Midsummer's Night Dream, Act 2 Scene 1
How now, spirit! whither wander you?
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire:
I do wander everywhere
Swifter than the moonës sphere,
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
Stiles of Beacon Hills had had a lot of very grand dreams as a child living in a little country village. Now, at the tender age of nineteen, he had actually achieved most of them. He just never imagined that the realization of his fantasies would turn out like... this.
Late summer rain was pouring down outside and the half-roofed abandoned cottage gave minimal shelter from the storm. He was cold and wet through; the only truly rain-proof bag he had was needed to protect his fiddle from the elements and there was no room for dry clothes. He frowned and sighed, chafing his hands together in an attempt to regain feeling in them while he waited for Derek to return with anything that looked like it might burn.
Derek somehow managed to find some sticks that were only damp and, with his woodcraft skills that still surprised and impressed Stiles, managed to get a small, smoky fire going. He was silent as he pulled out some of the dried meat and hard bread that they had left from their last time in a town and gave half to Stiles.
"How far away is Belleford again?" Stiles asked, for what must have been the tenth time this week. He knew he was being annoying and he didn't care - it felt like they had been walking for ages.
"Another two, three days," Derek replied tersely. Derek was always terse now. Stiles would have sworn that they had been growing closer, maybe even becoming friends until they passed through Allenburg a couple of weeks ago. He really had no idea what had happened - he recalled drinking a bit too much ale and dancing in the tavern with some of the town's younger folks while Derek played, but why would Derek be angry about that?
He remembered the month before that, which had been filled with soft smiles and occasional laughter at Stiles' jokes, with genuine praise of his progress, with duets the two of them played that tried to tear his heart out.
Maybe he was being unrealistic in hoping for friendship with Derek (much less anything more) - Derek had made it very clear that he hadn't wanted to take on an apprentice. But the Free Bards had decided that Derek would be the perfect teacher for Stiles and that Stiles would be a good complement for Derek's musical style. They were to remain partnered until next spring when all the Free Bards would meet up again and, in the meanwhile, Derek was to teach Stiles all he could about music and... the other arts for which the Free Bards were known.
Stiles had been thrilled. Everyone, from the big cities to the smallest hamlets, knew of Derek Hale, the gorgeous master flautist with the mysterious past. He couldn't believe that he was so lucky as to get a legend as a mentor. And Derek was a legend - he certainly lived up to his reputation musically. But Stiles hadn't expected Derek the person - gruff but always trying to do the right thing, quiet but worth listening to when he spoke (and sometimes Stiles envied him that so much), beautiful inside as well as out.
He hadn't expected to fall in love with Derek Hale.
But now they were only four months into their year together and Derek hated him. He wondered what he had done in a previous life to deserve this.
He leaned back against the damp wall, uncomfortable with the silence, his fingers itching for his bow or at least his little harp. But it was too damp - there would be no playing tonight. He closed his eyes.
"Teach me a song, Derek."
Derek was quiet for a little while, then his voice, pure and rough and sweet as always, came out of the night, singing to Stiles about a fair maiden in love with an evil man who eventually caused her death.
Stiles echoed the lines back until they were singing it together, and the sound filled the forest as well as Stiles' heart.
At first he thought it was a dream. The rain had stopped at some point but the world still felt wet and new when he opened his eyes. There was noise, movement, but he couldn't distinguish anything in the light of the banked fire. Then there was sound - not voices, not exactly, but murmuring as if the trees were talking; the impression of a melody as if the stars were trying to sing him back to sleep.
He didn't know how much time had passed when he finally opened his eyes, sensing something was wrong.
Across the fire, Derek's bedroll was empty.
Stiles scrambled up, threw on some outer clothes and grabbed their instrument bags (lesson one: never go anywhere without your instruments - why had Derek left his? It made no sense). He ran out of the cabin and twirled around looking for any sign of Derek. Off in the distance he saw some very dim blue lights and felt, rather than heard, the same suggestion of noise that he heard in the cabin.
He ran towards it as fast as he could.
It wasn't fast enough - he was still too far away to stop him when he saw Derek, surrounded by little blue orbs (not a nice blue - a blue that reminded Stiles of pallor and death) walking into a hill.
He walked into a hill and he wasn't there any more.
No no no no no.
Stiles wasn't stupid. As he stopped and rested his hands on his knees, panting, his mind raced through all the songs he knew about the Fair Folk. Stories about them stealing away beautiful maidens, stories about them loving music, about their otherworldly halls under the hills.
Derek was no maiden, but he was beautiful and musical and Stiles', damn it, his and not theirs.
Stiles had never known that fairies existed outside of stories, but he couldn't say he was surprised. There were a lot of things he knew now existed outside of stories. He himself just so happened to be one of them.
