Carefully placed were footholds, carved into the rock so that they were hidden to the naked eye. Stiles found each without hesitation, moving briskly up the mountainside as dusk approached. He picked up his pace, though his muscles ached from the climb. He needed to reach the palace before nightfall, or he’d be found out. As he reached the foundation, smoothed stone cut out from the rock of the mountain, he allowed himself a moment of reprieve to gather his strength. He rested his head against the cool stone, his fingers splayed out across it before he took a deep breath and continued upward, reaching up as far as he could until his long, slender fingers gripped the handhold, pulling himself higher and higher until rock turned into finely carved stone. The first window he passed was barred, the dungeons in the depths of the palace, where he climbed faster in order to get away from them.
As he climbed higher, past kitchens with simply-made glass with lead piping, his footholds became wider, easier to grip, carved into the side of the palace for this exact purpose generations before when it was first erected. Stiles passed by stained glass windows, arched perfectly, with flickering lights coming from lit fires within, warming the rooms. He could see his breath in the air, though his fingers were too numb to feel the bitter cold. The air was crisp as the sky grew darker with every passing minute.
Stiles pushed on, scaling upward expertly, a hand moving the same time as a leg, hoisting himself up. He reached a battlement, on one of the lower curtain walls that faced away from the drawbridge at the entrance to the palace. Stiles was a mere shadow to any who caught a glimpse of movement from below as he moved from crenellation to crenellation with unsettling ease. He jumped from the outer wall’s parapet up onto a turret wall, his fingers grabbing hold of small niches in the stonework so he could climb higher up the tower.
When he reached a window, cracked open enough that he could slip his fingers between the stained glass and the stonework, he opened it wide so that he could climb inside. He hoisted himself up noiselessly, throwing a leg over the ledge and into the darkened room. His feet hit the floor without a sound as he crouched, his palms on the rugged floor, eyes forward and alert. As Stiles stood, he pulled the window shut, then ran his fingers through his hair.
The sun had just set, casting the room in an eerie darkness as Stiles moved about, lighting an oil lamp on the desk in order to see. He turned, nearly dropping the lamp in shock when he saw that he wasn’t alone in the room. Sitting in the corner was a figure, their hands gripping the armrests of a chair tightly, their mouth set in thin line. As they move forward, into the light of the lamp, it cast shadows on the walls. They danced around the room as Stiles breathed, the lamp moving with each inhale. Stiles’ eyes were on the figure ahead, not on the tapestries that lined the walls, or the ornate filigree on the furniture.
“You’re late, Thief,” they said. Stiles hesitated before he answered, holding his tongue.
“There were difficulties,” he said, his voice strained, tone biting. “Your time restraints were hard to keep to--”
“Were you prosperous in your endeavor?”
“Yes,” Stiles hissed, his teeth clenched. The figure stood, stepping forward into the light. Stiles’ eyes narrowed as a smirk appeared on their lips.
“Your king will be pleased,” they said without a backward glance as they made for the door. Stiles stood, unmoving as the door closed behind him, leaving him alone once more. Stiles’ shoulders slumped as he let out a breath, setting the lamp on the desk before he dropped to his knees in exhaustion. His eyes closed as he let out a shuddering breath, hand patting against his tunic where the letter was stowed safely away.
Its king, McCallis, was young, unlike Argentus, who seemed immortal with his age as high as it was. The two countries were not at war, but they had hostilities dating back years that left a bad taste in the mouth of any ambassador visiting from either country.
McCallia’s palace was small compared to that of Argenti’s, though no less opulent in terms of architecture and detail. The royal quarters, for instance, were a set of rooms with antechambers and guard quarters with rich wood paneling, murals of the countryside lining the walls, with gold filigree egg and dart molding lining the coffered ceiling.
It was there, in one of the antechambers, that the king sat, eating his morning breakfast surrounded by attendants and guards, when he was interrupted by a page.
“Your majesty,” the page said, stepping forward, his head bent as he bowed, handing over a sealed letter. The king took it without preamble, saying nothing as he read over the words as fast as possible. It wasn’t unusual for the king to take breakfast alone, before court, but it was unusual for him to receive a letter so early in the day from within the palace proper.
“Send word,” the king said, tapping the letter idly against his armrest. “That I will meet him this evening.” The page bowed even further before leaving the king’s presence. Pushing away the rest of his food, Scott looked out the window. As the snow fell, he became lost in his thoughts, his attendants silent as they stood against the wall, waiting for instruction.
“Call upon the Minister of War,” Scott said, not assigning any one in particular to the task. “And bring me the secretary.” He stood, then, leaving his half-eaten breakfast to be cleaned up, heading towards his chambers. He needed to change.
They did not meet in his rooms but in the council chambers, the room echoing with footsteps as he and his guards were the last to arrive. The Minister of War sat at the giant table, carved intricately and shellacked, shining as the flames of the fire in the fireplace warmed the room.
“I’ve received word,” Scott told his minister as he approached. “I see him this evening.” The minister nodded gravely but said nothing as his eyes cast around the room. “I called you early,” Scott said, his voice hushed as he leaned forward. “To ask a favor.”
“Anything, My king,” the minister said.
“Check on him,” Scott implored. The minister’s eyebrow rose, though he nodded his head in acquiescence. “I would go myself--”
“You cannot, my king.” Scott sighed, his lips in a thin line. “I understand.” Within moments, they were joined by the other council members, barons and advisors that backed the king. The meeting took all morning, where thinly veiled threats made by the Argenti ambassador was masked by proper etiquette and subjugation. Scott couldn’t do anything but sit and watch as his barons listened to promises that wouldn’t be kept if a treaty under the current king of Argenti was made. Scott’s only solace in the ineptitude of his barons was that of Baron Hale, the sole surviving male heir to the Hale family estate and treasury. It was the Hales that Scott relied on most heavily, and the Hales whose loyalty meant the most to him of all his barons.
Derek Hale sat next to the Minister of War with a scowl on his face, his arms folded as wine was poured into his cup, the words of the Argenti ambassador passing through him like he knew they were snakes lying in wait when it came to McCallia. Starting a war with them would be suicide, though they so desperately wanted the territory. Derek chanced a glance at Scott, a minor eye roll towards him letting Scott know that Derek was not as easily swayed as some of his other barons were.
Scott smirked, but only for a moment, before his face fell back towards impassivity when his eye caught that of his own Secretary of the Archives, Adrian Harris. Scott schooled his expression, turning his attention back to the ambassador. A young king, Scott had barely cemented his position and needed to show strength to his country under not only the pressure that Argenti had on him, but also the other flanking country, Deucalius. They both had strong rulers, and even stronger councils. McCallia had been a peaceful country under Scott’s mother, gods be, he missed her with every waking moment. Every day since her death, Scott had wished that the throne had gone to another, but he was the sole living heir to her legacy. It was on him to keep his country safe from the grip of other greedy kings.
Before the midday meal was called, there was a break in the council. Scott, along with his entourage of attendants and guards, made for his rooms. It was difficult to find time to be alone, for he was never truly without a servant within a whispered earshot. Palace intrigue was a game that Scott had to play, politics of station keeping him at arm’s length of having any notion of a private conversation. He had his advisors, whom he trusted to an extent, but even they could be lying to him.
Scott was trapped in a gilded cage, with proverbial wolves at his door, seeking entrance to his country. He only wished to go back a few years when he was able to roam the castle as a child with his best friend, who was nothing but a shadow to him now, never seen in the light of day for fear of spies in the castle. There were eyes and ears everywhere, so no one spoke of the Thief openly.
In his private quarters, Scott found a letter, sealed, waiting for him on his writing desk, a small ruby laying atop it. Using a letter opener, Scott sliced through the seal, reading over the letter’s contents, ignoring pleas from his attendants that he was due in the great hall for the midday meal before the council meeting began again. Scott didn’t have time to respond to the letter, so he tossed it into the fire, watching it burn away. It wasn’t for anyone’s eyes but his own. He’d respond to it later, that night, when he had time.
The day drew out, as if the god of time knew how Scott wished it to be over. With the council meeting adjourned, that left Scott with time enough for an afternoon stroll around the winter garden to stretch his legs before he held court until the sun set behind the mountain. Dinner was always an affair, which Scott bathed and changed for, only wearing the finest of embroidered tunics and sashes, his crown atop his head. He danced with duchesses and baronesses, their fathers practically throwing their daughters at him in hopes that one of them would catch his eye.
It wasn’t until late that he was able to slip away, down the corridors lit by torches, led back to his rooms by his entourage. He walked through his quarters, through his small throne room and antechambers, until finally he was in his private bed chamber. It was seemingly empty as he entered it, his eyes not so much as glancing around the room to bring attention to it as he poured himself a glass of wine.
“Leave me,” Scott said, giving a look to his attendants.
“I’ll summon you when I plan to retire,” Scott said, his voice harsher. He wanted to be alone. He downed the wine, then poured himself more as the attendants filtered out of the room, finally leaving him in complete silence. Scott shut his eyes and sat down in an armchair by the fire, leaving the wine cup by the amphora.
“You know,” a voice said, bringing a smile to Scott’s face. “I think they don’t trust you to be alone.” Scott turned in his seat to find Stiles, his best friend and confidant, pouring a cup of wine for himself. He looked pale in the firelight, thin.
“You look like shit,” Scott said, standing to meet his friend. Stiles sipped his wine before he put it down, his arms wrapping around Scott in a warm embrace.
“My deepest apologies,” Stiles said, bowing ostentatiously. “I do not sleep well while away.” His voice was wry, his smirk broad as he took another sip of his wine.
“Tell me of it,” Scott said, offering Stiles a seat by the fire. Instead of sitting normally, Stiles draped himself over the chair, one leg over the armrest, his head over the other as he looked at Scott upside down, letting out a sigh.
“It’s bleak, my king,” Stiles said, regretfully. “Argentus, the barbarian, is to treaty with Deucalion.”
“You’ve proof of this?” Scott asked. Stiles nodded, though he made no other movement. “Well? Show me.” Stiles rolled onto his knees on the floor, covered in in ornate rugs, woven with gold. Stiles produced a letter, sealed by Argentus himself, to the Deucalius ambassador in Argenti. Scott took the letter, holding it in his hands, his eyes wide.
“I overheard the ambassador and Argentus’ Magus speaking,” Stiles said, still at Scott’s feet, his face glowing in the firelight. “They intend to marry his heir to Allison to seal the treaty.”
Scott said nothing as he held the letter in his hand. He’d open it in the morning, with the presence of his own Magus and Secretary of the Archives, his trusted advisors.
“Did you get my other letter?” Stiles asked, his head tilting to the side, vying for Scott’s attention.
“I did,” Scott whispered.
“She wishes you well,” Stiles promised, his voice softer than before. “She wishes you do not make haste--”
“We must if I’m to save her,” Scott said, his eyes catching Stiles’. “We have to save her from that fate.” Stiles nodded as he stood, bowing his head once, his chin tucked against his chest.
“My King,” Stiles said, excusing himself from Scott’s presence
“My Thief,” Scott said in return as he watched his best friend disappear into the shadows. He sighed as he stood up, walking over to the desk, locking the letter in a drawer that only he had the key to. “You may come back,” he said, his voice loud enough that his attendants would hear in the outer room they were no doubt hovering in. One of them looked around the room as if expecting Scott to have company. They wouldn’t find anyone. Stiles wouldn’t be seen with him, not with unknown enemies within their walls.
After an evening full of vapid conversation and evading the Argenti Ambassador, Baron Derek Hale made his way to his rooms. His family had a small set of rooms at the palace at their disposal, lavish in their decor with fine silks draped in the Deucalius fashion, from pegs on the walls, making the rooms feel tented, smaller than they actually were. It had been Derek’s sister, Laura, who had them decorated in such a fashion. Derek himself had no real eye for decor, and didn’t care what his rooms looked like as long as they were warm in the long McCallia winter.
Derek removed his rings, one at a time, dropping them into a velvet lined box, before taking off his fibula pin. He sighed to himself as he held the pin in his hand, as if weighing something in his mind.
“I see you found it,” Stiles said, appearing out of the darkness. Derek would have jumped, if he hadn’t known Stiles was there. He had, though, known. Derek said nothing as he dropped the pin into the box, loosening his the cuffs of his tunic as he turned to face Stiles.
“Yes,” Derek said, inclining his head as he leaned against the desk.
“Did she notice?” Stiles asked, his voice hushed as he stepped into the light that the oil lamp gave off. Derek’s mouth twitched as he tried to keep his face impassive. Stiles, though, looked down at the box of jewels, his fingers brushing over the rubies and garnets. Derek favored blue, but his family’s colors were reds.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Derek said as Stiles met his gaze, his eyes piercing through Derek as if exposing him.
“The pin,” Stiles said as he lifted it up. When he looked at Derek next, he had a smile on his face. “I stole it from her brother, and gave it to you.”
“Do you think this is a game?” Derek asked, his voice stilted as Stiles laughed to himself, putting the pin back into the box. Stiles had always left Derek trinkets, rings, fibula pins, jewels to give to his sisters that he’d stolen since they were children. “Do you think stealing from the Argenti wise?”
“Do you think I care?” Stiles asked, wide-eyed. As if catching himself, Stiles stepped away from Derek, his face cast towards the door. “I didn’t come to speak of fibula pins,” Stiles snarked, his narrowed eyes meeting Derek’s once more before he turned towards the dying fire.
Stiles put two logs into it, using a poker in order to bring the fire back to life.
“Then tell me, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Derek asked, stepping forward, the pull to Stiles too great to ignore.
“Do not give me such a condescending tone,” Stiles said as he sat by the fire, as if he were able to be so casual around Derek, like he belonged there within his chambers. Derek sat, instead, in a chair as he watched Stiles pull a leg up to his chest, putting his chin on his knee as he stared into the fire. “The Argenti aren’t to be trusted.”
“Do you think me so naive as to trust them?” Derek asked. Stiles’ laugh was more like a bark as his eyes glinted in the firelight.
“The ambassador dotes on you,” Stiles pointed out, like Derek didn’t know that himself.
“Jealous?” Derek found himself saying without thinking. Stiles didn’t look at him, didn’t utter a word as he poked at the fire. “I didn’t--”
“I spoke with the king,” Stiles said, standing. Derek stood as well, wanting to apologize for his jib. He wasn’t ready for him to leave just yet. “He’s to have a meeting in the morning with Deaton and Harris, be there, he’ll need you.”
“If I’m not invited, then I cannot--”
“He needs you,” Stiles hissed, pointing his finger against Derek’s chest. “I can’t be there, as his advisor, as Baron Hale, you need to be there for your king.”
“I have to go,” Stiles said, pushing himself away from Derek.
“Stiles, wait,” Derek said, rushing forward to grab hold of his arm. Stiles rounded on Derek, and within the blink of his eye, he was on his back with Stiles atop of him. “Wait,” Derek implored.
“What?” Stiles asked, his face so close to Derek’s he could barely count the moles that dotted his face.
“Don’t disappear again.”
Stiles laughed humorlessly as he got off of Derek.
“I do as my king asks of me,” Stiles said. “And if that means stay hidden, then that’s what I’ll do.” Stiles left Derek to his own thoughts. After he stood, Derek slammed his fist down onto the desk next to his velvet lined box, shutting it with haste.
“Damn him,” Derek muttered to himself.
As Thief of McCallia, Stiles swore an oath of loyalty to the country, not the sovereign. It was a royal title, given to only one person at a time, and passed down from generation to generation. Stiles’ mother had been Thief before him, and her father before her. He hadn’t come into the title until shortly before Scott became king himself, the two of them growing up together in the palace. Even Derek, a baron’s oldest son, had grown up beside them.
When Stiles was younger, he’d been prince Scott’s whipping boy. It was a superficial title, one that was never truly acted on, but was his title all the same. Anyone who knew of the prince, knew of Stiles. If Scott had been an uncontrollable child, petty and snide, then Stiles would have had an altogether different childhood. Being the Thief’s son, though, Stiles had been the mischievous one, and not the prince. If Stiles had gotten into trouble, it had been his own doing, and not Scott’s.
Together, Scott, Stiles, and Derek had taken lessons together, gone horseback riding, and even learned to fight together, sparring with one another as they were taught by the captain of the guard, or one of his lieutenants. Gone were the days that Stiles was able to spar with anyone, let alone the king of McCallia or one of its wealthiest landowners.
Life as the Thief was that of isolation and loneliness, as no one trusted a thief. Sure, Stiles could be seen at lavish dinners, could dance with courtiers and be watched like a hawk. He could steal jewels right beneath their noses with a smile on his face if he wanted to, but that wasn’t what his king asked of him.
Out of sight, out of mind, they’d decided. If Stiles wasn’t seen at court, no one would think about him. No one talked about the Thief. He was a taboo, someone who lived in the shadow of the king but was not ruled by him. The Thieves of McCallia were powerful, not because the king gave them power, but because of what power they could bring their king.
So Stiles sat, alone, in his room, hidden away until his king needed him. He’d just returned from Argenti, where he had been sent on a mission to spy, to bring proof of a Deucalius and Argenti alliance so that McCallia could go to war.
Stiles slept the days away, as thieves do, since night was their time to roam freely. Just because no one saw him at the dinners, didn’t mean he hadn’t been there. The Great Hall’s’ rafters were tall, gothic arches that were perfect for Stiles to hide away, lying atop the stonework as he looked down at the party. He watched Scott move from baroness to baroness, dancing with each of them with a smile on his face. He watched Harris, the snake, speaking with Scott’s barons. He watched his father drink wine throughout the night, Deaton speaking with him in hushed tones as they watched the crowd. Most of all, Stiles watched Derek and the Argenti Ambassador dance around each other across the hall. Derek kept to the walls, as he always had, never the conversationalist, while she watched from across the room, countering his every movement.
It was like a game of chess, Stiles supposed, as Derek tried in vain to avoid her clutches. Derek rarely won out by retreating to his rooms for the evening before she trapped him in a conversation or a dance. Stiles’ eyes narrowed as he watched Derek take her hand in his, his other hand resting on her waist as the music shifted.
Stiles slid down the rafter, walking empty halls back to his own rooms, hidden deep within the palace, his footfalls silent because of the soft soles of his leather boots. Stiles knew every nook and cranny of the palace, every passageway, every shortcut. His room was hidden behind a bookcase in the rarely used library, in the northernmost tower of the palace. He hadn’t always lived in the room, the previous occupant being his grandfather when Stiles was a child. His mother, of course, had stayed with his father in his rooms off of the guard barracks, not in the palace proper.
There was a tapestry in the library that hid a passageway, all of which was dark, without torches to guide the way, that zigzagged around private apartments within the palace, a shortcut from the great hall, that Stiles appeared from behind.
The library was quiet during the day, with very few visitors using it. At night, it was like a catacomb, every noise could be heard as if shouted from the roof top. As Stiles neared his bookcase enclosed door, he heard footsteps approaching. He veered off to the right, doubling back through the stacks of scrolls and leather bound books in order to flank his night visitor.
Stiles cleared his throat when he caught up to one of Scott’s attendants, who was about to pull on the book that opened Stiles’ bookcase. They jumped, covering their mouth in order to hold back a scream. Stiles almost smirked, but his face remain impassive. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with antics, not after watching Derek dance with the Princess and Ambassador of Argenti, Kate. His stomach was in knots thinking about it.
“What is it?” Stiles asked when the attendant wasn’t quick to speak.
“The king wishes to speak with you.”
“Tell him I’ll be there at the strike of twelve,” Stiles said, thinking he was done, but the servant remained. “What?”
“His majesty wishes to speak with you now,” the attendant insisted. “If you’ll follow me.”
Stiles longed for the solitude of his bed, to sit by the fire, but if his king called upon him, he would go. It was little more than a month since Stiles had returned from Argenti with news of the possible treaty and the letter. He wasn’t expecting to be summoned by Scott until there was a move by Argentus or Deucalion.
Instead of going to Scott’s private quarters, Stiles followed the attendant, whose name he couldn’t ever remember, towards the council chambers. Considering Stiles had left them not even an hour prior in the great hall, Stiles was confused as to why they were meeting so late at night.
When he entered the room, he saw why. Harris, Deaton, and his father sat at the table, falling silent as Stiles walked up to them. Stiles remained standing until Scott walked in moments later, followed by Derek. Stiles caught Derek’s eye before he sat down across from Stiles’ father.
“Sit,” Scott indicated. Stiles decided on a chair that was against the wall, away from the council table. Scott didn’t say anything about his choice, though his father’s brow furrowed.
“We have news from our spies in Argenti,” Harris said, directing the meeting. Stiles’ eyes narrowed, though he said nothing as Harris explained how the Grand Duchess Allison was to be married to Deucalion’s heir, Ennis. Allied, the two countries would be strong enough to overtake the mountain pass, since McCallia wouldn’t be able to defend both sides of the mountain at once with their limited resources. Harris looked at Stiles as he spoke.
“The letter the Thief provided was not proof enough that they plan on attacking us. We need that proof to show the remaining barons of the threat, otherwise there won’t be enough money to make the canon and pay for the troops necessary.”
Stiles’ jaw clenched as he looked away from the table. It was too soon to return to Argenti. He would be at risk of being exposed, having just been there for an extended period of time.
“Minister,” Scott said, looking to Stiles’ father, the Minister of War. “What do you think?” Stiles looked to his father, knowing that he had a choice to make: his son or his country. Stiles knew what he would pick.
“We send Stiles to Argenti, in hopes that he will return swiftly with the proof we need to quell the barons.” He looked to Stiles, who looked safely at Derek, which was a mistake, for Derek had been looking at him while Scott looked at his minister.
“With winter upon us, the journey will be more perilous,” Deaton, the Magus, pointed out. “He will be slower.”
“He is in the room,” Stiles said petulantly. Everyone looked to him as he stood, while he looked strictly at Scott. “I will go, my king,” Stiles said. “But you have to realize the risks.”
“Tell me,” Scott said. Stiles began to gnaw on his bottom lip, but stopped himself. “The Magus is right, I’ll be slower to return home. The pass will be difficult to navigate, as will getting across the border.
“Do you want escort?” His father asked. Stiles gave a derisive laugh.
“I don’t want attention called to myself,” Stiles said, looking around the room. “Another thing,” Stiles said, his gaze falling on Derek. “They knew I was there, last time.”
“What?” Scott said, sliding forward in his chair. His father, too, looked aghast. “Why didn’t you say--”
“Because,” Stiles said, standing up straighter. “I know what I’m doing. I can get out of anything,” he said as he put his hands down on the table. “I can steal anything, and I will steal anything for you. I will go to Argenti, and I will bring back undeniable proof.”
“That settles it, then,” Harris said, succinctly. “You leave in the morning.”
“I leave tonight,” Stiles said with finality. Without another word, he walked out of the council chamber, not giving anyone another chance to put a word in edgewise. Instead of taking the route the attendant had taken, Stiles took a passageway. Once hidden, he leaned his head back against the wall, letting the darkness engulf him. He covered his eyes with his hands, which were shaking.
He’d almost died in Argenti to get Scott that letter, and Harris had said it was useless. He’d needed to try harder, get closer than he had before. He couldn’t fail, not with the fate of his country on the line. He wouldn’t fail.
By the time he got to his rooms to pack, it was dog watch, late into the night where nightmares came alive. Stiles put on his heaviest tunic and cloak for the journey. He made his way to the kitchens, where a servant had a bundle ready for him. He traveled light, with only the tools of his trade and a dagger tucked safely away in his boot.
Derek watched as Stiles fled from the council chambers. He stood to follow him, but with one look from the Secretary of the Archives Derek remained seated at the table.
They stayed, discussing how to continue with pretenses when it came to the visiting princess and Argenti ambassador.
“You must bend to her will, Derek,” Harris said. “Woo her, make her believe her affections are reciprocated.” Derek’s jaw clenched. He didn’t want to give her any false pretenses, not when he felt for another, though he couldn’t act on those feelings.
“Continue dancing with her, keep the Argenti happy,” Deaton said. Derek deferred to Scott, who could do nothing but nod his head. Derek sighed, standing up in order to dismiss himself.
“By the will of the king,” Derek said, bowing before he left. Even if he ran, he knew he wouldn’t catch up with Stiles in his own rooms. The only thing he could do was make his way towards his apartments and wish for Stiles’ safe return.
Kate Argent was a thorn in Derek’s side. Everywhere he turned, she was there. He couldn’t go an evening without her cornering him, asking for a private audience with him. So far, he’d been able to evade such an audience, but he was running out of excuses.
