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where the heart is

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The fourth step on the second flight of wooden stairs still creaks familiarly and there’s still a gouge in the wall from where Isaac has lost his grip on the couch and the leg had lost the war to the wall. Nervously, Derek tightens his grip on the bouquet of flowers he had spontaneously picked up on route. A flower shop is now in the spot beside the apartment building where a hole in the wall diner used to be. Too often they would stumble down there on the weekends and have greasy eggs and bacon to soothe their hangovers.

Derek doesn’t imagine Isaac has much use for a flower shop on the weekends, but at least it meant that Derek could luck out tonight. Towards the end, Isaac had always accused Derek of forgetting the little things. He had accused Derek of a lot, really, but he regularly shouted that Derek never made an effort.

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day and Derek is showing up unexpected with Thai food and flowers. He can take a hint, he can step up and remember the little things when it counts. And well, maybe getting Isaac back counts. There are worse things he could do, they had it pretty good when they were together. Sure they were both dysfunctional in their own way, but at least they weren’t alone.

Derek hates being alone.

Being across the country back in California taught him how much he relied on the companionship that Isaac had offered. Their relationship hadn’t been normal by any stretch of the means, but it had made them happy, until Isaac wasn’t anymore.

But now Derek is back in New York and he’s bought flowers and really, it’s Valentine’s. This is the ultimate declaration of love. It says everything so Derek doesn’t have to because if it came down to it, Derek doesn’t think he could say those words to Isaac. He’s never been able to say them to anyone significant he dated, mostly because the moment you say them, everything tends to fall apart.

He’s learned that before.

Not to mention, he doesn’t mean them, not with Isaac. Their relationship had been born out of convenience and time apart hasn’t changed anything besides Derek realizing he misses the company, despite how poor it was at times.

Taking a deep breath, he lifts his hand and knocks at the door. There are footsteps behind the door, sounds of movement to indicate that someone is home but the door remains closed. Frowning, Derek raises his hand and knocks again, this time more firmly. Has Isaac looked out the peephole and seen that it was Derek and is choosing not to answer?

They didn’t part as friends, exactly, but they didn’t part as enemies either. And Isaac had even texted him less than a month ago saying he had missed Derek.

He’s just raised his fist to pound again when the door is wrenched open, revealing a skinny male who looks to be no more than nineteen. His hair is sticking out seven different ways and his skin is littered with moles, but what’s most distracting is the profound scowl he’s sporting.

Shit, perhaps Isaac has told him about Derek and how awful he was in their relationship and this is the replacement?

“I didn’t order Thai,” the guy says, jutting his chin at the bag Derek’s carrying. “I ordered Chinese.”

“I’m – what? Sorry, what?” Derek says because he’s suddenly confused. Is it possible Isaac hasn’t mentioned him at all? They were together for three…? Maybe four years? How is possible that Isaac wouldn’t tell his new boyfriend about Derek?

“And I definitely didn’t order flowers,” the guy says and his scowl lessens. “As hangry as I am, I’m thinking that you didn’t fuck my order up, but instead you’re at the wrong place.”

Derek looks down the hallway before looking back at the door blankly. It reads 3A just as clearly as it did before he knocked, and just as clearly as it did every time Derek picked up the mail. This is – was – his apartment.

“I’m not a delivery person,” he finally says, tightening his grip on the flowers because he can already sense that this guy will probably destroy them the minute he finds out why Derek is really here. Shit, why was Isaac missing him when he has such an attractive replacement for Derek? Maybe he was drunk?

“I’m a replacement?” The guy says and he’s definitely beginning to smirk. “What exactly am I replacing?”


Derek hadn’t meant to say any of that out loud but it’s kind of late to go back now. He can only push forward, move onwards and up. “Replacement for me,” he says and he hates how uncertain he sounds, how uncertain he feels. He’s not used to this.

Overall, this was a terrible decision.

“I’m really not following you,” the guy says, the smirk slowly fading away until he just looks confused. “Look, man, this is all kind of weird. I literally just want my Chinese food so I can Netflix and chill alone.”

