The metal polymer at the back of his neck was barely solidified, still settling and itching at his skin, when they brought Stiles to the palace. He knelt alone in the back of the transport van, cuffs holding his arms to the metal floor on either side of his chained ankles, and tried not to think about what would happen when they got there.
It would be his life soon enough. While he could, he might as well enjoy the relative comfort of his current situation. As the van took another turn sharper than it needed to, he wryly considered whether to be grateful that the position at least prevented him from falling on his face. But no—an actual seat, especially if he’d been chained to it, would’ve done that without wrenching his arms out of their sockets with the strain of pulling against the momentum.
He’d argued that the restraints were overkill, but shockingly enough the soldiers weren’t in a hurry to listen to a convicted traitor and murderer. Knowing the king expected him in one piece was probably the only thing that kept them from doing worse than enduring one painful car ride. They knew as well as he did that his crimes would’ve earned him a death in any other circumstances, and they thought slavery in palace service was mercy.
He knew better.
Executed, he could’ve been a martyr. Shadow Fox, evasive leader of the abolitionist Void insurgency, would inspire fresh waves of rebellion by dying for his cause. Enslaved, his breaking would be a public spectacle to showcase the strength of the Crown and demoralize its enemies. Maybe once they’d gotten their satisfaction in blood from him and the public forgot his name except as the punchline to a sad joke, they’d find something to sentence him to death for or even let him die in obscurity. Until then, he saw a lot of suffering in his future.
But his dad was alive; Scott and Melissa were alive. As much as he would probably have been better off dead, his continued life bought their safety. He just had to be the scapegoat Beacon needed to focus on for the brutal killing of its most loved daughter. Keep his secrets to himself no matter what they threw at him.
Never, never let anyone find out that Allison Argent wasn’t really dead.
The van shuddered to a stop. The doors opened almost immediately and Stiles didn’t have time to adjust to the sudden brightness—apparently it was still daylight—before he was being uncuffed and dragged out by at least three men with substantial muscle mass. He’d considered making a break for it. Just for show, just to make it look good; he knew he’d never get away. But he already hurt from being slammed around on the drive and the vigilante abuse before the trial, and he couldn’t stomach the thought of inviting yet another beating on his way to enduring, politically orchestrated torture.
If the soldiers’ goal was to keep hlm disoriented,they were doing a good job. They hauled him along too fast for his legs to keep up, between the chain that kept them no more than half a step apart and the cramped weakness from being forced to kneel in the back of the van for a few hours. He only got quick glimpses of their surroundings, too; they shook him with each step, pulled him even more off-balance. The one time he tried to get a more solid look around, after they’d dragged him from whatever courtyard through some doors into a hallway, the soldier behind him shoved his head down so hard that his chin bounced off his clavicle.
Stiles lifted and turned his head again. It earned him another rough push, but not before he got what he was looking for. “F Cole,” he said, “you’re on a fucking list now, buddy.”
If he’d just been Stiles—who everyone thought he was before the trial, just a broke student with too much energy and too little control over where he directed it—it wouldn’t have been much of a threat. It hadn’t been, when he’d thrown it out in everyday life as harmless snark. But he was Shadow Fox, and they knew that, and bad things happened to people on Shadow Fox’s lists. It meant that instead of laughing him off, all three of the soldiers tensed. They even stopped moving, and by extension stopped pulling him along with them.
As F Cole grabbed him by the shoulder and swung him violently around, demanding, “What did you just say?” it occurred to him that he’d already broken his resolve to avoid pissing them off with more than his existence. He never had been very good at keeping his mouth shut. Keeping secrets, sure, but he buried those under lies and sarcasm, not silence.
Since he was in for it anyway, Stiles went ahead and snarled a smile. “Touch me again and you’ll regret it.”
Unsurprisingly, a fist slammed into his stomach; but it wasn’t Cole’s, so that at least was unexpected and novel. It was the guy to his right—whose name tag Stiles hadn’t caught—and then it was Cole, then the first guy again with a nasty blow to Stiles’s side when he was doubled over. Already a serious attempt to hurt him, the pain was compounded by previously bruised ribs that were almost definitely cracked, at least, after another punch.
Before they could give him a punctured lung for his troubles, someone bellowed, “Attention!”
All three soldiers immediately moved back and straightened up, including the one who’d been holding Stiles up through the beating. He staggered, barely keeping his feet but stubborn enough to make it happen. He didn’t trust any of them not to take the chance to kick him if he went to the ground, and their boots could do a lot more damage than bare fists. It took him longer to recover enough breath to right himself, so he was still hunched over the stabbing pain in his chest when a new set of shoes appeared in his view.
They really weren’t much different from the soldiers’ boots; higher quality, shinier and less scuffed, but still built for combat. Above them, rather than fatigues or the black slacks of a dress uniform, Stiles found dark jeans as he slowly lifted his head. A canvas jacket. A gray shirt. Stubble, a scowl, and the icy eyes of General Chris Argent.
He kept his gaze fixed on Stiles, filled with approximately as much hate as Stiles would’ve expected from the man whose daughter he killed. But it wasn’t Stiles he asked, “What’s going on here?”
“He threatened Cole, sir,” said the first soldier who’d hit him. He almost managed to say it with confidence, but enough of a questioning inflection slipped through to suggest that he didn’t think it would satisfy the general. Stiles wasn’t so sure; Argent was near the top of the list of people who should be happy for him to get his ass kicked no matter the reason.
Instead, Argent scoffed. “A slave who weighs half as much as any one of you. Who you find so physically intimidating that you’ve left his hands free.”
It was a good point; his hands were free. Stiles weighed his options, ruled out the worst choice and also the best, then suckerpunched the soldier without breaking eye contact with Argent. Since he hadn’t looked and the guy was still saluting, he got in an easy and satisfying hit. He even had a second to feel smug about it before a shock at his neck locked up his chest and arm muscles painfully.
Argent held up a small remote with his eyebrows raised. “That was the lowest setting.”
It had only lasted a few seconds at the most, but Stiles had to force his jaw to unclench just so he could smirk properly. “I could hit him harder, if that’s what you’re going for.”
“You’re dismissed,” Argent said, his expression no warmer when he finally turned it away from Stiles to focus on the men instead. “I should be able to get him back to my office without breaking the crown’s new toy.”
Whether it was just Argent’s judgment they were eager to escape or the threat of the king’s wrath, they were quick to obey. They even took the shackles so Stiles could walk normally, though not without protesting about the risk. Argent dismissed that, too.
“He’s a slave. That’s all he is now, there’s nothing special about him.”
Stiles barely got his mouth open to start a protest that he was very special, thank you very much, before Argent clicked the remote again. He lost the words to a yelp. That time it was more than a quick jolt—it fucking hurt.
“That’s the middle,” Argent told him coolly. “Want to try the highest?”