When he got to his room, a fire was lit, blazing in the fireplace, and Stiles was seated in his armchair. He didn’t move when Derek stepped beside him, one single bag by his feet, smelling of fresh bread. Derek’s heart clenched, as did his fist.
“You could leave in the morning,” Derek suggested, his voice devoid of the emotion he wish he could convey. Stiles’ lips tugged, but he didn’t move otherwise. “You could sleep--”
“I’ll be down the mountain before the sun rises,” Stiles assured Derek. “No one will know I’m gone.”
“Just as no one knows you’re here,” Derek spat, his vehemence not towards Stiles, but towards his isolation. Stiles smiled at him, then, though the smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“Don’t wait up for me,” Stiles said in a wry tone. “I know what I’m doing.”
“I know you do,” Derek said as Stiles stood. He held his tongue as Stiles stepped forward, his eyes falling to Derek’s fibula pin. He reached out, touching it as he looked into Derek’s eyes.
“Keep him safe,” Stiles said, his voice catching in his throat. “He doesn’t have anyone but you and me.”
“He has your father,” Derek said. Stiles shook his head once.
“He has many advisors,” Stiles whispered, his gaze falling to Derek’s lips, then to his eyes again. “But friends? I would do anything for my king,” Stiles murmured. “But I’d die for my friend.”
“As would I,” Derek said. Stiles gave him a small smile, one corner of his mouth lifting as he turned away from Derek. “I’d do the same for you.” Stiles turned, then, looking at Derek with wide eyes.
“No,” Stiles said. “Not for me, not for the Thief.”
“Not the Thief,” Derek said. “For you.”
Stiles didn’t think of Derek until he was in Argenti. He was half starved, the last time he’d stopped for food had been the day before, outside the palace walls. Even then, it hadn’t been enough. He’d barely slept since he left McCallia two weeks prior, the journey taking longer than normal due to the weather. Even then, as Stiles crawled through the intricate mazes that made up the palace’s chimney system, he felt the exhaustion in his bones.
In Argenti, though it was winter, the weather was mild. Argenti was a coastal country, where snow never fell and the fireplaces lay dormant for much of the year. Stiles had disposed of his heavy winter cloak and tunic for that of a palace serving boy. He was in the chimney of the Deucalius ambassador, listening in on his conversations, hoping for him to leave for court in short order so that Stiles could look through his things.
Stiles waited and waited. Hunched over in the chimney, his back pressed up against one side while his feet were against the other, his thighs straining. He slid down the chimney, catching himself. He’d fallen asleep. Stiles heard a door shut, silence filling the ambassador’s chambers. Stiles listened in, checking to make sure that he wasn’t mistaken.
After ten minutes with no movement, he decided the coast was clear. Carefully, Stiles climbed down the chimney. He was filthy, his server disguise ruined as he searched the room as quickly as possible. On the table there were bread and olives. Stiles ate some, making sure to leave at least half in case the ambassador would notice. His stomach grumbled as he stowed away an open letter from Deucalion himself, which had lain open on the desktop. He slipped a sapphire ring in his pocket, for Derek, that he found. Before he could be found out, Stiles climbed back into the chimney. Reading the letter before he scaled up into the darkness. It was enough, with plans to bring McCallia to the ground, divide the land, and even bring the barons to the side of the two countries. Stiles’ blood boiled as the letter talked of Scott’s ineptitude as king, his naivety.
Stiles decided it was more than enough evidence to bring Scott’s barons together to rally for their king, to unite instead of squabble over petty differences. Stiles had one thing left to do, and then he’d leave the palace and make his way back to McCallia. He knew the chimney passageways well, having memorized them from an early age. Stiles’ mother brought him to Argenti when he was young, making him learn from doing, not from staring at maps in the library.
Stiles turned towards Allison’s chambers, he had a gift for her from Scott, but stopped dead in his tracks when he smelled it: smoke. They’d lit a fire in one of the fireplaces. Stiles held his hand over his mouth as his eyes stung. He coughed without a sound, his eyes watering as he went back the way he came. He had to get out of the chimney. Stiles headed up, but turned when he could. If they were trying to smoke him out, then they would be looking for him at the grates on the roof. He needed to find a cold chimney to climb down. There was a fire below the second shaft he found. They were slowly lighting each of the fireplaces.
Trying not to panic, Stiles tugged at his tunic, covering his mouth and nose in hopes of filtering the smoke, his eyes shut tight. Again, he was trapped, then again. Stiles crawled with haste, farther and farther down the line, skipping five exits in hopes that he’d beat them. Each apartment had a fireplace in it, and some had guests. Surely someone would object.
Stiles practically fell down into the first cold fireplace he found, rolling gracefully onto the stone floor and crouching. The room was empty, with a window. Hastily, Stiles made his way to the window, pushing it open. Stiles’ eyes were still watering and his lungs desperately wanted nothing more than to cough and let him breathe deeply but he couldn’t, wouldn’t make a noise. Stiles twisted his body, climbing out onto the ledge where he grasped the uneven stonework that made up the outside of the Argenti palace. As soon as he was out, he allowed himself to breathe fully, though he knew guards would be searching for him. He managed to climb upward, where he jumped from rooftop to rooftop as fast as he could, towards the outlying village. An arrow shot past him as he took a long jump, landing with a roll an impossible distance away from the palace.
He didn’t allow himself time to think as he ran, finally landing on the ground, weaving in and out of the marketplace. The sun was setting as he slowed down, mixing in with the villagers. He coughed into the crook of his elbow as he kept walking. Using what little silver he had left with him, he bought the clothes off of a man’s back, giving him the servant’s clothes he’d stolen. He didn’t stop as he left town before the gates closed.
Once in the woods, he broke out into a run as the sun set. He knew he wasn’t safe when he heard the sound of dogs: they’d released hounds to search for him. Stiles thought he could outrun them, if he could get to the aqueducts, grated, but Stiles knew which was broken, by him, in order to travel safely towards McCallia.
With no moon in the sky, Stiles relied on his memory. He didn’t have time to think, only to keep moving. So when he hit something hard, it sent him sprawling backwards, letting out a single yelp of surprise when he found himself on his back, clutching at his nose. He felt blood, hot and sticky in his hands as the dogs howled nearby. Dazed, Stiles tried to stand, but found himself too disoriented. Stiles managed to curl up into a ball as someone grabbed hold of him, shaking him.
“We’ve got you now, Thief.”
Stiles blanched, panicked as he looked around, wondering what he’d run into. There, nailed between two trees, was a board. He’d closelined himself on a wooden plank. They knew where he’d be, where he’d run. They knew.
Stiles woke up in pain. He was cold, that much he knew, and that wherever he was it was wet and smelled of rot. Moving his head had been a mistake as a wave of nausea took over. Stiles retched all over the floor, emptying his stomach of its contents. He curled up with his back against the wall, his eyes shut tight in hopes that the spinning would stop. His leg hurt, along with his arm, and he could barely breathe. Stiles slept until he was drug from the cell, the light of the torches hurting his eyes.
He was forced into a chair, his entire body shaking as he was strapped down. Before him stood Chris Argent, father of Allison, and the Prince of Argenti, his father’s heir. He held Deucalion’s letter in front of Stiles.
“Do you know what this is?” Chris asked him. Stiles spit in his face. Chris laughed at him as he slapped him, making him spit out blood. Stiles’ fists clenched as much as they could despite their restraints. “Do you think we will giveyou back to McCallis?”
“No,” Stiles muttered, his lip quivering despite how much he tried to make it stop.
“Do you think my father will show you mercy before he kills you?”
“No,” Stiles uttered, tugging against the straps.
“No, I will not,” Argentus said as he appeared from behind Chris. Beside him was the Deucalius Ambassador, Kali, whose smile made Stiles blanch. He was going to die, that much he knew. There was no hope of survival. Stiles recoiled as Argentus put a hand on his head, his fingers gripping Stiles’ hair tight, tugging it so that he looked up at him.
“You have trespassed for the last time, Thief. You have stolen from me for the last time.” He was angry, his veins bulging as he spat in Stiles’ face. “Hang him.”
“Your majesty, that is unwise,” Kali said with a smirk as she stepped forward, her long nails scraping across Stiles’ exposed neck. Stiles breathed heavily, his nostrils flaring. “May I suggest giving him to me first?”
“Of course,” Argentus said, as if giving Kali a gift. She bowed, kissing his hand before turning her attention back to Stiles. “No doubt the McCallia ambassador will have something to say about this.”
“He says he had no official word from the king,” Chris said as he stepped forward. Stiles closed his eyes, gritting his teeth. The ambassador was a traitor, then, because Stiles knew that Scott would have sent a messenger.
“Send word to McCallis that we have his Thief,” Argentus said. “Let’s see what he does, then.”
Argentus left, along with Chris, leaving Stiles alone with Kali and a few guards. She bent over, cupping his face with her hands, her face set in a pout.
“I want you to tell me all about your king,” she said sweetly. Stiles bit his tongue, saying nothing as he turned his cheek away from her, his eyes falling on the various devices that filled the room which already stank of blood and bile. He was going to die, but it wouldn’t be quickly.
Derek stood at court, watching as Kate Argent made her way to the dais that the throne sat on, her hair done up in delicate braids, her dress woven intricately with gold and embroidered with fine jewels. Scott sat on his throne, his face blank of the emotion that Derek knew he must feel at receiving word that Stiles was captured. Derek looked to Scott’s two advisors, Harris and Deaton, who stood behind the throne in case they needed to dole out advice during court.
The room was silent as Kate stepped forward.
“There will be no ransom for the Thief,” Kate said, her voice carrying through the room. Derek shut his eyes, his head bowing as he tried not to think of Stiles in the clutches of the notoriously brutal king. “He’ll hang.”
“You mean, he’ll hang after you’ve tortured him?” Scott asked, tight lipped. Derek glared at Kate as she lifted her head high. “I ask that his death be fast.”
“My king has denied as much,” Kate said with a shrug.
“You ask for war,” Scott said, his voice surprisingly even toned.
“Your Thief trespassed, stole from my king--”
“I ask him to be returned to me,” Scott said with a sneer. “Or I will stop the flow of the river Beacon.” The massive river that flowed down the mountainside was a major source of fresh water for Argenti, and without it, the crops would surely die. “The river will be restored once he is returned.”
Kate did nothing but bow, leaving the court to send word to Argentus of McCallis’ bargain. Derek didn’t have hope for Stiles, but he knew without the Beacon, Argenti would crumble. It was a sound move by Scott by damming it, though they couldn’t for very long or McCallia would be flooded.
Waiting for a reply from Argenti, for Stiles’ fate, was pure agony. Derek couldn’t see Scott, not privately, though he wished he could seek audience with the king. No one knew how close the three of them still were, and it ate at Derek knowing that he couldn’t comfort Scott, who was surely grieving as much as he was over Stiles.
After a minor council meeting, Derek was asked to remain behind after the other barons left. He, Stiles’ father, Scott, Harris, and Deaton stood around a map of Argenti, their heads hung low.
“It’s my fault,” Scott said, looking to his Minister of War.
“No, your majesty,” Stilinski said. “It’s mine. He told us the risks, said how dangerous it would be, but we sent him anyway.”
“He’d do anything for me and I sent him to his death,” Scott said, looking to Derek. Derek held his breath, his hands behind his back. He hadn’t wanted Stiles to go, he never did, but Stiles would have gone without their permission if he knew there was a chance to give Scott the proof he needed. The McCallia barons were at each others throats and needed to be united; it had been a good plan.
“He would have gone anyway,” Derek said, looking at no one. Instead he dropped his gaze to the map. “Now, we just have to wait for the decision to come. He’ll either be returned alive or dead.”
Derek wanted to believe that he’d get to see Stiles alive, but he wasn’t holding out for it. He didn’t sleep while he waited for word from Argenti.
Stiles didn’t know how long he’d been locked away in the dank, dark cell. He found that if he didn’t move, he’d be alright. He couldn’t walk, thanks to the bindings around his ankles, so he was dragged out of the cell. He didn’t even try as his head hung low, his body limp as they ascended staircase after staircase, guards carrying him into the throne room. Stiles laughed as they sat him down, his head hitting the back of the chair. He couldn’t see out of one eye, and the room was too bright after being trapped in the darkness for so long. His lips were parched, though he knew he wouldn’t be getting any water.
His arms were strapped down, with a crowd watching as he tugged at them weakly. When Argentus came into view, Stiles wanted to retch.
“McCallis tells me I’m not allowed to hang you,” Argentus’ voice boomed. “I’m not to have you flayed, drawn and quartered, or impaled.” Stiles grew weaker with every suggestion, blanching as the blood rushed from his face. Argentus turned to Stiles, his rage evident. “He wants you returned to him, or the Beacon will not flow again.” Stiles wanted to give props to Scott for that one, which had probably been Deaton’s idea, but he was sure that if he opened his mouth, he’d throw up. “He told me to act within reason, a punishment to fit the crime.” Stiles looked down at his hands, tears welling up in his eyes.
“Please,” he murmured. “Please don’t.”
“Tell me, Thief,” Argentus spoke into Stiles’ ear. “Have you not stolen from me?”
“Yes,” Stiles squirmed, panting as panic overtook him.
“Do you not think this punishment acceptable for your king?” Tears rolled down Stiles’ cheeks as he nodded his head.
“Let me-- let me serve you,” Stiles said, though he his heart ached. He didn’t want any of it. He wanted to die. Argentus laughed as he yanked on Stiles’ hair, pulling his head back.
“What makes you think I’d want you?”
“I can steal anything,” Stiles mumbled between choked sobs.
“What could I possibly want that you could steal?” Argentus asked. Stiles shook his head, his eyes closing. “Tell me, Thief,” Argentus said as a man stepped up onto the dais with a sword in his hand. Stiles saw it, and he struggled against his restraints. “What will you be able to steal with only one hand?”
“Nothing,” Stiles said. The swordsman swung his sword as gasps filled the court. Stiles didn’t make a noise as it made contact, for thieves knew how to hold their tongues.
A package arrived from Argenti during court, timed perfectly. Derek had taken to standing in the front, in case word came from the low lying country. It had been expected for days, for word to arrive about Stiles. There hadn’t been anything before the package. Kate was within Derek’s line of sight, her face smug as Harris opened the package for Scott. Derek leaned forward, craning his neck to see as Scott covered his mouth with his hand, his eyes closing. Harris read the letter aloud to the court.
“I’ve spared your thief’s life. He’ll be returned to you once the water of the river Beacon flows once more.”
Without thinking, Derek ascended the stairs of the dais to find a hand, severed, in the box. Stiles’ hand. Derek fell to his knees, pressing his head against the stone. Stiles was alive, he wasn’t hanged, wasn’t impaled. He was alive, and that was all that mattered. Stiles’ father helped Derek to his feet as Derek recalled that they were at court. He’d appeared by Derek’s side, putting him back in line at the front of court, then joined Scott up on the dais.
Scott turned to Stilinski, his voice carrying through the hall.
“Let the water flow, and hope that the Thief is returned to us.”
As court adjourned, Derek found himself rushing to Scott’s chambers alongside Deaton and Stilinski. He’d passed Kate in the halls, ignoring her for fear of seeking retribution for Stiles by punching her. That would most certainly start a war.
They waited in an antechamber for Scott to arrive with his entourage. Once he did, Scott shut the door on them all, kicking them out of the small room so that he could have a word alone. With his back against the door, Scott broke down, sliding to the floor. Stilinski came forward, helping Scott to his feet, embracing his king. Derek, too, hugged Scott.
“He’s alive,” Stilinski said, his voice delicate. “He didn’t kill Stiles.”
“His hand,” was all that Scott could say. “He took his hand.”
“What’s worse?” Derek asked. “To lose a hand, or to lose him entirely?” It wasn’t for him to say, but Stiles. They’d know the answer once he was returned to them.
If waiting for word on Stiles’ execution had been unbearable, waiting for his return was worse. Derek skipped court, as he didn’t wish to be in the same room with Kate or any Argenti. His sisters came, for comfort, from their home deep within the mountainside, so that Derek wouldn’t be alone. Their apartments were big enough that it wasn’t crowded, but their nagging grated on him as he grieved.
A caravan from Argenti arrived at midday in the courtyard. Derek was there, had been walking with his sisters in the winter garden when word had spread of the approaching palanquin. Argenti slaves had carried it, along with a guard, all the way from Argenti, making the journey long and drawn out. Though the palanquin was covered, it didn’t give privacy. Argenti had paraded Stiles through the countryside for all to see as he returned him to McCallia.
Once the palanquin was on the ground, Deaton rushed forward, putting his hand to Stiles’ forehead.
“He’s alive, but barely,” Deaton said, looking to Scott. “They cauterized the wound, but--”
“Get him inside,” Scott said, looking around at the growing crowd. “See to it that he lives.”
“Yes, my King,” Deaton said. Derek wanted to follow Deaton, but a look from Scott kept him frozen in place. Scott was livid. Stiles had been pale, rail thin, and smelled of dungeon.
“I want Kate Argent to be confined to her rooms,” Scott said before he ascended the stairs. “She isn’t to send any messages to her king.”
Derek could do nothing but wait to see Stiles.
Derek was summoned in the middle of the night by one of Deaton’s assistants. Without dressing, Derek slipped on his night robe and a pair of slippers. He had on his winter wool to keep the chill at bay as he hurriedly followed the assistant down the darkened halls with only an oil lamp to light the way. When they entered the library, Derek rushed past him, knowing exactly where he was being taken. He could hear Stiles’ scream before they even rounded the corner, high pitched, sounding like someone was cutting off his--
Derek froze in the doorway as he watched Stiles thrash across the bed, screaming at the top of his lungs as four people tried to hold him down as Deaton attempted to administer medicine.
“Derek,” Deaton said firmly. “Come hold his face while I give him lithium.” Derek came forward, cupping Stiles’ gaunt face in his hands, trying to be reassuring. “He doesn’t believe that we’re McCallian, thinks he’s in Argenti,” Deaton said in hushed tones as Stiles fought against them. Deaton had a stopper that he tried to get into Stiles’ mouth, but even in his weakened state, Stiles put up a fight.
“Stiles,” Derek said. “Stiles, it’s Derek. You’re home.” Stiles opened his eyes, his pupils pin pricks, panicstricken. “Stiles, take the medicine.” Tears welled up in Stiles’ eyes as he turned away from Derek, screaming.
“Please don’t hurt me anymore,” Stiles choked out, his voice almost gone from shouting. “Please, I’ll give you what you want.”
Derek’s heart wrenched as he forced Stiles’ head to turn. He pinched Stiles’ nose as he squirmed beneath Derek, his mouth opening for air, giving Deaton what he needed. Stiles coughed as Derek coerced Stiles’ mouth shut until he was positive the lithium was swallowed. Stiles curled in on himself, then, sobbing as he clutched his arm against his chest. It wasn’t until then that Derek noticed the bandages, carefully wrapped around his arm. Derek ran his fingers through Stiles’ hair as he sat on the edge of the bed, listening to Stiles sob until he fell asleep.
Deaton stood nearby, cleaning up his medical supplies. When Stiles’ breathing evened out, Derek sighed, putting his head in his hands.
“He’ll sleep, now.”
“Why didn’t you call for me sooner?” Derek asked, his voice wrecked as he looked over Stiles’ sleeping form. “He-- he--”
“He’s here, now, and we’re taking care of him,” Deaton said with a sigh. “He’s not going to die.” Derek rounded on Deaton, pointing at Stiles’ frail body.
“He shouldn’t be there, he shouldn’t have almost died. We made the mistake--”
“What’s done is done, Derek,” Deaton said with finality. “We have to move forward and help him heal.” Derek sat back down, looking over Stiles’ body. “He has an infection in his eye from the dungeon, he could lose his sight if we don’t treat it--”
“So then treat it,” Derek snarled, his hand on Stiles’ face. It was bruised, with dark circles under his eyes as if blood had pooled in the pockets beneath his eyes. There was a gash on his forehead, and across his lips. Beside the bed was a bowl of water with herbs in it. Derek wrung out a cloth, dabbing it across his face.
“I have a specialist coming up from the village in the morning.”
“Send for them now,” Derek said, giving Deaton a look. “I’ll pay for it if need be.”
“There is no need of that,” Deaton assured him. “Stiles is getting the best care in McCallia.” Derek wanted to bite Deaton’s head off that he had needed Derek’s help, but he didn’t. He wouldn’t leave Stiles’ side.
“You need rest,” Deaton said as he pulled down Stiles’ covers.
“I’m not leaving him.”
“Very well, then,” Deaton said with a sigh. Derek watched as Deaton moved to clean the wounds on Stiles’ legs, dog bites that had become infected. Derek looked away, his hand resting on Stiles’ hair. When the wounds were redressed, Deaton pulled the covers back up. “When he wakes, we’ll need to feed him.” Derek nodded his head, not looking away from Stiles. “You know, Derek, all of us were affected by Stiles’ capture. Not only you.”
“I know,” Derek said. “His father, Scott-- the King.”
“I was, too. I was his tutor, you know.”
“I know,” Derek said again, his eyes closing.
“The court may not know of your feelings, but we do--”
“Don’t,” Derek said, looking up at Deaton. “Don’t.”
“Very well,” Deaton said, giving Stiles one last look before he walked out of the room. When Deaton was gone, Derek added wood to the fire, then pulled Stiles’ heavy cushioned high back chair closer to the bed so he, too, could get some rest.
At first, Stiles thought he was in Argenti. His mind was hazy, his eyesight poor as he opened his eyes to find himself trapped in a sea of heavy blankets. He moved his head, expecting pain, but there was none, not there at least. Stiles opened his mouth, discovering chapped lips and a thirst so profound he let out a moan. Within seconds, there was movement, and then a cup was put up to his lips. He couldn’t see out of his left eye, and it blocked his vision enough that he couldn’t see who had come to his aid.
He thought it a joke, being cared for by an Argenti. Stiles slept again, afterward. He had nightmares that woke him every few hours, and as hands held him down, it made him scream all the more. He was alive, but he wished he weren’t. He sobbed for mercy, for his captors to go ahead and end his misery. That end never came, though, as his fever lessened. Stiles awoke from his drug-addled fog to find himself in his rooms back in McCallia and Derek asleep beside him in a chair. It was dark out, with the fire burning brightly in the fireplace, shadows dancing across the walls. Stiles tried sitting up, pushing up with his right hand, but fell back against the bed in pain as he clutched it against his chest.
His hand was gone. Stiles didn’t make to sit up again. Instead, he turned away from Derek, although asleep, in order to hide his tears. He was a thief no more, he was no one. Eventually, Deaton appeared in the doorway. With his assistants in tow, he walked around the bed, finding Stiles awake for the first time since his return.
“Welcome back, Stiles,” Deaton said with a smile. Stiles glared at him. “Do you know where you are?”
“My rooms,” Stiles uttered. “In McCallia.” Stiles watched Derek stir, his eyes widening at the sound of Stiles’ voice.
“Good, good,” Deaton said as he put his hand on Stiles’ forehead. “It seems as though the fever has finally dropped. We were worried--”
Stiles laughed humorlessly, scoffing at the thought, swatting Deaton’s hand away from him, then dropping his right arm, his mood sinking quickly. Derek leaned forward, carding his fingers through Stiles’ hair.
“We were worried,” Derek assured him. “But you’ll be okay.” Stiles couldn’t look Derek in the eye, so instead he looked to Deaton, who pulled out bandages and a poultice. When Deaton unwrapped Stiles’ bandaged arm, he emptied his stomach into a pail, unable to handle the sight. Stiles didn’t fail to notice that it had been Derek that held the pail for him, offering him whispered words of encouragement. Afterward, Stiles slept.
Stiles rarely left his rooms. He was explained that he almost lost his sight, to which Stiles retorted that he’d rather die than be blinded. Derek visited him most often, with Scott and his father coming but once a week. Stiles wasn’t up for conversation when they did manage to stop by, because the only thing he could think about was how useless he was to his King now. What good was a thief who couldn’t steal?
He holed himself away, reading the library’s contents in order to keep out of the public eye. One day when the snow melted, Derek had begged him to come to dinner in the Great Hall.
“It would mean a lot to Scott if you were to show your face,” Derek supplied as he stood over Stiles’ desk, where he’d laid out a pile of books. Stiles rolled his eyes, but nodded his head in acquiescence.
