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Title: Better When I Lie [1/?]
Disclaimer: Not my characters~
Pairings/Characters: Derek/Stiles (pre-relationship), Stiles/various minor OCs
Rating: R
Word Count: ~9300
Warnings: language, non-graphic sexual content, see notes for more
Spoilers: none? it's AU, I don't think there's any spoilers...

Summary:

Derek is in his mid-twenties when Laura finally convinces him to go to college, and he gets his own apartment in a building full of obnoxious students.

He could deal with that, except his neighbor's brand of obnoxious involves staying up late to play computer games, mumbling to himself while he studies, having video chats with a friend (just the one, as far as Derek can tell), reassuring his father via phone that he's alive and not getting into trouble, and occasionally having really awkward sex.

It's that last one that's the real problem.


Author's Notes: A long time ago I decided I wanted an AU fic where Laura never came back to Beacon Hills, she and Derek continued to live in New York, then Stiles ended up in New York for college or whatever and met Derek.

More recently, I was listening to "In The Next Room" by Neon Trees, had the idea for this fic, and started giggling a lot. (The title is from the song but whether it directly relates to the fic is open to interpretation.)

This fic involves a lot of Derek listening to Stiles have sex in the next apartment over while Stiles is completely unaware, and if someone can tell me a succinct way to warn for that I will. There is no sexual activity on Derek's part while he's listening to Stiles, though. Mostly he's pretty blase and vaguely annoyed by the whole thing.

In the interest of full disclosure, this will have at least one more chapter but I have absolutely no idea when I'll get around to it. It works as a (somewhat lacking, if you don't like pre-relationship stuff) one-shot so you can go ahead and read it now if you'd like, but if it's going to bother you when I don't update for weeks or months you might wanna skip this. If you do read it I hope you like it!



----

Derek is in his mid-twenties when Laura finally convinces him to go to college. It's not even so much that she convinces him as it is he can't stand living with her for another year so he leverages getting a proper education with getting his own apartment, and she agrees. It's student housing, sort of; not owned by the university but by someone who only rents to students there. The apartments are studio-style: living room, bedroom, and kitchen in one open, tiny space, with a bathroom and closet attached.

It's roughly a fourth (maybe) the size of the apartment Derek shared with his sister, but it's his so it's okay.

The walls in the building aren't as thin as some but given the confined space it's all too easy to overhear things he doesn't want to. On the one hand, he has to stay aware of his surroundings; on the other, most of the other students are years younger than him and obnoxious. Fortunately, he manages to get an apartment at the end of a hall, so he only has one immediate neighbor to tune out.

Less fortunately, this particular kid's brand of obnoxious involves staying up late to play computer games, mumbling to himself while he studies, having video chats with a friend (just the one, as far as Derek can tell), reassuring his father via phone that he's alive and not getting into trouble, and occasionally having really awkward sex.

It's that last one that's the real problem.

It's not that it isn't understandable. From the excited conversations Derek doesn't mean to hear, this is the first time the kid's lived on his own (he's a sophomore, which means he's actually above Derek in school, while being at least half a decade younger) and he's taking full advantage of having his own space. Just like Derek, except Derek likes being able to read in peace, listen to his music (which helps to drown out the kid's noise, but not quite enough) without complaint, and not having to sleep with someone just to get away for a night, while Stiles (that's what the friend, the dad, and the one-night stands call him) uses that freedom to have awkward, obviously inexperienced sex.

Derek can't tell if the awkwardness is due to the inexperience or if it's just a characteristic of sex with Stiles in general.

Not that he's thinking that much about it.

He wouldn't be thinking about it at all except he can hear it. The kid isn't especially loud or anything; Derek thinks he's probably even trying to be quiet. But he's right next door and the music only covers so much and Stiles never tells the people he brings home that they need to be quiet, so. Derek hears things.

He hears it, a week into the semester, when Stiles tells Scott (the friend) that he has a date that night with a girl from one of his classes last year. "She's nothing like Lydia," Stiles says, "but that's good, right? I'm branching out. Being an adult. An adult with his own apartment. And she seems cool."

"Dude you sound so nervous," Scott says, his voice through the computer amused and reassuring. "You've been on dates before."

"And I get nervous every time," Stiles counters. "And now, like, I've got my own place, so we could potentially, you know, come back here, and—"

"Don't get ahead of yourself there, buddy," Scott says, and Stiles laughs nervously.

Derek furrows his eyebrows and concentrates harder on his textbook. Maybe he should get a TV, if he's going to be this nosy about his neighbor's love life. Or life in general.

Stiles does end up coming home with the girl that night. Derek hears the mix of pride and (calculated?) apology for the apartment as Stiles shows her in, offers her a drink. Derek hears the attempts at conversation, hears as the girl steers things towards what she wants to happen. He hears the fumbling, the stifled giggles as kissing turns to clothes being removed.

It's late and Derek has an early class and he just wants to sleep, and he turns the radio on, volume low enough they won't hear it next door, then covers his head with his pillow and tries to focus on the sounds outside, because the radio sounds are annoying. He wonders if this girl is anything like him; if she goes home with people just to get away. He tries not to care. Derek manages to tune out the sounds well enough to sleep, but a door opening and shutting sometime later wakes him up again. When he realizes it's from next door, he turns off the radio, rolls over and drifts back to sleep, not letting himself check to see if Stiles is awake and aware that she left.

——

"So casual sex is a thing," Stiles says to Scott the next night, while Derek cooks dinner and doesn't care that Stiles sounds pleased and a little proud instead of upset, "that I apparently do now. In my apartment. With people, that I bring here. To have sex with."

"Isn't that what you were doing last year?" Scott asks. He sounds distracted. Maybe. His voice is hard to hear clearly. Not that Derek is paying any attention anyway.

"No, last year I was having occasional heavy make-outs at parties and desperately trying to get someone to go out with me more than once while being too embarrassed to bring anyone back to my room."

