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the lovers [murderers] in 9B

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I.

Exercising really is not Tara's thing. Her fast metabolism is the only thing that has been keeping her thin all these years, so really, every time she actually manages to go outside and go for a run, she should have an entire party thrown in her honor.

Her most recent venture outdoors lasts for a whopping total of two miles before Tara decides to call it quits. The California June weather is hot enough that she is drenched in a respectable layer of sweat, so it makes perfect sense that Tara is so preoccupied with thoughts of air conditioning and smoothies that she runs straight into the opening door of her apartment complex.

Tara yelps and lands on her ass on the sidewalk. "Fucker!" she says, then prays that none of the apartment kiddies are around to hear that.

"Oh, my God, I'm so sorry, I didn't see you –"

Tara looks up through watering eyes to see a young man, and daaaaamn, is he mighty fine. He is pale and dark-haired with long limbs and wow, those fingers. Those hands.

"Are you okay?" he asks. "Shit, you aren't concussed, are you?"

"No, no, I'm fine," Tara says, struggling back to her feet. "It just isn't everyday you get knocked on your ass by a handsome young man like yourself."

The man laughs, and Tara sticks out her hand. "I'm Tara," she says, smiling in what she hopes is a fifty percent friendly, ten percent welcoming, thirty-five percent sexy, and five percent alluring way.

He takes her hand. "I'm –"

"Stiles!"

Another man appears. He is also unfairly attractive, but more in the Greek-god type of way that Tara got over several years ago. Mr. Adonis glares at Tara, and she feels her figurative hackles rise. It is not like she is actually some hairy creature of the night.

The first young man rolls his eyes. "Don't mind sour face over here," he tells Tara. "He's just bad at making friends."

"Not true," Mr. Adonis mutters.

"Come on, Derek, these are your new neighbors. Be nice. Or at least civilized."

Derek looks at the paler man, clearly disgruntled, and Tara suppresses a laugh. Their silent eyebrow conversation is adorable.

Eventually Derek sticks out his hand. "I'm Derek," he says.

"Tara," Tara responds. She looks back to the cute one. "And you?"

"Stiles," he says, "But I'm not moving in. I'm just helping out Derek."

"How sweet of you," Tara says.

"Well, we gotta make our next trip," Stiles says, "But it was nice meeting you, Tara!"

Tara smiles as Derek and Stiles jostle with each other all the way to a powder blue jeep at the end of the lot. They are a cute pair, and hey, Tara can totally understand Derek's whole possessive boyfriend act. If she had a guy like Stiles, she sure would not want anyone to take him from her.

Tara heads upstairs to shower and tell Becky about the newcomers.

II.

Abby Acre has a specific Sunday morning schedule: she wakes up, she makes a cup of Earl Gray, and, yawning her way into the hall, still in her robe and slippers, she collects the paper. She proceeds to fix a bowl of yogurt and nuts, then takes her breakfast and her paper to her little box of a balcony and stays there for the better part of the morning.

Today, though, when Abby is bending over (and cursing her back) to retrieve her paper, she hears voices echo up from the stairwell.

"But what's stronger, rope or iron?"

"Iron, dumbass."

Abby narrows her eyes. It is that new man who moved in across from Paul last week – David? Derek. Derek and his young man, the one who is around so often Abby wonders why they do not live together already. Waiting for marriage? Disapproving parents? Who knows.

"But what if you weave in –"

"It's still rope, Derek. I'm not a magician, okay? I can't do any of those fancy tricks Deaton does all the time."

They round the corner and Abby cannot help watching them. Their interactions are always … intriguing.

"Iron will hold, okay?" the boyish-looking one says. "Believe me, I know. Remember when I tied up Scott, sophomore year?"

"Yeah. I remember him breaking through the handcuffs."

"But we took care of him! No unnecesary blood was shed!"

Abby stares with mounting horror. Who are these people?

The pale one sees her staring. "Hi, Mrs. Acre!" he calls out brightly, waving to her. "Nice morning, isn't it?"

Abby can only muster an incredulous look.

"Nice seeing you!" the boy says, even as Derek is pushing him up the stairs.

"Oh my sweet lord," Abby whispers. She knew there was something strange about those two. Respectable men do not have facial hair like that; they either are clean shaven or have a beard, not that ridiculous unkempt scruff. And the young one – who knows how he got involved. They probably are not even a couple – they are probably spies. Assassins.

Abby retreats to the safety of her apartment, locking the door behind her. She is not going out on the balcony today; she does not want to make herself a target.

She will keep her observations to herself, until she learns more.

III.

"Package for Stiles Stilinski?"

Chase raises his eyebrows at the delivery man. "I'm not Stiles," he says, "But I live above him." Or his boyfriend, anyway. "Want me to sign it for you?"

"Why the hell not," the delivery man grumbles. Chase takes the stylus and signs the man's electronic thing (what are those even called?). "All set," Chase says, and the delivery man does not even put in the effort to scowl at Chase before slouching away.

Chase shakes his head and eyes Stilinski's package. It is a fairly large box, shipped from some company in Texas. Chase leans closer, curiosity piqued, and sees a label in black lettering on the tope of the box: RESTRAINTS.

Chase jumps back, then laughs. Holy shit. Kinky-ass new neighbors.

Chase wonders if he will be able to hear them through his floorboards, two stories up.

Later that afternoon, Chase is headed down the stairs (the stupid elevator broke again) when he catches Stiles on his way up. Chase breaks into a grin. "Yo, Stilinski!" he says.

Stiles blinks back into the present and smiles. "Chase. How's it going?"

