Derek attempts to look at ease in the Deaton’s posh manor ballroom, but he can tell he’s failing. It’s convenient that he already has a reputation for being dour at parties. His discomfort tonight is unfortunately founded on concerns beyond his usual distaste for frivolous conversation, though: The resistance’s latest missive had said that another spy would be here to give Derek the location of their storehouse, where he is to deliver the weapons and supplies he has illicitly obtained. Such information in the wrong hands… Derek shudders to think of it.
There are only twenty or twenty-five people at the party, and Derek knows them all by sight, if not by name. High society is frankly incestuous in their small country. Still, he can’t guess who his unknown ally is, or when they will approach him. It’s safer to keep everything as anonymous as possible. Thus far, Lady Katherine has kept up an appearance of having fair trials for the ‘traitors’, but each month the convictions become more of a farce. The flimsiest evidence can lead to an execution, and being implicated by a convicted traitor is more than enough for a death sentence. One captured spy must not be able to give up the entire resistance.
The silver lining of the growing danger is the indication that Lady Katherine feels threatened. That can only mean that the revolution grows closer to success. Derek dreams of the day when the illegitimate Argent will be deposed and Queen Allison crowned in her place. Then, he will be free to return to his life of safety and leisure.
“Can I tempt you to the floor for this dance?” The flirtatious tone rouses him from his dire musings, and Derek turns to see his husband. Despite the circumstances, an entirely genuine smile crosses his face. Around Stiles, one always does.
“I’m afraid not,” Derek says, gentling his tone to take the sting out of the refusal. Stiles’ smile tightens, almost imperceptibly, and he nods graciously. He’s used enough to such rejection, Derek thinks with a pang. He’s used to lonely dinners as well, and going to sleep alone when Derek has late nights, and listening to vague excuses because the real reasons are ones he cannot know. Derek hates to disappoint him, tonight as ever, but he needs to be available for the other operative to pass him the information, not whirling about on the dance floor. The revolution must come first, until Lady Katherine can be imprisoned for her crimes. Derek strives to believe that the day will come soon.
With a brief squeeze of his hand, Stiles leaves Derek standing by the wall to greet Master Deaton by the refreshments table across the parlor. Derek watches with longing, and almost misses the small tug on his pants as a hand slips briefly into his pocket.
Derek freezes, but doesn’t let himself look around until a moment has safely passed, lest he draw attention to the transaction. By then, the other spy is lost in the crowd. Derek shakes his head. Just as well. He knows the danger of recognizing another operative.
Casually, Derek reaches down to feel the stiff, crisply folded paper. The note is burning a hole in his pocket, but he knows he mustn’t draw attention. His uncle Peter is here tonight, a man who has always been eagerly loyal to whoever holds the most power. Derek fears that he already suspects Derek’s true loyalty to Queen Allison. Despite their family ties, his uncle would not hesitate to turn him over in return for greater stature in Lady Katherine’s court.
A hand touches his elbow, and Derek startles a little before he can force himself to relax.
“Are you enjoying the party?” Marin Deaton asks. “Usually an Alpha with an Omega like yours would be spending every moment dancing with him, would he not? Yet I haven’t seen you on the dance floor at all.”
Derek forces a smile. “Sadly, I have been cursed with leaden feet. You must forgive me - even if I’m not sure my husband will.”
“Of course, forgiveness granted,” the lady says graciously. “Though Stiles so loves to dance, that I can’t begrudge him any resentment. Shall I ask him for a turn myself, and keep us both entertained?”
“Please do,” Derek encourages, though it’s the last thing he wants. Now his perfect husband’s attention will be given to Miss Deaton, even after the note has been successfully passed and Derek is free to enjoy his company.
Truthfully, he’s surprised even now that Stiles chose him, a man known best for his taciturn introversion and snappish misanthropy, over all the eligible Alphas that had vied for his hand. Yet for some unfathomable reason, he had. At times, Derek wonders if he’s given him cause to regret the decision; Times like now, when he can’t even spare his husband a dance.
