Stiles took his time drying himself off, using a soft towel to pat dry the droplets of water rolling down his skin. He knew he had hours before Derek finally arrived at the palace. He had been excited when Peter handed him the letter after the last council meeting.
The letter had been sealed with Derek’s private seal, the one he used for personal matters rather than reasons of State. It was the seal he had always used when writing Stiles.
Stiles ran his fingertips over the parchment, his nails catching on the wax engraved seal as he traced the howling wolf’s form. He smiled, knowing the truth—Derek was coming home early, and he was coming home to Stiles.
Stiles left the letter on one of his lab stations, turning his attentions towards readying himself for tonight. He knew he wasn’t welcomed at the reception, as he normally was shunned when Derek wasn’t present to order Stiles to attend. It didn’t bother him as it used to, when he would think about the times his mother had often been the shining guest of honor during Talia’s reign. He knew his magic was shunned, moreso now that rumors spread about him bewitching Derek.
Stiles leisurely dressed, pulling the silk fabric across his shoulders as he settled the dressing gown around his body. He left the material hanging open as he sat before his vanity, looking at himself in the mirror. He was tired—exhausted more than usual, having used his magic almost every day in order to keep an eye on Derek’s health. He had made more than one inquiry about Derek’s whereabouts and his wellbeing—it never made him stop worrying, knowing Derek was still on a battlefield the next day. He told himself to stop, that Derek would be fine as he always was.
Stiles ran a hand through his hair, adjusting the disarray in the wild locks. He opened a jar of foundation, rubbing some of the powder onto his fingertips. He dabbed the powder around his eyes, hoping to rid himself of the dark circles surrounding them. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the claw that hung from the nemeton branch that sat on his vanity.
Stiles turned his attention towards the raven’s claw that hung off the chain, dangling off the severed branch. He reached his hand out, twisting the token on the chain, his thoughts wandering as he tried to convince himself that Derek never saw him as a threatening force. He loved Derek, though he never said it aloud before, afraid it would make everything between them disappear. He had sacrificed so much for Derek, sometimes finding himself isolated, completely cut off from the rest of the world.
But in the end, Stiles was still a mage and Derek was still the King.
Derek relaxed into the bath, releasing a heavy sigh as his muscles lost their strain. He wished the roaring crowds, joyous of his defeat of another kingdom, hadn’t welcomed him home. He wished he could have lied and said that he was proud of his own feats. Too many nobles greeted him with untrue smiles as they offered him false praises and gifts meant to shower him with their charm.
Derek hated every moment of it.
“Your Majesty,” a familiar voice gently addressed Derek, announcing his presence.
Derek couldn’t help the smile pulling at his lips as he kept his eyes shut. “You weren’t at the festivities,” he stated, opening his eyes to look at Stiles when he heard the faint sound of bare feet walking across tile.
Stiles offered a small shrug, gently walking around the curve of the bath’s wall. “I’m not welcome most nights,” he confessed. His bare feet made the slightest sound of dry skin touching a wet surface—a tease of intimacy.
“I don’t care what they feel,” Derek answered, shifting his body in the water as he sat upright. He moved to sit on the very edge of the bath’s seat, wanting to move closer to Stiles. “I always want you there.”
Stiles smiled to himself as he dipped his toes in the water, flicking a few droplets at Derek.
Derek slightly turned his head with a soft chuckle.
Stiles smiled at Derek. “I missed you.”
“And I missed you.”
Stiles released a soft hum. “I didn’t get to give you your gift for returning, yet.”
Derek arched his eyebrows, watching Stiles.
Stiles playfully pulled the laces of his dressing gown, making a show of loosening the garments. He let the material slide off his body, allowing the gown to fall into a pile by the bath.
Derek’s eyes traced the outline of Stiles’ naked body, a small smile growing across his lips. “That’s a damn good gift,” he commented as he watched Stiles descending into the bath with him.
“I like to think so,” Stiles smiled as he reached Derek. He pressed a kiss to Derek’s lips, lightly laughing when Derek drew his body in close.
Derek pressed a kiss to Stiles spine, smiling against Stiles’ skin when Stiles released a small moan. “I missed you so much,” he sighed.
Stiles turned his head to look at Derek. “I was afraid you’d never come back,” he confessed, a small sadness crossing his features. “This is the first time you’ve left me here,” he pressed.
Derek sighed, turning onto his back as he looked up at the ceiling. He knew Stiles was still upset with his decision. He propped his arm beneath his head, wishing he had a way to ease Stiles’ annoyance. “You know I couldn’t take you with me.”
“And here I thought you were the king,” Stiles sharply answered.
Derek released an aggravated sigh. “We’re going to start this again?” He asked as he turned to look at Stiles.
“We never started it once,” Stiles replied.
“You know I’ve been fighting with my advisors about this,” Derek replied, turning to look at Stiles.
“They shouldn’t even be allowed to fight with you about it,” Stiles countered.
“But you’re allowed to fight with me about this,” Derek countered in kind.
“I like to think I’m more than an advisor to you,” Stiles snapped, a harshness in his voice.
“You know you are,” Derek replied, turning onto his side to display that Stiles had his full attention. He propped his head up in his hand, reaching his other hand to touch Stiles. He settled for Stiles’ shoulder when Stiles turned his face away from him. “If I could make you my Consort, I would.”
Stiles was silent as he looked over at the balcony, trying to focus on keeping his tears back.
Derek’s hand slipped from Stiles. “Do you want me to tear Beacon apart?” He solemnly asked. “Would that make you happy?” His voice was wounded, weighed down by the fact that he had exhausted his resources in finding a loophole that would allow him to take Stiles as his own—to crown him the King Consort.
But Stiles’ title of sorcerer was the ironclad barrier that kept them apart.
“It’s a stupid, not to mention archaic, rule that a bunch of magic fearing old men came up with centuries ago,” Stiles huffed. “Your mother wasn’t the first ruler to welcome magic in her court.”
“But she was the first to allow an advisor to magic,” Derek replied.
Stiles turned his head to look down at the pillow, leaning his weight on one arm as he traced the woven thread of the pillow’s casing with his fingernail. “How long?”
Derek furrowed his eyebrows in question. “I don’t understand the question.”
Stiles forced himself to look at Derek. “How long would it take before your advisors start throwing marriage betrothals at you?”
Derek frowned, his eyes falling to where Stiles was still nervously picking at the pillow casing.
Stiles’ movements halted, suddenly understanding Derek’s silence. “Ah,” he softly uttered, turning to look back down at the pillow. “How many?”
“At least a dozen,” Derek honestly replied, looking at Stiles. “I told them I would look at them later.”
Stiles nodded. “It is later,” he answered as he shoved the blanket back from himself, practically crawling out of the bed as he moved away from Derek.
“Stiles, don’t,” Derek sighed in aggravation.