Stiles bathed, was dressed by a servant, and led to the Great Hall for dinner. As he entered, he looked up at the rafters, where he once looked down upon the gathering. His stomach was in knots as he was led to a seat surrounded by courtiers he didn’t know. Derek was somewhere down the line, seated with other barons while Stiles sat between two women, across from a duke named Jackson Whittemore. Stiles’ mood didn’t lift as conversation around him was stilted. They talked of the meager harvest, trade, and the weather. Jackson talked endlessly about his sheep and the wool he’d sold at market and was able to trade. Next to him, a red-headed courtier by the name of Lydia Martin talked of the latest fashions in Deucalius and Argenti, though she didn’t call them by name. Stiles stared down at his food, unable to eat the uncut meat, or spread any butter or cheeses onto his bread. He only drank the wine.
Stumbling back to his rooms later, Stiles attempted to undress himself. He struggled, cursing under his breath at the buttons. He yanked and tugged, screaming as they popped off his overcoat. His chest heaved as he sunk down to his knees.
He’d been right-handed. Although he was ambidextrous to a point, all that he had left was, in fact, his left. Helplessly, Stiles crawled into bed half undressed, not even bothering to pull up his covers.
When he awoke, Scott was there, sitting in the chair that Derek had pulled close to his bed.
“My King,” Stiles said, his voice wavering.
“My Thief,” Scott said in answer. Stiles shut his eyes, turning his face away from Scott as he shook his head.
“I’m no longer your Thief.”
“Oh?” Scott asked, lifting an eyebrow. “Have you taken up another title elsewhere?” Stiles scoffed at Scott’s humor.
“No, my King,” Stiles all but wailed as he sat up. “But I am a thief no longer.”
“It’s a life-long title,” Scott pointed out. Stiles picked at his coverlet instead of looking Scott in the eyes. “Is it not?”
“Yes,” Stiles said with a sigh. “It is, my King.”
“Stiles,” Scott said, his voice grave. Stiles looked up at him. “I need you back.”
“I’m not worth anything to you, now.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Scott said as he leaned forward. “I need you by my side, I need your mind. You’re my greatest asset, Stiles, my best friend. You lost a hand, not your entire being.” Stiles shifted in his spot on the bed, at the phantom pain in his arm where his hand should be. “Get up, come to dinner tonight.”
“I came last night, I found it boring,” Stiles said, looking at the fire.
“Come tonight,” Scott said as he stood, leaving Stiles alone in his rooms. Stiles got out of bed, bathed, and dressed himself, taking his time picking out clothes that suited him better, without many buttons. In the library, he went searching for paperweights. They were usually with the maps, but they were no where to be found. It was then that Stiles realized that the library was a mess. As Deaton approached, Stiles cast his good hand around the room, at the strewn maps and scrolls.
“What happened to the library?” Stiles asked.
“It’s keeper has been occupied.”
“Oh?” Stiles asked, picking up the lone paperweight he’d found. “And who is that?”
“You, of course,” Deaton said. “It’s your library.”
“It is not,” Stiles said, making a face. “It’s the King’s library. I merely live in it.”
“Well, there you have it,” Deaton said with a smile. “I don’t have time to deal with it, so you can.” Stiles rolled his eyes, but followed Deaton into his rooms. He set the paperweight down on his desk, then let Deaton change his dressings. “Did you dress yourself?”
Stiles bristled as he held his head up high. He was proud of himself.
“I like the style you chose, very fitting.”
“Thank you,” Stiles said with narrowed eyes, not used to Deaton’s approval.
“What are your plans for today then?” Deaton asked.
“Scott wants me present at dinner,” Stiles said, looking out the window. The snow was gone, the sun bright, spring was in full swing. “So I’ll be there.”
Stiles spent his afternoon alone, practicing his handwriting. It was slow going, with his hand blackened from wiping over the paper kept in place by the weights since Stiles couldn’t hold it down.
At dinner, he found that the bread came already sliced and everyone had small bowls with oil and balsamic vinegar instead of cheese and butter, served with kabobs with meat already sliced and skewered. Stiles said nothing as he ate, but grateful all the same that Scott had dealt with the issue. Conversation was much the same as the evening before, recycling over the same weather and trade topics, though his company differed.
Stiles retired early before he had the chance to watch the dancing. He wasn’t in the mood. He did notice, however, that Derek hadn’t been at dinner. The next night, as well, he was missing. As the music started, Stiles walked up to Cora, Derek’s younger sister, offering her his hand. He didn’t think as she took it.
“Do you mind?” Stiles asked her. She gave him a smile.
“I’d be honored,” she said politely. They danced together, silently at first, before Stiles broached the subject of her brother.
“Where is he?” Stiles asked, his voice hushed.
“Called away,” Cora said, her eyes elsewhere in the room instead of on Stiles. He twirled her, then she was close to him once more. “He should be back within the fortnight.”
“What is he doing?” Stiles asked.
“Ask the King,” Cora retorted. “He sent him.” Stiles looked to Scott, who was seated at his place on the high table. “He’s rallying the barons, family friends, calling them to arms.”
“To arms?” Stiles asked, looking around the room, noticing that not a single baron was present.
“Yes,” Cora said, looking around the room. “They didn’t want you to know--”
“Want me to know what?” Stiles asked. He’d stopped dancing. Cora looked to Scott once more, then indicated for Stiles to follow her out of the Great Hall. Once they’d rounded a corner, Stiles stopped in his tracks. “Cora, what don’t they want me to know?”
“We’re at war, Stiles,” Cora hissed. “Derek summoned Laura and me, our land is near the Argenti line, ours is the first hurdle they must cross.
“War?” Stiles bellowed, his voice echoing through the hallway, bouncing off the walls. “We’re at war and no one told me?”
“The evidence was there, but you decided to become a shut-in instead of facing the truth,” Cora pointed out. Stiles thought about the paperweights, the maps in disarray, how suddenly Scott and his father didn’t have time for him. In fact, he hadn’t seen his father--
“My dad?” Stiles asked. “Is he?”
“He’s with the troops, with the captain of the guard,” Cora said with her arms crossed.
“If they didn’t want me to know, then why are you telling me?” Stiles asked.
“Because you aren’t some delicate flower,” Cora said. “You’re the Thief of McCallia, and you need to do something.”
“I can’t do anything!” Stiles shouted, holding up his hand. “Argentus made sure of that. He neutralized the threat.”
“You can,” Cora said, poking Stiles’ head. “Use your brain.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Steal peace!” Cora said as she walked away from Stiles, back towards the party where everyone had pretended that everything was fine and McCallia wasn’t at war.
Stiles stalked off towards his rooms, where he locked himself away in order to think.
In the morning, Stiles was awoken by knocking at the door. He was forced out of bed, dressed, and grumpily given breakfast by servants. Groggy, Stiles watched as a man entered his rooms with a wooden box that Stiles eyed warily.
“What is that?” Stiles asked, hugging his arm close. When he opened the box, Stiles’ face grew grim, his eyes narrowed.
“The King asked me to--”
“No,” Stiles said, standing up. “Get out.”
“Sir, I must fit you with--”
“I’ll not wear them. Get out,” Stiles hissed, pointing at the false hands, the hooks.
“The King said--”
“Stiles, do as he asks,” Deaton said, appearing. “Sorry I’m late,” he said to the man. Stiles grumbled, feeling outnumbered. “McCallis wants you to have this, Stiles.”
“So is said, so shall be,” Stiles mumbled unhappily. When they were gone and he’d been fitted for the false hand and hooks, he’d smashed everything in his room that he could, upending chairs and breaking his desk in a frenzy. Then, he disappeared.
Scott hadn’t been sleeping. He was kept up at night, thinking of all the ways he’d failed as king. His thoughts were with Stiles as he walked wearily back to his rooms. Once he was changed, and alone for the night, safely tucked into bed, he saw a shadow shift out of the corner of his eye. Sitting up in bed, Scott was actually surprised to see Stiles seated in a chair.
“How long have you been there?” Scott asked.
“The entire time.”
“Really?” Scott asked. Stiles stood up, walking over to the bed. He wasn’t wearing an overcoat, and the false hand he wore was apparent. “I see you got my gift.”
“I don’t want it,” Stiles said.
“I thought you’d want them,” Scott said honestly. “To keep them from staring.”
“Nothing will stop that,” Stiles said, turning away from Scott. “I’m here to ask a favor.”
“Oh?” Scott asked.
“I’d like to run away,” Stiles said, looking over his shoulder at Scott.
“That isn’t like you,” Scott pointed out as Stiles knelt at his feet.
“Please, let me go into the countryside... get away,” Stiles all but begged. “Just for a while. I can’t stay here any longer.”
“Where?” Scott asked. “We’re at war.”
“Speaking of,” Stiles said with a dark look. “You failed to tell me--”
“I shouldn’t have had to,” Scott said. “It’s quite obvious, if you’d just pulled your head out of the sand.”
“I thought I was handling losing a hand rather well, I was mourning myself, Scott,” Stiles said, using his real name instead of his title. Stiles licked his lips. “Scott, I’m scared. I wouldn’t ask - I’d just leave, but I need your permission to go.”
“For how long?” Scott asked, because he couldn’t deny Stiles anything.
“A week, maybe two,” Stiles said, imploring him. “May I go, my King?” Scott let out a long suffering sigh, then nodded his head.
“You may go, Thief, but only if you promise to return to me. I rely on you.”
“I promise,” Stiles said, and Scott could do nothing but believe him.
Derek returned to the palace to find Stiles missing. No one had seen him in almost a week, and though he had a suspicion that Scott knew where he was, it wasn’t as though Derek could just walk up to him and ask. No, he couldn’t. So, Derek waited.
His task was finished, having rallied together his surrounding barons into giving over arms, troops, and gold for the war. After a long bath and a warm meal, he sojourned in his apartments, resting before a council meeting. Scott was no warrior, unlike Deucalion who was known to be on the battlefield with his troops. That was what Stiles’ father was for, and he was good at his job.
Argentus, too, wasn’t known for getting his hands dirty, but he was no young king. His reign was almost over, with his son next in line. His daughter, Kate, was being held in the palace, kept to her rooms, she wasn’t free to roam.
Derek had almost forgotten about her until he was summoned to her like a dog. He almost refused but realized he shouldn’t swat at an angry wasp’s nest.
So he went to her.
“Princess,” he said with a short, curt bow. She nodded her head at him, then watched as he sat down, joining her for tea. She had a servant pour some for him; it smelled strongly of lavender.
“Baron Hale, the pleasure is mine,” she said with a smile. “Tell me, what have I missed? I don’t get much gossip locked away in here.”
“Well,” Derek said, ignoring his tea until he’d seen Kate drink hers, “McCallis released the Beacon, which then flooded Argenti’s plains, ruining the farmland. He then cut trade with us, to which my King blockaded all passages in and out of McCallia, meaning all the trade routes between Deucalius and Argenti. The supposed treaty between Deucalius and Argenti has crumbled, and your country is fighting two wars at once.”
“You lie,” Kate said through clenched teeth.
“No,” Derek said simply.
“Your king has little resources left, and we have enough food stored for two winters, if need be. We can keep the pass blocked through the year with little effect to us.”
“In the short term, I’m sure,” Kate said. “But longterm--”
“By that time, Deucalius and Argenti would have fallen. Your father--”
“Hold your tongue,” Kate bristled. Derek quieted, but his smirk remained. “What am I to do?”
“You’re a guest here, of course,” Derek said, his hand extending across her rooms. “No harm will come to you.” Kate looked at her untouched tea, which Derek hadn’t drunk either. It seemed he hadn’t underestimated her. “Good day, Kate.”
“And you, Baron Hale,” she said as he left her locked in her rooms.
Stiles returned after three weeks away, late at night. He slept for two before he awoke, starving. No one knew he’d returned as he walked the halls to the kitchens. He grabbed breads, olive oil to dip it in, and sausage, making a mess on a counter.
On his way back to his rooms, he took a detour, through a dark passage he knew like the back of his hand. He arrived within Derek’s apartments, appearing in his bed chamber via a tapestry that was hidden by fine silks. Stiles watched Derek sleep, for a time, seated in a nearby chair with his leg pulled up close. Derek stirred, rolling over onto his side, his eyes opening, shocked to find Stiles in his chambers.
“Are you here, or are you a ghost?” Derek asked, his voice cracking from sleep.
“I’m here,” Stiles assured him. Derek sat up, looking out the window. It was late. “It’s dog watch.”
“Ah,” Derek said with a sigh as he laid back down. “When did you get back, only just?”
“Not so,” Stiles said, amused. “I slept, first.”
“Does Scott know you are returned?”
“He does not.”
“And?” Derek asked.
“And what?” Stiles inquired as he sat back in the chair, pushing his legs against the bed in order to tip the chair back onto its hind legs.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
The chair legs hit the ground as Stiles looked Derek in the eyes.
They sat there for a moment, in silence, before Derek spoke up.
“Very eloquent,” Stiles jibbed. Derek scowled at him. Stiles smiled down at him, and for the first time in months, Derek felt as though the old Stiles returned to him. It must have been a trick in the light, though, because as soon as it appeared, the smile faded.
“Where did you go?”
“Ah,” Stiles said, looking away as he bit his lip. “To find my courage.”
“Oh?” Derek asked, pushing his covers away so that he could stand and get a cup full of water to quench his thirst. “So you succeeded?”
“I told you I did,” Stiles said petulantly.
“You did,” Derek said with a sigh, standing over Stiles. Derek bent down, his lips brushing across Stiles’ forehead. Stiles’ eyes were closed beneath him, his lips parted as Derek placed a finger beneath Stiles’ chin, lifting it. Stiles’ eyes opened to find their pupils blown, his breath stuttering.
“Derek,” Stiles whispered as Derek bent down once more, this time capturing Stiles’ lips with his own in a chaste kiss. Light headed, Derek pulled away from him, touching his fingers to his lips as he leaned against the mantelpiece, looking at the dying fire.
“I keep going over how I failed,” Stiles said, breaking the silence. He wasn’t looking at Derek, his cheeks reddened.
“Failed?” Derek asked.
“I’d forgotten, you know, with my fever and my self-loathing.” Stiles waved his hand around as he licked his lips, as if trying to ignore the kiss they’d just shared. “I’d forgotten that I hadn’t failed, that I hadn’t made a mistake.”
“When?” Derek asked.
“When I was captured,” Stiles said, manic. “I spent months thinking that I’d made a mistake and it wasn’t until I was-- when I was away that I remembered that I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
“What do you mean? How so?”
“Derek, they knew where I would escape, where I would be, the route I would take,” Stiles said, his eyes wide. “Someone is feeding information to the Argenti. We have a traitor amongst us.”
“Who?” Derek asked. “The only ones who knew--”
“It’s a very limited number, I must confess,” Stiles said as he ran his fingers through his hair, biting his lower lip Derek paced; Stiles watched, curled up on the arm chair. “I don’t want anyone knowing I’m back,” Stiles said, after a time. Derek stopped pacing, stopping beside Stiles, who reached out, tugging gently at Derek’s robe. “Our secret?”
“What are you planning?” Derek asked him, inching evermore forward, allowing Stiles to rest his head against Derek’s own arm. Stiles sighed, his eyes closing momentarily.
“That, my friend, is for only me to know,” Stiles whispered as he turned his head to look up at Derek. “Do not tell Scott of my arrival.”
“Like I could manage it in secrecy,” Derek murmured, to which Stiles grinned. “Tell me of your plan.”
“Which plan?” Stiles asked, looking directly into Derek’s eyes. “For I’ve many.”
“Do not lie to me,” Derek said plainly. Affronted, Stiles rose to his feet.
“I have not lied,” Stiles said. “I told you of the traitor. All I ask is that you trust me.” Derek shut his mouth, but reached out for Stiles, who swatted his hand away.
“No one trusts a Thief,” Stiles hissed before he stalked off, using a hidden door that Derek never managed to get open, though he knew it was there. It was a dance between them, as it always was. The closer and closer they became, there would be a change in the music, making them drift apart once more.
Stiles slept during the day peacefully in his rooms where he wasn’t disturbed. He traveled via servants’ passageways and hidden doors, secret tunnels that only Thieves knew. He knew the changing of the guard, knew their patrols. It wasn’t hard to remain unseen within the castle walls. He raided the kitchens at night, bringing back food and wine into his chambers so he’d have food when he awoke.
When he was awake during the day, Stiles visited Kate. Sure, she didn’t know he’d been in her chambers but he’d gone all the same. He listened as she spoke to a McCallian servant, even, bribing them. She talked of Derek, of securing his heir.
“I’ll have him,” Kate told the servant, who, Stiles realized, was no servant at all, but an Argenti spy. Kate was somehow sending and receiving messages from Argentus via a spy instead of by letter. “Promise my father that we’ll have the Hale land and gold.”
“He expects no less, Your Highness,” the spy said. Stiles wished he could catch a glimpse of them so he could be sure of their identity, but all he could do was listen in while he was behind a tapestry that hid the secret passageway.
“He loves another,” Kate said with vehemence. “It hasn’t been easy.” Stiles’ brow furrowed as Kate revealed her knowledge. Stiles went over, in his mind, the courtiers that Kate must be speaking of. Surely he’d know if Derek sought to marry one of them. “Has there been word of the Thief? He hasn’t been seen by anyone in weeks.”
“No, Your Highness,” the McCallian traitor said. Stiles smiled, though he felt no happiness within himself. “He hasn’t been seen in almost four weeks, he is believed to be in hiding, perhaps in the University. He asked the King for permission to flee.” Stiles’ breaths were shallow as he wondered how she got that piece of information, unless Scott said something publically, perhaps at a dinner.
Though he wanted to stay and find out who the spy was, Stiles couldn’t stay in one spot all day. He made his way towards the council chambers, where there was a spy hole on the mantlepiece. He had to crouch in order to watch as his father discussed their troops. Stiles hadn’t known his father was back in the castle, but he took it as a good sign that he was. He’d need his father’s help if he was to pull his plan off.
Beside them, Harris stood with his hands stuffed in his arm sleeves, listening intently. Stiles narrowed his eyes at the Spy Master. He had a network of spies, for the King, throughout Argenti and Deucalius. Harris knew every rumor, ever court intrigue.
Harris knew that Stiles had fled, and that he’d gone to Argenti. Stiles’ chest constricted as he backed away from the spy hole, returning to his rooms only to upend it in frustration. He’d need undeniable proof to name Harris as traitor. And even then, it would be difficult to see that he was removed from office. He’d woven himself into the role of Secretary of Archives so well that Stiles wasn’t sure that everything wouldn’t crumble with his demise.
That night, Stiles watched the dinner in the Great Hall from the rafters. He tucked his arm against his chest as he leaned over the rafters, watching intently at the goings on, his feet crossed as they tapped in tune to the music. There was no Kate, thankfully, since she was still quarantined to her quarters, but Stiles found himself watching Derek and each courtier he spoke with. There was Jennifer Blake, a lower Baroness with minor land holdings, and Paige. Stiles sucked in a breath while Derek talked to Paige. She was the second daughter of a Baron, of little worth money wise, but Stiles knew that Derek wasn’t one to care of such things. She was beautiful, accomplished with music and dancing.
He watched as they danced together, a smile on her face. Instead of remaining for the rest of the evening, Stiles slipped away. He hurried back to his rooms, where he spent time writing Scott a letter, sealing it with wax, his handwriting messy, the ink smeared. He hadn’t the time to let it dry properly. He ran through the halls, his footfalls silent as they ever were, slipping behind a hidden door, knobless and seamless to the naked eye, that lead him into the King’s quarters, past guard rooms and antechambers.
Stiles left the letter on Scott’s desk, but not before seeing another letter open on it. Curious, Stiles picked it up, his eyes scanning it, a smile appearing on his face. He was positive that his plan would work, he only had to convince his King.
He took his time, going back to his rooms. He passed by groups returning on the way back from the Great Hall, hidden in the shadows as he stood against the wall. Paige was among them, but he paid her no mind as he headed towards the library. When he got there, the lamps were already lit, and Harris sat in his chair by the window, waiting for him.
“Ah, so you are back,” Harris said casually. Stiles stood ramrod straight, his face impassive. “Tell me, when were you thinking of announcing your presence to the King?”
“You mean to you?” Stiles asked as he walked over to his desk, his fingers dancing across the top of it nonchalantly. “I’ve just come from delivering a letter to the King.”
“You know,” Harris said with a trying expression, “I do not like that you have access to the King so readily.”
“I do not like that you have access to conversations that went on between two people in private,” Stiles spat out as he turned his head towards Harris. “As Thief I can go where I please--”
“You’re no Thief,” Harris said as he stood. “The King may believe you to be his Thief but you’re not him anymore, are you?” Harris looked to Stiles’ missing hand, where a wooden one replaced it. “Do not meddle.”
“Do not betray Him,” Stiles hissed, his face inches from Harris’. “And do not come into my rooms unannounced.”
“That’s hypocritical of you, don’t you think.” Stiles narrowed his eyes at Harris. “Welcome home, Stiles.”
Stiles watched as Harris walked out of his rooms, shutting the bookcase behind him. Instead of remaining in his chambers, Stiles fled, running down the pitch black passageways towards Derek’s apartments. He counted his steps carefully, coming out into the lit hallways and crossing them with ease. The palace was his, passed down for generations by the title ‘Thief’. Stiles’ ancestor designed it for the thieves, their secret passageways not on any map but the original, which was stored safely within the library. The palace was his, and he wouldn’t allow Harris to continue. As much as Stiles loved Scott, his King, he had pledged no oaths to him. The Thief was loyal to McCallia, not it’s ruler. Stiles would do anything to keep his country safe from the clutches of another.
Even without Scott’s permission.
When he arrived at Derek’s apartments, he found him half dressed, changing into his night clothes.
“Stiles-- you can’t just-- one moment,” Derek said, grumbling as Stiles waltzed forward, grabbing Derek’s face with one hand, and kissing him on the lips. Derek stilled, his eyes wide for a moment, before he relaxed against Stiles’ grip, wrapping his arms around him. Stiles rest his head against Derek’s shoulder, embracing him, allowing himself to be held. They stood there, wrapped in each other’s arms with only a single oil lamp to light the room. Stiles clutched at Derek’s back with one hand, burying his face against the crook of Derek’s neck. Derek rest a hand on the nape of Stiles’ neck, and Stiles exhaled.
“Harris,” Stiles whispered.
“What?” Derek asked, the moment ending as he backed away from Stiles so he could see his face. Stiles shook his head as he ran his hand over his face.
“The rat, it’s Harris. Only-- only there is no evidence. I need you to believe me--”
“I believe you,” Derek said.
“Do you?” Stiles asked, stepping forward. “Do you really?” Derek hesitated: Stiles was a liar. There was no way for him to be able to tell if Stiles was telling the truth or not. Frustrated, Stiles paced back and forth, his breaths becoming shorter, shallower until he stopped, falling to his knees beside Derek, clutching at his chest.
“Stiles?” Derek asked, concerned as he made to touch him, comfort him. Stiles knelt, leaning forward so his forehead touched the cool stone floor. He was having a panic attack. “Do I need to get Deaton?”
“No,” Stiles managed to say. It was too much, Harris being the traitor, the war with the Argenti, his hand being the act of war, the threat of Allison marrying Deucalion's heir, Derek and Paige, the loss of his hand. Stiles curled in on himself, but remained silent. Thieves were always silent, but Stiles wasn’t the Thief anymore. Harris’ words rang true as they echoed in his mind over and over again, plaguing him.
Derek managed to get Stiles into his bed, his breathing evening out as he was wrapped in warmth and comfort. Stiles’ eyes drifted closed as Derek slipped beneath the covers, his hand on Stiles’ head as he hummed a grim tune, lulling Stiles to sleep.
Stiles was gone when Derek woke up. He wondered, briefly, as he got ready for the day, how many people had ever seen Stiles like that, emotions raw, vulnerable. Stiles had no one, was kept at arms length from everyone, even his own father, because of his title. Derek wished that he could hold Stiles in his arms more freely, could kiss him longer, with more meaning behind it.
He vowed to himself that he would, that Stiles deserved to be loved, as did he.
Stiles walked briskly through the winter gardens, towards the outer walls of the palace. He didn’t run, per se, but wasn’t leisurely with his stride as he made his way to one of the altars, which were covered in vines and beautiful flowers during the springtime. He knelt in the archway, dropping down a pair of earrings into a sacrificial bowl. In the bowl lay other offerings of his and his ancestors before him, gifts to their god. Stiles closed his eyes as he prayed to his god.
“Please don’t forsake me,” Stiles mumbled as he covered his face with his hand. “Please don’t.”
He’d spent a lot of time by the altar since returning to McCallia, giving offerings each time. These earrings belonged to Paige, but they were hers no longer. They belonged to his god, now. Once on the altar, no jewels could be returned.
Stiles smiled to himself when he’d dropped them there. She had others, others that weren’t Derek’s favorite color.
