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“Let’s get out of here,” Stiles whispered, leaning close enough that his nose was almost brushing the soft skin of Derek’s cheek.

When Derek’s eyes flicked to Stiles’, they looked more hazel than green in the candlelight, like the deep woods on a sunny day, shadows and sunlight all at once. Stiles’ breath caught a little, the usual rush coming over him, the heart-thumping feeling that sometimes swept over him like a strong wind.

Derek’s answering nod was so small it was almost imperceptible, and Stiles slipped from the high table, not sparing another glance for the drunken crowd packed into the great hall.

Disappearing from a feast was easy for Stiles, because he was largely a nobody. He was the youngest prince of a small, poor kingdom to the north, sent to Beacon at twelve as a physical symbol of the alliance between Stiles' family and the Hales. He was slightly less valuable than a marriage alliance; at best, he was a friend to the throne and at worst, a hostage. The Hales were lenient, though, and most days he was not much of anything at all: just another member of court, more awkward and improper than most, without much influence to his name but the promise of his family’s continued fealty to a much larger nation.

Except…

Except with Derek, it was different.

In the private library, it was quiet and dim, only a few sconces and a dying fire left unattended at this late hour. Stiles ducked back to the far back corner, where it was even more quiet and more dim, lit more by moonlight than candle flame. The sofa in his usual corner was extra soft and broken in, though, deep and wide enough for two bodies to lay side by side. He sorted through the books left stacked on a table beside his couch, dug through a drawer for a handful of ginger candies wrapped in little wax papers, and settled in to wait. He didn’t bother to count the minutes or listen for the grandfather clock that struck the hour beside the librarian’s desk, because he knew it’d be a long while. Given the chance, the clock would only drive him crazy.

Because if Stiles was invisible, Derek was anything but. He was handsome and strong, a polyglot with a taste for exotic novels, recently victorious in battle against his throne-thief of an uncle. Even when he’d been the spare and not the heir, he’d caught the eye of the court with his sheer everything. With the long series of tragedies that had rocked the court over the last few years—the failed Krasikeva alliance, the murder of Queen Talia and King Consort Samuel at the hands of the Argents, the war, and Laura, and Peter, and everything that followed—Derek had become the sun the whole court revolved around.

And tomorrow was his coronation.

Stiles had read three chapters when he felt the first little prickle of awareness at the back of his neck. He glanced over the top of his book, scanning from left to right, lingering in the corners and trying to see what was beyond the tall, tall shelves.

He paused for a moment, peering into a particularly dark corner, squinting. He waited.

All of a sudden, there was a short flare of glowing red, and Stiles cracked a smile. It wasn’t the same brilliant blue he was used to, but it was still perfect all the same.

“Hey, sourwolf,” he said, dropping his book as Derek stepped out of the dark and into the moonlight. It didn’t matter that Stiles had been at Derek’s side for most of the evening, the sight of Derek dressed up as the king made Stiles’ belly clench. Looking at him now—splashed with moonlight, kaleidoscope hazel-green eyes, broad shoulders and a warrior’s body, all predatory and preternatural grace—Stiles sometimes wondered how the whole kingdom didn’t know that Derek Hale was more than mere human. Stiles could always see the wolf, the way it moved under the human. “You took so long I thought maybe your nose stopped working.”

Close enough now to touch, Derek reached down and plucked up one of the empty wrappers from Stiles’ lap. “I could smell the ginger as soon as I left the feast,” he said. “Move over.”

Stiles tried to set aside his book and an overflowing handful of empty wrappers all at once, squashing himself into the side of the sofa, and mostly made a mess of it all until Derek bodily heaved him over. Then Derek’s big body was pressed all along his side, warm like standing too close to the fire, the scent of the forest always on his skin. All of it made Stiles dizzy.

Stiles tipped his face up and when Derek kissed him, it tasted like marzipan and red wine, warm and slow-moving. Derek kissed with a raw hunger but moved as slow as honey, licking into Stiles’ mouth with the well-earned and languid ease of having shared a thousand and one kisses before. He kissed with his whole body, his hands moving over Stiles’ back and chest and down to his hips, urging him closer together until they were practically one body, curled up on the couch. It was aimless kissing, kissing without an end, kissing only for the sheer pleasure of sharing.

Derek finally brushed their mouths together one last time, breathing in deeply against Stiles’ bare throat before pulling away. His eyes were even darker. Derek’s thick black hair was a mess now, practically ruined. His fine shirt was unbuttoned far enough down that Stiles could see the dark, coarse hair curling against his chest. “There you are,” Stiles said.