“I wouldn’t have come here if I knew,” Stiles sharply stated as he grabbed his dressing gown. He felt foolish, wishing he had worn his proper robes instead of the flimsy shred of modesty these robes stole from him.
The robes had been a joke between Stiles and Derek, a parody of the improper image the court believed Stiles to project. They were a gift from Derek, a type of gift that left both of them laughing but appreciating the enjoyment the robes ultimately gave them.
The material was a shimmer of golden dust, accented in the lightest tones of orange, a color Stiles always took a liking to. The laces of the robes were exquisitely crafted. The robes were not only made from fine materials, but designed by a great tailor as well.
And Stiles’ station was undeserving of such nice possessions.
“Stiles, don’t leave,” Derek stated as he rose from the bed.
“And why shouldn’t I?” Stiles asked.
“Because I’m asking you not to,” Derek answered.
“As my king, or as Derek?” Stiles countered as he turned to look at him.
Derek sighed, turning his gaze from Stiles as he thought of his next course. “We both knew this was going to happen,” he softly stated, looking to Stiles. “I have no heir, and the more battles my kingdom gets pulled into, the more likely I am to die on the battlefield. I need an heir, so that the people aren’t dragged into a civil war when I pass.”
Stiles looked away from Derek. “I hate when you’re pragmatic,” he weakly stated.
“We don’t have to …” Derek hated himself for thinking it. “I’m allowed a lover, Stiles.”
Stiles looked at Derek, his brow slowly furrowing as he allowed Derek’s words to digest. “You want me to be your whore?” He incredulously asked.
“That’s not what I said,” Derek countered.
“It’s what I already am to the Court and your advisors,” Stiles started. “I will not be labeled the Wolf’s Whore, constantly standing in the shadow of your Consort—to warm your bed while she’s round with your child.”
Derek knew Stiles was validated in his anger. He wished he could have as much disgust in his heart as Stiles seemed to feel. He was selfish and wanted to keep Stiles.
“If you accept a Consort, Derek, I will not come to your rooms again,” Stiles stated, looking at Derek. “And don’t you dare ask me to stay. Because for all the love and compassion I bare you, I would rather die than be forced to live a life of being secondary.” He fled, his words stinging his tongue with the knowledge that he would bend to Derek’s will—that he’d suffer the shame of being the Wolf’s Whore if it meant he could have Derek.
Stiles stared down at the fine marble decorating the cathedral. He pretended that his heart wasn’t breaking. He wanted to cry as the archdeacon finished up the ceremony. He forced himself to look up, seeing that the archdeacon had placed the crown on Derek’s head. He watched as Derek took the crown of the consort—a plain and beautiful circlet adorned with the smallest opals and emeralds—placing it onto the young woman’s head beside him.
Stiles forced himself to look away. His gaze caught Peter’s. He offered a curt nod of his head when Peter bowed his head to him—Peter’s silent apology for choosing a perfect Consort for Derek.
Paige shared a striking resemblance to Stiles, and Peter knew that before he vied for Derek to accept a union with her. She came from a distant kingdom, one that was small and humble in size, but vast in resources. Her hair was a shade darker than Stiles’ when the sunlight hit it, the length falling to reach her mid-back. Her face was curved similar to Stiles’, a small slender nose bringing a symmetry to her features.
Most importantly, she had beauty marks that graced her pale skin—beauty marks that shared a similarity to Stiles’ own. She had all the physical attributes to offer Derek a pale reminder of Stiles—the only difference was that Paige could give Derek an heir.
Stiles pretended that he wasn’t looking at Derek during the reception. He kept his gaze miniscule in hopes he wouldn’t be caught. He was taken off guard when Paige approached him.
“Your Majesty,” Stiles respectfully bowed to Paige, wishing his drink was enough to make the words not taste like bile.
“I wanted to thank you,” Paige started, a softness in her voice as she elegantly stood next to Stiles.
“I’ve done nothing to deserve your Majesty’s praise,” Stiles answered, taking a long sip of his drink.
“I’m told you willingly vacated the King’s bed,” Paige stated.
Stiles nearly choked on his drink. He looked at Paige. “I don’t know what your Majesty is referring to,” he played dumb to Paige’s accusation.
“I know the King enjoys you sharing his bed,” Paige carefully stated, a tightness in her voice as she addressed the concern. “But I’m told you won’t be doing that any longer.”
Stiles observed Paige. “Derek is a King,” he clearly stated. “It doesn’t matter who he shares his bed with—it’s his right.”
“But now he has me,” Paige countered. “I know he wants an heir—and if he wants a legitimate one, he won’t stray from my bed.”
Stiles stared at Paige.
“It never mattered when he was with you—you can’t give him an heir,” Paige answered, ignoring the hurt look she saw flash across Stiles’ features. “But if he’s focusing his pleasures elsewhere, I can’t give him a child.”
“Your Majesty doesn’t have to worry about me as competition.”
“You’re not,” Paige firmly stated, turning a critical eye on Stiles for the first time. “I’m Derek’s Queen—I have no competition.”
Stiles wondered if Peter had accidentally invited a snake into their den instead of the frail creature Paige pretended to be. He bowed his head, backing away from Paige. “As your Majesty has said—you have no competition.” He turned and left Paige behind when he saw a satisfied look cross her face.
Derek watched Stiles walk away from Paige, noticing how tense Stiles’ shoulders were as he hurried from the room. He didn’t stop himself from following after Stiles, wanting to know what Paige had said to him. He knew it was going to be obvious that he was absent from the room—that he left in the same direction as Stiles. But he didn’t care.
For all the people advocating for Paige’s character, Derek wasn’t sure what to make of her. He had spent little time with her, hating how obvious it was that Peter had tried to find a princess who physically resembled Stiles.
Derek halted when he caught sight of Stiles standing in the abandoned hallway outside the ballroom. He observed Stiles, noting how gorgeous and breathtaking he was.
Stiles had dressed appropriately, covering his normally exposed skin. He wore a collar that reached up underneath his jaw, the deep v falling to his sternum, exposing one of his rune tattoos—the one of the wolf was still hidden, just over his heart, for only Derek to see. His hair was vaguely styled, a slight disarray to it still, as if he ran his hands through it more than once. His eyes were highlighted with charcoal, his fingernails still marked with smudge of the cosmetic, as if he tried and failed more than once in getting the makeup how he wanted. There was more than one arcane jewel dangling from his pierced ears, but the most prominent treasure was dangling from his neck—the claw of Claudia’s raven, a reminder of the sacrifice he gave to ensure Derek’s first victory against the Argents.
“Surely those aren’t tears,” Peter’s voice broke through the silence of the hallway.
Derek took a step back into the shadow of the tapestry lining the wall. He watched as his uncle appeared from around the corner.
Stiles wiped at his eyes, partially not caring about smudging the charcoal his tears were smearing. “Surely not,” he softly answered, turning his gaze from Peter.
