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Gods and Monsters

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It was a truly unfortunate day already—all thunder and lightning and morbidly humid air—before Cora came bursting into the study, brandishing a letter like a battle flag.

“What is that?” Laura groaned.

“A letter. From the Stilinski Kingdom. King Stilinski wants to send his son.”

Laura lurched to her feet. “Give me that,” she barked. She snatched the paper from Cora’s hand and scanned it quickly. “Oh, god.”

King Nathaniel Stilinski and his late wife, Queen Claudia Stilinski, had made a betrothal agreement nineteen years ago with Laura’s parents, an effort to ally their kingdoms through marriage. Their son would be married to the Hale’s third child, Derek, when the boy turned eighteen.

After most of the Hales had perished in a fire, King Stilinski had declared them in mourning and offered them respite from the contract.

Nine years had passed in silence. The Crown Prince Stilinski would be twenty now.

It would be more proper for Derek to go to the Stilinski kingdom, since, if they married, he would go there to live, but, King Nathaniel explained in his letter, he understood that the Hales would feel more secure all together, and at home.

“Cora,” Laura choked. “Go. Go find Derek.”

What?” she gasped. “You can’t be serious!”

“I am! We have to be, with Argents lurking at our borders, testing our strength. If you haven’t noticed, our armies barely have the strength for border patrol.” Laura’s nostrils flared. “So go get Derek and bring him to my rooms. On your way out, send Deaton. Now!”

Cora snarled and turned on her heel, slamming the door behind her.

Laura pressed her hands to her eyes.

After she’d spoken to Deaton about preparing the castle, Laura swept up to her quarters.

Cora was just stepping out, belting a silk robe she’d pilfered from Laura’s closet. She rolled her eyes when Laura raised her brows. “It was the only way I could get him to follow me.”

She sighed. “Fine. Go get people to clean up the place. I’m going to send a reply to His Majesty as soon as possible.”

“And what do you plan to do about him?” Cora demanded, jerking her thumb over her shoulder.

“Hopefully talk some sense into him,” Laura muttered.

“Uh-huh. And Uncle Peter?”

“Cora, is there something you want to say? We’re short on time.”

“I want to know why you’re agreeing to this.”

“Because we need them, Cora!” She ran her hands through her hair, tugging at the ends. “I’m not—agreeing to anything. This will just be a meet and greet now that they’re adults. If he—if Derek can’t…get himself together…” Laura inhaled. “You can always marry him. We can try to get them to change the agreement.”

What?

“What else do you want me to do, Cora?” Laura snapped. “What else is there? We have nothing compared to the Argents.”

Cora growled as she stalked away.

Laura indulged herself in one loud snarled. Then she collected herself and pushed open the door.

She was disappointed but unsurprised to find cotton fluff and shreds of sheets and blankets scattered room from the bedroom to the sitting room.

“Derek…” Laura sighed and crouched, plucking sadly at a blouse, torn to shreds and covered in black fur besides.

After scanning the room, she located Derek; he’d wedged himself under her bed. His black coat was littered with white cotton and red bed sheet bits.

“Oh, Derek.”

His lip lifted, muzzle wrinkling in a frightened snarl.

Laura’s eyes flashed as she snarled back.

Derek’s flashed gold in response, and he whimpered, crawling out from under the bed on his belly.

He paced away from her, fur bristling as he grumbled and growled.

“Be quiet,” she snapped. “Look, I know you’re in there…somewhere.” She looked into his eyes and felt her heart drop a little when all she saw was animal confusion. “We need to do this. You met him before. He was a baby at the time, and you were four. I was nine.” Her lips trembled when he continued to look confused.

“Derek,” she said quietly, “we need you. We’re struggling.”

He blinked slowly, once. A ripple went over his fur, from nose to tail. A pained whimper came from his muzzle, which was collapsing in on itself.

Laura gave a shuddering gasp. “Derek!”

For the first time in nine years, her little brother sat before her, fully human.

He skittered away when she tried to hug him, baring his teeth.

So…mostly human.

 

The process of cleaning Derek took the rest of the afternoon. Laura wouldn’t let anyone else wrestle with him, worried someone would get hurt.

She had to lock him in her bathroom so she could send a hastily written reply to the Stilinski kingdom. She returned to find Derek in the towel cupboard.

“When you’re you again, you so owe me,” Laura grunted, pulling on his arm.

He followed her to the vanity and sat when she pushed on his shoulders. She had to cut his hair, which he didn’t like.

Trimming his facial hair was even harder, because she was afraid, with his wiggling, she would cut him.

“Derek, just sit still, please.”

He grumbled at her but stilled enough for her to finish.

After getting the twigs and leaves out of his hair, there was the matter of his clothes, namely his lack thereof. He was bigger than he had been at fifteen, so Laura had to get a tailor.

“Cora, please help me keep him still,” she snarled, holding Derek in place as much as possible.

Apparently tame alpha strength had nothing on the desperate, feral need to stay away from strangers.

Derek snapped at the tailor, whose eyes flashed gold in response.

She kept her composure beyond that, though, measuring him and dodging his teeth as best she could. She ended up with a few rips in her blouse and some bloodstains, but she was mostly intact.

“I’ll have some things ready for him in a week and a half. A few casual things will be sent before then.”

Laura grimaced. “Alright. Thank you.”

A week and a half was only just enough time to get him dressed before the Crown Prince arrived.

Cora, from the door, laughed. “Good luck with that.”

Laura whirled on her. “Listen to me. You are going to help me whether you like it or not.” When Cora tipped her head, exposing her neck, Laura was satisfied enough to relax her tone. “Do you want to teach him table manners?”

“No,” Cora sneered.

“Fine,” Laura said smugly. “You’re on toilet training duty, then. Good luck.” She swept out while Cora was still sputtering.

 

In the end, forcing Derek to wear clean, if a bit too casual, clothes was the best they could do. He ate with his hands, and messily; he had gotten the hang of the toilet only because Cora and Laura were fierce about enforcing it. He didn’t speak beyond grumbling and growling. He had nightmares that sent him running to Laura’s room, or Cora’s, although that was rarer.

He seemed the most human in those moments, gasping and crying, stuttering over vowel sounds like he wanted to speak.

Laura hoped the crown prince was patient.

Chapter Text

Stiles fidgeted impatiently on the back of his horse. He couldn’t wait for the end of this journey, if only so he could stretch his legs.

“You could ride in your carriage, Your Highness,” Sir Isaac said pointedly. He must’ve noticed Stiles’s fidgeting.

“No, thanks,” he muttered. “And stop calling me that. It’s bad enough that I’m going to have to hear it from my fiancé the entire trip.”

“He isn’t technically your fiancé yet,” Isaac offered.

“He’s as good as,” Stiles mumbled. He shook himself and leaned forward to pat his mount’s neck. “Well, it’s a good match,” he admitted. “The Hale kingdom has boats and easy access to the ocean. It’ll expand our trade options, which is what Father wants. And they need our army.”

Dame Erica, his other personal guard, snorted. “They’re werewolves. What do they need our help for?”

“The Argent forces are huge, and they have weapons that are especially dangerous to werewolves. They don’t know what to make of us, which is good. Father wants to put a stop to Argent’s tyranny before it spreads past their borders and into ours. How long do you think it’ll take for them to find some strand of wolfsbane that will kill us?”

Erica scoffed, but she didn’t say anything else, which meant she was thinking about it.

Stiles had known all of his life that he would be engaged—and eventually married—to a man he’d never met. If things had gone the way they were supposed to, they would have met a few times over the years before their official engagement.

But that had been put on hold when Stiles was eleven, when the majority of the Hale family was killed in a fire in their summer home.

“We should be there by sunset, Your Highness,” a knight near the front said.

There were sixteen royal knights present, not including Erica and Isaac. Eight were from Stiles’s kingdom, and eight were from the Hales, an offer of protection that King Nathaniel had accepted. It would make the trip faster, too, having werewolf knights guiding them through territory they were familiar with.

“Oh, yay,” Stiles muttered.

“I’m sorry?” the knight asked, turning.

“I said my excitement cannot be contained.”

Erica laughed and Isaac shook his head.

 

The Hale palace was made of some sort of shiny gray stone that made it look like it was made of silver when the sunlight hit it. That struck Stiles as deeply ironic.

“Doesn’t look like a very warm home, does it?” he mumbled.

Erica shushed him.

Isaac looked scandalized by her nerve, but Stiles fell silent, if only because low level anxiety had seized his throat.

He would be meeting his future husband in mere minutes. He suddenly felt scruffy and underdressed, covered in dust from the road.

He looked, panicked, to Erica, who shrugged.

“You look fine,” she said. “Rugged and tough,” she added with a laughing wink.

Stiles groaned. He looked terrible.

 

The foyer of the Hale palace was well-lit and wide; one of the staff along the walls announced their arrival, and Queen Laura Hale emerged first.

Her appearance was so swift that Stiles could only assume she’d been waiting just out of sight.

“Prince Pr-”

“Stiles. Your Majesty,” he added quickly, and smiled sheepishly. “It’s Prince Stiles.”

Queen Laura’s brows raised. “Prince…Stiles.” She composed herself and smiled warmly. “Welcome, and thank you for coming. It is a great favor to us that you agreed to come here.”

“I’m honored that you’ll have me, Your Majesty.”

“Laura will suffice within the castle,” she said graciously.

“Then I insist you call me Stiles.” He smiled awkwardly, and, suddenly, the young queen let out an inelegant snort.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she gasped, pressing the back of her hand to her mouth and looking shocked. “I’ve been—busy, and I’m—so glad to see that you are not some pompous, spoiled princeling.” She looked even more appalled at herself.

Stiles grinned. “You haven’t gotten to know me yet.”

Laura sobered quickly at these words. “No, I haven’t, but I hope to. Family is…very important to us, Prince Stiles. I hope you’ll become part of ours.”

Oh. “I hope so, too.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of, where is Prince Derek?”

“He’ll be coming with our younger sister, Princess Cora.” She turned toward the staff that was waiting, silent, around them. “Please take our guests' belongings to their wing.”

Isaac and Erica stayed at Stiles’s sides while everyone else went to retrieve their luggage.

Laura stepped closer and kept her voice low. “I—I’m sure you’ll understand, but I thought I should warn you…My brother is somewhat fragile—since the death of our family, so—so if he acts…standoffish, please don’t take it personally.” Her eyes were so tired, strained around the edges.

Stiles thought of how he’d been after his mother’s death, and tried to expand the loss to his father and the McCalls. “I understand,” he said quietly.

“Thank you,” Laura sighed. She lifted a hand to set on his shoulder—before she made contact, a snarl echoed off the marble floors.

A gray blur flew at Stiles and nearly made contact.

Isaac’s sword zinged as he whipped it out; Erica jerked Stiles out of the way.

Laura’s palm smacked into the man’s bare chest, sending him flying into the hallway with an enraged yowl.

“Cora! I told you to keep him away until I could at least put my scent on the guests!” Laura cried. Her eyes were bright red with fury.

“Standoffish?” Stiles repeated numbly. “He might be standoffish?

Laura, her mouth pressed in a trembling line, turned to him. “He—he—strangers make him…nervous.”

Erica’s grip on Stiles’s arm was slick and cool as her temper got the better of her. “Nervous! He attacked out prince! That could be taken as an act of war, Your Majesty.

Laura drew herself up from her dejected slump. “I will not be accused of betrayal in my own home. My brother has some issues, as we all do, after our family was burned alive. I appreciate every effort King Nathaniel and Prince Stiles have made on our behalves to meet us halfway. I only ask for a little patience and understanding now.” Laura smoothed the sleeves of her jacket. “Now, if you would like, we’ve dinner ready in the dining room. Or, if you’d rather, I can have someone take you to your rooms.”

Stiles stared in the direction where she’d tossed his betrothed like a ragdoll. “Dinner would be appreciated,” he replied at last.

 

They ate dinner in the company of Laura and her knights and, halfway through the meal, Princess Cora.

“Hey,” she said with a nod, sitting at Laura’s left.

“Cora,” Laura hissed.

“What? Derek tried to eat his face. I couldn’t possibly make a worse first impression.”

Laura gripped her knife like she was considering jabbing it through her sister’s eye.

Stiles, at the mention of face-eating, squeaked, diverting Laura’s attention to him.

Solemnly, she said, “If your father is willing, we could always change the agreement so you are betrothed to Cora.”

Reflexively, his gaze jerked to the princess in question; she grinned at him with her cheeks overflowing with a horrifying mixture of meat and vegetables.

Laura groaned.

 

After a polite amount of very forced small talk, Stiles retreated to his rooms with Isaac and Erica at his back on high alert.

As soon as they were alone, Erica cut loose.

“—a trap, or an ambush—something’s not right. He’s—feral or something. We should leave, tell the king to call off the betrothal. He wouldn’t agree to even try if he’d seen what happened.”

Stiles let her rant and rage as he paced the room. He absorbed her words, considered them, rolled around different theories in his head.

“If it was a trap or ambush, why would Laura stop him? He would have been on me if she hadn’t, even before you drew.” He touched Isaac’s arm lightly as he passed. “No offense.”

“Maybe the plan wasn’t to kill you then. I don’t trust any of this,” Erica snapped.

“That’s good,” Stiles said slowly. “You’ll be on your toes then.”

“You want to stay after that?” Isaac blurted.

“Yes.” Stiles opened one of his suitcases absently, twitching around the neatly packed clothes within. “If—if I get to know him and he really is just grieving, then he should be given time to do that and make his choices with a sound mind. Laura said he was nervous. Maybe he’ll get used to us.”

“And if it is a ruse?” Erica demanded.

“Then you’ll protect me and we’ll escape.” He beamed at them.

“Do you think we’ll be able to by the time we discover the truth?” Isaac asked quietly.

Stiles’s eyes turned cloudy gray and bitterly cold air whipped through the room. “We can handle a few werewolves if we have to.”

Erica grinned fiercely.

Chapter Text

Stiles nearly stepped on it when he tried to leave his room the next morning. His strangled scream brought Erica and Isaac running.

“Do you still want to stay here?” Isaac asked, staring.

“Erica,” Stiles choked, “go find Laura, please. Now.”

Erica sighed and stepped over it to go. “Don’t touch it,” she called over her shoulder.

“Like I was going to,” Stiles scoffed.

“Why do you want Laura?” Isaac asked carefully.

“A dead rabbit might mean something different here than it would at home,” Stiles said. He kept his gaze up and away from the blood-matted fur ball on the floor.

Laura and Erica came running down the hall together minutes later. Laura slowed at the sight of the rabbit, her eyes widening.

Erica turned on her impatiently, and nearly got knocked on her ass when Laura started running again.

She bent at the waist and sniffed, a grin breaking across her face. “This is good,” she declared, straightening up.

How?” Stiles demanded, unable to help himself.

“Derek…left this as an apology,” she explained. “For scaring you.”

Stiles gaped wordlessly.

“All due respect, Your Majesty, but how is leaving this—?” Isaac began.

“It’s food,” Stiles said. He looked at Laura’s excited face. “Can we try that first meeting again?”

A smile bloomed across her face. “Yes! Yes, please.” She looked down at her night gown, covered hastily in a plaid robe. “Okay, in a half hour, meet Cora in the courtyard and I’ll bring Derek.”

“Okay. Good.” Stiles nodded and backed into his room. “Wait! Um, the rabbit…”

Laura grimaced. “I’ll have someone remove it, take it to the kitchen.”

“The kitchen?

She shot Isaac a fierce look. Then she smiled sweetly. “I assumed Prince Stiles would prefer it cooked.”

Stiles’s stomach lurched, but he smiled graciously. “Well-done, please.”

“I’ll let them know. Half-hour.”

Isaac and Erica stuck so close that Stiles gave up the idea of showering or dressing with any semblance of privacy.

The eight knights from the Stilinski Kingdom were spread around Stiles’s guest wing, guarding him from afar. They seemed on edge, which was probably because Erica had warned them something might be going on.

They stayed at their posts when the three of them left for the courtyard, but some of the older ones looked nervous.

Cora was waiting, lounged on the edge of some sort of stone fountain. She wore a dignified pantsuit, much like the one Laura had worn the evening before. On Cora, it looked uncomfortable, like she’d been forced into it against her will.

“Hey,” she said, grinning. “How was your breakfast?” she asked innocently.

“A rare treat,” Stiles replied soberly. “So rare it was still twitching, in fact.”

Cora roared with laughter, rolling to her feet in an effort to keep from falling in the fountain. “Man, I hope you and Derek get along.” She looked at his knights, who looked supremely unamused. “Oh, come on. It was an apology.”

“It wasn’t exactly helpful,” Erica snapped.

“Well, he thought it was,” Cora replied, pointing at Stiles. “Obviously.”

Erica rolled her eyes but kept her silence as Laura and Derek emerged from a side door of the castle.

Stiles finally got to see Prince Derek this time. He had Laura’s dark hair and general coloring, though his skin tone was a deeper sepia than hers, as if he’d been outside a lot. He wore a pair of baggy gray sweatpants, with no shirt or shoes again.

Laura had a white-knuckled grip on his arm as she led him to them.

Derek was muscular, but Stiles had seen Laura’s strength, had seen her flick Derek across the room like a ball of lint.

When they got within earshot, Stiles heard soft, nervous growls coming from Derek; he could also see that his eyes were glowing gold.

“Hello, Derek,” he said firmly. “I’m Stiles Stilinski,” he added. He purposefully left off his title, hoping to keep him at ease.

Erica’s head turned as she, too, noticed the lack. Her hands were flat against her sides, ready.

Stiles saw the glimmer of water dripping from her fingertips.

Derek’s growls got louder slightly, his muscles bunching.

Stiles’s right side felt light and airy, nerves getting the better of him, before Laura set her hand on his left arm. The touch grounded him and his right side re-solidified.

Derek’s growls cut off sharply. His eyes were fixed on Laura’s hand.

“Derek, Stiles is your betrothed.”

Stiles’s head whipped toward her, but she just shook her head.

“Do you remember meeting him? He’s here to help us.”

“He was four when he met him,” Cora scoffed.

“Shut-up,” Laura mumbled out of the corner of her mouth. “Derek, he’s here to help.”

Derek started shaking his head, taking tiny steps back.

“He is. He—he’ll help us with the Argents.”

At the name Argent, Derek went to his half-shift, snarling. Then he turned and ran.

Laura seemed to stifle a wail. “Thank you, Stiles. You’re welcome to explore the castle. I…I have business to attend.” She ran after her brother.

Cora sighed. “Come on. I’ll play tour guide.”

Stiles managed a smile. “Thank you.”

She scowled at him. “I still don’t want to marry you.”

He choked. “Um, good?” He looked at Erica and Isaac for help; they shrugged. “Do you have a library?”

Apparently, to Cora, tour guide meant leading them to the library and leaving them there to go practice sword fighting with some knights.

Stiles was fine with that—left alone, he could snoop.

There were framed portraits of the Hale family throughout the library, formal posed pictures much like in the Stilinski palace.

There had been a lot more Hales than there were Stilinskis. The number fluctuated with each picture, but Stiles counted fifteen people that were in every picture.

“Just like your library,” Isaac observed.

“Uh-huh…” Stiles studied the boy who had to be Prince Derek in one of the pictures.

It looked like it had been taken just before the fire, making Derek fifteen. He was gangly but solid, like the others around him. He was leaning up against a girl—a sister who’d died, probably. He could see Laura leaning on a blond man—Peter Hale. Stiles remembered him from when he’d visited when Stiles was ten, bearing a birthday gift from the Hales, a painting that he’d hung in his study room so he could stare at it while pretending to do homework.

Cora was very small in the picture—eight or so, making Stiles wonder how old she was now. Seventeen?

He turned away from the family portraits and wandered to a sitting area. There was tasteful furniture arranged around a leather center piece of sorts—it wasn’t a table. It looked merely decorative. Stiles knelt beside it and lifted at the cushion, satisfied when it opened up.

Inside were stacks of photo albums and some loose pictures scattered about.

“How’d you know they had those?” Erica asked, looking over his shoulder to see.

“You put the posed portraits on the walls, keep the others out of sight. Just for family,” he muttered. He shook his head and picked up an album at random. He flipped it open.

These pictures were much better; grinning Hales, half-dressed or half-shifted, stared up at him from every page.

There was Laura in jean shorts and a tank top, her hair braded. She had another girl on her back, both of them grinning wildly. They were standing in the fountain Cora had been sitting on.

“Cute,” Erica said. “But what’s the point of looking at these?”

“Getting to know the Hales,” Stiles mumbled, studying a picture of Queen Talia and King Patrick sitting on a blanket in the courtyard, leaning against each other.

“But, well…” Isaac cleared his throat. “Most of those Hales are dead.”

Stiles swallowed thickly. “I know.” He closed the album and put it back. “Do you guys remember anything about the fire?”

Erica glanced at Isaac. “Just that it was while the majority of the family was at their summer house for the month. I think I heard that Laura and Derek Hale had some schooling or official things here to finish before they would go there.”

“What about Cora?”

“She wanted to stay until Laura went,” Isaac said slowly. “I read somewhere that Princess Cora was practically attached to Laura’s hip at the time.”

Stiles walked to one wall of books, frowning as he studied the titles. He picked up a book called The Hidden World of Birthdays and thumbed through it absently. The pages were yellowed with age.

“I don’t really remember anything else,” Erica said.

“How did the fire start?” Stiles put the book back and grabbed another, restless. “Was it an accident? Or did someone do it on purpose?”

“No one really…if they knew, they kept it quiet,” Isaac amended. He was frowning. “People suspected that it was murder, but they could never prove anything. And even if they could, it’s not like-” He cut himself off, flushing.

Stiles picked up another book, rubbing his thumb across the spine. “It’s not like what?”

“Well, if, you know. If Argents did it, it’s not like…”

“Right.” Irritated at the reminder that Argents thought themselves above punishment for their crimes, Stiles shoved the book back on the shelf—a slip of pale blue paper fluttered out as he did. Curious, he bent and picked it up, unfolding it.

Derek,
I hope this time you’ll be able to get away. I miss you. You should try harder, sweetie. I'm sure you can think of something.
I heard something today—my father was talking about your family. He said you were going away. Is that true? How long will you be gone? Where are you going?
Write me back and let me know. Or you could tell me in person if you can get away soon. Maybe I can visit while you’re away; wouldn’t it be easier to get away from your mother’s gaze while you’re away from the castle?
Do not forget to write me back, Derek!
—Love,
Kate

Stiles flushed slightly, refolding the letter. He had no interest in seeing Prince Derek’s adolescent love letters. With a little huff, he stuffed it back in the book it’d come from—a thick tome full of Shakespeare, of course.

“What’s the matter?” Erica asked, crossing her arms. “Did you find something interesting?”

She and Isaac were watching him.

“Stupid note-to-self,” he muttered. “Come with me to find some food.”

“You’ve always got rabbit,” Erica said cheerfully.

 

Stiles moodily stirred the stew he’d been given for lunch. No doubt the meat was from the rabbit. He wasn’t too bothered by that. In fact, he was still thinking of the stupid love note tucked carefully away.

It wasn’t that he’d expected an arranged marriage would be full of love at first sight and we-were-destined moments.

Their marriage wasn’t even truly arranged. They were betrothed, yes, but they were being given the option to get a feel for each other before any decisions were made.

But Stiles had always imagined Prince Derek to be at least somewhat interested in meeting him.

Stiles had been curious about Derek his whole life. He’d had crushes, yes, had experimented, but nothing had ever been serious enough to write letters. To save letters.

Why didn’t he ever write me? Stiles frowned. Obviously, because he’d been busy mourning his family. And writing Kate. He wondered if she was still around. Maybe that’s why Derek was acting so odd, trying to scare Stiles away so he could marry his true love.

Stiles snorted and shoved his dish away. If Derek wanted him to leave, to call off the betrothal, he’d just have to say it himself. “I’m full,” he muttered.

 

For the rest of the afternoon, he searched the books in the library for more notes, perplexing Isaac and Erica.

There weren’t anymore, but it wasn’t until late into the night that Stiles finally gave up.

“I’ll meet you in the room. I’m just going to get a drink,” he added when they looked at him incredulously.

He still had an entourage when he went to the kitchen, where he retrieved a glass of water and sarcastically saluted them with it.

They walked a few feet ahead of him on the way back to the room, which had him grinning mischievously and slipping down a side hallway he’d noticed.

It wouldn’t be long before they noticed his absence and exploded with rage. Stiles started looking for a hiding spot, heart hammering with excitement.

He backed up, swiveling his head, and bumped into someone.

Cringing, he turned, apology already halfway out of his mouth. It died on his tongue when he saw who he’d backed into.

“Prince Derek?”

Derek didn’t move. His eyes were glassy and hazel, his breaths even and deep.

“What are you doing?” Unnerved, Stiles took a step back. The air in the hallway started shifting restlessly, like an uncertain wind had blown through.

“Protecting my sisters,” Derek replied. His voice was rough and hitching. “It’s my fault, so I…have to protect my sisters…”

“Oh my gods,” a voice whispered.

Stiles jerked and so did Derek, who blinked rapidly in surprise. His eyes turned gold again as he woke up. Fangs descended, but he didn’t try to attack; he just went to Cora’s side, grumbling as he did.

Cora went to get Laura with Derek on her heels. "Meet us in the kitchen," she said over her shoulder.

Stiles stayed in place until Erica found him and started ranting at him.

"Let's go to the kitchen," he mumbled.

She threw her hands up and followed him, grabbing Isaac on the way.

Laura and Cora were waiting for them in the otherwise empty kitchen. Derek was nowhere in sight.

Laura asked if Stiles wanted tea, but he shook his head.

"So, um...what's going on?" he asked nervously.

"Cora said you and Derek were--talking." She twisted her fingers together. "Were you?"

"Um...yes? Kind of? Is that—I think he was sleeping. Sleepwalking. And talking. Because he didn't even seem to know I was there?"

Laura nodded slowly. "He does sleepwalk occasionally. What did he say?"

Stiles shuffled his feet. "That he was protecting you guys."

Cora sniffled and rested her head against Laura's shoulder.

"And..." Stiles hesitated. "He, um, also said that it was his fault, so he had to protect you."

Laura straightened. "That what was his fault?"

Stiles shook his head, nonplussed.

Cora murmured something too low for Stiles to hear, and Laura nodded.

"That's ridiculous, though," she mumbled. "He wasn't even there." She looked at Stiles and offered a small smile. "That's the first time he's spoken to anyone in nine years."

Stiles gaped. "But—he—you—?"

"Um, well," Laura stammered. "You know, he's got some...issues? With the fire. He just. Um. Doesn't talk."

Cora rolled her eyes and left the room, her cup forgotten on the counter.

"I noticed him not talking," Stiles said slowly, frowning at her. "But I figured it was just because there was someone new in the house."

"That's why he's acting...odd, yeah." Laura nodded.

Stiles suppressed a snort. He bet that was why. That and Kate.

 

He wanted to find out more about this Kate. If Derek was going to break a possible alliance with his kingdom for her, he obviously loved her, and Stiles wanted to see proof of that love.

Unfortunately, Erica and Isaac wouldn't stand for him exploring more of the castle that night, so, with them guarding the door and windows, he fell asleep and dreamed of ducks chasing rabbits.

 

Derek joined them at breakfast in the morning. He was firmly seated between Laura and Cora.

This made Erica and Isaac very nervous; as a result, they stood directly behind Stiles's chair. Isaac's hand rested on his sword hilt, while Erica's fingers twitched anxiously.

Laura was telling Stiles about a specialty wine available only in their kingdom when breakfast came out.

Laura's hand shot to Derek's shoulder, keeping him seated as the dishes were laid out.

Stiles glanced at Cora questioningly, but she was determinedly looking out the window to her right.

Stiles was unsurprised to see rabbit meat among his bacon and eggs. He was surprised to look up and find Derek's gaze on him from across the table, still unnervingly gold.

He thought of the pretty hazel they had been the night before and smiled awkwardly, looking away.

Laura went utterly rigid when a plate was set in front of Derek. It was piled with meat, mostly rare steak.

"Um...isn't that....not good?" Stiles asked, cringing. He could only imagine what his father was eating in his absence.

"Well, he...likes meat," Laura said. She looked sideways at Derek, who was still watching Stiles. "Here, Der." She held a fork out to him.

It clattered to the floor when Derek lurched forward, falling face first on his plate and ripping into the meat like an animal.

"Derek, no!" Laura snapped.

Derek flinched and sat up, chewing open-mouthed on a hunk of steak. There were sausage bits in his eyebrows.

"Laura, this is obviously not working," Cora said quietly.

Stiles was too busy watching Derek eat his food to see the sisters' expressions.

Laura sighed when Derek brought the steak up to his face and started tearing at it.

His teeth were sharp, like he was half-shifted again.

"What...is he...doing?" Stiles finally managed.

"He's eating," Cora replied. "Obviously."

Laura shushed her. With her gaze firm on Stiles's face, she said, "Prince Stiles, I understand that you obviously don't want to marry my feral brother—I also know that it wouldn't be right. I'd hoped that being in the castle, being in his skin, he'd get better, but..." She took a shaking breath. "I can have a carriage and some knights ready to escort you home before noon." She looked extremely resigned, dropping her gaze to her untouched plate.

Stiles glanced at Derek, who was studying Laura very closely.

"Well...I came here to get to know Derek..."

Laura looked up.

"I did, I came here to get to know him before the final decision was made. So that's what I'm going to do." He smiled at Derek, who looked confused. "I always did love a project."

Chapter Text

Stiles wrote a letter to his father promptly after their conversation, asking for more time to get to know the remaining Hales. At Laura’s request, he also added how dangerous it was, with Argents pressing in at their borders.

It only took two weeks for five-hundred soldiers bearing the Stilinski crest to be placed in Laura’s control, and two more knights placed on Stiles’s personal guard.

Luckily, it was Sirs Scott McCall and Vernon Boyd.

“Luckily?” Scott snorted. “Your dad thought you’d feel guiltier ditching us than any other guard.” His eyes rounded and sparkled, sweetly inquiring. “You wouldn’t ditch us, would you?”

Stiles shoved him lightly. “Stop with the face. Of course I wouldn’t.” They were all gathered in Stiles’s wing of the castle, unpacking their things—or pretending to.

“Yeah, he’ll just make us follow him,” Boyd said, cracking a smile.

“Please. I don’t have to make you.” Stiles turned to grin at Erica and saw Cora watching from the doorway. “Is something wrong?”

She shook her head. “You’re very familiar with your knights.”

"Well, Erica and Boyd are a few years older than us, but I've known Scott and Isaac my whole life." He grinned. "My father thinks friendship will keep me out of trouble."

"Nah," Erica said, sauntering over to them. "That's what I'm here for." She hooked an arm over Boyd's shoulder companionably.

“Yeah, you’re the brawn, he’s the brains,” Stiles snickered.

“We’re all the brawn and the brain to make up for you,” Scott pointed out, and ducked down when Stiles swung playfully at his head.

Cora snickered, drawing their attention back to her.

“Did Laura send you?” Stiles asked. “Does she need us?”

Cora shook her head. "I thought I smelled Derek come in here, but I figured he'd be with you, Stiles." She scanned the room. "Oh." Her gaze was on the armoire in the corner. "No one panic."

Naturally, all four knights followed her gaze; Isaac’s sword came half-unsheathed before Stiles grabbed his arm.

“Don’t—don’t freak him out. He’s fine.”

“You knew he was there?” Scott demanded. “What the hell is he doing?”

“He is probably…just…observing.” Stiles smiled. “Making sure no one’s a threat. Right, Cora?”

“Right. Derek,” she said loudly. “Come with me.”

He gave no indication of having heard her beyond shifting his weight slightly.

Stiles looked at Cora. “You think he’ll be okay up there? He’s not doing anything.”

“He’s probably waiting for you to leave them alone. Did Laura scent all of you?”

Scott’s brows rose. “Is that why the queen wanted to hug us?” He looked at Boyd sadly. “And here I was thinking we were just too devastatingly handsome for her to resist.”

“No, that’s why she hugged us,” Isaac said unexpectedly, and sent the room into surprised laughter.

It was rare that Isaac made jokes.

Stiles looked back up at Derek; he was still crouched atop the armoire but he’d started leaning down at the noise, curious.

Stiles, Cora, and Laura had been working on Derek for the past three weeks.

Stiles had discovered just how much the sisters had been keeping from him when it was revealed that Derek preferred being at least half-shifted, walking mostly crouched, and eating raw meat rather than cooked.

He was, Laura said sadly, nothing like himself anymore.

The girls had left him to cope because they thought that’s what he needed to get better and they didn’t want to force him if they didn’t have to.

The problem was Stiles's father. Nathaniel was fair, and plenty understanding, but he also believed deeply in honesty and sticking to your word.

He’d have been more likely to rewrite the agreement if Laura had told him about Derek in the beginning.

Stiles, on the other hand, understood that sometimes you did what you had to do, with honesty coming second to what needed to be done.

“He’s fine,” Stiles reiterated. “I’ll explain later.”

Scott looked dubious, but he nodded. "If you say so...."

"I do." Stiles looked at Cora. "Do you need Derek?"

She shook her head. "Just smelled him and wondered what he was up to."

“Okay. Want to go finish unpacking?” Stiles asked, turning to his knights.

Erica snorted. “He means want to leave me alone to debrief Scott?” She grabbed Isaac and Boyd by their arms, dragging them to their shared rooms on the other side of Stiles’s quarters.

Stiles shrugged. “Well, I guess I can explain now. So, Scott, Prince Derek is…unique.”

Scott did not take Derek’s…mental state…well. He felt that Derek being feral was dangerous to Stiles, who found this ridiculous.

Derek hadn’t snarled at him much past that first week, and was basically a big puppy. Growling was another thing; Stiles suspected growling was how he was vocalizing everything.

Scott wanted to at least tell the king. Immediately.

Stiles had to beg him to wait at least three weeks. “Scott, he’s getting better. He lost his whole family. He’s just…coping.”

Scott shook his head. “You just said he tried to attack you.”

“The first day! He’s gotten better. Look.” Stiles gestured at Derek, who was clearly tolerating his presence without any violent urges.

“Stiles. We should at least tell King Nathaniel. He needs to know.”

“Just let me try. Remember…” He had to stop and clear his throat. “Remember how I was after my mom…? Well, imagine that times eleven, because that’s how many people died.”

Scott’s mouth twisted down, eyes going soft, and Stiles knew he’d won. “Still…it can’t be safe,” he said weakly.

“Dude, I have you guys. And you should see how strong Laura is!”

 

After lunch, they went to the front courtyard to let Derek get some fresh air. Laura didn’t want to risk Derek seeing the woods behind the castle and taking off.

Derek dropped down to his fur instantly, getting tangled in his sweatpants.

Cora joined him, though she’d been wearing a dress and simply shimmied out of it once in her fur. This was for Scott and Boyd’s sake, Stiles suspected—she had had no problem ripping her clothes off before when she wanted to go for a run.

“Do you ever join them?” Scott asked Laura.

She looked up from the papers she’d been studying. “Oh. Yes, when I think I should keep them in line or focused.” She smiled politely at him, though the corners of her eyes remained tense.

“But never for fun?” he pressed.

Stiles hid his smile by turning to watch Derek and Cora race to the fountain. It was good to know Scott was interested in the Hales, felt for them. Then he wouldn’t run to Stiles’s father for his protection.

Cora had said that she liked shifting and running with Derek because she could pretend he was still his old self like that.

Erica let out a sharp laugh when Cora skidded and tumbled into the fountain with a splash.

“—that you’re looking over?” Scott was asking carefully when Stiles tuned back in. He was frowning at Laura shrewdly, in the way that only Scott could, when he sensed trouble. “Is there a problem?”

Stiles turned just as Laura closed the folder.

“Just some reports,” she said stiffly. Her mouth was pressed down in a tight frown. She looked down as leaves blew over her shoes.

Stiles bit his lip at the expression on her face, so simply unhappy. He waved his fingers, sent the leaves dancing around her head. When she smiled, he got overzealous and accidentally tangled some of the leaves in her hair.

“Oops, sorry,” he laughed when she glowered at him.

She brushed them away. “Well, it’s not like I was having a good hair day, anyway.”

Scott lifted his brows at Stiles, but he just shrugged.

Laura tapped her fingers anxiously. “I’ve never known any elementals—not really. What all can you do?” she asked eagerly, then, as if she’d realized something, “Is that horrible to ask? It is. Forget it.” Red in the cheeks, she turned to watch her siblings frolic like puppies.

Stiles snickered. “Well, if things go as planned, we’ll be family, so…” He shrugged. “We can do different things with our element, it just takes practice. I can take air away from things, now, but before learning, mostly I made messes. And freaked my parents out by disappearing.”

“You can do that?” Laura asked, surprised.

“Uh…sort of. We can blend with our element, but sometimes it’s a fear reaction, or anger. You can learn to control it.”

“Can you do it?” she asked.

Stiles flushed. “Sort of, but—it might be easier if Erica did it to demonstrate. She’s better than me by far.”

“Is that alright?” Laura asked cautiously.

Erica laughed. “Sure, I love showing off. Describe the scent of their envy to me later.” She shook herself and liquefied.

Erica was an undine, a water elemental, so her form had flowing curls and was a foot taller than she normally was. She was a clear gray-blue, calm, her liquid eyes blinking slowly as she studied them. She blew a kiss at Boyd, dappling his face with water and making him grin.

Laura took a surprised step back, gasping. “Whoa. That’s amazing!”

Erica laughed and solidified again. "Yeah, it's cool. These guys are all training, but they can do it with some concentration. Scott can do what I can do, but Boyd's like Stiles—sylphs," she said. "Air," she added when Laura only looked confused.

Grinning, Laura looked at Isaac.

His shoulders hunched up around his neck like he was protecting himself.

Before she could ask, Isaac said stiffly, “I was placed as Erica’s partner because she’s the most powerful and I’m the least.” He paced away and stopped at a more proper distance away.

“I’ll go,” Scott said quietly.

Laura looked puzzled, but didn’t seem to know how to ask.

“He hasn’t ever really…shown any elemental powers,” Stiles said awkwardly. “But he’s the best swordsman we have,” he added loyally.

“Thanks,” Boyd said dryly.

“He is,” Stiles insisted.

Laura nodded. “I didn’t mean to upset anyone.” She clasped her hands, the file pressed firmly between her palms. She blinked at it like she'd forgotten she was holding it. “But now that I have, I should get back to these reports.” She stepped back and smiled uncomfortably.

Stiles watched her retreat to the castle, frowning. “That was weird.”

“What was?”

“Well, she was fine looking at the reports out here until…” He shook his head, still confused.

 

They trooped back inside a couple hours later, when a storm started. Unfortunately, while Cora shifted back and dried off, Derek avoided their towels, racing around in his fur with his tongue lolling out like it was a game.
“Someone stop him, he’s getting mud everywhere!” Cora shrieked, laughing.

So then there were Hale and Stilinski knights running around the foyer with towels while Derek avoided capture.

Scott dove after Derek, his foot slipping in a puddle and going out from under him, landing him flat on his back. Derek sailed over him gracefully while Cora and Stiles held each other up, laughing uproariously.

One of the Hale knights almost had him, but ended up skidding into Stilinski knight and crashing into a painting on the wall, tearing it down.

Cora had tears on her face from laughing so hard.

When Isaac and Boyd tried cornering Derek and subsequently only ended up covered in muddy paw prints, Stiles could only think 'These are my personal guards...' and wonder what his father would say at the sight.

It was all highly amusing until Laura came out of her study looking positively thunderous.

"Stop that," she snarled when Derek raced by with a towel triumphantly clamped in his jaws. Her eyes flashed red, fangs descending from her upper lip.

Looking guilty and small, Derek let the towel fall out of his mouth and lowered himself to his belly.

Cora, glowering at her sister, wrapped a towel around Derek’s neck and tugged gently until he followed her, tail tucked and head hung low.

Laura pulled on her hair, looking frustrated. “Everyone, back to your posts,” she snapped. “If Cora tries to get you to do anything other than your jobs, remind her that it’s on my orders that you don’t.”

Once the knights had scattered—even Stilinski knights, impressive—Stiles gaped at Laura. “Are you…alright?”

“Fine,” she said through her teeth. “Please excuse me.”

Stiles looked around, flustered. His hair was still dripping until Scott reached out and wiped a hand over his head, absorbing the water.

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

“How do you get Prince Derek back to human form?” Scott asked.

Stiles grimaced. “I’m not sure.” He looked toward where Laura had gone. “I need to talk to her,” he decided.

“Why?” Boyd asked suspiciously.

“She seems…pissed about something.” Stiles started to follow her, but Erica stepped in his way.

“Why don’t you go change first? You look horrible. She’s been meeting with soldiers. So you should dress like a prince.” She lifted her brows threateningly when he tried to protest.

 

It was an annoyed but properly dressed Stiles that knocked on Laura’s study door.

“Come in,” she growled. “Oh. Stiles. I apologize. I thought you were Cora.” Her eyes narrowed when she said her sister’s name.

“No, just me.” He stepped in and, taking notice of the map spread across her desk, closed the door in his knights faces. “Is everything alright?” he asked loudly to cover their protests. “I can help,” he added quickly. “If you tell me. My father wants to help you, too.”

Laura ran her hands through her hair again, letting it stand in tufts. “How are you with strategy and war tactics?”

“Argents then. I’m decent. Tell me.” He crossed the room and sat in a chair across from her.

“They’re funneling their forces to the northern border, which is the furthest point from the castle.”

“That’s-”

“I know it sounds like a trap! A great way for them to attack from the south,” Laura spat. “But I don’t have a choice—I have to move more soldiers north or they’ll get through.”

“So do that.”

She looked exasperated. “Yes, but, as you just tried to say, it’s obviously—”

“They’ll try to sneak in through the south, so it won’t have to be too many soldiers. Just enough to keep an eye out while my father sends more to help.” He studied the map and said, “Trying to get your soldiers as far from here as possible….Ocean’s to your east, we’re to your west. I’ll send Father a letter, ask for help with the southern border. What about the east?”

Laura shook her head. “They’ve never come at us from the water. We have our ships out there patrolling. It’s as secure as our northern border, maybe more.”

 

They talked strategy for a few hours while Stiles wrote his father a letter.

He had to word it carefully, because his father might decide it was too dangerous and demand that Stiles and his betrothed return home while he sent the soldiers.

It took a couple rewrites for Stiles and Laura to agree on the wording and give it to a messenger.

By then, Stiles was starving and his knights were pacing furiously outside of the study.

“Dinner’s ready. Cora wanted us to let you know,” Isaac said.

“Thank you.” Laura smiled, but he’d already turned to Stiles.

“Is everything okay, Your Highness?” he asked stiffly.

He only used that tone when he was nervous, Stiles knew, and Stiles's title—if they were alone— when he was upset. He was still embarrassed about admitting he didn’t have an element.

“Yes, everything’s fine.” He studied Isaac’s face for danger signs and only saw the tightening of his eyes—back off— and asked smoothly, “Did Cora ever figure out how to get Derek human again?”

Isaac relaxed when Stiles made it clear that he wasn’t going to try to talk about it. “Yeah, she’s got him in the dining room.”

Dinner was calmer than any of the meals they’d had before, at least since Derek began joining them.

Mostly this was because Derek was huddled between Cora and Stiles and wouldn’t look Laura in the eye.

“Derek, I’m sorry,” Laura repeated for the third time at the end of the meal.

As usual, he didn’t react to the sound of his name, but her tone caught his attention.

He leaned closer to Cora, watching Laura balefully.

She sighed. “I tried. He doesn’t know what I’m saying. He just can’t—” she choked a little. “Sorry, I should get back to my—work.” She stood and left quickly.

Derek turned to watch her go, using Stiles’s shoulder to prop his chin.

Stiles smiled and kept eating, letting him rest there. They were making progress.

 

Stiles noticed, a week or so later, that Derek was becoming touchier with everyone. He was less aggressive and suspicious, and cuddlier. He also, Stiles noted, wasn’t sleeping. At least, not at night. He could be found napping in odd places during the day—such as under tables and atop of bookshelves—which made Stiles’s belief that he wasn’t sleeping at night even firmer.

“Stiles, where are you going?” Erica demanded.

She was sitting on the couch, arms crossed, mouth pursed.

“Seriously? I have to have company to get a midnight snack? They never have any visitors, we don’t leave the grounds. What are you guys so worried about?”

“Um, Argents. Feral—but admittedly hot—werewolf princes. Generalized attempts on your life. Things we’re paid to worry about.”

“Paranoid,” he scoffed. “I’m just gonna make a sandwich.”

“Fine. But remember…” She squinted at him. “I’ll be watching you.”

“Not if I don’t get a cup of water,” he hissed, stepping back toward the door. “You can’t really do that yet, anyway,” he accused.

“I can sometimes,” she sniffed. “Be good.”

He scoffed and left the room.

The set-up of his room was not built for privacy—a big open space made up his sleeping quarters and the sitting area.

His personal guards got a room off to the side with two beds in it. They took shifts watching him at night, so if Erica was in the room, Stiles could expect to find…

“Where are you going?” Isaac asked sharply. He was positioned right beside the door.

“To get food. I already got past the warden,” he whined. “Can I please just make a sandwich now?”

Isaac sighed. “Okay. Be careful.”

He waved over his shoulder. Be good, be careful. He was going to the kitchen, not to war.

He didn’t even realize he had company until he was pulling things out of the fridge and turning around.

He yelped, his grip convulsing on his loot.

Derek continued to watch him from his perch on one of the many counters, his eyes glowing gold in the dark.

“You could let me know you’re there,” Stiles gasped. “I almost dropped all of this food, and then where would we be?” He passed a slice of ham to Derek, grimacing when he ate it out of his hand rather than taking it. “I suppose we would be here, watching you eat the food off the floor.”

Derek leaned forward for more, and Stiles sighed.

“That would be cute if you knew what you were doing.”

He only looked confused at Stiles’s tone, and continued to stare avidly as Stiles made his sandwich.

“What do you do every night?” Stiles asked lightly, taking a bite.

“Watch.”

He choked, dropping his sandwich to spin and face Derek. “What?” he rasped. He had to swallow a lump of bread stuck in his throat.

Derek’s eyes were hazel again, and full of despair.

He could barely speak in the face of such pain. “What did you say?” Stiles managed finally.

“I—” Raw terror blew over Derek’s face, followed by crippling agony that made his features crumple like he might cry. His eyes flickered into gold again, and his face cleared. He jumped lightly off the counter, butted against Stiles’s leg companionably, and loped away on all fours.

 

Derek was more lucid at night. When he told the sisters, they were thrilled, but they couldn't get Derek to speak to them, nor could they spot him without his beta eyes. Stiles and Cora became practically nocturnal after the revelation. Laura was busy arranging the extra troops she’d been given by King Nathaniel but promised to help when she could. She kept her promise as often as possible, and even commented on how Derek was answering to his name lately.

Answering might have been too strong a word. Paying attention was more accurate.

Chapter Text

It was odd for Derek to be awake during daytime hours, so when Stiles found him in the library, staring at a picture, he crept in, a chill dancing down his back.

“Derek?”

He tipped his head to acknowledge him but didn’t turn.

“What’re you doing?” Stiles asked. “You okay?”

“Dead,” Derek growled softly. He reached out to touch the edge of the picture. His voice was softer when he spoke again. “Dead. All dead. Burned.” He sounded choked.

If Derek was becoming more alert, enough that he remembered what had happened, Stiles didn’t want him associating wakefulness with just death and loss.

“Not everyone,” Stiles said quietly. He tapped on Laura’s face, and Cora’s. “They’re still here and they love you. You love them.”

Derek relaxed slightly, so, encouraged, Stiles went to get the family albums.

“Look, Derek. Look at these.” He took out one that featured a very young Laura, who was playing with a toddler. He hoped it would make Derek calm—happy. “See Laura?” he asked gently.

Derek turned slowly to look, but he flinched at the sight of the picture. His shoulders went tight, soft growls coming from his throat.

Stiles slapped the album shut and looked up at him; his eyes were still hazel, still human, but they flickered with gold like he was struggling.

“Okay. Not that. Ummmm…Something that will make you happy…” He looked around more frantically. His gaze landed on that birthday book, and then skimmed to the one shoved in haphazardly—and upside down—a few books away.

He gamely swallowed a groan and stalked over to get the book—and the sweet love note tucked inside.

“Derek, remember this?” Stiles turned with the book in his hands, running his thumb over the pages to find the right one.

Derek was watching him with a stricken expression on his face.

“Remember Kate?” Stiles asked soothingly. He pulled the note out. “‘Love, Kate’. You saved this, you mus—” He got cut off at the sudden roar of rage from in front of him—the paper crumpled in his fist as he backpedaled at the sight of Derek lunging at him.

They collided and fell back into the bookshelf. A book bounced off of Derek’s head, jolting his fangs into Stiles’s cheek.

Stiles cried out, shoving at Derek’s chest, kicking in panic—one of his legs made contact and knocked Derek off balance; they both went down.

Derek’s snarls filled Stiles’s ears with buzzing. His fangs scraped down to his shoulder and latched there.

The pain and feeling of blood gushing over his arm had adrenaline flooding Stiles’s system, had his entire body fading to air.

Without Stiles’s body to keep him up, Derek fell to the ground, snarling and turning, kicking books out of his way as he searched the…floor.

Stiles gripped his arm as he flickered back into his body, too weak to hold onto one shape for long. “Help!” he yelled. “Someone!”

Derek, noticing him, charged, his teeth locking around Stiles’s forearm; he screamed, throwing himself backwards and knocking over a lamp.

It shattered under their feet as they struggled.

Derek was snarling and yanking on Stiles’s arm, fumbling at his clenched fist.

Stiles, tears in his eyes, choking him, planted his foot firmly on Derek’s face and pushed with all of his might.

He threw himself toward the door once he was away, spattering blood over the furniture as he bolted.

It flew open, Laura at the front.

“Derek,” she roared, making him flinch.

He was still snarling, however, and still trying to get to Stiles, who had collapsed against a shelf, barely holding himself up.

“Deaton,” Laura said sharply to the man at her side.

“Of course,” he said. He stepped in front of Stiles just as Derek dove for him, opening his palm and blowing something into his face.

Derek dropped like a stone.

Erica and Isaac were the first ones in; Erica’s shriek of rage could rival Laura’s roar.

“We’re leaving,” she said instantly. When Stiles opened his mouth, she snarled, “No! We’re leaving now.”

Laura looked at Derek, his blood-smeared face looking peaceful now, and nodded. “At least let us stitch him up first. Deaton?”

“Do you want me to deal with Derek?” he asked.

“No, I want you to tend to Stiles’s wounds. I will…deal with Derek.”

“Deal with?” Stiles asked—he was surprised to find his teeth chattering.

Laura shook her head. “This was a mistake. He was happier out in the woods...We shouldn’t have bothered him like this.”

Scott and Boyd arrived at that moment and blew up when they saw Stiles’s blood-drenched clothes.

“I—I’m okay, guys,” he managed, but the world seemed shimmery and wavering; he was trembling hard.

“Of course you are, Prince Stilinski,” Deaton said calmly. “If you’ll just come with me.” He looked at Erica and Isaac. “I presume you can carry him? We can work just down the hall.”

There was a bathroom down the hall that Deaton chose as his work station. When Scott kept pacing angrily, getting in his way, Deaton sent him to get some supplies from the infirmary.

“Can you move your fingers, Stiles?” he asked.

Stiles looked at the arm that Derek had savaged. The note was still clutched in his fist. He passed it to his other hand and flexed his fingers, gasping when it caused his forearm and shoulder pain.

Deaton hummed and turned the sink on. “Let’s get the blood off, first,” he suggested. “After that, we’ll cut your shirt off—Laura will have a tailor replace it, of course,” he added graciously, as if Stiles was remotely worried about his clothes.

“What is she going to do to Derek?” Stiles asked. He grunted and flinched when Deaton ran cool water over the wound on his forearm.

“I assume she’s going to let him go back to the woods, and contact King Nathaniel.” He steadied Stiles’s arm and opened a cabinet set discreetly beside the door. He pulled out a couple of jars and set them on the counter.

“Good.”

Stiles looked up at Erica, who’d been pacing in and out of the bathroom to keep from getting banished like Scott.

“What?” he demanded. His voice sounded thready to his own ears.