“It’s Valentine’s,” Derek says and he hates that he can’t ever properly express what he’s feeling. “I’m here for Isaac, okay?”

“Who the hell is Isaac?” The guy says, blinking and Derek really has no business noticing just how long his eyelashes are. “Oh – wait! Isaac, oh yeah, I remember him.”

“Where is he?” Derek hadn’t stopped to consider the idea of Isaac moving apartments after they split. For a bit, back when Derek still followed Isaac’s Instagram after the split, there were still plenty of pictures of the apartment. He had eventually stopped following because… it was irritating. He got irritated seeing his apartment everywhere without having the comfort of home.

“Isaac moved to France,” the guy says, leaning against the doorjamb and he folds his long arms across his chest. “Let me guess, you’re the notorious ex.”

“I’m Derek,” he says sullenly because he can only imagine what Isaac has been saying about him. The worst part is he can’t argue against any of it because he really was that terrible of a boyfriend.

“I should have known the minute I opened the door. People as attractive as you don’t usually end up at my door,” the guy says and it sounds like he’s flirting a little?

“I'm just here to see Isaac,” Derek says and his palms feel sweaty. He retightens his grip on the flowers, belatedly noticing that one towards the back is completely dead. Great, complete waste of money.

“Well, I’m sorry that I can’t help you out in that aspect,” the guy says. “I mean, moved to France is moved to France, you know? It’s not like you’ll be able to make it there for Valentine’s Day for your big romantic gesture. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s already the fifteenth in France right now…”

“It was a long shot anyway,” Derek admits without really thinking about it. “I mean, I’m not even in love with him.”

“And yet you’re showing up on Valentine’s with flowers and food? Which, apparently, is only fortunate enough for you because mine was supposed to be here an hour ago and I’m starving.”

“You can have it, if you want,” Derek offers, holding out the bag. There’s a wet patch in the corner of the bag and he pulls it back so it doesn’t drip on the carpet. “I’m not even that big of a fan, Isaac was the one who liked Thai food.”

“Maybe you should come inside and tell me all about it and we’ll eat the food together,” the guy says, pulling his door open all the way and Derek is moving inside before he’s even conscious that he decided, yes. “I’m Stiles, by the way.”

What is a Stiles, Derek thinks before he realizes he said that out loud as well and Stiles is smirking at him again. He's also taking the bag of food from Derek and disappearing into the tiny crevice that passes as the kitchen. As much as Derek likes to look at the guy - Stiles - he can't help but examine every inch of the apartment and see what changes that Stiles has made to the place.

"Hey!" He exclaims, stepping over to where the couch sits (it's blue and new and looks a little more ratty than the one he owned with Isaac) and staring at the wall above it.

There's a picture hanging above it, it's an outdoor scene of the woods with sunlight streaming through the trees. The colours are vibrant and bright, it's breathing life and it's - home. It's the Preserve and Isaac had told him that he had sold the picture when Derek had asked him for it after they had first broken up.

"Oh, yeah! Isn't that nice?" Stiles wanders out of the galley kitchen, wiping damp hands on his blue jeans and leaving hand prints on his thighs. Derek immediately thinks of leaving other handprints on him and flushes slightly at the dirty thought. "The previous owner, well, Isaac I guess, left it here. I liked it so much that I kept it."

"It's mine," Derek says tightly because he had hurt over the loss of this picture, it was one of the few threads he had to Beacon Hills - to home. Isaac had lied to him and then not even bothered to take it with him when he moved to fucking France.

"Oh," Stiles says, chewing on a hangnail and he looks at the picture and then back to Derek. "Well... it's kind of mine, now?"

"I mean, it's literally my picture, I took it," Derek says, reaching up and he trails his fingers over the glass. There's a thin layer of dust there. "It's of my family land in California."
"Oh, you're from California?" Stiles asks, flopping down on the couch. "If you really want the picture, you can have it back. I'm also from California so I kind of liked it."