On the other hand, Derek thinks, maybe it is a blessing in disguise to have a moment to himself. The location of the rebellion's stores is a delicate enough secret that the note had to be passed directly, but Derek’s reply will only be a date and time for his delivery, which can be left at his usual drop point. He’s not supposed to read missives from the rebellion outside the privacy of his study, but… With a new round of dancing beginning, he can easily sneak away to be alone. If he reviews the note and writes his reply now, he can easily have the driver make an extra stop on their way home and be finished with it.
He nods politely to Miss Deaton and Stiles as they head to the floor, and excuses himself out of the parlor. The front hall is private enough, he judges, and by taking care of this now he'll avoid the need to create an explanation for why he must leave the house so late to take care of a business matter. As much as he knows he must shield Stiles from even the appearance of collusion, and as incurious as Stiles is about the excuses, he still hates misleading his husband. He hates it almost as much as he hates missing the intimacy of retiring to bed together.
The note is blessedly brief, just an address with terse directions that Derek mouths to himself twice, to be sure he has memorized it, and a short list of dearly needed supplies that he also commits to memory. He tears off the bottom of the page and quickly jots his reply with the pen from Miss Deaton’s entryway guest book. Burning the paper here would draw too much attention, so he re-folds the both notes and places them back into his pocket before returning to the parlor. Now all he must do is say he feels unwell - perhaps a headache? - and give his regrets before collecting Stiles. Then they can leave the party, he can secretly drop off his reply, and for once they will be together in the evening. In bed, at least, Derek will be able to give his husband his full attention.
Caught in such thoughts, he doesn't give enough attention to his surroundings as he returns to the parlor. Barely step into the room, he comes face to face with Peter.
“Nephew! We have just been looking for you,” he says brightly. “What’s this I hear about your leaden feet? I seem to remember you being a perfectly competent dancer in your youth.”
“F-forgive me,” Derek stammers. “I suppose it’s… I simply don’t have the interest for it these days.”
“Even with a husband such as yours? I suppose the bloom already off the rose, then. It has been almost three years, perhaps it’s no surprise you're becoming restless.”
“Hardly,” Derek says, temper flaring. He’s so close to safety, he just needs to disengage from Peter, find Stiles, return home, and burn this damned... he pulls his fingers away from his pocket, where they had started to nervously worry at the note.
Too late; Peter’s eyes flick down. “Now, what’s that in your pocket?”
“It’s nothing,” Derek fibs, but Peter reaches over and pulls one of the slips of paper out by the corner Derek had left visible.
Derek is too startled by the brash action to make more than a belated grab for it, a grab that Peter easily avoids.
“What kind of a note must this be, that you had to excuse yourself and read it immediately, even in the middle of one of Miss Deaton’s fine soirees?”
Derek’s veins pump ice water. No no no. How can he have been so reckless? It won’t just be his head on a platter if Peter turns this note over, the main stores of the resistance will be compromised, their dreams of Allison on the throne dashed. Already Peter’s raised voice has drawn a few stares, and Derek’s not a good enough liar for such a public, direct confrontation. He knows he’s gone tellingly red faced. There must be something he can do, anything to retrieve the note unread. “That note is my personal affair, Peter. Please return my letter at once.”
“ Personal ?” Peter asks, his eyes glinting. Both of them have stakes in the Hale trading company, and would have little plausible cause to hide information regarding it from one another. “I can’t imagine what business you might have that’s so secretive from your dear uncle.” He trails a finger down from the fold, pulling the paper open to tease a hint of handwriting. Not Derek’s.
“It’s not regarding business,” Derek grits, making fists of his hands to keep himself from trying to grab again. “It’s an… an intimate letter.”
“Ah?” Peter says, blinking. The knowing glint in his eyes is replaced by confusion. Alphas are never faulted for indulging in quiet affairs, of course, but for all the conquests gleefully hinted at in their circle, Derek’s reputation has always been unimpeachable.