“I said good. She can tell him we’re coming home immediately,” Erica said. “This is done. We are done here. You almost had your arm ripped off, Stiles! And for what? A treaty? Some fish? Trade boats?” she demanded, stalking toward him and nearly shoving Deaton into the bath. “That’s not worth your life! You have a kingdom to run, Stiles, you can’t be this stupid! You have no right to be this stupid!”

Stiles almost jumped off the counter, but Deaton stopped him. The motion jarred his arm and sent him gasping and shuddering.

Once he’d collected himself, he drew himself up to address Erica. “I am staying. You can tell my father if you like. Go back to the kingdom and report to him in person if you must. But I am staying. Because I said I would help them with their brother, and I will. There are things going on here, Erica. I’m not going to abandon them. Derek didn’t mean to hurt me.” Stiles looked at the oozing wound on his arm, the one that had been clutching the note from Kate. “He probably didn’t even realize it was me.”

“And that means it can happen again,” she bit out. “We need to leave. And you are coming with us.”

“No, I am not. And you may be my guard, my friend, but I do not take orders from you.” Stiles had to pause to catch his breath. “So if you feel it’s your duty to report to my father what has happened, please, do so. But I will not accompany you.” He looked at Isaac hovering in the door. “And you can go with her if you agree.”

“I do agree, but I won’t leave you unguarded here.” Isaac shifted his gaze to Erica. “That’s why we stay, Erica. As long as he stays, we stay.”

Her nostrils flared. “Boyd!” she snapped. “Stay here. You’re on active duty. I’m going to patrol the halls,” she growled, stalking out.

She wasn’t used to being told no.

Deaton needed him to hold very still while he cut off his shirt, to make sure he didn’t nick him or jostle his wounds.

Stiles, exhausted, let himself fall back against the mirror when the shirt was off.

He drifted a bit while Deaton stitched up his arm.

At some point, Scott returned; Isaac filled him in on Stiles and Erica’s fight—and Stiles’s opinion on leaving. That didn’t stop Scott.

“Stiles,” he said softly, “you’re really hurt. We can’t be here.”

“Why not?” Stiles demanded, rousing himself. “He’s getting better.”

“This looks like worse to me,” Scott said. He came into the bathroom and leaned down so he could look Stiles in the eye. “You need to convince me that I shouldn’t drag you back home kicking and screaming,” he said very quietly. “Because that’s what I’m considering.”

Stiles’s chin jerked up automatically. “Is that what you think you’ll do?” he asked haughtily.

“Yes. Don’t try that tone on me, it doesn’t work.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes. Then he sighed. “Derek didn’t mean to hurt me. Something…” He looked at his closed fist. “Something triggered him,” he murmured. “Huh.”

“Care to elaborate?” Scott asked.

“Not…not yet.”

Deaton was done stitching him up before Stiles knew he’d even been doing it. The wounds had been reduced to neat lines of stitches, a few on each since they were so uneven. He smeared some ointment on each one—the ones on his arm got a sticky green substance that smelled like a horse stable.

The gashes on his face got a cool blue ointment that eased the sting immediately.

“What is that?” Stiles demanded. “It’s amazing. I want it.” He swayed toward Deaton, lifting his bad arm.

“Put that down,” Deaton said mildly. “It’s a mixture I made. You’ll be better after some rest.” He looked toward the knights. “Get him to bed.”

“Did you give him something?” Isaac asked worriedly.

“The blue paste will make him tired.” Deaton’s voice sounded smug. He snapped off some rubber gloves and dropped them in a trash can.

Stiles tipped forward, laughing quietly. “Oops. Someone help me walk.”

“What’s this?” Scott picked up the crumpled, bloodstained note Stiles must have let go of on accident.

“Gimme. Mine.”

Scott gave him a skeptical look. “Okay, whatever.” He tucked it into Stiles’s pants pocket.

“I need to investigate,” Stiles mumbled against Scott’s shoulder.

“Yeah.” He hitched Stiles’s good arm around his shoulder. “You do that after you nap.”

“Yes.” Stiles nodded into his shoulder. “Don’t let Laura hurt Derek,” he breathed.

“Don’t you mean that the other way around?” Isaac demanded.

Stiles roused himself enough to shake his head. “Laura’s strong. Stronger. Derek didn’t mean it.”

He heard them huffing impatiently before he drifted off, leaning on Scott.

 

When Stiles woke, it was to the watery light of dawn. He turned his head and gasped when the movement pulled at his stiff neck.

“You up?” Erica grunted.

“Hnng.”

“Good. Eat.” She shoved a tray at him, glowering when he didn’t take it.

“Erica, let him wake up first,” Scott said reproachfully. He was somewhere to Stiles’s left.

Stiles tried to say something, but it got lost in a strangled scream as Scott sat him up with a hand on his back.

“Sorry, sorry. Dr. Deaton warned us you’d be stiff. Are you in pain?” Scott demanded.

Panting, Stiles took the question into consideration. “No. Sore.” His voice came out warbling. He felt as if he’d slept completely tensed up, waiting for an attack, though he suspected the cause was the attack that had already happened.

“Yeah, he said you would be. Here, eat this.” He held out a bowl of sugared fruit of some kind.

“What is it?” Stiles asked suspiciously.

Scott rolled his eyes. “Candied guava—a fruit from overseas—with your medicine in it, so you can feel better.”

Stiles was too sore and tired to question him; he took the bowl and started eating. He couldn’t even taste the medicine, which was a plus.

Erica huffed and thrust his breakfast tray at Scott. “Going on door duty,” she snapped.

“She’s worried,” Scott said quickly. “We all are.”

“I know,” Stiles mumbled. “But she’ll have to get over it.”

“Stiles, we should leave,” Scott said firmly. “You’re…” He stopped when Stiles turned his head. “Whoa! You’re healed—sort of.”

Stiles reached up to touch his face, and felt only thin lines of scars on his cheek. “What the…”

“Dr. Deaton is a witch,” Isaac said, throwing the door open. “He said Stiles’s wounds…should…be…” He paused and stared. “Healing. Wow.”

Stiles smiled—it stretched the scars and made them itch. “They have a witch, too. Hmm.”

“So? We have a witch at your castle.” Scott was fussing over Stiles’s breakfast. “Why don’t you eat this, before it gets cold?”

“Okay. After I eat, I need to go to the library and find Cora. I have to ask her something.”

Stiles ate, then, instead of going to the library, he showered, since he was still smeared in dried blood. The note from Kate was still in his pocket, so he set it safely on the counter before he got in, and tucked it in his pocket when he got back out.

He went to the library accompanied by all four knights.

“Why do you want to go to the library?” Scott asked.

He and Boyd were directly behind Stiles, while Erica and Isaac were walking a few feet ahead of them; Erica’s stride was stiff and long, like she was trying to stay as far away from Stiles as her duty would allow.

“I’ll tell you later,” Stiles mumbled.

The library was still trashed, and the sight of it had Stiles’s heart tripping over itself in residual fear. There were torn and crushed books scattered across the floor, mixed with blood spatter and glass shards.

The sofa was shredded, the stuffing falling out like blood from a wound; there were loose pictures scattered over the torn cushions.

“What did…” Stiles drew his gaze away from the couch and cleared his throat. “What did Laura do with Derek?”

“Took him to a room beside hers and confined him there. He’s not allowed to leave unless she personally lets him out,” Boyd said. He set a hand on Stiles’s uninjured shoulder. “What did you need?”

Stiles shook himself. “A couple books and Princess Cora.” He picked up a fallen book at random, then toed aside the others, searching. He looked until he found the one the note had been in.

There was a splash of blood on the cover, but it was still generally intact. It was open to the page he’d retrieved the note from. He folded a corner of the page down—the book was torn and stained, but he still cringed folding the page—and closed it.

“Next?” he prompted, smiling.

Scott rolled his eyes. “Cora’s eating alone in the dining room.”

“Well, let’s go.”

“You should be resting,” Scott pointed out.

“I rested yesterday. Now we find out why I had to.”

Cora was in the dining room, as promised, moodily eating what looked like a well-balanced breakfast.

“What?” she snapped. Her posture relaxed when she looked up. “Oh, sorry. Hi, Stiles. How are you feeling?” She looked at his shoulder, which was lumpy from the bandage covering his stitches, and slid her gaze to the one on his forearm.

“Better than yesterday.” He stepped to her side. “Can you do me a favor?”

She narrowed her eyes. “What kind of favor?” She shot a scowl at Erica. “I thought you were leaving.”

“You thought wrong,” Stiles said calmly. He pulled the note out of his pocket gingerly, as it was very beaten up. “Can you tell me what this smells like?”

She looked suspicious, but she took the paper and sniffed at it. “You. Blood. Why?” She tried smoothing it out to read it, but most of the words had been obliterated by the blood stains.

Stiles took it back. “Just…wondering. What about this?” He held out the random book—a romance novel from the look of the cover—he’d picked up.

She huffed but took it. “Dust, ink. Family. My—ahem—my dad. Mostly dust. Stiles, why?” she pressed.

He held out the other book. “This one?”

“The same—” she stopped when he opened it to the marked page—“thing, wait, no.” She inhaled more deeply. “Huh. That smells different.”

“Like…anyone you know?”

She rolled her eyes. “No. It could have been any one of my parents’ guests.”

“Only on that page?” he asked skeptically.

“Maybe they liked that page.”

“It’s a book on plumbing.”

She threw her hands up. “I don’t know then! Why do you care?”

He closed the book and set it on top of the other one. “Because I had opened that book when Derek lost it.”

She frowned thoughtfully at the book, but she didn’t have anything to say.

Stiles sighed. “One last thing. Do you know anyone named Kate?”

“No…” She looked up at him. “Why all the questions?”

He shrugged. “Just trying to figure this all out.” He turned to go, but Cora grabbed his hand.

The knights went tense.

“Stiles, he’s—really sorry. He didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I know.” He offered her a smile that she didn’t return before gently pulling free.

 

A good distance away from the dining room, Scott grabbed his arm.

“Who’s Kate? What’s with all the questions?”

Stiles lifted a brow. “Did you notice how Cora asked those same questions?”

“Yes,” Scott said through his teeth.

“Then did you also notice that they got her nowhere?”

“I’m supposed to be your best friend,” Scott said sharply. “And I’m here to protect you, too. Who is Kate and what’s with all the questions?”

Stiles sighed and brought the note out again, gently unfolding it. “Kate wrote Derek this love note some time ago. It was in that second book I showed Cora. I thought seeing it would make Derek happy, but…” He shook his head. “But when I opened the book, he flipped.”

“What…”

“I was thinking that if Derek can’t tell us why, maybe Kate can, if anyone can tell us who she is.” Stiles refolded the note and tucked it away. “So, if you would let me, I need to go ask Laura.”

“Why not have her smell the books?” Scott asked slowly.

“I figure if Cora doesn’t remember the individual scent, Laura probably won’t. If she remembers her, I’ll get the book for her to smell. If she doesn’t remember, the scent might not help.”

Laura was in her study, as he expected her to be. When she looked up and saw him, she jumped to her feet.

“Stiles! What are you doing out of bed? Are you hungry? I ordered all meals to be taken to your knights, so you could rest.”

“I’m fine, I ate. Thanks. I wanted to ask you a question.”

She grimaced, her face paling. “Alright.” She gestured at her desk. “I’m writing to your father now.”

“Don’t do that. Laura, I want to stay and help.”

“I can’t let you do that. We’ve already risked your father’s wrath, with you injured, I don’t want to start a war with him.”

“He’s not going to go to war with you, wow.” Stiles sat across from her desk. “We just have to not tell him about this.” He gestured carelessly at his wounded arm.

“Not going to—Stiles, he’s going to be pretty pissed that my brother used your arm as a chew toy!” she snapped. She held her hands out and took a couple deep breaths. She sat down. “How are you feeling?”

“Much better,” he said pleasantly, and pointed at his cheek. “These are almost completely gone.”

She sighed. “I’m still going to write your father, and I strongly suggest you return home.”

“Laura, you need me. You guys need Derek to get better, so that we can get en—” he broke off, then frowned, trying to pinpoint the sudden fear that had closed his throat.

Laura stood and rounded the desk, crouching beside his chair. “You see?” she asked gently. “Stiles, you can’t get engaged to, and then marry, someone you’re afraid of. He hurt you. He’s my little brother, and I love him, I will always love him, but he hurt you very badly. He could have killed you, and you’re afraid because you know it.” She sighed. “Even if we could get him back, you would still remember him attacking you.” She straightened and smoothed her shirt. “And he would, too, and, because of who he is, that would keep him from marrying you.

Stiles clenched his jaw. “I can compartmentalize. I know that when he attacked me, it wasn’t really him. I don’t know Derek Hale yet. But I want to. Okay?”

She shook her head.

“Fine, whatever. I still want to help him, and I’m the one missing a chunk out of my arm.” He glowered and she glared right back. Finally, he bit out, “Do you know of anyone named Kate?”

Surprise had her face smoothing out. “The only Kate I know is Kate Argent.”

“Uh!”

She shrugged. “A year before the fire, my parents had Gerard Argent over for dinner to try to negotiate peace. He brought his daughter Kate—she was, ummm, twenty-five at the time, I think. Snotty bitch,” she said viciously.

“Why do you say that?” Stiles asked, snickering.

“She told me to sit at the kids table, then acted all surprised and apologetic when my mother introduced us. I didn’t like her.” Laura frowned. “Why do you ask?”

Stiles didn’t know why, but he said, “I saw the name written somewhere, but it’s probably nothing.” He clenched his fists and bit his tongue against a shout of surprised pain.

Laura’s eyes narrowed. “Your heart is racing. Why?”

“My arm hurts,” he replied. He lifted it to show her, but she’d already backed down.

“Right. You should go get some rest. Lunch will be sent to your room in a couple hours. I can have Deaton send you some more painkillers.”

He nodded and retreated, breaking into nervous laughter in the hall. He turned found all four of his knights staring at him.

“What?” he asked innocently.

“Do you think an Argent burned the Hales?” Erica asked bluntly. “Is that why all the weird questions?”

He twisted his fingers around the note. “Worse, actually. I think an Argent seduced a Hale, then burned them.”

“The Hales were at a secluded summer house. No one knew the location of it.”

Stiles unfolded the note. The signature was just visible under the blood. “Maybe someone told.”

“But why? Why endanger the whole family?” Isaac asked.

Scott was looking down at the letter over Stiles’s shoulder. “If they were in love they might have.”

“Or thought they were.”

Brows lifted all around.

Stiles bounced on his toes nervously. “Laura said Kate was twenty-five the year before the fire. So a year later, she was twenty-six. Derek was fifteen when the fire happened.”

Erica was first to grasp the horror Stiles felt over that, her face going white with shock. “Oh my gods.”

Scott looked sick, too.

“We have to find out what happened,” Stiles sighed. “This might be a different Kate, or Laura remembered her age wrong, or a million other things.”

“So we have to either find this Kate, or bring Derek back.” Erica snorted. “Great.”

Stiles managed a smile. “Glad you’re so interested,” he said lightly.

Scott touched Stiles’s arm. “Don’t joke. We want to help. Don’t we?” He looked at the other three.

Boyd and Isaac nodded.

Erica sighed. “Fine.”

“Good. We have to go investigate Derek’s room.”

“Um, isn’t Derek in there?” Erica demanded.

“Um, if you weren’t so busy throwing a fit about my decision to stay, you’d have heard Boyd say he’s in a room by Laura’s.”

Erica scowled at him. “Fine. But I want two of us by you, and two of us at the other room, where he is. Make sure he doesn’t get out.”

Stiles crossed his arm. “He’s not going to attack, Erica. Something—the note, probably—triggered him.”

“I don’t care.”

So Erica and Isaac went to guard the room Laura had confined Derek to while Boyd and Scott accompanied Stiles to Derek’s room.

The way the castle was set up, Cora and Derek’s rooms were in a wide, well-lit hall with multiple other doors along it.

The set-up made Stiles think all of the Hale kids had slept in this hall until Laura had inherited the throne. She’d had to move to the somewhat more protected queen’s quarters then.

“This is Cora’s room,” Scott said as they passed a door that hung slightly open.

Stiles snorted. “How do you know?”

“The knights explored the castle. We’ve memorized as much of the layout as we could manage in case of emergency,” Scott said seriously.

“Oh.”

“This one’s Derek’s,” Boyd said a moment later.

Stiles studied the door. “Let me search by myself.”

“No,” Boyd said lightly; Stiles shot him a glare.

Scott asked, “Why?” before Stiles could try arguing.

“Because, I don’t know. It’s already invasive enough that one person is going through his stuff, let alone three.”

“He gnawed on your arm.”

“That’s why I’m going in, and you’re waiting out here.”

“Leave the door open,” Boyd suggested.

“Cracked.” Stiles pushed the door open, bracing himself.

He wasn’t sure what he’d expected—a pile of branches and leaves? Rabbit carcasses?—but it wasn’t a clean, cozy room lined with books and empty planters. A neat desk with a layer of dust over it took up one wall. There was an easel awkwardly shoved in the corner, just as dusty as the desk.

The only disorder was the bed, the blankets all twisted up into a nest.

Stiles crept in, trying not to feel guilt. Where would Derek hide letters from a woman he wasn’t supposed to be writing to?

Stiles decided to start with the obvious places, under the mattress, the dresser, nightstand.

When he reached under the mattress, though, Derek popped out of the blanket nest.

Stiles clamped his jaw against a yelp of surprise as he jerked away, heart hammering.

“Derek. You—you scared me,” he whispered, glancing toward the door.

Derek whined and clambered awkwardly out of the bed. His eyes were gold but rounded and sad. He pressed his cheek against Stiles’s chest, trying to climb into his lap.

He brushed against the bite on Stiles’s forearm, making him flinch.

That drew Derek’s attention to the bandages. He whimpered and closed his hand around Stiles’s.

The dull pain he hadn’t really paid attention to leeched away as black veins appeared in Derek’s arm.

Stiles let out a breath. “Whoa. Thanks.”

Derek whined and curled into Stiles’s lap, tucking his head under his chin.

Stiles adjusted his position, straightening his legs and leaning against the bed.

Derek clung to him the whole time, a soft purring sort of noise coming from his throat.

Stiles cautiously brought a hand up, running it through Derek’s hair.

Derek seemed to melt, his grip flexing on Stiles’s arm.

Stiles kept stroking Derek’s hair gently. “Derek, do you remember Kate?”

He tensed and started growling softly.

Stiles clenched his hand, yanking gently at the hair. “Be quiet. It’s just a question.”

Derek grumbled and settled down.

“Do you have any more letters, Derek?”

He didn’t react, just rubbed his cheek against Stiles’s collarbone.

“Okay. What are you doing out of the room Laura put you in?”

Derek rolled his head up, his eyes wide and guilty.

“Yeah, yeah.” Stiles scratched his scalp gently. “Let’s go get lunch.”

Derek grumbled and curled tighter around him.

“Or we could just sit here.”

“Stiles, what are you-” Scott burst in, followed by Boyd. “Hey!”

“No, don’t!” Stiles said sharply.

A flinch ran over Derek’s skin, but he didn’t move.

“What is he doing in here?” Boyd asked.

“I think he’s more comfortable in here. He’s trying to apologize,” he added stubbornly.

Derek closed his eyes and stayed in Stiles’s lap.

“Stiles, you’re going to give us gray hair,” Scott sighed. “You couldn’t have called for us?”

“Why? He’s fine. You could go get us some lunch, though.” He gave them a winning smile.

Boyd scoffed.

“I’ll go if you agree not to move,” Scott said.

“Agreed,” Stiles replied quickly.

When Scott returned with the food, Derek was sprawled more comfortably across Stiles’s legs. They were both happy with the arrangement.

Unfortunately, Laura had noticed the direction Scott was going and had followed. She was apoplectic, her eyes red and her body shaking.

Derek hunkered over Stiles and managed to cower at the same time he seemed to be trying to protect Stiles’s chest.

“I specifically told you not to leave that room. I said you are not to l—Stiles,” Laura said sharply, “Why is he holding your hand?”

“Um, uh. He did that a while ago. And it, uh. It stopped hurting?” he offered weakly.

Gods.” Laura dropped to her knees in front of them and grabbed Derek’s face, thumbs rubbing his cheeks.

“What? What’s happening?”

“He’s getting better,” she said shakily. “He would have to be—to understand that you were in pain and try to take it away.” She started kissing Derek’s face all over, half-crying.

Derek relaxed. He looked confused but happy, leaning into Laura’s touch.

“You’re still in trouble. You have to listen to me and not maul our guests,” Laura sniffled. She wiped her eyes and backed up. “I’ve got to finish these—things, letters. Stiles, you really should be getting rest.”

“I’m eating,” he protested. “We’re eating. Resting and eating.”

“Mmhm. Take it easy.” She looked at Boyd and Scott and frowned. “Where are the other two?”

Stiles let out a shouting laugh that made Derek jump. “Guarding the door of an empty room,” he snickered.

Boyd sighed. “I’ll go get them.”

Scott nodded. “He’s better with Erica’s temper,” he admitted quietly.

“Nobody better get chomped on,” Laura said sternly, pointing at Derek.

He laid his head on Stiles’s chest and looked up at her with the most innocent expression Stiles had ever seen.

Boyd returned with Erica and Isaac after Laura left. Erica looked like she was seriously considering knocking Stiles out and physically dragging him home.

Stiles pointedly patted Derek’s shoulder, making him rumble happily.

Erica rolled her eyes and dragged Isaac back out of the room to guard the door.

The combination of food and the warm weight of Derek in his lap had Stiles nodding off even before he’d finished his lunch.

He dreamed that Derek was running around his room—his real room, the one in his castle back home—holding Stiles’s favorite pants and laughing as Stiles chased him. Part of him was puzzled, because Derek was using his hands, and his voice, which was new.

Stiles woke hungry, and in the dark. He was in a bed, though it wasn’t his from the guest room. Someone was holding his right hand, keeping his arm from bending. He surmised he was still in Derek’s room, though somehow on the bed.

He blinked groggily and turned, looking for whoever was with him.

In the dark, he could only see the shine of gold eyes beside him.

“Dude,” he croaked. “That’s creepy.”

A wet, somewhat canine, snort, followed by, “Hurts.”

Stiles’s heart jumped. “What does?”

The hand holding his flexed.

“Oh, me. You can let go now. Thank you.”

Derek didn’t let go of Stiles’s hand, trailing him out of bed when he got up to tell Boyd he was going to get a snack.

Scott, on door duty, squinted at them suspiciously when Stiles opened the door.

“Hungry,” Stiles explained.

“Uh-huh. Him?”

“He thinks my arm hurts.”

“Does it?”

“Not at the moment. I can’t really feel the arm at all.”

Scott’s face grew alarmed, so Stiles shook his head quickly.

“Not like it’s losing circulation or anything. It’s just-” He shrugged. “We’re just going to get food.”

“Okay.” Scott leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms.

Stiles tugged gently at Derek until he began following him down the hall.

In the kitchen, Stiles built a beautiful monument of a sandwich, once he’d freed his hand from Derek.

“How did I get on your bed?” Stiles wondered aloud, passing him pieces of turkey.

“Mmhm,” Derek said. He said.

“Hey, good job! That was a noise, okay, but it was a human noise. That’s good! That was—hnnh, that was something Laura said earlier.”

Derek grumbled and leaned against Stiles’s legs.

“Thanks for the arm thing.” He ran a hand through Derek’s hair while he ate, falling into a sleepy, comfortable rhythm.

The rhythm was broken by the earsplitting sound of glass shattering from outside of the kitchen.

Derek took off, skidding around a corner on all fours, snarling viciously. He was in full wolf form before Stiles even realized he was moving.

Stiles raced after him, slowing when he got to the living room. The bay window was shattered, glass glittering across the rug.

Stiles stopped at the edge, his bare toes curling against the marble.

“Derek?” he whispered. “Derek, do you hear anything?”

Derek’s form was just a darker spot in the shadows to him, a snarling blot in the center of the room.

A hand closed around Stiles’s throat gently, almost as if he’d been grabbed by mistake.

He didn’t even have time to freak out before water fell over them both in a wave. Scott’s cold, wet hand pressed to his chest and threw him into a wall. If the hot gush of blood on his shoulder was any indication, he’d popped some stitches on the way.

He looked up as Erica, Isaac, and Boyd rushed past, chasing the intruder across the room to the broken window. Isaac had the longest legs, and quickly overcame the others, so that when the assailant leapt through the shattered window, it was with Isaac on their ass.

Stiles, grunting, got up to follow them—he hadn’t made it two feet when Cora flew past him, then Laura and finally Derek, leaping fluidly through the window.

“I’ll just meet you out there!” he called irritably. He swore when a piece of glass dug into his foot. “Thanks for leaving me!

He limped his way around the glass and to the door in the kitchen that led to the back of the castle, where the woods pushed up against their land.

He could just barely see everyone streaking through the grass after the intruder.

Muttering to himself, he started limping faster, trying to catch up—part of him could already hear Erica roaring at him for following them.

The two shapes at the front disappeared into the shadows of the tree line, well ahead of the rest of them.

Stiles had almost caught up when the air around him started whipping his clothes and hair; he paused to roll his eyes.

“Seriously, Boyd? I made it this far without being killed.”

Boyd caught his arm and reformed beside him. “Let’s not push it,” he said calmly. “They’re almost-”

He cut off when Laura gave a roar of rage at the same time Isaac started to scream in pain.

They ran for the trees side by side.

Chapter Text

When they got to the trees, Isaac was covered in blood, his legs scrabbling desperately against the dirt. He was on his back, hands pressed against the bottom of his neck and upper part of his chest while blood flowed through his fingers like some unstoppable stream. His face was turning a sickly gray.

Horror and nausea had Stiles tripping over his own feet, trying to get to his friend. Boyd grabbed his arm to keep him up right, jerking his hand away when Stiles flinched—he’d grabbed his bad arm.

Laura skidded to a stop and crouched next to him, her face losing as much color as Isaac's. “I can bite him, I can save him, he’ll heal,” she babbled hysterically. She pressed her hands over Isaac’s, trying to slow the blood.

Stilinski and Hale knights flooded the yard, shouting and spreading out to find the intruder.

“Were—wolf,” Isaac choked. Blood flecked his lips. “Bite." He whimpered, his hands spasming under Laura's.

“Yes. Yes,” Laura sniffled. “Bite.”

“Do it then!” Stiles snapped, dropping to his knees beside Isaac. He was too afraid to touch him, scared to hurt him. He could see the bottom curve of the wounds around Isaac's ribs, deep and pouring blood.

Laura dipped down and bit Isaac’s wrist, her eyes flashing red as her fangs sank into flesh.

He flinched and started crying, trying to get away from her; his struggles had more blood gushing from his wounds.

Something snarled a few feet away, making Laura jump to her feet. “I’m going to rip that bitch apart,” she roared. She started to run, coming up short when Cora lunged in her path.

“Derek, go!” she snapped. “Laura, you’re the Alpha! The queen! You can’t just run off after the intruder!” She whirled and shouted into the shadows, “Both of you! GO!”
Derek bolted, but Stiles couldn't see who else she was talking to, could barely see anything other than the bright, wet red of Isaac's chest.

“Move, Cora,” Laura growled. “I need to catch her.”

“No! You can’t be gone, too!”

Stiles jumped when Isaac’s hand closed around his, trembling and sticky with blood.

“Are you healing?” he demanded. He leaned closer, tangling his fingers with Isaac’s.

Isaac sputtered, shaking his head. “Hurts,” he rasped. Blood was gathering in the corners of his lips.

Cora’s voice hitched with tears behind them. “You can’t die, too, Laura!” she shrieked. “Then we won’t have any Alpha!”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Laura snapped. “She got away! She was an Alpha, Cora! She broke into my territory!”

“Let the knights chase her, then!” Cora shouted.
Isaac suddenly screamed, and thick tree trunks shot out of the ground, throwing Stiles and Scott back on their asses.

They scrambled to their knees, trying to get back to him, but he burst into flame—or, rather, he turned into flames.

“What’s happening?!” Laura shrieked. “What’s he doing? I thought he didn’t have an element!”

The fire had the werewolves panicked, understandably, but Sitles’s father was a fire elemental. He'd seen this before.

He was calm as he pushed his way around the trees, kneeling beside Isaac’s form, which was at least a foot and a half longer than he was normally.

The heat was startling, but not as shocking as Isaac's fiery gaze turning on Stiles, confused and almost vacant.

Boyd knelt at Isaac’s other side; he nodded at Stiles. They both held their hands out, pulling the air away until Isaac fell back into his human form.

Panting, he opened bright gold eyes at them. “What happened?” he muttered. “Why is it so hot out here?”

Stiles cracked up.

 

They took Isaac to the infirmary, even though his wounds had closed. He was shaking and jumpy, eyes flickering between gold and blue.

Deaton was ready for him.

"Come over here, Isaac," he said calmly. "Let's get that blood off." He directed Isaac to a sink filled with steaming water. He cut Isaac's shirt off, discarding it with an expression of distaste. "Tell me what happened," he said, picking up a cloth and dipping it in the water.

Isaac shuddered when he started wiping at the blood on his neck. "Chased the intruder into the woods. Took my sword out, but she knocked it out of my hands." He flinched slightly when Deaton got to the claw marks, which were closed but bright red. "She swiped at me, and then something else was there."

"What else was there?" Deaton questioned, carefully dabbing at each gash.

"I guess it was another wolf. It could have been Prince Derek," Isaac admitted dazedly. "It was yellowish, though. I remember because I could see it just behind her shoulder before she clawed me."

Stiles, who had been watching, jumped when a hand landed on his shoulder.

"You're bleeding," Boyd said quietly. "Come on. I'll stitch you up."

He followed Boyd to a nearby cot, getting onto it with some help.

Deaton took Isaac to a cot once he was deemed clean enough. "Are your parents elementals, Sir Lahey?” he asked calmly.

Scott glanced at Stiles before creeping closer to Deaton and Isaac.

His patents were a touchy subject.

“Yeah, they were. Mom was sylph, like Stiles and Boyd. Dad,” his voice sort of hitched there, as it usually did, “Dad was earth. But I never…” He looked at the others for help. “I’ve never had either. Any.” He shook his head.

“And is it common to have two elements?” Deaton looked over his shoulder at Scott, unimpressed with his sneaking abilities.

“Mostly unheard of,” Scott said warily. “Just stories…Sometimes a kid will have more than one, but they learn one faster than the other, and lose that weaker one later, as they get older.”

“But I don’t have either one,” Isaac repeated.

“It’s possible that the bite brought out recessive elemental powers,” Deaton told Scott, his tone dubious. “But I’ve never heard of the bite doing such a thing.” He spread his hands out. "It's very rare that an elemental is bitten and changed in the first place, so we don’t have much to go on."

“But I’m not,” Isaac insisted.

Stiles looked at Boyd, but he was still stitching Stiles’s shoulder and studiously not looking up.

“What if they were just suppressed? Could that…?” Scott trailed off.

Before Deaton could say anything else, Isaac shouted, “I said I don’t have any elements!” His face changed, a half-shift coming over him and brilliant green vines curled down his arms while the ground shuddered.

“Whoa.”

Isaac’s shock had calmed him again, the vines relaxing and shriveling on his arms. He watched as they drifted lazily to the ground.

Stiles flinched when Boyd clipped the end of his stitching job. “Thanks,” he muttered.

“What—what am I doing?” Isaac whispered. “I’ve never had any element and now I have two?” Harsh shudders wracked his body while he stared at the fallen vines.

“I think Scott’s right,” Stiles said, hopping off his cot.

Isaac looked up slowly, still shivering. His eyes were bright gold, still, and there was a smear of blood under his left eye that Deaton had missed.

“Scott said you might have been suppressing them.” Stiles shrugged. "Maybe you were." He winced and rolled his shoulder, glaring at the stitching.

He shook his head slowly. “Why? Why would I do that?”

Stiles looked at Scott, who was frowning at Isaac.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said abruptly. “What matters now is getting you trained. Right?”

“Right,” Laura said, stepping into the infirmary. Her night gown was torn and stained, her feet caked in mud. There was still blood on her hands and around her mouth from Isaac. “She got away,” she added when Erica opened her mouth.

She snorted. “Of course. Great job.”

Laura’s eyes flashed. “There were Stilinski knights there, too,” she snapped.

Isaac whined, high and anxious.

Laura calmed at the noise. “I’m sorry, Isaac. How are you feeling?”

He was only wearing pants, so everyone could see the puckered pink claw marks still healing on his neck and chest. “Better,” he mumbled.

“That’s good.” She smiled at him. “Why don’t you get some sleep? Tomorrow I’ll start teaching you how to control your shift and…everything else…” Her smile went stiff, her shoulders tensing up. “But for now, I think we all need some rest,” she murmured, whirling to leave the room.

Stiles hesitated before following her, too curious to stay behind.

“Laura? You okay?” he asked.

She spun to face him, her upper lip trembling. “I’m fine, why do you ask?” she barked.

“Um, because you seem kind of freaked out.”

“How am I supposed to teach Isaac how to be a werewolf?” she burst out. “I don’t know how to do this! I can barely alpha my own pack, let alone a new wolf!”

“Did you just use ‘alpha’ as a verb?” Stiles asked.

Laura’s trembling lip finally skinned back over her fangs.

“Sorry, sorry. So—maybe a family member wrote down a manual or something. You can’t be the first one who turned someone.”

“Of course not! But my mom was supposed to teach me these things while they were happening! As it got closer to me taking her place! I’m not—I wasn’t supposed to learn how to do this on the fly.” She tugged on her hair. “God, why is he so nervous?” she demanded.

“Well, he just almost died, got turned into a werewolf, and discovered two elemental powers, all on top of his naturally suspicious personality.” Stiles shrugged. “Possibly he’s having a terrible night. Can you sense the whole pack like that?”

“Sort of,” she sighed, leaning against the wall dejectedly. “He’s new, so this—might be my way of keeping tabs on him.” She squinted slightly, tilting her head. “Because new werewolves…their emotions are sort of-” her face twitched- “unstable, excuse me,” she said, shoving past him to run back to the infirmary.

Stiles peered around the door in time to see Isaac throw himself, fangs first, at Deaton and Laura intercept him, catching him around the middle and slamming him back down on his cot.

“Hey!” Stiles shouted, running in.

Scott jumped in front of him. “Wait.”

“Isaac, calm down,” Laura said firmly.

Isaac relaxed under her grip, surprise crossing his face.

“What happened?” Stiles asked quietly.

“Um, Deaton said that Isaac would be part of Laura’s pack now, and that he would learn more about being a werewolf while he was here. After you’d gone back home.”

Stiles cringed. He could imagine why that would upset Isaac, who took his knighthood very seriously, and had made a sort of surrogate family out of the other knights and the Stilinski household.

“We’ll talk to him,” Scott said quietly. “He’ll be okay.”

They pushed two cots up on either side of Isaac’s and slept with him in the middle, like they used to when they were kids and Isaac would visit, bruised and limping.

 

When Isaac yipped, it woke Stiles. He grunted softly, trying to snuggle into his pillow. The light in the room was low, but it looked like late afternoon sun creeping in through the window.

“What’s wrong?” he muttered, reaching out with his eyes closed. They flew open when he made contact with coarse fur.

A solid black wolf was laying on top of Isaac, muzzle resting on his chest.

“Um…”

“What’s he doing?” Isaac whispered. He was laying stiff and still, like he thought if he didn’t move, the wolf wouldn’t know he was there.

“He? Derek?”

The wolf’s head turned toward Stiles, gold eyes opening sleepily.

“What are you doing?” Stiles demanded.

He let out a high whine and turned, touching his nose to the healed claw marks on Isaac’s chest.

Scott sat up on Isaac’s other side. He yawned. “I’m going to go change and tell Erica and Boyd to get some sleep. You good for now, Isaac?”

He nodded. “Can you bring me some clothes? …And my sword?”

Scott winced. “Yes.”

Stiles sat up and crossed his legs, poking Derek’s shoulder. “Get off him. Come on, let him up.”

Derek grumbled and didn’t move until Stiles jostled him enough that he rolled off, onto Scott’s cot.

Isaac sat up and kept his eyes on Derek.

When Scott returned, he had clothes for Isaac and a badly warped leather scabbard. “Your sword is somewhere in the woods. We’ll find it,” he added quickly when Isaac looked crestfallen. “Laura wanted me to tell you to meet her outside. She’s got some food out there, too. She wants to start your training.”

She did indeed have food, all set out like a picnic. There was enough for everyone—Derek included, though he only snorted at it. He didn’t seem inclined to revert to his human form just yet.

Laura was wearing leggings and a sports bra, barefoot and stretching in the grass while they ate. “I’m just going to try some things, Isaac, see what kind of…student you are.” She looked uncomfortable as she said it, unsure of herself.

Derek sprawled across Stiles’s legs and breathed like he was sleeping.

Training, apparently, included Laura basically provoking Isaac until he shifted, snarling at her.

That wasn’t a problem until he burst into flames while charging at her, and Scott had to jump on him in full water form to put him out and stop him from making contact.

“This can’t work if he’s going to keep doing that,” Laura said, frowning. She had her arms wrapped tight around her stomach, like she was protecting herself. The fire made her understandably nervous, and she seemed to forget to make herself seem as big and authoritative as possible.

“I can control it, I can,” Isaac insisted a little desperately, getting off the ground soaking wet.

She gave him a wary look. “Alright. No fire this time.”

He managed to keep the flames out the next time, but when he made contact, vines wound up Laura’s arms to her throat, nearly strangling her.

Scott used his knife to cut her free while Isaac dug his hands in his hair and paced away, frustrated.

Derek watched, sitting neatly on the blanket. His entire body was taut as a bowstring.

“Come on,” Laura called. “Again!”

Vines and fire happened the next time—Scott cut while Stiles pulled air away from the flames. Isaac was holding himself this time, arms curled protectively around his middle.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said into his knees as he bowed over like he’d been hit.

“You’ll get it,” Laura said through her teeth.

Stiles bounced on his toes. “He needs an elemental. Salamanders—er, fire elementals are usually sent to the front lines first, but we have some here that have earth, I think. Hang on.” He started fast-walking toward the castle.

“Stiles!” Scott called, chasing him.

“Oh, just wait here,” Stiles said over his shoulder. “I’ll be fine.”

“Uh, no! Someone broke in last night and attacked you.”

Stiles slowed to a stop, squinting at him incredulously. “There’s no reason to believe she was trying to get to me.” Stiles rolled his eyes. “Plus, there are plenty of people inside right now, wide awake.”

Scott snorted. “Laura’s got people inside fixing the window—strangers. You aren’t going alone.”

Stiles sighed and let him follow. The first Stilinski knight he came across, he said, “Get me Parrish, please. I need him.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, turning on her heel instantly.

“Besides fixing the windows, what else did Laura do?” Stiles asked, fidgeting with the edge of his shirt.

“She sent some trackers to find the woman, got some extra guards here. She doesn’t want to pull too many soldiers away from the borders—there’s still so many Argent soldiers pressing on the northern border that it’s getting hard to protect the southern one.” Scott dropped a hand to his knife hilt, narrowing his eyes at a man wearing a tool belt like he might suddenly attack.

“How do you know that?” Stiles demanded.

“I’m a good listener,” Scott said smugly.

Sir Parrish came rushing around the corner with the other knight on his heels. “Your Highness?” he asked, politely puzzled.

“Hey, Parrish. I need your help.”

Parrish had already heard what happened to Isaac, so he was on board with helping him learn to at least control his earth powers. On the way outside, he walked beside Scott, asking a few questions to clarify things that really did need to be worked on. He had helped train Isaac with his sword, so they were friendly, which made things easier

“Hey, Lahey,” he said lightly, when they got to him and Laura. “Having some trouble?”

Isaac relaxed and smiled. “Just a little.”

With Parrish’s help, Laura was able to get Isaac into a full wolf shift without any burns or attempted stranglings. The first time he’d tried, though, he’d ended up as some sort of gigantic tree creature that Parrish explained was normal.

Derek joined him as he raced around the yard, his black coat in sharp contrast to Isaac’s yellowish one. They bounced around like excited puppies.

“Scott,” Stiles said quietly. “I think Deaton was right.”

Scott frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“I think Isaac’s going to have to stay here when I leave.”

They watched as Derek and Isaac wrestled playfully.

“Isaac. Hey!” Laura clapped her hands. “Change back now. Go on.”

He was beaming when he turned back, stark naked. “That’s so cool!” he cheered breathlessly. “Can we do it again?”

When Derek jumped on his back, he only rolled over with him, laughing.

“Soon. Right now you’ll have to learn how to shift a little bit at a time,” Laura laughed. She was smiling, more confident of herself now that her student had shown progress.

Chapter Text

It was days later when Stiles had an epiphany. A tiny one.

He put down his pen, studying the letter he’d been writing. If he didn’t write at least once a week, Nathaniel would panic. A panicked king meant a prince getting dragged back home unwillingly, fiancé-less.

Stiles had been trying to find any more clues about Derek’s Kate, to no avail, but then his mini-epiphany had happened, giving him a boost of confidence.

Isaac had been learning how to be a werewolf over the past few days, and, in turn, Laura was learning how to be an Alpha.

The effect was amazing. Cora was happier, although she never seemed to even realize it; Isaac was calming, learning how to be a werewolf. His temper was less volatile by the day. Derek was more alert, too, watching everyone as they spoke to each other like he was going to join in at any moment.

Stiles had taken to watching Derek, as well. Whenever no one was looking—or so he thought—Derek’s face fell into tense, miserable lines, his eyes dimming, getting closer to hazel than gold every day.

Stiles stood and heard Erica do the same a few feet behind him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose.

Since Isaac was attacked, Erica had glued herself to Stiles’s butt. It was very annoying, because Stiles and his butt had things to do.

“Where are we going?” she asked cheerfully. She fed off of his annoyance like some sort of twisted succubus.

“We are going to visit Derek.” He pushed his desk chair in and glowered at her.

Erica sighed. “Why? You haven’t gotten anywhere with this Kate thing, Stiles. It sucks, but that’s how it is.”

“He just hasn’t understood what I want,” Stiles said firmly. “That’s why I ask him in a different way every time.” He stepped around her to head to the door.

“And all he does is try to crush you,” Erica pointed out, right on his heels.

“Lies! He’s cuddling. We’re bonding,” he insisted. He stopped when she stepped in front of him. “We’ll need to like each other if we’re going to be married.”

Erica rolled her eyes. “That is not likely. The king is getting impatient, Stiles. He’ll start getting suspicious soon.”

“That’s why we need to keep trying.” He stepped around her again and pulled the door open. “Going to see Derek. Who wants to come and who wants to keep Erica off my ass?”

Boyd and Scott looked at each other.

“We like our faces in the general shapes that they are,” Scott said. “We’ll stay here. You guys go.”

Erica smirked victoriously and accompanied him.

“Do you know, I never noticed how many paintings there are here?” Stiles mused. He pointed at one as they passed it. “They’re everywhere! Why?” He studied it a little, admiring the depiction of wolves piled on each other in a comfortable little ball.

“Because a Hale did them,” Erica pointed out. “Also, people like to decorate.” She gestured at a little table with a vase of flowers on it to demonstrate.

“How do you know a Hale did them?” Stiles demanded, tripping a little as he twisted to face her.

“Because most of them are signed, doofus.”

“Are you allowed to call me that?” Stiles demanded. “I don’t think you’re allowed to call me that!”

“Oh, move,” Erica sighed, prodding him.

Derek’s bedroom door was open, the curtains drawn and letting in light, which Derek was soaking up in the middle of the floor, stretched out on his stomach, head resting on his arms.

He was wearing jeans, which was a first, though they looked incredibly tight.

He looked up when Stiles knocked.

One good thing that came from the night Isaac was turned was that Erica was more willing to let Stiles be in the same room, alone, with Derek without growing fangs herself.

“Hey, Derek,” Stiles said, crossing the room and sitting next to his shoulder.

Derek turned his head and gave a little purring growl of acknowledgment before closing his eyes again.

Stiles bit his lip. He hesitated every time he thought of a new way to ask Derek about Kate. He assumed at least part of it was fear of getting attacked again. The rest, he figured, was aversion to causing any more problems for the Hale family.

He had to, though, if he wanted to help them.

“Derek, do you have a hiding place?” Stiles asked, clenching his fists on top of his legs.

Derek snuffled against his arm.

“Derek.” Stiles poked him on the shoulder. “Do you have a place to hide things?”

Derek grumbled and rolled closer to Stiles, huffing.

Stiles scratched his fingers through Derek’s hair, sighing. So maybe his mini epiphany wouldn’t work.

Derek huffed and rolled away, getting to his feet.

“Where are you going?”

“Secret,” Derek said. He went to his armoire and opened it clumsily. When he turned around, Stiles realized he hadn’t buttoned or zipped the jeans.

Flushing, Stiles jerked his gaze up. “Um, what? You want to try a shirt today?”

Secret,” Derek repeated.

Stiles sighed and got up, approaching the armoire. There were shirts hanging inside, casual and formal, though some of them—most of them—seemed like they would be much too small for Derek.

“Huh. Some of these were probably for you before,” Stiles mused. He plucked at a green one with deep purple spatters all over it. “Messy eater,” he commented.

Derek draped himself over Stiles’s back, resting his chin on Stiles’s shoulder.

“What are we looking for?” he asked.

“Secret.”

“Okay.” Stiles started moving clothes around. “What secret? Where is it?”

Derek reached around Stiles to shove the shirts all to the left. He pushed at the back of the armoire—a door popped open, about two feet across and down.

“Wow! Man, you guys have all the cool stuff. I just have an escape door in my room for emergencies.”

Derek sniffed at his neck, disinterested.

Stiles opened the little door and leaned closer. Inside was a smooth wooden trunk with DH engraved on it in gold. Stiles took it out, figuring Derek wouldn’t have shown him if he didn’t want him looking.

“Alright, back up,” Stiles said, elbowing him lightly.

Derek grumbled and backed up until Stiles had space to turn around and sit.

Derek seemed excited, sitting on his knees beside Stiles and wiggling in place.

“Calm down, you’re making me nervous.” Stiles flipped the latch and opened the trunk to find it filled with jars of paint. “What? Paint?”

On top of the jars was a piece of paper, which read: “Laura, Emilia, Jeremy, Vera, STAY OUT!

Stiles smiled a little and put it aside, picking up the jars of paint carefully. They were dried and cracked after nine years of neglect, though the brushes inside the box looked well-loved.

When he moved the brushes aside and saw a stack of pale blue paper, his heart jumped.

Beside him, Derek was studying the paint jars, sniffing at them, picking them up and stacking them. Distracted from what Stiles was doing.

Stiles pulled the letters out and started reading.

Most of it wasn’t useful, nothing telling about who she was, but certain phrases struck Stiles as odd for letters from a supposed lover.

For instance, another werewolf probably wouldn’t have written, ‘It’s amazing that something like you can love,’ or ‘you’re hot for a part-human.

There were hints that it might be Kate Argent, too, but it was nothing Stiles could prove.

Don’t tell anyone, they’ll only keep us apart,’ was a big clue that, at the very least, she knew they weren’t supposed to be together.

Most of the letters seemed to use the first part to soften Derek up in preparation for her little barbed comments, like, ‘Don’t worry about thinking about a meeting place for us, I know I’ll have to be the brains,’, and ‘you’re at least smart enough not to tell your sisters, right?’.

Feeling sick, Stiles folded the letters and set them aside.

He looked up to find Derek watching him, looking small and huddled.

He must have noticed what Stiles was looking at.

“Was she that horrible in person?” he asked quietly.

Derek closed his eyes.

“What did she do to you?” he murmured.

“What I did,” Derek muttered back.

Stiles reached out—when Derek leaned into his touch, he gathered him close. He pressed his cheek against the top of his head.

Derek shuddered a little and curled closer.

They sat there until Stiles’s legs fell asleep and his back started to ache.

“Come on. Let’s go find…Laura.”

Derek shook his head and clung tighter, like he was thinking about not letting Stiles go at all.

“What do you want to do then?” he asked. He couldn’t inject enough exasperation in his tone to make the question anything other than sincere.

Derek got up and went to his bed, curling up and watching Stiles over his arm.

“Oh, come on. Aren’t you hungry?

Derek snorted.

“Yeah, me neither,” Stiles sighed. “Who could eat after reading that?” He picked the letters up; Derek gave a high pitched whine. “Just stay there. I’ll be back.” He went to the hall.

Erica lifted her brows when he held the letters out.

“Read these. Let me know what you think.”

“What-”

“Just give me another hour to calm him down, then tell me what you think of that. It’s my fault he’s upset.”

Erica nodded, opening the top sheet, so Stiles retreated.

Derek basically crawled on top of him as soon as he got on the bed.

“This is good. At least part of you likes me,” Stiles mused, running his hand down Derek’s back. “Let’s hope we still like each other once you’re fully present.” He hummed thoughtfully. “So you liked painting. That’s cool. Artistic. I can see that. A dreamy, romantic artist might fall for an older woman. She was doing a terrible job at pretending, though. Ugh. Bitch.”

Derek tensed when his voice rose; Stiles made an effort to calm down.

“But that’s going to be behind us. We’ll tell Laura. It’ll be cool to see her rip that bitch’s face off.” Stiles blew out a breath—the room was already warm, and coupled with Derek’s body heat, that had sweat beading on Stiles’s temples. “Don’t freak out,” he warned. A cool breeze stirred the air, easing Stiles’s discomfort.

Derek made that happy purr-growl noise, so freaking out was obviously not going to happen.

“I guess those letters probably smelled more like paint and you than K—her, huh? Since you didn’t lose it.”

Derek yawned and stretched out, closing his eyes.

“Very funny,” Stiles muttered.

 

He was still stroking Derek’s hair about an hour later when he jolted, body tensing. He half-shifted, getting on his knees and growling.

“Derek? What?” Stiles sat up when he jumped off the bed.

He was snarling at the door, struggling with the handle like he’d lost all progress they’d made.

A scream broke over Derek’s growling, had Stiles throwing the door open himself.

The sun was setting, which left the hall in shadows.

Erica was three feet away wrestling with someone.

“Run!” she snapped. “Xrafne,” she added, jamming her palm against the attacker’s throat, choking them. As she jumped to her feet, another two people came in through a broken window. “Go!”

Stiles grabbed Derek’s arm and pulled, his heart hammering. “Come on. We have to get out.”

At the end of the hall were three Hale knights fighting more intruders—one of them slashed through a knight’s arm. The wound turned a sickly gray instantly.

“Wolfsbane,” Stiles realized, shoving Derek away before he could jump straight onto the knife.

“Get out of here!” the wounded knight snarled. She reached up and snapped her attacker’s neck in a quick, fluid motion.

Stiles gagged at the noise, dragging Derek behind him toward his own hall.

As they ran, they passed more knights locked in battle with attackers, the sound of pained cries mingling with the clang of swords against armor.

Stiles skidded to a stop when a man burst out of the shadows into their path, leveling a gun at them.

Derek jumped on him with a roar, the gun going off at the ceiling and making Stiles flinch, throwing his arms over his head. He stood there, frozen, because guns—guns were not supposed to work inside magical wards like the ones that would be protecting the Hale palace.

Another intruder grabbed Stiles from behind, lifting him off his feet for a disconcerting second.

Stiles squeezed his eyes shut and, with a rush of cold adrenaline, he turned to air—sort of. More like a seven-foot whirlwind creature.

“Whoa. Ha!” He pressed his hand to his attacker’s chest, flinging him back and slamming him into a wall. With a hiccup, Stiles stumbled back into his human form. He shook his head dizzily and grabbed Derek’s shoulder. “Come on!”

They ran together, but not far—Scott and Boyd ran into them, holding Cora between them.

“What’s going on?” Boyd barked.

“Erica said xrafne,” Stiles said. “Is she okay?” he asked while Scott swore.

“Fine,” Cora grunted. “Leg’s healing. What’s xrafne?”

“Multiple points of entrance, multiple attacks,” Boyd said tersely. “Come on. Let’s get Laura and get out.”

“What about Erica?” Stiles demanded.

“She’s a knight, she has her duties,” Boyd replied, looking half-sick.

Scott shook his head, swallowing. “Let’s go!” he ordered.

Derek growled, turning sharply. He jumped on another attacker that had just sprung at his back.

“Be careful! They’re armed with wolfsbane!” Stiles shouted.

Boyd grabbed the intruder by the shoulder, but was distracted when two more came running toward them, armed with knives.

“Why is it so dark? What’s going on?” Stiles demanded, stumbling backwards when Scott shoved him away from the fight. The air in the hall was starting to whip around, nearly knocking him off his feet.

