Sometimes Derek forgets that Stiles is a creature of magic. Sometimes he forgets there’s unknowable power behind the spark in his eyes, the quirk in his smile, and the sound of his laughter. Sometimes Derek forgets that perhaps there is a part of him that should be terrified of Stiles, because Stiles is the Nemeton. Stiles is the Light in the Woods. Stiles once called up a storm to force an entire army into the dark woods, and let the trees swallow them.
And yet …
Stiles is Stiles.
He stays up too late at night reading, and falls asleep at breakfast. He makes daisy chains in the spring. He curls into Derek’s side when he sleeps, his ear pressed against Derek’s chest and a faint smile turning the shape of his mouth into a gentle curve.
There was a time when Derek thought Stiles was an insult.
Now he knows he was a gift.
Stile is long limbs and languid sighs. He is kiss-bitten lips. He is breathlessness and desperation and cries that pierce the darkness. He is the things that Derek wanted, and never had the words to articulate. He is the answer to a prayer that Derek didn’t know his soul was whispering. He is everything.
There is a kind of knowing sorrow in Laura’s eyes when Derek hands her baby back to her. A niece. A future leader who will wear her mother’s crown when she is old enough. For now she is a pinched little mouth and wrinkled fingers, and she is beautiful.
Laura is tired, wrung out. Her hair hangs in sweaty tendrils. The shadows under her eyes are as dark as bruises. She is somehow still radiant though. It’s her smile, Derek thinks. Her smile as she looks down at the tiny daughter cradled in her arms.
“Where is Uncle Peter?” she asks. “He hasn’t been to see me. I ought to command him. He wouldn’t refuse an order from his queen.”
“He might,” Derek says mildly.
They had a cousin once. A little girl. Derek thinks that she might be the reason Peter has not yet come to see the baby. There are some things even Peter Hale can’t easily face.
A shadow passes over Laura’s face.
Laura’s husband steps forward, and kneels beside Laura’s chair. His name is Jordan Parrish. He is the second son of a second son of a duke. He has a name, but no fortune. He is a nobody, which is why Peter chose him to marry Laura. He cannot threaten her power. She is Queen of Triskelion, but he will never be king. He is her consort, not her master.
In public, he walks a pace behind her.
In private, Derek has seen them laughing together. They seem happy.
Today Jordan looks worshipful as he gazes at his wife and daughter. His smile is as radiant as Laura’s.
Derek doesn’t think they even notice when he leaves.
It has been a little over a year since Derek married Stiles in the chapel of the castle, in the darkness. Sometimes he watches Stiles run his fingers over the antlers that were part of his wedding headdress, and feels a pang of regret at how long it took him to love Stiles. How long it took him to feel anything at all towards the boy his uncle insisted he marry, apart from the vague burn of humiliation. It’s strange, he sometimes thinks, to love a creature he can barely understand, but Stiles is nothing if not a contradiction.
Derek thinks of the names embroidered in the veil that once hung from the antlers:
Light in the Woods.
He thinks of Stiles coming to dinner in bare feet, an untucked shirt, and ink-stained fingers. He thinks of Stiles with pollen-dusted hair, wearing a daisy chain. He thinks of the time he waved his hand and dislodged a dormouse from his sleeve, to the screams—some of horror, some of delight—of the others at the table.
And then he thinks of how Stiles killed the darach. He thinks of how he called up a storm to drive Deucalion’s army into the woods, and whispered at the ancient trees to devour them. He remembers Stiles standing naked in the snow, blood sweating out of his pores, laughing as he gripped the winter-bare tree and it burst into bloom.
There is something terrifying about Stiles and the magic that courses through his blood, but Derek doesn’t fear him.
How could he?
Stiles’s love is brighter than sunlight.
And it is enough.
Surely it is enough.
In the spring, a messenger arrives in Triskelion from Beacon. She’s as pale and beautiful as Stiles, with hazel eyes and red hair. She travels alone, except for a bright-eyed crow that sometimes perches on her shoulder, and sometimes flits away only to glide back moments later and chatter in her ear.