"Maybe if you'd stop comparing every single person you date to Lydia Martin you'd have better luck going out with them more than once," Scott says, and Derek snorts.

"Whatever," Stiles says, and Derek isn't at all amused by his tone. Because he's not really listening. "The point is, now I have a place to bring people to, and now there is casual sex. With the people that I bring here."

"So you're not going out with her again? I thought you liked her? Didn't you want like, a real relationship?"

"Casual sex, Scott," Stiles repeats. "It is a thing that I am having now."

"Okay okay," Scott says. "Like, with the same person?"

"I dunno," Stiles says, nonchalantly. Derek doesn't know whether it's fake because he doesn't actually know the kid. He just listens to him have conversations with his best friend about his sex life. Derek really needs a TV. "Maybe if she calls again, I guess. But I'm going to a party this weekend, so I'm keeping my options open."

"Are you sure you want to keep bringing these people home?" Scott says, sounding worried. "I mean, it's New York, Stiles. They could be serial killers."

"Okay, Dad," Stiles says, amused and huffy at the same time. "It's not like I'm finding people on the streets. The party is gonna be full of students."

"Serial killer students," Scott says, and Stiles laughs. They start playing a video game and Derek eats his dinner and thinks about calling his sister. He wonders how much of the conversation Stiles would be able to hear.

——

When the sound of a door and stumbling and laughing wake Derek up Saturday night, he sighs because he thought Stiles might actually stay out and let him sleep in peace. "Shh, we don't want to wake up my neighbors," Stiles half-whispers, and he sounds like he's been drinking, and Derek furrows his eyebrows and focuses a little more without really meaning to.

"You're the one who tripped into the door," another voice says, and it's a guy, and Derek relaxes a little. Stiles must be helping a friend out by letting him crash for the night.

"Yeah, I was talking to my foot," Stiles says, and then he giggles. Actually giggles. Derek rolls his eyes.

"God, you're cute," the other voice says, and Derek's eyes widen and then the door closes and there's the sounds of kissing.

So not a friend, then.

Just how drunk is Stiles?

"Woah, slow down there," Stiles says, soft, amused. He doesn't sound that drunk, but Derek keeps paying attention anyway.

"Sorry," the other boy says, sounding a little embarrassed.

"No, it's okay, I just—have you—I mean, is this—"

"I've kissed guys before," the boy says, "but not…"

"Okay," Stiles says, and his voice is gentle but Derek can recognize the nervousness in it. He really probably shouldn't be listening to this, but he still can't tell how sober they are. "So—are you sure…"

"Yes." The other voice is insistent, determined. "Definitely sure."

"Okay," Stiles says again, and Derek can almost picture him nodding except he has no idea what Stiles actually looks like. "I'm not looking for anything serious right now, but—"

"That's fine," the other guy interrupts. "Totally fine, I just—God, you're so fucking cute. Can we just—"

"Yeah," Stiles says, breathless. "Yeah, yes, let's." And then they're kissing, and Derek is once again playing his radio at low volume and wrapping a pillow around his ears in a mostly futile effort to not hear his next-door neighbor trip into bed—seriously, that's what it sounds like—with someone.

If possible, this time is even more awkward than the last.

——

Weirdly (Derek thinks it's weird, anyway; he's not really a good judge, though), it's only after that that Derek hears Stiles masturbating for the first time. When Derek realizes that's what the sounds drifting from next door mean, he wonders, idly, why he hasn't heard it before. Does Stiles just not do it that often? Does he normally do it in the shower, and Derek can't hear it over the water? Or is it usually when Derek isn't home?

He probably shouldn't be wondering these things.

——

"So how's school going?"

Laura sips at her tea and smiles at Derek. She waited longer than he expected to start asking him questions, and he should probably appreciate that, at least.

He shrugs. "It's fine."

"You like any of your classes?"

"They're not bad," Derek says honestly. "I still don't know what I want to major in, though."

"Well, you have time," Laura says. "You're not bored, right?"

"No." Derek shakes his head. "I stay busy. It's not bad, really."

"Good," Laura says, smiling a little bigger. Derek likes making her happy. He's not very good at it, but sometimes he manages. "Met anyone new yet?"

"There are people in my classes," Derek says, which is completely dodging the question.

"Yeah, I didn't think we were paying enough for you to be in a private, one-person college," Laura says, her voice edging into teasing. She thinks she's funny. Sometimes she is. "Have you talked to any of them?"

"We have class discussions." Derek is good at dodging questions.

"And you talk in them?" Laura is good at prying.

Derek shrugs again. "Sometimes." He looks out the window of the cafe they're in. Laura didn't make him come home when she wanted to see him, and he's grateful for that. His aversion to the apartment has only gotten worse since he moved out.

"Well, that's good," Laura says. "Have you been getting hit on a lot, or are all the freshmen afraid of you?"

Derek scoffs, but it sounds more like a laugh, more due to Laura's tone than the question itself. "I guess they're afraid of me." He hasn't exactly tried to be friendly.

"It's only the beginning of the semester," Laura says. "Give it time. You'll be fending off offers left and right by Thanksgiving."

"Great, something to look forward to," Derek says, rolling his eyes.

Laura grins. "So how's the sardine can? I'm sorry, I mean your apartment."

"Hah," Derek says, making a face at her. "I like it, mostly. Having to share a laundry room is weird. My neighbors are all obnoxious kids, but."

"But it's nice having your own space?"

Derek shrugs and doesn't answer.

"It's okay, kid, you're allowed to want your own space," Laura says, in that weird gentle-but-admonishing tone Derek thinks is unique to big sisters. "If I'd known that's what it would take to get you to go to school I'd have suggested it years ago."

That's not true, and Derek knows it. Laura never would have suggested he leave. But her saying that means she's accepting of his decision, so he lets it go.

"Must suck living with all those brats, though," Laura says, musingly. Derek laughs without meaning to. Laura's eyes focus on him intently. "What?"

