Stiles stared up at the palace as it loomed before him. As he had told Derek, the Animas craftsmen were the best in all of the Continents. This was evident in the construction of the Animas Kingdom’s palace. The walls were crafted from a brilliant light coloured material, which didn’t make it look any less menacing. Stiles was practically blinded by it. Carved in the outer walls were the faces of past rulers. Stiles let his eyes go over each small detail of the architecture. It really was amazing how beautiful the structure was. Stiles swallowed hard and tried to ignore the pit starting to form in is stomach.
Derek nudged Stiles lightly, “You aren’t scared, are you?” He teased.
“No—why would I—of course not,” Stiles stammered, flailing his arms uselessly. Derek smirked at Stiles. He raised a hand as if he was going to pat the boy’s head. But his hand froze in the middle of the motion. It lingered there in the air for a moment before Derek replaced it at his side. Stiles frowned slightly. He had wanted Derek to touch his head—to comfort him. However, it was probably for the better that Derek hadn’t touched Stiles. They were supposed to be prince and escort, not—whatever they were.
Stiles bit his lip. Just what were they? Rationally, they should be strangers. But Stiles had been living with Derek for a week and then some. Derek had treated Stiles’ wounds. Not to mention there was just that nagging familiarity that Stiles felt when he was around Derek. It was all so confusing. Stiles shook his head and pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. Right now he needed to focus on the task at hand. He took another deep breath and walked in to the palace, with Derek close behind him.
“Halt,” one of the guards said, stopping the duo, “What is your business here?”
Stiles bowed his head ever so slightly to show respect, “I am here to request an audience with the king on the behalf of the Beacon Kingdom,”
The jaguar man raised an eyebrow at Stiles, “You represent Beacon Kingdom, yet I have never seen you before,”
“During my travels, my companion and I were attacked by bandits,” Stiles explained, ignoring the bored look on the guard’s face, “Our Seal was lost, however if you examine the hilt of my sword, you will find the proof of my words there,” Stiles removed his sheath and handed it with both hands to the guard. The guard took it, glad to have the weapon out of the stranger’s hands, and pulled the sword out ever so slightly. Both of the dark eyebrows rose nearly comically on the man.
“This is the Crown Prince’s crest,” the guard said in awe. He handed the sword back with both hands and bowed deeply to Stiles, “Please forgive my rudeness, your royal highness, I did not recognize you,”
Stiles smiled, hoping it didn’t look too bitter, “No harm has been done,”
The guard nodded and swept his hand in a grand motion, “Follow me if you would, I shall take you to the Advisor and see if he can assist you,”
“Thank you,” Stiles said, strapping his sword back to his waist. The jaguar guard straightened and looked at Stiles before casting a glance at Derek. The guard’s eyes dropped to the golden stitched insignia on Derek’s breast.
“Your royal highness,” the guard said softly, “Is your—companion—going to be accompanying you during your audience?”
“Of course,” Stiles felt his brows pulling together in slight confusion, “For what reason would he not?”
“Sir,” the guard began, paused, and then shook his head, “Forgive me once more; you are probably pressed for time. I shall lead you now,”
The guard turned and started to walk in to the palace. Stiles glanced behind him at Derek once before turning and following the jaguar’s smooth gait. Stiles watched the man walk and was jealous at the easy grace his movements had. Stiles contemplated copying the stride, but decided against it. His lanky limbs and long legs didn’t go well with the words “graceful” or “elegant.” After ogling at the way the jaguar guard moved, Stiles turned his gaze up. There were various people in the palace—nobles, courtesans, servants, and others wishing for an audience with the king. They were all watching the trio pass. But there was something about their stares that was strange. Their glances would be fleeting when they looked at Stiles, yet each stared long and hard at the man walking behind him. Most everyone turned and began to speak in hushed whispers as they stared pointedly at Derek. Stiles felt his brow pinch even tighter. Was it because Derek was dressed in all black—a colour that seemed to be missing from the kingdom? Stiles didn’t have much time to ponder it, because now the guard was speaking to a housecat chamberlain who scurried off.
“If you would wait in here for the Advisor, your royal highness,” the guard instructed, bowing his head once more and leaving the two to wait in the large antechamber. Stiles let out a breath and paced across the room. Derek leaned against a wall and crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes following Stiles’ movements. After about a minute, Derek let out an irritated huff.
“Will you hold still?” He hissed, “I can practically smell your nerves,”
Stiles stopped abruptly, looking wide-eyed at Derek, “Sorry, I’m just—“ he bit his lip slightly, “This is my first time handling something like this. I mean, I’ve talked to foreign dignitaries and I know the etiquette of this whole thing,” he motioned widely with his hand as if to encompass the situation, “But to actually have it presented to me—I mean—it’s a little—“
He swallowed hard and tried to push the encroaching panic away. He could feel his breaths speeding up as if his lungs weren’t getting enough air. His throat felt like it was closing in on itself. Stiles put his hand on the handle of his sword and squeezed until his hand started to go numb. He felt sweat beading on his forehead and the world closing in around him.
“Stiles,” Derek’s voice was firm. He pushed off the wall and walked over to where Stiles was standing, “Stiles listen to me,” Derek was standing in front of Stiles and reached down with one hand to force the shorter male to look up at him, “Breathe with me Stiles—in and out, in and out,” Stiles focused on the sound of Derek’s breathing and tried to match his own breathing to it. It took him a moment, but soon his breaths were in sync with Derek’s. Stiles fingers uncurled from around his sword and he felt the blood return to his fingers. Slowly his throat loosened and he felt his lungs fully expanding with air. Derek’s hand dropped away from Stiles’ chin as Stiles let out a shaky, but deep sigh.
