Arranged marriage has been a time-honored tradition between royal families since the dawn of monarchy. In Beacon, most notably, the three royal families of the nations of Cor, Peritia, and Auguria have thrived on arranged unions since their beginnings. It is common that the leaders, set together to rule their land, fall in love. The tale most repeated comes from the land of Cor, of King John and his wife, and their beloved son—
The boy rolls his eyes, sighing and leaning back in the stiff, unyielding chair. “I know the story,” he mutters. “I know that they fell in love and that they were great together—and that’s wonderful, truly.” He lifts his eyes to glare at the woman before him. “My father sent you to read this to me.”
She’s lovely, all dark hair and cheekbones, a beauty in her modesty that the boy appreciates. He knows what his father sees in her. “Does it matter?” she asks.
“I don’t blame you,” he sighs. “He—I—it’s not like I don’t have time. He is aware that I’m only eighteen, isn’t he?”
“Many princes are betrothed long before even then.” It’s a testament to their comfort that Melissa McCall huffs and folds her hands together in front of him, not even bothering to call him by his title. “Stiles,” she says softly, “I know you want to wait and I know you want to marry for love, but—but unfortunately, that is a privilege you’re not guaranteed as a prince.”
Stiles blinks down at the book again. “The book is outdated, anyway. It still says that we’re an adventurous nation—the dragons died out and the creatures all stay to the forest lands between our territory and Peritia. If those facts are wrong, why couldn’t other facts die out as well?”
“Our relationship with Ignis is fragile at best.” She steps closer to him, her hand reaching for the text on the table. “Marriage is the oldest, most trusted way to form a bond. You will grow to love your partner, Stiles. I promise you.”
He huffs, tapping his fingers against the arm of the chair. “Their whole family is travelling here.”
“A large risk, leaving their entire nation unattended but for the King’s advisors and lords. A show of faith. The King and Queen, and their three eldest children.”
“So you’re telling me I don’t have a choice.”
“Their eldest, Laura, is going to inherit the throne of Ignis one day, but both Derek and Cora are unspoken for.”
He arches an eyebrow. “I’m to choose between them?” he asks with a smirk.
“And before you ask, the girl was named for your kingdom—her parents had great admiration for your mother and father and she’s only a year younger than you are.” She licks her lips. “Your father is hoping that she will be a good match for you.”
“And what about the man? Derek?”
Melissa shakes her head minutely. “I don’t know much about him. He’s a few years older than you are, supposedly a good knight.”
“You think him boring.”
“I simply think I haven’t heard enough about him. The girl, on the other hand.”
Stiles runs his hand through his hair. “When are they arriving?”
“Tomorrow afternoon, we hope.”
He sits up straight, shoulders shoved back in surprise. “So soon? I would’ve thought—” He breaks off, shaking his head. “Of course. My father.”
She looks more than a little proud of herself. “He trusts me to sway you towards his convictions.”
“I have another question, though,” Stiles adds, “before you go. Princess Allison—she isn’t betrothed. Princess Lydia is too, let’s say, independent to allow her parents to tie her down quite yet, but Allison—is there no reason the union couldn’t be made between her and the Hale prince?”
She exhales through her nose. “Stiles, you know how important Cor is. It’s easily the most efficient way to form a connection between the two lands. You’re going to be King—the politics almost always overshadow matters of the heart.”
“Not for my father.”
“Not always. But even then he knows when to make the right decision.”
She curtsies before she leaves, taking the book with her, and Stiles heaves another great sigh when the door closes, but he only has a split second of silence to himself when there’s another knock on the door.
He stands, straightens his shirt, and calls, “Come in.”
Scott clatters in, a bit of armor badly strapped to his shoulders and bent over, hands on his knees. “Heard—Mom was here—save you from lecture.”
“Too late, my brave knight,” Stiles sighs. “I've been lectured.”
Scott looks pained. “M'so sorry.”
“It's alright; at least it wasn't from my father.”
“So it's true? You'll have to marry soon?”
“Almost immediately.” Stiles goes to shut the door behind Scott and grabs the pitcher of wine left. “Drink?”
Scott nods and wobbles over to sit at the table. “I was in the middle of training when I heard. I had to yield just so I could come save you—and here I thought that being an only child meant no one else had to suffer.”
Stiles smirks as he takes a sip of the sweet wine, holding out a cup to Scott. “Well, that’s what happens when my father is captivated by a person like your mother. He uses her gift to bully me into submission.”
“So, is it the girl from Ignis?” He undoes the strap connecting the leftover piece of armor to his body and sets it on the seat next to him as Stiles sits across from him. “Some of the knights were talking about how beautiful she is.”
Stiles nods. “The youngest of the three. Though her brother is an option apparently, if I'm so inclined.”
Scott waggles his eyebrows. “Are you? So inclined?”
Stiles makes to throw a cushion at him. “I'm not inclined to marry anyone I haven't yet met.”
“But you’ll get to pick, at least. It’s likely you’ll at least have feelings for one of them. It’s a better situation than other royals have been put into.” Scott looks down at his hands around his glass. “I actually came to speak with you about something else, too. We’ve been told that a few knights will be making a trip to Peritia to represent Cor in a tournament.”
Stiles nods. “Not for another month, though. My father expects the Hales to accompany us to the event, I’m assuming, unless he’s opted out of it entirely.”
“I just mean—well, I wanted—”
“You wanted to compete.”
Scott nods. “More than anything.”
“And you thought the way to do it was because you happen to be my best friend.”
He looks sheepish. “And a good knight.”
Stiles smirks. “A great knight. I’m certain you’re already going to be one of those chosen to compete for us, but I’ll check anyway, just to be sure.”
Scott grins and leans back. “Why are you so concerned about impending marriage? Queen Talia is beautiful, or have you not seen the portraits and heard the praises? It stands to reason her children will be just as gorgeous.”
“It isn't all looks, Scott.” Stiles glares. “What if they're insufferable?”
“It’s said that their parents are very kind rulers.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. They’re different people.” He looks into his glass. “I don’t want someone who will be unable to—relax. I don’t think I was meant for royalty. Types like Princess Lydia, beautiful and intelligent but little ability to have fun—they’re not meant for me.”
“You might not have a choice. But she’s a girl your age in a foreign country.” Scott shrugs. “She might surprise you.”
Word comes the next afternoon. Stiles is already properly dressed, just in case, as is the rest of the castle, and since the coast is easily a full day’s journey from the capitol, his father’s prediction had come true. The ships had docked yesterday morning, and now Stiles is standing in front of the entrance to his home, next to his father. Several knights are lined up to the side, along with various members of staff to take the guests’ things to their rooms, and when the coaches arrive, Stiles has a moment of wonder at how the horses fared on the sea.
Those thoughts are quickly forgotten, however, in favor of anxiety and frustration, his father nudging his elbow into Stiles’ side and whispering, “You’re a prince. Act like one.” So he stands up straight and folds his hands in front of him, watching as the coaches pull to a perfectly choreographed halt.
Queen Talia is the first to step out, of course, accompanied by her husband, and Stiles would assume that the second coach houses their children, the third maybe a few members of staff. She is, Stiles thinks, the definition of regal. Tall and beautiful, her eyes set and her lips quirked upwards, chin held high and shoulders back. She almost reminds him of his mother.
The King is a handsome man, dark hair like his wife with slightly fairer skin, brighter eyes. He grins the second he lays eyes on Stiles’ father and bypasses formalities in order to stride up and hug him.
“Stilinski,” he says in a deep, amused voice, “it’s been far too long.”
His father hugs back and the corners of his eyes crinkle when he smiles. It makes his own shoulders relax the tiniest bit. His father bows before Queen Talia as all men must, before introducing him. The jarring consonants of his name make him shudder, but he holds that in as best he can and bows.
The woman smiles, not sweet but kind. “I hear you prefer to be called Stiles.”
“I do, your grace, much simpler for all involved.”
“A charming name. I like it.” She looks over her shoulder and, as three bodies approach, smiles. “Allow me to introduce to you my children. This is our eldest, Crown Princess Laura Earnestine Hale.” Stiles sees her wince just the slightest bit at the mention of her middle name. She’s a tall girl, late in her twenties, with her mother’s deep eyes and dark hair. Stiles sees the regality of a queen in her as well.
“Delighted to make your acquaintance, Princess,” Stiles says as he bows. When he stands, he takes her hand to kiss, and she curtsies for him.
“The pleasure is mine, my prince.” She moves aside just as quickly, however, yet not without a slight smirk. She no doubt knows the deal, that Stiles will be choosing between the next two siblings he meets, and he’s glad she at least finds it intriguing.
“And these are my younger jewels,” the Queen says, motioning beside her. He can see her stiffen as she glances and can instantly see why. The pair of them look miserable, shoulders hunched and lips bent in twin frowns. The Queen turns back to Stiles with a polite smile. “You see they have little siblings back home with quite a betting pool on the proceedings and it has taken a toll on their tempers, so do I beg of you to ignore their repugnant scowls.”
She says the last with a vicious bite as the two young people beside her immediately replace their frowns with calm schooled expressions of polite pleasure and straighten their backs.
“Derek Samuel Hale,” she says, the steady displeasure in her tone making the man stand at attention, “Lord of the Woodlands.”
The man makes a clear, if brief, bow and steps back just as his sister steps forward.
“Cora Clementine Hale, Protector of the Redferns.”
Stiles is immediately struck with how much like their mother all three of them look, but especially the man. He had been expecting beauty and grace in the girls but the prince—he’s handsome, to say the least, and he has his father’s green eyes. The girl is certainly fair, dressed beautifully and even with a bit of a frown she looks like quite the little beauty, but Stiles tears his mind from physical appearance and makes his bow as his father introduces his titles.
“I’m sure you’re in need of rest,” the King says, his hand going to Stiles’ shoulder. “My son would be delighted to show you to the wing where you’ll be staying. It’s just near the garden, quite beautiful.”
“I’m sure it’s perfect,” the Queen says, looking towards her children as if challenging them.
The foreign king clears his throat and steps up with a smile. “Prince Stiles, would you perhaps go ahead with Derek and Cora while we have a word with your father? Laura will accompany you, of course.”
The eldest Hale child nods gracefully and steps closer to Stiles, taking his arm. “It would be a pleasure to be shown to our apartments by the prince himself, won't it, Cora?”
The girl manages a smirk. “Of course,” she says. “Don’t you agree, brother?”
Derek gives his sister a look. “Quite.”
Clearing his throat, Stiles nods at the King and gestures forward. “Right this way.”
Stiles has no doubt that the only reason Laura is being as charming and polite as she is has to do with her freedom to marry someone who isn’t Stiles. He can’t say he minds, however, because she makes great conversation as she walks with him, hand curling around his upper arm.
“You’ll have to excuse my siblings,” she says softly towards the end of an explanation about their journey.
“No need,” Stiles says just as quietly. “It's uncomfortable to say the least and barbaric to be quite honest. I understand how much they must hate the whole thing.”
“Do you speak for yourself, highness?”
“My duty is an honor and a privilege. It is no pain to marry one of such a family. I'm afraid though my name is high I can't presume your siblings feel any sort of comfort in that.”
“You say it’s an honor,” Laura tells him, “well, my siblings feel the same way.”
Stiles glances over his shoulder at the pair of them, whispering is exceedingly harsh tones, following a few steps behind them. He halts, however, and clears his throat, and they both look up at him.
“Here we are,” he says. “Princess, your room is here, and you may have any servants you’ve brought with you stay in the building just adjacent, where the others rest as well.” He nods down the hall. “The other rooms are just at the end of the hall, and your parents are staying there.” He points towards the room in the middle, with a grand door and a knight standing guard. “I trust you’ll be comfortable.”
The older prince nods. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
“Yes.” The girl beside him cursties shallowly. “We'll be very comfortable, thank you.”
“I imagine dinner will be served soon, if you’d like to just rest for a moment. I’m sure someone will be by to show you to the dining hall.” He bows a final time, locking eyes with Laura, and takes his leave.
Laura turns to her siblings as soon as the prince is gone towards the garden, one eyebrow arched. “Mother is going to kill you both.”
“A better fate,” Cora mutters.
“Do not speak mindlessly,” Derek chides. He scuffs his boot on the floors and glances up at Laura. “But she does have a point.”
“She does not,” Laura hisses. “He's a lovely boy and you scowl at the idea of marrying him as if he were a leper. You are cruel, selfish children.”
“I am not a child,” Derek growls. “I only protest that we be brought here like pigs to market. And the very fact that I have a sister named after a foreign land for want of official contract. Cora was branded at birth!”
“There are worse matches,” Laura tells them sternly. “He’s handsome, is he not?”
Cora tilts his chin up, staying quiet.
“And kind—he would make a fine husband.”
“You marry him then.”
Laura smirks. “You will be in want of nothing. He’s a good boy and he’ll make a great man, a great king one day. You’ll be a queen, Cora. You used to like the idea when you were little.”
“Wait,” Cora insists, holding up a hand, “I’m not necessarily going to marry him. Derek thinks him handsome—he told me so in the hall!”
Derek scowls at her. “Good looks mean nothing. Being forced to marry can make even the prettiest woman or the most handsome man as appealing a rotten meat.”
“Cruel and selfish, just as I said,” Laura says, tone stern and angry. “Do you think him any less forced than you? A choice between the pair of you, fine freedom! Couple of vipers that you are.”
“It would be stupid of him not to choose Cora,” Derek says with a shrug. “She can give him children.”
Cora shoves at his shoulder. “I’ve seen a number of men ignore me in favor of you, dear brother. The prince is just as susceptible to your pretty face and strong arms as any of your past lovers.”
Derek glares. “It’s a political pairing.”
“Stop it, both of you,” Laura interrupts, crossing her arms over her chest. “Go into your rooms and freshen yourselves up. You’ll both behave like adults at dinner, I assume.”
They both nod and step around her. Laura rolls her eyes as she hears them mutter behind her back.
When Stiles enters the dining hall, his father and the Hales are already seated. He mumbles his apology and nods at Melissa McCall when he notices her standing by with a pitcher of wine. She smiles at him as she pours his glass.
“It’s quite alright,” Queen Talia says with a smile. “Your father and I were just discussing your birthday. It must’ve been a very impressive event. It’s not every day a prince turns eighteen.”
“I am still receiving notes of gratitude, your grace, the guests enjoyed themselves greatly.”
Cora looks up from her napkin. “You did not?”
Stiles swallows and blushes. “The dancing made me quite dizzy. But it was an enjoyable evening for all.”
He notices the way she smiles, slightly, like she’s amused, but it falls away just as quickly as she looks back towards the table. As they’re served, the Queen carries on the conversation.
“You have quite a lovely home, as I was telling your father. I do hope we get to see as much of it as possible during our stay.” She looks pointedly to her left, where Cora and Derek are seated. “It’s good for all of us to see the differences in our cultures. Your architecture is just grand, and our garden is nothing compared to yours.”
“Our staff takes great pride in their work,” Stiles says with a nod.
“Serving under such a great king, how could they not?” She grins at him and his father. “It’s been far too long since we’ve made the journey across the sea—I’m so pleased to find you both so well.”
“And you,” Stiles’ father tells her.
The chatter continues on politely, Stiles mostly keeping his eyes on his plate with occasional glances upwards at his father or the royal couple across the table, spared moments towards checking on the others at the table. He’s almost grateful Laura is seated next to him—she’s calming.
“Don’t be nervous,” she whispers to him with a smile.
“How could I not be?”
“You’re our host.” She lays a hand on his shoulder for a brief moment. “You’ll be fine.”
“When all that stands between your brother and sister committing my heinous murder is the level if my hospitality I think my nerves are not unwarranted.”
The entire table snaps their head in the direction of the princess as she all but snorts out in her uncontrollable laughter. Her cheeks are bright pink as she presses her palms to her face. “Oh, I'm sorry.” She tries to compose herself but can't keep from grinning. “Amusing,” she tells Stiles. “It’s been quite a long time since I’ve met someone with a sense of humor.”
Dinner is mostly painless, and Stiles is just listening to the two kings reminisce when it’s clear that their plates are finished and they’re all quite ready to retire. Laura clears her throat as she reaches for her glass, and Stiles is about to wish them all goodnight when Cora looks at him and says, “Excuse me, my prince, but I wonder if it would be possible for you to accompany me back to my room.”
Stiles can practically feel the happiness and relief radiating off of his father and so he smiles. “Of course.”
She wraps her arm through his when they leave the dining hall, and she’s stiff, tense.
“It’s okay,” he says. “I—I’m nervous too.”
She exhales a laugh that doesn’t sound amused so much as anxious. “I’m sorry, I’m just—overwhelmed, I suppose.”
“And you have every right to be. Neither of us are here under false pretenses. We know what our parents hope for us.”
Cora stops walking, her hands stopping Stiles as well. “I think it would be best if we didn’t speak about that. I just mean, if you’re to choose between me and my brother you’re going to have to get to know us.”
“I’m aware—and I look forward to it.”
“My brother,” she continues. “He believes the choice given to be unnecessary, but only because I have always been graceful about our impending union. Should I voice displeasure he'd gladly take my place.”
Stiles blinks and tries not to feel hurt. “You speak as if I were a spear destined for your side.”
Cora holds her chin up, unapologetic. “As any imposed spouse is sure to be.”
He nods. “I can understand why you would feel that way. I—I can’t say I’m terribly excited about the idea of an arranged marriage. At least this way we have…time.”
She looks him up and down. “However I may act when my parents are present, I find little reason to favor you as a husband. I know you’re trying to make the best out of a complicated situation, but it would do you good not to pretend like you’re in love with me, or my brother for that matter.”
Stiles shoulders straighten out like a shield. “I don’t understand.”
“Your father will want to see you happy and that’s understandable. He loves you very much. But pretending will only make the situation worse—I’m asking for honesty.” She steps back, hands at her sides. “Would you marry me tomorrow?”
He’d like to think that he would, if his father asked him to, but he can’t help but answer honestly. “No.”
“Do you think me ugly?”
“Not at all.”
“And I’ve already presented myself to be a forceful personality.”
Stiles smirks. “Yes.”
“Given the choice at present moment would you choose myself or my brother?”
“Neither.” He grins. “I would marry Laura.”
Cora smiles, seemingly pleased. “But of your true choices?”
Stiles considers it for a moment. “You.”
She blinks. “You think me more beautiful than my brother?”
“I think you much less likely to stab me in my sleep. No, you would honor me with forward attack.”
“I’d like to say that you don’t have to choose the lesser of two evils, but it seems you do.” She looks over the shoulder, towards the door they’ve left from. “It’s not fair to either of us.”
“You’ll be staying here for a while,” Stiles tells her. “Perhaps it would be best if we just—wait and see. My parents fell in love, as did yours. I’m not saying we’re necessarily meant to be, but I think it’s hardly fair to judge a match based on less than a day of interaction.”
Her lips curl into a satisfied smile. “You’re right.” She takes his arm again. “We have time.”
Scott is the one who marches into his room to help him dress that morning, a rare and strange sight. He throws open the curtains and beckons in the young kitchen maid carrying his breakfast, and when they’re alone again, he grabs the pillow Stiles is holding over his head and whacks him with it.
“Wake up,” he says shortly. “The visiting prince is joining the knights at training today and your father and the foreign king are going to be watching.”
“Not my concern,” he mumbles, trying to bury himself in the sheets.
“Not your concern?” Scott thunders, effectively rousing Stiles from sleep and sending him three feet in the air. “Your possible consort tests his ability alongside your knights and you find it not your concern? It's embarrassing enough that you don't train with us—”
He huffs and objects, “I have an injury—”
Scott does not listen to his protests. “But, oh no, that isn't enough, you dismiss it altogether? Why not house the Queen in the dungeons or saddle a donkey for the princess?”
Stiles frowns. “That’s hardly fair.”
“It’s very fair.” He shoves Stiles towards the table. “Eat, I’ll go gather your things. And don’t exaggerate the injury, Stiles—my mother told me you were cleared to return to practice weeks ago.”
Stiles sticks his tongue out as Scott retreats. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy practicing with the knights, it’s just that few of them actually want to fight him. He’s still quite young compared to the rest of them and they go too easy on him, all but for Scott. Practicing just isn’t fun unless it’s with them, nor is it worthwhile. All the same, he supposes Scott is right. He has a responsibility.
Scott helps him into his chainmail and shoulder armor, and when they stride onto the practice grounds together, it’s to see a dozen other men crowded around the visiting prince, listening to him tell a story. They only approach to hear the final words. Derek is finishing off some joke, apparently, and the men laugh heartily, yet it only takes one of them to glance over and notice him before they set about pairing.
“Your men are easily entertained,” Derek says stiffly as they disperse.
“Newcomers are rare. They’ll be excited to fight with you.” He gestures to Scott. “This is Sir Scott McCall.”
Derek sticks out his hand and Scott shakes it after a moment of hesitation. “Derek Hale,” he says. “Nice to meet you.”
“And you as well, your highness.”
“I’m eager to see what you and the men of Cor can do.” He looks pointedly at Stiles. “I’ve heard you haven’t had much time to make it to training, your highness.”
Stiles refuses to blush. “An injury kept me away for a number of weeks, but I’m ready to return, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Derek echoes dryly. “Well then, shall we?”
They duel in brackets. As sons of kings they must earn their way to a duel head to head and Stiles' father worries. He worries because his son is a born and bred diplomat, good with his words and his mind but not especially so with a sword. Still he must admit that it's been ages since he's seen his son train and perhaps there are surprises in wait.
After a few dull skirmishes, the Hale boy bows his head as Melissa's son bows low. Beside him Melissa sits up with interest. “Scott has his reservations about the foreign prince.”
There are a few other women around, members of King Hale’s staff, and they’re seated beside her as well, but King Stilinski knows Melissa would be damned if she were banished with the others—she’ll sit beside her king just as he wants her to. “Scott is an intelligent young man,” he tells her. “Duels are tricky things, expositions of talent, but he’s aware that the prince may not reveal his skill until it’s too late.”
“That is your son?” King Hale asks her, looking over their host.
“Yes, your grace,” Melissa says. “My husband was a lord before he died.”
“I’m sorry to hear of his passing.”
“It was quite kind of the King to allow my son and I to stay in the Capitol.” She folds her hands in her lap. “The prince was very young at the time; I had the privilege of taking care of him.”
“I’m sure you’ve done a fine job.”
She smiles. “Hm, that remains to be seen.”
Scott and Derek's duel beings to a slow and measured start. They meet each other strike for strike, something that both frustrates and amuses the men. “I'm your last stand before my prince, your grace.”
“I do believe you are,” Derek says, nearly checking Scott's side.
“You must excuse me then,” Scott smirks with a mischievous glint to his eye, “if I put up a fight.”
“I would expect nothing less,” Derek informs him, blocking a blow easily. “In fact, I’d consider anything less an insult.”
“We wouldn’t want that.”
“Not very much, no.”
As time goes on, the duel is less of a playful, jaunting matter and more of a real competition. Derek is older, obviously has spent more time training, and larger, but Scott is faster, clearly better at thinking on his feet, and roguish—he almost wants to win, just to say he’s beat two princes in his lifetime.
But Stiles has proven himself. He is not the most skilled in movement and stance, but he is quick, the quickest. Disappearing like smoke from under the edge of each blade. His greatest advantage, of course, is how little the knights expect of him. Scott does not take lightly to underestimating of his prince, much less by a foreigner, but it might help Stiles win.
“We could dance forever,” Scott pants, “but I won't rob Stiles of the opportunity to see you at his feet.”
“Stiles,” Derek says, nearly losing his footing. “Such familiarity with your sovereign prince?”
“He was my best friend before I knew him as my prince.” He dodges a blow towards his shoulder and strikes back against part of Derek’s back covered with armor, nearly turning in a circle around him. “We grew up together, and he would tell you the same. One thing you will find no one tells you of him is that he treats his friends like any other citizen—even if he is a prince.”
Derek says nothing to nothing, but he’s focused, careful, and Scott sees an opening, a clear way towards victory—only to be dropped by a foot sweeping out against his legs. He falls, and there’s a sword pointed at his throat in an instant.
He smirks up at the prince, still breathing heavily. “It was an honor, your highness.”
Derek inclines his head. “Likewise, Sir McCall.”
Scott bounds over to Stiles and slaps him on the shoulder. “Tired him out for you.”