"Just headed to my friend's party. Oh, and I signed a package for you and Derek."

At Stiles's blank look, Chase winks and lifts his eyebrows suggestively. Stiles gets it and then flails, nearly falling over the railing.

"Thanks! Thanks. Yeah. Derek and I – we need them for … a project," Stiles manages to get out.

"Uh-huh," Chase says, winking again.

And holy shit, Stiles is blushing again. No, that is not right – Stiles is fucking dying of mortification.

Chase laughs and, taking a bit of sympathy for the guy, claps him on the shoulder. "It's okay, man," Chase says. "We all got a few of our own kinks."

"I'll go get that package later," Stiles manages.

They carry on their separate ways. Ten seconds later there is a resounding crash, a muttered, "Fuck!", and Chase is cackling all the way to the lobby.

IV.

"Did you really volunteer to watch Jonathan's cat again?" Arnold Fernell asks as he and his wife make their way up the stairs.

"We're friends, Arnie," Susan scolds.

"You don't even like cats," Arnold grumbles. "You're just watching the cat because you're having an affair with Jonathan."

"Come on, Arnie, if I were ever going to have an affair, I would have done it when I was much younger," Susan teases, "So I could have made love with a truly gorgeous young hunk of meat."

Susan squeezes Arnold's arm, and Arnold huffs. "Fine, we'll watch the darn cat."

Susan's laughter is abruptly cut off by a loud thud.

"Oh, my goodness!" Susan gasps.

Arnold looks up to see the new kid, something Hale. The only way to describe his expression is extremely guilty.

"Um. Hello," Hale says.

"Young man, did you just jump down that flight of stairs?" Susan demands, and oh, that is her mom voice. Arnold has not heard it since Stephanie moved out ten years ago.

"Yes?" Hale replies.

"Well, mister, you better stop doing that. You'll ruin your knees and get arthritis ten years before you're supposed to!"

"Yes, ma'am," Hale says contritely, and Arnold knows that Susan is a goner.

"Oh, honey, just be careful, okay?" Susan asks, melting like ice cream in the summer. "We wouldn't want someone on the ninth floor with crutches."

The Hale boy smiles softly, almost hesitantly, like he is not sure if he is allowed to. "Sure thing, Mrs. Fernell."

They reach their landing, and Arnold nods at the Hale boy. "You take care of yourself!" Susan calls after the boy. The door to the stairwell shuts, and Susan sighs. "Oh, what a sweet young man," she coos.

"He better not have any cats," Arnold grumbles, and Susan giggles, pinching his side in response.

V.

Marianne hates spiders. Absolutely fucking hates them. It started when she was four years old and her older brother made her eat a live spider. Since then – between the Lord of the Rings, her seventh grade science class's pet tarantula, and the Chamber of Secrets – Marianne has become an official arachnophobe.

So it makes sense that she is downright terrified when she wakes up on Tuesday morning with a giant spider on her bedroom ceiling.

Marianna screams and scrambles out of bed, flying out of her bedroom and slamming the door shut. She does not stop running until she is down the hall, pounding frantically on Camillo's door. "Camillo!" she shrieks, trying to calm herself but epically failing. "Camillo!"

The door to the stairwell flies open, and Marianne screeches, jumping back against Camillo's door.

"What's wrong?" the man from the stairwell demands.

Marianne puts a hand to her chest, positive her heart is going to beat fast enough that it will just stop. "Mon dieu," she says breathily.

"Are you okay? What's happening?"

It is Derek Hale, and once Marianne has calmed down enough to breathe and think clearly, she realizes she is in her ratty pajamas and Derek is shirtless. Her face flares up, and she crosses her arms over her chest. "Just – just, uh –"

"Is Camillo okay?"

"He won't be once I flay him alive for not being here," Marianne grumbles.

"Are you okay?" Derek asks again. His hands jerk forward, an aborted movement to reach out and check on her, and Marianne finally realizes that Derek is really, really concerned.

"Yes, I'm fine," she says. "Just – there's a spider in my bedroom. And I hate spiders."

Derek visibly relaxes. "Oh."

"Usually Camillo gets them for me," Marianne continues, and geez, morning word vomit. How embarrassing.

"Do you want me to get it for you?" Derek offers.

"Oh, my God, yes," Marianne blurts.

Which is how Marianne ends up with a shirtless Derek Hale in her bedroom at 8:56 on a Tuesday morning.

Derek stands up on her bed, watches the spider for a moment, and then catches it with a movement almost too fast for Marianne to see. He climbs back down, still holding the spider in his cupped palms.

"Can you open a window for me?" he asks.

Personally, Marianne would prefer to just flush it down the toilet, but who knows, maybe Derek is one of those nature-loving, save-all-the-animals types. She leads Derek to her kitchen window, and he lets the spider go on the still, deftly sliding the window shut before it can return indoors.

"Thank you," Marianne says. Now that the spider is gone, she feels slightly embarrassed for freaking out the way she did. Usually no one but Camillo ever sees her flip over spiders.

"No problem," Derek says, lips twitching, and mon dieu, is that an absolutely handsome smile. If Marianne did not know about Stiles, she would totally be working the whole we-are-in-our-pajamas-five-feet-from-my-bedroom card.

As Marianne shows Derek out the door, she sighs. She supposes her future husband must be able to get rid of spiders himself, or else he will get a complex every time Marianne calls Camillo or Derek down.

VI.

Tara avoids the communal laundry room like the plague. First of all, she hates doing the laundry; she is not above bringing her dirty sheets and clothes to her parents' place and making her dad clean them whenever she visits. Second, if she is ever walking by the room and Susan Fernell happens to be there –

"Tara, darling, come help an old woman out!"