"Nothing," Derek says, shaking his head. "You're right, it does. Sometimes I think about buying earplugs."

Laura laughs. "You mean you don't like hearing all the intimate details of college kids' lives, Derek?"

Derek just looks at her, and it makes her laugh more.

"You should talk to them," Laura suggests. "Who knows, maybe being a grumpy old man telling the hooligans to turn down their rock music will lead to making friends."

Derek has a sudden image of knocking on Stiles's door and saying 'Just thought you should know I can hear you having sex,' and he has to cover his face with his hand. Luckily Laura just seems to think he's exasperated.

"Kids aren't so bad, Derek," she says.

"You're biased," he tells her. She spends her days volunteering for programs that help at-risk teenagers. Sometimes he wonders if she's trying to make up for not being able to help him.

"I am," she agrees. "But these aren't even really kids living in your building, they're college students. Like you. And you can buy alcohol, so you'd pretty much be their favorite person ever."

Derek thinks about the kinds of things Stiles does when he's been drinking and doesn't really want to be the person facilitating that. Especially when he has to hear it happening.

"Right, illegally buying alcohol for minors so I can be popular, great idea, Laura," Derek says.

"You could always cook for them," she suggests instead, and Derek thinks about the smells that waft from next door sometimes. Stiles cooks; he doesn't need Derek to do that for him.

"They don't need me to take care of them," Derek says, scowling a little.

Laura rolls her eyes. "I'm not talking about taking care of them, Derek, I'm talking about being friendly. Neighborly. Smiling at someone when you pass them in the hall or see them in the laundry room."

"How do you know I don't do that now?"

She raises her eyebrows. "Do you?"

He makes another face and doesn't answer.

"Okay, forget the beer and the food," Laura says. "Just—be open to the possibility of friendship, okay? I worry about you, kid. More now that you're on your own."

She's speaking sincerely, looking at him with a quiet honesty, and it fills Derek with that familiar mix of guilt and warmth. "I'm okay, Laura," he tells her.

"I know," she says, her mouth turning up at one corner. "I'm just hoping one day you'll be better than okay. I think going to school is good for you, and I just want you to enjoy it as much as you can."

Derek blinks at her. "Buy me some earplugs, then," he says, and she breaks into laughter.

——

The third and fourth people Stiles brings home are both girls, everyone's sober, and Derek wonders if Stiles only goes after boys when he's been drinking. He doesn't care, it's just, an idle curiosity. Derek's been propositioned by guys he's pretty sure were only interested because they were drunk. Or only willing to act on it because they were drunk, at least.

Derek doesn't know whether it's annoyance or second-hand embarrassment he feels when he has to listen to the kid. The first two times he was trying to sleep so frustration sort of overrode everything else, but the third time is in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday and he had music playing on speakers and apparently Stiles took that to mean they wouldn't be overheard. If Derek was human, the music would be enough.

If Derek wasn't waiting for a pot of eggs to boil, he'd just leave.

But Derek doesn't want to waste his eggs and Stiles doesn't think anyone can hear him and so Derek is an unwilling audience to Awkward Sex, Round Three. Every mumbled "oops" and "sorry" and breathless, embarrassed laugh makes Derek want to groan and wipe a hand over his face. The kid sounds like it's his first time every time, how is that even possible? How has he not learned where his limbs go? How has he not learned smoother ways of asking for permission and feedback than "is it—can I—do you want—" and "is that—do you like—how was—"?

To his credit, no one's left in the middle of anything yet. But there's been no return visitors, either.

That's not fair, Derek realizes as he times his eggs. For all he knows, Stiles is hooking up with the same people somewhere else. He doubts it, though.

The fourth time Derek wasn't home when it started; he's walking down the hall towards his apartment and he can hear Stiles once he's a few doors past the staircase. At first he thinks Stiles is alone, but when he gets a little closer he can hear another unfamiliar female voice. He thinks about just turning around and leaving again, but from the sounds of things they're just about done, anyway.

"Is your neighbor home?" the girl whispers after Derek closes his door.

"Yeah, don't worry though, he can't hear us," Stiles says, and Derek almost throws something at the wall.

——

Derek's just turning off the water to the shower when he hears a knock at his door. He starts to ignore it, but then there's another knock, so Derek rolls his eyes, pats himself dry quickly and tugs on some sweatpants as he goes to answer the door. He listens, sniffs; there's no signs of a threat so he opens it without bothering to look through the peephole first.

There's a kid on the other side of the door. Tall, lanky; short, dark hair, brown eyes that are widening now that Derek's answered. "Hey," the kid says, voice a little unsure, his mouth sort of hanging open, and for just an instant Derek thinks about closing the door in his face.

The kid is Stiles.

"Um, so," he says, half-smiling, half still sort of gaping, when Derek hasn't said anything (was Derek supposed to say something?). Stiles gestures towards his own door. "We're neighbors? My name is Stiles." He holds a hand out, and when Derek slowly reaches up to take it Stiles seems to relax. His handshake is a lot more certain than his voice was.

"Stiles…Stilinski?" Stiles says, after Derek has dropped his hand and still hasn't spoken.

Oh, Derek thinks. "Derek," he says, and he sounds awkward. Why does he sound awkward?

Stiles grins. "Derek, cool," he says, nodding. "Okay, so, I know it's like a month into the semester and so it's probably a little weird to be doing this now, but I'm having a room-party, get-together sort of thing? For the whole floor, you know, so we can all know who we're living next to. Fun will be had by all. On Friday? So, if you're not busy, you can stop by, if you want. And, y'know…get to know your neighbors."

Derek's first thought is why hasn't Stiles talked to Scott about this? and then he realizes he probably doesn't hear every conversation they have. His second thought is he really shouldn't hear any of them.

"Will you have beer?" Derek asks, and there's that idle curiosity again. He needs to do something about that.