Stiles breathes out a nervous laugh. “Yeah, thanks for that.”
“No need to be afraid, your highness,” Derek says with a smirk. “Unless you think you can’t take me.”
The problem with all of the other knights had been their cockiness. They were too brazen and obvious, giving away their intentions too quickly and leaving themselves open for attack. Stiles is more subtle. Scott is almost certain of his victory, given Derek’s exhaustion and Stiles’ trickiness. It almost isn’t fair.
“I only have fear that the match will be over too quickly,” Stiles tells him with a smirk.
Scott doesn’t miss how Derek looks pleasantly surprised by his comment.
“Then let us begin and see it to an end.”
They bow to each other and take first positions when a boy bursts onto the training grounds, running from the castle, his face dirty and feet bare. “THE PRINCESS, THE PRINCESS, SHE'S FALLEN!”
Before anyone can gather their wits Scott is beside the boy taking his hands. “Fallen from where, Hemmy?”
“From the horse, the horse, she's bleeding from her leg!”
He glances back at the knights and Stiles and, most importantly, the pair of kings sitting and watching, and King Hale stands immediately, set to follow the boy. It’s Stiles, however, who manages to get there first and says, “Take us to her.”
When they arrive, running, Cora is in the grass, just on the edge of a bit of forest maybe a hundred yards from the stables, and she’s biting her lip and holding onto her sister’s hand as a stable boy stands frantic beside them.
When Scott and Stiles arrive, several others behind them, Scott goes to Laura, formalities be damned, and says, “Hold her head in your lap, princess.”
Stiles goes to the leg immediately. She’s in riding pants, tan and tight to her legs, and they’ve been sliced off just under the knee, no doubt from an unfortunate rock or fallen tree branch that had been in her way when she fell. “What happened?” Stiles asks, hand on her ankle.
“The horse scared,” Cora grits out. “Caught me unawares. I was stupid to be so careless.”
“It's alright,” Scott soothes. “It's just the shock of pain. You’re leg isn’t broken.”
Stiles cleans around the wound with a scrap of cloth handed to him by the stable boy. “That's right. Scott here is a medic's son, you can trust his word.”
“I'd trust the medic much more,” Laura says wearily.
“She's just gone for her bag, she'll be here in no time,” Scott says. He looks over his shoulder where Derek is standing stiffly, jaw set and shoulders tense. His father is standing beside him. “She’s quite alright,” Scott tells them. “Nothing a stitch or two and a bandage won’t fix. She’ll be good as new in no time at all.”
The King says nothing, choosing instead to gaze down at his daughter as if silently reprimanding her for foolishness, and looking every few seconds at how Stiles is tending to her wound carefully, wiping away blood and dirt.
Sure enough, it’s only an instant later that Scott’s mother comes bustling through, moving Stiles aside with a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you for keeping it elevated for me,” she tells him quickly. “Make sure you have the cloth washed—hold her foot steady for me, please.”
Melissa sets to work after the audience takes a few steps back and Cora is able to stand, balanced on her uninjured leg and with an arm over her sister's shoulder. She looks embarrassed in the way young men do, as if it makes her feel ill to admit a mistake. “I apologize for my silliness.”
“Highness, if I only recounted every time I've lost seat on my horse and bled all over, we'd be here until supper.” Stiles grins, and offers a hand. “Why don’t you rest until then instead?”
“I appreciate your kindness,” she says softly, and the way she looks at him—even if Stiles doesn’t see it—makes Scott think she’s more than telling the truth. He firmly believes that one of the best ways to a girl’s heart is through chivalry.
She takes his hand and, keeping her support in her sister, the three of them walk towards the castle. Cora’s father almost makes a move to follow, but Scott’s mother only stops him by saying, “You might give them a moment, your grace. To bond.”
He looks at her briefly and nods. “Of course.”
For the next few days the Kings and the Queen settled into the nearly certain knowledge that Cora and Stiles had taken to each other and would consent to their marriage before it became a pressing matter. There were no love-eyed gazes or secret smiles but the two seemed to enjoy conversation and found each other pleasant enough. It was a great deal more than could be said for Derek and Stiles who had barely exchanged words since their botched duel.
Laura, however, was not a strict believer in what others thought to be common knowledge, so she took it upon herself to find out if it was true, if Cora had begun to develop feelings, even if she hid them. She knew her sister. She wouldn’t put it past Cora to have suddenly sprouted a crush on the boy and, even though that would be marvelous, she was going to have to be honest about it.
“The prince and his friend Sir Scott are going riding this afternoon,” Laura says as she wanders around Cora’s room, fingers reaching for the bundle of grapes on the table. “I’m sure if you invited yourself along—”
“That won’t be necessary,” Cora tells her as her servant ties her into her dress. “I found the library yesterday and I wanted to spend some time exploring their collections.”
“To make yourself at home,” Laura ventured.
Cora raised an eyebrow. “No. To pass the time. The place grows dull.”
“Father thinks you and the prince have come to an agreement soon to be made known,” she says plainly.
Cora shrugs. “Father is mistaken. He does not stir my heart in the least.”
Laura laughs. “And what do you know of heart stirrings, sister?”
Cora's shoulders tense and she clears her throat. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
It’s clear in nearly an instant, the way Cora flushes and avoids Laura’s gaze, the way she busies herself with her hair and excuses the servant from the room. Laura is quiet until the woman is gone and then she finds herself next to her sister, smiling at her in the mirror.
“Your heart is stirred. But not by the prince.”
“Oh, tell me who, please?” She grins, overwhelmed at the idea of her sister in love. It’s almost tragic, she knows, but she can’t help but be curious. “Please, I won’t tell a soul. Is it a knight?” Cora is silent. “Sir Scott, perhaps? He’s of noble blood, a fine match, and Derek would—”
“Nothing can come of it,” she says quietly. “You were right when you said Prince Stiles would make a decent husband and he will. I can’t afford to—to fall in love.”
“Nonsense,” Laura whispers. “You deserve so. Derek—Derek has loved already.”
“Treachery and deceit were not love and you are unfair to say so,” Cora says flatly.
Laura inclines her head. “You're right. I'm sorry. But the point stands that Derek holds no sweetheart; he is free to follow duty before heart.”
“That doesn’t mean it would be fair to make him do so.”
“Both of us know—the whole family knows—that it’s not a matter of who the prince chooses, but which one of you will make the sacrifice for the family.” She sighs, hand on her sister’s leg. “It’s not much of a sacrifice, I’d be inclined to say, considering his family and his kindness, but then again, I’m not the one who has to marry him. Cora, if you—there’s someone, I know there is.”
“Of course there is,” she nearly spits, “but it doesn’t matter. He—he’s back home.”
Laura is taken by surprise. “And yet you came?”
“It is my duty, Laura,” she all but shouts, “not Derek's. I was born to this land, named after it and promised to this kind, silly prince when he was but a year old. It is known across our land and this one. It is known to me and to the one who holds my heart. You may command our warriors and Derek may command the common peers but I command no one, not even my life, all the power I have is in doing this. Securing peace and strength. I'm good for nothing else.”
Laura bites her tongue, looking into the mirror in front of them. It’s been so long, she thinks, since her sister was a girl. She’s a politician now, has been for years, and it’s upsetting, unfair. She stands, exhaling slowly through her nose as she wanders back towards the table. “I don’t know what to say to you.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” Cora says quietly. “When it’s time for the prince to propose, he’ll do so, and I’ll say yes. I might never come home—Isaac and I have already said our goodbyes.” There’s color to her cheeks, and Laura closes her eyes for a moment.
“Sir Isaac Lahey. The knight. One of father’s most trusted advisors and friends.”
“He’s only a few years older than I am,” Cora tells her. “Don’t say it like it’s a crime.”
“We did think it odd he did not already have a betrothed.”
“We had what we could,” Cora says softly. Laura raises an eyebrow and Cora glares. “There were no indiscretions.” She sits up a bit straighter, touching her hair again. “I’m sure he’ll marry while I’m here.”
“You can’t know for certain. Many knights never get married.”
“The sons of lords,” she laughs, “never married?”
“Yes, when those sons are third or fourth or fifth in line for their father’s house—it happens, Cora.” She lays a hand on her sister shoulder. “Don’t make any assumptions until you know the facts. I’d like to be able to tell you that you’ll leave here unwed, but you know I can’t make promises like that. Not to you.”
“Derek would marry him without complaint. He's but waiting on my word.”
“And only duty holds you back?”
“Only duty she says,” Cora scoffs. “As if it were a small thing.”
“I guess that makes this all the more difficult,” Laura says with a sigh.
“Choosing which duty is more important. Your duty to your family or your duty to your heart.”
Stiles leans heavily against the wall under the vent that leads into Cora’s room, closing his eyes. He’d come to invite her to go riding with him and Scott and had arrived in the hall just in time to hear that her heart had been captured by another.
He finds it unsurprising, of course, as he does Laura’s reaction and her further conversation with Cora about duty and love and Derek’s willingness to take her place. Still, it’s like a lead weight has settled in his stomach, and he leaves the hall quickly, trying to sort everything he’s just heard into his head.
Laura had said that his choice wasn’t even going to be a choice, that in the end it would be whether or not Cora could follow through. Stiles hadn’t seen that, not really, but now he can, looking back. They’ve been cordial to each other, polite, but never anything more. Stiles has more feelings for Laura than he does for her sister—and he has no desire to marry either one of them. That said, however, he doubts he would be miserable with Cora. She’s beautiful and she knows what she wants. He could grow to love her, maybe, given time.
He realizes now, though, that what he could grow to feel means nothing. The only thing that matters is that Cora is not miserable with him. If she would resent him, if she would hate him and his land because it had torn her away from something she truly loved, it wouldn’t be fair to either of them. And although Stiles doesn’t think Cora to be a petulant person, he knows she’s not really as strong as she may pretend to be.
So there’s his choice left to contend with. He knows Cora would bring him children, would be a fair ruler and good mother (if her own is any evidence), but also knows that it’s unlikely Cora would be happy here. Derek—Derek has expressed little to no emotion, probably because he’s fairly certain that he will leave the castle and the land without a husband, yet the only things he’s seen in Derek are competitiveness and a heart big enough to hold his sisters very dear. Maybe if the tables were turned, he would see worse things.
In the end, Stiles figures, it’s not really his choice. Laura was right. When it comes to it, it’s Cora choice. He’s glad he doesn’t have her job.
Preparing to leave for Peritia is not quite as involved as it might seem. The Capitol is very close to the border between their two lands, no more than a ten day journey, if that, and although they’ll travel along the border of the forest for the most of it, it will be an enjoyable trip, Stiles is sure.
“Remember,” his father tells him with a hand on his shoulder, “you’re a prince, not a warrior. I wouldn’t see you in the arena next week.”
Stiles nods. “Our knights will represent us just fine.”
“I’m sure they are a very skilled group of men,” another voice says, and both of them turn to see Laura standing in the door of the dining hall, dressed finely with her hair tied up and her lips painted. “Good evening, your grace,” she greets Stiles’ father, “and my prince, you look worn at the late hour.”
“Preparing for the journey at the end of the week,” Stiles informs her. “I imagine it won’t be very enjoyable, getting right back into coaches when it feels like you’ve just stepped off them.”
“On the contrary, my sister and I are looking forward to the journey—we’ve heard of the beauty of Peritia, but it no doubt falls short compared to Cor.”
The King chuckles. “You flatter us, Princess. If you will excuse an old man, it is time to me to take leave to my bed.” He makes a last glance at Stiles, nodding shortly, and leaves the hall just as several servants finish clearing the table and exit as well.
Laura smiles. “I’m looking forward to the tournament. It’s rare we have a real one in Ignis—playful exhibitions of bouts and matches, the occasional joust, but real fighting will be exciting, I’m sure.”
“I hope you enjoy them.”
She offers her arm. “Will you accompany me back to my room?”
“I’d be delighted.”
They walk in silence for most of the way, Stiles’ shoes the only things making noise in the dim halls, but even those fall away eventually in favor of near silence and the soft licking of flames into air from torches.
“Your hospitality is overwhelming, your highness,” Laura says when they reach the hall.
“I assure you,” Stiles responds with a smirk, “it’s not.”
“Cora informed me that you’ve been very kind to her, as I was sure you would be, and since she would never thank you for that, I must.”
She holds up a hand. “Please. None of us were sure what we find when we came here. Cora is lucky that you’re as kind as you are and it’s nothing short of wonderful.” She ducks in to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank you,” she says softly, and then she’s disappeared into her room.
Stiles isn’t sure why, but it feels like a large animal is sitting on his chest. He lifts his fingertips to touch his cheek and sighs, guilt swelling like a balloon in his stomach. Kind, yes, he supposes. But there’s no doubt that the princess could do better.
“Good evening, your highness,” Stiles says as he notices Derek coming down the hall towards his room. It’s dark, a few flames lighting the hall weakly, but he doesn’t miss how Derek stutters in his steps.
“Same to you,” Derek greets him. “Waiting for my sister?”
“I’ve actually just accompanied Laura to her room, but…” He gestures at the closed door. “My work is finished.”
“It’s quite late.”
“It is.” He makes a short bow. “I won’t keep you. Sleep well.”
“Wait a moment,” Derek says and then seems to regret the decision immediately.
“I—we haven't spoken much. Even if—we might be brothers,” Derek concludes, as if that were his intended point all along.
Stiles nods. “No, we haven’t. Would you like to?”
“I just assume, if you’re going to marry my sister, we should probably…” He looks lost for words. With a sigh, he shifts his weight and drags a hand through his hair. “I know I haven’t been the most gracious guest.”
“I didn’t expect anything,” Stiles tells him. “It’s a difficult situation to come into.”
Derek shakes his head. “It's nothing unexpected. Cora will—”
“You seem quite certain she is my choice. Is that why you've no qualms about speaking to me now?”
Derek almost smiles, the corner of his mouth tilting upwards. “I had few qualms before. I simply happen to be a quiet person.”
“Somehow, knowing your family, I find that fairly hard to believe.”
“My sisters are—chatty,” he settles on, smirking. He takes a small step forward to close part of the gap between them that stretches several feet. “I prefer to think of things before they leave my mouth.”
Stiles’ gaze drops to said mouth before he forces it back to Derek’s eyes.
“Do you take wine? I notice you're not fond of it at supper,” Stiles says, falling to step beside Derek as the other man motions to follow.
“Not unless the occasion strictly calls for it.” They continue down the hall towards Derek’s room, right at the end where the stairs slope off towards the garden, and Stiles stares out at the darkness for a moment before Derek’s hand comes onto his elbow. “I have some, though, if you wanted.”
Stiles smirks. “Eager to continue my company, your highness?”
Derek copies his expression. “If only to learn your battle secrets. Wine looses tongue, I’ve heard—and seen, on occasion. It would’ve been interesting to finish our match.”
“Perhaps we'll get the chance,” Stiles says as he enters the guest room. “At the Argent tournament?”
Derek frowns and shakes his head. “There's a place where I'll likely take wine.”
Stiles shrugs. “Just as well—it’s unlikely my father will wish me to compete anyway. It’ll spare us both from embarrassment.”
“I understand your embarrassment,” Derek says as he grabs for the pitcher and a cup, “at losing by my hand, but where would mine come from?”
“That confident?” Stiles asks.
Derek nods. “I don’t doubt your skill, your highness—I watched you fight your men that morning, I’ve seen your abilities. I just wonder if they’re not quite as elevated as mine.”
“An interesting theory.”
“Only a match will bring the answer to light,” Derek concedes.
“I'm sure we'll find the opportunity. Tell me,” he says, taking a drink. “If your sister does accept me as her husband, would you be pleased for her fortune or yours?”
Derek sets down the pitcher and moves further into the room, removing his vest and setting it over a chair. “I don’t believe that’s a fair question. If she finds happiness in your kingdom, by your side, of course I’ll be pleased for her.”
“And relieved, I imagine.”
Derek turns, arms crossed over his chest. “Would you be?”
Stiles’ mouth feels dry. He takes another sip of wine and finds the cup empty when he’s finished. “There is no dread but to be married to one unwilling. Your sister is genuine and just, not bothered by stuffy propriety when it comes to speaking truth. You're more of a mystery, though you stand a prince out of a child's tale, beloved by those under your care I have reliably heard. The pair of you are beautiful. I would stand pale and awkward beside either. The only relief would be that the one who walks away from my kingdom unwed would have been miserable otherwise.”
“And you believe that to be me.”
Stiles sets down the cup. “I believe it to be one of you. I just haven’t figured out which.”
Derek reaches for the cup again just before Stiles reaches out to stop him and the second their hands touch, they both look up at each other, unmoving. Stiles almost moves away, is just about to jerk away and head to the door, apologies on his lips, when something else is on them instead.
Derek is kissing him, hand on his cheek, body a few mere inches away from coming into contact with his, and it’s… It’s indescribable. Shocking. Confusing. And wonderful, actually, the way he touches Stiles face and parts Stiles’ lips with his own, his tongue chasing the taste of wine in Stiles’ mouth, his technique simple and effective.
When their lips part Stiles is left breathless. It takes a moment before Derek even moves an inch back.
Stiles licks his lips, the taste of the other man still upon them. “You toy with me.”
“That is not my intent.”
“You wish me to choose you to marry me.”
“I cannot presume such a thing.”
“Then my first instinct is correct and you toy with me. Your sister shows no affection but her intent is genuine and her struggle understood. Yet here you stand a wildcard. Do you wish to lure my honorable intentions away from your sister?”
“You wonder too much what it is I wish,” Derek whispers, lips hovering on top of his again.
Stiles’ breath is trapped in his throat. “Perhaps I do.”
“You should be returning to your chambers.”
Stiles pushes forward and kisses him again, hand on his shirt. “I hope you know I’m very confused.”
“It’s really not that complicated. You’re thinking too much on the situation.” Derek brushes his lips against Stiles’. “I would see you to bed, your highness, and sleep.”
“I’m younger than you are and it is not so late.”
“Then I would see myself.” Derek squeezes Stiles’ shoulder. “Goodnight.”
Stiles catches his hand with the lightning speed that Derek had so admired in his dueling. He tugs with unexpected force and wraps his other hand around the back of Derek's head, fingers immersed in his dark hair, pulling him in for a kiss wrapped in passion and a muddled head. Derek does not know what he’s started or why, he knows only that his sister does not love this man nor does he love her. He knows only that he had sat before him with his teasing smirk and his playful eyes and Derek had wanted him in a way he was sure he could never have.
He’s starting to reevaluate, now, with Stiles pressing for more, pulling his body close and kissing him like he’s dying for it. It’s not a hardship, leaning into it and giving back as much as is taken from him, letting his hands rest on Stiles’ neck and shoulders and torso. Derek wants—he wants Stiles in a way that makes him so angry with himself, angry at the idea of an arranged marriage, upset with himself for twisting his way into Stiles’ space, close enough for this to occur, and it goes against everything Derek believes in.
This is supposed to be his sister’s future husband. Supposedly. And Derek has felt himself growing more and more attached and intrigued and mystified by the ridiculous boy before him and he can’t help himself.
He thinks he should probably feel more shame than he actually does. This is a man he’s not supposed to have feelings for; this is a man who’s supposed to be courting his sister; ultimately, this is a man he’s not going to get to have, no matter how much he wants him. And that wanting is what makes it so hard—why does he want, how does he want, how much time does he have to want? And now, having Stiles like this, will that make the want go away?
Derek hadn’t been lying when he said that situation wasn’t as complicated as Stiles thought to be. But just because Stiles assumes Derek’s mouth on his is meant to be some kind of trick, a test of Stiles’ loyalty or passion or something like that, it doesn’t mean that the emotions involved aren’t complicated.
Stiles’ arms are wrapped around his shoulders, fingers in his hair, body pressed close, hiding nothing, and Derek groans into his mouth, pressing him up against the wardrobe that stands near, so that they’re even closer together.
“I feel I should ask your intentions,” Stiles whispers into his mouth.
“I have none.”
Stiles pulls back, startled. “You have none?”
Derek shakes his head.
Stiles takes a step away and takes a deep breath. “If you do not test my virtue, a test which I have most magnificently failed, then you must hold some affection for me.”
Stiles feels angry and ashamed, he cannot begin to imagine what is happening in that man's head or what happened in his when he decided kissing him was a good idea. “Obviously not. I apologize for my behavior,” he bites out, more enraged than apologetic. “I will make amends with your sister for my indiscretion. I would not have done such a thing were we truly betrothed.”
Derek looks lost for a moment. “Stiles—”
“Further conversation,” he says lowly and hurriedly, “is unnecessary.”
“I don’t mean to say that I don’t feel—”
“It doesn’t matter,” Stiles insists, and then he’s sliding away, out from under Derek body, and towards the door. He can feel Derek’s eyes on him but he doesn’t turn back, just leaves and closes the door firmly behind him.
He stands there for a moment, in the hall, breathing. He lifts a hand to wipe at his mouth and then carries on, towards the long corridor that leads towards his own chambers, and blinks away hot, furious tears, ashamed of himself.
He calls Scott to him first thing in the morning and tells him what happened.
“Scott, he didn’t force himself on me.”
“He tricked you!”
“There was nothing to understand! He either tested you or wanted you, if he enjoyed it half as much as you say he did, then his intentions were clear and not noble in the least.”
“I'm not a wilting flower.”
“Damn right you aren't; grab your sword, you deserve satisfaction.”
That makes Stiles laugh himself right out of bed.
“Scott, really,” he says through gasping breaths. “I only wanted your opinion.”
“That is my opinion!”
“On the matter of telling Cora,” Stiles finishes seriously.
Scott huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “You’ve said she doesn’t love you.”
“Then I doubt you telling her would make any difference. If it would soothe your conscience, you might, but I imagine…” He hesitates, looking off at a spot somewhere in Stiles’ room. “I imagine that the situation is delicate. For all parties involved.”
Stiles nods, plucking at his sheets. “So I shouldn’t tell her, you think.”
“I think it would be unnecessary. Even if you were to marry her, it would come to nothing—her brother would return to Ignis and it is doubtful he’d share the experience with her. He’s a toad,” Scott finishes with a scowl.
Stiles just laughs.
Stiles is oddly quiet at dinner. He knows this because his father keeps stealing worried glances in his direction. He waits until the plates are carried off and they wait for dessert, when all conversations are light and murmured and Scott, who’s seated across from some other knights, gives him a nod of encouragement. He clears his throat and stands. “I would like to address something of pressing concern.”
He looks over at his father, who looks past the verge of panic and nearly smiles. His father does know him well, able to tell instantly when he's about to cause trouble.
“Your majesties,” he says, addressing the visiting monarchs, “your visit thus far has been an honor and a pleasure. I've gotten to know your family as best I've could and thought with great care about the choice I must make.”
He glances over at Derek and Cora. Derek looks tense, a fork all but bent in his grasp, while Cora looks a pale, almost greenish color.
“In getting to know your gracious daughter and noble son it has become clear that it is not a fair choice for me to make. Nothing in the world makes me more capable of wise counsel than either of them. It would be a cruel and capricious act to subj—to choose so arbitrarily between the two, and time presses an issue.”
Cora looks up now, confused and with a slight glint in her eye. Derek does not look up at all. Everyone else at the table watches him with concern.
“I am ever grateful to have been afforded a choice, but I would much prefer to be afforded a spouse who chooses their place at my side of their own will. I will be the happiest ruler of any of our kingdoms with either of them beside me. I would leave the choice up to them.”
He notices how the two look at each other, both of them silently questioning the other’s actions, silently accusing the other of it having to come to this, but Stiles has said his piece and so he simply sits back down, ignoring the way his father’s gaze follows him like a lead weight.
“That’s…an interesting decision,” the foreign king says slowly, looking to his wife.
“It’s the only decision I’m capable of making, your grace,” Stiles tells him. “I don’t know their thoughts and I can only learn by their actions”—he pointedly does not look at Derek, though Scott does it for him—”and what I’ve learned is that it wouldn’t be fair for me to close my eyes and point. It’s their decision.”
There is a tense silence for only part of a minute before the Queen raises her cup. “You will make the finest of kings someday, one who knows the limits of his wisdom and cares for the hearts of others.”
“I thank you for the compliment.”
Derek is already storming towards his room when his mother catches his wrist and he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder and see Cora’s face to know that she’s been captured as well.