“Be with me,” Stiles breathed before he stood, staring at the statute of the god of thieves. On his way back into the palace proper, it started thundering.
Stiles sat with his back pressed against the wall, looking out the window as the sky grew darker and the storm worsened. The council chamber was full, with every seat at the table taken, not as though Stiles would have sat at the table in the first place. He didn’t want that privilege, never had. He didn’t belong there, he belonged in the shadows. Or, at least, he had belonged to them. Now he wasn’t so sure.
He listened to Barons bickering, quarreling over their usage of troops and argued with his father about his tactics. Stiles let out an audible sigh, groaning as he rubbed at his face.
The room quieted, then suddenly everyone’s attention was on him. He looked at his father, then to Scott. It was time, then. Stiles stood up, not allowing himself to be dissuaded in going through with his plan.
“Argentus isn’t in his Megaron, he’s to the south, in Baron Morrell’s isolated villa.” Stiles pointed at the map. “He’s fled the Megaron, since it is so close to the McCallia borders.” Stiles looked to Scott, whose look darkened with every word. “Give me twenty men, and I can take the villa.”
The silence around the table was deafening.
Stiles avoided looking at Derek. He wouldn’t be able to do it if he so much as looked at him. He could handle his father, and Scott, but not Derek.
“Explain,” one of the Barons said. “How do you know where Argentus is?” Stiles looked to Scott, who remained silent.
“I scouted them, they have a very minor branch with them, mostly his personal guard. The villa is on a cliff, and looks to be inaccessible except for the main entrance, by drawbridge.”
“But?” His father asked, crossing his arms.
“But,” Stiles said with a smirk. “I know of another way.”
“What do you intend to do?” A Baron asked, looking between Stiles and Scott.
“I intend to steal peace, of course,” Stiles said with finality and a grin so wide that he was sure it looked more manic than anything else.
Scott paced his rooms as he waited. He couldn’t sit still, hadn’t slept the night before. He’d gotten Stiles’ letter that he had returned from his reclusion, but Scott hadn’t expected-- well he had thought Stiles hadn’t lied to him, for once.
“You’re angry with me,” Stiles said as he appeared out of the hidden doorway in the wall. Scott rounded on him, fists clenched.
“They think I sent you,” Scott hissed. “To Argenti!” Stiles was silent as Scott raged. “My barons, your father, Derek, think that I sent you, ordered you to go scout the villa and find a way into it.”
“That isn’t my fault they don’t realize that I--”
“What were you thinking?” Scott asked him. “Going back there, spying on Argentus. We’re at war, Stiles, and he cut off your--”
“I know,” Stiles said, his voice rising to meet Scott’s.
“You told me you were afraid, that you wanted to hide--”
“I am scared, I’m terrified,” Stiles admitted to Scott as well as to himself. “I’m terrified that we’ll lose this war, that I’ll lose you, and my father. I had to do something, so I went to Argenti.”
“Oh, Stiles,” Scott said, sitting down in his arm chair and putting his head in his hands. “You didn’t have to--”
“Let me go,” Stiles said, kneeling by Scott’s side. “Give me the twenty men, let me do this, and by the god’s graces, I’ll bring back peace.”
“You haven’t told them everything,” Scott said, giving in to Stiles’ whim. “Your plan.”
“There are ears and eyes that I’d rather not spill my very soul to within these walls,” Stiles confessed. “But I have no proof for you to hang them by, and by gods do I wish to hang them.”
“Tell me,” Scott demanded.
“I cannot,” Stiles said. “They must be found out, because their trail thus far has been untraceable.”
“Then how do you know?” Scott asked.
“A liar can always sense another liar, my King,” Stiles whispered, looking away from him. “Do I have your permission?”
Scott sighed, looking up at the ceiling.
“Take twenty men. I hope you know what you’re doing, Stiles. If you’re taken, I won’t be able to save you.”
“Hopefully, you won’t need to,” Stiles said, and then he was gone.
Usually, Stiles was the one that sat waiting in the dark waiting for others to appear in their bed chambers. He wasn’t used to being snuck up on, so when Derek came to his rooms, he stood in shock. He’d just bathed, was still dripping wet, his hair damp when Derek stood in his doorway.
“Derek,” Stiles said, barely above a whisper.
“Don’t go,” Derek said as he stepped forward. Stiles scoffed as he turned away from Derek. “You might not come back.”
“I have to,” Stiles said as Derek’s gaze fell to his bare arms, his skin angry, the scaring discolored in comparison to the rest of his body. Stiles pulled on his linen shirt, covering it.
“Send someone else, tell them how to get in.”
“No,” Stiles said, his brow furrowed as he turned to look at Derek.
“Why not?” Derek asked.
“Because no one else can do it,” Stiles hissed. “I’m the Thief, me, no one else. Don’t you understand that?” Stiles held his breath when Derek reached out, touching his face delicately.
“I understand,” Derek said, looking into Stiles’ eyes. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t want you to go.” Stiles’ cheeks reddened as Derek stepped even closer to him. As Derek leaned in, Stiles turned his head so that Derek’s lips brushed against Stiles’ cheek instead of his lips. “Stiles,” Derek said, breathing in against his neck. Stiles shut his eyes as Derek wrapped his arms around him, could feel his fingertips digging into his back. Starved for affection, Stiles’ knees buckled beneath him.
“What about Paige?” Stiles asked abruptly.
“What about Paige?” Derek asked, confused as Stiles, flustered, looked to the ground. Stiles winced, groaning as he stepped away from Derek, beginning to pace around his rooms.
“I was eavesdropping on Kate’s conversation with a traitorous servant, of which I’ve yet to find out who,” Stiles pointed out as he walked back and forth. “And they said that your heart belonged to another, someone who wasn’t Kate, and I’ve seen how you dote on Paige during dinners--”
“Wait, Stiles, how do you--”
“And she is a good match,” Stiles said, plowing through Derek’s attempt at interrupting him. “Even though I stole her sapphire earrings that matched the fibula pin I gave you, I won’t interfere in your engagement--”
“Engagement?” Derek asked, his eyebrows lifting higher and higher with each word that Stiles spoke. “What engagement?”
“With Paige, of course,” Stiles stated plainly. “You’re to marry her.”
“Says who?” Derek asked, his arms on Stiles’ shoulders. “I’m not to marry anyone.”
“You’re not?” Stiles asked. Derek shook his head, licking his lips as he looked at Stiles. “But you deserve someone.”
“I deserve you, Stiles,” Derek confessed. Stiles shook his head, pushing himself away from Derek.
“Derek, I can’t--”
“Stiles, I lo--”
“No!” Stiles shouted. “No you do not,” Stiles implored. “You cannot love me,” Stiles spat. “It’s impossible to love a Thief.”
“Your father loved your mother,” Derek pointed out. Stiles looked uneasily towards the door, as if ready to bolt. “You don’t need to be alone.”
“Yes, I do, for Scott to remain strong, he needs me--”
“And what about you? For you to remain strong?” Derek asked as he drew nearer to Stiles, reaching out for him once more. “You can lean on me, Stiles. You need someone you can rely on, too.” Stiles buried his face against Derek’s neck as Derek wrapped his arms around Stiles. “Let me be that person.”
Stiles inhaled shakily, nodding his head minutely. Derek let out a sigh of relief as he kissed Stiles’ forehead, closing his eyes as they stood there, rocking back and forth.
“I leave in the morning, before the sun rises,” Stiles said, his voice muffled by Derek’s overcoat.
“We have until morning, then,” Derek said, knowing they didn’t have much time, and wishing for more. Stiles lifted his head, his lips finding Derek’s. Finally, he allowed himself to give in, his mouth opening, deepening the kiss. Stiles moaned against Derek’s lip as they moved towards the bed. With Stiles’ back against the mattress he stared up at Derek, his fingers outlining Derek’s features as he licked his lips.
“Do you trust me?” Stiles asked. Derek nodded, kissing him once more.
“I do,” Derek spoke softly. “Irrevocably.” Stiles smiled against Derek’s lips as Derek lay atop him, their kisses lingering, becoming heavier with each passing moment. Derek shifted against Stiles, his hips aligning with Stiles’, as he left open-mouthed kisses along Stiles’ jawline, his hand cupping Stiles’ face as he did so. Stiles, usually silent, let out a surprised moan as Derek mouthed at his neck, making a mark at the base of it.
“What got us here?” Stiles asked, his voice cracked and far gone as Derek’s hand roamed over his torso, slipping lower so that he could slide his hand beneath the linen fabric of Stiles’ shirt. Derek ran his stubble over Stiles’ exposed neck, and his back arched at the touch.
“I gave in to you,” Derek supplied, kissing him as he rolled the both of them over so that Stiles hovered over him. “Into your every whim.” Stiles smiled down at him, unreserved, a hidden smile that he rarely showed behind the mask of his title. Stiles was happy, and Derek was the reason for it. Derek kissed Stiles again and again, not wanting to stop, but also wanting to do more, see more, touch more, taste more of him.
Boldly, Derek gripped Stiles’ ass in his hands as Stiles bent over him, squeezing it. Stiles rocked his hips at Derek’s touch, his breathing stilted, eyes heavily lidded. Derek slipped his hand beneath Stiles’ shirt, touching his bare skin. Stiles moaned again as Derek’s hand roamed his back, raking gently down it before circling around to his stomach and up his chest, his thumb brushing over a nipple. Stiles scrambled, taking his shirt off as Derek maneuvered them once more, getting Stiles onto his back once the shirt was discarded. Derek looked down at him, awed by his un-marred flesh, except for the moles that dotted his skin. Derek placed a kiss on each before capturing Stiles’ lips once more with his own.
It was like a dream, being able to touch Stiles, to hold him. He wasn’t a ghost in the shadows, unable to be touched, he was real and he was before Derek, pliant and wanton with his legs spreading to allow Derek access, his knees between Stiles’ legs.
Derek dragged his hand down Stiles’ body in one swift movement, brushing over his erection. Stiles reached out, hooking his hand around Derek’s neck in order for their mouths to crash together once more as he wrapped his legs around Derek, keeping him close as his hips rocked against Derek, seeking friction.
He knew that Stiles hadn’t been with another, for there had been no one close enough to him. Stiles could have anyone, any of the courtiers, if he wished, but he kept everyone at arm's length, even Derek. The thought was not lost on him that he now possessed a privilege that no one else had, not even the king.
Stiles turned his head away as Derek cupped him between his legs, his eyes closed and mouth open in a silent moan. Derek brushed his nose against Stiles’ cheek, breathing heavily against him.
“Do you wish to stop?” Derek asked, suddenly unsure of Stiles’ reciprocation of affection.
“No,” Stiles said, his voice a mere wisp of sound, barely audible. He looked at Derek, then, and grinned. “Don’t stop.”
“What were you thinking about?” Derek asked. Stiles’ left hand was in his hair, carding through it idly, his other rest against Derek’s back, unmoving.
“When we were children,” Stiles admitted, licking his lips. “About how I dreamed of you, you know, in the way of waking up and having ruined the sheets?”
“You did?” Derek asked, kissing Stiles’ neck. Stiles nodded.
“I didn’t talk to you for a week, and you became cross, angry with me, but I couldn’t face you-- I thought it wrong.” Derek undid Stiles’ lace front pants, his hand sliding beneath the leather fabric, wrapping his hand around Stiles’ erection, stroking him for the first time. “Oh, gods,” Stiles said with a laugh. “What a fool I was.”
“Not a fool,” Derek said, then bent over, taking Stiles into his mouth. Stiles’ grip in his hair tightened as he licked up his length, taking his time before he enveloped him in his mouth. Stiles thrust his hips shallowly, whimpering as Derek cradled his balls with his hands, letting Stiles fuck his mouth.
“Derek-- Derek, you have to--”
Derek pulled away as Stiles’ pleas quickened. Stiles came with Derek’s hand fisted around Stiles’ cock, his body limp afterwards, pupils blown as Derek cleaned his hands. Stiles sat up when Derek returned to the bed, eager to return the favor, his hand on Derek’s crotch as he looked up at him.
“Do you want to-- I mean, what if we were to--,” Stiles stopped, took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he opened them he looked more like himself, less unsure. “I want you to fuck me,” Stiles said.
Derek swallowed as he looked down at Stiles, his cheeks red, his mouth wet and swollen, and he realized that what Derek had seen as bravado was a mask as well. What he’d seen as who Stiles truly was had been a lie, too. The real Stiles had been the bumbling, unsure one who was afraid to ask to be fucked. Derek knelt before Stiles, taking his face in his hands once more, looking directly into his eyes.
“Do you trust me?” Derek asked, Stiles hesitated, but nodded his head. “Then I want you to promise me while together, that you’ll be yourself.” Stiles bit his lip. “Don’t put up a mask in here.”
“Okay,” Stiles said, looking down at Derek’s chest. “I promise.” Derek leaned forward, capturing Stiles’ lips once more, pulling him close. “If you want me, you can have me.”
“I want you,” Stiles admitted. “I’ve wanted you since before I could remember.”
Stiles was always so strong, assured of himself as the Thief, that no one really ever stopped to think about Stiles as a person, his thoughts and feelings. Derek wanted to know every minute detail of Stiles’ being.
“I have it,” Stiles assured him with a wry grin, getting up off the bed and walking over to his shelves, lined with heftily priced knickknacks, probably all stolen, and grabbed an ornate box that was just as intricately decorated as everything else in the room. Stiles opened the box, showing Derek a small vial that was half empty.
It’s implication was not lost on Derek. Derek took the vial from the box, and Stiles returned it to its place, positioning himself on the bed, completely bare. Derek knelt by the bed once more, slicking his fingers with the clear liquid, warming it before pressing inwards, opening Stiles up for him. With the lube, his fingers slid in easily enough at first, a single finger fucking into him, and then a second. Derek twisted, crooked them in such a way that had Stiles panting and sweating beneath his touch. When Derek thrust in a third finger, Stiles groaned. Stiles was hard again, with precome smeared across his stomach. Derek bent over, licking up Stiles’ length once before standing up in order to disrobe.
Stiles stared up at him in awe, having never seen Derek naked. Derek wasn’t small, in general, and his mornings spent sparing with soldiers was apparent by his physique. He hid it easily with fine robes and other signs of frippery, but the look on Stiles’ face made Derek redden.
When they kissed again, it was by no means chaste. Derek moaned against Stiles’ mouth as he slicked his cock. Stiles threw a leg over Derek, putting him onto his back so that Stiles could straddle him as he lined his cock up with Stiles’ entrance. Slowly, Stiles sunk down, his head thrown back, neck exposed as Derek thrust his hips, bouncing Stiles on his cock. Stiles’ hand on Derek’s chest dug into his skin as he began moving atop him, setting the pace. Derek lost himself in the way Stiles moved, with every noise he made.
Stiles bent over, resting his head against Derek’s shoulder as Derek gripped his ass, lifting them both into the air slightly by pushing up with his feet, fucking up into Stiles relentlessly. The sound of skin slapping against skin filled the bed chamber, along with his own grunts and Stiles’ moans. A symphony of noises - Derek let it consume him. Stiles mouthed at his neck, teeth biting, tongue soothing as they fucked, Stiles’ cock sliding against Derek’s stomach, smearing precome across it.
Stiles came across Derek’s chest, untouched, as Derek spilled his own orgasm within him. Laughter filled the room, from Stiles, as he rolled off of Derek. Derek couldn’t help but smile as he looked down across his chest, dragging his fingers through the mess.
“I dare say that the servants will have something to speak about once I’m gone,” Stiles said as he made to stand. Derek grinned as Stiles wobbled on his feet before straightening, but then his face dropped. Stiles was leaving at dawn, and he might not return. When Stiles returned to the bed, he draped an arm across Derek’s torso as he snuck in close to him, chin resting on Derek’s shoulder. “You, above all else,” Stiles said seriously.
“Not above Scott,” Derek murmured.
“Well, no,” Stiles admitted, pondering as he brushed his lips against Derek’s bare shoulder. “My King comes first, but that goes without saying. You, though, you above everything else.”
Derek hesitated for a moment before responding.
“Tell me what your plan is,” Derek begged him. He couldn’t bare for him to go, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to stop him.
Scott had given him twenty men, just as he’d asked, including his father. The Minister of War rode next to Stiles. They took the main pass down, riding horses until they reached the borders of McCallia and Argenti. It was slower, moving with soldiers than when Stiles was alone. He was impatient, but with his father by his side, he wasn’t worried about their pacing.
Stiles briefed his father and the soldiers on his plan, about how stealth was pertinent, and not brute force like they were used to. Though Stiles’ mind drifted towards thoughts of Derek and their night together, he couldn’t dwell on it with the task that laid ahead.
When they set up camp for the night, Stiles sat close to his father. They weren’t close, not since Stiles had ripped his military papers in half in a fit of rage at the ripe age of fifteen. He’d become the Thief instead, casting aside his father’s aspirations for him. They’d barely spoken since the council chambers, though his father had volunteered himself for the expedition.
Stiles sat, poking the fire before them with a stick, his legs tucked up close to his chest as he lay his cheek against an arm, his other curled in against his chest protectively, the phantom ache niggling him in the back of his mind.
“I want you to know how proud I am of you,” his father said out of nowhere. Stiles sat up, his eyebrows rising at his father’s compliment. He wasn’t one to give a kind word freely. He wasn’t looking at Stiles as he spoke, but out into the woods that surrounded them as some of the men got some sleep. Stiles didn’t say anything, didn’t know what to say as he leaned towards him, letting his body rest against his father’s.
Surprisingly, his father put his arm around Stiles’ shoulder, then kissed his forehead. Stiles didn’t realize his eyes were watering until he wiped at them with his sleeve, burying his face into the crook of his arm.
“No matter what happens, I want you to know that.” Stiles looked up at his father, then, and nodded his head. “I want to believe that this will work,” his said with a sigh. “I should have more faith in you.”
It didn’t hurt, knowing that his father had reservations about the plan, because Stiles wasn’t so sure that it would work either. In his line of work, one didn’t usually rely on luck, only on himself in order to get the job done, but they needed all the luck they could get to pull this off.
Stiles slept for a handful of hours before it was time to move forward.
It took them almost a week to get to the villa, longer than it had taken him when he’d been alone. He hadn’t lied to Scott about being terrified, about wanting to hide. He had hidden, out of view as he’d scoped the villa. It gave him a sense of purpose, a task to undertake.
At nightfall, they sent in two men, dressed as Argenti messengers. They couldn’t be sure if the first part of the plan worked or not, not until the next night. The waiting was the hardest part. With nothing else to do during the day, so as to not give up their position, Stiles slept. It was fitful, and he didn’t feel rested as the sunset, but there wasn’t much he could do about that.
His father gave him a hug before he left them, the plan still in tact. Stiles took one last look at the weapons they brought with them, then headed towards the villa. Night was upon them and soon, his father and his men would attack the villa.
The villa itself was on a ledge, with one entrance. More of a keep, it wasn’t easily accessible but by the main road. Much like the palace of McCallia, there was a path that lead up the rocky exterior, as well as a tunnel that lead directly into the side of the cliff, big enough for a small boat to pass through.
As soon as Stiles made it to the edge of the tunnel, he heard gunfire and a cannon go off: they’d started. Stiles couldn’t think about if anything went wrong in the plan, only if it worked. He dove into the water, swimming towards the hidden dock within. He was a slow swimmer, never having been a good swimmer to begin with. With only one good hand, it took him a while to get to the dock. Then, he waited.
He imagined his father stepping forward out of the treeline, announcing themselves to the Argenti Captain of the Guard. He’d set up men in different areas around the villa, with nightfall, they could more easily fake their numbers. Messengers would be sent out, scouts, of which their men inside would volunteer. Upon returning, they’d be shot. Mass panic would ensue, and the King would flee to the tunnels.
That is, of course, if everything went according to plan.
All Stiles could do was wait. Eventually, he heard footsteps climbing down the stone steps. He’d expected Argentus, or his son. Who he hadn’t considered was Allison to appear, frantic. Stiles, dressed in Argenti colors, helped her with his good hand into the boat. She wasn’t the King, but she was a royal, and a good bargaining chip. She was shaking as they set off in the boat without a word, leaving the villa behind them. Stiles wasn’t surprised that she didn’t recognize him, since she hadn’t been there for his verdict. At least, Stiles didn’t think she’d been there, he hadn’t necessarily been paying attention to his surroundings at that point.
“Your Highness,” Stiles said, his McCallian accent showing through, making sure she realized she wasn’t with an Argenti. Allison bristled, her hand flying to the knife she kept hidden in the sash of her dress. It wasn’t there. The two in her hair, as well, Stiles had taken. He held them up for her, spread out like a fan in his hand. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She looked to the water, like drowning would be better than being held by the McCallians.
“I expected your grandfather, and not you, I have to confess,” Stiles said with a sigh. Allison bit her lip, not saying a word. Stiles leaned forward, his hook glinting in the moonlight. She noticed, her eyes closing as if waiting for Stiles to slit her throat. As much as Stiles wanted blood, he was a thief and not a murderer, and Allison wasn’t the one who did this to him.
“I wonder,” Stiles whispered. “If you got my King’s gifts?” Allison looked up at him, then, her lips in a thin line. “You did get them, didn’t you Your Highness. His letters weren’t all that I brought you.”
“Yes,” she practically hissed. Stiles looked at her earrings, her necklace. Neither of which were ones he’d given to her for his king.
“Did they not suit?” Stiles asked.
“I’ll wear them when I’m willing to marry him,” she said, her voice even, though she looked down at her hands.
“Speaking of,” Stiles said casually. “I have a proposition for you.” Allison lifted her eyebrows at his gall. It made Stiles grin. “Marry my King.”
“Or what? You’ll drown me?” Allison asked. “You already have my aunt in your possession, why not marry her?”
“He doesn’t love her,” Stiles pointed out. Allison’s eyes widened, her cheeks reddened despite the cool air. “He wants to marry you, and has since before he was crowned. But you already knew that.”
She wasn’t the King, but she was in the line of succession, and Stiles had to do what he could to secure peace. He knew Allison cared for Scott, he’d been in the rooms when she’d read the letters. He’d also been there when her father found the letters and burned them. Her tears had been real.
“He can love another,” Allison said. “I cannot marry him.”
“Because of a treaty with Deucalion?” Stiles scoffed. “Do you really want to marry him?”
“You speak as though you know me,” Allison said haughtily. “You do not.”
“Oh, don’t I?” Stiles asked as the boat continued in the direction they needed to be headed. “I know you more than you think, Your Highness. I know that you love archery, that you enjoy falconry, and you’re very good at hunting I must say,” Stiles said with a wry smile.
“How?” Allison asked.
“How?” Stiles mimicked. “I’m the Thief of McCallia, and my King wished to know about you. If I didn’t love another, I could have fallen as far as he.”
“You speak so plainly of your King,” Allison said. “Is he not a mystery, a step away from his peers?”
“He is not only my King, Your Highness, but he’s also my best friend. Your family has underestimated him thus far, as they have me as well. His feelings for you are true, Allison.” Allison stilled at Stiles’ usage of her name, but he continued on. “If you marry him, the treaty would be between Argenti and McCallia instead.”
“Do I have a choice in the matter? If I say no to you now?”
Stiles shrugged his shoulder.
“I could drown you, I suppose, but what do you think Scott would think of me, then? Killing the person that held his affections in the palm of her hand. my King is kind, fair, and loves you. What does Deucalion have except contempt for other countries and a gruesome side more disgusting than that of your grandfather in terms of torture and punishment. Do you really want to be married to a monster like that?”
Allison didn’t answer him.
When they got to a dock, Stiles helped her out of the boat with his hand.
“Follow me and nothing will happen to you,” Stiles assured her. They ascended stone steps, her dress lifted so she could walk up them more easily. The trek wasn’t a short one, and more than once they had to stop to catch their breath.
“I’ll do it,” she said, giving Stiles a look. “He-- if he really loves me as you say he does. There won’t be a treaty, since my family won’t approve of the match.”
“Your sister tried to seduce one of my King’s barons,” Stiles pointed out.
“Baron Hale?” Allison asked. Stiles stopped walking.
“Yes,” Stiles said, his brow furrowed.
“The wealthiest Baron,” Allison pointed out. Stiles’ eyes widened.
“Argentus is broke?” Stiles asked. Allison pursed her lips and lifted her chin in denial, or that of acceptance, Stiles couldn’t be sure of which. “Well then, that changes things.”
When they got to the top of the stairs, his father was waiting for him, along with his men. They lost very few, it seemed. When Stilinski saw Allison, his eyebrows rose, looking to Stiles.