“I know this isn’t easy,” Peter started.
Stiles scoffed at the words. “No, you know nothing about this.”
“I didn’t pick Paige because I thought she looked like you,” Peter offered.
“Yes you did,” Stiles sharply answered as he turned to look at Peter. “You saw all the portraits of the proposals being thrown at Derek. You could have chosen any of them—blond, ginger, short, tall, curvy. You had so many to choose from, but you chose the brunette girl with alabaster skin and beauty marks.” He shook his head. “She offers nothing to this kingdom except for the fact that it will be easier for Derek to picture me while fucking her.”
Peter carefully stared at Stiles. “If my nephew finds it easy to bed someone that isn’t you—well, I’d say he didn’t deserve you to begin with.”
“He has to bed her,” Stiles softly argued.
“I didn’t say he didn’t have to,” Peter explained. “It doesn’t mean he has to find it easy—or pleasurable.”
Stiles looked at Peter. “I’m not holding out for him,” he firmly stated. “I told him I wouldn’t be his whore if he took a Queen. He knows I won’t visit him now. And I’m not going to pretend that he will get rid of his Queen for me.”
“Who in their right mind would get rid of a Queen for a whore,” Peter pondered.
Stiles glared at Peter. He moved to go around him, wanting to be done with this conversation. He barely startled when Peter grabbed his arm to stop him. He turned to face Peter, ready to order Peter to release him, only to be surprised when Peter drew him into a kiss.
Derek wasn’t sure what he expected to happen. But of all scenarios, he didn’t expect Stiles to pull Peter in close, opening up to the kiss, willingly allowing Peter to press him back into the wall. He knew he didn’t have a right to feel jealous, but he had expected the pain, anger, and heartache that coiled deep in his stomach. He forced himself to turn away, giving Stiles and Peter the privacy they deserved. He had ruined his relationship with Stiles, and he believed he didn’t deserve to feel betrayed by Stiles moving on.
Fate was cruel. If Derek had lingered a moment longer, he’d have seen the way Stiles pulled back from Peter, gasping out for Peter to wait.
“Peter, wait—stop,” Stiles quickly uttered, his hands moving to cup Peter’s face. “I can’t—I can’t. I’m so sorry, I can’t,” he breathlessly rambled.
Peter removed his hands from Stiles’ body, placing them against the wall by Stiles’ head as he put room between them. “I’m sorry,” he hoarsely stated as he hung his head in Stiles’ cupped hands.
“I still care about him,” Stiles painfully uttered.
Peter looked up at Stiles. “That’s not surprising. I shouldn’t have pushed.”
Stiles closed his eyes, a sad expression pulling at his features as he shook his head. “I’ve given up so much for him already,” he softly confessed.
“He’s a King, Stiles,” Peter answered. “You couldn’t have expected him to keep you.”
Stiles allowed his shoulders to hunch as he practically curled in on himself. His lips turned up in a frown as he started to cry, unable to stop the hot tears from burning his eyes. “I love him,” he cried as he covered his face with his hands. “We never said it. I just assumed he loved me—that he cared enough to— to not do this.”
Peter pulled Stiles into his embrace, tucking Stiles’ head into the curve of his throat. He pressed a soft kiss to Stiles’ hair, wondering how his nephew deserved such a loving and caring devotion from one such as Stiles.
Stiles kept himself away from Derek, his gaze avoiding him at all cost. He listened to the generals and politicians prattling on about all attempts to counter any of the Argents formulated attacks. He knew they couldn’t meet the Argents on the open field, and he hoped Derek knew that as well.
“Why not utilize our arcane advantage for once?” One of the advisors asked, prompting all in the room to turn to Stiles.
Stiles looked up at the advisor who spoke, narrowing his eyes at the man. “And what do you propose I do, Lord Tarly?”
“Your job,” Lord Tarly answered. “You were appointed as the Hale Court Sorcerer, usurping the title of High Enchanter as well, and yet you can’t even advise your King when needed.”
Stiles dared to look at Derek. He wasn’t sure what he expected from it. He knew he wasn’t going to get a reaction from him. He wasn’t sure if he was more hurt or angry when Derek turned his gaze away from him. It seemed the times of Derek rising to Stiles’ defense were gone now that they no longer shared a bed.
“There are better approaches than annihilating an army of innocent men,” Stiles firmly stated, his gaze still watching Derek as the King leaned over the maps on the table before him.
“That’s your advice?” Another lord—Lord Blake—demanded.
“What would you have me do? Burn them?” Stiles snapped as he looked at the lords. “You’re all talk for men who have seen enough battles to last them a lifetime. But unlike you, I do not crave the senseless bloodshed.”
Lord Tarly scoffed at Stiles’ words. “You’re little more than a pretty face, mage. You’ve never added a single idea to this council—nor helped the King make any important decisions of State.”
“We all know that’s a lie,” Stiles countered, placing his hands on his hips as he stood his ground.
“No, we all know whose bed you’ve been hiding in,” Lord Blake countered.
“Enough!” Derek snapped as he stood up straight, glowering at the Lords as they began to bow their heads. He turned his attentions towards Stiles.
Stiles refused to bow as he knew should—as he used to playfully do to keep up pretenses.
“What is your suggestion, Stiles?” Derek asked, giving him the platform he needed to voice his concerns.
“Forget them,” Stiles bitterly stated. “They’re a figure from your past—they shouldn’t hold any meaning to you any longer, especially now that you have an alliance with the Queen’s houses. To fight would bring up old wounds and split your kingdom, creating a division.”
Derek stared at Stiles. “You want me to forget all that Gerard’s done?”
“That shouldn’t be too hard for you, your Majesty,” Stiles answered, holding Derek’s gaze. “As I said, he’s nothing but a ghost from your past now. Forgetting him and all you’ve experienced together shouldn’t be difficult.”
Derek’s features darkened, his brow furrowing when he understood Stiles’ implication. He clamped his teeth down tight, his jaw aching as he held back his desire to round on Stiles’ backhanding statement. But part of him knew he deserved it.
Stiles artfully bowed to Derek before turning and leaving.
“Do you love him?” Paige simply asked.
Derek turned to look at her, abandoning his hold on the map he was pretending to inspect. He had noticed Paige’s persistence in spending time with him now that they were married. He tried to accommodate her, allowing her to be present while he dealt with minor details of State. “That’s a silly question,” he simply replied, knowing that Paige was referring to Stiles. He had hoped to play it off as something unworthy of his attention instead of the terrifying reality it held for him.
“And yet it’s a question you won’t answer,” Paige replied.
Derek carefully observed Paige. “Why ask it?”
Paige calmly shrugged her shoulders. “Because he loves you.”
Derek cleared his throat, shaking his head as if that statement was ridiculous.
“You deny that?” Paige asked.
“I simply never gave it thought,” Derek lied, as if it hadn’t haunted his days and nights.