“In here,” Talia hisses, shoving open the door to her quarters and pushing them inside. “Now.”
When the door is closed behind her, she crosses her arms over his chest and Derek looks away, feeling a blush climb up his face.
“Would either of you like to inform me just what that little speech was about?” Her eyes are hard, jaw set.
Derek looks over at Cora, expecting her to be the picture of coolness, yet instead he finds the opposite. Her back is hunched, her shoulders weary, her eyes wet, and her hand is pressed to her mouth. “He knows,” she says quietly, letting her eyes fall closed.
Her mother tilts her head in a prompt to continue and Cora wipes at her eyes. “It is my fault. He knows I cannot love him.”
“Did you tell him as much?” their mother asks. “Could you have been so rushed of thought and harsh of word?”
“I was not rushed of thought,” Cora says firmly. “I've known it for years, I cannot love him.”
She’s saved from further questions by Derek, who stands stone still at her side. “The fault is mine. I have confused him beyond reason, contradicted action with word and given no hint to my thoughts.”
Talia lifts her hands. “I know you were both unhappy about the arrangement when we left, but to sabotage—”
“We wouldn’t,” Derek insists. “Not on purpose. Cora is obviously upset—it isn’t fair to accuse us of turning him away! You know we never wanted this!”
“He’s being gracious, Derek!” his mother nearly shouts. “If you assume for a second that he’s any different than you are, you’ve made a fool of yourself.” That shuts them both up, not least of all because they'd heard this from Laura as well. “Do you know why the prince has to marry one of you?”
“Because it's what's best for our—” Cora begins only to be interrupted by her mother's glare.
“It is because his mother is dead,” Talia says, making the other two look down at their feet. “He is the heir to the throne and only child because his mother is dead, he lost her as a boy, and that leaves no brothers or sisters to form connections with other kingdoms with freedom and own will. There are no choices because he is alone.” She exhales heavily. “I’ve never been ashamed of my children, not once. But right now—leave me,” she says softly, gesturing towards the door. “And spend the night thinking about your actions. Apologies will be due to the prince when we leave for Peritia in the morning.”
Derek’s heart is heavy in his chest, his eyes downcast. He says, “Yes, Mother,” at the same time Cora does and they both leave her room, ignoring Laura’s presence outside in favor of finding their own chambers.
As soon as Derek closes the door, he grabs the pitcher of wine left on the table in front of the wardrobe and pours a glass. He finishes it in a few gulps and begins undressing, his head pounding unfavorably. Another cup full and emptied as he strips and throws his clothes towards the bags his servants have packed for their journey—his tongue feels heavy and his throat feels dry.
Cora, he imagines, is in her room, no doubt with Laura there, an unwelcome but necessary presence. Cora will be crying, upset at having angered their mother, upset with herself for neglecting what she perceives to be her duty.
Derek finds himself under the covers, mouth sticky with sweet wine and stomach churning. It’s unfair, he knows, and hopeless. And he has no idea what he’s going to do about it.
He knows that he cannot sleep with worry and guilt turning in his mind and he leaves his rooms without so much as a nightshirt, pulling a robe over his shoulders as he walks out the door. There are guards outside the prince's chambers as he should have known. Yet short of carrying blades and intent on attack they cannot judge or bar his way. He feels their sideways glances as he strides in without so much as a knock.
Stiles jumps up, startled, the book on his lap clattering to the floor and the shadows cast by candlelight dancing on his face. “What on earth?”
“We must speak,” Derek says, and recognizes that his mind is impaired by wine though his thoughts are clear.
Stiles hesitates for a moment, but he stands from his bed. He’s wearing night clothes, perfectly covered, but Derek can’t help but rake his eyes up Stiles’ body.
“Cora can’t marry you,” he says shortly.
“Has she sent you as her messenger?”
“Nobody has sent me,” he nearly spits. He swallows tightly, hands clenched into fists. “I—it’s difficult to explain what I… The things I said to you…”
“I thought we were talking about Cora.”
“Cora can't marry you and I won't—”
Stiles laughs, bitter and low. “Well that settles it then. I'll just gift the kingdom in a basket to my cousin Earl Greenberg to rule in his mighty wisdom. The man cannot saddle his own horse, by the way. But the future of my people be damned, you know, for I am not pretty nor clever enough for any of the Hales.”
“Dammit, you make assumptions too quickly,” Derek barks. “Just as you did the other night in my room.”
That makes Stiles puff like a proud bird, anger clear in his eyes. “I see what you show me and I hear what you tell me. I do not misunderstand, I only absorb the little information I’m given.”
“You hasten to judgment.”
“You give me reason to.”
Throughout their argument they’ve stepped closer and closer and Stiles glances down at Derek’s chest. Derek knows he’s fit and he almost preens with the silent praise of Stiles’ lingering gaze, but instead he simply huffs and pulls his robe further closed.
“I do not know my own mind,” Derek hisses. “Can you claim to have never felt that way?”
“I cannot,” Stiles says angrily, “but I can claim to have never tortured another soul in such a way. You feel so indignant do you not, to have been brought here for me to pick or not pick. You feel you are so much better than that, well have at it. You choose. Even so you will never know how it felt to ask to pick whomever hated you less to spend the rest of your days with. When you and your sister arrived, and even before then, I swore to myself that I would have no other desire in the world but to love the one I married as she or he deserved. But now you're here and I realize that neither of you will ever think that way, neither of you will try to love me or care for me at all. And so I am damned to share a bed and a life without an inch of affection and do you know what? I do not know my own mind in this matter at all. But never did it cross my mind to torture you or Cora because it was so.”
Derek feels like he can’t breathe. His chest is tight, his body stiff, and he bites on the inside of his mouth to keep himself from bursting out with things he doesn’t mean. “There are things that I don’t know how to say,” he tells Stiles calmly. “But I—I understand the pressure from your father—your kingdom, your role. And I know neither of us has eased anything.”
“You’re correct. You haven’t.”
“I only wish to convey regret.” He swallows tightly, taking a step back, his eyes falling to the floor. “I have mind to tell you—I know what will happen.” He looks up again. “It isn’t fair for Cora to stay here, no matter the birthright and the assumptions. And I—you assume me unwilling to take her place.”
“I assume you unwilling; I do not assume that will keep you from it,” Stiles says, taking a seat at the edge of the bed. “I know your love of your sisters is boundless.”
Stiles nods and looks off to the side then. “I hope then that I will not make your existence too miserable, your grace.”
Stiles refuses to look at him. “I trust you'll give word of your choice to your mother. I will not hold you to it until then.”
Derek doesn't answer him.
Stiles licks his lips and picks at his sheets, his voice small. “Do you think you will always hate me?”
Derek breathes in slowly. “I do not hate you. I think you know that.”
“Hatred and attraction and not mutually exclusive states of emotions,” Stiles informs him with a humorless laugh.
“You’re only eighteen,” Derek says. “Your view of the world is a lot more…condensed than mine.”
Stiles looks up at him again, seemingly lost for words.
“I’ll leave to your sleep.” Derek does a half attempt at a bow, feeling the alcohol settle in his veins. “I apologize for disturbing you.”
Stiles nods once again, looking dejected and sad. Derek isn't in a perfectly sober state of mind but he knows that the prospect of marriage should not look so very sad. He leans in close and presses his lips to the corner of the other man's mouth.
Stiles jerks backwards at the beginning but when Derek meets his eyes, he looks surprised. And then he pushes into a kiss, full on, hand on Derek’s jaw.
“At least we know of our compatibility in this aspect,” Stiles whispers.
“I beg of you,” Derek murmurs back, “do not make assumptions about what I feel. Just because I don’t say things—just because I do not understand doesn’t mean the worst. I am far from miserable with my decision.”
Stiles nods like he understands, but Derek knows he doesn’t.
Stiles watches him leave and curls into his bed. Derek was drunk at least in part. Come morning he might regret his choice or take it back, Stiles expects nothing less. His future is still uncertain. He hums to himself an old song for a sleepless child and tries to push all thoughts out of his mind, but the heat and jolt of Derek's lips against his skin keep him up the rest of the night.
The Kings and Queen Talia will ride in one coach, Laura and Cora in another, and finally, Stiles and Derek in the last. When Stiles hears of this upon morning he knows Derek must have made his decision known to his mother. They’ll want the two of them together as often as possible.
The rest of the knights, those competing, will ride alongside the coaches on their horses, and Stiles is immediately jealous of Scott as he packs his bag away on top of the coach and swings himself onto a beautiful chestnut horse. Stiles pets along the horse’s neck and glares up at his friend.
“I hate sitting in coaches,” he grumbles.
“I’ll stay by your side,” Scott tells him. “Perhaps a codeword to shout if the toad touches you again?”
Stiles smirks. “That toad is going to be my husband by the end of this month, Scott. And your future king.”
“You're my king,” Scott says seriously. “No matter who you marry.”
Stiles shoves at his leg. “So you'll take my place inside the coach and let me ride instead?”
Scott laughs. “Not a chance. But I'll keep pace and we can talk through your window.”
“Stiles!” Laura calls from her place at the next coach, lifting her hand in a wave. Stiles waves back and turns towards Scott again.
“Your loyalty is unending.”
As he makes his way towards Laura, he notices Cora is already seated, mouth closed and hands folded in her lap.
“Good morning, your highness,” Laura greets him. “I trust you slept well.”
“Decently enough, Princess.” He nods at Cora. “Good morning to both of you—do you find your method of transportation suitable?”
“It will do us just fine,” Laura laughs. “More leg room now with our darling brother inhabiting other whereabouts.”
Stiles makes sure his smile does not fall. “I hope you’ll be very comfortable. The journey to Peritia is bound to be beautiful—I’ve made it a few times myself. And arrival will be even more splendid. The Princess and her father are gracious hosts; you will want for nothing inside their walls.”
“No different from Cor, then.” Laura smiles beautifully at Stiles, hand on his shoulder. “I do believe we’ll be getting underway soon. A hand?”
He offers one, which she takes, and helps her into the carriage, closing the door behind her.
When he turns to go back towards his own, he sees Derek is there, strapping bags to the roof. “Good morning, your highness,” Stiles says.
Derek looks down. “I think it would do you well to learn to call me by my name, otherwise there will be too many titles thrown around and neither of us will know what to say.”
“Derek,” Stiles corrects himself. “Good morning.”
He smirks. “And yourself.”
“Your sister would not lift gaze at me just now,” Stiles notes.
“She's embarrassed,” Derek says with a shrug. “It will pass when the truth of her freedom settles in her mind.”
Stiles tries to not take that as insult but he knows that Derek feels he's all but shackled himself in his sister's place. “I hope to see her smiling soon.”
He gets into the carriage without another word and if he slams the door shut, well, he can afford a little petulance every so often.
There are calls from the knights at the front about moving out, making sure everyone is settled, and it’s an instant later that Derek lifts himself into the coach, closing the door carefully behind him. Stiles glances out the window at where Scott is settled into place next to them, perched high on his horse.
“Ready,” he calls in response to the cry from the front.
And then they’re moving.
Things are silent between them for a long moment, both of them on either side of the carriage. Eventually, Derek props his legs up, his feet resting beside Stiles, and leans back, closing his eyes.
“Your medic,” Derek says groggily, “made me an interesting tonic this morning.”
Stiles smirks. “She makes it disgusting on purpose, a punishment for drinking.”
“So you’ve had it?”
“Last year, Scott and I entered a challenge with many other knights, see who could hold their drink.” He pauses and shifts to imitate Derek’s position, his feet up near Derek’s hip. “Neither of us won, but it was entertaining. Not as much so in the morning.”
“No, it never is,” Derek says, eyes still closed.
Stiles taps at his own leg for a while. “Do you take to drink when you're upset?”
“As every man does,” Derek mumbles.
“So last night,” Stiles concludes, “you were upset.”
“Not with you, as I’m sure you’ve decided.” Derek opens his eyes for a second, judgmental and calm, and closes them again. “My taking to drink was not based off of your decision, but of my own.”
“I find your words confusing.”
“I imagine you would.” Derek clears his throat, settling in again against the unyielding wood of the carriage. “There will be times we rest on our journey, see the horses fed and whatnot, and I have no doubt the knights will need something to distract themselves. Maybe we’ll have our match sooner than we think.”
Stiles snorts out a laugh. “You do not wish to make your meaning plain but you wish for us to duel? What an interesting marriage we shall have.”
“I don't doubt it,” Derek sighs. “But truly I wish to have a match before making myself scarce during the tournament.”
Stiles blinks. “Why would you do such a thing?”
Derek opens his eyes once more and gives him a measured look. “The Argents are no friends of mine.”
“I didn’t know you knew them.”
“Our relationship is complicated. I’m sure King Christopher has as little desire to see me as I do him.”
Stiles sits up straighter, pulling his legs back. “I was under the impression you had never left Ignis.”
“I haven’t.” He looks out the window, hands tightly wound together against his stomach. “Not before this.”
“So how do you—”
“It’s a story I’m sure you’ll hear one day,” Derek interrupts, turning back to look at him, “but not today. And not from me.”
Stiles is quiet after that, although the weight of his curiosity makes his head unable to think about much else, but eventually Derek falls asleep, and Stiles finds himself in a similar position, lured to unconsciousness by his lack of rest the night before and the easy rocking of the carriage.
It’s dark when they take their rest for the evening, the sun gone and the moon inching its way ever higher in the sky. Stiles is sitting with Scott and a few other knights taking food and drink, but he can’t help but look over at the other end of the fire where Derek sits with his sisters.
Cora is seated stiffly beside him, quiet and contemplative, but Laura is as cheerful as ever, engaging him and teasing him, and Stiles can hear her laughter but not much else.
That’s the way it goes, mostly, for days. He and Derek have casual conversation, occasional banter, in their carriage, and they eat separately. Scott and his horse trot alongside them, quiet in his companionship, and eventually, two days before they’re set to arrive, he falls away, and no knights ride by their coach for the entire day.
It’s the night before they’re set to arrive when Stiles looks at Derek across the fire again. This time, Cora is smiling and engaged, Laura is leaning her head against Derek’s shoulder with her eyes closed, most likely already half asleep, and Scott is next to him, eating silently.
“You’re falling for him, aren’t you?” Scott asks.
Stiles shrugs. “He’s…easy to talk to.”
“So it's not hopeless, you'll love him soon enough.”
“I'm sure I will,” Stiles mumbles. “I can't say the same for him.”
“You get along well, why wouldn't he?”
“I don't know. There's something closed off about him. Something he hasn't told me yet.” Stiles huffs out a breath and stands, wiping his hands off.
“Going to sleep?” Scott asks.
“Not yet.” He walks, instead, over to the other side of the fire and meets only Derek’s eyes. “I was wondering if you would take a walk with me.”
Derek looks surprised. For a moment he doesn’t speak and then Laura elbows him. He arches an eyebrow at her.
“Go,” Laura hisses.
It’s quiet, the night still as they stroll around the coaches and past where the horses are resting. They won’t go far, just far enough, and it’s maybe three minutes of silent walking when Derek says, “My sisters are very pleased with our journey so far—they think you’re going to propose.”
Stiles smiles despite himself. “I will. I mean, formally, before the court upon our return. I…” He clears his throat. “I just wanted to…” He sighs again and turns towards the line of trees they’re come across. “I think maybe I’ve known the whole time that it wouldn’t be Cora,” he says softly. “I always felt the barrier of inevitability weighing down upon us—I wasn’t very comfortable with her.”
“And you are with me?”
“No. You confuse me and scare me half the time,” he confesses, “but I can be. I will be. I enjoy your company.”
“You enjoy my company as I confuse and scare you?”
“Yes.” Stiles smiles. “I've a complicated mind.”
“I understand the feeling.” Derek stops walking, hands at his sides. “You haven’t asked me about the Argents.”
Stiles shrugs. “You were fairly clear on the matter.”
“I… I would like to tell you. Now. If you wouldn’t mind hearing it.”
Stiles simply nods, and he watches as Derek takes another few steps forward, coming to lean against the trunk of a tree.
“I was 15 when Lady Katherine Argent came to Ignis,” he says calmly. “She was the King’s sister, a beautiful woman, and my parents had invited her as an ambassador for Peritia. She…” He looks towards the darkness of the forest. “She captivated me very quickly. She was distracting and persistent, always around, wherever I was. I fell in love with her before I could even catch my breath and I was—very young.”
Stiles frowns but nods for him to continue.
“I had thoughts of virtue and honor and love and—she wasn't the only one to laugh at me, my family thought my naive infatuation to be laughable as well. But it was her mockery that wounded me. She thought me a pretty child and a toy. I thought I would marry her.” He holds up a hand. “Don’t misunderstand me, I was hardly mature enough to know what I wanted, let alone see what she was doing to me—using me for. I didn’t know what love was, but I learned soon enough that it wasn’t anything I wanted with her. She used my obsession with her against me and my family. She was a cruel, vindictive person and she broke more than my heart during her stay in my country.”
“She tried to kill my family, Stiles,” Derek says quickly, like it pains him, and it probably does. “She sought out rebels and attempted to bribe our knights to fight against us—she had no reason to. It was only luck and loyalty that saved us. We sent her back to her native land, fearing war if we executed her, and heard nothing of her since.”
“I've heard sparse words about her,” Stiles says quietly. “She is not beloved by subjects or her own family. I hear she travels as she's not welcome in the King's court.”
Derek nods. “The King is a just man, even if his beliefs are close-minded at times.”
“She won’t be there when we arrive,” Stiles tells him.
“It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done and I—I will never lay eyes upon her again if there are gods in the heavens.” He swallows tightly and makes jerky movements towards Stiles, like he wants to touch him. “I’ve had difficulties laying trust in people, as I’m sure you can imagine. Since then.”
“I won’t ask you to—”
“I trust you,” he says, and Stiles’ mouth closes. “For some reason, I trust you. And I don’t want you to think that trust is a thing I give lightly.”
“Okay,” Derek breathes, and then they’re kissing. Stiles is pressing him into the tree, mouths hot and eager, and Derek puts one hand on the back of his neck, the other on the small of Stiles’ back, and it feels good, shockingly good. Just to stand there, kissing him, makes Stiles feel warm and fuzzy and it’s a good thing, of course, but it also makes him very, very worried.
Stiles has a habit of loving very quickly and very deeply and he knows he can fall in love with Derek, knows that the way Derek kisses him and talks to him and treats him is going to making falling even easier, and he’s almost scared of that.
“Your mind wanders,” Derek murmurs against his lips.
Stiles kisses over his jaw and down his throat. “I only imagined, I’ve… I should compliment your skill,” he says with a quiet laugh against Derek’s chest, “but I’ve none to compare it to.”
Derek’s lips pause on the spot behind Stiles’ ear.
“It’s alright,” Stiles tells him, pulling his face up to kiss again.
“No one else?” Derek asks with a frown when they separate a second later.
“I never really had the opportunity.” He fists his hand in Derek’s vest. “It’s okay, though.”
“I’m…honored.” Derek pushes his hand through Stiles’ hair, twisting stands together between his fingers. “Really, you… You deserve more.”
“I don’t know about that. I find myself greatly enjoying what I have right now.”
Derek kisses him deeply, slowly, and Stiles savors it, lets himself fall into it. He doesn’t know how long they stand there, holding onto each other, pressed together, panting into each other’s mouths and tugging on each other’s clothes, but it feels like hours. Long, luxurious hours and, then, suddenly like no time at all has passed, not enough time at least, because they can hear horses’ hooves approaching.
“Pardon my intrusion, your highness,” the knight says. “Your father wishes to see you safe within camp and your tent presently.”
“Thank you,” Stiles says. “We’ll be there in just a moment.”
The knight nods shortly and turns, the horse slow in its retreat, and Stiles chuckles as he turns back to Derek.
“Do all of your knights gossip as much as Sir Scott does?” Derek asks with a smirk.
“It would most likely be seen as cause for celebration if he were to tell the others what he found us doing.”
“It was dark, at least.” Derek shrugs and pushes off the tree, straightening his clothes. “He can only imagine the details.”
With a smile, Stiles nudges his shoulder against Derek’s. “Lucky him.”
Derek kisses him in response.
While the knights sleep under the stars, the royals take to their tents during evenings. His father has his own, of course, as do Queen Talia and her husband, and the three Hale siblings share one as well. That night, Stiles is tempted to ask Derek to share his, escape his sisters for a few hours of rest, but he knows it wouldn’t be proper and he might not get the answer the wants anyway.
Derek’s hand slips into his sometime during the walk back to camp, and Stiles doesn’t question it, just clings to it and ignores how normal it feels. When they get within a few yards of camp their hands fall away, and Stiles heads towards his propped-up tent, only glancing back at Derek once.
When Derek shoves himself into the coach the next morning, he doesn’t move to the far side like he has been for the past few days. Instead, he sits on the bench closest to the front and leaves the door open. He can see Stiles when he approaches, leaving behind a conversation with Scott in favor of preparing to move out, and he looks slightly confused when he notices Derek’s change.
“Good morning,” he says.
“I was wondering if you might—we might—sit beside one another this morning,” Derek tells him. “The trip will be short. One of the knights estimates we’ll arrive in the Capitol shortly after midday.”
Stiles smiles and the truth of it rings through Derek like a bell. “I’d like that.”
They sit together, their hands occasionally brushing and their fingers twisting together, and their conversation varies during their trip. Stiles slouches so he can fit his head against Derek’s shoulder and Derek squeezes his hand, closing his eyes.
When he wakes up, they’re in Peritia.
He exits the carriage after Stiles, heart already beating uncomfortably in his chest. What he can see is—disarming, at the very least. Easily a hundred knights are gathered around the front of the palace entrance, waiting for something. His own ignorance makes him nervous.
“It’s alright.” Stiles lays his hand on Derek’s forearm, stepping closer. “Derek, I’ve known Allison for years—trust me. Nothing is going to harm you here.” He kisses Derek’s cheek fleetingly, stepping away an instant later when Scott comes around to help some of the Argent’s staff with bags from the carriages.
It may be true, Derek thinks, that there is little worry for harm, but that won’t stop him from being anxious. It doesn’t help when Stiles jerks backwards, nearly jabbing his shoulder straight into Derek’s, at the sight of strawberry-blonde woman walking towards them with an amused smile perched on her lips.
“Lydia!” Stiles says, apparently startled. He bows quickly, like it’s a formality he wants out of the way. “Princess, I didn’t think you would be making the journey.”
“My father had matters to tend to,” the girl says, her chin slightly elevated as she speaks, “and my mother didn’t favor a journey, so I came alone. Along with my champions, of course.” She gestures towards a group of men wearing armor with her kingdom’s seal. “You look well, Stiles,” she continues, reaching out and taking his hand. “Where’s your father?”
“He’s gone with King Christopher to discuss a few things, I’m afraid. He’ll be delighted to see you upon his return.”
The Princess—Lydia, Derek remembers—looks over at him like she’s side-eyeing an unruly goat, and Stiles follows her gaze as if just suddenly recalling Derek’s presence.
“Oh!” he says with a laugh. “Princess Lydia, this is Prince Derek Hale of Ignis.”
Lydia takes her hand out of Stiles’ grasp to offer it to Derek and he kisses it politely. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Princess.”
“And yours as well, I’m sure.” She looks him up and down before turning back to Stiles. “Allison tells me there are things the three of us must discuss.”
Stiles blushes just at the top of his cheeks, smiling widely, and he nods. He looks back at Derek. “I don’t suppose you’d mind—waiting with your sisters? Or Scott? Make friends.” He makes as if to step forward, as if to kiss Derek quickly before he leaves, but instead he just gives a half-hearted wave and follows Lydia towards the building where Derek assumes the other princess is waiting.
Derek only stands alone for a second before Scott is at his side. “When Stiles’ mother became ill she traveled down here for the last time—she said she wanted to see the land again before she was too weak to move. Stiles was eight then, and they stayed here for nearly a full year. The worst year of my life, Stiles being gone, my dad dying.” He exhales heavily. “He and Lydia became very close—she was staying as the King’s ward at the time—and the three of them bonded. They write each other still—every month. But they haven’t seen each other since Stiles’ birthday and before then not for years.”
Derek sets his jaw. “He loves her.”
“Oh, of course,” Scott says with a laugh. “She was the first person he ever loved, I think, but it never came to anything. Lydia’s concentration lies elsewhere, and they’re great friends, but nothing more.” Scott lays a hand on his shoulder. “He doesn’t love her like you think he does. He’d die for her, but he doesn’t want to marry her. Not anymore.”
