If some families are tight-knit, Derek's family is a 10,000 thread-count snuggie. From Cora crashing on his couch every time she has a fight with mom, to his dad signing him up for every businessmen's breakfast and networking event in Beacon County, to Laura somehow finding out about every person he even thinks of flirting with, they're in his space 24/7.
Moving to a completely new city is the only way to escape their smothering, meddling love, and as Derek sets up his home office in his brand new apartment in San Francisco, he feels like he finally has room to breathe. His teleworking job means he can see as many—or as few—people as he wants in his day, and that's just the way he likes it: private, quiet, and solitary.
His family, of course, are determined to save him from himself, as demonstrated by the text Laura sends him barely an hour after moving in, ordering him to meet at least one new person today. Honestly, Derek's already met two—but she insists that his new landlord and the U-Haul desk clerk don't count.
If this were six years ago, he would laugh at her role as self-appointed social director and ignore her texts. But Laura has eternal blackmail on him for that time he dumped a cup of sea salt in his mom's pot roast when the insufferable Taylor family came over for New Years dinner. If mom ever finds out he deliberately sabotaged her meal, she'll insist that he apologize to the Taylors, which he won't be doing, and then he'll have to explain that he'd overheard Mrs. Taylor bitching about mom's parenting of his two younger siblings, and he is not going to make his mom cry because of stupid Mrs. Taylor.
But even if he can't ignore Laura's challenge forever, he doesn't have to take it up right this second. He can sit on his couch for a few hours with a well-worn copy of The Dark Tower, enjoying the beautiful quiet and the knowledge that no family members will be ringing his doorbell since they were 'just in the neighborhood.'
Not twenty minutes after sitting down, Derek's reading time is interrupted by a loud female moan coming from his neighbor's unit. It's followed a minute later by a fervent, "Oh fuck, right there!" and Derek realizes with horror just how thin the walls in this building are, and that he can look forward to hearing all of his neighbor's sexual activity for the duration of his lease.
He wonders how hard it would be to learn to sleep with earplugs.
He's heading out to find dinner later when he bumps into his neighbor coming out her door. She's tall and blonde, with a gap-toothed smile that she unleashes on Derek like a sunrise. "Hi," he says, and shoves a hand out in her direction. "Um. I'm your new neighbor, Derek. I just moved in, and um—"
She laughs and shakes her head. "Oh, I'm not your neighbor, sorry. Just visiting."
Derek' stomach rolls with embarrassment, and he drops his eyes to the ground and shuffles slowly down the hall after her. There goes his appetite. Stupid Laura.
The new day brings more moans and groans, this time from a male voice just before lunchtime. And then again a few hours later, and again after 5 o'clock. His neighbor's certainly got a lot of stamina, Derek thinks. Derek also thinks he needs to buy better headphones, because his neighbor's bedroom apparently shares a wall with Derek's office, and it's nearly impossible to concentrate on site visitor flow with all the goddamn sex noises coming through the wall.
He catches himself grinding his teeth and tries to push the anger aside. Maybe his neighbor is an awesome guy. Maybe they'll be best friends. Everybody deserves a chance—except Mrs. Taylor, who is the worst.
As Derek heads out for a midday jog the next afternoon, he meets his neighbor in the hall, opening his apartment door. "Hey neighbor," Derek tries again, pasting on a friendly smile and trying not to think how much he knows about this guy's sex life already.
"What? Nah, man, you got the wrong guy. I'm just, uh, visiting," the guy says, head ducked like he's up to something shady as he hustles into the apartment and slams the door after him.
Derek stares at the door, a blush heating the back of his neck.
The woman he hears later that night is a screamer and a beggar. Things quiet down next door just after Derek calls in an order at an Indian restaurant, and Derek hurries to leave so he can get down the hall before she exits the apartment. Laura's infuriating demands for socialization be damned; there's no way he can look that woman in the eyes after what he's just heard. But he loses a minute trying to find his left shoe, and by the time he steps out his door, she's doing the same.
He ducks his head as he mumbles a reluctant greeting and an introduction. She looks him up and down and tells him in a voice dripping with satiation, "Sorry, I'm not your neighbor, sweetie. But I definitely wish I were." And she winks and sways off with a languorous stride.