Her Triskelion is better than Stiles’s ever was.
“May your days be bright, Queen Laura,” she says, her voice as clear as a bell. “The ceanurra extends to you a invitation to Laindéir, for an emissary of your choosing, to remember and to embrace the treaty between our peoples.” Her gaze slants to Stiles, and her mouth quirks. “He also wishes to see his son.”
“Of course,” Laura says. “Triskelion gladly accepts the ceanurra’s gracious invitation.”
Formalities over, Stiles darts forward and launches into a burst of Laindéiran that Derek has no hope of following. Even Kira looks to be struggling. The red-haired girl smiles, and embraces Stiles, and the raven chatters away excitedly in response to Stiles’s enthusiasm.
Later that night, Stiles announces that the girl will be known as Lydia in Triskelion, although he knows her also as Danaan, and Mór-Ríoghain, and Beanna, and—he blushes when he says it—Ailleacht.
“Ailleacht?” Derek asks quietly.
“Beautiful,” Stiles murmurs. He smiles when he sees Derek’s scowl. “But the clever crow would never glance twice at the amaideach sparrow, my deo gràdh.”
Derek knows that one by now: Beloved.
“Deo gràdh,” he whispers back, and presses a kiss to Stiles’s smiling mouth. “My deo gràdh.”
Laura sends Peter as her representative to Beacon, at Stiles’s request. Peter is no longer regent, but he is still her most trusted advisor. It was Peter who kept Triskelion from falling after Derek’s parents were killed by the Argents. Peter, who lost his wife and daughter, and who still feels the agony of the burns he suffered that night years ago, but who somehow managed to keep the enemies from their gates. Derek suspects that very few people know how badly Peter was burned in the fire, and how it still pains him. Peter’s refusal to appear weak or cowed in the months and years after the attack kept Triskelion strong. Diplomacy and cunning, or bluster and bullshit. Whichever it was, it worked.
Theirs is a small party. Peter, his servant Isaac, Derek and Stiles, and four of the household guards: Boyd, Erica, Scott and Liam.
Derek watches Stiles’s expression soften as Scott bids Kira a blushing farewell. Kira isn’t the only one who has ventured outside into the chill spring morning to wish them a good journey. Laura is here as well, with the baby, and Derek’s heart clenches as he leans in to press a soft kiss against his niece’s downy head.
“Be safe, little princess.”
When he straightens up again, he sees Stiles watching him with wide amber eyes and a thoughtful expression.
It takes several days to travel to Beacon. It’s spring, so the mornings are cool, but the days are warm. They spend their night in tents, nothing that Derek and Peter are unfamiliar with after years of military training, but Stiles pokes at the canvas of the tent he shares with Derek and grumbles that he can’t see the stars.
“It keeps the wind and the rain away,” Derek laughs, unrolling their thick blankets.
“I would sing the wind and the rain away for us,” Stiles says, matter-of-fact, and Derek doesn’t doubt it’s the truth.
They travel by horseback, at a slow pace since Lydia prefers to walk. Stiles often joins her, the crow flying in lazy loops above them. They converse in Laindéiran as rapidly as a spring bubbling out of the ground. Derek can’t understand most of the words they exchange—Laindéiran is not a fixed language in any case, and, frustratingly, the meaning of words can be as changeable as the weather—but he finds that the sound of their words resonates in the place in his mind that is normally reserved for music.
“Do you see it?” Peter asks in a low voice one morning. He looks tired and in pain, the lines around his eyes a little deeper today, and his mouth a sharp line. Travel is always difficult on him. It makes demands of his body that his body can’t easy accommodate.
They are approaching a slight rise. At the top of the rise is a cairn of stones.
“Beacon,” Peter says. “Those stones mark the border.”
At the top of the rise they pause. The road stretches out below them and, within half a mile of the border, vanishes into the trees.
“Laindéir!” Stiles exclaims. He turns back to face Derek, smiling widely. “Derek! It is Laindéir!”
Lydia says something to him, and Stiles nods eagerly.