“Sorry,” Stiles whispered, his voice sounding ragged, “And thanks,” He exhaled once more through his mouth and inhaled through his nose. Once more he smelled the smell of the earth after the rain. It calmed him even further—as if it was a part of him that was missing. The smell slid comfortably inside Stiles, giving him extra strength and added stability. It made him feel whole and complete and safe. Stiles looked up at Derek. Every time Stiles had smelled that scent, Derek had been near. Was it Derek that smelled of damp earth? Stiles noticed that Derek was looking at Stiles’ lips. But his green eyes quickly darted up to look at Stiles’ own light brown eyes. Derek cleared his throat and stepped back from Stiles.
“Keep your wits about you,” Derek mumbled, “Some citizens of the Animas Kingdom, such as higher ranked nobles and the royal family, can smell certain emotions. They will probably be able to smell if you’re nervous or even hear if you’re lying by a skip of your heartbeat. So be honest and don’t get too afraid,” The corner of his mouth twitched up, “Besides, if anything happens, I’ll be in there with you,”
Stiles was quiet for a moment, but then nodded his head vigorously, “Right, of course. I’ll be okay—I’m fine now. I can do this,” He took a deep breath and pulled his shoulders back. He would do well and make his father proud. It was his duty as the prince and as a son.
A door on the side of the room opened. Stiles and Derek both turned towards the sound. In strode the Royal Advisor to the Animas King, Jarduul. The man was of an owl descent. He was one of the rare types of owls—Northern Hawk Owls—that was active during the daytime rather than the nighttime. Jarduul was said to have an eidetic memory, making him one of the most well versed men on the Western Continent. Few could compare to his wisdom and knowledge on nearly every subject.
Jarduul closed his eyes and dipped down in to a bow at Stiles, “Prince Stilinski, it is an honor to have you in our most humbled Kingdom,” he said, his voice a mixture of words and an underlying coo.
Stiles returned the bow and then straightened, “I am honored to be able to visit—your Kingdom is most impressive. I had heard tales of your craftsmen and I have seen their work in Beacon, but it all pales in comparison to the architecture of the buildings here, especially the palace,”
“You are too kind, your royal highness,” Jarduul said, a small smile pulling the corners of his beak upwards, “I am informed that you wish for an audience with King Khufu?”
“Yes,” Stiles nodded, “I wish to speak with King Khufu about possibly extending the market period of the Animas Kingdom. My father and I understand that most of the Animas Kingdom gets its income from exporting goods to the other Continents. However, with the small period for the ships to get in and out of port in Beacon there is only so much time for goods to be moved between the Kingdoms. We believe it will greatly benefit Animas if we could extend the period of trade so that there is more time to trade more goods.
“If there are fewer chances of ships getting caught in storms, merchants will send larger ships for more goods. My father and I have talked to port masters of the other Continents and they agree on this. They believe that merchants would rather send larger ships in fewer trips, than smaller ships in more trips between the continents. While the larger ships do require more sailors, they don’t have to be hired as often. Also, this allows more work for those citizens that can fare well at sea to be available. Advisor Jarduul, what do you think about this?” Stiles asked, trying not to bite at his lip. He had said all that he could, hopefully it would be enough.
Jarduul considered Stiles for a moment, going over the words the young boy had spoken in his head. For a moment, a tense air fell over the room as Jarduul weighed the information. Stiles focused on the sound of Derek’s breathing—which he suspected was louder on purpose—and matched his own to it. This allowed for Stiles to remain calm. When it seemed like the very Earth would shatter with anticipation, Jarduul nodded.
“I believe that this has been thought over very carefully,” he began, “Do you have any paperwork for these plans?”
“I can send a courier for copies right away, Advisor,” Stiles beamed, his eyes alight.
Jarduul forced down a smile, “It is good to see you so enthusiastic about this, Prince Stilinski. Your father has done a good job in raising you,”
Derek thought that Stiles’ smiles would break the boy’s face in two. Stiles nodded quickly, bowing respectfully to Advisor Jarduul, “I am honored to receive your praise,”
“I am afraid that King Khufu is away. He shall be able to receive an audience with you in two days’ time, the day after the full moon. Is this acceptable?” Jarduul asked, his gaze flitting to Derek before looking back at Stiles. The boy hadn’t even noticed the shift in attention.
“Yes,” Stiles nodded, “My companion and I are staying at the Sleeping Forest Inn. When King Khufu is ready for our audience, a messenger can find us there,”
“Duly noted,” Jarduul bowed and motioned for a serving girl to come forward, “I shall contact you two then. Good day gentlemen,” Jarduul then turned and left the room. The serving girl, a sweet looking tabby, curtsied deeply.
“I will be escorting you and your companion out, your royal highness,” she purred gently.
Derek shut the door to their room at the inn. Stiles unbuckled his sword from his waist and placed it on the table in the room. He flopped down face first on to the bed he had claimed.
“I got an audience with the king,” he mumbled in to the hard mattress, “I actually managed to get an audience with the king,”
Derek sat down on his own bed, leaning back against the wall, “Now just make sure you do exactly what you just did with Jarduul with the King, and you should be fine,”
Stiles turned his head so that he was looking at Derek, “Yeah, you’re right,” his lips quirked up in to a small smile, “Thanks again—for calming me down, I mean,”
Derek stared Stiles down before huffing through his nose, “I couldn’t just let you throw everything away—you took an arrow for this,”
“I did, didn’t I?” Stiles snorted out a laugh. He turned his face back in to the straw stuffed mattress, “I’m really glad you’re here with me,” he mumbled.
Derek acted like he hadn’t heard that. But of course he had heard Stiles’ words. Derek could hear Stiles’ heartbeat in such a small room. Derek sat there and listened to Stiles’ heartbeat steady and slow as he fell in to an exhausted sleep. Derek stood from his place on his bed and walked over to Stiles. He pushed the boy over on to his back so that he didn’t suffocate in his sleep. Stiles let out a mumbled complaint, but did not wake. He curled on to his side and pillowed his head on his hands. Derek pulled the blanket at the foot of the bed over Stiles’ body. Derek’s fingertips ghosted over the scar in Stiles’ hair.