“You had to kiss me to be sure?” Derek asked, one thick, dark brow arching, an in-born imperiousness Stiles remembered from when they were twelve and sixteen and forever bothering each other.

Stiles touched the tips of his fingers to the warm flush on Derek’s cheek, skimming down until he hit Derek’s dark beard, trimmed short and neat. He dropped his hand. “It’s different when it’s just us,” he murmured. “I’m going to have to share you even more.”

The truth was that Stiles had always had to share Derek, and as they'd gotten older and the Hales had been mercilessly culled, Derek’s responsibilities had only grown. Yet, for some reason, the coronation felt like the end of an era to Stiles, even though Derek had been king in every way but ceremony since he’d clawed out Peter’s throat a month ago.

“I couldn’t get rid of you when I was sixteen, I doubt you’re going to get lost now,” Derek said, settling on his back. It was true—over the last six years, they’d gone from irritating each other to reluctant friends and allies, from living in each other’s pockets to hidden kisses and long nights in Stiles’ overlooked chambers. Stiles found himself tugged even closer against Derek’s side, one of Derek’s big shoulders a bulky pillow. It was a habit to lay his hand over Derek’s heart, to feel the reassurance of that strong, steady pulse against his palm. Derek’s eyes were closed, and up close like this, Stiles could see how tired Derek looked, the skin soft and creased around his eyes, his skin tan from hours of training and yet still somehow wan.

When Derek spoke, he was quiet. “We should marry.”

At that, all of the words inside Stiles imploded into an absolute silence. He didn’t know what to say or do. It was not exactly a proposal, but it was close enough that Stiles felt overwhelmed at the idea of it. Derek seemed calm enough, one hand still rubbing up and down Stiles’ back in a soothing motion.

“What?” he finally asked. “Derek, do you know what you just said? Marry you?”

“Yes. I know what I said, Stiles.”

Derek’s nonchalance only made Stiles splutter more, a thousand thoughts bubbling together into an incomprehensible muck. “You can’t marry me! I’m the worst choice. For one, there’s no strategic value to marrying a prince from Gajos—and if there were, I’d have been betrothed to you or Cora years ago. We have nothing to offer Beacon. I’m not even good at being a prince! I just convinced you to sneak out of your own feast. I don’t like talking to anyone in court, and half the council members hate me. And besides that… well, I don’t need to tell you I can’t give you children. A woman would be a better choice, given… everything.”

Derek opened his eyes a little, looking down his nose at Stiles because they were so close together. Any other time, and Stiles would laugh at Derek being so cross eyed. “I don’t care about strategy or heirs. I know you,” Derek said.

“Oh, well, that’s a good reason,” Stiles said sharply. “You know plenty of people. Thanks for picking me, I guess.”

Making a frustrated noise, Derek sat up, tugging Stiles with him. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Well, please, by all means. Enlighten me.”

A muscle jumped in Derek’s jaw—he was grinding his teeth. Stiles could almost see the alpha red bleeding through his eyes. “You know me. You’re good for me. I wouldn’t even be here without you. Why would I want anyone else?”

Stiles pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, keeping the pressure up until white starbursts bloomed behind his lids. “You’re not listening to me, Derek.”

Thick hands wrapped around Stiles’ wrists, tugging his hands away. Derek didn’t say anything, but he stared at Stiles, like he was waiting for Stiles to read his mind. It was a strange, tense impasse, and it only ended with a growl, a harsh, bitten-off sound from Derek’s mouth. Derek let go of Stiles’ hands and left the library faster than Stiles could even get up off the sofa, the door slamming shut even as Stiles struggled to his feet.

 


 

Stiles eventually wound his dazed way up to his room in a far, forgotten edge of the palace. It was deep into the night by the time he’d fallen into a light, fitful sleep. He kept waking at the slightest sounds, each time finding his covers a ruin from all his tossing and turning.

He finally woke to the sound of claws on his window, the scrape of the pane swinging out. A dark shape slipped into his room with familiar grace, and Stiles flopped his bedsheets open. “Come on in, sourwolf,” he muttered, voice all hoarse.

Derek was on him in an instant. He had the smell of the forest on his skin; his skin was sweaty and hot and his clothes were clammy and damp. Stiles pried at Derek’s layers, easing them off, and Derek did the same to Stiles’, leaving them bare, tucked up together in a cocoon of linen and wool.