“Argents,” Cora replied. “Has to be. They’re the only ones who’d attack with wolfsbane. They must have cut the power, too.” She straightened as her leg finished healing. “We should—Stiles!”

He started to ask what? when something smashed against the back of his head, pitching him forward.

Chapter Text

Stiles woke when someone smacked him across the face. It took him a confused, head-spinning second to get his bearings, to understand that he was on his knees. Someone’s hand was clutching his hair, holding him upright.

“You awake, princeling?”

He blinked rapidly, groaning when the pain in his head overrode the sting of his cheek.

“There he is!” the woman crowed, making his head pulse with pain. “Pay attention,” she added. “Daddy, watch him, please. He broke Alex’s spine earlier.”

Stiles’s stomach lurched when someone grabbed his shoulder and shook him; he bowed forward and puked, gagging as he fell sideways into the grass.

The man that had him jerked him up onto his knees again.

He looked to his left and saw Laura, also on her knees. Her hair was sticking to her face with sweat, her cheeks paper pale. She seemed barely able to stay upright.

She flicked red eyes toward Stiles. “You okay?”

The woman who’d smacked Stiles backhanded Laura. “Do you ever shut up?” she sighed, tossing her blond curls over her shoulder.

Laura bared her teeth, swaying in place.

Stiles jerked forward, breaking the grip on his shoulder and throwing himself to his feet.

He only got a yard away before he tripped and landed beside Cora’s prone body. His vision was blurry and jerking, spinning as his head throbbed.

He cried out when a hand grabbed him by the hair and dragged him back, kicking and struggling. Automatic tears of pain streamed out of his eyes.

“Don’t run, you’ll want to see this. Plus, we need you basically alive so we can make a little deal with your daddy.”

“Kate,” Laura groaned. “King Nathaniel won’t deal with you.” She spat out some black gunk on Kate’s boot.

“You aren’t part of this,” Kate hissed, kicking at her.

“Kate Argent?” Stiles blurted, almost involuntarily.

She turned her head. “That’s me, sweetie. We’re just here to wrap up some unfinished business, then we’ll get to you.” She smacked his cheek a couple times, lightly, before turning back to Laura. “Just have to burn the rest of the Hales.”

She glared up at her. “Stone doesn’t burn, bitch,” she spat. Black bile gathered around her lips.

“No,” Kate agreed. “But trees do. Boys?

Behind her, fire caught on the trees, blinding Stiles with the sudden blazing light. Howling started from the woods; Cora stirred and Laura started sobbing.

Stiles counted fifteen men by the trees, lighting them up with torches. Closer to Kate were two more, and the man holding Stiles.

He took a deep breath and tried to summon the fear—tried telling himself that they were outnumbered, they were caught, about to die, but he couldn’t fade, couldn’t turn himself to air.

Kate saw his expression and giggled. “Oh, didn’t you know? Hit a sylph over the head hard enough and they’re stuck in their corporeal form.”

Stiles glared at her.

Before he could think of something to say, though, a wail of agony came from behind them.

Kate looked up, her face flickering with surprise. “Derek? You’ve changed! Grew into those ears, too. Good. You’re hot now.”

Peter!” Derek shouted, running past without sparing them a glance.

Kate tried to intercept him, but Laura jumped on her, tackling her to the ground.

Stiles reached back for his captor, made contact and pulled—sucked the air out of his lungs as harshly as he could.

The man let go of him, gasping desperately.

Stiles scrambled to his feet, turning to see an old man with glowing red eyes gasping on his knees.

“Stiles!”

He looked up.

Erica, Boyd, Scott, and Isaac ran across the yard—they were all drenched in blood; without even slowing down, Erica ran her sword through the old man, pulled it out, and went for the other two.

Isaac snarled and leapt into the fray that was Kate and Laura.

Boyd ran for the men at the trees, slowing when a voice yelled, “That’s enough! Retreat!”

Laura roared, “Do not let them escape!

Three men fell to Boyd’s upraised hand—he’d pulled the air from their lungs much more effectively than Stiles had with the old man; they fell unconscious.

Scott managed to run his sword through two others, killing them, but the rest had already taken off.

Two Stilinski knights gave chase—Parrish was one of them, if the trembling ground was any clue.

“Where’d he go?” Laura yelled. She was barely on her feet, swaying and sick.

“Who?”

“Gerard!” she snarled. “The one who had Stiles!”

“He’s gone! We have to put out that fire!”

Scott and Erica tried dousing the flames while Boyd and Stiles pulled air from them.

Behind them, Laura was pacing while Isaac tried to rouse Cora.

“Derek’s in there,” Laura blurted. “I have to –go get him!”

“Stop,” Stiles said. He stepped in her path. “Wait, just—you can barely stand, Laura. He’ll—he’ll be okay. We’re putting the fire out.”

“What are we going to do with her?” Isaac asked, pointing at Kate’s unconscious form.

Laura paced unsteadily toward him.

Stiles sighed, relieved, and turned back to the fire. It had calmed—the trees were badly scarred, smoking, but the fire had been contained to a smaller area.

He lifted a hand to pull air away—he felt his fingers tingle, which was unusual, and then his sight went funny. Erica was yelling even before he hit the ground.

 

Water to the face woke him this time, an icy cold splash that had him sputtering. He tried to sit up, only to be thwarted by a gentle pressure against his chest.

“Stay down. You’re almost done. You frightened your knights quite a bit.”

Stiles blinked at Deaton. “What?” Behind Deaton’s head was the clean white ceiling of the infirmary, a ceiling fan ticking away above his bed.

Around them, the sound of voices and movement made Stiles’s head throb.

“When you fainted,” he elaborated. “Laura did, too, right about the same time. Wolfsbane poisoning for her, head trauma for you.”

Before Stiles could ask if she was okay, he heard the sound of raised men’s voices, getting closer.

“—don’t care if you want to, Laura almost died! You almost died!”

The second voice scoffed. “I don’t want to stay. I will not stay. I stayed in those woods when you needed me, Derek. Now let me have what I need and get out of my way!”

“No! Not until you see how Laura’s doing!”

Stiles looked up at Deaton, confused.

“Derek is feeling much more like himself,” Deaton said blithely, putting a glass of water beside Stiles’s bed. “I’ve applied a salve to your head wound that should speed the healing. Your other wounds are nearly finished healing, so just take it easy. Now, I’ve got other patients.”

Stiles struggled to sit up, determined to see the room around him. His battered body protested the movement, muscles squeaking and twinging. He pushed his pillow up behind his back to lean on, panting.

Around him, the other beds were full, Hale and Stilinski knights getting treated by nurses wearing deep green scrubs.

The smell of burning plants was thick in the air, making Stiles’s nose itch.

To his left was Erica, who was scowling so fiercely that the nurse stitching her arm was trembling a little.

Boyd was sitting beside her, being dabbed at by another nurse.

“Where’s Scott?” Stiles asked.

Erica jerked her chin.

Stiles turned his head.

Scott was having a burn treated on his shoulder, looking downtrodden.

“What’s going on?”

“A lot of Hale knights have wolfsbane poisoning and a lot of ours are wounded. All the Argent forces that broke in are either one or dead. Kate’s in a magical cell down in the basement.”

“Wow.” Stiles looked around when the door flew open.

Derek and a blond man strode in, arguing under their breath.

Derek was wearing jeans, and a shirt, his eyes were not glowing, and he was speaking, rapidly, to the man beside him. In full sentences.

“Derek?” Stiles blurted.

He turned his head very slowly, shooting Stiles the darkest glare he’d ever seen. Then he turned away and stalked to Laura’s bedside with—Peter Hale, if Stiles wasn’t mistaken.

Stiles, his mouth hanging open, turned to Erica. “What—?”

“Yeah, your fiancé is kind of a dick,” she said.

 

Stiles woke again the next morning, having not even realized he’d fallen asleep. Sometime after Derek stormed out after Peter, he thought, after studiously ignoring Stiles staring at him.

“Here,” a nurse said, setting a tray across his lap. “Deaton wants you to eat, then walk around to stretch your muscles.”

“Fine.” Stiles sat up with some help, groaning. His head felt a lot better than it had the night before, the throbbing down to a sort of twinge.

Erica, Boyd, and Scott were patched up and seated around his bed, guarding him. Isaac was by the door, nodding as Laura spoke to him.

Cora was in a bed near them, bandages across her face and neck. The grin stretching over her cheeks looked like it hurt.

“Stiles!” she called cheerfully. “Derek’s back!”

Stiles thought back to the death glare. “Yeah, I…noticed.”

“He’s just embarrassed,” she said, waving his hesitance away.

Stiles thought he’d looked more enraged than embarrassed. “Okay,” he mumbled.

After he ate, he got out of bed and started pacing, trying work up the energy to leave the infirmary.

He approached the door where Isaac and Laura were when Isaac started to hunch in on himself.

“Hi, Stiles. Feeling better?” Laura asked.

“Uh, yeah. Much. What’s going on?”

“Just discussing what happened.” Her eyes were tight at the corners, mouth pinched, but otherwise she looked well put together in a charcoal pants suit, her hair pinned back neatly.

“Yes, discussing the exact same thing every thirty minutes. That should get us somewhere.”

Laura closed her eyes. “Now is not the time, Peter.”

Peter Hale stepped around Isaac, glowering. “When will the time be, Laura? You all seemed to be doing fine without me.”

“We had to, since you abandoned us to frolic in the woods,” Laura snapped.

“With your brother, who, I might point out, completely lost it and fell apart.

“That’s a real nice way to talk about your nephew,” she spat.

“I love my nephew very much, or else I wouldn’t have kept him company in the woods for nearly a decade.”

“You-”

“Oh my gods, that’s enough!” Stiles shouted. “You’re making my headache come back.”

Peter frowned at him. “Who are you?”

Laura blew out a slow breath. “This is Crown Prince Stiles Stilinski. He’s-”

Peter’s eyes lit up in recognition. “Oh, you’re betrothed to Derek. Too bad. You’ve grown up nicely since I last saw you.”

Laura punched his arm hard enough that he stumbled. “Don’t be creepy.”

Peter scowled at her. “Let me go back and you won’t have to worry about it.”

“Peter. You aren’t going back until we get this resolved. Understood?”

He bared his teeth. “Then perhaps you should wonder how they got past the wards. Ask the witch.” With that, he stalked away.

Laura watched him march to Cora’s bedside and smile at her. “I’m going to my office.” She caught a passing nurse. “Please have Dr. Deaton meet me in my study.”

“I’ll come with,” Stiles said.

She lifted her brows at him. “Why is that?”

“So we can figure out what the hells happened last night.”

Isaac smirked. “Then we’ll all come with you.”

“Shh!” Scott hissed, loudly, from behind Stiles. “We were hoping to just follow him so he can’t argue.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he scoffed. He looked at Laura. “Shall we?”

She rolled her eyes. “Come on, then.” She muttered something that sounded suspiciously like I’m the Alpha, but Stiles couldn’t be sure.

Stiles would never have told them, but having all four of his knights at his side after the attack was soothing—at least no one could hit him over the head with Boyd and Scott behind him. He found himself twitching as they walked through the halls, jumping at the every little noise.

The noises turned out to be house staff cleaning up shattered glass and bloodstains, which was not nearly as soothing.

“What was that?” Stiles asked, watching a man carefully sweep something into a bag.

“Wolfsbane blade,” the man answered instantly. “For testing.”

“Isn’t that poisonous to you?”

Laura nudged him. “Come on, if you’re coming, come.”

Deaton got to Laura’s office at the same time they did, smiling in a puzzled way.

“You wanted to see me?”

Laura nodded. “Come on, everybody in.” She waved them past impatiently.

Once she was seated, Stiles and Deaton sat across from her.

“I wanted to ask if you knew how they got past the wards. It wasn’t something I even thought of,” Laura admitted, clenching her jaw. “Until Peter brought it up. But we should have had prior warning when there were that many intruders.”

“We should have had prior warning no matter how many intruders there were,” Deaton said. “They should have suffered burns, even minor electrocution, for carrying wolfsbane and weapons.”

Stiles frowned. “Do you think that woman that broke in could have done something? We didn’t have prior warning for her, either.”

“I didn’t notice because of Isaac…” Laura covered her face and groaned.

“If it was her, she was incredibly stupid,” Deaton said mildly. “She attacked in an odd place, where no one was likely to be at that hour, she shattered glass rather loudly—which, if she had the magic to break the wards, she wouldn’t have had to make any noise.”

“She was a distraction.” Stiles looked around at Scott, who looked surprised.

“What do you mean?” Laura asked, drawing his attention again.

“Well…” Stiles huffed. “Everyone was running to the sound of the window shattering, right? But what if someone else was messing with the wards at the same time? Everyone was so focused on the threat of the Alpha that no one would have felt any tampering.”

Laura groaned again.

“Then that will have left us vulnerable for the attack last night,” Deaton nodded.

“Can we be sure she wasn’t from your kingdom?” Isaac asked Laura. “That she wasn’t just attempting to get at you and your siblings for some other plot?”

“We could have assumed that—if Gerard, that filthy hypocrite, wasn’t a werewolf now.” Laura wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Someone turned him and now he’s an Alpha.”

“Wait.” Stiles held up a hand. “Gerard ‘Kill all Things not Human’ Argent is an Alpha werewolf?”

Laura frowned at him. “Yes?” she replied, dragging the word out. “Someone must have turned him, though I can’t imagine who would want to, given his feelings and actions toward us anyway.”

Stiles shook his head, confused.

“If they were going for the royal family,” Deaton said before Stiles could ask how Laura knew he was a werewolf, “then they were sloppy about it. They broke into odd places for an attack. Only three in the children’s wing, which was mainly deserted until Derek returned. Most of the intruders invaded the guest wing and entertaining areas—places that normally aren’t occupied, especially at night.” He frowned. “And then Kate and Gerard went straight to Laura’s wing, right?”

“Right. And they wouldn’t have gotten past the protections there if I hadn’t have stepped out to see what all the noise was,” Laura admitted sourly.

“But why go to the guest wing? Did they know anyone was here?” Stiles asked.

Laura gave him a weird look. “Kate…Kate said they wanted you alive. For negotiations with King Nathaniel.”

Stiles snorted. “He wouldn’t negotiate with them. He doesn’t negotiate with bullies.”

“You’re his son,” Laura said, exasperated.

“No, he’d rather go in kicking ass,” Scott said from behind Stiles’s chair.

Stiles held his hand up for a fist bump, grinning when he received one.

Laura nodded slowly. “That could get Stiles killed,” she pointed out.

“It’s hard to kill someone who turns into air when they’re afraid,” Stiles snickered.

Laura looked at him, puzzled. “But—Kate—?”

“What?”

“When you tried to do that last night, you couldn’t, because she hit you. She said that…you couldn’t change if you were hit hard enough over the head—you don’t remember this?” Her face grew alarmed, glancing at Deaton with wide eyes.

“No, I don’t.” He looked back at Scott, but he was frowning at him, too.

Isaac’s face was growing tense, his eyes starting to change colors. “Is he alright?” he asked through his teeth.

“Some memory loss can be expected when you’ve been hit over the head hard enough,” Deaton said calmly. “Stiles, tell me what you do remember from last night.” He waved Laura back when she tried to rise.

Stiles squinted. “We were in the hall—I was with Cora while Scott, Derek, and Boyd fought with some Argents. Someone hit me…” He pursed his mouth and squinted harder, like that might help him see his own memory better. “There was fire and maybe some yelling? I don’t remember. Were we outside?”

Deaton hummed thoughtfully. “You missed quite a bit of conversation,” he said. A smile twitched his lips. “And a bit of Kate knocking you and Laura around, which I’m sure you’re happier forgetting.”

“Yeah,” Stiles muttered, staring dazedly at Laura’s cluttered desk. It felt weird, knowing he’d forgotten things he’d witnessed.

“So is he okay?” Scott asked. “Is he going to forget more stuff?”

“He shouldn’t. His head is healed. The loss is probably because it happened minutes after he regained consciousness. It wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on him, though,” Deaton added.

Before anything else could be said, Laura stood abruptly. “Please excuse me,” she said, rounding her desk and going to the door. “Derek!” she called, jogging away and leaving the door open behind her.

Stiles glanced at Isaac, who shrugged.

“Derek sounds mad,” he said. He tipped his head toward the door. “He’s asking who everyone is….why you’re here.”

Stiles frowned and stood up. He waved the knights back and went into the hallway. He rolled his eyes when Erica followed him, but he didn’t protest.

Laura and Derek were arguing next to a window covered in plastic.

“I don’t understand why he’s—” Derek began. He froze, his back and shoulders going tense. He spun around, saw Stiles, and snarled, charging at him.

Alarmed, Stiles backpedaled, tripping over his own feet; Derek grabbed his shirt and slammed him back into the wall.

Stiles squeezed his eyes closed, his breath hitching in terror.

“Why is your scent all over my stuff? I can’t sleep!” Derek snarled. “Because you’re everywhere.”

Stiles’s eyes snapped open. “Hey, you were the one cuddling me, remember?” He shoved at Derek’s chest. “I was just trying to help you.” He shook his head at Erica, who’d approached rapidly.

She fell back when Laura joined them.

“Derek,” Laura snapped, grabbing him by the shoulder. “Back off! What is wrong with you? This is so not like you,” she said quietly. “Stiles is your betrothed. Crown Prince Stilinski?”

Derek’s eyes widened. He dropped Stiles’s shirt and backed up. “What?

Laura looked at Stiles, then back at Derek. “Do you—do you remember the betrothal?” she asked hesitantly.

“Of course I do,” he snapped, crossing his arms. “I remember everything.”

Stiles looked up at Derek’s face. “Even Kate?”

Derek flinched.

“What about Kate?” Laura demanded. “Kate Argent?”

He shook his head, backing away even further, hunching in on himself.

“Derek, what about Kate Argent?” Laura snapped.

“Nothing. I can’t talk about it," Derek muttered. “Can I—?”

“Go. Just—go get some sleep somewhere.” Laura tugged at her hair, watching Derek’s hasty retreat. The way she spun on Stiles, so reminiscent of her brother, had him throwing his hands up defensively. “Calm down. What about Kate?”

Stiles looked down the hall where Derek had gone, then back at Laura. He sighed. She was his sister, his Alpha, and his queen, so Stiles figured it would be okay. “Erica’s got the letters,” he said quietly.

“What letters?”

Erica had to run to the infirmary for her jacket, where the letters were. Stiles handed them to her, swallowing thickly.

Laura read the first one as calmly as she could, though her eyes had lit up red somewhere near the middle of the letter.

The second letter had her claws popping out, digging into her desk.

“He was—she was—my brother was fifteen,” she snarled. “She was twenty-six! When she was writing these, he was only-” she cut herself off, flipping to the next letter hurriedly.

Stiles twisted his hands in his lap nervously.

Scott put his hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently.

When Laura finished the last letter, she flung the whole pile aside; she looked angry and sick, her hands shaking. “I—need to be alone,” she said through her teeth.

Deaton stood immediately. “Before I go to work on the wards, Your Majesty, I feel I should remind you that we need to question Kate Argent, and to question her, we need her alive.”

Laura bared her teeth at him.

He held his hands up. “Just advising. I’ll be working on reinstituting our wards.”

Laura glared as he left.

“You aren’t going to kill her, are you? We should question her,” Stiles said in a small voice.

“I know.” Laura inhaled deeply. “Let’s—I need some alone time. Please. To think about this. When I have—when I can question her without wanting to…” Her fangs dropped, eyes flashing red again. She took a deep breath and forced her shoulders to relax. “When I’m more in control.”

Stiles nodded. “I guess I’ll just…um, go.”

“Yes, please.” Before he got to the door, though, she said, “Stiles.”

He turned. “Yeah?”

“Stay with your knights, okay? That’s twice you’ve been attacked.” She looked troubled as she said it.

He nodded again, stepping into the hall.

“What do we do now?”

“I’m kind of tired,” Stiles mumbled. “I think I’m just…going to go take a nap.”

“Don’t you need to finish that letter to your father?” Scott prompted gently.

Stiles nodded tiredly. “Yeah. I should probably tell him…” Stiles sighed and rubbed his face. “Tell him that I’m coming home.”

“What?” Boyd blurted.

“Derek is back, and clearly not in the mood to keep up to the betrothal. Plus, if I’m a target for Gerard, kidnapping or whatever, I should probably go home.” He picked at his thumb nail. “That way I can convince my father to change the treaty so we can still help the Hales.”

Erica, of all of them, looked hesitant. “You’ve only spoken to him once.”

Stiles sputtered at her. “Excuse me,” he managed, “what?

She shrugged. “It just seems like you’ve gone through all of this to get him back to normal so you could get to know him, and then you speak to him once and decide, well, that’s it? Seems like a waste to me.”

He felt his shoulders droop, defeated. “What do you think I should do?”

She shrugged, put her arm around him. “For now, you take a nap. Relax, rest. Then you can decide what to do.” She started leading him toward the guest wing. “In my opinion, you put too much time, effort, and blood into this to run away at the first sign of a bad attitude.”

Scott piped up, “Plus, he’s been through a lot, and he’s probably disoriented. Give him a chance.”

“You guys keep—you’re giving me a headache with your mood swings.” He dropped his head on Erica’s shoulder and let her lead him.

Chapter Text

Stiles woke in time for dinner, though Erica forced him into somewhat more formal clothes than he’d gotten used to wearing around the Hale palace.

When he whined, she reminded him that Derek would most likely be at the table, and he would actually be present if he was.

So Stiles allowed himself to be buttoned into a white shirt and black dress pants, although he wasn’t happy about it.

“Shoes, too?” he sighed.

“There’s glass everywhere,” Erica said cheerfully. “Shoes too.”

“You know, you guys are just here to protect me,” Stiles pointed out. “No one is paying you to dress me.”

“That is our pleasure,” Erica chirped. “You whine so much that it’s worth it.”

“Whatever. Am I done now?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Erica sneered.

She and Isaac went with Stiles to dinner while Scott and Boyd took a break.

Erica was right—Derek joined them for dinner, along with Peter and Cora.

“You feeling okay?” Laura asked when she saw him.

“Do I look horrible all the time?” Stiles wondered, cracking a smile. “You keep asking me that,” he added, laughing nervously. He ran his hand through his hair.

Laura flushed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. You look—” She seemed to notice his outfit. “Like you’re all dressed up. You look very nice.”

“Thanks.” He sat beside Cora and smiled. “You’re all healed.”

She smiled back. “Yes! Or, well, mostly.” She pushed her bangs away from her forehead to show him a scabbed cut.

“That’s almost gone, too,” he assured her.

“So,” Peter said, “Prince Stiles. What are you doing here? Wasn’t the agreement that you and Derek would be engaged when you turned eighteen?”

Laura glared at him. “We talked about this, Uncle Peter.”

“But have you told Derek?” he pressed, smiling.

“Yes,” Derek muttered. He was glaring at his place setting. He was also, Stiles noticed, wearing nicer clothes than he’d been in earlier.

It eased Stiles’s tension a bit, made him smile a little.

“We all know why Stiles is here.” Laura looked at Derek, to her right. “I suppose now would be the time, Derek, to tell us if we should give up banking on the treaty with the Stilinski kingdom?”

Derek looked up, looked at his sister. He glanced at Stiles. “We have time to talk, right?” he muttered. “Do I have to make a decision right now?”

Laura shook her head. “As long as it’s not a definite no right now.”

Derek nodded and looked back at the table. He had his hands in his lap, head bowed.

It made him look like he was trying to disappear.

When dinner was served, Stiles discovered rabbit meat stew in front of him, which had his head snapping up.

Derek was smiling at his plate—steak, well-done for once—but he didn’t acknowledge Stiles otherwise.

Laura had dessert brought out, too, not even letting Peter leave the table until he ate some of the ice cream.

“I’m going to interrogate Kate tomorrow,” Laura announced.

Derek went tense next to her. The spoon in his hand snapped in half, which was impressive. It didn’t even bend first.

Laura set her hand on his back. “I need to know their plan, why they want Stiles, and where they’re going to strike next.”

“And who turned Gerard Argent into a werewolf. And how they got past our wards?” Peter asked pleasantly.

“That, too,” Laura mumbled.

Isaac made a soft noise behind Stiles; Laura shushed him, but Peter smiled at him. A flash of fang caught the light.

“You don’t like it when Alpha gets reminded of her lack of foresight, do you?”

Isaac snorted.

Peter leaned back in his chair, expanding his chest, and smiled. “Don’t worry, little one. I’m here to help Laura, so that I can get back to mourning my daughters.” He stood, patted Laura’s shoulder, and left the room.

Laura rested her chin on her hand. “Calm down, Isaac. He’s always an insufferable ass.” Her eyes were sad though; the daughters Peter spoke of had been her cousins, too.

“Oh, good. I thought it was me,” Stiles said, hoping for a laugh.

“No, that’s just Peter,” Cora sighed.

“I’m going to go to my study for a while. Think of how to do this thing.” Laura stood. “You guys have, uh, fun.”

“Your Majesty, a word?” Erica asked.

“Uh, sure. Over—out in the hall?”

“Mmhm.”

Stiles watched her and Isaac follow Laura to the hall, then turned back to the two Hale siblings with him.

Cora licked the last bit of ice cream from her spoon and got up. “I’d love to stay and witness this conversation, but eavesdropping makes Laura’s hair stand on end with rage, so I’d rather go do that.”

Stiles scowled at her bouncing ponytail as she left. “Is she always so forthright about meddling?

Derek snorted. “If she’s anything like Emilia, yes.” He dropped his gaze again. “Not that I’d know if she was.”

Stiles swallowed. “Ah. Yeah. Well, at first she was hostile and aggressive. And now she’s mostly sarcastic and really cheerful about poking her nose in everyone else’s business.”

“Yeah, that was Emmy.” Derek bit his lip until it bled, then licked it away after the cut healed. “This is hard. I don’t—know you, but I…trust…you.”

Stiles leaned back when staff came to clear the table. “Well, I have spent weeks trying to help you be yourself again.”

Derek nodded. “Yes, I know.” He scowled. “I can’t remember everything. I remember—I, um, attacked you. In the library. Or I remember the feelings.” He met Stiles’s eyes. “Your face still has scars. I’m sorry.”

Stiles tried to shrug, then winced when the movement tugged at his not-quite-healed stitches. “You weren’t exactly yourself.”

“I’m sorry anyway. Laura was right, earlier.” He looked uncomfortable. “That wasn’t like me. I’m just really—I feel really—”

“Angry?”

He nodded slowly. “Yes. How-?”

“You get to pissed off after you work through the devastation,” Stiles said quietly. “Or, I guess, after you come back from being a wolf for a few years.”

Derek quirked a small smile.

“So what do we do now?” Stiles asked cautiously. “We do have to eventually make a decision.”

He nodded. “So we should talk. And—stuff.”

“That’s—yeah. Good. And we can get to know each other. And then—decide.” Stiles smiled awkwardly. “Try to come to an agreement together about the betrothal.”

Derek nodded. “But I don’t really have a choice, do I? If we want help from your kingdom.”

Stiles shook his head, extending his hand over the table instinctively; Derek jerked back, then flushed.

“If your final decision is no,” he said quickly, before Derek could try to apologize, “we could talk to my father. He’s fair. Really. He’d listen to us, give us a chance.”

“Yeah.” Derek stood up, still flushed. “But then he wouldn’t really trust us after that, would he? He would always wonder if we’re going to renege on an agreement, and that would damage our kingdoms’ relationship.”

Stiles shrugged with his good shoulder. “That’s probably true.” He sighed, standing up as well, and smiled again. “I guess we should hope we get along, then, huh?”

“Yeah,” Derek said quietly.

When Erica and Isaac returned, Derek bade Stiles an awkward goodnight and left the dining room rather quickly.

Stiles watched him go.

“Whoa, jeeze,” Isaac sputtered, “what is that?

“What’s what?” Erica demanded.

Stiles covered his face.

“Oh,” Isaac said, sniffing closer to Stiles. He jerked away when Stiles batted at him. “Stiles likes Prince Derek,” he said smugly. “Or he likes watching him walk. A lot.”

“Shut up,” Stiles pleaded.

“You saw the guy running around mostly naked—and sometimes fully naked—for weeks, and slacks get you going?” Erica scoffed.

“I was more concerned with him trying to eat my face than his ass at the time, Erica!” Stiles said shrilly. He cleared his throat. “What were you talking to Laura about?”

They glared at each other.

Erica said, “We’re going with her to question Kate tomorrow.”

“What? Why?” he demanded.

Erica’s nostrils flared. “Because they were trying to kidnap you. It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Isaac added, a little darkly, “Besides, we can do stuff to get her to talk that Laura can’t.”

“Yeah, okay.” Stiles put his hands in his pockets. “Now what?”

“Now you can do whatever you want…within the castle.” Erica smiled.

Stiles sighed. “I guess I’ll let my father know that we’re working things out and need some more time.”

“You’d better tell him what happened.”

“Are you crazy?” He looked toward the busted window that the table sat beside, as if his father might have heard him through it. “He’d be here in seconds.”

“Okay, that’s an exaggeration,” Erica huffed. “Plus, you can water it down. This way, he’ll hear it from you and not from any of his little spies.”

“Parrish,” Isaac put in helpfully. “Andrews. Daehler. Martine.” He stopped when Stiles glared at him.

“I’m well aware his knights send him reports.” He crossed his arms. “If I tell him, he’s going to freak out and come here. Or drag me home. Or both.”

“If you don’t, he’s going to assume Queen Laura asked you not to,” Erica pointed out. “So he’ll be pissed and unwilling to help them. So, you can decide what you want to do.” She smiled sweetly.

Stiles groaned and started trudging toward the door. “Stop guilt-tripping me. One day it’s not going to work!”

“Sure,” Erica snickered.

 

After Stiles sent his father’s carefully-worded letter early the next morning, he went to the kitchen and asked the staff for a little help.

The cook who ran the kitchen, Dutch, had some opinions on Stiles’s plan, namely that he liked the sentiment but disapproved of the menu.

He had a kitchen maid bring him a basket to load food into.

“Well, actually, I thought I would just grab some—uh, fruit, maybe? And—or not,” he said hastily when Dutch glowered at him.

“Fruit for breakfast. Are you trying to woo a werewolf or one of those bunnies he likes to bring you?” Dutch batted him away from the basket. “Just sit over there. Stay out of my fridge,” he added fiercely.

“Hey! I wasn’t going in the fridge,” Stiles protested, leaning against a counter. He was pouting a little. His plan had been hijacked.

“You’re the one who has been raiding my fridge at night. I see all,” he added. He started packing plastic containers into the basket. “Now, Prince Derek had a bit of a sweet tooth as a kid, but he doesn’t like to admit it. Emilia used to tease him about it.” Sadness crossed Dutch’s wide face as he spoke of her. “Jeremy—that was his younger brother—would sneak sour candy into his stash, stir things up.” He shook a container of candied watermelon at Stiles before packing it with the other food. “Marietta, get a blanket for me.”

A brunette maid bustled off while everyone around them began preparing breakfast for the rest of the household.

Erica and Isaac were already gone when Stiles woke, leaving Boyd and Scott on duty. They were waiting outside of the kitchen for him. Dutch, all 6’7 of him, had looked at them and demanded to know if they thought their Prince wouldn’t be safe with him in his booming voice, and they’d decided they could guard the door.

Marietta returned with the blanket, which Dutch draped over the basket.

“Here. Go wake him up. Don’t let him question it,” Dutch added. “He’ll try and act like he doesn’t want to go, but he will. Ask Laura, he’s a romantic.”

“Uh—”

“And ask him about his paintings!” Dutch added fiercely. “Don’t talk about anything to do with Argents or his family.”

“Okay!” Stiles said loudly. “I think I can handle this from here. Thank you for your help, really!” He took the basket and hustled out before Dutch could offer any more tips.

 

Stiles knocked impatiently on Derek’s bedroom door, bouncing on his toes until it came open.

Derek glowered at him. “Why?” he croaked.

“Come on! Put a shirt on. We’re going outside.”

“No. It’s eight am. No.”

Stiles put his foot in the door before Derek could slam it. “Come on! Seriously, you have to.” He lifted the basket and saw Derek’s nose twitch. “Ah-ha! See? You have to! It’ll be fun.”

Derek squinted at him. “Who goes on a picnic at eight in the morning?”

“Me, obviously.” He grinned and shook the basket gently. “Don’t you want to come?”

Derek glared at him for along moment before turning and retreating into his room.

Stiles stood in the open door for a moment, confused and a little hurt.

Before he could give up and leave, however, Derek returned, fully dressed. He lifted his brows when Stiles just stared at him.

“Right. Yeah. Good morning, by the way,” Stiles added, smiling.

Derek seemed generally suspicious of Stiles’s antics, but he eventually smiled when Stiles exclaimed over a painting he hadn’t paid attention to before while they walked.

They went to the front courtyard, with Scott and Boyd walking a few feet behind them. It was sunny out, but not quite hot yet, the grass still damp with dew. Stiles veered toward the fountain, figuring it would keep them cool if it got too warm.

Stiles spread out the thick blanket and set the basket in the middle. Then he got to work setting out the food, opening containers and trying not to tip anything over. He saw a bottle of champagne in the basket and rolled his eyes, cursing Dutch. He shoved it to the bottom of the basket and took out everything else.

Derek stood at the edge of the blanket, arms crossed, studying the spread with a closed expression.

Stiles fumbled with a container of bacon, suddenly nervous. He sat back on his heels and blew out a breath. “Listen, I—well, I thought this was a good idea, but-”

“It was,” Derek interrupted. He sat down carefully, avoiding the containers as he crossed his legs. “I just wanted to see what you brought.” He plied the top off of a container near his knee. “Either I spoke a lot more than I thought I did, or Dutch is still the cook.” He tipped the candied watermelon toward Stiles so he could see.

“Or I’m psychic and knew exactly what you liked.” He laughed when Derek looked skeptical. “Okay, Dutch may have commandeered our picnic.”

“Dutch has strong opinions about food,” Derek said, amused.

“I noticed,” Stiles muttered. “Anyway. Breakfast!” He clapped his hands and gestured grandly.

“Thank you.”

He smiled. “You’re welcome.” He added, “It was the least I could do, what with you providing me with so much rabbit.”

Derek’s cheeks colored; he popped a piece of bacon in his mouth and shrugged innocently, gesturing at his mouth to indicate that he couldn’t speak with his mouth full.

“Yeah, yeah.”

While they ate, they moved to lighter topics; Derek asked Stiles what he normally did while he was at home.

Stiles wrinkled his nose. “Learn diplomacy and other very exciting things a king should know.”

Derek’s brows lifted. “You’re twenty and already being trained? I thought elementals ruled until their heir was…much older than that.” He frowned thoughtfully.

“They…usually…do. We have long lifespans. But Father wants me educated, that way if he wants or needs to step down sooner than normal, I’ll be prepared.”

He nodded. “That makes sense. We usually don’t start training our heirs until later—twenty-five at the earliest, I think. Which,” he took a hitching breath, “is why Laura is struggling to learn as she goes.”

Stiles couldn’t find the words to tell Derek that his family’s untimely demise was the reason Nathaniel had decided to start Stiles’s more focused training early.

“What kind of paints do you use?” he asked. He grinned when Derek looked confused. “I’m asking about your interests.”

“Ah, I see. Well, I usually use acrylics, but I’ve done oils and water color.” He smiled shyly. “The one I sent for your birthday was acrylic.”

“It’s really beautiful,” Stiles said, excited. “I still have it, in my study. I like to look at it when I’m supposed to be studying.”

“Good. I’m glad.” He laughed a little. “Not that you use it to get out of studying, I meant—that you liked the painting.”

“I do.” Stiles picked at the remains of his food.

“I spent a month agonizing over it,” Derek admitted in a rush. “Over what I’d send, since Uncle Peter wouldn’t be visiting again for a few years.”

Stiles laughed. “How did you end up choosing?”

He shrugged. “I fell asleep outside in the garden and dreamt of the scene. It took me three days before I got it exactly how I wanted it.”

Stiles stretched out on his back. “Are you going to start painting again?”

“Maybe. If inspiration strikes. And if Laura will get me more paint.” Derek started methodically stacking the empty containers. “What are your interests at home?” he asked while he was still focusing on the containers.

“A little of everything, I guess,” Stiles laughed. “Reading, tinkering, driving the rest of the household mad.”

“What do you tinker with?”

“Oh, anything I can get ahold of, unfortunately. I like gardening, too. History. Taking pictures. Finding out why cameras work around us, but guns don’t.”

“Digital cameras work. The ones with film don’t. Gun powder is just as unreliable around so much magic. I always wondered why.”

Stiles tilted his head to the side, watching clouds drift by. “One time someone came into the castle with a gun, and it blew up in their pocket,” he told him. “You’d think people would stop trying.”

Derek nodded, sliding a little closer until he was sort of leaning over Stiles, who was still laying on his back. “Can I try something?”

He blinked at him. “Only if it doesn’t hurt.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “It’s not going to hurt,” he said, leaning closer.

“Dude, you chewed on my arm,” Stiles protested.

“Don’t call me dude,” Derek mumbled against his mouth, and then they were kissing.

Stiles reached up for Derek’s face, holding him in place and arching closer, using his other arm to lever himself up.

Derek hooked an arm around his back, helping him sit up.

Stiles opened his eyes and had to break the kiss, gasping a laugh. “Sorry,” he said quickly. “I wasn’t laughing at you. That was nerves, I swear.” He touched his bottom lip lightly. “That was nice,” he added quietly.

Derek nodded, licking his lips and looking dazed. “Yeah. Yes, it was.”

“Hmm. Again?”

Derek laughed shyly and leaned in, cupping Stiles’s cheek this time as they kissed.

 

They didn’t go back inside until near eleven, discovering Cora waiting for them in the foyer.

“Well?” she demanded. “Are you going to get married or not?”

Cora,” Derek hissed, turning red.

“You’re blushing!” Cora bounced to her feet and clapped excitedly. “That’s good,” she added to Stiles, beaming.

“Is it?” Stiles peered closely at Derek, making him blush more. “It’s certainly cute.”

“Is Laura done?” Derek asked, his blush fading. He was looking at his shoes, his jaw clenched.

“She came back about an hour ago and got something to eat. She didn’t say anything about how it went.” She looked at Stiles. “Erica and Isaac went to rest. I don’t know where they are now.” She plucked at the skirt of her dress. “If it helps, Derek, Stiles is kind of hilarious and he argued with Laura so he could stay even after you attacked him.” With that, she turned and walked away.

“She was trying to distract me,” Derek mumbled.

“Well, yeah. You look so—small—when we bring up K—the prisoner.”

Derek’s head snapped up; Stiles had to stop himself from taking a step back. “I’m not sad about her. I’m angry. She used me to kill my family. I’m angry and sick.”

“She’s gross,” Stiles agreed. He couldn’t convince himself that his heart was hammering just from thinking about what Kate had done—Derek’s sudden movement still frightened him a little.

“I’m disgusted with myself,” Derek growled. “I let her hurt my family. I fell for her crap. You read the letters and you were disgusted. I just thought I was in love.”

“Yeah, but I’m twenty. You were fifteen. And you’d been with her in person, too, right? I’m sure she was fairly convincing.” Stiles shook his head. “You’re not at fault.” His mouth dropped open as he thought. “Wait, you don’t think you’re at fault, do you? Derek?”

“If I’d been smarter, or even told one of my sisters, my family would still be alive. I’m going to paint,” he added quickly. He flashed a weak smile. “Thank you for the picnic. I enjoyed it.” He left Stiles standing in the foyer with Boyd and Scott at his back.

Stiles sighed dejectedly and turned to them. “How badly did I screw that up?” he

“He’s going to need to let it out sooner or later,” Scott said. “You can just let him know that you’re willing to listen.”

“And don’t push too hard,” Boyd added. “We don’t want him regressing and biting you again.”

Scott smirked craftily. “I doubt biting will be a problem, even if Derek goes feral again.”

“You’re not supposed to watch,” Stiles hissed, mortified.

“We didn’t!” Scott said innocently. “We do have to check every few minutes and, let’s face it, most of those minutes you guys were kissing.”

Stiles made a face at him, which he responded to by sticking out his tongue.

“If you two are done acting like children,” Boyd said loudly, “we can go find Isaac and Erica to find out what they got out of Argent.”

“Oh. Right. Good idea.” Scott ducked his head, embarrassed.

Erica was sprawled on the sofa in the sitting area of Stiles’s rooms, looking partially asleep.

“Hey,” she mumbled, sitting up. She stretched and yawned, digging her bare toes into the carpet. “Don’t wake Isaac up. That was rough on him.”

“What did you learn?” Stiles asked, toeing his shoes off next to the door.

“Basically nothing.” Erica scowled, shoving her hair off her face. “She admitted to seducing Derek and killing the family. She used mountain ash to trap them inside and…yeah. She went into plenty of detail about that.”

Stiles grimaced. “To upset Laura.”

She nodded. “Exactly. She wasn’t as forthcoming about the future plans. They got in by the ports in the east,” she added. “All of the coast guards are ill with wolfsbane poisoning.” She held her hands out, palms up. “And that’s all we learned.”

“You were down there for five hours,” Scott said, eyes widening.

“Yeah, and that’s all we’ve got.” She looked infuriated. “We’re going down again tomorrow. Laura doesn’t want to really torture her until we have no other options.”

Really torture?” Scott echoed.

Erica shrugged. “She tried to kidnap Stiles, and she killed the majority of the Hale pack. My conscience is clear.” She crossed her ankles. “And where were you going this morning?”

Stiles flopped down beside her. “I went and had a picnic with Derek for breakfast.”

“Oooh!” Her eyes lit up and she grinned, sitting up and wiggling in place. “Tell me how that went.”

He did, finishing with the Kate conversation. “And now he probably hates me,” he concluded, collapsing against the back of the sofa.

“Oh, psh.” She rolled her eyes. “He’s upset. He’s got a right to be.” She poked his shoulder. “Not everything’s about you!”

“What? Of course it is!” He smiled, comforted. “Thanks.”

“Someone’s got to deflate that head of yours occasionally. Your crown won’t fit.”

He sneered at her, and she hit him with a throw pillow.

 

Stiles had to beg Scott not to wake Erica that night when he got up for a snack.

“Stiles,” he protested. “Twice you’ve been jumped in the castle, not counting the times Derek attacked you.”

“But never in the kitchen,” Stiles pointed out. “Please, Scotty. I’m hungry.”

“Then I’ll come with you.”

“And leave your post? Erica will rip your face off. Ten minutes. Promise.”

Scott groaned. “Fine. Be-”

“Good, careful, yeah, I got it.” He waved over his shoulder on the way down the hall.

He crept into the kitchen like a criminal, his skin creeping with anxiety, nervous giggles coming from his throat. He pressed his sleeve to his mouth to muffle the noise. Suddenly the idea that Dutch might catch him made it a little more nerve-wracking to sneak food.

He left the light off and crept toward the fridge, his fingers just brushing the door when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye.

He jerked back, gasping. “Sorry! I—uh—water,” he babbled, hands held up in surrender.

The light turned on, blinding Stiles momentarily.

When his vision cleared, he saw not Dutch but Derek, holding half a sandwich.

“Hungry?” he asked, setting his sandwich on a napkin. He leaned a hip against the counter, smirking.

“Oh my gods, thank gods, I thought you were Dutch,” Stiles gasped.

Derek laughed. “Yeah, he strikes fear in the hearts of everyone.”

“Is that why Laura never comes in here?” Stiles asked, snorting.

“Yes. That and one time she nearly killed all the kitchen staff when she tried to make soup.”

“Oh, jeeze.”

Derek gestured at the fridge. “Don’t mind me, I was just going back to my room. I got what I wanted.”

“Oh. Okay. Yeah. I should.” He gestured somewhat vaguely, wildly, at the fridge. “Yeah. Food.”

Derek chuckled, taking his sandwich with him toward the door. “Goodnight, Stiles.”

Chapter Text

Derek paid Stiles back for the early morning picnic a couple days later. He dragged him out of bed when it was still dark out, tugging him by hand down the halls and out a side door he hadn’t even noticed before.

“What is the matter with you?” Stiles yawned, barely keeping up. “Am I being punished? I promise, I’ll never wake you again.”

Derek laughed and shook his head. “You are not being punished.” He opened a wrought iron gate and nudged Stiles through. “You said you liked gardening.”

“Yes, I did.” Stiles looked around with eyes that were still not fully opened. “Generally, I garden during the day. When the sun is out…?”

Derek rolled his eyes, gently shoving Stiles down on a stone bench he hadn’t even seen. “Quit complaining.”

“If you wanted me to see the garden, you picked an odd time for…it…” he trailed off as Derek leaned down, putting them face-to-face.

“Stop complaining,” he reiterated, kissing Stiles’s nose lightly.

“Well—I—you—” he sputtered, flushing. “When you put it that way…”

Derek smiled and sat beside him, their shoulders just brushing. “Sunrise,” he said smugly.

Stiles blinked and turned. It was still dark enough that the garden was mostly shadows and bright spots of flowers in the dark.

Stiles swung his legs, unable to keep still.

The way the garden was designed made the milky sunlight creeping through the fence look like water flowing down the stone paths.

It was amazing to watch—the higher the sun rose, the more colors the paths changed, pink to red to gold.

Stiles blinked, somewhat dazzled by the time the sun was completely risen. “Whoa. Who, uh, who designed-?”

“My Aunt Michelle designed it for Uncle Tamas for their fourth anniversary.” Derek sighed softly. He nudged Stiles lightly. “Want breakfast?”

“Hey, a breakfast picnic was my idea.”

Derek laughed. “Are you hungry or not?”

“I am, I am!”

“Good.” He pulled a basket out from under the bench.

“That is so cheesy. And adorable.”

Derek laughed again.

After breakfast, Derek wanted to go back inside, which was probably logical, but it was turning into such a clear, hot day that Stiles had to drag him around to the front and jump into the fountain.

“We’re not really supposed to play in the fountain…” Derek said slowly, watching Stiles splash around.

He’d already shed his pajama shirt and rolled his pants up, not that it’d helped much—he’d slipped already and was sitting waist deep in pleasantly cool water bubbling gently around him.

“Why not?” Stiles asked, kicking his feet a little.

“Well, because it’s…it’s for display…”

“For what guests?” Stiles laughed.

Derek stared at him. “You, I guess.”

Stiles paddled his feet and splashed at Derek’s shoes, laughing. “Come on, Derek! Please!” He fell back so the water covered his hair and face for a moment, sitting back up with a laugh.

He laughed, shaking his head. “Alright.” He stripped his shirt off, kicked his shoes toward the grass, and climbed in. He winced, looking over his shoulder like he thought someone was going to yell at him.

Stiles jumped up and kicked water at him, racing to the other side.

Derek retaliated by redirecting the spray from the top at his face.

Sputtering, Stiles said, “That doesn’t bother me! I’m already all wet!” He rounded the side and threw water at Derek’s head, matting his hair down. “Now you are, too.” He grinned impishly.

“This is the first time I’ve seen you without guards,” Derek observed, wiping water out of his eyes.

“That’s because Scott and Boyd were eating when you came to drag me out of bed at that horrible hour.”

Derek kicked water at him. “You woke me up at seven fifty the other day!”

“The sun was up!” Stiles tackled him, sent them slipping into the water with an almighty splash. “Not that I didn’t enjoy the sunrise,” he added, resting his chin on Derek’s chest and grinning.

Derek rolled his eyes and shoved Stiles’s head under water for a second.

He popped back up and shoved Derek under, slipping forward slightly. As he did so, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned, frowning, and spotted Parrish and Daehler watching them from afar.

Parrish lifted a hand in greeting, shrugging sheepishly when Stiles glared at him. He mouthed ‘Erica’.

Derek pressed up close behind Stiles, startling him. “I guess that means we’re being watched again.”

“They’re not watching, really. Just…guarding.” Stiles sighed and leaned his head against Derek’s. “Does that make you uncomfortable?” He bit his lip. “We can stop and go inside if you want.”

Derek traced a finger gently over the scar on Stiles’s shoulder. “We could go in and make ourselves lunch and take a walk.”

“Are you kidding? If we wander too far from the castle, Erica will sprout claws, hunt us down, and kill us both.” Stiles wiggled around until he was face-to-face—and chest-to-chest—and grinned. “Wanna risk it?”

Derek laughed. “Just to the woods in the back. Let’s go get changed and have lunch first.”

Parrish and Daehler followed them; they stayed further back than Erica and Isaac normally did, but Stiles still felt like his skin was crawling, like he was being stalked rather than guarded.

“So, isn’t Dutch going to kill us for using the kitchen?”

“No. He takes Thursdays off, except for dinner.” Derek grinned. “Meet me in the kitchen after you change.”

“What, really?” Stiles whined. “I’m hungry now.”

Derek reached out and plucked at Stiles’s wet sweatpants. “Go change. If you get sick, Erica will probably kill me. Then you.”

“Elementals don’t get sick like that,” Stiles scoffed. He made a face. “But we do chafe, ouch.”

“See? Go change.”

Scott and Boyd took over for Parrish and Daehler, much to Stiles’s relief. He couldn’t say why, but he’d felt unsettled ever since he noticed them watching over him.

Which was unfair, he knew. Parrish was a good knight, one of Nathaniel’s most trusted, and Daehler had been trained with Erica and Boyd, so while Stiles didn’t really know him, they did, and had never said anything bad about him.

“What were you guys doing?” Scott asked, watching Stiles fling his wet pajamas into the laundry basket across the room.

“We watched the sunrise in the garden and,” Stiles grunted, hopping on one foot to get his jeans on, “we went to play in the fountain.”

“Are you allowed to play in the fountain?” Boyd wondered.

“Uh. Well. No.” Stiles shrugged and ran a hand through his wet hair. “But it was fun anyway, and now we’re going to make lunch and take a walk in the woods.”

Boyd’s eyes turned full gray, a slow breeze kicking through the room. “You might want to save the walk for later. Storm,” he added, his eyes turning brown again. “Should roll in about thirty minutes from now.”

Stiles scowled. “When will you teach me how to do that?” he demanded.

“When Erica teaches me how to scry with water,” Scott sighed.

“Find something else to do,” Boyd suggested.

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Stiles glowered at the window, where clear, bright sunlight was still coming in. “If this is your way of making sure I stay inside-”

Boyd’s flat expression halted his accusation there.

He threw his hands up. “If a storm doesn’t show up in thirty minutes, we’re going on a walk.”

“If you say so.” Boyd smiled blandly.

It was still sunny ten minutes later when Derek and Stiles crept into the kitchen like children hoping to sneak cookies after bedtime.

“Boyd says it’s going to storm,” Stiles said, watching Derek dig through the fridge.

“Huh. Do you like cheddar?”

“Yessss. What do we do if he’s right?”

“Widow’s walk,” Derek said. He turned around with a hunk of cheese in his hands.

“Widow’s walk…” Stiles repeated.

Derek pulled out a cutting board and knife and started slicing methodically at the cheese. “Get some bread and butter, please.” He stacked his cheese neatly on the side of the cutting board and started again. “And I meant, we can go to the attic, open up the widow’s walk, and eat there, watching the storm. If it storms, that is.” He grinned.

“Yeah…” Stiles brought the bread and cheese to Derek. “Grilled cheese?”

“Mmhm.”

“Wait a sec.” Stiles ducked back into the fridge. “Leftover ham,” he crowed. “Yum. Put that on the sandwiches. On…my…sandwich,” he tacked on quickly when Derek turned to look at him.

“Good idea,” was all he said, taking the ham.

While Derek built the sandwiches in a frying pan, Stiles sliced up a couple of apples and put some grapes with them in a bowl. He poked around and found some crackers in a cabinet, along with some cookies set aside in a little container. He put those with the other snacks.

Derek was just sliding the last sandwich into the container when thunder rolled outside.

“Damn,” Stiles muttered. “He’s always right.”

“Attic it is,” Derek said. He packed the food away into the basket, followed by two waters. “Come on.” He hesitated, then grabbed Stiles’s hand, lacing their fingers together. He led him from the room with one hand gripping their food basket.

 

The attic was home to dusty boxes and covered paintings, all clustered in a far corner. The rest was clean swept and dust-free. There was a small table near the glass doors that blocked off the widow’s walk, along with two folding chairs leaning against it.

Derek set the basket on the table and went to work opening the glass doors, letting in the rain and thunder.

“Why up here?” Stiles asked, unfolding the chairs.