He could take it. He wasn’t scared of pain—didn’t like it, mostly tried to avoid it, but when he got stubborn and focused other things mattered more. In that moment, though, he didn’t have a lot to gain by testing Argent: he already knew it wasn’t a bluff, so he might as well skip proving it just for the sake of his pride. Setting his jaw, Stiles nodded once and let himself be directed to Argent’s office.
Kneeling once he got there was harder to stomach, to the point where Argent did have to shock him again—but at least it was back to the lowest one. “You can either get used to kneeling or get used to electricity. I don’t really care which, but one’s a lot less likely to cause permanent damage.”
He waited for Stiles to grudgingly settle onto the floor, then went around behind the desk and sat. A large book sat at one corner; Argent pulled it in front of him and opened to near the middle, then started writing. A moment later, without stopping or looking up, he asked, “Do you know who I am?”
“Yeah. Chris Argent.” Stiles made himself say it, even if it wasn’t true. “I killed your daughter.”
“No,” Argent said conversationally, “you didn’t.” Then he went right back to writing in his ledger like he hadn’t dropped a bomb right in Stiles’s lap with that. Though Stiles waited, he didn’t elaborate. He was right, of course, but he shouldn’t have been.
There was no good was to push for an explanation of that without giving himself away, so all Stiles could do was ask, “What?”
Putting his pen down, Argent steepled his hands and looked at Stiles over them. Stiles wasn’t easily intimidated—his current predicament was pretty good evidence of that—and even when he was, he refused to let it show. He wasn’t about to change that just because Chris Argent peered down at him while he knelt in front of a dark, massive desk with a shock collar and no hope of escape. But it was a setup carefully calculated to have an effect and he couldn’t deny, at least not to himself, that it succeeded in sending a shiver down his spine.
“If you’d killed Allison, you never would have made it to trial, Stiles. I know what you did for her, what you’ve risked to keep her safe. Thank you.”
Stiles kept his face blank—as blank as it ever got, which tended to lean more to mockingly dumb according to everyone he’d ever met—as he processed that. The Argents were an old family, nearly as powerful and influential in Beacon as the royal Hales, and they made their name on training and managing slaves. Having Allison come to him wanting to escape the mantle of her family’s cruelty and join the revolution was a coup, but surely she would’ve told him if her father shared her views.
Not that they’d expected Stiles to get caught and sent straight to him at the palace.
Still, it felt like a trap until Argent added, “She said I should tell you that I’ll be your anchor. Or that she will be—I didn’t get a chance to clarify that.”
Argent could only have gotten the code phrase from Allison; they’d established it to make sure their plans for her defection, her fake murder, stayed secure. Chris Argent had the trust of the new Shadow Fox and Stiles wouldn’t have passed on his life’s work—his mother’s life’s work—to her if he didn’t trust her. Which meant he had an extremely unexpected ally.
“The royal slave master is an abolitionist?”
“It’s... complicated. But my daughter is a smarter and better person than I am,” he said with a wry smile. “So I’m following her lead on this. If we want to end tyranny and oppression in Beacon—my family is responsible for at least as much as Peter Hale.”
Stiles had had time to come up with all sorts of worst-case scenarios for what his life as a slave would be like. His first and strongest assumption had been that he would be given over to King Peter. His crimes were mostly against the crown, he’d been sentenced to serve the crown until death, and Peter was the crown. He had been ever since a freshly orphaned, fifteen-year-old Derek Hale abdicated an hour before his coronation and left the throne open for his uncle to spend the next decade running Beacon into the ground.
Already reeling from a regicide that had also taken out most of the royal family and royal friend Victoria Argent, the work of a few embittered slaves who had claimed the whispers of revolution as inspiration, the country hadn’t questioned the transition of power that took place mostly in private during the mourning period so, nor had they been prepared for Peter to sweep down with his harsh reforms.
At least, most of the country hadn’t been. Void knew. Shadow Fox, then Stiles’s mother, knew. Queen Talia and King Nathaniel may not have been the tyrants Peter was, but they still ruled as monarchs accountable to no one in a kingdom that enslaved over a tenth of its population. That percentage had steadily increased over the past decade, as Peter made citizenship easier to lose and harder to earn, but it had always been the way. Stiles’s mom had bought her own freedom before the assassinations and immediately started quietly plotting her revolution, pausing only to give birth and stopping only to waste away from the lingering disease that killed her.
But moving from slave to citizen was a difficult feat then and became all but impossible after the new king’s laws. Even citizens, the ones who were paying attention, saw their rights slowly slip away. And Claudia Stilinski had made sure as many people as possible were paying attention. She wasn’t the first Shadow Fox, but she was the first freed citizen to take the name and responsibilities; the ones before had all been born free. She wove together those who wanted to abolish the monarchy and those who wanted to abolish slavery and brought their goals to the public. Though there was a backlash after the Hale murders, under Peter’s rule, support for the insurgency grew like never before—but quietly. Carefully.
She’d never been in danger of being caught like Stiles was, but then again Stiles hadn’t been in any danger until he’d had to make a choice between letting Allison die for real and letting himself be surrounded by the police. He hadn’t given it a second thought, and not just because she turned out to be the love of Scott’s life. Much as he loved Scott, he wouldn’t sacrifice that much for his happiness. Himself, yes. The fate of the entire country, not so much.
He needed Allison alive, though. Void and Beacon needed Allison alive, because for the first time since his mom had brought him into her study and brought him in on the secret of who she was and was she was doing, he saw a real chance of success. Allison was the perfect figurehead, well-known and influential, but she was also sharp enough to be more than just a symbol.
And honestly—he liked her. Again, not enough to surrender himself to what he’d been certain was his death, but it helped. They’d talked out next steps enough that he knew she could handle taking over as Shadow Fox.
None of his planning or ruminations had prepared him to belong to the reclusive Prince Derek, who only even kept that title as a courtesy from his king. He’d more or less vanished from public life after losing his family and forfeiting his rule, so much so that it had sparked some suspicion about how voluntary his resignation had been. But a Void source inside the palace put it down to grief and apathy.
The rest of what Stiles knew about him, which wasn’t very much at all, he knew from Allison. Derek’s fiancée. It was all political, according to Allison, arranged by King Peter and his consort—Allison’s aunt Kate—and the Argent patriarch Gerard. Allison had only met the prince a few times before their betrothal, when her family and what was left of his had awkward and tense dinners. They never even spoke, though she thought they almost bonded once over when their eyes met while avoiding a gratuitous display of affection between their respective aunt and uncle. Which just made it all the more creepy and semi-incestuous, in Stiles’s opinion.
But he also couldn’t really complain about it, because the extravagant and highly televised party to announce the engagement had been the final push for Allison to enact the plan she’d been concocting with Stiles for the better part of a year. He just wished they’d had more time together before Stiles found himself thrown to the questionable mercy of the Hales; he would’ve liked the chance to pick her brain about the power players at the palace to see if they could find more sympathizers to turn into allies.
He had Chris, which was so much more than he could have hoped for, but Chris didn’t have the information that Allison might have, and he warned Stiles from the start that he wouldn’t be able to help him.