“Home,” he says, his tone suddenly reverent, and Derek feels a momentary pang before Stiles comes dashing back toward him. “Derek, I have so much to show you!”
Derek doesn’t know what he expects Beacon to be like. Until he was married to Stiles, he had never met anyone from there. He had only heard stories of how primitive and savage the people were, and dark rumours of the things that they could do. They were said to practice magic, and sacrifice their enemies to their ancient horned gods. It was said they could move through the veil between the worlds like the fae. It was said that they were cold-blooded, that they were barely even human.
He expects huts, he supposes, or some structures of some sort, although Stiles’s confusion with the tent should have warned him otherwise. Because, after travelling through the increasingly thick woods for the better part of a day, when they arrive in the heart of Beacon, there is no town waiting for them. It is not even a village.
It is a lake.
A massive lake, or a series of them connected by inlets. There is a small island in the middle of the central lake, but even that has no structures that Derek can discern from the bank: just more trees. The people of Beacon don’t live in huts at all. Instead, they appear to live on platforms that float on the water. Some are connected by woven bridges. Some are large, and some are small. Most are decorated with banners or wreaths. There are no structures on the platforms that Derek can see, although many seem to have gauzy fabric stretched between poles to create shade from the sun. Other than that, the platforms are largely open, with bedding and belongings strewn over them.
“Holy shit,” Erica says in an undertone. “How do they stop their toddlers from drowning?”
Lydia is standing close enough to overhear. “We ask the dwellers in the lake to fish them out again.” She shrugs. “Though even the merrow are not infinitely patient. The ceanurra put Stiles on a leash he fell in so often.”
Derek can’t help his smile at the image. How very Stiles.
“Derek!” Stiles appears and reaches for his hand. “Come! Come! My father waits!”
One of the larger platforms in the middle of the lake must be the ceanurra’s. There are people waiting there, Derek can see. He allows Stiles to pull him toward the edge of the lake.
“How do we—”
Before the question is even out, a flat-bottomed barge detaches from the nearest cluster of platforms. There is a man using a pole to manoeuvre it toward shore, and a girl sitting cross-legged on the front. Derek notices the way the ripples of the lake seem to propel it toward them as much as the bargeman.
Derek exchanges a glance with Peter when the barge bumps against the bank. The girl leaps onto the shore, and, smiling shyly, approaches the horses.
“She will care for them,” Stiles says, tugging Derek toward the barge.
The Triskelions step carefully aboard the barge with Stiles and Lydia. Stiles bounces from foot to foot, rocking the barge, and Derek tries not to wonder exactly how deep the lake is, and, if they capsize, what a merrow might be.
His fear of capsizing is very rapidly replaced with a more immediate fear as they approach the central platforms: that of meeting Stiles’s father. The ceanurra—Derek has heard the word translated as everything from king to guardian to law-keeper—may be the most powerful man in the world, knowing what Derek knows about Beacon. If his son is the Light in the Woods, the Nemeton, then what is the father?
The barge slowly approaches the centre of the lake, the glittering water rippling around it.
When they reach the cluster of platforms in the middle of the lake, Stiles leaps off the barge before it even stops. He bounds forward, dodging around a group of smiling women, rushing across a woven bridge between platforms, and flinging himself into the arms of a man waiting for him.
“Come,” Lydia says to Derek and the others, and sets a much more dignified pace.
Derek is nervous. He is a prince, and has met many kings and noblemen in his life. But the ceanurra isn’t just any king. He is a Beaconite, to begin with, and, more terrifyingly, he is Stiles’s father.
The ceanurra is not dressed like a king. He is wearing doeskin pants and a woven green tunic. In Triskelion he would pass as a beggar before a king, but there is an undeniable air of authority around him as he regards Derek curiously from over his son’s head as Stiles clings to him frantically, babbling away in Laindéiran. The ceanurra is a man of middle years, with a careworn face, and eyes the colour of a summer sky. His expression is both fond as he listens to whatever Stiles is saying, and shrewd as he looks at Derek.
Peter steps forward first.
“Ceanurra,” he says, and then, in what they all hope is passable Laindéiran: “I hope the day meets you well. I am Peter Hale. This is my nephew, Derek Hale.”