"Ah, no," Stiles says, rubbing the back of his head. "I'm kind of…not legal yet? And haven't found a place to get a decent fake ID. Not that I would—but you can bring your own, if you want, because you're…obviously old enough to buy it," he says, gesturing at Derek with his other hand.

Derek's beginning to think the awkward thing is just Stiles. He also really doesn't think he wants to be at a party where Stiles is drinking.

Not that Derek wants to be at a party, period.

"I'll think about it," he says, but that's mostly Laura talking.

Stiles kind of lights up, though. "Awesome! Really? Awesome. You're like, the first person I've asked, so. Yeah. I'll have snacks but you can bring whatever, and—seven o'clock, Friday. My room. Which is—yeah, right next door." He points again. "See ya, then."

Derek raises his eyebrows and nods slightly, backing away and closing the door as Stiles turns to invite the next unsuspecting neighbor.

Derek goes to find a shirt, and wonders if anyone will show up to the party.

——

Later that day Derek is studying for a quiz when Stiles gets home and turns on some music. Derek wasn't playing any; he prefers to study without it but he's been making exceptions having Stiles as a neighbor. Stiles's taste in music isn't terrible, though it's probably nothing Derek would choose to listen to himself. Still, it doesn't bother him enough to get his headphones.

"Scott," Stiles says a minute later, and he sounds excited. Derek can't hear the response very well, so Stiles must be on the phone instead of his computer. "I'm good," Stiles goes on. "I managed to tell almost everyone about the party, so that was awesome."

See, Stiles had told Scott about it already. Derek should stop assuming.

"Yeah, no, it's gonna be great," Stiles says. "I need to work on the menu, but—yes, Scott, I'm planning the menu, this is how you have a room party for adults with their own apartments, this isn't a dorm thing where you just open up some bags of Doritos and everyone's happy—well, no, I probably will have Doritos too, but it's more involved than that. Oh, but hey, guess what?"

There is a pause, wherein Scott presumably asks 'what.'

"You know the next-door neighbor I've never actually seen?" A pause. Derek should stop listening. "No, he's not a serial killer, Scott, God, have you been talking to my dad again? He's just a guy. Like…a really, ridiculously attractive guy, who answered the door without a shirt on and I think he just got out of the shower because his hair was wet and I think I might have made a complete fool of myself in front of him."

Derek should really stop listening. Instead he just listens harder. Scott is laughing.

"Because that's exactly what I needed, my best friend to laugh at my social mishaps," Stiles says, deadpan. "I was not prepared, okay? It wasn't my fault. And he's older, like, he can't be a sophomore. Maybe he's a grad student or something."

"Do you think he'll come to the party?" Scott says. Derek knows he shouldn't be able to hear that. If he was minding his own business he wouldn't be able to hear it.

"I dunno," Stiles says, and now Derek can picture his shrug. He hasn't seen it, but he's seen enough to put together the visual. "God, I hope so, though. Even if I inadvertently set him up with the hot junior down the hall. Or the other hot junior down the hall. Maybe I should have just invited him and not anyone else."

"Yeah, that wouldn't have been at all creepy," Scott says, and laughs. "Good luck, dude. I wish I could come to the party, things have been boring here."

"Really?" Stiles asks. "Allison's studying abroad and I'm across the country and all the purpose has gone out of your life, huh?"

Derek stops listening after that. He gathers his things and goes to find a coffee shop, and tells himself he's buying a TV on the way back.

——

On Friday Derek is pissed because he got his quiz back and his grade wasn't as good as it should have been, and he knows it's because he keeps getting distracted listening to his neighbor have a social life. He blew Laura off for lunch and she's been calling and texting him since then, until he finally tells her they'll have brunch on Sunday and she leaves him alone.

He goes for a run in the closest park that afternoon. A long run. When he gets back home he does the rest of his workout: sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups on the bar he installed in the bathroom doorway. He takes a shower and jerks off, which he tends to do mostly when he's pissed.

He's standing in the kitchen, staring blankly in the refrigerator when he catches himself listening for any signs of life next door.

Derek grabs his wallet and goes to buy a fucking television set.

——

When the elevator opens on his floor, Derek's senses hone in on the kid standing at the end of the hall, in front of Derek's door. Knocking on it.

Stiles turns at the noise of the elevator, and his face does that brightening thing again. "Derek!" he says. "Woah, awesome TV. You need help carrying that thing?"

Derek really didn't need to get a TV this big. He has no fucking clue where he's going to put a TV this big. But the salesperson was nice to him and Derek ended up buying it without meaning to. "I'm fine," he tells Stiles, but he has to set the thing down to get his keys out of his pocket.

"Oh, okay," Stiles says, standing awkwardly off to the side in the hallway.

"Why were you knocking on my door?" Derek asks as he turns the knob. He feels like he should still be pissed, since Stiles is standing here and Derek has been pissed all day because of Stiles. But Derek isn't pissed anymore, not really, not acutely. Not like he should be with the cause of his anger standing right here. He's blaming it on the nice salesperson.

"Oh," Stiles says again, and hovers at the doorway as Derek takes the TV inside and sets it—fuck, in the middle of the floor, where else is there? "The party? That I'm having tonight? I'm just reminding people about it."

Derek glances at a clock reflexively. It's ten after seven. "Hasn't it already started?" he asks.

"Well—technically?" Stiles says, then waves at the TV. "Did you get that for the big game?"

Derek looks at the TV, then back at Stiles. "The what?"

Stiles blinks and gapes a little. "The—the game, tonight? The one I totally forgot about when I scheduled this party and no one told me about when I invited them and then all went to watch elsewhere? The reason me, you, and the girl at the other end of the hall are the only ones at home tonight?"

"I don't watch TV," Derek says, and then realizes what he just said. Stiles makes him awkward.

The kid blinks some more, and then smiles crookedly. "Well yeah, you didn't have one before."

Derek almost laughs, and that catches him off-guard. "So no one's at your party?" he asks gruffly.