“If you were any other new slave, I could keep you at least a little longer for training. But too many people are watching and expecting trouble from you. Hoping for trouble, in most cases. If I don’t place you right now, it’s only a matter of time before Peter claims what he considers his due.”
Stiles frowned up at him, shifting on his aching knees. He wasn’t thrilled to still be down there, but since anyone could have walked in and interrupted, it was for the best. Besides, as Chris had said, he would need to get used to it.
“You think Derek will be better?”
“In general, yes. For you...” Raising his eyebrows, Chris grimaced and then sighed. “If you can manage it, keep your mouth shut and your head down and he should ignore you.”
“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed,” Stiles said dryly, because even if Chris had somehow missed all the coverage of his trial, he’d already saved Stiles from the consequences of mouthing off once, “but I’m not exactly great at that.”
“Yeah, that much is apparent. When you inevitably piss him off he might hurt you, but only to make you stop. He won’t torture you—he’s not his uncle. It’s the safest I can make you here.”
Stiles didn’t feel particularly safe when, upon finding Stiles waiting where Chris left him in the prince’s room, Derek hauled him off his knees and slammed his back against the nearest wall. Hard. Stiles’s ribs screamed as the impact shook through the existing damage; he nearly screamed, too, but bit down so it was only a gasp that Prince Derek ignored anyway.
He was right in Stiles’s face, close enough that Stiles could differentiate the individual bristles of his unshaven scruff and the transition of colors in his irises. He could also feel Derek’s breath against his cheek as he snarled, “I don’t need a slave.”
Like it had been up to Stiles—well, in his case it almost had been. He and Chris had talked it over at length, though in the end he’d agreed with Chris’s initial reasoning. But still, if he’d been any other slave, if Chris hadn’t been sympathetic to the cause, he wouldn’t have been able to do a thing to change his placement.
“I don’t want a slave,” Derek continued. “Go back to Argent and tell him to assign you anywhere else—”
He cut off abruptly, eyes searching Stiles’s face, and his deep scowl actually softened into confusion. Then it hardened again, suspicious. “You’re the terrorist. Shadow Fox.”
Stiles thought about Chris’s warning. He thought about Allison carrying on his fight and about the possibility that he might actually survive long enough to see Peter overthrown, to be free again, if he could just keep himself from inviting more trouble. He thought about being at least passingly submissive and deferential for his first in-person impression with the man who controlled his fate.
Then he smirked, kept his eyes defiantly locked with the prince’s, and said, “I usually just go by Stiles.”
Derek shook him hard enough that his head knocked back into the wall. “Shut up. Peter wanted you. Are you Peter’s? Did he send you?”
There was a desperation in Derek’s searching gaze that caught Stiles by surprise, but not so much that he missed the cue. His mind was always working, thoughts constantly racing and usually on more than one track. It made it hard to control the impulsive sarcasm sometimes—most of the time—but it was always ready to latch on when something interesting came up, and that focused him better than anything else.
Self-preservation couldn’t moderate his behavior, but scheming absolutely could. So though he raised his eyebrows at being asked questions immediately after the command to shut up, he opted for the silent response. He shook his head to answer both and raised his left hand, being sure to proceed very, very slowly so that it didn’t get read as a threat. Punching the soldier had been fun and he’d been lucky to get away with it with nothing worse than a painful but fleeting shock from his collar, but he suspected there would be a lot worse in his future if Prince Derek thought he was being attacked.
Derek let him move, his heavy brows still drawn together unhappily and his grip still unyielding as he held Stiles to the wall, but at least for the moment there was no additional force. He watched skeptically as Stiles lifted his hand to face height and opened his fingers to reveal Chris’s small remote. Actually, in a way it was Stiles’s remote; the panel on the underside read 4601 in the same illuminated red letters as his collar. But, like Stiles, it was the prince’s property now.
Gingerly, like he still expected it to be a trap, Derek let go of Stiles with one hand and took the controller from his unresisting grip. The first thing he did, of course, was click it. But the pain Stiles braced for never came. Derek just dropped his gaze to Stiles’s collar, clicked again, and nodded. Scowl unwavering, he released Stiles with a final warning—“Stay out of my way,”—and stalked away, leaving Stiles to stare after him.
As Stiles stared, he carelessly threw the remote at his bedside table—not on, but at, and when it skittered across the top and dropped behind the table, Derek left it there. That seemed like it might’ve been a good sign, except that Derek went on to treat Stiles in much the same way: He left him standing where he’d ended up against the wall and ignored him for the rest of the afternoon.
It wasn’t the worst thing to have the prince sit at his desk with his back to Stiles, hunched over something for an hour. It gave Stiles time to study him openly, since Derek made what seemed like a very deliberate point of not looking at him; or maybe it wasn’t a point at all, and he was just that ambivalent to having a potentially violent stranger in his room when that stranger was a slave. Stiles didn’t think so, though. Chris had said, and Derek’s outburst confirmed, that the prince hadn’t had a personal slave since he was fifteen. Apparently he wasn’t much for other people, even when they weren’t really people in society’s eyes—the tenseness of his posture and irritated jerkiness of his movements backed that up well enough.
That, Stiles understood. The bloody murder of a person’s entire family, especially when it was as high profile and frequently revisited as the Hales’, was bound to leave them with some interpersonal difficulties. What puzzled him was how quickly and forcefully Derek had accused him of working for his uncle. How disproving that had been all Stiles needed to do to gain grudging approval to stay.
Derek didn’t trust the king.
Maybe he wasn’t as lost to apathy as everyone thought, or maybe there was something even deeper to it. He considered Chris’s advice one last time, then disregarded it. He wasn’t going to keep his head down. He wasn’t going to leave Derek alone. He was going to dig into that rift and what was behind it, and he didn’t expect it to be very hard, either; if that display was anything to go by, Derek didn’t even know he should hide that information from a man like Stiles. Stiles would use it, build on it, and whether Derek noticed it happening or not, he would drag an even more powerful ally to his side.
Twenty minutes or so after he reached that conclusion, when he’d planned and observed everything he could without something changing and had started to get restless, something changed. Derek stood, pushing the chair back with his movement, and stretched. Hands clasped behind him, back arched, shoulders—well, those were certainly shoulders.
There were a frankly absurd number of reasons why it was a terrible idea for Stiles to ogle the play of muscles across the prince’s back, but he didn’t feel the least bit guilty about appreciating it when he was forced to be there anyway. He wasn’t hurting anyone, he probably wouldn’t have cared if he were hurting someone as long as that someone was royalty who legally owned him, it wasn’t as if he could help it, anyway. Derek was the one showing off, and it wasn’t Stiles’s fault that he was unreasonably attractive.
The general population of Beacon was pretty caught up with their gorgeous and charming tyrant, either in swooning over him or hating him. Kate and Allison both received—had received, up until being allegedly murdered two months ago, in Allison’s case—constant attention for their looks as well as their station. But Derek, reclusive scowler that he was, hadn’t caught the public’s eye despite how very generous puberty had been to him.