"No, that's not fair, you can keep it," Derek says because he doesn't want to take something away from Stiles, not if it also reminds him of home. He can afford to be generous. Judging from the bare condition of the apartment, it looks like Derek has a lot more at his disposal than Stiles does. It's just a picture, he's pretty sure he even has a copy of it on his laptop somewhere.

"So where in California are you from?" Stiles asks, kicking his feet up on to the coffee table. It groans under the sudden weight, but Stiles doesn't seem that concerned about it.

"Beacon Hills," Derek says, even though every time he tells someone where he is from, they always shrug and say they've never heard of it. Typically, everyone expects the answer to be LA because apparently that's the only city that exists in California.

Stiles' face drains of colour and he blinks owlishly at Derek. "You're fucking with me," he says, pushing himself to his feet and he's twisting his long fingers together nervously.

Sensing the sudden mood change, Derek stands and braces himself. "I'm not," he says slowly, keeping his voice low and gentle. "I don't understand what's just happened, but I wouldn't lie about that. It's my hometown."

"That's really weird because that's my hometown as well," Stiles says but he's relaxing a little bit more, the smirk even returning slightly. Derek doesn't realize just how much he's missed it until it's back.

"You're shitting me," he says instead, because what are the actual chances?

"Nope, born and raised," Stiles says, this time grinning and he flops back down on the couch, apparently feeling like Derek is safe again. "My dad's the sheriff."

"Sheriff Stilinski is your dad?" Derek raises his eyebrows. He knows the sheriff, he's spoken to him at length and he only mentioned that he had a son once, saying he was out East, trying to find himself.

"Yep," Stiles drawls the word out, the hem of his t-shirt riding up to reveal a patch of pale skin. "That's my old man."

"He's a good man," Derek says, even though he mostly associates the sheriff with painful memories. He was the one who was there when the majority of Derek's family burned to death in a house fire, and when his only remaining family member - older sister Laura - drove home drunk and wound up wrapped around a tree.

"How do you know him?" Stiles asks, as if on cue.

"He's the sheriff, everybody knows him," Derek says evasively because he doesn't want to be that guy, the one everyone pities once they realize he's all alone in the world.

He suddenly misses Isaac with a sharp pang in his chest, for as fucked up as they were, at least Isaac was someone to come home to the evening. Now Derek comes home to a cold, dark apartment and it's up to him to try breathing warmth and life into it every day.

He usually fails.

"You probably got a record as long as - "

"Your fingers?" Derek says, because he doesn't want to discuss the past. He's hoping to distract Stiles with some classic, terrible flirting and judging by the way the tips of Stiles' ears turn pink, he's going to hazard a guess that it's going to work.

"These skinny bad boys are pretty lethal," Stiles says, wiggling his hands out in front and Derek's mesmerized by the motion. Stiles drops his hands back into his lap all too soon and is saying something that Derek only catches the tail end of - "to New York?"

"I missed it," Derek says, hoping he's able to guess the correct answer. "I was back in California but eventually I thought I'd come back to New York. I like the city here better than LA. And what would your father, the good sheriff, say about you letting a perfectly good stranger inside your home?"

"As a fellow native Californian, I will fully admit that LA is disgusting," Stiles agrees. "Besides, you're not a stranger, you're an old neighbor - a Beaconer! Beacon Hills wise and New York wise too, I guess, if you're going to count this apartment."

"Absolutely, we can count it. And neighbors, you say? I can get behind that," Derek says, leaning against the couch and it's softer than it originally looks, curving around his frame although there's one lump digging into his hip. Derek reaches down and pulls out a remote from between the cushions and tosses it at Stiles. "This was hard in my back."

Stiles makes an aborted noise in his throat but accepts the remote, turning the TV on and keeping the volume down low. There's some show on, something with werewolves, but it doesn't really capture Derek's attention because -

There's movement from the corner of his eye and then he suddenly feels a warm hand on his thigh. He glances down at the long fingers, the tips resting on the inseam of his jeans before he looks up into Stiles' gaze. He's closer than he originally realized, his brown eyes almost glowing amber and he's licking his lips nervously.