"Not yet," Stiles says, and then he's scratching at his neck. "But uh, I was hoping I could convince you to stop by? Just for, like, a minute, so I don't feel like a complete idiot for having a party when no one could make it. Seriously, dude, you can just walk in, eat some food, then leave, and I will feel about a thousand percent better about myself."

Derek thinks back to what Stiles told Scott the other day. If Derek couldn't tell there really wasn't anyone else on the floor right now, he might think Stiles was lying to spend some time alone with him. As it is, the kid's obviously embarrassed and seems to be telling the truth.

"Please, man," Stiles tries again when Derek doesn't say anything. "The food is good, okay, and I'm not just saying that. I made sweet potato curly fries, you have to try them, at least." Derek raises an eyebrow at him, but that just seems to encourage him. "No, you can't look all skeptical about it and then not try them. They're amazing, okay, I've been perfecting the recipe since junior year of high school."

Stiles is hanging in the doorway—actually hanging off it, like he has to be touching something—and speaking emphatically, and Derek can hear Laura's voice in his head telling him to be open to possibilities. Or some shit like that, he can't remember exactly. And he already blew off one social event today.

He sticks his hands in his pockets and starts walking towards the open door. Stiles seems to stumble in place for a second and then rights himself. "You're coming?"

Derek shrugs, but he keeps walking, and Stiles grins and darts away. When Derek gets out of his apartment, Stiles is already standing in front of his own, door open, waving Derek inside. Derek wonders if it would be weird for him to lock his door when he's just going one room away. He decides to leave it unlocked.

"Glad you could make it," Stiles says as Derek approaches his apartment, and Derek rolls his eyes. As he steps through the doorway, he realizes he's nervous. Derek, not Stiles. Well, no, Stiles is nervous too, but that's not a surprise.

Derek also realizes he was expecting the room to smell like—sex, or something, but it doesn't, it smells like food, and behind that something kind of fresh and fake-spicy, and Derek scans the room to see a few candles burning. He's almost impressed at the display of forethought.

"Come in, come in, make yourself at home," Stiles says, pushing the door to behind them. He doesn't close it all the way; maybe he hopes someone else will come by and join the 'party.' "You can take off your shoes, if you want." Stiles himself is in socks; Derek's just noticing that. Derek doesn't take off his shoes.

The apartment is, obviously, the same size as his own, but it's set up differently. Stiles has his bed on a different wall—right next to their adjoining wall, that figures—and he has a different furniture medley. His room looks much more lived-in than Derek's, even though they've theoretically been living there for about the same amount of time. There's music coming from some speakers on a counter, and Stiles is ushering Derek towards the tiny kitchen area.

"Okay, I bought the hot wings," Stiles says, waving a hand at them, "and the chips, obviously, but I made most of the rest of it myself. So if you don't like it you're basically going to crush my feelings. Just saying."

"I thought I already had points just for showing up," Derek says, and Stiles nods.

"True. You actually get a lot of points for that. But dude, my ego is so far down right now, you have no idea. You have to at least pretend to love my food and have a good time for the ten minutes you're here or I'm going to cry myself to sleep tonight."

Please don't, I really don't want to hear that, Derek thinks. "Ten minutes, huh?" he says.

"I can set a timer, if you want," Stiles offers. "Then you're free to go set up your giant TV and not watch it."

Stiles is handing him a plate, and Derek takes it. He hasn't eaten tonight, after all. He's filling it with food as Stiles asks him what he wants to drink, and Derek turns to look at him.

"I was supposed to bring something," he says, and he actually feels bad. And embarrassed, which is probably stupid.

"Oh, no," Stiles says, waving his concern away. "Only if you wanted alcohol. I've got other stuff."

Stiles looks at him expectantly, hovering near a small table filled with two-liter bottles. "Anything's fine," Derek says. He usually just drinks water, but the kid bought all that crap and probably wants someone to drink it. Derek goes back to piling more food on his plate—he's the only one here, might as well eat what he wants—after seeing Stiles smile and grab a cup.

When his plate's full, Derek isn't sure what he's supposed to do, but then Stiles is holding two cups and guiding him towards a small sofa surrounded by a few chairs. "Sit wherever," Stiles says, and sets the cups down on the coffee table before scurrying back towards the kitchen.

"Is this music okay? I can change it," he calls over.

"It's fine," Derek says with a shrug, then puts his plate on the table before sliding his jacket off. He doesn't know what else to do with it, so he drapes it over the back of a chair before sitting down.

"Try the fries," Stiles says, busy fixing his own plate, and Derek rolls his eyes but he grabs one anyway.

Yeah, the fries are actually really good.

"Well?" Stiles asks, and then he's plopping down on the couch and raising an eyebrow at Derek.

"Not bad," Derek says, and eats another one.

Stiles scoffs. "'Not bad,' come on, dude. You can be honest. They're amazing."

"Who makes sweet potato curly fries?" Derek asks instead.

"Burger King," Stiles replies. "Or they used to. But I've been making them since before that. I started off just making regular sweet potato fries, 'cause they're healthier than regular fries and I had to watch what my dad was eating. And the sweet potato fries in restaurants are deep fried and covered in sugar, so unless you make 'em at home there's no point." Stiles pauses to shovel food in his mouth, chew, take a drink from his cup, swallow it all. Derek doesn't know why he's watching.

"But everyone knows that curly fries are better than regular fries," Stiles continues, wiping his hand on his jeans, and Derek doesn't feel quite so out of place anymore. Stiles is just a kid. Awkward and loud and not any more socially apt than Derek is, just more socially willing. "So I got this spiral potato slicer thing, and started working out the perfect blend of spices, how long to cook them just right, everything. They're basically the best fries in the country. And I've had a lot of fries."

"They're not bad," Derek says again, but he's already eaten all of the fries he had on his plate. Stiles notices, and smirks.

"There's more in the kitchen. I can go get 'em, if you want."