“There’s been a slight change in plan,” Stiles said with a grin. “We’re to take her to McCallis.”
“I see,” his father said. He bowed to Allison, then lead her to a horse, that he helped her mount. “We ride, for now.”
When they arrived at camp, they secured Allison in a tent of her own, and set up two guards for her. Stiles had just drifted off to sleep himself when he heard shouting. Without thinking, he’d rolled out of the cot he’d fallen into, and grabbed his sword. They were being attacked by Argenti soldiers, by the looks of the colors they wore. Cursing under his breath, Stiles made for Allison’s tent. The guards let him through without a word.
There, sitting on her cot, was Allison, sitting with her back straight and head held high.
“What luck you have,” Stiles said with a grin. “The gods must be on your side.” He didn’t wait for a response before he left the tent. They were barely twenty men, and by the looks of it, they had an entire legion of Argenti soldiers to fight.
Stiles found his father, staying by his side as he fought off men as best he could. When a sword was pointed at his neck, Stiles dropped his own, lifting his hand in defeat. When Chris Argent stepped into view, Stiles winced, falling to his knees before him. Chris looked to Stiles, then his father beside him, though he wasn’t dressed as the Minister of War, but as a plain soldier much like Stiles was.
“We’re taking prisoners,” Chris called out, his voice echoing. Stiles looked at the ground. “Shackle this one to three other men,” Chris said as he bent forward so that he and Stiles were eye to eye. “If we get back to the palace, the men shackled to you will be returned safely to McCallia. Do you understand me?” Chris said, looking Stiles in the face. Gritting his teeth, Stiles nodded. “Good.”
Stiles was forced to his feet as they not only bound his arms together, behind his back, but shackled him around his neck so that he couldn’t escape. Allison appeared, then, beside her father, who embraced her. Allison looked at Stiles, but he couldn’t decipher the look she’d given him. It wasn’t until then that Stiles noticed the crown upon Chris’ head: it was the King’s. Stiles looked towards his father, hoping that he saw the same thing he had - something had happened to Argentus.
Or rather, Chris was now Argentus, making Allison next in line.
The trek to the Argenti palace was long, and Stiles and the other prisoners were made to walk. At one point, the men around him said that they would fall with him, if he wished them to jump off the side of a cliff. Dying would be better than whatever torture they had in store for him. As much as he wished to do it, he wouldn’t give up the lives of the men attached to him in order to spare himself torment. They walked on.
Stiles tried not to think about what would happen to him once he got to the palace. He wouldn’t be killed, not right away. He’d been spared once by an Argenti King. That wouldn’t happen a second time, not if the gods had forsaken him.
Once they arrived at the palace, they were all lead into one of the throne rooms, a lesser one by the looks of it, where Chris sat upon the dais, with Allison by his side.
“Per my word, the men attached to the Thief will be returned to McCallia, along with a messenger, who will return here within a weeks time with McCallis’ reply. It will be the same messenger, and no one else.” Chris indicated who he wanted the messenger to be as the men around Stiles were released. Stiles looked up to see his father had been chosen as messenger.
Stiles hid his relief at his father not remaining within the palace walls. At least he’d be returned to Scott, so not all had been lost. Stiles’ eyes returned to the ground, then. The inevitable was to happen next, his condemnation, a dank, dark cell and perhaps torture. He wasn’t mentally prepared for it, his body shaking as footsteps approached.
A fine fabric stilled before him, a red dress, the color of McCallia, accented in gold, was what Allison wore. Stiles looked up at her, wondering for a moment if she chose the colors on purpose.
“I want him to be secured in a room,” she said, looking to her father. “With guards, until the messenger returns.” With a wave of his hand, Argentus allowed it. Stiles was hoisted to his feet, about to be drug away, when Allison grabbed hold of his chin, making him look her in the eye. “I have made my choice,” she told him. “Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Stiles muttered, his voice shaking. Allison dropped his chin, taking a step back from him as he was brought to a set of rooms, and not a cell in the dungeons. Stiles didn’t know which was worse: a cell that made him feel condemned as a prisoner, or a lavish room that only had the pretense of safety.
When the Minister of War returned to McCallia with a mere five men by his side, Scott’s stomach sank. He was in the antechamber of his rooms, thank the gods, because if he’d been holding court he wasn’t sure he’d have been able to hold back the stifling cry that he let escape his mouth, his hand covering it.
Stiles had been so sure that he’d succeed, and now his father came back without him. Scott his his eyes, expecting the worst.
“He’s alive,” Stilinski said. “They’re holding him as hostage.”
“We have his sister,” Harris pointed out.
“I’m to return as soon as possible with an answer,” Stilinski said, ignoring Harris as he handed Scott a letter, sealed with Argentus’ crest in wax. Scott ripped it open, reading over it as fast as possible. He looked to Harris, then back at the letter again.
“Did you know of Gerard’s passing?” Scott asked him. Harris shook his head, that he hadn’t. “But you just said we had his sister, not daughter. How did you know?”
“I assumed it was Chris who captured the Thief, Your Majesty,” Harris said cooly. “He is head of the Argenti Army.” Scott narrowed his eyes, but then kept reading. It seemed as though Gerard, the late king, had died in his sleep, leaving Chris as Argentus, and his daughter Allison as his heir. Scott’s eyes widened as he continued on reading. He looked up at Stilinski, then to Deaton, handing him the letter to read off.
“Summon Derek Hale,” Scott said, then waited. He rubbed at his chin, his arm resting on the armrest of his chair while he waited for Derek to be brought to him. The room was silent as they waited. A chair was brought for Stiles’ father, so he could rest, as well as fresh water and some food. Scott held the letter in his hand, his leg shaking as time ticked by.
Derek walked in with two guards, his eyes wide, relief flooding over him as he saw Stilinski sitting in the corner. Scott had to be very careful about how he worded what he was about to. He wished to be alone with Derek, to discuss this with him without an audience, any audience. Scott clenched his jaw before he spoke.
“Argentus is dead, his son has taken the throne,” Scott heard himself say. Derek eyed Stilinski, then his gaze fell onto Scott. “He’s offered me Allison’s hand.” Derek gave him a smile, but the unease he felt was apparent.
“Congratulations, Your Majesty,” he said, inclining his head, his hands remaining at their sides. Everything was so formal. All Scott wished to do was to speak to his friend alone, to discuss what he had to do.
“Thank you, Baron Hale,” Scott said, his tone plain, stripped of feeling. “In regards to the Thief, his release hinges on the release of Kate Argent, Argentus’ sister.”
“Of course,” Derek said, his lips a thin line.
“We’ll send the Minister back immediately with--”
Scott silenced Harris with a look. He wasn’t finished yet. He gripped the armrests of his chair with both hands as he steeled himself.
“I wish to speak with Derek alone,” Scott said, closing his eyes. He couldn’t do this in front of everyone, it would break him to do so, to betray his friendship, his history with not only Derek, but Stiles as well. Around the room, everyone paused. “Everyone leave,” Scott reiterated.
Once he and Derek were alone, he put his head in his hands. Derek stepped forward, down on one knee, placing a hand on Scott’s in comfort. Scott shook his head.
“I’m terrible,” Scott said aloud.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Derek whispered. “You’re a just King--”
“In order to free Stiles, Derek, I have to assure the King of Argenti that you’ll marry his sister.”
“What?” Derek asked, his voice barely above a whisper. Scott could barely look at him.
“It’s all in the letter. We’ll have a treaty, our countries joined by my marriage to Allison, and they’ll have your Barony. They want you, Derek.” Scott waited for Derek to move, let alone say something.
“Do it,” Derek said.
“If it means Stiles will come back unharmed, untouched, then do it,” Derek urged him. “I won’t have him in the hands of the Argents again. I won’t let them hurt him, not if I can’t help it.”
“Derek, but your land-- your money, they want your money. Stiles himself told me that they are bankrupt--”
“Doesn’t matter, I’d give it all over to them if it meant that Stiles would be safe. I want him safe, Scott. He’s lost enough.”
“There has to be another way,” Scott urged. “He’ll never forgive me if I sell you of to the Argents.”
“I’ll never forgive myself if they kill him because I refused Kate.”
“Maybe we can treaty without the marriages,” Scott mumbled.
“You love Allison,” Derek said. “At least one of us will be happy.”
“I want you to be happy, I want Stiles to be happy.”
“I will be, once I know he’s back safe in McCallia,” Derek assured him. “Send word that I accept, upon the return of the Thief.”
The first time someone opened the door to Stiles’ room, he rushed them in an attempt to escape. It was stupid, on his part, but he’d assumed they came in to bring him either to be tortured, or to his death, so running felt like the right thing to do.
A guard stopped him, easily, as a servant brought him in food, then left, leaving him alone once more. Stiles beat his fist against the door after it shut, screaming until he was hoarse. He ignored the food, in case it was poison.
There was nothing in the room, despite it’s ornateness, for Stiles to do. There were no books, no chess set, no anything. Stiles had opened the window, contemplating escaping, but there was nothing to hold onto, no niche or foot ledge. Only a sudden drop.
He’d decided to leave the window open, just in case.
Just in case they came in for him. He’d rather die than have them spend days trying to get information from him. Stiles fell asleep, more from hunger than from exhaustion, though he was that too.
He opened his eyes when he heard the door open, the same servant had brought more food. When she saw that he hadn’t eaten a bite of his previous meal, she frowned.
“You need to eat,” she urged him. Stiles let out a short, scathing laugh at the irony.
“If I’m to die anyways, why waste the food,” Stiles murmured. “I’m not eating poison.”
“It isn’t poison,” she said, setting the tray down on the empty desk. She picked up the bread, ripping a piece off and popping it into her mouth. Then, she took the spoon, drinking some of the broth from the stew in it. “See?”
Stiles narrowed his eyes, but sat up from where he’d fallen asleep on the bed, above the covers. At least he could eat stew with one hand. He watched her go without another word, then stared at the food for a few minutes, contemplating.
“If they wanted me dead, it would be publically,” Stiles told himself as he stood up, walking over to the bed. He was starving, and there was even watered wine with the meal. He drank that down first, then dunked the bread into the stew, taking bites of it until it was gone.
It was the most delicious stew he’d ever had.
Then, he slept again.
It went on for days, the servant girl brought him food twice a day, and though he had a pot to piss in, the guards shackled him to walk him down the halls towards to relieve himself and stretch his legs. He was going stir crazy in the room with nothing to do, left with nothing but his mind, he counted the coffered ceiling tiles, the floor boards, and made up stories for each of the tapestries that hung in his ornate cell. A cage was still a cage, no matter how gilded it was.
On what Stiles supposed was the sixth day, the door opened unexpectedly, in the middle of the day. Stiles had been sitting in a chair by the window, drug close so he could put his feet up against the sill and stare out at the scenery. He didn’t turn when the door opened, despite his curiosity.
Eventually, Chris Argent came into view, or Argentus now, Stiles supposed.
“Lovely view, isn’t it?” Chris asked him. Stiles slouched down further in his chair, his face blank of all expression. “I gave you a room on this side of the palace for a reason,” Chris said as he bent over the chair. “So you could see your mountains, and wonder if you’d ever return there.”
He left him then, leaving him with only the thinly veiled threat that he wasn’t, and hadn’t ever been, safe.
Stiles didn’t eat the next meal that was brought to him, he’d tossed it out the window. But he’d drunk the wine.
After he’d been relieved, thanks to the guards, Stiles spent the evening walking around his rooms. He hadn’t ever been in them, so at first he’d considered that it didn’t have a second door, hidden by a tapestry, but perhaps he’d be wrong. They gave him an oil lamp to see by when the sun went down, taking it away every morning, that Stiles held up against the wall as he lifted the tapestries one by one, putting it at his back. He used his fake hand, a groove between his thumb and forefinger, to keep the lamp in place, so that he could run his fingers over the wall, trying to find any indication of a sealed off door.
He looked until sun up, but to no avail. The oil had been spent, the light distinguished as he fell into bed, spiraling into hopelessness.
Stiles could smell himself.
It was always a bad sign, he knew, when ones own odor could be smelled by themselves. It had been almost two weeks, by his count, and he could do nothing but wait for when he was drug out of the room by the guards.
Of course, that’s when the door opened to reveal Allison, beautiful as ever. Stiles looked at her from his chair by the window, but otherwise didn’t react. She’d brought guards with her as she entered. If she could smell Stiles, she did a good job of not showing it across her face. She looked him over, standing beside him. He looked up at her, sighing.
“Your Highness,” he said without weight behind it. “To what do I owe for this visit?”
“A bath, I think,” Allison said with a tilt of her head. Stiles held back a laugh; a thief didn’t make a noise that they hadn’t intended to make. “Guards,” she said, ushering them forward.
The bath was more extravagant than the ones in McCallia, the water hot and the soaps smelling of different scents. Stiles took his time, eyeing the guards as he stood naked, sniffing each one before he stepped into the steaming bath.
He groaned as he sunk down into the water, propriety be damned, as he began scrubbing himself with the soap and a cloth they’d given him. The guards themselves turned away from Stiles, giving a sense of privacy though there had been none. He’d avoided taking off his fake hand up until that moment, because he couldn’t put it on alone. His wrist where it had been cut was rubbed raw from the chafing, and Stiles tried not to mess with it.
When he haphazardly dried himself off, one of the guards called for a servant to help dress him. They gave him new clothes, and helped reattach his hand. Stiles wished it was his hook, instead. Once dressed, Stiles walked down the hallways with his entourage without shackles. He made to turn back towards his rooms, but they ushered him another way.
Stiles refused to show them his panic as he followed, worrying that they’d made him bathe before beheading him, gave him clean clothes before soaking them with his blood. He was lost in his own thoughts as he was brought into the throne room. Court was being held, it seemed, for his death.
The expansive room was full to the brim, even the aisle down the center was narrower than Stiles had ever seen. They’d come for a show.
Stiles looked to the ground instead of at the courtiers and Barons, Dukes and Duchesses of Argenti. He hated all of them. When the guards stopped moving, he did as well. He waited for his sentence, Argentus’ decision, but it didn’t come.
Silence rang throughout the court.
“As you can see,” Argentus said eventually from the throne, “your Thief is unharmed.” Stiles lifted his head, then, to see Scott standing upon the dais, by Argentus’ side, just behind Allison’s smaller throne where she sat with a smile on her face. Stiles looked then, to her ears, where the earrings he’d given her for Scott hung. He’d seen them, of course, weeks prior, but he thought it had been a russe, considering he was left in the room for so long.
“Thank you, Argentus,” Scott said, his voice impassive as he looked at Stiles. Stiles looked around the room, then, his eyes falling on his father, who was off to the side. He began to shake, just as he began to hope. Stiles looked at Scott, hoping his look conveyed how he felt.
“We have returned Kate Argent to you, also unharmed,” Scott said, projecting his words so that the entire room could hear. “And with my Thief returned to me, discussions on the treaty can begin.”
“Indeed,” Argentus said. “I will amend, though, that I can’t have your thief roaming my castle freely.” Stiles’ jaw clenched, as did Scott’s, as they both stared at Argentus. “He’ll have a guard with him at all times, though he will not be shackled. You, of course, understand this precaution?”
“I do,” Scott said, conceding to it though Stiles could see that he didn’t want to. Stiles was still a prisoner, and probably would remain one until the treaty was signed. He was relieved, though, that his plan had essentially worked.
He’d brought his King peace, and a wife he loved.
Court was adjourned shortly after, like Stiles had been the last order of business for the day. Without being able to so much as hug his father, Stiles was lead away from the throne room by his personal guards. They walked down hallways and corridors, up staircases and into an antechamber. It was empty.
Without a word, they waited. Stiles looked around the room, taking in his surroundings as he waited for either someone to arrive or for the guards to take him somewhere else.
Scott walked in moments later. Stiles rushed forward, his arms wrapping around him. The guards would tell Argentus, but he didn’t care. Scott hugged him back, though Stiles could tell that where he himself didn’t care what the guards saw, Scott did. Stiles didn’t want to let him go, but when his father stepped inside the antechamber he flung himself at him as well.
“Glad to see Argentus is a man of his word,” his father said as he eyed the guards, gauging their reactions. None of them said anything. “You are unharmed?”
“Only bored,” Stiles said. “What took so long?”
“It’s a long journey when you travel with royalty,” his father said. Stiles couldn’t help but grin.
“Tell me everything,” Stiles urged his father and Scott. Scott remained silent as Stiles turned towards the guards.
“Go outside,” Stiles said. “I’m not going anywhere.” The guards exchanged glances.
“Leave us,” Scott said with more feeling, the commanding voice of a King. The guards left. Once the door was shut, the one that lead into the guardroom of the quarters, Derek stepped out from behind a partition, where he’d been waiting. Stiles’ breath caught in his throat.
He hadn’t known Derek had traveled with them. As he stepped forward, Stiles wasn’t sure how to act. If he went on pretending his feelings for Derek were the same as his feelings for Scott, then a hug would be just as important, but if Derek was, well, his, then a hug would mean more.
Stiles didn’t have the time to go over anything in his mind, because Derek had wrapped him up in his arms. Stiles smiled against Derek’s neck as they rocked back and forth. He felt wetness, against his cheeks, at first believing it to be his own tears, but then he saw Derek’s face and his glassy eyes. Derek was crying.
Stiles wiped at Derek’s eyes with his thumb.
“I’m alright,” Stiles assured him, his voice barely a whisper. Derek nodded his head, once, then kissed him. Stiles kissed him back, allowing himself the luxury, despite not being alone, because he’d believed that he’d never see Derek again.
When they pulled apart, his father and Scott were looking out the windows, in an attempt to give them a moment of privacy. So they knew, then.
“I told them,” Derek said, uncertainty plaguing his tone. Stiles smiled, kissing him again. “I had to.”
“Had to?” Stiles asked, his fingers playing with the hair at the nape of Derek’s neck. Derek nodded his head, brushing his nose against Stiles’ cheek, then his neck, holding him close.
“We need to talk,” Scott said, finally. “Urgently.”
The four of them sat at a table, with wine glasses and an amphora half full once they’d each been poured a cup by Derek.
“The treaty talks will begin this afternoon,” Scott told Stiles. “Among luncheons and dinners, we are to be civil and pleasant, only talking of the treaty during the allotted times.”
“That seems contrite,” Stiles murmured.
“It’s safe. We will not be harmed, not if they want peace.”
“Do they?” Stiles asked, mostly to his father.
“It seems that way.”
“Good,” Stiles said. “So, Allison?”
“Yes,” Scott said, exchanging a glance with Derek. Stiles’ eyes narrowed.
“What else? What sweetened the pot? Surely it wasn’t Allison, and then an exchange of Kate and I.” Silence fell upon the table as tension in the room rose. “Scott, what was the other part of the deal?”
“I was,” Derek said, not looking at Stiles. Stiles’ stomach sank.
“No,” he said, shaking his head.
“I’m to marry Kate--”
“No,” Stiles shouted, his fist hitting the table as he stood up. He looked to Scott, pleadingly. The look on Scott’s face said everything: there was nothing to be done. If they wanted peace, if Scott were to have Allison, then Derek would be Kate’s, along with his Barony and wealth.
Stiles was going to be sick.
“There has to be another way.”
“They won’t sign a treaty without it,” Scott assured Stiles. Stiles looked around the room, his jaw clenched, as he sought after something that he could throw. His eyes fell upon an inkpot, which he threw against the wall. It shattered, ink staining the walls.
“Stiles!” His father shouted. “Calm down and sit.”
Stiles’ chest heaved as he looked at Scott and Derek, both of which weren’t looking at him in return. It wasn’t fair, nothing was fair. He had nothing, no one. Derek was sold off to the Argents like cattle.
“I’m calm,” Stiles said through gritted teeth. “And I won’t sit down, I may need to throw more inkpots. If you’ll excuse me.”
Stiles strode into the adjacent room, slamming the door shut. It was a bed chamber, more than likely Scott’s. He grabbed one of the intricately embroidered pillows off of the bed and screamed into it. His plan had worked, it had worked and it got Scott what he wanted, but it left him with nothing; less than nothing.
He’d have to watch Derek marry her.
A knock at the door found Stiles on his knees, hand out before him, holding him up as he looked down at the rug, but not seeing anything. He felt as though he was going to snap in two, the world spinning out of control around him with no way to stop it.
“I have to stop it,” Stiles murmured to himself as someone knelt beside him, placing a hand on his lower back. Stiles shut his eyes to keep tears from falling down his cheeks. One hit his hand anyways, and then another.
“I’m sorry,” Derek said.
Stiles cried harder, shaking his head as he slumped over into a sitting position. Derek wrapped Stiles up in his arms, his robes now stained with tears.
“I’m sorry,” Derek said again.
“Why?” Stiles asked, his voice cracking.
“Because I accepted the terms.”
“But why? Why would you accept them?” Stiles asked. He looked at Derek, his lips, his finely oiled hair, his trimmed beard. He loved Derek, would do anything for him.
“Because they were going to kill you,” Derek said. “And I would marry her a thousand times over if it meant you’d be alive.” Stiles shut his eyes, biting his lip. He’d survived losing his hand, survived torture, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to survive losing Derek to the Argents.
“Don’t go through with it,” Stiles said.
“They’ll arrest you.”
“I’ll escape,” Stiles said, faking a smile. Derek didn’t give him one in return. Instead, he kissed Stiles chastely on the lips. “Are you to wed here?”
“Yes,” Derek said gravely. Stiles nodded his head, resigned as he kissed him again, lingering.
Derek watched as Stiles was lead out of Scott’s antechamber by an entourage of six guards. When the door shut, he sat down and sighed. Stilinski stood by the fireplace, leaning against the mantle as he stared into the cold grate. Scott was staring out the window, his hands behind his back.
“He’s going to do something brash,” Derek said after a moment. “He’s going to try to save me.”
“I know,” Stiles’ father said, letting out an excruciating groan as he shook his head.
“We can’t stop him,” Scott said, looking over at Derek. “Unless you want to.”
“I don’t want him to get himself killed.”
“He’s been rather good about that not happening so far,” Scott pointed out. Derek tried not to smile, but he couldn’t help himself. “The guards will keep him busy.”
“They’re moving his room to this corridor, at least,” Stilinski said. “It will have him closer to us, maybe he’ll be less inclined to try something.”
“It will entice him more,” Derek said, knowing Stiles too well.
“We’ll have to hope nothing comes of it before the treaty is signed.”
A knock at the door had all three of their heads turning towards it. Deaton and Harris walked in, and Derek decided to take his leave. He wasn’t to be a part of the negotiations, so there was no reason for him to be there. He made his way to his rooms, which was only a few doors down from Scott’s. His apartments in the Argenti palace was two rooms, a meeting room with a desk and table with chairs, and then his bed chamber.
He’d barely walked into his bed chamber before there was a knock at the door, almost inaudible. When he opened the door, he found Kate standing there with her servants and guards.
“I didn’t know you requested an audience,” Derek said. “I would have come to you, Duchess,” Derek said with a slight bow. Now that Chris was king, Kate was no longer princess, but a duchess, soon to be a baroness. He didn’t want to think of that, though.
Kate smiled, extending her hand for him to take. He kissed the top of it lightly before dropping it and putting his hands behind his back.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Derek asked.
“I like to take my daily walk in the afternoons, and would like to extend an invitation to you to join me.”
It was the last thing Derek wanted to do, but he inclined his head, giving Kate his arm so that she could hook hers in it and walk side by side. Luckily, it was a beautiful day out. Once in the high walled garden, Kate smiled.
“The gardens here are extensive,” Kate said. “Built like a maze. One could get lost in them if they weren’t careful.”
“I’m sure you know the way around, and we won’t be in peril,” Derek assured her. Kate gave him a sly smile, only the corner of her mouth lifting.
They didn’t talk about their marriage, only safe topics such as the weather and the evenings entertainment. When he returned to his rooms more than an hour later, he downed a cup of wine, then poured himself another, wondering if he’d drown himself in it in order to get through the rest of his life, or what was left of it.
As he poured a third cup, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Stiles was in his rooms.
“Decide that a drunken state was necessary after one walk with her?” Stiles asked. He leaned against the mantelpiece, looking like his father.
“You knew where I was?” Derek asked, knowing that Stiles knew a lot of things that he shouldn’t. “And how are you here?”
“I know because the entire palace knows,” Stiles said as he rolled his eyes. He seemed distant, closed off, like he had been before they’d been together. Derek didn’t like it. He swallowed down his third cup in as many minutes. He poured another. “And I’m here because they moved my rooms, thankfully, to one with a second door out of it. My guards are currently guarding an empty room with the door bolted shut.”