“I like storms,” Derek replied simply. He kept facing the walk, the storm, when he said, “And I wanted to get far away from Peter and my sisters so I could talk to you.”

“Oh.” Stiles nodded. “Okay. Well, this and the storm should work. Right?”

Derek slowly turned around. “Right.”

He was quiet while they plucked out the food, which made Stiles nervous. When he was nervous, he babbled.

“Once,” he found himself saying, “when Scott, Isaac, and I were about seven, my parents were having some sort of conference and dinner with a witch coven—the crone had come to visit or something.” He waved a hand in front of his face. “I don’t remember, it seemed really boring at the time. Anyway, my dad thought we’d be best kept in the kitchen, that way if we got bored, we were together, and if we got hungry, food was right there. Plus, our cook, Marie Lynette, was really good at handling rambunctious little boys, because she had five of her own. So she had us playing with one of those toy kitchen sets—pretending to cook while they were cooking, you know?”

Derek nodded, his lips quirking as Stiles’s voice shook with suppressed laughter.

“So we’re in a part of a kitchen they don’t use for dinner—I think it was where they baked actually, it was so big—I was banned after this, you’ll see why—and we’re just playing pretend, having a great time, while everyone ignores us, bustling around. And the kitchen staff, they adored us, so we got a cookie each time someone passed us and remembered we were there. Well, I got the…inspired idea that we could cook with real eggs. We were in the kitchen, after all,” he added innocently.

“You did not.”

“Oh, I did. But wait,” he cried when Derek let out a shout of laughter. “You think you know how this ends! Rotten eggs forgotten in the toys, something like that. You don’t!” He waited until he had Derek’s attention again. “So, brilliant plan in mind, Scott and I went to the fridge—the one by us, there were two, one for baking, one for cooking—and got out the eggs. Well, with such a large household, things had to get bought in bulk, and two seven-year-olds aren’t really coordinated enough for forty or more eggs.”

Derek seemed caught between horror and laughter, which was normal for this particular Stilinski Shenanigans Story.

“So we dropped the eggs. They just went all over the place. Isaac came running over, all freaked out—he was more afraid of getting in trouble than us, understandably—and he slipped in the egg—right down to the other side of the kitchen.”

Derek’s shoulders started shaking, which encouraged Stiles, making his gestures more expansive.

“Naturally, the only thing for us to do was to slide with him! We all took turns, laughing our asses off, until the eggs stopped being slippery. Then we hunted around and found the industrial sized dish soap under a cabinet.” He sighed fondly. “So, so much fun, until the visiting Crone wanted to meet the, ah, darling children who were all that “ringing laughter”. And she wanted to thank the cook for the meal, might as well do it all at once. We knew we were in for it and were running around, dripping wet with egg and soap, slipping into each other, when Father, Mother, and the Crone all troop in to find the three of us, just…standing in the middle of the mess.”

Stiles wiped his eyes. “Marie Lynette had just noticed us, too, and she was—trying very hard not to laugh, and to pretend she was furious. Mother was generally good-natured about it, as long as we understood we’d be cleaning the mess. The Crone was the best, though,” he added, nodding excitedly, “she was like a hundred and fifty years old and she just got down at our level, winked, and the whole mess turned into water. She reminded my parents that she had about twenty great-grandkids and knew children were messy.”

“How long was she gone before they got to you?” Derek wheezed.

Stiles sighed wistfully. “About two minutes. There was a long lecture about wasting food, making messes, bad behavior, disrespect. My dessert was to be donated to orphanages for three months, and they let Scott and Isaac know how disappointed they were, which made us all feel about two inches tall.” He shrugged. “It was fun while it lasted.”

Derek nodded, his gaze on the table again. “Thank you for sharing.”

“You looked like you could use a laugh,” Stiles said quietly.

“I appreciate it.” He sighed softly and gestured at the chairs. “We should sit and eat.”

“You said you wanted to talk,” Stiles reminded him. He sat down, though, and used the lid to a container for a plate. He started filling it without looking to keep his hands busy.

“I was just, um.” Derek inhaled deeply and seemed to force himself to sit. “I just thought I should tell you some of what went on with...with Kate, instead of just letting you just…guess from the letters.”

“She was horrible to you, eleven years older, and psychotic,” Stiles said, ticking things off on his fingers. “Isn’t that what I need to know?”

Derek shook his head, though it looked more like a dog shaking water from its ears than a no gesture. “She wasn’t horrible at first, and by the time she was horrible, she’d made me feel like she was right.” He gave a shuddering sigh. “She came to visit when I was fourteen, about to turn fifteen, and I guess that’s around when she was trying to figure out which of us to…” He shrugged. “Emilia didn’t give her the time of day, Laura barely restrained herself from baring fangs at her, and Jeremy wasn’t interested in anyone, let alone someone her age.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s your fault, just because your siblings didn’t pay attention to her,” Stiles put in.

Derek gave him a small smile. “Yeah, I guess. We used to meet in different places around the kingdom—always ours, never close to Argent territory. She made it seem like I was getting away with something, and that I should keep risking it, because she loved me.” He shook his head. “I don’t know how I didn’t hear her lying. Didn’t want to, I guess.” He crushed a cracker under his thumb. “She used to scratch me—I think she put wolfsbane or something in her nail polish, because it used to burn for hours after it healed—and ask if it hurt, and how could it hurt if it healed so fast?”

Stiles set down the apple slice he’d been about to eat, sickened. “Derek, that’s-”

“I know she was horrible,” Derek said quietly. “Except I apparently didn’t know it then, because when she told me she would miss me when we went away for the summer, I told her where it was—I told her where our summer house was. I didn’t know that Laura and I would have to stay behind for a week, so I didn’t tell her that. I figured she wouldn’t want to meet right away, anyway. Kate used to say I was clingy and needed to grow up,” he muttered. “Peter stayed behind to watch Laura and me and Cora wouldn’t go without Laura so we were just…here and then we heard and my family was gone and I knew it had to be Kate—I couldn’t…I couldn’t—?” His voice broke, eyes flashing gold.

Stiles kept still, letting him get ahold of himself.

“I couldn’t deal with it. And Uncle Peter, he said he understood and he went with me and we’ve been protecting the grounds ever since.” He started separating the cracker crumbs from the bigger pieces, almost mesmerized. “But it didn’t change anything. Kate still got in and tried to kill everyone. Again.”

“Yeah, but she didn’t. You got Peter out of the fire, and the rest of us…somehow…got away from her.” Stiles frowned, momentarily stalled by the fact that he still didn’t remember what happened that night. He shook it off. “Kate’s the crazy person who targeted a fifteen-year-old to get at his family,” he added fiercely.

Derek shrugged, picking apart one of the sandwiches and putting a piece in his mouth.

Stiles’s eyes narrowed. “You’re unsubtle.” He took a bite of his own sandwich, chewing with some effort, as it tasted like sawdust on his tongue. He used the time to think.

“That’s—really all I wanted to talk about. Before we made a decision about the betrothal.” His face was pale, with sweat beading his forehead.

“I think you should talk to Laura about this.”

Derek choked.

“And Cora,” Stiles added, inspired. “It’ll make you feel better, to tell them what you just told me. To talk to your sisters.”

Derek shook his head. “They—Laura already knows what happened. Cora will hate me.”

“No, she’ll hate Kate, who is at fault,” Stiles said calmly. “And Laura never heard it from you. They love you and they’ll want to hear it.” They’d want the chance to tell Derek themselves that it wasn’t his fault.

“Maybe,” Derek said shiftily. “Maybe later.”

Stiles hummed and held out the bowl of grapes. “Here.”

The storm lasted through the rest of their lunch. Derek mentioned to Stiles that it would be a full moon that night, so he and the pack would probably be going for a run, if Laura thought it was okay.

“Would…non-wolf members of the pack usually join you?” Stiles asked casually while they cleared the table.

“Yeah, if it wasn’t storming so badly.” Derek looked toward the glass doors, which he’d closed when the wind started blowing the rain in too far. “But it’s so hard to see out, so you should stay behind this time.”

“Me?” Stiles squeaked.

Derek smirked. “Isn’t that why you were asking?”

“Well, I just—yes,” he admitted, flushing. “Yes, that’s why I asked.”

“Clear nights are better for non-wolves. Less chance of injury because of low visibility.”

“Ah.” Stiles lifted the basket full of empty dishes and held it out.

Derek took it and smiled.

They walked close together to the door, bumping shoulders amicably. On the stairs waiting, instead of Scott and Boyd, were Parrish and Daehler.

“Where’d they go?” Stiles demanded, annoyed.

“Went to help with Isaac. His temper is pretty short today,” Parrish added with a frown. “We’re filling in until they get done.”

“Where’s Laura now?”

“She’s in her office. Lord Peter is with Isaac, Erica, Boyd, and Scott outside.”

“You didn’t call him ‘Lord’ to his face, did you?” Derek demanded. He looked somewhat alarmed.

Parrish shook his head. “No. I haven’t spoken to him.”

“When you do, just call him Mr. Hale or Peter,” Derek said quickly. “He doesn’t like titles.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Who does?” he muttered. “Well, let’s get this stuff back to the kitchen.”

It was harder to walk comfortably with each other with Parrish and Daehler watching, at least for Stiles. He assumed it was because they weren’t his usual knights, which made him generally more aware of their presence.

When they neared Laura’s office, Stiles stopped, catching Derek’s hand gently.

“Why don’t you go talk to Laura while I handle the dishes?” he asked cheerily. “You can ask her what you’re doing for the full moon tonight, if you prefer,” he added when Derek tried to protest.

He sighed. “Okay.”

“Good. See you later.” Stiles gently tugged the basket free and patted Derek’s arm.

He glanced back to see Derek staring at Laura’s door, somehow managing to look small even though he was standing upright.

 

Derek was gone when Stiles passed by after putting the dishes away. He hoped he’d gone in and was talking to his sister, but he couldn’t be sure without the risk of interrupting or eavesdropping, so he just went back to his rooms.

He found his four regular knights there; Isaac was fast asleep on the floor by Erica’s feet,. Scott and Boyd were pulling on dry clothes behind her.

Stiles, without an ounce of shame, slammed the door in Parrish and Daehler’s faces.

“Get caught in the storm?” he asked pleasantly.

Boyd shot him a positively venomous glare that had him laughing.

“You got a letter,” Erica said. She was on the sofa, using a green towel to dry her dripping hair.

“From my dad? Already?”

She shrugged. “Yep.” She dropped the towel on Isaac’s chest and started braiding her hair.

Isaac didn’t stir.

Stiles sighed and went to the desk where the letters had been placed. There was a second letter beside it addressed to Scott in Lady Melissa’s hand.

Stiles smiled and made a mental note to write to her, too, and see how she was doing.

The smile fell away as he read his father’s letter.

Apparently he’d been too convincing in his last letter, where he claimed he and Derek were getting along better and were spending time to really decide what they wanted to do. Nathaniel felt that, since family was so important to Prince Derek, he should make the effort to come and meet the family.

“Crap,” he muttered.

“What’s wrong?” Scott asked, approaching him from behind.

He spun around, waving the letter. “He’s coming here.”

“What? Did he say when?” Scott’s eyes shot toward the scars on the side of Stiles’s face, thin and white, but definitely visible.

“He said…he left a couple days after he sent this.” Stiles passed the letter to Scott and pressed his hands to his face. “What am I gonna tell him?”

“You’ve still got a few days before he gets here,” Scott offered.

Stiles nodded grimly. “Yeah. I don’t want…I want to talk to Derek and come to a decision before my dad gets here and applies his, er, kingly pressure.” He groaned and covered his face again.

“Why don’t you go talk to Derek now?” Scott asked. He smiled craftily. “It’s not like you don’t know what you want.”

“I can’t talk to him now. He’s talking to Laura.” Stiles straightened and sighed. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow morning.”

“If you say so,” Scott said.

Stiles cringed. “I don’t want to bother him. It’s a full moon, and I think he wants to spend time with his sisters, Peter, and Isaac.”

Scott nodded. “While they run, Boyd and I will be on door duty, and Erica will be in here.”

He nodded absently. “I’m just going to…hang out in here for the rest of the night,” he muttered.

“Okay. Just relax,” Scott added sympathetically. “Your dad isn’t going to be mad.”

Stiles was more worried about him pushing Derek for a decision neither of them were sure of yet.

Chapter Text

Derek woke in a pile of fur. He stretched his legs out and slipped into his skin, yawning. Laura grunted and nuzzled her cold, wet nose under his neck. He turned his head and saw, for one heart-stopping second, his older sister Emilia. After staring breathlessly for a moment, he realized it was Cora. He closed his eyes again and turned his face into Laura’s fur.

Draped over his legs was Isaac, whose fur was dusty brown-yellow, almost the same color as Peter’s. Speaking of Peter, he was curled up under Laura’s front paws, snoring quietly.

“Good morning.”

He turned to Cora again.

She had her cheek pressed into dewy grass, the tip of her nose smudged with dirt. “What are you thinking about?”

The real answer, their dead siblings, had his throat closing. “Stiles,” he said instead. He did need to think about Stiles, so it wasn’t really a lie.

“Good thoughts?” she asked, brushing her hair off her cheek.

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Are you going to agree to the betrothal?” she pressed, her eyes lighting up.

She really did look a lot like Emilia, just like Laura looked like their mother. It was hard, looking at them and imagining blame on their faces.

Laura had assured him the night before that they didn’t blame him—she had paced and snarled about Kate while he explained and then had curled up around him like he was a baby.

They’d talked for so long that they missed dinner, and had gone straight to running with the pack. Laura had asked him, point blank, if he would come back to them if he shifted. He promised he would; he could make no promises about Peter, but it looked like he’d stuck with them anyway.

Cora poked him. “Hello?”

“Huh. Yeah.” He blinked at her. “I think maybe—yes?”

She squealed and sat up, wiggling in place.

Peter snorted and batted a paw at her, irritated.

“Sorry,” she whispered. She looked back at Derek and beamed. “Really?

He smiled a little. “Yes. I trust him, and I like him, and I really like kissing him,” he laughed.

“That sounds more like a maybe,” Cora said suspiciously.

“Well, if we need their help, and we do, maybe is just going to have to cut it.” Derek shrugged. “I do really like him,” he added softly. “I think we could fall in love, in time.” A smile crept to his face involuntarily.

Cora pounced on his chest. “Go tell him then!” she crowed, kissing his cheeks.

“Yeah, yes, I should.” He jumped to his feet, suddenly enthralled, imaging Stiles’s face, those sun shot whiskey eyes lighting up.

“Derek!” Cora called, giggling. “Pants first!”

“Right. Thanks!”

He went to his room and put on pants—and a shirt—and found himself almost giddy with the idea of talking to Stiles about this, about their marriage. He would ask if they could be married here, so his sisters could attend.

He was still half-daydreaming on his way to the guest wing, so the scent of blood had him crashing down to earth rather abruptly.

He ran, looking for the Stilinski knights who were usually guarding the hall. It was like they’d all abandoned their posts at once; or it was, until Derek noticed blood smearing the marble flooring in front of various doors.

He found one knight—the one who’d filled in for Isaac and Erica the day before—sprawled in front of Stiles’s door. His blond hair was matted down with blood, and his left leg was soaked in it.

Derek checked for a heartbeat—there, but thready—before pushing the door open.

Scott was unconscious in a pool of blood, but he was breathing, his hands flopped onto a gut wound as if he’d tried to stop the blood flow himself.

Erica was tied up five feet from him, her eyes bloodshot and blazing with rage. She was gagged, too, with the same kind of vines that kept her tied up.

To her right was Boyd. He wasn’t bleeding as much as Scott—it looked like his only wound was a bloodied knot on his forehead.

Derek went to Erica, slicing through her bonds with clawed hands. “Where is he?”

Daehler,” she spat. She pressed a hand to her stomach, which, once Derek had freed her, had started bleeding. “We thought he was coming to help us! Kate Argent escaped and we were all on the lookout—he must have freed her,” she snarled.

“But—” Fear coiled in his gut. If Kate was out, if she was loose and had Stiles… “She’s going to kill—she’ll-”

Erica flung water at his face, startling him. “They want him for something,” she said fiercely. “Killing him defeats the purpose of taking him alive.”

“But Kate likes to hurt people. She’ll want to…torture him.” Derek swallowed thickly.

“He can last until we get him,” she said through her teeth. She was struggling to get to her feet, trembling. “Daehler probably got to some Hale knights, too,” she panted. “He had wolfsbane. You should go get your sister. And,” she grimaced, sinking back to her knees, “maybe your doctor.”

“Right.”

He retrieved Deaton first—who knew how long they’d been bleeding?—then ran to get Laura.

She was already awake, wrestling with Cora and Isaac in the grass while Peter watched them disdainfully, still in his fur.

“Laura,” he called. “There’s an emergency.”

She stood with Isaac hanging off her back, reminding them all of her physical strength. “What happened?”

“K-Kate escaped. A Stilinski knight attacked Stiles’s personal guard and—took him.”

What?” Isaac demanded, dropping to his feet. “Who? Who would-?”

“Erica said—Daehler? The guy who was watching us yesterday.”

Isaac snarled, his face shifting, but he froze when Laura gripped his shoulder.

“Where are Stiles’s knights now?”

“Deaton is treating them. They were all wounded.”

“Isaac, go get dressed, come to my office when you’re done. Cora, too. Peter, Derek, check the castle for more injured knights—it’s the only way he could have gotten by them without them alerting us.”

Derek searched near the basement, finding three unconscious Hale knights and a dead Stilinski knight. The Hale knights were showing signs of wolfsbane poisoning, so he hauled them to the infirmary before going back for the knight’s body.

He found more clusters just like that around the castle, near exits and halls they would have had to have taken.

Deaton was tending the knights when he returned with the last poisoned knight he could find.

Stiles’s personal guards were all awake and bandaged, sitting side by side on one bed and looking seconds from an explosion.

Derek retreated to check the basement for more poisoned knights—he’d only found the ones on the steps. The closer he got to Kate’s cell, however, the more his stomach turned.

He could smell her, there, sweat and blood and pain all mixed up in the scent of her defiance. She used to smell metallic and amused when she and Derek would meet. The metallic scent would burn his nose, but he assumed it was just part of her, and he accepted it.

It turned out to be some sort of silver she would take in pill form to hide most of her emotions from him.

He stepped into her cell, a ten foot wide square of stone and metal. There were scorch marks on the ground, near some blood spatter and purple powder.

Derek felt his heart pounding, skittering like a trapped mouse. He was standing where Kate had been, he could smell her and could imagine her cruel laugh as Laura questioned her.

His knees stung when he fell, a brief moment of pain that he barely registered.

She used to laugh—cruelly, he remembered, though through the haze of hormones and first love it seemed giddy—when he would ask her why she liked to make him bleed.

Her answer was almost always because it amuses me that you bleed red.

All mammals bleed red, he would reply, confused, because he couldn’t understand that she meant it amused her to cause him pain, even temporarily.

She’d told him his family was dead before anyone else had. She’d said the look on his face was worth having missed him when she killed the rest. It was worth leaving him alive. She’d thanked him for helping her kill them. She couldn’t have done it without him.

Gagging, Derek doubled over.

He didn’t know how long he was down there before someone dragged him from the cell, into the stairway.

It was Peter, shaking him until he managed to focus on his face. “Are you with me now?”

“She—took—” he stammered.

“She has taken quite a bit from us,” Peter said coldly. “From you. So now we’re going to go up and listen to Laura’s plan, and come up with a way to get him back and kill her.”

 

Laura was already ranting to Isaac and Cora about getting Stiles back, even if she had to go herself.

“No,” Peter said, stepping into the study without knocking. “We need our Alpha here, and we need you whole. Alive.”

Derek followed him in a daze, barely registering Cora sitting at the edge of Laura’s desk.

“We have to be practical,” Peter continued. “We should track them. Daehler isn’t a witch, and Kate Argent certainly isn’t, so covering their tracks will be a lot harder for them.”

“Daehler is an earth elemental,” Isaac growled. “He’ll be able to cover tracks.”

“What about scents?” Laura demanded.

He shook his head. “Even if he could, he wouldn’t think of it.”

“Good,” Peter said. He looked at Laura. “Where shall we start?”

“You can’t go either!” Laura snapped. “She’ll kill you.”

“We have to do something. We can’t afford a war with the Stilinski kingdom, too. They’ll obliterate us.”

Derek crossed his arms, for lacking of anything better to do with his them. He wasn’t sure what he could contribute when he felt so cold and hollow. He felt like his personality had been scrubbed away along with any acute emotions like fear or anger.

“We won’t have to worry about that if we get him back soon. If—if we downplay it—Gods, I can’t even listen to myself spewing this crap.” She looked disgusted. “We’ll just have to tell him straight out and hope he values our honesty. If we tell him, he’ll be able to help get Stiles back and, honestly, that’s all I’m worried about right now.”

“If you tell Stilinski, he will be furious and blame us,” Peter snapped.

“What do you suggest?” Laura snarled. Her face had gone hard, her brown eyes glinting just slightly red.

“I suggest,” Peter said with silken anger, “you let me track Argent or Stiles, even if it’s only to the border. I can find an Argent soldier who knows where they’re going.” He scowled. “Though it’s most likely they’ve taken him to the Argent fortress.”

“Why fortress?” Isaac asked.

“Because the place is armed to the teeth and has more physical protections—a moat, spiked walls, guards, dogs, and pitfalls—than any palace I have ever seen.” Peter smiled. “Their walls have mountain ash in them, too.”

“How do you plan to get in if he’s there, then?” Laura asked wearily. She seemed resigned to listening to Peter’s advice.

Cora’s gaze was bouncing between the two of them and Derek, like she didn’t know who was going to explode first.

“I plan to send his knights in.”

“I’m a werewolf, too,” Isaac pointed out. “The rest are wounded.”

“Do you think that will stop them from coming?” Peter asked, amused. “Even if we leave them behind, they’ll just follow.”

“Derek?” Cora asked suddenly. “What do you think?”

He opened his mouth but couldn’t seem to find his voice. He snapped his jaw shut and found himself staring wordlessly at his sister.

“Derek’s not going,” Laura barked. “He needs to be here.”

Peter laughed, the cruel edge to it making Derek flinch. “You think that’s what he needs?”

“What? What are you talking about? Of course he needs-”

“He needs to be angry, or upset, or scared, instead of just standing there like he’s carved from ice!”

“You want him scared?” Laura demanded. “Why would you want that?”

“Because all he’s doing is bottling it up and the last time he didn’t deal with it, he spent nine years chasing rodents in the woods, so you’ll excuse me if I think a different method might be in order this time!”

“You were in those woods with him!” Laura screamed, her cheeks as red as her eyes in temper.

Behind her, Cora hunched back, trying to appear smaller.

“You left me to figure out how to do this by myself, too!”

“I made that choice! Derek snapped because he couldn’t deal with it then, either. I was conscious-”

“Yes, I am aware that you chose to abandon the remainder of your family to live in the woods!

“I was-”

“Mourning! Guess what? So were we! We lost everyone that you did, and you, and Derek! I had to basically raise Cora on my own, along with running the kingdom and trying not to go absolutely batshit with the new Alpha powers that I had no idea how to control!” Laura raged.

Peter started to yell back, but Derek snapped, “Shut up!” He was panting as if he’d been the one yelling; he felt like something fragile in his chest was about to shatter. “Stop it! This is pointless! While you two are yelling at each other, any scent trail they might have left could be getting swept away.” He looked at Laura. He felt his fangs prickling his bottom lip. “Peter’s right, Laura. I need to help get him back. I can’t…lose someone else to Kate.”

Laura’s nostrils flared with her angry breathing until her eyes dimmed. “Fine. Peter, go. Find out where he is and come back. Derek will go with you once you find out where they’ve taken him.”

Peter nodded sharply and left the room.

“Isaac, go update the other knights.”

When he was gone, Laura rounded on Derek; he shrunk back.

“I have to go,” he said quietly. “I have to help.”

“I know, I get it. Just be safe, be smart.” She swallowed. “Until he gets back, we need to be on our guard.” She turned and crouched in front of Cora, speaking to her softly, comforting her.

Derek listened guiltily. He wouldn’t know what to say to Cora to calm her down. She’d been eight the last time he really saw her. He doubted her stuffed otter would cheer her up this time.

 

They were still more or less in the same positions—except that Derek had curled his hands slowly into fists, claws digging into his palms, out of restlessness—when Isaac came bursting in, looking panicked.

Scott was hobbling behind him, his face sickly gray, one arm wrapped around his torso. “Your Highness,” he rasped, dropping into a half-bow when Laura rose. His shirt was open and bloodstained, revealing a bandage around his stomach where he’d been stabbed.

“What’s going on?” Laura demanded.

“Stiles was going to tell you this morning—his father is on his way and should be here tomorrow or the next day.”

What?” Laura pressed a hand to her face. “Oh my gods. Why is he coming?”

“Because he wants to meet you all since family is so important to Derek.” Scott gripped the doorjamb to keep himself upright.

“Oh my gods,” Laura breathed. She tugged at the ends of her hair, just like their Aunt Michelle used to.

Derek had noticed her doing it, but hadn’t made the connection until that moment, when he felt so shifty and unsettled.

“Okay.” Laura inhaled, relaxed her shoulders. “We’ve got Peter looking for their scents. If King Nathaniel arrives before we find him, I’ll take his wrath—and his help in getting Prince Stiles back.”

“Erica wants to go help find him,” Isaac said. “So does Boyd.”

“So do I,” Scott said, straightening up with some effort.

“You’re all wounded,” Laura said dismissively.

“By the time Peter’s back, we’ll be healed. Deaton used magic,” Scott said stubbornly.

“Peter is fast,” Cora said. She wiped her cheeks and stood up, leaning against Laura’s side.

“He could be back by tonight,” Laura agreed.

With them standing together like that, united against outsiders and fear, Derek felt very apart, separated from the pack.

“Then we’ll be fine by tonight.” Scott’s face was set, though he still had a pallor that made him look shaky.

Laura sighed. “Alright. Alright.” She looked at Scott’s ill face. “But you should be resting until he gets back, that way you can save your strength. Isaac, take him back to the infirmary, please.”

Isaac nodded and took Scott’s arm gently.

Derek listened to them talk as they went down the hall; it seemed as though Isaac had forgotten how well they could hear.

“I think we should go after him now,” Scott said. He still sounded weak, breathless as they walked.

“Why not wait? We could use all the help we can get,” Isaac said shiftily.

“We know where they would have taken him. What if they’re hurting him?”

Isaac made a scoffing noise. “Stiles has to be solid for them to torture him.” His heart was tripping as he bluffed, though Derek knew he hoped he wasn’t lying.

 

Derek left his sisters to comfort and talk to each other. He couldn’t hold still. He felt like he needed to tear something, rip and smash and break.

The one thought going through his head was She’s going to take more from me. She’s going to take someone else now. It repeated over and over, setting his teeth on edge.

Instead of scared or sad, he’d become angry, so angry he ended up in an unused guest room before he even realized he’d been moving.

Panting, he looked around. The room had been decorated by Uncle Tamas years ago, like he’d done with the rest of the guest rooms.

This one was decorated gray and navy, with layers of dust on everything from the door knob to the plump, unused pillows.

Uncle Tamas used to redecorate every few years, and when his daughter Mica had started showing interest, they’d started doing it together.

This room hadn’t been touched in nine years, and likely wouldn’t be beyond dusting or maintenance.

With an enraged roar, Derek threw himself at the bed, claws digging into the pillows. He dragged his nails through the fabric, shredding it and snarling, using his teeth when it wasn’t satisfying enough.

His rage carried him around the room, kicking and smashing the nightstand to bits—he didn’t stop until a large shard of a glass lamp dug into the palm of his hand.

The scent of blood had him freezing, standing in the wreckage he’d caused. He looked at his hand, chest heaving. He was crying. He didn’t know when he’d started, just that tears were pouring down his face, dripping onto his upturned palm as sobs sputtered past his lips.

He pulled the glass out of his hand, grunting with the pain. He dropped it into the shattered remains of the rest of the lamp.

 

Derek was still in the destroyed guest room, curled up by the window on top of shredded curtains, when he heard Peter return. It was dark out, having crept past evening and into night without Derek noticing.

He made it to him first, nearly bowling him over in the foyer.

Peter reeked of blood, smoke, and metal. He had spatters of both mud and blood on his shirt, arms, and face.

“Where is he?” Derek asked.

“Cheerful, aren’t you?”

He grabbed Peter’s arm before he could step around him. “Where did they take him?”

Peter shook himself free, studying Derek’s face. “Ah,” he said softly. “You let that ice melt finally, hmm? He’s at the Argent fortress, like I suspected.”

Laura and Isaac emerged from the left hall, walking fast.

“Scott, Boyd, and Erica are getting the horses,” Isaac said sourly. “They insist on coming.”

“Horses?” Peter repeated, amused.

“They’re faster than us,” Laura pointed out.

“Yes, but we can run longer.”

“The knights can take the horses. We’ll run. We can catch up while the horses rest,” Derek snapped.

Laura looked at Peter. “Where did you go to get the information so fast?” she demanded.

He snorted. “Not far. The Argent soldiers are practically all over the borders bragging about how they’re going to have Stilinski help now.”

Laura nodded, her face going dark. “Their palace—fortress, whatever—is just beyond our northern border.”

“Where the thickest of their forces are now.” Peter snorted. “We’ll be going in at an angle to avoid the problem areas.”

“Okay then. You’d better go, and fast.” She grimaced. “There’s a possibility that King Nathaniel will be here in the morning, or the next.”

Peter barked out a laugh. “Of course. What’s a rescue without pressure on both sides?”

Derek stepped around him, irritated, and went out the front door. He jogged down the stairs and headed toward the west end of the palace, where the stables were kept, though mostly unused.

Boyd was leaning against a dappled mare, shaking his head slightly.

“Are you ready to go?” Derek called.

He blinked confusedly. “Yes. Momentarily,” he murmured. He frowned at the horse, patted her neck. “The others are still getting the mounts ready.”

“I—is your head okay?” Derek asked, distracted.

“Better by the minute.” He managed a smile that looked mostly like gritted teeth.

Moths were fluttering around them, bouncing at Derek’s white shirt, which practically glowed in the stable’s floodlights.

He batted them away and went inside the stable.

Inside it smelled like healthy horses and fresh hay, almost overwhelmingly so.

Erica was brushing a chestnut mare’s coat, telling Scott which horse to get for Isaac.

“Isaac’s not riding, he’s running with us,” Derek said.

Erica turned quickly, one hand jumping to her stomach as she did so. “Oh? And why is that?”

“Because he can run. That way he doesn’t have to keep track of a horse while he’s there.”

“Parrish is coming, too,” Scott said. He was tugging at a gray stallion’s reins, urging him out of his stall. “His leg is giving him some trouble but he wants to help. He feels guilty.”

“Why did he stab you two in the stomach, but go for Boyd’s head and Parrish’s leg?” Derek asked, crossing his arms.

Erica’s scowl deepened. “It kept us in our human forms. Undines, if you cut their stomachs, can’t go to water. Sylphs are stuck if you hit them on the head. We learned that when Kate hit Stiles and started monologuing. Since Parrish was stabbed in the leg and didn’t transform, I’m assuming it’s because that kept him human, too.” She brushed at her pants.

“Why do that instead of killing you?”

Scott drew himself up and said, a little sharply, “We put up too much of a fight, human or not. We’d have killed him before he got out with Stiles if he tried to stick around and kill us all.”

Boyd stepped in. “He brought Stiles some orange juice because he was complaining about being thirsty. We were watching the doors and windows when he came in, and we thought he was just coming to help, so we barely paid him any attention. He’d stabbed and tied Erica up by the time Stiles fell—which was when we turned around.” He spread his hands out. “He hit me over the head, stabbed Scott, and got out the window with Stiles before we could hurt him.”

“Stiles…fell?” Derek asked through his teeth. “What do you mean, he fell?”

“Daehler drugged him,” Erica spat.

“Calm down,” Scott warned her.

There was a puddle around her and her horse, as if her rage had made her spring a leak.

“It’s almost healed,” she hissed. She exhaled. “Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Wearing that?” Peter asked from the door. He, Isaac, and Sir Parrish were standing just inside the stables.

Parrish was pale next to him, his face set in stern, emotionless lines, while Isaac looked nervous, his eyes darting and partially lit up.

“It’s not a fashion show,” Derek snapped.

“Exactly right. Change into these.” He shoved a pile of clothes against Derek’s chest. “We’ll be heading northwest for a while.”

Derek stepped aside and stripped off his jeans and shirt, pulling on the cargo pants Peter had handed him, and the fresh t-shirt. They were both black, which Derek figured was smart, and they were also in Derek’s size.

He was suspicious, because he barely had any clothes in his size, and these hadn’t been in the selection.

“Here.” Peter was passing out leather sachets that smelled peppery. “You have swords and your natural gifts, too. Don’t breathe that in. It’s poison.”

“What?” Derek demanded.

“It’s for when they go into the palace, which I’m not sure how they’re going to do just yet.” He waved that away. “We’ll figure it out once we’re past the danger zone. We can’t go in, remember?” he asked when Derek shook his head. “They’ll need to have more subtle weapons than swords. They’ll need to be quiet and fast.”

Derek nodded, easing back.

Peter looked at the knights. “Derek, Isaac, and I will be running on foot while you ride.”

“Will you be fully shifted?” Scott asked. He was turning the pouch over in his hands.

“No, partially. We’ll need clothes in our human forms to slip between Argent forces whenever possible.”

Scott nodded and took a deep breath. “I’ve a contact in the Argent kingdom. In the palace.”

What?” Erica exploded.

“They’ve been giving me information about the Argents, in case we did help the Hales take them down. I thought it was a good idea. And I know the best way in—Peter’s right. Northwest, veer around the front entrance. I can get us into the castle, too.”

“How do you know you can trust this contact?” Boyd asked. Both he and Erica looked suspicious and tense.

Scott’s jaw set. “They have no reason to lie. They want Gerard dead as much as we do. Out of the throne.”

Peter hummed. “Alright. Ready to run, nephew?” he asked pleasantly.

Derek left the stable.

Chapter Text

Even with Peter’s shortcuts, with them taking as few breaks as possible, it took them three days to reach the border, which was lined with Hale soldiers. Beyond them was a smoke-screened knot of soldiers, miles wide, a mixture of Hales, Stilinskis, and Argents.

The sound of the fighting was deafening; roars mixed with gunshots and growls, shouts of pain and fury. Fires shot up from Stilinski soldiers while Argents scattered away from them.

An Alpha pulled a beta out of the path of a horse, shaking him a little and shouting at him to be more careful. While she was berating him, a bullet struck her side, sent her stumbling. She roared and turned on the shooter.

“We have to go through here! It’s the fastest way!” Scott shouted.

“How are those guns working?” Erica demanded.

“They’re not! Not really, look!” Isaac pointed.

He was right. The guns weren’t shooting when the owners pulled the triggers, or they were going off at random times, or they were exploding in hands. The risk was apparently worth the opportunity to shoot a werewolf, though, because each Argent soldier was toting one.

Derek’s tongue flicked over his fangs. “Let’s go then.”

“Wait.” Peter held out another bag for each person, including Derek and Isaac. “A mixture of wolfsbane and magic. Deaton’s cure,” he added. “Put it in the wound if you get shot or cut with wolfsbane.”

“Even us?” Erica asked, steadying her mount when she stomped nervously.

“That’s in case anyone needs help,” Peter said. “Mainly if one of us needs help.” He looked toward the fight. “We just need to clear a path through them.”

“Alright then.” Erica drew her sword and nudged her horse, charging into the fray first.

Boyd looked down at them, his eyes fully gray. “We should stay as close together as possible.” Wind picked up, brutally cold and strong. “Erica and I are going to drag in some fog.”

“I can help,” Scott said instantly.

“Then stay close,” Boyd repeated.

Derek, impatient, tried to get around them, but Parrish’s horse body-checked him gently.

“Elementals first, Prince Derek,” Boyd said grimly.

He and Scott charged after Erica, swords drawn. Parrish nodded at Derek and followed, the ground quaking beneath his horse’s hooves.

“Isaac, go, then we’ll follow you,” Peter instructed coolly.

Something exploded on the battlefield, sending shrieks of pain into the air, pitched higher and more desperate than the war cries.

Isaac nodded and bolted. An Argent soldier rose up behind him immediately.

Derek lunged, digging his claws into the woman’s back. He lifted and flung her aside, roaring.

Isaac nodded his thanks and chose an opponent.

Two other Argent soldiers ranged themselves in Derek’s path, flicking the blades of wolfsbane-dripping knives. They rushed him, which was a mistake. He ducked under their knives, knocking them both to the ground.

One fell prey to his claws through the throat while he smothered the other under his weight. He turned his attention to the second when blood soaked the ground beneath them. He used his teeth on her.

He barely noticed when thick fog began rolling in until it became difficult to see anything but the people he was on top of. He grabbed a man with the Argent crest by the throat, knocking his knife away and snapping his neck.

Someone jumped on his back, knife point catching in his shirt.

He roared and reached back, dragging his claws over every part of his assailant that he could reach.

His claws caught in the meat of their shoulder. He used his grip to fling them off and turn to Peter, who he could smell close by.

He was armed with a bloodstained sword that most certainly wasn’t his.

The wind around them whipped dangerously, the fog closing thicker around them, as if it were trying to block them in.

Derek shoved through it until he found another soldier, tackling him and using his fangs.

He became so focused on fighting that he forgot any mission, any purpose other than killing Argents.

Wind howled around him, the fog growing thicker until it felt like the heavy push of ocean waves against his body, trying to shove him toward Peter.

“Derek!” he yelled, plying him off of a mangled body. “Save some for the guards at the castle! The fog is thick enough now! Let’s go!

Panting, Derek looked around. He was surrounded by bodies, or pieces of them.

Thick, white fog hovered around them, pressing close and making him snarl.

Derek wiped blood off his face. “Fine.”

“We’ve cleared a path, too,” Peter said cheerfully. “Should be fairly light opposi—” A cracking gunshot cut him off from his left, sent him stumbling into Derek. He blinked in surprise, looking down at the poisonous black wound.

Derek threw himself toward the shooter, who’d hidden in the fog.

Her hand was still clenched around the gun when Derek broke her elbow. He raked his claws through her throat, then left her to choke to death.

Peter was fumbling with his pouch of Deaton’s wolfsbane cure, hands shaking. He was on his knees in the mud.

“Did you take the bullet out?” Derek demanded. When he got closer, it became clear that he had—the wound had been clawed open crudely. “I’ll do it.” He took the pouch and poured some into his palm. It stung his skin just enough to warn him that there was wolfsbane in it.

Peter braced himself and nodded, panting.

Derek smashed the mixture into the open wound, grinding it in while Peter roared and dug his claws into the ground.

The sound of hooves had Derek lurching to his feet defensively, half shifted and already charging the approaching foe.

“Whoa, it’s just us. Quick, before reinforcements get here,” Erica ordered.

“Peter needs a ride,” Derek spat.

“I can run,” Peter growled.

Derek grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet; he cried out and instinctively tried to curl away. “Peter needs a ride,” he repeated.

Erica turned her horse around, nodding. “Get up here then.”

“They’ll be ready for us when we get there,” Peter groaned as Derek shoved him onto the horse behind Erica.

“Then we’ll kill them, too,” he snapped.

Erica gave Derek a long, calculating look. Then she called for Boyd and turned around.

 

The Argents were indeed ready for them. The palace’s guard was triple what was usual, according to Scott.

Derek licked his lips, rocking forward on the balls of his feet. “Who should go first?” His voice sounded ragged and giddy.

“No one,” Peter said flatly.

Derek’s head snapped up to stare at him. “What?”

Peter got off the horse painstakingly. His wound had sealed up, but it was far from finished healing. “They’re ready. Wait for them to get bored. They will.”

“But Stiles is-”

“He’s right,” Erica interrupted. “They’re on alert right now. We should wait.”

Derek growled softly and eased back. He didn’t want to wait for long. He felt like a dog who’d been kicked one too many times. He was ready to bite back this time.

 

 

Stiles paced his cell, agitated and trying to keep his heart rate up. Kate, Daehler—the rat bastard—and various Argent soldiers had come in the past few days with intent to knock him around and send pictures to his father. He’d managed to make himself shift to air just enough to become invisible every time they’d come.

Their searches of the room were hilarious, but Kate knew what he could do, so she made sure the door was always shut, until they gave up looking and left him to suffer in silence.

He couldn’t get to the door fast enough, and he had to be away from the door when they came in to make sure they didn’t bump into him.

He wasn’t making himself fully into air, because it was hard to move when he did that. He wasn’t scared enough, wasn’t feeling threatened, to turn into that whirlwind creature he’d managed the night Kate had invaded.

Of course, he hadn’t known he could do that yet, so he wasn’t sure how to recreate the emotions.

So far, though, he had managed a whirlwind within his cell, shoved all the air as hard as he could at the door—slamming it shut in Kate’s face, much to her fury—choked Daehler until he got out of the room, but he was still trapped.

His cell was a windowless ten by ten room made of brown stones. The last time he’d seen anything other than this room was when he was in his guest room. He’d started feeling that fuzzy marble sensation in his mouth after he’d finished the orange juice Daehler had brought him, had realized what it meant in time to look up and to see him stab Erica before his vision had gone fuzzy.

He wasn’t sure if any of his friends, his knights, were alive. He paced more. Scott could be dead. Boyd. Erica. Who knew who else Daehler had killed getting him out?

He stopped dead when the lock clicked.

Stiles slipped into his air form, his breath catching. He didn’t need to breathe, technically, in this form, but he still did it.

An old, muscular man stepped into the room, slamming it shut behind him. “Lock the door, Kate,” he said over his shoulder.

“Okey doke,” she called back cheerfully. The lock clicked.

The man—Gerard Argent, Stiles guessed—tipped his head back and inhaled.

Stomach sinking, Stiles inched backwards, trying to make himself more insubstantial. He had shifted to his right, silent, a few inches, when Gerard’s hand reached out and cuffed him over the head.

He fell back to his human form before he hit the floor. “Shit,” he muttered, skittering away when Gerard aimed a kick at him.

“Come here, little coward. We’re going to take some pictures for your father.”

Before he could get away, Gerard picked him up by his shirt and flung him against the wall.

His head bounced off it, left him dazed. He’d nearly slipped to the floor when Gerard grabbed his shoulder, pinning him up between his hand and the wall.

The fist that cracked across his face felt like a brick the first time, and maybe a horse the second time. Blood seeped into his vision, but his cheek felt like someone had stuffed cotton into it, squirrel-style.

By the third hit, Stiles was struggling with staying awake, his legs boneless beneath him.

Gerard, disgusted, threw him across the room, where he slid and slammed into the wall back-first.

Coughing, he tried to get up, stopped when a heavy foot pressed down until he was flat on his belly on the floor. Strings of blood and spit dribbled onto the stones.

“Don’t get up,” Gerard suggested.

Stiles turned his head and spat at his foot.

Gerard snarled and picked him up by the throat, shaking him hard, his head snapping back and forth like a broken doll.

Stiles blacked out. Somehow he was on the floor again, sprawled on his back. Gerard was holding a digital camera, standing back and taking a couple pictures at different angles.

“Don’t die yet,” he advised, putting the camera in his pocket. He pulled out a keyring and unlocked the door.

Stiles lifted his head, trying to focus his vision. It kept blurring and clearing up at random intervals.

Gerard pulled the door open, lifting a foot to step out. Comically, he froze like that when the air pressed out of his lungs as if sucked out by a vacuum.

Stiles discovered it wasn’t so hard to do this. It was like holding his own breath, although it would be a cold day in any hell when a sylph could not get air, be it through his mouth, nose, or skin.

Making pathetic choking noises, trying to breathe in air that was avoiding his mouth like oil jumped away from water, Gerard turned on Stiles.

Stiles managed a smile, though it hurt his entire face to do it.

Gerard fell to his knees, clutching at his throat. He managed to convey a snarl, though he couldn’t make any noise. His nails flashed to claws, eyes turning red as his werewolf powers tried to fight off whatever was killing him. His face, Stiles noted with a distant sort of curiosity, was turning the palest blue.

Blood was pooling in Stiles’s mouth from where he’d bitten his cheek while being punched. He coughed it out, keeping his eyes on Gerard.

His eyes were furiously bloodshot, foam spewing from the corners of his lips as he tried desperately to pull in a breath.

He beat at the ground, his eyes bulging wildly.

He passed out after four minutes. Stiles counted. He counted and watched, as much as he wanted to look away.

He waited six more minutes before he dared let his concentration waver. Then he had to convince his battered body to get up.

It took some time, with his head spinning so much. He had to use the wall to claw himself up. He kept his gaze on Gerard’s body, afraid he would spring up in a moment.

Using the wall for support, he made his way to the door and kicked and shoved Gerard’s body until he was well inside the cell. He bent and grabbed the key to the door, bracing himself until he could stand upright again without puking.

He looked into the hall first; to his left were more doors and sand-colored stone walls and a dead end, and to his right was a long, curving hall that was obviously as promising as it was dangerous. If it was the only way out, it was the only way in.

He tried to listen further than humans could hear, but he hadn’t quite learned how to do that yet.

Undines could see people through bodies of water, fire elementals could send messages long distances with fire, earth could sense danger, and sylphs—they were supposed to be able to hear voices carried on the wind much further than anyone else.

Stiles was starting to seriously regret his lack of studying. He vowed that, if he got out of this place, he would study much harder.

He decided the only thing he could do was hope he could defend himself when the time came and pulled the door shut, putting himself firmly in the hall. He locked the door and shoved the key in his pocket.

His body alternated between feeling weightless and weighed down by agony with each step, his palms sweating. He knew he must be flickering in and out of sight, his body too beaten to manage just one form.

He walked on the balls of his bare feet, though he wasn’t sure how quiet he was being, with the sound of his own crashing pulse in his ears.

It wasn’t until he heard voices that he realized he was, in fact, managing stealth for once in his life.

“—you because you said I could have Princess Allison.” That was Daehler’s voice, whiny and loud like a petulant child.

“Did I say that?” Kate asked sweetly. “Well, if you can find Ally, you do that. She’s quite the player when it comes to hide and seek.”

Daehler scoffed. “What, you want me to just look for her?”

Their voices were getting closer. Stiles looked around; he was in a bare, stone hallway with no doors. He backpedaled toward the shadow of a curve in the wall, desperate.

A gloved hand clamped around his mouth, while two fingers pressed, hard, up under his bruised jaw.

He felt his body slip out of sight involuntarily, felt the person gripping him sigh against his shoulder.

Kate and Daehler rounded the corner together—or, more accurately, Kate marched around the corner and Daehler followed like a puppy at her heels, hoping for scraps.

They passed Stiles without pause, passed his cell, and kept going down the hall toward the other doors.

Stiles squirmed against his captor, struggling harder when their fingers dug more sharply against his skin, causing tears to spring to his eyes.

Somehow, they’d made him invisible to Kate, which he could have done on his own, but they’d hidden themselves, too.

He jerked his head hard and bit the hand covering his mouth when it slipped—whoever was holding him was shorter than him.

He pried himself away, stumbling as he reformed, and spun to face…

A dark haired girl about his age, wearing combat gear.

He rubbed his jaw. “How did you do that?” he asked.

“There’s a point there that makes sylphs go to air—it’s the reverse of hitting them over the head.”

“How did it hide you?”

She gave him a wary look. “How did you get out?”

“Who are you?” he shot back. “Why did you hide me?”

She jerked her chin up. “I am the Princess Allison Argent,” she said haughtily. “My parents and I are armed,” she admitted. “My parents wanted me to help you get out while they take care of Kate and Gerard. They hope to offer a peace treaty after this, and helping you get free might help. You are the Crown Prince Stilinski?”

“Uh—yes.”

She squinted at him. Compassion softened her features momentarily, but she wiped it away. “You’re all swollen. Come on. I’ll get you out.” She gestured at him to start walking. “I have a contact in the Stilinski knighthood,” she explained. “I’ve been trying to give him tips, help anyway I could, but Gerard.” She grimaced and shook her head. “He made an Alpha bite him, then killed him. I—” she paused and gestured at Stiles to back up against the wall. Her eyes widened and she wedged herself between the wall and Stiles again. She tapped his jaw and he nodded, bracing himself.

This time, her fingers were gentler as they pushed on that point.

The instant they were invisible, Kate stomped around the corner, this time with a werewolf.

Stiles wondered what she’d done with Daehler, and hoped he was locked in a cell somewhere.

“I told you,” Kate said impatiently, “she’s fine. She was there the whole time I was being tortured, for days, and no one discovered her.” Then she smiled. “Hey, maybe she’ll even finish the job while she’s there.”

“No, Kate,” the woman growled. Her eyes were bright red. “I want to bring her back now.”

Kate spun on her, a knife appearing in her hands and pressing into the werewolf’s throat. “No, Kali,” she taunted sweetly, “I want you to wait. Julia’s fine. No one even noticed her. Too busy comforting poor Derek. Relax. Once the Hales are dead, we’ll get her.”

Kali snapped her teeth in fury and muttered about finding someone, stomping down the hall.

“Yeah, go play with Ennis.” Kate snorted and put her knife away, then, before she’d walked three feet, she paused in front of Stiles and Princess Allison. She shook her head and kept walking.

Once she was gone for a few minutes, Allison let him go.

“That hurts,” Stiles mumbled.

“Sorry. We have to go the way Kate went, but we can go down the servants’ stairways soon.” She pulled a mini crossbow off her back. “We’ve been confined to a single wing of the castle while Gerard and Kate took over.” She took the lead, looking pissed off. “Gerard happened to kill an Alpha whose entire pack was Alphas. Kali, Ennis, and a set of twins came with his Alpha powers. He killed the twins.”

She was walking so fast that Stiles was falling behind, his body jostling painfully as he tried to keep up.

He wanted to ask her to slow down, but he understood their haste.

“Almost to the servants’ door,” she said over her shoulder. “We can slow down then.” She peered cautiously around a corner before they went around it.

Stiles felt dizzy with information overload. He trailed a hand along the wall they were creeping against, using it to lead him when his vision went fuzzy.

Allison shot him a sharp look. “Pay attention. I’m telling you this for a reason.”

He barked a laugh. “Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

“So you know we weren’t trying to hurt you. We’re trying to kill Gerard, Kate, and the Alphas so we can stop the fighting.”

“Gerard is dead,” Stiles said, mostly to see how she’d react. “I killed him trying to get out.”

Surprise flickered over her face, then admiration. “How?” she asked.

Any sense of tact his teachers had drilled into him had been knocked loose by Gerard, so he told her. “I pulled the air away from him until he suffocated.”

She nodded. “That leaves four we have to get rid of, then.”

“Four?”

She pushed open a discreet wooden door. “Go in. Yeah, four. Kate, Kali, Ennis, and Julia.”

“Who are Ennis and Julia?” Stiles asked. He looked into the dimly lit, cramped stairwell she’d revealed. He took a deep breath and stepped in.

“Ennis is an Alpha. Julia is a witch who Kali left behind in the Hale palace when she broke in to take down the protective wards.” The door shut firmly behind her.

Stiles swore. “She’s still there?

“She’s not combative,” Allison said dismissively. “She’s the one who stays behind the fighters to do magic. Laura Hale and her witch should be more than capable of handling her.”

Stiles tripped slightly, grasping the railing as he lost his balance.

Allison grabbed his shoulder, making him yelp. She released him. “What hurts?” she asked quietly.

“Oh, just about everything.” He coughed into his fist. “I’ll survive,” he added when she hummed. He hoped he would survive. He probably would, barring any internal bleeding. He lifted his ripped shirt to check his stomach, but it was just as bruised and scraped as the rest of him.

The stairs kept going, descending into the bowels of the Argent palace, but Allison grabbed Stiles’s wrist.

“Here’s a door. This one will lead to the courtyard. After that we have to get you beyond the wall.”

“Do you have a horse? Or something? Otherwise, I’m not going to make it far,” Stiles groaned. He shuffled into the door, which had more downward stairs.

“I have a horse. Two, actually,” she said grimly. “I’m going to escort you back. No point in rescuing you only to let you die from exposure,” she added when he looked over at her.

“I see.” He decided to save his breath, because he was panting rather heavily.

“If we come across someone, you get against the wall and I’ll handle them.”

“Good plan,” Stiles agreed. He wiped sweat off his forehead with his shirt, though it probably smeared more blood across his face than anything.

