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“Blue Wolf, come in, Blue Wolf. You should really thank me for suggesting the pink tie, as it’s clearly bringing all the ladies to the yard.”

Derek resists rolling his eyes, barely, because he is a professional. “Acknowledged, Orange Fox,” he mutters while hiding his mouth behind a champagne flute. “I’m glad you’ve noticed that I’m generating far too much attention. Also, I think you and I have very different definitions of ‘suggest.’”

“Okay, so you can thank me for hiding your other tie where you’ll never ever find it,” Stiles says in his ear, and Derek can actually hear him smirking. His partner is in one of his good moods, clearly, and if Derek weren’t so disgustingly fond of the guy he probably would have killed him years ago and made it look like an accident. 

And Derek has the skills to pull that off, too, so Stiles is just lucky he’s so… Stiles.

“Everyone is looking at me and you’ve compromised this entire mission,” Derek says sternly. He’s turned toward the buffet table now and is pretending to contemplate the pickled quail eggs so that Stiles can’t see him smile on the security feed. 

“Oh please. You know everyone would be looking at you no matter how we dressed you.” And there Stiles goes again, saying stuff like that without even thinking about how it sounds. “It’s the curse of the ridiculously pretty. I apologize, I know how much you must suffer for it. Maybe we should get you a mask.”

“Maybe we should locate the mark,” Derek deflects, feeling warm and off-balance and deeply angry with himself, “and you should try to be professional for once.”

“It’s cute that you still think you can make me behave,” Stiles says, unfazed, “after three years of evidence to the contrary.”

“For the love of god,” says Allison, cutting into their frequency, “if you two don’t get on mission in the next two seconds I am decommissioning you both.

“Acknowledged, Silver,” Derek mutters.

“Sorry ma’am,” adds Stiles, and he finally sounds a little bit contrite. “I have a visual on the mark, 5 o’clock relative to your position, Blue Wolf, next to the ice sculpture.”

“I see her,” Derek says. “What’s our play?”

“She doesn’t seem to have any of her usual lackeys with her; I don’t think she’s expecting us. We can go simple.”

Derek sighs. “Maneuver Alpha, then?” He hates Maneuver Alpha, which seems to amuse Stiles to no end.

“Roger,” says Stiles gleefully. “Just go get her talking, and we’ll pull the info we need to hack the voiceprint software through your earpiece. I’ll let you know when we’ve got enough. Good luck. Not that you need it.”

“Moving in,” says Derek, pushing down on the part of him that feels deeply uncomfortable about this. Maneuver Alpha isn’t so much an official play as it is a term Stiles came up with for ‘that thing where Derek uses his face to get what he needs from people.’ Derek knows the whole flirting thing shouldn’t twinge at him the way it does, after years in the business; maybe it’s because he can’t help thinking about how sad it is that he doesn’t even remember the last time he smiled at someone that particular way, with intent, and actually, truly meant it.

“Hi there,” he says, sidling up to a woman in a deep-green sequined evening dress. He forces his mouth into a broad, welcoming smile. “I couldn’t help noticing you noticing me, so I was wondering if—” Derek trails off into coughs and sputters, because the mark has just thrown the hugest cosmopolitan ever right in his face.

“I’m here with someone, you presumptuous jackass,” she hisses before storming off, and Derek doesn’t even have time to be bewildered about this turn of events, because he’s too busy freaking out about his earpiece being fried, oh god. 

He grabs a cloth napkin off one of the tables and starts cleaning his face, then uses it to hide his mouth while he gives the connection one more try. “Orange Fox, come in, how do we proceed.” He’s grinding his teeth, frustrated over the knowledge that this one was pretty much all his fault. He hates Maneuver Alpha. “Fox, what’s the plan? Do we abort?” 

“Not just yet,” says Stiles, and Derek thinks for a moment that the earpiece wasn’t damaged after all, until he feels a tap on his shoulder.

“Oh no,” Derek groans, turning. “You’re supposed to stay in the van, this is so against protocol that I can’t even—” He stops, because all the air seems to have suddenly been sucked out of the room.

Stiles, Derek notes bitterly, is not wearing a bright pink tie. Stiles isn’t wearing a tie at all, actually. He’s wearing a faintly-striped black dress shirt, open at the collar, and a slim-cut black suit. Derek didn’t even know that Stiles knew what tailoring was, but well. Here's some devastatingly clear evidence to the contrary. 

“It’s not too weird-looking, is it?” Stiles shrugs and glances down at himself. “They wanted me to go three-piece, but I had to draw the line somewhere.”

Thank god. Derek doesn’t think his heart would’ve been able to handle Stiles in a vest. “What are you doing out here? How did you get changed so fast?”

“I changed into this as soon as you went in. I always have like nine contingency plans, you know that.” Stiles grabs a cheese puff from a passing tray and scans the ballroom casually. “By the way—‘I noticed you noticing me?’ Really, dude?” 

“It’s worked before,” Derek mutters, defensive. It’s not his fault he has no gauge for these things, Stiles should know this by now.

“Well fear not, buddy, because I’m here to save our asses like always. Brought you a spare bug, let me just…” Stiles turns them so that Derek’s left ear is facing the wall, out of sight. “Okay, now,” he says, voice warm and mischievous, “don’t panic,” and leans in close. 