“Ah,” Derek said, looking down at his empty cup. His eyes grew heavier with each blink. Stiles took the amphora from him, setting it down out of reach.
“Derek, tell me you don’t want her.”
“I don’t,” Derek admitted. “I want you, but we both know that-- that isn’t going to be possible.”
“Will you remain in McCallia?” Stiles asked, turning his back on Derek.
“That’s to be determined,” Derek growled. “In the treaty meetings.”
“It’s your barony,” Stiles pointed out. “Yours, not Scott’s.”
“He’ll do what’s best for me,” Derek said, looking down at the table instead of at Stiles. Stiles scoffed. “Stiles--”
“I love you,” Stiles said, turning his head enough to look at Derek. Derek’s cheeks reddened, and not from the wine. “I’ll die before you marry her.”
“No, you won’t. That’s the whole point of me doing this, so you won’t die!”
“I don’t want you forfeiting your barony so the Argenti can get their fingers on your money,” Stiles hissed. “If they want jewels, I will steal them jewels,” Stiles said as his voice rose higher and higher. “I’ll go to Deucalius and steal his treasure and hand it over to Argentus if it means keeping her away from you.”
“Your sovereignty is to Scott,” Derek said, his voice hushed.
“My sovereignty is to McCallia,” Stiles said. “My oath is secret, passed down amongst thieves. Do not give up your family’s wealth for Argentus.”
“Stiles,” Derek said, covering his face with his hands. “What can I say to make you believe me when I say I don’t care about that -- I care about you.”
“I won’t lose you to her!”
“You won’t lose me,” Derek assured him. “My heart is yours.”
“Your body?” Stiles asked. “You know that if you marry her--”
“Stiles,” Derek said, unable to handle the thought of being intimate with her, with anyone that wasn’t Stiles. “Please.”
“I’m going to fix this,” Stiles said. When Derek looked up, Stiles was gone.
Peace talks took time, as did the terms of the treaty. Scott felt as though he walked on eggshells around not only the Argenti council members, but his own as well. Knowing that this treaty would hurt Stiles, hurt Derek, was what weighed on his mind the most.
He took afternoon walks with Allison, accompanied by not only her entourage, but by Derek and Kate as well. It was odd, the mass amount of people walking around the gardens when it was supposedly a private walk. Scott never failed to notice Stiles, usually up on the roof of the palace, looking down on them. He didn’t mention it to anyone else, for fear of bringing attention to him.
The only time that Scott saw Stiles was at dinner. Each night was a big affair, with multiple courses, music and dancing, sometimes even a play, acted out before them. Scott sat at a high table, next to Argentus and Harris, while Allison sat next to her father on the other side. Derek sat next to Kate and the Minister of War. Stiles, though, was seated next to Deaton, farther down the table.
Scott had a duty to talk to the Argenti Barons, as well as his own, making rounds around the Great Hall. It was a dance in and of itself, in a way. He tried to keep tabs on Stiles, but it was a difficult task to take on.
“My ring!” A woman, aghast, shouted out, bringing attention to herself. “It’s missing.” Scott looked around the room for Stiles, but he was nowhere to be seen. Well, until he showed up standing beside Scott, his hand under his chin while his hooked hand held it up.
“I wonder what happened,” Stiles said, a wry smile appearing across his lips. In his hand, of course, was the missing ring.
“Give it back,” Scott said, though he knew Stiles wouldn’t. Stiles looked at him, astounded at the demand.
“It’s being offered,” Stiles said, tossing it in the air, then putting it in his pocket. “I’m sure the others will realize soon enough.”
“Realize what?” Scott asked.
“That they shouldn’t mess with me,” Stiles said before he walked off into the unsuspecting crowd. Even one handed, he was still a thief, the Thief, and it seemed as though everyone had forgotten that he was the reason the treaty was happening in the first place.
It was a dangerous thing, Scott knew, Stiles’ power. He was the maker of Kings, and he could be the destroyer of them as well.
Stiles walked gingerly across the parapet, high above the ground with a wine skin dangling from his hand. He wavered, more from drink than from lack of balance. He felt numb, subdued as jewels he’d stolen weighed heavily in his pockets. They were trinkets, really, baubles. He didn’t take diamonds; mostly garnets.
He didn’t want to start a war.
Stiles laughed to himself, throwing his head back at the irony. He’d started a war, alright, and now that it was over; he was restless. He hopped from one ledge to another, then another, making his way dangerously around the palace roof.
His guards, the idiots, had let him wander during the party. They underestimated him, just as everyone else had. Stiles’ foot slipped, and he tumbled forwards. He didn’t make a sound as he rolled, tucking his head in as his back hit the stone parapet.
He was back on his feet in moments, lifting himself up with the momentum of the tumble.
“Stiles!” He heard someone shout. “Come down here.”
“No!” Stiles shouted back, then took the wineskin and drank more of it. He wasn’t coming down, didn’t want to. He wanted to climb higher and higher. So he did.
His guards had found him at last, it seemed, and quite a crowd was gathering to watch his progress. He could hear them murmur as he did another somersault, just to mess with them. He grinned when he heard them gasp below.
“Stiles,” a voice said, this time closer, they’d climbed up to the roof to join him. Stiles turned his head, his back facing Derek. He frowned. “Come down.”
“No,” Stiles said, his brow furrowed. Derek’s hand was outreached towards him. Stiles ignored it.
“You’ll fall,” Derek said.
“All thieves fall,” Stiles said offhandedly. “It’s the will of the gods that it be so, you know that Derek,” Stiles said, his words slurring. “You know that.”
“I don’t want you to fall,” Derek said, his voice calm. Stiles wagged his finger at Derek.
“If I fall, you won’t have to marry her,” Stiles said, as if he’d cracked a code. “If I fall--”
Stiles dropped the wineskin, then tumbled again. Derek shouted, lunging forward to grab hold of him, but there was no need. Stiles did a single handed handstand, his legs lifted into the air. One wrong move and he’d fall off the palace roof.
“I won’t fall,” Stiles said with a sigh.
“For me, will you please stop?” Stiles got back to his feet, his shoulders sagging. “Come down from there,” Derek pleaded.
“I can’t bare it,” Stiles said, looking away from Derek and over the edge of the palace.
“I know,” Derek said as Stiles shut his eyes.
“They sent you up because they thought I’d jump didn’t they?”
“Yes,” Derek said, his voice broken. Stiles stuck his foot out, as if about to walk straight off the roof when Derek wrapped his arms around him. Stiles grimaced at how good it felt to have Derek embracing him once more. Derek pulled Stiles away from the edge, where they sat. Derek kissed Stiles’ forehead, the edge of his hair, then his ear as footsteps approached.
His touch lingered after he stood, leaving Stiles to be hoisted to his feet by his guards.
Stiles felt trapped, and not just by the Argenti, but by Derek as well. He wished to be free, and that was hard to do under the haze of wine. Stiles was brought to bed, hastily dumped and then left alone. The room spun as he lay there.
He retched in a basin before sneaking off into the dark passageway. He stumbled into Derek’s rooms. They were dark, not even lit by an oil lamp as Stiles crawled into Derek’s bed, burying his face in Derek’s pillow. He slept, then.
Derek had gone back to the party, where Kate awaited him. They’d been dancing when he was called away by Deaton. Seeing Stiles on the roof had Derek in a panic. There was no doubt in his mind that if Stiles had wanted to die, he would have jumped.
He hadn’t though. He’d been playing around on the roof, like he did when they were children. Stiles had always liked doing handstands on the parapets, somersaults and jumps across seemingly impossible gaps between walls.
In the dark, shrouded with doubt, Derek had been sure Stiles couldn’t do it. It scared him, thinking about a world without Stiles in it. The treaty was destroying Stiles, and no one seemed to see it but him. He cared more about Stiles’ well being than the fact that he was the one being married off.
Derek walked back to his rooms after bading Kate a good night. Since returning to Argenti, she seemed softer, less conniving. Now that she would get what she wanted, Derek supposed, of course she’d be more amiable.
A breakthrough in the treaty had been reached that morning, and the go ahead for the royal wedding was decided. Scott and Allison would be married first, in McCallia. They would be leaving to go back within a few days’ time. It was a relief, knowing that the wedding would be in McCallia, to crown Allison as queen. It only seemed right.
Derek covered his mouth to stifle the shout he’d been about to make when he saw a moving form in his bed. He relaxed immediately when he saw that it was Stiles who lay there. He always looked so peaceful while asleep, innocent, like you’d forgive him any transgression. Derek would forgive him anything, had already forgiven him the moment he had Stiles in his arms.
Derek sat on the edge of the bed, running his fingers through Stiles’ hair as he watched him sleep. He wished he’d have the opportunity to spend his life time with Stiles in his bed, whether asleep or awake, it didn’t matter. Stiles stirred beneath his touch, his eyes opening.
“Derek,” Stiles said, almost whining. “I couldn’t sleep alone.”
“No need,” Derek said, leaning forward and kissing Stiles on the lips. He still tasted of wine, but the glassy look in his eyes was gone. He’d left Stiles hours ago with his guards. Derek got up from the bed, but Stiles’ hand on his wrist stopped him.
“I’m going to change,” Derek said. “Then I’ll join you.” He hastily changed out of his uncomfortable evening attire, and crawled into bed beside Stiles, wrapping him up in his arms. Stiles curled in against him, his lips brushing against Derek’s again and again. Perhaps this was all they could have: stolen moments in the dark of night. Derek would take anything, any moment alone with Stiles that he could. They slept, tangled together beneath the sheets.
They were to ride in carriages back to McCallia. The luggage was packed and Derek was to share with Harris and Deaton for the long journey. He was the first inside as he waited for the caravan to leave. When the door opened, to his amazement, he saw Stiles stepping into it instead of Harris or Deaton. Stiles sat across from him, a smirk on his face. He always seemed more himself in the light of day, or rather, the Stiles that everyone expected him to be. The sun hid Stiles’ true self well, as if it too, were a mask.
“What are you doing?” Derek asked.
“I’m sharing a carriage with you,” Stiles pointed out as he put his feet up on the cushion, his feet tapping against Derek’s thigh. “I suggested it be best for Deaton and Harris to ride with my father, so they can discuss important business that I have no need of hearing,” Stiles said with the wave of his hand. “Scott agreed with me wholeheartedly.” Stiles looked at his hand, as if admiring it. When his gaze lifted to Derek, it was heady. “We’re alone.”
“I see,” Derek said just as the carriage started moving. “How fortuitous.”
“Indeed,” Stiles said as he looked out the window. Derek put his hand on Stiles’ ankle, rubbing it as they passed the Argenti people who lined the streets of the city, bading the king and his entourage a good journey. Stiles even waved half-heartedly at them as he pressed his foot against Derek’s thigh. Derek kneaded his fingers against Stiles’ calf, slowly working his way upwards.
Stiles shut his eyes, letting out a small moan as he rest his head against the back of the carriage. When he opened them, his pupils were blown wide.
“Tell me,” Derek said as he massaged his way up Stiles’ leg, then back down it again. “That you won’t do something stupid.” Stiles bit his lip as Derek’s hands went to his inner thigh, then back down his leg again.
“I can’t,” Stiles said, breathing heavily. Derek brushed across Stiles’ crotch with his hand, and then Stiles couldn’t take it any longer. He lunged across the small carriage, straddling Derek’s lap as their mouths crashed together. Derek held Stiles close as the kiss deepened. “I can’t tell you that,” Stiles said awhile later. Haphazardly, Derek tugged at the curtains, closing them without looking, his hand then moving to the nape of Stiles’ neck.
“Why?” Derek said as he palmed Stiles’ ass through the fabric of his trousers. Stiles gasped against Derek’s mouth as he rolled his hips against him.
“Because it will be a lie,” Stiles supplied, biting down on Derek’s lip. Derek groaned as he shifted them, pressing Stiles down against the cushioned bench. They didn’t fit on it sideways, but it didn’t matter. The space was cramped and their limbs were falling off the bench as Derek kissed him, his hand shoving Stiles’ tunic out of the way enough that he could ghost his hand over Stiles’ erection.
“So don’t lie,” Derek said as he licked at Stiles’ neck. Stiles’ back arched, his mouth open wide in a silent moan as Derek stroked him through the rough fabric.
“Do you wish me to tell you I won’t do something stupid, or not lie?” Stiles asked, tugging at Derek’s own trousers. Derek silenced him with another kiss, his tongue pressing against Stiles’ lips, begging entrance.
“Truth,” Derek said, his fingers working open Stiles’ lace front leather pants, freeing his cock. He wrapped a hand around it before he slid off of the bench, his mouth wrapping around Stiles’ erection. Stiles carded his fingers through Derek’s hair, holding onto it as he began to thrust his hips, letting out small noises that made Derek harder in his pants, almost unbearably so.
“I’m going to do something so stupid, it will work,” Stiles admitted. “It will work.”
Derek wrapped his hand around Stiles’ cock, stroking it as he looked up at him, his eyes heavily lidded as he licked at Stiles’ head.
“What if I didn’t want you to?” Derek asked him. Stiles squirmed beneath his touch, licking his lips as Derek took him into his mouth once more.
“Please,” Stiles said. Derek wasn’t sure if the plea was for Derek to allow him to come, or allow him to do something insane that could possibly destroy the treaty he’d brought about. Derek decided to let him come.
He licked up his length, taking him into his mouth until Stiles’ cock hit the back of his throat, then even further. Stiles shouted, hand tugging at Derek’s hair painfully as he came down his throat.
Derek wiped at his mouth, resting his head against Stiles’ thigh, the feel of the moving carriage jostling him from side to side. He could taste Stiles on his lips, in his mouth, and though he was about to come himself, completely untouched, he didn’t want to move. He wanted to remain there, between Stiles’ legs.
Stiles shifted above him, lifting Derek head with a mere finger below his chin. When he kissed Derek, it was open-mouthed and filthy. Derek closed his eyes, letting it overtake him completely. Stiles joined him on the floor of the carriage, his hand palming at Derek’s erection through the fabric of his pants, looser and a different style than his own. He outlined Derek’s cock with his fingers, stroking him through the soft fabric. Derek moaned into Stiles’ mouth, then helped Stiles by shoving his pants out of the way so that Stiles could wrap his hand around Dereks straining cock.
Derek let out a choked sob as he came embarrassingly fast, with Stiles’ head resting against his shoulder, looking down at his come covered hand. Stiles licked his fingers slowly, then kissed Derek on the lips. Derek could taste himself on Stiles’ tongue, sucked on it until the taste was nothing but a memory.
this chapter has some bottom Derek in it, FYI. not tagging it, but here is your note in case that isn't your thing.
They napped until they stopped for a late lunch, the two of them straightening each other up as best they could before they emerged from the carriage. Stiles stayed near to Derek until Kate appeared, waiting to be escorted by Derek to the makeshift picnic. Stiles watched as Derek let her hook her arm in his, his stomach clenching.
He might have Derek’s heart behind closed doors, but he belonged to Kate in the eyes of the world. As much as he wanted to be close to Derek, seeing him with her made him sick. Instead of joining the others, Stiles took a walk to stretch his legs.
By the time he returned, they were packing up, so he went straight into the carriage. It would be a long journey back to McCallia, and he was used to rushing, not being with a royal escort. It put him in a sour mood. He waited for Derek to return to the carriage. When he shut the door behind him and drew the curtains closed Stiles let out a sigh of frustration.
“Did you eat?” Derek asked.
“No,” Stiles mumbled.
“Why not?” Derek asked him. Stiles picked at the cushion, shrugging petulantly. “Stiles.”
“Because I didn’t want to watch her,” Stiles said, unable to even say Kate’s name. Derek looked at his hands. “I can’t watch this happen.”
“Well, it’s going to happen whether you like it or not. We can go through this together, Stiles, you and I, or I can go through it alone.”
“I can stop this.”
“No, you can’t,” Derek said. “Now do you wish to fight during this time together, or do you wish to make the best of it?” Stiles didn’t answer him as the carriage started up, his arms crossed as he looked out the window.
“I don’t want to fight,” Stiles admitted.
“Then come here,” Derek beckoned. Stiles moved to Derek’s side of the carriage, leaning against him, draping his leg over Derek’s thigh. He kissed Derek, their fingers intertwining as they watched the countryside pass them by.
Before nightfall, they stopped for the night to make camp. There were tents, filled with cots and makeshift rooms with rugs and lamps. Stiles was even given one, though his was smaller than Scott’s lavish one, and even Derek’s. All he really needed was a bed, though he wouldn’t be staying in it. Pretense was everything, though. He made a show after dinner of stretching, yawning, and calling it a night before he snuck off to Kate’s tent. He knew that she would be with Derek until he went to bed.
Stiles went through her chest, filled with jewels, dresses, and letters. Stiles read through the ones that were open, unable to do anything with the sealed ones. They weren’t incriminating, which he’d hoped they would be. Stiles cast them aside as he dug deeper. He didn’t find anything, but ended up taking one of her necklaces with blue teardrop sapphires before putting her things back in place.
He had just left when he ran straight into Harris, who was walking around the campsite without a lamp. For the Secretary of the Archives, it was an odd detail worth mentioning. Stiles narrowed his eyes at him.
“Stiles,” Harris said, accusingly. “Your tent is on the other side of camp.”
“Is it?” Stiles said, looking around. “You know, walking around in the dark, one is bound to get turned around.” He walked away without another word, leaving Harris behind. It wasn’t until he was ten paces away did he turn to look at him out of the corner of his eye. Harris was watching him.
Stiles turned into his father’s tent, just to be safe. His father sat at a desk, writing a letter when Stiles walked through the opening. He looked up at Stiles, lifting his eyebrows.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you,” he said as he went back to writing.
“It was an unintentional visit,” Stiles said, running his fingers through his hair as he let out a breath.
“What have you there?” His dad asked him. Stiles looked at his hand, then smiled as he let the necklace fall, showing off it’s shape. “That looks expensive.”
“You would think with how empty the Argenti vaults are, they’d sell off their jewels.”
“Do not steal from the princess,” his father warned. Stiles tutted as he tossed the necklace in the air, then caught it again.
“It isn’t the princess’,” Stiles scoffed. “It’s the duchess’.”
“Put it back.”
“No,” Stiles said, pocketing it. “I plan on giving it to Derek on his wedding day, along with every other piece of jewelry I have of theirs as my wedding gift. He can give them back slowly over time.”
“Stiles,” his father sighed out, rubbing his hands over his face. “You can’t--”
“Good night, father,” Stiles said, leaving the tent. He didn’t have to listen to anyone berate him for his grudges. He’d lost a hand to the Argents. The only one of them that he could stand was Allison, and that was because he’d watched her grow up. He’d gone to Argenti since a young child, especially after Scott had met her the first time. He’d fallen in love with her, had begged Stiles to find out what he could about her, before either of them realized what real power was.
Stiles kicked at stones on the ground as he walked to his tent. Instead of going inside, he went to Derek’s. He was about to step through the flap when he heard that Derek wasn’t alone in his tent. Quietly, Stiles walked around the outside of it, pressing his ear in closer.
“We don’t have to wait,” he heard Kate say.
“With all due respect,” Derek said, near to where Stiles was eavesdropping, “I’d rather we wait.”
“Why?” Kate said in a faux whisper. Stiles closed his eyes as he imagined her saying it into Derek’s ear. He shuddered with loathing, his lip lifting in a sneer. Derek cleared his throat, then walked away from the edge of the tent. Unable to hear Derek’s response, Stiles shifted around to the other side of the tent, careful of each foot step he made. There was a slap that echoed within Stiles’ mind as he watched Kate storm off towards her own tents. Once she was out of view, Stiles entered the tent to find Derek holding his face gingerly, but had a smile on his face when his eyes fell upon Stiles.
“What earned you that?” Stiles asked him as he poured himself a cup of wine, ignoring how his hand shook.
“Refusal,” Derek said as he stepped towards him. “Have you come to drink all my wine, or for company?”
“Your wine is less watered,” Stiles said with a small smirk.
“Has the time we spent together not been sufficient?” Derek asked as his thumb brushed across Stiles’ wine coated lips. Stiles stuck his tongue out, licking at it, then taking it into his mouth, sucking on it. Derek grunted as he pulled Stiles in for a kiss, the wine cup all but forgotten on the table.
“I’ll never be fully satiated,” Stiles admitted as he walked himself towards Derek’s cot. It would be a tight fit, two grown men on a makeshift bed, but Stiles had no plans of leaving Derek that night.
Derek’s eyebrows rose as he began undressing himself as Stiles stepped out of his pants and kicked off his boots. Stiles removed his hook, his cheeks red as he looked at it on the floor, his body bare. Derek wrapped him up in his arms, unable to keep his hands to himself. Stiles kissed him, dragging his mouth across Derek’s cheek and ear as Derek parted Stiles’ ass cheeks, teasing with a finger.
“Have you any--”
“Yes, in my trunk,” Derek assured him. Derek left Stiles standing naked in the middle of his tent to search his trunks. Hidden away in a small satchel was the vial of oil. Derek held it in his hand as Stiles sat on the bed, his erection standing up against his stomach.
“Would you be satiated if you fucked me?” Derek asked. Stiles’ eyebrows rose, his mouth hanging open. Derek twisted off the stopper, enough so that Stiles wouldn’t have a problem getting it off, then handed it over to him. He kissed Stiles chastely on the lips, then whispered into his ear, “I’d like you to fuck me.”
“Yes,” Stiles said, his eyes closed. Derek knelt on the cot, bending over for him. The feel of Stiles’ fingers as they pressed into him, coated and slick, felt like nothing like his own as he held himself open for Stiles, spreading his cheeks wide. Stiles fucked into him shallowly with his fingers, then mouthed at his ass cheek, teeth biting, raking across it, his tongue teasing at his opening. Derek moaned, dropping his head against the bed as his legs slid even further open at the feel of Stiles’ tongue against him. Stiles licked up his length, sucked on his balls, then delved his tongue inwards, tasting all of him.
As Stiles ate him out, he jacked himself off, pouring a little of the liquid onto his cock. When he was ready, he stood up, lining himself up at Derek’s entrance. As he watched his cock disappear then reappear within him, he groaned. The sight was almost too much to bare. Derek pressed back against each thrust, meeting him each time as he bottomed out, Derek’s ass bouncing, his back muscles flexing. Stiles held onto him as he quickened his pace, only to slow again in order to watch his cock slide in and out of him.
Stiles grunted, coming within him. Derek, who had a hand around his own cock, kept jacking off. When Stiles pulled out of him, he watched his come dribble down Derek’s ass and balls before he licked at it, sucking and lapping it up as it came out slowly. When he was done, Derek rolled over, pulling Stiles towards him, his mouth open for him. Stiles kissed Derek, sharing his load with him as he straddled him. Derek, grabbed for the oil, slicking up two fingers, and pressed them inwards as Stiles kissed him. Stiles moaned into his mouth, moving against his fingers until Derek pulled them away, replacing them with his cock, sliding slowly inside him. Stiles stifled a shout as he rode Derek’s cock. Derek bit at Stiles’ neck, holding onto his ass as he thrust upwards.
It didn’t take long for Derek to come as he mouthed at Stiles’ nipples, teeth raking across them, making Stiles spew a litany of profanities under his breath. He pressed Stiles against the bed, using his lithe, pliable body to bring Stiles’ feet over his head, exposing his used hole. Derek licked and sucked at it as Stiles’ chest heaved beneath him, his fingers digging into Derek’s bicep. When they kissed again it was slow and languid as they passed his come back and forth between their mouths.
They didn’t have real bath to wash in, but had a basin with cold water. Stiles shivered as Derek cleaned him, then laid on top of him, lazily kissing him, holding him.
Stiles fell asleep naked, tucked up safely against Derek, his face pressed against his neck.
When day approached and the sun began to rise, Derek’s tent was opened by none other than Adrian Harris.
“This is a disgrace,” he said. Derek opened his eyes, squinting up at him. “You two will have to be separated immediately.”
“I’ll see you burn,” Stiles mumbled against Derek’s skin. They were still naked.
“Get up, get up and get dressed before any Argenti see you,” Harris hissed, pulling on Stiles’ ear, forcing him out of bed. Stiles thrashed his arms around.
“Ow, ow, ow!” Stiles shouted. In one swift movement, Harris was on his back on the ground. Stiles had swept him off his feet with a thud. “Do not touch me,” Stiles spat out, leaning over Harris, his eyes wide with anger. Derek rushed to grab his clothes, urging Stiles to do the same as Harris stood up slowly, rubbing at his wrist he’d used to break his fall.
“Get ready to leave within the hour.”