Through the scent of sweat and cloth, Stiles’ natural scent slammed against Derek’s nose like a stampeding horse. It was so intense Derek nearly stumbled backwards from it. He suddenly felt as if he had been submerged in the river. The crisp, clean scent washed over him and filled his nose and his lungs. Every breath Derek took tasted like Stiles. The smell of water was edged with the smell of all spice and Derek tasted it on his tongue. It set his skin aflame and the wolf inside him howled. It recognized the smell—craved it. His wolf wanted to reach out and touch Stiles, mark him, claim him. His wolf knew what it wanted and that was Stiles.
Derek looked down at his extended hand. It had moved without him even knowing it. His fingernails had elongated slightly and he knew that his eyes were glowing red. He sneered slightly, growling low in his throat. He pulled his hand back and curled it in to a fist at his side. He felt his nails biting in to the skin of his palm. Derek stepped back away from Stiles, the scent lessened. He shut his eyes and forced the wolf back. It was a long moment before he felt his nails recede and the burning behind his eyelids stop. He opened his eyes and avoided looking at Stiles. He turned and strode out of the room, shutting the door softly behind him. It was barely noon and he was already heading to find the nearest tavern. It wasn’t even the full moon yet. Derek didn’t know if he was more angry or more frightened. He decided on angry, because Derek Hale was never afraid—especially not of his own monsters.
Stiles shivered and pulled the scratchy woolen blanket tighter around him. He blinked his eyes open and sat up. The blanket fell, pooling at his waist. Stiles rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked around. The curtains were blowing gently in the twilight breeze. Derek must have opened the window. That would explain why it was so cold in the room. Stiles spotted Derek sitting on his bed. He had his nose in a book, the pages making a soft sound as he turned them. For some reason, this surprised Stiles. He hadn’t thought that Derek was stupid or an idiot, but he had never actually given any thought as to whether the man could read or not. Maybe that was because the man preferred to communicate using grunts and frowns rather than actual words. Use your words Derek, Stiles had wanted to say more than once.
“What are you reading?” Stiles asked, removing the blanket from his legs. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed as he pushed his arms in to the air. He felt his shoulders pop and he let out a satisfied breath. Derek looked up at Stiles before closing the book and slipping it in to his pack. Stiles could just barely make out the last few words on the cover: “...et la bête.”
“Are you hungry?” Derek asked, ignoring the boy’s question. Stiles frowned, his expression very similar to a pout. He opened his mouth to ask about the book but before he could speak his stomach let out a low rumble. Derek and Stiles blinked at each other while Stiles felt a flush rise to his cheeks and he turned his gaze downward.
Stiles cleared his throat, “So, food, you were saying?” He asked, looking up at Derek. The corner of Derek’s mouth turned up slightly which was a look Stiles was quickly accepting as a smile.
“Come on,” Derek said as he stood from his bed, “While you were asleep, I—acquired—some funds,” He patted the pouch that was tied to his belt and Stiles noticed with wide eyes that it was much fatter than the last time he had glanced at it. “Also, change your clothes so that you don’t get those dirty. You’ll wear them tomorrow right? We can have a maid wash them tonight,”
“What exactly do you mean when you say you acquired the funds?” Stiles narrowed his eyes at Derek while he unfastened the buttons on his tunic. He turned and looked at the clothes Derek had put out for him to change in to.
Derek shrugged, “Luck was on my side at a hall down the street,”
“Derek!” Stiles hissed, turning away from his clothes, “Do you mean you were gambling?”
Once more Derek shrugged, a small upward motion of his left shoulder. He was now wearing a short sleeved green tunic. This one wasn’t as fitted as his black tunic, so he had a belt at his waist. The tunic was open in a V in the front, with a leather string lacing it up. Derek hadn’t bothered to tighten and close the V, so the ends of the leather string hung down from the uppermost hole. There was a geometric pattern at the bottom hem of the tunic, done in earthy tones. His trousers were made of a more durable material. They were dyed a medium shade of brown. Derek wore boots that were worn over the bottoms of his trousers. They were a darker brown, probably made from worked leather. They were fastened with another strip of leather, wrapping up the leg of the boot that wound in a crisscross up the boot. Derek’s green eyes were made even more brilliant from the browns and greens now on his person.
Derek rolled one of the leather strings hanging from his tunic between his fingers, “It’s not as if it’s illegal,”
“That’s not the point,” Stiles shook his head and pulled his tunic over his head. He pushed his arms in to the long and loose sleeves, “You shouldn’t take the coins that people have worked hard to earn,”
“They knew that they might lose,” Derek muttered, “It was a risk they were taking,”
Stiles’ mouth was still pressed in to a tight, disapproving line as he pulled on his trousers. He slipped his foot in to the leather shoes and flexed his toes inside the soft material. He looked down at himself and nodded. The tunic Derek had gotten Stiles was an off-white, unfitted, loose tunic. The sleeves were long and large which allowed for a lot of movement and comfort. On the neckline and hem of the tunic was an organic pattern stitched in to the fabric with reds and browns. His trousers were shorter than normal, stopping at about mid-calf. They were a light brown colour only a few shades lighter than his shoes.
Stiles smirked at Derek and put his hands on his hips, “Not bad, Hale,”
Derek snorted and rolled his eyes. He moved towards the door and held it open for Stiles. Stiles bowed comically and walked out in front of Derek.
“So,” Stiles said as Derek closed the door to their room, “I’m guessing you know where we’re eating?”
“Of course,” Derek muttered as he passed Stiles to go to the front desk. He told the inn keeper about their clothes that needed to be laundered and left a few rather large gold coins with the man. Derek then turned back to Stiles, “We can even afford to eat meat,”
“Yes!” Stiles pumped his fist in to the air in triumph, “Just so long as you don’t try to make me eat a rabbit’s heart again,”
Derek’s expression turned to one of mock offense, “I will have you know that rabbit is considered a delicacy to both the Beacon and Animas Kingdoms,”
“Derek,” Stiles looked the taller man in the eye, “It was a heart and it was still bleeding,”
Derek acted as if he considered that, tilting his head upwards and pursing his lips slightly, “I still have yet to see the problem here,”
Stiles laughed and shoved Derek lightly. The two walked down the bustling street and in to the tavern.