Tara tenses, then sighs. No avoiding it; Mrs. Fernell is a vindictive old woman. She is not afraid to seek vengeance.

"Mrs. Fernell, how are you?" Tara asks brightly, entering the room.

"Oh, I'm fine, my dear," Mrs. Fernell says. "How are you?"

"I'm good."

Mrs. Fernell gives Tara her sweetest smile. "Would you be a dear and help me fold my laundry?"

You can't fool me with that smile, Tara thinks. "Of course."

"How is your job these days?" Mrs. Fernell asks as they settle down to work.

Tara shrugs. "It's a job."

Tara is the assistant to the head editor of the local newspaper, and Tara would love it – if anything actually happened in this town. It is not urban enough for street violence and organized crime, yet it is not suburban enough for juicy community drama. Tara does not understand why; they are only seven miles from Beacon Hills, where they have exciting news all the time, and yet all the excitement remains in Beacon Hills.

"You want to become a screenwriter, yes?" Mrs. Fernell asks.

Tara resists sighing dramatically. Mrs. Fernell never fails to confuse Tara with her ex-roommate. "Emily wanted to be a screenwriter," Tara explains for the thousandth time, "and that's why she moved to Hollywood. I want to be an investigative journalist."

"Ah, yes! You told me that before."

Tara grabs a t-shirt to fold when there is a sudden clatter of footsteps. The door to the stairwell bursts open, and somebody goes running by.

"Who was that?" Mrs. Fernell asks, pausing in the middle of folding a pair of underwear.

"I don't know," Tara says, already sticking her head out of the door.

"Stiles!"

It is Derek Hale, previously known as Mr. Adonis, and he is pounding on the elevator doors. Tara briskly walks over. "Derek?" she asks. "Are you okay?"

"Stiles!" he yells at the elevator, ignoring Tara completely.

"Derek –"

"Stiles is in there!" he finally snaps, turning to glare at her for a second.

"Hey, it's okay," Tara says placatingly, because seriously, Derek looks like he is going to go all Hulk-mode any second. "The elevator gets stuck all the time."

"I'll call the front desk," Mrs. Fernell says from behind Tara.

Derek nods tensely, eyebrows drawn low and jaw taunt.

"We'll get him out," Tara promises.

Derek opens his mouth to respond when he suddenly cocks his head as if he is listening to something. His fingers curl into fists, and an odd – whimper? whine? – sound hitches in his throat. He begins to pace.

Tara turns, wondering what to do, but Mrs. Fernell has wandered down the hall to call the lobby. When Tara looks back at Derek, he has his palms braced against the elevator doors.

"Uh, Derek? You know you can't actually pry open the doors," Tara says.

Derek blinks, then straightens. "Right." He takes to pacing again, occasionally glancing at the elevator – not at the doors, but a bit above them, as if he knows where the elevator has gotten caught.

A minute more and Derek's pacing starts to get on Tara's nerves. "Stiles will be fine," Tara says.

"But what if he has a panic attack?" Derek blurts.

"Is he claustrophobic?" Tara asks.

Derek shakes his head.

"Then he'll be fine," Tara reassures him. "Stiles is smart. He'll know that the elevator just got stuck. It happens every other week."

Derek nods, but he does not look convinced.

Mrs. Fernell returns, and God, why does she have Mrs. Acre and Paul with her?

"The brigade's coming, darling," Mrs. Fernell tells Derek. Mrs. Acre squints at Derek, looking like she suspects him of doing something terrible, but Tara ignores it. Mrs. Acre trusts nothing but her yogurt and cigarillos.

Derek nods again, mute.

Fifteen minutes later, it feels like half of the building is gathered by the third floor elevator entrance. Derek's pacing only gets more agitated, and when Leanne Baker grabs his arm, he practically growls at her. Tara expects Leanne to get sassy with him, but instead she just backs off.

"Oh, this is too adorable," Becky whispers into Tara's ear.

"His pacing is getting on my nerves," Tara replies.

"But he's so concerned about Stiles," Becky insists. "Oh, don't you wish someone loved you that much?"

Derek suddenly stops and whips his head around toward the stairs. Tara follows his gaze, and ten seconds later a group of firemen appear. God, what does Derek have, super-hearing?

The crowd makes a path for the firefighters, and Derek immediately approaches the first one. "Can you get him out?" he asks loudly, fists curling and uncurling.

The fireman chuckles. "Don't worry, we'll get your boyfriend outta there. This elevator gets stuck every week."

"We need a new one!" Paul says, and someone (Camillo, maybe?) shouts, "Hear, hear!" Tara joins in the laughter.

Derek is tense for the entire eight minutes it takes to get the elevator to the floor. The instant the doors open, the crowd breaks into applause, and Derek lunges a step forward, only stopping at the last moment.

Stiles comes out and bows. "Thank you, thank you!" he says. He then turns to Derek and grins, slugging Derek's shoulder. "Why does everywhere you live try to kill me?" he teases, and Tara laughs. Something in her chest clenches at the same time; it must be something to do with the fond, genuinely worried look in Stiles's eyes.

Derek looks contrite yet extremely relieved at the same time. His whole body seems to be learning in towards Stiles, and Tara is surprised he settles for just grabbing the lanky one's arm. Tara was expecting something more along the lines of a suffocating bear hug, with the way Derek was previously freaking out.

"You're never using the elevator again," Derek says quietly, and Stiles laughs.