With that, he was gone. Derek dressed in silence as Stiles fiddled with his garments. Derek helped him into his hook, securing it in place. Stiles kissed him on the cheek, then left briskly without a word.
When Derek made his way to the carriage, he was stopped by Stiles’ father.
“You need to be careful,” he said. Derek nodded his head, his cheeks reddening at the implication. “If the Argents found out--”
“The treaty would be forfeit, I know,” Derek said.
“No,” he said with a shake of his head. “Stiles would be dead,” he reminded him. Derek thought about his father’s words as he climbed into the carriage, dread washing over him. He’d sought after Stiles’ affections, wished to feel him beneath his fingers, but even that was to be taken away from him with his marriage to the Argenti.
When Stiles entered the carriage, Derek looked out the window, unable to meet his eye.
“I talked with Scott,” Stiles assured him. “Nothing will come of it.”
“I’m not so sure,” Derek murmured with a sigh. Stiles tapped him with his foot as the carriage set off, bringing his attention to him.
“Tell me what you mean,” Stiles demanded, though his tone was light.
“They’ll have you killed.”
“I’d like to see them try,” Stiles said with a huff. Derek eyed his hook, but said nothing else of the matter.
That night, Stiles didn’t go to Derek’s tent. Instead, he paid a visit to Harris’, sitting in the darkness until he retired for the night. Harris let out a shout before he covered his mouth, the lamp light in the room dancing off the walls of the tent. In his hand, Stiles held a letter.
He held it up as he stood.
“Do you know what I found?” Stiles asked him. Harris pursed his lips, saying nothing. “I found your secret compartment in your trunk,” Stiles said as he walked around Harris. He tapped the letter against his lips, feigning a sigh. “What are we going to do about these letters, Harris?”
“I don’t know of what letters you speak of,” Harris stammered. Stiles, in mocking fashion, widened his eyes.
“Why, Harris,” he said, leaning in close. “Your letters back and forth with the King of Argenti.”
“I don’t-- that is to say-- there are no letters,” Harris said with a rush. Stiles tilted his head, then shook it as he opened the letter out loud. It was from the former King, Gerard, about his absolute faith that he would bring the Hale Barony under the Argenti, about a conspiracy to dethrone Scott.
“No, I--” Harris stammered. His face hardened, his eyes narrowing at Stiles. “Those aren’t my letters.”
“Aren’t they?” Stiles asked. “Does it really matter?” He asked, his face set in a smirk. “Treason is treason, Harris.”
“I’ll deny it.”
“Deny all you want,” Stiles said with a shrug, his eyes like fire as he stared at Harris. “But I’ll bring you down if you get in my way.” Stiles put the letter over the flame of the lamp, then watched it burn. He blew it out before letting it fall to the ground. “You better destroy all that evidence, just in case.”
Derek enjoyed his time with Stiles in the carriage, though it left him disheartened to know that it was to be the last he’d see of him alone. He felt Kate’s cool grip enclosing around his neck, suffocating him as they approached McCallia. Stiles was asleep beside him, his head resting on Derek’s shoulder as he watched the scenery slowly move by them. He had his hand in Stiles’, their fingers interlocked as they ascended the mountains.
Stiles jolted awake once they reached a certain incline, his eyes blinking away sleep.
“Are we in McCallia?” Stiles asked, his voice hoarse.
“Yes,” Derek said, bringing their hands up to his face so he could kiss Stiles’ knuckles. “We’re home.” Stiles looked out the window, his body leaning against Derek’s.
“Home,” Stiles said solemnly. He looked to Derek then, putting up the mask everyone assumed to be the truth. He grinned, kissing Derek on the lips.
For the first time, Stiles attended a council meeting about the treaty. He sat in the back, against the wall, looking bored and uninterested. It was distracting for Scott. Stiles was up to something, but he wasn’t sure what. Derek was there, along with all the Barons. It was a McCallian meeting only, where they would discuss some of the finer points of the proposed treaty.
“Why should the Barony go to Argenti?” On of the Barons asked Scott, Harris, and Deaton. “The Hale Barony is in the middle of the country, not on the outskirts. Why should we give up part of McCallia if they don’t give up part of Argenti, perhaps one of the smaller islands.”
“It seems to be an uneven trade,” another said, speaking as if Derek wasn’t in the room, that this wasn’t about his life, his Barony. They sounded as if they were speaking of sheep, or lumber. It made Scott’s head ache. He watched Stiles out of the corner of his eye roll his eyes so hard he thunked his head against the wall.
Holding back a smile, Scott cleared his throat.
“Their terms were clear. Unless we find a loophole--”
“I’ve been unable to, your majesty,” Harris said, looking defeated. Scott held in a disgruntled sigh. Stiles, though, did not. Harris narrowed his eyes at him, but Scott paid him no mind. Harris had never gotten along with Stiles. “It looks as though your wedding will go on as planned, and then Baron Hale and the Duchess shortly afterward.”
“So be it,” Scott said. He waved them all away, adjourning the meeting. He remained seated while Harris, Deaton, and Stiles remained. Derek lingered, but left with the other Barons. It was just as well, for Scott thought that whatever was about to be said wouldn’t be pleasant.
“Why do you allow him to do whatever he pleases?” Harris hissed, pointing to Stiles. Scott, ever the diplomat, refrained from punching Harris in the face.
“He doesn’t allow me to do anything,” Stiles said. “I’m Thief, Harris,” Stiles said, standing up finally. “My laws are not your laws.”
“Maybe it’s time we changed that. Your Majesty,” Harris said, directing his attention on Scott. “I think we need to dampen the strength you’ve given to Stiles. He must be restrained, in case he tries to sabotage the treaty.”
“What do you suggest?” Scott asked him. Harris grinned as Stiles fumed.
“A guard, of course. So he cannot wander far, roam as he wishes at night.”
“You cannot put me under arrest in my own palace,” Stiles hissed.
“It isn’t your palace,” Harris said, lifting a hand as if to slap Stiles.
“Alright,” Scott said. “Alright,” he said again as he exhaled. He looked to Stiles, pleading with him to be reasonable. “A guard, then.”
“He’s your King,” Harris seethed. Stiles was so still that he could have been a statue. “And there is no reason that a thief would be needed at a council meeting.” Without a word, Stiles stormed off, his footfalls silent as he disappeared through the door. After a few moments, Harris spoke up. “He is dangerous, your majesty.”
Scott nodded his head, but said nothing. Stiles was dangerous, but putting a leash around him would only worsen his mood. He would do something rash.
For the first time in a month, Scott held court. It was monotonous, and he’d rather speak with Stiles, but the only way that would happen was if Stiles came to him, and he hadn’t done so in weeks. Scott would summon him, but he doubted that Stiles could comply, and even so, it would be in the company of his retenue. All he could do was wait, and hope.
It was the night before Scott was to be married, and he hadn’t seen nor heard from Stiles in the two weeks since they’d been back in McCallia. He thought that Stiles would come to him at night, in the privacy of his own rooms when he turned out his attendants for the evening, but he hadn’t. Stiles never came.
It worried him enough that instead of being nervous about his wedding, he found himself worried about his Thief instead. Scott walked down the hallway, his attendants in tow, towards Derek’s apartments. He hadn’t given notice to him, in hopes that he was free. Scott knocked on the door, but didn’t have to wait long before Derek opened it.
“My King?” Derek asked, looking first at Scott, then at his entourage. “To what do I owe this late visit?” He asked.
“May I have a word?” Scott asked.
“Of course,” Derek said, inclining his head as he opened the door enough to allow Scott inside. His attendants began to follow, but Scott put a hand out.
“Stay here,” Scott said. “I’ll be out shortly.” They looked affronted, but no one spoke up as Derek shut the door in their faces.
“What’s going on?” Derek asked, pouring Scott a cup of wine as he paced the small antechamber.
“Have you seen Stiles?” Scott asked. Derek lifted an eyebrow as he handed Scott a cup, while taking a sip from his own. “I mean, he hasn’t stepped foot into my rooms.”
“You imprisoned him,” Derek pointed out. “And listened to Harris.”
“I always listen to Harris,” Scott said. “He’s an advisor. What else is he to do except advise me?” Derek took another sip. “Tell me, have you spoken to him?”
“I have,” Derek said, looking down into his wine cup. He sighed. “He’s angry with you.”
“Of course he is,” Scott said as he sat down in a nearby chair. “I shouldn’t have given him guards.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Derek agreed. Scott drank from his cup. “He’s sulking, is what he’s doing. He only leaves his rooms at night, without his guards. He isn’t using them not only to spite you, but more importantly, Harris.”
“How do you know all this?” Scott asked. Derek gave him a small smile as he turned towards the bedroom, looking at it, then back at Scott again. Scott raised his eyebrows, pointing at the door.
“Really?” Scott mouthed. Derek shrugged his shoulder then indicated for Scott to follow him. They walked over to the bedchamber, where Derek opened the door, letting enough light into the room so that Scott could see Stiles, asleep, in Derek’s bed.
“How long?” Scott asked after Derek shut the door. “How long has this been going on? And why tell me now?”
“You knew,” Derek pointed out.
“I knew... I knew that you two had been intimate, yes, but--”
“You didn’t think about the consequences of selling me to the Argenti in terms of Stiles’ feelings? Because he has been in the shadows, not talked about?”
Scott stared at the ground.
“This changes everything,” Scott said.
“No, it doesn’t,” Derek said. “You will marry Allison and Argenti will be joined with McCallia, and I will do what you ask of me, because I won’t allow them to do anything to Stiles.”
“I let this happen,” Scott said. “I shouldn’t have. I should have fought harder. We are home, now. After I get married, we will renegotiate--”
“You think he’ll allow that?” Derek asked. “He won’t. He needs money, Scott.”
“Then I’ll give him money,” Scott said. “Just not yours, not you.”
“You guys are not quiet,” Stiles said from the doorway. He leaned across it, his hair rumpled, his feet bare as he yawned. “What in the great gods are you two shouting about this late?”
“You,” Derek said plainly. Stiles’ mouth turned upwards as he walked towards them.
“Well, then, continue,” Stiles said with a wave of his hand.
“Scotty,” Stiles said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Last night of freedom. What say you and I go for a walk?” Stiles suggested.
“A walk?” Scott asked, looking at Derek. Derek could only shrug a shoulder at him, unsure. “Now?”
“Isn’t that a good a time as any?” Stiles asked as he disappeared into Derek’s bedchambers. “Are you coming?”
“Are we not going out the door?” Scott asked. He entered Derek’s chamber to find Stiles slipping on his soft leather soled boots. Stiles scoffed at him.
“Of course not.”
They took a hidden passageway near the mantelpiece that Scott hadn’t even known existed. It was dark, and he held onto Stiles’ tunic as they walked.
“Why didn’t you show me these before? I don’t even know where the passageway leads out of my own rooms.”
“Because,” Stiles said as they continued walking. “I’ve got a reputation to consider. If everyone knew where I came in from, then it wouldn’t have the effect I want. There are stairs up ahead.”
Just as Stiles said, Scott’s foot hit the facing of a stone stair. They ascended them slowly at first, until Scott got the hang of it. They were going in a circle, by the feel of a wall, up a side tower, perhaps. Scott wasn’t entirely sure where they were in the infrastructure.
“I know what you meant, now,” Scott said.
“About what?” Stiles asked as he kept walking.
“When you said you couldn’t be a prisoner in your palace. Harris was wrong, this isn’t my palace, it’s yours. I rule over the kingdom, but you know more about this palace, even Argenti’s, than anyone else. I shouldn’t have given those guards to you.”
“They aren’t hard to avoid. They think I’m a recluse.”
“Derek said you’d stayed in your rooms.”
“Derek doesn’t know what I do,” Stiles laughed. “He only thinks he does, or he knows what I tell him.”
They walked out onto a ledge, on the side of the palace. It was cool out, and Stiles wasn’t dressed for it, being in thin linen. Scott, at least, was still in his normal clothes, layers upon layers of them.
“Follow me,” Stiles said, his back pressed against the stonework that lined the palace walls. Scott made the mistake of looking down. All he saw was darkness down the side of the mountain.
“I won’t let you fall,” Stiles assured him. “As my mother used to say, anyone who dances with a Thief on top of a roof will never fall. I’ve got you, Scott,” Stiles said. Scott nodded his head, then followed Stiles as they went around the edge of the palace. There was another small door, just like the one they’d just come out of. They looked like windows from the outside, instead of doors.
“Where are we going?” Scott asked.
“You’ll see,” Stiles whispered as they descended another staircase in the pitch black. “I need you to be absolutely quiet,” Stiles said. “Not a word, don’t even breathe loudly. If you so much as step wrongly--”
“I get it,” Scott said. Stiles opened a door, letting in very little light. They walked out into a bedchamber, which was empty. It had an antechamber attached to it, where the light was coming from. Scott could hear voices as Stiles ushered him forward. He peaked through the crack in the door, holding his hand over his mouth so he wouldn’t breathe too loudly.
It was Harris, his advisor. He was speaking with Argentus. Scott tried to listen, but couldn’t. He looked at Stiles, who was busy looking at the floor. Stiles knew that Harris had been meeting with Argentus, then.
“As long as everything goes according to plan, then you’ll get what you want,” Argentus said to Harris. Harris grinned, and Scott wondered why he ever thought the man genuine.
“The Thief is being dealt with presently, my King,” Harris said with a bow. Scott watched as Argentus got up to leave. Without a word, Stiles tugged him towards the hidden doorway. Scott wanted to stay, wanted to have Harris arrested then and there for treason. He’d called Argentus “My King”, something he’d never called Scott. Why hadn’t he ever noticed before?
Once they were in the passageway, Scott’s chest heaved.
“Scott, come on,” Stiles said, taking his hand and pulling him down the passageway instead of up the stairs the way they came.
“Where are we going?” Scott asked. “What’s the plan? What are they going to do to you?”
“We’re going to Argentus’ apartments, of course,” Stiles hissed. “And they’re going to assassinate me.”
“Assassinate? How?” Stiles didn’t answer him. Scott stopped in his tracks, refusing to go farther. He couldn’t see Stiles in the dark, couldn’t hear him, but knew he wouldn’t be left there. “Stiles--”
“I don’t know,” Stiles said honestly. “I don’t know how. Derek told you I’ve stayed in my rooms because I’m mad at you. That’s only partly true. I’m mad, but mostly at myself. I couldn’t fault you for your decisions. I know that if I leave my rooms, as soon as I leave them, I’d be dead. I told myself at first that it would be okay, you know? That way Derek wouldn’t have to marry Kate. He thinks I don’t know that’s a stipulation, but I do. I know that he’s doing it because they’ll kill me but what he doesn’t know is that they are going to kill me anyways. I’m too much of an asset to you. My death would mean that Argentus would have the upper hand. I’m-- I’m trying to circumvent that.”
“I’m not sure yet,” Stiles said. “But I need you to trust me.”
“I trust you,” Scott said as he reached a hand out. He found Stiles’ shoulder, hooking his hand around Stiles’ neck. He pulled Stiles in close, hugging him until Stiles wrapped his arms around him in return. “I’m going to have Harris arrested.”
“Wait a while longer,” Stiles said.
“Just trust me,” Stiles said.
This time when they opened the hidden door, it was in a room with it’s lamp lit. Scott’s heart sped up when he caught a glimpse of Allison seated by the window, her hair down. She looked beautiful. Allison looked up, shocked that someone was in her rooms.
“Scott?” Allison asked, gathering her robe and slipping it on before she stepped forward. “Stiles?”
“I decided to bring him with me, your Highness,” Stiles said with a smirk. Scott looked at Stiles, aghast.
“You’ve visited her before?”
“Of course,” Stiles said incredulously. “Allison and I have been coming up with a way to get Derek out of his marriage to her aunt.”
“You have?” Scott asked. Allison nodded her head, then tilted it. “I had no idea.”
“Because you two only talk about the weather and the evening’s entertainment,” Stiles mused. “While taking long walks around the gardens pretending to be alone.”
Scott had the decency to blush, while Allison merely rolled her eyes and said ‘Stiles’ in a warning tone. Stiles grinned.
“When did you two become close?” Scott asked, highly confused.
“When you gave Stiles guards and he came to me to complain,” Allison said, frankly. “My father is a good man, but learned from his father. Lucky for the both of us that I had good tutors who knew a thing or two and knew how to hide that from my grandfather.”
“Okay, so what’s the plan?” Scott asked.
“If you know, then you won’t be able to deny it,” Stiles pointed out.
“Deny what?” Scott asked.
“Exactly,” Stiles said with a cheshire cat grin.
Stiles spent most of the wedding pilfering unsuspecting Argenti jewels, even some McCallian ones. If there had been an Deucaliusi jewels to be got, he probably would have taken those, too, but no one from Deucalius besides the Ambassador and the King himself were invited. Unfortunately, he had been unable to attend.
Stiles ate food off of trays that servants walked around carrying after the ceremony, which had been boring, and long. Scott was officially married to Allison, and she would be crowned Queen within the week. Stiles had avoided any more run ins with Harris, but found his seclusion to his rooms to be tedious and did nothing to solve the problem at hand in regards to Argentus’ assassins.
He didn’t want to think that it would happen at the reception, so he considered himself safe, but wary as they all sat down to dinner. To be safe, Scott sat him on the high table. Stiles didn’t like to be the center of attention, a thief rarely did, and would have rathered a side table, perhaps next to his father. At least Scott sat him next to Derek, though.
The only bad thing was, was that Kate sat on the other side of him, and she required attention every single time that Derek turned to start a conversation with Stiles. Derek had his hand under the table, on Stiles’ thigh as she spoke with him.
Stiles was only half paying attention as he picked at his food, when a wine bearer filled not only his wine cup, but Derek’s as well. He did notice, however, when something was dropped into Derek’s cup. His eyes wide, Stiles watched as Derek took the cup in hand, about to drink from it. Stiles reached out, slipping his hand over the cup, pushing it back down.
“The wine bearer switched ours,” Stiles said. “You picked up mine by mistake.” He took Derek’s wine cup from him, drinking it down as fast as he could. “Excuse me,” Stiles said as he stood up, squeezing Derek’s shoulder before he left. By the time he got to the hallway, he was stumbling, his eyes barely open. The poison was fast acting, and he needed to stop it before it killed him. Stiles threw up into a potted plant, shoving his fingers down his throat as it burned. He tried it again, and again, until his stomach was completely empty of its contents.
Stiles was hoisted to his feet, and then into someone’s arms, his head tilting back, his eyes rolling into the back of his head.
“Someone get Deaton, now!” his father yelled. “And grab Derek. I’m taking Stiles to the infirmary.” Stiles shook, his body chilled to the bone. The walk to the infirmary felt like it took a lifetime, and yet they’d arrived before Stiles had even realized they had.
“What happened?” Deaton said as he shined a light in Stiles’ eye as he pulled the lids back. “He’s been poisoned,” he said in answer to himself. “I have an antidote to this poison.”
“How do you know?” His father asked. How he knew, Stiles didn’t hear, because there was only blackness - a deathly sleep.
ONLY ONE MORE CHAPTER LEFT. tell yo wife, tell yo kids.
thanks for reading :)
it should be known that i took authorial liberties with poison and how it works. this is an alternate world, so suspend your disbelief a smidgen.
Derek paced back and forth while Scott sat over Stiles’ bedside.
“How could this have happened?” Scott asked.
“It was in my wine cup,” Derek said. “I know it was. He made me switch, he probably saw someone pour it in. He drank it instead.”
“This is an act of war,” Stiles’ father said. “An assassination attempt in the palace is an affront to your kingdom, my King.”
Scott nodded his head, his legs bouncing as he watched Stiles breathing shallowly, his eyes shutting as he thought. Derek grimaced as he thought again about how Stiles hadn’t even blinked before taking the cup and downing it’s contents.
Deaton walked in, interrupting all of their trains of thought.
“I suggest you all give him time to recover.”
“But he will recover?” Scott asked, concerned.
“I believe so, yes. He’s going to need time, though, and plenty of quiet.”
Derek watched as Scott got up and left, taking his attendants and guards with him, then his father kissed Stiles’ forehead before taking his own leave. Derek hovered, remaining in the room as he watched Deaton administer a serum into Stiles’ mouth via stopper.
“That means you, too, Derek,” Deaton said without looking over at him. “He needs to rest.”
“I want to help,” Derek said, stepping forward. “Give me something to do.” Deaton looked over at him, finally, his shoulders sagging.
“Bring over that basin of water, he has a fever. Wet a cloth to help bring it down.” Derek did as Deaton suggested, dabbing Stiles’ forehead with a cool cloth. Stiles was pale, his breathing shallow. Derek could barely handle seeing Stiles look so weak. Even after he was brought back from Argenti he didn’t look as bad as he did lying there before him.
Derek took Stiles’ hand in his, rubbing his thumb back and forth across his wrist. If Deaton noticed, he didn’t say anything about it. Derek stayed until he was called away to dinner. Reluctantly, he left Stiles in the infirmary. It was heavily guarded, not allowing anyone in or out without the King’s orders. Derek wondered if it would be enough.
He hoped it would be.
After dinner, which he rushed through, he had planned on going straight back to Stiles, but Kate stopped him. He danced with her, all the while thinking nothing but of Stiles. He moved without thinking, taking step after step by memory, his body moving in time to the music. Kate noticed.
“Derek, I’m right here,” she said with a smile. Derek looked at her as if she were a stranger. He felt nothing for her, not even contempt. He felt empty.
“I can’t do this,” he said, dropping his hands from where he held her. Kate’s face fell into that of anger, her fists clenching as Derek turned away from her, making his way out of the Great Hall.
“Derek!” She shouted, bringing attention to the two of them. Derek pretended he didn’t hear, though, as he left the hall. As he stepped through the giant double doors, he broke off into a run, moving quickly through the palace towards the infirmary.
When he got to the infirmary, there were no guards posted outside it. With panic coursing through him, he quickened his pace, his heart racing as he reached the doors, opening them as fast as possible. His chest constricted at the sight before him, blood pooling on the ground just at the foot of Stiles’ bed, his body hunched over the side of it.
“No,” Derek whispered. “No.”
He stepped into the room, where a body lay on the ground, still and lifeless - it was Harris. Derek looked around the room, then back at the sight before him. Stiles was half off the bed, passed out, possibly from strain, while Harris lay dead on the ground. He’d been stabbed, gutted.
Derek covered his mouth with the sleeve of his tunic as he crouched over the body, examining it. Stiles groaned beside him, and he moved to help him back into the bed. He held Stiles’ face in his hands, checking that he was still breathing. His pulse was weak, but it was still there.
“Stiles,” Derek muttered. Stiles’ eyes fluttered open, his mouth twitching as if in an attempt to smile. “Stiles, tell me what happened.”
“Harris,” Stiles slurred. “Try... kill me...”
“Stiles, please,” Derek said, shaking him though he knew Stiles needed rest. He looked around as he held Stiles close. “Someone help! Guard!” He called out.
No one came. Harris was dead, but Stiles needed help. Derek leaned over, kissing Stiles on the lips before standing up.
“I’ll be right back,” Derek said. “I promise.”
He ran back to the Great Hall, his eyes searching the massive room for Scott, or the Minister of War, even Deaton. He found Stiles’ father first, rushing up to him.
“Sir, there’s been an attack. Stiles needs help, immediately. His guard is missing.” Without a word, Stiles’ father left the Great Hall. Derek, with his back to the wall in hopes of keeping out of view of Kate or Argentus, continued to search for Scott. He spotted Allison first, who was talking to an Argenti Baron that Derek couldn’t remember the name of.
“My Queen,” Derek said, interrupting. Allison turned to him, her face unreadable, but the tilt of her head indicated that she was listening to him. “There’s been an incident regarding the Thief. Have you seen the King?” Allison’s mask fell momentarily as she searched the crowd for her husband.
“I’ll find him, Baron Hale,” she said, inclining her head. “You see to the Thief.” Derek bowed as Allison gave him her hand to kiss reverently. His lips barely touched her skin before he made his way back into the hallway.
He’d made the first turn when he ran into a wall of guards that blocked the way.
“Let me pass,” he said. They didn’t move, didn’t so much as shift their weight. “Let me pass,” he reiterated. It was then that he noticed their colors: they were Argenti guards and not McCallian.
“I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen,” Kate said as she sighed dramatically. “We can’t let you go back to him.”
“What do you mean?” Derek asked, affronted. “Let me through, Kate.”
“That’s Duchess Argent to you, Baron Hale,” Kate said, her sweet demeanor dropped. “You’re my betrothed, you know. You should really do as I say.”