Okay, whoever the hell his neighbor is, he or she must be some kind of sex addict to have multiple partners and multiple rounds every day. Derek will never recover from this succession of mortifications, or the headache caused by nonstop sex noises and his deadlines slipping away.
He hears a muffled conversation through the wall the next day, and heavy footsteps moving toward the hallway. Determined to finally identify the recipient of his ire, Derek cracks his own front door, hoping for a glimpse of his mysterious neighbor. Instead, a large, muscular man steps out into the hall, calling over his shoulder into the apartment, "Can you make my appointment for twice as long next time? Yeah, $140 is fine. You're the best, Stiles!"
And oh. That explains things. His next door neighbor is selling his...services. Derek thinks of the message board downstairs, papered with building announcements, a party invitation, and a bike for sale. And the tackiest business card Derek has ever seen, embossed with fireworks in pastel glitter, advertising the services of one Stiles Stilinski, CMT, "The Man with the Magic Fingers."
And he'd thought it was the card of an amateur magician.
The thing is, there's no one way to complain about the noise without causing an unpleasant escalation. If he tells the landlord, he might get someone evicted. If he tells the police, he might get someone arrested. And who knows what will happen if he directly confronts his neighbor.
All he wanted was a little peace and quiet and a place to do his work and keep to himself, and now he's getting dragged into housing drama. Laura would have a field day with this, if he were foolish enough to tell her about it.
He does finally voice his frustrations to a fellow resident—a cute guy Derek finds juggling a double-armload of groceries and fumbling for his keys outside the entrance.
Derek holds the door for him and tries to think of something smooth to say—about the weather, about a sports team, anything. He's drawing a blank...until their shoulders collide as they both turn toward the stairs.
"If you're going upstairs, you can give me— I mean, I can take some of your stuff," Derek offers, gesturing toward the canvas shopping bags tangled in the guy's arm.
"Yeah? Thanks, man! I'm headed to the 3rd floor—that okay?"
"Yeah, that's my floor," Derek agrees, and tries to guess which of the ten units the guy lives in.
"Hey, cool. Guess that makes us neighbors." His smile is friendly, inviting more conversation, and Derek finally knows something they have in common.
"So you know about the sex worker living on our floor, right?"
The guy glances back at Derek, his eyebrows up in his hairline. "Really? Like, for real? Who is it?"
"The apartment right next to mine. It's nonstop moaning and screaming, and there's people coming in and out all day long. It's ridiculous."
"That sounds pretty ridiculous," the guy agrees, darting another glance at Derek as they round the second floor landing. "Are you sure it's a prostitute?"
"There are nicer words for it, but yeah. Whoever he or she is, they're a public menace," Derek gripes. "It's impossible to concentrate in my apartment with all of that going on over there. I'm surprised you haven't noticed all the traffic in the hall."
"I guess not," he says, and his smile looks a little strained, but not everyone is built for cardio. "So which unit's yours?"
"307," Derek says, and slings the bag off his arm as they reach the third floor. "You?"
The guy jerks his head to the left, and Derek follows him gamely until they come to a stop at a door just like all the others...and right next to Derek's own.
"This is me," the guy says, not smiling anymore.
Derek scowls. "Great. You're another freaking customer. Fuck."
"Uh, no. I'm your actual neighbor, neighbor."
Of course he is.
Derek's headache intensifies as he identifies one Stiles Stilinski, the bane of his waking hours. Anger pairs well with mortification; Derek glowers defensively and juts out his chin. "Well then I have a request, from one neighbor to another. Keep the sex noises down, or I'll have to call the landlord...or the cops." And then he sets the bag on the ground, marches to his own door not 10 feet away, unlocks both locks, and stomps inside as haughtily as he can.
If anything, the noises get louder the following week. By Tuesday, Derek makes peace with the fact he isn't a jerk enough to call the landlord. Stiles may be violating his lease, but at least he's off the streets where he can be safe. And now that Derek knows what Mr. Magic Fingers looks like, he can't help imagining visuals to accompany the sounds, and his nonstop arousal is really hindering his ability to get work done. Derek bitterly relocates his desk from the room he'd optimistically considered his home office to a cramped corner of the living room. The television is a perpetual temptation out the corner of his eye, but he puts on his new, noise-canceling headphones, and tries to stay on task.
