Stiles parked his jeep in the parking lot at the bottom of the hill where the castle holding the upper city rested. On the wall sections between the towers were hung green banners that had the familiar Argent family crest, but these were now dwarfed by the larger red banners bearing the gold Hale family crest. Seeing those banners on the familiar walls in the setting sun deflated Stiles and filled him with apprehension. The last of the merchants were closing up their stands and clearing out in preparation for the feast as he trudged the long climb up the hill. The mood of the merchants was not dire as it was with the residents of the city. It did not matter what monarch ruled the land, their lot would not change. One ruler was the same as the next. When he got to the gates of the upper city he found the entrance blocked by guards.
"Halt! Who goes there?" barked one of the guards at the gate.
"You know who I am, I work here," replied Stiles with an eye roll. "But tonight I'm here for the banquet as the guest of my father, the Sheriff."
"The banquet isn't for a couple of hours."
"My father wanted me to help him with some things. Shall I bring you up with him while I'm at it?"
They looked down at their list, found his name, and drew their staves aside.
The upper city was buzzing with activity preparing for the feast. The buzzing was nothing new, they had been at war for over ten years, but the tone of it was different and unnerving to Stiles. Stiles made his way into the castle inside the city. The walls of the castle no longer felt like a place of safety to Stiles, they felt like a trap.
Stiles went from one side of the castle to the other looking for his father. One of this men would lead tell him to go to the armory and then the men at the armory would tell him to try the kitchen. He found himself waiting in the hallway of the living area of the royal family, because his father had reportedly gone to the King's quarters to discuss last minute plans. Stiles was not about to knock on the King's chamber door. He looked down at his phone and saw that he got no service. Why the Argents hadn't put a cell tower in the upper city was beyond him.
"It's atrocious what those monsters are doing! Forcing Lydia to marry the Hale Beast!"
There were voices coming from the Queen's chamber. Stiles was sure the voice he heard was Lady Anne, the Queen's sister.
"It's very kind of them to accept her as Lydia is adopted and not an Argent by blood. They could have forced Allison to break off her engagement."
Stiles recognized the Queen's voice. Her tone was very even and every word she spoke was carefully measured. The woman was always in control. She might not be the best military leader, but she knew how to run a country. Stiles himself was not a royalist, but he held an affection for her despite never having spoke with her personally. She was the mother of his country and that had given him strength after his own mother passed.
"He's a monster!"
"A monster that is heir to the throne, not that he'll ever sit on it, but his children would. We're lucky the Hales have even left us alive all things considered."
Stiles knew that they were referring to the Hale Beast, Prince Derek. He was a werewolf so animalistic, so feral, that he never spoke and never took human form. His human face had not been seen publicly since he was a boy, when his parents and younger siblings were killed in an Argent attack led by Princess Kate. On the battlefield it was said he would tear through an entire platoon of soldiers armed with wolfsbane weapons in under a minute. It was if he was immune to the herb that felled other werewolves. As part of the terms of the Argent surrender, Stiles' lifelong crush, the strawberry blond goddess Lady Lydia would marry the Hale Beast. It's not like Stiles had a chance with her, the only words he'd ever spoken to her were "Yes, your Highness."
A statesman Stiles recognized came out of the King's chamber and he asked after his father. He was informed that the sheriff was not in the King's chamber, had he tried the banquet hall? He had, but he decided to try it again. This time his father was in the banquet hall finalizing security arrangements. Stiles asked him what he needed help with, but his father had already set someone else to the task because Stiles was late in finding him. Since the library was closed, Stiles decided to find a corner to hide in and play games on his phone until the welcome banquet began.
The local guests all arrived by 7pm and were ready to receive the Wolf nation royals and their court when they arrived at 8pm on horseback. The Regent, Prince Peter, his adopted son Prince Isaac, and of course, the Hale beast. Stiles had seen werewolves before, mostly on television, but there was something extra terrifying about the Beast and he joined the crowd in the collective gasp when the Beast rode into view. Objectively he may have been no bigger than the other wolf soldiers in his entourage, but his presence dwarfed everyone around him. He did not seem like a man with a monster's face, he seemed like a monster that stood like a man. A chill ran down Stiles' spine and settled into his bones. What would life be like with creatures like this ruling the kingdom?
There were speeches and ceremony acknowledging the formality of Hale sovereignty over Argent lands. Smiles were faked and pictures were snapped. A warm accepting face was laid over generations of hatred and resentment. Stiles was glad when the feast itself actually began and he could distract himself with food. Being his father's dinner companion was quite boring as he was there in an official capacity. Stiles kept writing texts to Scott, but because of the lack of signal they sat in his phone's outbox. When his father left to talk to someone at another table, Stiles snuck over to spend time with Boyd, a teen from a prominent merchant family that he sometimes played online games with. He was usually good for some fun.
It was his laugh that Derek noticed first. Through the clamor of the party he could hear that happy laugh. It was the only honestly happy sound in the entire hall. Derek scanned the room until he found the source. It was a young man, barely a man, more of a boy. He wasn't sure what it was that made his laugh sound like Laura's, but it did and he wanted to hear more of it. The young man did not wear the false smile that everyone else was wearing, especially the young woman they were trying to mate him to. He was honestly smiling and laughing a genuine laugh and it reminded him of Laura.
