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It first comes up about a week and a half after he gets back. They’re in the preserve, gathered around the hood of Stiles’ newly repaired Jeep, hunched over a map of downtown Beacon Hills which has already been marked up from the last mystery they were trying to solve.

(Apparently, Danny somehow got ahold of a plan of the sewer system to lay over it, and Derek is just… not going to ask. He practically has a record, so the less he knows—- just, it’s better. Anyway, something tells him Ethan was involved.)

The flashlight Scott’s holding for the benefit of the humans is on its last legs, and the twins lost the trail about a half-hour ago before circling back, so they’re going to have to wrap this up. Also, Stiles is doing that thing with his mouth that means he’s done with the planning stage and wants to run head-on into whatever idiotic scheme he’s forging that will get him either injured or kidnapped.

Derek runs a hand over his jaw. He can’t believe he’s actually back here - doing this - all over again. This time it’s some kind of swamp-sea-slime thing. All Derek knows for sure is that it vomited or ejacualted or sneezed over Lydia’s favourite shoes and she hasn’t shut up about it since.

"…So we need to find out how much the Sheriff’s Department knows, and feel out if the cover’s still—" Scott says, as Stiles throws both hands in the air.

"I’ll do it!"

Lydia smirks as Isaac rolls his eyes.

"I mean, uh, I have the connection. To the department. With all the deputies." He clears his throat. His heart’s racing, and Scott’s smiling indulgently.

“Okay. Stiles. Police duty. Check.”

Derek’s not exactly sure why it’s that much of a deal - Sheriff Stilinski hasn’t been approved to resume active duty, nursing a broken ankle from the whole Nemeton disaster (and probably getting a major reality check to boot) so it makes sense that Stiles would be the one to co-ordinate with the local cops. He’s still studying the quietly pleased look playing around his lips when Scott jabs him in the ribs.

What.

"You spaced out, dude. I asked if you want to come for recon beneath the hospital."

Derek pulls a face, and finds his expression morphing into an eye-roll as Stiles lets out a satisfied snort. “Sounds like a date," he mutters, and Derek scowls harder. He’s still as infuriating as ever, then.

Really though, it’s oddly calming, not being the one to have to make these kinds of decisions. Scott isn’t his apha - Derek’s not sure if he’ll ever be ready to defer to someone who isn’t his mom or his sister - and he seems to respect that Derek is a free agent, lending his support if and when he wants to, but never asking for more than simple cooperation.

It’s kind of how Derek knows Scott’s a better alpha already. Better than he ever was.

"I… yeah, I’ll come."

"Good, because you need three, and there is no freaking reality where I’d voluntarily go down there," Lydia pipes in, running a calculating look over the map, and Allison nods seriously before looking sheepish. Seems even she has her limits.

"Awesome," Scott approves, leaning back over the hood, “‘Cause Isaac still sucks at this, and Stiles will be… busy." Derek can only frown when he receives a punch to each shoulder from two different fists.

___

The second time he notices anything is after the sea-swamp thing (Freshwater Kraken, Derek, really, if I’m gonna stay up ‘til 3am researching, the least you can do is use the fucking name I gave you’) busts a hole through the pavement outside the library. Apparently northern Californian sewers weren’t built to house giant sea monsters (it’s not a sea monster it’s a— you know what, fine, call it what you want, you frickin’ WereHusky). The police have cordoned off the area while the fire department  tries to clear the debris, and Derek does a mental check that the rest of the pack are in one piece. 

He guesses it’s some kind of residual responsibility he feels for them. Or maybe it’s just that they’re his…friends. 

Isaac and Scott are wiping sludge off each other and laughing as the girls look on disgustedly. The twins seem to be attempting to keep a low profile - Derek’s heard that they’ve stopped showing up in school regularly and he’s not sure exactly what the authorities make of their situation - and Stiles is, huh. It takes him a second to find him, but it’s no more than a few seconds before his ears zero in on the rabbit-quick beat of heart and a laugh that carries over the noise of machinery and shocked onlookers.