Laura is indisputably the worst self-appointed social director ever, which he tells her at length in their weekly phone call. But rather than agree that Derek would be better off without her meddling, she doubles down, wheedling a promise out of him to go to that party one of the 2nd floor tenants is throwing.
On Friday night, Derek dons a henley, dark jeans, and boots, pulls a case of beer from the fridge, and heads to Scott McCall's party in apartment 204. The thumping bass leads him to the correct door, and he knocks politely. No one answers, so he checks the doorknob, but it's locked. He knocks louder and waits. When annoyance overrides self-consciousness, he pounds his fist on the door until the side of his hand aches and someone finally unlocks the door to let him in.
Derek hands off most of his beer to the crowd in the narrow galley kitchen; they're clearly friends, all yelling over one another and laughing. He backs off to find something more low-key. He has some initial luck with the people standing by the bookshelves—two girls and a guy who claim to be coworkers of Allison, Scott's girlfriend. They're on the awkward, bookish side, and Derek manages to nod along for two solid minutes of small talk on the subject of German film directors before one of the girls launches into a treatise on the influence of Dario Argento's work on the giallo genre. Finally finding something he can contribute to the conversation, Derek mentions he's excited for next year's remake of Suspiria...and all eyes turn on him, appalled.
He escapes a tirade of outrage by retreating to the opposite side of the room, where he washes up alongside a petite woman with long black hair and an easy smile. "Hi, I'm Derek," he says, and for all his practicing, it sounds as miserable as he feels.
"I'm Kira," she says, and he can hear amusement in her voice, though her smile seems friendly enough. "Did you have any luck with that group? Or is it still all Argento-this and Bava-that?" She jerks her head at the cinephiles, where the champion of Italian slasher classics is loudly holding forth on the perfection of 35mm as a film medium.
"She should wear a warning sign. Caution: Masters Thesis Defense in Progress," Derek mutters into his beer.
Kira laughs cheerfully. "Oh no, doctoral at least. She made sure to name-drop every single school and festival she's attended, and then started telling me how 'obviously impressed' I was." She shakes her head ruefully. "So impressed that I lied about leaving my bike unlocked just to have an excuse to get away from her. So what excuse did you use?"
Derek risks a small smile. "I made the mistake of mentioning a remake. Retreat was the only option."
"Yikes! That deserves electrocution for sure! But congratulations on escaping a conversation worse than death." Kira holds up her bottle, and Derek clinks it with his own.
"So do you know the host, or...?" he asks.
"Nope, sorry. A friend invited me, but he isn't here yet. How about you?"
"I'm new to the building, and I figured this would be a chance to meet some people. If I can keep from fleeing in terror, that is."
She gives him a considering look and then nods in understanding. "Not a party person, huh?"
"God no," he blurts. "Not a people person, either; small talk is kind of my nightmare. But I hear it's all about practice."
She nods. "That it is. Well, you're safe over here with me for as long as you need. I promise, I have no strong feelings about Italian film studies, and I always give remakes the benefit of the doubt."
He smiles gratefully.
The apartment fills in quickly, with people arriving in groups of 2s and 3s. It seems everyone knows someone, and Derek gets tenser the longer he watches. Kira humors his silent brooding for fifteen minutes, but leaves him when she spots her friend somewhere by the front door. Derek cranes his head to see who she's meeting and recoils when he recognizes his asshole neighbor Stiles. For all her kindness, Kira has lousy taste in friends, Derek decides.
He's on his own again, adrift in a sea of strangers. He could be upstairs in his private apartment with a copy of Good Omens, a glass of kombucha (which Laura can fuck off about, because it's delicious and good for him and homegrown), and no pressure to speak to another human being for the rest of the night.
God, if only.
He eventually hears someone yell "Scott" across the room, and Derek finally identifies his host, a tall guy with floppy hair and a lopsided grin, and an arm wrapped around a pretty brunette woman, standing by the windows.
Okay, he bargains, he can introduce himself to one new neighbor and call it a night. He's already done more socializing tonight than he has all week. It should be enough to get Laura off his back for at least a few days.