"I need to ask if I've been reading this situation correctly," Stiles asks hesitantly, leaning slightly back.

"You haven't read it wrong," Derek says honestly. While he never expected to hook up with Stiles, he can't deny that there's attraction between them. For the first time in his entire life, Derek is curious enough to follow it and find out where it leads.

"Oh, thank fuck," Stiles says, before he's surging forward and pressing their lips together.

The kiss is a little off-centered, Stiles' lips landing more to the corner of Derek's mouth, but he parts his lips and corrects it, cupping Stiles' cheek in his hand. He cradles his face as he kisses him, moving their lips together so it's a perfect fit. There's a warm ball curled low in his spine and every time Stiles makes a soft noise, Derek greedily swallows it down.

There's a hesitant swipe at his bottom lip and Derek smiles into the kiss at the feel of it. He parts his lips on cue and allows Stiles' tongue entrance to his mouth. Stiles is hesitant and wary but gets bolder by the minute. Derek's hand working his way up his thigh probably has something to do with that.

Stiles pulls back with a wet sound and raises his eyebrows, his cheeks flushed. "I guess it kind of paid off to invite a perfectly good stranger into my home," he says.

"I have to admit, this is the weirdest Valentine's Day I've ever had, and I've had some pretty strange ones before," Derek says, thinking back to the year where he had tried to surprise Isaac with handcuffs to reignite their love life. Instead, it had brought back traumatic memories for Isaac with his father abusing him and he had spent the night locked in the bathroom while Derek got drunk watching a baseball movie.

Derek really shouldn't be surprised that they're not together anymore.

"One day you're going to have to tell me about these strange Valentines," Stiles says, hopping to his feet and he grabs Derek by the hand, pulling him up and into the kitchen. He drops Derek's hand and begins to take the Styrofoam containers out of the greasy sodden bag. "I've never had a Valentine before."

"Never?" Derek says incredulously, because he finds that incredibly hard to believe. He doesn't know Stiles but even just based off of looks - which Derek knows is something you shouldn't do - Stiles is attractive.

"You don't have to sound so surprised," Stiles says dryly, although Derek doesn't miss the way his knuckles clench and turn whiter under the pressure.

"I am surprised," Derek says honestly. "You seem completely normal, besides the whole inviting strangers into your apartment thing."

"Okay, first of all, this was originally your apartment before mine so I don't think that makes you a complete stranger. Not a friend, but certainly an acquaintance or something. And secondly, before you think I'm a complete loser - I've had relationships, okay? I've had at least two semi-serious relationships in my twenty years of life. Neither of them were that long and coincided with the month of February."

"I don't think me living here previously automatically makes me less of a stranger," Derek says with a laugh as Stiles swats at his head. "But okay, that makes more sense. I was going to say, you're attractive and funny. I thought you'd be fighting off the admirers tonight."

"Nah," Stiles shrugs a shoulder and the tip of his ear is pink. Derek kind of wants to lick it - is that weird? "I don't put much stock into holidays anymore, let alone gas guzzlers like Valentine's."

"Well, it's not exactly how I planned the evening to go, but this is almost better," Derek says, not even really thinking about it. He's just spooning the pad Thai on to his plate and more... thinking out loud, really. "I mean, Isaac is kind of a dick and you're not. A dick, that is. Not that I'm comparing you to my ex boyfriend as like a measurement? Not that - oh god. Shut me up, please."

"Gladly," Stiles murmurs before he's moving back in and giving Derek the second best kiss of his life.

So while Derek did intend on reconciling with Isaac tonight, he has to admit that somehow stumbling into the (familiar) home of an attractive stranger (fellow Beaconer) has turned out a lot better for him. And while he's certainly not going to get ahead of himself, he has to admit - this is kind of the best Valentine's he's ever had.

"You said that out loud... again," Stiles says with a laugh against his lips. "But I'm going to totally agree."

"Probably because it's your first," Derek says with a smirk and Stiles doesn't even argue, he just leans back in and steals the smile right off Derek's lips.