He’s standing beside one of the deputies, hands shoved in his pockets as his body tilts towards the other guy. Whatever he’s saying, Stiles is enthralled. Derek takes a step towards them, not quite sure why, and feels his forehead creasing as he strains to hear.

"What, Deputy, you think the city were lying about updating the whole sewer system three years back?" he grins, and Derek cocks his head.

The deputy shrugs. He’s young - probably not that much older than Derek, really - and he’s standing like a fucking stereotype out of a modelling shoot. “Just saying, you ever see the road spontaneously collapse like that?”

Stiles’ mouth curves downwards, mock thoughtful. “Sinkholes?” he says innocently.

The deputy gives him a shrewd look, like he’s pretty certain Stiles doesn’t even quite believe that, and Stiles just shrugs a shoulder.

"What, it’s plausible. Admit it, you’d all be lost without my magnificent theories."

"Yeah, I don’t know how I’d survive the week without you showing up once a day to ‘visit’ and go through my case files."

Derek swallows. Every day?

"I’m an acquired taste, Deputy Parrish. You just can’t admit you’re charmed by me."

"You’re something alright," is the reply. Stiles’ cheeks flush and Derek feels the beginnings of his claws poke at the flesh of his palm. He looks down at them. Weird.

"Like you have a better idea," Stiles teases back

To that, the cop chuckles and leans forward to whisper conspiratorially. “Between you and me?” he says, right in Stiles ear like some fucking creep, and Derek’s fist clenches. “That old crone with the cart full of bean cans said she saw tentacles.

Stiles’ breaths are heavy as the deputy leans back to smirk at him, and he says, “Tentacles, huh? Think she’s a fan of certain types of Japanese animation?”

The Deputy throws his head back, laughing deep and loud, and places a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles, who looks ready to burst with pride because he made the other guy laugh, and Derek doesn’t know why he feels the urge to put his fist through a wall. It’s just. Stiles is a kid. Derek is overtly aware that Stiles is seventeen years old and—Whatever, it’ll heal.

___

The third time, it’s after the Kraken has been messily executed from the sewers of their fine city (read: Derek never wants to know where Scott and Stiles got some C4 and enough mountain ash to surround a tank) and they’re catching their breaths with a meal a Scott’s house. It’s actually breakfast, since they were up all night, and he got a text invitation before crashing on his couch for a few hours. So he’s slightly late, he still gets there in time to catch Stiles reclined rudely on one of Melissa’s kitchen chairs with his stupid chin tilted back and his stupid beauty-marked skin all up on show like it’s nothing.

"He played midfielder in college lacrosse," Stiles is saying, before stabbing four fingers into his sternum. "I’m a midfielder. It’s like, meant to be. Granted, I always wanted to play attack, but—”

"I played attack," Derek finds himself saying, as all heads at the table turn to him. They offer genial greetings and before he knows it he’s being shoved into a chair right beside where Stiles is lounging and there’s a plate of more meat than he’s seen in a month placed in front of him. Stiles rolls his head to squint at him. “Really?”

Derek nods, picking up a slice of bacon to chew on. With the way Isaac’s inhaling his own food like a stray cat, he guesses table manners aren’t exactly a must. 

"Huh."

Derek scowls, because he has no idea what that means.

"Who are you talking about, anyway? Your little crush?"

Lydia lets out a soft laugh. “Like he talks about anything else.

"He’s too old for you," Derek grunts, and, shit - Stiles looks indignant.

"He’s twenty-seven, dude, and I’m eighteen in like nine months. My parents were like eight years apart," he says, like it’s been rehearsed, before throwing up a dismissive hand. "And anyway, like I give a shit about stuff like that."

There’s a swoop of something in Derek’s chest, and he takes a forkful of scrambled egg and chews it like it’s pained him.

"He seems like an asshole." Derek has no idea where this is coming from, and he hates the way he sounds, like— like he’s—

"You’ve never even talked to him," Stiles retorts, brow creasing.

"Don’t need to. He has the look."

"What the hell does that mean?" he asks, raising a brow, before sitting back and looking to the ceiling dreamily. "His eyes are like forest moss and seafoam."

Isaac laughs until he chokes and Lydia sighs so hard she whistles.