Stiles father came up behind him, squeezed his neck a little too tightly, and ordered him back to his seat. This was a formal affair in the presence of his country's rulers, not some after school pizza party. Stiles found his way back to his seat, only to find himself once again bored and ignored. He made a brief survey of the room and his heart stopped when he saw that the Beast was looking in his direction. Stiles had made a point to use the right fork and not wear any deodorant that might have some kind of animal musk in it, he did not want to attract the attention of werewolves. It was most likely that the Beast was looking at his father, who was the sheriff, or some other dignitary they might be sitting by. Still, it felt a little creepy.
Stiles decided to text Scott about it, but since there is no signal in the walled city it just went to his outbox with the rest. Normally he spent his time in the upper city working at the library so he would just IM Scott if he needed to communicate with him, but the library was closed. He wondered if maybe he could get a signal if he went up to the top of the city wall. He told his father he needed to use the restroom and excused himself from the table to find the nearest staircase up.
He passes a couple of guards who don't seem that interested in him as he climbs several stone staircases. Once on top of the wall he checked his phone to see if there's any signal. Nothing yet, so he started walking toward the South wall that faced downtown in the lower city. Once at the South wall he saw that he got one bar of signal, some of the time. Not wanting to wait for Scott to slog through all of his texts, he decided to just call. The ringing stopped, but he doesn't hear anything.
"Scott? Can you hear me? Scott?"
There was nothing, then a blast of static drenched noise, and then nothing again.
Stiles looked up and right there less than twenty feet from him was the Hale Beast. It felt like someone poured ice water down his back. He looked up and down this side of the wall and there was only he and the Beast. There was a highly important state dinner with the leaders of both countries present and not a single guard on this section of the city wall? He was alone with the Beast. His heart started pounding its way up into his throat. A burst of static came from the phone.
"Scott! Oh my god! He's here! The Hale Beast is here with me and I'm alone and no one is here to witness when he kills me...to death!"
Derek could smell fear coming off of the boy. He didn't want the boy to fear him, he wanted the boy to laugh again. That laugh had made him feel a lightness in his heart. The young man's golden brown eyes weren't dark like everyone else's, they were full of lightness and hope. Against the darkness of war this young man had found a way to be happy. The boy was saying something in human speech, but to Derek they were just sounds. He had long since stopped caring what people said, their actions were what was important. He moved over to the boy and pressed himself against him. Derek inhaled deeply, pulling the boy's scent into himself. He nuzzled his face into the boy's neck to let him know that he meant him no harm. He rubbed his face against the boy's face and neck, putting his scent on the boy so that other wolves would know this young man was his.
Oh my god! thought Stiles who was doing everything he could not to call out or just start crying. He's going to rip my throat out with his teeth! The Beast had his arms wrapped around Stiles and was rubbing his face against his neck and face. Stiles figured he was probably trying to find the tenderest meat on Stiles' neck before starting to tear into him. He knew it wasn't good to show fear around wild animals, but he also knew that werewolves could smell fear so putting on a brave face was only going to give him so much traction. He slowly put his hands on the Beast's firm solid body and gently pushed at him. To his surprise the Beast backed up about a foot. Against his better judgment Stiles looked the Beast in the eyes. What he saw there wasn't violence or anger, but a searching gaze that seemed to be trying to make sense of Stiles. Maybe he could find a way to live through this.
"You know I'm not food right? I'm not part of the meal, I'm a citizen of this country and as such I have the right to not be eaten."
A rumble came from inside the Beast's chest. It wasn't threatening, but Stiles wasn't sure how to interpret it. The Beast pushed into him again and seemed to be rubbing his face against Stiles' neck again. If Stiles didn't know any better he would think that the Beast was nuzzling his neck. The Beast didn't seem to be threatening him so he pushed at the Beast, who backed up again, and then he slid sideways out of the werewolf's grasp. The Beast looked concerned, but did not stop him.
"I'm going to head back downstairs now to where there are witnesses and stuff. It was super meeting you and all and maybe we can do this again never."
Stiles had slowly and steadily moved down the wall to the nearest stairway. The Beast had started to slowly move toward where Stiles was, but as soon as he got around the corner out of the Beast's view he took off down the stairs as fast as he could and back into the party. It was only once he was surrounded by people again that he dared to slow down and look back. The Beast was nowhere to be seen.
His father seemed to be talking to one of the foreign ministers and Stiles decided that it was high time he took an intense interest in his father's work. His throat was parched from his recent brush with death, but his sense of self-preservation told him that he'd rather handle a dry throat within the sphere of safety around his father than risk going to his seat to retrieve his drink. He pushed his way through the crowd toward his father.
That was when the world exploded.
Stiles felt the shock of the explosion that knocked him down more than heard it and everything was pretty quiet except for a ringing in his ears. He saw and felt more flashes of light. Dust was filling the air and people were running around. There was too much information to process. He rose to his feet, but his balance was shaky. It was as if each foot was on a separate boat on a choppy lake. It took everything he had just to keep upright.
White flashes. People running. Soldiers pouring into the castle from the walls above.
The castle was being attacked. The realization came to him very slowly. Stiles was standing in the middle of a battlefield and he was going to die. A masked soldier turned to him with a rifle in his hands. He raised the rifle to his shoulder and pointed it right at Stiles. Stiles wondered how much it was going to hurt to die.
Stiles felt pain in his midsection as the wind was knocked out of him. He was no longer on his feet and he felt like he was flying. When he looked down at his midsection, he didn't see blood or bullet wounds. He saw an arm.
An arm with a clawed hand pulling him through the air.