The couple thanks the firefighters, and the crowd begins to disperse. Becky loops her arm through Tara's as they watch Derek and Stiles amble to the stairs. Their shoulders brush, but Derek always stays a quarter step behind Stiles, as if he were protectively herding the young man.

"They are too adorable," Becky sighs, and Tara cannot help agreeing.

"You best make it up to him tonight, Hale!" someone calls.

Stiles trips when catcalls and laughter start flying, but Derek catches and balances him.

"Way too fucking cute," Tara agrees, then sneaks away with Becky before Mrs. Fernell can rope her into folding laundry again.

VII.

Alyssa Moreno is a sweet girl, she really, really is, but Jade is ready to snap at her. This is the fifth time in the last four months that their apartment building has been evacuated because Alyssa cannot, for the life of her, remember to turn off her hair straightener. Jade is pretty sure she is not the only one who is getting fed up with Alyssa.

Fortunately for Alyssa, she is already at work (filing reports and receiving phone calls as the secretary of some business head-honcho or other), so the building cannot hold a spontaneous uprising against her, or force her to sign a contract that swears off all hair curling/straightening irons.

Jade sighs and pulls her sweater around herself. She had not really anticipated spending her Thursday morning standing outside her apartment building, waiting for the fire department to do what they do and clear the building. She stifles a yawn and notices the new guy, Derek, wrinkling his nose and scrubbing at his face periodically.

"Derek," she says, "Everything all right?"

Derek blinks at her with hazel eyes that remind Jade of her brother's. "I don't like the smell of smoke," Derek says, shifting as if the admission makes him uncomfortable.

Jade nods, hoping to ease his discomfort. "I know what you mean."

The sudden screech of tires has Jade looking up. A powder blue jeep has pulled into the parking lot, and in seconds, Stiles is spilling out of the driver's side, leaving the door wide open, and running to Derek.

"Derek!" Stiles shouts, flying toward him. "Are you hurt? Are you okay? Fuck, what happened –"

Stiles's hands flit all over Derek, his expression displaying concern so profound it borderlines on terror. Derek attempts to stop Stiles, but Stiles merely bats Derek's hands away.

"I'm fine –"

"I heard there was a fire," Stiles rushes, words spilling out of his mouth, "It wasn't you, was it? Someone didn't try to get to you? Fuck, are you hurt, are you –"

"Stiles."

Stiles freezes, hand still cupping Derek's jaw, and Jade wants to coo at them. They are doing their silent eyebrows-eye-touch communication, and goodness, that must be what true love is: looking at a person like you are drowning in him, and yet, at the same time, he is the only life raft for a hundred miles around.

"Relax," Derek says soothingly, softly pulling Stiles's hands down. "It wasn't my place. It was Alyssa's."

"Oh," Stiles says after a moment, and Jade can see the relief wash through him. He clenches a fist in Derek's shirt, sort of swaying into Derek, and Derek just wraps a hand around Stiles's elbow.

Jade is not the only one who finds them ridiculously sweet. She sees the Luciers awing, Nancy lacing her fingers through Tom's, and Leanne is not very stealthily taking photos on her phone.

A fireman comes out of the front doors. "Building's all clear!" he shouts, and there is a collection of cheers and grumbles. Jade sees Stiles jump, as if just realizing he and Derek are in public, and he reluctantly steps away from Derek. Derek's fingers linger on Stiles's skin, and there is something in his expression that makes Jade's heart shatter a little.

They are too cute to be possible.

VIII.

Jonathan Constantinople observes many things. He is a murder mystery writer, so of course he realizes things that are out of place.

Right now? It is the Stilinski boy.

Jonathan has seen Stiles around frequently, at least three times a week, ever since the Hale kid moved in. In the past week, though, Stiles has visited every single day.

This afternoon, Jonathan sees Stiles in the lobby. He is weighed down with grocery bags, wrestling with the doorknob on the stairwell door (Stiles never uses the elevator anymore, not since the time he got trapped) when one of the bags splits and its contents roll everywhere.

Stiles curses and crouches down to collect the spilled items. A bottle of medication rolls to Jonathan's feet, and he picks it up. Cold and cough syrup, the bottle reads.

Jonathan limps over to Stiles. "Hale got a cold?" he asks.

Stiles's head jerks up. "Wha – Hi, Mr. Constantinople!" He takes the medication from Jonathan. "Thanks." Stiles stands up, readjusting his bags.

"Derek's got the flu, actually," Stiles says.

"So you need cold medicine?" Jonathan asks skeptically, raising an eyebrow.

"Uh, he was running low on cold medicine," Stiles says, "And … never know when you might need it?"

Jonathan does not need to hear heartbeats to know when he is being lied to. Regardless, he will not point it out to Stiles; he knows when a man is simply too embarrassed to admit he is completely whipped. Jonathan himself was like that with Lucy, before she passed.

Jonathan reaches out and opens the door for Stiles. "You take good care of your man," he tells Stiles.

Stiles's face flushes. "Yes, sir," he says and disappears into the stairwell.

Jonathan is not entirely sure if the "sir" was mocking or not, but he lets it slide. After all, Stiles has a sick man to tend to, and Jonathan is not going to get in the way of someone who so clearly cares for Derek.

IX.

Paul is repainting his front door when Stiles's voice echoes up the stairs. He is laughing, talking to someone else, and when the responding voice is not Derek's distinct grumble, Paul pauses and looks over to the stairwell.

Stiles emerges, holding lacrosse gear, with a slightly shorter Hispanic guy after him. The Hispanic dude is also holding a lacrosse stick, and Paul breaks into a grin.

"Stiles! Who's your friend?" Paul asks.