This—this was familiar and easy. Derek’s body was broader and stronger, his thick, dark hair warm and ticklish against Stiles’ chest and belly, against his thighs and legs. The solidness of Derek’s body, the heavy weight of all that muscle, the sheer stubborn force of Derek dragging Stiles closer and closer, all of it anchored Stiles when it seemed like his head could float away on a raincloud of worries.

Thick fingers petted through the hair at the back of Stiles’ neck. Then Derek sighed against his hair, deep and a little shuddery. Stiles held his breath, waiting to see if Derek would say anything, but he never did.

They fell asleep in silence, and woke in silence a few short hours later to the slow creep of a yellow dawn. It was hot under the sheets, bodies sticking together.

Derek would need to leave soon, to slip back to his own room and let himself be readied for his coronation. Stiles blinked at the light pouring through his cracked window, and wrapped his arms around the big arm pinning him in place, burrowing backwards against Derek’s chest.

Instead of leaving with the sun, Derek inhaled along Stiles’ hairline, kissing the ticklish skin behind Stiles’ ear. He scraped his beard over the back of Stiles’ neck, big hands chafing over Stiles’ chest, ribs, belly, all the way down to his cock. Stiles was pliant and hungry, but Derek was like molten marble surging against him, cock hot and silky, leaking wetly against the crease of Stiles’ ass.

“Let me,” Derek said after pressing a bruising kiss high on the side of Stiles’ neck. A broad hand was prying Stiles’ thighs apart already, cock slotting in between.

“Yes,” Stiles quickly agreed, wanting whatever he could have.

Stiles breathed low and fast while Derek spit and got himself wet, so wet Stiles could hear it. The tip of Derek’s cock nudged up against the back of Stiles’ balls and Stiles closed his thighs up tight, squeezing and shuddering around the sensation of Derek taking his body this way.

Derek’s groans were all familiar, the harsh sound of his breath at Stiles’ neck and shoulder, the way he held onto Stiles and held him desperately in place. Stiles just let himself be jostled by the force of Derek rutting against him, too overwhelmed to do more than gasp wetly into his pillow, wrapping a shaking hand around his dick, squeezing the sensitive glans.

It was over faster than Stiles could even understand. Derek’s hands would leave bruises behind with the way he was yanking on his body, he could just tell, already imagining the blue fingerprints that would linger. Over the rush of blood in his ears, he could make out the animalistic sounds Derek was making, almost pained. Stiles’ fist was moving tight and fast on his own cock and Derek’s was wet and impossibly huge between his thighs, thrusting faster, the rhythm slowly losing itself.

Blunt teeth marked Stiles’ shoulder, and then Derek was coming, thick and too hot, over Stiles’ thighs, the back of his balls. Stiles felt the spasm and tremor and he came into his fist even as his shoulder throbbed, Derek’s come dripping from between his legs, making a mess of the sheets.

For a long moment, there was nothing but the way the body lingered in pleasure after coming: chests shuddering with breath and little shivers wracking them both. Everything was golden with morning light, sheets kicked away and bodies sinking into the mess they’d made of the bed. A hot exhale at Stiles’ ear and the feel of the dark, coarse hair on Derek’s arm and the back of his hand, tickling the palm Stiles had wrapped around Derek’s wrist.

But the real world was stirring: there were sounds out in the courtyard now, servants that had risen well before the sun to truss the whole palace up like a goose, ready for Derek to kneel as a prince, for the crown to be lowered onto his dark, bent head, for him to rise, taller than ever, a king.

Derek twisted his hand in Stiles’ grip, and then suddenly they were palm to palm, fingers locked together, squeezing. Stiles closed his eyes against the rising sun and the feelings bubbling up inside of his chest, burning behind his eyes.

“You’re going to be a good king,” Stiles finally said, opening his eyes. Derek’s grip tightened on his hand, and then there was a bitter sigh heaved against Stiles’ neck. “You probably ought to get back.”

They untangled uneasily, bodies sticky and damp and reluctant. Derek was silent, but there was something angry crackling through him, the very hugeness of him magnified. Stiles lay in bed and watched Derek loom over him, dressing quickly as slanting light fell through the window over his body.

Finally, Derek bent over the bed and cupped Stiles’ face in his hands, lifting his face up for a kiss, one that went on and on and on, a devouring kiss that left Stiles trembling.

“Stiles,” Derek said. It almost sounded like a plea, but Stiles didn’t know what Derek was asking for.

“I’ll see you today,” Stiles said. “You’ll be perfect.”