“What are they talking about?”
“There’s no way to know for certain, but if I had to guess?” He pats Derek’s shoulder again before removing his hand. “You. Stiles will be the first of the three of them to get married, most likely Princess Allison after him, Lydia last—if she decides to marry at all.”
“Does Allison have a betrothed?”
Scott flushes. “No. Not officially.”
Derek arches an eyebrow. “You like her?”
“The Princess and I—we’ve met before of course, but at Stiles’ birthday party we…” He clears his throat. “A gentlemen wouldn’t say.”
Derek laughs, nodding. “Yes, of course.”
“We’ve exchanged a few letters since then, but I don’t think she told her father anything and I—well, she’s a princess.” Scott looks over his shoulder at the men gathering, exchanging hugs and handshakes, laughing joyously and sharing anecdotes. Derek follows his gaze and doesn’t miss how several of the knights eye Laura as she stands nearby, fanning herself.
Derek rolls his eyes. “My sister enjoys the attention.”
“Is she betrothed?”
“My parents trust her to choose someone suitable from their long list of lords and knights, but I believe she’s stayed single all these years because she enjoys the idea that she could be a queen without need of a man by her side.”
“That’s the kind of personality Princess Lydia is. She will probably do the same.”
All conversation falls to a halt the second the King appears on the front steps of the entrance. He’s not quite as old as Derek’s father, perhaps a year or two older than Stiles’, but he looks the same as Derek remembers him through pictures. He is graying now, but the same.
Stiles’ father stands to his right, Derek’s parents to his left, and as soon as the hordes of knights and their accompanying parties fall silent, he opens his mouth to speak.
“It is an honor,” he says, “to have you all here for the tournament celebrating my daughter’s eighteenth birthday. There will be a feast tonight”—a series of hollers and bursts of applause break out among the knights—”and the opening ceremonies upon the sun’s arrival. Until then, we welcome to Peritia, our honored guests—”
He goes on to introduce the visiting monarchs but Derek is distracted by how, towards a side door from the large building, Lydia and Stiles emerge, pulling with them a girl in a purple gown with long, black hair falling over her shoulders. Allison, Derek assumes. They all hurry towards the center just as applause spreads as the King finishes his speech.
And if Derek happens to glare at where Stiles and Lydia’s hands are clasped together between them, well, that’s nobody else’s business.
After every dull and necessary acknowledgement is made, the parties begin to mix and gather among themselves. There are old friends greeting and those not in good terms keeping at a decent distance and the jumble of people leaves opportunity for Scott to reach Allison's side. Derek watches the knight bow low, his face a dull red as the princess bites her lip and tries to look regal even through the silly display. They look like children, Derek thinks, they look the way love should. Or the way children's stories say it should.
Eventually, he finds his way over to his sister’s side, both of them looking at the throng with unseeing eyes, uncaring gazes.
“You entered the tent rather late last night,” Cora says slowly. “Having an interesting conversation with the prince?”
Derek hums like he’s considering her question. “Fairly captivating, I would say.”
“He’s an interesting character.”
“I still feel badly about the whole thing,” she muses.
Derek shrugs. “It's done now.”
“Well it isn't really, is it?”
“It all but is.”
“But he could change his mind yet.”
Derek feels his heart ache. “Have you changed yours?”
“Not a bit. I only mean he might find marriage to you more than he bargained for.”
Derek snorts. “You're hardly easy to live with yourself.”
“We're equal of disposition, Derek,” she says, “but at least he and I were equal of age and experience.” Derek raises an eyebrow at her and she glares. “I gave my heart to another and nothing else. I never lost respect for my duty to our family and to Stiles.”
“Are you relieved at least?” he asks her. “I imagine Sir Isaac will be pleased upon your arrival.”
She blushes a furious red. “Laura told you.”
“No, I’ve known for a few months, actually.” He smirks. “I saw you making eyes at each other after dinner one evening.”
“I don’t know what I’ll find when I return,” Cora sighs. “Perhaps he’s already given up on me.”
“Anything is possible.”
“News travels fast. He'll know and he'll be waiting. Sir Isaac earned his title through patience and hope beyond what his life should have afforded him. I doubt he'd give up such virtues in the face of love.”
“This newfound romanticism, it baffles me, brother.”
“You could have been Queen and you chose this, if it isn't love then it's a foolishness I do not wish to consider of my sister.” He looks up towards the steps of the building where Laura is standing in the shade having a conversation with King Christopher. For a moment fear strikes like a bolt into Derek’s heart but he pushes it down firmly. “Besides, if either of us is a fool, it’s myself.”
“How do you mean?”
He takes a deep breath in. “I went to Stiles, the evening before he announced that it would ultimately be our decision who would marry him, and I… I’ve found myself in possession of confusing feelings.”
“He’s very handsome.”
“You’re not wrong, but it was more than that. And I fear I’ve—I’ve made myself an untrustworthy man in his eyes, at least for the time being. I believe he still thinks me only willing to marry him because of my devotion to you.”
“And that's not the case?”
“I would have had you asked but you never asked.”
“So then you care for him?”
“I don't wish him any ill.”
“I do not know, Cora.” He sighs and crosses his arms. “He’s very confusing.”
“Well, Laura tells me that if you want to gauge potential in a man, the best way to learn his intentions would be to kiss him.” Derek stiffens but doesn’t speak. “I think that to be a misleading manner, but our dear sister has kissed a lot of men in her life.”
“And has married none of them.”
Cora smiles. “She’s going to be Queen one day. You think it matters?”
“I guess not.”
“Excuse me,” a voice calls out behind them, but the words sound much more like, make way.
“Prince Derek, and this must be your darling sister.” Princess Lydia nods and curtsies as they respond in turn. Cora introduces herself and Lydia spares her a smile before turning her sharp gaze on Derek. “My lord, I would have a word.”
Derek glances back at Cora, and she nods, already walking away. He offers an arm to Lydia as acceptance, assuming she wishes to retire somewhere more private, but she lays a hand on his elbow and eases the arm back towards his side.
“Stiles never wanted an arranged marriage.”
Derek swallows tightly. “I’m aware.”
“That being said,” she huffs, “it seems that for some reason or another, he’s taken with you.”
“No,” Lydia says simply, as if she expects that to shut him up (and she must because she continues). “I don’t know what he’s told you about our past but Stiles is a dear friend of mine. So, prince or not, royalty or not, I won’t hesitate to make sure you’re very clear on your duties.”
“Duties?” he repeats.
“As a husband.”
Derek raises both eyebrows and refuses to blush. The princess tuts.
“Not that. I'm sure you're quite qualified. He is not, however, so I better not hear about any impatience on your part. I mean more than that, though. He does not want an arranged marriage but he believes in loyalty and duty above all things. He believes that unions like this one only take a little longer to build love, but from speaking to him he's all but given up that simple hope. Stiles has neither a gentle heart nor a weak mind, he only gives the impression of that disposition through careful and shrewd training, do not be fooled.
“I'm telling you that if you make him miserable, neither I nor my dearest Allison nor any of his knights will have a chance on your neck before he has you mewling for mercy at his heel. Do not underestimate him and do not make him suffer. If you cannot love him, tell him now, take a mistress or a boy and stay far from him. He'll understand if you do. But do not string him along or make him false promises. Promises mean everything to him. When he was eight and I was seven he promised me the biggest emerald in the east to fit upon my crown when I would be his queen.”
She smiles fondly, remembering. “As we grew and he understood that neither did I hold feeling for him nor did our duties permit such a thing, he wrote me a novel's worth of words in apologies for false childhood proposal and upon my 16th birthday I was delivered a crown with the biggest gods-damned emerald anyone ever saw. ‘May you be your own queen and to pass this on to your glorious daughters,’ the note read. Stiles will die by his word and he will not forgive those who do not.”
She seems satisfied with her speech, and as she nods at him as if permitting him to speak, Derek feels his tongue swell in his mouth and his throat dry up. He licks his lips. “It’s admirable, your devotion to each other.”
“I don’t care what you think of our devotion,” the princess huffs. “Marriage is a very important thing—especially for Stiles. Now tell me you understand what I’ve said.”
Derek nods, because he does. He knows that Stiles only gives what is deserved, and should he fail, it won’t be Stiles’ father or friends who punish him, but Stiles himself. The thought is enough to make him never want to do poorly in Stiles’ eyes.
Lydia smiles, pleased with herself, almost as if she could hear his thoughts. “I hope for your sake you never truly cross him. It is an awe-inspiring and terrifying thing to behold. I hope even more so that you never make him cry. Because we might not be as sinister but we are many, those who love him. Consider yourself duly warned.”
“I am. I mean—yes.” He nods again. “Princess, if you don’t mind me asking—”
“I still have the crown,” she tells him with a smile. “And I still treasure it. But that doesn’t make me a challenge for you, Derek. Stiles has his own ways of showing affection, by gifting the people he knows best with exactly what he knows they want. If he doesn’t give you something bejeweled and diamond-encrusted that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings. It simply means he knows it isn’t what you need.” She lifts a hand to his cheek and turns his face so she can kiss the opposite side of his face. “I suspect he’ll give you what you need very shortly, your highness,” she tells him, and then she’s walking away towards the palace entrance again, towards where Stiles is standing on the steps, watching them, Princess Allison and Sir Scott as his side.
He watches Princess Allison lean over to him and whisper in his ear for a moment before Stiles nods and walks down the steps towards him and Lydia, Allison and Scott following close behind.
He smiles as they approach. “Derek, may I introduce Princess Allison Argent, crown princess of Peritia. The most skilled knight that ever wore a crown.”
The princess smiles and nods at Derek as he bows. “Stiles compliments too much. Were I a proper knight I would fight in the morning rather than lead prayer at tonight's feast.”
“I’m sure you’re much more skilled than many so-called proper knights taking up arms at tomorrow’s festivities,” Derek tells her. “If Stiles thinks you skilled, I’m sure there isn’t a soul here you would not best.”
“Flattery,” Allison laughs. She looks across her shoulder at Stiles, smiling with a glint in her eye. “I approve.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m sure the knights will be pounding at the floorboards before long—the feast is going to be a bloodbath.” He makes as if to offer his arm to Lydia, then twitches and stops, looking between the princess and Derek.
Lydia takes his arm forcibly and kisses his cheek. “I've been too long without him and I need his counsel in matters other than the frivolity of marriage and tournaments, if you would all excuse us.”
Stiles looks back at Derek as Lydia tugs him away, lifting a hand. Derek mimics him and watches as they depart, the pair left behind smirking after them.
“You’ll see him again at the feast,” Allison tells him, “I promise you. Lydia knows when to share.”
Scott clears his throat. “There are certain things I must see to. Princess.” He kisses her hand, grinning at her spectacularly, and nods at Derek before taking his own leave.
Stiles sees Derek briefly at the feast and for a few moments before they retire to their respective rooms, and it seems like they’re never alone. He can only guess what kind of things Lydia said to him but he isn’t running for the hills, it must be a good sign.
“He’s obviously in love with you,” Lydia says as she sits at the small table in his guest chambers, eating from the bowl of grapes set out for him. “I don’t know how you don’t see it.”
“We get along very well and we’re growing closer, of course.” He grabs a vest and slings it on, checking it in the mirror. Lydia tuts.
“Don’t wear that today.”
Stiles looks over his shoulder. “Why not?”
“Derek wears vests. You’ll have too many layers already.” She stands, coming to help him remove it. “So, you get along and you’ve become closer and none of that says to you that he loves you?”
“We like each other, I think,” Stiles decides, “but I doubt very much that he loves me.”
“Love is a strange thing in many shapes but it is not complicated in nature,” Lydia says as she folds his vest. “We're the ones that twist and turn it. Love is a simple gesture of comfort or a smile or a remembered thought and the bright light feeling that accompanies it. Everything else is nerves and every expectation that we thrust upon our beloved.”
Stiles blinks at her as she studies her creation. “You speak from personal wisdom.”
She nods. “It is not complicated in nature and its nature is to fade at least for one participant. Marriage is a thing we made up to force love despite its nature.”
“Don’t misunderstand me,” she says as she straightens his shirt.
“How can I, when I’m already so confused by what you’re saying?”
She sighs and picks at his shirt before lifting a hand to touch his face. “Love will fade into comfortable togetherness. It’s not an unpleasant end, not when it happens like that, but right now, when you’re young and alive, love isn’t difficult. So stop making it so.”
Stiles grabs her wrist. “But there's bitterness to your words. Who hurt you?”
“No one,” she says with a smile. “Calm down.”
“I'm perfectly calm,” he says. “I just want to know who brought such words to your lips.”
“It's of no consequence,” she insists, pulling her wrist free and fixing his hair. “The matter is done.”
As if on cue—and honestly Stiles would expect nothing less of Lydia—there’s a knock at the door and Scott strides in, already in proper armor, sword at his side. He falters when he sees Lydia.
“Princess,” he says, “I—I’m sorry, I thought—”
“It’s alright, Sir Scott,” Lydia says as she brushes her fingers through Stiles’ hair again. “Have your words—the prince is going to meet me in the stands presently.” She kisses his cheek and makes her exit as Stiles stands there scowling.
“What is it?” Stiles sighs.
“I just—I can’t find Allison,” he says with a pout. “I’m worried. What if she isn’t in the stands during the tournament?”
“Why wouldn’t she be? It’s her birthday.” He lays his hands on Scott’s shoulders. “You’re worrying for no reason.”
“And even if she's occupied and misses your display of skill she will love you no less,” Stiles assures him and starts pushing him out the door. “Now go.”
He’s seated between his father and Lydia in the stands a few minutes later, the monarchs from Ignis and their children off to Lydia’s right, and Stiles only nods at them all briefly before he settles into his seat, sharing a look with Derek that says, in no uncertain terms, that they have something to discuss. Stiles just wishes he knew what it was.
“Prince Derek looks quite taken with you,” Lydia mutters.
“An emotion you believe will fade with time.”
“And don’t they all.” She plucks a grape out of the bowl beside her. “What of Sir Scott and his romance with our lovely Princess of Peritia?”
“Scott doesn't know how to stop loving,” Stiles says with his eyes on the sand. “Just ask him about his father.”
Lydia sighs quietly and pats his hand as if he were a child. “Idiot's luck.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “Don't be bitter.”
“I have nothing to be bitter about, I assure you. With my parents ignoring me and my schooling completed, I have far too much time to enjoy a little romance myself.” She makes it sound like it’s not so much romance as it is bedding, not that Stiles particularly minds—he recalls Lydia detailing to Allison upon her fifteenth birthday the loss of her maidenhead with a young knight in training, a boy who had been so taken with her that he had been putty in her hands. Lydia likes men like that. Sometimes.
Stiles turns his attention to the sand, recognizing Scott in his armor, gifted to him by the King himself and ordered to his own measurements. For a few years Scott wore his father's armor and Melissa frowned. Stiles snorts to himself, safe in the knowledge that if there is one thing his father will not stand for, it is Melissa's frown. Now Scott looks properly suited with the sigil of Cor on his chest.
Scott is only one of the first to fight. There are several other knights from Cor who take to the sands, but in the end, when dozens of men have seen their battles fought, it’s only Scott and one knight from Ignis, Boyd, who stand victorious against the masses. It’s assumed they’ll have to fight each other, and Stiles glances over to look towards Allison, ask if she approves of Scott’s heroics, only to find that her seat is empty.
Her father relays her excuse, an upset stomach and pain in her head from the hot sun, but it’s not quite so bright, and so Stiles frowns to himself and sits back.
Several of Lydia’s champions are defeated and several are victorious, but Stiles can’t help but keep an eye on one knight wearing the sigil from Peritia. It’s doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t recognize the man, given that he doesn’t know all knights in Allison’s land, but it does make him curious that this soldier never removes his helmet so that the crowd can see his face. Instead, he fights, win, and retreats back to wait for his next round.
He sits up a bit when the unidentified knight steps up to fight Scott. He thinks if anyone will make Scott stand to attention it's this man, if only because, since Scott is knowledgeable on the most notable knights across the kingdoms, he would have mentioned this person at least once had he been familiar with him.
It’s always interesting, seeing Scott learn how his opponents work. It’ll be even better now, Stiles thinks, and while Lydia sighs and leans back in her chair, sipping at her wine with what is either extreme boredom or heatstroke, he watches closely as they adjust their stances and prepare to fight.
The stranger is obviously more familiar with Scott than Scott is with him, and he knows to strike at Scott’s more difficult-to-defend areas. He’s been learning, watching Scott fight over the course of the morning and early afternoon, and Stiles commends him for it. It’s a skill that few truly master, but he seems to have picked it up quite successfully.
Stiles thinks it’s a shame Allison is missing her beloved fall prey to a stranger from her own kingdom.
Scott, still, is an excellent fighter, and for a while Stiles thinks he’ll pull through. Both competitors are tired, pulling through for this final fight before victory, and both of them are so close. It’s a championship; it’s the ultimate battle between Cor and Peritia and even though it doesn’t matter very much who wins, Stiles would like to see Scott defeat the stranger. It’s a matter of pride.
The champion from Peritia wins by a hair. He strikes Scott down in a fumbled moment of weakness, sword at his throat, and there’s a tense moment of silence before he withdraws, offering a hand to help Scott up. There’s a polite smattering of applause, and Stiles nods at Scott when he looks up for approval. As the two stand before the spectators, King Christopher stands to announce the winner, and he looks severely displeased, which doesn’t actually make any sense. It’s his knight, Stiles knows, so why would he be unhappy with his victory?
He gives a great big exasperated sigh that would be somewhat unbecoming of a man of his age and position except for the fact that King Christopher is a distressingly good-looking man and there are few contortions that could make him seem unbecoming at all. The man raises his hand to quiet the applause and then extends it towards the victor who stands in the sands. It's shocking, of course, that the knight would be standing, and Stiles can see the distress in Scott's face, as he kneels beside the victor, that a knight would show such disrespect to their own king. But the sovereign himself takes another deep breath and speaks. “I give you the victor of this tournament and champion of Peritia, who through practiced skill, noble heart, and an unbelievable inability to stand at the sidelines, has brought honor to this kingdom and the name of Argent.”
There’s a quiet murmuring in the stands, but suddenly everything makes sense when the knights removes his helmet and—and it’s not a knight after all, nor is it a “he”. Princess Allison stands before her father, dark hair falling around her shoulders, and her expression is one of pride and challenge. After Stiles finishes recovering from shock, he looks to Scott and sees him staring up at her with wide eyes and an open mouth.
The applause that erupts is, at first, half-hearted, but it only takes a short moment before it escalates into cheers of her name, and she grins up at her father. Lydia looks delighted, Stiles waves at her through a laugh, and Scott stands to his feet only to bow before her.
Never let it be said again, Stiles thinks, that tournaments are boring.
Stiles finds him—or, more appropriate, Derek finds Stiles—in the main hall. The entire palace is overrun with excitement and satisfaction, everyone still whispering about the events in the tournament, and when Stiles stumbles upon him, he grins.
“I was looking for you. I assumed you had taken to drink and found yourself lost on the grounds.”
Derek blinks at him and Stiles can see something different with his eyes, his pupils wide.
“I’m not drunk,” he says. “I promise.”
“Okay.” He gestures towards the dining hall. “Would you like to join us for dinner?”
Derek doesn’t really answer his question but, at the same time, he does. He stalks forward, never losing eye-contact with Stiles, and scoops him into his arms, kissing him fiercely, claiming him, and Stiles arches into it instinctively.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you all day,” Derek whispers, his ears turning red and his eyes downturned. “You disrupt every waking thought.”
“Will you go to bed with me?” Derek asks him, low and gravelly.
Stiles is nodding before he’s even fully registered the question. “Yes,” he whispers against Derek’s lips. “Yes, now—let’s go now.”
Derek grins and grabs his hand, tugging him along the hallway towards the end of the entrance hall, away from his own room but on the way to Stiles’.
“Wait,” Stiles insists, skidding to a stop. “I thought—your chambers—”
Derek arches an eyebrow. “Near my entire family?”
“Mine is next to Lydia’s.”
“I suppose we choose between the lesser of two evils,” Derek nearly coos, pulling Stiles close again, and his brain short circuits.
“Fuck it,” Stiles says on an exhale, and spurs Derek into walking again.
They reach his room in minutes, hands still clasped, both their hearts pounding and their breath coming quickly. Stiles is the first one in, gathering Derek through the door so he may press the man up against it, smiling into his mouth as he unwinds the drawstring at the collar of Derek’s shirt so it may slip more easily over his head. He nearly forgets about the vest before Derek shoves it off himself.
Derek’s hands on him are big and warm and Stiles is utterly distracted by how they caress his sides and his arms, so distracted in fact that he barely even notices it when Derek whips his shirt over his head. It’s the fabric brushing against his open mouth and the way it catches on his nose that alerts him.
He’s fairly certain he’s supposed to be self-conscious about his paleness, but he can’t find anything in him that cares at that exact moment, too concerned with getting Derek’s hands back on his torso and finding a way to continue kissing Derek whilst removing his shirt at the same time. Ultimately, he makes the sacrifice of pulling his mouth away for a mere second in order to run his hands over Derek’s naked chest, down his stomach. He gasps into Derek mouth and moans, pressing closer and biting on his bottom lip.
Stiles thinks Derek must be kicking off his boots. He hears the thumps and feels the awkward repositioning of his body as he moves, and then Derek is pushing forward with his whole body, leading Stiles to his bed.
They have to stop kissing for a while, breath to be caught and clothes to remove far too important, and so Stiles lounges where he’s sprawled with his ass hanging off the side of his bed as Derek yanks of his boots off. When that’s done, Derek lifts him by the backs of his thighs, to drop him more in the center of the bed before crawling on top of him.
Their trousers are simpler, Stiles would assume, except from their horizontal position there proves to be some difficulties. Derek runs his hand down Stiles’ chest, sternum to waistband, and kisses his throat. “You’re beautiful.”
Stiles chokes on an inhale. “It’s too dark to see.”
“You can see me,” Derek reminds him. There are candles and moonlight and—and yes, it’s actually a fairly bright evening, a fact that makes Stiles’ stomach twist into knots. “Take the compliment, your highness.”
Stiles is sure he’s blushing so instead of responding he simply busies himself with kissing Derek again and tugging down the waistband of his trousers. The noise that escapes Derek’s mouth is beautiful, and Stiles savors it in his own before Derek’s forehead drops to his shoulder.
“Fuck,” Derek breathes. “Please, Stiles. Touch me.”
Stiles licks his lips. He wants to, more than anything, but not quite like this. So instead of doing as Derek asks, he rolls them so that Derek is on his back, feet still hanging off the side of the bed. It takes whispers and kisses and croons to make Derek shift so his head is on the pillows, body long and lean against the mattress. That’s when Stiles straddles Derek’s thighs and takes the length of him in hand, his own mastery at the art of self-pleasure meaning nothing when it comes to another man.
“Relax,” Derek tells him, guiding his hand. His head is thrown back, his mouth open. “Just—just like that. Stiles.”
Stiles feel his heart rising in his throat. “Would you—would you like to be inside of me tonight?”
Derek’s hands go to his hips, squeezing tightly. “I want everything you want,” he tells Stiles, opening his eyes to meet his. “Whatever you want.”
Stiles swallows tightly. “Not tonight,” he whispers, and he can barely hear his own voice over his pounding heart. “Soon. But I don’t think either of us has the patience for that this evening.”
Derek rolls them then, forcing Stiles onto his back. He slides smoothly off the bed without ever tearing his eyes from its inhabitant and lets his own trousers and undergarments fall to the floor, leaving him completely bare. Stiles pushes himself up on his arms and admires the tone of his body, the beauty in it, and then Derek is kissing him as he pulls Stiles’ final garments off as well.
“One night,” Derek whispers into his skin, “I’m going to give you everything you want.”
“What about what you want?” Stiles asks, hands digging into Derek’s shoulders.
“I have what I want.”
He takes Stiles into his mouth like he knows exactly what he’s doing and—maybe he does, Stiles reasons. He can’t go into a detailed thought process about it, though, because he’s too busy losing eighteen years of schooling and intelligence through his cock, Derek’s mouth too perfect to warrant any other thoughts besides its praise.