Allison slipped around him to walk in front as they neared the ground floor, turning her head slightly.

She reached out and smacked the side of her hand against the throat of a guard Stiles hadn’t even noticed. While he choked, she grabbed his shirt and pulled him forward, off balance, then slammed back, smashing his head against the bricks. He slumped down the wall, unconscious.

As they worked their way through the frankly confusing tunnels, Allison took out about five more guards. The way she fought was economical, a well-built machine with no wasted movements. It was nothing like the Stilinski knights were taught to fight, but Stiles could see the appeal.

He was also somewhat afraid of the princess, but that was okay—he was afraid of Cora, too.

“We’re going to have to run across the courtyard. It’s night, but we won’t be alone. Kate put more guards than we’ve ever had around the palace. Someone slaughtered the men at the border and that made her nervous.”

“Slaughtered how?” Stiles asked suspiciously.

Allison glanced at him over her shoulder. She had dust on her cheeks and caught in the hair coming loose from her braid. “There was fog,” she said simply. “They were overtaken.”

“Fog,” Stiles echoed. Fog meant Erica and Boyd—possibly Scott. They were alive. “That’s good!”

Allison shrugged. “I suppose.” She looked up at the low ceiling and went still, listening. Then she began feeling along the wall.

Something metal groaned under her hand, and a sliver of unnatural light crept in where she was pushing the door open.

The sound of shouting came first, then the sound of bodies moving together, though whether they were running or fighting wasn’t clear until the scent of gun smoke reached them.

“Where did you say the horses were?” Stiles asked quietly as she shoved the door open wide.

The courtyard was in chaos, the ground torn to shreds and jutting up sharply in odd places, fog slithering across the ground and curling around the guards that were running around.

When flames started bursting from near the wall, guns exploding in their wielders’ hands, Stiles bounced on his toes.

“That’s Isaac,” he said excitedly. “They’re here.”

Allison grabbed his arm. “Don’t go running out there. You’ll get yourself killed. They’ll be trying to force the intruders toward the wall, so we’re going to walk along the castle. Keep your back to it and if anything happens…” She shook her head. “Just run and try to make it to that far wall.”

“That’s where you put the horses?” Stiles demanded, aghast. “I’ll never make it.”

“That’s the only wall we can get over. Do you see that?” She gestured furiously at the mess of soldiers and elements. “We can’t go through there without someone trying to kill you.”

“That’s already happened! Who’s going to recognize me?” he demanded. “I’ll have a better chance of getting to that wall,” he pointed at the one in front of them, “than the far one without collapsing!”

She studied him, her face unyielding, until something else exploded behind them. She sighed. “Fine. Stay behind me and don’t try to help. You’ll just end up weakening yourself more.”

“If you say so.”

Walking into the mess of bodies was sort of like being tossed around the room by Gerard again, only the blows were coming from every side; an elbow to the ribs, the back of hand to his shoulder, a foot to his ankle.

He wasn’t sure if it was worse or better that they weren’t even trying to hit him, just trying to find the enemy they knew was there. He stepped on something hot and jerked his foot away, only to get shoved to his knees a second later.

Allison hadn’t noticed his fall.

As he was getting up, someone stomped on his hand, crushing his fingers and making him shout, jerking away.

“What the fuck?” the hand-crusher yelled, leaning down to look at his face.

Panicked, Stiles struck out with his uninjured hand, punching her across the face.

Then he scrambled to his feet and ran toward the wall, shoving guards aside as hard as he could.

Someone caught his arm and he went with it, letting the momentum fuel his punch. They caught his fist.

“Stiles! It’s just me,” the person said, only that person was suddenly Boyd, who was holding both of Stiles’s arms. “What happened to you?” he demanded, his gaze skimming over Stiles’s battered face. “Not here. Come on, let’s go.” He threw his hand out and the fog thickened around them, though they remained in a clear space.

“Where’s everyone else?” Stiles asked, stumbling as Boyd pulled him along.

“Erica should be going to the wall now; Parrish, Isaac, and Scott are already there. I was going to go in with Erica to get you out, but then Kate Argent came out and started shouting that you’d escaped, so we thought we’d better search the grounds.” He ran his sword through a solider that had started to turn toward them, pulling it out as they jogged by. “How did you get out?”

“Princess Allison Argent helped me,” he said through chattering teeth.

Boyd turned to him sharply. “What?”

“She’s out here somewhere. She was going to escort me home.”

“Why would you trust her?” he snapped.

“Because she helped me hide from Kate and Daehler!” Stiles was about to protest Boyd’s suspicious look when they tripped over two people fighting.

One of the Argent soldiers had wrested Allison’s crossbow from her, and they were both on the ground fighting hand-to-hand.

Another soldier grabbed Stiles by the arm, yanking him off balance, and Boyd reacted in the quick, fluid motions he’d learned in the Stilinski knighthood.

Stiles stood back, swaying and in pain. It was confusing to watch Boyd fighting next to Allison.

While apparently the Argents fought like machines, Stilinski knights fought like dancers, somehow, and Stiles wasn’t sure which way was better.

Allison was done first, but she was panting and filthy by the end of it, while Boyd, when he finished, was in order and apparently unharmed.

“Princess Argent, I presume?” he asked coolly.

“You presume correct,” she snapped back. “Now do you want your charge out of here or not?”

“The others are at the wall,” he said.

Isaac wasn’t at the wall so much as standing on top of it, his face half-shifted as he fought against some sort of force field. He fell off it backwards when he saw Stiles.

“He’s okay,” Parrish said exhaustedly. “I made it a shorter fall,” he added with a little smile. “Can we go now?” he asked. He had a bleeding cut across his forehead and, though his eyes were full green, Stiles could tell he was drained.

“Yes, please,” he said.

Parrish nodded at him. “Sorry about my partner.” His mouth twisted.

Stiles shrugged. “You weren’t involved.” He glanced at Boyd. “Right?”

“Right.”

Erica attached herself to Stiles’s left, while Boyd stayed on his right and Scott draped himself over Stiles’s back. He was shaking.

“Are you alright?” he shouted.

“Yes! Let’s just get out of here! How are we going to get out of here?”

Parrish answered by getting close to them and raising the ground they were standing on far above the heads of the Argent soldiers.

“Up and over,” he said.

They all clambered over the wall, including Allison, who, it seemed, Erica hadn’t noticed yet.

On the other side of the wall, Parrish had raised the ground to carry them down, which it did. Then he collapsed to his knees.

There were soldiers fighting on this side, too, only they were being fought by—

“Is that Derek?” Stiles croaked. He felt faint.

Boyd hefted Parrish’s exhausted form over his shoulder. “Yes.” He started cutting through open spaces to get Parrish to the other side.

“He’s been quite the bloodthirsty prince,” Erica said with a delighted smile. “Now…” She leveled the tip of her sword to Allison’s throat. “Who the hells are you?”

“She helped me escape!” Stiles said. “She and her parents want to kill Kate and the rest, too. She’s Princess Allison. She—said she had a contact in the Stilinski knighthood.”

Scott gasped. “That was you?” he asked in an odd tone.

Stiles turned to look at him and found his face had gone dreamy. Stiles was confused.

“Later,” Allison snapped. “For now we should get out of here before anyone…” She frowned over their shoulder.

“That’s what I meant by bloodthirsty,” Erica said.

Stiles followed their gazes.

There didn’t seem to be any Argent soldiers left fighting, just Derek, Peter, and Isaac, standing blood soaked, half-shifted, among shredded bodies.

Stiles bent double and puked.

Chapter Text

There were things in the world that Laura Hale was absolutely sure of, such as her shoe size (nine and a half), her least favorite food (zucchini), and the fact that her mother had been a great Alpha and queen.

She was not sure she was even a moderately okay Alpha, and as a queen, she was even less sure.

She stood in the foyer wearing one of her mother’s suits, feeling like a little girl playing dress up, waiting for King Nathaniel and reminding herself that they were equals. The reminder did not help her sweating palms.

When King Nathaniel was announced and the doors swinging open, she straightened her shoulders, forcing herself not to flinch.

King Nathaniel was a sturdy man, with a stern, lined face and light hair that was at odds with Stiles’s brunette. His eyes were light, too, and assessing as they swept the foyer. He smiled when he met Laura’s gaze, his face softening considerably.

“Hello, Your Majesty,” he said cheerily.

“Your Highness,” she managed. Her hands were shaking now. “We need to talk.”

“Oh, boy. What’s he done now?”

“I beg your pardon?”

King Nathaniel looked over his shoulder toward his personal knights, who offered small, tight smiles. “That tone is usually followed by me having to compensate someone for something my child has broken.”

“Oh.” Laura shook her head. “No, he’s been—really great.” She focused her gaze on King Nathaniel’s left eyebrow, trying to make her eyes dry. “He’s a really terrific—he’s great. He has helped us…so much.”

King Nathaniel studied her. “Alright…” He sighed. “I feel like you’re about to fill in the blanks Stiles has been leaving in his letters.”

“What?” she asked swiftly.

He smiled wryly. “Stiles’s letters were informative but lacking in his usual detail. I was starting to wonder what he was hiding. I believe you’re about to tell me, right?”

Laura swallowed. “We should speak in my office,” she murmured.

He nodded and gestured at his knights.

As they walked, Laura felt him looking at the boarded up windows, the workers replacing them, and could smell the anxiety starting to waft from him. He knew something had happened, something big, but he was trying to keep calm; he certainly didn’t show anything on his face.

Laura wished she could say the same for herself, but as they passed a decorative mirror in the hall, she caught sight of her pale and tense face and clenched her jaw. No wonder he’d become suspicious immediately.

The office made Laura feel a little calmer. It had been redecorated since her mother’s time, and the reminder that it was Laura’s alone, with none of her mother’s space to fill, made her feel somewhat more confident. She stepped behind the desk and gestured with a shaking hand at the chair across from her.

King Nathaniel lifted his brows at her but took a seat anyway. “What’s this about, Queen Laura?” he asked sternly.

“You should probably just…call me Laura,” she said quietly.

He nodded slowly. “Is there a problem?”

“Yes.” She swallowed thickly. “Kate Argent broke in over a week ago,” she began. She told him everything, all of it, back to the fire. It spilled out of her like a confession, pulled from her unwillingly.

It was probably because King Nathaniel didn’t take his eyes off her the whole time, didn’t look away or blink or flinch, that Laura told him even the personal details. The only things she left out were the details of Derek attacking Stiles—she felt Stiles should fill him in on those—and Isaac being a werewolf, because she felt they should talk together about that.

When she finished with Stiles’s kidnapping, cringing, he stood and began pacing.

“May I borrow a piece of paper?” he asked.

She mutely held one out to him, and a pen.

He jotted something down then, with a flick of his wrist, set the paper on fire. It burned for a split second before disappearing with a flash.

“Who went after him?” he asked.

“Um, Isa—er, Sirs Lahey, McCall, Parrish, and Boyd, and Dame Reyes along with my Uncle Peter and my brother.”

King Nathaniel nodded slowly. “Sir Daehler aided Argent?”

“Yes, sir.”

He fixed her with a long, hard stare. “My forces will move on Argent from their western border in mere hours.”

“You—you’re still going to help us?” She shook her head, held her hands out. “I meant—I understand that this will damage our kingdoms’ relationship.”

His gaze didn't waver. “Stiles mentioned Kate Argent’s threats, although he made it seem like the threat of a lone mad woman, leaving out the details you’ve given me. I want my son back and despite everything, yes, I will help you. So long as it’s with the understanding that we remain honest with each other from here on out.”

“I never intended to be less than honest—well, aside from downplaying Derek’s condition,” she admitted, flushing. “But I understand. I’m—so sorry this has happened.” She scrubbed her hands over her face. “Stiles really has helped us a lot. He’s, you know, part of the pack, now.” She smiled weakly.

King Nathaniel nodded. “He’s spoken highly of all of you.” He looked around. “We should discuss protections and preparation in case the Argents decide to retaliate once we’ve taken Stiles back.”

Laura nodded and stood. “Yes. Of course. Let me get Dr. Deaton, we can talk about…everything.”

He nodded back and stepped aside to let her out the door.

“Can I get you anything?” she asked, remembering her manners. “I can have refreshments sent in here while I get him. I’ve forgotten you had a long trip.”

“That would be appreciated.”

“Okay. They’ll be right in and I’ll be back.” She found someone in the hall to retrieve the king some food, letting out a relieved breath once she was alone. She took a second to lean against the wall, holding her hands over her face and trying to remind herself that she was okay, that they were going to be okay.

Even if King Nathaniel decided to rescue his son and whisk him off, leaving Laura and her family to deal with the Argents, she couldn’t blame him. They would just have to be okay when they left.

She smiled a little, imagining Stiles throwing a fit about all of his hard work going to waste if the king took him home.

She shook her head and pushed off the wall, marching down the hall toward the infirmary. She hoped Stiles was in fit enough shape to complain to his father about the breaking of the agreement. She wasn’t sure what she would do if he’d been hurt.

Hurt badly, she corrected, because she wasn’t naïve enough to assume Kate Argent wouldn’t use him to get back at them for torturing her. She just hoped Stiles had been able to protect himself a little.

She picked up her pace until she was practically jogging—and ran into Cora, bouncing back hard. She caught herself before she hit the floor, looking up to snap at her sister.

Cora’s toes were just brushing the marble floor.

She was suspended in the air by some invisible force, choking and grabbing at her throat. Bruises were forming around her neck, thick and complete like a rope.

Laura gasped and grabbed her legs, not sure if she should be lifting her or pulling her down. She tried to lift her, but her legs started kicking more violently, her face passing red and going toward purple, so she pulled.

Cora’s dead weight dropped on her, knocking them both to the floor in a tangle of limbs. Cora started gasping greedy breaths while Laura scrambled out from under her.

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and turned. A lash of heat sliced across her cheek like a slap, throwing her into a wall.

She opened her eyes and flung herself forward at the brunette woman she’d just seen standing feet from her.

The woman’s eyes rounded, but she didn’t have time to fend Laura off before her claws were raking down her face, blood spattering both of them and the floor.

The woman—the witch—shrieked and backpedaled, clutching her face. She threw a hand up and tossed Laura against the wall again, before disappearing with a flash of light.

Blinded, Laura got to her knees, snarling and struggling to get up. It took a couple minutes for her vision to clear—magic, she thought with disgust—and by that time the witch was long gone.

There were staff members hovering, Laura realized, hearing their footsteps, smelling their nerves. Someone was helping Cora and exclaiming over the unfading bruise on her throat.

“Your Majesty? Your Majesty, are you alright?” a high voice asked right beside her ear, making her cringe. His nerves tickled her throat.

“Yes,” she snapped. She could just make out shapes, movement, but nothing more. “Search the grounds. There’s a witch. Someone bring me Deaton!” Most of her anger stemmed from being blinded and confused, but knowing it didn’t soften her tone.

“I’m here, Your Majesty,” Deaton said calmly. A hand passed over her eyes, clearing her vision instantly. “The witch has already fled. These wounds need tending.”

“No, you need to fix our wards,” Laura barked. She looked down at herself as she stood and found that she was bleeding in several places.

“What’s going on?”

She closed her eyes, inhaling the soft, fireplace-ash scent of King Nathaniel as he came up behind her. She turned to face him. “Dr. Deaton was just going to fix the holes in our wards.”

Deaton was in fact bent over some blood too far away to be Laura’s, dabbing it up with a white handkerchief. “The witch,” he said blandly.

Nathaniel nodded slowly. “Dr. McCall can tend to Queen Laura and Princess Cora while you’re busy, Doctor,” he said. “My troops will be here soon,” he added. “A day at the most. You should let Melissa treat you,” he told Laura.

She let herself be marched to the infirmary, feeling helpless.

Dr. Melissa McCall was as caring as Sir McCall, although she was not quite able to stop herself from snarling and sniping about witches and magic and the whole bloody business. She tended Cora first, at Laura’s insistence, and assured them both she wasn’t fatally harmed, but she would retain the bruise for days, maybe a week or more.

“Now you, Your Majesty. You are…” Dr. McCall shook her head.

Laura sighed and took her shirt off. The cuts on her abdomen weren’t deep, but they hadn’t healed. Neither had the one on her face.

Dr. McCall winced. “Alright. Let’s just get the blood off,” she said gently. She brought her hand to Laura’s stomach; it turned to water, as Dame Erica had done with her whole body, though this seemed to take more practice. She wiped the blood away like a tide, the rhythm making Laura’s eyes close slowly, sleepily.

“This might sting,” Dr. McCall said quietly.

Laura opened her eyes, disoriented. Had she fallen asleep? She forgot to ask when Dr. McCall ruthlessly smeared hot pink ointment on her lacerations. She snarled, curling away; McCall popped her on the forehead with the heel of her hand.

“I told you this would sting,” she admonished.

Laura grumbled to herself, settling and letting her finish her job.

Dr. McCall smiled.

 

The next two days passed with King Nathaniel organizing Hale and Stilinski troops alike, sending the majority out to retrieve his son, while the rest surrounded the Hale palace like a living wall, Melissa advising Deaton on new warding techniques, and Laura quietly standing back and trying to swallow the bitter pill of utter failure.

Cora was quiet, too, though she seemed to be looking to Laura for how to act, so maybe that was also a failing on Laura’s part.

She only acted when King Nathaniel said something stupid while meeting with a knight in her office.

“We’ll send the brunt of the forces right through the northern and western borders, rush them,” he explained.

“No!” she blurted.

He looked at her, brows lifted, while Sir Richards just kept his gaze on the map.

“If they’ve captured everyone—even if they just have Stiles—they’ll kill him before your troops get to the castle! You have to go in quiet or you’ll get them killed,” she babbled, tensed, leaning forward like she could physically stop him.

King Nathaniel nodded his thanks at his knight, dismissing him, which left them alone.

She swallowed.

“Your mother was very good at what she did,” he announced finally.

“Yes, I know.”

“But she didn’t teach you much before she died,” he guessed.

Laura couldn’t stop her eyes from flashing. “It’s not customary to train your heir until they’re near thirty—we have long natural lives,” she snapped. “My grandmother ruled until she was one hundred and twenty-years-old.”

“I wasn’t saying it was wrong,” he said calmly. “Just trying to understand why you’ve given up.”

She drew herself up. She could admit she had faults to herself, but to have someone else point them out was unacceptable. “I beg your pardon?” she asked icily.

King Nathaniel smiled slightly. “For these last two days, you’ve all but let me take over your palace.”

“You seem to be handling things fine,” she said stiffly.

“Because you think you don’t know how. Come on.” He opened the door and stood aside. “You’ll be making the decisions from now on. Don’t worry,” he added when she looked at him in alarm. “I’ll tell you if it’s a bad one.”

“Gee, thanks,” she muttered.

It felt good to make the decisions, to have King Nathaniel nod at her whenever she would choose wisely. He had no qualms about calling her out when she was unsure and second-guessed herself, which was annoying but also helpful.

Dinner was better that night; Laura felt more relaxed in her own skin, which put Cora at ease, and had her making conversation.

Dr. Deaton and McCall joined them at dinner, and Laura found Dr. McCall’s easy friendship with King Nathaniel to be sweet. It reminded her of how Peter, her mother, and Uncle Tamas used to interact.

“Sir,” a knight gasped, throwing open the dining room doors. “Your Majesties,” he blustered.

“What is it?” Laura barked.

The knight straightened. “We’ve found the prince,” he said to King Nathaniel, who jumped to his feet. “He was well on his way back from the Argent kingdom when we found him. He’s with Prince Derek and his knights. We’ve captured an Argent,” he added breathlessly.

“Bring them,” King Nathaniel ordered. “Quickly. All of them.” He looked to Laura, his face reflecting the shock no doubt all over hers.

“He’s tough,” Cora crowed. “I knew he’d kick ass. Let’s go see him.”

Chapter Text

Stiles was part thrilled to see his father’s men, and part horrified. This was not an ideal way for his father to find out what had happened. But he was so busy arguing with the knights holding Allison like a fugitive that he couldn’t even think about addressing his father, who was likely running to the Hale palace doors at that moment, yet.

“Seriously! She helped me escape,” he insisted, all but whining. He could be forgiven for a little whining, he thought. He had been held for days, beaten up, and then had had to ride on horseback for a few more days, nonstop, to get back here. He was tired, in pain, vaguely nauseated, and tired of being ignored.

“It’s okay,” Allison assured him. She looked fairly cocky for someone in handcuffs and surrounded by hostile knights. “I expected this. Let them put me in a cell until King Nathaniel is ready to talk. It’ll make them feel more secure.” Her tone suggested that while it might make them feel more secure, it shouldn’t.

“I’ll go with,” Scott announced.

“Not you,” Allison scoffed. She jerked her chin at Boyd. “You. Come keep an eye on my cell.”

“Why him?” Stiles wondered, more curious than suspicious.

“Because he hasn’t paid me any attention.” She glowered at Scott, who flushed and looked away.

“Go ahead, Boyd,” Stiles said. “Please.”

As they neared the Hale palace, Stiles felt his tired muscles begin to shake. He was so ready to just—sleep. For days.

The doors blew open when they got to the bottom of the steps and Stiles flinched, half expecting an ambush, but then Nathaniel was lifting him from his saddle like a child and hugging him close.

“Ow!” he yelped. “Ow ow ow, Dad, hi, I missed you, too, but that hurts.

Nathaniel carefully set him on his feet. He grabbed his chin. “Gods, kid,” he breathed. “Who?” His eyes flared, turning the color of the sun for a moment, too brilliant to keep eye contact.

“It doesn’t ma-”

“Who?” he demanded sharply, his hand growing hot, just shy of painful.

Stiles sighed. “Gerard Argent. It doesn’t matter,” he added again, feeling queasy.

“Like hells it doesn’t,” Nathaniel snapped. “I’m going to-”

“No, Dad,” Stiles choked, a mirthless laugh escaping his throat. “It doesn’t matter because Gerard is dead.”

Nathaniel paused. “Alright,” he said finally. “Let’s get you inside, patched up. You don’t have a scratch on you, Isaac,” he added, looking impressed.

Isaac froze, alarmed. No one had told King Nathaniel he’d been turned.

Stiles shook his head. He was too tired for any more revelations.

 

Melissa was waiting in the infirmary, which she seemed to have taken over from Deaton. Because only Stiles was seriously injured, she focused on him, alternately cooing and hissing over his wounds.

While she worked, Nathaniel gently asked what’d happened.

“Daehler let Kate out, attacked them,” he nodded at his knights and Parrish, “and took me to the Argent castle. Gerard kicked my ass and took pictures to send to you, only…” he swallowed with a click. “Only I didn’t let him leave. I took the air from him until he suffocated.”

Nathaniel and Melissa converged on him, wrapping their arms around him from either side. He pressed his face to Nathaniel’s shoulder, allowing himself to cry, just a little bit.

It wasn’t so much remorse as the stunning realization that he’d taken a life.

After that they’d released him, he cleared his throat and told them about the Alphas.

“How did you get out after that?” Nathaniel asked, stepping forward again.

“Ah. Princess Allison Argent helped me. She said she had a contact in the Stilinski knighthood and helped me hide from Kate.”

Across the room, heads whipped toward Scott.

“She was Allya,” Nathaniel said flatly. He let out a sharp laugh. “Allya. Ally A. Allison Argent.” He shook his head.

Scott let out a soft, “Ah,” like something suddenly made sense to him, too.

Stiles looked at Melissa.

She shrugged and spread gunk over his face unceremoniously. “For the bruises,” she said serenely.

He stuck his tongue out at her.

She wiped some different gunk on his tongue to retaliate.

Before any more questions could be asked, Derek entered the infirmary. He was clean, in fresh clothes with wet hair.

When he offered Stiles a small smile, he returned it, as much as his stiff, swollen face would allow.

Nathaniel looked between them and smiled a little, too. “You must be Prince Derek.”

Derek flinched a little. “Yes—sir,” he mumbled. “Er. Your Highness?”

“Nathaniel will do,” he said easily. “Parrish, come on with me. Scott, too. We’re going to speak to Princess Allison.” He clapped Isaac on the shoulder on his way out, making him smile.

Erica edged closer to Stiles’s bed once he’d gone, just close enough to keep watch over him while Derek approached.

“I wanted to see how you were doing,” he said awkwardly.

“Ah. Yeah. Better. Kinda hurts, but. Better.” He nodded.

“And I wanted to apologize,” Derek added.

Melissa gathered up her supplies and spun on Erica, ready to badger her. Erica backed away, hands raised in defense.

“For what?” Stiles demanded, shocked.

“You were scared. Of…me,” he mumbled. “When you—got out.”

“Oh!” Stiles shook his head. He lowered his voice and said, “That was—that was just because it reminded me of…” He traced the scars on his forearm.

Derek grimaced deeply. “That actually seems worse,” he mused.

“No, I mean, yes, that’s bad, but it’s not, like, a deal breaker,” Stiles babbled. “You weren’t you, and I know that. Blood also makes me squeamish to begin with, so that was all around…bad.”

Derek nodded slowly. “Do you mind if I….” He held his hand out, palm up.

Stiles was confused. “What?”

Derek’s face flushed. “Take your pain,” he muttered. “I did it before but—never mind.”

“No—yes, let’s, go ahead,” Stiles rushed to say. “I just—have a head injury,” he admitted. “Everything is moving through gelatin up there.”

His lips quirked and he took Stiles’s hand, sitting in the chair beside his bed.

A shadow fell across them. Stiles did not dare to look, hoping that if he ignored it, it would eventually just go away.

“Gonna blame that head injury when I ask why you thought trusting an Argent was a good idea?” Erica asked sweetly.

“Yes,” Stiles said instantly. “She hid me from Kate!” he added defensively.

“Yell at him later,” Melissa said sharply. “He needs rest now. You, too,” she added to Derek, who looked insulted.

“I wasn’t going to yell at—” he began.

“Five more minutes,” she said dangerously, “and you’re out of here.”

“Don’t argue,” Stiles stage-whispered. “She gets scary. Murder eyes. Your brows have nothing on McCall Murder Eyes.”

Melissa swatted him gently. “Be good or you lose half of those minutes. “

She let him stay for ten minutes, the softie, but then she really did shoo him out. She forced Stiles to lie down and drew the privacy curtains around his bed.

“Get some sleep,” she said sternly. She placed a gentle kiss on his forehead before backing out and closing the curtain.

He thought vaguely that she must have put something on him to make him sleep before he passed out.

 

Midday sun woke Stiles, because someone had viciously torn back his curtains. He whined loudly, covering his still somewhat swollen face.

“It’s well past time to get up, boy.”

He peeked around his fingers and bared his teeth at Dutch. “Le’me alone,” he groaned, pulling his blanket over his face. He gripped the edge as tightly as he could.

Dutch whipped it out of his grip like it was nothing because his arms were as wide and muscular as Stiles—each—and laughed at pitiful attempts to resist him. “You’re going to eat. Sit up,” he commanded.

Stiles glared at him. “I’m injured,” he protested.

Dutch set the tray he was holding on the chair by Stiles’s bed. Then he grabbed pillows from the other bed and sat Stiles upright with his other hand, shoving the pillows under him so he was propped up.

The whole ordeal cost Stiles zero effort, but he still ended up panting, head spinning and ribs throbbing as he got acclimated to his new altitude. While he caught his breath, he glowered at Dutch, who didn’t seem to care.

He set the tray across Stiles’s lap, adjusting everything on it so it looked nice, and presenting Stiles with a steaming bowl of soup with a side of baguette bread and grilled cheese. “Enjoy,” he said fiercely, as if Stiles didn’t have a choice in the matter. “And stay out of my kitchen at night.”

“I wasn’t in there last night! I slept all night!”

Dutch glared at him for a moment, but Melissa came in before he could snarl anymore.

“Oh, you’re up! Good.” She smiled. “Thanks for bringing that, Dutch,” she said, downright cheerful. It was a little terrifying.

He backed down instantly. “No problem,” he muttered. “I’ll be in the kitchen.” He scurried out of the room as quickly as a man his size could scurry.

“Did you frighten Dutch?” Stiles asked, dropping his spoon.

“He’s not frightened,” Melissa scoffed. “He just has a healthy respect for my domain.” She gestured around them. “If we were in the kitchen, I would probably listen to him,” she added serenely.

“I guess.” Stiles picked at his bread. “Who do you think would win?” he asked abruptly. “Marie Lynette or Dutch?”

“Win what? A fight? Marie Lynette. Have you seen her throwing knives?” Melissa shook her head. “Open up.”

Stiles sealed his lips. “What is it?” he muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

“Something to help with the stiffness, you stubborn little-”

He opened his mouth and let her drop a little square of chocolate on his tongue. She had had to bribe Stiles, Scott, and Isaac with chocolate to take their medicine when they were little, and hadn’t dropped the habit since. The reminder of being young, warm, at home and safe, had him smiling and swallowing the chocolate without complaint.

“Now eat your lunch.”

“Where are Erica and Isaac?”

“Getting some sleep.” She pointed to beds across form him that had curtains drawn around them. “So are Boyd and Scott.” More beds, by the door.

All the privacy curtains were making Stiles feel shut out, now that they weren’t benefiting him.

“Oh. My dad?”

Melissa tapped his hand until he started eating his soup. “He’s having lunch with Queen Laura and her siblings. And Peter Hale.” Her mouth pursed in disapproval.

Stiles swallowed his mouthful and laughed. “Did Peter already insult you?” he asked innocently.

“No. He’s a pompous, spoiled brat who learned very quickly that Nathaniel wasn’t going to tolerate being talked over.” She looked smug.

“Yeah, he got into the habit of telling Laura what to do, too,” Stiles muttered. He scraped the bottom of his bowl, surprised to find himself nearly finished. Dutch’s soup was good.

“She hasn’t allowed it since he got back.” More smug.

Stiles squinted at her. “Really?”

“Yes. Sandwich, too,” she added.

He sighed and started picking it apart. “What about Princess Allison?” He put a corner of the sandwich in his mouth to appease her.

Her face went dark. “I haven’t seen her. Queen Laura insisted on having Dr. Deaton treat her, so he did. Your father talked to her.”

“Did he—is she…?” Stiles wasn’t sure what he was trying to ask, so he took another bite of his grilled cheese to give himself a moment to untangle his thoughts. “Did he decide she was on our side?” he asked slowly.

Melissa shook her head. “I don’t know. He hasn’t told me.”

Stiles nodded, eating his bread quietly.

 

He was contemplating getting out of the infirmary—out of Melissa’s protective gaze—after he’d finished his lunch, to find out more about what happened the night before.

Melissa saw through his fidgeting instantly. “Don’t get out of that bed unless you’re looking for a toilet, young man.”

He grimaced. “I was going to look for my dad,” he said.

It was partially true. Surely, Nathaniel could tell him something. He wanted any information, any at all, and Nathaniel would have some of it.

“He’ll be in to visit you soon,” she said. “You can wait.”

“But I’m bored,” he whined. If he couldn’t sneak past her, maybe he could annoy her until she ejected him from the infirmary in self-defense.

She pointed at him. “Don’t try it.”

“I really am bored. So bored,” he insisted.

“Stiles,” she snapped. “If I get someone, will you stay in bed and relax?”

“Yes,” he agreed instantly and regretted it. She’d never said who she would bring and he felt he’d just set himself up for a useless chat with a staff member she found in the hall or something.

Melissa returned three seconds later with Derek following her. “Found him mooning around the door. Entertain yourselves and keep it down,” she added sharply.

Derek smiled sheepishly. “Hi,” he said, sitting in the bedside chair. “Are you feeling a little better?”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah. Getting antsy sitting in here.” He looked at Derek’s face more closely and discovered he looked exhausted.

His face was pale, eyes underscored with shadows, jaw dusted with scruff. More scruff than his usual, anyway, and not quite as neat.

In short, he looked sleepy and soft and Stiles absolutely wanted to cuddle him.

“Tired?” he asked instead.

Derek smiled again. “Yeah. I couldn’t sleep.” He took a deep breath. “It turns out, being angry doesn’t actually make you feel better about your family’s murders.”

Stiles nodded, but didn’t really know what to say. He’d gone through an angry phase after his mother had died, but telling Derek that wasn’t helpful. “So you stayed up all night?” he asked finally.

“Yeah. I was thinking.” He flexed his hands in his lap. “I was sketching, too. I don’t particularly feel bad about helping you get home—back,” he corrected quickly. “But it was bothering me. The…things I did. So I sketched them out to get them out of my head.”

“Good.” Stiles nodded firmly. He understood that, at least. “Are you going to paint any?”

Derek bit his lip, the single most adorable thing he’d done to date. “Yeah, maybe. I have to get paint,” he reminded Stiles.

“Hmm.” Stiles spread his hands over his thighs, smoothing the wrinkles out of his blanket. “Have you heard anything about…anything?” When Derek looked amused, Stiles said, “I’ve been stuck in here. Give me information. Any information.”

“Peter and Laura got into an argument,” he said obligingly. “Cora came to visit you, but you were sleeping. Your father is terrifying. Dutch fears Dr. McCall.”

Stiles nodded. “Yes, good, that’s good. Why is my father terrifying?”

“He just is.” Derek looked away. “Laura told him…everything.” His eyes flicked toward Stiles’s arm, where the scars were visible just under the sleeve of his shirt.

“Oh.” Stiles frowned. “Did he give you a hard time?”

“Yes,” Derek said, but he smiled a little. “He was right to. I almost tore your arm off, not that…I don’t think he knew that part. He was just worried about you.”

“You’d think I wasn’t capable of judging for myself whether I thought you would do it again, on purpose,” Stiles grumbled.

Derek laughed quietly, like he was nervous and didn’t know what to do with his own breath. “You know that’s not why he was upset.”

“Anything about Princess Allison?” Stiles asked. He was irritated, but not with Derek, so the only option was to change the subject.

“Not really. No one’s told me anything. And I didn’t want to ask,” he admitted. “She makes me…angry.” He shrugged, shoulders hunching in.

“Ah. Yes.” Stiles sighed quietly. “Well, now that I’ve got some idea of what’s going on, why don’t you help me break out of here?”

Derek looked alarmed. “Dr. McCall wants you to stay and rest.”

“But we could go rest somewhere else. We could go make out somewhere, while resting.”

Now Derek’s eyes were so wide it bordered on comical. “What?

Stiles tried not to feel hurt at the tone. Derek had enjoyed kissing him before, he reminded himself. “Do you not want to?” he asked slowly.

“I thought you wouldn’t.”

Baffled, Stiles shook his head. “Why?”

“Because of—everything. And just…everything.”

“Uh-huh.” Stiles frowned at him. “Kiss me.”

“You’re hurt! No.”

“Melissa gave me pain meds. Kiss me! Please? I’m starting to think you don’t like me,” he whined, pouting outrageously.

Derek scoffed. “You’re ridiculous.”

“So you don’t want to kiss me?” Stiles sighed, mockingly dejected.

Derek sighed, too, loudly and through his nose.

If Stiles had tried that, he would have made his nose start bleeding again.

Derek got up and gently cupped Stiles’s neck, mindful of the bruising from Gerard’s attack. He used the knuckles of his other hand to tip Stiles’s chin up, just the softest of nudges.

The kiss was chaste, barely a dry press of lips, and then Derek tried to step back.

Stiles let out an unsexy “Ha!” noise, grabbing his shirt and reeling him back in for another, deeper kiss. It hurt his sore jaw, and the stubble on Derek’s face stung the cuts and scrapes of Stiles’s face, but he was determined to nip and kiss and lick as much as possible before he pulled away.

“You dork,” Derek huffed, moving his mouth to a bruise on Stiles’s cheek. He grazed his lips over each bruise and bump, sweet and tender enough to send Stiles shuddering.

Someone cleared their throat behind them, making Derek straighten so quickly he almost sent Stiles flying off the other side of the bed.

Nathaniel looked supremely unamused with the pair of them. “Princess Allison has been writing to Scott for over a year. They disguised their letters as love letters to get them past Gerard. She’d been giving Scott information about the Argent palace, their weapons, their strategy. I’ve decided to accept her story, because Scott was passing the information on to me, and I don’t think she could have come up with those details on her own. Queen Laura,” he continued, “has reluctantly agreed to treat her as a guest rather than a prisoner. She has been moved from the cells to my wing. She will have four guards outside her door,” he added, looking at Derek. “I believe she’s telling the truth, but I’m not an idiot.”

Derek nodded, dropping his gaze.

“Huh.” Stiles pleated the blanket between his fingers. “Good! That should help, right?”

“Right.” He crossed the room and stopped in front of Stiles’s bed. “I take it you’re feeling better.” His gaze caught on the biggest bruise on the left side of his face.

Stiles made a face at him. “Better enough.”

Nathaniel nodded. “I’m going to go see what Laura wants to do next, then I’ll be back to bust you out of here.”

“Oh! That’s—yes! Go! Quickly. Yes. I can’t wait until your return.”

Nathaniel rolled his eyes and pressed a kiss to his forehead, clasped Derek’s shoulder, and left the room.

Stiles turned, grinning, to Derek, and felt the grin drop from his face.

Derek looked stricken, staring at the place where Nathaniel’s hand had closed around his shoulder.

“Um, sorry about that,” Stiles said quickly. “He just—that’s how he shows…he likes you? He’s—he likes to touch. But he—I can tell him not to, I’m sorry.”

Derek shook his head slowly, blinking. “No, it’s okay,” he murmured. “That’s just—something my uncle used to do a lot.” He shrugged jerkily.

“Sorry,” Stiles said quietly. He dropped his gaze to the bed, unsure of himself.

Derek turned, walking back to the bed. “It’s okay. Really. I missed it.”

“Oh.” Stiles looked up.

Derek was sitting by the bed again, studying his shoulder almost reverently.

“We’re going to get married, right?” Stiles blurted. He felt a blush spread from his bruised cheeks to his throat. “Um. You know.”

“I was going to your room to ask if you wanted to go through with the betrothal when I realized you were gone,” Derek said quietly. He was smiling a little.

“So, yes?”

“Yes to what?” Derek asked sweetly.

“You’re such a romantic,” Stiles sighed. “Should I get out of bed? Kneel down?”

“No, there’s fine.”

“You’re enjoying this,” Stiles accused.

Solemnly, Derek said, “I hope this is the only time, so, yes, I’m enjoying it.”

Stiles’s heart fluttered. “Prince Derek, hopeless romantic, will you marry me?”

“Prince Stiles, least romantic man in the world, yes, I will marry you.”

They grinned at each other, but before they could kiss, the sound of a clipboard clattering to the floor startled them.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Melissa said hastily. “You just—you know. Congratulations.”

Derek beamed at her.

“I’ll go get your father.”

Derek eyed the far window like he might leap out of it.

Stiles grabbed his arm and pulled him down onto the bed beside him, snuggling close and resting his head against his shoulder. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Tiny aches he hadn’t noticed slid away like ice cubes in the sun. “That’s not why I wanted you up here,” he protested.

“But I’m here anyway.” Derek kissed the side of his head right above his ear, a sweet, quick peck that Stiles could not handle.

“Stop being cute, you’re killing me.”

Derek laughed.

The sound cut off abruptly when Melissa returned with Nathaniel, who looked annoyed.

“What is it?” he demanded. “I told you I’d only be a few minutes, Stiles.”

Melissa smacked his arm.

“We want to get married and follow through with the betrothal. Surprise!” Stiles added, doing jazz hands.

Derek caught the fingers of the hand closest to him. “You are the worst.”

“That’s a funny way to pronounce best.”

“You two are horrible,” Melissa said.

“We’re going to get married here,” Stiles informed her. “So Laura doesn’t have to miss it and we don’t have to move Cora and Peter.”

Derek grabbed his face and kissed him; normally, Stiles would approve, but his injuries had him yelping and accidentally biting Derek’s lip.

The taste of blood had him choking and rearing back.

“We are a mess,” he declared, wiping his mouth.

“Wedding here,” Nathaniel said loudly. “Got it. I’m happy you two worked that out. Can I get back to war strategy and defensive tactics now, or do you have any more announcements?”

“Yes. Father, I’m with child,” Stiles said gravely.

Derek fell off the bed and Melissa threw a pillow at him. She had an amazing arm, making something so soft hurt when it bounced off his head.

Chapter Text

All of the day’s excitement had Stiles exhausted, so it wasn’t until dinner the next night that they told the rest of the Hales about their engagement. Allison had joined them in the dining room, so she found out at the same time.

“Congratulations!” Cora cheered. “This is great! Isn’t it?” She bounced in her seat.

Stiles smiled at her. He still wasn’t used to the bruise around her throat.

“Yes,” Laura agreed. “Very great.”

“With your permission, we’d like to have the wedding here. That way you don’t have to choose between seeing your brother married or keeping an eye on your territory.”

“Of course you can get married here,” she said, smiling. The tightness around her eyes eased a little. “I’d really like that.”

“Good.”

Derek said, “Uncle Peter?” very quietly.

Peter kept his gaze on his dinner. “I’m very happy for you, nephew.”

Laura shrugged when Derek looked at her.

“We’ll begin preparations for the wedding as soon as possible,” she said, to distract them.

“Wouldn’t you rather wait until after this…dispute…is settled?” Allison asked delicately. She looked supremely uncomfortable, so Stiles could only assume that she couldn’t quite keep her thoughts to herself on this point.

“The betrothal was an agreement to ally our kingdoms,” Nathaniel answered. “That will ensure our help in stopping the advance of Argent soldiers. That’s what the agreement was. I’ve brought my soldiers prematurely because of my son’s kidnapping. It would be in all of our best interests,” he added, looking toward Laura, Derek, and Stiles, “to begin preparations soon.” He nudged his plate aside and leaned forward. “Laura will know as well as I do that while I may make the decisions, if those decisions aren’t what’s best for our kingdom, my advisors and council members will…protest.”

“She wouldn’t, actually,” Peter piped up suddenly. “The Hale monarchy has no council. Just the pack of the Alpha. It’s a primarily werewolf kingdom,” he explained. “It’s how we do things. With little to no pack, Laura’s decisions are hers alone.”

Nathaniel nodded slowly. “Well then let me explain. If I offer our supplies and troops to the Hale kingdom without them having followed through on their half of the agreement—the marriage—then there will be…discord in my kingdom. Trouble I don’t need and that can be avoided by having the wedding soon.”

“Is there a reason you don’t want them getting married yet?” Erica asked silkily from behind Stiles’s chair.

Allison drew herself up. “War,” she said coolly, “seems like an odd time for a wedding.” She looked at Nathaniel and let her tone warm back to room temperature. “But I didn’t mean any offence. I didn’t realize it would be so problematic for you to put it off.”

Nathaniel dipped his head in acceptance and picked up his second cup of wine.

Stiles gave him the stink eye from across the table, which he ignored.

“This is so awesome,” Cora declared into the somewhat awkward silence. “You guys can get fitted in tuxes and we can use the ballroom again, for once, and, Laura, we have to have tulips, right? Stiles. Tulips! Everywhere!”

Stiles smiled; Cora’s enthusiasm was catching. “Tulips are nice. We could serve rabbit at the reception.”

Laura and Cora dissolved into giggles while Derek turned red and Nathaniel looked puzzled.

Stiles leaned back in his chair, pleased with himself, and looked over his shoulder.

Erica and Isaac were right behind him, standing at attention while Scott and Boyd were guarding from afar. Scott was staring, dreamy eyed, at Allison.

Stiles blinked, then looked back and forth between them again. He glanced up at Isaac, brows lifted.

Isaac grimaced and shrugged, like he’d noticed too but didn’t know what was going on.

Allison, for her part, seemed to be making every effort to ignore Scott like she thought he’d disappear if she didn’t see him.

 

After dinner, Stiles told Derek he’d catch up with him momentarily.

“Alright. Everything okay?” he asked.

“Gods.” Stiles grabbed his shirt collar and pulled him in for a kiss. “Yes, everything’s fine. You’ve got little hearts in your eyes and it’s adorable. Go talk to Cora about flower arrangements. I’ll catch up.”

“Okay.” Derek kissed his nose and allowed Cora to tow him away.

Stiles gnawed on his already swollen bottom lip, watching him go.

Erica poked his shoulder. “Why’d you send him away if you weren’t going to talk to us?”

“To watch him leave, obviously,” Isaac snickered.

“No, that is not why,” Stiles groused. “I wanted to ask about Scott. And Princess Allison.”

Erica looked over her shoulder and scoffed. “Yeah, we need to talk about it, alright.”

Scott was still watching Allison, who was listening intently to something Laura was saying.

“Scott,” Stiles said, approaching him, “you are being very creepy.”

Scott gave him a sad puppy look. “What? I’m not.”

“You are. You haven’t blinked,” Isaac said.

He batted his eyes rather deliberately. “I’ve been blinking!”

“You stared all through dinner, Scotty. That’s weird, blinking or not.” Stiles looked toward Allison. “Come on. Let’s take care of this right now.” He grabbed Scott’s arm and pulled.

He dug his heels in when he realized where they were going, but it was futile—Erica was pushing him from behind.

Allison was waiting; Nathaniel and Laura had stepped aside with Peter to talk.

“Look, Sir McCall,” she began.

“Scott,” he breathed, which was also creepy. He seemed to realize it and cleared his throat, pulling himself up straighter. “Uh, I mean. You can call me Scott, Princess.”

Her face softened slightly. “Scott, then. Those letters were just a ruse, so Gerard and Kate would let me send them. I didn’t mean that stuff.”

“Of course not,” Scott said easily, to everyone’s surprise. “We didn’t know each other and had more important things to think about. I just think you’re really clever and brave for writing them. Your code is damn near impossible to crack; we had to get the best to make sure I was translating it right.”

She blinked at him. “Oh. Well. Thank you.” She looked flustered.

“You’re welcome.” He beamed at her and—she melted.

“I—I’m tired. I’m going to retire, now. Goodnight,” she said, hastily retreating.

“Whoa.”

“Yeah.”

Stiles and Isaac looked at each other, then at Scott. “What just happened?” Stiles demanded.

“Scott’s got game,” Erica said with a slow, evil grin. “Obviously.”

“She’s intrigued now,” Scott said cheerfully.

“This is so weird,” Isaac said. He put his hand over Scott’s face and started trying to bundle him out the door. “Quick, let’s go before he turns into an actual puppy.”

“No, that’s you,” Scott protested, laughing and trying to shove him away.

He really had no chance against Isaac’s werewolf strength, so Stiles joined in.

They only stopped when Scott accidentally elbowed Stiles in the mouth, splitting his lip open again.

“Boys!” Nathaniel scolded.

They all cringed and scrambled apart, Scott hissing apologies out of the corner of his mouth.

Nathaniel sighed while he examined Stiles’s lip. “Well, you’ll probably live. Go on, Laura said Derek keeps pacing to the door and back down the hall, waiting for you.”

“’Cause he likes me,” Stiles informed him. “A lot.”

Nathaniel chuckled and brushed a kiss over his forehead. “Yes, he does. Go on. Before I decide to sic Melissa on you.”

Stiles left at top speed.

Erica and Isaac accompanied him; Scott and Boyd went to take a dinner break. Scott still looked sad, which meant he still felt guilty for accidentally hitting Stiles.

As they left, Stiles shot him a grin and a thumbs-up, but the effect was ruined by fresh blood trickling from the cut on his lip.

When they found him (when Isaac found him), Derek was outside of the library.

“We don’t have to go in there,” he said instantly. “Cora wanted to, but I thought you’d be uncomfortable.”

Stiles looked at the doors. He’d be lying if he said it was fine. He licked his lips. “It’s…I won’t mind using it,” he said carefully.

Derek’s nostrils flared. “But it scares you.”

“Of course it does,” Erica snapped.

“Stop it,” Stiles snapped back. “Would you let me express my feelings before jumping down his throat?”

She closed her mouth and eased back, her face thunderous.

Stiles looked back at Derek. “Yes, the library makes me nervous. The last time I spent time in there was horrible. If I start feeling overwhelmed, I’ll let you know so I can get out. For now, I want to go in and talk about the wedding.”

“Okay,” Derek said quietly.

“Good. Let’s go.”

Derek held his hand out and Stiles took it, relieved. Derek pushed the door open quickly, for which Stiles was grateful. Opening it slowly would be like torture, waiting for a monster that didn’t exist to pop out from behind it.

The library was in order again. Of course it was; there was no reason to leave books, glass, and blood all over the place. There was a new lamp where the old one—the one they’d broken—had been, but that was the only change.

Erica and Isaac waited outside while they went in. Cora was sitting on the sofa, her legs tucked under her and an excited look on her face. Beside her was a stack of wedding books.

“Can’t we just hire someone to plan it?” Stiles asked weakly.

“Of course,” she scoffed. “But there are color schemes and menus to pick.”

“Cora,” Derek said gently, “we aren’t going to invite a lot of people. Just…a few.” He looked at Stiles awkwardly, seeking help.

“Just family,” Cora agreed. “Right?”

“And some friends, maybe.” Stiles grimaced. “Just the people who are here.”

Marie Lynette would be upset she wouldn’t be able to cook anything for his wedding.

Derek saw his face. “It wouldn’t be safe to have a big wedding here, right now. But we could have a—a celebration, maybe, once everything is all settled.”

Stiles managed a smile. “That’d be good.” He let Derek pull him a little further into the room, mostly because he hadn’t realized he’d frozen just inside the door.

“Well, let’s look at stuff for your small wedding,” Cora said easily. “You still need to decorate a little.”

Stiles sat down beside her on the sofa, turning so he was facing her. He smiled when Derek sat behind him. He draped himself over Stiles’s back and rested his chin lightly on his shoulder so he could see the books, too.

“Okay. Let it out,” he said. “We can take it.”

Cora had a lot of suggestions and opinions and plans already. Somehow. She went on for so long that even Derek started fidgeting. By the time Stiles was resigning himself to living out the rest of his days on the library sofa, Derek was nipping, very lightly, at his shoulder, his neck, his jaw, his ear, driving him mad.

“—and you could—ewwwwww, guys, ew, seriously!” she squealed, leaping off the couch.

“What?” Stiles demanded, disoriented.

Derek said, amused and muffled against Stiles’s shoulder, “You’re getting…distracted and she can smell it.”

“Ew,” Cora repeated. “Ugh. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. I was sitting right there. Ugh. Goodnight,” she hissed.

“Night!” Derek called. He went back to alternately kissing and biting Stiles’s neck. “You still alright?” he mumbled, flicking his tongue over his jaw.

“Mmmm, yes.” Stiles wiggled until they were face-to-face, smiling. “I’m distracted,” he teased.

Derek hummed and gently pulled him up into his lap; Stiles had to move so he wouldn’t be at risk of kneeing him in the face, arranging himself so he was straddling him.

“This,” he declared, “is sexy.”

“Yeah?” Derek went back to mouthing at his jaw.

Stiles dug his hands into Derek’s hair and pulled his mouth back up to his own. “Yes,” he growled playfully, sealing their lips together.

Derek set his hands on Stiles’s hips, holding him still despite the fact that he hadn’t realized he’d been moving. “Careful,” he said huskily. “You’re still hurt.”

“Am I?” Stiles chased Derek’s mouth, fingers clenching in his hair again.

Derek let out a little happy whimper. His hands flexed on Stiles’s hips before he rolled his own. He bit Stiles’s bottom lip, shifting restlessly.

Stiles laughed, breathless, and used Derek’s shoulder as leverage to grind their laps together; Derek let out a hitching gasp and slid his hands up under Stiles’s shirt.

Stiles kissed him again, one hand still on his shoulder, the other tangled in his hair.

“You,” Derek painted, “you-” He didn’t seem to know how to finish, and slid his hands around to Stiles’s back, pulling him closer, so they were flush from mouths to hips, all twisted up together and gasping.

Derek twisted his hips once more, just right, and Stiles came apart, shuddering in his arms and chomping down on his lip.

“Gods,” he gasped. His eyes were damn near crossed. “Should I do—do you need me to-”

“Uh-uh,” Derek panted. “Just you. Just.” He set his flat, human teeth against Stiles’s shoulder and let out a high, wavering groan, his muscles all tightening at once, hips twisting desperately against Stiles’s.
They lay together for a moment, panting, a little stunned.

“Wow,” Stiles said at last.

Derek started laughing.

“No, seriously. That was fun. Let’s do that again.”

Derek’s laughter turned into snorting guffaws, his arms clamping tightly around Stiles. He mumbled something against his neck.

“What? Huh?” Stiles asked loudly. “I can’t hear over the blood rushing through my ears.”

“I said we need to get cleaned up,” Derek said, leaning back. He grinned at him.