He uses Peter’s moment of hesitation to snatch the note back, and this time his uncle lets him. It's nothing but a simple love letter, after all. The paper crumples easily in Derek’s fist, and he stuffs it deeply in his pocket. Peter shrugs and looks away, apparently having bought Derek’s lie. The revolution is safe - for now, at least.
It’s then that Derek realizes how quiet the room has become. In the lingering silence, there’s a short scrape of bone china against itself and a bright sound of shattering. Derek looks, the whole room does, to where the tiny pieces of a broken cup lay scattered on the floor, glinting in spilled tea. His eyes travel up from the mess to find Stiles, empty saucer hanging loosely from his hand.
A little hitching breath forces past his husband’s lips, only audible because of the dead silence of the room. The expression on his face is of such complete betrayal that Derek almost admits the truth of the note just to ease it, feels the words pressing almost physically against his teeth.
But he bites them back and looks away. He can’t.
The ride home is quiet. It hadn’t been hard to excuse themselves from the party after the scene Derek created, not with Stiles so shaken, ashen-faced and quiet. Derek doesn’t dare say anything to defend himself, too aware that all he could offer would be yet another a lie and that Stiles, for the first time, would know it as one. His husband doesn’t have the heart to start a conversation either, it seems. They remain in their own silent worlds, Stiles folded into such a tense shape, tightly pressed to the door, that even with the jostling and swaying of the carriage’s movement they never once touch.
It’s not until they retire to their chambers, after the servants leave them to bed, that they face each other.
“Is it true, Derek?” Stiles demands in a low rush. “Just - you must tell me it was something else. Swear to me it’s a simple document for your business, a note from an old friend. Anything.”
“It was nothing,” Derek says quickly. “Of course it wasn’t, Stiles.”
Before, that would have been more than enough. Now, he can see the suspicion lingering in his husband’s eyes. “Let me read it, then,” Stiles says.
“I...” Derek hedges. “It’s nothing, though.” His heartbeat pounds at the refusal, but the information in that note is far too dangerous for Stiles to see, both for the resistance and for his husband’s own well-being. He puts a bit of Alpha sternness in his tone, and insists. “It contains personal information from an acquaintance. I can’t show it to you.”
The blood drains from Stiles’ face. “You’re lying to me.”
“Stiles-” Derek says, and then his ears are ringing and his face is hot with pain because Stiles has slapped him across the face, hard.
“I chose you because you were different ,” Stiles shouts. “You swore to me that you cared for me when we courted, and I believed you. I always took you at your word when you stayed out so late, coming back after dinner with your mealy-mouthed excuses. and all this time you’ve… you’ve been lying to my face to be with someone else! I believed you because I loved you,” he insists, tears running down his face now. “I thought you were more than another selfish Alpha, ready to put his knot wherever it suited him. I told myself you thought of me as an equal partner, and I forgave you your absences, and evasions, and distance, and now,” he breaks off to take a shuddering breath. “Now that I find that you’re exactly the same as the rest, it’s too late. You’re my Alpha, and I’ll be cast out of society if we separate. Even if you gave me a divorce, what would I have left? I’d be penniless, a tarnished Omega only the poorest Alpha would deign to take up with. I’d never be welcome among our friends again and you… you would lose nothing.”
Stiles collapses back to sit on their marriage bed, face twisted with an impotent rage so great that he can’t even seem to yell any more, must less attack Derek again, though no doubt the desire remains.
“Stiles, you’re over-tired and not thinking clearly,” Derek argues. He's well aware there's no way for an Omega to recover from a failed marriage; Stiles would lose everything if he was granted the divorce, and even that is at Derek’s discretion. He’s also correct that he would never attract another Alpha of his own class, having been marked already as Derek’s conquest. Fairly or not, Alphas that can afford it choose virgins. “I made a mistake, and I know that you’re hurt, but we can find our way back to happiness. We...”
“A mistake?” Stiles laughs, hysterically. “Staining a suit jacket is a mistake. Forgetting an umbrella is a mistake. You looked me in the eye and lied to my face for months . You lied to me about where you went, what you were doing, who with. You said you loved me.”