"Maybe later," Derek says, focusing on the rest of his food. There's a smug sort of silence that Derek, surprising himself, ends. "What about the girl at the end of the hall?"

"What?" Stiles asks through a mouthful of food, looking over at Derek. Derek resists the urge to make a face at him.

"You said it was us, and the girl at the end of the hall on the floor tonight. Didn't you remind her about the party?"

"Oh," Stiles says, and swallows. "Yeah, I tried, but she didn't answer her door. I could hear the TV though so I'm pretty sure she was just ignoring me."

Derek snorts in spite of himself, and for some reason that makes Stiles's face go all animated. "My social ineptitude amuses you, huh?" he asks with a grin. "Well, I got you to come over, didn't I?"

"You bribed me with food," Derek says, holding up his plate for emphasis.

"But you've already been here for longer than ten minutes, so, I win," Stiles says before ripping off a piece of chicken with his teeth. Derek should really stop watching.

"You didn't want to see the game?" Derek almost wishes Laura was here because she'd never believe him being this social, but he rethinks it in the same second. He really doesn't need witnesses to this.

"Me? No," Stiles says, shaking his head. "Like, I would have turned it on if people were, you know, here, and wanted to watch it, but. Watching sports on TV is kind of boring? Except with my dad; he makes it pretty entertaining."

Derek nods, but doesn't really know what to say to that.

"So where are you from?" Stiles asks a minute later, after the song has changed tracks. Derek opens his mouth, but then furrows his eyebrows and closes it, because he's really not sure what to say to that. Normally he just tells people 'doesn't matter,' but that doesn't seem right this time. "I'm from California," Stiles offers, and now Derek really doesn't know what to say, because if he tells the truth it's just going to invite questions he doesn't want to answer.

"What part?" he finally says. Getting Stiles to talk more about himself seems far easier than answering his questions.

"Oh, some nowhere town up north," Stiles says, waving his hand. Derek tenses, wants to say me too, but he can't. It makes him feel a weird kinship with Stiles, though; what are the odds his next-door neighbor is from the same general area, all the way on the other side of the country?

What if it isn't a coincidence, an angry, paranoid, guilt-ridden voice in the back of Derek's head says, but if that—if that were true, Stiles wouldn't admit to it, would he?

"How's the rest of the food?" Stiles asks, and Derek realizes he's lapsed into silence again.

"It's good," he says, and tries to think of something else to ask in the face of Stiles's bright smile. "What's your major?" That's a safe enough question. Something normal students ask each other all the time.

"Oh, psychology," Stiles says, and he sets his plate down and grabs at his long sleeves. "Like, forensic psychology? I think. I haven't really decided for sure yet. But my dad's a cop—a sheriff, technically, and I'm from one of those small towns where that still means something—and—I just developed an interest in it, I guess," Stiles finishes quickly, and Derek's pretty sure he changed tracks somewhere in there. "Crime-solving, and all that. What's yours?"

Derek shrugs. "Undecided."

Stiles blinks, obviously surprised. "Oh—really? But you're…"

"Old?" Derek supplies, smirking before he can stop himself.

"N—no," Stiles says, stretching out the word in embarrassment and shaking his head. "Not old at all, just, you know—you seem so…mature, I thought…"

"I started school late," Derek says, amused but deciding not to make the kid squirm any more. "This is my first year."

"Oh," Stiles says, blinking, "wow, so you're—a freshman? And I'm a sophomore." He laughs, a little breathlessly, and Derek has a really unfortunate flashback to listening through the wall while Stiles has sex. More than once.

It's a good thing he bought a TV today.

"Yeah," Derek says, and he really hopes he's not blushing. Werewolves shouldn't blush. That should definitely be covered under the healing properties.

"Hey, can I say something?" Stiles says, his tone different, and Derek gives him a look, because it's a stupid question. "Right, stupid question, I've been saying something since you got here. But uh, you—you look really familiar to me."

"We go to the same school," Derek points out, eyebrows furrowed.

"Yeah, no, I know, but I hadn't seen you in the building until I knocked on your door the other day, believe me, I would've remembered," Stiles says, and then he's blushing, and that makes the nerves flare up in Derek again. "I thought maybe I'd seen you just around campus or something but if this is your first year…" He pauses for a second, peering at Derek with a scrutinizing look that makes Derek want to squirm.

"What's your last name?" Stiles asks, finally, and Derek's heart starts pounding in his chest. He isn't sure why. He doesn't hide his name.

"Hale," Derek says, and his voice is rougher than he meant for it to be.

Stiles blinks, and blinks, and then his mouth falls open and he blinks some more. "Derek—Derek Hale?" he finally manages.

Derek stands up immediately, self-preservation instincts kicking in without his permission. "No, wait!" Stiles says, half-standing as well and reaching out for Derek without making contact. "Sorry, I didn't—sit back down? Please?"

Derek eyes him warily, but sits down again, on the edge of the chair, and tries not to fidget. This kid is a human. He's a gangly, awkward, uncoordinated human and Derek can get away if he needs to. He'd have time. He doesn't have to be afraid.

He glances at the door anyway.

"Are you—are you Derek Hale, from Beacon Hills?" Stiles asks, like he doesn't want to but he has to, and Derek wants so badly to jump and run for the door but he has to know how this kid knows him.

"How do you know that?" he says sharply, staring at Stiles, being intimidating without really wanting or trying to.

"Oh, wow," Stiles says, blinking some more and leaning back in his seat, hands running over his thighs. "Wow, that's like—the coincidence, man. If I was a math guy I'd be all over that. We're from the same town, Derek. That nowhere town in northern California? Beacon Hills. My dad is the sheriff in Beacon Hills."

Derek lets out a breath and tries not to collapse against the back of the chair. The name Stilinski hadn't meant anything before but it feels like a distant memory now, and how in the hell did he end up next door to some kid from home? How the fuck does that happen?

"This is so weird," Stiles says, and Derek has to get out of there.

"I have to go," Derek says, standing up again.

