and spend the night screaming at the television, jostling each other with elbows and knees as they volley for the lead.
Then Stiles makes a particularly difficult shot, while Scott’s character slams into a wall.
“I’m the king of the world!” He throws up victory arms and yelps as Scott tackles him, the two of them eventually falling asleep together in a tangle of limbs on the floor – which is where he wakes up the next morning when Scott screams, flailing elbow banging into the grey milk crates currently acting as their coffee table.
He groans, tugging his arm into his chest and scrambling to his feet, grabs his mountain ash-infused baseball bat from its spot in the corner and skids into the bathroom.
Where Scott lies on the floor in the tub, thankfully hidden by the shower curtain now dangling off of half the hooks. He splutters, wicking the water from his face as he looks at Stiles upside down. “We have no hot water.”
“Dude.” Stiles drops his arm, the tip of the bat clanging against the floor. “I thought someone killed you.”
Scott starts to push himself up and Stiles raises his free hand to shield his eyes. “Put that shit away.”
“Like you haven’t seen it before.”
“Not the point, bro.” Stiles peeks through his fingers, dropping his hand when he sees the towel wrapped around Scott’s waist.
A smirk blossoms on his face. “Make yourself useful and go tell Derek we need hot water.”
Stiles grins, slow and maniacal. “With pleasure.”
“Maybe lose the serial killer grin.”
“I’ll serial killer your face!”
“That doesn’t even make any sense!”
Stiles tosses a double fingered salute over his shoulder. He grins at the sound of Scott sighing heavily at his retreating back. He could easily call Derek, let him know what’s going on, but Derek only lives one floor up and said he and his pack have an open-door policy when it comes to issues with the apartment. Who is Stiles to deny such an open opportunity?
The layout of all of the floors of the building is exactly the same, with apartments on either side of the stairwell, the walls painted an off-white, doors a chrome black with gold numbers. Stiles hangs a left to apartment 6D, where a sign that says It’s bigger on the inside hangs askew. Stiles grins. Geek humor. His kind of people.
The door is thrown open before he has a chance to do much but press his knuckles to the door. The woman who answers is tall, blonde, and built like a supermodel, hair in loose curls thrown carelessly over her shoulder. She’s wearing a t-shirt several sizes too big, and it takes a couple of long, embarrassing moments for him to recognize her as Erica.
She eyes him slowly up and down, giving new meaning to the term undress him with her eyes.
“Hello gorgeous,” she practically purrs, “How can I help you?”
Stiles clears his throat. “Hi – I’m looking for Derek?”
“I’ll bet you are." Her tongue darts out to lick at her bottom lip. Stiles lets out a tiny meep of terror.
A loud, exasperated sigh sounds from behind Erica, just before a tiny Asian girl with long, black hair comes into view. A tattoo of a triskele stands out against the skin of her left bicep. “Quit it, Erica. Derek gets cranky when you torture the tenants.” She freezes when she sees Stiles, eyes going a bit wide. “Hi!” she says, a little too loudly. “I’m Kira!”
“Hi?” Stiles says, confused by this entire exchange. He shakes his head. “Is Derek around? I don’t have any hot water –“
“It’s a problem throughout the building,” Derek says, coming up from behind them. Kira hops back a step. Erica glares, like he’s ruined all of her fun. “I called the plumber. He’s making an emergency visit in the morning.” He does a double take, glancing at Erica, and sighs. “Don’t you own any pants?”
Derek raises his eyebrows; Derek’s eyebrows are very expressive. Stiles bets he could have an entire conversation just with Derek’s eyebrows.
“What?” she asks, shrugging.
“Could you maybe put some on?” He asks in the tone of voice relegated for parents of small children quickly losing their patience. Or to Stiles from his father, at any age.
“You only asked me if I owned any, Derek. You need to be specific about these things.” Erica pats him on the shoulder. Stiles bites back a snort.
Derek rolls his eyes and steers Stiles away from the apartment with a hand on his shoulder. His skin tingles with the contact through his flannel.