“I can’t—Derek—” He spreads his knees further, tugging on Derek’s hair. “I’ve never—I can’t—I’m going to—”
Derek doesn’t seem to care, though, because he doesn’t stop. His hands are tight and comforting around Stiles’ hips and his mouth—fuck, his mouth. His tongue and his lips and the way, even when he pulls off to breathe and lick into the slit at the head, he never stops focusing on Stiles’ pleasure, like it’s the most important thing in the world to him.
Stiles can feel his body reaching for the spot, that wonderful moment when everything will burst and he’ll come down his lover’s throat. Just imagining it is making him feel even warmer, pushing him closer to the point of climax, and he can’t help but let his inner monologue run free as he holds onto Derek’s hair.
“I’ve thought about what our bed will be like on the night of our wedding,” he says through panted breath. “I’ve thought about you inside of me—and me inside of you.”
Derek moans, vibrations swimming around his cock.
“I want it all, Derek,” he says through a groan, scraping his nails against Derek’s scalp. “I want your cock.”
Derek lifts his head, pressing his lips against Stiles’ hipbone. “Gods be damned,” he whispers to nothing in particular. He looks up, meeting Stiles’ eyes, and his lips are swollen red, wet with salvia. He licks them, and Stiles closes his eyes again, letting his head flop back.
“Don’t stop now,” Stiles tells him, and he doesn’t.
He comes a moment later, legs trembling, breath yanking itself harshly out of his chest, and when he’s limp and weak on the bed, Derek crawls atop him, cock still hard and aching red.
Stiles reaches for it just as Derek kisses him, tongue probing and mouth hot, and that’s how Derek comes, thrusting up into Stiles’ hand, kissing him into oblivion.
Breakfast is very rarely a group affair. That morning, however, there’s a plethora of fruits and sausages and breads, stacked high on platters on long tables in the regular dining hall, laid out for expectant knights and other guests. Scott makes his way down towards the event with only slight hesitation. He hopes—beyond hope—to meet Allison before they both disappear into the throng of people. She’d said as much to him the night before, clutching his arm and whispering her desire to meet with him, but Scott hasn’t met a lot of princesses, and his vague understanding is that they don’t always mean what they say.
Allison appears to be the exception. She finds him in the hall a moment later, smiling at him, and she very nearly reaches for her, but manages to keep his hands to himself at the last moment.
“Good morning,” she says, eyes bright.
“You look radiant, your highness,” Scott tells her.
“Have you eaten?”
“I wanted to see you first.”
“Sir Scott,” she says with a blush high on her cheeks. “I’m flattered.”
Their conversation is short of nature, simple niceties, and after a moment Allison asks Scott to join her for a morning walk in the garden, and it’s the fact that Scott says yes that makes him privy to what no one else in the castle knows.
They walk through the broad hall of the guest wing to reach the far entrance of the garden, the place where they can be alone, but in doing so, they pass by the doors that house Princess Lydia and, of course, Prince Stiles.
When the door opens, their hands separate, stepping back and putting on faces of complete innocence, but when they notice it’s only Stiles peeking out of his door, they breathe their sighs of relief. He’s not dressed, wearing only his robe, and his hair is sticking up. He’s flushed, and he laughs nervously at them as he steps back.
“Forgive me,” he says, hiding partially behind the door. “I seem to have had a late morning.”
“I’m sure the knights will have left you something to eat, Stiles,” Scott laughs at him, grinning, “but right now the Princess and I have other matters to tend to.”
Allison smacks his shoulder, still smiling, and Stiles looks amused. “Right, of course.”
Scott would continue on his way, honestly he would, except for the fact that he notices his best friend glance back into his room like he’s checking something, and that alone makes Scott step forward, an eyebrow arched.
“Something the matter?”
“No!” Stiles says too quickly, and he waves as he closes the door too loudly.
Scott shares a look with the Princess. “Would you care to guess what our prince is hiding?”
“Perhaps later,” she tells him, reaching for his hand. “After our walk.”
And, well, Scott doesn’t really have a problem with waiting.
“It's been too long since I've seen you,” Allison says, her arm linked with his as they walk down a sunny path.
“Too long,” Scott agrees. “I pass from day to day in wait of your next letter.”
She smiles and turns her head. “You flatter.”
“You may ask any who have to live with me,” he insists. “I'm a bore of conversation if they won't listen to me speak of you.”
“I must be quite the disappointment to many if you've been exalting about my looks,” she teases.
“No one could be disappointed by your beauty. But it's not really what I tend to speak of. Though I'm sure it slips easily from my tongue. No, usually I go on for hours about your skill with bow and arrow and the thousands and thousands of books you've read. Your skill in battle. You've been in battle. Something neither myself nor half the knights of Stiles’ court can say.”
Allison’s hand tightens on his arm fondly. “You displayed fine example of battle skill in the arena yesterday.”
Scott huffs a laugh. “I was honored to be defeated by you, my lady.”
“Something I’m not sure the rest of the knights in your company would agree upon.” She leads him down a path towards high bushes of roses, the smell overpoweringly delightful.
“It’s not the only thing I lack in common with them.”
“You’re the closest friend of the future King of Cor,” Allison says with a nod.
Scott rolls his eyes with a smile. “He’s only Stiles to me, but you do have a point.”
“You hold him only as a friend then,” Allison says slowly.
He blinks. “You don’t mean—I mean you know that I—”
With a blush, she shakes her head. “No, I didn’t think you and he—no.” She laughs as if the idea is absurd and, well, it is.
Scott echoes the sound and brushes the hair from her cheek then as they stop walking. “What did you mean then?”
“It’s only that my knights, they would—they are undyingly loyal to me.”
Scott nods, his expression serious. “I would die for Stiles as my brother and as my King.”
Allison looks down between them and holds onto Scott’s hands, twisting their fingers together. “You would leave him for nothing?”
“I’m a knight of his father’s realm; my loyalty is to my death.” He squeezes her hands and steps closer. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s difficult,” she whispers on an exhale, “seeing you like this. Only seeing you when either Stiles or I visit the other. It isn’t—it isn’t what it could be.”
Scott’s fingers tighten around hers while his other hands lift her chin. “I had no idea you were so unhappy.”
“You thought me happy with such a distance between us?”
Scott licks his lips anxiously and takes her other hand. “I’m no monarch. I have little thought for the future and much sight for the present.”
“You could be,” she says firmly. “You could be a king at my side.” Scott blinks and takes a step back making Allison blush and take her hands back. “I know it is untoward and uncommon but I know it would never cross your mind to ask me.”
“I would know something before I continue to embarrass myself,” she says, eyes meeting his. “Whether or not you have little thought of the future, did you have any thought for ours? Did my station offer you the comfort of certain freedom? Do you love the brevity of our affair as much as my person?”
Scott closes the distance between them again, hands on Allison’s sides, fingers spread over her ribs, clutching as close to her heart as he possibly can get. “My only desire was to spend as much time as possible in your presence and in your favor before circumstances and your boredom tore you from my arms.”
“My boredom?” she says with a slight scoff. “You assume me bored with you?”
“I imagined it would happen one day, that it still might.” He lifts a hand to place on her cheek. “Nearly every waking moment of my life is spent devoted to you—thoughts of you, dreams of you. But I never imagined—I’m not a king. But you are a queen.”
Allison kisses him then, sweet and tender, and when she pulls back, Scott feels his head spinning like it always does.
“I love you,” he whispers to her, his forehead tipped against hers.
“So marry me,” she whispers back. Scott closes his eyes and Allison lays her palm against his cheek. “Can you not? Does your duty exceed your love?”
“You cannot understand,” Scott murmurs fervently. “To break my word would make me dishonorable, unworthy to rule beside you. I stand unworthy even now. My father’s title was won in battle by my grandfather, it is young and unimportant.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Allison tells him, shaking her head. “You’re a knight, the most trusted advisor to one of my closest friends, an important member of Stiles’ father’s court—my father would not refuse you for me. It would bring our kingdom closer with Stiles’, tie us effectively even to Ignis after Stiles and his foreign prince wed—and I love you.”
“My word, Allison.”
“Would they be so cruel as to deny you love?”
Scott opens his eyes and looks at her, tries to convey the torturous ache of desire and hope. But he thinks of Stiles, twelve and heartbroken that he could not pursue Lydia’s love. He thinks of the King, noble and kind, and the wistful glances and the sad smiles and the twists of the singular band around his finger whenever Scott’s mother enters a room. If these men, the most powerful he knows, would deny themselves love, what makes him deserve more?
He strokes his thumb over Allison’ cheekbone and kisses her again, makes it slow and careful. He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to kiss her again.
“Talk to him,” Allison pleads. “He’s your best friend.”
Scott nods slowly. “I can make no promises—”
“Just one.” Her thumb is a pleasant pressure against his bottom lip and her eyes twinkle as she asks, “Do you love me, Sir Scott?”
“With all my heart.”
Derek is still in bed when Stiles ducks back into the room. The sheet is pooled around his waist, his torso bare and his feet poking like little mountains under the covers. Stiles glances at him just for a moment and Derek doesn’t look away, doesn’t pretend to stop watching how he moves around the room.
He’s beautiful, all mussed hair and white skin, and there’s a large bucket of tepid water that must have been placed there upon their arrival in the corner of the room that he walks towards, gathering cloth from the stand beside it.
“It’s not as good as a bath,” he says with a sigh, “but it’ll do.”
He looks over his shoulder at Derek. Derek blinks at him.
“Would you like to go to breakfast with dried come on your chest or are you going to let me wash you?”
Derek smiles softly, delighted at the idea, and lays back. “Feel free.”
Stiles rolls his eyes, but it’s a fond gesture, and he goes back towards the bed. Derek expects him to stand at the side, but instead he lifts himself onto it, straddling Derek much like he had the night before, and Derek settles his hands on the lower part of Stiles’ thighs. He’s distracting, his body glowing in the morning sunlight, his cock resting against his thigh, his hands stroking up and down Derek’s chest as he cleans up the flaky, dried-on memory of Derek’s orgasm. There’s actually not much there. Derek had been careful to wipe most of it away shortly after Stiles had fallen asleep, unwilling to have to deal with it tangled in his chest hair, but Stiles finishes the job and slides the cloth down between Derek’s thighs.
“Just being thorough,” he says quietly.
Derek hums. “Of course.” He squeezes Stiles’ knees. “Are you hungry?”
“Famished.” Stiles leans over, like he’s going in for a kiss, but stops himself at the last second. Derek wraps a hand around the back of his neck and pulls him the rest of the way there, kissing him slowly for a moment.
“You can kiss me whenever you want,” Derek tells him.
“I just—wasn’t sure.”
Derek nudges his nose against Stiles’ and something warm bursts in his chest. “Be sure.”
They stay like that for a while, kissing lazily as the sunlight streams in through the windows, but Stiles moves away eventually, looking down at Derek’s lap with a chuckle. “Don’t tell me my work was for naught.”
Derek’s half-hard, poking against Stiles’ thigh, and he would feel guilty about it except that Stiles appears to be in the same position. “Someone will come looking for us eventually,” he says against Stiles’ jaw. “Would you like to risk it?”
The answer, of course, is yes.
They roll around on the bed for a solid ten minutes, kissing and stroking each other towards completion, and by the time both of them are dressed and look anything close to appropriately-behaving princes (Derek borrowing trousers and a shirt from Stiles), it’s a full thirty minutes later. All the same, Stiles checks the hall again before they exit the room, heading down towards the dining hall, and Derek is quiet during the walk there.
Stiles stays close by his side but doesn’t touch. Derek lets his hand hang, available if Stiles wants it.
When they reach the hall, it’s nearly empty, a few lingering knights left behind—Scott, most notably. Stiles hesitates so Derek makes the decision for him, steps close with a hand on his lower back and whispers, “I’ll go find Cora,” before sliding his hand up to Stiles’ shoulder and squeezing.
Stiles, cheeks tinged pink, nods. “Okay,” he says. “I—can we take a walk after breakfast? In the garden, maybe?”
“Of course.” Derek steps away, fingertips lingering just barely. “I’ll meet you there.”
Derek finds Cora in the courtyard, a piece of paper with heavy creases on her lap. “Good news?”
She turns and smiles. “Apologies, from home. For not being able to attend the tournament.”
“He missed quite an interesting match.” He sits down next to her on the fountain’s ledge that she’s perched on, hands on his thighs. “Does your knight write anything about impending nuptials?”
“Only yours,” she says, tilting her chin into the air. “He prays for your happiness.”
“You're certain about his intentions?”
“No,” she says simply. “The opportunity is brand new.”
“I believe he loves me,” she says, “but freedom is terrifying.” She folds the letter again, still looking pointedly away from Derek. “At least when I thought I was going to have to marry Stiles, I was certain of what the future would hold for me. Now there are too many options.”
Derek exhales through his nose slowly. “Cora, you know that he loves you. Do you doubt that he’s an honorable enough man to prove that love?” She shakes her head and Derek wraps an arm around her to pull her to his side. “You've always been brave. Braver than I am. Don't stop now.”
“Hardly very brave of me,” she mutters into his shoulder, “forcing you to marry Stiles to save my own happiness.”
“We’ve discussed this,” he reminds her. “I don’t have ill feelings towards Stiles or towards you.”
She sits up straighter, looking him in the eyes. “I noticed your gaze upon him during the tournament. Surely you’re not going to tell me that was a look of admiration? You seemed as if you could hardly wait to escape.”
Derek pulls away and straightens his neckline. “I do admire him.”
“Of course,” she grins. “He does have admirable eyes.”
Derek nods once.
“And an admirable smile,” Cora continues.
“Dear brother, you’re in love.”
He sits up straight and holds his tongue for a moment. “I don’t know.”
“You did not come down to dinner last night,” she adds, taking his arm. “And you were late to breakfast this morning. Perhaps Prince Stiles is not as honorable a man as we all believed.”
“He was very honorable,” Derek snaps.
Cora laughs into his shoulder. “But he no longer is?”
Derek blushes. “He was when he believed he'd be marrying you.”
“I see you bring out the worst in him. Or perhaps the best.” She nudges his shoulder. “Honestly, Derek. I don’t want you to lie for the sake of my feelings—what’s done is done. But I want you to… I want you to be happy.”
“I am,” he says quietly.
“You’re taken with him,” Cora decides, smiling softly. “How wonderful. Laura will throw a ball when she hears.”
“I wouldn’t have you tell her just yet,” he says through a half laugh. “I haven’t even—I don’t know that Stiles feels quite the same about me.”
Cora rolls her eyes. “You can be so blind sometimes.”
“Be quiet little one,” he says, jabbing at her side as he did when she was a child.
She laughs and shoves him off before her eyes glance over his shoulder. “Well, look who it is.”
He turns abruptly and stands, hands smoothing down his shirt. Stiles is standing there, Scott and Lydia on either side of him, and he lifts a hand in recognition before Lydia pulls him away, saying something quite loudly over her shoulder about distractions. Stiles smirks at her and then gestures towards the garden at Derek, mouthing something that look like “ten minutes.”
“A romantic rendezvous for you and your prince, brother?”
“Don't be impertinent,” he mutters. But he tugs at the cuffs of his sleeves anyway.
“Wait.” She stands and lays a hand on his arm, waiting until he turns to look at her. “I’m pleased for you. Stiles will be very good for you, I believe.”
“I believe so too.” He leans over to kiss the top of her head. “Now,” he says with a smirk, “I have to rendezvous.”
She laughs and smacks his shoulder. “Go.”
Derek finds Stiles just a few steps away with Lydia and Scott nowhere to be found. “Your friends are quick.”
“Vicious,” Stiles grins, “and lurid, that's what they are.”
“I like them.”
“As do I.” He turns towards Derek, winding an arm around his waist. Derek immediately feels flushed, sure that the tips of his ears are turning pink. “Would you like to see if we can find a place to be alone? Allison’s rose bushes are lovely this time of year—I’d like to show you them.”
Derek nods. “Please.”
He lets Stiles drag him through rows and pathways of the garden. They pass few other people, all of them greeting Stiles and making quick bows, and Derek tries not to think too much about the fact that Stiles doesn’t release his hand the whole way there, no matter how many people see them.
“I would ask you something,” Stiles says when they arrive at the rose bushes, his free hand trailing along silken petals and his other still clenched tight around Derek’s.
“Anything,” Derek tells him.
“Why did—I mean, it seemed sudden last night,” he starts. “I have no complaints but I must admit I'm curious about—well, what brought you to me.” He's chewing on his bottom lip like a dog with a bone and his eyes seem to find the roses more interesting than anything else.
Derek squeezes his hand and steps closer. “You cannot doubt that I’m attracted to you. Last night was hardly the first time I found myself wanting to be in your arms.”
“I—I know.” He swallows his words and Derek grabs his other hand, pulling him in to face each other. “I simply wondered what it was that made last night different from any other night.”
Derek looks down at their hands and takes a moment. “It's just that—seeing you with Lydia… And knowing of your feelings for her.”
“You don’t need to bed me to lay claim to me,” Stiles says, and he’s not smiling. “I’m hardly going to go running off with Lydia when my heart is dedicated to another.”
“I didn’t mean for it to be a claim,” Derek argues. “I just—I wanted to make sure you knew that I wanted you. And I didn’t want to wait to have you any longer. Selfish, impatient, I know, but you seem to bring those things out in me.”
Stiles' thumb moves over Derek's hand slowly. “Well perhaps claiming isn't such a terrible idea. You know, long ago marriage was a simple act, just two people laying claim to one another. No ceremony or contracts.”
Derek smiles softly. “Would you like me to claim you? Make sure everyone who would lay eyes upon you knows you’re to be mine and mine alone?”
He blushes, but he looks delighted. “And what of my claim to you? Surely I have more reason to worry that others might try to take you from me. You pose a much more handsome option.”
“I pose nothing,” Derek says, pulling him in and kissing him slowly.
It feels good, to be able to have Stiles in his arms again. Since he left the bed that morning, all he’s wanted is this, and he understands how addictive physical intimacy can be, because he doesn’t ever want to stop touching Stiles.
“We leave tomorrow,” Stiles reminds him, hands in his hair. “Nine whole days in a carriage with me. You think you can stomach it?”
“I think, somehow, I’ll survive.”
It’s terribly disgusting, the way they dote upon each other over the next few days. The first day they spend in the coach together, side by side, alternating between kissing and telling each other childhood tales. Neither of them sleep very well that night and so, on the second day, they mostly nap against each other, their hands tangled as they rest.
On the fifth day, they convince two knights travelling on horseback to take to the carriage so that they may ride. They race ahead of the company and spend a few hours alone together before night falls. That evening, Derek returns to his own tent with a bright red face and swollen lips and though neither of his sisters are awake to say anything about it, he knows they would if they had been given the opportunity. They’ll be ashamed have missed such an moment.
Derek recognizes the poetic symmetry of his actions. It’s the final night before they’re to arrive to Cor, just like it had been the final night of their journey to Peritia when he and the prince had snuck off to converse (amongst other things), but he doesn’t expect Stiles to get the importance, not quite. Not until later, perhaps.
He peeks into Stiles’ tent, looks to where the young man is setting up his cot for the night, and clears his throat.
Stiles looks over his shoulder and stands, smiling pleasantly. “Hello.”
“I was wondering if you might join me for a walk before we retire for the evening.”
Stiles smirks. “We're in the middle of the woods, your grace.”
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,” Derek murmurs, stepping closer, “and I have not held you in hours.”
“Nearly a day,” Stiles agrees. “Such are the hardships of travel.”
Derek sticks out his hand. “Join me.”
“The knights will talk,” Stiles says with a smirk, but he takes Derek’s hand anyway.
“When do they not?”
They don’t go far. From the light of the fire lit by Scott and a few of the others, they know where to head back to when the time is right. They simply go far enough to be well and truly alone, nearly completely shaded in darkness except for brief glimpses of moonlight through the trees.
“We can stop here.” Derek pulls on Stiles’ hand and leans against a tree, leading Stiles forward to kiss him slowly. They wrap their arms around each other easily and lose themselves in the simple action of their mouths moving together. Eventually, though, Derek pulls back.
His gaze is sharp and focused even in the darkness, eyes flitting over Stiles' face before leaning in to kiss him again. “I've been a fool.”
“One would not argue,” Stiles mumbles against Derek's lips.
“Were we no one,” Derek says quietly, brushing the back of his hand over Stiles' cheek, “I would have never rested until you were mine. But circumstance made me stubborn and stupid, too stupid to see how lucky I really was.”
“You flatter.” Stiles curls his fingers in the fabric on Derek’s abdomen as he dots kisses along his jaw. “It would not have taken much effort, I assure you. Circumstance has had affect on both of us—it’s no longer an issue, I imagine.”
Derek fits his hand perfectly on the nape of Stiles’ neck and shakes his head. “I suppose not.”
They kiss a moment longer, seeking warmth in each other, and then Derek chuckles and tilts his forehead forward so their lips are a few inches apart.
“You lead me to distraction.”
Stiles narrows his eyes. “Distraction from a more pressing matter?”
“Yes,” Derek says almost teasingly. “Actually.”
Stiles rolls his eyes and gives Derek a little shove. “Speak your mind then, let my touch not distract from thought.”
“I enjoy your touch,” Derek protests with a smile, grabbing for his hands. “There’s simply a question on my mind.”
If Stiles is particularly concerned with the nature of the question, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he plays with Derek’s hands, twisting how their fingers are interlaced and manipulating their movement.
“You would agree that things have changed between us?”
“Quite obviously, I think.”
Derek smirks and leans in again, squeezing Stiles hands. “You’re happy? With me?”
“No,” Stiles says immediately, “that’s why I continue to spend time in your presence and crave your touch at every waking moment. I find you repulsive, actually, which accounts for my heavy satisfaction with your lovemaking skills and adoration for your beautiful words from that beautiful mouth.” He presses a kiss to said mouth then, and Derek kisses him back, uncaring for a moment about distractions.
Derek kisses along his jaw and up to his ear. “I want to ask you to marry me.”
Stiles splutters and pulls back slightly. “Have we not been working towards that already?”
Derek takes his hands and kisses the knuckles of his left one. “We have agreed to be married for the sake of honor and advantage, married to join two kingdoms” Derek says, before tugging Stiles closer. “I would like to ask you to marry me.”
Stiles blinks at him for a moment and Derek would panic, honestly, if it weren’t for his certainty. And when Stiles’ face splits into a smile, he mimics it, pulling Stiles into a hug that he returns just as fiercely. “Yes,” Stiles laughs. “I’ll marry you, of course I will.”
Derek kisses him, hands on his face, tender and slow. “I love you.”
“I—yes, I do too, I love you too.”
Scott only waits two days after their return from Peritia before he goes to see the king. It’s not his eagerness, necessarily, but rather the fact that as soon as Stiles tells his father that Derek proposed, the whole castle will be abuzz with wedding planning, and he can’t let this get in the way of that, and he can’t wait until after they’re settled to ask so—so he has to do it as soon as possible.
Requesting an audience with the King is a complicated procedure, one that could potentially take days to actually bear fruit, if it weren’t for the fact that the king in question happened to be in love with Scott’s mother. He supposes that helps.
The King is sitting at the table in his chambers when Scott enters. Normally a conversation like this would happen in less an intimate area of the castle, but the King doesn’t seem to mind, and he gestures at Scott to enter the room more fully.
“Good afternoon, Sir Scott,” he greets the knight.
“Your grace.” He does a hasty, respectful bow, his nervousness making his hands shake.
The King frowns with worry. “Is something the matter?”
“No, your highness,” he says quickly. “I mean there is a matter. But it's not a concern. Well it is a concern but—”
He blinks. “Yes, highness.”
“Speak your mind,” the man urges.
Scott looks at his feet and then at his hands and then takes a deep breath and looks up at his king. “I'm in love.”
The King grins, face split and eyes crinkled. “Congratulations. Does your mother know?”
“I—not entirely. I mean, not the entirety of the situation.” He swallows tightly. “You see, we wish to be married.”
“You proposed to her?”
“Well, I suppose the opposite, your grace.”
He looks greatly amused. “Your lady asked for your hand?”
Scott grins and blushes. “I don't think I would have found it to be my place otherwise.”
Looking intrigued, the King takes his seat again. “Well I suppose things have changed since my day.”
Scott swallows. “It isn't that, your grace, it's only that—well, she's of higher birth.”