“Of course I love you. Stiles, you must believe me.”
Stiles just looks at him, almost pitying. Derek’s word means nothing to him, anymore.
“I do, tell me what I can do to prove it to you,” Derek insists, all the same.
“Give me the letter,” Stiles says, calm again. “At least let me read if you used all the same pretty lies on your new lover.” When Derek breaks eye contact and makes no move to give the note over, his lip curls, maybe in disgust. It seems he's spent all the words he intends to on Derek's betrayal.
“Shall I, just until you've had time to think, shall I sleep downstairs?” Derek asks.
Stiles turns his back and lays down, fully clothed, on their bed. It is answer enough.
The next day, Stiles remains in their chambers and will not see him. The servants begin to whisper, as Derek continues to sleep in his desk chair through the rest of the week, but Derek hardly notices it. He’s too busy being worried for Stiles to forgive him, and finding no plausible way to win back his trust. The letter is burned, the reply given and the supplies readied to be sent, but the damage to his marriage remains. He's caught at every pass by the lies he’s committed to tell for the revolution. Even if he tried to admit the truth, Stiles would most likely disbelieve such a dramatic excuse.
Besides, it's better his husband hate him than be in danger.
Jackson and Lydia are to visit the next week. Derek has a servant ask if Stiles would like to send their regrets, but to his surprise his husband declines to change plans. At the appointed time he comes downstairs to the dining room, looking radiant, and even squeezes Derek’s hand for a second as he goes to his seat, as is their custom. Derek is dumbfounded.
Lunch is wonderful. Perhaps Stiles is a hint cool towards him, but after so many days apart, even his presence in the room feels like a gift. Afterwards they retire to the sitting room, where Derek and Jackson discuss the latest news from the continent, while their Omegas play cards across the room.
“I heard what happened at the Deaton’s soiree,” Jackson admits in a low tone. “I’ve asked my Lydia to speak with Stiles. She’ll get him to calm down and see reason. We all know the way Omegas throw themselves at Alphas like us, and, well... You didn't mean anything by it. He ought to forgive you. You’re a good Alpha.”
“I’m not certain that I am, at that,” Derek answers, remembering the words Stiles had hurled at him so recently.
“We all make mistakes, sometimes,” Jackson says. “Look at the house you’ve made him master of, the way you provide for him so well. He'll come around. Never mind this little hiccup.”
Derek forces a half smile. Across the room, Stiles looks pinched and weary as he and Lydia chat. While Derek doesn't believe Jackson’s assurances at all, he supposes the worst has passed if they can socialize together in this familiar way. If anyone can convince Stiles to change his mind, it's Lydia.
When the company leaves, Derek takes a deep breath. It's the first time he’s been alone with his husband in a week, a span of separation longer than they could stand even in the days when they were only courting. He goes to take Stiles’ hand, but before their fingers so much as touch, it’s pulled sharply away.
“Don’t touch me,” Stiles hisses, as if that wasn’t clear from his reaction. “Lydia talked with me, you know. Just like you arranged. She said that I had to forgive you. What else can I do, after all? You own the house, you control the accounts. I have nothing except what I am given in return for being yours.”
“I don’t own you,” Derek protests.
Stiles smirks joylessly. “Say it all you like, but the fact remains. I don’t have any option but to stay. Besides, according to Lydia you’re better than most if it’s only been the once. How could I expect anything more than to be cast aside when I was no longer the newest, freshest thing? Alphas can't help themselves. Isn't that true?” Stiles’ mouth twitches in another bitter smirk. “I won’t sacrifice the life I have on account of your whoring around, but I won’t be made a fool of again, either. Oh, I know what a good Omega has to do when their Alpha cheats: swallow the humiliation, listen to all the excuses, and then forgive. Pretend they don’t see it happening the next time. But I won’t, I won’t ever live that lie again. Between the two of us, we are no longer married in any way that matters. Do you understand? ”
“Stiles,” Derek starts and is again cut off.