The public was missing out.
Dropping his arms and shaking them out, Derek rolled his neck and then turned, crossing back to the door and bypassing Stiles entirely. He only looked over when Stiles started to move, too; not startled, he clearly hadn’t forgotten Stiles was there, but surprised that Stiles was trying to follow him—and then annoyed. “I’m going to get dinner,” he said. “Stay here.”
“You should listen to me and not argue if you know what’s good for you,” Derek snarled.
Stiles’s eyes involuntarily darted to the bedside table, the remote for his collar that had fallen behind it. The door slammed shut before he looked back; Derek was gone.
He gave it a minute to make sure Derek wasn’t coming back to catch him out—he wasn’t expecting it, didn’t think the prince had that much subterfuge in him, but he’d made it as long as he had without being caught by being careful. And since even that hadn’t really been his fault, he considered his streak ongoing and had no intention to break it now. So he waited. Then he set about snooping properly.
The first place he went was the bed. Behind the bed, very first, to retrieve that remote. Tempting as it was to try and break or hide it—and he’d already spotted half a dozen places he planned to investigate for clandestine storage without even looking in the attached bathroom—it would take less than ten minutes for Chris to configure a replacement. And Stiles would probably suffer for it a lot longer than ten minutes. He could’ve left it, as Derek had done, but it presented too great an opportunity to satisfy his curiosity.
He wanted to see what Derek would do when he came back to find it sitting on the bedside table; if he would continue to ignore it or start using it as it was meant to when Stiles annoyed him. Because Stiles was absolutely going to keep annoying him. That was, as Chris had accused, inevitable.
The rest of the bed area yielded absolutely nothing interesting. No kinky toys, no stash of porn, not even a bottle of lube. He told himself he was disappointed because it meant fewer opportunities for blackmail and that he wasn’t considering seducing Derek Hale for the revolution, but on the other hand—if it worked, it worked. He wouldn’t rule it out yet.
Most of the room was just as boringly barren, to Stiles’s equal frustration and disbelief. The prince wasn’t giving him anything to work with. A single shelf with history books and a couple novels Stiles remembered from his literature classes as being painfully dry. A closet bigger than Stiles’s room at home filled with nothing but neutral and black clothes. In all, aside from the desk Derek had been sitting at, the room was almost as impersonal and empty as the prison cell where Stiles lived until that morning.
The desk, though—the desk looked like someone actually lived there. A laptop sat on the floor next to one corner, protected by a password that he didn’t know enough to risk guessing yet. Even though it stymied his spying, Stiles was half glad to finally see some kind of effort on the prince’s part. He expected his room to be private, hadn’t known Stiles was going to come along, but he still went through the trouble of protecting his computer. Maybe there would actually be something useful on it, maybe it was just porn; Stiles was interested either way.
It was probably time to stop thinking about Derek and sex, at least for a while. At least until he had a better sense of whether that would be useful to his plans. But he didn’t plan on being upset if it did. Derek, again, ridiculously hot and obviously in need of getting laid. Stiles might’ve needed it, too; between his secret identity heading the crown’s most wanted list for years then the looming dread of his trial and related doom, he hadn’t exactly been busy on that score. But surprising as it was to realize, things were looking up, and with his purpose and life expectancy both stretching out ahead of him, he found himself in a much jauntier mood than the new collar justified.
If he had time after finishing his preliminary investigations, he’d do a little something to make that situation less dire.
When he turned his attentions to the papers covering the main part of the desk, he forgot about all his plans—masturbatory and revolutionary both. There had to be dozens of loose pages arranged in an arc, each one covered with detailed pencil lines and shading. In the center, a sketchbook lay open to a page with only the curve of a neck and jawline starting to claim the empty space. The chin looked a lot like the one featured in the portraits on top of the surrounding piles, different angles of the same face that Stiles recognized immediately: Queen Talia.
His dead mother, and the grief etched in the careful renderings was obvious to the part of Stiles that had also been far too young to sit next to his own mom’s deathbed. Not that there was a good age for that. Derek had been even younger when he lost his mom—and everyone else. There were no pictures of any of them around the room, which Stiles had noted as weird and unsettlingly cold. But they weren’t cast aside or ignored at all; they were right there, drawn by the prince’s own hand over and over. Beneath the images of Talia were sketches of Nathaniel, Derek’s father; Laura, the older sister and heir Derek himself had found dead; his younger sisters and brothers; cousins Stiles didn’t even recognize.
Feeling sick for reasons he couldn’t pin down, Stiles retreated to where Derek had left him, done snooping for the night. He wasn’t prepared for any Hale to be so human.
Derek got back after dark. He didn’t throw Stiles into the wall again, but he did frown at him and the lamp he’d set up next to what he decided to claim as his spot, appropriated from the far corner of the room. Not the one from near Derek’s desk; he wouldn’t. He would steal the least terrible-looking book from Derek’s shelf—borrow, since he couldn’t exactly run off with it—and had done just that. He looked up from the worst summary of the Territory Wars he’d ever read when the door opened, so he got to watch Derek’s eyes travel the room.
They moved from Stiles, leaning against the wall, to his bed, which had obviously been rifled. Stiles had a number of covert skills and they did not lie in that direction. Derek took a few steps toward it, toward the remote that Stiles knew he saw. Stiles held his breath for the punishment that would be coming. Then Derek stopped.
His head snapped to his desk, his body followed, and he was standing over it before Stiles could finish closing the book and crouching to set it on the floor out of harm’s way. The white of Derek’s knuckles around the top of his chair, the flex of his back as his shoulders drew up, the way his head dipped down and then lifted—it all spoke of imminent, enraged violence. Stiles wasn’t even sure he could blame Derek for what he had coming, under the circumstances.
“Don’t,” Derek started, voice so rough with emotion that it came out a growl. He didn’t move, staying hunched in front of the desk like he was in physical pain, and didn’t turn to look at Stiles when he said, “You don’t touch these again.”
With rare sincerity, Stiles agreed, “Okay.”
And that was that. Derek nodded, more to himself than Stiles, but lingered at the desk for a few more long, deep breaths. Then he walked back to the bed, stripping to his boxers as he went as though he didn’t even notice that Stiles was there. Stiles noticed Stiles was there, and he also noticed how many of Derek’s muscles were there. Still without looking at Stiles, Derek picked up the remote off the bedside table.
Stiles tensed again, but all he did was open the drawer, drop the remote in, and close it. Once in bed, curled on his side with his back to Stiles, he ordered, “Turn off the light.”
Silently, Stiles did.
He waited until he saw the hard set of Derek’s shoulders start to loosen, then he slid down to sit on the floor much less silently. As he settled himself there, propped against the wall, Derek tensed up again. The timing wasn’t great, he would’ve liked to have done this when Derek wasn’t upset and probably emotionally drained, but it was their first night together and it had to be done.