Derek climbed through the window again, and when Stiles hurried to watch him go, he saw a streaking black figure running on four legs, disappearing into the thick woods bordering the river.

 


 

Later, Stiles took his time wandering towards the throne room and all the ceremony. He lingered, tracing his way through his years spent in this castle. The courtyard, where a seventeen year old Derek would train and a twelve year old Stiles would watch with a strange, yawning hunger in his belly. Stiles stopped in the kitchens to pilfer a pocketful of ginger candies, and thought about how often Stiles and Derek had found each other here in the middle of the night after the death of the king and the queen. They would perch at the edge of the giant kitchen hearth, drinking milky and weak tea, sweetened with heaps of sugar, bodies listing towards each other, mugs tipping as they fell asleep in a pile like puppies. There was a huge fountain, visible from the hall windows, where Stiles and Derek spent an entire summer attempting to push each other in. Only once did Stiles manage to tip Derek’s huge body into the water, and the resulting chase was more than worth the sight of an enraged Derek emerging from the pool, dripping wet and snarling, blue eyes flaring. The library where they traded books and read until their eyes blurred and they fell asleep together on the rugs, the chairs, the sofa. There was a memory for every big and little room, window, corner, closet, nook and cranny in this palace.

When Stiles had half an hour before the ceremony was due to start, he took a detour through the garden. It was a small, private garden on a far side of the palace, mostly open to the Hales and their guests. Walking through it was always a bit of an exercise in getting a little helplessly lost, which is probably why Derek and Stiles had always liked it: Stiles, because he liked nooks and crannies, and Derek because he didn’t care for the crowds at court. Greenery grew up thick and tall, vines artfully climbing statues and stone walls, flowers blooming in thick, colorful profusions, decorative grasses growing taller than Stiles’ head and swaying in his wake as he walked deeper along the gravel path.

When he reached the middle of the garden, Stiles crawled behind the big pink rose bush, thorns tugging at his dark red jacket, and thought about nearly two years ago, when Derek had touched his cheek, his chin, tipping Stiles’ face gently upwards, urging him upwards until they were kissing for the first time—so soft, soft and sweet. They had been hiding behind the rose bush then, too.

Now, a couple years bigger than he’d been at sixteen, Stiles felt squashed behind the rose bush, with his back pressed up against a statue of one of Derek’s long-passed and mythologized ancestors, arms loosely linked around his pulled-up knees. Stiles had only half an ear listening to the clock tower—he’d wait for the quarter-hour to toll and wander into the great hall. Hopefully Cora would save him a seat, but even if she didn’t, Stiles knew all the little side doors that would easily grant him a good view. He wanted to be able to see it when the crown was lowered down onto Derek’s head, and Derek was more than capable of knowing where he was in a crowd.

Stiles was just beginning to pick at a loose bronze thread on his jacket, tiny triskelions embroidered around the cuffs of his jacket. It had been a gift from Derek, made with the finest, softest wool Stiles had ever felt. There were also secret pockets tucked in here and there, because Derek enjoyed Stiles’ little pilfering of everything from candy from the kitchens, to sensitive correspondence moving through the court—like when Peter had attempted his coup and everything had been in bloody shambles, fear reigning supreme and brutality marking the hours. Stiles and Derek had put their lives in each others’ hands a number of times in those terrible days.

But that was months ago, and now Derek’s ascension to the throne was about to be formalized, and Stiles was sitting behind a rose bush, feeling wistful and stupid.

The rose bush gave a great shudder and rustle, and then Derek was there, crawling on his hands and knees on the crushed gravel to fit his broad body back there. He was half-dressed in fine black wool but no jacket, hair perfectly combed back. He slipped gracefully into the crevice of space beside Stiles, smelling of musky cologne and clean skin.

“I want you to marry me,” Derek said, tucking his hand into the space between Stiles’ pulled up leg and his belly. He looked right at Stiles with his hazel green eyes seeming extra pale in the daylight. Derek’s hand tightened on Stiles’ leg. “I love you.”

Stiles thought about the soft, tired skin around Derek’s eyes—how tired Derek looked last night and now. He also thought of what Derek would look dozens of years from now, older and more experienced, well into his unexpected rule. That tired skin would wrinkle; crinkles would frame his beautiful eyes when he smiled, perhaps at the children he’d need to have now that he had a succession to secure. Stiles sighed, thinking of it, and his shoulders sagged.