Stiles had fallen asleep almost immediately after returning from the tavern. The food had been amazing and Stiles was sure to have his fill of it. He had even talked Derek in to letting him have a draft of ale. Derek had gotten Stiles a honey mead that made his taste buds sing and his head spin ever so slightly. When they returned to the inn, Stiles had bathed and changed in to his clothes that Erica had packed before passing out on the bed. Perhaps it was the mead, or maybe the change of scenery, but Stiles had a strange dream.
Stiles had dreamed he was in the forest. It was a forest unfamiliar to him, not like the area outside of Beacon where he would sometimes accompany Sir Argent for hunts. But Stiles was at a river. He seemed to just be enjoying the water. It was relaxing to feel the cool water slip over his skin. The feeling of comfort was similar to lying in the arms of a lover.
Stiles splashed about for a while before he felt a chill shake his body. It wasn’t that the water was too cold for it was evident the season was summer. Stiles looked up, submerging most of his body in the river. His eyes flitted about and scanned the edge of trees that surrounded him. He didn’t see anything out there and yet he couldn’t get the uneasy feeling to leave him. He frowned and waded his way out of the river.
He stood on the bank for a moment before pushing past the bushes and in to the forest. Twigs and leaves crunched underfoot as he moved in the forest. It was quiet—eerily so. There were no sounds other than Stiles’ own movements and the slowly disappearing sound of the river. Stiles didn’t even hear any birds in the overhead trees. A breeze blew through the trees, causing a whisper in the canopies. Stiles looked up—had that been a voice? He strained his ears and thought he heard it once more. It was nothing more than a whisper, a small and desperate sound coming from somewhere ahead. Stiles swallowed hard and pressed on.
Stiles pushed through a group of bushes and found himself in a clearing. The grass was short but soft. In the middle of the clearing was a grouping of rocks. Stiles walked over to the rocks. There were three of them, positioned in a triangular pattern. He stood between the two rocks that created the base of the triangle and looked to the middle. A low and dangerous growl sounded from behind Stiles. He whipped around and saw a large creature moving slowly in to the clearing.
The beast was huge, nearly the size of a small horse. It circled Stiles, slowly moving in to the center. Stiles realized it was a dog—or something that may at one point have been a dog. The dog’s fur was even darker than the night sky and seemed as if it was dark blue. Its mouth was open in a growl and the long teeth gleamed in the sunlight. Saliva and blood dripped from the sharp canines. Stiles huddled in the center of the three rocks, hoping that they would maybe create some barrier. The dog let out a low noise, the sound vibrating in Stiles’ bones.
It wasn’t too far from Stiles now, no more than twenty feet. Stiles watched in horror as the dog lowered itself in to a crouched position. Stiles’ body was telling him to run—to get away from there as fast as he could. But he was frozen, unable to even breathe. The black dog let out a crippling howl before it pushed off its hind legs and vaulted in the air towards Stiles.
Stiles didn’t even have time to scream before the earth underneath him was opening up. Two arms reached out from the crack in the earth and wrapped around Stiles. They pulled him down as the earth swallowed him. The black dog had reached for Stiles, its jowls open in a ferocious snarl.
As Stiles was pulled in to the earth, his eyes were fixed on the dog still snapping at him. In the face of the beast, the eyes glowed brightly. They shone red as if the fires of Hell themselves were reflected there. But as the earth closed once more, the creature shifted for a moment. Suddenly it was Derek at the crack in the earth, reaching out desperately for Stiles.
“Stiles!” He yelled, his voice wracked with emotion. He seemed scared—as if losing Stiles would be the end of the world. Stiles reached out and tried to grab on to Derek, but then the earth closed and darkness enveloped Stiles.
Stiles woke with a great gasp. He panted as he tried to regain his breathing, feeling the burn as his lungs expanded with air. His entire body was coated in sweat. His eyes tried to focus in the room. The curtains had been drawn and the light from the nearly full moon was muted.
Stiles swallowed shakily and ran his hand over his face. Even his body was trembling. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on something else. His senses locked on to the sound of Derek’s breathing. It was steady and even and Stiles tried to match his breathing to it. After a few minutes, Stiles succeeded in calming down. A dream, he told himself, it was only a dream. His mind drifted to the warning of the coyote woman, beware the black dog. His dream must have been a product of that encounter and the stress of his upcoming audience with the king. Stiles let out a deep breath and closed his eyes, willing himself back to sleep.
Derek stared at the wall. He had heard as Stiles’ heart nearly thudded out of his chest. He listened as the boy thrashed on his bed, running from a terror brought to him by dreams. He could smell the fear coming from the boy in waves. But the worst part was that during the whole thing, Stiles had been whimpering Derek’s name. As if Derek could save Stiles from whatever was frightening him in his dreams.
Derek tasted blood in his mouth. His teeth had lengthened and pierced his lip. It quickly healed and Derek struggled to rein his wolf in. His wolf growled and thrashed. The wolf wanted to throw itself over Stiles and protect him from anything and everything. Derek could have held Stiles until he calmed—stayed with him until he felt safe again.
Derek shook his head quickly, frowning at himself. He couldn’t. Stiles was too fragile—too human. In two days, Stiles would meet the king. After that, he would return to his comfortable life in Beacon. There was no room for Derek in his life and the nightmares that he brought with him. Derek felt his stomach knot uncomfortably at the thought. He glared at the wall and forced his eyes shut. Sleep didn’t come to him for some time, and even when it did the sleep was not a restful one. Instead, Derek dreamt of fire and crying brown eyes. When he woke, not but a few hours later, his tongue was heavy with the taste of ash and his throat clogged with a lilting bit of all-spice.