“Out in public I’ll put on all the necessary appearances, don’t worry. Everyone will still think you have your meek little Omega bitch. But when it’s just us, don’t ask me to pretend.”
Derek can’t even say anything in his defense, only manages a nod of acceptance. He won't force Stiles into any intimacy he no longer wants. Anyways, isn’t it true in a sense? He has taken Stiles for granted and abused the trust between them, even if not in the way Stiles believes.
Everyone sacrifices for the revolution, Derek thinks dully, after he asks the servants to quietly arrange for his permanent move downstairs. Why should he be exempt?
He just hadn't thought it would be this.
Derek is caught barely three months afterwards. He’s imprisoned instantly, tried, convicted and sentenced to death over the course of a few weeks on the evidence he’d stupidly left buried on his private office desk - bank records showing funds transferred from Hale accounts for the rebels’ supplies. Peter had, in the end, been the one to turn him in.
Derek pleads his innocence and ignorance, even after the conviction, because it seems the simplest way to avoid giving away more secrets; they torture him for a confession and for information, all the same.
It was always a risky game, he thinks to himself in the tight, dark holding cell, trying to distract himself from his own residual aches and the moans of the other prisoners. It was always risky, and he’s never been so smart or so good at lying to be one of the lucky ones going free and unharmed. No, war has sacrifices, as he knew when he agreed to play this game for the resistance. It’s not such a surprise in the end that he’s finally lost.
The only visitor allowed him, now that the trial is over and his lawyer’s services are unneeded, is his husband. A conjugal privilege, the guard had explained, with lewd gesture and a smirk for the walking dead man. Derek had nodded, woodenly. He is not expecting that Stiles will come.
But he does.
He looks ludicrously out of place in the grimy prison, dressed in a fitted taupe suit, the perfect height of fashion. He looks like a photograph from those new, glossy magazines being printed now. Derek is more aware than ever of his tattered prison clothes, his filthy and underfed body, his thickening beard.
They stare at each other, Stiles’ face unreadable.
“You came,” Derek observes.
“I’m still your husband,” Stiles says quietly, and even now Derek still can’t help but smile, genuine.
“I know. I never forgot, Stiles,” Derek says. “All the late nights and lies, the note… you must know that it was this. I should have told you what the letter really was that night, or never agreed to work with the resistance at all. I don't know. Maybe it’s selfish to say I wish I’d endangered you or that I'd never stood up for what I believed, but it’s the truth. I never should have lied to you, not about any of it, not for a second. I suppose… I suppose it doesn’t matter, now. But I thought…” he clears his throat, takes the moment to steel his wobbling tone. “I know that you said you’d never forgive me, but I think I might prefer to die knowing that you had. If you could bring yourself to.”
Stiles stares at him again, and for a second his lower lip trembles, chin dimpling with emotion, and Derek thinks that perhaps he will forgive him, even after everything.
“You’re an idiot,” Stiles snaps, and he leaves.
He doesn't return the next day, or the day after. The day after that is the scheduled execution. Derek is half glad; surely he would have begged his husband pathetically for some sign of affection, and it's just as well Stiles won't have that memory of him.
His guard comes for him at sunrise. He leads him to the prison’s side room, and removes his shackles. “There we are,” he says. He steps back and nods at Derek.
“Wh…” Derek starts to say, blinking owlishly.
“And your effects, sir,” the man says, passing him a small folded pile of clothes with Derek's shoes neatly set on top. “Your husband will be around to take you home shortly.”
“My… Stiles?” Derek asks again. Had he missed being executed somehow, and this was a kind afterlife? “I'm free to leave? Just like this?”
“Yes, we don't have a private room for you to change in, sir. My apologies.”
Derek stares. He was fairly sure this man had, less than a week ago, whipped him while demanding information about the rebellion.