When he approaches them, Scott shakes his hand and introduces him to Allison with the brightest smile Derek's seen outside of cartoons. They both seem delighted to hear that he lives in the building and take turns pointing out who in the crowd are fellow residents and who are guests. Derek does his best to follow along, as though there might be a quiz at the end of the night. The two of them keep up a steady stream of patter, warning him about clothes going missing from the basement laundry room and which parking meters are always broken. They seem excited to play tour guides, answering his questions about the best restaurants and bus routes in the area.
They're so welcoming, he decides meeting them is worth giving up his solitary reading time—he would even admit he's glad he came tonight.
Until Stiles joins them.
Being in the same space as Stiles makes him tense with remembered humiliation, and his stomach knots up miserably. It doesn't help that Stiles looks unfairly good in tight jeans and an equally tight t-shirt, stubble on his cheeks and his hair just long enough to be unruly.
But it gets worse when Scott gives Stiles an enthusiastic hug, Allison kisses his cheek, and Derek realizes that his two lovely hosts are best friends with his neighbor.
Meanwhile Stiles pointedly ignores Derek, cutting him out of the conversation with his shoulder as he tells Scott and Allison, "I brought my friend Kira. She's in the bathroom, but I'll introduce you to her in a minute."
"A girlfriend?" Allison asks teasingly.
Stiles scoffs and then shoots Derek a look over his shoulder. "We're in the same line of work," he says, an edge in his tone.
Derek flushes at the implication.
"This is Derek, he just moved in last week. He's on your floor," Allison says, kindly tugging Derek back into the circle with a hand on his arm.
"Yeah, we've met, actually," Stiles says. "Derek has a lot of 'opinions' about my work. And he's been bothering some of my clients."
"I wasn't bothering them," Derek interjects. "I was trying to meet my neighbors. It's not my fault you have a dozen people coming in and out of your apartment every day."
"So it's my fault, because of how I earn a living?" Stiles says, rounding on him with eyes sparking with anger.
Scott looks half-apologetic. "Well, technically you're not supposed to—" He trails off when Stiles turns his glare on his friend.
Derek seizes on Scott's opening. "The lease terms explicitly prohibit running a customer-facing business out of the rental units. The number of people you're buzzing through the front door is a disruption at best and a huge security issue for the rest of us at worst—"
"Oh yeah, and he promised to rat me out to the super," Stiles interrupts.
Derek waits for Scott to back him up, but the two men abruptly close ranks. "I don't see any security problem," Scott says, his jaw squared up. "If anything, it sounds like you've been spying on your neighbors, so maybe you're the security issue, man."
Stiles smirks meanly, Allison looks confused, and Derek quails in the face of this public scolding. He mutters a brusque nice-to-meet-you to Allison and backs away, trying to lose himself in the circulating crowd.
He's halfway to the exit when Thesis Girl appears in front of him, a finger raised to tell him again how wrong his opinions about classic cinema are, and fuck, if he doesn't get some space in a minute he's going to start screaming. He doubles back along the wall, looking for somewhere he won't have to talk to anyone, and nearly crashes into Kira's shoulder.
"Sorry," he says, and then realizes she's focused on the older, heavy-set guy currently using his height and bulk to loom over her, making her look even smaller as she scowls up at him.
"Come on," the big guy sleazes, one hand invading her space to flip the ends of her hair. "My apartment's just downstairs. You could give me a happy ending right now.... The first one's free, right?"
Kira's frown twists with disgust, and she tries to slide away along the wall, but the guy puts his hand against the wall to block her. "That's just vulgar," she snaps. "Excuse me."
She tries stepping forward into the guy's space, but Derek's seen enough drunk, belligerent frat guys to know he isn't going to budge for anything short of a wrecking ball.
"Step back, man," Derek says, sidling up next to Kira and lending the bulk of his crossed arms to her furious glare.
"Mind your business, jackoff," the guy says. "The girl and I are making a business deal. So how much would it cost, honey?"
Derek raises his voice to talk over his lascivious insinuations, "I don't care what you think you know about her. She's a human being who deserves respect, not some walking piece of shit like you. She told you no. Now turn around and walk away, before I make you wish you'd never come to this party."