Stiles groaned loudly as he woke that morning. His dream still settled uncomfortably in his stomach. But he shook his head to clear it. He stood and twisted so to loosen the muscles in his back. He glanced across the room at Derek’s bed and was surprised to find it empty.
Stiles walked over, his bare feet padding soundlessly across the floor. He grinned to himself, not at all surprised that Derek didn’t make his bed. Stiles reached out to smooth the blankets. His hand paused when it touched the surface of the bed.
“It’s still warm,” Stiles mumbled. He smoothed his palm over the mattress, the warmth seeping in to his skin. He smiled softly to himself, a gentle upturn of his lips. Derek must have just gone out.
Stiles pulled the blankets up and smoothed them out. He was bent over close to the surface of the mattress. As he inhaled, Stiles picked up on Derek’s scent. It was a deep, musky scent. But underneath the heady smell was the light scent of earth. Stiles inhaled even deeper, his lungs fully expanding. He felt his head swim and his eyes fluttered shut. He let the smell fill him—encase him. His skin tingled and he felt a smile tugging at his lips. Derek was safe and constant. There as something about him, about his scent, that made a warmth spread through Stiles’ body. He shivered, feeling the heat pool in his stomach. He swallowed and tried to ignore the rising flush to his skin. He hadn’t felt this warming sensation since Lady Lydia had stayed for the winter months. But that would mean he—
Derek cleared his throat, “What are you doing, Stiles?” He asked from the doorway. Stiles startled and straightened quickly.
“Derek,” Stiles stammered, his arms flailing wildly, “I was—your bed was—I mean—“ Stiles thought his face would catch fire with how hot it felt. Derek raised an eyebrow at him. He had an amused smirk plastered on his face.
Derek raised his arm and Stiles first noticed the covered wicker basket in the notch of the elder man’s elbow.
“Breakfast?” He moved to the table in the room and put the basket down, “I also got the clothes for tomorrow’s audience with King Khufu,”
“How, um,” Stiles picked at a spot on his sleeping shirt, “How long have you been gone?”
Derek shrugged, “Not long, the bakery stall is right outside,” He sat down at the table and uncovered the basket, “Maybe ten minutes,”
Stiles pulled out the other chair at the table and nodded. He felt a blush on the tips of his ears. He was thankful that Derek didn’t ask anything else as they ate breakfast. Derek had gotten quite the breakfast. The basket was full of freshly baked bread, pastries, small jars of jams, and even a few slices of hot ham. It was delicious and Stiles stuffed himself full.
“Wow,” Stiles sighed, sitting back in his chair and patting the small bump of his stomach, “You really know how to treat a guy,”
“They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” Derek said idly, standing from his spot at the table. He walked over and bent down next to his bed. He grabbed his pack and riffled around inside before pulling out a piece of folded parchment.
Derek turned back to Stiles and held the paper up, “Erica sent us with a list,” he explained, “Get dressed—we have shopping to do,”
Stiles nodded and quickly pulled on the clothes from the previous night. Derek fastened his coin pouch to his belt and tucked the list in to his belt as well. The two left the room with the sound of the door shutting softly behind them.
Stiles followed behind Derek as they went from stall to stall in order to get all the things Erica requested. They were fairly normal things—cloth, spices, and some trinkets. Stiles ended up carrying the sack with all the things in it. They came to a shop and Derek told Stiles to wait outside.
“I know the owner here,” he explained, “He’s a hard bargain and it would be better if you stayed out here,” With that, Derek walked inside and left Stiles to his own devices.
Stiles sighed and just stood there for a moment. But he couldn’t stay still to save his life. He didn’t go far. He walked a few stalls down where children were gathering to listen to a storyteller. What harm could it do? If Derek came out he could easily spot Stiles down the street. Not to mention, this was an opportunity for Stiles to learn more Animas lore and legends.
The storyteller was a nicely dressed fox man. He was well groomed and his clothes clean.
“Now,” he began, “I will tell you the Tale of Relan and Aquaria,” An excited murmur went through the small group of children—apparently this was a favorite.
The fox man grinned and settled in to his story, “Long ago, before anyone walked this earth, the elements were controlled by four great beings—Argo controlled the skies, Relan the earth, Fiyern with fire, and Aquaria oversaw water. They had banded together to create this world and soon hoped to welcome humans and animals and even we the animans here. In the early stages of this world, everything was peaceful—everything was green and full of life. Relan and Aquaria had fallen in love and poured their heart and souls in to each other. Flowers bloomed and grass covered the entire planet. The oceans were created and rivers ran between mountains like children playing tag.
“But there were those beings—the ones who lived in Heaven—who saw the bond Relan and Aquaria had and became jealous. This heavenly being was named Raizo. He too had fallen in love with Aquaria’s spirit and beauty. He wanted her all for himself. One day, Raizo came from heaven to talk with Relan. He told Relan of a spring that—if he drank from it—would bless Relan and Aquaria’s love for all of time. Relan, blinded by his devotion to Aquaria, believed Raizo and followed the heavenly being to the spring he talked of. Relan knelt by the spring and was mesmerized by how clear and blue the water was. In the pool, he saw Aquaria reflected at him. Consumed by his love, Relan cupped his hands in the pool and brought the liquid to his lips. It was as if he was kissing Aquaria as he drank the water.
“But little did Relan know, Raizo had tricked him. Relan had drunk from the Spring of the Gods—a sacred pool that even the Element Kings were forbidden from drinking from. As punishment, Relan was to lose his physical form and be bound to the earth. Relan was swallowed by the earth and destined to become a part of the earth for eternity. Hearing of her lover’s demise, Aquaria ran to the sea. She wept for days and terrible storms raged over the entire ocean. Rivers dried as Aquaria called all the water in the world back to her. Plants began to die and the earth itself was on the verge of crumbling.