He’s sliding his hands up Derek’s chest and up over his shoulders, slow and sure, and Derek looks up at the ceiling and wills his pulse to go down, because if it doesn’t Stiles is close enough to notice. His hands are resting on Derek’s neck, now, long fingers stroking at his hairline, and one of his thumbs prods in and dislodges the broken earpiece in one deft motion. 

“Put your hands on me or something,” Stiles suggests, “or else people are going to start thinking I dragged you into the corner to molest you against your will.”

Derek trusts Stiles, more than he trusts probably anyone, so he puts a hand on Stiles’ waist without even thinking about it first. “Good,” Stiles whispers against his ear, and Derek’s hand clenches a little in Stiles’ jacket. 

“Maybe you should do this instead,” Derek says, “since she thinks I’m a creep, now.”

Stiles shakes his head, his hair brushing Derek’s neck. “Nope, here,” and he’s crowding in even closer, pushing the new earpiece in while blocking the motion from view with a ridiculous little nuzzle to Derek’s cheek. “There. They’re moulded to your ears, you know that, and anyway, I should keep an eye on the feed.” Stiles pulls back and flicks his eyes at one of his cufflinks, which upon closer inspection has a tiny digital readout on it. “I don’t have time to teach you the techno stuff. Now go get the recording so I can get out of these horrible shoes.”

“How am I supposed to—”

“She’s dancing with her date. Five o’clock, under the big windows. Just get near her on the floor, bump into her, make it look like an accident, apologize. We’ll pick up the voice print from that.”

“She’s going to murder me,” Derek points out. “So, do I just walk over there, or—”

“Oh my god, just, come on, it’s like I have to do everything,” Stiles groans, and drags Derek out onto the floor. He stops when they’re about ten feet from the mark, who is dancing close with a man four inches taller and at least sixty pounds bigger than Derek, which does not bode well for this plan, at all. “Now pull me in.”

Derek does, and chooses not to dwell on the fact that at some point during their long partnership, it became normal for Stiles to casually boss him around. He lets his hands slip down to Stiles’ hips, thumbs sliding under the front of his jacket. Stiles snorts softly and throws his arms over Derek’s shoulders, hooking them at the wrists. “Now just lead me gradually closer to them and we’ll orchestrate a collision,” Stiles orders before dropping his face into Derek’s neck.

“I literally can’t believe you just volunteered to let me lead you,” Derek says, pulling him closer. “This is a milestone. I’m marking my calendar.” 

When Stiles grins, Derek can feel it against his skin. “Call it an early birthday present. On your left.”

Derek spins them a little so he can see, and they’re about five feet away now, closing in. “I still don’t see why you couldn’t just do it and analyze the feed later. You’re a lot less likely to be punched in the face in this situation then I am.”

“I can’t do the whole, you know.” Stiles waves one of his hands around illustratively before resting it on the back of Derek’s neck. “Flirty, charming, fake interest thing. She’d see right through it.”

“What? Yes you can,” Derek argues. “You do that shit all the time.”

“Uh, no,” Stiles pulls back a bit, confused. “I don’t. What?”

“You’re always making jokes about my…” Derek flounders a bit, deeply embarrassed that he’s going to bring this up. “...my face, and my body, and one time you made that comment about my ass right before that job in Bulgaria just to distract me from how dangerous it was going to be. Flirty fake interest is fifty percent of how you communicate.”

Stiles is gaping. “Der—I mean.” He clears his throat. “Sorry, we’re in the field, no names, I forgot, because… I cannot even believe you.”

Derek strokes one of his hands up Stiles’ back and slowly down again, soothing him. “Keep your voice down.”

Stiles puts his face back in Derek’s neck and whispers, “You are the dumbest person. Seriously. In the history of ever. My interest isn’t fake, oh my god.”

Derek goes still. “What.”

“Face, body, ass, interested in all of it. Obviously, are you kidding? I just assumed our friendship was based on you knowing that and me making jokes about it to make myself feel better.”

“Why would I.” Derek knows this is a terrible time for this, knows that his earpiece is being monitored back at base, but he can’t leave this alone. “How was I supposed to know that?”

“Well I don’t say those things to anyone else, dumbass,” Stiles says, exasperated, and, oh.

Well then. 

“The mark’s in range,” Derek says. His voice comes out deep and rough, and he feels Stiles shiver a little in his arms. Well then. 

“Okay,” Stiles is saying. “So we can talk about this later, but for now you should really—”

Derek swoops in and kisses him, lush and soft. He moves one of his hands to the back of Stiles’ head, holding him still for it, and he feels a thrill go all the way down to his toes when Stiles opens his mouth on a shaky sigh, letting him in.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says a few minutes later, pulling back with one last little bite to Stiles’ lower lip.

“Nngh. Sorry for what?” Stiles says dazedly, and then yelps in surprise as Derek pushes him backwards so hard that he crashes into the mark and topples them both straight to the ground.

The resulting angry diatribe is more than they need to duplicate a convincing voiceprint. Between that and the adorable expression of pure outrage on Stiles’ face, Derek is ready to call this particular mission a success.