It takes a moment for the implications of that, the true meaning of that statement, to work its way into the King’s head and onto his face. For a moment, he frowns. “As I’m sure you know, my son has made a choice—or allowed the Hales to make his choice for him, at least. Princess Cora would not be—well, that is to say, I don’t believe Stiles would have any ill feelings towards you simply because—”
“Forgive me,” Scott interrupts, “but not Cora—and not Princess Laura, either, your highness.” He waits, just to see if the King will get it, but the man waits for Scott to tell him. “Princess Allison, from the south. I’ve been courting her for several months.”
The King sits up with no short amount of alarm on his expression. “Allison of Argent is heir to the throne.”
Scott looks down at his feet again. “Yes, sire.”
“This is something you have always known, Scott, you were raised alongside my son.”
“It was not my plan to fall in love with her, I swear to you.” He can feel guilt rising in his throat, making it tight, just like his chest. “I told her, of course, my first duty was to my kingdom and my responsibilities in Cor as a knight—she encouraged me to speak with you to ask for your, uh, permission, I suppose. But I know the oath I swore, the tasks and duties I took as a knight.”
He is silent for a moment before he sighs. “Your oath is something we will deal with in a moment. My more pressing concern is to impress upon you the responsibility that taking the heir to a kingdom as your wife entails.”
Scott is silent for a moment, shocked. When he speaks again, his voice cracks. “You mean to allow me to marry her?”
“I’ve learned many things over the years, Sir Scott, and one of them is that Princess Allison gets what she wants.” He looks down at his hand upon the table and purses his lips. “I suppose King Christopher will have words to share with you on this subject, but the fact of the matter is this: marrying a princess places you in a position with high authority. King Christopher is still alive and well and will be so for many years to come, but that by no means excuses you from responsibility.”
Scott was still too shocked at the easy acceptance. “But. But, your highness, I swore an oath!”
“You were fifteen, Scott,” the King says with an easy smile, “and you have not broken that oath or wavered in your commitment for a day since. You have served us bravely and with honor. You are a most cherished knight. But more than that, Scott, you have been as second son to me and a brother to Stiles. That comes before all.” He stands, coming around the table to stop in front of Scott. “You love the Princess and she loves you—I could think of no better man for her. Sometimes,” he adds, with a bit of a smirk, “your heart is more important than your oaths.”
Scott grins and laughs when the King grabs him by the shoulders and pulls him into a hug. When he pulls away Scott is nearly in tears. “I feared my allegiances would tear me in two.”
“Even when I am no longer your king,” the man says, “we shall always be family.”
Scott smirks. “Might that be so?”
His smile is still there, but it’s of a forced, painful nature now, and he steps back with a sigh. “You speak of your mother. She’s an honest woman—a good woman.”
“That she is.”
“I understand your worry over her wellbeing when you’re no longer in Cor, Scott,” he says as he moves to sit back down, “but I will always make sure she’s comfortable and safe. You need not worry about that.”
“The last thing I worry about in regards to my mother is her wellbeing,” Scott says. “She can take care of herself.”
The King frowns. “What concerns you?”
Scott looks the man in the eye, perhaps too forward or perhaps just right. “Her happiness.” He raises his hands defensively. “I don’t mean to say her life here doesn’t please her, she’s very content. But you know she loves you. And her love goes beyond that of a citizen holding love for their sovereign.”
“Your mother is a remarkable woman. I’ve been exceedingly lucky since she came into my life. However, this is not a matter where your input is necessary.” He takes his seat again and folds his hands together over the table. “You may write your Princess presently about the news of your engagement and sort out details.”
“Your highness, I follow my heart to lead me to happiness,” Scott pleads with finality. He already knows he must leave, that he’s pressed very far in the little room given to him. “I only wish to see my king do the same.” The King has been more of a father than his own ever had been, it makes his own heart ache to see the sadness and resignation in the man's eyes as he bows and takes his leave.
“We can’t keep doing this,” Derek pants into Stiles’ open mouth. He’s pressed back against Stiles’ dresser and he looks ridiculously attractive, mouth swollen, shirt rucked up, trousers around his mid thighs. “Someone will—your honor—my honor—”
“When does honor matter for men?” Stiles asks, biting at Derek’s jaw. “We’re to be married either way.”
“You’re the crown prince.” Derek moans as Stiles thumbs at his slit. A wide grin spreads across Stiles’ face, satisfied with himself, and he does it again to see if he can illicit the same reaction. “Fuck. Stiles.”
“I’m the crown prince,” Stiles echoes, “and I say that I want to see my future husband moaning my name at every waking moment.”
Derek comes just a moment later, hands tight on Stiles’ shoulders, and when he’s done, he grabs Stiles close and kisses him thoroughly. “The more we carry on like this, the more likely it is a poor, unsuspecting servant is going to find us hidden away—you don’t wash your own sheets, Stiles. We’re hardly being discreet.”
“Why should we be?” Stiles kisses his cheekbones, down across his ears to his pulse point. “You’re going to be my husband. I find no problems with our actions. Besides, I’d like to be good at this before our wedding night.”
“Trust me. You’re plenty qualified.” He whips his shirt off and uses it to clean his stomach and Stiles’ hand.
“You believe us to be scorned if people knew we were doing this out of marriage?”
“It’s a matter of privacy.” He drops his own shirt and grabs for the hem of Stiles’, tugging it off over Stiles’ head and reaching for his waistband.
Stiles laughs. “Your argument would likely be more convincing if you weren’t doing this right now.”
“I can stop,” Derek whispers against Stiles’ throat.
By the time they emerge from Stiles’ room, Stiles can kind of understand what Derek means. They’ve left it in a fairly noticeable state of disarray, it smells like sex and come, and Derek’s stained shirt is waiting to be cleaned—he’s wearing one of Stiles’, which is still very distracting. The problem, Stiles notices however, is that he can’t care because every second he’s alone with Derek, he wants the other man in his arms. Derek seems to feel similarly at least, constantly touching some part of him whenever he gets the chance, but it’s harder when they’re in public, even worse since they still haven’t told anyone about Derek’s proposal.
“My father will wonder why I didn’t ask you,” Stiles mutters as they walk towards the dining hall. “It’s a matter of pride, especially since you’ll be King here instead of in Ignis. Not that he won’t be thrilled overall, but still.”
Derek smirks. “You proposed last night,” he coos. “Remember, when I made you come so hard you could hardly breathe?”
Stiles flushes. “As long as you promise not to mention that, I see no reason we can’t announce our engagement today.”
“I would have you satisfied in every way before you tell your father and the court of our plans.” He grabs Stiles’ wrist and forces him to stop, pulling him close. “Do you love me, your grace?”
“I do,” Stiles whispers, hands moving to the back of Derek’s neck. “And do you love me in return, your highness?”
“I do.” Derek kisses him then, slow and soft, and when he breaks it, it’s only to brush his nose gently across Stiles’. “We’re going to be married, Stiles.”
“The sooner the better.”
“I would marry you tomorrow if you wished it.”
“I wish you in my bed and in my arms every moment, every evening for the rest of my days.” He presses another kiss to Derek’s lips. “We’re expected at dinner.”
Derek sighs. “I would say they could damn well wait a moment, but we’re already late as it is.” He reaches down and twists their fingers together. “Come. We have all evening to spend in each other’s arms.”
Dinner is a quiet affair, Derek seated next to his sisters and Stiles next to his father and Derek’s parents. They eat with little, polite conversation, and it isn’t until the very end, when their plates are cleared and wine is poured fresh, that Derek’s eyes meet Stiles’ across the table and he nods.
“Father,” Stiles says, and then he turns to Queen Talia and her husband at his right and addresses them as well. “In the light of recent events and decisions to be made, Prince Derek and I thought it pertinent that we inform you—that is, we ask for your blessing.” He looks back at Derek, who is smirking subtly, eyes locked on Stiles’. “He’s proposed, you see. And I’ve accepted.”
“Oh, Derek,” Laura says, her hand going to her mouth. “That—that’s wonderful, isn’t it?”
Queen Talia looks pleased, smiling at her son with a subdued expression, like she’d rather applaud and dance, and her husband, although more calm, is no less satisfied.
“I’m very happy for the both of you,” Stiles’ father says, smile on his face. “Arrangements will be made immediately—we’ll set a date tomorrow.”
That’s all that’s really said about it that night, and if both Stiles and Derek manage to sneak their way into the gardens that night to spend another few hours until the stars, waxing poetic about their wedding day, well, that’s their business.
It isn’t until the morning that everything falls apart.
Stiles rolls over to find Derek still in his bed, and he buries his face against the other man’s neck, hand on his stomach. “You need to be dressed before we join our parents for breakfast,” he whispers.
“Good morning to you too,” Derek says through a laugh. “I didn’t mean to stay the night, but I can’t say I’m sorry I did.” He grabs at Stiles, yanking him closer across the bed, and kisses him. “Have we any responsibilities to tend to today, or can I keep you in your bed until I see fit to release you?”
“Hm… The knights will get lazy without proper competition. Perhaps now we’ll get that rematch.”
Derek lifts his head, smirking. “You jest. You would leave your bed with me in order to take sword to my throat?”
“If you’d let me get close enough,” Stiles teases.
“I believe we have ourselves a wager,” Derek coos, sitting up and straddling Stiles. “I best you in competition, you’ll…” He hesitates, obviously trying to think of something, and rests his hands on Stiles’ chest. “Huh.”
“I’ll suck you,” Stiles offers.
“You would do that anyway,” Derek says through a grin.
“Quite right.” Stiles runs his hands up and down Derek’s thighs. “Surely my total embarrassment would be enough if I lost to you? Not that I would, of course.”
“Well, what would you have me do if you bested me in competition—as you seem to think you would.”
Stiles grins. “I have everything I want from you.”
“A boring competition, then.”
“You won’t think it so when I win.”
Derek returns to his room a little while later to clean himself up and dress before breakfast. Stiles watches him go, kisses him goodbye and grins to himself as he makes his way down the hall in the dim light of morning. He tells himself that he’ll see Derek moments later at breakfast, that they won’t be parted for long, and it makes him feel like a child with a crush, the longing he’d felt for Lydia so long ago suddenly repeated. He laughs at himself on his way down the hall. As if a matter of hours would change things.
Stiles never does make it to breakfast.
The guards call of a guest arriving at the gates, something that no one in the palace knew about, and he reroutes his course there instead, overwhelmingly pleased and confused when someone informs him that it’s Princess Allison travelling.
“Visiting her betrothed, perhaps?” his father suggests as he stands diligently by his side. “Very unlike her to not send word ahead.”
The Hales stand with them as well, their three children off to the other side, and they wait for the coaches to pull forward. Sure enough, Allison steps out looking like, well, a princess, her smile bright and sunny and her clothes beautiful and rich. She rushes forward to hug Stiles immediately before curtsying before his father.
“I apologize for my abrupt visit,” she says, “but Scott sent me word of your approval of our union and I could wait no longer to thank you in person. That, and I would be travelling soon anyhow to witness your son’s wedding, and I didn’t think my presence would be too much of an imposition.”
“Never, Princess,” the King says with a kind smile. “You’re always welcome in Cor.”
And then another person exits the carriage. At first, Stiles doesn’t understand, doesn’t recognize the woman, but the way every other person standing in front of the palace with him seizes up and makes quiet noises of surprise and discontent, he thinks he manages to guess.
“I hope you don’t mind, your grace,” Allison continues, undeterred, “but I’ve brought along my aunt—I know what you’re thinking, I promise you, but—”
“I highly doubt that,” the King interrupts, smile gone. “Princess, I hardly deemed you as thoughtless as to bring her into our home at this time. Our guests—” He breaks off, looking towards where Queen Talia seems ready to spit fire and the King has his hands on his daughters, holding them back as if they would rush forward to attack.
“She’s repented,” Allison hurries to tell him. “Every sinner deserves a second chance, your grace, and she’s my family.” She looks towards Stiles, and he’s stunned into awareness.
Lady Katherine Argent. The woman who tried to burn down the palace at Ignis and kill Derek’s family. The woman who seduced Derek, who tortured him, who nearly took away everything he has.
The King looks towards his guests.
“It’s hardly our decision what you do with your home,” Queen Talia says, if her voice is a bit stiff.
“I imagine it would be rude,” her husband adds, “to turn away travelers.”
Stiles glares towards the woman, still leaning against the carriage, still having said nothing. She’s of a slightly darker complexion than Allison, hair a bit lighter, eyes narrower. She’s dressed finely, if slightly less modest than her niece, and Stiles’ first instinct is to go to Derek, but his father places a hand on his shoulder as if he can read his mind.
“The servants will find you and your aunt rooms to rest,” the King tells them.
“Thank you, your grace,” Allison says with a curtsy.
Katherine mimics the movement, but she looks like she’s mocking him as she does.
As soon as they’ve dispersed—the Hales back inside with their daughters and the King back towards the dining hall—Stiles rushes for Derek, grabbing him and pulling him close.
“I’m sorry,” he breathes out quickly, “I’m so sorry. I won’t let her near you, I promise. I won’t let her touch you.”
Derek holds him, buries his face in Stiles’ neck and holds on tight. “Stiles.”
“It’s alright, Derek. It’s alright. I’m not going anywhere, I’m right here, and I won’t let her near you.” He pushes into a kiss, aching and heartfelt. “I promise, Derek.”
“I can’t stay here,” he whispers. “I can’t—be in the same house as her.”
“You’ll stay with me. Please, Derek, it’ll be fine.”
“Not right now. I can’t right now.”
Stiles nods, hands on Derek’s face. “The knights—we could—”
“Let’s go into the forest,” Derek tells him, squeezing his hand. “Come with me, please. We’ll take horses; please, let’s just go into the forest, away from here. Please, Stiles, please.”
“Okay,” he whispers. “I—yes, if you want to. I—you don’t want to go into town, or—?”
“I want to be away from here. With you. I just wanna go somewhere with you.” He pulls at Stiles’ hand, dragging him towards the garden and past, across the grounds towards where the forest begins and travels down, all the way to Peritia, and so Stiles follows, hold his hand tight and follows.
Derek is quiet as they walk. They go to the stables and take horses, ride south for what feels like hours, the sun ending up high in the sky, and when Derek stops, so does Stiles. They move into the shade of the trees, sitting, and Derek pushes himself in close to Stiles, holding him.
“What are we going to do?” Stiles asks him, tipping his head back against Derek’s shoulder.
“Stay far away from her. Stay away until she leaves—she has to leave after the wedding. We’ll try to get our parents to set the date as soon as possible.” Derek exhales heavily. “I’m sorry—I panicked. My mind strayed from important things.”
“There is nothing more important than this right now,” Stiles soothes.
“I won’t let her ruin this for us,” Derek promises. He nuzzles at Stiles’ neck, squeezing him tight. “I won’t let her near you.”
“You’re my first priority, Derek. Let me worry about you.”
That’s how they end up pushed against a tree, making out and grabbing at each other like they just can’t stop, like the world would end if they stopped, and when Stiles falls to his knees and holds onto Derek’s hips to keep him pinned against the tree, it seems like it just might.
They don’t get back until the sun has set. Stiles talks to the servants in the kitchen and tells them he and Derek will take dinner in his room and asks them to inform his father as well. They bathe, scrubbing off dirt and sweat and frustration, and when they go to bed that night, Stiles holds Derek tightly and refuses to let him go.
At that point, Derek is numb.
“I’m sorry,” he says softly.
Stiles kisses his forehead. “Don't be an idiot, I only wish there were more I could do without causing some diplomatic turmoil. Allison has given her protection and—”
“Allison is young,” Derek says quietly, “and Kate is good at what she does.”
Stiles doesn’t linger too long on the fact that he’d called her by such a familiar name, pushing it far away and instead just shifting closer. “You’ll tell me if there’s anything I can do, won’t you?”
“I have certain responsibilities to tend to tomorrow,” Derek says with a sigh. “A few of my knights have had plans to go hunting with your father and others. I promised I would go along.”
“Oh. I can—”
“The ladies wouldn’t join us anyway.” Derek squeezes his hand. “You can stay and I’ll see you for dinner tomorrow evening.”
“Before we take to my bed,” Stiles adds, kissing the back of his neck.
Derek doesn't say much after that, but curls his body closer and keeps his hand clutched tight.
The following day, Stiles can’t sit still. He spends time with Scott, trains with the knights and escorts both Hale sisters on a walk around the grounds. He’s not bored for an instant all day, but he can’t help the feeling that everything is going terribly, horribly wrong.
He sees Derek when they return from hunting, immediately takes him into a hug even though he can feel the whole company’s eyes on them. Derek grins at him, kissing him chastely, and they go to dinner together, both of them thankful that Allison and her aunt have chosen—or perhaps been coerced—to eat in their rooms.
Derek doesn’t come to his bed that evening, torn away by his father and the rest of his family for serious discussions on the situation presented to them, and Stiles understands, he does, but he still feels lonely.
The next day isn’t any better.
Stiles is already flustered, upset over Kate’s presence in general and Allison’s apparent trust in her aunt. He’s been walking the grounds for the last ten minutes, trying to clear his head and make himself stop worrying, but to no effect. He hasn’t seen Derek since breakfast and his immediate desire is to seek him out, find himself in his fiancé’s arms, but he doesn’t know how welcome he would be. Derek had seem stressed when they saw each other, shoulders tense and eyes flitting about. He’d barely even kissed Stiles hello.
It’s for both of them, he decides, when he starts to head towards Derek’s room. They need to be able to be together, to talk things out, to be able to comfort one another as they try to figure out the situation. In the end, Stiles will do whatever Derek needs him to.
He doesn’t knock before he enters Derek’s room, doesn’t even think about it, but when the door swings open and he takes in the sight before him, he figures maybe he should have.
He's never actually seen a person take such a predatory stance above another, much less a person whom he assumes is trying to pass for a lady. It's positively obscene, the way she straddles Derek as he sits on a chair. It's obscene and indecent and something for behind closed doors, which he supposes it was until he barged in. He doesn't allow himself to freeze and burn the details into his mind. He only glimpses at her exposed thigh and the mussed state of Derek's hair and flees.
The images and words in his mind make not a single composed thought among the bunch, it is all a blur. He walks and walks until he's running, focusing with all his strength on the sounds of his boots against the tile.
He doesn’t stop until he’s reached his own chambers, passes by several servants and doesn’t say a word, doesn’t try to hide and compose himself, simply runs until he has his door closed behind him, and that’s when he allows himself to break down. He doesn’t make it to his bed, stops on the floor and just collapses, tears coming like they’re exploding out of a reservoir. Resolutely, he doesn’t sob. He cries and he buries his face in his hands and feels himself coming apart, but he’s silent as he does it, all except for shuddering breaths every once in a while and the too-loud sound of his beating heart.
He hears running steps in the corridor and all but throws himself against the door before shoving the dresser over to bar the entrance. The burst of energy and strength pushes away the sadness, the disappointment and the heartbreak. When Derek starts knocking with his whole fist at the door all he feels is rage.
He feels betrayed, lied to—if Derek had been upfront, if Derek had ever wanted to be with someone else, it would’ve always hurt, but that didn’t mean Stiles couldn’t prepare himself for letting Derek have what he wanted. This, though? This is Derek going behind his back, days before they’re about to be married, and fucking a woman he used to love when he’s supposedly in love with Stiles. And it isn’t fair.
“Stiles!” Derek shouts through the door for the hundredth time. “Stiles, open the door right now!”
He adds more furniture to his barricade, a chair in the corner, almost considering pushing the table over, but it wouldn’t fit in the gap between his bed and the dresser, and so he simply shoves whatever else he can and wipes away his tears, stepping back to admire his work.
He clambers on top of his masterpiece and leans his own palms on the top of the door. “You're not talking to your man servant, do you understand?!”
“STILES, OPEN THIS DOOR!”
“I am to be your husband and your sovereign and I do not allow you the fucking familiarity, Prince Hale; you will refer to me by my title—in fact you will not refer to me at all.”
It digs into him, the knowledge that they’ve lost so much, but he pushes away the pain and the sadness and forces himself to stand firm.
Derek is quiet for a moment. “Stiles.”
“No,” Stiles firmly. “Leave me—now.”
But there are only more knocks, more attempts to push at Stiles’ barricade, and he topples slightly, but doesn’t fall from where he’s perched.
“LEAVE!” he repeats, shouts this time, and the knocks stop.
“Stiles,” Derek says again, softer this time. “Stiles, please let me explain, I—”
But Stiles won't hear it. He won't sit there and listen to excuses and lies. So he jumps off the top of the furnishings and strides out to his balcony, making sure the bang of the glass pane doors echoes.
He feels sick to his stomach. The sun is setting, dinner will likely be served soon, but this time it won’t only be the Hale family who refuse to eat with the present company. Stiles won’t budge from his room, not tonight, and maybe not even the following day—he isn’t sure. But tonight, he’ll spend it alone, sorting through his thoughts and learning to accept what’s obviously become the political, emotionless marriage it was meant to be.
A maid comes to him with dinner and he threatens her a bit to make sure that Derek isn't there. He must frighten the girl enough because she admits his dinner tray holds a letter from the prince. He lets her in and then takes the envelope and looks her in the eye.
“I want you to take this to the prince's chamber; I want you to show him the untouched seal but do not let him take it. Tell him you are following my instruction and wishes. Then I want you to set it on fire.”
“On fire, your grace?”
“Yes, kindle the prince's hearth with his own words.”
She looks hesitant, but she curtsies and leaves with the letter all the same. Stiles doesn’t even eat, picks at the food he’s been brought and paces. He steps out on the balcony while he thinks, keeps the doors open so he can stride back and forth, and some time, maybe a half hour after the maid has left, there are strong, firm knocks on his bedroom door. Stiles doesn’t even blink—his barricade is back in place and he closes the balcony doors so he can sit outside.
Then, a few minutes after that, he hears his name called from below the balcony. He doesn’t glance over, doesn’t acknowledge that he’s heard Derek calling at him like an uncivilized child, and instead simply strolls back inside.
It's an indecent hour when a letter slips slowly through the crack of his door. He jolts out of bed and snatches the letter in, ripping it in two before sending the pieces back through.
“Stiles,” Derek sighs from the other side of the door.
“The crown prince of Cor is currently unavailable to the wishes and demands of Prince Hale until further notice.”
Stiles closes his eyes tight, and shakes his head to himself. He doesn’t know who’s currently standing as his unmoving, quiet guard outside his room this evening, but he doesn’t care. “Sir, please remove Prince Hale from the corridor.”
He hears the shuffling of boots. “Yes, your grace.”
It's awkward as they can't take much force or disrespect with another royal, be they foreign or not, but it gets it done. Derek leaves with little argument.
Stiles shudders and buries himself beneath his sheets. He cannot sleep but he waits, patiently, for morning.
He appears at breakfast as calmly as any day. He greets his father and gives a general wish of good morning to whomever showed up for the meal. He would not know as his eyes travel only from his father to his plate. He eats in silence and it seems that whomever is at the table is too distracted by his behavior to hold conversation of their own. He is almost through with his bread when across from him someone clears his throat. “Prince Stiles, I would have a word—”
“I haven't the time at present,” Stiles says, abandoning his half eaten breakfast and bowing stiffly towards his father before excusing himself.
All the same, another chair scrapes back and the same voice says, “Excuse me, your grace,” to his father before footsteps catch up with him.
Through his haze of sleeplessness and numbness, he knows that it’s Allison, her hand catching his wrist and her voice saying his name, but he yanks his arm away and turns to her.
“What could you possibly want?” he nearly spits.
Her eyes are wide, her posture stricken with neither fear nor regret, but rather a moment of shock. She straightens hastily and sets her shoulders. “I think it hardly appropriate—”
“It’s good I don’t take much care in what you think then.”
She tilts her chin up. “Stiles, you and Scott are as brothers. I would not have such bitterness between—”
“Perhaps you should have thought of such things before you brought a lunatic and a harlot into my home,” Stiles hisses. “I thought you my friend,” he continues, and he can see how Allison takes half a step backwards at the venom in his words. “Now I’ve lost my love and my happiness because of the woman you trust, the woman you bring into my life without my consent, knowing full well what she’s done to Der—to Prince Hale and his family. Such actions are, at the present moment, inexcusable, and I will not have words with you while they stand emotionally taxing. Excuse me.” He bows like he doesn’t really mean it, and he doesn’t, before he continues on his way.