“When we were younger, I used to hope…” Stiles began, drawing circles on the back of Derek’s broad hand. “I suppose I had hoped we could marry. You weren’t really in line for the throne, and I might not have been important, but it had seemed like I would’ve been a safe choice. Inoffensive to your other allies.” Stiles swallowed hard, pushing away the daydreams he’d had at thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Dreams of a life at some country estate—walks in the fields, naps in the library, dinners out on the lawn, a lifetime of marriage away from the tedious poison of court, the litany of violence that had stalked the Hales. “You know it wouldn’t be the same now.”

Derek audibly bit back a sound of frustration, and Stiles felt a pang of guilt. It wasn’t like Derek to talk so openly. His life had taught him to hold everything close inside, where nothing could be used against him. Yet Derek kept pushing on.

“I’m the king,” Derek argued. “It doesn’t matter.”

Stiles pinched Derek’s arm in exasperation, not that it was anything more than a tickle to Derek’s thick hide. “You know that’s not how it works.”

“Think about the last few years, Stiles. I wouldn’t be alive without you. I’d be rotting in a hole somewhere, not about to be late to my own coronation.” As if Derek had summoned them, the bells began to ring the quarter-hour, and Derek was here, half-dressed and not nearly ready for a ceremony due to begin in fifteen minutes’ time.

“That’s my point,” Stiles argued. “You can make a better match. It’s good statecraft, Derek, to make a match with a woman from a country we need an alliance with. Marrying me would be bad statecraft. Besides, you have to know I’m not going anywhere.”

Derek, who’d simply been holding Stiles’ lean thigh in his hand, suddenly pinched Stiles’ inner thigh, making him yelp. That had been dangerously close to rather sensitive parts of his anatomy. “Don’t do that, you ass!” Stiles hissed, and Derek’s eyes went red in response. His smile suddenly showed far, far too many teeth. Stiles breathed in sharply, heartbeat galloping and—

Like a wolf playing with a vole, Derek pounced, toppling Stiles over onto the gravel. The whole rose bush trembled over and around them, leaves rustling indignantly. Derek wrapped his arms around Stiles and grinned, satisfied, as Stiles squirmed and struggled in his outrageous iron grip.

“Stop arguing with me,” Derek commanded, raising his thick brows.

“You’re stupid, and you’d be throwing away the throne if— Look, if things were different, I’d marry you. You know I would. You know I—you know I love you, Derek. But you’re going to be king.”

Derek was quiet looking down at Stiles with only a handful of inches between their faces. The leaves were casting rippling shadows over them, and the shifting light played fantastically over Derek’s hazel eyes, clear, glassy green and then forest-dark again and again. He looked perfect.

“Stop making me refuse you,” Stiles finally pleaded.

Derek did not reply right away, but he did bend his head and kiss Stiles’ neck above the collar of his shirt, the touch of his mouth warm and tender. “You’re stubborn,” Derek finally said. “You think you know everything. It’s half of why I love you.” He kissed Stiles on the mouth, then, much sweeter than the rose scent blooming around them. “But you forget yourself,” he murmured against Stiles’ ear, before moving up to kiss Stiles’ temple. “I’m just as stubborn, and I won’t let you go until you tell me yes.”

Scoffing, Stiles tried to knee Derek and barely managed to shift his leg at all. As an alpha, Derek was strong in a way Stiles couldn’t even wrap his head around. Stiles flushed, and it was everything at once: anger and arousal, stubborn frustration and annoyance, and always, always, the heart-jolting sensation of loving someone more than anything else. “What, and I suppose you’ll let us starve to death out here?”

That earned Stiles an eye roll. “I’ll sling you over my shoulder and cart you into the kitchens, feed you, and take you right back out here.”

“You’d let me freeze to death? It’s getting colder at night now.”

“I’d wear my fur and curl up around you.”

“And if I got sick?”

“I’d howl until Deaton came to fix you.”

Stiles’ arms were still trapped by his sides, but he was able to tap his fingers against his thighs in an annoyed and impatient rhythm as he thought. He was flustered at the easy, sweet sincerity of Derek’s answers. “And when I get bored? When I annoy you because I can’t sit still?”

“We can keep each other plenty entertained,” Derek argued, sweeping his gaze lower down Stiles’ body. “And someone will bring us books.”

Another attempt at bucking Derek off got Stiles no further than a wiggle. “You can’t just rule from behind a rose bush!” Stiles all but shouted, his voice going embarrassingly high. The rose bush quaked in disapprobation again.