“The whole Court whispers about it,” Paige explained. “They act as if I’m someone to take pity on, trying to keep it from me.”
Derek looked at Paige. “Why do you care about this?”
Paige sighed, turning her attentions towards the window. “You’ve done the duty of consummating our marriage … yet you refuse to visit my bed now.”
Derek looked down at his hands, knowing that he had no answer to give Paige. He had always been blindingly obvious in his attraction to Stiles, and it was no surprised that it made him ill to think of sharing another's bed.
“Your uncle chose me, correct?” Paige continued to question.
“Yes,” Derek admitted.
“I’ve heard some say that I hold a great many physical similarities to Stiles,” Paige offered. “I supposed your uncle wanted to make it easier for you to look at your Consort.”
Derek closed his eyes, pushing off the table to move towards Paige. “I promise you, I do not try and pretend that you are him.”
“I don’t want you to,” Paige answered as she met Derek half way, reaching a hand out to take his. “I had hoped that even if we can’t have a loving relationship, we could at least have companionship.”
Derek reached an unsure hand up, gently cupping her face in his hand. “I don’t want to pretend to have a relationship with you.”
Paige nodded, looking up at Derek as she covered his hand with her own.
Stiles stared at the guards. He had never before been rejected from seeing Derek. No room was restricted to Stiles, and for good reason—he always had the King’s ear, the only person who could help Derek mold the future of the kingdom for the better.
“Again, I am sorry, High Enchanter,” the guard formally stated, refusing to budge.
“This is ridiculous,” Stiles harshly uttered mostly to himself as he looked away from the guards.
“It’s an order from His Majesty,” the guard offered.
Stiles looked at the guard, his eyes widened in disbelief. “The King would not bar me from seeing him.”
“The King has informed the Royal Guard that his rooms are off limits to all but Her Majesty, the Queen Consort,” the guard recited, a reluctance in his voice.
Stiles looked away from the guard, trying to keep his emotions from reacting. “Did he specify me?” He dared to ask.
“Parrish,” Stiles sharply spoke his name, closing his eyes when he felt the burn of his magic pooling in his spine. “Please,” he softly pleaded as he looked at Parrish. “The truth.” He knew the tears in his eyes were obvious when Parrish’s stoic features flickered.
Parrish sighed. “I’m sorry, Stiles,” he answered. “His Majesty is spending time with Her Majesty. And he … he ordered for you to not come see him in his private quarters any longer. That he will meet and address you on common grounds.”
Stiles stared at Parrish, sharply nodding his head when he realized that a response was needed. “I … Please, tell His Majesty that I understand,” he struggled with his words. His step backwards was stumbling as he tried to focus on containing the pain he felt in his chest.
The portal ripped through thin air, a dark swirling vortex that caused a gust of wind to spiral out from it. The papers around the war table were caught up in the gust, flying up into the sky. A man in torn and bloodied clothing fell through the portal, fear and pain covering his features as he scrambled to get away from whatever was on the other side of the portal.
The guards had acted quickly, several of them rallying around Derek as the others confronted the man.
Stiles stepped out of the portal, marching towards the man he had pushed through it. Fire ignited in his hand, the flames engulfing his hand completely as Stiles moved towards the man. The portal closed behind Stiles, catching all those in the room by surprise at the spectacle unfolding.
“No!” The man pleaded as he tried to get away from Stiles, as if Stiles was something conjured from his nightmares.
Stiles grabbed the man’s tunic, yanking him up off the ground to hold close. He brought the flame in his hand closer to the man. “I want you to tell them the same thing you told me,” he demanded. “Now!” He threatened when the man didn’t speak.
“The K-king in the West,” the man stuttered in fear. “They call Argent the King in the West. They’ve bent the knee, not through loyalty but fear,” he quickly added as he fearfully looked at Stiles. “He plans to attack King Derek from within his council,” he added.
“This is preposterous,” Lord Blake stated. “You’ve beaten a man into confessing your own version of events.”
“It gets better, Lord Blake,” Stiles snapped as he looked up at him. “I want the name of the councilman.”
“Beauregard Blake,” the man quickly uttered. “His daughter is meant to marry Argent’s son now that he’s widowed.”
Derek looked at Lord Blake.
“Your Majesty, this is the ramblings of a frightened man,” Lord Blake countered as he turned towards Derek.
Peter sidestepped in front of Derek, placing his arm out in a protective manner. “These are damning accusations, Blake.”
“By an injured man,” Lord Blake countered. “One who has suffered at the hands of an unhinged mage.”
“Perhaps a truth spell would make Your Majesty feel better about the accusation,” Stiles offered as he released his hold on the cowering man before him. He turned to look at Derek. “You wanted my help with the looming threat. I’ve gotten you proof. If you need more, just ask and I shall give it to you.”
“Do it,” Derek calmly answered, knowing Stiles wouldn’t have made such a spectacle if there was no reason for it.
“Your Majesty, I must protest this,” Lord Blake started.
“It wasn’t a request, Lord Blake,” Derek snapped as he looked at the man. “If you truly have no reason to fear me knowing the truth, you will bend your pride to my will.”
“This isn’t the first time he’s poisoned your mind,” Lord Blake snapped. “He’s nothing more than a charlatan,” he pointedly cursed at Stiles.
“Take a step closer, and I’ll show you how much of a charlatan I am,” Stiles partially growled.
“I won’t be subjected to his magic,” Lord Blake stated.
“Then how about your daughter’s?” Stiles countered. He allowed a small smile to pull at his lips when Lord Blake looked at him in horror. “It’s no secret she practices her magic behind sealed doors thanks to your hatred of it. You tried to keep it hidden—out of sight, out of mind, right? Or perhaps you wanted her to train in secret—hoping she could one day replace me.” He looked at Derek, wishing to know if Derek still trusted his judgment. He looked back at Blake. “But you’re the charlatan, Lord Blake. You speak flowered words but plot daggers in the darkness, all for selfish gain. You know you can’t deny it—not to our King.”
“Your father should have let us drown you in the lake after you killed your mother,” Lord Blake spat at Stiles. “He knew what you were but chose to allow a monster to live, out of sentiment.”
Stiles’ hand raised in anger, the fire igniting in his palm once more. He was ready to incinerate Lord Blake when a firm hand grabbed his wrist, holding his arm back from swinging into motion. He whipped his body around to face the person that dared to stop him—nearly prepared to ignite them in the flame as well. His features fell when he realized it was Derek.
Derek’s hand was gentle, his fingers merely wrapped Stiles’ wrist in a soft embrace. He slowly lowered Stiles’ hand as he looked into Stiles’ eyes. It was a silent reassurance that Stiles didn’t have to be strong for once—he didn’t have to carry out the execution.
Stiles curled his fingertips into his palm as he dropped his gaze to his hand, watching the flames slowly dancing around his hand before dying out and extinguishing. He tried to ignore the way Derek’s hand lingered in holding his wrist. He wanted to believe it meant something.