As he calmed his breathing and his mind, the sun started to rise over the fields and trees. He pulled out his fiddle, strapped the rest of the instruments on to his back and closed his eyes. The red glow of the sun through his eyelids reminded him that he couldn't wait any longer.
He dragged his bow across the strings, once, twice, and again, until he was playing music, something without a solid melody just to get his fingers moving. After a little while, the notes coalesced into a song. He turned inward, concentrated and believed like Derek had taught him, believed with every fiber of his being that the fairies couldn't keep Derek away from him. He played and played and when he opened his eyes, there was an arched doorway in the hill. He took a deep breath and walked through.
She looked surprised to see him. Stiles was pretty damned surprised himself.
He wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but somehow it wasn't this. He was obviously under the hill, but the back of the cave-like room opened up into the open air and he could see the sky. But it wasn't the sky he had left. Unlike up above, here it wasn't dawn yet - it was still the deep, deep blue of the middle of the night and his mind, unable to fully grasp what was going on, fixated on the unfamiliarity of the stars. Stiles had spent many nights staring up at the sky for hours on end and the constellations he could see here weren't ones he had ever seen before. He shivered.
There were maybe forty fairies gathered, each more beautiful than the next. They weren't beautiful like a pretty farm girl, or like Derek, or like a green forest, or like a lullaby. They were like lightning crackling through the sky, like the gleaming carapace of a centipede, like a predator killing its prey in one efficient stroke. They weren't human. Their angles were sharp, their faces painted in strange patterns, their eyes cold and hard and wrong somehow.
They were pale like ghosts.
The queen (and she must have been the queen, the air of authority surrounding her was palpable) was sitting on a grand chair made of hewn stone, part of the earth, and she was staring straight at him. He couldn't see Derek anywhere.
"You dare to trespass, young bard," she said, and her voice came from everywhere and made Stiles' skin crawl. Her hair was long and as dark as any bird's wing or night sky he had ever seen, and it was moving as if it was made of snakes. Her teeth were disturbingly sharp.
"You took something of mine," Stiles managed to get out and he was pleased to find he sounded steadier than he felt. This was a lie, but a fair lie, Stiles thought - Derek may not have been his, but Stiles was certainly Derek's, whether he wanted to be or not.
She laughed but there was no joy in it. All of a sudden he could see Derek when he couldn't before, bound in heavy chains to the base of her throne. He wasn't shackled so much as wrapped - the chains seemed to have a life of their own and they moved his arms to raise his flute to his lips. He didn't play yet, just sat immobile.
"He is ours now, as you see."
"Let me take him back," Stiles pled.
"Why should I?" She cocked her head, as if she was going to seriously consider his answer, but the curve of her lips indicated otherwise.
He had nothing left but the truth.
"Because I love him," Stiles declared. He watched as Derek's eyes widened, but his body didn't move.
"And should the power of human love move us?" she mocked. "What do you know of love, you who have yet to see a century pass?"
Stiles had been called a lot of things. His father used to call him clever and brave. Derek called him impulsive. He had a feeling that what he was about to do next could be fairly called all three.
"Make a deal with me," Stiles suggested. "We'll play for you tonight. If our music moves you enough, when the sun rises you let us go."
"And I get to decide whether I have been sufficiently moved?"
"Yes," Stiles swallowed down his fear and willed Derek to do the same.
She nodded and smiled and Stiles was seriously regretting many of his life choices. But there wasn't much to do now but play.
So he pulled out his fiddle again and began.
The vibrations of his strings and the air of Derek's flute filled the room with sound.
The fairies danced.
They danced in a way Stiles had never seen before. Their clothing was bizarre - some looked archaic, some looked strange and formal. Some looked like costuming, with feathers and silks and materials he couldn't have even described. They danced not only in pairs but in groups and they changed partners with a logic he didn't understand. Their sinuous limbs wrapped around each other, sometimes leaning forwards, sometimes bent backwards and they flowed and ebbed.
The way their bodies moved together, twining and rhythmic, should have been erotic, but it wasn't - there was cold where there should have been heat, emptiness where there should have been passion. They twisted and turned and bent and Stiles wasn't sure he had ever seen something so disturbing.
He played like he never had before. Stiles could tell that whatever magic bound Derek's body was affecting him more than just physically - his music was technically correct and melodic but it lacked the emotion that Derek was so known for. Neither his fingers nor his mouth were really under his control, only his eyes spoke to Stiles, told him to leave, to run. Derek and his music couldn't help him in this, couldn't add its power to Stiles' own.
It was just him and his fiddle. He had started by playing slow songs, ones that suited the fairy style of dancing. The notes falling off of his strings were haunting and eerie and the fairies were pleased. But Stiles could see the content look on the face of the queen and knew this wouldn't earn him Derek's freedom.