Even so, Stiles’s guilt over the manipulation weighed on him almost unbearably. He still wanted Derek’s commitment to the revolution and would drag it out of him if need be, he just wasn’t willing to go to the lengths he’d toyed with earlier. He wasn’t going to seduce the prince on behalf of the revolution, and that irritated him. He was very good at being calculated and ruthless in achieving his purpose when things—people—were abstract, but he’d unwillingly made Derek a real person in his mind and he tried his best not to destroy real people.
He had to be better than what he was fighting against.
But if he was going to be forced to deal with empathy and commiseration, then so was Derek. Stiles would make sure of that.
Which meant making a dramatic show of not being able to sleep. Nothing too loud or obviously fake—he just sat there until Derek started to relax, then he made a little grunt of discomfort, readjusted his position on the wall, and watched the shoulders go stiff again.
Over and over.
Finally, Derek sat up and probably glared at him, though the effect was lost with the darkness rendering those eyebrows invisible. “Don’t you have somewhere else to go when I don’t need you?”
Stiles’s grin was definitely lost to the dark, so he didn’t bother trying to hide it. Not that he would’ve anyway, because if he was going to make Derek bond with him it would have to be genuine. And genuine Stiles was a bit of an asshole. “I thought you said you didn’t need me at all.”
After a heavy silence and heavier sigh, Derek turned on the light by his bed. His expression wasn’t nearly as fierce as Stiles was expecting—exasperated, but not murderous. That seemed like progress. Trying to figure Stiles out, even if it was out of frustration, meant that Derek was prepared to treat him at least a little like a person already. He could’ve gone for the remote, after all.
Instead, Derek huffed and crossed his arms. “I don’t, but apparently I have you anyway. Unless you want me to send you back to Argent after all? Or straight to the king, since it’s effectively the same thing.” His teeth flashed in a mean smile; he knew exactly what he was threatening Stiles with. The fate he’d been prepared for but avoided, for now, thanks to Chris’s miraculous intervention.
So, okay. If he was willing to throw out a casual threat of a life of torture, maybe Derek wasn’t as far along in the humanization process as Stiles hoped. He could get there, though; Stiles was sure of that. So he did what he did best. He pushed it and called what he really hoped was Derek’s bluff: “I think if you were going to do that, you would’ve already. You like that you got something Peter wanted.”
Derek’s face darkened and for another breathless moment, Stiles worried he’d misjudged. Getting into people’s heads, under their skin, prying into their motivations—he was usually very good at that, and at taking advantage of it with his words. Like how he’d talked his way into staying Shadow Fox when the other Void leadership had discovered that Claudia Stilinski left things in the hands of her sixteen-year-old son, for instance.
Of course, he wasn’t psychic, so sometimes he got things wrong.
But Derek didn’t express anger at Stiles’s challenge or the casual way he addressed the king or dared to speculate on the relationship between them. “Stay away from him,” he warned, and though the words were similar to earlier, by the desk and the drawings, his voice was nothing like it had been. Gone was the rough scab of grief and in its place, an intensity that bordered on fearful. What Stiles didn’t know was if the worry was for Stiles, Peter, or himself. “And—stay away from Kate.”
Before Stiles could question that, Derek switched his light back off and said, “You’re dismissed for the night, you can go to bed.”
Stiles snorted. “What do you think I’ve been trying to do?”
The lamp turned on again.
Derek stared down at him—on the floor, propped against the wall uncomfortably, still fully dressed. Stiles stared back, perplexed at how perplexed Derek was. It had been pretty fucking obvious what he was doing, as far as he was concerned; he’d gone out of his way to make it so. But apparently Derek thought he was waiting around to cater to his every whim. Which, true, a properly trained slave probably would have, but they both knew Stiles wasn’t that.
“Just like that? What about your bed—”
Despite Derek cutting the question short, Stiles couldn’t stop himself from raising his eyebrows and widening his eyes in non-verbal agreement that yes, it was a very stupid question, then looking around the room equally pointedly—no bed but the one Derek was in. He didn’t put much effort into stopping himself, or really any effort at all. The prince had that mockery coming, and then some.
Rolling his eyes, Derek nevertheless modified what he was asking. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping—in a bed—in of one of the slaves’ dorms?”
The truth was that yes, Stiles should have been. But he didn’t want to be, and Derek didn’t sound entirely sure that he should be. Having been without a slave for so long, and from everything Stiles had heard generally removed from palace life for so long, it was entirely possible that he didn’t know. Stiles took his chances with a lie first.
“I’m meant to stay available to you at all times.”
Not a bad try, but it absolutely did not work. Derek’s look and voice were both flat when he said, “I’m the one who decides what you’re meant to do from now on. If I want something, I’m sure there’s a system in place for me to get your attention.”
Being in the dorms meant he couldn’t influence Derek, and it would also take him outside of Derek’s influence—Derek’s protection. He didn’t know how much of that he could expect anyway, but just being in Derek’s room instead of in the open meant he was out of reach to most of his immediate enemies. Coming after him there would mean violating the prince’s private space as well as his property and he hoped none of them would be that brazen. Even if it rankled the hell out of him to have any part of his safety reliant on being someone’s property.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Derek said when Stiles opened his mouth to work on a new strategy. “Go find a bed in the dorm. Or sleep on the floor there, I don’t care. And if you try to manipulate me again, I really will leave you to Peter. He loves that game.”
Stiles ducked his head and chewed his lip, only halfway faking his contrition. It stung to be called out, but Derek wasn’t wrong: Stiles had been manipulating him and planned to keep doing it—didn’t feel more than a little guilty about it, either, though he’d have to be more careful. Which meant shoving down his first instinct to tell Derek he needed to stay alive for his widower father. True or not, there was no way for it to seem anything other than manipulative right then. Especially with Derek’s history.
He could survive in the dorms if he had to. He’d been ready for worse, after all.
“Yes, Your Highness,” he said softly. Then he left, but not without filing away Derek’s flinch at the title.
The dorm nearest Derek’s room, which Chris had shown him on the way, was quiet and only half full when Stiles got there. He didn’t get a chance to see anything more than that before someone grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and dragged him away from the door.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” The soldier wasn’t one of the three who’d brought him into the palace, but clearly recognized Stiles nonetheless. “Trying to start another uprising?”
Gritting his teeth to hold back the sarcasm, because he really didn’t need more trouble his first night, Stiles said, “My master ordered me to the dorms.”
“The king wouldn’t have done that.” The soldier—V Jones, Stiles added it to his list—shoved him again, pushing him even further from the room. Stiles heard movement inside, quietly rustling sheets and an almost vocalized question silenced by hushing. They had an audience, though Jones didn’t seem to notice. “I think you’re sneaking around unauthorized.”
“I don’t—” He swallowed down the rest of that sentence, changed it to, “—know about the king, but the prince would.”
That news had the soldier pulling out a familiar, thumb-sized remote. But nothing happened when he clicked it once next to Stiles’s collar, then nothing happened when he clicked it again. Stiles flinched both times despite himself. He expected retaliation when the collar failed to punish him appropriately, but Jones just looked at the collar’s display thoughtfully.