Derek looked at Lord Blake. “I don’t care for your cruel words, Lord Blake,” he lowly stated. “You’ve been nothing but hateful towards Stiles and all he’s done for this kingdom.”
“I don’t care if you willingly submit to a truth spell or not,” Derek snapped, stopping Lord Blake’s words from interrupting him. “You’ll submit to one because it pleases me, not Stiles.”
Stiles turned to look at those gathered, wondering who heard him being ridiculed in such a manner. He startled into action when he saw the guard moving towards Derek. “Derek!” He yelled as he grabbed ahold of Derek, yanking Derek in close to his body as he backpedalled from the would-be assassin.
It was a sudden array of chaos with Derek falling against Stiles as they both stumbled for footing, all in an attempt to get away from the blade meant to kill a king.
Peter moved to block the assassin, cursing loudly when the dagger dug down into his forearm, the blade slicing deep enough to hit bone. He brought his knee up into the guard’s stomach, hitting him hard enough to drive him backwards. He held his wound tightly as he watched the guards restrain the attacker. He turned to look at Derek, catching sight of his nephew being guarded by Stiles’ arm, a protective ward of magic built up between the both of them and everyone else.
Stiles’ back was exposed to the threat, having been prepared to use his body as a secondary barrier to protect Derek from the assassin. He turned to look at Peter. He dropped the ward, quickly moving to tend to Peter’s wound.
“It’s fine,” Peter offered as Stiles assessed the damage.
“If it gets infected, you’ll either lose your arm or die,” Stiles countered.
“Lovely,” Peter dryly replied. “I’ll be a one-armed advisor,” he joked.
Stiles fondly shook his head, using his magic to heal Peter’s arm.
Peter looked up, seeing the way Derek’s gaze lingered on them. He wasn’t surprised by Derek’s quick turn from them.
“Throw him in the dungeon,” Derek ordered the guards. “Get what information you can out of him.” He looked to Parrish. “And find Lord Blake.”
“He’ll be half way to the Argents by now,” Peter commented.
“No thanks to you,” Derek sharply uttered.
Stiles turned to look at Derek. “Your uncle saved your life, Your Majesty.”
“He thinks he’s entitled to my arm,” Peter commented.
“I’m entitled to your life if I choose,” Derek snapped.
Peter narrowed his eyes at Derek, trying to discover his reason for such a reaction. He watched Derek leave with what was left of the guards, remaining in the room with Stiles as his wound was tended.
“He has no reason to act like that,” Stiles softly commented as he concentrated on healing Peter’s arm.
“Jealous men often act without reason,” Peter replied.
Stiles looked up at Peter. “And he has what to be jealous of?”
A small smile pulled at Peter’s lips. “He still cares for you, and he believes I’ve been taking advantage of your separation.”
Stiles looked away from Peter. “That’s ridiculous.”
“And Derek often is ridiculous,” Peter replied.
“He has no right,” Stiles firmly stated.
“No one can tell someone how they should feel,” Peter corrected Stiles. “Derek has no right to tell you how you should act or who you should be with. But he can feel that jealousy burning in his chest just as any man who lost your favor would.”
Stiles looked at Peter. “I won’t apologize to him for healing you.”
“I’m not saying you should,” Peter replied. “Just understand that his anger, though it seems malicious now, is coming from a place of hurt. He will feel foolish and ask for forgiveness sooner than you think.”
Derek never explicitly sought out Stiles’ forgiveness, though in the end Stiles made excuses for him.
Stiles pretended that Derek wanted to apologize, that he was actually sorry for the way things were splitting apart for them. But Derek never made a move to show Stiles a shred of leniency when it came to expecting results.
That was how they ended up in a fight.
Derek had yelled at his generals to get out, for everyone to leave him alone to speak with his High Enchanter. He even ordered Peter to leave them, annoyed when his uncle hesitated before finally leaving.
“That’s mature,” Stiles pointedly stated.
“I’ve had enough of this,” Derek replied in a low tone. “You need to stop arguing with me left and right while in front of my advisors.”
Stiles had his arms crossed over his chest as he lulled his head to the side, pinning Derek with a tense glare. “I’m sorry, when should I address you in private? Should I ask the Queen when you’re next free?”
“Stiles,” Derek angrily stated his name in reprimand. “Enough.”
“You’re right, enough,” Stiles snapped. “I can’t advise you when you won’t let me have an opinion.” He let his arms fall in order to place his hands on his hips. “And no more being pissed at your uncle because you think we’re fucking.”
Derek’s features twisted—it was the first time anyone openly mentioned the idea that Stiles and Peter could have been intimate with one another. His own suspicions were still plaguing his mind, and it didn’t help when Paige would mention how close Peter seemed with Stiles whenever they were caught conversing during public festivities.
“I’m not fucking your uncle,” Stiles firmly stated once more to gain Derek’s attention. “I wouldn’t do that, Derek,” he softly added.
“It’s not my place to care,” Derek answered.
Stiles released a soft scoff, turning his face from Derek. He pretended to scratch an itch high on his cheekbone, desperate to brush the unshed tears away. “You don’t trust me anymore, Derek. I don’t see how I’m to advise you on anything when you can’t trust me.” He looked back at Derek. “You used to take my word as gospel, because you trusted I had your best interest at hand. I still have your best interest at hand, and yet you suddenly don’t trust me.”
Derek ran his hands over his face, trying to rub the weariness away. It had been so long since he had a night of uninterrupted sleep. He worried, more often than not, about how to keep his kingdom from another war. And then the peaceful nights he wished to pledge to sleep were stolen whenever he found Paige in his rooms, seeking him out for the warmth of his company.
It was impossible for Derek not to think of Stiles. Once, he tried to keep Stiles from his mind, desperate to give his attention towards his wife, only to have the night end in the humiliating failure of being unable to perform as a husband should.
Paige blamed Stiles, as she always had. Never noting the lack of attraction Derek had for her—the passion he had with Stiles completely gone from anything he had with her. She fought with Derek, going as far to call him a coward for letting Stiles bewitch him. She always played the victim the next day, citing the pressures the kingdom put on her to provide Derek with an heir, only for there to be nothing from their limited nights spent trying.
Derek knew he had a duty to perform, and hated himself for it. He vomited afterwards, while Paige slept contently in his bed. He hated himself for pretending she was Stiles, just to get through the act—to keep himself erect long enough to finish the task at hand. He prayed it would be the end of it.
“I’m trying, Stiles,” Derek softly stated, his voice small and unsure.
Stiles’ expression softened some, taking a step towards Derek. “You know I’d never wish you ill, Derek,” he explained. “But Paige despises me. That is no secret. And I can’t help you if she warps how you think of me.”
“She could never do that,” Derek answered, looking up at Stiles. “You know that.”