The crowd around them falls silent, and a few bystanders take a step back. The asshole squares his shoulders, grey in his beard as his chin juts out stubbornly. For an exhilarating second, Derek thinks the guy might be stupid enough to take a swing at him, and a wash of adrenaline clears away his recent frustration and nerves, leaving him centered and calm for the first time all evening. Derek eases his rigid posture just a little to give himself a quicker reaction time and waits for the guy to make a move or back down.
"You know what, fuck you, man," the guy says, and turns and shoves his way through the crowd toward the kitchen.
"I can handle myself," Kira growls from his elbow, and Derek looks down at her and shrugs.
"Sorry? I didn't mean to imply you couldn't—"
"But you did," she says.
His stomach starts to clench up again. Has he just ruined another potential friendship tonight? "I'm really sorry."
"Shut up. I'm supposed to say thanks," she says, grousing more at herself than at him. "That was nice of you."
"Anyone would have—"
"Oh fuck off," she sighs, and her lips start to curve into a smile. "Let's go find some more beer and sit somewhere we don't have to deal with rotten human pieces of shit together."
"That...sounds nice," Derek admits. And the next half hour he spends on the couch with Kira, whispering sarcastic comments about the other party goers, is one of the highlights of his week.
When he has to do laundry a couple days later, he takes Scott's advice and brings his laptop to the downstairs laundry room to make sure his clothes don't get stolen. The machines aren't too old—at least they accept credit cards—and he starts two loads running and settles into a hard plastic chair to edit a client's report. Hunching over his laptop is murder on his upper back, but the cycling hum of the washers is soothing and a welcome break from the moans and screams that accompany his neighbor's work upstairs.
Until one of the loads unbalances, and the hum devolves into a loud thumping, pounding out the rhythm Derek has imagined too many times in the bedroom on the other side of his wall.
His thoughts keep straying from his client's ludicrous year-end revenue projections to two sweating bodies rocking together, Stiles's face flushed red, his wavy hair damp with sweat...and Derek grits his teeth with frustration. Even in the basement, he can't get any peace from thinking about his neighbor.
And then, as though summoned by his unclean thoughts, the man himself walks into the laundry room.
Derek stiffens as Stiles wheels in a large basket of white sheets—and Derek's overactive fantasy life gets a thrill just from learning what color sheets Stiles uses.
Stiles notices him and tenses. Derek buries his head in his work, determined to ignore Stiles's sneers and the way his ass looks when he leans over the machines. (Okay, he maybe snuck a quick peek at the latter, but he's doing his best here.)
When Stiles's own machines are rumbling away, he clears his throat and says, "Hey, neighbor."
Derek tries to ignore him; he doesn't want to get into a fight right now. But he can't resist checking Stiles's body language, and then savoring the long line Stiles makes as he leans back against one of the washers, his palms braced alongside him.
"So uh, I guess I should say thank you," Stiles says to a patch of wall about two feet north of Derek's head.
"Standing up for my friend Kira. She's been raving about you for days. It seems you made a better impression on her than you did on me."
Stiles looks annoyed about Derek being a decent guy, or maybe just annoyed about having to talk to Derek at all. It doesn't put Derek in the most charitable mood, so he snots back, "Yeah well, she's not the one with dozens of clients moaning down the walls all afternoon and evening, making it impossible to get any work done with the nonstop porn soundtrack."
Stiles's gaze finally lands on him properly, and he stares at Derek for a long moment, like he's trying to figure him out. "So your problem is the noise?" he asks dubiously.
"Not the 'dozens' of people you think I'm having sex with for money?"
Derek would throw his hands up if they weren't holding his laptop. "Look," he gripes, "you can do whatever the hell you want in your apartment. But seriously, the noise. It's utterly impossible to think on my side of the wall when you're working. If you just tried to keep it down a little...."
Stiles blinks at him incredulously before his brow smoothes and a smile appears at the corners of his lips. "Well at least I'm only doing it during daytime hours; that's better than keeping you up at night, right? Unless you'd like me to keep you up at night."
Derek's jaw drops, and he can't think of what to say. Not when Stiles's smile has turned flirtatious, with a gleam in his eyes that promises excitement.
"See, I might've had you all wrong," Stiles says, sliding his hands into his pockets and leaning forward. "'Cause I thought you were being a dick about sex workers. But that was never your deal."