“Argo, who was good friends with Aquaria, quickly went to her. Argo told Aquaria of what her despair was doing to the earth. She was destroying the very thing that she and Relan had worked so hard to build and raise and nurture. Aquaria was horrified. She asked Argo if there was anything that could be done. Argo offered her a place in the sky, but she would have to give up her physical form as Relan had. Aquaria quickly agreed and Argo allowed her to become clouds. The clouds covered all of the sky and rain fell to the earth. Once more life returned to the lands and the world became green.
“Aquaria could watch over the earth from her place in the clouds. She could also travel across the lands in the many streams and rivers. Even in his displaced form, Relan loved Aquaria. He gathered her love in lakes and pools. He opened trenches in the oceans so that he could hold even more of her water within his arms. Even the deserts felt Aquaria’s love in the form of oasis. But there is so much time in eternity, Aquaria would become lonely and miss her lover. When she did, rain fell from the sky in torrents. The smell of the earth after it has rained is the expression of Relan’s love and that he misses her too. He will forever wish to hold her in his arms. But he knows that so long as he has Aquaria’s love, he will be able to live on.
“So that is why it rains. Without Aquaria’s water, the earth would not be able to survive. Aquaria chose her own suffering so that she could allow her lover to live. Remember kids, when you are swimming in the ocean or a lake, you are being embraced by love. Without rain there would be no earth and if there was no earth we would not have water. Relan and Aquaria, even without physical forms, even at such a distance, exist by and for each other.”
The kids clapped and a few threw small copper coins in to the fox man’s hat. They then quickly scurried along back to their parents. Stiles stood there in awe. He startled slightly when he felt Derek tap him on the shoulder.
“What did I say about staying still?” He asked.
Stiles blinked, “Sorry, the storyteller—“ Stiles gestured with his hand towards the fox man. The fox man stood and dusted his trousers off. He looked up at Stiles and Derek. He smiled at Stiles.
“Did you enjoy the story?” He asked.
Stiles nodded quickly, “Yes! I can’t even imagine such an all-encompassing love that would be so powerful,”
“I’m sure one day you’ll find someone like that for you, young lad,” The fox man said with a bright smile. He then looked at Derek. His smile fell and he nodded his head, lowering his hat to his chest, “My condolences. Even someone as cursed as you did not deserve such a thing,” The fox man whispered. He nodded once more to Derek before scampering away. Stiles blinked and looked at Derek.
“Did you know him?” He asked.
Derek’s gaze was dark and his lip turned up in a sneer, “No,” he growled stiffly.
Stiles frowned, “What did he mean cursed?”
“Drop it, Stiles,” Derek’s voice was low and held a warning tone.
“Why would he offer you condolences?” Stiles pressed.
“I said drop it!” Derek yelled, his voice sounding more animalistic than human. Stiles flinched and took a step back and away from Derek. Derek glared down at Stiles for a moment before closing his eyes and breathing sharply out his nose.
“Let’s go,” he grumbled, “There’s only a few more things on the list,” Stiles nodded in silent compliance and readjusted the pack on his shoulder.
Even as non-vocal as Derek was, he was uncharacteristically quiet for the remainder of the afternoon. He was on edge and bristly. His bargaining with stall owners was quick and to the point. Stiles thought that the merchants were terrified of Derek and just did whatever he asked so that he wouldn’t hurt them. Derek and Stiles finished the shopping.
“You should check at the courier station if any of the things you requested have come in,” Derek said as they were walking back to the inn. Stiles, realizing he was being spoken to, looked up at Derek.
“Right, yeah, good idea,” he mumbled. He then turned and disappeared in the crowd heading towards the courier station near the inn. Derek watched him go and let out a harsh breath. He pushed a hand through his hair and shook his head. What was he doing? He had come to terms with the murder of his family years ago, or so he had thought. Having a pack—even such a small one as Isaac, Boyd and Erica—had really helped Derek get back to himself.
But perhaps there really was no such thing as “coming back” after your entire family burned and it had been entirely your fault. He had been reassured that there was no way he could have predicted the hunters would use him as bait. But even so, Derek should have seen it coming. There should have been something he could have done.
Derek shook his head and caught sight of the head of short hair that was talking with the pigeon man who manned the courier station. Derek closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He shifted through the entourage of smells and sounds in the busy marketplace until he found the ones he was looking for. He focused on the cleansing scent of the river and listened for Stiles’ heartbeat. The steady thrum of the organ had the same effect on Derek as a mother’s lullaby did on a newborn. He was calmed and felt like he actually had a purpose—a reason for living. Stiles was his reason.
Derek opened his eyes but continued to listen to Stiles’ heartbeat. It was bad that Derek was able to pick out Stiles’ heart in a crowd. That meant more than Derek was really ready to handle. He had known ever since that time as kids that Stiles was his mate. He had never felt so strongly connected to his wolf than he had when Stiles was stealing Derek’s warmth in the darkness of the wooden shed. But he had never once imagined that Stiles would be the prince of Beacon Kingdom. Never once did Derek think he would be able to meet Stiles again.
But now Derek was faced with reality. Stiles was the next in line for the throne and he was also human. Derek could never even dream of having Stiles all to himself. Stiles had a bigger purpose and a greater calling than to settle down in the forest. There were better things in Stiles’ future than Derek. But just being around Derek was corrupting Stiles. That had been evident from the incident this morning when Derek returned from getting breakfast. Derek had smelled it even before he had entered the room—Stiles’ hazy arousal. Derek’s natural scent had caused that reaction in Stiles, magnified by the impending full moon. Just the fact that Stiles could smell Derek’s natural scent strengthened the truth of them being mates. It drove the wolf in Derek wild with want and a need to possess Stiles.
“The pigeon man said that they received a pigeon—uh bird—this morning saying that a messenger was being sent with the papers. He should be here tomorrow by the time of our audience,” Stiles said, sliding back in to his place next to Derek. Derek nodded, startled slightly that he had been so absorbed in his thoughts he hadn’t even noticed Stiles’ return.
Derek raised an eyebrow at Stiles, “Anything else?”