“I thought I did,” Stiles sadly replied.
Derek reached out for Stiles, his hand covering over Stiles’ own. “I do love you, Stiles,” he sounded pained. “That’s what makes this so difficult.”
Stiles released a shaky breath. “You can’t do that, Derek,” he stated in a small voice.
“I’m not sorry for how I feel,” Derek replied. “But I can’t keep being this close to you—it makes me think of how things used to be.”
Stiles was about to respond when a guard burst into the room unannounced. He pulled his hand away from Derek’s, not wanting to give breath to any rumors already swirling.
“Don’t you know how to knock?” Derek demanded in a sharp tone.
“I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” the guard quickly apologized. “But it’s the Queen. She’s fainted.”
Stiles looked at the guard.
“Fainted?” Derek asked.
“Yes,” the guard quickly confirmed. “She was with her handmaidens, and suddenly became ill. The healers have been called. She’s fearful of poison, and asked for your presence.”
Derek looked at Stiles.
Stiles turned to the guard, quickly moving to exit the room again. “Tell the healers not to let her ingest anything, incase it is poison. Have one of my apprentices go to the lab and retrieve what I need for poisoning. They should all know what I need.” He paused, looking back at Derek. “Every second counts, Your Majesty.”
Derek hesitated, wondering if this was a sign from the gods that he would be given a second chance at happiness. He decided that he’d feel guilty later, should the true cause of Paige’s ailment be poison. He followed after Stiles, knowing that he would be given an answer soon enough.
Paige was sitting comfortably in her bed, handmaidens dramatically surrounding her as they fretted over their Queen. She smiled at Derek, her expression barely changing when she saw Stiles enter the room as well. “I told them you’d come,” she softly stated.
Stiles kept from rolling his eyes at her words.
“Do the healers know what is wrong?” Derek asked, ignoring Paige’s comment.
“No,” Paige stated, a frown pulling at her lips. “I suddenly felt weak and passed out.”
“She threw up as well,” a handmaiden stated.
“If you will allow it, Your Majesty,” Stiles started, taking a step towards the bed. “I could use my magic to pinpoint what is ailing you.”
Paige looked at Derek, her eyes wide with uncertainty.
“Stiles is very good at diagnosing illnesses,” Derek replied, having full confidence in Stiles.
“Well, if you trust his abilities, then so do I,” Paige answered, nodding in consent for Stiles to proceed.
Stiles moved around Derek, sitting on the edge of the bed by Paige. He took her hand in his, hating the intimacy of the gesture. “Just close your eyes and relax, my lady,” he instructed her.
Stiles closed his eyes after Paige, concentrating on the magic pulsing through his palms and into her. He hated this part—the search for the sickness. He was puzzled when he didn’t find a poison, trying to decipher her symptoms with other ailments he knew of. His stomach twisted when he pinpointed the cause. He opened his eyes, looking at Paige, only to find that she was looking right back at him. He saw the hint of the smug smile pulling at the corner of her lips. He recognized the taunt in her eyes as the victory she saw it as.
Stiles tore his hands away from Paige, moving to stand up.
“Has she been poisoned?” A healer quickly asked Stiles, knowing that the mage found something.
Stiles couldn’t stop staring at her. He had still struggled with the idea that he couldn’t have Derek anymore, but this only cemented it. He hated Paige for thinking she was clever—that she had won some unspoken battle between them. It wasn’t a victory when one side was forced into submission by an ally.
“Stiles,” Derek addressed him, reaching a hand out to touch his arm.
Stiles jerked back, finally turning his attention to Derek. He couldn’t feel the tears on the brink of breaking loose, and he didn’t want to give Paige that victory as well. “I believe the Queen has happy news for you,” he weakly stated for Derek’s benefit. He hoped Derek wasn’t part to such a petty display. He turned to leave the room behind before his tears broke.
Paige was pregnant, with Derek’s baby. And nothing was going to change that reality for Stiles.
Derek tried to speak with Stiles, but he found the door to Stiles’ lab periodically locked whenever Stiles was there working. He had tried to sleep outside Stiles’ lab, only to find that Stiles somehow made it around his sleeping form. He knew there was someone else visiting Stiles in his labs, hearing the voices whenever Stiles’ wards flared.
Derek was furious with Paige, yelling at her for pulling such a stunt. He didn’t believe her claim of innocence, but knew he had to forgive it when the kingdom reacted with cheers of happiness. He didn’t like any of it, seeing how Paige seemed to know exactly what Stiles had been talking about when he said it was ‘happy news.’
Derek pretended to be pleased with the merrymaking and revelry concerning the impending birth of his heir. He wished Stiles had been in attendance, knowing that it was his one chance to see Stiles and talk without being locked out of the room. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say he was shocked when Stiles appeared before the throne, bearing a gift for the Queen.
Paige placed her hand on her stomach, rubbing a gentle circle into her swollen belly as she pretended to be unaware of the image she made. She was bragging, placing her stomach on display to make a point to Stiles—she did for Derek what Stiles could never do.
Stiles remained looking calm and collect, his gaze never turning to Derek as he remained focused on the Queen. He bowed his head respectfully. “I hope my gift benefits you a great deal.” He gestured for the servants to bring the box up to Paige in order to make it easier for her to open.
Stiles was dressed as he once traditionally did. His modest clothes were forgotten for the deep plunging v-necks he often sported. His makeup highlighted his features, golden dust painted above his eyelids as charcoal outlined his eyes beneath it. He wore a delicately elaborate lace collar that haloed his neck, sleeves baring his shoulders and a significant part of his back. He looked as he once did before his flirtations with Derek grew into something more, when he dressed to catch Derek’s eye.
And like all the other times, it worked.
Yet, Stiles wasn’t wearing his raven’s claw—what was left of his mother’s familiar after he sacrificed it for Derek.
Derek had never forgotten Stiles’ sacrifice, only learning about it when he woke from his brush with death. He found Stiles hysterically hovering over him, pressing kisses to his face as Stiles sobbed tears of sorrowful joy. He learned what Stiles gave up, and regretted that he cost Stiles such a beloved thing—the only connection he had left to his mother.
The loud murmurs that broke through the crowd caused Derek to turn and look at Paige. It was then that he noticed what Stiles had given Paige.
Stiles’ favored robes—the translucent ones that Derek had given him as a parting joke. They were the robes that the whole Court knew adorned Stiles in the King’s favor.
Paige, however, was none the wiser to what the initial purpose of the robes was.
“I hope they bring you as much luck as they did me,” Stiles added, taking an artful bow. As he rose, he made eye contact with Derek, an icy glare consuming his features. He walked away from the thrones, enjoying that the nobles parted before him, avoiding him as if he was a plague.