Stiles didn’t want to look at his slacks. “I’m wearing gray pants,” he said mournfully. “And Erica and Isaac are right outside the door.”

Derek snickered. “Walk fast?” he suggested.

Stiles pinched his ribs, then leaned down and kissed him again.

Erica and Isaac were judgmental, but Stiles couldn’t find it in himself to care.

 

It was raining the next morning, the kind of downpour that, at home, Stiles would have loved to play around in like a kid.

He lay in bed listening to it for a moment, blanket pulled up to his chin. He looked around and spotted Scott by the window. Boyd was by the door.

Erica and Isaac were probably sleeping.

“What are the chances of anyone letting me outside today?” he asked, adjusting his position on his pillow.

“Little to none,” Boyd replied without missing a beat. “But you can open the window if it makes you feel better.”

Stiles rolled his eyes and turned over, stretching. His stomach grumbled.

“Has something happened?” he asked. He sat up and shoved his blanket off his legs. His face felt stiff, despite the fact that most of the scrapes were gone. He suspected it was the fading bruises causing trouble.

“Yes,” Boyd said.

Scott shot him a look, but he only shrugged.

Stiles straightened, turning to face him. “What do you mean?”

Scott leaned against the window. “Laura received a report that the Argent forces have managed to push the fight back into Hale territory. She’s been organizing evacuation for citizens since late last night.”

“Where are they going?” Stiles asked, twisting his blanket in his fists.

“King Nathaniel has arranged to send the displaced citizens to our kingdom. They’re afraid the Argents are trying to push the fight to the center of the kingdom, so Laura will personally go to help.”

Stiles nodded slowly. “How are they getting past us?” he blurted. “Werewolves and elementals? They’re just humans!”

“They keep poisoning the werewolves,” Scott murmured.

“And we’re arrogant,” Boyd said lightly.

Stiles gaped at him. “Huh?”

“We think of ourselves, our gifts, as weapons, and maybe use swords, so we never came up with anything else to use in a fight. They use firearms and bombs and other human weaponry.”

“But they barely work! Half the time the guns explode on them,” Stiles pointed out, exasperated.

“But they’re still managing to kill us with them.” Boyd shrugged. “I’m just saying, they’re doing something to kill us.”

Troubled, Stiles frowned at his feet for a moment. “Maybe they found a kind of wolfsbane that hurts us,” he said, recalling his conversation with Erica months ago.

Scott nodded. “Princess Allison said Kate was trying to find something as poisonous to us.”

Stiles slid his feet back and forth over the carpet. He knew they’d be looking for a way to instantly incapacitate them the way wolfsbane could do to werewolves, but the idea that they’d found one was terrifying.

“The palace is surrounded by soldiers,” Scott said. “We’ll be okay.”

Stiles nodded. “Let’s go get breakfast.” He stood up and propped on a smile. “I’m starving and I want to go kiss Derek’s face.”

Scott grimaced. “Erica said that you guys, in the library, you…”

Stiles beamed at him and he shuddered.

“Dude. The library is—it’s public domain!” Scott looked to Boyd for help.

“I just guard the door,” he said blandly.

“As if I get any privacy anywhere else anyway ,” Stiles scoffed. “I have to take what I can get.”

Scott made another horrified face.

“Would you get dressed? Scott’s going to keel over if you keep talking.” He gestured at him to demonstrate.

“Why? Sex is a thing, Scott,” Stiles said.

Scott groaned. “No, it’s not!”

“How do you think we got here?” Stiles laughed.

“As far as I’m concerned, our parents found us in the garden,” Scott said.

“Loser.” Stiles crossed to the armoire with his clothes in it. “What should I wear to breakfast?” he asked with dawning horror. “Derek’s going to be there. Should I—?” he rifled through his clothes. “I should be—?”

Boyd interjected, “Jeans and a t-shirt. Don’t be weird.”

Stiles gaped him while Scott burst into laughter. “Rude, oh my gods.”

“Just be casual,” he reiterated calmly. “It’s breakfast.”

Stiles put on jeans and a t-shirt, almost forgoing shoes before Scott reminded him about all the glass from the other day. The halls had been cleaned, of course, but Stiles had the kind of luck that ensured he would find the one stray piece of glass with his bare foot.

He bumped into Cora on his way to the dining room. “Morning!” he chirped.

She grumbled unintelligibly and leaned heavily against his side, swaying in place.

“Okay…” Amused, he draped his arm over her shoulders and propelled her along while she started snoring lightly. “Are you sleeping?” he asked.

“Noooooo….” she moaned.

“Okay,” he laughed. “Just checking.”

Laura laughed at the sight of them when they shuffled through the door together.

“Is she usually able to find her way on her own?” Stiles wondered.

“Eventually.” Laura extracted her sister and deposited her into a chair.

While she did that, Stiles studied her. She looked as tired as Cora, and even more wrung out. Her face was pale and tense, her hair mussed and her pants suit—this one was deep green—was wrinkled.

Nathaniel came in behind Stiles, ruffling his hair and yawning. “G’morning, kid.” He had a mug of coffee in his hand and he looked as exhausted as Laura.

“Did you guys get any sleep?” Stiles demanded, putting his arm around his dad’s waist.

Nathaniel squeezed him back and let himself be led to a chair. “A couple hours. What about you?”

“More than you.” Stiles fussed over him for a couple minutes before he was batted away and had to take his own seat.

Allison came in a few minutes later looking particularly smug.

After her, Peter stamped into the room, his stormy expression explaining Allison’s smug one.

Derek came in just as the staff was bringing out the food. They set out trays and platters along the table instead of individual plates like usual.

Stiles wasn’t complaining—it looked like Nathaniel and Laura could use all the fuel they could get, and there was enough food this way for everyone to get seconds and thirds.

Derek greeted everyone and took a seat beside Stiles, leaning in to brush his nose along his jaw. “Hi,” he murmured.

“Hi.” Stiles turned his head to give him a light kiss.

“Boys,” Nathaniel warned.

“We’re engaged. I’m allowed. It’s in the rules,” Stiles claimed.

Derek laughed and kissed Stiles’s cheek, then bit his lip and glanced shyly at Nathaniel.

He just chuckled and shook his head, reaching for the bowl of eggs.

“What’s going on?” Cora asked abruptly.

Everyone jumped, since they’d assumed she’d been sleeping in her seat.

Laura dished some pancakes onto Cora’s plate. “Not at the table,” she said evenly.

“But you all smell-”

“Cora. We’ll talk after breakfast.”

Cora scowled and dropped her gaze to her now-full plate.

Peter reached across her and stole a piece of her sausage. “Eat your food.”

Stiles smiled sympathetically at her when she grimaced at him. Personally, as much as he’d like to know, he’d also like to finish his breakfast before hearing whatever horrible news was making Nathaniel and Laura look so tense.

“Thank you,” Allison said suddenly, “Your Majesty, for having clothes sent to my rooms.”

Laura nodded. “Of course.”

Cora bit her lip, her gaze jumping between her sister and Nathaniel, squirming in her seat.

Peter asked, “What’d you come up with last night?”

“Huh?”

Patiently, he said, “For the wedding. You came up with some things, right?”

Cora brightened considerably. “Yes! I was talking to Stiles about, maybe, having Laura play the piano after the wedding for their first dance.” After that, she was thoroughly distracted by babbling about her ideas for the wedding.

“I’ve, um, I can have someone out tomorrow for your tux fittings,” Laura said, setting her glass aside.

Nathaniel nodded. “Get a planner, too. Someone to figure out a guest list, get some idea of food needed.”

Stiles grimaced. “Isn’t it just going to be…us?” He gestured at the table.

“Ha!” Laura looked amused. “Nobles at least will want to attend Prince Derek’s wedding. The entire kingdom knows about the betrothal. Some will be interested and it’ll give them…hope, knowing we’ve got your help,” she added to Nathaniel, who dipped his head.

Stiles glanced at Derek to see what he thought of strangers attending their “small ceremony” and found him already staring back. “What?” He rubbed his cheek for stray food.

Derek startled a little and blinked. “What?” he repeated.

Stiles laughed. “Wedding? Nobles? Witnesses?”

“Okay,” he said agreeably, and sent the table into laughter.

“We’ll keep the numbers low,” Laura said once she’d composed herself. “But it can’t just be family. It won’t work.”

“We’ll need council members from the Stilinski kingdom,” Peter said abruptly.

“There are a couple on their way already,” Nathaniel said. “My word is enough, but we’d all feel more secure with witnesses from our own kingdom.”

Laura nodded. “I understand.”

Wedding talk carried them through the rest of breakfast, but as soon as the table was cleared, Cora jumped up and said, “I’m not at the table anymore. What’s going on?”

“The fighting at the border has gotten worse. We’re just stressed because of that,” Laura said calmly. “Now, why don’t you go entertain yourself while we handle business?”

Cora narrowed her eyes. “That’s not all,” she accused.

Laura stared at her until she dropped her gaze. “Then that’s all you need to know.”

Cora huffed and left the room, slamming the door behind her.

Is there something to worry about?” Stiles asked nervously. “Dad?”

Nathaniel sighed. “We’re working it out. The fighting is still far enough away that the palace is safe.”

Stiles nodded, picking at his jeans.

“Don’t worry. We’re handling it,” Laura assured him. “The palace is surrounded by soldiers, and the fighting is coming from the north. That’s really far away.”

“That’s right. Everything will be just fine,” Peter taunted. “Right, Laura? Isn’t everything always just fine?”

Laura’s eyes flashed, baring her teeth. “It will be,” she growled.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t.

Chapter Text

At first, Stiles thought he was dreaming, or maybe that Peter was attacking the strings of a violin right beside his head. Then there was the sound of shattering glass and someone shaking him, dragging him to the floor before his eyes were open.

"-iles! Stiles! Go to the hall!" Erica was yelling. “Go!”

He blinked dazedly at her, flinching when something crashed on the other side of the bed.

She dragged him by the shirt across the room, stopping only to scoop up his shoes. She shoved them against his chest until he caught them. She spun around, her hand flying out, water arcing through the air. A bullet caught in it and slowed, dropping to the floor.

“I said go,” she snarled. “Stiles! Xrafne,” she said, lifting her brows.

The code word penetrated, had him shaking himself. “You guys have to come with me,” he said. He hopped on one foot, trying to pull his shoes on.

“We’ll be right behind you,” Boyd snapped. “Just go!”

Scott shoved him between the shoulders, so he ran into the hall.

Glass once again littered the floor, this time accompanied by the burning smell of singed flesh and magic.

People were in the halls, too, tangled knots of them fighting and shouting while fire flared in bursts and water gushed from undines, wind snaking around sharp enough to be a weapon.

Someone slammed into Stiles’s side; he lifted his hands defensively, but his attacker only laced their fingers together.

“Come on!” Derek shouted.

“But—everyone else—”

“I got Cora and Peter out already,” he said, mouth to Stiles’s ear to be heard. “Laura and your dad were evacuated by their guards. We have to get out!”

Stiles let himself be dragged through the chaos, ducking and dodging blows. He couldn’t help it when his gaze snagged on each knot of fighters, slowing his pace. “Derek,” he shouted, “something’s wrong!”

“Yeah, they got past the wards!” Derek called back dryly. He found a broken window and kicked out the jagged shards of glass still clinging to the frame. “Go through,” he said, making a step out of his hands.

“Derek, Argent soldiers wouldn’t have been able to get past the wards,” Stiles insisted.

“Well, they have, and now we have to get out before they kill us.

Behind them, a soldier let out a terrifying, raucous laugh, just as water flooded the hall, soaking them to the knees. It started rising instantly.

“But-”

Derek growled and rushed Stiles, his shoulder ramming into his gut. As he keeled over Derek’s shoulder, he clambered up and out the window, then started running across the backyard.

It was still raining outside, a torrential downpour that soaked them instantly.

“Put me down!” Stiles yelled. “I can run!”

Another frustrated growl, then Derek swung him down onto his feet.

The yard came into focus in a dizzy rush. Everything was rain washed and dark, but Stiles could see what he’d suspected—all of the soldiers were fighting each other, Argent, Hale, Stilinski, with what seemed like little care for who it was they attacked. It was hard to tell who they were fighting, or if they even knew who they were hitting. They certainly didn’t notice the two of them standing there.

Derek pulled on Stiles’s arm. “The woods,” he said.

Stiles followed him.

Halfway there, an Argent lunged into their path. Derek dropped Stiles’s hand and threw himself at the soldier.

Stiles stepped back automatically; hands latched around his upper arms. He jerked his head back, smashing his skull into their nose. When they released him, he stomped on their instep and spun around, grabbing the soldier by the back of the neck and slamming their face into his knee.

Another replaced that one, rushing him with a knife.

Holding his breath, Stiles swiped his arm through the space in front of him. The air between them whipped the soldier off course, tossing her to the ground ten feet away.

Stiles swung around to find Derek fighting three Argent soldiers. Without taking the time to consider it, Stiles took a running leap onto the back of the one closest to him, winding his legs around his torso. He pressed his hand to the man’s chest and jerked the air out of his lungs.

They hit the ground together, but only Stiles got up.

“Come on,” Derek said, grabbing his hand again. Their palms stuck together with blood.

They ran for the trees, nearly falling into a deep crack in the ground no doubt caused by an elemental soldier.

Stiles couldn’t help craning his neck back as he ran, looking at the palace and hoping to see his knights climbing to freedom.

“Stiles!” Derek yelled desperately as he slowed them down.

“Scott—Boyd—Isaac—Erica—Melissa—they’re still, they’re inside,” he gasped, tears mingling with the rain on his cheeks.

“I know, but Stiles, they’re trained for combat. Please.” Derek pulled on him again. “Come on! If you come, if we get where it’s safer, I’ll go back for them, I promise, I’ll get them for you,” he babbled wildly.

Stiles shook his head. “No, no, you’re right. They’ll meet us.” He started walking again to prove he would.

 

The fighting seemed centered at the palace for the most part, because they only ran into two other Argent soldiers once they were in the woods, and they were already dead.

“Peter’s not far, then,” Stiles said, and Derek choked on a laugh.

“He’s deeper in, with Cora.”

The sound of the fighting was muffled by the trees and the rain, which made everything feel less urgent.

Of course, as soon as they slowed to a walk, a group of five Argents descended upon them.

Stiles felt himself flicker out of sight and swore, trying to re-solidify. He couldn’t let Derek fight them on his own.

He was already fighting, half-shifted and bloody.

Stiles squeezed his eyes shut and swung a fist blindly. He tripped back to his human form and got backhanded across the face for it. He yelped and kicked the man running at him.

The man caught his leg and yanked him off balance. Once he was on the ground, dazed and panting, the man climbed on top of him.

He started rifling through his pockets, pinning Stiles down with his knees on his chest.

Stiles started bucking wildly, trying to get his hands up around the man’s throat.

The soldier slid forward so his knees were pinning Stiles’s shoulders down, shins pinning his arms.

Stiles bit down on his lip and, trying to recall the one sparring session he’d had with Erica (before he decided violence wasn’t his thing), heaved his hips up, flailing his legs until he could hook his ankles around the soldier’s neck, dislodging him.

Stiles shot to his feet and fended off a punch with his forearm. He gathered air in his palm and slammed it against the soldier’s chest, sent him flying.

Stiles turned without seeing him land, looking for Derek.

One soldier lay dead, throat torn out, a few feet from Stiles.

Derek was backed against a tree, eyeing the three knives in front of him like he was going to try something stupid.

One soldier slashed at him and he snarled, but his skin sort of jumped, reacting to the wolfsbane on the knives.

Stiles took a deep breath and thrust both hands out in front of him, the way he’d physically shove someone.

All three soldiers were thrown aside, tumbling over each other in the mud.

“Derek, no,” Stiles yelped, but Derek ignored him.

He scooped up the fallen knives and used them on their owners. He used their uniforms to wipe the wolfsbane and blood off, then stuck one in each boot, gripping the third in his left hand.

 

They found Peter and Cora about twenty yards deeper in the woods. Cora was shivering in a tank top and shorts, her hair hanging limp and damp around her pale face.

“Have you seen anyone else?” Derek demanded.

“No. You’re the only ones.” Peter paced, his muscles tight with frustration. Despite the fact that he wasn’t even half-shifted, he looked more animal than man at the moment. “Something isn’t right about this attack.”

Stiles perked up. “How do you mean?”

Peter nodded grimly. “You noticed, too. The Argents may have forced the fight to us, but why have they brought the entire fight here? If they have that kind of power, why not kill our soldiers and decimate our defense? And how did they make them move back without killing them in the first place, when they knew their job was to protect the border or die?” He began to pace again, his posture becoming more and more predatory as he went.

Derek, Cora, and Peter’s heads snapped up at once.

“Shit. Shit,” Peter snarled. He took Cora’s hand. “Come on.”

Derek and Stiles started running after them, but they were intercepted by about thirty soldiers fighting. The branches of the trees bowed toward the fight and the ground shook as the elementals fought.

Stiles frowned, squinting and leaning toward the fight. He thought he’d seen…

Derek yanked him out of the path of a fire ball tossed carelessly by an elemental.

“We’ll meet Cora and Peter on the other side,” he said. “Let’s go.” He swiped impatiently at the rain in his eyes.

“Derek,” Stiles began as his breathing ticked into panicked gasps, “Derek, they’re not-”

“Stiles, we have to go!

Behind them, a gunshot cracked, followed by an explosion.

Stiles ran this time, keeping his hand tight around Derek’s.

They ran into some Argent soldiers who’d stopped to catch their breath after apparently killing some Hale soldiers, by the looks of the clearing.

The woman spotted them first and shot at Derek without hesitation.

Enraged, Stiles swatted it out of the air like it was nothing; it dug a groove in the mud at his feet, but he barely noticed it. He flicked his wrist and flung the woman into a tree, then yanked her forward again. The next tree she slammed into had a low, thick branch on it.

Stiles gagged when it went through her chest, but he didn’t have time to get sick—the other three soldiers had joined the fight.

Derek pressed a knife into Stiles’s hand and jumped on the nearest soldier.

Stiles leapt back when another one slashed at him; they studied each other for a moment, a pause the length of a heartbeat.

The soldier tackled Stiles. Stiles stuck the knife into his shoulder.

He managed to wrench it out and stab it back in again before his blood-slicked hands lost his grip on the handle.

He tipped his face up as the soldier straddled him and had time to register the knife coming at his eye before…something…happened. The knife stopped an inch from his face and the blade rippled, crumpled like a plastic toy up against a steel wall.

The soldier looked at Stiles again.

Stiles jerked his chin—the soldier flew off him.

He got up, panting, and instantly got lifted off his feet by that last soldier. A hand clamped halfway over his mouth. He bit down until he tasted blood. Then he exhaled, slowly, like he was giving the wound CPR.

The man holding him jerked. Choked. Dropped him. Collapsed to his knees clutching his chest.

Derek clawed the soldier he was fighting and, while she was screaming, snapped her neck.

He did the same to the soldier Stiles was standing over.

“What’d you do to him?” Derek asked, studying the man’s posture.

“Dunno.” He looked at Derek. “Let’s go.”

They didn’t get far before they ran into more people—only this time, it was Scott, Boyd, and Princess Allison.

“Oh my gods!” Stiles threw himself at Scott, who had to drop his sword so he wouldn’t impale him. “You’re alive! You’re alive!” He reached for Boyd, flapping his hand until he was close enough to be yanked into the hug.

“So are you!” Scott cheered. He backed up to look at Stiles, so Stiles took the opportunity to examine them. Scott had blood smeared down one side of his face from a cut on the side of his head, and his clothes were torn and bloodstained.

Boyd looked much the same, though he didn’t have any head wounds—just a bloodied piece of cloth tied around his right forearm.

Princess Allison looked shocky but physically okay. Her arms were wrapped tight around her middle as she paced.

“We should get moving,” she said.

Scott nodded. “Have you guys found anyone else?”

“Peter and Cora, but we got separated.” He looked over his shoulder at Derek.

“They’ll circle around toward us if they can. We should head toward them, too.”

“Kate is here,” Allison said. “Kate and the Alphas and Julia. We need to move.”

“You saw her?” Stiles asked sharply. Suspicion made his chest tight.

“It’s not what you think,” Scott said quickly. “We found them when they were fighting. Tell them what she said, Allison.”

She shot him a furious look. “Kate said…she said she killed my mother and that my dad was—he was injured in the fight and there are Alphas in the woods, guys,” she insisted. “We have to go!”

Derek continued to look at her with mingled suspicion and rage.

“It’s true! When we found her, they were fighting,” Boyd said. “Neither of them was holding back. Looked like a kill match to me.”

“We should go,” Stiles whispered to Derek. “There are four of us and one of her. We can handle her if she betrays us.”

Derek looked at him with empty eyes. “There was only Kate and eleven of my family members.”

Stiles flinched. “They weren’t ready,” he said, powering past the instinct to back down in the face of Derek’s dead family. “We are.”

Derek took a deep, shuddering breath. “Fine. Let’s go.”

 

The next group they came upon was a mix of the three kingdoms’ soldiers and once again, Stiles noticed something…off, something he couldn’t quite place.

“Just go around!” Scott yelled. “Stick close together and get around them!” Bark exploded a few inches to the right of his head, making him duck and skitter aside.

Stiles felt Derek’s fingers flex in his, claws prickling the back of his hand gently.

An Argent split from the tangled fight but Boyd, with his usual grace, snapped a powerful kick at her chest, sent her flying onto the waiting claws of a Hale soldier.

“Keep going!” Boyd ordered.

It was Allison that finally vocalized Stiles’s troubled thoughts.

“Are the elementals fighting the werewolves?!”

Once he knew what to look for, it was painfully obvious. The Stilinski soldiers were fighting anyone they could reach, tooth and nail, screaming like animals, using their powers with more rage than finesse.

“Just keep going!” Scott yelled. “There’s nothing we can do!” He grabbed Stiles’s shoulder and propelled him forward, leaving the soldiers to kill each other.

“What happened?” Stiles shouted. “Why would they—?”

Allison, right against his ear, hissed, “Kate must have found something she thought would poison elementals. She was injured and pissed when I encountered her, so I bet she wasn’t counting on this.”

Stiles followed her hand gesture in time to see an Argent soldier shoot a Stilinski soldier pointblank in the face, her expression more disgusted than angry.

“Counting on what, the elementals flipping their shit? I wouldn’t have either!”

“This wasn’t her plan,” Allison insisted. “So she doesn’t have as much control over the situation! We—”

Derek let out a high yowl of pain, falling with a thud behind them.

Stiles was turning and throwing before he even really understood what had happened.

The Argent soldier slammed into a tree with a crack, sliding to the ground and screaming.

“Whoa, when did you-?” Scott began, but he cut off as Stiles dropped to Derek’s side.

“What happened, where are you hit?” he babbled, fluttering his hands over Derek’s body.

His arm was soaked with blood, just above his elbow. “Bullet. Get the bullet out,” he said through his teeth, panting heavily.

Boyd knelt beside them and knocked Stiles’s hands aside. Without ceremony, he shoved his fingers into the wound.

Derek roared and tried to shift away, but Scott and Stiles dropped on his upper body, Allison on his legs.

“Got it,” Boyd grunted. He dropped it and pulled a pouch out of his pocket.

“You still have that?” Scott asked incredulously.

“No, but I got some more as soon as we got back. I thought it was a good thing to have on me at all times.” He was incredibly calm as he poured some purple and black powder into his palm.

“What is that?” Stiles demanded.

“Wolfsbane cure. The bullet poisoned him,” Boyd replied as he ground the powder into the wound.

Derek’s back bowed off the ground, another roar echoing around them.

He relaxed just as suddenly, panting. “Gotta go,” he gasped. “You guys have to run.”

“So do you,” Stiles snapped. “We can help you.”

“They’ll have heard that,” Allison said nervously. “The Alphas.”

“Go,” Derek snarled.

Stiles leaned in and kissed his fangs. “Get up and we can all go.”

Stiles and Boyd propped Derek between them, because Boyd only needed one hand to use his element and Stiles was the worst fighter.

Derek was pale and sweaty, moving slowly, but every time he suggested they leave him, Stiles pinched him in punishment and Boyd took more of his weight.

“I don’t think anyone is close enough to be a problem,” Allison said slowly. “As long as we keep moving, we should be okay.”

Stiles nodded. “Then we’ll keep moving.”

Chapter Text

The rain tapered off as they walked. Derek healed enough that he was walking on his own, though Stiles couldn't make himself let go of his hand. They managed, squishing their way through the trees that were getting thicker as they went.

Derek gave a low-voiced warning moments before Argent soldiers ambushed them, toting guns.

Allison went for the woman with the shotgun, knocking it out of her hands and breaking her wrist with maybe three quick movements.

Scott grimaced and waved an arm at the four soldiers running to aid their comrades. A wall of water appeared in front of them and enveloped them. Their eyes bulged when they realized they couldn’t escape or breathe.

He turned and finished off the soldier he’d been fighting.

Boyd had already suffocated the other two; Allison was wiping blood off her stolen knife.

“Let’s go.”

Scott looked at the soldiers now flailing in the water.

Boyd nudged him. “Let’s go, Scott.”

“Should I release them?”

“It’ll disappear a while after we leave.”

“We should kill them. Leaving them to drown is…wrong.”

Boyd studied his face, then, with a shrug, he went to the soldiers and began sticking his sword in their hearts, one by one. When he got to the last soldier, though, he yelped and dropped back, the handle of a large knife sticking out of his shoulder.

“No!” Scott yelled.

The wall of water closed around the last surviving soldier, then seemed to sink into him. He hit the ground with water gushing out of his mouth, ears, and nose, body convulsing as he tried to fight death.

Scott and Stiles crouched by Boyd, but he was already pulling the knife free, a deluge of blood following it.

Stiles looked around frantically for something to use as a bandage.

Allison scoffed and whipped her sweatshirt off, leaving her only in a tank top.

“Wait, we can-” Scott blurted.

“Please. Do any of you have another layer?” she demanded. She used her knife to slice the shirt up into strips. “Help me with this,” she snapped.

Scott fumbled with the knife she thrust at him.

In the end, Boyd’s shirt was used for a bandage, too, since it was already ripped and would add support.

“You just wanted me to take my shirt off,” Boyd teased through his teeth. His face had an unhealthy pallor as they helped him to his feet.

“Obviously,” Allison said, smiling. “Who wouldn’t?” She looked at Scott. “Despite the view,” she winked at Boyd, “he’s going to need a shirt that can help hold the bandages in place.”

Scott nodded and stripped his own off without hesitation, helping get it over Boyd’s injury.

“Let’s go, now.”

Hands clasped together again, Derek and Stiles followed behind Boyd, since he was the slowest. He was only a few feet in front of them, his posture stiff with pain.

Stiles bit his lip and looked at Derek. “Can you…help him?”

Derek nodded and stepped up beside Boyd, muttering to him. Boyd glanced at Stiles, who nodded encouragingly, and shrugged with his good shoulder, holding his hand out to Derek.

Raised black lines appeared on Derek’s hand, but Stiles didn’t watch for long; his gaze skipped back to Boyd’s face, watching the relief there.

“Thank you,” he said sincerely.

Derek offered a little smile. “You’re welcome.” He stepped back to Stiles’s side and took his hand.

“Thanks,” Stiles muttered.

They’d only been walking a few more minutes before Derek said, “I hear something,” quietly. He cocked his head. “There are voices….”

“Can we avoid them?” Scott asked, flicking his gaze toward Boyd.

“If we go around. Keep walking in that direction.” He pointed forward. “The voices are coming from over there.” He gestured to the left.

They moved quicker, putting distance between them and the soldiers Derek had heard.

As they distanced themselves, Stiles noticed Derek taking huffing little breaths, like he was trying to smell something.

“What?” he asked.

“Huh?”

Stiles waved at his own face. “Do you smell something?”

“Just…blood,” he said carefully. “And I thought I smelled Peter, but…” He shrugged helplessly. “I spent so much time in here with Peter that I expect his scent to be here.”

Stiles nodded.

Derek inhaled deeply and coughed. “That I didn’t imagine. Cora’s here somewhere, too, close by.”

Scott turned his head. “Where? Can you…find them?”

“Yeah, maybe.” Derek swiveled his head, inhaling lightly.

They followed his lead to their right, deeper into the thick trees. Stiles wondered how far back the trees went, since it felt like they’d been moving for hours.

“There,” Derek said, suddenly breaking into a run without letting go of Stiles’s hand.

He stumbled along behind him, struggling to keep up and mostly ending up being dragged.

“Whoa!” Derek yelped, leaping back and nearly knocking Stiles on his ass. The only reason he didn’t hit the ground was because Derek’s arm shot out and caught him.

Gasping for breath, he leaned forward to peer around Derek’s shoulder to see why he’d flinched and saw Erica, her sword held out in front of her.

“You’re alive,” she said approvingly.

Stiles launched himself at her, knocking her sword aside so he could hug her. “You guys got out,” he gasped. He felt a warm, wet spot on her back and jerked away. “What happened?” he demanded, looking at the blood smeared fresh on his palm.

“A bullet grazed me.” She swallowed. “Boyd? Scott?”

“They’re coming. Boyd’s moving a little…slow.”

Her face went white. “What happened?”

“He was stabbed. He’s walking,” he added quickly.

Scott, Boyd, and Allison caught up at the same time Isaac, Cora, and Peter arrived.

Isaac was spattered head-to-toe with blood, but he didn’t seem to be wounded, since he flung himself onto Stiles and Scott with great energy.

He snuffled at their necks while he squeezed them, reaching out to pat blindly at Derek’s shoulder when he shuffled by them.

“We’re okay,” Stiles said, patting his back. Over his shoulder, he saw Derek giving Cora a hug, and realized it was the first time he’d seen them be physically affectionate.

He wiggled free from Isaac and looked around. His heart clenched. “Has anyone seen my dad?” he croaked. “Laura?”

Erica shook her head. “We were lucky to find those two,” she said, jerking her thumb at Peter and Cora. “Tracker, Isaac is not.”

He stuck his tongue out at her. “I tried, okay? There’s so much blood and gun smoke and wolfsbane…”

“You’ll learn,” Peter said quietly. “Now that we’re all together, we can help each other find Laura and King Nathaniel.”

“Do you know where they are?” Derek snapped.

Peter shot him a bored look. “No, but with more eyes and ears, we should be able to-”

A roar broke through his speech.

When it tapered off, all of the present werewolves, eyes gold, said, “Laura.

“Where?” Erica asked sharply. “We’ll go.” She looked at Boyd. “You’ll stay.”

He scowled at her. “If I stay, so will you. You were shot.”

“Grazed,” she snapped.

“My sister is in trouble,” Cora snarled. “Stop arguing so we can go help her!”

“Right. Erica, you can’t force him to stay behind. What if he’s ambushed while he’s by himself?” Stiles demanded.

“Fine,” she spat. “Fine. Let’s go.”

They jogged with Boyd and Erica in the middle, as they were the ones with the worst wounds. Derek and Stiles brought up the rear; Derek looked about half a second away from shifting, his hand kneading restlessly against Stiles’s.

“They’re okay,” Stiles insisted. “They’ll be okay.”

Derek nodded but didn’t speak, his glowing eyes focused forward.

Isaac and Peter had taken the lead, so it was them that shouted a warning before a mixed group of soldiers was upon them.

“Stay back!” A Hale soldier shouted, freeing herself from the tangle.

A Stilinski soldier threw himself at her, hands raised, mouth twisted in a terrible snarl.

“No!” Stiles shouted, lunging between them.

The Stilinski soldier collided with him hard, both of them slamming into the dirt.

Around them, the Argent soldiers were attacking his group; of course they were. The Stilinski soldiers were attacking the Hales—what did the Argents need to join in for?

The soldier on Stiles slammed a fist across his face, dazing him enough that he didn’t realize at first that vines were winding their way up his arms, looping around his torso and shoulders.

He started bucking wildly, kicking his legs until he made contact with something. His lungs started to feel tight, his breaths puffing out more and more desperately.

Unfortunately, he’d kicked another of his own soldiers, drawing his attention; this one was an undine. Water encased him, clinging like a smothering blanket.

He flailed wildly under the soldier straddling him, tears spilling from his eyes in panic.

The soldier gazed down at him with empty, green eyes, like he couldn’t even see Stiles.

Stiles forgot everything. He forgot that he could draw air to him no matter what, he forgot that he was powerful—all he saw were flat, empty eyes watching him through the wall of water that was killing him.

The vines began wrapping around his legs, slowing his frantic kicking until all he could do was wiggle desperately in place, tossing his head instinctively, trying to dislodge the water covering his face.

Something slammed down on his shoulder, something else stomped on his gut, causing him to try to curl up, which made the vines tighten their strangling hold. His vision went fuzzy. Black sparkles popped in his vision, but he kept his mouth clamped shut, even while his chest burned and his head rocked limply to the side.

He had just enough time to see a sword thrust through the chest of the soldier on top of him before he passed out.

 

Something slapped him across the face, a sharp crack unimpeded by a cushion of water.

Air forced its way into his lungs while the water was drawn out far more gently than his body would have ejected it.

Someone was stroking his hair, curled over him, while someone else pressed a palm to his chest and a third person cut him free of the vines.

People were still shouting, that heavy, chaotic sound of bodies slamming into each other and over the dirt still present.

Stiles, coughing, looked up to find Derek stroking his hair. Boyd was leaning over him, forcing his lungs to expand and contract gently, while Scott was cutting him free. Everyone else was surrounding them, protecting them from the soldiers.

“You okay?”

“No,” he croaked. “Get me up. We have to help.”

Derek shook his head. “There’s nothing to help with. All the Argent soldiers are dead, so it’s just…” He cleared his throat. “it’s just our soldiers protecting us from…”

“From my soldiers,” Stiles finished. He struggled to sit up, watching, dazed, while Scott finished cutting his legs free. “Something…whatever Kate did, it made them…crazed. Their eyes are just…empty.”

Scott, crouched at Stiles’s feet, said, “We have to get to Nathaniel. He might know what’s going on. And Allison thinks…that they might be fighting the Alphas.” He closed his hand around Stiles’s ankle. “Are you good to walk?”

“Yes.”

Derek had to help him up.

“I can walk,” he insisted, although he kept a white knuckled grip on Derek’s shirt as he wobbled.

Derek only nodded, helping him shuffle forward.

With Stiles, Boyd, and Erica moving slowly due to injury, their group was a tense, shuffling mess.

Peter and Cora were leading, straining toward Laura’s distressed roar like they might abandon the others at any second.

Stiles felt dazed as they walked, taking stock of his injuries. His face throbbed, a slow, steady drip of blood coming from his nose. He used his wrist to wipe it away, tipping his head forward so it wouldn’t drip down his throat.

“Pinch it,” Boyd reminded him.

“Right.” He’d run into and fallen off enough stuff as a kid that nosebleed first-aid was a must for most palace staff.

“Do you smell that?” Derek asked, leaning toward Isaac.

Isaac nodded, tipping his head as he tried to follow whatever they smelled. “What is it?”

Derek shook his head, nostrils flaring.

“It’s magic,” Peter said. “A lot of magic used offensively. Deaton is fighting.” With that, he took off running in an alarming burst of speed.

“Don’t bother,” Derek said tersely when Scott looked like he might chase him. “Peter was always the fastest of the pack.”

“What do we do then?” Erica snapped.

“We go in the direction he ran and hope he’s not far.”

They kept going; Cora fell back to walk between Derek and Isaac, letting Scott and Erica take the lead, with Allison right behind them.

“You should put something on that,” she said. She was studying the bloody mess of Erica’s back. “Slow the bleeding a bit.”

“We’ve got nothing to use,” Erica snapped.

“I’d offer my shirt, but it’s so caked in mud and soaked that it would probably just give you an infection,” Stiles said, trying to make her laugh. His voice came out so congested from his bleeding nose that the effect was lost.

“Oh, crap,” Scott said, falling back. He put his hand on Stiles’s arm, avoiding his sore shoulder. The water on his clothes dried instantly, and Scott shook his hand off before reaching for Derek. “I can dry you off, too,” he explained when Derek lifted his brows.

Derek still looked skeptical, but he held his hand out anyway.

It was nice to see him look pleasantly surprised when the water in his shirt and jeans disappeared.

Up ahead, Erica and Allison were arguing about bandages.

“At least let someone look at it,” Allison snapped. “If it was just a cut, it would have stopped bleeding by now.”

“Fine. Go ahead. But we’re not stopping to do it.” Erica waved airily over her shoulder while she walked.

Allison snorted and muttered about stubborn knights, then used her knife to widen the blood soaked hole in the back of Erica’s shirt while they walked.

Stiles could see the wound from the back of the group, a wide, long gash oozing blood. It was so wide that it looked like raw meat. Stiles choked, covering his mouth when his stomach heaved threateningly.

Erica hissed like a scalded cat when Allison dabbed at the blood with some bunched up cloth she’d ripped off the bottom of her tank top.

“Do you want an infection?” she asked. “We’ve got to clean it.”

Isaac turned to Derek, walking backwards. “How do you take away the pain?”

“I just…do. You feel for it, and you pull.” He shrugged. “I can do it.”

“No, stay with Stiles.” Isaac nudged Scott. “C’mon. You can wash the wound while I take away the pain.”

They did this while walking. It seemed to work; Erica’s shoulders relaxed, anyway, once Isaac figured out how to pull the pain. Their pace was slow, which made Cora antsy, but Derek wouldn’t let her leave by herself.

“Why can’t us three go ahead then?” she demanded.

Stiles lifted a hand that was, he was ashamed to see, was still shaking from his near-drowning. “I couldn’t keep up,” he said apologetically. “But if you really want to, you and Derek can run ahead.”

Derek glowered at his sister. “How did Erica get shot?” he asked in such a sharp tone that Allison glanced back at them, brows pinched.

“What?” Cora flushed red. “Why do you ask?”

Stiles frowned at them.

“How did Erica get shot? She managed to avoid it while the palace windows were being riddled with bullets and she was getting Stiles out. How did she get shot?” Derek repeated, enunciating so carefully that even Stiles sort of shrank away.

He saw Boyd turn his head, listening.

“She was pushing me out of the way,” Cora said through her teeth. “Because it had wolfsbane in it.”

Derek nodded slowly. “And now you just want to, what, leave them to fend for themselves because she’s too slow for you?” His voice was mild, but Cora was curling in on herself like he was yelling.

“But—can’t you feel Laura?” she whispered.

“Yes!” Derek shouted. “Of course I can! Can’t you feel them?” He flung his arm toward Erica, Scott, and Isaac. “They’re pack, too, and you don’t just abandon pack. You stick together.”

“Peter left us,” she protested.

“Peter left the entire group. He didn’t abandon just the injured members.”

Cora swallowed and nodded, dropping her gaze.

Up ahead, the others were trying to figure out what to use as bandages, as everyone was covered in mud, blood, or both.

“Just leave it,” Erica said. “Tie the ripped parts of my shirt around it until we find something else.”

Allison studied the shirt, frowning, and finally nodded, batting Isaac’s hands away so she could do the tying.

“Is there anything you can’t do?” Scott asked lightly, making her frown at him.

“Figure you out,” Erica chirped, then yelped when Allison jerked the t-shirt a little tighter than necessary.

“Sorry,” Allison said sweetly.

“Uh-huh.”

Something in the air…changed. The hair on the back of Stiles’s neck stood up as he shivered. He could smell the magic that the werewolves had noticed earlier, a sharp ozone sort of smell, like lightning had struck a citrus tree and burned the fruit.

Cora whined softly, so Derek caught her hand in his free one, tugging her closer.

“I guess we’re getting close,” Boyd said mildly.

Around them, the air started whipping at their hair and clothes. Stiles’s trembling, mostly centered to his hands earlier, spread until he imagined Derek could hear his bones rattling. His teeth were certainly chattering, although he didn’t feel cold at all.

He didn’t notice that he’d started fading; he only realized it when Derek lost his grip on his hand.

“Sorry,” he said around his clacking teeth. “I’m not sure wh-what’s wrong w-with me.” He crossed his arms over his chest, wincing when it pulled at the bruises on his shoulder.

“Maybe the magic is affecting you,” Allison said slowly, studying him.

Icy cold air slithered around them, at odds with the thick humidity.

“That wasn’t me,” Stiles said immediately.

“Was me,” Boyd grunted.

When Stiles’s gaze jerked to him, he realized he was shaking, too, eyes full gray. He flicked out of sight momentarily.

“Allison’s probably right,” Derek said. “Just—keep going.”

Stiles nodded and flexed his fingers, trying to calm down. The wind around them positively howled.

“Sorry!”

“It’s not just you,” Boyd said. “It’s me, too.”

Stiles’s feet sank into the ground on his next step, the dirt suddenly turned to wet, sucking mud.

“S-sorry,” Scott stammered.

He and Erica were shivering and water was flooding from the points where their boots touched the ground.

“This is a spell,” Allison said decisively. “Julia did this once.”

“She’s around here somewhere?” Derek snapped. “Casting spells?” His head swung around defensively, claws and fangs appearing.

“No, it’s too weak. We must have walked into a trap she set, probably to incapacitate elemental soldiers. I’ve seen it at full power. It’s fast and it makes elementals…” She grimaced as she searched for a word. “Devolve, I guess. It takes a lot of power from her, so she rarely uses it. She must be desperate.”

“H-how do we s-stop it?” Erica growled.

“We keep walking. The spell was cast over this area of the woods. If we get out of this area, the effects will wear off.”

Isaac was hunched in on himself like he’d received a gut shot, shaking as hard as the rest of them. Branches twisted out of his back from below his shoulders like some sort of forest god’s wings. Little flames popped around him. “You guys should walk ahead of me,” he gritted out. “Don’t wanna hurt you.”

Stiles, irritated, shoved him forward with the wind. “Any of us could hurt each other. Just go so we can get out of this area.”

He glared at him but obediently started shuffling forward. Fire flared up the branches on his back, incinerating them into sweet-smelling ash.

“Does it hurt?” Derek asked quietly.

Stiles shook his head and caused the tree branches above them to sway dangerously. “Just feels like—shaking. Dunno.” It was hard to speak—he’d gone from chattering teeth to jaw clenching painfully tight.

Ahead of them, Boyd shuddered hard and flickered out of sight.

Stiles reached for him instinctively, shoving him with his own power until he was solid again.

“Thanks,” he gasped.

Isaac groaned and flung his hand out—a stream of golden flames shot off to their left, straight toward the ground.

Scott helpfully directed water to it, dousing the flames.

They were getting more useless the further they went.

Soon, it was only Allison, Derek, and Cora holding them in their human forms, but only just. Stiles’s left side was air. Boyd’s legs were faded, and Scott and Erica seemed to be melting.

The only things that kept them moving were Derek’s hands, gently pushing them along, Cora’s voice urging them to hold on, Allison’s tugging on the rope she’d made out of one of the vines trailing from Isaac’s arms like overlong limbs, tying them together.

Stiles didn’t feel like Stiles anymore. He didn’t feel like a person, and that frightened him in a vague, blurry sort of way. He felt adrift, like maybe he would float away. He felt a breeze tickle the part of his cheek that was still skin and turned toward it, smiling. Maybe he would join the breeze.

“There. There,” Allison shouted.

Something shoved Stiles’s solid side, sent him tumbling to his knees. Becoming human again was sudden and uncomfortable in a way it never had been before, his skin itchy and tight.

Beside him, Boyd was choking, and beyond him, Erica and Scott were coughing up water and Isaac was ripping flowered branches out of his skin, smoking streaming from his nose and eyes.

Derek crouched in front of Stiles. “Are you okay, are you alive?” he babbled, cupping Stiles’s face.

He cried out, jerking away.

Derek dropped his hands, looking stricken. “I’m sorry!” he gasped.

No,” Stiles moaned, clutching at the roots beneath him, trying to ground himself. “No. My skin. Sensitive.”

Boyd, still gasping with his face angled toward the ground, nodded in agreement.

A sudden banging had them all flinching.

Stiles dug his fingertips down until they were buried, until he felt less like he might just fly off the face of the earth into oblivion.

“I never,” he began in a thin, rasping voice. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I never want to feel anything like that again.”

“We thought you guys were dying,” Cora said softly.

“It felt like we were,” Scott said fervently.

Erica gasped an agreement.

Stiles lifted his head enough to see that they’d all gotten into generally the same position as him, curled over and gripping the earth for dear life.

A sharp, resounding crack came from somewhere over Derek’s shoulder.

“Oh. We also found Julia,” he said cautiously.

Possibly it was because they were recovering from Julia’s little spell. Maybe it was because they’d felt what they really were for the first time in their lives, had felt like nature and less like people. Whatever it was, all five elementals rose to their feet instantly.

“Let’s go say hello then,” Erica said. Her voice had a cool, liquid quality to it, more undine than she’d ever been.

“You’re still recovering!” Allison protested.

“We’re okay enough for this,” Scott said in a voice eerily similar to Erica’s.

Derek braced himself in front of Boyd and Stiles. “You guys need a few more minutes.”

Cora did the same in front of Isaac and Scott while Allison ranged herself before Erica.

Stiles glanced toward Boyd, who looked back at him and quirked a little smirk.

They faded from sight and slid around Derek; Stiles paused to blow on his ear playfully.

He heard Scott and Erica laugh joyously as they flowed around Cora and Allison.

Isaac laughed and stepped over their heads by raising the ground beneath his feet.

They raced each other, water against air against fire and earth.

Stiles knew they weren’t fully recovered, knew that some part of their brains were still affected by the spell, that it had let the parts of each of them that was purely elemental take over.

He clung low to the ground, skimming the grass, then bounced high up, gliding through tree branches gracefully, and dropped low again.

He tripped into his human form, laughing breathlessly.

Beside him, Boyd did the same, although his laughter trailed off into hitching gasps.

“What, what’s the matter?” Stiles giggled, adrenaline making him giddy.

“M’bleeding still,” he muttered. “Feel dizzy.”

“Oh no.” Stiles stared at the blood soaking his shirt until his brain clicked back on. “Oh no!

Erica, Scott, and Isaac joined them. “That’s no fun,” Erica pouted. “Also, I can see the bitch. The witch.” She giggled.

Stiles turned.

Sure enough, ten yards from them was a dark haired woman, her hair lifted with magic. The ground beneath and around her was cracked and dry.

She was fighting Dr. Deaton.

They were both bleeding and breathless, flinging magic at each other and deflecting so intently that they hadn’t noticed the elementals arrive.

Stiles was so distracted by the flashing lights and pops that Scott’s sudden cry of “Mom!” made him jump hard.

Scott took off running toward where Melissa was hanging back from the fight, looking pissed.

Both witches turned to watch him go, seemingly stunned at his arrival.

Julia saw that Deaton had reinforcements and spun to escape.

Isaac snarled and raced toward her. He flung his arm out, flicking his wrist, and a wall of fire sprang to life in her path.

She backpedaled clumsily.

Stiles looked at Boyd and Erica, at a loss, but he didn’t have time to do anything else, because Derek Cora, and Allison had caught up.

They were so busy shouting that only Stiles and Isaac saw Peter drop out of a tree, raking his claws down Julia’s face, neck, and chest.

She started screaming, one bloodcurdling scream after another, blood pouring down her as she collapsed.

Peter left her on the ground, turning to Isaac and taking his shoulder, speaking to him with an intense expression that Stiles was glad not to be on the receiving end of. Peter was weird. Stiles could never figure out whose side he was on.

Laura’s, he guessed. Sort of. Sometimes.

Scott and Melissa rushed over to them, followed by Dr. Deaton. Melissa was holding a bulging backpack.

“Okay, everyone that’s bleeding, sit down.”

“Laura,” Derek began sharply.

Melissa pointed at him. His teeth clicked when he snapped his jaw shut. “We can’t even find her yet. I have to at least bandage these until I have time to stitch them.” She made soft cooing noises over Boyd’s shoulder.

Deaton got to work on Erica’s back.

Peter and Isaac joined them. “Laura’s closer to the palace,” Peter said. “We can follow her roar the next time.”

“Why would she go back to the palace?!” Cora wailed. “That’s the—”

“Because she may have thought we didn’t make it out,” Peter interrupted. He looked at the doctors. “Almost done?”

“For now,” Melissa said darkly. “These wounds need attention.” She looked at Stiles, sighed, and shook her head. “You just. I’ll deal with you soon.”

“Thanks,” he said dryly.

“Are you okay, Mom?” Scott asked. “I couldn’t find you before we got out, and then I was looking for Stiles,” he said guiltily.

“We got out fine. Deaton used magic to hide us. And,” she added, shooting Deaton a glare, “he wouldn’t let me help with the witch.”

“You would have just gotten hit with a spell and I would have had to help you,” he said, his voice calm.

Melissa looked like she might kick him.

“Wait,” Stiles said slowly. “You just listened to him?”

She scoffed. “Of course not. But he kept using magic to keep me from getting close.” One foot actually lifted slightly off the ground, like she really might kick him.

Deaton had the grace to take a step back.

A howl rent the air; Stiles didn’t think he was imaging the despair in it.

They began running again, following the werewolves’ lead, though Derek hung back so he could hold Stiles’s hand.

“You can—run with them,” Stiles gasped, pressing his free hand to his ribs.

Derek shook his head, flexing his hand gently.

“’Kay.” Stiles didn’t have the breath for more than that.

They made it to the edge of the trees, where they found Laura fighting in the midst of a group of soldiers. She was going against an enormous male Alpha, her face half-shifted and blood streaked.

Peter, without a word or hesitation, ran forward and jumped on the Alpha’s back, digging his teeth into his shoulder.

Stiles, his heart sinking, looked around frantically.

“He’s there,” Derek said softly. He pointed off to the right, back into the trees.

Sure enough, moments later, Nathaniel appeared, shaking off his fire form. He looked furious until he spotted Stiles. He broke into a run and Stiles met him halfway. They caught each other and clung, making room when Isaac and Scott joined in.

“Gods. Gods. What happened to you?” Nathaniel shook his head. “Never mind. Laura!” he yelled.

Laura was still fighting the Alpha.

He reached back and managed to grab Peter, throwing him against the ground and pressing his foot against his chest.

Peter went wild, ripping strips of flesh off the Alpha’s leg even while remaining pinned.

Laura threw herself at the Alpha’s chest, dancing back and spitting a chunk of flesh out to the side.

It had worked—he wobbled off of Peter, who scrambled to his feet.

“Laura!” Nathaniel called again.

Laura, panting, fell back. She was still snarling, her mouth and jaw a bloody wreck. “I can still fight!” she roared.

Peter, with Derek’s help, picked his way across the grass toward her, holding his no-doubt broken ribs. “No. We can’t.”

A gunshot cracked and sent dirt exploding at their feet. Derek dragged Peter further away.

“There are too many, Laura,” he said.

She looked at him, then at the other Alpha. “You’re right.” She pulled her hands through blood-stiffened hair. “But we don’t have anywhere to go.”

“Back into the woods for now. Where’s the other one?” Peter growled.

Isaac looked thoughtfully at the large Alpha while they were retreating. Then he waved his arm, sent flames flaring into a wall between them and the Alpha, much like he’d done to Julia.

Stiles looked quickly at his father, whose jaw had dropped.

“Isaac?” he said.

Isaac spun to face him, eyes widening and going gold. “Um. Surprise?”

Nathaniel nodded, still gaping a little.

“Where is the other Alpha?” Peter repeated.

“She ran off into the woods when someone started screaming. Parrish is following her.”

Derek was trying to tow his uncle and Stiles backwards, deeper into the relative safety of the trees, but they weren’t getting far. Peter batted Derek away gently, so Derek turned his ministrations on Stiles. It was helpful, because Stiles felt numb and useless.

The sight of his father had triggered the child in him, the part of him that said oh, an adult is here. All will be taken care of and allowed his body to finally feel the hours of running and fighting.

“Just a while longer,” Derek urged, pulling him up against his side. “You can make it.”

“The thing is,” Peter said, “we can’t. We can’t keep fighting all day.” He looked grim as he said, “We need to flee until they…thin each other out.”

“What’s that mean?” Laura demanded immediately.

“Don’t play dumb!” Peter snarled. “The Argents have done something to the Stilinski soldiers to make them forget who they’re supposed to be fighting.”

Nathaniel grimaced.

“It’s true. I was almost drowned by some of our own soldiers,” Stiles said exhaustedly.

“Fine,” Laura snapped. “But I don’t know where we can go. We don’t have the strength to even try to make it to the Stilinski kingdom, and we don’t have anyone else.”