The ceanurra steps forward, Stiles still clinging to him. He holds out his hand, and says in Triskelion: “Peter Hale. Derek Hale. Welcome to Laindéir. The trees tell me that my son now protects Triskelion too. We are tuatha.”
Peter and Derek exchange a glance.
“Tuatha,” the ceanurra repeats. He murmurs something in Laindéiran to Stiles.
“Tribe,” Stiles says, lifting his head at last. “Family.”
“Family,” the ceanurra agrees. He rubs his knuckles over Stiles’s hair in a gesture so affectionate, so human, that Derek feels all his disquiet fall away in the space of a heartbeat. “My name is John. Welcome to our family.”
Watching the Beaconites hunt for the feast in their honour is like nothing Derek and the others have ever seen. The hunting party carry knives, but these, Derek soon learns, are for skinning and for preparing the meat, not for killing. The Beaconites kill by using magic.
Derek follows Stiles into the woods, with Scott and Boyd by his side. It’s cooler under the cover of the trees. Darker too, although Stiles’s skin seems to glow in the shade almost, and his eyes are bright.
“You don’t need urlis,” he says to Scott, when Scott asks. “Not any traps either. Watch me.”
He draws a deep breath, and hums. What begins as a tuneless little noise soon tumbles into a melody, and then Stiles is singing, and it’s the most haunting sound Derek has ever heard. It’s beautiful, and Derek wonders if he imagines the way that even the branches of the surrounding trees seem to bend toward the sound.
Moment later, a rabbit appears from the undergrowth, nose twitching.
Stiles smiles, still singing, and crouches down. He extends his hand toward the rabbit, and it lopes forward. And then, its nose touching Stiles’s fingertips, it simply closes its eyes and settles down as though it’s sleeping. It takes Derek a long moment to realise that it’s dead.
“How did you do that?” Scott asks, jaw dropping.
“The Old Ones taught us the songs, long, long ago.” Stiles says with a shrug. He stands, picking up the rabbit. “Coinín sleep quick. The first stag I ever sang to death took a long time.”
Derek thinks of the antlers on Stiles’s wedding headdress. “Does it hurt them?”
“No.” Stiles reaches out and brushes his fingertips down Derek’s cheek. “There is no pain. They are a gift of the trees. They are our—” He seems to struggle for a moment to find the right word. “—our payment for being the guardians of Laindéir.”
Derek holds his amber gaze.
“Do you fear me?” Stiles asks, his eyes wide and his voice no louder than a whisper. “Knowing the things I can do?”
“No.” Derek cups Stiles’s face with his hand, and runs his thumb along his cheekbone. “No, Stiles. I don’t fear you. I love you.”
Stiles steps forward into Derek’s embrace, into his kiss.
Derek is aware of Boyd’s huff of laughter from somewhere close by, and Scott’s astonished cry, but it isn’t until he releases Stiles that he sees the reason: the clearing around them, which before they kissed had been covered in leaf litter, is suddenly bursting with wildflowers.
After the feast, Stiles takes Derek to his flett, which Derek learns is what the platforms are called. Stiles’s flett is tied to his father’s. It contains a bracken mattress covered in furs and blankets. There are poles on either side of the bed, but no fabric covering stretched across them like on some of the other fletts. Stiles likes to look at the stars.
Derek lies on his bed with him.
From across the water, he can hear laughter and song from the feast still taking place on John’s flett.
Stiles stretches out beside him, and then rolls over and cuddles close. He presses a series of kisses to Derek’s mouth, and slides a hand down his chest. He tugs at the laces on Derek’s pants.
“Your dad is right over there,” Derek whispers.
Stiles laughs, and rolls away from him. He unloops the woven rope tethering his flett to his father’s, and then kneels down at the edge of the flett and extends his hand out over the water.
“An-ais, merrow,” he says, and Derek’s breath catches as he sees another hand, paler than Stiles’s reach out of the water. Stiles laughs, delighted, pressing his palm to the creature’s before straightening up and climbing back onto the bed with Derek.