And all Derek can petulantly think is my eyes are green, too.

___


The last time is when there’s a party for the sheriff’s return to work. There’s dry cake and a couple balloons and Derek’s not sure why his presence was needed, but Melissa was kind of adamant and she scares him a little, so..

There’s also the fact that Stiles is there, and Derek’s kind of past the point of pretending that seeing him isn’t some kind of bargaining chip anymore.

Of course he’s there, talking to his favourite deputy like he’s the only one in the room, and Derek almost puts his elbow in the tiramisu when trying to appear like he’s not listening in. The sheriff’s eyes are on him the whole time, and he’s gonna act casual, dammit.

It’s for nothing, though, when the receptionist, Claire, decides to enquire about everything from where he’s been for the past four months to whether he’s seeing anyone right now. The next he’s aware, Stiles is walking past him, fixing a glare that would melt steel his way, and Derek has no freaking idea what he’s done.

He finds him in the parking lot, pacing like he’s about to start flipping tables, and Derek barely gets a question out of his mouth before Stiles rounds on him.

"You! You fucking— I was fine, okay? You were gone, and I was fine, and whatever that was, before, with you and me… it was over,” he says, chest heaving, and Derek has never been so confused in his life. “It was probably one-sided anyway, because, let’s face it, these things always are with me, and I was dealing." His jaw hardens. "And then you came back, and I was like hey, it’s fine, I’ve kind of moved on, and I’ve even been noticing other people, so it’s no big deal…”

Derek takes a step forward and holds his hands out, about to urge Stiles to calm down, but he gets cut off.

"But you. Even when you’re not— when we’re not—” he lets out a grunt as he kicks at the front tyre of a parked cruiser, before turning to glare at Derek. “I could take it, okay, that you’re not… into me, or whatever. But it’s not—” he lets out a sigh, and Derek’s head is swimming. “I asked him out, alright? And you know what he said?” He pauses, as if Derek’s going to answer, but all he can do is widen his eyes.

God, Stiles is… stunning, when he’s angry.

"He said he couldn’t date his boss’s son, especially not as young as me, which, okay, I get that, but then. Then. He says he doesn’t want to get involved with jealous exes.” He lets out a dry laugh, humourless. “He was talking about you. You! Like we’ve ever— like you’d ever—”

"I would ever," Derek blurts, before he can think better of it, and Stiles jaw clamps shut for possibly the first time since birth. "With— I wish I was."

There’s a squint, and then Stiles says, confused, “You wish you were my ex?”

Derek closes his eyes, shaking his head. He’s so fucking unprepared for this. “No, that’s— I meant—” he lets out a breath.

Stiles’ eyes run over his face, searching for the lie, looking for the joke, and when it’s not presenting itself, he cocks his head.

"You’re fucking with me."

Derek swallows, and croaks out a 'no'. Stiles takes a step forward.

"And the age thing?"

"I’m twenty-three. And I— you said it didn’t matter." God, he sounds like he’s begging. Maybe he is.

Stiles shakes his head, the ghost of a smirk playing on the corner of those fucking lips. Derek stares at it like he’s willing it to go away.

"And have… have you ever wanted to become a sheriff’s deputy?"

Derek raises a single eyebrow, and it coaxes out a laugh - genuine, happy, amused, like it never was with him.

"Thank god," he breathes, before grabbing Derek’s face and kissing him like he’s been dying for it. Derek can only grunt and try to catch up, because Stiles is always four steps ahead of him and his heart’s hammering so hard he’s pretty sure he’s in shock, but the lips on his are soft and needy and perfect, and Stiles tastes like crappy cake and a whole lot of possibilities.

It’s moments - no, minutes - later, when there’s a clearing of a throat behind them, and they part to take in Deputy Parrish, arms folded, with a knowing glint in his gaze. 

Okay, so his eyes are kind of striking.

"When you’re done having your romantic revelation, the boss told me to 'pull his son off the Hale kid' and tell you guys to quit skipping out on his party."

Derek dips his head, face heating up, but Stiles takes his hand, beaming, and he supposes he doesn’t really feel that embarrassed after all.