"Yo, Paul," Stiles says, coming up and clapping Paul on the back. "This is my buddy, Scott."

"Hey," Paul says, sticking out his hand, "I'm Paul."

"Scott," the newly christened Scott says, and Paul nods the bro nod. Scott gives off a chill vibe.

"Scotty and I go way back," Stiles says. "Right, Scott?"

"Since elementary school," Scott agrees.

"Post-diapers but pre-braces!"

Paul laughs. "You two play lacrosse?"

"Back in high school," Scott says.

"I was more of a bench warmer than a player," Stiles says, "but Scott was captain."

"Co-captain," Scott corrects.

"But then Jackson moved to London."

"Do you play?" Scott asks Paul.

"Yeah," Paul says, "I played all the way through college, at Brown."

Scott whistles, and Stiles nods. "Impressive," Stiles says.

"We should play some time," Scott suggests.

"Totally! I know a few guys who'd be down for a pick up game."

Stiles frowns at Paul's door. "Dude, why are you painting?"

Paul rubs the back of his neck sheepishly. "Ah, my ex got a bit drunk last night," he says. "She decided to come over and redecorate my door with male genitals."

Scott and Stiles wince simultaneously. "Ouch," Stiles says.

Paul shrugs. "It'll be fine. Just don't tell management, okay?" Scot nods, and Stiles gives him a two-fingered salute, adding, "Scout's honor."

Scott frowns. "Since when were you a boy scout?"

"Since never. You knew that."

Paul laughs, and Stiles grins at him before turning to Scott. "We should get going. Derek's waiting for us."

"God forbid we ever irritate Derek," Scott says with an eye roll.

"Come on, Scott, you know why he has his panties in a twist all the time."

Paul smiles and shakes his head to himself as Scott and Stiles disappear into 9B. Man, life was so boring before Derek and Stiles moved in.

X.

The most exciting thing about the manager's birthday party is not the food, the cake, or the conversation. No, for Jade, the best thing about the party is its location: Derek Hale's apartment.

It is a lot more Spartan than Jade was expecting, with nothing other than some necessary furniture and a rug. However, the walls are a nice blue color, and the place is jam-packed with people, so the atmosphere more than makes up for the lack of artwork or photos.

Jade gives herself a covert, unofficial tour of the apartment. 9B has three rooms: a kitchen/living room/dining room area, a bedroom, and a room that seems to be part office, part exercise room. A small bathroom is down the hall from the kitchen. It is cute, Jade thinks – particularly the one dresser drawer that is overflowing with clothes that are distinctly Stiles's.

Jade is in the living room, watching Scott McCall (or "the friend") charming the pants off of Mrs. Acre, when Alyssa sits down next to her. "This is surprisingly nice," Alyssa comments.

"Surprisingly?"

Alyssa shrugs. "Sometimes Derek gives off this – I don't know – mountain man, troglodyte feel. You know?"

Jade snorts. "Uh-huh."

Tara and Becky come to lean over the back of Jade's couch. "Have you guys noticed those eyes Derek has been giving Stiles all night?" Tara asks.

Jade looks up, and yes, Derek is watching Stiles rather closely as the younger man converses with Arnie Fernell and Marianne.

"Twenty bucks says they're having sex once everyone leaves," Becky whispers.

"Forty dollars says my entire floor will hear it," Tara says.

The girls laugh as Alyssa wrinkles her nose. "Have some decency!" she scolds, and Becky laughs even louder.

Later the night, Jade is the last to leave. She is helping Derek clean up, and she nudges his arm when they cross paths in the kitchen.

"These are cute," she says, holding out a paper plate. It is decorated with wolves, and Jade has to admit she is a bit sad to see it go into the trash.

"Stiles picked them out," Derek says.

Jade follows Derek's gaze to the couch. Stiles is sprawled across the cushions, out cold; he is too tall, so his legs hang over the armrest, and one of his arms has fallen off the side. Jade glances at Derek, who is smiling ever so slightly.

"You've got yourself a good one," Jade tells Derek.

And Derek – he gives her this utterly shattered look, raw and vulnerable, and Jade feels sympathy well up inside of her. Perhaps there is more to this than there seems. Why else would Derek look so lost?

"Thanks for the party," Jade says. "But I need to head out." She pats Derek's cheek.

Just before the door shuts, Jade sees him drape a blanket over Stiles's sleeping form.

XI.

Tara is drunk. When she is drunk, she gets hot, so all safety precautions thrown to the wind, she decides to go out on the fire escape, because Kevin What's-His-Face from the bar is currently snoring away on her bed after their less-than-mediocre sex.

Once Tara manages to wriggle out of her window, she notices Stiles and Derek below her. They have several maps spread out – which is weird, who looks at maps at one AM? – but Tara ignores it in favor of leaning over the edge of her railing.

"Greetings, neighbors!" she calls.

Stiles jumps and looks up. "Hey, Tara."

"Heeeeey."

Derek sniffs and then frowns. "Are you drunk?"

Tara giggles. "Yesh. I am preeeeeetty drunk."

Stiles frowns to match Derek. They do that so much, imitate each other's expressions and movements. "Are you sure you should be out here, then?"

"Well, I can't be inside," Tara says. "Kevin's in there."

"Kevin?" Stiles asks.

"My one night stand from the bar. We had sex." Tara sighs. "It was disappointing."

"Uh, sorry to hear that," Derek says, and Stiles snickers.

"He wasn't even good at oral," Tara complains. An idea suddenly hits her. "You'd be good at oral, wouldn't you?"

"What?" Derek asks incredulously.