A moment later the flett begins to drift away from the others in the middle of the lake, moving slowly towards the darkness of the shoreline. The trees loom up slowly, and Derek realizes they’re floating into a small inlet that feeds into the lake itself. It’s quieter here, and darker. The lights on the fletts in the lake glitter in the distance. He can still hear singing, the sound traveling faintly across the surface of the water.
“This is where I lived,” Stiles says, as rushes brush the edges of the flett. “Half on shore, half in the lake. Can you hear the spring?”
If Derek listens carefully, he can hear bubbling water from somewhere close by. “It’s beautiful,” he says.
“Yes.” Stiles leans in and kisses him again. “I will sing to the wind not to bother us tonight.”
With Stiles pressing against him, clever fingers once more reaching for the laces of his pants, Derek doesn’t think he would even notice a tempest.
On their third day in Beacon, Derek visit’s John’s flett and finds Peter sitting on the edge, dangling his bare feet into the cool water of the lake.
Derek sits down beside him.
Most of the Beaconites vanish into the woods during the day, to hunt or to just be close to the trees, but there are still a few around. John wanders over to join them, and passes Peter a tray of strange looking fruits and nuts.
Isaac is splashing in the lake with a few Beaconite children. He looks like he’s having fun, and there’s an indulgent smile on Peter’s face as he watches him, but Derek can’t help think of the merrow’s hand rising from the water on his first night on Stiles’s flett, and imagining cold fingers curling around a swimmer’s ankles. He knows the merrow are friendly, but there’s still something very unsettling about the idea of them.
John puts a hand on Derek’s shoulder, and nods at the island in the middle of the lake. “Stiles will take you there, soon, because of the fuil féirín.” His brow creases. “The… the blood gift. It is a very sacred place for us, and even more for my little Will-o’-the-wisp. He will want to show you its magic, and complete the ritual.”
Derek nods, even though he doesn’t understand.
And then, when John leaves them, he exchanges a glance with Peter and mouths ‘Blood gift?’
“I have no idea, nephew.” Peter gazes at the island. “But I’ve spent my entire life since the fire looking for threats behind every softly spoken word, and conspiracies behind every smile, and I am tired of it.”
Derek swallows, his throat aching.
Peter exhales slowly. “I trust them, though it may prove me a fool in the end.” He gives a faint smile. “Do you remember how Stiles kept that dormouse in his pocket for weeks, and it sometimes used to sleep in his cupped palm?”
“I think I know a little how that feels,” Peter says. He stretches, and his sleeves slip back to reveal the scarring on his arms. “They could so easily crush us, but instead they’ve chosen to protect us. I think I deserve to sleep a while, just like that dormouse, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Derek’s throat aches. “Yes, I think you do.”
“Tomorrow,” Stiles says to Derek that night, drawing him close under the starlight, “we will go back to Triskelion. But tonight, I have to take you to the island and ask for the fuil féirín. Will you come?”
Derek gazes over to the dark island, and nods. “Yes.”
Stiles’s flett bumps against the shore of the island, and Stiles takes Derek’s hand and they step down into the soft grass. The moon is bright enough that Derek can see a path leading up the rise into the trees.
“This was the first place,” Stiles says. “This is the grove where the Old Ones took our ancestors and taught us their songs.”
The Old Ones, Derek thinks. The fae.
Stiles leads him up into the trees. When he speaks, his voice is soft and tinged with sorrow. “My mother was a keeper of the grove. She gave me the name of Airling. I used to play in the trees, and listen to their words. Maybe that’s why they chose me to become the Light in the Woods.”
Derek watches as Stiles presses his palm against the trunk of an oak, and whispers something to it in Laindéiran. The leaves rustle, and whisper something back.
“I know you love me,” Stiles says, and there’s an expression on his face that is almost sorrow. “I know, Derek.”
“I do,” Derek says. “Of course I do.”
“I know why Peter made me marry you, and not Laura or Cora.” Stiles’s mouth quirks. “I see the way you took at Laura’s baby. I know that you love me, but that you think I am not enough.”