“Huh,” he said in a speculative tone that did nothing to ease the dread lingering in the pit of Stiles’s stomach. “Well, I’m sure we can find a special accommodation for you where you can’t cause any trouble.”
The sense of menacing continued. It got worse when Jones’s idea of a special accommodation turned out to be an emptied out storage closet, concrete floor and steel shelving tracks along the walls with no actual shelves on them. Then worse still as Jones closed and locked him in—in total darkness, of course—and Stiles could see him pulling out his phone before the door was even shut.
He couldn’t hear what Jones was reporting or who he was reporting it to through the heavy door, but he managed to fumble around until he found the lightswitch. It was a small victory, but he’d take it over being blinded if someone came in from the hallway. Which he was really pretty sure was less of an if and more of a when.
As was so often the case, he was right.
His money—if he’d had any, which he didn’t because he was a slave, slaves were property, and property couldn’t own other property—would have been evenly split between Peter Hale and Gerard Argent. So when the sound of keys in the lock woke him and he got to his feet, he wasn’t at all surprised to see Gerard walk in. Gerard, on the other hand, looked surprised and disappointed to see him on his feet and ready.
Then his expression morphed into a cruel smirk, and that was all the warning Stiles had before his collar jolted to life. Intense pain shot through his neck and chest, burning but brief, leaving him gasping and sore even when it ended. So that was the highest setting, the one he hadn’t provoked Chris into demonstrating. Shit but that was nasty.
When he could feel his tongue again, he spat, “Fuck you,” because there was no point in playing nice.
“You know,” Gerard said without acknowledging that Stiles had spoke, like he was just a piece of furniture to be monologued at, “I thought my son was an idiot for sending you to the prince. Derek is too soft. Too self-absorbed, too weak. He won’t make you suffer the way you deserve.”
A click of the remote started Stiles’s collar shocking him again—the middle setting, painful on its own but he also still felt burned and bruised from the last one and it didn’t stop. Just kept going until his lungs were burning as much as his skin with the struggle to draw breath. Instinctively he reached up and tried to pull it off, pull it away from himself, but all that got him were zapped fingers.
When he was sure he was about to pass out, black spots filling his vision and silence ringing in his ears, the electricity cut off. He managed a few heaving, painful breaths, just enough to get steady on his feet, then it surged back.
“Mother—” he choked out, but couldn’t even finish that before his legs gave and he went down hard.
Gerard loomed over him like a villainous caricature. “But if Derek’s already done putting up with you, maybe Chris had the right idea after all. I’ll be back in the morning, ‘Shadow Wolf.’ I’m going to enjoy killing you slowly.”
There it was: the future Stiles had imagined for himself. It seemed especially bleak and painful after he’d allowed himself to hope for something better—or maybe that was just the electricity coursing through him. He couldn’t even bring himself to mock the old man for making actual finger quotes or intentionally getting his title wrong, too busy being curled up in breathless agony. By the time the collar cut off again just long enough to let him gasp a few fiery lungfuls, Gerard had left him locked away in darkness again.
The periodic shocks kept up all night.
Stiles only knew it was over after the fact. He’d blanked out at some point, didn’t know if it was unconsciousness or memory loss from the shocks, but he came to sitting on the edge of a bed while a man he didn’t recognize pressed a cold stethoscope to his chest. He didn’t remember getting there—or anything else after he’d lost count of the rounds of shocks—but he was sitting up unsupported, so he must have been awake for at least some of it.
He’d lost time. Gerard could have come back and Stiles wouldn’t know it, would maybe never remember if he’d given away something critical.
“His heart rate is increasing,” the man, probably—hopefully—a doctor said evenly. Though he stayed slightly bent over to keep his head near Stiles’s chest, his eyes trailed up to meet Stiles’s. “Are you back with us, Mister Stilinski?”
That time he felt his own pulse jump; he jerked around to see who else was there and found Derek at the foot of the bed, arms tightly crossed and scowl somehow fiercer than ever. He also found that his neck fucking hurt. Even his small whimper of pain made the collar shift on his neck, pulling at the damaged skin.
“Easy,” the man advised. He reached out toward Stiles’s neck and Stiles grabbed his wrist on instinct, shoving it away and twisting and—he dropped the man’s hand and braced for the backlash, clenching his jaw and his fist so hard that both ached. He was going to try very, very hard not to scream; he just wanted to stop feeling weak.
Nothing happened, which made not screaming easier, but it only took a few seconds of the man staring at him placidly for Stiles’s adrenaline response to bottom out, overworked from his ordeal, and leave him even more exhausted than before. So when the man said, “I’m Doctor Alan Deaton. I’ll try not to hurt you, but I need to look at your neck,” Stiles let it happen. He felt like so much shit, he was so tired, and it wasn’t like he could stop them from doing whatever they wanted to in his current state.
He wasn’t broken, he was just... taking a break. He gave himself permission to check out, letting the doctor check him over and monitoring the sparse conversation—he couldn’t afford to let his guard down completely and miss something important—but not actively participating in any of it. He didn’t even look over when the door behind him opened. Partly because he didn’t want to make the pain worse, but he would’ve put up with it if he cared.
“You sent for me, Your Highness?” Chris asked, voice tight.
Stiles couldn’t ignore that. If Derek was turning him back over to the slave master, he could give up on waiting out Allison’s next move. They’d been planning the final stages when the ambush hit, but their timeline was years, not weeks. There was no way she would be ready in time to save anything but the shell of who he used to be, if even that.
But he was still working up the energy to react, maybe beg for one more chance, when Derek demanded, “Can you take the collar off?”
Stiles whipped around to stare at the prince, but Derek was looking at Chris, who looked just as startled as Stiles. He glanced at Stiles, then back to Derek, then took on a pinched expression. “Why?”
“Because I told you to.” The two men leveled cool looks at each other, something passing between them that Stiles could see but not understand. The impression he’d gotten from both Allison and Chris was that he and Derek weren’t more than passingly aware of each other and made no effort to get acquainted even after the engagement.
There had to be more to it than that, because when Chris broke the stare he looked guilty. Resigned. Not even a little annoyed to be given that kind of crap by someone so much almost two decades younger and entirely less accomplished than he was. Chris—General Argent—had earned his rank. Derek had been born to his, then got it back like a consolation prize when by rights he should’ve lost all claim to the throne instead of being made heir again.
“No,” Chris said at last.
“Then I want the electrodes turned off. Disabled. Whatever you have to do.”
Chris’s jaw clenched and unclenched. “You realize what you’re asking me to do,” he said, low and dangerous. “Who you’re asking me to do it for.”
Without looking away from him, Derek ordered, “Deaton, give us a minute.”
“I was just finishing up,” Deaton answered, pulling off his gloves with a studiously unimpressed look. Just as dismissive as Derek had been, he instructed, “Watch for signs of infection around the collar. Bed rest for at least three days, nothing strenuous until it’s fully healed. Soft foods, preferably liquids—” He stopped, blinked once, then inclined his head at Stiles. “When was the last time you ate?”