A slightly embarrassed smile curled Stiles’ lips, “My father says that he’s proud of me,” he chuckled, “Although he says that he wants to have a long talk about why it took me so long to contact him,”
Derek nodded and struggled to beat back the instinct to claim Stiles right there. The boy smelled of pride and love and it was suffocating .
“What are you going to tell him?” Derek asked, hoping his voice sounded normal.
Stiles shrugged, “I met with some complications, but a grumpy knight in shining armor saved me,” he muttered, eyes flicking up to look at Derek.
Derek was silent for a long moment before he cleared his throat.
“We should get something to eat and then check on the horses,” he said after a moment.
“I am starting to get hungry,” Stiles agreed with a nod of his head. Derek turned and led Stiles away from the market and towards a nearby tavern. But even with his back to Stiles, Derek could hear the excited heartbeat as clearly as if he had his ear pressed flush against Stiles’ chest.
They ate at the Boar’s Head. It was a cozy place and brewed its own spirits. Derek allowed Stiles to have another honey mead, but refused anything stronger. This caused some whining from Stiles, who insisted it would be fine since at the castle he always had wine at supper. But Derek was just going to have none of that. He had a hard enough time handling Stiles normally; Derek couldn’t even imagine a Stiles without his inhibitions. Well, actually, Derek could imagine it perfectly which made his wolf metaphorically wag its tail. Derek quickly stamped that down and bit—albeit more viciously than needed—in to his leg of lamb.
They finished their meal but didn’t leave immediately after. Derek moved a few tables over where some men had gathered and joined their game of cards. Stiles ended up nursing a second honey mead as he talked to some of he girls that worked there. They were lemur decent and very cute. Stiles found himself smiling with them and being flirted with. He blushed a few times at some of their comments. One of the particularly flirty girls sat down across from Stiles. She put her chin in her hands and batted her eyes at him.
“So,” she began, “You obviously aren’t from around here. Are you from Beacon?”
Stiles nodded, “Yeah,”
“What brings you to our side of the forest?”
“Business,” he explained.
She pouted, “You make it sound so dull,” Her eyes twinkled slightly and Stiles absently noticed that her eyes were green like Derek’s.
“What’s your name, cutie?” She asked.
“Uh,” Stiles stammered, “It’s Stiles,”
“Interesting,” she purred, “My name is Adeline—but everyone calls me Addy,”
“Nice to meet you Addy,” Stiles said with a smile as he sipped from his mug.
“So Stiles,” she said sweetly, “Who’s the dark and mysterious guy who’s with you?”
Stiles blinked and looked over his shoulder, “Do you mean Derek?”
Addy shrugged, “Are you two together?”
“What?” Stiles sputtered, nearly choking on his own spit, “Together? You mean like lovers?”
“Yeah,” she said, “It isn’t at all uncommon in Animas. So are you,” her words trailed off.
Stiles felt his face flush all the way down his neck and even to the tips of his ears.
“What would make you say that?” He mumbled.
“Well,” she said with a sly smile, “Because he keeps looking over here and giving me dirty looks when he thinks I’m not looking,”
“Oh,” Stiles whispered, “No, we’re just companions,”
Addy smiled brilliantly at him, “Good, so anyway Stiles—“
Stiles and Derek exited the Boar’s Head a few hours later. Stiles had had his ears chatted off by Addy and a few of her friends. Derek was many silver coins and even a gold coin or two richer. Derek didn’t ask about Addy or any of the other serving girls, although he wanted to. His wolf had wanted to snarl and show his teeth at those girls—make them understand that Stiles was his.
“So,” Stiles said, interrupting Derek’s thoughts, “Addy was telling me that there’s a play or something tonight at a local theater. It’s in a couple of hours—wow we were in there for a long time—so I was wondering if you wanted to go see it?” He asked, looking at Derek.
Stiles blushed, “I mean—if you want. I don’t know if you like those kinds of things. I’ve never actually been or anything, so I wouldn’t know if it’s any good or fun,”
“You’ve never been to a play?” Derek asked.
“No,” Stiles shrugged, “It was too dangerous,”
Derek looked at Stiles for a long time before sighing, “What is it called?”
Stiles’ eyes lit up and he smiled, “It’s called The Play of The Weather by someone named John Heywood,”
“Yeah, we can go see it,” Derek conceded.
“Great!” Stiles exclaimed, “Addy told me where the play house is and everything. It’s not too far from here—just a little ways down—“
“Stiles,” Derek mumbled, trying to suppress his grin.
“Sorry,” the boy chuckled, “Going to quiet down now,” But even if his voice stopped, Derek could practically feel Stiles vibrate with excitement. They walked down the street, their arms brushing every now and then.
“I can’t believe it,” Stiles gushed as they walked back to the inn that night, “That was so much fun. I’m going to have to convince my father to have more players in the palace,”
Derek rolled his eyes, “That wasn’t even categorized as a comedy play,”
“Yeah yeah,” Stiles murmured, “It was a play about morality and how everyone is equal and no one is more deserving,” Stiles stuck his tongue out at Derek, “Way to take the fun out of things,”
“I’m a realist,” Derek shrugged, the corner of his mouth twitching upward. He actually felt content for the first time in a long time. Stiles had sat close to Derek, filling the man’s senses with his scent and just his presence. The sun had gone down just before the play began and so now the streets were filled with the silver light of the full moon. Derek felt the wolf pacing just below the surface. The moon tugged at him and with the addition of Stiles, the instinct was intensified. But Derek refused to let himself lose control.
When they returned to their room, Stiles laid down on his bed. He smiled absently at the ceiling.
“Today has been an amazing day,” he said to the air. He let out a contented sigh and closed his eyes.
Derek moved about the room, “Are you hungry?” There wasn’t a response. Derek looked up and saw Stiles’ chest rising and falling slowly. The prince had fallen asleep. He must have been exhausted. Derek smirked and knelt down at the side of Stiles’ bed. Derek rested his arms on the edge of the mattress and put his head on his arms. He closed his eyes and listened to Stiles’ steady heartbeat. It filled Derek’s senses and he could feel his heart beat in sync with it.