So he started to play faster. The music was no happier - it was still harsh and dissonant - but he raised the tempo and believed that his music had power over them. It wasn't unheard of from the stories (although it was more frequently the music of the fairies that had power over humans than the other way around) and he used the strength of his love for Derek to fuel his will. He would free them both. He would.
He played faster and faster and their dancing kept pace. They flung their limbs up and down and around and while they lost none of their ethereal grace, it looked forced. Their bodies flew back and forth and the sound of feet slapping on the ground could be heard even over the flute and fiddle.
Faster and faster and their clothes tore as they contorted themselves to the rhythm pouring out of Stiles' arms and fingers Their hair, universally long and flowing, was starting to fall out of the carefully woven braiding most of them wore. They didn't sweat, but Stiles thought they would have if they could. He drove them on.
They threw themselves around manically as Stiles played as fast as humanly possible - faster than that, he believed he could do it faster than was possible - and the only thing that stopped him from vomiting or fainting or dying right there on the spot from exhaustion was the queen's face, pulled into a rictus of distress.
"Stop!" she shrieked over the music. "You will kill us!"
"Swear that you will free us and leave us alone forever!" Stiles yelled back, and he had no idea how long he had been playing - hours? days? - and he didn't think he could play for another hour or minute or second but he did, he kept going and going, pushing himself far beyond his limits, as she screamed and flailed.
Some of the fairies had dropped to the floor, unable to continue, and the dancers were heedless of their friends' fallen bodies - Stiles heard bones cracking under feet and whimpers of pain and saw more fairies slip and fall in the blood pooling on the strange stone floor.
"Swear it!" he shouted again.
"I swear!" Her voice rang with truth and he could feel his belief binding her to the promise.
The music stopped abruptly as he dropped his arms and the dancers, too, fell to the floor, released from the compulsion to move.
Everything was quiet, a moment of blessed stillness in the wake of the frenetic movement of the fiddle and the fairies.
Then the chains binding Derek's limbs clanked to the floor and he stood, now in control of his own body. The queen had thrown herself back on the throne so he moved quickly away, grabbed Stiles by the arm and ushered them down the passage, away from the baleful glare of the defeated fairy queen.
Stiles wondered if he should have made her promise something more elaborate, something which would assure that she wouldn't seek revenge. Too late now - all they could do was run and hope.
When they reappeared on the outside of the hill, they turned around to see the doorway disappear. It didn't fade or shrink so much as wink out of existence - one second the archway was there and in the next it had never been there at all.
Stiles fell to the ground, his arms and fingers cramped and painful, the tracks from his tears of exertion drying on his face. He never wanted to play again. He absently noticed the lack of leaves on the tree branches above his head - the leaves had barely begun to turn red when they had entered the fairy hill.
"You moron," Derek said, sitting down beside Stiles, holding his own head in his hands. "You fucking idiot. You are without a doubt the dumbest person I have ever met."
"A simple 'thanks' would do," Stiles replied. It's not that he expected his (admittedly, very melodramatic) proof of love would change Derek's mind about him, but he had hoped for, at least, a gentle rejection. His heart would have sunk if any of his body parts had been capable of motion.
"Just... why would you come after me? Why wouldn't you run away?" Derek asked, and his voice was tired - he hadn't played as long or with the intensity Stiles had, but he had been playing his flute for who knows how long.
"Oh my god, Derek, you know why. I just told you and a whole bunch of super creepy fairies, too."
"You... can't," Derek croaked. Stiles closed his eyes.
"I can't love you? Gee, thanks for letting me know."
He was still lying supine, his limbs sprawled out and his eyes closed, when he felt Derek take his hand, start to gently massage his stiff and sore fingers.
"You shouldn't," Derek said softly. "You're young and bright and fun. I'm a lot older than you. I'm not good company and I screw up everything in my life. And apparently fairies hate me."
"Well, the fairies hate me now, too, so we've got that in common." Something warm was growing in Stiles' chest. Derek cared, he was just being a stubborn asshole. Luckily, Stiles was nothing if not persistent and patient.
"Thanks," Derek said as he kissed Stiles, ever so gently, first on the forehead and then on the lips - just a brush of skin against skin. Stiles might have tried to put his hands in Derek's hair, hold him, but his arms weren't going anywhere.
If Stiles had been able to win Derek back from the fairies just because he wanted him so badly, he could definitely win Derek over - convince him that he was worth loving. Stiles didn't even think it was going to be a challenge.
"You're welcome," Stiles said. He'd start tomorrow, he thought, as he fell asleep next to Derek under the midwinter sky.