Derek grinned, again with far too many teeth. He was hideously smug, and Stiles, heaven help him, adored him like that, carefree and proud. It was the way he’d been at seventeen, when they’d first met and their responsibilities seemed few and far between. “I won’t,” Derek answered.

Excuse me?”

“I won’t rule without you. Say you’ll marry me, or I swear, I’ll leave this palace and never come back.”

“Are you trying to undo all my work on your behalf!” Stiles hissed. “Do you think I risked everything for you to throw it away? Over this?

“Stiles,” Derek said. “Marry me.”

“No!” Stiles said.

Derek let go of him, but in less than a heartbeat, his hands were cupping Stiles’ face. Derek kissed him like he was pouring himself into Stiles, body and soul.

“Marry me,” Derek said as soon as the kiss broke, leaning their foreheads together. He sounded hoarse. Their faces were so close, the kaleidoscope colors of Derek’s eyes blurred.

When he spoke, Stiles was barely able to whisper. He squeezed his eyes closed. “Yes,” he finally managed. “Yes.”

 


 

When the bells tolled the hour, the King of Beacon was nowhere to be found. The gathered crowd in the great hall weren’t unused to the wait of court—nothing ever truly started on time, not even coronations. Besides, with this many people in the same room, waiting, there was plenty to do without the king. They schemed and gossiped, scheduled assignations and business meetings, trips to the country were floated amongst friends, and the possible delicacies of the feast were pondered.

Yet as the minutes dragged on, a half hour lengthening into an hour, impatience and unease slithered through the crowd. With the upheaval of the last few years, it was easy for imagination and rumors to run wild. Seemingly all at once, the crowd was certain something had gone wrong—though what, exactly, none could agree.

The whispers grew to a dull roar when a footman emerged from a servant’s door, and moments later, Princess Cora and the Bishop swept from the room in a swirl of finery, disappearing into an antechamber. Another Hale dead, the crowd mused, reacting in every way from pleased to panicked. The bishop would be putting the crown on Cora’s head instead, and no one quite knew what to think about the last Hale, a fifteen year old girl, with a crown on her untried and untrained head. Wagers were made. Handkerchiefs dabbed at tears.

Finally, the bishop emerged again, standing on the dais. He straightened his robes, shuffling.

“It would seem,” he announced over the tense hush, “that there has been a change of plans.”

 


 

Stiles reached up, touching one of the fine gold leaves that made up Derek’s crown, the shine of it sun-bright against Derek’s dark hair. He looked godlike. “I can’t believe you,” he said, fond and pleased all at once.

Derek didn’t say anything—he didn’t have to—but reached over and tweaked one of the gold points of Stiles’ consort crown. Derek’s smile was small, but blinding in its own way, and Stiles laid his cheek against Derek’s shoulder. The wool tickled his nose, but Stiles inhaled the sunlit forest scent that always clung to Derek. For the first time in what felt like lifetimes, Stiles felt a steady warm contentment wrap its way around him like a great, thick blanket, sinking all the way into his bones and very being.

The contentment was so warm, in fact, that Stiles barely noticed that it was much colder at night now, especially sitting on a marble bench out in the garden with their rosebush at their backs. After a couple of courses, Derek and Stiles had managed to escape from their own overwhelming feast, a dizzyingly outlandish celebration of an unexpected wedding and dual coronation. The attention alone had made Stiles want to hide behind Derek’s broad shoulders, to absorb some of whatever had allowed Derek to learn and grow, shifting into his role as king in the same way he’d learned to shift into a wolf.

“I feel like a thousand things have happened all at once,” Stiles said. “I can barely fit it all in my head.”

A warm, heavy arm wrapped itself around Stiles’ shoulder, drawing him in even closer. “A lot of bad things,” Derek finally said. He was looking up at the silvery pinprick stars, the fat and heavy moon, and Stiles knew Derek was thinking of his own family, so far gone away the ache would never stop. “But a lot of good, too.”

Derek looked down at him, eyes glowing an ember-red, and Stiles felt his heart skip a beat, like it always did when Derek looked at him like that. Stiles inhaled the scent of roses.

“What’s next then?” Stiles said.

“First, I’ll kiss you,” Derek said, lowering his head until they were sharing air, their mouths almost, almost touching. “And then… everything else.”

And then, not for the first time nor the last, King Derek kissed his consort beside the roses, more in love than ever, but not so half as in love as they’d be in the years to come. They kissed not in the leaves and thorns, but under the moon—but still, they could smell the pink bloom of roses, and they knew then that they always would.