“Uh.” Not talking to himself or chewing on his lip as he tried to work through the fuzziness in his head to the correct answer was a chore, but every time he forgot it made his throat move against the collar. “How long’s it been since the trial?”
“Well.” As Derek and Chris stared at Stiles, Deaton raised judgmental eyebrows at Derek but otherwise kept his tone even. “I was under the impression you requested my services because you weren’t trying to kill him, Sire. If that’s not the case, you shouldn’t need me anymore.”
Only after he’d departed did Derek ask, “You haven’t eaten since the trial?”
Derek rounded on Chris, demanding, “How did you let this happen?” but Stiles snorted out an involuntary and painful laugh, drawing his attention back.
He really did try not to be too condescending when he answered, but even he could hear it in the slow cadence his own voice; maybe he’d blame it on the pain. “I’m a slave who used to be an abolitionist terrorist and I killed his daughter.” The blackness started to creep in again. “I’m gonna pass out now,” he informed them, and then did.
After that, he had a cot in the corner of Derek’s room. Derek had meals brought up for both of them, savory broths and sweet fruit juices for Stiles to drink without too much pain. Other than checking in on Stiles, though, the prince was silent in the long hours they were together.
Stiles being Stiles, he could only stand it for so long.
“Why are you doing this?” he exploded on the third night, when his skin was finally healed enough that the slightest movement didn’t rub it raw again. “I don’t—I don’t get you. You’re a Hale and I was Shadow Fox. You should want me to suffer, not, I don’t know, dote on me in my convalescence.”
“Why should I hate you?”
It took a few tries for Stiles to get his mouth working. “Because I’ve been trying to overthrow your family, like, my entire life? The people who killed your family blamed it on my mom? Allison Argent, your fiancée?”
Derek studied him for so long without his expression changing at all that Stiles was sure he wasn’t going to answer by the time he looked away. “Void didn’t kill my family,” he said at last, and Stiles traced his gaze to the desk, the drawings.
Then Derek turned back to him and added, “I’ve seen Chris Argent when he was grieving. I’ve also seen him when he was hiding the biggest secret of his life.”
His casual confidence in what he was suggesting caught Stiles so off-guard that he let his mouth drop open. Only for a second, but it was enough that he then had to cover it the only way he knew how: moving it more. “Argent has secrets? Feel free to share, because I know I don’t have a network anymore or anything, but I bet I could leverage it to something good, like—”
If Stiles had been easily shut up by a single use of his name, his dad probably would’ve had many fewer gray hairs. But he hadn’t expected the prince to remember his name—his real name, for all that it was a nickname—so hearing it in that soft, serious voice cut him off with startling effectiveness.
“You don’t have to tell me anything,” Derek said, looking so tired that Stiles had to smother a fresh wave of inconvenient feelings. “But I think I need to tell you some things.”
He stood, reaching out for Stiles’s bowl, which Stiles passed over even though there was still some soup in it—he’d finally graduated to small chunks of soft vegetables—and he hated to waste food. Whatever Derek had to say was much more important; he had a feeling he wasn’t going to have much of an appetite soon, if that was the lead-up.
After he put the dishes out in the hall and closed the door, Derek crossed over to the desk and brought one of the portraits back. Setting it on the bed near Stiles’s legs, where they could both see the striking penciled likeness, he rubbed his thumb tenderly along the blank edge.
“Laura,” he said. Which Stiles knew, of course, but he didn’t interrupt. “My sister, heir to the throne. She was... strong-willed. Opinionated, passionate, stubborn—” His voice broke roughly and he ducked his head, but pushed on, “Good. Just—good. She’d just turned eighteen and she...”
Pacing away suddenly, Derek heaved a deep breath that shuddered through his broad back. When he turned back to Stiles, he had covered everything else he must have been feeling with deep, consuming rage. “She was going to inherit on her twentieth birthday, she talked them into it. Mom would cede the crown to her, and she would change things.”
The look Derek gave him was so significant that Stiles knew, he was sure he knew, but he had to ask. “She was going to abolish slavery.”
“Within the first year,” confirmed Derek. “She had it all planned out. Mom told Victoria Argent—they were close friends, she wanted the Argents to have as much time to prepare as they could. Two days later, everyone but me and Peter was dead.”
Stiles’s mind was racing, processing as best he could that one of the most significant events in his life had been a lie. His mom had been heartbroken, trying to keep Void together when it was fracturing between people condemning the murders, people wanting to emulate them, and the complicated mess in between.
Derek seemed to be done talking, watching silently for his reaction, so he let his mouth keep pace with his thoughts without even trying to filter it. “The slaves who were executed?”
“Involved. They—they killed some of them, but Victoria planned the whole thing.”
“She was killed, did they turn on her? How do you know it was her, other than the timing which could—”
“Because she tried to kill me that night. And I killed her instead.”
With a whoosh of breath, Stiles fell back against the pillows set to prop him up. He’d been leaning so far forward that he bounced and he let the momentum start him forward, springing off the mattress to pace the small stretch of floor between his corner and where Derek stood.
Talking more to himself than Derek, he worked it out. “Chris knows. That’s what the whole—thing—was between you two. Allison doesn’t, she would’ve told me—yeah,” he added carelessly, flailing a hand in Derek’s direction and not bothering to look and see how he received it, “you were right, good job, whatever.”
When he took his hand back from waving, he brought it to his mouth and started gnawing on the thumbnail. He made three laps, feeling Derek’s eyes on him the whole way, then stopped and looked up. “Gerard?”
Derek shook his head.
“Not Peter,” Stiles mused. “Kate?”
Another head shake, but something complicated happened to Derek’s face—his mouth went hard but his eyes went soft, sad, and Stiles couldn’t handle that trauma with the kid gloves it probably deserved; everything was coming together.
“What?” he demanded. “That face, what, you have to tell me what that face is about.”
When Derek stayed closed off, Stiles closed the distance and grabbed him by the—exceedingly muscular, but it wasn’t the right time to follow that train of thought—biceps and shook him.
“Derek,” he said as gravely as he could in his semi-manic state. The prince didn’t flinch away from a slave manhandling him that way, or from Stiles using his name so familiarly the way he had when Stiles addressed him formally. “This is it. It’s all or nothing right now. There was a conspiracy to kill your family and I don’t think it’s done. If you want them to pay, if you believe in what your sister was going to do, if you fucking hate everything your uncle has done and think he shouldn’t be able to do it anymore—you need to tell me.”
“Kate was with me,” Derek said at last, not meeting his eyes. “We were—she was with me that night.”
Stiles said, “Oh, fuck.” And, “Oh shit, fuck, Derek—”
“No. She and Peter—”
“I know,” Derek interrupted more forcefully, looking pained. “After I renounced the throne, she—”
Even though he hated, really fucking hated, to add to that hurt, Stiles had to. “No,” he stressed. “Before that. For months, at least; she told Allison.”