“There is a place out of the way, safe and secluded, that we can go to,” Peter said.

Laura went tense all over. “No,” she said. “Absolutely not. How could that be safe?”

“For the same reason you’re so horrified,” he said impatiently. “Who would guess that’s where we would go for refuge?”

Against Stiles’s side, Derek was slowly going tense, like he had guessed where they were talking about and didn’t like it.

Laura deflated. “Okay,” she sighed. “We’ll need horses. A carriage.”

“Things we can get easily.”

“Fine. I guess it’s our only choice.”

“What is?” Cora finally asked, perplexed.

Derek was staring at his uncle, a horrified but distant expression on his face. “We’re going to the summer house,” he said.

Chapter Text

The plan was not, in Stiles’s opinion, really a plan at all, since all it consisted of was a run to the stables. A run which would go straight through the thick of things, where all the soldiers were fighting.

Stiles found this plan idiotic.

“We are all exhausted, some of us are injured, and instead of,” he gestured somewhat hysterically, “going around the long way, we’re going to fight our way through.” He looked around for someone to back him up.

“We have to. Going around will take too long and far more energy,” Peter said.

“Because fighting our way through shouldn’t take much.”

“If we avoid engaging the Stilinski soldiers, we will get through with less energy expended than going around.”

“Oh, yeah?” Stiles demanded. “How do you know?”

“The only time any of us was attacked by them was when you directly engaged with one. They seem to be solely focused on whatever they’re already doing unless something else draws their attention.” Peter crossed his arms.

“It’s true,” Nathaniel said slowly. “Whatever’s been done to them, it took away the ability to assess threats. As long as we leave them alone, avoid them…”

“Dad!” Stiles protested.

“It’s the only way, Stiles,” Scott said quietly.

Stiles swiped at his nose. “Fine, whatever. Lead on.”

Peter nodded, satisfied, and turned to Parrish, who had returned with frustrated news of having lost the female Alpha. “Everyone who is able should be on guard, ready to use their skills at a moment’s notice.”

“Combat forms,” Nathaniel said agreeably.

“Yours isn’t exactly subtle.”

Laura shook her head. “It’ll keep Argents away, though.”

“I don’t think…” Derek glanced almost guiltily at Stiles. “Stiles and his knights probably shouldn’t.”

“Why?” Nathaniel demanded.

Derek, with Cora and Allison’s help, explained about the spell, the way they’d lost themselves.

“It’s too high a risk. What if they run off again?” Derek wouldn’t look at Stiles.

Nathaniel nodded. “I agree. Just…be prepared.”

Stiles scoffed but stayed quiet when his father looked at him. If the group had made up their minds, him resisting would only cost them time.

“Alright then.” Laura clapped her hands. “Back into the fray.” She smiled weakly. “Be careful, everyone.”

Stiles looked around. The sun was up, but the day was cloudy, so everything was cast in a gray light. It made everyone look sickly, though, admittedly, everyone was also covered or spattered in blood and wearing ripped clothes, so they may have just looked sick on their own.

Nathaniel lit up first, fire rolling from the top of his head down to his feet, making him nearly two feet taller.

Parrish followed suit, branches twisting all over his body like armor, closing over his face.

“We’ll lead,” Nathaniel crackled.

“Alright.” Laura hastily stepped aside when he started walking, cringing away from the flames.

Peter’s face was cold as he moved around her to follow them.

The yard was still in chaos, knots of soldiers spread over the grounds.

Stiles couldn’t understand how there were still so many of them, considering the number of bodies they had to step over or around.

Scott and Isaac sort of circled the edges of the group, using their swords and powers alternately to block attacks.

An Argent shot at Derek and nearly hit him, but Allison shoved him out of the way just in time, throwing her knife with amazing precision. It embedded itself in the soldier’s eye.

Scott pulled it out and handed it back to her.

“Keep up,” Laura barked.

Stiles surveyed the fighting distantly. His head felt too fuzzy to really absorb what was happening. It was something of a shock to hear a scream right next to his ear, to feel someone yank him off balance and stab something into his arm right above his elbow.

His own scream brought him out of his daze as pain rolled through his arm. He stumbled back, one hand lifting instinctively to defend himself, although there was no one in front of him—the others had been ambushed by a group of Argents and were fighting.

The Argent soldier that had grabbed him slammed him into the ground—for the umpteenth time that day—and planted a foot on his chest, a little brown pouch in hand. She was fumbling with the strings that kept it closed, eyes flicking between Stiles’s face and the pouch.

Stiles glanced at his arm and fixated on the knife handle sticking out of it. Enraged, he grabbed the soldier’s wrist and yanked the air from her, almost enjoying her choked sound of shock. The brown pouch bounced off his chest, still closed, when he tugged the air from her again.

She was starting to get frantic when another soldier joined her, grabbing Stiles’s hand and bending it backward so hard and fast that he lost his grip on the air he’d been holding away from her.

The first soldier started gasping, sputtering about the pouch.

Before the second Argent could grab it, hands closed around his jaw and head and twisted sharply, the resultant crack making Stiles gag.

The other soldier tried scrambling away, but Derek caught her by the throat, dug his claws in, and tore.

“Come on,” he muttered, pulling Stiles to his feet. “Dr. Deaton or McCall can pull the knife out.”

Tears streamed down his face, but Stiles ran beside Derek, trying to jostle his arm as little as possible so they could catch up to the rest of the group. He was panting more from the pain than the run, he thought.

The group was waiting for them, anxious and clustered together, swelling around them when they caught up.

Melissa swore ripely at the sight of the knife in his arm.

Mom,” Scott gasped, shocked.

She glared but eventually shook her head, turning back to Stiles. Isaac was hovering over her shoulder anxiously, nostrils flaring as he looked at the blood.

“Can you make it to the stables?” Laura demanded. Her were nostrils flared too, eyes pinching worriedly.

“Yes,” Stiles said through his teeth.

Erica and Allison were supporting Cora between them; her ankle was twisted grotesquely, clearly broken.

“I’m healing,” she said when she saw him looking.

“Okay.”

Melissa shouted at the group until they closed around Stiles, so she could tie a piece of her shirt tightly above the knife, slowing the blood flow a bit.

Nathaniel swept an arm out, fire blazing a path through the dirt-churned yard.

Argents and Hales alike leapt out of the way, and, in turn, crazed Stilinski soldiers followed.

“Run,” Nathaniel suggested. “Follow that path, even if we get separated.”

They ran. Stiles got dizzier as they went. His arm was soaked in blood and throbbing with pain that spiked with each footfall.

By the time they could see the stables, Stiles was being dragged along by the combined efforts of Isaac and Derek. He couldn’t lift his head, but he thought Laura was half-carrying Boyd, who was losing a lot of blood, too.

“They can’t make it much further without treatment, Peter!” Laura yelled.

“They won’t have to!” he snapped. “We’re almost there.”

Stiles’s stomach churned threateningly, his legs scrabbling clumsily to keep up with Isaac and Derek. He had a feeling they’d have been able to move faster if he’d have just gone limp and let them drag him, but something in his lizard brain urged him to try.

Peter said, “Carriage is in there. Horses. Everyone able needs to start gathering supplies while I prepare the horses.” He threw open the doors of the stable, ushering everyone inside.

Stiles’s knees shook.

The horses inside were making panicked noises that made Stiles’s heart start hammering out of reflex.

His head rolled against Isaac’s shoulder. “Gonna puke,” he warned weakly.

They hastily tipped him forward before he did just that.

Cool fingers brushed over his clammy forehead, drawing something. “That should help a bit. It’s the best I can do at the moment.”

Stiles’s head cleared enough for him to see Dr. Deaton drawing on Boyd’s forehead, too.

They were inside the stable, he realized. He hadn’t noticed Derek and Isaac drag him inside. He was freezing, shivering even between Isaac and Derek.

Scott and Allison were arguing near the door, big, angry gestures drawing Stiles’s attention.

“Hey,” he murmured. He slapped a numb hand against Isaac, who was holding his knife-free side. “Wha’s happening?”

Laura seemed to be thinking the same thing. “Is there a reason you two aren’t helping?” she snapped.

“Yes,” Scott snapped right back. “She wants to leave.” He flung a hand toward Allison, his cheeks flushed with anger.

Allison tossed her head. “Wants is the wrong word.” She met Laura’s gaze. “I need to get back home. I need to be there when Kate is killed so I can claim the throne.”

“Why is that?” Laura asked warily.

“Because our country--it's run by the Queen. There needs to be a woman to take the throne, and since Kate killed my mother, then I need to be there. My father cannot become king without a wife, so the throne falls to me if Kate is dead.”

“Why can’t it wait?” Laura’s voice was flat and blunt, disbelieving. “It was okay to wait before we had transportation.”

“If Kate returns home instead of staying to watch her mess, I need to be there to kill her,” Allison said coldly. “She’s out now, so I can get to the rest of the palace that she’d locked me out of before. When she returns—if you don’t kill her,” she acknowledged, nodding toward Derek, who looked panicked, “I plan to be instated as Queen already.”

Laura studied her face. “Nathaniel?” she asked abruptly. “Thoughts?”

“We don’t have time to argue. She has done nothing but help us and for now it seems a waste of time trying to convince or force her to join us. If she intends to betray us, she’d be choosing a poor time to do it, as most of her army has been slaughtered.”

Allison nodded in agreement.

“Fine. Pick a horse,” Laura said tiredly, gesturing toward the stalls.

With that, everyone able began scouring the stable for supplies while Peter unearthed a carriage from the side of the building.

Stiles was fading fast, drooping against Derek again.

Melissa tapped his face.

“Uhnn?”

“Open up, sweetie.”

He opened instinctively. Cool water filled his mouth, streaming from her fingers.

“Thanks,” he gasped between swallows.

Derek still had to hold him up, and Isaac didn’t seem inclined to release him, but the water was helpful.

Over her head, he saw Erica hydrating Boyd in a somewhat more intimate manner than Melissa had done for him.

Allison was mounted on a black mare, thanking Laura solemnly. “You won’t regret this,” she promised.

“I’d better not.”

Allison dipped her head at her, glanced at Scott, and urged her horse out the doors.

When she was gone, Melissa waved an arm at the doors; a thick sheet of ice filled the space, sealing them in.

“Not bad,” Nathaniel said approvingly.

“How’d you do that?” Erica demanded.

“You learn things after a century,” Melissa said dryly.

“Or two,” Nathaniel quipped, earning himself a kick to the ankle.

“The carriage is ready,” Peter shouted. “Everyone in.”

It was a royal carriage, probably meant for the family, and therefore spacious. There was enough room for everyone to fit in, even leaving space for Melissa and Deaton to crowd around Stiles, who had been lifted in limply by Derek and Isaac. Isaac waited outside while Derek crawled behind Stiles and braced him between his knees, holding his wrists, taking away the pain before he even had time to whimper.

Outside of the carriage, Peter climbed up into the driver’s seat, pulling Isaac up with him.

Parrish sat by the door with Scott across from him and Nathaniel to his right. Cora was curled up against Laura, who was seated beside Scott. Across from them were Nathaniel, Erica, and Boyd.

Deaton, Derek, Stiles, and Melissa were sprawled over the remaining seats and the floor.

Melissa glanced up at Deaton, who nodded, and pulled the knife out without warning.

Stiles flinched more from the expectation of pain than any actual pain.

When the carriage started moving, Stiles shuddered, nauseated.

“Don’t look,” Melissa warned. “I’m going to clean this out before Deaton starts stitching.”

Stiles mistakenly glanced down, then jerked his gaze away, sputtering on protests, although he wasn’t sure what he was protesting—the accidental insight to what the inside of his arm looked like?

“Well, why’d you look?” she asked impatiently.

Derek pressed a kiss to the back of Stiles’s neck, a little peck that comforted and distracted him.

He looked over Melissa’s head when Nathaniel moved; he was opening the window that separated them from Peter and Isaac.

“How do you plan to get through the soldiers?” he asked.

“Isaac and I have worked that out, haven’t we?”

Nathaniel glanced at Isaac, who nodded.

“I might need Jordan—er, Parrish’s help, though,” he admitted.

“What do you need?”

Cool water seeped into Stiles’s shirt from Melissa’s cleaning, drawing his attention.

“I think that’s enough,” Deaton said quietly. “Are you still keeping the pain away, Derek?”

Stiles thought this was a redundant question, as he was clearly not screaming in pain.

“Yes.”

“Don’t let go.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles saw Deaton bend closer to his arm. Stiles looked up and away quickly. He watched Parrish lower the side window and call to Isaac that he was ready.

“What’re they doing?” Stiles mumbled when the carriage grew darker.

“I need light,” Deaton said.

Nathaniel held his hand over them, the heat warming Stiles a bit as well as lending Deaton some light.

“Thank you.”

“They’re making some sort of…branches are growing over the carriage,” Laura said, frowning.

“Like armor,” Parrish agreed.

“We could use some fog cover, too,” Parrish said into the window.

“Both sylphs are too injured to help,” Melissa snapped.

Stiles hadn’t noticed, but she’d moved, crouched beside Boyd so she could clean his wound.

Laura was stretched forward, holding his wrist to draw the pain away.

“Almost done,” Deaton said, shifting around a bit.

Stiles felt like he was falling asleep and wondered how irritated Derek would be if he napped on him. He was fairly cuddly, Stiles reasoned. He thought he could get away with it.

Deaton tapped his cheek. “Just stay awake enough to eat this.” He pressed something to Stiles’s hand before turning to stitch up Boyd.

Stiles fumbled to unwrap the protein bar but couldn’t do it with just the one hand.

Derek reached around him and opened it for him; Stiles sighed and let his head rest against Derek’s shoulder. He barely had the energy to lift the bar to his mouth, and it wasn’t long before Derek was doing it for him.

At some point, Derek adjusted their position so his back was against the side of the carriage, legs stretched out and Stiles was cuddled in his lap.

Deaton was working on Erica by then, who was insisting she didn’t need it.

Boyd told Nathaniel he could help make some fog if Melissa or Scott wanted to try.

Stiles managed to swallow the last bite of the protein bar before he went limp against Derek.

 

Shouting woke him—minutes or hours later, he didn’t know. He saw Nathaniel half leaning out the window, with Parrish holding his belt looking frantic.

Flames were shooting from Nathaniel’s hands at attacking soldiers while Isaac was doing the same on the other side.

Something crashed against the side of the carriage—Derek ducked his head next to Stiles’s, shielding their heads with his arms as it rocked.

Boyd swore and scrambled over Erica, thrusting a hand out the window between the side of the carriage and Nathaniel’s hip; wind howled outside, followed by screams and then choking gasps.

Boyd sat back, looking satisfied.

Nathaniel came back in, too, shaking his hands. “They’ve fallen behind. None of them have horses. We’ll out pace them for now.”

Derek relaxed behind Stiles and dropped his arms to his waist, mindful of Stiles’s wounded arm. “You okay?” he whispered.

“Yeah. Tired.” Stiles dropped his head against Derek’s shoulder again.

“Once we get into the forest that separates the palace and the ocean, it’ll be better. There are paths that lead through it—Peter can lose anyone there.”

“Good.”

“Sleep some more,” Derek advised, brushing his nose over Stiles’s jaw.

Stiles was helpless to resist, eyes sliding closed against his will.

 

The next time he woke, it was because the carriage was jostling as if they were rolling over rocks.

He and Derek were still on the floor; Laura and Cora were sleeping curled together between Melissa and Scott.

“S’going on?” he mumbled.

Derek was asleep, too, soft breaths puffing against Stiles’s cheek.

“We’re away from the fight. It’s getting dark.” Nathaniel leaned toward him. “How’re you feeling?”

“Sore. Awake, though.” He stretched and started to get off of Derek—that couldn’t be comfortable—but Derek’s arms tightened around him, holding him gently in place. It was more of a request that he stay, and Stiles wasn’t ready to ignore it.

“Have we…are we…away from…?”

“We haven’t seen anyone else for a few hours. Derek was right. Once we got into the forest, Peter lost them.” He nudged Parrish. “With help.”

Stiles looked toward the window where he could see Peter and Isaac; it looked like Isaac had fallen asleep against Peter’s shoulder.

Nathaniel followed his gaze. “So, Isaac’s got fire now? And earth…?”

“Ah…yes. It sort of…came as a surprise, like a bonus, when Laura bit him?” Stiles smiled weakly. “It freaked us out and I forgot to tell you.”

Nathaniel nodded slowly. “And Laura bit him because…”

Stiles winced; he’d thought it best not to mention the original break-in to his father and was now regretting that decision. “Because the Alpha that broke in sort of clawed open his chest. And neck. He might have died but the bite healed him.”

“What break in?” Nathaniel demanded.

“That female Alpha you were fighting, she broke in a while ago, before Kate, even, and she attacked Isaac, since he chased her.” Stiles swallowed. “I was just trying to help them,” he whispered.

“I know you were, son,” he said. He sighed and scrubbed his face. “How close are we, Peter?”

“We should be there by morning, Your Highness,” he said, barely turning his head.

“You can probably call me Nathaniel at this point,” he replied, exasperated.

Peter hummed and turned back to the path.

Stiles wondered what time it was. It was full night outside, but so cloudy that they couldn’t see moonlight or stars, and, after glancing out the window, he realized that even without the clouds they wouldn’t be able to see the sky—the leaves were too thick.

He relaxed back against Derek again. He was still tired and sore, his arm throbbing, but he wouldn’t be falling asleep again soon. The ride was too bumpy and he was too uncomfortable.

Derek sighed quietly and turned his head, sniffing lightly at Stiles’s neck before settling again.

Nathaniel rolled his eyes and turned away.

Stiles was reliving the day, one jarring, painful moment at a time, when up front Peter made an odd noise, like he’d been struck.

“Peter? Are you alright?” Nathaniel demanded, twisting in his seat.

Beside Peter, Isaac sat up. “Wha’s’it?” he muttered.

“I thought I smelled…” Peter turned his head, nose in the air. He let out a hitching gasp and threw himself from his seat, running off before anyone could try to stop him.

“Don’t,” Laura said sharply, when Isaac tried to follow. “I’m going to help you drive.” She climbed out of the side window with Isaac and Parrish’s help.

“What did he smell?” Nathaniel asked.

“I’m not sure. All I can smell are regular forest things. Wildlife. Plants, the trees.” Laura situated herself next to Isaac. “He’ll be back.” She swallowed. “Maybe he smelled soldiers and wanted to scout.”

Cora was awake, blinking groggily. “Are we there?” she mumbled.

“Not yet.”

The ride was considerably tenser with Peter gone, mainly because none of them knew why he’d taken off.

Dawn was starting to break when Derek woke with a snort, teeth grazing Stiles’s cheek as he yawned.

He was so tired that he flinched, suddenly back in the library, bleeding and trying desperately to get away from Derek’s snapping teeth and feral, glowing eyes. He tried scrambling away, only to bump into the seat, sending pain down his arm from where he’d been stabbed.

The pain grounded him in the present, clearing his vision. He swallowed with difficulty, his throat gone dry with fear.

Derek had backed himself as far away as possible, hands held out and low, non-threatening. His eyes were wide, face white with fear and guilt.

Stiles shook his head. “Sorry,” he rasped. He covered his face with his good hand. “Sorry. I just…forgot where I was.”

“We’ve all been attacked from behind quite a few times in the last twenty-four hours,” Nathaniel said in a warm, calm voice. “Bound to make you jumpy.”

Stiles nodded, wiping his cheeks.

Besides Melissa and Nathaniel, everyone else in the carriage knew what had happened with Derek in the library, so they all looked away awkwardly.

Derek looked like he might cry. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Stiles nodded again. “My leg is asleep, so I’m just…” He climbed up on the seat beside Melissa.

Derek stayed on the floor, knees drawn to his chest. He kept his gaze down and made sure none of his limbs brushed Stiles’s legs.

Stiles appreciated it. He was still shaking a little and needed to calm himself down before he could handle anyone touching him.

He ran his fingers over his cheek, tracing the thin scars until the repetitive motion soothed him. They were barely visible as it was, so he wasn’t afraid of his father noticing them. They were also covered in dirt and bruises that he doubted anyone could tell anyway.

“You okay?” Melissa asked.

“Yeah. Yes. I just needed to…calm down. Or wake up. Remember where I was.” He laughed weakly. “I’ll be okay.” He nudged Derek lightly with his knee, smiling sadly when he looked up.

“We’re almost there,” Laura said through the window. “We should be out of the trees in ten minutes. Once we hit sand, it’ll be twenty or so more minutes to the—the house. Or…where it was.”

“Alright.”

The sun rose higher as they went, the light getting brighter as the trees thinned out. The dirt beneath the wheels mixed with sand eventually.

“Before we go further, can I give the horses some water?” Scott called.

“Yeah.” Laura sounded relieved.

Scott and Melissa got out when the carriage slowed to a stop and rounded it to hydrate the grateful horses.

“Once we’re in a secure place, we should be able to hunt something to eat,” Laura said.

“Hunt?” Stiles repeated.

She turned enough for him to see her smile. “We’ll be hunting. You guys will be cooking it.”

“Ha!” Stiles was amused. “I can’t cut up woodland creatures. I can barely keep my protein bar down around all…this.” He waved at his bloody companions. “Blood. Yech.”

“We’ll cut it up,” Derek said. “And skin it. You’ll only have to cook.” He lifted his gaze to the window. “Or Isaac will.”

Once the horses had had their fill of water—Scott had run his cool, wet hands over their coats, too, cooling them off, he’d always loved animals—they were ready to go.

“Done yet?” Laura prompted.

Scott gave the palomino stallion one last pat on the neck before climbing into the carriage.

Cora moved around him and Melissa so she could look out the window.

Laura and Isaac kept the carriage on the edge of the tree line, which led Stiles to believe that the summer house was somewhere on the beach.

At least, he did until they turned and urged the horses along a path at a winding, upward incline.

Derek shifted every thirty seconds or so, closer to Stiles’s leg every time. Stiles dropped his good hand on his head lightly, combing his fingers through his hair until he’d relaxed.

With the sun fully up and so many people inside, the carriage began to feel stuffy and cramped.

“We’re…we’re here.” Laura’s voice was so soft that Stiles almost missed it.

Derek’s head whipped up.

The carriage stopped.

Parrish and Scott got out first, swords drawn. Stiles couldn’t see much but sparse trees, mixed sand and dirt, big, blue swaths of the sky through the leaves.

Melissa shrugged and jumped out, too, followed by Cora and Deaton.

Isaac jumped down. Nathaniel glanced up at Laura through the window, then climbed out carefully, holding his hand up to her. She seemed frozen in place.

“Derek?” Stiles said quietly. “Do you want to get out?”

“No,” he whispered. “I don’t want to see.”

Stiles rubbed his thumb against Derek’s temple gently. “You can’t stay in here. Laura and Cora need you.”

He nodded, turning his head to rest against Stiles’s knee. He took a deep breath. “Okay. Just…just give me a minute.”

Stiles stayed silent, stroking his hair gently.

Eventually, Derek sighed and straightened up. “Okay.”

Stiles tried to get out first, but with the use of only one arm, he nearly pitched himself headfirst into the dirt, so Derek hopped out and helped him down.

The others were sort of grouped by the horses. Cora was huddled up against Laura, who had one arm around her sister, the other hand over her mouth and nose. They were both crying.

Stiles gripped Derek’s hand as they caught sight of the house.

It was a blackened skeleton of a thing, barely recognizable as a building at all.

All Stiles could smell was the faint scent of burnt wood, and he hoped that after nine years, that’s all the Hales could smell, too.

Other than the dreadfulness in the middle, the secluded clearing was a rather peaceful, picturesque setting. It was horrific, the violence that had been committed in such a serene place.

Stiles felt Derek’s hand flex and turned to find him staring at the house, silent tears running down his face.

Isaac pressed in from Derek’s right when Stiles hugged him from the left.

Cora and Laura joined in, mindful of Stiles’s arm.

Laura reached out for Scott, Boyd, and Erica as they sank to their knees together, clutching Derek in the middle.

Scott untangled himself soon to free the horses and give them more water, with help from Melissa.

Laura sat back and wiped her cheeks. “Phew,” she breathed. She looked up at Nathaniel. “We haven’t…we never saw…”

“I understand.”

She nodded, leaving it at that. “I’m going to find us some food.”

“Can I come?” Cora asked immediately. “I don’t think I want to…” She looked toward the house, then away quickly.

“Right. Yeah. Derek?”

“I’ll come,” he mumbled. He cleared his throat and pressed his face into Stiles’s neck before he stood up.

“You’re not going far, are you?” Nathaniel asked, hands on his hips.

“No. Just far enough to catch something. We’ll look for Peter a bit, too.” Laura plied her shoes off while, beside her, Cora yanked her ripped shirt off.

Derek brushed his cheek against Stiles’s before joining his sisters.

“Coming, Isaac?” Laura asked.

“Oh, I…” He glanced at Nathaniel, who nodded. “Yes, I’m coming.”

Once they’d all changed, they bumped up against each other, a short sniff and wag party.

Laura turned out to be a deep brown wolf almost as big as Derek.

“Go on, get us some food,” Stiles laughed, shooing them with his good arm.

Cora grumbled at him before turning to jump into the foliage. Laura huffed and followed her, with Isaac at her side and Derek bringing up the rear.

Stiles waited a minute, then asked, “Anyone got any painkillers?” His face was sweaty, hair damp.

“Come sit down,” Melissa said. “We might have grabbed some.”

Stiles followed her, collapsing against a tree. “I wish we hadn’t have come here. Did you see their faces?” He grimaced, twisting his wrist a little to ease the pressure on his stitched arm.

“It’s not like we had a choice,” she said quietly. “And yes, I did.” She cleared her throat. “We’re just going to have to keep them distracted.”

“That should be easy,” Stiles muttered. He looked at the house and grimaced again. How were they supposed to distract them from that? “Their whole family died here,” he murmured. “How do you make someone forget that?”

Melissa held a small square of chocolate to his mouth until he took it.

“I don’t know, but if anyone can take their minds off things, it’s us.” She ran a hand through her curls. “I think food and rest will help.”

Stiles snorted. “You always say that’ll help with everything.”

Her brows raised. “Have I been wrong yet?”

“No,” he admitted. “Food and rest it is.”

Chapter Text

These woods were nothing like home. Derek could tell his sisters were worried he would lose himself again, retreat to his wolf form and leave them by themselves again. He didn’t really want to go back—hadn’t since he’d returned, not when things were good or when they got bad again. Sometimes he wished he wanted to go back, but it felt too cowardly now. It felt like he’d be losing more if he left.

Seeing the house, smelling it, imagining what had transpired, had been hard, heartbreaking, but his sisters, their patchwork pack, had been there for him, taking some of the weight of his grief.

He stumbled when Cora darted in and nipped at his leg, chuffing with amusement. He bared his teeth at her playfully and pounced, sending her leaping into a tree trunk. Her feet skidded over the sand and she snorted when she banged into the tree.

Laura grumbled at them, body checking them back into place.

Isaac bumped up against their sides, whining until they bumped him back.

Derek swiped at Isaac’s ears playfully, earning another growl from Laura. He let his tongue loll out, a wolfy grin, which she returned.

They played a little more until Laura wanted them to get their shit together to find food for the group.

A little thrill went through him at the idea of bringing food to Stiles; it was just a little harder to control his urges in this form, and those urges said BUNNIES. STILES NEEDS BUNNIES.

The more rational part of him recognized the scent of a deer—a doe—and reasoned that that would feed the group better than a bunny.

Laura took the lead and the other three fell into position instinctively.

While they tracked the deer, another scent caught Derek’s attention and wouldn’t let him go. He hesitated before finally sniffing around the leaves that held some of the scent. It was like Peter’s scent, but also…not…Peter. Derek whined until Laura came to investigate, sniffing around the bush.

Derek stuck his muzzle into the leaves and inhaled a nose-full of Peter-but-not scent. His eyes fluttered, and a memory of children climbing his back, giggling and nipping him, had him scrambling back, yelping like he’d been hit.

His tail tucked, belly to the ground, he backed up to the base of a tree, curling down. He allowed Isaac and Cora to check over him, noses bumping his sides and face while he whimpered pathetically.

He couldn’t figure out who he’d remembered. He had no reason to feel so…guilty. He felt sick with it; he was sure if he’d eaten anything, it’d have come up.

Laura looked upset, too, circling the bush with her ears pinned back. Finally, she shook herself off and loped to Derek’s side, nudging him until he yipped and snapped at her; she snapped back, eyes flashing red.

Grumbling, he got to his feet and took his place for the hunt.

Satisfied, Laura took the lead.

By the time they’d tracked down the deer, Derek had momentarily shaken loose of his guilt, getting ready for the chase.

Cora stretched her forelegs out, tail in the air. She snorted excitedly, kneading the dirt with her paws.

Laura’s tongue came out, licking over her muzzle, while Derek vibrated in place, heart hammering with anticipation.

A branch creaked to their left; Laura’s ears twisted to listen closer.

The doe launched herself into the air, fleeing desperately.

Derek and Cora ran, scrabbling over the loose sand to keep up. Derek’s mouth watered as he caught the scent of fleeing prey, racing to keep up.

They needed to run her back around to Laura, tire her out.

Derek veered west, getting close enough to snap at the doe’s belly, making her scramble frantically where he wanted her to go.

Cora raced to catch up, snapping at the doe’s hind legs and nearly getting kicked in the face for her efforts.

She snarled and sped up, fangs flashing.

Derek kept up with her, thrilled with the chase, the hunt, the pack. He snapped at the doe’s stomach again when she tried to change directions.

She went too far west, then, nearly getting away from them; Isaac leapt out of the bush and sent her running back in the direction they were herding her.

When they got close enough, when the doe started slowing down from exhaustion, Laura appeared quickly. She leapt fluidly through the air, attaching her muzzle to the doe’s throat. A sharp twist of her head had them both dropping to the ground, blood gushing over Laura’s face and chest while the doe kicked frantically.

Derek loped over to her, licking her muzzle and ears clean. He snorted when she grumbled.

Cora ducked in to help clean her chin and neck; Laura let out a long sigh and allowed it.

Isaac was sort of circling the deer, sniffing it curiously, until Derek got up and nudged him away.

Laura shifted back first, though her claws stayed out. “Isaac, come help me,” she said.

Isaac stretched, then looked surprised.

Derek coughed, amused, when he realized it was because Isaac had been trying to change back.

Cora snorted and shifted back with ease, trotting to Laura’s side.

Derek went to Isaac, pushing on the back of his neck until he laid down on his belly. Then Derek rested his chin on Isaac’s back, listening to his heartbeat. They stayed there until Derek heard Isaac’s pulse slow, felt him relax.

Derek stood and stretched, shaking out of his fur as easily as he’d shaken off his jeans earlier.

Isaac did the same, and looked shocked when it worked.

Amused and feeling affectionate, Derek tackled him, scrubbing a hand over his curls, mussing them.

“Are you two going to help us or what?” Cora demanded, up to her elbows in blood.

“Yes,” Isaac said hurriedly, wiggling from Derek’s grasp.

“So, Peter is around,” Laura said casually.

“He must be,” Derek agreed. “It smelled weird, though.”

“Maybe it’s because these woods smell weird,” Cora suggested. “So it makes Uncle Peter’s scent seem weird.”

“Huh.” Derek was ready to accept that guess—it was as good as any he had—but Laura looked unconvinced.

“Maybe,” she allowed. “Isaac, here. Like this.” She leaned over to show him where to cut.

Derek turned his face into the breeze, searching for Peter. They weren’t too far from the house—close enough that if he stopped to listen, he could hear Stiles’s heart beat and the sound of his laughter as Scott said something Derek didn’t catch.

“Well,” Laura said loudly, making him jump, “since you didn’t help, you can carry the meat back.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.”

Cora sniffed around his shoulder and grinned. “He was listening for Stiles.”

He scowled at her. “How do you know?”

“Because you smell all…” She widened her eyes, hands clutched in front of her heart, while a vapid, dreamy expression came over her face.

He shoved her. “That’s not a scent,” he snapped, flushing.

“Just carry this,” Laura said, stacking evenly cut deer meat in his arms.

“I can’t carry it all without dropping some,” he muttered.

Cora shoved some meat into Isaac’s arms. “There. Let’s go.” She hooked her arm through Laura’s and tugged.

Derek shared an entertained look with Isaac and followed them.

Back at the…clearing, Nathaniel had made a fire, and it seemed that Parrish had fashioned cups out of fallen branches, somehow. He and Nathaniel had also rigged branches over the fire to set the meat upon.

Derek passed his armful over to Parrish and looked around for Stiles.

He was leaning against a tree, legs out stretched, apparently dozing.

Derek found his clothes and, grimacing, pulled them on, then walked to sit at Stiles’s side.

“Maybe later, Scott can hose you down,” Stiles said sleepily. He smiled.

“Ha. Maybe. I think I’d like that, actually.”

Stiles sniffed at him and wrinkled his nose. “Me, too,” he teased.

Derek smiled. He was breathing primarily through his mouth to avoid the scent of the house. “You don’t smell so great yourself,” he lied.

“Psh. You love it.”

Derek hummed. He turned his head to watch Nathaniel attempt to cook the meat, only to have Boyd and Melissa shoo him away.

Isaac was examining a cup. “How did you do this?” he asked, flexing his fingers around the wood.

“Practice. You’ll learn,” Parrish added. “Why don’t you give one to everyone?”

“Okay.” Isaac let Melissa fill the cups with water before passing them out, bringing Stiles and Derek’s last. “It only smells like cooking now,” he said quietly, before going to sit by Parrish and Scott.

Derek took a cautious breath through his nose and was relieved to find he was right; all he could smell was the deer and Stiles.

“Are you hurting?” he asked.

“Hmm? Oh, no. Mel gave me a painkiller.” He threw up his good hand, waggling his fingers. “I feel fi-ine.” He looked at Derek, his head sort of limp on his shoulder, and smiled softly. “Are you?”

“What?”

“Hurting?”

Derek let out a little breath. “I’m okay.”

“Liar.” Stiles snorted and took a big gulp of his water. He set the cup down and held his hand out. “Aren’t you going to cuddle me?” He poked his bottom lip out theatrically.

Derek snorted this time. “Wasn’t I clingy enough on the ride here?” He still had the scent of the choking panic in his nose from accidentally scraping his teeth over Stiles’s cheek.

“No. Come cuddle.”

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he breathed. He dropped his gaze. “I know you’re still afraid.”

Stiles whined. “Don’t make me move, dude. Come here.”

Huffing, he scooted closer until Stiles could fall against his side, rubbing his cheek against his shoulder until he was comfortable. “Now.” He sighed, smelling of contentment and medication. “I’m not afraid of you. Yes, you hurt me, and I still get a little scared sometimes. Especially when I’m tired and not really…all there. But I know that you weren’t yourself. You smelled something threatening when you weren’t in your right mind, and you reacted. You would never do that to me now, right?”

Derek shuddered. “No!”

Stiles nodded, satisfied. “Okay then.”

Derek sighed and rested his head on top of Stiles’s. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be that easy.”

Stiles snorted. “We’ll work on it, then.”

While they waited for the meat to finish cooking, they dozed—or Stiles did. Derek just kept his eyes closed, trying to pretend he was back at home and that nothing bad had happened. It wasn’t working very well, since closing his eyes apparently gave his brain permission to play a highlight reel of the day before.

Mostly it featured every time someone he loved could have died, while he was too slow or weak to help.

“Stop thinking so hard,” Stiles mumbled.

Derek sighed.

Isaac passed out the food once it was done. They had to eat with their hands, which Stiles complained about.

He looked at Derek’s meat. “Why bother letting them cook it?” he snickered.

“Not all of us like our meat to crunch,” Derek sniffed.

Stiles laughed, elbowing him, before ripping pieces off of his meat.

Laura got up and sat some meat by the edge of the clearing. “For Peter,” she explained when everyone looked at her. “He’s perfectly capable of catching his own food, but he’s still part of the pack.” She got her own food and started eating, sitting cross-legged by the fire.

Deaton murmured protective spells after he’d eaten, pacing the perimeter of the clearing. “If their witch survived, I’m not sure how well these will hold.” He looked bothered.

“I don’t think she did,” Isaac said. “The damage Peter did was pretty deep.”

Cora finished her food and flopped across his legs, sighing contently.

“We should still be on our guard tonight,” Nathaniel said. He glanced at Melissa, who nodded. “We can take turns sleeping.”

Stiles started to speak, and Erica kicked a pebble at him.

“Not you, you’re injured.”

“So are you,” he muttered.

Barely. You and Boyd will be sleeping all night.”

Stiles looked at Nathaniel, who held his hands up and shook his head.

Derek snickered and rubbed his cheek over Stiles’s hair. “Get some rest. You were stabbed.”

He snorted. “Yeah,” he muttered, glaring at the stitches in his arm.

There wasn’t much to do for the rest of the day—Scott and Melissa helped everyone get as clean as possible after a while. The lack of caked-on blood and dirt made the rips in their clothes that much more obvious.

Stiles fell asleep leaning against Scott while Derek was helping sweep blood and dirt off of Cora’s back, so he stretched out beside them, yawning widely.

He hadn’t retained injuries, obviously, but his muscles were still sore and tired from all the stress.

Isaac curled up beside him and Erica climbed over their legs to lean against the tree; she crossed her ankles over Derek’s back and sighed.

“I guess we’ll take watch,” Laura said with quiet amusement.

“I guess so,” Nathaniel agreed.

Derek rested his cheek on his crossed arms, closing his eyes.

 

He woke up with a numb arm, drool soaking his left cheek. He blinked confusedly, looking around and wiping at his face. His heart hammered when he saw Erica and Stiles were gone.

A hand dropped on his head, shoving his face down into the dirt. “They’re in the carriage, dork,” Cora said before he could snarl at her. “Laura thought they should sleep in there since they’re injured, so she moved them while they were sleeping. Boyd, too.”

Derek grunted, turning his head so his face was out of the dirt. “Time’s’it?”

Cora whapped him over the head again. “How am I supposed to know? Afternoon, probably,” she added, contradicting herself.

“We slept in past noon?” He pushed himself up, bones and tendons popping.

“Apparently.” She sat beside him, holding out meat from the night before. Her hair was tangled and standing in tufts, and she had dirt smudged on her cheeks and nose.

“Thanks.”

“Mmm. Laura wants to go look for Peter today.”

Derek nodded, chewing thoughtfully.

Peter could take care of himself better than any of them, and had the self-preservation instincts to hide himself or retreat if he was outnumbered. On the other hand, he’d jumped off a moving carriage to follow a scent none of them had noticed, so he might also be in danger.

“She thinks he didn’t want to come by the house.” Cora drew her knees up, tucking them under her chin. “I don’t like being by it either, but I don’t want to be alone.”

“He’ll have a good reason,” Derek assured her, though he couldn’t imagine what that reason could be.

Cora nodded and picked at her shoe morosely.

Isaac joined them, leaning up against Derek’s back. “Deaton’s gonna come with to look for Peter.”

“Good. Maybe he can use magic to track him,” Cora muttered.

“That’s the plan. Can I have some?” He stretched over Derek’s shoulder.

“Yeah.” He ripped a piece of meat off and passed it back.

“Thanks.”

Cora flopped backwards so she was strewn over Isaac’s legs. “Laura, when are we going?”

“Soon. Let Derek wake up first.” Laura’s hair was wet and tied up with what looked like a piece of her shirt. She turned back to Nathaniel and began explaining her plan.

Derek listened ot the three sleep-steady heartbeats in the carriage while he finished eating. It was comforting.

Cora had to nudge him when Laura was ready to go.

“We’re walking,” she said. “No shifting in case we need hands.”

“We’ll keep an eye out here,” Nathaniel said, crossing his arms.

“Thanks. We’ll be back before sunset.” Laura held her hands out to help Derek and Cora get up.

Isaac grabbed Derek’s arm to pull himself up. “Do we stay together or are we going to fan out?”

Laura ruffled his hair. “We’re gonna fan out, but stay within earshot, okay?”

Derek hooked his arm around Cora’s neck, tugging her until she followed.

She seemed happy enough to walk with him while Laura, Deaton, and Isaac fanned out to their left.

“I can kinda smell him,” Cora said. She turned her face into the light breeze. “And then it’s gone.”

“We’ll find him.”

She dragged the toe of her shoe through the dirt and mumbled, “What if he doesn’t want us to?”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

She looked up at him. “Maybe he doesn’t…didn’t want to stay with us. He wanted to back to living as a wolf before we left. Maybe he decided…”

Derek swallowed thickly. Her fear, he felt, was entirely his fault. “He wouldn’t do that. Not when we’re all still in danger.”

She nodded and crossed her arms around her stomach.

Derek turned to face forward again. They would just have to find Peter and make him explain himself so Cora wouldn’t feel so abandoned.

“Do you guys smell anything?” Isaac asked.

“No,” Cora called back, looking more dejected with every step.

Laura sighed. “Keep walking. Call out if you hear or smell anything.”

They searched for hours with no luck. It wasn’t that they found no sign of him—it was more that they all found signs of him. His scent was everywhere, in crisscrossing paths that were impossible to follow. Which, Derek admitted to himself, was probably Peter’s plan.

The sun was starting to go down when Laura, who’d become increasingly irritable and twitchy, finally snapped that they needed to get back. They all walked closer together, affected by Laura’s mood.

Derek felt like he was going to crawl out of his skin, the need to run making him dig clawed fingers into his palms. He rolled his neck, walking on the balls of his feet.

“Go,” Deaton said suddenly. “Go! Now!”

Derek didn’t even hesitate—and neither did the others. They all shot off, running as fast as they could, the lines between human and wolf blurring as they did.

The scent hit Derek first, he was sure. That sickly smug scent wasn’t as familiar to his sisters as it was to him.

He sped up and crashed through the branches around the clearing; he stopped dead until Isaac knocked into his back and sent them sprawling.

Scott was on Parrish’s chest, whaling on him like an enemy. Stiles was fighting his father like an animal, all wild teeth and nails. Erica and Boyd were fighting like strangers.

At the edge of the chaos, Kate Argent stood, hands on her hips, grinning. By her side was the male Alpha who’d fought Laura and the traitor Stilinski knight.

Isaac yelped, “Scott!” and ran to pull him off Parrish.

“Isaac, no!” Derek yelled, but it was too late.

Scott grabbed Isaac’s shirt and slammed him into the dirt, straddling him and bringing a hand down flat on his face. Water poured over Isaac’s mouth and nose, had him sputtering and flailing.

Derek tried to run and help, but Nathaniel had lost his grip on Stiles and he flew at Derek, banging into him and knocking them both to the ground.

Laura and Cora arrived and, immediately, Laura snarled and ran for the Alpha. She got intercepted by Melissa and Erica lunging at her. She backpedaled, alarmed and confused.

Derek scrambled out from under Stiles, who tackled him again, fingernails gouging his cheek while he let out a horrible scream of rage. His other arm swung around, fist connecting with Derek’s temple and dazing him momentarily.

Cora was wrestling with Boyd, trying to subdue him without hurting him.

Nathaniel helped Derek break from Stiles’s grasp. “They—did something to them,” he gasped. “Parrish and I managed to avoid it, but—” he cut off when Stiles threw himself on them.

Derek caught him and turned him around, locking his arms around his chest, pinning his arms down.

“No, don’t do th-”

It felt like a giant’s hand had closed around Derek’s middle, squeezing until his lungs were completely empty. The pain had him choking and releasing Stiles instinctively, hands going to his chest as if he could claw it open and let air in. Air returned as soon as he let go of Stiles.

Gasping, he bent double; a foot caught him under his chin, sent him sprawling into the dirt. Blood spurted from his tongue where his fangs had pierced it.

“Nathaniel, get to Kate. Derek can handle Stiles,” Deaton said.

Derek got to his feet, spitting blood.

“It’s okay,” he said when Nathaniel hesitated. “I won’t hurt him.”

“What do you need from Kate?”

“Whatever she used to do this to them, so I can make a cure.”

Beyond them, Parrish was fighting Daehler with the kind of ferocity that came from a personal slight. Laura was grappling with both Melissa and Erica, and Kate was laughing.

Stiles shouted and attacked Derek again, hands closing around his throat.

“Hey, Derek,” Kate called. “Now you’re going to be killed by the second person you’ve fallen in love with. This is almost as good as when I told you about your family,” she laughed.

Derek broke Stiles’s grip and skipped backward, avoiding his next attack.

Nathaniel’s face hardened, just before fire closed over it. “Hey, Kate,” he called in the same tone she’d used to taunt Derek. “I hear you like to play with fire.”

Derek got the satisfaction of seeing her face go white with fear before Stiles rammed into his side, taking them both to the ground again.

Stiles’s face was so empty and blank, doll-like, and it was horrible, and it made it ten times worse as his fist slammed into Derek’s face over and over again, because it wasn’t in rage. It was just…emptiness.

Derek rolled them over so he was on top, trying to catch at Stiles’s wrists.

Stiles fist whipped out, uppercutting him and snapping his head back, and shoved him away.

Derek rolled out of the way of Stiles’s next kick and got to his feet, using the carriage to steady himself. He snorted blood out of his nose to clear his nostrils. On his next inhale, he smelled Peter. And that weird non-Peter scent.

He looked up sharply.

Through the carriage window, he saw Peter lift a red-brown, medium sized something into the carriage and slam the door.

Then he ran across the clearing and tackled the Alpha protecting Kate.

A hand curled in Derek’s hair, slamming his face into the carriage window before throwing him to the ground.

He scrabbled back, blinking blood out of his eyes.

Stiles stalked closer, pressing his foot down on Derek’s chest.

“Just throw him,” Cora yelled. She’d flicked Boyd off of her and was wiping blood from her face, but she was crying, too.

Stiles kicked Derek’s head and ran for Cora while Derek tried to see past the stars in his vision.

Through the scrambling feet and bodies, he saw Kate. Her face was burned on one side, eyes open, expression frozen in one of terror and pain.

When he laughed, blood sprayed the sand in front of him.

Deaton helped him to his feet. He was holding a large leather pouch. “Lily-of-the-valley,” he said.

Derek blinked. “What?” His head was still spinning.

“Lily-of-the-valley is what’s making the elementals lose it like this. I’ll have to burn this to healing ash and mix it with magic to make it into a cure.”

“What do you need?” he asked slowly, as he figured out what Deaton was saying.

“I need them out of here.”

Parrish joined them then, dripping with blood. “We’ll get them to chase us.”

Derek nodded. He couldn’t help turning to track Parrish’s path back to where he’d been fighting.

Daehler’s body was impaled through the chest by some sort of sharp, thick root.

“Good. I’ll need time to make this. When I call for you, lead them back here.”

“Okay.”

Nathaniel and Peter had managed to subdue the Alpha enough for Laura to switch; Nathaniel took over fighting Melissa while Peter drew Erica’s attention.

Derek grabbed Stiles’s shoulder and spun him away from Cora, dropping a kiss on his snarling mouth.

The air jerked out of his lungs on contact, but he held on for one second more before turning on his heel and running for the trees.

He smiled grimly when Stiles chased him.

Chapter Text

Derek didn’t run very fast—just fast enough to stay ahead of Stiles. He felt the wind thrash around him every now and then, followed by a guttural, painful-sounding growl of rage from Stiles.

Everyone had split up, coaxing an elemental to chase them, while Laura had stayed behind to fight the Alpha. Deaton yelled for them to keep going, so they did.

Parrish had gone with Cora, which Derek appreciated.

A branch whipped in the wind, slashing across his face and making him jerk back automatically.

Stiles was on him at that second, nails raking over his face from behind, teeth digging into his shoulder painfully.

Derek elbowed him only hard enough to get free, spinning to face him. “Come on, Stiles.” He jumped back when Stiles struck out at him.

His swings were wild and erratic, that shapeless rage making him clumsy.

The next time he lashed out, the air turned frigid and sharp, thin. Derek hadn’t realized air could hurt; the lack of, yes, but this cold agony had his muscles clamping down, his heart rate slowing like incoming death.

Panting in the thin air, he backed away, bringing his arms up to wrap around himself.

Stiles followed him like he was hypnotized, compelled to follow and attack.

Derek turned and ran again; the further away he got, the more the air warmed up to summery temperatures again. It became easier to breathe and think.

He half-shifted, features tingling as they changed.

Stiles’s heartbeat was fast but steady as a metronome as he stalked Derek.

The irony was not lost on him.

Derek turned to face him and found him staring to the left, straining forward on the balls of his feet as if he’d been distracted by someone else to attack.

Derek called, “Stiles! Come get me!” but he didn’t turn.

His fingers twitched, though.

Derek ran for him, hoping he wouldn’t break any of his bones when they collided.

He was three feet away when Stiles’s head snapped toward him, one hand coming up.

Air pummeled Derek’s chest, lifting him off his feet and throwing him back against a tree.

He cried out as he hit it—a short branch had pierced his side. Panting, and trying to stay calm, Derek braced himself against the tree.

Stiles tipped his head and approached in light, measured steps.

Still reeling from the pain in his gut, Derek tried scrambling away, kicking his legs against the dirt and tree trunk.

Stiles’s hair whipped around his face in the sudden wind, dirt and leaves kicking up around him. He put his hand around Derek’s throat, nails digging in until blood started running over his fingers.

Derek moved his mouth soundlessly as the oxygen was pulled from his lungs, slowly this time, almost gently.

Stiles’s fingers spasmed around his throat.

Derek had just come to the realization that he was going to have to break Stiles’s wrist, or maybe his fingers, to save himself, when vines twisted up and yanked Stiles’s hand away.

Derek, sputtering and gasping, pulled himself free of the branch, crying out as it ripped back through the partially healed skin.

Stiles was in the dirt with Parrish, ripping away roots and vines and kicking at Parrish.

“Where’s my sister?” Derek gasped. He couldn’t quite stand upright yet, so he fell back against the tree, cringing when it jostled his wound.

“She’s fine,” Parrish grunted. He pinned Stiles down while roots twisted out of the dirt and wound around him, binding him to the ground. “I managed to pin Boyd down like this and she said you needed—what, what, why are you shaking your head?”

“They can turn into air,” Derek snapped.

The look of mortified horror on Parrish’s face might have been comical under any other circumstances.

As it was, Stiles had slipped free from his bonds and threw himself on Parrish’s back, scratching at his eyes.

Derek groaned and stumbled forward, grabbing Stiles by the scruff of his neck and lifting him off of Parrish.

He kicked Derek’s chest, knocking him off balance.

Stiles hit the ground in a crumpled heap, letting out a high whine of pain.

“Shit.” Derek reached for him, only to get backhanded across the face with appalling force.

“Didn’t Argent hit him over the head to keep him from…turning?” Parrish asked, fast stepping aside.

He and Stiles started circling each other.

“We’re not going to concuss him,” Derek snarled, one arm around the wound in his gut.

“We might not have a choice,” Parrish spat. He flicked his hand and had roots climb up Stiles’s legs, pinning him in place again.

“Go help Cora. We-”

All three looked up when Isaac ran into view. His lips were blue, his body shaking and soaking wet.

Derek held his hand out. “What happened?”

Parrish intercepted Stiles when he got loose and tried to attack Isaac.

“S-Scott,” Isaac stammered. He shook himself and started to glow. His clothes and hair dried, his mouth going back to a more normal color. “He’s behind me.” He swallowed. “How long do you think Deaton will be? I don’t want to hurt him.” His eyes were wide and glazed and Derek was reminded of the dreams Isaac had.

It wasn’t often, but sometimes the pack could share dreams, and Isaac….Isaac had nightmares. They generally featured a man and his fury, directed at Isaac, who was always small and terrified and hurt.

Derek could only imagine what having his best friend attack him was doing to him.

“We’ll just have to-”

Stiles broke from Parrish’s grip and ran at Isaac, yelling.

Derek tackled him from behind, yelping as his still-healing wound was jolted.

Stiles thrashed violently, smashing the back of his head into Derek’s nose.

Blood ran over his mouth and chin, choking him, but he kept his arms locked around him.

Isaac stepped forward to help, but Scott came barreling out of the trees beyond him, a blood-smeared snarl on his mouth.

Derek gritted his teeth and twisted his legs around Stiles’s until he had him pinned. He still jerked and bucked, but he couldn’t break Derek’s hold. At least not until he figured out how to turn into air again.

Parrish was helping Isaac with Scott, whose fingers were bloody. Isaac had deep gouges down his cheeks, starting under his eyes so it looked like he was crying blood.

Stiles snorted, struggling to free an arm, slapping a hand against the dirt.