Tara laughs at his expression. "Yes, you," she says, pointing at his scruffy, grumpy face. "Really attentive. Thorough."

There is a choking sound coming from Stiles, and Tara flaps a hand in his general direction. "S'okay," she slurs, "I'm not prepe– prepo– propositioning a threesome."

Their twin expressions of alarm are way too funny. And mildly offensive. Is Tara really that unattractive? Then again, she is lacking in some, ah, southern regions.

"Whatcha looking at maps for?" Tara asks.

"Oh, uh, Derek wants to go on a historical tour of Beacon Hills," Stiles explains. "It's his dream. Trying to figure out the best route."

"Beacon Hills? No way! I have a friend –" Tara hiccups – "A friend who could totally hook you up with tickets. For a. For a guided tour."

"Cool," Derek says.

"Oh, my God. It's for your anniversary, right? That is so CUTE," Tara gushes, flapping her wrists in an attempt to convey just how cute they are.

Stiles laughs. "Well," he says, looking slyly at Derek, "It's officially three years since the first time I held Derek up in a pool for several hours."

Tara raises an eyebrow. Or maybe both. It is hard to tell. "Hella kinky start," she says appreciatively.

They are both struck speechless, and Tara wants to die. Cutie-patooties. "Tickets would be nice," Derek finally says.

"I'll set you up," Tara replies.

From her apartment, Tara hears someone calling her name. She sighs. "Sorry, boys. Time for round two of less than satisfactory sex." She waves at them. "Enjoy your anniversary!"

Tara cannot help wondering what a threesome with Stiles and Derek would be like the entire time she and Kevin are going at it.

Not gonna lie, she would totally settle for just watching their sex tape.

XII.

It is 8:45 on a Friday night when Paul hears yelling from across the hall. He opens his door, alarmed, and crosses to press his ear against Derek's door. Paul is ready to knock on the door and interfere when he makes out voices.

"Hey, hey, Derek! Derek, it's okay, Derek, look at me, it's going to –"

"Get out of here, Stiles," Derek responds, and he does not sound angry; he sounds panicked, afraid.

"No way. I'm not leaving you."

"But you won't be –"

"Derek, I'll be fine, because you are going to be fine."

"Fine? Fine? When you had a whole jar of fucking wolfs–"

"I know, I'm sorry, it was a mistake –"

"Please, Stiles, just go, I don't want to hurt –"

"No, stop, no. Stop trying, because I'm not leaving you, I'm never leaving you, you're stuck with me, okay? Forever."

"Stiles –"

"I promise, I'm staying with you, okay, Derek? Okay? Derek, you can do this, you can control it –"

"Can't –"

"Derek. Derek. Come on. Derek, it's okay. I promise I won't leave."

Paul backs away from the door. No one seems to be in danger, so Paul will let them be. He retreats back to his apartment for the rest of the night.

The next morning, Paul catches Stiles in the stairway. "Hey, is Derek okay?" Paul asks. "I kind of heard …"

"Oh, yeah, he's fine," Stiles says. There are dark circles under his eyes; it must have been a long night. "He just needs a few days to recover. Rest up."

Paul nods. "Hey – I'm glad you're there for him. He seems like he really needs someone dependable."

Stiles nods, smiling slightly. "Thanks, man."

"Anytime."

XIII.

Abby Acre is outside the complex, smoking a cigarillo, when the blue jeep pulls into the parking lot. The young Stilinski tumbles out of the driver's side and stalks toward the front entrance, muttering darkly to himself.

"You doing all right, kiddo?" Abby asks.

Stiles jumps, then notices Abby. "Yeah – yes, I'm fine." His expression darkens. "I just need to go talk to Derek."

Abby smiles knowingly. "You tell him what he needs to hear," she advises.

"Oh, I always do," Stiles promises. He disappears inside, and Abby pulls her cigarillo to her lips again. Ah, young love.

Ten minutes later, Paul Gogan sits down next to Abby. She nods at him, and he grins.

"Did you see Stiles?" she asks.

Paul shakes his head. "Heard them talking, though. Something about Snoopy and a potted plant."

Abby snorts. "You know," she says, "I still think they might be assassins."

Paul laughs. "No way! Seriously?" Suddenly he frowns. "Wait. I – I can see that."

Abby nods sagely.

"Oh my God," Paul says, "A few weeks ago, Chase said he signed for a package labelled 'restraints' for Stiles."

"Really?"

"Yes!" Paul cries, eyes wide. "And – gosh, I can totally see it now. Stiles is the brains, the mastermind and the hacker, and Derek is his muscle who does the dirty work –" Paul grabs Abby's hand. "Mrs. Acre – I'm neighbors with a pair of assassins."

Abby laughs, amused by Paul's theatrics.

The door swings open, and Stiles exits with Derek following him. "Snoopy pajamas? Seriously?"

"Cora sent them," Derek mutters. His hair is fluffy, unkempt.

Stiles snickers. "Hi, Mrs. Acre. Hi, Paul," he says.

Abby grunts, and Paul waves dazedly.

Stiles and Derek take off down the street, and Paul leans into Abby. "They're assassins," he whispers, and Abby laughs.

XIV.

Leanne Baker sighs, adjusting the trash bag in her grip. Even if she is only on the second floor, she hates having to drag the trash out to the dumpster behind the building. She rounds the corner, wrinkling her nose, and see Derek already at the dumpster.

"Hey, Derek!" Derek jumps, whipping around with wide eyes. He relaxes, though, when he recognizes her. "Hi, Leanne," he says gruffly.

Always a ball of sunshine, that one. "You looked lost in thought," Leanne says conversationally.