"Sorry about them," Derek says, walking with Stiles down the hall. "They're a bit--"
"Crazy?" Stiles offers, but he smiles, amused over the entire display.
Derek huffs a laugh. "That sounds about right."
"I heard that!" Erica shouts, and Derek grimaces, ushering Stiles down the stairs and tugging the door shut firmly behind him.
Two days later, the faucet in the kitchen starts leaking, a steady drip, drip, drip that leaves Scott threatening to take a sledgehammer to the sink if it means he can get some sleep. Stiles calls Derek – on the phone this time, because he is man enough to admit that Erica absolutely terrifies him.
Derek shows up in an old, soft looking Henley with a box of tools in his hand. When he crawls on his back under the sink, his shirt rides up, and Stiles almost swallows his tongue at the strip of skin showing, covered in hair with a darker trail leading under the waistband of his pants. Stiles smacks his head against the doorway in his haste to leave. Scott laughs so hard, he chokes.
Another week later, and he’s on his way home from the Laundromat with a month's worth of his and Scott’s clothes in two laundry bags. He hits the button for the elevator and waits.
The light doesn’t turn red.
Stiles hits its again. And again. He keeps hitting it at lightning speed, then slams the heel of his hand on the wall with a groan.
“You should get used to that,” a voice says from his back, making Stiles jump and turn around. A woman with dirty blonde hair looks on with amusement.
“Sorry,” she says, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Its fine. Or it will be, when I can breathe again.”
She grins, and it’s a little scary, honestly. “I’m Malia.” She nods at Stiles’ bags. “Need some help with those?”
“Stiles.” He points to himself. “Sure, but they’re kind of heavy, you might want to – okay,” he says as she hefts the heavier bag onto her shoulder with little effort.
Stiles’ heart starts pounding at the top of the second stairwell. By the time he gets to the fifth floor, he’s so out of breath, he wishes Scott still had an inhaler lying around.
“You okay there?” Malia asks. She’s not even winded.
“Yeah,” Stiles wheezes; he presses his hand to his side as he gets the door open. “Yeah, I’m great.”
Malia hovers in the doorway, arms folded across her chest so he catches sight of the tiny triskele tattooed on her right wrist, same as the one on Kira’s arm. Stiles drops his keys on the counter, snorting at the message left on the fridge on a neon green post-it. I’M MAKING EGGS FOR BREAKFAST, it reads in Scott’s messy scrawl. THOSE THINGS THAT COME IN CARTONS. WHICH WE DO NOT HAVE. Stiles shakes his head, tossing it into the bin. He and Scott have been living together long enough that it’s become a game of who can leave the most passive aggressive note when the food runs out before the other person actually gets aggressive.
“Boyfriend making you breakfast in bed?”
Stiles rolls his eyes and grabs a bottle of water from the fridge, gulping down half. The assumptions about him and Scott are old hat by now, have been commonplace since they were teenagers. Apparently, two fifteen-year-old boys couldn’t share clothes without everyone and their mother thinking they were boning. And that was before the bite turned Scott into a furry, fanged cuddle machine. Hard to hold onto any inhibitions when your best friend is a werewolf incapable of understanding things like personal space.
Not that Stiles minds. Not even a little. Stiles is a master cuddler.
He wipes his hand across his mouth. “We’re not dating. We’re practically brothers.”
“So, you’re straight.” She narrows her eyes, somehow managing to wrinkle her nose at the same time.
Stiles sighs, putting the bottle down on the counter. “Bi, but—“
“Yes, but what does that have to do with –“
“Perfect! I’ll tell Derek. Nice to finally meet you, Stiles.” Malia’s smile stretches across her face as she flounces out of the apartment.
Stiles’ mouth hangs open for a moment before he manages to regain control of his faculties, skidding into the hall. “Wait – what?” He shouts after her. “Why – what?”
“Keep it down, kid!” His next door neighbor yells, and Stiles huffs and gives the closed door the finger. He scrubs the back of his hand across his forehead, spends a full minute trying to figure out exactly what the fuck just happened, then gives up.
“I can’t even,” he mutters to himself, retreating inside.