Derek sought out Stiles, heading to his lab once more, knowing he spent more time there than anywhere else in the palace. He descended the steps, taking his time as he came to the door. His hand almost touched the door when he heard the heavy breathing, panting that interrupted moans of pleasure. He didn’t want to believe what his rational side told him—that there was a lovers’ tryst happening behind the door, and logically it involved Stiles.
Derek pushed his pain aside, shoving open the door in a swift and simple motion. He took a step into the lab, knowing that Stiles would feel his wards reacting—if Stiles wasn’t beyond distracted.
Stiles was bent over one of his main stationary tables, his hands gripping down on the tabletop. The table’s edge bit into his hips with every thrust, trying desperately to meet his lover’s movements. Something twitched at the back of his mind, the faintest warning that someone passed through his ward. “Alex,” he started, his voice hitching in a breathy moan. “Wait,” he pressed, reaching a hand back to touch Alex, lifting his head to turn and look. That was when he caught sight of Derek standing at the lab’s entrance, a completely dumbfound look decorating his features. “Stop, stop!” He quickly uttered, demand in his voice as he nearly shoved Alex back.
The erratic movement seemed to alert Alex to check their surroundings, seeing Derek.
Derek turned his head away as the couple scrambled to cover themselves appropriately. He cleared his throat, trying to school he emotions.
“Your Majesty,” Stiles started as he made sure his clothes were secured tightly around his body before addressing Derek. “Forgive me, I didn’t hear you knock.”
Derek turned his attention towards Stiles. “Being King, I didn’t realize I had to knock,” he forcefully stated.
Stiles felt how stiff Alex was beside him, reaching a hand out to take hold of Alex’s. “This is one of my fellow sorcerers,” he started to introduce Alex. “Alexander—”
“I didn’t ask for his name,” Derek coldly snapped. “I didn’t come here to meet your bed partner. I came here to inform you that in the future, you will present the Queen with gifts befitting her station,” he stated, forgetting the real reason he came to see Stiles—knowing that it was his own loneliness and guilt that brought him here. Now all he felt was anger. “Not below it,” he added.
Stiles’ body stilled, his features twisting some. He had blinked, nearly recoiling as if Derek had hit him. He cleared his throat, offering a faint nod. “My mistake,” he barely stated. “Is that all?” He asked, grateful his voice didn’t crack under emotion.
“In future, lock your lab while you’re indisposed,” Derek stated as he turned and exited the lab without further discussion.
Alex tightened his hold on Stiles’ hand, reaching his free hand up to brush the tears from Stiles’ eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles quickly stated. “I feel embarrassed.”
Alex pulled Stiles into a hug, pressing a kiss into his hair. “You shouldn’t be,” he offered, rubbing his open palm along Stiles’ back. He knew without a doubt that Stiles had lied to him earlier—there was no way Stiles was over Derek, and vice versa. Though he found the King’s reaction to be a near guarantee that Stiles would never fall prey to feelings for Derek again.
Stiles sniffed some, suppressing his tears as he pulled away from Alex.
“My offer still stands, Stiles,” Alex pressed, knowing that now was as good a time to mention it as any.
“I told you—”
“You shouldn’t stay in a place where your magic is looked down on,” Alex countered. “You’re a talent meant to be cherished, not sneered at. And it seems this King is happy to let his Queen do that.”
Stiles looked away from Alex.
“I know this is your home—your childhood home,” Alex elaborated. “But you deserve to feel welcomed in your home.” He sighed. “We could be happy, Stiles. We could … grow to love one another, if you’d let your heart try.”
Stiles knew he wouldn’t love another the way he did Derek. But he could try. “I’m not sure,” he softly answered.
“Think about it,” Alex replied. “That’s all I ask.”
Stiles nodded in response.
Stiles had been barred from court and other festive functions, the Queen’s already soured feelings towards Stiles began to putrefy when she discovered the origin of the robes.
Paige had the torn and charred scraps of material dropped off at Stiles’ lab as a warning. She wasn’t going to be crossed again with such an insult.
But Stiles didn’t care if he angered Paige as he hurried into the throne room, his last correspondence with Alex clutched in his hand. He halted when the guards told him too, only to be met with Peter just outside inner room that held the royal monarch’s throne.
“You seem troubled,” Peter started, wishing to deescalate the situation before anything reached Derek.
“I just had word from Novigrad, and my father is missing,” Stiles quickly stated, the urgency evident in his tone. “I need help finding him, a scouting party or something,” he stated as he pressed by Peter.
“Stiles,” Peter warned him, grabbing Stiles’ arm to stop him from getting to Derek. “It would be best to approach Derek when he is alone,” he instructed.
“My father doesn’t have that kind of time,” Stiles sharply snapped. “The Argents have him, and I need help now.” He yanked his arm out of Peter’s hold, marching into the room he knew Derek was entertaining diplomats in.
Derek balked at seeing Stiles, uncertain how to respond when the diplomats turned to look at him.
Stiles bowed to Derek and the other men before he approached them. “I have urgent news from Novigrad, and I must speak with you in haste, Your Majesty.”
Derek looked uncertain when the other men looked at him. “I’m sure this can wait until other matters are settled.”
“Your Lord of Strategy has been kidnapped,” Stiles snapped, uncaring if the diplomats overheard. Perhaps it would force Derek’s hand into acting. “Can that wait until other matters are settled?”
The herald announced Her Majesty, the loud noise of the staff banging against the marble floors preceded Paige’s entrance.
Stiles only turned to look at Paige when he realized she wasn’t making her way across the room. He locked gazes with her, uncaring for the scowl she was sporting. He noticed that her stomach had grown larger in the weeks since he insulted her with his gift, though he knew she wouldn’t allow anyone to forget it.
“What is he doing here?” Paige demanded of Derek, her sight not leaving Stiles.
“He has news about a contact in Novigrad,” Derek answered, looking towards Paige. “It’s a matter of State.”
“I don’t like him here,” Paige plainly stated. “I said I didn’t want him in the palace any longer.” She turned her scowl towards Derek. “I don’t trust him—not after the stunt he pulled.”
“Paige,” Derek called her name in a low warning, wishing to tell her to cease her childish tantrum.
“I don’t trust him around the baby,” Paige pressed in a whiny voice, as if she was accustomed to getting her way whenever she used such an excuse.
“It is found that mages are bad luck for healthy birthings,” one of the diplomats stated.
Stiles rolled his eyes, sick of hearing that same superstitious belief thrown around.
“You said you would have him vacate the palace,” Paige pressed on when Derek didn’t reply.
Stiles looked at Derek, narrowing his eyes as he tried to catch a counter to Paige’s claim. His jaw trembled when he saw no reaction stirring within Derek.
“Perhaps this conversation should take place elsewhere,” Peter offered, gesturing for the guards to escort the diplomats away. He painstakingly gestured for Paige’s handmaidens to leave, annoyed when the women dramatically fanned themselves. He closed the door tightly behind them, leaving the room empty save for himself, Stiles, Derek, and Paige.