“I will not,” Derek said, trying to push past one of the guards. They had a spear that they pointed at him, making him back away. “What are you doing?” Derek asked. “How do you have guards in the palace?”
“Them? They were brought here, as part of the treaty. My brother, the King, wouldn’t travel without his guard. I’m just borrowing them for the evening,” she said with a smirk.
Stiles felt like he was floating. No, he knew he wasn’t floating, but the thought crossed his mind as he was carried through the palace. He opened his eyes, watching the torches go by. He managed to lift his head where his father struggled to hold him up.
“Where?” Stiles asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
“No,” Stiles said in a rush, though it didn’t sound like it. “Secret passage, in the wall,” Stiles said. “Stop.” His father stopped walking, putting Stiles down. He almost fell over, but with one arm over his dad’s shoulder Stiles managed to keep on his feet. He felt unbearably weak, like he was about to pass out any minute. “Grab a torch,” he demanded. His father did so.
There was shouting at the end of the hall, grabbing Stilinski’s attention. Stiles almost fell to the ground as he turned.
“Stiles, I’m going to put you in the passage--”
“Don’t leave me,” Stiles begged. “Please.”
“I need to check out what’s going on.” Stiles grit his teeth, nodding his head as he reached out towards the stone wall with his one good hand. He pushed in, where he knew there would be a lever. His father said nothing as a slim passageway appeared. He helped Stiles into it, handing him the torch. “I’ll come back for you, but you need to hide.”
“Why?” Stiles asked.
“Something’s wrong,” his dad said, before shutting the door, leaving Stiles alone in the dark. Stiles sat, his head lolling to the side as he tried to stay awake. He ached all over, like he’d been beaten with a stick instead of ingested poison. He slumped over, holding his side with his hooked arm. He looked down at it, surprised to find it bloodied. His shirt, too, had blood on it.
And then Stiles remembered.
He remembered waking up to Harris’ hands around his neck, choking him. Stiles’ hands shook as he remembered using his hook to kill Harris. He had no other option, there had been no way around it. Stiles curled in on himself, holding the torch away from his body as he tucked his head up against his other arm, legs pulled up against his chest on the cold, damp stone floor. It reminded him of his cell in Argenti. He wondered briefly if he was waiting to die here, just as he’d done there.
Derek was sequestered in his rooms by Argetni guards. Kate, too, remained his apartments, though he had been locked in his bed chamber. He paced back and forth, worrying about Stiles, hoping that his father had gotten to him before the guards did something drastic.
When the door opened, Derek rushed forward.
“You cannot keep me in here, I demand to be let out,” he said to Kate.
“I can do what I very well please,” she said. She gave the guards a look, and they grabbed onto Derek, forcing him into his antechamber, then into a chair. Before him was a scroll. “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way,” Kate said as she leaned over the table. Derek ignored her and her heavily exposed bosom, and read the scroll laid out before him. It was a deed to his land, his wealth. Kate wanted him to sign it over to her. “I don’t need to marry you if you just give it to me.”
Derek’s hands were bound, so he thought about what Stiles would do in the situation; he spat in her face. A guard slammed his head against the table, pain erupting throughout his head as he was dragged back towards his rooms and tossed inside. The door was slammed shut, and locked.
He wondered how Stiles was still alive after making decision after decision without thinking. Derek wasn’t sure he’d made the right one, but at least it had been something besides just rolling over and allowing Kate to take whatever she wanted from him.
Derek managed to get to his feet as he looked around the room for a weapon he could use to at least kill her before the guards got to him. He thought about Argentus, about another war, about Scott. It was an act of war, kidnapping a Baron within another country’s walls. Harris, too, had been a traitor and had tried to assassinate Stiles himself. Someone had tried to kill Derek--
Or had they?
Perhaps, Derek thought, that the poison had been for Stiles the entire time. Whoever planted it, possibly Harris, had expected Stiles to see, to stop Derek from drinking it. Then, after he hadn’t died from it, he returned to finish the job. The thought made Derek sick to his stomach. He had to get out, had to get to Stiles, to Scott. He wasn’t even sure if Scott knew what was even happening in his own palace at the moment. Derek hoped that Allison found him.
Derek stared at the wall by the mantelpiece, his eyes narrowing at the tapestry that Stiles always appeared behind. He checked the door to make sure it was locked before he brought the oil lamp over to the tapestry, lifting it out of the way so that he could see behind it. There had to be a trigger somewhere, or perhaps a latch. Derek slid his fingers over every inch of the plastered wall, finding a small indent. He pushed it inwards, and the wall moved. He stepped inside it without looking back, making sure to shut it behind him. He had no idea which way to go down the dark path, but he had to choose.
He began walking. Following it awhile before turning, he kept going, trying to get as far away from his rooms as possible before he tried to open a door. He ended up going down stairs, up others, and through thin passage ways that weren’t more than two feet wide.
The first door he attempted to open lead into a hallway that wasn’t far from the infirmary, by his calculations. He decided to try to get closer, to check if Stiles was there. As he walked down the passageway as quickly as possible he slowed when he saw a light ahead. There hadn’t been any torches in the passageway at all up until that point, and it flickered low to the ground as if dropped. Derek rounded a corner, almost tripping over a body - Stiles’ body.
He was curled up, the torch dying as it lay on the floor feet away from him. Derek dropped to his knees as he put his lamp on the ground beside Stiles. Carefully he picked Stiles up, pulling him onto his lap. Stiles groaned, his face contorting into a wince.
“Stiles,” Derek said as Stiles’ head rest on his shoulder. “Stiles, how did you get in here?”
“Dad,” Stiles said, his voice weak. “Left me here. You left me there.”
“I’m sorry,” Derek said, hoping the tone of his voice let Stiles know that he meant it. “I’m sorry I left you.” Stiles didn’t answer him. “We need to get you somewhere warm you’re freezing.”
“I don’t want to move,” Stiles complained. “You’re warm.” Derek didn’t know what to do, Stiles was still too weak to move much from the poison, but Kate and her guards ran rampant around the palace.
“Stiles, where is safe? Is there anywhere safe in the palace?”
“Secret room,” Stiles slurred as he forced his eyes open. “Scott knows, Deaton knows, my father knows.”
“So not so secret, then?” Stiles laughed at Derek’s attempt at humor. “Can we get there from here?”
“Yes,” Stiles said in an exhale. “But there are stairs,” he whined.
And he wasn’t lying. Derek helped Stiles to his feet, his hooked arm over his shoulder to keep him upright as he bore all of his body weight against Derek. With his free arm, Derek held out the oil lamp in front of them so he could see. They were slow going up the stairs as Stiles put one foot in front of the other.
“What’s happening?” Stiles asked after they ascended three staircases. Derek had no idea where they were going, or even if Stiles was paying attention to the direction or turns.
“Kate’s guards have the palace,” Derek sneered. “I couldn’t find Scott, managed to get word to Allison--”
“Ah,” Stiles said, his breathing labored as they continued their trek.
“What happened with Harris?” Derek asked.
“He tried to choke me,” Stiles said, his voice hoarse. Derek looked at his throat. There were finger shaped bruises forming there, he hadn’t noticed them before. If Harris weren’t already dead, he’d kill him. “So I killed him.”
“You say that as if it was easy,” Derek said, knowing that Stiles hadn’t wanted to be a murder, was adamant about it.
“It was easy,” Stiles said gravely. “Knowing that if I didn’t, I’d be the one on the floor.” Derek didn’t want to think about how close Stiles had been to death.
Stiles stopped walking, reaching his hand out to the wall where he placed his palm against it.
“Here,” he said. Derek looked around, perplexed. There was no door. With all the other doors to rooms from the secret passage, they were obvious from inside the hallway. Stiles’ hand, though, had no door on it.
“Where?” Derek asked. Stiles grinned momentarily, his pale skin looking almost sheer as his expression dropped back to that of pain. Derek had been too wrapped up in looking at Stiles to notice how Stiles made a door open before them, but it had opened all the same.
Before them, there was a room, lit by lamps similar to Derek’s, where Scott, Allison, Deaton, and Stiles’ father sat surrounding a round table.
“Oh, thank the gods,” the Minister of War said as he stepped forward, helping Derek with Stiles who slumped against his father’s chest. “I didn’t know how to get back to him from here.” Scott, too, was on his feet by Stiles’ side.
“We should have arrested him sooner,” Scott said. “That traitorous--”
“It’s okay, Scott,” Stiles said as he finally managed to sit down. He rest his head on the table in front of him, using his arms as pillows. “He’s dead.”
“I was told as much.”
“Kate--” Derek began, but the look Scott gave him let him know that Scott was fully aware of what was happening in his palace.
“I didn’t know this was going to happen,” Allison admitted. “I didn’t know about the assassinations--”
“It’s okay, Allison,” Scott said. “We know. You just knew about Kate being after Derek.”
“Just my money,” Derek said. “Before I escaped out of one of the passageways, she tried to get me to sign over my land.”
“Does she still think you’re in there?” Stiles mumbled as he sat up.
“I’m not sure if they know yet,” Derek admitted. “I don’t know if they’d check on me or not.”
“Well they might be trying to find us instead,” Scott brought up. “That will keep them busy. This is the only secret room I know how to get into. Derek watched as Deaton fussed over Stiles, who tried to swat him away half heartedly.
“Stop, Alan, gods,” Stiles said as he made to stand up. “I’m going to Derek’s rooms--”
“Stiles you need to sit,” Scott said, his voice authoritative. Stiles sat down at his King’s behest. “Tell us how to get there and we’ll go.”
“You aren’t going anywhere,” the Minister of War said to the King. “You’ll be staying here, with Stiles.” Scott sat down, too. Stiles grinned at him, happy Scott was knocked down a peg, even if it was just due to his safety.
“I’m going alone. Stiles, tell me how to get there.”
“I’m going to need ink and parchment,” Stiles said. Derek brought him some that he found on a desk, then watched as Stiles drew a rather good rendering of the palace. “We are right here,” he said, pointing where he’d just drawn. “Derek’s rooms are in the South tower, which will be difficult to get to from here, so you’ll have to go down almost to the dungeons and use the underpass--”
“There’s an underpass?” Scott asked, his eyebrows raising. Stiles stopped drawing enough so that he could look up at him. “I had no idea.”
“Take a lamp,” Stiles suggested as his father took the map from him, blowing on it so that it would dry faster. “You’ll need it.”
“I intend to,” he said.
“I’m going with you,” Derek spoke up. Stiles’ head whipped around so that he could look Derek in the eye when he shouted.
“No you aren’t!” Stiles shrieked. “She wants you, gods-- Derek--”
“I’m going,” Derek said. “If I’m in there while he’s hiding then it will make a good diversion.”
Stiles was about to protest when his father spoke up.
“Good plan, son,” he said. “We’ll be back.” Derek looked down at Stiles, deciding at the last moment to lean down and kiss him. He wouldn’t say goodbye, but he wasn’t going to leave without knowing if he would be returning or not regretting that he hadn’t kissed Stiles one last time.
Stiles sat there for about thirty seconds after Derek and his father disappeared behind the secret passage before he stood up, his eyes alert.
“Stiles, you shouldn’t--”
“I’m fine,” Stiles said as he walked over to a bureau, pulling out maps. He then rolled them out onto the table in front of them, pointing at a spot on the map. “We need to go here,” he said.
“We aren’t going anywhere, your dad said--”
“My dad is walking into a room that has guards on the other side, a lot of them. We need to get you and Deaton to your guard.”
“Tell me how to get there,” Deaton said, looking over the map. “And why didn’t you show them this one?”
“Because it’s too big,” Stiles said, giving Deaton an incredulous look. “Besides, I know every passageway of this palace, Argentus’, and Deucalion’s like the back of my hand. I don’t use lamps to walk these halls, alright?”
Stiles showed them the way, giving Deaton time to draw his own small map along with turn directions.
“You guys get to the guard, go attack Derek’s apartments and catch her. Arrest her and hold a meeting with Argentus. I’ll meet you there.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Deaton asked. “You shouldn’t be up.”
“I’m fine, now go, there isn’t time.” Stiles watched them go as he remained standing. As soon as they were out of sight, he collapsed into his chair, wincing. He could barely stand, but it was all he could do to make them believe he was okay enough to be left alone. Stiles made himself get up, but instead of stepping forward, he fell to the ground and lay there, unmoving.
As soon as Derek and Stilinski got into his bedchamber, he went to the door and pressed his ear against it to see if he could hear anyone out there. He tried to open the door, but it was still locked.
He indicated for Stilinski to hide out of the way before he banged on the door.
“I demand to be let out of here!” He said, pounding a fist against the door. There was shuffling from behind it, then someone spoke up.
“Orders are to leave you in there.”
“Well I need to be fed,” Derek said, not knowing what to say. “You can’t leave me in here with nothing to eat or drink. Give me my wine, at least.”
The door opened, revealing that Derek had only two guards on watch at his door. They handed him his amphora of wine and a cup, about to shut the door on him again.
“Why am I isolated in my bedchamber?” Derek asked.
“Orders,” one of the guards said. Derek didn’t think that was a good enough answer.
“What if I paid you?” Derek asked plainly. “You know I have the gold, that’s why she wants me.” He had nothing to lose, really.
“Back in your rooms,” he said, pushing Derek back. When the door shut he turned to face Stilinski.
“Want a drink?”
“Why didn’t you lure them in?” Stilinski asked.
“Because,” Derek said as he poured himself a cup full. “ This way, they’ll bring us food and they will have to bring it in. I wanted to see how many were out there, and if Kate was still there. She isn’t, and they had no idea I was missing.
“Good, then,” Stilinski said. “Now that they’ve seen you, I want you to go back to Stiles.”
“Why?” Derek asked. “He’s with Scott and Deaton.”
“I know what I’m about, son,” Stilinski said. “And I know my son. He’s alone, and he shouldn’t be. Go to him, keep him safe. I’ve got these men. Do you remember the way?”
Scott believed that Deaton was lost, and told him so multiple times.
“I’ve seen this stone three times,” Scott said, pointing at a random stones in the wall. “It’s got the same look about it. We’re going in circles.”
“No, your Majesty, I assure you we’re not.”
Scott worried at his lip, wishing that things had gone differently. Allison walked behind him, holding an oil lamp of her own. Deaton held the other, along with the map. Scott felt helpless without his guards, even though he held a knife on him at all times.
“Are you sure?” Scott asked, inquiring about it more to ease his own mind than to annoy his advisor.
“Scott, we’re going the right way,” Allison assured him. “We haven’t been going in circles.”
“How could you be sure?” Scott asked. “We’ve been walking for miles--”Scott ran into Deaton’s back, where he stood still. “Are we there?” Scott asked in a loud whisper.
Deaton put a finger up to his mouth, hushing him. He watched as Deaton opened a door and peeked through it, then ushered them out into the open. They were in the guard barracks, it seemed. The captain of the guard stepped forward, relief showing across his features.
“My King,” he said with a bow as Scott emerged. “We are so glad you’re safe.”
“Argentus has taken the palace,” Scott said. “We have to secure ourselves, then restore order and reclaim the palace.”
“They haven’t taken it, your Majesty. Not if you are here safe. We were told they had you and McCallia,” he said, indicating Allison. “But I see it isn’t so. With you here safe, we will attack.”
“Derek, Stiles, Stilinski,” Allison whispered into Scott’s ear. “If Derek and Stilinski are waiting in Derek’s apartments, they’re done for.”
Scott didn’t know what to do.
“On your word, my King, we will attack.”
Derek found Stiles on the floor, passed out. He didn’t wish to wake him, but saw no other way. He needed to know what he had planned to do.
“Stiles,” Derek said, pressing his forehead against Stiles’. “Stiles, wake up.”
“‘M’up,” Stiles said. “You’re crushing me.” Derek couldn’t help but smile as he kissed him. “Why are you not down-- down-- where did I send you?”
“You didn’t want me to leave,” Derek pointed out.
“That’s right,” Stiles said, giving him a lazy smile. “I wanted you to stay. You’re here now, though, and I need to go.”
“Go where?” Derek asked.
“My room,” Stiles said. “To get the jewels.”
“Jewels?” Derek asked, not sure what Stiles was talking about. Stiles let out a long suffering, rather dramatic sigh.
“Yes, jewels to bait Kate with.” Derek helped get Stiles to his feet, then decided that it would be too slow.
“Stiles, I need you to climb onto my back.”
“What?” Stiles asked. “No.”
“Yes, Stiles. Now, so we can hurry.” Derek picked up the lamp, then hunched over so that Stiles could rest his weight against his back. “Hold on to this so I can see.” He gave Stiles the lamp, which Stiles latched onto his hook so he could hold on with his hand. “Tell me how to get there.”
“Okay,” Stiles said as they stepped out into the dark passage way. “Go right,” Stiles said. Not even ten feet into it Stiles told him to stop.
“Here, here!” Stiles said as he scooted down off of Derek. Derek turned to see Stiles walking into his bedroom just off the library.
“The secret room is in the library,” Stiles said as he walked over to his bed. “We could have gone through it, actually, but she might have guards out there.”
“Or,” Kate said, as she stepped out of the shadows. “She’s here waiting for you.” Derek put his arm out, pushing Stiles behind him, guarding him with his body. “You know, Stiles, you’re a hard one to kill,” Kate said as she walked towards them her hips sauntering from side to side.
“You’re starting another war,” Derek said. “Tell your troops to stand down.” Kate laughed as she clapped her hands together delightfully.
“You are smart after all, Derek. My troops, not my brother’s. They. Are. Mine.” She punctuated each word with a finger jabbing into Derek’s chest. “A puppet King.”
“Shadow Queen,” Stiles said. “Even as a Shadow Queen you won’t win this.”
“Won’t I?” Kate asked. “I’ve got Scott’s Thief and his strongest, wealthiest Baron in the palm of my hands,” she said, showing them a knife. She pressed it against Derek’s throat, leaning in as she licked at his lips, biting at his nose. “We’re going to sign those papers, now.”
“I have something better,” Stiles said, stepping out from behind Derek without so much as a stumble. His mask was on once more, his weakness not showing as he walked over to his bookshelf, lifting it. ”I have what you need.”
“Oh, honey,” Kate said. “You couldn’t possibly have what I need.” The knife dug in against Derek’s skin as she forced him forwards. Derek winced but made no other sign of pain as blood trickled slowly down his neck. Any deeper, and he’d be a dead man. Stiles’ face was impassive as he looked not at Derek, but through him.
In Stiles’ hand was diamond earrings, necklaces made of rubies and emeralds, fibula pins that cost a small fortune. Kate’s eyes sparkled.
“I could steal you the gold you seek.”
“Perhaps I misspoke,” Kate said, pushing Derek aside. He held onto his neck as he fell to the ground, catching himself with his other hand. Kate touched Stiles’ face as she picked up one of the necklaces, looking at it in the dim light of the room. “You, I definitely want for myself.” Stiles’ eyes closed. “Would you pledge yourself to me, a Shadow Queen, Thief?”
“Yes,” Stiles said. “My Queen.” Hearing Stiles speak the words made Derek’ ache. He looked around the room for a weapon to use, any weapon. “I have enough here to fill your treasury.” And he did. Derek knew Stiles stole from Argenti and McCallian’s alike, especially as of late when he realized that, even one handed, he was a better thief than any common one. Stiles had the blessing of his gods behind him.
A glint beneath Stiles’ bed caught Derek’s eye: a sword lay there. Stiles hadn’t come for the jewels, he’d come for the sword. Derek moved quickly, pulling it out from underneath the bed and standing, rounding on her.
At first, Kate laughed. She didn’t know that not only Stiles, but Derek had trained from a young age to be soldiers. Both had torn up their papers, together, vowing to never become soldiers. Derek still practiced daily.
He disarmed her immediately, the knife flying to the ground, her arm gashed. She shouted out in anger and in pain.
“You think me defenseless?” Derek asked with a smirk. “You think Stiles would betray his King so readily?”
Kate lunged not at Derek, but at Stiles. Jewels fell to the ground, bouncing and spreading out at their feet as she wrapped her hands around his neck, pressing him against the wall. Stiles gasped as Kate screamed, stilling as Stiles’ arm fell away, bloodied once more. As Kate began to fall over, Stiles held onto the back of her neck, shaking his head.
“I don’t like killing people,” Stiles told her as he put his hook up to her neck. “And you’re the second person today.” He was sweating, his mask falling at the strain he was putting through his body.
Derek shook his head, not wanting to put all the burden on Stiles. He stepped forward, putting his hand on Kate’s shoulder, leaning in to whisper in her ear as he ran her through. He looked Stiles in the eye as he spoke the words.
“Shadow Queen no more, Kate.”
Kate crumpled to the ground, her blood pooling around her lifeless body. Stiles looked sick as he glanced away from the body, sliding slowly down the wall. Derek helped him over to the bed, dropping the sword to the ground.
“It’s over,” Derek said, brushing his lips against Stiles’. Stiles deepened the kiss, his body shaking. “We’re okay.”
Stiles was about to answer when the door opened, revealing guards. Derek moved to grab his sword, but there was no need; Scott walked in with Argentus in tow, and took in the sight.
“Stiles, are you alright?” Scott asked. He too, had a sword in his hand. Argentus fell to his knees at his sister’s body.
“Yes,” Stiles said. “Upset I have to move rooms, though,” he said, his voice hoarse. Derek twined his fingers around Stiles’. Scott turned to Argentus, putting his hand on his shoulder.
“You and I have much to discuss. If you want war, you’ve got it, but I doubt with your treasury drained so that your country will survive it.” Argentus nodded his head and was helped to his feet by Scott. “See that this is cleaned up, move Stiles to Derek’s rooms, temporarily,” Scott said, giving the two of them a look before walking out with his guards.
Stiles woke in stages. He was not in his rooms. His rooms were darker, with the curtains always drawn so that he could sleep the days away. A Thief’s time was at night, where he could use the shadows as they creeped across palaces unseen.
Stiles didn’t want to be in the dark. He opened his eyes to find sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows. He was alone in Derek’s rooms as he sat up, his mind clear for the first time in days. As he got out of bed, he heard voices on the other side of the door. One of them was Derek; he’d know that voice anywhere. The other, though, he couldn’t quite place. Stiles pressed his ear against the door, eavesdropping.
“Argentus pleaded innocence to the plot,” Allison spoke. “I must confess, I want to believe him.”
“He’s your father,” Derek said, comforting her. Stiles clenched his jaw, thinking about Argentus and Harris’ plot. “So they reached an accord?”
“Yes,” Allison said. “There will be no war, the treaty will remain. The death of my aunt will be forgiven.”
“Good,” Derek said. “I’m glad Scott, my King, spoke out for me.”
“I wouldn’t have allowed you to lose your life over hers.”
“Argentus could have forced his hand in the decision.”
“I think we both know what would happen if he did,” Allison said. “Stiles, come out here.” Stiles, startled, opened the door. “How long have you been listening to our conversation?” Stiles reddened as he walked forward.
“Enough to know there is no war.”
“Enough to know that, even indisposed, you kept a King from having a wealthy Baron killed for his transgressions?” Stiles looked at Derek whose attention was solely on him. He smiled.
“Yes,” Stiles said. “That would have been... unfortunate.” Allison gave him a knowing smile before she pat Derek on the knee, standing to take her leave.
“This country is in good hands with you, Stiles. You are truly a maker of Kings.”
“Thank you, my Queen,” Stiles said, inclining his head. When she was gone, he turned to Derek, climbing into his lap, straddling him. “What, exactly, did I miss?”
Derek slid his hands up Stiles’ thighs, then down them again as Stiles’ arms boxed Derek’s head in by draping them over the chair at either side of his head.
“Oh, well,” Derek said, sighing happily as he looked up at Stiles. Stiles wanted to always have Derek look at him like that. He leaned forward, capturing Derek’s lips with his own, smiling as he did it. “Argentus not only was sent home with his proverbial tail between his legs, but he’s only remaining in power by the will of our King, since we are going to help finance Argentus.”
“Seems he’ll still be a Puppet King,” Stiles mused.
“Scott did well,” Derek said. “You-- you are amazing.” Stiles closed his eyes, the words washing over him. “Stay here, with me, in these rooms.”
“My library,” Stiles said, frowning.
“Bloodstained and sullied,” Derek said flippantly.
“There will be talk,” Stiles pointed out.
“I don’t care,” Derek admitted.
“To be seen with the Thief--”
“I want to be by your side always,” Derek assured him. “I’ve waited in the shadows for too long.” Stiles pressed his forehead against Derek’s, closing his eyes.
“No more shadows,” Stiles said.
“No more shadows,” Derek reiterated.
Stiles wouldn’t hide anymore.