“Husband,” Stiles’ voice says brightly from behind him. Derek half turns to finds that he’s standing in the doorway wearing a new, dove-grey suit and matching hat. “There you are. Come, we must get you home and into clean clothes.” He reaches out and takes Derek by the arm, and leads him unresisting back through the door into the open air.
Derek still can't understand what is happening at all. “I was convicted. I was going to be executed.”
“Yes, you were very, very close to being killed, I am perfectly aware of that. But we couldn't have you taking your uncle's place, now could we? Very nefarious of him, giving the police forged information about you to throw them off his own trail. Well, they have the right man now.” Stiles’ smile is cool and thin as he walks them briskly through the courtyard towards the road.
“Peter? He is- was- part of the revolution?” Derek is dumbfounded. Nothing in his uncle's character has ever led him to believe the man capable of a moment's selflessness.
Stiles shoots him a fond, yet slightly fed up look. “Oh, certainly. It was just lucky for you that he left behind so much incriminating evidence. I found it when I was going through your side of the business, and it would have been unpatriotic not to pass it along.” A rather vicious smirk plays on Stiles face and it suddenly occurs to Derek that there was no evidence at all until Stiles conveniently “found” it. Derek would never have thought of something so cold. He’s honestly a bit disconcerted.
They get into the carriage, Derek in his weakened state putting weight on Stiles’ helping hand rather than the familiar reverse. Only then, in the privacy of the space, does it begin to sink in. He's truly been able to dodge what he’d thought of as certain death, all because of Stiles’ machinations.
“I'm honestly freed, then?” he asks in a whisper, even though they’re alone. Stiles seems calmer to not have any eyes on them, but still tense and alert.
“Yes, you are. Your innocence was quite clear once Peter's plan was revealed. I was able to get you pardoned for your very, very silly mistake in trusting him.”
“Even so,” Derek mutters, shaking his head. Lady Katherine usually errs on the side of more punishment, not less.
“Well, executing an innocent father-to-be on account of a traitor’s schemes hardly seems the regal thing to do. And I did promise to be quite explicit about telling all of your peers exactly how unfair and frankly threatening it was to all of us nobles, should the crown have not taken appropriate action in releasing you.”
“Oh… I see,” Derek says. “That’s very good thinking, thank yo- Wait, a father?”
“But you and I haven’t…” Derek flushes to mention it after their long celibacy. He wonders despite himself, had there been someone else? He could hardly complain, given the circumstances, but he finds that the thought twists uncomfortably in his stomach.
“Don't you remember? I visited you in jail. Conjugally,” Stiles says. “I’m fairly sure that was the conception. Well, everyone knows that Stilinskis tend to be born late, I think.” The first hint of fear comes through in his tone, then.
“You lied to Lady Katherine and her judges for me,” Derek says, testing the words aloud. “You’ve endangered yourself. If anyone suspects...”
“Did I do something I should not have?” Stiles snaps, eyes flashing in anger.
“No,” Derek breathes. “No, you’re brilliant.”
“And you’re an idiot,” Stiles bursts out in relief. He takes Derek in his arms, completely disregarding the filthy prison clothes, and his eyes are wet even as he’s smiling. “But you're my idiot.”
Derek lets himself be kissed and kissed again, to the point where he’s almost silly with it. He’d never thought he would experience this again, not since the night of the party. It makes him desperate, more forceful and grasping than he means to be - but then, Stiles is equally desperate for him. Until that very day he couldn’t have known that his plot to save Derek’s life would be enough.
When they finally part to catch their breath, Derek rushes to speak what’s been on his mind since their misunderstanding, because finally it seems Stiles will believe him. “I do love you, Stiles, and I’m sorry I gave you reason to doubt it. But you must know now, there wasn't anyone else. There could never be anyone else.”
“It's the same for me,” Stiles assures him. “I never stopped loving you, not even when I wanted to. Just don't lie to me again, not ever. We make a better team.”
“Agreed. No more lies between us,” Derek confirms.
“Nor underestimating,” Stiles said, turning to look shrewdly ahead. “It seems this revolution could use the both of us.”