Memories of their disastrous first encounter flash by, and Derek has to set his laptop aside so he can scrub his hands over his face in embarrassment. "I make the worst first impressions," he mumbles into his palms. "I kind of suck at talking to new people."
"I'll say," Stiles says and saunters closer. "But you're gorgeous, so I bet you get a bunch of second chances."
"Uh, likewise," Derek says, flustered. Stiles seems to be hitting on him, and it's not that Derek hasn't thought about having sex with him—that's pretty much all he's thought about for the past week—but he genuinely didn't see this happening. "You're really...really gorgeous."
"Then we've got something in common," Stiles says and winks. "Do you need this seat for your stuff, or…." He gestures to the chair on Derek's left, and Derek grabs his briefcase and shoves it under his own chair to make room. Stiles settles down next to him, intimately close. "Thanks. So what are you working on?"
"I'm an e-commerce consultant," Derek says, his gaze dropping from Stiles's honey-brown eyes to the dingy linoleum underfoot. His pulse is racing from Stiles's proximity, and Laura's voice in his head keeps taunting him not to blow this.
"Not really; it's pretty much the same thing every day," Derek says, his gaze rising to Stiles's long fingers. He'd like to suck on them and then wrap them around his— "I mean, your job's probably way more interesting. Um, I mean...." He stammers to a halt, grimacing.
Stiles throws his head back and laughs, exposing the tempting expanse of his throat. Derek stares, riveted. "Well, at least I get to work with my hands. And every client has unique needs." Stiles bites his lower lip, and Derek can feel a whimper building in his chest. "Hey, Derek?" Stiles prompts.
Derek looks up to meet his eyes again, guilty at getting caught staring at his mouth.
"Do you want to kiss me?"
Derek jerks back a few inches, shocked. "I wouldn't—I mean—you don't have to. It'd be nice, but I figure, you know, that you don't do that sort of thing, at least not on the mouth, and that's fine, okay—"
Stiles groans and rolls his eyes, and Derek feels his heart plummet to the floor, a fiery ball of humiliation taking its place at the core of his being. "Oh my god, dude, I'm not a sex worker! I'm a massage therapist!"
"I give massages, that's all. Kira, too—I met her when we were getting our certifications. We're licensed massage therapists."
"You're...you mean, you're not...but you let me think that you were doing—"
"Yeah, well, you were a real dick the first time we met." Derek starts to grumble a protest, but Stiles quickly amends, "Which now I know was an assumption on my part based on a terrible first impression. And I shouldn't have been such a dick to you at Scott's party, because you didn't deserve it. I'm sorry. Can you forgive me?"
Stiles lowers his head and looks up through his lashes with a hopeful smile, and Derek's nascent outrage melts away. "Okay," he sighs. He still feels off balance, and he's going to die of shame when he explains all of this to Laura, but the least he can do is give Stiles a clean slate.
Stiles mutters, "Thank god," and headbutts Derek's shoulder. "But okay, back to the kissing question." Stiles's hand slides across the back of Derek's chair.
"You're sure? I mean, if you don't have a policy against it I'm okay with it, um," Derek blurts, and wishes for once he could stop saying the absolute worst things to his not-a-sex-worker neighbor.
Stiles rolls his eyes some more, but he cozies even closer, his hand coming up to the back of Derek's neck to brush along his hairline. And then he strokes down, thumb digging into the muscle alongside his spine, and Derek's back muscles unwind all at once. Derek moans, loud and filthy, echoing off the walls of the laundry room like pornography.
Stiles chuckles, and Derek stares at him, his mouth hanging open and face hot. The tension between his shoulder blades is gone, as if by magic. "Exactly," Stiles murmurs, clearly a mind reader, and doubly so when he tugs Derek in for a firm kiss.
Derek wraps his hands around Stiles's hips, drawing him closer until Stiles shimmies around to straddle Derek's lap, his hands on Derek's shoulders doing the most amazing things to his muscles while his tongue teases. Derek whimpers into Stiles's mouth, and Stiles laughs delightedly.
"Now now," he murmurs in Derek's ear, rolling their hips together in a sinful grind. "Try to keep it down, huh? My neighbor is trying to work."
Derek growls and pulls him into another kiss, until Stiles is the one moaning.
It turns out he's even louder than Derek.
Well, that's a problem for their other neighbors to live with.