"Yeah, I guess."

Suddenly Leanne realizes Derek is holding bloody bandages.

"Oh, my God, what happened?"

Derek seems to just notice what is in his hands. "Uh – Stiles took a fall," he explains.

"Oh, my God, is he all right?" Leanne asks. "Does he need to go to the hospital? Or I can get my girlfriend – Paige – she's a nurse, she could look at Stiles –"

Derek looks surprised at her barrage of words, but he eventually holds up a hand. "Thank you, but he's going to be all right."

"Are you sure? Paige is just up there, she could –"

"Really," Derek says, and is that a smile? It is. An actual Derek Hale smile. "He's fine. I've dealt with him running into things he shouldn't have for a while now."

Leanne calms down upon hearing the reassurance in Derek's tone. "Okay. But – just in case – you can call me. Paige will be around all night."

Derek nods. "Thanks."

He throws the bandages in the dumpster, then holds out a hand for Leanne's trash. "Oh, it's okay, I got it," Leanne says. "You, you go get back to Stiles."

Derek nods again, shooting her a nervous smile, and heads back to door to their complex.

Leanne is suddenly hit with the realization that if Stiles were ever seriously injured, the whole apartment complex would come crashing down Derek's door to help out.

XV.

Every Sunday morning Paul makes a shitton of homemade pancakes. It is a Gogan family tradition to use Mama Gogan's recipe and make pancakes from scratch, and Paul swore he would uphold it even after he moved away. Since he does not alter the recipe in the slightest, Paul always ends up with approximately four dozen pancakes; however, he does live in an apartment building, so getting rid of the extra is never a struggle.

The last batch is cooling on the counter when Paul pulls on some actual pants and heads to the door. He thinks he will invite Tara, Becky, and Chase – and why not Derek? Stiles is probably there too, come to think of it.

It is with this thought Paul open the door just in time to see a pretty, long-legged brunette leave Derek's apartment.

Paul yelps and slams the door shut.

Derek?

Cheated?

On Stiles?

Paul's thoughts instantly contradict him. Derek would not do that to Stiles; he simply would not. He so regularly watches Stiles with such devotion on his face, Paul sometimes wonders if Derek has built a shrine for his boyfriend somewhere. And Derek and Stiles certainly have not broken up; Paul just saw Stiles yesterday.

Yet the skeptical part of Paul demands to know why else a pretty girl would be leaving Derek's apartment this early in the morning. And oh, does Paul want to deny it, but the only plausible reason Paul can come up with is sex. Derek had sex with someone else.

Derek cheated on Stiles.

It has been a total of ten seconds since Paul slammed the door, and he yanks it open again. Two steps and Paul is hammering on the door of 9B. "Derek!" Paul shouts. "DEREK!"

There is a crash from within the apartment before the door cracks open, revealing Derek in all his bed-headed glory. "Paul?" he asks, voice rougher and lower than usual.

"I cannot believe you," Paul spits out.

Derek frowns. "What?"

"I thought you were a better person, but apparently I was wrong."

Derek's confusion deepens. "What?"

"How? How could you do this to Stiles?" Paul demands. "Stiles is good, he cares about you, he looks at you like – like you're the moon."

There is a movement from behind Derek, and Derek lifts a still puzzled eyebrow at Paul. Paul is getting ready to punch Derek in his stupid scruffy face when he swings the door wide open –

And reveals Stiles, who is blinking sleepily and scratching his stomach.

"Oh," Paul says. His brain struggles to comprehend this turn of events.

Scott's head appears from the couch. "Did he say 'How could you do this to Stiles?'" he asks.

They all look at each other in confusion for a moment before Stiles sighs. He rubs a hand over his face, and Paul thinks he hears him mutter something along the lines of Too early for this shit.

"Paul, dude," Stiles says, and it sounds like he is going to deliver some grave and somber news:

"Derek and I aren't dating."

Paul's brain quits and dies.

"Uh, Stiles?" Scott says. "I think you broke him."

Paul flails his arms. "Really? I mean – you always – you're wearing his pajamas, for Christ's sake!" Stiles frowns down at his pants, and Paul groans. "You – you and Derek are so together."

"Well, we're not," Derek says, and oh no, there is that guarded look and defensive tone.

Stiles turns to Derek. "Dude!"

"What?" Derek retorts.

"You don't have to be so disgusted by the idea of dating me!"

"I wasn't –"

"God, it's not like – it's not like I don't care about you, or try to make you happy, it's not like I've fucking anchored you before –"

"You've anchored him?" Scott asks disbelievingly.

But Stiles has stopped, and he just looks at Derek, and Derek is staring really intently at Stiles –

And Paul almost wants to laugh, because his mind flashes back to his conversation with Mrs. Acre, and suddenly it seems much more plausible, because Derek? Paul is not sure if Derek is going to murder Stiles or not. Or maybe jump him?

Jump him then murder him?

There is so much tension Paul feels like he is going to explode, and Scott is making a face like he smells something particularly unpleasant. The silence drags on for one second, two seconds –

And then Derek grabs a fistful of Stiles's shirt and pulls him in to smash their lips together.

Paul jumps back, unable to look away, as his heart tries to return to a steady beating. Holy shit, he thinks, I nearly just witnessed a murder.

But he has not; instead, he is watching two men kissing, their hands gripping each other tightly, Stiles occasionally pulling away to say things like asshole and wanting for months and fuck you, Derek, fuck you before Derek pulls him back in.

Paul meets Scott's gaze. "Um. Pancakes at my place?"

Scott grins. "Awesome."