“You lied to me,” Paige uttered, her voice tight and breathy, as if she was shocked by such a revelation.
“Stiles is the High Enchanter,” Derek replied, looking at Paige. “I wasn’t about to kick one of my advisors from the palace. He was spoken to.”
Stiles scoffed. “Spoken to, is that what you call it?”
Paige moved quickly for a woman so heavily pregnant. She smacked Stiles across the face, digging her nails into his cheek.
On instinct, flames lined Stiles’ open palm as he turned back to look at Paige, a burning fire reflecting in his eyes.
Derek reached Stiles quickly enough, grabbing Stiles’ hand. The flames disappeared before Derek was able to hold Stiles’ palm against his, Stiles’ magic reacting to his touch on instinct. “We’ll talk privately,” he uttered, pulling Stiles with him into the side parlor. He had confidence that Peter would handle Paige.
Stiles pulled his hand from Derek’s once they were secured in the room alone. He paced, running a hand along his cheek where Paige’s fingernails drew blood.
“You said your father was in trouble,” Derek started, moving to stop Stiles’ pacing in an attempt to inspect his wound.
Stiles looked at Derek. “Do you care?”
Derek looked back at Stiles, his fingertips still holding Stiles’ chin. “You know I do.”
“No, I don’t,” Stiles answered, his heart still hurting.
Derek looked wounded. “You know I love you—”
Stiles wrenched himself out of Derek’s grasp, shoving him backwards. “You don’t get to say you love someone but then have a child with someone else!” He angrily yelled in exasperation. “What you’re doing isn’t fair. Or do you not see it that way? Are you really being the selfish brat Gerard Argent paints you as?”
“You handed my Queen a—” Derek stopped himself, biting back his angered words. “You know that the Court knows those robes belong to you—it’s no secret that I gave them to you.”
“That was the point,” Stiles childishly uttered. “She hurt me, Derek,” he stated as he turned to look at him. “I’m a vindictive creature. She rubbed it in my face that she was pregnant with your baby.”
Derek tiredly shook his head. “She didn’t know, then.”
“You believe her over me?” Stiles quickly questioned, gesturing towards the door. “After what she just did—”
“You raised magic against the Queen, Stiles,” Derek quickly uttered. “Other Kings would have burned you at the stake for that.”
“She has you so twisted, you couldn’t even see all she has done,” Stiles argued.
“There had just been an attack on my life—she fainted, she could have been poisoned, Stiles,” Derek replied.
“There was laughter in her eyes when she realized I knew,” Stiles snapped. “She knew—”
“You want to paint her as the villain,” Derek countered.
“Maybe she is!” Stiles yelled at him.
“She’s just jealous, Stiles,” Derek softly replied. “She knows how I feel about you.”
“Are you so desperate to have an heir that you’d give up your High Enchanter?”
“You’re trying to make me choose when you know that’s impossible for me to do,” Derek replied.
“She’s twisting things around, making you hate me more and more,” Stiles stated.
“No, Stiles,” Derek lowly answered. “You’re doing that yourself.”
Stiles turned and looked away from Derek. “Fine,” he weakly uttered, his words turning to ash on his tongue. “I’ll make it easier on you, then.” He spun on his heel, finally ready to part with Derek. “I’m leaving—like she wants.”
Derek looked at Stiles’ turned back.
“You’ll finally have marital bliss,” Stiles added, wanting to dig the knife deeper.
“Where will you go?” Derek asked, wanting to call out Stiles’ bluff.
Stiles hesitated, hearing the masked anger in Derek’s tone. “I have connections, Derek. The Lodge of Mages, even the Guild of Healers.” He tightened his hands into fists as he turned to look at Derek. “Even Alexander has asked me to move closer to him.”
“The Lodge and Guild aren’t even within the city’s limits,” Derek replied, ignoring Stiles’ obvious attempt to goad him.
Stiles released a bitter laugh. “You throw me out of my childhood home—the only place I’ve ever known—and expect me to still stay within your bounds?”
Derek refused to answer.
“Allow me to offer you one last lesson you have yet to be taught, Your Majesty,” Stiles nearly spat the title at Derek’s feet. “You want security—to be assured your legacy continues to thrive even long after you’re gone. You have your throne, thanks to the sacrifices I’ve made for you. And now, you will have an heir, thanks to you sacrificing us.” He barely flinched when the portal tore open behind him at his beckoning, an invitation for him to escape. “When you wound someone, you don’t get to decide what they do with the rest of their life, Derek. Maybe one day, looking back on it, you’ll recognize everything I did for you, and how you couldn’t even believe me when I needed you to.”
And just like that, Stiles walked out of Derek’s life—away from the life he knew and loved. He felt as if his heart was breaking, shattered into pieces that were impossible to fit back together. But he wasn’t going to live in a place he was detested. He could only hope that Derek would one day realize what he gave up, all in hopes of pleasing a social calling.
Derek re-entered the throne room alone.
“Should I sent the band of scouts?” Peter asked as he approached Derek.
Derek looked at Peter, a hollowness in his eyes. He felt as if a hole opened up in his stomach and tore through his chest. He lost Stiles, the only person he had been convinced he couldn’t lose. “Did he mention where his father was last seen?”
“Novigrad,” Peter replied. “It corresponds with John’s last letter.”
Derek nodded. “Send Erica and Isaac,” he instructed. “Have them make contact with any spies we have in Novigrad—I want to know who took John.”
Peter hesitated when he noticed Stiles was not rejoining them. “And Stiles?”
“He left. He’ll be living in the city, though,” Derek offered. “Inform Erica and Isaac to relay any information to him. He’ll be with … a mage name Alexander.”
“He threatened me,” Paige angrily snapped at Derek when he didn’t make a move to address her. “You let him go after he threatened your Queen—”
“Shut up!” Derek yelled at her.
Peter silently looked on, hoping he was about to see what should have been done months ago.
“You struck him,” Derek stated in a tight voice, as if he was explaining something to an insolent child. “You’re lucky he didn’t burn the skin from your hand.”
Paige looked shocked. “You’re still defending him—”
“Your confinement will start today,” Derek quickly stated, knowing that Paige still had more than a week before the traditional confinement should start. “You’ll stay in your quarters, shut away for the remainder of the pregnancy. When the baby is born, then you will be allowed to return to Court.”
“You’re shunning me?” Paige demanded. “You’re locking me away like some criminal because your whore—”
“It’s kinder than what you wanted to do to Stiles,” Derek answered as he looked at her finally. “I gave you the benefit of every doubt, and you lied to me. I should have listened to Stiles from the beginning.”
“Derek,” Paige started, a look of terror on her face. She was just realizing that she had destroyed what favor she had with him.
Derek didn’t reply to her as he left the throne room behind, his thoughts plagued with the image of Stiles’ back disappearing through the portal. He feared he’d never see him again.