This time, she doesn’t follow him.
He goes into the library to pull up the documents he spent his short breakfast pondering about before striding with all of his anger well covered in a trained expression and striding into Derek's room. The man looks half dead, sagging as he is on a chair in front of a breakfast tray. He all but jumps to his feet as Stiles strides in and tries to speak before Stiles glares at him.
“You may sit. I have but short business to discuss.”
Derek licks his broken lips and nods shortly, falling back into his seat. Stiles shoves aside the tray on the table and lays down a number of small books of figures and a couple of documents.
“These are the idle properties the crown currently owns,” he begins, his eyes on the papers not wavering towards Derek for a single moment, “along with their assets and the numbers of those who live off the surrounding lands and their major trades. After the wedding ceremony we are both expected to retire for a honeymoon to the coastal lands. We shall not. Instead you may take the allotted time to secure all belongings and staff that would have been brought to the palace and repurpose them to your new home. Any of these estates. Whichever you choose. You will be given the corresponding title. There you may take a mistress or four, my only request is that you take your responsibilities towards the surrounding citizens seriously. You may inform Lord Finstock of your choice. There is no need to inform me. Have a good day, your highness.”
He moves to leave and Derek bolts up from his seat again. “You mean to exile me from my own wedding bed?”
“I mean to give you your obvious preference!” Stiles rebuts, clenching his hands into fists. “For the good of my nation, I mean to marry you and seal the political deal we made at the end of the previous month. This is your duty—Cor does not need two kings to sit on thrones and make idle chatter, and since I have fallen out of favor anyway, I would see you put to purpose for my people.”
Derek’s nostrils flare. “Put to purpose?” he repeats. “You mean put me to punishment.”
“I do not take your meaning,” he all but growls. “I only intend to give you what you want. You may keep to your family's intent and you may have the liberty to bed whom you like, an offer that I might remind you was previously made. But no matter. It is behind us. Or shall I say it will soon be. If you so desire you may close your eyes when our lips are bound to meet in the eyes of our families and think of the object of your desire, whomever that may be. You will only have to endure such torture but once more.”
“You speak like a bitter angry child,” Derek bites out, “without so much as affording me a moment to speak or the duty of trial as you would a common criminal.”
“A common fiend does not give his word to anyone,” Stiles hisses. “He does all evil deeds without having ever promised not to. What game did you play at when I had offered you every liberty before? Did you expect an easier, more luxurious life if you could but keep me fooled and adoring at your side? Did you like the air of the capitol so much that you would endure bedding me every night? I will not put up with it.”
“There was never a game!” Derek is flushed, obviously angry, but Stiles doesn’t care. “All I expected was your love and I—I was placed in an unfortunate position—”
“I saw your position,” Stiles scoffs.
“She forced herself upon me despite heavy protests,” Derek tells him, “and I was nearly sick. I have no more desire to bed her than I do one of the horses in the stables!”
Stiles closes his eyes and lifts a hand to his forehead. “Your lies here do not matter. You and I have entered into this deal and we will see it done, but I will not go to bed with you and I will not be the villain in the story you’ve concocted for yourself.”
“Why are you so quick to believe such atrocity?”
“Because I saw it with my own eyes! I am no idiot, despite what you think. And you are vile, you are vile and you are cruel. If you had but told me you could not love me I would have offered but my friendship and partnership in our rule. But you lied and mocked and made me love you. Why would you—how—?” Stiles takes a deep breath, his voice becoming too wet with choked back tears for his comfort. “It matters not.”
Derek takes a step forward and Stiles consequently takes one back. “I love you,” he says, and Stiles feels like he’s going to be sick. “I loved you almost from the moment I saw you and I fought it because I didn’t want a political match and I didn’t want to fall in love with someone who would see me as a deal to be made but I fell in love with you in spite of all else and I haven’t faltered in my love a day since!” He makes to grab for Stiles, but the prince swats him away. “That night, in Peritia, in your bed—”
“Do not throw past mistakes in my face!” Stiles nearly shouts. “Your actions, your words—you have made cruel decisions and they’ve hurt me and I won’t stand for it. I refuse to sit side-by-side with a man who would do this to me.” He points at the papers again. “Take your land, your servants, your money, and your mistresses, and leave the crown to me.”
“You would call it a mistake? Being with me?”
Stiles can hear the hitch in his voice, the way he sounds vulnerable and upset, and it lingers in his head for a moment too long before he moves closer to the door. “Please, just… Do not make this more difficult than it already is for me.”
“Do you think it easy to listen to you regret what is between us?”
“What was between us was lies, lies I believed—”
“Would you stop?”
“Gladly,” Stiles snarls. “I've other business to take care of. I have to make sure I don't sully my word as you have yours. Someday—hopefully many, many years from now—I will have to rule my people. And I would like to do so knowing that I have not lied before heaven and earth just to marry you.”
He leaves then, Derek not even trying to stop him, and goes towards his chambers. It’s true, he has parchment and ink waiting for him, set upon his table as he has intent to rewrite his vows and he has to make them honest. No pointless rambling of love and future, all romantic senselessness set aside for a ceremony that will do nothing more than bind him to a man he’ll never forgive and make him a celibate fool, too in love with his kingdom to put his own happiness above it.
He remembers his lessons as he writes it and mostly fills in blanks in a form learned long ago and sends it off to the practitioner to replace his original vows with instructions to burn those to a cinder. Stiles is a fan of burning everything to do with his wretched love for Derek Hale. He sits in his chambers and misses dinner and then there is a knock at the door.
He calls for the person to enter, aware that he’ll have to make up some excuses and arguments and try to summon anger over his suddenly on-set sadness if it’s Derek who strides in demanding some kind of rematch, but instead it’s the practitioner.
“Deaton,” Stiles says with a nod from where he sits at his table.
“Your highness,” the man says with a slight bow. He closes the door behind him. “I thought it would be best if I visited in person—I find confusion in your request.”
“I don’t think there’s anything confusing about it, actually,” Stiles says, not slightly sour. “My old vows are no longer proper for the ceremony.”
Deaton opens his mouth and then shuts it, collecting himself for a moment with a calming breath. “Your grace may I speak with familiarity?”
Stiles lifts an eyebrow. “I've no need of your opinion.”
“Then perhaps, your highness, my most respectful thoughts upon those of your late mother, may she rest in peace.”
Stiles' breath hitches and his hand clenches; he huffs and throws his hands in the air. “Oh, go on.”
Deaton slips into the seat across from him. “Stiles, I have read contracts of cattle sale more romantic than what you had delivered to me this afternoon. More than that, your previous vows were simple and true. Genuine. These were forced, clearly so to anyone who knows you. If your intent is to write your way out of lying to those who love and trust you—your father to your subjects—then, my child, you have most grievously failed. I could lie myself and say your mother would be saddened by your actions, but the truth is that she would have laughed. She would have laughed and told you that the time is over for being a child.”
“I’m being anything but a child,” Stiles argues. “My future husband and I have made our choices; I’m trying to make it so that our intent is clear.”
“It is clear that you are writing a contract to ensure safety and peace between our land and Ignis, yet there are already rumors of your great love for Prince Derek.”
Stiles clenches his jaw and shuts his eyes. “I cannot promise my people that Prince Derek and I will be compatible, loving rulers—I will be, but apparently many things I’ve learned about the prince have turned out to be falsities. I won’t put my nation in the hands of someone who must earn my trust.”
Deaton smiles, not even kind, just patient as he tends to be. “Stiles. The contract is set in stone by virtue of your marriage, there is no need to hammer it before the altar and spoil everyone's day. Tell me, do you love him?”
“It matters not.”
“Nothing else matters.”
“I do. But he does not love me.”
Deaton stares at him impassively for nearly a minute and Stiles fidgets under his gaze. Finally Deaton stands taking the paper he had written earlier that day and ripping it in half. “Write vows for yourself and make no assumptions as to his. If you will love him, regardless of his feelings for you, then say as much. If you will be loyal to him even if he does not grant you the same virtue, then tell him that. I see in your gaze a strong love, something heartbreak will not shake. It is impressive, a heartening quality in a sovereign, to love unconditionally even when he does not feel loved in return. Your people are many and spread through the land. Sometimes they will anger, sometimes they will riot and rage, sometimes they will paint you as different than you really are to assuage their difficulties. But you will love them, for they will be yours and you will have sworn your protection to them. Do this and they will show you that underneath it all they love you just as well. The young prince may show you the same.”
Stiles doesn’t know what to say to that, not really, so he lets Deaton leave. The words weigh heavily on his heart, the idea that he could be in love with Derek for years and never share his bed, never truly be loved in return, making his head spin. He closes his eyes and leans forward against the table, arms folded together as he presses his forehead down against them.
He tries to tell himself that it doesn’t matter, that he won’t love Derek in a year, or five, but he doesn’t know that that’s true. He doesn’t know that he won’t just let Derek continue to break his heart.
So he rewrites his vows again, finding common ground between his initial decision, love and devotion and satisfaction with the union, and his latest one, all stiff promises with nothing to say about his heart. This version is all heart. Intent, purpose, hopes, and it works, it’s lovely and sweet but not overtly romantic in such a way as to promise Derek perfection. He sends it back to Deaton with a guard and thinks that maybe, just maybe, things might begin to get easier.
His father is being surprisingly quiet about the entire thing, as are Derek’s parents. They have to return to their kingdom soon, the land being too long left in the hands of the King’s brother, and so the wedding date is formally set for the end of the week, a fact that makes something awful and slimy twist up in Stiles’ stomach when he hears about it.
Lydia writes, saying she intends to travel for the occasion, and even though he won’t speak to Allison, she leaves him a note with a servant that says she is honored to be present for the ceremony.
Stiles’ father is simply more concerned with other aspects.
“As I’m sure you’re aware,” the King says with a slight cough as they sit in his chambers the next evening, “there are ways for two people who are bound in marriage but unable to conceive to have legitimate children. As a prince, lineage should be one of your primary concerns—”
“When the time comes,” Stiles says with a sigh. “I promise to give you grandchildren when the time comes.”
The king coughs uncomfortably. “Of course. Only in cases like yours it would be smart of you to give it thought from the start.”
Stiles nods, feeling even sadder now with the thought of a child brought up between parents who do not love each other. He wonders if his feelings for Derek would be enough to foster normalcy and happiness for a child. “Of course.”
“Stiles,” his father sighs, “you are unhappy.”
“I told you from the beginning that it was a possibility,” Stiles defends himself. “I never wanted an arranged marriage. I told you I wanted to fall in love, marry someone I loved.”
“I was under the impression you did love Derek. Very much, in fact.” He sits up straight, hands folded together. “Stiles, no matter what did or did not happen with Katherine Argent, I know when a man is in love, and I’ve seen the way Derek looks at you.”
“Looked,” he corrects. “The way he used to look at me. Before she waltzed back into his life.”
“You are blinded, son, it is plain to everyone. You are blinded by fear and the anger it breeds. Do you not think that I am unfamiliar with the feeling, Stiles? Your mother was the most beautiful person who ever walked these halls. When I was young and stupid, as uneasy as you with a constructed union, I second guessed her every action. She could not, obviously, love a blundering idiot like me. So I saw enemies everywhere and her indifference where it wasn't. I caused her a great deal of frustration and I'm sure some sadness in those early days, but nothing compared to the pain in that man's expression.”
“He’s made his decision,” Stiles grumbles.
“He obviously regrets it,” the King adds, “whatever it was.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“I would argue that it’s all that matters.”
Stiles lifts his head and wonders if his father and Deaton are conspiring to torture him.
“Whatever a man does speaks to his desires, but his actions after the fact speak to his character.”
Stiles closes his eyes and stands. “I've had enough of lessons for today, may I take my leave?”
“No,” his father says, face stern, “you may not. Sit.”
“It is my wish that you speak with Derek. No. It is my wish that you go to Derek and allow him to speak.”
“It will do no good. I won’t believe a word he says.”
The King either doesn’t believe this or truly doesn’t care. “It doesn’t matter. Do it.”
It’s stupid, Stiles thinks, that his father cares so much because nothing is going to come of it. Truly, Stiles has had no plans to see Derek until their wedding day. They’ve managed, over the last two days without communication, to avoid running into each other around the palace, avoiding meals and staying in their rooms, and Stiles doesn’t mind. He’s learning to accept what’s going to happen.
Stiles knocks sharp and quick at Derek's door. After a minute with no response Stiles knocks again and this time he can here shuffling inside. “I am indisposed.”
“It's me,” he says simply, shortly. He can hear the man scrambling on the other side of the door. When he opens the door Derek's head is mussed and there are deep dark circles beneath his eyes. He wears no vest and his shirt is untied. He looks incredibly relieved and then somewhat suspicious. “Your highness?”
“I trust you’ve been informed that the date of our wedding has been moved up in order for your family to be able to return to Ignis.”
Derek nods shortly. “I’ve heard. Do you find…issue with the news?”
“It’s only that there are simple things that must be approached before the ceremony—your vows sent to Deaton, of course, as well as your intended home.”
Stiles can see how Derek’s jaw clenches.
“My vows have been sent,” Derek says somewhat viciously. “Many days ago.”
“Yes, well,” Stiles avoids his eyes, “if there are any changes to be made you should let him know.”
Derek glares, his jaw still tense. “No, Stiles, my promises have not changed.”
Stiles snorts out a laugh. “Of course not.”
“I’ve told you no lies,” Derek hisses, “and if you only stand here to accuse me and continue to lack faith in my honesty, then I would have you leave me be. As you’ve said, I have a wedding to prepare for.”
Stiles’ heart thuds painfully in his chest. He has a million different things he could say about faith and fidelity, but instead he simply presses his lips together and nods. “Good afternoon, your highness,” he says with a bow, and he turns to leave, feeling like he might be sick.
“Stiles,” Derek says, his tone much softer.
It makes him pause but he doesn't turn back. “Yes?”
“Do you wish you had chosen my sister?”
Stiles squares his shoulders and fight against the instinct to deny it. “We must all live with our choices. Goodbye, Derek.”
Derek can honestly say he never expected his wedding day to be like this. When he was younger he imagined a beautiful woman in a white gown, someone like Lydia or Allison, a foreign princess who loved him dearly, who he loved as well. He imagined happiness and joy, could picture his sisters crying and his father clapping him on the back—and none of that, he knows, is going to happen today.
There’s a knock on his door early in the morning that brings forward several servants to help him dress. He’s silent the entire time, trapped in his mind, whirling around the possibilities and the knowledge that despite what Stiles believes, he’s never loved anyone as much as he loves him. It continues to break his heart to know that Stiles may never believe that again.
All the same, he hasn’t chosen land. He hasn’t chosen a home or servants—it’s his own little retaliatory act. He won’t give in when he’s done nothing wrong.
His father squeezes his shoulder and his mother gives him a measured but somewhat sympathetic look. Laura pulls him up in a hug and then moves to stand wordlessly behind him. Cora takes his hands and kisses his cheek. “Please be happy, brother.”
He squeezes her hand. “I am,” he whispers. “I’m happy to let you be happy.” He kisses the top of her head, closes his eyes. “Promise me you’ll use your freedom to the fullest.”
“I do. I promise.”
It’s custom, in situations like these, for the party being received into the land to which they wed to be the one to walk down the aisle, and that’s what he does. It’s not a boisterous ceremony with music and streamers, but there are flowers and columns decorated with colors, and when he meets Stiles’ eyes across the long room as he begins to approach, he sees something in them that makes him just the slightest bit hopeful. Because it looks like Stiles is in awe of him.
Laura walks with a hand on his shoulder. She will be queen in the era in which he will rule by Stiles' side, and their marriage is a promise for the future. Their parents stand off to the side.
When he's finally beside Stiles he glances over and tries not to look terrified.
Stiles looks composed, mostly, staring straight ahead at his father, Deaton by his side.
The ceremony is short and precise, Deaton’s speech rehearsed and recognizable to anyone who’s ever attended a royal wedding. Stiles’ father stands an imposing but comforting figure in the onslaught of emotions, fear and regret, bitter hope that just because the beginning is terrible doesn’t mean the rest of the union must be.
Stiles takes a deep breath when it's time to give his vows. He turns to Derek and Derek swallows, watching as he seems to struggle for his words. He knows they’re prewritten, knows that it’s custom, but he can’t help but feel like Stiles isn’t totally sure of what to say.
When he looks up into Derek’s eyes, he doesn’t see anger. Derek takes that as a step in the right direction.
“I would give you my heart,” he says softly, “without condition or exception. Without demands. I would give you my trust”—he pauses for half a second—“in your compassion and protection of my people who will be yours also.”
There’s more that Derek hears, bits about devotion and life, and when Stiles is finished, he squeezes Derek’s hand. His eyes say he didn’t quite mean to, that it was a mistake to be so open, but Derek doesn’t care. He squeezes back and begins his own vows.
“I would never see you lose a day to sadness,” Derek tells him. “I would never see you fret, but rather share your life and your duties and your responsibilities with me just as you have your heart. I share mine with you in hope of a future we may both be proud of, in hope of a life together that will see this great kingdom to fruitful continuation. Into this union, I enter with my heart dutiful and loyal to the man I love.”
Deaton says some things about holy matrimony and then allows them to kiss and Derek would wait for Stiles to instigate it, to step forward and kiss him politely and carefully, but that’s not how it happens. Instead, Derek kisses him first, leads him into it with the utmost respect and dignity and if he brushes his tongue along Stiles’ bottom lip just to hear him gasp, that’s his business.
There’s a polite smattering of applause when they break the kiss and it’s expected now for the reception to begin. There will be a feast and a large celebration, performers and speeches, everything anyone could want, but as soon as they’re escorted into the hall, Derek feels how Stiles’ hand in his becomes clammy and uncertain, uncomfortable. Derek releases it, meeting his eyes for only a second before Stiles turns away to pour himself wine.
It’s going to be a long day.
Stiles doesn’t mean to come upon the conversation. He can’t stay in the hall any longer, listen to people talk about how happy they’re going to be, about how their pairing will be perfect for the land. He excuses himself subtly, doesn’t even glance at Derek, and takes off down the corridor in an attempt to clear his head.
That’s when he hears them.
They’re obviously arguing, the door that separates them from the hall and the rest of the palace open a few inches, carelessly, and Stiles would continue on his way, truly, if the first phrase he heard hadn’t been enough to captivate him.
“—told you that he and Stiles were to be married.”
He stops, glancing towards the door, and is almost certain it belongs to Allison’s guest chambers. Sure enough, when the voice continues, he recognizes it to be hers.
“But now—he’s bedded you?”
The laugh that comes is obviously Kate’s. She’s proud, delighted even, and Stiles flattens himself against the wall to listen, a combination of disgust and anger churning in his stomach.
“Men can only keep their hands on one plaything for a certain amount of time,” she sighs. “And panic does begin to set in when one promises their life to another—I was happy to be a distraction.”
“He came to you?” Allison questions, and the thought passes through Stiles’ mind that perhaps she didn’t know as much about the situation as Stiles assumed. “He asked you?”
“Men don’t ask. They take.”
Allison is quiet for a moment, as if assessing this information. “So Prince Derek has been lying to Stiles this whole time?” she asks. “He says he didn’t—he says that whatever Stiles may have seen between the two of you was untrue.”
“He doesn’t wish to fall out of favor, I imagine,” Kate tells her, but Stiles can hear something grinding in her voice.
“I truly didn’t believe him to be such a dishonest man. I can’t imagine—”
“He refused me,” Kate spits at her niece, haughty tone long gone and replaced with bitter indignation. “No matter what I tried, he was loyal to that idiot prince—the fool is in love.”
“I don’t understand,” Allison says quietly. “Why would you try to seduce him?”
Stiles holds his breath. It’s a good question. In his mind’s eye, he can almost see Kate smiling sickly, her lips curling. “Because it’s a game, child. And the sooner you learn that, the easier your life will be.”
Allison doesn’t even hesitate to bite back. “Easier?” she scoffs. “Like your life has been easy with the decisions you’ve made? You’ve done terrible things, Kate—I trusted you when you said you had repented and now I see you’ve only used me to hurt my friends.” She huffs. “You’re not welcome in Peritia. My father was right.”
“You're a stupid child, Allison, and you'll run the kingdom to the ground.”
“Yes, well I'm sure you would much rather burn it,” she snaps. “I rescind my protection of you. Gather your things and go from whence you came.”
“I am still your family—”
“My father no longer calls you a sister and grandfather is dead, you are nothing to me but a fiend who would hurt beloved friends. Leave before I let the prince know he may have his way with your neck.”
Stiles takes his leave then, hurrying off down the hall just in time to avoid Kate’s hurried exit, huffing as she heads back towards her room to, Stiles hopes, gather her things and leave by one method or another. He stays there, head pressed against cold stone, and thinks.
Derek was telling the truth. Kate had forced herself upon him and Stiles had chosen an inopportune moment to find them. And since that moment, Stiles has been doing nothing but torturing both himself and Derek with ideas of infidelity and hatred. He still can’t know for sure, can’t promise himself that everything will go back to normal only to turn around and find out that Derek will end up taking another mistress anyway, but right now, he sees hope.
He rushes back into the hall and spots Derek in polite conversation with his sister, his eyes vacant as Laura smiles kindly and chatters at him. His own heart is hammering wildly in his chest and he has no idea what to do or say and then there's a hand on his shoulder. “You are not a blushing bride to be fainting at your reception, Stiles.”
Lydia's whispered voice is a comfort. He turns to see her beautiful as always, the coronet he had sent her a few years ago sitting like it sprouted from her angelic head with the largest emerald his envoy could find in all the known kingdoms. She looks worried.
“You are a strapping young groom, why did you just now look on the verge of collapse?”
Stiles blinks at her and then back at Derek. “I was wrong,” he says quietly.
“Wrong? I’ve known you to be hasty in many things, but never truly wrong.” She winds her arm through his and it’s as if she’s holding him up through sheer force of will. “Your husband is quiet. Should this not be a joyous celebration?”
“Surely you’ve heard the rumors,” Stiles mutters, the only bitterness now coming from resentment. “Of his infidelity.”
“Heard them, of course. Believed them? No.”
“Where were you when I needed to hear that?”
“Trusting the head on your shoulders but I obviously need to keep better council,” Lydia hisses. “Have you no intuition at all? The man would rather part with his cock than be unfaithful to you.”
Stiles stares at her with incredibly wide eyes. “Lydia.”
“What?” She shrugs. “It serves whomever is scandalized right to overhear and be shocked.”
“How were you so sure he wasn’t with her?” He swallows convulsively. “There was hardly evidence to suggest his claims were true.”
“I was sure,” she tells him, squeezing his arm, “because I was able to see something in him from the moment I met him. Because I was not blinded by your position and your fear and your duties. I had none of your disadvantages and so, therefore, I was able to see that from the moment he arrived with you in Peritia, he was already hopelessly in love with you and would continue to be so for the rest of his life.”
“You're just saying that,” Stiles mutters.
“Does it really matter? He spoke the truth, you've said so yourself.”
“I don't—I don't know what to do about this. I—” He breaks off, looking back over at Derek again, and the man is looking back at him this time. They keep each other’s gaze for a moment and when Stiles turns back to Lydia, he feels like his heart is swollen and tender in his chest. “What would you do?”
“I wouldn’t fall in love with a foreign prince in the first place,” she sighs, “but I suppose since you cannot change that now…” She releases his arm. “I would speak with him and find your way back into his good graces just as he will find his way to yours. I would rid your heart of fear and reinstate your trust in him—or you will always live in fear of your husband. Furthermore, I would take him to your wedding bed and see to it there are no misunderstandings between you. Not anymore.”
“How can he forgive me?”
Lydia laughs and rolls her eyes. “If heaven wills it, you have not married someone as incredibly stupid as yourself, Stiles.” She pats his arm and leans forward to kiss his cheek. “Go to him. Before the entirety of the day is sullied by mistakes.”
And Stiles does. He strolls up to the table and takes his seat next to Derek, operating completely without his own will, feeling like he’s being strung along by a separate entity. All the same, Derek nods when he sits, his hand resting casually on the table by his plate, and Stiles reaches forward to take it, to wrap their fingers together.
Derek blinks at him.
“We have things to discuss,” he says quietly.
“Here, your grace?” Derek asks.
“Wherever you wish,” Stiles mumbles.