They leave Derek and Stiles making out in the entryway. Paul forgets to invite anyone else over for pancakes.

But it turns out okay. He and Scott finish all of them.

XVI.

Chase is not even surprised when the entire building shows up to help Stiles move in.

It has been a month since the Infamous Pancake Debacle (or so Paul calls it) and a month since Stiles and Derek started dating – for real. If possible, they are even more smitten and – Chase cannot believe he is using this word – adorable. And it is great, Chase is happy for them, but –

"Can you believe how loud their sex is?" Paul hisses.

Chase grunts, adjusting his grip on the moving box in his arms. "Did not peg Stiles as a screamer," he puffs out.

Tara catches up to them, holding what appears to be trash bags full of … sweatshirts, metal chain, and rope? Chase does not want to know.

"I'm not surprised," Tara says. "Anyone in bed with Derek would be a screamer."

"Are you ever not thinking about sex?" Chase asks.

"Nope."

They get to the ninth floor. The Lucier children are playing with empty boxes and packing peanuts; just inside, Jade and Alyssa are putting away cutlery while Mrs. Acre sorts out cookbooks. Leanne and Becky are trying to set up a DVD player; the Fernells are neatly folding blankets, sheets, and clothing; and even Mr. Constantinople is here, directing Marianne and Camillo on how to rearrange the furniture.

There is a shout and a growl, and Stiles bursts out of the bedroom. Derek emerges, covered with feathers. One lands on his nose, and he angrily blows it out of the way. Stiles snickers from behind Chase's shoulder.

"Stiles," Derek says threateningly, then surges forward. Chase jumps out of the way and Derek pins Stiles against the doorframe, feathers drifting off of his clothing and hair.

Stiles laughs loudly. "You look like the aftermath of a full moon slumber party."

Derek growls, and Chase exchanges confused glances with Tara and Paul. Sometimes the things Stiles says are weird, but Derek always understands him.

"I'm not apologizing," Stiles says impishly.

"Never do that again," Derek says, leaning closer to Stiles.

"No promises." Derek grins and kisses Stiles, his arms still boxing Stiles's head against the doorframe. Suddenly Scott bursts out of the bedroom, waving his arms frantically.

"Stop! Stop it!" Scott says, flapping his hands in between Derek and Stiles. "There are young children here!"

Derek and Stiles break apart guiltily, and Scott wrinkles his nose. "You two reek," he says disgustedly.

"Get used to it," Stiles responds, smirking. Derek laughs, burying his face into Stiles's neck.

"They are so cute," Tara whispers to Chase.

"Tell me about it," Chase grumbles. "I feel like I need to go chop some trees or gargle Tabasco sauce."

Tara smacks him upside the head, and Chase grins.

He really is happy for them.

XVII.

Epilogue – One Year Later

The end of summer barbecue is the best way to say goodbye to the clear skies and sweltering weather. The entire apartment complex takes over the nearby park for an evening. Mr. Constantinople breaks out his grill skills, Marianne makes her famous chili pepper brownies, and Mrs. Fernell brings her potato salad to die for. Stiles and Derek, like last year, bring a pie, and though it is less aesthetically pleasing than last year's, this one tastes infinitely better. Even Tara contributes – she finds the three largest, sweetest watermelons at the farmers' marker and slices them fresh.

Tara is chatting with Becky and Paul by the coolers when Stiles passes by. "Hey, Stiles!" Tara calls.

Stiles grins. "Hey, Tara. Paul, Becky. How's it going?"

"Great," Tara says, Becky nodding beside her.

"Hey man, want to grab a lacrosse stick and find Scott and Isaac?" Paul asks.

Stiles grins. "Maybe in a little. Something I gotta do first." He trots away, waving, and Tara slaps Becky's arm.

"Ow!"

"This is it!" Tara says excitedly. "Follow him."

Stiles interrupts Derek's conversation with Jade Potter. With only a few words, Stiles is able to pull Derek away, leading his boyfriend to a wooden bench under a tree. They sit down, talking covertly, heads tilted towards each other, but then Stiles rises –

And gets down on one knee.

"Shut up!" Tara hisses. "Everyone, shut up!"

She weaves through people to get closer, until she can hear what Stiles is saying.

" – you may be an asshole sometimes, but I can also be an asshole, so hey, we can be assholes together," Stiles says. "And while I've been your anchor, you've also been my anchor, for longer than I'd care to admit –" A chuckle, a grin. "Basically, we are so sweet we make our friends want to barf on a regular basis, we already bicker like an old couple, and I guess – I guess I really, really love you. So – Derek Hale. Will you marry me?"

There is a small box held open in Stiles's long fingers, and Derek stares at it, lips parted and eyebrows slightly raised. Tara watches with bated breath, and Stiles shifts nervously. "It's silver," he says, "I thought you'd appreciate the irony–"

Derek cuts him off by abruptly pulling Stiles in by the shoulders. Stiles flails, nearly throwing the box, but then relaxes into Derek's kiss. Some people start to clap, and Stiles pulls back, frowning. "That's technically not an answer –"

"Yes, you idiot," Derek says fondly. "Yes."

This time everyone breaks into applause, whooping and catcalling. Tara cannot stop smiling, but she is still able to nudge Becky and Paul. "You two owe me money," she says smugly.

"I could have sworn Derek was going to propose," Paul says vehemently.

"How did you know?" Becky asks.

"I'm psychic," Tara replies, still clapping. Derek and Stiles are having trouble kissing because Derek is smiling so much.

But Tara is not psychic. She just saw, all those months ago, that look in Stiles's eye.