"Oh—really?" Stiles sounds disappointed, and Derek glances at him to see it's all over his face, too. He wants Derek to stay. But Derek really, really can't.

"Yeah," Derek says, and part of him is actually sad about it (about leaving or about disappointing Stiles, Derek isn't sure), "yeah, sorry, I just—I have to go. Thanks—for the food."

"Anytime," Stiles says, hopping up and rushing to open the door for Derek. Derek slows himself down just enough to let him.

Derek locks the door to his apartment, then turns and heads back to the stairs. He has to get out.

——

Derek thinks he's wandering aimlessly until he ends up outside his old apartment building. Laura's apartment, now. He pulls out his phone instead of pressing the buzzer.

"Derek, hey," Laura says when she answers. "I thought we were meeting up Sunday?"

"Are you home?" Derek asks.

"Yeah I—what's wrong?"

"Can you come outside?"

"You're here? Just come in, Derek, I'll buzz you up. Don't you have your key?"

"Laura," Derek says, balking at entering the apartment again.

"Derek," she says, but her voice is gentle. There's silence for a moment, and Derek thinks maybe being in the apartment will help him feel more settled. It's worth a shot, at least.

"Yeah, I have my key," he says, finally.

"Okay, I'll see you in a minute, then."

When he lets himself into the apartment Laura yells that she's in the kitchen, though he could have figured that out on his own. He walks in the room and sees her getting mugs out for tea. "Sit down, Derek, I think I have some cookies around here somewhere," she says, and starts going through cabinets.

Derek smiles in spite of himself as he sits down. "I don't need cookies, Laura. I just need to talk to you for a minute."

She looks at him around the edge of a cabinet door. "Okay," she says, almost suspiciously, and closes the cabinet. She leans against the counter. "What's up?"

Derek takes a deep breath and lets it out. He glances at Laura, then looks away. "My next-door neighbor is from Beacon Hills."

Laura's silent for a moment, then: "What?" she says, moving forward quickly. "How did—who—how do you even know that?"

"He told me," Derek says, adjusting in his seat. He feels like he's under interrogation. "He—he recognized me, and asked what my last name was, and said we were from the same town."

"He knows who you are?" Laura says, eyes blinking rapidly. "Who is this guy?"

Derek sighs and looks up. "Do you remember the sheriff back home?"

Laura's face scrunches. "The sheriff of Beacon Hills is a student at your school?"

Derek rolls his eyes. "No, Laura, his son. Sheriff Stilinski's son is my next-door neighbor."

"Oh," Laura says, blinking again. She relaxes visibly. "Well, that's not a big deal, then."

"What?" Derek says, but then the kettle's whistling and Laura busies herself making the tea.

"It's not a problem, Derek," she says as she carries the mugs back to the table. "The sheriff didn't know anything about us, so there's no reason to think his kid would. Are you picking up anything weird from the guy?"

"No," Derek says, shaking his head once. "But—don't you think the whole thing's weird? For us to end up neighbors? I mean—Beacon Hills isn't a big city. What are the chances?"

"I don't know," Laura says with a shrug, taking a seat. "I'm not a math person."

Derek huffs, and Laura looks at him, amused. "What?"

He shakes his head. "Stiles said almost the same thing."

"Stiles?"

"His name."

"…His name is Stiles Stilinski?"

Derek gives his sister a look. "I assume it's a nickname, Laura."

"Oh," Laura says, sipping at her tea. "Yeah, that makes sense. So you two have been friendly?"

Derek feels his face heat up. No, I just listen to him be intimate with people sometimes, he thinks. "He was having a party for the people on our floor today, and he invited me earlier this week. That was the first time I'd talked to him."

Laura's face lights up, and she leans forward over the table. "So you went to the party?"

Derek shrugs. "He came by again today and practically begged me to go. I felt bad for the kid."

"Aww, Derek, look at you, showing feelings and everything," she coos. Derek dips his fingers in his tea and flicks them at her, and she laughs. "Was it fun? The party? Before you freaked out and ran off, I mean."

"It was—" Derek stops, furrows his eyebrows, leans back in his seat. "It was awkward."

Laura laughs again. "That's just because you're not used to it. It'll get better."

"Maybe," Derek says, offhand. "I did buy a TV today."

"You? You bought a TV? Why?" Laura asks, like the concept is beyond her. "You don't watch TV. Or is this part of your attempts to be more social? If so, I approve."

"It—no," Derek says, but he doesn't know what else to say, really. "I just—felt like it was time to get one." Not even a lie, so Laura won't call him out on it.

"Well, you should invite your new friend Stiles over to watch something. No point in buying a TV and letting it go to waste."

"I—yeah, maybe," Derek says, his voice barely above a mumble.

"That way you can keep an eye on him," Laura adds. "If you're still worried he has some sinister motive for living next door to you."

Laura meant it to be funny, but it really isn't. Still, she has a point. Derek suddenly has an excuse for listening in on Stiles so much.

That doesn't mean he's going to keep doing it, though.

"Thanks for the tea," Derek says, when he's done. He stands up to leave.

"Anytime, kid," Laura calls after him. "Good luck with Stiles."

——

When Derek gets back home, there's a note taped to his door:

'I have leftovers for you if you want them
you know you want them
you can't resist the fries, Derek.

—Stiles'

He rolls his eyes and pulls the note off, and as he's unlocking his door he hears another open.

"You're back," Stiles says, and when Derek glances over he looks sheepish. "I mean, not that I was—waiting, or—listening, or anything. Did you see your note?"

Derek waves the paper at him. "It's late, Stiles."

"Yeah, sorry. I'll—see you tomorrow? Maybe?"

It takes a moment for Derek to answer. "Yeah, maybe. Curly fries keep overnight, right?"

Stiles grins at him. "Yeah. They're actually awesome with breakfast." His eyes go wide. "I mean—not that, I'm saying you should come over for breakfast, or anything, but—unless you wanted to, but—wow I'm just going to stop talking now."