The wolf growled slightly and Derek’s eyes opened suddenly. He stood and backed away from Stiles. Derek looked down at his hands and saw his fingernails had lengthened. He felt his teeth pushing past his gums and his eyes began to burn dully as they did when they turned red. Derek shook his head and brought himself back under control. He just needed to get away from Stiles for a little while. His scent was becoming too much for Derek. So Derek left and went to the tavern down the road.
Stiles opened his eyes when he heard the door opening. When had he fallen asleep? He sat up and rubbed at his eyes groggily.
“Derek?” He mumbled, “Is that you?” There wasn’t a response, but Stiles heard footsteps approaching him. Stiles blinked hard and tried to focus his eyes in the light of the moon. He didn’t know what time it was, but the moon was high in the sky.
“What are you doing getting in so late?” Stiles asked, looking at the person in the room. He knew it was Derek—he smelled the earth on him. Stiles yawned, his mouth stretching wide. He lay back down and sighed.
“You should go to bed,” he yawned again.
What happened next surprised Stiles. He felt his mattress dip as Derek placed a hand on it. Stiles frowned and opened his eyes. Derek was above him and the scent of damp soil filled Stiles’ nose. He tasted the iron on his tongue.
“Derek,” Stiles grumbled, “Quit messing with me and go to sleep,” he turned on his side and faced the wall. Stiles let out a surprised yelp when he felt hot lips brush against the back of his neck.
“Derek?” Stiles hissed, turning on to his back to look up at Derek. Derek’s hands were caging Stiles’ head and his legs were trapped between Derek’s knees. Derek leaned down and pressed his lips just under Stiles’ ear. The man’s stubble scratched against Stiles’ skin.
“Derek—stop,” Stiles brought his hands up to push Derek away. But Derek grabbed both of Stiles’ wrists and pushed his arms above his head on the mattress. His grip was like a hot iron, scalding Stiles’ skin. Stiles swallowed, Derek licking at his bobbing Adam’s apple.
Derek continued to kiss, and bite, and rub against Stiles’ neck and his collarbone. Stiles was becoming dizzy. His lungs and mouth were filled with Derek’s scent. His skin was hot wherever Derek touched him. Stiles was having trouble with coherent thoughts. He could only think about Derek touching him, Derek kissing him, Derek claiming him. Stiles shuddered when Derek placed his free hand across Stiles’ throat. It wasn’t a threatening touch, but the slight pressure made Stiles gasp slightly. A growl rumbled low in Derek’s throat and suddenly his lips were crushed against Stiles.
The kiss was forceful and full of desire. Derek’s slightly chapped lips were causing heat and electricity to spread through Stiles’ body. Derek used his hand on Stiles’ throat to tilt his head up to get a better angle at the kiss. Stiles was reciprocating as best he could, but Derek was kissing him breathless. When Derek gently bit down on Stiles’ lower lip, Stiles let out a low moan. Derek’s chest rumbled with an appreciative growl and his hand moved from Stiles’ throat.
Derek tore his mouth away from Stiles’ only to latch on to the skin of his neck and suck hard at the flesh there. Stiles keened slightly, turning his head to allow Derek easier access to his skin. Stiles gasped when he felt Derek’s calloused fingers dip in to his trousers. The younger male bit his bottom lip, trying to clear his head of the haze that had gathered.
“Derek—“ Stiles’ voice was cut off with a moan when Derek’s fingers wrapped deftly around Stiles’ heat. Stiles arched off the bed at the touch when Derek began to move his hand. When he tried to speak again, Derek stopped him with another kiss. This kiss was deep and desperate. Stiles was panting and his body was on fire. Derek’s hand and lips were stimulating Stiles beyond his comprehension. Just as he was about to lose it, Derek removed his hand. Stiles whined at the loss, but soon he was throwing his head back with a choked moan as Derek’s hand was replaced with the wet heat of his mouth.
Derek put his hands on Stiles’ hips to hold him down. His fingernails dug in to the flesh there, leaving small crescents. Stiles pushed his hands in to Derek’s hair and he held on. Derek licked at Stiles’ slit, savoring the taste of the pre-come that had gathered there. Stiles shuddered as Derek lowered his mouth to completely take Stiles between his lips. Stiles was no match for the green-eyed male. Soon he was moaning and gasping and barreling over the edge. White hot pleasure shot through Stiles as his orgasm hit. He had tried to pull Derek off him, but the male stubbornly kept his lips tightly wrapped around Stiles.
Stiles’ heart thundered against his chest. Derek came off him with a lewd pop. Stiles looked down at Derek with unfocused eyes. Derek licked his lips and then kissed the insides of Stiles’ thighs. Stiles shivered, sensitive just after his orgasm. His hands tugged gently at Derek’s hair and Derek complied. He raised and once more cemented his lips to Stiles’. This kiss was slow and languid, with a certain lazy fluidity. Stiles cupped Derek’s face in his hands as he returned the kiss.
“Derek,” Stiles murmured, “What—“ he opened his eyes and looked up. Derek had stopped kissing him and his body had stiffened. Stiles blinked at him. Derek looked as if he had just woken up from a dream. His lips were parted and glistened in the moonlight. But his eyes were wide with—terror?
Derek scrambled away from Stiles. He nearly tripped over himself as he backed away from Stiles. Confused, Stiles sat up and frowned at Derek.
“Derek?” Stiles tried to hide the panic in his voice.
“Stiles—I—oh god—“ Derek shook his head and all but ran to the door.
“Derek! Wait!” Stiles yelled. But the door shut with a harsh slam and Derek was gone. Stiles blinked in the darkness, the smell of his arousal and the earth heavy in the air. He felt dread pooling in his stomach, replacing the pleasure that had just been humming in his veins. What had just happened? Stiles could just barely make out the sound of a wolf howling at the moon somewhere in the distance.