Derek’s chest aches. “Stiles, I’m sorry, I—”
And then Stiles smiles, and reaches for his hands. “Shh. Listen. I can hear my mother’s voice in the trees. She is still here. Maybe yours is too.”
Derek blinks, his eyes stinging.
Stiles leads him further into the trees, and the path suddenly opens up into a clearing. Above them, the moon shines down brightly, illuminating a stone altar in the centre of the clearing. There are dark stains on it, and Derek suddenly remembers all those stories he’s ever heard of the Beaconites making human sacrifices.
“I am the Nemeton,” Stiles says, drawing him forward. “My magic is…” He tilts his head on its side as though he’s looking for the right word. “Bigger. The Old Ones have been wondering what I will ask for my fuil féirín. I have my answer for them now.”
He takes up a knife from the altar.
“Deo gràdh,” he says. “Do you trust me?”
Derek nods, holding Stiles’s gaze. “Always.”
The cut is quick and sharp down the fleshy part of Derek’s palm. Derek barely has time to wince before it’s done, and then Stiles has made a matching cut on his own hand. He clasps their hands together and holds them over the altar. Their blood mingles and drips down onto the stones.
“Months ago I gave the trees a whole army,” Stiles murmurs. “Such a gift they have not had in centuries. Now I show them our covenant, and ask the Old Ones for my gift in return.”
All around them, the trees begin to shudder, leaves rustling.
“I am the Nemeton,” Stiles tells them. “I am Mischief, Will-o’-the-wisp, Spark, Sparrow, Airling. I am the Light in the Woods. I am Stiles, and I am asking for my gift of blood to be repaid.”
Around their feet, white flowers suddenly burst into bloom, carpeting the clearing.
And then Derek hears it: a rustling in the undergrowth close by them, and a small, questioning sound that somehow catches him right in the chest.
Stiles pulls their hands apart, laughing. “Thank you! Thank you!”
He darts toward the source of the sound with Derek, breathless, following. Stiles drops to his knees, parting the leaves of a flowering bush, and—
—and when he draws back, he’s holding a small child. A small child with dark hair and pale skin. A small child with Stiles’s upturned nose, but the unmistakable eyes of a Hale.
“Thank you!” Stiles says again to the trees, and Derek drops to his knees beside them. “Derek, look! Look what the trees have given us!”
And Derek had thought that Stiles was enough.
This is everything.
Derek hasn’t cried since the fire, but now he cries because he never thought he would be this happy again.
When they return at last to John’s flett, Derek discovers that the child he is holding in his arms isn’t the only gift that Stiles asked of the Old Ones and was granted.
“Derek!” Peter cries out, eyes wide. “What did he do?”
Isaac is laughing and crying, holding Peter’s discarded shirt in his fisted hands.
“It doesn’t hurt! Derek, it doesn’t hurt.” Peter’s breath hitches into sobs as the moonlight gleams on his unblemished skin.
“I love you,” Stiles says fiercely, to Derek and Peter both, his eyes shining bright. “And I protect my family.”
There is another feast that night, that lasts all the way through until dawn.
“You brought back a baby?” Laura asks incredulously when they reach Triskelion again.
“Our son,” Derek says proudly.
He is older than Laura’s daughter; already a toddler. It’s the least inexplicable thing about him, actually, but of course any child of Stiles’s was going to be impossible in some way.
Derek watches as Stiles and their son walk around the garden. They are both babbling away happily, pausing to touch all of the trees.
“I can’t—” Laura shakes her head, and abruptly laughs. “No, there’s no point in asking how, is there?”
“There’s really not.”
“The answer, in our case, is usually Stiles.” Laura reaches out and clasps Derek’s hand. “Your son is beautiful. What is his name?”
“Faolán,” Derek says. “It means wolf in Laindéiran.”
But their boy already has other names, in the custom of his people.
The Gift of the Trees.
Derek watches, his heart full, as Stiles and Faolán wander through the garden. Faolán follows at Stiles’s heels like a puppy, barefoot and happy.
Moonflowers bloom in his footsteps.