Derek hesitates. “It would be rude of us to leave so early.” Stiles rubs his thumb over Derek's knuckles and watches the confusion pass over Derek's eyes. He leans closer to Stiles and his voice is more hesitant than anything else. “Are we to put on an act for your father's happiness?”
“My actions have nothing to do with my father and everything to do with an abrupt knowledge of circumstances.” He doesn’t stop stroking his thumb over bits of Derek’s hand. “An apology would be inappropriate and wrongly received at the present moment, although I intend to deliver one as soon as possible. I simply wish to convey…regret.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Katherine Argent has left the premises under the watchful eye of her niece,” Stiles informs him. “Or if she hasn’t already, she soon will. Her actions were made clear to me moments ago.”
Derek tenses and Stiles freezes, his thumb hovering slightly. Derek's jaw is set and he lets his eyes glance around the hall as he speaks. “Her actions were made clear to you days ago by myself.”
“A fact that I understand now.”
“A fact that you refused to believe.”
Stiles winces. “My beliefs were misguided by fear and jealousy and anger.”
“That does not justify your course of action following them.” He removes his hand from under Stiles’. “Do you expect me to forget the things you’ve said to me?”
Stiles swallows and shakes his head. “Nor do I expect you to forgive me.”
Derek still won't look at him. “Why couldn't have you just believed my words. Why hers?”
Stiles shuffles in his seat and takes a deep breath, looking about to make sure that no one has their ears pressed up to the conversation. “Because, Derek, it is so much more unbelievable to me that you love me as I love you than that you might desire another.”
“What have I done that might lead you to that conclusion?” Derek asks, and he sounds broken.
“It’s hardly your fault,” Stiles huffs. “I made assumptions based on our relationship and your…” He looks down at his hands. “It isn’t difficult to see that I’m hardly a proper match for your family. I may be a prince, but I’m as pale and awkward and inexperienced as a hermit and I have no talents that might encourage you to fall in love with me and so I assumed, given what I knew, that it would not be difficult for you to find a better match.”
Derek finally turns to him with an expression of complete disbelief. “You actually are a moron.”
Stiles smirks. “So I’ve been told.”
“I’m in love with you—I have been and I will be and there’s not a soul on the planet that could change that.”
“I know. I mean, I believe you. I trust you. I just—I’m sorry that I wasted time not believing you.”
Derek takes Stiles' hand and kisses his knuckles. “I'm sorry I haven't done enough for it to be the most undeniable truth you know. I love you.”
“I love you,” Stiles echoes. He leans in to kiss Derek, then, slowly and sweetly, and the way Derek’s mouth feels against his is so familiar and comforting, Stiles thinks he could cry. He’s warm and comfortable and he kisses Stiles like doing so will fix all of the wrongs in the world. Stiles, in that moment, feels loved.
Princess Lydia is standing in front of them when they separate, her glass held in front of her and an eyebrow arched perfectly. “A toast,” she says with a smirk. “To the happy couple.”
It’s expected for the couple to make their way to their wedding bed with the utmost dignity. They’ll leave the reception and head towards Stiles’ chambers, which will have been decorated and left in pristine condition along with everything they might need, and it will be perfect. But Stiles and Derek were never much for tradition.
They leave the reception before the party calls for it, making their escape with suggestive winks and managing to grope each other in the corridor in front of following eyes, but they close their minds to it and it’s easy to escape into their own world where their friends and family aren’t watching them make out against a stone wall.
The room is warm, a fire lit, and Stiles presses Derek to the door as close as it closes.
“Is it how you imagined?” he asks, smirking.
“Better,” Derek whispers.
He tugs at his own clothes and at Derek's and it almost causes them to trip over their feet, but after a few more attempts they are shirtless, pants undone as they topple onto the bed. Stiles climbs over Derek and presses him into the mattress with a kiss. He mouths at Derek's jaw. “I've driven myself half mad with thoughts of being inside you.” He tugs Derek's lip between his teeth and pulls away a few inches. “Is that—I mean would you—”
Derek holds onto Stiles’ hips and pushes his own up, grinding his erection against Stiles’. “Yes,” he says, his voice gravelly and his head tipping back against the pillow. “Yes, I want it.”
That more or less seems to settle it. Stiles, for all of his ignorance, knows how to get Derek naked at least, and that’s a task he sets himself to immediately, kissing his way across Derek’s skin and reintroducing himself to every inch of his body.
Eventually, Derek settles on top of him, both of them naked, and kisses him, deep and searching. “I need to be stretched.”
Stiles licks his lips. “I don’t know—”
Derek leans in and kisses him. “Then you'll learn.”
“I've never—I—I could have but I didn't. I was stupid to wait.” He blushes.
“I would just as soon have you give me every experience you are yet to endure,” Derek tells him, reaching over to the side of the bed where there is a waiting jug of oil of perfect consistency and quality for what they intend to do. “I feel honored that you would wait.”
“Not disappointed?” Stiles says through a laugh.
He coats Stiles’ fingers liberally with the oil as he straddles him, coming up farther on his body to allow Stiles’ hand to snake around his thigh.
“It’s okay,” he whispers to Stiles, holding his face. “I—I’ve done this before, it’s okay.”
Stiles shakes off the thoughts of Derek with other men that threaten to plague him. “You’ll tell me if I hurt you?”
“I will—but you won’t.” He leads Stiles fingers, keeping eye-contact as two of them press inside him. “It’s okay, Stiles,” he breathes. “We’ll take our time. It’s okay.”
Derek kisses him a lot, breathes against him as he guides Stiles’ hand, and Stiles can’t know for certain, but by the way Derek is breathing and moaning every once in a while, the whole thing is really more of a success than he expected it to be.
“Fuck, Stiles.” Derek is moving against his hand, taking his pleasure where he finds it, but it’s only the beginning. There are more fingers, more oil, more time taken to preparation. There’s nothing rushed about it. “We have much time,” Derek tells him when he has four of Stiles’ fingers inside of him and is bearing down on them as he rides. “It might be easier if you let me—” He breaks off as he reaches for Stiles’ cock, taking it in hand with oil residue still slick on his skin.
Stiles can do nothing but arch against him, kiss wherever he’s presented with opportunity, and then he’s coming, jerking and shuddering in the arm Derek has slung around him. “M’sorry,” Stiles mutters into his neck.
“No, you’re perfect. It will be easier, I promise.”
Stiles supposes he may as well trust him. He ends up on his back, hands cleaned and dried with a cloth nearby, and Derek straddles him as he sets back to work preparing himself. Stiles isn’t completely soft yet, cock twitching in anticipation, at the thought of being inside of Derek, and the fact that Derek is watching him only makes it easier.
It takes only minutes before Stiles rests his hands on Derek’s hips and encourages him onto his cock.
“Patience is a virtue,” Derek mutters, cleaning his own hands off and smirking with smug satisfaction.
“Neither of us has proved ourselves very virtuous, your highness.”
“I would ask you to call me by my name in our wedding bed, so I might know I’m in your thoughts.”
Stiles lifts a hand to touch his cheek. “You’re always in my thoughts, Derek.”
“Fortunate that your thoughts be in my favor.” He takes hold of the base of Stiles’ cock as he aligns himself atop him and sinks down.
There is no perfect way to describe the way it feels, being inside of him. It’s hot, slick, unbelievably good, and Derek seems to think so too. He lays his hands on Stiles’ chest, teasing at his nipples and raking his fingernails down to his stomach.
Stiles can't breathe at all when Derek starts moving his hips, using the strength of his knees to lift himself up before sinking back down. Stiles runs his shaking hands over Derek's thighs.
Derek exhales heavily a moment later, still pushing himself up and down on Stiles’ cock, and he leans forward to take him into a kiss. Stiles loses himself in it, hands still trembling, hips arching, his whole body lost in the sensations of Derek’s movement.
“You feel perfect,” Derek tells him, one hand on his stomach and the other in Stiles’ hair. “How could I ever want anyone else when I have everything I need before me?”
“You flatter,” Stiles breathes out.
“And I will continue,” Derek says, voice straining, “until you believe me.”
Stiles sits up, bringing Derek closer, pushing farther into him, and Derek moans, hand going to his cock and body shuddering as he pushes himself onto Stiles again. “I believe you,” Stiles whispers into his throat, fingernails digging into Derek’s hips. “I trust you, Derek; I trust you with my life.”
Derek makes a kind of sobbing noise into Stiles’ temple, riding him faster. It’s shallower, not quite as intense as it had been moments earlier, but it still feels good, and Stiles has to sink his teeth into his own lip to keep from coming because despite earlier precautions taken, it’s too much to hold himself back against.
“Just a little bit longer,” Derek pants, sitting down heavily atop him and grinding Stiles’ cock deep inside of him.
Stiles pushes them over, Derek falling onto his back with a grunt as his head ends up by the foot of the bed. The new position is different, more intimate as Stiles hovers over Derek and slows his pace, trailing his fingers over Derek's chest down to his cock. Derek's face is a work of art, the open begging need in his eyes and the way his lips part of their own will.
“Beautiful,” Stiles says softly, thrusting into him steadily.
Derek licks his lips. “Are you sure you’ve never done this before?” he says with a slight breathy laugh. “Your skill would suggest otherwise.”
“I’ll thank you for the compliment when I see you to completion.” Stiles whispers the words against his pulse point, sucking on the skin there and holding on as Derek writhes. He speeds his pace when he can't hold his control much longer and buries his face in Derek's neck. “I—I can't hold—”
Derek meets his thrusts and breathes against his ear. “Let go. I want you to; I want to feel you fall apart.”
He moans and readjusts his position as he continues to move inside of Derek to be able to reach down between them and grab hold of Derek’s cock. Derek’s own hands are busy, one of them in Stiles’ hair, the other on his chest, and Stiles summons every bit of self control he has to be able to hold off long enough to stroke Derek off.
He still comes before Derek does, panting into Derek’s mouth as he yanks him in for a kiss.
Three Weeks Later
Melissa breathes deep and calming from where she’s waiting outside of Scott's room. He’s almost ready and not the slightest bit nervous—or so he's promised her more than once. She, on the other hand, is having trouble collecting herself. She opens her eyes, having not realized they had closed in the first place, and finds the King himself standing a few feet away with his hands clasped at his back. She stands and curtsies. “Your highness.”
“My lady.” He smiles. “I see nerves have gotten the better of you.”
“With good reason, I would argue,” she says with a sigh. “It’s not every day your son marries a princess.”
“No, it certainly is not.” He looks over his shoulder and then eyes Scott’s closed door again. “I believe he’ll manage to find his way to the wedding hall on his own—or at least with his servants to help him. Perhaps you’d like to accompany me there.”
Melissa takes another deep breath and nods, walking forward before remembering herself. “We are not at home, your grace. This court might not take lightly to a widow of lower birth accompanying a king to such a ceremony.”
The King blinks as if the very idea surprises him. “I—you are the mother of their future king consort. They can, well, frankly they can stuff it.”
Melissa laughs. “Your highness, that is certainly something you should only say at home.”
He takes a step closer, his features suddenly wary. “You still call it home then? You will not be joining your son in Peritia?”
Her eyebrows reach for her hairline. “I have no doubt that I would be treated very well in Peritia, however it is going to be my son’s home for himself and his new wife, and I have no business there. My home is and always has been Cor, and I would see it so for the rest of my days.”
“You’ve told Scott this, I trust?”
“I have, and he understands.” She doesn’t look away from him, eager to see his reaction to her next words. “He understands my duties to my king and the love I hold for my land.”
He swallows nervously and steps too close for propriety, whispering his words. “You have no duties to me, Melissa, you owe no debts.”
She looks up at him and smiles patiently. “I have a duty to my own heart.”
“Even if there may never be recompense?”
“I’ve lived the last six years in your company while you mourned your wife—may she rest in peace. I have no expectations of you, your grace. I simply choose to live in a land that welcomes me into its heart as I do it into mine.”
“You wait for me,” he insists.
She looks down at the tiles and fixes her perfectly poised skirts. “Do you intend on embarrassing me? I'm not young enough for such easy shame. I am free to do with my time and my heart as I wish and I do not need your pity, nor your leave. I could make assumptions that my presence causes you discomfort but I am not a child, I know that you count me a companion, I have never asked you more.”
“You can hardly be a satisfied with a man incapable of giving you what you desire.”
“I am satisfied knowing that I am loved by a man with such a heart for his kingdom that he dares not put his own happiness above the needs of his people.”
He swallows. Melissa watches his Adam’s apple. “The people are in need of a queen,” he says quietly.
“Not a woman born of no noble birth—I understand your duty to your son, as well, insisting he marry for political gain rather than love. It would hardly be right of you to rescind your words in favor of following your own desires.” She lays a hand on his arm. “I’ve never asked for more from you because I understand you are not able to give it. And I am satisfied with the knowledge that just because you cannot doesn’t mean you would not if you were able.”
“And yet your own son—”
“Puts love before duty because I taught him so,” she says, looking at his eyes. “I raised him to know that his duty is to love. But he was not born a prince.”
The man's voice is strained and she fears that, not for the first time, she'll see him shed tears. “You must think me a coward.”
She shakes her hand and lays her hand softly on his cheek. “You are the bravest man I know and it is an honor to hold a place in your heart, however overcome that place is by your responsibilities.”
“I wish—I want to make you happy, Melissa,” he tells her, eyes slipping closed. “I want to be able to give you everything you want.”
He leans in close, pushing his forehead against hers. “It’s far too simple, some days, to imagine what my life would be like with you.”
“No one will ever replace your wife,” she whispers. “Not in your heart or the people’s.”
“Of course not. But that’s hardly the only issue we’re presented with.”
Melissa takes his hand and squeezes it. “I would see you smile, my king, because the world smiles for you. Your kingdom is safe and thriving, your son is married and happy, and my son who loves you as a father is about to be married to the love of his life. There is nothing to look morose about. I will always be by your side.”
He seems as if he’s going to respond, but before he gets the chance the door to Scott’s room opens and they both step apart. Scott emerges in wedding clothes, looking handsome and, dare Melissa think it, regal. She’s never been so proud.
The King clears his throat and nods at Scott. “Sir Scott, congratulations on your wedding day. I’m looking forward to the ceremony.”
“Thank you, your grace.” The boy—who’s really more of a man now—looks between his mother and the King and smirks.
Melissa rolls her eyes. The King takes his leave then and she envelopes her son in her arms, remembering when he was actually small enough to fit completely inside of them.
“You’re very handsome,” she says, tears prickling at the corners of her eyes.
“And you look beautiful,” he responds, kissing her forehead. “I will miss you so much.”
She mirrors his gesture and strokes his cheek. “You will be very busy, Scott, but I'm only ever a few days travel away.”
“I’ll write you often,” he promises her. “You’ll have to inform me of the business in Cor, let me know when Stiles gets himself into trouble.”
She smiles. “I will.”
“And the King of course,” he continues, “I’ll need to be updated on that situation.”
“Scott.” She squeezes his hands. “It’s your wedding day. The only thing you need worry about is your bride.”
He grins. “If there's something I never need worry about in this whole world, it's her.”
Melissa laughs and pushes him along. “Well then let's worry about you being late.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Stiles says as he rolls his eyes. He shuffles on his feet, looking back over his shoulder to check if Scott is going to come in any moment soon. “Scott would hardly get cold feet on his wedding day. All he’s ever wanted since we were children is to be married to someone he loved—and now he’s doing that.”
“Then where is he?” Derek asks.
The door opens and nearly the entirety of the room looks over to see if Scott has finally arrived, but no, it’s only Stiles’ father, keeping his eyes forward as he stalks to the front of the room and takes his place beside Stiles.
Derek exhales a sigh. “Have you seen him?” he asks the King.
“Yes,” he says with a nod. “He’s with his mother.”
Stiles elbows Derek. “Told you.”
“I hardly see a reason he should run away,” Derek tells him, “I simply mean he’s hesitating.”
“Preparing, more likely.” Stiles shoves his arm through Derek’s. “Must we stand for the whole ceremony?”
“It’s only going to be a few minutes long,” Derek laughs. “You didn’t seem to mind making our guests stand.”
Stiles huffs. “I was distracted.”
“Relax,” his husband encourages him, leaning in to press a kiss to his cheek. “Soon enough, Allison will walk down the aisle towards her future husband, they’ll be wed, and everything will be grand.”
“I can’t believe we left our honeymoon three days early for this. Scott owes me so much.”
Derek laughs. “We have plenty of time to make up for the hours we lost.”
Stiles is going to respond, make some kind of salacious suggestion, but before he can, he notices his father’s eyes on him. Instead of being stern and firmly unamused, he’s watching his son and Derek as if noticing them for the first time.
“Something the matter?” he asks, arching an eyebrow.
His father clears his throat. “No, no, it’s only… I’m—I’m very happy for you two. And for Scott.”
“There is no greater joy than to marry the person you love,” Derek says. “At least, in my opinion.”
“A right every person should be guaranteed,” Stiles adds. “Lucky for us it worked out this way. Cora and her soon-to-be-husband are happily residing in Ignis, Laura is being courted even more by the hour, and Lydia, when she finally admits to the man she’s in love with that she is so, will join the ranks as well.” He eyes his father pointedly. “Love is all around us this year, wouldn’t you say?”
“You're all cheek today aren't you,” the King mumbles. But just as Stiles is about to give another dose of unrequested advice the proceedings begin and they all turn their attention to the ceremony.
Scott enters the room with the utmost grace, takes his place at the front of the room, before the minister, and when the music starts, Allison follows, on her father’s arm as he escorts her down the aisle.
It’s a beautiful ceremony, one that makes Stiles tear up and tangle his fingers with Derek’s, but he can also see, from watching his father, the way his brain is working. He’s moved by it, obviously, the way Scott and Allison look at each other as they say their vows. When they kiss, he swears he sees tears in his father’s eyes.
At the head table at the reception, Allison and Scott are seated side-by-side, their parents on either side of them. Lydia is on the other side of King Christopher, Stiles, his father, and Derek on the other side of Melissa. Obviously Stiles insists his father take the place next to Scott’s mother.
“You’re not nearly as subtle as you believe yourself to be,” he informs Stiles.
“And you’re not nearly as heartless as you believe yourself to be.” He looks over at how Derek is engaged in conversation with one of Allison’s knights. “You know, I understood why you refused to entertain the idea of marrying her.”
“Mom was good for us. She was a good queen and loving mother, a dutiful wife. She was everything either of us could have hoped for and there was no way we weren’t going to love her. I know you still love her; I know you still think about her just as much as I do. But she would want you to be happy. And I understood, at the beginning, why even though you favored Melissa McCall’s company you wouldn’t marry her, and that’s because you did not want to be the hypocrite.” He looks back at his father. “Derek and I aren’t a political match. I love him and he loves me—we’re a real couple, Dad. And you deserve that just as much as I do. You released Scott of his duties to his kingdom because he wanted to follow true love and yet you refuse to do the same even though you falter in no duties simply by following your heart. A low-born woman has never been Queen in Cor, but that doesn’t mean one won’t ever be. And wouldn’t it be just like you, the Reformer, the Modern King, to put her on that throne in the name of devotion?” Stiles smirks at his father. “And, furthermore, I’m only eighteen. I could do with a younger sibling.”
The King looks appropriately embarrassed. “I couldn’t—”
“You could. I don’t know why you continue to hesitate, why you insist that it’s an impossible thing to imagine.” He smiles over his father’s shoulder at Scott. “Scott’s father abandoned him and his mother because, as a lord, he’d grown accustomed to as many women as he could have ever wanted. Melissa made the decision to tell people he has passed away; Scott still believes that, I think, even though I would imagine he at least suspects some part of the truth. You welcomed her and her son into your home and you knighted him, made him a true part of the kingdom. He’s technically of noble birth, a slippery ledge one might suggest, but nowhere near highborn enough to marry the Princess of Peritia, the woman expected to rule her kingdom for years after her father passes her the throne. And yet.”
“The McCalls have a way of making people fall in love with them, I would imagine.”
“It’s all in the eyes.”
Both Derek and Melissa take their seats on either side of the Stilinski men in the next moment and Stiles grins at his husband, reaching for his hand.
“Convince him yet?” Derek whispers.
“I think so.”
“I imagine Scott owes you double now.”
“Please,” Stiles says through a smirk, “Scott owes me for life.”
The reception continues even after the couple retires, in fact because of it, the celebration increases and people get lazy with drink and loud with laughter. He can see Stiles and Derek mumbling to each other in a corner, trying to be discreet and failing marvelously by the width of their smiles.
Melissa turns from conversation with Christopher and offers him a smile. “You're rather pensive, your grace; are you tired?”
“Not just yet,” he says. “I’m simply…thinking.”
“I can tell. Care to share your thoughts?”
He looks around the room and sighs. Setting down his glass—from which he’s drunk almost nothing the entire evening—he stands and holds out his hand. “I would enjoy your presence a moment longer. Accompany me on a walk before I retire for the evening?”
Melissa tilts her head slightly but nods and stands to follow him. He walks beside her as they make their way through the moonlit paths around the hall.
“It was a beautiful ceremony.”
She smiles. “It was. He's so very happy.”
“They both were,” he agrees. “It's a sort of hopeful, devoted happiness, isn't it?”
“When it's true,” she says quietly. “When it's real.”
“Scott’s an honorable man. He’ll serve Peritia well as their king—of that I have no doubt.”
Melissa nods. “I’m sure he and Stiles have already discussed the fantasy they both has as boys, both of them royalty, being able to rule together. None of us truly expected it to come true.”
“Stiles has a way of taking seemingly impossible things and believing in them hard enough that they spurt to life.”
“That isn't what's been on your mind, is it,” she says.
He shakes his head and laughs nervously. “No, not exactly.”
“You're thinking of the words we had today,” she guesses. “You shouldn't trouble yourself with things like that.”
“I fear I’ve troubled myself with other things for too long; allowing myself moments to think about you are my only reprieve.”
“Your grace,” she says softly.
“Melissa,” he interrupts, halting and turning to face her, “I’ve been foolish.”
“You’ve been following your duty to your kingdom and to your family.”
“And yet I see no reason my duty places me at a disadvantage from anyone else in my kingdom—specifically one detailing my ability to marry the woman I love.” Melissa blushes and he realizes he's never said it in so many words, never in such a blatant order. “I love you. You are a fearless woman, an authority of your profession, a wise mother, and the most patient companion a stupid stubborn man could ever hope for.”
“Raising a son makes one very patient. It’s a matter of necessity.”
“And sanity,” the King adds in a huff. “It’s not—I would not have people assume things about our relationship any longer. I would have them know my feelings.”
Melissa almost looks amused, like she’s not surprised at all. “I find no fault with your desires, as long as you’re sure of them.”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.” He takes her hand, folding their fingers together. “I would never have you wonder for another day if I truly love you—I do, and your devotion has been one of the only constants in a very tumultuous past few years.” He takes a deep breath. “Melissa, I—” He makes a move to kneel and her eyes grow wide before she jerks him by the arm.
“Jonathan, don't you dare fall on bended knee. When I told you that injury would plague you for life I meant it,” she rants before her thoughts catch up with her and her hand flies up to her mouth.
He grins. “Melissa.”
“Your highness, I—”
“I think we’ve had quite enough of the formalities, don’t you agree?” He steps closer, a hand on her side, just covering her ribs, and Melissa looks up at him with eyes half confused and half joyous, like she isn’t totally sure what she expects. “Will you do me the honor of marrying me?” he asks, whispering it into the night air.
Her response is to come up on her tiptoes and pull him into a kiss.
At the end of the hall, Derek pinches his husband’s side and yanks him upright. “Stop spying on your father,” he hisses, but his smile is firmly in place.
“You spoil my fun,” Stiles counters. He grins and turns into Derek’s arms. “They’re going to get married.”
“Now the only person left to set up is your sister—Laura would do well with someone to love.”
“You,” Derek argues, “would do well to stop worrying about her.” He glances around the corner again at how his father-in-law and Scott’s mother are still embracing, and smiles to himself as he tugs his husband away. “There are more important things we could be doing.”
Stiles grins. “Oh, really?”
“Like for example…?”
“Training, catching up on correspondence.” He grins and leans in, whispering right in Stiles’ ear. “Trying hopelessly and endlessly to produce heirs?”
Stiles blushes up to his neck and wraps his hand around Derek's wrist. “Well, my liege, let us not waste any more precious time.”