Watching Derek break under that news was just as awful as Stiles had thought it would be. He gentled his grip, unsure how to offer comfort and wishing he didn’t feel so inadequate. What he knew how to do, and do well, was take action. “Tell Chris,” he suggested softly. “Let him tell Allison. This could change everything. Derek, you could be the most important thing to happen to the revolution.”
Shaking his head, his voice hoarse, Derek said, “No matter what anyone else does, that will always be you. But I will. I’ll call him over, will you—will you stay?”
Stiles smiled softly and let his hand slide down Derek’s arm—slowly, touch light, so Derek could stop him. But Derek didn’t, so before long Stiles was threading his fingers between Derek’s and squeezing them. “I’ll stay.”
Six months later, Derek and Stiles sat on the couch in their new apartment, watching Scott and Allison leave Peter’s sentencing. The cameras followed their car as it drove away, presumably to the temporary Minister’s quarters in the palace, and give very little time to Peter’s departure in chains. Stiles was glad. It wasn’t about Peter, or about Gerard and Kate whose trials had wrapped up weeks before. Not that it was about Stiles anymore, either.
Almost echoing his thoughts, Derek asked, “It doesn’t bother you? That they’ve taken over your revolution?”
Stiles laughed and let Derek kiss down his neck, linger on the scars there, as he put together his answer. Because he did mind, a little, in a way he knew was selfish and useless but gnawed at him anyway. It had been his. His mother’s. It was the last living connection he had to her, something he was good at—together they’d done better than anyone before them, and Allison and Scott couldn’t have succeeded without everything he’d laid in place for them.He even gave them Derek.
Instead of denying the undeniable, he answered a slightly different question. “They’re perfect for it. The reformed daughter of a powerful but cruel family trying to make amends for her terrible history who fell in love with the son of a freed woman who always tries to do the right thing.”
“I’m the reformed son of a powerful but cruel family trying to make amends for my terrible history,” Derek pushed, though Stiles wasn’t sure why. “Who fell in love with the son of a freed woman who always tries to do the right thing.”
All Stiles got from studying what he could see of Derek’s face was that he was troubled about something; but what part of it, he couldn’t read.
“You’re too close,” he said finally, carefully. “You were seen as Peter’s when he was king—you gave him the crown. Even though everyone knows why, it’s left you just a little bit less trustworthy. If you give up the throne only to reclaim it under a different title, people will always question your motives. And me...
“Scott and I do things very differently. I was Shadow Fox. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been absolved of more or less everything, people will never trust me. Scott’s—a puppy. He doesn’t have a deceitful or cunning bone in his body. That’s why he needs Allison.”
Nodding, Derek settled back and relaxed a fraction, though something was clearly still on his mind. His eyes flicked from the TV to Stiles to something on the wall behind Stiles—oh, he realized, of course. The photo taken of Derek in his crown in preparation for his coronation, on a double frame next to the picture of Talia’s. He was worried he was failing his family, failing Beacon again.
“We’re not abandoning them. Allison and Scott may be taking charge, but they don’t have to do it alone. We’ll be here for anything they need, anything the country needs. And let’s be honest,” he added, swinging around to straddle Derek’s lap. He didn’t continue for a few minutes, because Derek’s throat was right there and Stiles needed to pay back some of Derek’s attentions, scraping his teeth over the stubble and rubbing his cheeks on it between kisses.
At last, when Derek was moaning out shuddering breaths and rocking up into him, Stiles pulled back and took a few deep breaths, savoring the dazed and flushed look on Derek’s face. “Like I was saying. You know I’ll really be the one running things.”
Grinning, Derek ran his hands up Stiles’s sides and asked, “The power behind the throne?”
Stiles dipped his head to kiss some more, but Derek’s grip tightened around his ribs and he flipped them over to lay Stiles out along the couch. Sliding his hand down Stiles’s thigh, he urged Stiles’s leg up around his waist so he could roll himself suggestively against Stiles’s ass.
“So what does that make me?”
“Hmm.” Pretending to think it over, he pulled Derek further on top of him. “Why don’t you show me what you’ve got to offer and we can discuss your position in this new regime?”
The news played on, forgotten in the background, as Derek growled at the teasing. He had to be as desperate for it as Stiles was; with the logistics and the emotional toll of the court proceedings, they hadn’t been up for much by the end of the day in a while. But now all Stiles felt was relief that it was over, that they’d made it through.
Well, he also felt Derek’s dick. That was a very, very clear feeling. Stiles reached down, working his hand between them so he could grab Derek through his jeans. Groaning, Derek pushed into it so hard he ended up humping Stiles’s hand a few times.
“Oh fuck yes,” Stiles breathed. “You gonna give that to me?”
Nearly roaring with the effort, Derek swung his legs down off the couch and lifted Stiles along with him, Stiles’s legs wrapped around his waist. He carried Stiles to their room just like that and Stiles shamelessly rubbed himself against Derek’s stomach, partly because it felt good but mostly because it made Derek fucking crazy. Twice on the way to the bed so Derek could push Stiles against a wall and suck bruises into his neck.
In contrast, when they did get there, it took what felt like half a second for them both to be naked and Derek to have two fingers fucking into Stiles rough and quick. Neither of them could bear to wait any longer; Stiles needed Derek inside him.
“Derek, come on,” he urged, surging up to meet Derek, locking an arm around the back of his neck and biting at his lips. “Fuck me already, I can take it, you know I fucking can, just—”
Pulling his fingers free, Derek groaned, “Yeah, fuck, Stiles, yeah,” and lined up, pushed in—it ached, too much of a stretch too soon, but it was a good fucking ache.
“Ah, Derek.” It slipped out as a contented sigh, stretched on every time Derek rocked into him, followed his head back as it tipped back on the pillow so Derek could mark up his throat more. Derek was a little obsessed with the scars there, not yet over his need to cover them. Mostly, Stiles knew, it was guilt at how they had happened. But he suspected Derek also just liked seeing Stiles covered in his hickeys and had a lot of complicated feelings about ownership, given how he had for a time literally owned Stiles.
Stiles was less conflicted about it: he was Derek’s because he wanted to be, and Derek was his for the same reason. He wasn’t worried. All Derek needed was a few more months of persuasion that it was okay, and Stiles could be very persuasive.
“Missed this,” he murmured low near Derek’s ear. “Make me feel it. I want to think of you every time I turn my head for days. I like when you do it. I like being yours.”
And if Derek shuddered to orgasm just like that, Stiles was willing to let him blame it on the dry spell. Didn’t need to, in the end, because Derek’s apology used his hands and mouth instead of his words, and by the time he was done with Stiles, Stiles had no idea what he was supposed to be remembering other than the sweet ache of Derek all over. Didn’t know, didn’t care what was going on in the world outside.
The bruises around his neck throbbed with his pulse and lulled him to sleep, Derek already dozing with his head on Stiles’s chest.