Derek is not smiling. He isn't. But he wants to, and that's—weird. "Goodnight, Stiles," he says, and steps into his apartment.

"Night, Derek," Stiles calls after him. "Tomorrow!"

Derek goes to bed, but he doesn't sleep until he hears Stiles sleeping next door.

He's setting up that damn TV in the morning.

——

Derek doesn't actually know how to set up TVs. The instructions are stupid and he's following them but it's not working. Derek doesn't have problems with his cell phone or his laptop, why is a fucking TV causing him this much trouble?

Stiles had a TV in his room. He must know something.

"Derek!" Stiles says when he answers the door. He's still in his pajamas. It's like 11:00. He should be dressed.

College kids, Derek snorts mentally, ignoring the fact he's a college kid, too.

"Do you know anything about TVs?" Derek asks, holding up the stupid instructions.

Stiles blinks at him, then grins annoyingly. "I watch them, so I probably know more than you, at least."

Derek rolls his eyes. "Get dressed and get over here. Bring food."

"Aye-aye, cap'n," Stiles says, giving him a mocking salute and a lopsided grin. "Gimme a minute."

He closes the door and Derek walks back to his room, and he's pretty sure he hears the sounds of frantic texting.

——

"Did you specifically ask for the most complicated TV in the entire store?" Stiles asks, frustration evident in his voice and his face.

"The salesperson was nice," Derek says, and yeah, that was dangerously close to morose. The whiny kind.

"Yeah, no, they were evil," Stiles says, fighting with the buttons on the remote. "Definitely evil. Never go back there. Tell me who they were so I won't go back there, either."

"You already have a TV," Derek points out.

"And at some point in the near or distant future I may want to purchase another electronic device, yes," Stiles says, shooting him a glare.

Stiles getting annoyed at the stupid TV is probably a little more entertaining than it should be. Even when that annoyance is directed at Derek.

"You want a drink?" Derek asks. Stiles had brought some orange juice with him when he came over, but it's gone now.

"You have any beer?" Stiles mutters, scanning the instruction manual yet again.

"No, and you're underage," Derek says as he walks to the kitchen. "I have water. You want water?"

"Why didn't you just say that to begin with, then? And yes. Please."

"Catch," Derek says, and tosses the bottle at Stiles just as he turns.

"Dude!" Stiles says, indignant, flailing to grab the bottle. It hit him squarely in the chest. Gently.

"I can see why you're not a sports guy," Derek says, smirking.

"I said I don't like watching sports on TV," Stiles says with another glare. "I'll have you know I played lacrosse in high school."

Derek scrunches his nose at the mention of the sport. "Beacon Hills High?" he asks before he thinks better of it.

"Yeah," Stiles says, then gulps at his water. Derek takes the instructions out of his hand so he has something to do other than watch. "Did you play?"

"No," Derek says, and tries to think of a way to change the subject. "Were you any good at it?" That's sort of the opposite of changing the subject.

Stiles shrugs and grabs at the instructions again, but Derek doesn't let them go. "Depends on your definition of good. I didn't play much. Give that back, I need it."

"You don't even know what you're doing," Derek says, and he gets hold of the remote when Stiles goes slack-jawed in disbelief.

"I set up the rest of it, didn't I!" Stiles flails at him, and at the TV. "I even figured out where you could put it! Just because the instructions are stupid and programming the remote is impossible doesn't mean I don't know what I'm doing!"

Derek ignores him and reads the open page.

Programming remotes is stupid. Derek feels like he hasn't been missing anything by not watching TV.

Stiles huffs out an irritated groan, marches back to the kitchen and sets down his water bottle, then marches back. Derek's watching him out of the corner of his eye.

"Give it," Stiles says, holding his hand out. "I'm figuring this damn thing out if it kills me."

Derek regards him for a second, then looks back at the manual and remote in his hands, then back at Stiles, before finally handing them over.

"Good boy," Stiles says, and Derek barely resists the urge to smack him upside the head. Lightly. Instead he just sneers and steps back towards the counter.

"You hungry?" Derek asks.

"Am I—what?" Stiles asks, wheeling around. "We just ate? Are you hungry?"

Derek shrugs. "You didn't bring that much over."

"Oh," Stiles says, and his face droops a bit. "I could get more? I have a little more."

"I'm not eating all your food, Stiles. I'm ordering delivery. Do you want anything?"

"Oh. Uh—I could eat, I guess?"

"Okay," Derek says, and starts rifling through his take-out menus. He doesn't eat out that often, but he has a ton of menus for whatever reason.

"Thanks," Stiles says. "What're we getting?"

"What I want," Derek says, glancing up. Stiles rolls his eyes and goes back to fiddling with the remote.

——

Derek doesn't like having the TV on, but Stiles is so proud of himself when he finally makes the remote work that Derek just leaves it. Stiles says something about how some movie would look on the screen and Derek finds himself telling Stiles to bring it over, and next thing he knows they're sitting on Derek's bed (he doesn't have a couch, he knows it's weird, but Stiles doesn't say anything), eating take-out and watching some movie Derek has never seen or heard of.

It's not as weird as it should be, really.

It's easy to ignore that Stiles is attracted to him; Derek's used to ignoring that, and Stiles is apparently easily distracted so he's never focused on Derek for too long at a time. There's a spike of it when they're first sitting on the bed together, but Stiles gets absorbed in the movie—and telling Derek about the movie—so it passes, and then sort of comes in waves, after that.

It's much harder to ignore how nervous Derek gets every time he worries if Stiles is going to act on it. Stiles is attractive, objectively, but for Derek, for many years, sex has been about escaping something, and there's nothing Derek wants to get away from, right now.

That makes him even more nervous, though.

——

In the end Stiles has to run off because apparently he has a job (on campus, in one of the libraries), and Derek was worrying for nothing.

In the end, Derek thinks he might have accidentally made a friend.

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