Derek had to close his eyes when the wind kicked dirt and rocks toward his face.

Scott broke free from Isaac and Parrish, landing hard on Derek’s back. Cold water poured over him and Stiles, the deluge making the dirt under them turn to sucking mud.

Stiles managed to slip from Derek’s grip and run at Isaac.

Scott’s hands wrapped around Derek’s throat from behind, pulling him back.

Derek reached around and grabbed Scott’s hair, yanking until he let go with a snarl, focusing his rage on Derek’s arm.

Derek rolled, twisting until Scott was beneath him, struggling just as wildly as Stiles had, only water was pouring out of him. It was difficult to hold onto someone so slippery.

Derek twisted an arm around Scott’s chest, trying to pin him—Scott slipped an arm out of his grip and pressed it over Derek’s face. Water shot down his throat and up his nose, choking him, burning his nostrils.

He jerked his head back and grabbed Scott’s wrist, yanking it away from his face as he coughed and sputtered.

Scott started bucking and writhing, trying to pull his wrist away.

“Derek,” Parrish snarled. “We have to do something. They’re killing us!”

Water spewed over Derek’s chin when he looked up, eyes streaming. “We are not concussing him!”

What?” Isaac yelped before Stiles tackled him.

Scott reared up, head-butting Derek so hard he saw stars. All he could do was clamp down on Scott and hold on while he fought.

Derek nose was broken again, the healing slowed as his body focused on the damage in his gut.

Scott slipped from his hold and ran for Parrish; they hit with a splash.

Derek got up and pulled Stiles off of Isaac, grunting when he spun and clawed at his eyes. He grabbed Stiles’s arms and shoved him back against a tree, blinking to clear the blood from his eyes. The stinging scratches weren’t healing, either.

Stiles lunged at the ground, making Derek jump back in surprise. He came back up with a thick branch in hand and swung, hard, at Derek’s face.

Pain exploded out from the point of contact on his cheek as he fell. When he hit the dirt, he was sure this time, he was going to pass out. He’d been hit too many times in the face and head, and his vision kept going in and out.

Stiles grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked him upright, rearing back to swing again when Parrish distracted him by making the branch shatter.

Derek coughed blood out of his throat and used his filthy shirt to dab at his face, which was cut all to hell.

A few feet away, Isaac was restraining Scott with roots, looking sick. Scott kept escaping and attacking him again, and Isaac would start all over, refusing to hurt him.

Derek took a bracing breath and forced himself to his feet, lurching dizzily toward them. He caught Scott from behind and lifted him off the ground. He twisted and threw him.

By some crazy coincidence, Derek managed to toss him right into Stiles.

The two went down and started to fight each other.

“Fuck,” Isaac yelped. “Scott, don’t! Stop it!” he cried when Scott started trying to drown Stiles.

Derek lifted Stiles with an arm around his middle while Isaac grabbed Scott, drawing their attention away from each other.

Stiles scratched Derek’s forearm open just as Deaton called, “It’s ready! Bring them back!”

“Thank gods.” Parrish breathed. “Come on. Get them chasing us again. Split up,” he added. “We don’t want them chasing each other.”

Isaac nodded and let go of Scott, skipping back a few steps. “Scott! Over here!”

Scott spun to chase him and Parrish went with.

Derek struggled to keep Stiles pinned for as long as possible, letting them get away, before letting go.

Stiles snarled.

“You’re getting good at that,” Derek panted. “Almost sound like a ’wolf now.”

He snarled again, but it morphed into a shout of rage when Derek started running.

It was harder to run this time; blood was still seeping from the open wound in his gut, and his face hadn’t quite healed—in fact, it felt like it hadn’t even started.

Stiles kept up better this time, occasionally snatching at the back of Derek’s shirt and tripping him up.

He was running basically blind, desperate, hoping he was running in the right direction, when his throbbing nose snapped back into place. A thick glob of blood rolled down his face, and suddenly he could smell.

Laura was nearby.

Encouraged, he sped up, listening through the rushing of his own blood in his ears for Stiles behind him.

He reached the clearing at the same time Nathaniel came running into view with Melissa on his heels. They were both bleeding and heaving for breath.

Deaton was standing with Cora and Parrish, with Boyd at their feet; he was unconscious.

Erica was a few feet away. Her eyes were open and she was breathing, but she didn’t seem…aware.

Stiles caught up to Derek, who braced himself to hold onto him while Deaton did whatever he had to do, but Peter grabbed him by the shoulders. He carried him, struggling, to Deaton, who blew white ash in his face.

Stiles flinched, then went utterly limp, eyes closing.

Peter set him beside Boyd and went back to the carriage. There was a snarl when he opened the door, but he ignored it and climbed in, slamming the door behind him. It rocked in place.

Derek frowned, but couldn’t figure out what had distracted him before Melissa yowled in rage and drew his attention.

He spun around, but Deaton was already throwing the ash into her face.

She went down just like the others.

Scott and Isaac arrived last; Nathaniel and Derek caught Scott’s arms while Isaac kept running, kneeling at Erica’s side.

They put Scott by his mother once he was down.

Derek looked past Nathaniel and spotted Laura sitting, knees curled up to her chest, beside the other Alpha’s body.

They were both dripping with blood, and Laura was shaking, but the Alpha was very obviously dead and Laura was not injured anymore.

Derek, still dizzy, stumbled his way around Nathaniel and Deaton to sit by her.

She turned to him. “Your face…”

“It’ll heal soon,” he mumbled.

Cora picked her way over to them and sat on Derek’s other side. She was as beat up as Derek, healing slowed by her bigger injuries.

“I hope whatever Deaton did fixes them,” she sniffled.

Laura leaned against Derek’s side; she was still trembling hard. “It will.”

Nathaniel, who didn’t seem to know what else to do, started a fire where they’d had one the night before.

Deaton made him sit down and began treating his wounds while Parrish paced circles around them.

Erica moved first.

Everyone went tense, watching her twitch and flex her hands.

She took a deep breath; Parrish stepped toward her.

“Oh my gods,” she announced. “Why didn’t someone just knock us the fuck out?” She sat up, groaning. “I feel like I got run over by a truck.”

“Well, you were fighting Peter,” Laura said wryly.

Derek looked at the others. Boyd’s eyes were open like Erica’s had been, so he guessed that was a prelude to them waking.

Stiles, Scott, and Melissa’s eyes were still closed.

“We didn’t want to do any permanent damage. And it’s hard to restrain someone who melts when you try,” Nathaniel said, flinching as Deaton cleaned the wounds on his cheek.

“Ah.” Erica plucked at her shirt. “You still should have knocked us out.”

“Come sit,” Deaton said. “I’ll get to you momentarily.”

She got up and limped to the log he’d indicated. “This is fucked up,” she said. She turned toward Derek and his sisters and raised her brows. “What happened to your face?

“Stiles,” he muttered, rubbing his eye to get rid of the blood crusted there.

Erica’s face softened. “Oh. I’m sorry.”

Her tone indicated that she was sorrier for the fact that it was Stiles than for him being wounded, which meant Dame Erica Reyes understood Derek better than he’d thought.

He shrugged and looked away. There wasn’t anything he could say. He looked at Laura, who was still leaning on him.

When Deaton finished Nathaniel, Erica insisted he attend to Parrish first, and everyone else who’d been attacked.

“We’re already healing.” Cora licked her finger and wiped it through the blood on her cheek. There were still scratches but they were scabbed.

Derek felt at his own face. His cuts were still bleeding sluggishly, which meant his healing was working on internal injuries, probably.

Boyd coughed when Deaton started on Erica. She twisted away to look at him as he sat up.

He didn’t say anything, just skimmed his gaze over everyone else. He grimaced deeply when he noticed Cora. He looked down at his hands, which were covered in streaks of blood. He didn’t look back up.

Deaton pulled Erica back to finish cleaning her open wounds.

“Deaton, can I get some wipes?” Laura asked.

He nodded and tossed her a handful.

She started wiping down Derek’s face, which seemed pointless to him, since the cuts were still oozing.

The more of his face she revealed, the more she cringed.

“He got part of your eye here,” she said, ghosting a fingertip over the corner of his left eye.

“That would explain the blurriness,” he said agreeably.

She kissed his forehead and scooted over to clean Cora’s face.

When she moved out of his line of sight, he saw that Stiles was up on his knees, staring at Derek with a white-faced look of guilt.

Derek smiled at him, trying to reassure him, but it just made him flinch.

Nathaniel followed Derek’s gaze and startled. “Hey, you okay, kid?”

Stiles shook his head. “I’m sorry.” His voice was scratchy, which was probably due to all the rage-screaming.

“You weren’t yourself,” Derek pointed out. He lifted his brows when Stiles tried to protest.

He closed his mouth, opened it again, then burst into noisy tears.

Derek jumped, looking around for help.

Nathaniel looked surprised, too, but he went to Stiles, wrapping him in a hug and rocking him in place.

Melissa woke next. She quietly let Deaton patch her up when he finished re-stitching Boyd’s shoulder. She was watching Stiles and Nathaniel, silent tears running down her face.

Laura stood and walked cautiously to her side, crouching and holding her arms out.

With a wet laugh, Melissa hugged her, which puzzled Derek. He looked at Cora.

She shrugged. “They bonded when the witch attacked us,” she said quietly.

“Huh.”

Stiles suddenly broke from Nathaniel’s hug and scrambled toward them; Derek couldn’t help bracing himself for an attack, lifting one arm in front of Cora.

Stiles slowed to a stop a foot away, holding his hands out. “Sorry, I forgot—me running at you, not a good plan.” He got on his knees in front of them, and touched gentle fingers to Derek’s cheek. Two tears escaped. “Your face, gods, I’m so sorry.”

Derek caught his fingers and turned his head, kissing his palm. “’S’okay,” he mumbled. He closed his eyes and nuzzled his cheek against Stiles’s hand.

Stiles stroked his thumb over Derek’s scratched cheekbone. “I’m still really sorry. Why aren’t you healing?”

Derek bit his lip, then shrugged and lifted his shirt enough to see his gut. The wound was puckered and livid red, healing on the inside now that it was closed.

“My body’s healing that first,” he elaborated.

He looked up to see Stiles staring, wide eyed, at the scar.

He dropped his shirt hastily. “It’s healing.”

“I could have killed you so many times tonight,” Stiles breathed. “Why didn’t you just knock me out?”

Derek shook his head. “I didn’t want to cause any permanent damage!”

“I almost permanently killed you!” Stiles shot back, trying to pull his hand away.

“But you didn’t.” Derek tightened his hold. “So stop thinking about the possibility.”

Stiles glared at him, still tugging ineffectually at his hand. “But-”

“No.” Derek reeled him in with the hand he had, wrapping himself carefully around him. He kissed his neck very lightly. “Go let Deaton treat you. You’re bleeding.”

Stiles sighed and relaxed against him. “How many times have you said that to me in the past 48 hours?”

“A lot, probably.” He leaned back enough to see his face. “Really. Go to Deaton.”

Stiles nodded and crept to Deaton, head down like a guilty child.

Derek watched him go, frowning.

Peter came out of the carriage bloodier than he’d gone in. “Laura, I need you to roar,” he said, brushing blood from his cheek. He seemed to be healing like usual, at least.

Laura stared at him. “Why?”

“Because it is important.” He took a deep breath. “Please.”

Laura’s brows rose. “Alright. Should I be closer to the carriage?”

“Yes, that might help.”

She got up and approached the carriage, sniffing. “What is that?” she mumbled. “It smells…like you. But also not?”

“I will explain. Please, just roar,” Peter said quietly.

She shrugged and inhaled deeply.

When she roared, Isaac scrambled over to Derek and Cora, huddled between them, while Scott woke with a gasp, and the furious snarls within the carriage turned into a pained, startled yelp.

Peter shoved past Laura and opened the door, letting out a relieved sigh, his shoulders relaxing.

“What is it, Uncle Peter?” Cora asked, twisting her fingers in Derek’s shirt.

Peter stepped aside carefully.

Laura gasped. “Is that Bianca? Wait.” She shook her head. “Too young. Oh, gods. Is that-?”

“Bianca?” Cora repeated, confused.

“She was Peter’s…um, girlfriend. They broke up after their daughters were born,” Derek muttered. He couldn’t see past Laura into the carriage, but it didn’t matter a second later.

A girl, a teenager, maybe a year younger than Cora, crept out of the carriage. Her eyes were animal-afraid, bright gold and jumping from person to person, but she’d shifted back to her human shape.

“Who is that?” Cora asked.

“This is your younger cousin, Malia,” Peter said in a carefully neutral voice.

The girl turned to him, nose twitching.

“But—she was only seven,” Laura whispered. “How did she escape the fire?”

Peter shook his head. “We’ll have to ask her. In time, obviously.”

“This is great,” Nathaniel said. “I’m happy for you.”

Derek sensed conflict and turned his attention to Isaac, who was still leaning up against his side.

“But?” Peter prompted.

“But now that Deaton knows how to stop my soldiers from being crazed, we need to get back. Kate is dead, which leaves a possible ally in the Argent throne.”

Scott’s face twitched at the word possible, but he wasn’t inclined to vocally protest.

“This means the tide has turned in our favor,” Nathaniel continued. “We need to go quickly.”

“Uncle Peter,” Laura said softly, “you can stay. With Malia. If you want.”

He shook his head. “No, she needs to come home. We can bring her back like we brought Derek back.”

“Good. Did…” Nathaniel grimaced. “Did Kate kill the horses?”

Scott laughed suddenly, then pressed a hand to his ribs, wheezing. “No, the horses are, um, in the house? The fire was freaking them out last night.”

Melissa snorted, shaking her head.

“Good. Then I suggest we move out as quickly as possible.”

Laura nodded. “We can catch some food or something before we leave, if anyone is hungry.” She looked at the body of the Alpha, then away.

“I’m never eating again,” Stiles claimed, and most of them seemed to feel the same, at least for the moment.

“I’ll drive with Isaac this time,” Laura said. “That way Uncle Peter can ride with Malia.”

Peter touched Laura’s arm gently. “It may be better to let us run,” he said, eyeing his daughter. He glanced at Laura. “We will meet you, I promise. It just may be better if she runs off some energy.”

Laura swallowed and nodded. “Okay. Meet you there.” She hugged him, then Malia, who growled until Laura growled back, eyes flashing. “Glad you’re alive, little cousin.”

She looked at the group as if assessing threat, her nose still twitching as she catalogued their scents.

When she met Derek’s gaze, he suddenly remembered playing her and her little sister, Ava, in the fountain, in the playroom; they used to climb all over him like Cora and Vera, giggling and biting with baby fangs.

He sighed and closed his eyes.

Cora leaned across his lap while Isaac stayed against his side. They stayed that way while everyone else packed up.

Chapter Text

The carriage ride had a distinctly awkward tension to it, which wasn’t unexpected, given that half the occupants had tried to kill the other half.

Stiles sat between Melissa and Scott on the same seat as Erica and Boyd, while the rest sat across from them.

Isaac and Laura were driving again.

Stiles studied Derek’s face, which had begun healing very slowly about thirty minutes into the ride. The scratches were painful to look at, but it got a little better as the blood cleared from the corner of his eye.

Stiles looked away when Derek tried to meet his gaze, too guilty to maintain eye contact. He looked at his hands. Scott had helped him wash most of the blood off, but there was still some under his nails, deep red crescents to remind him that he’d been fighting like an animal, clawing and biting and screaming. Some of the nails were cracked from the force of digging into and through flesh.

They throbbed, just like the rest of the relatively minor wounds he’d sustained while trying to kill people he loved.

He almost wished he’d woken up with no memory of what’d happened. So he wouldn’t have to know what it felt like to dig grooves into his father’s face, or bash Derek’s cheek in with a branch.

As it got later, everyone around him began falling asleep, succumbing to the exhaustion that came from fighting for your life.

Deaton, Derek, and Cora went first, followed by Nathaniel and Parrish. Melissa gave a soft sigh and let her head rest against the window, closing her eyes.

Stiles leaned around Scott to see Erica and Boyd curled up together, also sleeping.

“Aren’t you tired?” Scott asked quietly.

Stiles snorted. “Aren’t you?”

“I couldn’t sleep if I tried,” he admitted. He lifted his hand, staring as if he didn’t recognize it. “I tried to drown Isaac.”

Stiles nodded, chewing his lips. “I tried to suffocate Derek, my dad, and Isaac.”

Scott shuddered. “They almost let us kill them.” He and Stiles both watched as the gash on Derek’s cheek—from the branch—finally started to scab over. “I don’t know if I could live with myself. If I’d have killed any one of them.”

“Me neither.” Stiles looked toward Cora. He’d attacked her, too, at the start.

She’d already recovered from that attack, of course, but he could still feel her neck under his hands as he squeezed, her pulse thudding wildly against his palm.

Then Derek had distracted him and he’d chased. All he’d wanted to do was kill. Rip and tear and break until there was utter silence and stillness around him.

“With Allison in the throne, and Deaton able to cure our soldiers, we should be done fighting soon,” Scott said quietly.

Stiles nodded. After the fighting came the talking, the signing, the rebuilding. He and Derek would have to talk, too. They had both attacked each other now, both made the other bleed and hurt. That didn’t seem like a good way to start a marriage to him.

He didn’t blame Derek for attacking him in the library. The scent of Kate’s long-buried letter had shocked and triggered him.

What Stiles had done was caused by flowers.

Scott nudged him. “You weren’t the only one who hurt them. We all did. None of us could fight off what Kate did.”

“I just feel like I should have been able to,” he admitted.

“Don’t you think all of us feel like that?” Scott leaned up against his side. “I think the only one who doesn’t feel much guilt is Erica, and that’s ’cause Peter was too quick for her to do much damage.”

Stiles glanced at her.

She was wrapped around Boyd in a distinctly protective manner, as if she could sense his guilt.

“She’s lucky, then,” he muttered. “Do you know how many times I made Derek bleed? I impaled him on a tree.”

Scott grimaced. “That really sucks. But it could have been worse.”

Stiles scoffed. “How?”

“Instead of his stomach, it could have been his head or heart.”

Stiles’s stomach seized with dread, but there was nothing to come up, so he ended up gagging uselessly for a few minutes.

“Sorry,” Scott said, rubbing his back. “But it’s true.”

Laura opened the window. “Please stop the guilt and pity party. We’re dying out here.”

She and Isaac peered through the window, both of them sporting puffy, red eyes like they’d been crying.

“We just feel really terrible for what we did,” Scott said earnestly.

Isaac leaned into the window. “It isn’t your fault. You didn’t mean to.”

“But we still did it. We still feel bad about it,” Stiles said. “No matter what made us do it, it was still us doing it. Our hands hurting our friends and family.”

“Okay,” Laura soothed. “You two just…talk it out if you need to, then. We’ll just be up here. Listening.”

“Comforting, thank you.”

“We don’t blame you,” she said firmly. “None of us. We blame Kate. It all goes back to that psycho bitch.”

“And me,” Derek mumbled, apparently awake.

Laura reached in to whack his head. “How do you possibly get to that conclusion?”

“I let Kate get to our family. After that, we were easy targets. And I’m why she could find us at the summer house…a second time.”

Laura looked like she might grab Derek’s hair and pull, which had Stiles shaking his head frantically.

He’d pulled Derek’s hair enough for the night, and not even in a fun way.

Laura stroked his hair instead. “You’re dumb,” she said lovingly. “No one blames either of you because neither of you are at fault. You,” she patted Derek’s head, “were a child when she targeted you. And you,” she jerked her chin at Stiles and Scott, “were basically drugged.” She ruffled Derek’s hair and retreated.

Derek looked at Stiles and smiled a little, although his eyes were still tense around the corners. “You should sleep, too.”

Stiles snorted. “I’m good.” He looked at Scott.

He sighed. “We’ll just help Laura and Isaac navigate.”

Derek bit his lip and nodded, moving around until he could lean his head against Cora’s shoulder.

Stiles and Scott stayed quiet and awake until Laura stopped to let the horses rest.

By then it was midmorning and everyone else was waking up. None of them were in the mood for eating, so once they’d stretched their legs, Deaton and Parrish took over driving so Laura and Isaac could get some rest. Isaac sat on the floor, leaning against Derek’s legs and putting his head in Cora’s lap.

Laura was leaning out the window, giving Deaton and Parrish directions until Deaton said, “I know the way, Your Majesty,” in a firm tone.

She stuck her tongue out at his back and fell against the seat.

Stiles’s eyes were burning, he had a headache, and his left eye was twitching. He knew he needed to sleep, but he was afraid of the dreams he might have.

He was afraid he might sleepwalk and hurt someone, again without his consent. He might—

Scott elbowed him when he yawned. “Just go to sleep. Everyone’s awake. We’re okay.”

He bit his lip, about to decline, when Melissa and Nathaniel suddenly started moving around.

Stiles watched them rearrange themselves, suspicious.

Nathaniel sat beside Stiles, getting his arm around his shoulder. He pulled him up against his side, knocking his head onto his shoulder.

On his other side, Erica and Boyd had swapped with Melissa. Erica sat on the floor against Boyd’s legs while Boyd sat where Nathaniel had been. Melissa took their seat and grabbed Scott.

“You two are going to sleep now,” she said.

“But-”

“Sleeping now,” Nathaniel pressed. He brushed a kiss over Stiles’s temple and squeezed him gently.

The proximity should have been uncomfortable—it was far too warm for laying all over each other—but Stiles couldn’t help snuggling closer and shutting his eyes. He felt like a child again and appreciated the time to let his father protect him.

 

Stiles woke briefly when he heard murmuring voices, but he quickly fell back to sleep.

It was dark when he woke again. Everyone was awake, and Laura and Isaac were driving again.

“We’re close,” Derek said. He was twisted toward the window, staring out. “We should be there by dawn.”

Everyone was on alert for the rest of the ride, tense and silent. As the sun began its slow, steady ascent, the sound of the fighting became clearer, as did the stench.

There had been so much blood spilled, so many bodies, that Stiles could smell the coppery tang of blood mingling with a horrible, unique death smell.

Cora and Derek breathed through their mouths the closer they got.

“I have a plan to spread the lily ash through the soldiers quickly,” Deaton said. “I will need King Nathaniel’s help. Everyone else should remain behind until I’ve done it.”

Laura reached back for the window, sliding it open. “What’s this plan?”

“Magic,” he said dryly.

“Uh-huh. How much magic?”

“It will be draining,” he acknowledged. “But it’s the quickest way to stop them from killing.”

She sighed and shut the window.

“That means you won,” Cora said helpfully.

“Yes, I know.” Deaton looked as smug as Stiles had ever seen him, which was to say his mouth curved slightly at the corners.

When they reached the edge of the property, Deaton and Nathaniel climbed out. Deaton stopped at the front of the carriage to tell Laura to wait.

Stiles bounced his leg as they walked away, chewing on his lip so hard it started to bleed.

They were out of sight when Laura shouted, “Bah! I can’t take this.” And leapt off the carriage.

Stiles let out a relieved breath and followed her; everyone else scrambled out behind him.

By the time they caught up to Deaton and Nathaniel—who, to be fair, were not moving very fast due to injury—they were at the very outskirts of the fight. Deaton was holding his hands out, cupped around the large bag of lily ash. His hands were glowing and his entire body was rigid.

Nathaniel heard Stiles and the rest crashing toward him and turned, letting out an exasperated sigh. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Your Highness, if you could concentrate? I need you to help me target your soldiers,” Deaton said through his teeth.

“Right.” Nathaniel shook his head and put his hand on Deaton’s shoulder, turning to face the fight again.

The glowing spread to the ash, following a weaving sort of path over Deaton’s arms. Once the light touched Nathaniel’s palm, it expanded outward like a golden web. It wavered when Deaton dipped a hand into the ash, sifting his fingers through it. The light turned white and spread further.

Stiles glanced at Laura, but her gaze was locked on Deaton and the web of light he was creating.

Stiles looked back.

The ash was streaming out of the bag like a river flowing up. As it met the web of light, it spread just under it, like a sparkling white blanket.

“How is that-” Stiles began, but Melissa shushed him.

Deaton flexed his hands and the web grew so quickly above their heads that Stiles took an automatic step back.

The light and ash spread over the fighting soldiers, hovering just above their heads like a magical net.

Deaton’s face was sheened in sweat and he was panting, growing paler as the net spread so that it hovered over all of the palace grounds.

He was swaying in place when the net settled over the soldiers gently, drifting lazily over their faces.

The fighting seemed to pause, all sound stopping in an eerie instant. The Stilinski soldiers hit the ground at the same time.

Deaton started to topple backward, but Laura darted in and caught him before he got too close to the ground.

“I’ll take him back to the carriage,” Isaac offered. He took Deaton carefully from her and retreated.

It was like a trance had broken—Scott blinked and looked at Stiles in surprise. In front of them, Argent soldiers began attacking stunned Hale soldiers, who gave as good as they got now that they weren’t fending off attacks from their allies.

“Gods, okay.” Laura rubbed her face. “We need to send word to Princess Allison—or Queen Allison, now, I guess—that Kate is dead.”

“We need to stop the Argents first,” Nathaniel said.

“Part of them are!” Cora cried. “Look!”

It seemed to be true—part of the Argent forces were pulling back, tossing their weapons aside and surrendering.

The Hale soldiers looked confused as to what to do with kneeling enemies.

“Isaac, bring me a horse,” Laura said over her shoulder.

Isaac returned almost instantly, leading one of the horses.

Laura patted his shoulder and mounted up quickly, despite the lack of riding equipment.

“What is she doing?” Nathaniel snapped. “Parrish, horse,” he said sharply.

“Dad,” Stiles protested.

“There’s Allison!” Scott shouted, pointing.

Stiles followed his gaze.

Sure enough, Allison was in the midst of the fighting, wearing dull red armor astride a powerful gray mare. She seemed to be ordering her soldiers to stand down. A man in silver armor rode beside her, cutting down Argent soldiers that didn’t fall back.

Nathaniel thundered past on the horse Parrish had brought him, catching up to Laura quickly.

Hale soldiers let them through instantly, as if they could sense their queen’s presence.

“Do we just stay here?” Scott wondered.

“Um…no,” Melissa decided. “Let’s go.”

Erica, Isaac, Scott, and Boyd spread out, walking around Stiles, Derek, and Cora like a shield while Parrish remained behind to guard the carriage and Deaton. Melissa led the way.

“Where do you think Peter is?” Cora asked, bumping Derek’s side.

“Probably waiting until the fighting is completely stopped to bring Malia to the castle.” Pleasant surprise blew across Derek’s face at the reminder that not all of his cousins had died.

Stiles smiled a little, happy for him. For all of them.

They’d caught up to Nathaniel and Laura—who had met Allison and the man at her side—by the time the fighting truly stopped. The disloyal Argent soldiers had been slain. The ones who chose to serve Queen Allison retreated at her command.

Stilinski soldiers began waking soon after.

“They’re cured,” Nathaniel said quickly, before anyone could panic.

“It’s true,” Laura called. “Dr. Deaton created a cure for the madness Kate Argent made.” She faced her soldiers. “We cannot blame them. It wasn’t their choice. It was just another of Kate Argent’s crimes.”

Some of the Hale soldiers looked infuriated or doubtful, but most accepted Laura’s word as law—which was good, since it was—and began helping the Stilinski soldiers up.

Stiles’s knights were put to work—helping set up spots for the wounded to get treatment with the medical tents and supplies the Argents had brought.

Allison had set up a tent near the palace for them to speak in. Laura sent a soldier to retrieve Parrish and Deaton from the woods before they went in. Deaton was taken to get treatment while Parrish entered with Stiles and Nathaniel.

Cora and Derek followed at Laura’s back.

“Good to see you alive, Prince Stiles,” Allison said. Then, sweeping her gaze over him, she added, “More or less.”

“Your Highness,” he replied, smirking.

“This is my father and my advisor, Chris Argent,” she said, gesturing at the man in silver armor.

He nodded at them, his expression cold and empty.

Beneath the armor, both Argents were wearing mourning clothes.

“We’re very sorry for your loss,” Laura said quietly.

“My mother died trying to stop my aunt and grandfather, to stop this war. She’d be pleased.” Allison took a deep breath. “We’d like to discuss a treaty for our three kingdoms. And we would like to offer our help in repairing your palace, of course.”

Stiles glanced at Derek; he and Cora stood a little behind Laura, watching Allison suspiciously, much like Parrish was doing behind Nathaniel.

“We appreciate the offer,” Laura began carefully.

“Then accept it,” Allison suggested with a kind smile. “We want to help repair the damage that Kate did.”

“Kate damaged more than their castle, Allison,” Chris said suddenly. “We’ll fund the repairs, but leave it to you and yours to make them.”

Allison pressed her lips together, but relaxed a bit when Laura looked to her for confirmation. “Yes, if that’s agreeable to you, that’s what we’ll do.”

Laura nodded. “Alright then. Thank you.”

Allison dipped her head and looked at Stiles and his father. “I’ve come to the conclusion that we don’t have much to offer the Stilinski kingdom that you don’t already have or can’t already get from your alliance with the Hale kingdom, King Nathaniel. Your alliance with the Hales is the only thing we’ll have in common, but I would like to have you as an ally in the future.”

“I don’t know about that agreement with us,” Laura said, glancing at Nathaniel, who nodded. “If the war is over, there’s no reason for the boys to be forced-”

“But-!”

“No!”

Stiles flushed—he and Derek had shouted at the same time. He kept his gaze firmly on his father’s shoulder.

“Clearly, the princes have some things to work out,” Nathaniel said smoothly. “Once they’ve had time to discuss that, I will get back to you about our kingdoms. Let’s negotiate terms for the Argent-Hale alliance now. Stiles, you’re excused.”

“So are you, Derek,” Laura said quickly.

Derek stepped back, head down, and Cora went with him.

“You are not, Cora.” Laura caught her by the shirt collar, yanking her back into place.

Stiles laughed a little as he backed out of the tent. He sighed once he got outside.

All around them, uninjured soldiers were gathering the dead and covering them with what they could find.

“Not as many as I would have guessed,” Derek observed.

“How many were you thinking?” Stiles asked warily. From what he could see, there were plenty.

“Worst possible scenarios,” Derek admitted. “Piles of bodies, barely anyone left alive.” He shrugged, tucking his hands in his pockets. His jeans were so beaten up that Stiles could see his hands through the tears. “It seemed like everyone was going to die when we were in the middle of it.”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah, I get that.” He sighed. “Look, Derek,” he began.

“Oh, don’t,” Derek said impatiently.

Stiles spun on him, eyes narrowed. “Don’t what?” he demanded.

“Don’t give me the crap about how you attacked me and now we can’t be together. At least you didn’t leave me with scars.” He glowered.

“Okay, but that’s my point. We both fucked each other up! How can we get married?” Stiles dug his hands into his hair, frustrated, then winced when he brushed against a bump from being thrown into a tree.

“I don’t know!” Derek snapped. He set his jaw. “Do you love me?”

What?” Stiles stepped back; Derek’s eyes flashed and he followed.

“Do. You. Love. Me? Do you want to marry me?”

“This—it’s not about love, this is a betrothal,” Stiles sputtered.

Derek scoffed. “That’s just a formality now and you know it. The war is over. Your father isn’t going to force you to marry anyone. He wants an alliance with Laura either way. Tell me now—do you want this? Us?”

Stiles swallowed, looking at the scratch near Derek's eye that hadn't quite finished healing yet. Then he met Derek's gaze. "No."

Chapter Text

"You're a liar, Stiles Stilinski," Derek said furiously, following him when he tried to walk away.

Stiles shook his head and kept walking. “I said no, Derek,” he snapped. He gasped when Derek grabbed his arm and yanked him around. “Stop,” he said coldly. “Get your hand off me. If the word no doesn’t mean anything to you, then we’d have had more problems than I thought.”

Derek dropped his hand. “You lied,” he said. He looked pissed and hurt, like he didn’t know whether to fight or protect himself.

“So? My words are what matters,” Stiles said. He crossed his arms.

“Fine. You’re right. What you say matters. But what hasn’t been said matters, too.”

Stiles shook his head. “I don’t understand that. That doesn’t make sense.”

Derek huffed, brows furrowed dangerously. “Fine. Fine. Maybe you don’t want to get married and you don’t love me. I love you,” he said smugly. “And I’m not afraid you’ll hurt me. I don’t-” His voice wavered. “I hoped I’d never fall in love again after Kate, or I thought I couldn’t, anyway, or—I don’t know. She just…messed me up. But…” He shook himself. “But I love you and I’d hoped we could get married and be together and happy.” He inhaled and let his shoulders drop. “But you did say no. I guess…come find me when you feel like talking about this.”

Stiles watched him turn and walk away, fists clenched against his ribs, fuming. With an irritated growl, he stalked after Derek. “Hey! Hey!

Derek turned, brows lifting in exaggerated surprise. “Yeah?”

Stiles punched his shoulder. He couldn’t help himself.

“Doesn’t hurt when you’re not crazy,” Derek said cheerfully.

“You’re an ass,” Stiles seethed. “You love me, Kate messed you up,” he repeated with a somewhat crazed shout of laughter.

Derek’s expression went flat. “I do love you,” he said firmly.

“So? So? We almost killed each other!” Stiles damn near stomped his foot. He really did.

“Yes,” Derek agreed. “I love you anyway.”

“Stop saying that! And stop laughing!” Stiles yelled.

“I’m not!” Derek shook his head. He wiped his face, trying to rub away the amusement. He’d mostly succeeded except that his eyes were still glinting.

“Ugh!” Stiles paced away and back, huffing with rage.

“I’m not going to lie and say I don’t l-”

“One more time!” Stiles yelped. “Say that word one more time!”

Derek glared at him. “I love you.”

“Oh my gods!” Stiles launched himself at Derek, who caught him by the waist, which was good, because otherwise, Stiles probably would have head-butted him instead of kissing him.

Derek let out a little surprised gasp and tightened his grip on Stiles’s waist.

Stiles grabbed Derek’s face and wrapped his legs around his hips. “You make me so mad,” he gasped, ducking back in for another kiss. “Can’t you just let me pity myself and be self-sacrificing?”

Derek nipped his chin. “Not quite so self-sacrificing if you’re making me miserable, too,” he muttered.

Stiles’s heart clenched. He stroked the sides of Derek’s face. “I didn’t think you would be.”

“Shows what you know,” Derek scoffed.

Stiles sighed and unlocked his ankles so he could stand up. “So now what?”

Derek smiled. “Now you ask me to marry you—again—and I say yes.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Can’t we skip that part?”

“No. You walked away from me,” Derek pointed out. “How do I know you-”

Stiles reached out and twisted his ear. “Marry me, jerk.”

“Okay, asshole.” Derek snorted and leaned in to kiss him again.

“Now we have to tell…them…” Stiles glared at the tent, where Nathaniel, Laura, and Cora were all standing outside. “Did you enjoy the show?” he demanded, blushing.

Derek smirked.

“Yes, actually,” Laura called cheerily. “Now, come back in. We’ve got things to talk about.”

Along with medical supplies, Chris and Allison’s group had brought food and water, which was a welcome surprise.

Scott and Isaac went into the palace to try to find a change of clothes for everyone while they ate.

“Excuse me,” Allison said hesitantly, “but where’s Peter?”

Laura set her cup down by her knee and cleared her throat. “Well, we…we went to our family’s summer house—where it was, I mean—to hide during…this. And when we got there, Peter discovered that one of his daughters, one of my cousins, had survived. Somehow.”

Allison looked shocked. “That’s great! That’s so wonderful!” She looked around like she might see them now that Laura had told her.

“They’ve opted to stay in the woods. My cousin isn’t quite…stable, and all of this might overwhelm her.”

Allison nodded quickly. “Yes, of course. I’m happy for you,” she said warmly, her eyes sparkling with what looked like genuine joy.

“Thank you.”

“You should come to the wedding,” Stiles blurted.

She blinked at him. “What?”

“Our wedding. You should come. As a…show of goodwill, or whatever.”

Nathaniel sighed. “You were doing so well until that last bit.”

“We shouldn’t…with everything Kate did…” She looked at Chris.

“It would be rude to decline. We want them as our allies, and a royal wedding is a big deal.”

Nathaniel studied him, nodding slowly. “Yes, that’s…about right.” He held his leftovers out to Stiles as an offering, standing when he took it. “Mr. Argent, would you mind stepping outside with me for a moment?”

Chris nodded jerkily and followed him; Allison watched them go with wide, curious eyes.

Stiles gave Derek the extra food and hissed, “What’re they saying?”

“Your dad started to say something but Chris told him to wait,” Derek said obligingly. “But now they’re walking away. I can’t really hear them anymore.”

“He knows you guys can hear them,” Allison said. She looked a little disappointed. “He’s been…quiet.” She shrugged.

Stiles frowned over his shoulder. What could his father have to say, in private, to Chris Argent?

“I’ll hear if they start shouting or fighting,” Laura assured them.

Stiles picked at his bread, leaning his head on Derek’s shoulder. As worried as he’d been that being close to Derek would be awkward or difficult, remembering what he’d done, it was surprisingly easy to just relax together.

Scott and Isaac returned before Chris and Nathaniel.

“We found some clothes,” Scott said. He’d changed into clothes that were either his or Isaac’s, stained but not torn. “They’re mostly in one piece.”

Isaac held out a little bundle to Cora. “These were the only things that hadn’t been destroyed,” he said apologetically. “It looked like all your stuff was really delicate.”

She sighed. “Yeah, I know.” She accepted the clothes. “Thanks.” She kissed his cheek and left the tent to change.

Isaac turned bright red; Stiles’s head whipped toward Derek, then at Scott, completely torn between who he should be looking at.

Derek was smiling a little, eyebrows raised, and Scott was grinning at Isaac.

“Did everyone see that coming?” Stiles demanded.

“We saw that coming,” Laura said, pointing at Isaac and his blush.

“What, you don’t think Cora-?” Scott began, looking crestfallen.

Laura shrugged. “Maybe if they talk about it. You shouldn’t assume.”

Isaac looked alarmed. “I don’t want to talk about anything ever.”

“Not right now!” Laura said quickly. “Now is a terrible time for that kind of talk.”

The look on Isaac’s face made it clear that he thought the perfect time would be never, so Stiles said, “Um!” He waved his hands between himself and Derek indignantly. “Why did we have to talk about it right now then?”

Laura rolled her eyes. “You guys had issues. Still have issues. And also a treaty hung in the balance of you working out your issues. Sort of. Scott, can I have my clothes?” she prompted.

“Oh, right…” Scott passed out the meager piles of clothes to Laura, Derek, and Stiles, while Isaac kept hold of the rest.

Stiles ended up with one of Derek’s shirts, since most of his own had been destroyed. A fresh pair of jeans had made it—although they were dusted with ash—along with a slightly ripped pair of clean boxers, which made him happier than he could have imagined.

He changed inside of the tent, where there were far fewer people to see him trip and fall on his ass trying to peel off his blood-crusted, ripped jeans.

Scott laughed the loudest, because he was a traitor.

“Be quiet,” Stiles muttered, pulling on his fresh boxers and touching the rip in the leg.

Allison had politely turned away while Laura, Derek, and Stiles changed. Isaac and Scott hadn’t bothered, too busy keeping watch by the entrance to care whether they saw Stiles’s ass while he struggled his way into clothing.

“So what happens now?” Allison asked carefully.

Laura pulled her shirt on over her head, fingering the fist sized burn hole in the side.

“Sorry,” Scott said, wincing. “We didn’t notice it.”

She sighed. “This is very queenly.” She looked at Allison. “Now we start clean up. We deal with our dead and…” She looked over her shoulder as Chris and Nathaniel reentered the tent.

“Your Highness,” Isaac said awkwardly, holding out the top set of clothes he had.

Nathaniel snorted and ruffled Isaac’s hair before taking the offering. “Thank you.”

Stiles gave his father a puzzled look, which was ignored.

“Erica and Boyd are with Deaton, and Parrish is helping the soldiers with clean up,” Nathaniel said casually. “Laura, I wanted to invite you and your family to stay at our castle while yours is being rebuilt. We can have the wedding there, too, in the meantime.”

Laura smiled. “That would be perfect, thank you.” She glanced at Allison and Chris. “I was telling Allison that all there is to do now is clean up and boring paperwork and such.”

“Ah.” Nathaniel nodded. “Of course. We can hold an honoring ceremony for the fallen soldiers and their families in our kingdom, too, since most, if not all, of your citizens were evacuated to ours anyway.”

“Good idea.” Laura nodded.

“Okay. Let’s get to work,” Chris said. His voice was still cold and mechanical, but something seemed less…tightly wound now.

Stiles grimaced. “Unless the families want their loved ones returned to them wearing my lunch, I think I should sit this one out.”

“Derek, too,” Laura said generously. “Your weak stomachs suit each other, at least.”

“What about Cora?” Nathaniel asked.

Laura snorted. “She’s already helping.”

Allison was the first one out, and the rest followed.

Stiles watched them go to a medical tent and pick up gloves and masks.

He grimaced and turned back to Derek. “So…what kind of cake should we have at the wedding?”

Chapter Text

Stiles was nervous. He was a wreck. He was going to ruin the stupid uniform he was forced to wear by sweating through it and then Lydia Martin, wedding planner—wedding commander, more like—was going to kill him.

Derek would think Stiles left him and then Laura would bring him back from the dead so she could murder him again.

“Stop pacing,” Scott said, catching Stiles’s shoulder. “You’re going to make yourself all sweaty.”

Stiles gave him a dirty look and flapped his hands around.

“Sit down. Isaac’s got to pin that medal on you.”

“Bah!” Stiles flopped into a chair.

Lydia had adhered to the rules of the princes wearing horrible formal uniforms at their weddings, so Stiles was forced to wear his kingdom’s colors and symbol even on his wedding day.

He’d thought he would only have to see this atrocity during conferences and meetings with the council.

It wasn’t that he didn’t love his home and appreciate what he had. It was more that he’d wanted to be Stiles at his wedding, not Crown Prince Stilinski.

Isaac approached carefully, pinning a medal—it was a teal lily with a golden S on top of it—to Stiles’s jacket. He, Scott, Boyd, and Erica had been forced into formal guard wear, too, which was of some consolation to him.

“Derek looks great,” Isaac said. “Except that he’s pale and shaking.”

“Oh, gods.” Stiles covered his face. “What if he changes his mind?”

Isaac scoffed. “Considering he was saying the same thing to his sisters, I think it’ll be alright.” He leaned back to admire the medal.

Stiles pressed his palms against his cheeks. “How long?” he asked.

“Few more minutes. They’re still seating guests,” Scott said, turning toward the door.

 

Lydia clipped into the room when it was nearly time. She didn’t look impressed with Stiles’s nerves.

“McCall, Lahey, to your positions, please,” she ordered.

They waved cheerily at Stiles before leaving the room.

“Since no one here is a possession, there will be no giving away of people,” Lydia intoned. She held out a cup of ice water. “Just like at rehearsal, you will both enter from the wings and meet in the middle.”

Stiles nodded, gulping the water.

“Your father, and Derek’s sister, will be walking with each of you and staying in the front row during the proceedings.”

Another nod, more gulping.

“Get yourself together,” she ordered. “You’re getting married to the man you love. This is a good thing.” She brushed at his shoulders. “Now, your father is in the hall. He knows where to go.”

Stiles went to the door in a sort of floating daze.

“Prince Stiles?”

He turned his head.

Lydia smiled at him. “Congratulations.”

He managed a smile back. “Thank you.”

Nathaniel was indeed waiting in the hall, dressed in a uniform similar to Stiles’s, except his was darker in color. “You okay, kid?”

“Do I look horrible? I look sickly, don’t I?” Stiles just stopped himself from running his hands through his hair with nerves.

“No, you don’t look horrible. You look great.” Nathaniel gave him a light hug. “Would have given you a better squeeze, but Ms. Martin threatened me with assassination if I wrinkled your uniform before pictures.”

Stiles grimaced, looking down at it. “Is the sword really necessary?”

“It’s traditional. Just—no matter what happens, dear gods, do not try to use it.”

Stiles laughed and felt himself relax finally. “I won’t.” He clapped and took a deep breath. “Okay. Okay, let’s go before I pass out.”

Stepping out of the side door at the right time had taken a lot of practice. Derek and Laura were to step out at the same time on the other side of the church.

The ‘church’ was the place where all the royal Stilinski weddings had been held, though no single religion had laid claim on the building. On any given day, it could be a church, temple, or mosque, or anything in between. It was a place for peace and acceptance, and Stiles could almost understand why, when he stepped into the bright, airy room.

The sense of peace was lost in nerves as soon as he realized his father had allowed Lydia to invite the entire planet.

“Dad,” he hissed.

“Just look straight,” Nathaniel advised. He was smiling.

Stiles tore his gaze away from the guests and saw Derek, making steady progress toward where they would meet.

Stiles smiled, too.

Derek’s uniform was shaped slightly different—longer coat, smaller buttons, those sort of details—and his was deep purple and black, with the Hale triskelion pinned to his jacket.

They met in the middle and grinned at each other.

“Hi,” Derek whispered. “You look nice.”

“So do you.” Stiles felt the gazes of the guests on him and started fidgeting nervously. He grimaced when his left side started to disappear. “Sorry. I thought I’d learned to stop doing that.”

“It’s okay.” Derek set his hand on Stiles’s shoulder, steadying him.

Stiles felt solid again, then blushed when cooing came from the front row of guests.

“Your Majesties,” the woman performing the marriage rites said. “I will need to create a circle to amplify your voices, so that all of the guests will hear you.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Please hold hands.”

Stiles grinned nervously and took Derek’s hands. It was definitely happening. They were getting married. In front of a few thousand of their closest friends.

 

The reception was held in the ballroom at the Stilinski palace, with far fewer people attending. Marie Lynette, the cook, was guarding the cake and sprouted fangs whenever anyone got too close.

“Just like we rehearsed,” Stiles whispered.

He and Derek were about to have their first dance, and this, apparently, was where Derek’s nerves showed up.

“What if I step on you?” Derek hissed. His hand was clamped tightly around Stiles’s, clammy and trembling.

“Then we improvise. Oops,” Stiles said, grinning at Derek’s horrified expression, “there’s the music. And—go.” He took the lead forcefully, because otherwise it seemed like Derek was going to stand in the same spot all night.

“Gods, they’re all watching,” Derek breathed.

“Focus on me,” Stiles suggested. “On our wedding day, I demand to be the center of your attention. I’ll accept nothing less.”

Derek leaned in to kiss his cheek. “I can do that.”

It wasn’t long before Laura cut in to dance with Stiles while Nathaniel grinned and asked Derek to dance.

“Um, I don’t want to step on you,” Derek muttered.

“You won’t. Claudia had us all in dance classes. I can handle it. We’re dancing,” Nathaniel said sternly.

Laura laughed and squeezed Stiles’s hand. “So I know you’ve been busy,” she said. “With the wedding, and repairs, and all that.”

“Yes…?” Around them, guests were joining in the dancing.

“Come with me. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Stiles looked over his shoulder at Derek, who was being reluctantly led by Nathaniel, who looked deeply amused.

“He’ll still be here. Come on.” Laura tugged on his arm until he followed her from the dance floor, through the dinner tables that had yet to be used. She threw open the doors to the hall and gasped. “Oh my gods!” she giggled.

Allison and Scott sprang apart, flushing red.

“We’re so sorry!” Laura bit back on another laugh.

Allison straightened her dress. “I apologize. Stiles, congratulations. I should find my father.”

Scott looked delighted. “She likes me,” he said dreamily.

“That or she’s become a zombie,” Stiles said. When Scott looked confused, he clacked his teeth together.

“Oh, be quiet.” Scott brushed past them to get into the ballroom.

Laura led Stiles around a corner and flourished grandly. “Come on out,” she called. “It’s only polite. And you’ll get to eat cake.”

Peter emerged, dressed neatly in a tux, followed by Malia, who was, for the first time Stiles had ever seen, wearing shoes and a dress, her hair brushed. Her eyes were no longer glowing.

She glared at him and Laura.

“We wanted to see the wedding,” Peter explained. “But we didn’t want to cause a disruption. Say hello.”

“Hi,” she muttered.

“Hey,” Stiles said. He was taken off guard.

Peter and Malia had joined the rest of the family when they’d moved into the Stilinski palace temporarily, but they’d mostly kept to themselves while Peter tried to coax Malia into being a person again.

“You guys are welcome to join the party. We’re taking pictures and eating soon.”

“Thank you.” Peter’s smile looked genuine. It was a new look on him.

When they walked into the ballroom, Malia stuck close to Peter’s side, eyeing everyone suspiciously.

Cora came running up to them. She’d lost her shoes somewhere. “Hi, Malia!” she said cheerfully.

Malia eyed her, too. They were the same age and of the same general build, so Stiles figured if there was a fight, Cora could probably hold her own until someone intervened.

“Come dance,” Cora said, reaching for her cousin’s hand.

To everyone’s surprise, Malia let herself be tugged into the crowd.

“That took you less time than it took us,” Stiles observed.

“She wasn’t gone like Derek was,” Peter said quietly. “She’d snuck out of the house to go swimming alone—which wasn’t allowed—and while she was gone, Kate burned it. She was just surviving when we found her.”

“We’re glad to have all of you back. Now, I smell red velvet cake, so let’s get Stiles back to Derek so they can cut it,” Laura said, shoving them both.

 

After a few hours and more than a few crates of champagne, no one noticed when Stiles and Derek snuck away—although the sneaking was just for fun. They were married. Sneaking was unnecessary.

“How much champagne did you have?” Derek asked, closing the door of their room behind him.

“Two glasses. You?” Stiles kicked off his shoes.

“It doesn’t affect me like it does you. But for the record, one.” Derek held his hands out as he approached, so Stiles obligingly went still and let him unbutton his shirt.

“That was fun. We should get married every decade or so,” Stiles said. He started unbuckling Derek’s belt, letting his fingers skim his belly and making him gasp.

“Mmmm. I don’t think so.” Derek slid Stiles’s shirt from his shoulders.

“Oh, no? Why?”

He started on Stiles’s pants. “Wouldn’t be as fun, probably.” He kissed the corner of Stiles’s mouth, licking his bottom lip. “Step out.”

“Why do you have so many shirts?” Stiles demanded, after he’d pushed the button-up off and found a white tee underneath.

“Layers. I dunno. Ask Lydia.” He pushed his pants off.

“Oh, but there’s no layers down there.” Stiles laughed, bunching up Derek’s t-shirt and pushing it over his head.

“Lydia wasn’t as strict about that.” Derek leaned in for another kiss, and Stiles grabbed his hair.

“Pick me up,” he commanded.

“Carry you to the bed?” Derek teased.

Throw me onto the bed. We can’t be boring tonight.”

Derek hitched Stiles up onto his hips, hands under his thighs, and carried him to the bed, then tossed him down.

Stiles bounced and laughed with delight, scrambling up on his knees, holding his arms out.

“I love you,” Derek said as he climbed on the bed.

Stiles wrapped himself around his husband. That wasn’t going to get old anytime soon. “I love you, too, and now you’re mine, all mine!” He tried a maniacal laugh, but it came out giggly and breathless, because Derek had started kissing his neck.

“And you,” Derek said, moving his mouth up Stiles’s jaw and to his mouth, “are all mine.”

“Mmm. A good thing to be.” Stiles skimmed his hand down Derek’s stomach, making him shudder. “Wanna wrestle, husband?” He let out a shriek of laughter when Derek tackled him back onto the bed, rolling them so Stiles was seated, dizzy and laughing, on his thighs.

“Do you?”

 

“Derek, we have to go have breakfast with the family,” Stiles laughed.

“No.” Derek raised his brows and feinted left, then ran right

“We will be all alone for two weeks, after we have breakfast and say goodbye.” Stiles bit his lip to hold in his laughter.

Derek balled the pants he was holding hostage up against his chest.

“I have other pants, you know.”

“These are your favorite,” Derek taunted, and it was true, unfortunately.

Stiles dove across the bed, trying to catch him, but Derek had already sprung across the room, laughing. Stiles got up, brushing his shirt off.

“My dad is going to know why we were late.”

“How?” Derek asked, racing away when Stiles lunged again.

“No, he won’t know about the pants,” Stiles said, pausing to roll his eyes. “But he will assume we were having sex. And then he will stare at you. All through breakfast.

When Derek hesitated, absorbing the horror of that, Stiles leapt, grabbing his pants and running to the closet.

“Love you!” he called, laughing. “Now get dressed! We’re late!”